Politics as clear as Irish mud

Back in Ireland as I am for Christmas, I’ve cast my eye to Irish politics, where we see many of the same issues that beset British politics. The government here, a centre left-right coalition, has been on the one hand imposing harsh austerity, but equally bringing in new taxes and charges to balance the books. While these have effected everyone, where possible to higher earners have been targeted for a higher proportion of the costs. For example, a new property tax (aimed specifically at wealthy home owners or owners of large property portfolios) has been introduced.

Certainly, having witnessed the alternative in the UK – Tory cuts to public services hand in hand with tax cuts for the wealthy and a Dickensian attitude to the poor and disadvantaged, with food banks oversubscribed. I think in that context we’ve not done a half bad job in Ireland, considering the alternative. Ireland is now out of recession and the EU bailout process. However, you try telling that to the many Irish angry at what they see as unreasonable taxes and government cuts, with them now expected to pay for things that were previously free.

For example water charges. Most of Europe has water charges of some form or another and there is enormous water wastage in Ireland. Some Irish literally leave all their taps running in winter to prevent pipes from freezing (rather than simply lagging them and insulating the loft!). Some of our sewerage treatment facilities are out of date (and thus pollute a lot) and need updating. Thus some sort of a change is needed.

Certainly one can criticize how the present government went about doing it – e,g. hiring consultants for 50 million euro, getting Bord Gais to do the metering (who then vastly underestimated the scale and costs involved), along with a long catalogue of other screw ups. But I think few sane people wouldn’t accept that some sort of a charging system was inevitable. However there’s a large plank of Irish who fundamentally object to any sort of water charge, period. And incidentally we are talking a figure in the order of 120 – 240 euro per year per household here, about half of what British pay for our, admittedly sub-standard joke of a privatised service.

Ourselves alone
This distrust of mainstream politics is now reflected in opinion polls that put Sinn Fein (who oppose water charges and pretty much anything else that might be unpopular) narrowly ahead as the most popular party in Ireland, at 22% . It should be remembered that Ireland has a multi-party political system (i.e. coalition governments are more the norm than the exception) with proportional representation. Also, over the course of both the boom and the bust pretty much all the major parties and even some of the smaller parties (such as the Greens!) have had a spell in government, so all are essentially seen to be “tainted goods” to some Irish.

One could draw a parallel between the rise of Sinn Fein and that of UKIP….or the rise of a certain radial party of the right, in Germany in the 1930’s – A lot of angry people, who don’t really understand politics, picking a radical party as a protest vote against the political system, unaware they are in effect voting for something much worse in the process.

For example many are voting for UKIP because they are sick of all the machiavellian manoeuvring and sleazy corruption within the mainstream political parties. Unfortunately, , as I highlighted in a prior post, chip away below the surface and you find that UKIP is a party mired in petty feuds, sex scandals, embezzlement of public funds and wealthy donors trying to get their chums from boarding school put forward as candidates.

And if anything Sinn Fein makes Farage look like Robespierre. Consider the party leader Gerry Adams is, amongst other things, being investigated for involvement in the murder and “dissappearing” of opponents during the NI troubles. There is the suspicion that Sinn Fein party officials were involved in the infamous NI bank robbery (one of the largest ever robberies in the country) and helped to launder/destroy evidence afterwards (one Sinn Fein supporter was arrested in his home in Cork stuffing NI bank notes into the fire). Then there’s the whole Maria Cahill rape scandal, which is causing SF grief both sides of the border. And there’s a whole long list of instances of petty corruption and dodgy deals in support of filling the party coffers…or the pockets of party members.

One is reminded of Farage’s insistence that UKIP members declare that they have “no skeletons in their closet”….although we assume that doesn’t include his links to Enoch Powell, nor his sex scandals. Sinn Fein seem to have a policy whereby you can’t become a candidate for them, unless you’ve literally got a skeleton in the closet….or preferably buried somewhere in a bog!

And up in Stormont, the situation is only marginally better. Sinn Fein corruption in Stormont, is countered by the equal and opposite force of the Ulster Unionists. Although its worth remembering, that both parties know they’ve got to behave, otherwise the Irish and UK government will shut them down again. As happened in the past when Sinn Fein corruption and abuse of power reached such a crescendo that the NI police raided Stormont, leading to a temporary suspension of power sharing.

