Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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The EU needs to show more imagination with Greece.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 4, 2015 in European Union

Greek flag 2Watching a Channel Four news report during the week, I was surprised to find myself tearing up at the interview of a young Greek woman who, despite her desperate situation, passionately defended being a European citizen and wanting to be part of Europe.

Regardless of how Greece votes tomorrow, Greece isn’t going away. Regardless of its recent political history, and the Troika’s failure with regard to Greece, these are Europeans too. We can’t let Europeans go without food or medicine, indeed, if that’s the EU we’ve created even I think we should abandon it.

Syriza (and the IMF) are quite correct. The Greeks, regardless of how they created the debt, can’t pay it back, and crippling the country in an attempt to avoid admitting that is plainly immoral.

Having said that, Syriza and most of their European Left supporters are in denial about where Greece must go now. Syriza were elected on an either deluded or plain dishonest platform of pretty much restoring the old patronage and tax evasion ways. They protest that, but it is the reality.

But enough of the finger pointing: how do we now help this great people, and they are a great people, get off their knees and take their place as an economically sustainable EU nation?

Is it time to offer a compact: direct temporary control of tax collection, business regulation, labour and market reforms by Brussels, in return for direct welfare payments to Greeks to create a social floor beneath which no one will fall? We help them reform the economy, and in return either set up distribution of food, medicine, etc, or put money straight into their bank accounts.

Yes, I know, it sounds crazy. This is a sovereign democratic nation. But these are not normal times and this is not a normal crisis, and whatever about the political difficulty of selling a bail out in Germany or Finland, there are few Europeans who will begrudge us helping those at the bottom of the Greek pile.

Would such a compact need another referendum? Almost certainly. But at least we could be sure that writing off debt would be going hand in hand with putting in place the requirements to help Greece transform itself.

Greece is a beautiful country with the potential to be Europe’s holiday destination of choice. Its people are decent, compassionate and not afraid of work. But someone has to destroy the political and social structures that allowed generations of politicians to tell people economic fantasy.

This will hurt. Liberalisation causes uncertainty, and people will have to retire later, and yes, pay more tax. But there is a way out, and as part of that I’d rather some Greek grandmother look at a box of medicine with an EU flag on it, and know that Europe was more concerned with getting her medicine to her than trying to stop it.

 
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Crisis: a nuclear attack on Israel.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 3, 2015 in Fiction, Politics, US Politics

nuke

Repost.

The weapon, later identified as a 10 mega-ton former Soviet warhead, detonated just as the new Knesset began proceedings. In a flash, Israel’s administrative capital, political leadership and just under three quarters of a million Israelis died, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The news was greeted in different ways. In the US, the president was rushed to the emergency national airborne command post, whilst the vice president and others were sent to the alternate national command centre in Mount Weather. US forces were ordered to def con 2.

In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, spontaneous crowds gathered in grotesque displays of euphoria.

Read more…

 
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Does the EU need to give Greeks welfare payments directly?

Posted by Jason O on Jul 2, 2015 in European Union

berlin airliftI posted this blog in February 2012, and I’ve decided to re-post because I think it is more relevant today.

“The fact is, the Greek people seem to be sleepwalking towards the election of a radical government that is going to destroy their country and effectively take them out of the euro. Not all their reasons for voting for the Syriza coalition are illogical either, given the corruption of Greek politics and the real pain that ordinary Greeks are feeling. Even right wingers like me, who support the EU/IMF and recognise the need for harsh fiscal discipline in the country, are beginning to despair at what the Greek people are going through. The fact is, if we are not careful, we will see Greeks dying, or possibly suffer third world levels of poverty as their public infrastructure collapses.

But what is the solution? To keep giving a corrupt, incompetent Greek state money, which it will squander, or use to stave off vital long-term reforms?

Instead, is it time for the EU to consider direct welfare provision, to stave off the worst excesses and protect the most vulnerable? Should the EU offer to voluntarily register individual Greek citizens and pay them a weekly amount directly? Or what about creating EU public works programmes, such as hiring thousands of unemployed college graduates to collect taxes from businesses? Would it be patronising, even colonialist? Quite possibly, but bear in mind that it was the Greek government that created this insatiable public money devouring clientelist monster, not the EU. It would be voluntary, anyway, perhaps dispersed from EU embassies, effectively the biggest direct aid programme in Europe since Marshall Aid or the Berlin Airlift.

