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Articles on this Page
- 11/21/11--07:55: _US deficit supercom...
- 11/21/11--08:56: _Spanish limbo worse...
- 11/21/11--12:30: _The Workers single ...
- 11/21/11--12:30: _Times are tough for...
- 11/21/11--12:45: _After Syria's year ...
- 11/21/11--12:59: _Country diary: Walt...
- 11/21/11--13:00: _Letters: We need mo...
- 11/21/11--13:00: _Letters: UK climate...
- 11/21/11--13:00: _Labour: Health warn...
- 11/21/11--13:00: _Letters: Colombia m...
- 11/21/11--13:04: _Norwich report alle...
- 11/21/11--13:17: _Egypt's cabinet off...
- 11/21/11--13:30: _John Steinbeck's bi...
- 11/21/11--13:31: _Energy resource bur...
- 11/21/11--13:41: _After the supercomm...
- 11/21/11--13:59: _The Spanish electio...
- 11/21/11--14:19: _Grover Norquist, th...
- 11/21/11--14:31: _Supercommittee: the...
- 11/21/11--14:53: _Egypt's military: g...
- 11/21/11--14:59: _In praise of … Can...
- 11/21/11--07:55: US deficit supercommittee to admit defeat
- 11/21/11--08:56: Spanish limbo worsens debt crisis
- 11/21/11--12:30: The Workers single is a smiley kind of protest
- 11/21/11--12:30: Times are tough for politicians – but why all the tears?
- 11/21/11--12:59: Country diary: Waltham Brooks
- 11/21/11--13:00: Letters: We need more than ghost bikes to reduce cyclist deaths
- 11/21/11--13:00: Letters: UK climate policy
- 11/21/11--13:00: Labour: Health warning over labour rights move
- 11/21/11--13:00: Letters: Colombia must improve human rights
- 11/21/11--13:04: Norwich report alleged racist abuse of James Vaughan to police
- 11/21/11--13:17: Egypt's cabinet offers to resign as protests against junta grow
- 11/21/11--13:30: John Steinbeck's bitter fruit
- 11/21/11--13:41: After the supercommittee, Congress needs rehab | Ana Marie Cox
- 11/21/11--14:31: Supercommittee: the full statement
- 11/21/11--14:53: Egypt's military: guardians of the revolution no more | Editorial
- 11/21/11--14:59: In praise of … Canada's Group of Seven | Editorial
Republicans and Democrats blame each for other for failure on deal to reduce federal deficit by $1.2tn over 10 years
A congressional super-committee set up to reduce the federal deficit is planning to formally admit defeat on Monday, issuing a statement confirming that Republicans and Democrats have failed to agree a compromise.
Republican and Democratic members of Congress did the rounds of the early morning television shows, blaming one another for the deadlock.
This latest example of the inability of the two parties to work together could have repercussions for America's still-frail economy. There is speculation, too, that it could see another downgrading of the country's credit rating.
The failure to reach a deal will trigger automatic cuts in both the Pentagon's budget and domestic spending, including benefits, but neither will kick in until 2013, after the White House election. About $600bn would be lost from the Pentagon, and $600bn from domestic spending.
The defence secretary, Leon Panetta, warned last week that the impact of such cuts on the Pentagon would be devastating.
Democratic senator Patty Murray and Republican congressman Jeb Hersarling, the co-chairs of the committee, are expected to issue a joint statement conceding defeat.
Republican senator Jon Kyl, in a series of television interviews, said the statement would be issued later on Monday. He said the two sides would meet again on Monday, but acknowledged that the chances of a deal were remote.
"I wouldn't be optimistic; I don't want to bring you false hope here. The point is that we're still talking," Kyl said.
The committee's chances of success were limited from the outset. It was set up as a fudge; a way to get round the summer deadlock between the White House and Republicans in Congress over reducing the deficit.
The supercommittee was asked to reduce the deficit by a minimum of $1.2tn over the next 10 years. Democrats offered some cuts in benefits programmes demanded by the Republicans – but only in return for tax rises.
Republicans on the committee offered some tax rises, but faced resistance from the wider party, which remains totally opposed to any such increases.
The official deadline for a deal is midnight on Wednesday but the real deadline is midnight on Monday, because any agreement would first have to be scrutinised by the Congressional Budget Office.
Democrats said Republicans were refusing to budge on Bush-era cuts that provide tax breaks for wealthier Americans and that expire in 2012. Democrats want to see the cuts at least scaled back, while Republicans want to extend them.
Tension between the two sides increased last week after Grover Norquist, a powerful anti-tax lobbyist, said senior Republicans had pledged not to pass any deal that involved tax increases.
Republicans said Democrats were refusing to budge on cuts to "entitlement" social welfare programmes.
Prime minister elect Mariano Rajoy powerless to calm markets until lengthy transition period is over
A landslide victory by Mariano Rajoy's People's party (PP) in Sunday's general election did nothing to stop Spain's debt problems worsening on Monday as the prime minister elect remained powerless to calm the markets.
Spaniards were proud of having avoided an Italian-style government of unelected technocrats after they gave conservative Rajoy the go-ahead to introduce reform and impose further austerity.
But commentators warned that, similar to the technocrats running Italy and Greece, he had only limited options. "None of his predecessors have accumulated as much power as he will have," said Jesús Ceberio, a former El País editor. "But, paradoxically, none had such little room for manoeuvre."
Rajoy is hampered by the country's system for handing over power, which takes a month, and the impatience of markets that sent the cost of Spanish debt higher on Monday morning. He must also obey the dictates of an EU, dominated by German chancellor Angela Merkel, which has imposed severe austerity programmes on member countries with debt problems. "A large part of his most immediate programme is already set out in the fiscal consolidation plan demanded by Europe," Ceberio said.
Rajoy will, for example, be unable to choose Spain's deficit levels over the next three years, as strict targets have already been set by the EU.
The PP leader has warned that he does not carry a magic wand and will not be able to perform instant miracles, even though yields on Spanish bonds are floating dangerously towards the 7% level that economists consider unsustainable.
Rajoy's main message to investors is that Spain will be "compliant", meaning it will meet the deficit target of 4.4% set by the EU for next year. In a country where growth is zero and austerity already threatens a double-dip recession, that is likely to require further massive spending cuts or tax hikes, or a mixture of both.
