Monday, February 01, 2016

President Trump - a symptom of a greater problem

The United States, despite its almost religious reverence for their constitution, is prone to periodic political crises which can be almost existential in scope. The civil war was caused by the constitutional ambiguity concerning slavery, which poisonous legacy still defaces American society today. In the twenty-first century the idea that there could be any legal justification for slavery seems self-evidently absurd.

When Al Gore polled half a million votes more than George W, Bush in the 2000 Presidential election, even democracy itself took second place to the Constitution since it was Mr. Bush who was elected, by virtue of carrying more states and therefore winning the electoral college. The consequences of the incompetent arrogance of the Administration of the 43rd President- from Iraq and Afghanistan to the response to Hurricane Katrina  are also still reverberating today. Trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost around the world because Mr. Bush and his cohorts in the "Project for the new American century" fully achieved their policy goals, but the consequences were not far short of disastrous. 

At the heart of the American constitution there lies a crisis that could have repercussions that could be just as serious as the civil war itself. This is not the argument over whether the question of whether the right to bear arms should be regulated or not. The horrendous death toll of guns in the United States speaks for itself, and the foolish attempt by the NRA and its supporters in the arms industry to ignore the question of "a well regulated militia" and simply permit unrestricted access to murderous weapons is what makes the United States uniquely murderous amongst developed nations. In the eyes of the founding fathers, I suspect that the gerrymandering of political districts would be seen as a far greater crime against the Constitution. Gerrymandering has not merely entrenched and polarised the political oligarchy of the United States, it is undermining the legitimacy of Congress in a way that could lead to a major political breakdown.

Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Washington and the others strove to find a balance in the three arms of the constitution: the executive branch -the Presidency- was checked and balanced by the legislative branch- Congress- and both were regulated by the judicial branch, and in particular, the Supreme Court of the United States. This system of checks and balances is generally held to be the key to the success of the constitutional order. Yet the fact is that the electoral system is now increasingly fixed: the level of wealth required in order to be elected to national office is beyond all but a very small elite that either possesses  such wealth independently or can raise it. Congress is now a cadre of wealthy extremists whose views only incidentally coincide with the majority view in the country. Life inside the "Beltway bubble" has more to do with money and political posturing than with finding practical solutions to the issues of the day. Unsurprisingly Washington, DC is extremely unpopular. The political legitimacy of Congress is increasingly challenged.

This matters, especially if the executive branch falls into questionable hands. Donald Trump is a man who, having inherited great wealth from his father, has expanded his wealth through highly questionable means with extremely dubious business partners. There is substantial evidence that he has had associations with organised crime. There is little doubt that his business methods are highly dubious. Yet, as we go into the first caucus of the 2016 electoral season, Mr. Trump is the front runner for the nomination of the Republican party. Of course there are many hurdles to overcome, but the political class of the US has been increasingly shocked to discover that despite their disapproval, he continues to lead in his race. Mr. Trump has advocated policies that would probably be unworkable and may even be  unconstitutional, but this has, if anything added to his popularity. Should he be elected and should he choose to implement these policies, it could be that Congress would be unable to oppose them- it would lack the political legitimacy to take on a genuine populist.

Of course the US has elected bad Presidents- such as Warren Harding or Richard Nixon- in the past, and has survived, but the fact is that a country that is so cavalier about its own democracy can hardly aspire to be a genuine role model at a time when so many challenges exist in the international order. Russia's tyrannical leader, Vladimir Putin, may have expressed admiration for Mr. Trump, but there is little doubt that he would exploit every opportunity to diminish US power and break the North Atlantic alliance. Mr. Trump's bluster about the use of force against peaceful neighbours like Mexico hardly suggests joined up thinking when dealing with the real challenges that the US faces- in the Middle East, Asia and across the world.

Many suggest that whatever Trump says is irrelevant, since he is unlikely to win the general election. Yet I beg to differ. Mr. Trump is already in the top five people most likely to be President of the United States. Supposing Mrs. Clinton was to face a return of questions about her conduct in office or the conduct of her husband. At the crucial moment it could be that Mr. Trump flukes a victory. 

The fact is that the United States is flirting with a leader who could be exposed to blackmail and subversion- and possibly that applies to both front runners. Still worse that leader could defy the constitution and likely get away with it.