How ever we do it, we cannot let Greeks starve. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake, and these are Europeans too. We have to offer the Greek people a realistic alternative to austerity, that is, austerity with a purpose. Maybe putting much needed euro directly into the hands of Greeks in return for complying with the reforms needed to make the Greek economy self sustaining? Will it work? I don’t know. But a chink in the eurozone accompanied by a Greek default would surely be more expensive than giving every struggling Greek  €200 a week?

Of course, when I suggest something like this there’ll be the usual Irish voices demanding that any such funds be spent in Ireland, but the reality is that Greece is in a far worse state than Ireland, and unlike Ireland, is in serious danger of a military coup. One thing is certain, and this applies to Ireland as well as Greece. Whilst you must get taxes and spending into alignment, you just cannot cut your way out of a recession.”

 
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Give Greece a wire brush write-off?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2015 in European Union, Events, The Sunday Business Post

Sunday business post logoPublished in The Sunday Business Post

15th March 2015

When it comes down to it, if they’re honest, the Germans will probably admit in private that there isn’t a hope in hell of Greece paying back its debt. They’ll also admit that the debt isn’t really the problem.

The real problem is that Angela’s hard line is beginning to take on the same golden calf standing in German politics as the commitment to restoring the national language is here. Except unlike us, the Germans tend to mean it.

We forget that for every Greek worker waving a sign saying “We are not a German colony” there’s a German worker happy to hold aloft a sign saying “Not a cent of my taxes, Angie!”, and unlike the Greeks, the Germans actually can remove her from office.

But what really matters to the Germans is the fear that firstly, the Greeks will immediately go back to their old ways of regarding taxation as being an interesting philosophical concept, and secondly, the Spanish, Irish, Portuguese and Italians will all suddenly stop self-flagellating, look at our trousers bunched around our ankles, and pull a collective “Now, hold on a minute!”

The trick then, is to find a way of cutting the Greeks some slack but doing it in such a way that the other problem countries do a Meatloaf: “I’ll do anything . . . but I won’t do THAT!”

A bit of imagination will be required. It’s all well and good signing memorandums of understanding, but nobody really believes them. You have to make them do something so humiliating that other countries baulk at the idea of requesting the same deal. For example, letting Brussels nominate the head of Greece’s tax collection authorities, and the head of its public service, and maybe even its finance, labour and justice ministers.

Extreme? Yes. Humiliating? Definitely. Worth a hundred billion of a write-off? Hmmm.

Would the Irish, Spanish or Italians concede the same? I doubt it. Sure, the wags say that Greece and Italy did actually let Brussels nominate their prime ministers, but this is much bigger. This is actual direct control.

Would we allow Olli Rehn be appointed to the Seanad and then made Minister for Taxation and Public Sector Reform for a €30 billion write-off? Sure, we announce, until he tries to bring in, say, Swedish tax transparency where everybody’s salary and tax is published online. Or tries to get us to pay for, God forbid, the actual amount of water we use?

How would our political class react if Brussels demanded that all our junior ministers not be members of the Oireachtas, but people technically knowledgeable of the portfolios they are covering?

How would learned colleagues in the Kings Inns react to a Dutch justice minister announcing that he was abolishing the difference between Irish barristers and solicitors? Good God man, an affront to democracy! There’d be wigs flying everywhere in indignation.

Suddenly €30 billion would become a mere metaphysical construct, something that pales into insignificance when your real live water bill arrives and the minister thinks nothing of turning off the water supply if you don’t pay, and doesn’t know or care who Joe Duffy is.

Yeah, the demonstrations will be all “national sovereignty now!” but the truth is that we wouldn’t want that nosy bloke from down the road looking up how much you actually earn and pay in tax, or that you don’t declare to the Revenue that mobile home you rent out every summer.

This would be the troika on speed with a SWAT team. We’d actually harp back nostalgically to Ajai Chopra and the way he’d look at you, peering over his half-moon glasses and saying “these ministerial pensions are a bit Liberace, aren’t they?”