On Sunday night he pledged to make Spain respected in, among other places, Frankfurt. That was recognition that the country now depends heavily on the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank, which has been buying Spanish bonds to keep yields down.
Rajoy is, however, in tune with Merkel, with whom he spoke by phone on Monday. Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said they discussed "Spain's great problems".
Reforms that bring no cost to Spain's cash-strapped treasury, such as to the labour market, may come first.
Jaime García, an economist at a PP thinktank, said he expected Rajoy to announce "shock measures" soon.
PP leaders have urged the outgoing socialist government of prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to speed up the transfer of powers, even though the law requires parliament to meet on 13 December before Rajoy can take over.
"There are extraordinary problems which demand that a holiday period between governments should not exist," said PP spokeswoman Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Economist Nicholas Spiro, of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, said: "The fact that investors have to wait another month for Mr Rajoy's cabinet to take the reins only adds to the uncertainty."
The outgoing socialists have set into motion the process of calling a party conference to transfer power to a new leadership. The conference is likely to take place in February.
The song promoting the TUC day of action is a cracking tune – and there's not a simpering celeb in sight
Opening with a shot of a cup of tea, the video for the Workers' single sets its cuddly stall out early. Let's Work Together features a smiling, avuncular chap listening to the song (a cover of the Canned Heat/Bryan Ferry hit) as he bounces gleefully to work, exchanging pleasantries with various public service workers as he goes.
Such unrelenting jollity does seem a little odd given that it's promoting the TUC day of action on 30 November, a day on which you suspect not everyone will be dancing in the streets in between helping old ladies across them.
Its just-short-of-incendiary message seems to be "let's be nice to each other", which makes it unique within the anti-cuts canon. Previous musical attempts to promote the cause have relied instead on pointed anger. Billy Bragg has also questioned the TUC's avowed plan to make the song a chart hit, arguing that there are "cleverer ways" of using the internet to connect with young people, including viral videos.
Take Captain Ska's Christmas 2010 anti-cuts single, Liar Liar, which placed visuals of George Osborne and Nick Clegg over a reggae soundtrack. It may have charted at number 89 but the video has had 257,570 YouTube viewings. Since March, MC Nxtgen & Rob Gee have clocked up half a million hits for their video of Andrew Lansley Rap, featuring an NHS-themed rant that labels the health secretary a "grey-haired manky codger". By contrast, at the time of writing, the Workers have got only 1,613 YouTube viewings, and the video suggests "buy the download", rather than share the clip.
It's early days, mind, and the song has got one thing in its favour – it's a cracking tune, well sung by a crowd of workers rather than simpering celebs. And not a talent-show finalist in sight.
Republicans can't seem to stop themselves breaking down in tears, but it's not just American politicians who are so lachrymose
In 1972, US presidential candidate Ed Muskie broke down in tears during a speech. Or so the press reported. His tears, it turned out, were melted snowflakes – but the damage to his reputation was done. No one wanted a crybaby as president.
But fast-forward 30 years, and it seems the tactical sniffle is a more respected campaign tool. First it was Herman Cain. Then Rick Santorum. Minutes later: Newt Gingrich. By the end of last week's religious debate between members of the Republican right, the three Republicans had all broken down all in tears. "It was," said debate moderator Frank Luntz, "like hosting a cod-psychology chat show."
It was also the latest in a series of blubbing politicians. In recent years, Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, congressman Anthony Weiner, and Brazilian president Lula have all got weepy. Republican John Boehner, speaker of the house of representatives, also regularly bawls in public – and even the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher, couldn't stop the odd tear plopping out. But what prompted their sadness? Take our test to find out:
a He cannot abide Obama's stimulus deal.
b He is embarrassed at his connections to the tobacco lobby.
c He has just been elected speaker.
a She's just lost her presidential campaign.
b She's chopping onions.
c She's been asked about how she copes with the rigour of campaigning.
a He's remembering being diagnosed with cancer.
b He's just been accused of sexual harassment, allegations he denies.
c He's eating spicy pepperoni.
a Her contact lens is loose.
b Geoffrey Howe has just said something very nasty indeed.
c She has resigned as prime minister.
Lula da Silva
a He is overwhelmed by his own achievements.
b The favelas are rioting.
c Brazil are out of the World Cup.
b His daughter has a rare genetic disease.
B He has discovered creationism may not be true.
c He's seen the illegal immigrant figures.
Answers: Cain a; Clinton c; Thatcher c; Santorum a; Lula a; Boehner c
The Syrians have suffered a litany of horrors. Their resistance to Assad's regime will stand as an exemplar of human courage
'Be careful what you wish for" will be scribbled on the totalitarian tombstone of the Assad regime. For eight months Bashar has squirmed to justify abominable crimes against peaceful protesters calling for long-overdue reform by obsessively rehashing that he is at war with "armed gangs". These "bugs" were out to punish him for his "steadfast stance", he announced to that zoo of appointees that goes by the brazen misnomer of parliament. His official media then went into overdrive as there was a lot to cover up, since mass graves were being uncovered with women and babies in them.
We Syrians have been witness to everything ghoulish in this year of our revolution, which is set to stand as one of history's rousing exemplars of human courage. The castration of children, and the pulling out of their fingernails; hospitals, schools and football stadiums used to incarcerate more than 60,000 people, as the vast Hades of Assad's prison system – always standing room only – quickly became packed beyond its own elastic limits; the profiteering of Assad's shabiha (armed gangs) from a trail of thievery, torture and mayhem; trade in the organs of prisoners; the besieging and communal punishment of entire towns and cities; scorched-earth tactics in the countryside; bombardment of our coastline towns with naval gunships; the use of military planes to shell our inland cities; armoured tanks that are commanded to raze entire neighbourhoods; brutal house-to-house searches to harvest our young men and women; and the outrageous use of municipality rubbish trucks to collect their dear corpses.
As I watch the city of Homs (where many of my school friends have been bombed in their gracious homes or killed in a Syrian city renowned for its fabulous sense of humour and its delicious cheese kunafa) turned into a latter-day Grozny, I curse Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, for helping in its wanton destruction, as he uses his veto to protect murderers, and supplies submarines and state-of-the-art weapons to kill yet more innocent Syrians. We Syrians recognise the type only too well. Vainglorious, brooking no dissent, buoyed up by financial mafias and laying on putrid cold war rhetoric, which leaves us even colder.
