Separation anxiety

Last week wasn’t a great one for anybody who has some residual belief in the intrinsic goodness of humankind, what with homophobic mass murder and political assassination, set against a background of the cross-Atlantic crypto-fascism that underpins Trumpism and Brexit.

I’m still just about convinced that there is no way the US electorate will take leave of its collective senses and hand the keys of the republic to the Donald – there is a non-negligible chance that he won’t even make it on to the ballot – but domestically I’m much less optimistic that the Remain case will win out out once the votes are counted in the EU referendum this week.

The consequences of a Leave victory hardly bear thinking about; economic meltdown and the far-right triumphant just for starters, with worse to follow. I’m hoping that the looming reality of such a doomsday scenario will focus the minds of those on the left who are thinking of voting for an exit, or abstaining, and convince them that such a course of action is absurdly risky. I’m aware that there is a perfectly sound progressive case against the EU, but that’s a fight for another day; it’s clear that in the current political context nothing good will come from handing a victory to the most reactionary elements of British society.

It’s all an unsettling reminder of the way that one’s life can be upended by events almost completely outwith one’s control. I guess I’ll know by Friday whether my gut feeling that people are basically decent is accurate, or hopelessly naive.

High times

Another 4/20 has rolled around, and I’m glad to say that it’s looking like the tide of marijuana legalisation is unstoppable, in the US at least. The dope business is booming in Colorado and Washington, and, more importantly, pot is becoming an uncontroversial part of everyday culture. It’s not hard to imagine that weed will be legal in most if not all of the country before President Clinton finishes her first term.

It’s not clear how much impact this will have on drug policy in Europe, but hopefully the successful US experience, not to mention the tax dollar bonanza, will nudge things in the right direction before too long. At the very least it’s given me another incentive to plan a long-overdue trip Stateside sometime soon…

Post-oxi

So the Greeks held their collective nerve and voted No on Sunday; now we wait to see whether Germany will follow through on the threat to throw Greece out of the Euro, and perhaps out of the EU altogether.

On the face of it, it makes no economic sense to take such drastic action over what, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively small sums of money, but this has always been as much a political crisis as an economic one, and, in political terms, allowing popular democracy to win out over neoliberal discipline is a much bigger threat to Europe’s rulers than even the worst shocks that might follow a Grexit from the Euro.

So my money (euro, not drachma) is on Merkel sticking to her hard line. Whatever happens, difficult times ahead for Greece.

Oxi

I’ve been involved in a lot of political activity over the years, but, being honest, I have to admit that most of it has been, if not exactly inconsequential, then marginal at best. A few minor victories here, some setbacks there, nothing that will trouble the historians. I don’t mean this dismissively; progress has always come in countless tiny increments, and some occasional leaps, and it’s usually only with the benefit of hindsight that we can tell what is significant.

That said, I have often found myself daydreaming about what it would have been like to have been around when things were really going down – Russia in 1917, Spain in 1936, Cuba in 1953, Chile in 1973; when the struggle reached a point of crisis and irrevocable choices had to be made. In the accounts I have read of such times life certainly seems to take on an intensity unmatched in my own more pedestrian experience, but often at a considerable personal cost to those involved. On balance I guess I’m glad to have lived, so far at least, in a relatively quiet period.

Of course no one really gets to choose the circumstances they live through, and people can find themselves making history without ever having sought out that responsibility. Such is the fate of the population of Greece, who go to the polls tomorrow to choose between two visions of their future, and perhaps of the future of Europe.

I wouldn’t presume, from my position of comfort in Northern Europe, to fully understand the pressures that will weigh on the Greeks as they cast their ballots, but if I were there I would be voting No. It’s far from certain that a rejection of the EU austerity plan will give Syriza the leverage they need to negotiate a better deal, but accepting a continuation of the disastrous program of the last few years will surely condemn the Greek working class to inescapable poverty.

What I have heard about the political engagement of Greek workers is encouraging, and I am hopeful that they will back Syriza in sufficient numbers to deliver a victory, though it looks like it will be close. Whatever the outcome, something has started – the long, difficult process of turning Europe away from its current course. It’s a task that will require united action across the whole continent, but the movement in Greece could be the inspiration those of us who have thus far lagged behind need to get our act together.

Greeks bearing gifts

It generally takes something momentous to wake me from my mid-winter slumber, but such an event has just arrived in the shape of the very encouraging victory of the radical left party Syriza in the Greek general election.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting, as we wait to see who blinks first in the negotiations over reducing and/or rescheduling Greek debt. It seems likely that there will be some sort of deal, since I don’t think either side is willing to see the fallout that would result from a default. There isn’t much room for manoeuvre though; the Greek people desperately need some relief from years of crushing austerity, and failure to deliver this would precipitate a massive political crisis in Athens, while the ECB is wary of seeming too lenient on the debt question, lest it encourages similar popular uprisings in other parts of the Eurozone. My guess is that the eventual compromise will favour the Greeks, since things can’t get much worse for them, so they have less reason to back down. The Germans don’t seem to be in a forgiving mood though, so it could go either way.

