Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Centrist Conundrum

What is a centrist? I looked up several definitions and the common view appears to be - a person who has moderate political views. This isn't very satisfactory because it leads us to another question - what is 'moderate' politics? A political moderate is defined by the Oxford Living dictionary as -not radical or excessively right- or left-wing.

I'm guessing that most centrists would accept the moderate definition above, that they occupy the 'centre-ground' of politics being neither left nor right. Having said that its clear to me from comments I've seen by avowed centrists on Twitter that some centrists see themselves as progressives - people who want reform, who want to 'improve' things. And some clearly even see themselves as centre-left.

Where does all this get us? What is the political centre? One of the most interesting commentators on these issues is the neurolinguist George Lakoff. For Lakoff, there is no political centre, essentially you can only be left (progressive) or right. He bases his views on the idea that conservatives follow the 'strict father' model and progressives the 'nurturing family' model*, and that this is the base of their world view and political views.  This extract from an interview in the Guardian explains how he thinks the left should approach politics and his view of moderates and the centre ground. It's worth reading the whole article: 

"This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive [left] mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favour of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no "middle" or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are "biconceptual"); and the understanding that conservatives are not evil, unintelligent, cynical or grasping. Rather, they act according to the moral case as they see it." [my italics and brackets]
Incidentally, I agree with him. The left spends too much time and energy on evidence-based political argument, which just doesn't cut it with many voters, and too little time on the moral case for change.

I would go further than Lakoff. As far as I can see 'biconceptual" individuals -  who think of themselves as being in the political centre - are conservatives. Maybe with a small 'c' but still conservatives and on the right of politics. Why? Because they tend to be people who are more comfortable with the status quo than people on the left could ever be. Because, for example, they accepted the New Labour attack on benefits claimants and the Iraq war, they accepted the 'need' for austerity cuts and are generally comfortable with privatisation and the neoliberal agenda. Nobody who is genuinely on the left could agree with any of that.

Of course, the term 'moderate' is a boon to the mainstream media. For them, a moderate is a sensible person who accepts necessary 'reforms' including cuts to public services - as I said earlier someone who accepts the status quo. Thus the epitome of centrist politics, The Guardian, praises and promotes sensible, moderate politicians such as Yvette Cooper who is currently the pin-up politician of English centrists.

For me, what provides conclusive proof that centrists are conservatives are the relentless attacks they make on Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man, a democrat, who leads a Labour Party, which has a modest Labour manifesto for social democratic reform in the UK. What really troubles conservatives of all stripes about Corbyn is not that he is a Marxist (they know he isn't) but that he is the genuine article, someone who would actually implement the manifesto and bring about real change and break the neoliberal stranglehold on the UK.

*there isn't scope in this post to discuss Lakoff's ideas in more detail but you might want to read his book The Political Mind to find out more. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, 16 November 2018

We should all be supporting Extinction Rebellion

Brexit, even hard Brexit, is trivial compared to the climate crisis we are facing. There, I've said it. Why? Because the recent report IPPC report gave us twelve years to reduce our carbon outputs or face potentially catastrophic climate change. Just think about that - twelve years! A few years ago I went to a talk by the respected climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre. At that meeting, he said that the UK had to reduce its carbon emissions by eighty per cent in the next ten years to avoid a global temperature rise above 2 degrees centigrade. So we now have just seven years left to do that. Add to this that we now know that climate change and human activity has already caused a massive loss in biodiversity which threatens our future.

So, we are on course for a catastrophe if we don't take action, and we need to take that action now. We need a massive programme of de-carbonisation, including investment in renewables, battery storage, and energy efficiency. Some of the actions we can take have already been planned and are ready to be taken off the shelf such as the Green New Deal and One Million Climate jobs. These programmes have been thought through and fully costed - we need to get on with putting them into effect. We also need to reform agriculture, reducing the input of chemicals which damage wildlife and focus on growing local food sustainably and organically.