Even the affluent neighbourhoods of Damascus are trembling from the onset of winter, because heating fuel has become as scarce as freedom; the regime's thugs have monopolised its use and are hoarding it, to give the soft, conservative capital a small taste of the discomforts and disasters for which it should brace itself if it joins the rest of the country in revolt – which it is already doing. Rebellious Mu'adamiyya on the outskirts of Damascus, where most of the city's day labour comes from, has had no electricity or fuel for months, and has seen its impoverished houses emptied of their menfolk, as they are rounded up and taken away to join the 40,000 disappeared or 4,600 dead across the country.
I, for one, can remember a Syria where we bought lupins or myrrh incense or green almonds in our sublime ancient souks, unbothered by the big brother stare of endless Assads; a Syria where religion was still safely lodged in the house where it belonged, along with the wine-coloured prayer rug, the amber rosary and the manuscript Qur'an on its mussadaf stand. A Syria before Jamil Assad – Bashar's uncle – allowed Iranian officials to enter our borders gleefully with their sackfuls of cash to recompense conversions.
In our recent misery, we have seen Revolutionary Guards aiding and abetting Assad's torturers and snipers, and Iranian oil and money – needed far more in Iran by its long-suffering people who, like us, must bear the keen whip of totalitarianism and the innumerable privations of grave economic crisis – flowing in to succour Tehran's political extension in Damascus. A military airport has sprung up on our Syrian coast, financed by Iran, to ease the flying in of those who would sow sectarian discord and hatred by such methods.
The consequences of 40 years of the policies of Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar – which turned our national army into a sectarian mafia family's private militia, and our state's coffers into that family's piggy bank to be raided at whim – have been the tit-for-tat sectarian crime that has so revolted the vast majority of Syrians, who have seen post-occupation Iraq martyred by sectarian killing fields, and the government of Lebanon become hostage to an armed state within a state.
As rumours fly around that Bashar has been offered asylum by the UAE, and has allegedly bought property in Dubai for $60m to live in, we see the end in sight for the "banality of evil". It's been a long and painful time coming.
It has been like a summer's afternoon, bright and warm, but the sun is already low in the sky as I climb over the stile and take the uneven, grassy path leading out on to the marsh. The sun is a large fuzzy disc, dissipated and weak, sinking towards the grey-blanketed Downs. Bushes and trees are slowly coalescing into the black, cutout silhouettes of a shadowy backdrop. I pick a spot in the middle of the marsh and crouch down by some brambles.
I hear the short-eared owls first. Two, short, coarse, rising barks echo across the marsh. It sounds like a female's contact call, which I've only heard on their breeding grounds on the Scottish islands before. The "shorties" are occasional visitors to Sussex marshes, heaths and coasts, usually in late autumn, sometimes staying all winter before returning north, but this month groups of two, three or more have been seen all across Sussex, including four birds here at Waltham.
Two owls float and flap low over the marsh. Their broad, stiff wings fall and rise in short, light stabs. The leading bird is pale cream and brown and the one following slightly darker. As they turn, they flash their white underwings with distinctive black commas.
One bird hunts and the other gives chase, calling again. They fly warily around each other, closing and drifting apart, rising and falling, slowly spiralling in wide circles like a mobile. They drift across the marsh. One flaps over a bush towards me. It stares, bright orange eyes surrounded by smudged black makeup, glaring in the dying light before flying past. Short-eared owls always seem so startled by the world around them. Or perhaps it's defiance. I watch the owls hunt and chase, calls still ringing out, until they disappear. I walk back carefully in the growing gloom. It suddenly feels cold.
You quoted my personal thoughts on ghost bikes (Ghost bikes: memento mori or wrong signal?, 11 November), taking one sentence from a much longer conversation, so I would like to clarify my views.
As a director of Mosquito Bikes in Islington, I want to encourage more people to take up cycling and enjoy its benefits but have often been told by new customers considering buying a bike that they are put off by being reminded of the dangers cyclists face on London roads. I agree with Hannah Caller (Letters, 16 November) that much more needs to be done by the mayor on cycle safety and training and improved technology for HGV drivers. However, I have been cycling in London for 30 years and every day I see cyclists put themselves in danger.
There is a ghost bike memorial at a junction close to where I live and which I pass most days on my bike. If alongside being a memorial the ghost bike also marks a place for cyclists to take extra care, I am not convinced that it works. Most days I see other cyclists line up against the very railings where someone has died, and I have tried to suggest to them that they should join me in front of the traffic. Their response is to give me a funny look and remain (often holding onto the railings) where they will be trapped if a large vehicle turns left.
Ghost bikes may work as memorials, but they are not helping cyclists in general either to think about how they navigate junctions or to understand that, if we all hold the road just in front of vehicles, we will be safer.
Your article (Rich nations 'give up' on new climate treaty until 2020, 21 November) is a misrepresentation of the UK's position. The UK would like to see a global treaty signed straight away but some of the biggest economies, both developed and developing, are not ready. We aim at Durban to reach agreement on the need for a new treaty and to set out a timetable for its negotiation, concluding no later than 2015. The UK and our EU partners are also ready to agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol, as long as there is a hard commitment from the other major economies to a comprehensive global legal framework and to complete negotiations on it as soon as possible. This timeframe will have to be discussed in Durban, but we recognise global emissions will need to be peaking by 2020 to avoid dangerous temperature rises. I will set out the UK's position at Imperial College in London on Thursday.
Chris Huhne MP
Secretary of state for energy and climate change
Once again, we see a British government willing to weaken labour rights (UK to relax working-time rules as price of EU deal, 21 November). The existing directive already offers considerable flexibility, with an average 48-hour a week maximum over 11 weeks; recognition of emergency situations where usual rest times may not be possible; and the opportunity to negotiate agreements to vary terms. On-call work does present problems, but these have been resolved in many cases, so we should be learning from good practice rather than rushing to relax rules. After all, on-call time is about who is in control of your time: if you are at your place of work and expected to be ready at any moment, it can hardly be said you are off-duty.
The UK opt-out is widely used as a matter of course – many employers have staff members who work hours of unrecognised overtime and give an estimated £27.4bn of "free" work a year. Excessive hours also adversely affect productivity and are linked to an increased risk of accidents at work and high stress levels. The working time directive is a health and safety measure for good reasons. The government would do better to look at job creation rather than pushing people to work excessive hours.
