“The Lives of Others” is a 2006 German film about the Stasi secret police in East Germany, and it is excellent. The star of it, the late Ulrich Muhe, had actually been an East German border guard before becomiong an actor and opponent of the regime in the DDR.
When I first heard about it, I thought it would be a dour and depressing movie, but it is actually fascinating in its portrayal of life in a police state, especially one that pretends that it isn’t. It is a curious aspect of Communism that even its highest officials knew it wasn’t working, yet the system deemed the first person to criticise it a traitor, making it a self perpetuating failure. Curiously, the language used by the Communist officials in the film about loyalty is not a million miles from that used by Fox News. When watching it, if you replace the word “socialism” with “freedom” you’ll see what I mean. These bastards wear jackets in all sorts of colours.
The movie centres around an idealistic but lonely Stasi agent who becomes engrossed in the lives of a playwright and his actress girlfriend. It is also about how people try to live a normal life, indeed to get on, under the paranoid eyes of a monstrous regime. I won’t ruin the ending other than to say it delivers for the viewer, and is one of the more thoughtful yet accessible movies I have ever seen that seriously examines what it means to be free.
We in Ireland, as one of the few European countries to have never known fascism or communism, need to remember how lucky we are.
Simon Harris TD: Defended as a man but not as an officeholder.
Going by various messages to me about this piece about Simon Harris TD, I seem to have struck a nerve with some people in Fine Gael. Quite a few FG people contacted me to defend the Wicklow deputy, but what was striking was the manner in which they did it. The majority defended the deputy as a nice and decent guy, an opinion, by the way, that has been shared with me by non-FG people too. The minority took a legalistic route about party whips, etc, all arguments which used to be used by Fianna Fail people to me when I criticised FF people for not standing up on principle.
That didn’t take long, did it?
What interested me, however, was that not one, NOT ONE, defended him from a political point of view. Not one of his own party members argued why he was right not to oppose u-turns in his own party’s policies. I picked Simon Harris at random as an example of the many first-term FG and Labour deputies who have gone native, have become, in the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby, “a delight to work with” for defending policies that they need not support. FG promised to reduce the Dail by 20 seats. That’s not a Troika decision, that’s a political one because TDs don’t want to lose their seats. And please, don’t use that constitutional baloney with me. We all know the public would vote through a referendum to reduce the Dail in jig time. Same with pay rises for ministerial advisers: when Simon and others are staring into their bathroom mirrors late at night, do they not feel angry that Enda and Eamonn dumped them in that? Smeared their good names with dodgy decisions like this? Well, when are they going to stand up and say that we were elected in our own right and we’re not going to take this anymore? Will it ever happen? Enda has warned them against “factions”, which is code for shut up and do what you’re told. Is that the way it’s going to be?
Here’s an offer. Is there anyone in FG who would like to write a piece for this blog defending Simon and the other members of the class of 2011? Anyone?
A vote for Simon Harris is a vote for extra pay for ministerial advisers.
Not happy with the Croke Park Agreement? How about extra pay for special advisers to ministers? Huge severance packages for retiring civil servants? Reducing the Dail by a minuscule 8 TDs? Letting civil servants retire early on gold plated pensions and then rehiring them?
It’s Simon Harris TD’s fault, and if you vote for him at the next election, or even give him a preference, you are endorsing all of the above.
Why? Why am I picking on the Fine Gael TD for Wicklow? What have I got against him? Nothing, as it happens. I have never met the man, and I just picked him at random as the representative of the new class of government TDs. But I will tell you something about him. Like many of the young first timers elected for Labour and FG in 2011 he went in promising a new politics, including opposition to a lot of the sort of stuff above. Has he voted in the house against this stuff? No. So he is in favour of it.
Ah here, says you, that’s a bit unfair. Sure he’s only one guy. Yes, he is. As is Eoghan Murphy and Aodhan O’Riordan and Pascal Donohoe and a rake of other young men and women who when you put them together make up the government’s majority. But they have to obey the whip, says you? Really? Where’s it say that in the constitution? More to the point, where did they say that in their election literature? “Vote for me so I can go to the Dail and shut the hell up and do what I’m told.” Where did it say that, exactly? When they were getting friends and family to knock on doors for them were they saying that to them?
In the United States, a congressman or senator gets held to account for how they vote on issues. Simon Harris promised a new politics. If he is unwilling to implement it, then we the voters should do it for him by holding him to account for refusal to vote against massive severence packages and the Croke Park Agreement. It’s his record, after all.
I recently stumbled across this edit from “The West Wing” of the relationship between Bartlet and Leo. It’s a fictional relationship brought to life by Sorkin’s superb writing and the remarkable performances of Sheen and Spencer (probably the most important relationship in the whole show), and I defy you not to shed a tear at the portrayal of two men who obviously love each other very much.
It’s one of the few downsides of our modern (and correct) tolerance for homosexuality that we struggle to see strong male relationships in a non-sexual light. Doris Kearns Goodwin in “Team of Rivals” makes this point about Lincoln’s friendships and the fact that many of his letters and his gushing emotional expression towards his male friends seem almost gay in a modern context.
Of course, it is changing, with the phrase “bromance” leading the charge, but as a male friend recently pointed out to me whilst we had lunch together, the women at the table behind us were actively speculating as to our relationship, and whether I was his gay sugar daddy or not.
Maybe it’s my inner Victor Meldrew speaking, and I’m finally turning into a cranky contankerous curmudgeon (Turning into, you say?) but the last couple of weeks have for me displayed Irish politics at its worst in terms of pointless showy waffle theatre that doesn’t matter a damn.