And like UKIP, Sinn Fein are a party wedded to many populist, but unenforceable and contradictory policies. On the one hand have committed to many policies that would be very expensive, e.g. getting rid of water charges, greater spending on healthcare, etc. Granted some of these policies aren’t a bad idea, but they also want to get rid of existing taxes and roll back all the austerity measures, which leaves a big question as to how the state would balance the books?

And before anyone says “tax the rich”, the existing labour government is already doing that (as noted). There’s a few loopholes that could be closed yes (something Sinn Fein highlights), we could ramp up tax rates for high earners a bit more in Ireland, but certainly nothing that would supply funds of the scale we’re are talking about.

In essence Sinn Fein claim to be able to defy the laws of economic gravity, increasing public spending while cutting taxes….and doing so in the recovery phase of a recession! Unfortunately, the reality is that in event of them trying to implement this miss-mass of policies, Sinn Fein would probably have to borrow massively, which would violate current Eurozone rules (then again Sinn Fein also want to bring back the Punt!). And in any event, who in their right mind would led money to them? Ireland would be paying the sort of credit card interest rates and suffering the sort of high inflation we last saw back in the 70’s.

And like UKIP, Sinn Fein have a core policy, that of a united Ireland, that contradicts and distorts the party’s whole political ethos. At present, both sides of the border this is a dead issue, opinion polls show that. I personally reckon that if the UK moved to leave the EU that might change things, but of course if Sinn Fein also drag Ireland out of the EU, that will close off that opportunity. In essence their euroskeptism neatly cancels out their desire for a united Ireland.

In short it is for good reason that the Irish independent newspaper has recently dismissed Sinn Fein as “Facism with a Human face”. It is ironic that the term Sinn Fein translates as “ourselves alone”. If Sinn Fein had its way that exactly what would happen – we’d be “ourselves alone” in a bankrupt potato republic.

Rise of the independent
Another trend noted in recent polls was the rise of independent politicians. They now command a whopping 32% of the public voting intentions, more than any of the political parties. On the one hand I think this is good, I’ve never really liked the whole system of party politics, where a local TD is forced to toe the party line on issues that effect his constituency.

However many of Ireland’s independent are often single issue candidates. For example, there’s Luke “Ming” (as in Ming the Merciless!) Flanagan, a cannabis legalisation campaigner, currently sitting as an MEP…and currently on police bail for…well I think you can probably guess! ;D By contrast, there’s the Healy Rae’s clan of rural conservatives from darkest Kerry….who would probably like to string drug dealers to wild goats and let them be dragged across the brambles if they could get away with it! :)) Similarly, we’ve got independents calling, for example, for more road building (a number of Irish towns have awful traffic problems and need a bypass) and others (conservationists and NIMBY’s in the path of such schemes) who are against such developments.

Certainly a government can incorporate a few independents into its ranks to make up a majority. But its very difficult to do this with large numbers of independents, who will often hold diametrically opposite views on key issues. Particularly as any single issue candidate knows that if his core policy isn’t addressed after him supporting the government he will be crucified in any future election.

In short, an Irish parliament with a majority of TD’s as independents could quickly become a lame duck administration, unable to get even the most basic legislation passed (such as a budget), much like the expensive mess otherwise referred to as the US political system.

Back to Reality
There is therefore a need for many in Ireland (and the UK for that matter) to quit acting like babies and grow up. There’s little point in voting if you’re going to let your ego do the voting instead of you’re brain. While there’s nothing wrong with voting outside of the the mainstream parties (which after all I have a habit of doing), but its important to weight up the merits of said party’s manifesto. There’s little point in voting for a party whose policies simply don’t add up…and were likely drafted by Hogwarts school of magic and wizardry.

One must also consider the bigger picture – will supporting this party produce the effect intended or will it produce the opposite effect, i.e. produce a government that is more sleazy and corrupt, that wrecks the economy and increases the deficit. Indeed a likely outcome of a lurch to Sinn Fein in Ireland is to allow Fianna Fail (the party/shower of ba$tard’s who got us into this mess) back into power. The likely consequences of a strong UKIP vote will be to deny the Tories a majority and hand victory to Labour (who then form a coalition with the SNP).