Jean Lambert MEP
• Workers in the UK already have the fewest employment rights in Europe, yet are now facing the possibility of even fewer. Against a background of falling real wages and Edwardian levels of income inequality, British workers can look forward to having to work longer hours, being sacked without notice and little or no recourse to a tribunal. The coalition's neoliberal outriders already have their eyes on scrapping the minimum wage, introducing more anti-union legislation and reducing holiday entitlements. If you don't or can't work, your punishment is forcible attendance on wasteful and ineffective back-to-work schemes or be "volunteered" into working for nothing for a charity or retail giant. Do we want an economy based on cheap labour living in perpetual fear and anxiety, or a society in which the national wealth is redirected away from those who live on its profits and back to those who create it?
• There is no justification for forced labour (Two months without pay - welcome to the new world of work experience, 17 November). These shelf-stackers are wishing to prove their employability, not slaves. Companies making healthy profits must be rotten to the core if their managers cannot see how unethical it is to exploit desperate young people. Can we have a full list of companies deploying these new forced labourers so I can make sure I do not spend any money with them until they start paying a fair wage?
The British government's commitment to place human rights at the heart of foreign policy must not be forgotten as Colombia's President Santos (Colombian president heads Civets nations to drum up trade with Britain, 20 November) meets with David Cameron this week. Their mutual goal of deepening trade alliances is not achievable at present without the downgrading of human rights.
Colombia has one of the worst records on human rights and kills more trade unionists than any other country. Every day human rights defenders and those who stand up to protect their land rights in the face of increasing national and multinational investment in agro-industry and extractives receive death threats and are often murdered. Santos's public statements in favour of human rights and a law to restore land to some of Colombia's victims distinguish his government from previous administrations. There are approximately 5.2 million internally displaced people in Colombia from over 16.3m acres. However, this administration has seen a worsening environment for those working on land and victims issues. Santos's first year in office has seen more than 250,000 newly displaced people (2010), 54 human rights defenders killed, more than 250 disappeared, and one attacked every 36 hours (2011).The British government must, of course, support commitments to human rights, but these must be implemented before the UK enters into deeper trading relations with Colombia – not least because of the grave danger of supporting the legalisation of illegal land grabs from the poorest and most disadvantaged.
Louise Winstanley Programme and advocacy manager, ABColombia, Chris Bain Director, Cafod (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), Justin Kilcullen Director, Trócaire, David Huey Country director, Oxfam GB, Andrew Croggon Head of Latin America and the Caribbean, Christian Aid, Lorraine Currie Head of international programmes, Sciaf (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund)
• Striker received abusive messages on Twitter account
• Club says it cannot currently comment any further
Norwich City have passed details of alleged racist abuse of the striker James Vaughan to the police.
Vaughan, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury, received abusive messages on his Twitter account.
The Norwich chief executive, David McNally, also used Twitter to thank internet users for bringing the matter to their attention.
"Thank you for the information regarding racist tweets," McNally wrote. "We have handed details to the police and cannot comment any further."
Asked by the Leicester City player Lee Peltier who was responsible for the abusive messages, Vaughan replied on Twitter: "Dunno pal just some loser giving it cos he feels like a big man on the computer."
Interim government bows to growing pressure as violence leaves 33 people dead and more than 2,000 injured in ongoing clashes
Egypt's interim government hastendered its resignation following a third day of deadly violence in Cairo, throwing the country into fresh turmoil less than a week before nationwide parliamentary elections are due to begin.
The possible exit of the beleaguered prime minister, Essam Sharaf, and his cabinet came as anti-junta protesters announced plans for a "million-man" occupation of Tahrir Square on Tuesday, and after the use of live ammunition by security forces on demonstrators was confirmed for the first time.
At least 33 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in the ongoing clashes, prompting a range of revolutionary movements from across the political spectrum, including leftist, liberal and Islamist organisations, to throw their full weight behind the protests.
"We confirm our readiness to face all the forces that aim to abort the revolution, reproduce the old regime, or drag the country into chaos and turn the revolution into a military coup," said a joint statement by 37 groups.
As the crowds in Tahrir Square swelled on Monday evening, it seemed unlikely that the dismissal of Sharaf and his ministers – which had yet to be confirmed by the military council – would be enough to calm the unrest. The protesters' main demand remains the return of the country to civilian rule, not just a change of the personnel operating on behalf of the ruling generals. But the resignations, if accepted, could pave the way for a compromise, with the armed forces appointing a new government of "national salvation" and offering a clearer timetable for their own departure from power.
"I don't think this crowd cares at all about the government," said Khalid Abdalla, an actor and activist who has been demonstrating in Tahrir Square. "This is about a battle on the streets in which people are being killed."
Earlier in the day a last-ditch effort by the junta to stem the violence by offering concessions to their critics – including the passing of a long-awaited "treachery law" that would bar former members of Hosni Mubarak's now-disbanded ruling party from running in the upcoming elections, which are now less than a week away – appeared only to galvanise resistance.
"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [Scaf] only have two choices – they obey the will of the people, or Egypt burns," said Ramy el-Swissy, a leading member of the April 6th youth movement, which will be joining the sit-in on Tuesday. "People on the streets are so angry; no matter what certain ordinary people may have thought of the protests initially, they are now seeing endless TV footage of innocent Egyptians losing their lives at the hands of the security forces. Everyone knows that this is not what we launched a revolution for, and they are standing with us."
Despite continued denials by the authorities, evidence has emerged that some police or army units are using live ammunition on protesters.
Researchers from the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, a Cairo-based human rights organisation, told the Guardian they had confirmation that the bodies of four people killed by live bullets were in the city's main morgue. The victims were all aged between 19 and 27.
William Hague, the British foreign minister, said the violence was of "great concern" but added that the UK would not be taking sides.
The US urged Egypt to go ahead with the elections and called for restraint on all sides. The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said: "The United States continues to believe that these tragic events should not stand in the way of elections." His comments came as clashes continued in the side streets off Tahrir Square, with the frontline between revolutionaries and armed police shifting back and forth throughout the day.