The United States is on a knife edge- a blustering crook or a woman compromised by years close to the top. It is not a happy choice and it may be that without reform the system will no longer be able to maintain the order that has underpinned American creativity and power since the 1930s. Reforms to the constitution will be increasingly necessary in order to restore the democratic impetus- but in a self interested and narrowly isolated political class, it is hard to see where the power to enact such reforms can come from. 

Yet another existential crisis may be upon us. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

It's not just Corbyn: Labour is intellectually finished too

The conventional wisdom amongst "moderate" members of the Labour party and their supporters in the press, is that although Labour has made a big mistake in choosing Jeremy Corbyn as leader and although the political pendulum has (quite gently) swung to the Tories, in the end a new leader and the inevitable Conservative failures will one day bring the return of a Labour government.

The problem is that Labour's problem extends well beyond the short term and the tactical. As we have noted before, their very ideology is not merely irrelevant, it is intellectually bankrupt. This bankruptcy can be seen ever more clearly in the attitude that key Labour figures, albeit from the left wing of the party, continue to show towards Communism.

We have seen Diane Abbott suggest that Mao Zedong was "more positive than negative", We have seen Seamus Milne, an unapologetic defender of Stalinism, become one of the most powerful figures in the party. Labour moderates are aghast, but they fail to understand their own culpability. The ambivalent attitude of "Democratic Socialists" to their undemocratic cousins is part of a critical problem.

The fact is that no state that followed the example of Soviet Socialism has ever been anything except a charnal house. Every single time Communism has been tried as a state ideology it has resulted in mass murder: the death toll of Communism everywhere- in the USSR, in China, in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba,*everywhere* - is horrific and stands in the tens or even hundreds of millions. 

The fundamental problem is that at the very root of Marxist thought there stands the idea of the sectional interest defined as class. The idea of "working class" is in fact pretty arbitrary, the industrial proletariat were supposed to be the elite of Communism, yet the definition of what was a "good class" and what was a "class enemy" rested on more or less fictitious considerations. In any event the idea of some random class elite having the moral authority to dictate to not merely wider society but the whole world is as ludicrous as the idea that some random race- a concept as vacuous as class- should have such power.

The fact is that Soviet Socialism and National Socialism are morally identical. Both believe that narrow and arbitrarily defined groups have the moral right to seize power and establish a dictatorship of unlimited power. 

However, the British Left has utterly failed to understand the moral equivalence between Fascism and Communism. Too many have made excuses for Communism. Too many have even suggested that there is a core of moral good at the heart of Communism which does not exist in Fascism. Sometimes those who are confronted with the moral degradation of Communism try to suggest that the Soviet model is not "Real Communism". It is a totally specious argument: when everything that is called "Communist" behaves in the same, brutal and murderous way then why accept the moral opprobrium of the name. The fact is that adding a hyphen to "-Communist" does not alter the vile and blood stained history of the ideology.

So when Dianne Abbott or Seamus Milne defend or even promote Communism, they are either fools or knaves. Communism is indefensible and yet in terms of language, even the "moderate" Labour party still uses the concepts and the vocabulary of the utterly discredited Communist ideology. "Working Class" is the shibboleth of self-proclaimed Socialists.

Yet the fact is that the intellectual justification is growing as thin as the moral justification for Communism. In the face of the increasingly diverse world of self identifying collectives, economics-based, "class" identifications grow ever weaker- and this is a matter of choice, not the machinations of some fictitious oligarchy. The world of Facebook is not simply an IT based communication facility, it is a world of a myriad of communities. A social, political or economic analysis that continues to reference some non-existent working class solidarity is about as relevant as the spinning jenny in the world of the Internet.

Some Labour figures have clearly understood this. Indeed the Labour modernizers under Tony Blair actually seemed to have moved Labour from a class based analysis to a more generic, albeit shallow, "progressive" agenda. Yet Blair and his allies are now seen as politicians who not merely abandoned "Socialism", but abandoned all principles. That lack of authenticity has been fatal for the Labour brand. However, in seeking to re-establish guiding principles the party has made the fatal mistake of reverting to the intellectual void of discredited Socialism.

Labour is now fatally split between those who recognize the moral turpitude of Socialism and those that do not. This is not a house that can stay together.

The question for those who believe in any political vision for Britain that is different from the Conservatives is how to make a united case when a significant part of the Labour Party does not even understand the terms of the debate and prefers to simply howl at the Moon. In Scotland the divisive SNP may be feasting on Labour's corpse, but the vision they offer is a political cul-de-sac, which in a world of volatile oil prices is utterly unrealistic in any event. 