The situation in the UK doesn’t really parallel that in Greece. We have had some austerity, but it’s been on nothing like the same scale; crucially the middle class, while squeezed, have not been completely impoverished. There is no left formation analogous to Syriza either, anti-austerity sentiment taking on more of a diffuse, localised form. That said, if things work out well for the Greeks it will give a boost to the left here, and perhaps inject some excitement into our own election campaign. Whatever happens the result has shown that markets and bankers don’t have a monopoly on power, and that the voice of the people can’t be ignored.

Bad news for bears

Disappointing, if unsurprising, results in the US midterm polls, after the GOP finally realised that elections are won on the centre ground, rather than the wingnut fringes. It probably means that the last two years of the Obama administration will be even more underwhelming than expected.

It wasn’t all bad news; weed is now legal in Alaska, Oregon and DC, and there were minimum-wage hikes all over the place. Sadly the proposal to ban the use of donuts for bear-hunting in Maine was unsuccessful…

The value of application

I’m middle-aged, and sensible, and a bit dull, so of course I have a monthly contract for my cellphone, with unlimited minutes and texts (not that I ever use many of either, since I don’t have much of a social life to speak of). Anyway, I guess that means that I’m well outside the target demographic for WhatsApp, and not really in a position to even begin to understand why it might be popular among the youth, or what its revenue model might be.

Even if I did comprehend how money can be made by facilitating gossip among teenagers, I’m still not sure that I would be able to get my head around the fact that Facebook just paid $19 billion for the app. How did they come up with that valuation? Why not $12 billion, or $25 billion, or some other random figure? For $19 billion they could have got a proper, profit-generating, corporation like ConEdison, and still had some change left. I know that the deal was mainly financed with Facebook stock, which may or may not hold its value, but reportedly there was about $4 billion in actual real cash involved too. The guy who sold them Instagram must be feeling he left some money on the table.

I probably shouldn’t care what Silicon Valley venture capitalists choose to waste their money on, but it’s impossible to read about these astronomical sums being thrown around and not wonder if some more productive use might have been found for the cash, like, you know, fighting world hunger or something.

No doubt such naive sentiment would earn me a stern lecture from today’s tech entrepreneurs, about how enriching the wealth-creators is the true road to global prosperity, just like Ayn Rand said, but even if I was a hard-headed capitalist rather than a soft-hearted communist the WhatsApp deal might raise a few concerns. If the rate of profit in traditional industries has declined to the point where capital is forced to find a home at the risky edge of new technology, then it doesn’t auger well for the economy as a whole. Of course tech enthusiasts will argue that we’re talking about a new, disruptive paradigm, and that the old rules don’t apply, and that the sky-high valuations of internet stocks are completely justified and not at all based on any sort of irrational exuberance, but that’s what they’ve said about every bubble since the days of tulip mania.

At least us poor folks can look forward to the whole edifice collapsing at some point in the future, though the Googles and Facebooks are probably already preparing plans to lobby the Government for a bailout when the crash comes, because these arch-objectivists do tend to embrace corporate socialism when times turn hard (for them). In the meantime I guess we just have to keep organising, and resisting where we can.

Hooray for Hugo

After giving last year’s award to worthy women’s rights activists, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee seem to have rediscovered their sense of ironic black humour. They haven’t quite managed to top their 2009 masterstroke, when Barack Obama got the nod for his work in spreading goodwill and understanding by escalating wars and terrorising whole populations with killer drones, but giving the medal to the European Union, at a time when EU macroeconomic policy is spreading fear and despair through much of the continent, does come a close second.

It’s been rather a depressing week all round, from a left point of view, what with Romney making up ground in the US and our own Tory government promising all-out class warfare. There was a bright spot though; Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution marches on in Venezuela. Chavez has his critics on the left round here – proletarian bonapartism is a phrase one sometimes hears – but his record of improving the lot of the poor beats anything we’ve managed in the last half century, so more power to his elbow I say.

Can you Digg it?

Interesting news from the world of social media this week, where the sale of plucky internet start-up Digg raked in a cool $500K for investors, a sum they might have been excited about had their stock not cost $45 million just a couple of years previously.

Add in the doubts about Facebook’s revenue model, and one might fear that the social media bubble is about to burst. I guess I’ll have to postpone the SLS IPO…

(Here’s the music link which partly inspired this post, but which I can’t work out how to shoehorn into the main text.)

Grey Skies

I’ve been pretty lax on the blog front of late, which I had been ascribing to simple idleness, but my new theory is that I’m just being slowed down by having to wade through that damn Higgs Field every day.

Anyway, what’s been happening? Spanish flair did win Euro 2012, as I (almost) predicted, though it triumphed over Italian artistry rather than Teutonic efficiency, the Germans having lost their way in the semi-final. For a while after that game it seemed like they might cave in on the Eurobond question too, but no such luck.

In other news, the reading public have twisted a dagger into the heart of aspiring authors everywhere by enthusiastically embracing a volume of reworked Twilight fan-fic, making it the fastest selling paperback ever in the UK, despite it being, by all accounts, very poorly written, not particularly transgressive, and certainly not psychologically sophisticated.

Discouraged by this turn of events I have abandoned my plans to spend the next few months working on my own literary masterpiece, in favour of my usual summer routine of getting stoned in the park (assuming the rain ever stops), with a suitable soundtrack. There may not be many more posts this month…