At one point teargas was fired by the security forces into a makeshift field hospital off the central plaza, forcing volunteer doctors and wounded protesters to flee. Nearby mosques and churches opened their doors to the injured, though medics said they were vastly under-resourced and struggling to keep count of the casualties.
Some demonstrators took to writing the contact details of their families on their arms before joining the fray so they can be identified if killed. Meanwhile Tahrir's main holding station for fatalities said it had run out of coffins, and appealed for a fresh supply.
"People have political demands – specifically for civilian rule and the end of the military council – but right now this is simply a fight between the police and the people, and you can only stand on one side," said Ramy Raoof, a prominent activist.
"And now through the statements of the government and the fact that the soldiers attacked Tahrir yesterday, it's clear that Scaf and the army stand with the police. There is now one enemy, and when you have that situation people get mobilised and come down from their homes to join."
He said elections, now only six days away, should go ahead but that they must be accompanied by Scaf withdrawing from politics. "Right now that seems like the only scenario that would work," said Raoof, 24. "But other alternatives could be proposed."
Beyond the capital, unrest has spread to almost every major urban centre in the country, including Ismailia on the Suez Canal and the strategically important town of al-Arish in the northern Sinai peninsula. In Egypt's second-largest city, the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, thousands of students took to the streets after the death of a second protester.
Amid mounting calls for the formation of a new civilian government as a way of ending the crisis and appropriating power back from the armed forces, the country's largest organised political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement condemning Scaf for the bloodshed and vowed to push for the prosecution of those responsible for the attacks.
But in a sign that it was not yet ready to give up on the "transition" timetable – which is likely to see it emerge as the biggest winner in next week's parliamentary vote – the Brotherhood refused to endorse the protests or follow several liberal and leftists in calling off its parliamentary campaign, though it did promise to suspend electoral activities temporarily.
Seventy years after The Grapes of Wrath was published, its themes – corporate greed, joblessness – are back with a vengeance. Melvyn Bragg on John Steinbeck's remarkable legacy
I read The Grapes of Wrath in that fierce span of adolescence when reading was a frenzy. I was all but drowned in the pity and anger John Steinbeck evoked for these people, fleeing Oklahoma to seek work but finding nothing save cruelty, violence, the enmity of immoral banks and businesses, and the neglect by the state of its own people in the Land of the Free. The novel was published in 1939 and delivered a shock to the English reading world.
But for years I did not read him. Earlier this year, when asked to make a film about Steinbeck for the BBC, I went back with apprehension. The peaks of one's adolescent reading can prove troughs in late middle age. Life moves on; not all books do. But 50 years later, The Grapes of Wrath seems as savage as ever, and richer for my greater awareness of what Steinbeck did with the Oklahoma dialect and with his characters. It is just as alive, with its fine anger against the banks: "The bank – the monster – has to have profit all the time. It can't wait … It'll die when the monster stops growing. It can't stay in one place."
We started filming with a small crew in Oklahoma, near the spot where the novel begins. This summer there was another drought, as there had been in the 1930s. They farm land better now, but even so, many farmers are going bust. The resonances with contemporary America were powerful: the working and middle classes have once again been holed by the big banks. Once again, the protests have started up, as Americans scan their continent for work. As in the 1930s, there is a powerful feeling that the promised land promises nothing, not even hope.
In Steinbeck's day, this was part of the American dust bowl. "Every moving thing lifted the dust into the air," he wrote in The Grapes of Wrath. "A walking man lifted a thin layer as high as his waist. An automobile boiled a cloud behind it." Archive footage of the time shows dust storms swirling across the flat lands like tornadoes.
In the novel, the Joad family are driven off their farm by the banks. They pile, all 12 of them, into a truck which takes aim for the west coast, more than 1,000 miles of desert and a mountain range away. Although Steinbeck was not a Christian, he plundered the King James Bible for stories (Cain and Abel became East of Eden) and for the pulse of his prose. The family of 12 on that truck are as the 12 tribes of Israel seeking liberation. The truck itself is an ark; there is even a man named Noah on board. It was this journey that my camera crew and I followed, often down Highway 66, "the main immigrant road … the path of people in flight, refugees from dust and the shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership". Upwards of half a million Americans migrated west in the space of two or three years in the 30s, the biggest internal migration in US history.
What happened to the Joad family was an attempt to keep them and everybody like them out of California. In effect, the state unilaterally seceded from the rest of the country, refusing entry to their fellow Americans and criminalising them. There were beatings, and the loss of civil rights. The Nation magazine reported that at a place called Salinas, near the Californian coast, "something shockingly like a concentration camp had recently been constructed … a water tower rises in solitary grandeur in the midst of the camp. Surrounding the tower is a platform splendidly adapted for observation, night illumination and marksmanship." In September 1936, a pitched battle was fought in Salinas between the forces of agribusiness (stiffened by 250 proto-fascist American Legionnaires and 2,000 local vigilantes) and workers who had been forced to accept less-than-subsistence wages, forever undercut by the desperation of other workers prepared to take any wages. They were loosely organised by communists, but mostly driven by hunger.
Undercover on the bread line
Salinas was Steinbeck's home town. It made him, and after that street battle, it made him anew. His birth house is now a museum. It is a detached building, on what was in his boyhood the upper professional class road in the town, as Victorian as you could imagine. Fine bricks and wood, good-sized and plentiful rooms, sturdy furniture. On the wall there is a Christmas photograph of Mr and Mrs Steinbeck and their children, every one of them dressed as if for church. Every one of them is reading a book. The camera receives not a single glance. The Steinbecks are engaged in things of the mind.
Steinbeck studied science at university, but from an early age declared himself to be a writer and set up an unrelenting daily routine. His intellectual fascinations were great literature and biology, especially marine biology. His whole world view began in a rock pool and swept up to a study of the stars.
He had written articles about the migrants passing through Salinas, and worked at menial jobs around California for months during his protracted university years, but The Grapes of Wrath proved radically different. It was as if he had transplanted himself into another class, and into areas of passion and politics he had only observed before. A previous novel, In Dubious Battle, was an examination of earlier labour battles, but he wrote of that book: "I wanted to achieve a kind of detached perspective. I'm non-partisan, I'm just going to report, as a journalist, what's going on." In that curiously bloodless book, the communist organisers are as manipulative as the landowners themselves. In Dubious Battle was his rock pool. He was the examining scientist.