And its crucial to keep from power certain parties with dangerous political views, as there is a very real risk of them bringing down the entire democratic system, much as happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930’s. As the saying goes, those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw rocks.

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The Fat Dictator

The big pre-Christmas story is of course the distinct lack of Christmas cheer coming out of North Korea. The hermit state is accused by the US FBI of instigating a politically motivated hack attack against the Japanese company Sony, in order to pressure Sony into halting the realise of the satirical film “the interview”.

The situation has now brewed into a full blown political crisis, with insults being traded by both sides and North Korea making its trademark threats of “terrible consequences” if the crazy little cheese munching dwarf in Pyongyang doesn’t get his bottle. Unfortunately, while Pyongyang denies it, the facts do tend to stack against them, notably given that the language used by the hackers, sounded suspiciously like the stuff we’re used to hearing out of the NK propaganda ministry.

Of course Sony, a company not exactly famous for brilliance in cyber-security, has hardly escaped criticism. The information leaked by hackers included e-mails which revealed Sony’s policy of unequal pay, less than gratifying comments about leading celebrities and mismanagement of employee’s personal details, something that’s likely to lead to class action lawsuits.

Sony claims that they cancelled the film due to fears over “safety” and that theatres were refusing to show it. But this is contradicted by a number of independent cinemas. Not only were they prepared to show the movie, but when Sony showed reluctance, they proposed showing instead “Team America – World Police, in order to give the two fingered salute to “the young general” and his cronies…only for Paramount (owner of the copyright) to close ranks with Sony and effectively censor a film that’s been on general release for nearly a decade.

In short, its very probable that, Sony’s real motivation for cancelling the release of the interview was simply a way of making all these negative stories just go away. As the vulture put it “The Interview was no longer the hill that Sony wanted to die on”.

Indeed, some of the leaks revealed Sony were nervous about the film, even before the hacking started. Leaked e-mails show back and forth exchanges between Seth Rogen and Sony management, regarding the final death scene of Kim Jung-un, something Seth has himself commented on prior to the hack. It seems that Sony wanted him to tone it down a tad.

Unfortunately, Sony didn’t count on this act of intellectual cowardice provoking an even bigger backlash. Making fun of vane dictators is a tradition that goes all the way back to the day of Charlie Chaplin’s “the Great Dictator”. Kim-Jung-il was himself mercilessly satired as a platform shoe wearing, ronery, alien coachroach in disguise. Saddam was the main object of ridicule in the Hot Shots films, Frank Drebin took down the Ayatollah and Gorbachev in “Police Squad: the Naked Gun”. And the satirical puppet show Spitting Image was well known for mocking many dictators (notably Gaddafi) as well as western politicians (notably Gaddafi’s nemesis, Ronald Reagan).

Sony’s climb down, along with prior backtracking and self-censorship by newspapers over the whole cartoons of Mohammed fiasco, means that now all any totalitarian dictator needs to do is issue some random threats via some anonymous e-mail account and criticism of his regime will be swiftly silenced. In effect the reach of police states such as NK and Saudi Arabia now extends right up the White house lawn and across the grass of parliament square.

Indeed another film about North Korea has also been cancelled by another Hollywood studio as a consequence. It is thus for good reasons that this incident has to be seen in serious light, as it represents a roll back of artistic freedom to a pre-1930’s level.

Fortunately Sony, realising they’ve vastly worsen their position by acting so cowardly, are talking about releasing the film on “other platforms”. As a consequence Kim Jung-un might be on course to learn a lesson in the so-called “Streisand effect”, whereby a film that would have probably been overlooked by many, will now gain a wider audience.

And that’s bad news for him, as there were many reasons for North Korea to want to suppress this film, not least of those being that Kim Jung-un is not in as a secure position as his predecessors. There would be a certain irony of course if the Kim regime were brought down by a mere movie, given how enthusiastic his predecessor was in his support for NK’s film industry.

That said, NK has long engaged in a policy that the CIA insiders often refer to via the acronym CFC – Crippled, Fearsome, Crazy. Knowing they could never win a conventional shooting war with South Korea, let alone the US and its allies, the Pyongyang crazy gang have long embarked on a strategy for survival which involves appearing to be dangerously unhinged, thus convincing the west to leave them putter in their poverty stricken sand box.