Liberals and progressives are still dealing with the political evisceration of the Liberal Democrats, and although small signs of recovery exist, even to climb back into the same, weak position the party had in 2010 is a formidable task. The tactics of local political organisation no longer mark out the Liberal Democrats' unique selling point. Nor is it clear that the party recognizes what path it should take. Yet even still, the Liberal Democrats do have a core vision which has retained its intellectual validity. More to the point it is increasingly clear that it is not merely tactical reasons that could bring a realignment of the historic centre- left of British politics. 

Disillusioned supporters of Labour, both within and outwith Parliament, are reappraising their own political ideas. Dialogue is beginning. The election of Jeremy Corbyn underlines that Labour has reached the end of the road. The repeated failures of Communism and Socialism reveals Marxist analysis is an empty failure. Socialism is stone dead. A new analysis is opening up.

In time I believe that a political agenda that understands the impact of technology on our society and promotes freer, more open social communities can emerge. It will be less tribal and less exclusive, reflecting a more mature view of the positives and negatives of policy. It will not espouse the all embracing grand theories of Socialism, but will be more pragmatic and more open. 

It is time to open up new debates and new ideas. The power of an open society, a Liberal society, prosperous and open and based on scientific method and tolerant scepticism is still within reach.

Perhaps much sooner than we think, there will be demand for a new political vehicle or alliance that can unite behind this agenda. It is about time we began to live in a post-Socialist world.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Indictment of Vladimir Putin

Sir Robert Owen, as expected, has today filed his report into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

The conclusions are stark:

1. I am sure that Mr Litvinenko did not ingest the polonium 210 either by accident or to commit suicide. I am sure, rather, that he was deliberately poisoned by others.
2. 
I am sure that Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun placed the polonium 210 in the teapot at the Pine Bar on 1 November 2006. I am also sure they did this with the intention of poisoning Mr Litvinenko.
3. 
I am sure that the two men had made an earlier attempt to poison Mr Litvinenko, also using polonium 210, at the Erinys meeting on 16 October 2006.
4. 
I am sure that Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun knew that they were using a deadly poison (as opposed, for example, to a truth drug or a sleeping draught), and that they intended to kill Mr Litvinenko. I do not believe, however, that they knew precisely what the chemical that they were handling was, or the nature of all its properties.
5. I am sure that Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun were acting on behalf of others when they poisoned Mr Litvinenko.6. When Mr Lugovoy poisoned Mr Litvinenko, it is probable that he did so under the direction of the FSB. I would add that I regard that as a strong probability. I have found that Mr Kovtun also took part in the poisoning. I conclude therefore that he was also acting under FSB direction, possibly indirectly through Mr Lugovoy but probably to his knowledge. 7. 
The FSB operation to kill Mr Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev and also by President Putin.


What he is saying is that it is beyond reasonable doubt that Alexander Litvinenko-  a British Citizen, incidently- was murdered by Lugovoy and Kovtun and that this was very probably done at the direct orders of the Russian government, and specifically the then head of the FSB and Vladimir Putin.


As always Putin, even when a smoking gun is so obvious, will probably deny everything. The problem is that the truth is inexorably coming closer and closer to the Kremlin, and with it comes another step to the allegations made by Litvinenko that Putin so feared. 


Monday, January 18, 2016

Black

I was sorry to learn that Colin Vearncombe, a.k.a Black, was seriously injured in a road accident last week. I was only playing a couple of his songs that day.

Not necessarily widely known, his brand of melancholy was unique for its time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

  

Black Marx for Jeremy Corbyn

I do not know if Jeremy Corbyn subscribes 100% to Marxism as a political agenda. He has certainly praised Karl Marx and suggested that there is much that can be learned from his writings. Even if Mr. Corbyn is only an admirer, rather than an adherent, of Marxism, it opens up a myriad of questions. For whether Mr. Corbyn himself is a Marxist or not, many key players in his emerging leadership team unquestionably are Marxist adherents. Seamus Milne has made statements, for example, which not only advocate Marxism, but the narrow revolutionary offshoot of Marx, Marxism-Leninism. He has made statements which support the position of Stalin, even in his most bloodthirsty policies. 

The problem I have here is that there is no government that has been accepted as Marxist that has not launched the most vile crimes against the people they purport to govern. Every single government that has been Marxist has also been a murderous tyranny.