In The Grapes of Wrath you feel (correctly I believe) that Steinbeck was a core participant. What had changed him? In my view, it was probably a man called Tom Collins. After the battle of Salinas, Steinbeck decided to go undercover for months, to research what would become The Grapes of Wrath. He contacted the headquarters of the Farm Security Administration in Washington and said he wanted to work as a migrant. They assigned him to Collins, a camp manager at Arvin in California. The two men worked in the valleys for several months in 1937. Steinbeck dedicated the book "To Tom – who lived it".
The camp Collins ran features like a utopia in the novel. We filmed there this summer, and it is deeply touching to see that Collins not only ran a rare, uncorrupt and democratic camp, but had put up a schoolhouse, a library and a meeting hall. Collins and Arvin are at the moral centre of the book; what he learned there gave Steinbeck the vision and mass of knowledge he needed to write the book. He learned how to keep battered trucks on the road, what food was possible on the poverty line. His descriptions of physical work are authentic, as are the flashes of human kindness and the constant stab of inhuman cruelty.
Steinbeck wrote furiously and said that the effort nearly destroyed him. "I'm trying to write history while it is happening, and I don't want it to be wrong." He added: "[I]t is a mean, nasty book and if I could make it nastier I would … the book has a definite job to do … I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this." He took his title from the Book of Revelation, via the triumphalist 1861 Battle Hymn of the Republic, reprinting it in full at the beginning of the novel.
A liar and a communist
It was the bestselling book in America in 1939. A film version starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford followed, itself a classic. Arthur Miller wrote of Steinbeck, "I can't think of another American writer, with the possible exception of Mark Twain, who so deeply penetrated the political life of the country." And yet Steinbeck was also called "a liar", "a communist" and "a Jew acting for Zionist-Communist interests". The book was burned in the streets; it was banned in schools and libraries, with its explicit sexuality given as the excuse. It was virulently attacked in Congress, and Steinbeck's subsequent success in Russia eroded his reputation from the cold war onwards. He bought himself a revolver for self-defence and had good reason to fear for his life. The book has sold about 14m copies and still sells steadily.
Steinbeck went on to develop his interest in natural science and to write many more books. His large attempt was to find common ground between the observable natural world and the worlds of myths and mysticism. His reputation was blasted regularly by the new metropolitan tastemakers. The New York Times poured bile over his head the day before he won the Nobel prize, in 1962 ("The Swedes have made a serious error by giving the prize to a writer whose limited talent is in his best books watered down by 10th-rate philosophising"), though there were many fine writers who rushed to defend him. Steinbeck answered his critics in his acceptance speech in Stockholm. "Literature is not a game for the cloistered elect. Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed."
Newly-established bureau, headed former US ambassador to Mexico, to focus on expanding energy resources worldwide
It can often seem as if the US establishment is stuck in a time warp when it comes to energy and the environment. Congress is dominated by Republicans who doubt the existence of man-made climate change (and evolution). The White House has backed away from regulating smog.
But now comes news from the State Department of a re-organisation recognising the connection between energy supplies and international security.
The State Department's new bureau of energy resources will focus on maintaining stable supplies of affordable energy; promoting green technology, including the US industry; and expanding access to electricity to the 1.3bn people who currently live without it.
The 55-person bureau will be headed by Carlos Pascual, who was forced to resign as US ambassador to Mexico last March after WikiLeaks published his criticism of the authorities' fight against drug trafficking.
In a briefing for international press on Tuesday, Pascual insisted the new unit did not represent a downgrading in the importance the US gives to climate change.
"What we are doing in the energy bureau is not an alternative to the discussion on climate change," Pascual said. "I see myself as a partner to the team that is working on climate change. They are setting the broad paramenters, but in the end we have to ask ourselves: 'how does that translate into the discussions we have to have on the market policies that exist?"
Between the lines, however, it looks like Pascual is going to be devoting far more of his attentions to gas than to wind, solar, or other renewable energies.
In his remarks, Pascual noted the explosive growth of shale gas in the US, and around the world.
"Shale as a commodity is becoming part of an active process of international negotiations," he said.
He went on: "We support additional gas on global markets as long as it is done in an environmentally sustainable way."
In addition to encouraging development of shale gas to relieve pressure on oil, Pascual will also be keeping a close eye on China, one of the biggest energy users in the world.
Obama administration officials have often complained of the Chinese government's support for wind and solar industries. China invested $48bn in renewable energy last year.
Pascual said the office would work with China to develop new energy technologies and push for greater access to Chinese markets.
One area of energy Pascual will not be working on: tar sands. He said he had been "recused" from dealing with the Alberta tar sands or the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline to Texas.
Supercommittee failure is symptomatic of Congress's doomed bargaining. Like a delusional addict, it has to want to change
The failure of the supercommittee (which didn't even exist long enough for people to settle on a canonical capitalisation scheme) is the kind of bad news where the sound of wringing of hands drowns out the information about what the failure actually means, and the reasons for it.
The easy answer – that the impasse stems from the inability of the parties to compromise – isn't wrong, but it does tend to cover up in generalities the specific actions (and actors). Over at Slate, Dave Weigel traces the roots of the committee's failure to decisions made over ten years ago. In 2001, Republicans gleefully passed the Bush tax cuts without listening to the (admittedly oblique) warning of Alan Greenspan:
"What if, for example, the forces driving the surge in tax revenues in recent years begin to dissipate or reverse in ways that we do not now foresee?"
What if, indeed.
The Democrats are not without fault, though honestly, I'm having trouble coming up with something specific beyond how they ceded so much ground to Republicans when Republican ideas were popular. The good news for them (and us!), now, is that Republican ideas aren't popular. Over the weekend, supercommittee member Senator Jon Kyl even tried to go all "Occupy" on David Gregory, boasting that Republicans had presented a plan wherein "the wealthiest Americans would pay more taxes than they do now."
You know a party is in trouble when it's quoting the signs being waved outside their supporters' meetings.
At this point, congressional Republicans' attempts to even look like they're trying to do something on deficit reduction remind me of my own attempts to curb bad behavior: institute some arbitrary-ish rules (no eating carbs after 5!), along with daunting (but self-imposed!) consequences for breaking my own rules (can't watch "Jersey Shore"!). The flaw in the scheme runs deeper than you'd think. Sure, it's easy for me (being the person who designed the whole setup) to then wiggle around the rules.
