Politics recap January 2020

Julian Assange is in prison in the UK being tried for extradition to the US on espionage charges. Sweden has dropped its case. But you’re not going to defend Assange, are you, because you learned that “Assange is a rapist”. And who would defend one of them against the all-seeing and benevolent forces of the state? If you think this way, dare I suggest that you’ve been had.

Brexit is happening at the end of this month and nothing will change. No truck queues down south, no shortage of medicines, no mass exodus of business. If Boris Johnson had any sense he would at that point declare victory and extend or go slow with the transition period for as long as possible. It seems the Tories want to press ahead, and I can only assume it’s because some part of British business values deregulation more than the single market. Either way, Brexit is a slow-burn, unwise choice, inconvenient to people like me. It’s not and was never going to be a disaster.

Scottish independence is back in the news, but I don’t think it’s happening. As said Brexit will pass uneventfully and the opportunity to use it politically likewise. I don’t think a referendum would turn out very different than last time, given the uncertainty of exiting both the EU and the UK, having to re-enter the EU and adopting the Euro. I could be persuaded to vote for it but only for cynical immigration reasons. I’d vote for it with my heart if Scotland were to abolish the monarchy and become like Ireland with blue post boxes.

Trump, despite being a pig of a man, has turned out a pretty good president. Being an outsider he recognizes that the time of America offering “protection” around the world, in both senses, is over. Since the 50s the dogma was that spreading capitalism would benefit the US foremost as well as lifting all boats. Now that’s no longer the case and the US needs to adjust to being one of several developed powers, as well as get out of the protection business. For all the alarm in the press, Trump is making the post-superpower transition as peacefully as anyone could have hoped. War in Iran, which many in Washington are thirsty for, keeps failing to materialise. It’s hard to get full facts about Syria, but it’s possible Trump may have killed fewer people than any president since Carter and, although I don’t like him, utilitarian arguments count.

In all likelihood, Trump will get re-elected. Especially if Sanders and Warren fight each other while the press and the middle-class do all they can to nominate a centrist. I think US society is rapidly approaching the point of being beyond repair, and it’s because the so-called progressive elite refuses to check its privilege and accept socialist policies. Beyond repair means the role of the state disintegrates, beyond security, and the US becomes a libertarian -topia. What kind depends on your point of view.

Climate may have been saved in 2019, mainly thanks to Greta Thundberg. We should build the young woman a statue. For the first time there’s wide realization that something has to change, even in the US, and people are vaguely aware that might mean changing their personal habits. Eating less meat and driving less, for example. Maybe accepting the the Earth has seasons and not trying to negate them with air conditioning. Technological change is happening everywhere except the US, where they’re waiting for the prophet Elon Musk. Saving the climate means Bangladesh will be uninhabitable due to floods, and the Arabian peninsula due to heat, but hey we get to survive as a species.

I don’t know much about China, but I’m a more hopeful observer than most. I see them as a threat economically, because they don’t play by the rules and I don’t see them as an evil empire politically. Comparison with the Soviet Union is inept. The Chinese regime, as far as I can tell, prioritises material welfare above all else and that goal is the source of its authoritarianism. I wouldn’t like to live in China, but I think it’s much more benign than a regime based around a strongman or an ideology. The more Chinese society feels economically secure, the more freedom is likely to emerge.

Europe I think is poorly and is unlikely to get a reprieve until 2021 when Merkel, Europe’s most destructive leader since WW2, leaves office. West Europeans need to reflect on the relatively undramatic departure of Britain, discontent and inequality within the block, as well as repairing its relationship with Russia. If the Germans are willing to compromise, Europe could move forward to a federal structure with shared debt, banking, tax and welfare arrangements across the continent. But if the new chancellor continues to block these reforms it’ll be endless crisis management and containment as it is now.

As for me, I intend to get my stupendously named permit “Indefinite Leave to Remain” and figure out what hoops we need to jump through to let my son migrate to Scotland. I think in the long run that means citizenship, and if that could come somehow without a queen I’d have done it already.

Greece and Europe are in a confrontation over democracy

You wouldn’t think so given a week of awkward handshakes, public contradictions, sternly worded demands to fall into line, and galling bankers’ ultimatums to destroy an economy, but Greece and Europe agree on most things:

Europe: You must reform your economy.
Greece: We plan to reform and modernise our economy even more than has been already accomplished. However we want growth oriented changes, not ones that are just destructive.