So while its possible, they tipped their poker hand bluff a little too heavily this time, it might be worthwhile considering this incident along those lines.

Game of Bigots

One of the reasons for many turning to UKIP is a feeling that politicians are cynics who will say and do anything to claw their way up the ladder. That far too many politicians are like the characters shown on the TV show “house of cards” (while Kevin Spacey’s not bad in this series, personally I reckon the British original was much better and Ian Richardson, far more sinister).

However, if anything UKIP’s politicians, those that aren’t complete fruitcakes and nutters, are far worse than any of the mainstream parties. There was an interesting bit of analysis yesterday morning from Nick Robinson, about the backstabbing and manoeuvring within UKIP over candidate selection, of the sort that would put the Lannister’s on Game of Throne’s to shame.

Recently, the current UKIP candidate for the seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock, Kerry Smith, was forced to resign over homophobic and racist comments. So far so UKIP you say…only the leaked information supposedly came from another UKIP supporter, whom we can safely assume wasn’t shocked at this awful racism, but was presumably keen to support the case for his preferred candidate.

And Smith was only in this position, as the prior candidate had dropped out. He was none other than Nigel Hamilton….and yes, I mean Mr “sword of truth” himself. Again, you cannot get any more sleezy and corrupt than this, which explains why even Farage decided Hamilton was a sleeze too far and had him taken out, thanks to leaked documents from UKIP HQ regarding Hamilton’s expenses.

Trouble is that Hamilton was only on the ticket because one of UKIP’s wealthy donors (part of the grizzled old money good-olde-boys network that props up UKIP) insisted on it and he’s now threatening to turn off the money tap.

Parallel to all of this of course, is the sex scandal regarding UKIP’s general secretary Roger Bird, who it is alleged sexually harassed another potential candidate for the Basildon seat. Now sex scandal’s and UKIP are again, not really news. Nigel Farage is openly having an affair, which everyone knows about, but the tabloid and bigot brigade (who are usually quick to jump on any story involving sex if it involves anyone else) are carefully ignoring. However, again the concern is that Bird may have used unfair influence to press her case for the seat….and quite possibly she only went to the media when he failed to deliver her as a candidate.

So in short if you want to vote UKIP because you’re tired of existing politics and the manoeuvrings of politicians, think again. Government by UKIP would be government by a bunch of backstabbers who would sell out their grandmother at the drop of a hat. Consider that Farage recently struck a deal with a Holocaust denier for the sake of getting his paws on more election cash. And UKIP is a party wedded firmly to various shadowy special interests. Its inevitable, given their behaviour in Europe, that as soon as they are in power, they’ll gladly toss white van man under the bus, for the sake of feathering their own nests.

In short a vote for UKIP would be a vote for government by chaos and mayhem and probably something much worse if they get their way on immigration and Europe.

Blogging catch up

I’ve been off the radar for awhile, moving house, thought I would be time for a catch up.

Black and blue Friday
For a start there were those near riots where a lot of silly people, waited in the cold and rain for hours just for the opportunity to fight over a telly. I mean if you want to fight with some random stranger, just go a football derby match or take up rugby.

On the other hand if you really want a cheap TV, people do know you can get them over the internet? Or cheaper still, by going to an auction, either the online type or the real world alternative, or using charity shops. Of course there are risks to buy something at auction, the product may not be in the best of condition, particularly if its second hand. I’ve never been caught out, but then I’ve always checked out the goods prior to purchase or bought off reputable dealers. But I suspect a telly you’ve wrestled out of a scrum isn’t going to be in that much better condition either!

Needless too say the cops haven’t exactly been happy about this, having a go at the supermarkets for stirring up a hornets nest. But while the supermarkets do deserve some blame, I wonder if this is more a sign of how selfish and mercenary society is becoming. They say every society is two meals from revolution. I’d say we’re actually one I-Pod away.

Migrants cause traffic jams !?!
Nigel Farage has continued his policy of “dog whistle” politics, i.e. making racists comments, but in a coded way that doesn’t sound racist. His latest one is to blame being late for a meeting in Wales on migrants causing traffic jams :crazy: WTF?

“Foreign born” individuals (which captures both immigrants an a large number of naturalised British) represent only 13% of the population and while precise statistics aren’t available, as they tend to be on a lower income or younger they are a lot less likely to own a car than the remaining 87%. How can, at most 13% of the population (and probably more like 7-8% if we’re realistic) be responsible for traffic jams?