The Soviet Union killed an estimated 20 million of their own citizens through famine, murder and the GULAG. China, in the "Great Leap Forward", and the "Cultural Revolution" may have killed as many as 90 million. Pol Pot's Cambodia killed about third of the entire population, at least 2 million people. From Angola to Vietnam, from North Korea to Benin to Congo, every Marxist state has become a charnel house of butchery. 

There is no moral difference between Soviet Socialism and National Socialism. Indeed the death toll of Communism far exceeds that of Fascism. 

So why do Corbyn's cronies still speak up for a political brand that is utterly ruinous?

In the case of Milne, it seems inescapable that he genuinely believes in the tenets of Communism, as such he is a moral leper, and utterly unworthy of any role in a democratic society. 

In the case of Corbyn? Well who knows? 

However, flirting with the worlds most murderous ideology is very dangerous. History shows us time and again that the "price of freedom" is indeed "eternal vigilance". The fact is that it is not good enough to say that one may believe that the states that called themselves Marxist were not in fact "true Marxists". When every single Marxist state has become a tyranny, why should anyone still use the Marxist political brand? Unless, that is that they believe in it, and therefore think the bloody death toll of Communism "a price worth paying", in which case they are the deadly enemy of Liberalism and indeed Democracy

Many, especially amongst the Conservatives may ask "So what"? The fact is that partly because he espouses this vile ideology, Corbyn's Labour can never be elected. 

Yet the fact is that this could be complacent in the extreme. Suppose the Tories are wrecked either in the European debate in in some other argument or scandal- then Corbyn, disastrously, may yet claim the prize. Meanwhile, of course, Ken Livingstone, who famously deposed the nominal leader of the GLC, after the voters endorsed Labour to run London, also knows that once power is attained, it can be used, and by people and in ways the electorate may not wish for and did not vote for. 

In the end Marxism believes in Democracy only as a vehicle to enact Marxism.

Meanwhile the leader of Russia, himself steeped in the Leninist tradition of subversion, is using bribery, blackmail murder and threats to subvert European Democracy too. Famously Mr. Milne has expressed admiration, even support of Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile the United States is investigating just how bad Putinist penetration in Europe actually is. Ironically the Putinists have targeted Labour possibly less than their Conservative rivals, on the other hand, given the warm words that they have offered to support Mr. Corbyn, perhaps they see that Mr. Livingstone's Newt Labour is already on side.

Mr. Putin may be a nominal Russian nationalist, but his methods are still out of the Leninist book of subversion, and the West has been caught napping. 

Somehow, I don't think that Mr. Milne minds that too much. 

For by making that appointment alone, Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated that he must be stopped from ever wielding power.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Post-SNP Scotland

In the 2011 Holyrood election, the SNP won 69 seats on 45% of the vote, and were able to establish the first majority government under a system that was designed to make that difficult. In the 2014 independence referendum the SNP-led "YES" campaign won 44.7% of the total vote. At the 2015 General Election the Scottish National Party gained just under 50% of the vote and won all but three of the 59 Scottish seats in the Westminster Parliament. There is little doubt that the Nationalist tide has been riding high in Scotland for several years now. The party maintains impressive, some might say oppressive, discipline, and in all things- personal and well as policy- the SNP never loses sight of their goal of a separate Scotland. The Nats see the failure of the first referendum as merely a way-station on the road to ultimate independence.

Yet the Nationalist voters are a lot more heterogeneous than the party, and detailed analysis suggests that quite a few voters support the SNP, not because they genuinely believe in separation, but because they see the party as "standing up for Scotland". There are left wing and right wing Nationalists and not always do they see eye-to-eye, indeed only a couple of decades ago the party seemed on a downward trajectory precisely because of these internal splits.

Even despite this it may seem foolhardy to predict the fall of the SNP, for the fact is that not only is the party united and disciplined, but that its main opponent, Scottish Labour, is not. The Labour Party in Scotland has been hollowed out by complacency and corruption, indeed one could argue that the major story of the past ten years is not Nationalist advance, but Labour collapse. Away from such former Westminster heavyweights such as Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling, the Scottish party fell into the hands of third rate hacks, whose complacency and incompetence ran the party into the ground. Neither does 2016 look like Scottish Labour can make a comeback. The SNP control over Holyrood seems set to continue by default.