And that’s the problem: the Greek compromise by its very nature, whilst relieving the actual pain of the Greek people, has to humiliate them to ensure that the rest of us don’t ask for a portion. We’ve got to wheel a lovely big wooden horse up to the gates of Athens, and everybody has to know what it means.

It’s like those old stories about how so many sexually transmitted diseases were solved with a bottle of Dettol and a wire brush. Has to be done, good in the long run, but still makes onlookers look on and exhale with a grimace thinking, “Thank Christ that’s not me.”

 
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A few awkward things about the Greece situation.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2015 in European Union

1. It is indisputable that ordinary Greeks are hurting hard, as their economy constricts and public spending is curtailed. Ordinarily, lending Greece money to help them through a rough patch would be the decent thing to do.

2. However, Syriza seems far more interested in maintaining a public sector that Greece can not afford under its own resources, rather than figuring out a way of creating wealth to fund public services. Austerity is another word for maths.

3. Every country in the EU is a democracy, not just Greece. For every Greek on the streets demanding an end to “austerity” there’s a Finn, German or Dane telling her elected representatives “no more”. Greek democracy isn’t better than anyone else’s democracy.

4. The Greek referendum result should be taken for what it is. Yes means “We want to stay in Europe”, No means “We’ll take our chances”. Both results are legitimate, so please, spare us the No is a great democratic victory, Yes is a bullied people. The Greek people will vote in their own self-interest, as we do when we vote on EU treaties.

5. The Euro is flawed in design. We either go for a federal union, or this is going to happen again.

6. Greece should not have been let into the Euro in the first place.

7. Ireland is full of people and parties calling on other countries to give THEIR money to the Greeks. There’s then a lot of looking at shoes and out windows when they’re asked about giving our money. Same with Mediterranean refugees: great at demanding other people house and feed them. If people could eat guff and “solidarity”, the Irish Alphabet Left would have fed the Greek people ten times over.

8. Still, at least we’re getting a glimpse at Richard Boyd Barrett’s Ireland.

9. Having said all that, Greeks are going hungry and without medicine. I’d support the EU, using my taxes, setting up emergency relief centres to get aid directly to the people who need it. Just not through the Greek government. We need to show the Greeks that yes, they are our fellow Europeans and we do actually give a s**t. An EU without Greece is a poorer EU.

 
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President Obama, to avoid making political capital on a tragedy, condemns the next mass shooting in the US before it occurs.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 29, 2015 in Not quite serious., US Politics

Obama speakingPresident Obama, aware of not wanting to impinge on the personal suffering of American families who are not yet suffering from losing friends and/or loved ones in a mass shooting that hasn’t happened yet, has issued a statement condemning the as yet not occurred gun attack.

“Today, as we listen to news coming from wherever it will be that this awful thing happens, our prayers are with the families of people who will soon be senselessly gunned down by someone with a legally held firearm.”

The National Rifle Association has condemned the President for making remarks about a hypothetical mass killing involving yet another weapon being used by a person who really shouldn’t be allowed own a mobile phone, never mind a firearm comparable to those used by most other countries military forces.

“We expect this sort of liberal scaremongering from this President, going around stirring up anti-gun feeling on the ridiculous basis of an event that has not even happened and will statistically not happen in exactly the format that he’s talking about. Why, he didn’t even have the guts to predict where such an event might happen, how many people might die,     and what sort of firearm was used!”

When asked about the fact that the NRA actually has established media procedure to deal with mass shootings, the spokesperson pointed out that plenty of people enjoy wargaming, and that if NRA employees just happen to enjoy such a social event, that’s their business.

“But the idea that the NRA prepares for mass shootings in the belief that it is a near certainty that they will happen under our current gun laws is outrageous,” the spokesman said, before jumping under a table when a nearby car backfired, and screaming “Lockdown Alpha! Lockdown Alpha!”

 
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This guy is a good president, and the Republicans just can’t stand it.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 27, 2015 in US Politics

obama_phoneFirst they couldn’t believe a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama was even daring to run.

Then they couldn’t believe he was born in the United States.

Then they couldn’t believe that he won.