Extinction Rebellion protesters in London
All of this can be done but only if we have a government which faces up to the truth. Labour has been moving in the right direction for some time, too slowly for my liking, but it is getting there, and we know that a Tory government cannot deliver the changes we need. So we need to spread the word and encourage everyone we know to vote Labour, and in the meantime - before a Labour government -  we have to take every action we can at a local level - through Transition groups for example - and a national level by using peaceful direct action. That is why I think we should support, and where possible, participate in actions by Extinction Rebellion. This is something worth going to prison for. So please check out the actions they have planned and spread the word as far as you can!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What else is to be done?

Ok, ok, I know I nicked that post title from someone famous - or infamous if you prefer. But this post is about what the left needs to do in the UK today, and what it can be doing now.

First, some background: I have been a radical socialist for about 47 years. I never joined Labour in my younger years because I thought it was too right-wing for me. I've been an activist to some degree or other for all of those years. I eventually joined Labour in 1996 because I was desperate to see the back of the Tories. The 1997 Labour win brought a huge sense of relief but about 6 months in I quit. Why? because I saw through Blair. After that, I joined the Green Party because I liked the policies, the fact that it was member-led, and I am an environmentalist. I was a local candidate 4 times and a PPC in 2010. I was the local Party secretary for 5 years. I was on the Northwest regional committee for 3 years and was twice elected to GPEx (national executive) - 2012 to 2016. Then, I decided to quit the Greens and re-join Labour after Corbyn won the second leadership contest.

So, I've been around a bit, and like all Corbyn supporters, my number one priority is a Labour government - as soon as possible. But what if there isn't another election until 2022? Most people think it will happen before then and they may be right but, we may have another four years of misery to look forward to. And what if Labour doesn't win the next election or can't form a government? Even if Labour does win will they be able to implement their programme?

Winning power, through government, and being able to bring about major change is critical - but its also putting all our eggs in one basket and that is where the left falls down so often.

What else is there to be done? There are plenty of other important and positive things we could be doing to bring about real change now, change which will benefit the people and communities we care about. What I'm talking about can broadly be described as mutual aid. I'm not suggesting this is an alternative to the welfare state but it is something which can run alongside it and the most important aspect is that it empowers people.

In one of my previous posts, I said that capitalism cannot be beaten politically, it can only be beaten economically. I still believe that. The most important thing we can do is promote and participate in economic democracy. That means creating mutuals and cooperatives, and ultimately mutualising our economy. I'm not saying this is easy but it can be done if we have the will to do it. On the left, we need to think of ourselves not just as political actors but economic actors. We need a network of cooperatives that trade with each other and we need to spend our money in them.

I'm not going to repeat all the arguments here because they are fully explained in a previous post called 'Why we can and must build our own economy'. Please read this to fully appreciate my argument. Until we make this change we will always be subject to the whims of the markets. It may seem like a mountain to climb but there are lots of inspiring examples of what people can do when they get together and bring about real change. In the future, we need a Labour government to set up a National Investment Bank to provide funds to get these coops off the ground. I know John McDonnell is on the case because I've heard him speak about itBut its still possible to do things now.

Just one other example to finish off with. We have a housing crisis. No good waiting for a Tory government to do anything. But some people aren't waiting - through Community Land Trusts they are building houses up and down the UK - see here.

The critical point here is about empowerment - putting people in control of their own destiny - and building the economy from the bottom up instead of top down. Putting all our hope and energy in a Labour government just isn't enough. Even if Corbyn becomes PM and implements the manifesto there's still the possibility that it will be rolled-back in the future.

As someone once said 'let's take back control' - real control in our hands.

Friday, 8 June 2018

We need to talk about government spending and why there is plenty of money

Almost every day we see articles in the media about the lack of money governments have, and how things like nationalisation of the railways are 'unaffordable'. Then there's that famous 'there is no money' note left by Liam Byrne when Labour left government in 2010. So now we know - there is no money - right?

Wrong actually! There is plenty of money, and to understand why we have to look at how government spending actually works. One of the first obstacles we find is that we have always been told that governments tax and spend. This is something you will frequently hear politicians saying. And so we believe that government spending is paid for out of our taxes. But this isn't true, it's not how governments operate. What they actually do is spend and tax. They spend money into the economy and then tax that money as it circulates around the economy. Government spending is not dependent on tax receipts.