Yet there are other aspects which are not being considered. The first is that the electoral system will not deliver the same collapse of Labour in Holyrood as it has in Westminster, so although Scottish Labour may grow much weaker, they will not disappear. The second is that both the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives are likely to do a whole lot better than they did in 2011. For the Scottish Lib Dems it would be hard to do worse than the 5 seats that they held in 2011, but there are real chances for them to make a modest advance back into their former heartlands, with several mainland constituency seats now in play, beyond the two island seats they managed to salvage from the 2011 disaster. Because the Scottish polls are only taken irregularly, the data for voting intention in the Scottish Lib Dems can be very volatile, especially because it is so concentrated in only a few parts of the country, but even despite this, there are signs of a tentative recovery, and even, in the North East and Edinburgh, the chance of some surprise constituency gains, as well as a much improved list vote.

The Conservatives too have reasons for optimism, and although to a degree they may cannibalize some of the Lib Dem votes, especially in the borders, they are also making inroads in the central belt- the ebbing of the Labour tide is not seeing run it all the Nationalists way. Indeed, despite the caution we should show to Scottish polls, one has shown the Tories breathing down Labour's neck for second place. Of course many would say-rightly- that this only underlines the weakness of Labour.

Yet the fact is that the case made by the SNP for Scottish Independence is intellectually bankrupt. The party has not only failed to use the new powers granted to the Scottish government, it has failed to efficiently administer the powers that it has long had- the result has been the debacle of the Forth Road Bridge closure, a scandal long predicted, and an emerging crisis both in the Scottish healthcare system and in education. After 8 years of SNP government, the litany of mistakes is now quite a long one. However it is not this that has undermined the case for independence, albeit that it does the SNP political brand no favours.

The fall in the price of oil has been a catastophe for the North East of Scotland and an emerging crisis for Scotland as a whole. OK, so the Nats got it spectacularly wrong when they based their economic forecasts on a rock solid price for Brent crude of $100/bbl, with good contingencies down to $75/bbl, and OK so it is now trading at below $30/bbl with no long term recovery in sight. It was not just that the Nats forecasts were so wrong that had we in fact voted to separate in 2014 the Scottish economy would be on its knees- it was that the entire economic prospectus that was offered in the so-called "white paper" was bullshit and pixie-dust. "A wish is not a claim upon reality", yet as I read the document I was struck by how small the SNP vision was, how old fashioned and how wrong. 

In fact, beyond the fact of separation there was in fact very little vision of a future Scotland that was rooted in the realities that small nations need to face. There were occasional nods to Estonia, "if they can do it so can we",  but no acknowledgment of the difficulties that had to be faced and the wrenching, painful changes that would be required. This wish fulfillment came to a head in the absurd argument about whether Scotland would keep Sterling as its currency. When George Osborne said that any rUK would not permit a currency union without effective veto rights on Scottish spending it was greeted as some kind of neo-colonialism. "It is our currency, how dare Osborne think he can take it away from us" was a much muttered Nat response. Yet the point was that it Scotland left the UK, Sterling would not have been Scotland's currency, by definition. There was almost no clear thinking on the real practical problems that would have to be dealt with before any potential opportunities of separation might ever be unlocked. The SNP put forward dangerous, emotional and increasingly brainless arguments- setting braying mobs on the BBC and many others. It was a disgrace and it made many in Scotland wonder what kind of horror story the SNP was preparing for its enemies.       

In the end, as we know, the YES-ers lost by a near 10 point margin. 

The question of Scotland's future remains as yet unresolved, and a second referendum may even yet take place. To be honest, although I loath the divisive and poisonous atmosphere that the SNP as set on Scottish politics, I am almost tempted to say "bring it on". The economic arguments that were questionable at $100/bbl, are indefensible after such a period of volatility in the oil price. The political arguments are less and less easy to make as the UK slowly transforms itself into a Federation and the administrative superiority complex of the SNP is being undermined on a daily basis by their own mistakes, incompetence and complacency.

There is of course one fly in the ointment- the EU referendum. The conventional wisdom suggests that it will be close and that it may even be that Scotland votes to stay while the rUK votes to leave- which very likely would lead to an immediate second Scottish referendum and the breakup of the UK that the SNP so desires. However in my view this is to underestimate the planning that David Cameron has made to keep his party mostly onside and his country within the EU. Although Brexit is still a high risk, the betting is firmly on a solid endorsement of continued British membership of the EU. Indeed, given that Scotland elected a UKIP MEP at the last European Parliamentary election, it is even possible that the conventional wisdom is wrong that the the Leave vote could actually be marginally higher in Scotland than elsewhere.