But the real root of the problem is that no system of punishment and reward can make me want to change my behavior. All I really want is the benefit that changing the behavior would bring.
People use the metaphor of legislators being "addicted" to spending (or tax cuts) pretty casually, but thanks to Newt Gingrich's invocation of the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous, I wonder if there's a more substantive comparison to be made between congressional malfeasance and compulsive behavior. The first of the Twelve Steps, after all, is to admit you're powerless over the action you want to stop, that there's no out-thinking yourself, no deals you can make, no amount of willpower you can muster.
One often has to hit bottom for this to sink in, and certainly Congress is looking at their bottom – even if they think it's a hole in the ground.
For Spain's indignados, last Sunday's election delivered a mandate for struggle and resistance
Proposals for voting strategies proliferated in the runup to Sunday's general election in Spain. People wrote "ballot box" on drains and toilets; others suggested cutting out the middlemen and depositing votes directly into bank machines. This campaign of ballot spoiling wasn't a subcultural anarchist prank, but a reflection of extraordinarily widespread popular disaffection. A typical sight during a pre-election protest was a respectable middle-aged man with a cigarette in one hand and a marker pen in the other going from municipal bin to municipal bin writing "Vote here" on the lids."They don't represent us" and "They are all the same" – the slogans of the indignados (the Spanish progenitors of the Occupy movement, who have mobilised hundreds of thousands across the country) – are now mainstream.
In contrast to the political parties, the indignados (the "outraged") say: "They want your vote; we want your opinion." They question the very legitimacy of electoral politics, seeing a hollowing out of representative democracy that the eurozone crisis is rendering critical. In their words, "the polls are in the safe custody of the European Central Bank".
On election day the indignados got protest-voting trending on Twitter with a three-pronged strategy: to abstain, spoil one's ballot, or attempt to break out of the bipartisan system by voting for a minority party. Rather than just staying at home, people actively registered disgust at the choices on offer, and the number of spoiled ballots on Sunday was double that of the last election in 2008 – numbering, with abstentions and blank votes, 11 million: more than voted for the rightwing victors, the Partido Popular.
Electoral disaffection reflects the harsh economic climate of Spain, with an unemployment rate of 46% for those under 30. Since the crisis voters have seen the socialist PSOE government renege on social policies and adopt the harsh austerity programmes of the right; as with New Labour, its traditional voter base turned away in disgust. It wasn't so much a case of the PP winning a mandate on Sunday, but of the PSOE losing 4.5 million voters.
Meanwhile the rhetoric of the indignados – that democracy is being eroded by the markets – has received unwelcome validation as the world of finance pummels Spain. Just before the election, borrowing costs had jumped to a 14-year high. In the words of Carlos Delclós, a Barcelona indignado: "[The incoming prime minister] Mariano Rajoy's task, at this point, is to try to guess what Merkel or the IMF want him to do before they tell him, so that his decisions look more like his own brilliance, and not the imposed will of dominant supranational institutions. The movement knows this, and I don't think they're going to be fooled into thinking that these elections change anything besides, perhaps, the scale of repression the government is willing to impose."
Leónidas Martín, artist, activist and professor at the University of Barcelona echoes this concern: "The results are perverse, a reflection of the disaffection with democracy." Martín perceives a real danger in this popular disaffection, however. He is "worried by the model of technocratic governments imposed by the markets as in Italy and Greece," he says, because "the markets are incorporating the popular disaffection into their own interests. They say: 'You don't like politicians? You don't like democracy? Very well, we understand you, and we want to help you. Just leave everything to us. We are experts.'"
In the short term, the reality of a rightwing government may well dampen the mood of the indignados. But it is also setting the stage for a massive new wave of protest that will strengthen the movement. By next spring those made unemployed by the crisis will start running out of unemployment benefits. This, combined with stringent new austerity measures and angry unions – whose hands had been tied by their connections to the socialist government, but can now come out fighting – will usher in what looks to be an enormous and potent wave of direct action.
The indignados are playing the long game. Inspiring Occupy tactics in other countries, they have been taking over empty bank-owned properties across the country from Galicia to Andalucia and Madrid to Barcelona. The general assemblies of the encampments they held in the summer are now devolved to local neighbourhoods; the occupied buildings are being used to hold assemblies through the winter months and house those evicted through mortgage defaults. "The answer to the crisis is not apathy or cynicism," says Kike Tudela, a historian and activist. "We have four years of struggle and resistance ahead, and the question is: what will we have after four years? Do we want the socialists back with more neoliberal policies, or something new?"
The indignados are now exploring ideas that go far beyond party politics or even changing electoral law, such as participatory budgets, referendums, election recalls and other forms of citizen-initiated legalisation. "It's a debate we have to have within the movement, but perhaps we can create new political forms from below. We are interested in Latin American models," Tudela says, referring to governments that have resisted the onslaught of neoliberalism in tandem with social movements that hold them to their promises.
This new form of politics that creates effective pathways between social movements and government is vastly ambitious. But as the indignados say: "We are going slowly, because we are going far."
Man whose influence is blamed by Democrats for the refusal of Republicans to sign up to a deficit-cutting deal with tax rises
Grover Norquist took an interest in politics at an extremely young age. He says he worked as a volunteer on the 1968 Nixon campaign at the age of 12, and it was then that he had his big idea.
While his contemporaries were consumed by comics, movies and candy, it occured to Norquist, as he returned home from school in Massachusetts one day, that Republicans should pledge never to raise taxes. Four decades on, that particular brainwave is at the centre of the country's biggest political story.
Now 55, Norquist holds no elected office but is one of the most powerful figures in Washington, head of a lobbying and activist group Americans for Tax Reform. Democrats blame him for the impasse over deficit reduction.
The Democratic senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry described him as the "13th member" of the 12-member congressional super-committee given the task of drawing up a plan to reduce the country's $15tn national deficit.
Kerry and other Democrats complained that Norquist's name was repeatedly invoked by the Republicans, and the word "pledge" came up over and over again.
The committee on Monday confirmed it was unable to reach an agreement on how to reduce the deficit. The Republicans blamed the Democrats for being unwilling to cut welfare benefits; the Democrats blamed the Republicans for being unwilling to countenance any tax rises – and pinpointed Norquist as the culprit.