How did we get to thinking it was? Becuase we have been lead to believe that government budgets are like household budgets but they're not. Everyone knows about household budgets. You earn income and you spend that on food, clothes, the mortgage and so on. If you spend too much you go into debt. Government budgets aren't like household budgets they are very different.

Firstly a sovereign government with its own currency - like the UK with its pound - can create as much money as it wants - out of thin air. A recent example of this in the UK was quantitative easing or QE. The Bank of England created £435 billion of new money. How did it do that? A BoE official sat at a laptop and typed the money into an account. In fact, commercial banks do exactly the same thing when they issue loans. Money is created as debt by these banks because they are licensed to be able to do so by our government.

Furthermore, when a government spends money it gets most of that money returned to it in taxes. A simple example would be the government spends £100 and gets £80 back in taxes. This is called the 'fiscal multiplier'. Now you can begin to see why government budgets are not like household budgets because a government can create money and most of the money it spends is returned to it in taxes.

Its worth mentioning deficits at this stage. If a government spends more than it 'earns' (in taxes and other income) it will have a deficit. But this is a good thing. Why? Because if the government - public sector - has a deficit then the private sector - businesses and people - will have a surplus - which is good for us. Government surpluses mean private sector deficits and that is bad - for us. For a fuller explanation see this video by David Graeber.

The UK economy is struggling and growth in the last quarter was 0.1%. We may be heading into a recession. So what can the government do? The government needs to invest in the UK and here is one example of how it could:

1. Give public sector workers a decent pay rise - say 10% in one year (they are about 15% poorer than they were in 2010 because of an ongoing pay cap)

2. Some of that money - about 30% - will be returned immediately to the government through income taxes

3. most of the rest of the pay rise will be spent by public sector workers and will end up returning to the government in tax because it is taxed as is circulates around the economy. The pay rise will largely pay for itself.

That spending will boost businesses and the UK economy. One of the main reasons why the high street is failing is not internet shopping but the simple fact that millions have no money to spend.

This is a win-win situation which will boost public sector worker morale and wellbeing and help to lift the UK out of the hole it is in. The question has to be - why aren't the government doing this? I have no doubt there are many MPs who don't understand how government budgets work but the main reason is the poisonous ideology of neoliberalism and blind faith in the 'free' market.

Note: if you want to read more about this I recommend 'The Joy of Tax' by Richard J Murphy.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

As long as there are power imbalances people will continue to be abused

Since the exposure of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual abuser and the #MeToo campaign on Twitter, there have been many other exposures of sexual abuse, most recently in the charity sector. Hopefully, these revelations will result in the prosecution and conviction of men who have serially abused women and deter others from doing so, but, in the longer term, will anything really change? 

Sexual abuse is not about sexual gratification. Though abusers may get some sexual pleasure this abuse is really about power and domination. According to Lyn Yonack - who posted here:

"Far and away, most sexual assaults and sexual violence are perpetrated by men, and typically arise within asymmetrical power dynamics, where the perpetrator occupies a more powerful or dominant position in relation to the victim...........These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the center of power."
So although the exposure and prosecution of serial sex abusers may reduce the amount of sexual abuse going on we still have the essential problem - an imbalance of power. Such imbalances are commonplace in our culture - most obviously in the workplace. And power imbalances don't just lead to sexual abuse. They also lead to bullying and harassment which can have a serious impact on the victim. As a former union representative, I have first-hand experience of this.

So how do we combat this abuse and prevent it from happening, or at least significantly reduce it? The answer, of course, is obvious and is staring us in the face - we need to remove the imbalance of power that facilitates abuse and bullying. To many people, this would seem impossible because we are used to living in a stratified culture in which we take the roles of 'bosses' and 'workers' for granted. That's just how things work, isn't it?

Well yes, but it needn't be. We don't need hierarchies of any kind, either in the workplace or society at large. We are perfectly capable of running businesses and our society as a whole cooperatively and collectively. Naturally, the people who have power aren't going to give it up readily and will work hard to persuade us that they are necessary. But we can start to change things now. I've written about how we can do this in more detail in this post and this blog contains many examples of businesses and groups that are run in a non-hierarchical way.