I mean I managed to get into a few horrendous jams recently, and they were often the result of an accident, or road works or in one case an accident at a section of road works. However I was big enough to accept that I was behind schedule due to improper planning, i.e. choosing the wrong route, not checking traffic reports before heading out. Perhaps Farage, not exactly known for being the brightest spark, should have done the same? Or taken the train or something?

As even UKIP’s founder has pointed out, the party is now little more than the domain of fruitcakes and closet racists and generally the sort of people who, unlike migrants, do represent a serious threat to this country.

Playing like Girls
Another thing Farage is famous for, aside from being a “dim witted racists” is that of a chauvinist. He’s recently been taking issue with women’s rights to breastfeed in public.

However recently a goal by Irish footballer Stephanie Roche was nominated for FIFA’s goal of the year. And if you watch the video you can see why. A couple more players like that, and Ireland could be in with a serious chance of winning something…..Of course Farage had his way, we’d probably go back to the days when women were banned from playing.

Russian drugs scandal
A less sporting story is that of a massive drugs scandal, which has been broken by the German media. If suggests that nearly all of Russia’s athletes at recent events have been systematically doping as part of an industrial scale doping system, of the sort we thought we’d seen the back of along with the collapse of the Warsaw pact. State officials it is claimed helped athletes dope as well as cover up any positive tests in return for a cut of their salary. Naturally this news must be hugely frustrating to athletes who were squeezed out of medal positions by these Russians athletes.

While the Russian’s deny everything (predictably), and of course given recent politics one has to question the timing of this story breaking. However the evidence produced by the Germans is certainly worrying, given that it includes actual confessions from several Russian athletes. Needless to say the IOC and IAAF are investigating. But given that they are both as corrupt as FIFA, I won’t hold my breath.

Of course, this is not to say that I believe that all Western athletes are as clean as glacier water. Indeed scandals such as the BALCO scandal, the Festina affair or Lance Armstrong, suggests that the only difference is that the Russians have been a bit more organised in how they conducted their doping.

I’ve long argued that the solution to these doping scandals is simple – return sports to the days of the amateur athlete, eliminating the financial motive to engage in doping.

Nice money if you can get it
The tabloids were fuming over the fact that building companies have recently been paying as much as £1000 a week for skilled brick layers and other tradesmen. The demand has been so great, they’ve been bringing in hordes of them from Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, they failed to ask the more crucial question, why?

Well the financial crisis led to mass unemployment in the building trade. Many of those who lost their jobs have, in the seven years since then, left the trade, retired or got a job doing something else. And the lack of opportunities has meant new apprentices haven’t been coming up the ranks since 2007. Hence, with the building industry now back in business again, companies are now seeing major labour shortages. Which is why they are being forced to look far and wide for skilled employees.

Its all well and good the tabloids pointing to the queues outside job centres and crying crocodile tears (given that they want to take away people’s benefits and have generally tried to argue that the unemployed are lazy). But unless you can find some way of uploading several years worth of skills and experience into their brains, there’s not much that can be done. They need the correct skills to match what the job market needs. Hence the need to promote skills and training, rather than the present Tory tactic of trying to push people into low paid jobs they are unsuited for, just to make the unemployment figures look better.

And restricting the movement of workers into the country won’t magically conjure up new jobs. It will simply mean companies leaving the UK to set up in countries where they can recruit more easily.

Nutcase boss
If you’re boss is a bit strict and bossy, well it could be worse. An executive in Korean Airlines is in trouble for throwing a tizzy over how she was served nuts on the plane by stewards (so you could say she literally went nuts! :##). She then made them knell and bow before here :crazy:, before ordering the plane back to the terminal (delaying the other few hundred people on the plane) so they could be put off the aircraft.

So next time you’re boss asks you do to a bit of photocopying, count yourself lucky!

Let it…not snow!
Its coming up on Christmas, carols and songs are being sung, many of which have titles such as “dreaming of a white Christmas” or “let it snow”. Only for a little snow to fall, alongside the threat of a big freeze to come, and everyone starts moaning about the inconvenience of a country blanketed in snow. Conclusion, people don’t know what they want.