Europe: You must reduce graft and waste.
Greece: Our finance minister travels economy. He fired the ministry “consultants” and re-hired the outsourced cleaning ladies. Down to earth is the new normal.

Europe: You must collect taxes properly.
Greece: We’re the first Greek government determined to do that, including going after the big fish. Intrnational help would be appreciated. But sending German in tax inspectors at this time would be unwise.

Europe: You must pay your debts.
Greece: We have the interest of all European taxpayers in mind so please hear our case. During the bubble years your banks lent recklessly to Greece while our government committed financial fraud. We’re sorry. Then your governments transferred private investment losses onto the shoulders of European taxpayers. At the same time the Troika imposed austerity that crushed our economy by 25% and raised debt to GDP from 115% to 170%. European governments mismanaged the crisis and lied to you that you were helping Greece.

Right now we need to end the most damaging aspects of austerity so that we can have growth, and then agree a debt service schedule that this small economy can sustain. Greece is already making a surplus and paying back money to Europe. You are not “financing Greece”, we’re paying you back. We want to make that repayment slower, 1.5% of GDP instead of 4.5%, so that it’s possible to have an economic recovery.

Your central banks won’t get back the full value of the debt at commercial rates. You’ll get less in total or less interest or over a much longer time. However these are by now paper losses in the books of central banks. We’re trying to bury a loss of around €150 billion at a time when the ECB is crating €1.1 trillion of new money on the books of the same banks. That means there’s no need for Europeans to lose money or pay higher taxes over this, and if your politicians make you take this loss it’s their choice.

Europe: You must privatise everything.
Greece: If that’s not letting go of a profitable asset at fire sale prices, sure. Right now the income stream from public enterprises is worth more than the sale price.

Europe: You must stay in the Euro.
Greece: We want to stay in the Euro but the ECB is kicking us out.

Why then all the bluster? Greece’s new government is a popular government. The good kind. We don’t want to see the other one. With the exception of Merkel, the people they face are mostly technocrats. I don’t understand German politics, but from outside it seems clear that capital rules politics and is spinning a morality tale for the people.

Where Greece and Europe don’t agree is where people (in Greece and elsewhere, even Germany) want one thing and narrow capital interests want another:

Europe: You must continue with Austerity.
Greece: We won’t continue with this policy that destroys wealth and evidently doesn’t work.

Europe: You must take this money from our taxpayers.
Greece: We have no right to take any more money from your taxpayers.

Europe: You must do as the previous governments.
Greece: Have you heard of democracy? We have a strong popular mandate for change.

Europe: We have agreements with Greece, not a government.
Greece: It’s like marriage. If you offer solidarity we’ll do the same, and by coercion no.

Europe: You must comply with the Troika inspectors.
Greece: We were elected to end this humiliation. We’re committed to reforms but we’re not a debt colony.

Europe: We have rules here.
Greece: We’re bankrupt, party as a result of bad rules. We’ll follow the rules we can, and if we can’t you may throw us out.

Europe: You’re one country versus 18.
Greece: Have you noticed that the Eurozone is increasingly a club people want to leave? How much democratic opposition to these failed policies will it take to change them?

And that’s really the the point of disagreement this past week, and probably next week or until Greece’s democratic flare is resolved. Greece is arguing for a democratic Europe that works for its people. The establishment is arguing for a largely undemocratic status quo that doesn’t work, or works only for large industrial capital.

It’s been a while since Greece had a government that actually represents the interests of the people. Maybe more than two thousand years. If the other governments in Europe were similar, or Europe could be jolted into reviving democracy, we would find many more parallels than differences and the crisis would be quickly over.

Why I’ll vote against Scottish independence

I’ll be voting against Scottish independence this year. Here’s why. In Summary:

  • The cultural vision is weak
  • The specifics are bad
  • It’s a terrible time to be doing it
  • I don’t trust the offer, especially in this political climate

Background: I’m Greek and have lived in Scotland since 1988. I’d be in favour of Scotland becoming an independent Celtic state like Ireland, or joining Ireland. But I think the offer on the table by Alex Salmond and the SNP is bad in the specifics, and since we can only say yes or no to specifics it’s a no. Missed opportunity. I’d like to see a better offer by someone else.

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