The Democratic co-chair of the committee, Patty Murray, speaking to CNN on Sunday, said: "As long as we have some Republican lawmakers who feel more enthralled with a pledge they took to a Republican lobbyist than they do to a pledge to the country to solve the problems, this is going to be hard to do."
On Monday, Norquist denied that he was to blame. The problem, he countered, is that the Democrats want higher taxes and that was not up for debate.
"It's been off the table for a year," he said. "The Democrats are a little hard of hearing."
In spite of his denial, Norquist holds a lot of sway over Republicans. He has been pressing Republican candidates to sign his lobby group's Taxpayer Protection Pledge since founding Americans for Tax in 1985. President Reagan signed up the following year.
Today, 238 out of the 242 Republicans in the House have signed the pledge, along with 41 out of the 47 Republican senators. All six Republican members of the supercommittee have signed the pledge. Of the GOP presidential candidates, the only one not to sign the pledge is Jon Huntsman, the most moderate figure in the race.
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is a powerful lever. If a Republican member of Congress was to vote for tax increases, the pledge can be waved in front of voters – when that member sought re-election – as evidence of hypocrisy. That member of Congress would likely to face a primary challenge.
Norquist hangs on to the signatures decade after decade. For him, the promise is for life, regardless of changes in the country's economic conditions.
Signatures are also sought from Republicans fighting for election at state level. It is this extensive web of power and influence that led Arianna Huffington to dub him "the dark wizard of the right's anti-tax cult".
The ruthlessness with which he collects signatures is at odds with a disarmingly charming manner and easy-going humour. He is married to a Kuwaiti, Samah Alrayyes, a public relations specialist who was formerly a director for the Islamic Free Market Institute.
Norquist is a mainstream conservative on issues other than tax and is a director of the board of the National Rifle Association.
On tax, however, it is hard to overstate his hold on the party. Newt Gingrich, currently enjoying a surge in support for his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, puts it simply.
Norquist, he says, is "the single most effective conservative activist in the country".
The full statement from the supercommittee co-chairs senator Patty Murray and congressman Jeb Hensarling
"After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee's deadline.
Despite our inability to bridge the committee's significant differences, we end this process united in our belief that the nation's fiscal crisis must be addressed and that we cannot leave it for the next generation to solve. We remain hopeful that Congress can build on this committee's work and can find a way to tackle this issue in a way that works for the American people and our economy.
We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to come to a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement, but as we approach the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we want to express our appreciation to every member of this committee, each of whom came into the process committed to achieving a solution that has eluded many groups before us. Most importantly, we want to thank the American people for sharing thoughts and ideas and for providing support and good will as we worked to accomplish this difficult task.
We would also like to thank our committee staff, in particular Staff Director Mark Prater and Deputy Staff Director Sarah Kuehl, as well as each committee member's staff for the tremendous work they contributed to this effort. We would also like to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. Douglas Elmendorf and Mr. Thomas Barthold and their teams at the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, respectively, for the technical support they provided to the committee and its members."
There had been no shortage of Egyptians who have suffered from the military's transformation, from heroes of the revolution to its nemesis
The spark was, as ever, unanticipated. A few dozen protesters remained in Tahrir Square after Friday's large, peaceful protest against the military's wish to reimpose itself on Egypt's future constitution. In the last 10 months, there had been no shortage of Egyptians who had suffered personally from the ruling military's transformation, from heroes of the revolution to its nemesis: bloggers have been put behind bars; protesters have been killed; civilians tried in military courts; emergency rule has continued; Coptic Christians have been gunned down; the trial of Hosni Mubarak has been stalled.
But it was a cack-handed attempt to preserve the military's impunity and privileges in a future constitution that finally set Tahrir Square back on a hair trigger. The police who were sent in to clear the tents did the rest. What followed – three days of violence in which 33 have died and over 1,500 injured – constitutes the gravest challenge to the military's hold on power since Mubarak left, and it is far from over yet. As Tahrir battled the birdshot and teargas, clear demands emerged: that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) sets a date for relinquishing power, that a civilian interior minister be appointed, and that the army withdraw to its barracks. Long before this weekend's bloody events, the military had squandered the gratitude of the Egyptians in helping them push a dictator out of power. But after these events, SCAF could soon have as big a problem with its legitimacy as the ousted dictator had.
What happens now? All this is days before a complex six-week long election process is due to start. Just as it did 10 months ago, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood had yesterday to play catchup with the demands of the revolution. One statement issued by its Freedom and Justice Party had to be strengthened by another one. The first called for the military council to investigate crimes committed against the protesters and for demonstrators to exercise restraint. A second one demanded that SCAF releases a timetable for handing over power to a civilian authority next year. The last thing that the Brotherhood wants is to postpone elections which will see it returned as the major political force.
Elections should go ahead, however imperfect they are. If SCAF hangs on as the transitional authority, it will take elections to inject badly needed legitimacy to the political process. If SCAF realises after a mass march planned for today that the game is up and a civilian authority is formed, elections must also take place. One way or another, the democratic demands of the revolution must prevail. Egypt's military rulers are now only standing in their way.
Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven may not have the iconic glamour of the Da Vinci show, but in its own way it is every bit as eye-opening
Frustrated by the now totally sold-out advance tickets for the National Gallery's blockbuster Leonardo show, and by the up to three-hour queues in Trafalgar Square for the on-the-day tickets too? Then why not head down in peace and comfort to a different kind of once-in-a-lifetime art exhibition currently on show in south London, and at half the price of Leonardo's. Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven may not have the iconic glamour of the show in Trafalgar Square, but in its own way it is every bit as eye-opening and certainly less familiar. Most of the pictures, always intense and often tiny, are of the Canadian wilderness: landscapes of rocks, trees, hills, water and skies. Human beings barely feature. In some respects the pictures echo early 20th-century northern European national styles, but they have a muscular texture, fierce colour and imagination all their own, which reflects the conscious determination of the 1920s Group to create a vernacular Canadian aesthetic and tradition. Few movements in art can ever have been so successful. In their homeland, both Thomson and the Group of Seven, on whom he was a key influence, are immensely revered. Their work occupies a central place in Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario and Canada's own national gallery in Ottawa. In this country, though, they are barely known. The current show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery – London's oldest and many people's favourite – is the first showing of their work in London since 1925. Far too long.