Then they couldn’t believe he passed Obamacare.

Then they couldn’t believe that Osama Bin Laden was hunted down on his watch.

Then they couldn’t believe he appointed liberals to the Supreme Court.

Then they couldn’t believe the economy actually grew, and unemployment fell.

Then they really couldn’t believe he was re-elected.

Then they couldn’t believe Obamacare started working.

They can’t believe he hasn’t created a Muslim atheist socialist dictatorship.

Then they couldn’t believe the Supreme Court ruled that both Obamacare and gay marriage were legal.

Now they can’t believe that not one candidate seeking the Republican nomination for President holds the same opinion on gay marriage as the majority of the American people.

Barring getting caught chasing an intern around the Oval Office, this guy is going to leave office with the country in better shape than he found it, more liberal, and leaving the main opposition party running on a platform of weird minority social views, worrying publicly about the oppression and hardship of billionaires, and wanting to take healthcare off sick people.

Yeah, that’ll do.

 
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The Ministry of Love. Four years on.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 25, 2015 in Books, Writing

Ministry of loveFour years ago today I published, as an eBook on Amazon, my first novel “The Ministry of Love”. Writing it taught me a huge amount, from the huge effort of writing a novel to the nightmare of typos and proofreading (A dragon finally slayed by the professional services of the excellent Elina Talvitie.) My apologies, by the way, to those who were subjected to the early editions before the fastidious Finn was deployed.

It’s funny what makes you write a book. For me it started as a joke about the government finding love for people (the main plot of the novel) but also diverted into the reality that loneliness is a genuine affliction for many. I remember sitting in a restaurant with two beautiful women, one my girlfriend at the time, and as we had a very entertaining lunch I spotted a diminutive man, with a bad comb over and a moustache, dining alone. Occasionally he looked over at us, not in anger at our laughter, or jealousy at me. In his eyes I could see that he desperately wanted just a fraction of what I had. It was simple suffocating loneliness. It’s a theme that I think is even more relevant today.

Anyway, you can buy it here.

 
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So, who to vote for?

Posted by Jason O on Jun 21, 2015 in Irish Politics, Not quite serious.

2016 Voter Guide flowchart

 
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Good TV: Boss

Posted by Jason O on Jun 18, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Politics, US Politics

boss_poster

You’d be hard pressed to find a more cynical show about American politics than the two seasons and then cancelled series “Boss”, starring Kelsey Grammar. Grammar plays a Richard Daley style mayor of Chicago, and plays it very convincingly. Many say they struggle to watch Grammar without seeing Frasier Crane, but I find him a very watchable dramatic actor, and he certainly puts his acting chops on display here. He manages to be charming, impressive, cold, neurotic and terrifying in the role of Mayor Tom Kane.

I’m not surprised that it was cancelled as a show, because it lacks charm. if there is one word to describe it, it’s bleak. The style’s similar to Glenn Close’s “Damage”, which was another great drama but was just so full of morally bankrupt or compromised people and completely devoid of humour. This is the problem with “Boss”. Having known as many politicians as I have known in my life, I just can’t believe that everyone in public office is an amoral, self-serving, unsmiling prick. Is US politics, and Chicago politics in particular different? Possibly, but I doubt it. The show lacked a genuine human angle.

Like “House of Cards” that came after it, “Boss” works on the assumption that almost everybody in politics is on the make, including Kane’s icy wife played by Connie Nielsen in a proto-Claire Underwood. It also assumes that voters are very easily manipulated by pretty speeches and handsome candidates and soundbites. Indeed, it’s a very fashionable view in media circles (outside of political correspondents, who actually know better)  and indeed with growing numbers of voters, but it just ain’t true.

Kane as a mayor is convincing as the corrupt bastard who makes the buses run on time and keeps the streets clean, and I can buy voters holding their noses and voting for that. But the other candidates seem like stuffed shirts talking in soundbites, doing that thing non-politicians think is possible: moving votes by really subtle actions. You know the sort of thing: “Don’t forget to mention that your cousin was Polish. That’ll get the Polish vote on board.”

“Boss” is a watchable show, but does nothing to dispel the feeling that democracy is warping into something very very ugly.

Copyright © 2015 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.