If you are really serious about ending sexual abuse and bullying - get serious about ending power imbalances in the workplace and wider society!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Only one party is to blame for #Brexit - the #Tories

I voted to remain. I have lots of things I don't like about the EU but, for me, the right thing to do was remain and reform. I wrote a post about it here. The referendum result didn't go well, and now we are stuck with leave - for the foreseeable future. I can understand the frustration and anger of remainers, but there is one thing I can't understand - the desire that many seem to have to blame Labour for the debacle we are faced with.

Lest look at the facts:

  1. The Tories called the referendum and the Tories lost it. It was Cameron who fronted the remain campaign (not Corbyn)
  2. Corbyn went all around the UK campaigning for remain and delivered the votes of 2/3 of Labour supporters for remain.

There you have it. 

Not long after the result lies were spread that Corbyn had not campaigned, really supported Brexit, and even voted leave! Although they were lies many people wanted to believe them. Subsequently, Labour voted to trigger article 50 and it was the right thing to do, respecting the result and reflecting the fact that a majority of Labour constituencies voted leave. Even if Labour had wanted to stop A50 they didn't have the votes in parliament to stop it from happening.

Even now, despite a disastrous election result for the Tories, Labour still doesn't have enough votes to stop the Tories following through with Brexit. So why all the anger directed at Labour on social media because they "refuse" to stop Brexit? And why all the nonsense directed at Labour that they want a "hard Brexit". Labour's policy is clear, it's in the manifesto. Labour wants a soft Brexit which will protect workers rights and the environment. All this is obvious enough but there are many who refuse to see it.

Can Brexit be avoided? Yes, it can but only if the polls shift very significantly so that there is a clear majority for remain. And the only party that can deliver this is - Labour. Labour is playing a long and difficult game, trying to keep their voters and membership onside whilst looking for the softest landing they can. That much is obvious. However, nothing is obvious to many politically naive rabid remainers who expect Labour to ride to the rescue on a white charger. Of course, much of the vitriol directed at Corbyn and Labour from remainers comes from Labour haters and Lib Dems but if those people are really serious about stopping Brexit they need to shut up and start supporting the only party who can prevent it from happening.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A remembrance of things past

Once you pass the big six-o you can no longer pretend to be young. In your fifties, you can just about get away with thinking you could go clubbing, even though you never do. It's not just creaking joints that bring about this situation - its change. Things have really changed since you were young, and you have changed. Even though you probably have a mobile phone and use social media things have moved on - Facebook is for boring grown-ups - not the youth of today. For my part, I use Facebook and Twitter, though I loathe the former, but can't be bothered to also use any more social media apps. The gap between you and youth is growing and it will get wider as time goes on. Their lives, as they develop, will be very different to yours - that's progress.

I began to muse about this during the latest episode of my never-ending quest to clear 'stuff' out of the garage - something I suspect many people will be doing for years to come and that will affect children who haven't been born yet - because the only real solution to this problem is not to have a garage. Whilst sorting through stuff I found a box that contained a number of old letters I'd kept dating back to the early eighties. They were all love-letters from ex-girlfriends and I found them very moving. What struck me about them, apart from the passion, was their length and the relative amount of effort involved. Does anybody do that anymore? Does anyone send long passionate emails to their girlfriends or boyfriends? Its possible but I doubt it - we live in the soundbite age of the text and the Tweet.

I think the letter is something from the past, something we are all, young and old, missing and all the poorer for not receiving. I remember the anticipation of receiving a letter, of hearing the clank of the letterbox as the postie made his early morning delivery (you had two posts a day then) and going to pick up the post. Was there a personal letter for me amongst the brown envelopes? Was it from her? Then sitting down to read and digest the letter's contents - it was good, it moved me. And all the better because it was handwritten, and someone had taken the trouble to craft it. It was personal and had a kind of warmth that can never be reproduced in digital communication.

While I'm on the subject of good things we have lost due to 'progress' I need to put in a word for the vinyl record. For people of my generation, your album collection wasn't just a shelf full of records - it spoke about who you were and what you were into. Your record collection was one of your most treasured possessions and something you happily humped around from student flats to shared houses along with your stereo. Now you can have digital devices that store thousands of tracks, create playlists, and listen to virtually any music for free on Spotify but it's just not the same.