For the the fact is that the commentators could well be reading the runes wrongly- the swing back from Left dominance in Scotland was delayed by the collapse of the Tories, but with even a slight recovery, the votes that were really only lent to the SNP may now return to their natural home, and that over the course of the next two Parliaments the SNP, firstly slowly, then ever more quickly begins to decline as a real threat to the unity of the UK.

Intellectually independence is a dead duck. Surely future belongs to those, like the Liberal Democrats and even some Conservatives, who are prepared to offer creative solutions using the ever stronger powers that Holyrood is gaining not to support the separation agenda but to support a practical agenda of restructuring, investment and growth. 

Surely it is time to start to reclaim Scottish politics from those who "won't change their minds and won't change the subject" and offer a positive, proactive agenda inside an increasingly Federal UK and a continuing and reforming EU. Labour weakness may not allow this to happen in 2016, but I truly believe that eventually, and possibly sooner than 2020, the Nationalist tide will turn. 

Indeed, the tide is already beginning to turn.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Scary Monsters and Supercreeps

I was always a little behind the curve when it came to David Bowie. As a child his androgynous, angular face, with its dilated eye, appearing on Top of the Pops, seemed a door into a dangerous and uncomfortable world- even the Laughing Gnome, presumably more my style at the time, was somehow... creepy. At school there were those who fell very much under his spell, but Christiane F helped to lead some of my fellow pupils down a very dangerous road of hard drug use. The contrast between small town tedium and the dark glamour of West-Berlin was too attractive to some- and Bowie was the Lord of Misrule that opened the door. Yet still to me he remained a distant, almost frightening, figure. 

His later incarnations- the Pierrot, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, began to provide a consistent and influential background noise to the music I was more interested in- Eurythmics, Alternative 80s music, American singer song writers and much else besides. In the end, almost reluctantly, and often at the prompting of my friends, I began, partially at least, to understand that despite the ephemeral nature of pop culture, "David Bowie" was not to be found simply in his music. It was the changes, the experimentation with identity, sexuality, even with sanity, which turned a suburban lad from Bromley with a fairly weak education into a figure of major artistic significance. For Bowie had become, through trial and error (and huge drug use), an artist who spoke to millions. Not all of his experiments were successful, and his image and influence waxed and waned through the years, but when he was good- Heroes, Life on Mars, Changes, Rebel Rebel, Starman, Jean Jeanie, This is Not America, Space Oddity, Ashes to Ashes- he seemed to speak about the whole planet to the whole planet, while still offering himself as a detached, alienated, indeed alien, persona. Famously Charles Kennedy was a fan, and so were many other of my Liberal friends, and there seems no doubt that Bowie spoke to the non-conforming, Liberal soul in a way that few other artists did.

As he aged he did not lose his dark glamour, but his angular face gave way to more conventional good looks. He later said he regretted his sexual experimentation, without ever quite disowning it. Being polysexual was something that seemed to go with a persona, Ziggy Stardust for example, but in the end he seemed to find a happy marriage with the stunningly beautiful Iman. In fact Bowie aged well, acquiring a dignity that matched well his previous unbridled hedonism: he had faced his demons and he had won. Except not quite, for in the end the years of cigarettes, drugs and more had undermined his health and so he died at 69, which these days seems quite young.   

The reaction to his death, as seems the fashion in today's media, seems overblown. The death of an Artist is not the same as the torture and death in Syria, and I think Bowie himself would be bemused that news of one could drown out the other. Shroud waving and histrionic shared grief for an artist that 99% of us had never met, even if we found meaning in his works, seems excessive. The media coverage has been as self indulgent  and shallow as most media is these days- far safer to have an opinion about Bowie than about the political and social questions of the day, which seem to be beyond explanation to the vast majority of modern journalists, never mind their readers of viewers.

Still more absurd has been the reaction of the tiny minded Cybernats in Scotland. The vindictive hatred of these people has poisoned the political discourse for years and even in the face of death these vermin could not haud their whist- and although this tiny and tiny minded group deserve nothing more than contempt, the tacit winks they get from the SNP leadership is part of what makes the political atmosphere in Scotland today so poisonous. What was David Bowie's crime? He wanted his country to stay together and for this he was derided as a "foreign Unionist"- a contradiction in terms, but let that rest. The good news, if there is any in this deplorable episode, is that people are beginning to notice and to condemn this vile fanaticism. As for me the playing of the music of the "foreign Unionist" on the Kelvingrove organ was one of the more poignant ways to say goodbye to a great Artist and F*** you to some small minded, envious, creepy nobodies who form the backbone of the Cybernats.