Listening to an album was a ritual, finding the one you wanted, hauling it out, looking at the cover art, lovingly sliding it out of its sleeve, putting it on the deck and then listening to that satisfying clunk as the needle hit the record. Then, sitting down to listen to the music. Listening was a rewarding activity and the music was not just something in the background when you were talking to others or doing the washing up. And the best bit is the fact that the analogue sound quality is superior to digital - warmth, once again.

There is hope for vinyl, sales are increasing, but will we ever see the revival of the letter? We are missing out, but does it matter?

Saturday, 18 November 2017

On Driverless cars

There's a lot of talk in the media nowadays about driverless cars. This, apparently is the future. As someone who has passed middle age, I can see the advantages. I recently had to drive from Shropshire to the New Forest. My satnav told me it would take four hours, in the end, it took seven. I won't bore you with the details but I'm sure you can guess: busy motorways, traffic jams, and roadworks are the norm these days. Even if I had been driving a large, powerful, comfortable car it I would have been knackered when I reached my destination. Driving requires effort and concentration which doesn't get any easier as you get older.

So what's not to like about driverless cars? As long as they can be safe, clean and green they are a great idea, right? Right, but my problem is where they are coming from and how these decisions are made. Who has decided the world needs driverless cars? Apparently, it's Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, that bloke from Google, or some such person. My problem is why should some unaccountable private individual be making important decisions about where the world goes next?

I can hear you thinking 'what is he on about - surely this is progress?' And isn't all 'progress' driven by great individuals - the entrepreneurs of capitalism? Not necessarily, not by any means. In 1945 a Labour government was elected, from that government came the NHS and welfare state. Now that was real progress which benefited, and continues to benefit millions of people. That didn't come from a capitalist or entrepreneur it came from a democratic decision approved by the people.

Recently parts of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, were devastated by a hurricane. Inevitably, despite the idiot Trump, the houses and schools which were destroyed will be eventually be rebuilt. Now if Elon Musk or that bloke from Google had designed eco-friendly hurricane-proof houses which could be manufactured and built at an affordable cost I would be really impressed. Because there is little doubt that the 'new' replacement houses in Puerto Rico will be destroyed by the next hurricane in 5 years time or maybe even sooner.

So my point is - why should the use of money and valuable resources be determined privately when it could better be determined publicly without the profit motive? - when human ingenuity and technology could be so much better employed to do something really useful? Do we really want unaccountable individuals making important decisions about humanity's future? I'd like a driverless car and a mission to Mars, but I'm more than happy to wait for that until after the people of Puerto Rico have all been re-housed in decent safe accommodation and all the people on the planet have access to clean water and healthcare. I'm guessing it will be a long wait.......

Thursday, 26 October 2017

An evening with John McDonnell

On Monday 2 October my political partner in crime, Peter Allen, and I went to see John McDonnell at Manchester Cathedral talking with Gary Younge on the theme of - 'An Economy That Works for All'. The event was part of a series of meetings and demos based around the Tory Party Conference. Predictably, the event was very well attended with an audience of several hundred people and began with the Dean welcoming McDonnell.

John McDonnell is an accomplished speaker who addresses the audience with respect. During the 'debate' he outlined Labour's plans for an expansion of democracy in the UK and spoke about Labour's economic plans. What follows is a summary of what John McDonnell said based on a recording Peter made:

"What we want is for people to come together in their communities to discuss the detailed implementation of our manifesto in their area….that is important to us….where are we going to build the homes that we need,….what sort of jobs do we want… how best to invest in our schools. We will all be going into government together so that change will become unstoppable and irreversible.we need to do work now to prepare for government. 

We will have a constitutional convention, based on a fair nationwide distribution of resources. People are pretty fair. They do want to work together, to cooperate to address inequality. Consensus building is central to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics.

The reason why the Tories are resorting to personal abuse is because they are losing the argument. They say they are defending the free market but what we have is a rigged market. We have ‘corporate capture’, where corporations have taken over the levers of government which is being run in the interests of the 1%. In response, we are calmly proposing alternative solutions. 