There may be life on Mars, there is no intelligent life on Planet Cybernat.

David Bowie was probably bigger than both worlds put together.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Power of the Powerless

In October 1978 a then obscure Czech playwright named Vaclav Havel published an essay called The Power of the Powerless. It was a tragic time for those in Central or Eastern Europe who believed in freedom. The Soviet system had made advances across the globe and seemed to be as solid and enduring as it was soul crushing and brutal. Yet, as history shows, appearances can be misleading. Within only a few weeks the election of Pope John Paul II began a process that lead to tumult across the Soviet World and the eventual downfall of Communism. Havel's moral manifesto became the root of a political renewal which still shapes European society today.

Today there is a new struggle in Europe and across the world. It is a battle between those who seek an open, free and global society and those who oppose that vision. A nascent planetary consciousness is emerging as information becomes ever more accessible and the possibility, indeed the necessity, of debate more urgent. The creation of a global market is being made possible by the adoption of international standards and the wholesale reduction or abolition of tariffs and taxes. Global corporations are now emerging, but this economic integration is not being met with a global political response. Regulation is piecemeal and unfair. Justice is not in the hands of the many, but the few. Unsurprisingly there is a strong backlash against globalization, both from certain states and from civic society within others. Yet those, like Russia, who seek to opt out of the global community risk decline and permanent weakness if they are not able to access the opportunities that the emerging global market now affords. Although brutal and violent, the major feature of the Daesh campaign against globalization is that it is certain to fail. The contrast is China, still ruled by a narrow Communist elite, but has preferred to make a cautious bargain with the global market rather than to reject it, and the consequence has been the flowering of the Chinese economy and the emergence of an educated middle class. China chooses a global outlook, Russia a nationalist one, while Daesh is a mediaeval death cult. These are not unbeatable enemies. 

Yet globalization also challenges democratic states at least as much as it does authoritarian states. The corruption that haunts China also exists in democratic states. The power of wealth is concentrated in ever fewer hands, and a political-economic nexus often subverts democratic institutions and defies the democratic will. Meanwhile the politics of identity- the direct enemy of global consciousness- continues to be stubbornly persistent. It is easy to mock the SNP's campaign to boycott Tunnock's, but such futile and childish gestures can still have profound effects.

The fact is that the greatest threat is an ignorance about the process and an indifference as to the direction of travel. Although globalization advances all around us, there is little understanding of its impact and even less coherent discussion of what kind of social and economic outcomes would be beneficial from the process. The passion and energy that might be used to shape the future on a planetary scale is simply the preserve of angry declinists like Donald Trump or outright rejectionists, like the Front National in France or the SNP in Scotland. Meanwhile the suspicions grow that globalization is a corporate conspiracy to subvert democracy on a global scale rather than a merely national one. 

Yet the ideas of Havel also provide at least a partial answer. The dissident idea of moral civic engagement can provide a platform to voice a global economic, political and above all an ethical agenda. The nascent ideas of "sustainability" suggest a way that a dissident, liberal agenda might emerge in a political forum based on global communication rather than 19th century debating chambers. 

The old politics, like the old economy, is focused on geographical space, but as cyberspace expands and engages economic and political power, it will render many of our convenient political fictions irrelevant. Cyberspace brands- Skype or Uber or Airbnb- are, by definition, global brands. As commercial power based on cyberspace becomes greater, so will social and political engagement on a global scale become greater. Unless another global war engulfs the planet, the transition will become permanent. The ecological problems humanity is creating can only be tackled on a global scale and if the effort to overcome these challenges is successful, then we will have the foundations of a Planetary society. Identity will seem less intrinsic and more a matter of choice, engagement will be more diverse and like minds will meet regardless of geography- and in many ways this process is already well advanced.

For Democrats, the opportunity exists to stake a claim to shape the coming global society, but the principles that will be required will still need to be discussed and enacted. In a world of the Powerless it will be those who understand the process and who can shape it who will inherit greater control. Authoritarians like Putin may have a global vision of their own, but only those who believe in Freedom have the flexibility to maximize the opportunity.