People are seeing through what the Tories are all about. They are recognizing that austerity wasn’t an economic necessity but a political choice. I million fewer adults are receiving care because of austerity. There are millions on housing waiting lists and 70,000 children are in temporary accommodation. In terms of political ideas, the Tory Party are bankrupt. As a political party, they are imploding. 

I have been talking to business about our investment strategy. Business is seeking opportunities for stable returns on their investment and we will be offering that. 
John McDonnell at Manchester Cathedral
We need a real living wage and strong trade unions, which offer the best means of protecting wages and conditions. We will restore and expand collective bargaining. Rising wages will lift people out of poverty and raise more taxes. It isn’t rocket science.

We recognise the contribution migrants have made to this country. We need to guarantee the rights of EU migrants living in this country.

Our opponents will always try to divide and rule. We need to bring people together on the basis of recognising injustices. We will clamp down on tax evasion/ avoidance which is on an industrial scale in this country and properly resourced HMRC. UKUNCUT have dragged tax avoidance to the top of the agenda by public protests and should be given credit for the role they have played in this.There should be greater tax transparency. Everyone earning over 1 million pounds and all leading politicians and public officials should be required to publish their tax returns.

From Thatcher onwards, neoliberalism became the dominant ‘hegemonic ‘ idea. After the crash, this dominant idea has been challenged. After 10 years, with the recession having supposedly ended but living standards still being cut more and more people are coming to the view that the current model will never work and I think we can convince a majority of people to accept a different narrative and support a different model.

We believe that education is a gift from one generation to another and not a commodity to be bought and sold. We want a National Education Service, free from the cradle to the grave. We will improve and expand provision in conjunction with service users.

We need to invest in new technology, as Germany has done. Business is not investing sufficiently and we will use public investment to encourage such investment. We will encourage workers co-operatives and worker representation on boards.

We need to prioritise addressing climate change. (loud applause). There will be no fracking. We intend that the UK will become world leader in decarbonizing the economy in its first five years of office."

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The so-called free market has failed we now need a democratically driven alternative

For the vast majority of people in the world, after more than 200 years of capitalism, the so-called 'free' market has delivered little but poverty. The 'free market' economy is meant to deliver investment, innovation, efficiency and a trickle-down prosperity. In reality, it has meant privatisation - where public services are asset stripped and suffer under profit-led management and deregulation - leaving the banks and finance sector free to gamble national economies into debt and exploitation.

In the twenty-first century, we have faced increased prices, cuts to our living standards, lack of housing, long hours and insecurity both in work and in retirement. Here in the UK, unions suffer the most restrictive laws in Western Europe. Prosperity is increasingly seen to be reserved for the unaccountable few, who face none of the pay restraints imposed on workers and none of the regulations and burdens placed on unions. 'Free' market capitalism has been a social, economic and environmental failure.
What the left has to do is nail the lie of the 'free' market - which means deregulation and privatisation that only benefit the rich - as we have seen. What we need is a fair market which workers can benefit from without the fruits of their labour being expropriated by capitalists. The right has expounded simplistic bullshit - like the 'free' market - which doesn't exist and never can - and got away with it because the left hasn't adequately exposed what a fraud it is. That is now beginning to change as the left uses social media and the internet more effectively.

The 'free' market right have also always said that we couldn't afford to re-nationalise utilities, railways etc. Having seen the vast sums invested in propping up the banks after the great recession, we all know that is not true.
 We need to show people that an alternative economy is not only possible but achievable. That alternative needs to be a mix of state ownership and mutualism - to give people a real stake in the economy and their future.

We need to build on explaining the benefits of public ownership as a fair market alternative to free market capitalism. Many people already accept this. Labour has made a very good start on this with their manifesto and more and more people understand they have been ill-served by the cam of privatisation. The events of the past decade, and in particular the last few months since the General Election has given us the opportunity to get that message across in a way that we haven't had for at least a generation.

One consequence of 'free' market neoliberalism is the backlash against the 1% leading to the rise of the far right and, potential break-up of the EU, as well as the beginning of the end of America as a dominant global economic and military force. The very people who wanted this to be the American Century - the neo-conservatives and neoliberals  - have brought their country down. This was very well summed up in an article by John Gray in the Observer. The geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting as I write this, and the American dream has become a nightmare.