Take the Wallace affair, and the amount of time given over to whether he would be ejected from the technical group. Who gives a shit? It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t even matter if The Pink Evader (surely our dodgiest superhero?) resigns his seat in the Dail. Yes, we’ll have more wall to Wallace (see what I did there?) coverage of the byelection and who will win or lose but it doesn’t matter who wins, because it does not change a thing. Backbench TDs don’t matter.
Same with this week’s carry-on in the Seanad, where a load of turkeys are running around the coop in a panic because they are about to be abolished, desperately trying to pretend that the Seanad is the last defence against tyranny and anarchy, the Battlestar Galactica of the Irish Constitution. Give me a break! These guys blocked significant change for years, and now are all committed reformers? Introduce just one reform: Let any Dail elector become a Seanad elector, signing up to a panel like a county councillor. But they don’t want that, and will battle now for the weak reforms of the 2004 Seanad report, the same report they stalled for eight years. To the sword with them!
Finally, there was the big reveal of the new constituency boundaries, the coverage of which just showed how much of Irish politics is all just personality driven who’s up and who’s down theatre. Great fun for political junkies like me, but does it matter a jot as to how this country is run? Not a sausage.
Of course, it’s not like we actually have any real political issues to discuss, like the possibility that a federal European state is about to be created? Sure why the hell would our elected officials be dedicating any time to discussing that? As with banking regulation and management of property bubbles, that’s something for grown-ups in Brussels and Berlin to be worrying about, not for our fellas. Still, I’m sure if the Irish government is formulating a policy on European integration the Bundestag will keep us informed, as they seem better at it than the Oireachtas. Maybe we should outsource scrutiny of the Irish government to the Germans or the Finns, put it out to tender, and abolish the Dail? I’m not sure we’d be all that worse off, but it would certainly be cheaper. People think I’m joking when I suggest things like this, and I am to a degree, but then I always ponder what would happen if the Finnish Parliament or the Bundestag openly questioned Irish ministers on their policies? I’m not convinced they would not do a better job than the Oireachtas.
It’s 6am in the morning, and I should be getting ready for work, but I’m so livid with this report in The Irish Times that I had to write this. Senators complaining about taxpayers, the people who actually PAY for the Seanad, being allowed use the Seanad chamber for a debate about the future of the Seanad! The cheek! Who do these senators think they are? Is it possible that they have forgotten that it is we the people who own the Seanad chamber, and not them?
As this debate on the future of the upper house has continued, the more I’m swinging from being a Seanad reformer to a fervent abolitionist, and that is entirely because of the moronic and self serving contributions of senators fighting to save their own asses.
I’m willing to consider reform, but only if the exact details are put to me BEFORE an abolition vote. I don’t trust these bastards an inch, and I certainly won’t trust them to reform the house after a referendum. Reading recent remarks from senators, it’s becoming clear that many of them see themselves almost as an untouchable House of Lords, and for that reason alone they should be put to the (political) sword.
Reading about the whole Jimmy Carr tax hoo-hah today I came across an online remark where he was called a “parasite”. Now, this caught my eye, because even if he had just paid 1% tax on £4 million quid, which are the figures being bandied about, he would have paid £40,000 in tax. That is more than most people pay in tax, and certainly more than he probably received in state services, so here’s my question: where exactly is he being a parasite? By being a very successful comedian? By making a lot of money selling tickets and books and DVDs? That’s being a parasite?
Let’s be honest here. There’s a section of our society that just don’t like people being successful and certainly not well rewarded, and where being rich, regardless of how hard you worked, is just not acceptable. In fact, in their eyes, you must have done something dodgy to acquire your wealth because they cannot seem to imagine any possible way that hard work would generate wealth. Which tells us a lot about what sort of people they are.
Of course, that’s not to say that Jimmy Carr has not done himself any favours. Like those celebrities who lecture people about their carbon footprints as they board their private jets, you can’t have a go about the rich not paying higher taxes whilst you, a rich man, are trying to avoid paying high taxes. It just won’t wash.
The funny thing is, if any comedian were to openly defend legal tax avoidance, that is, defending the right of every citizen to legally reduce the amount of money they give to the government, I don’t think the public would mind. There are a lot of people who believe that they can spend their money better than the government can spend it on self awareness courses for lesbian badgers in hats. Every single taxpayer in this country takes advantage of legal tax avoidance in one form or another. Many of them have no problem engaging in the illegal kind too. But what is not acceptable is saying one thing and doing something else.
As for what rate of tax he should pay, I always ask people to tell me what rate you think someone earning 10k less than you thinks you should pay. We are very good at telling other people what rate they should pay, but no so good at letting others decide what is fair in our case.
The terms “fairness” and “equity” appear regularly in Irish political debate. This does not mean, of course, that they actually mean what most people think they mean, because in Ireland, most political decisions that matter involve money and both phrases are code for “I want stuff and someone else should pay for it.” For example, when some union leaders say they want a property tax that is fair and equitable, can anyone imagine any situation where they will support their members paying any tax amount higher than a nominal amount? It’s the same with Sinn Fein and the United Left.
Yet here’s the problem: most Irish people have an overhyped expectation of what they should be getting from government, usually a collection of payments and services that exceed the amount they contribute in taxes. Those same people take to the streets when any politician attempts to levy extra taxes to fund that spending. We can’t go on like this.
Is it time to consider a formal Social Contract between the state and the individual Irish citizen? What am I talking about? I mean a legally binding document outlining, in actual cash terms, possibly renewed each year, what every citizen can expect to get as a right from the state. How much dole per week they can get, how much will be spent on their healthcare and how much their state pension will be and when they will get it.
It should also outline their responsibilities. How much tax they have to pay for these services, and whether they are actually paying it or not, and where they stand in terms of taxpayer contributions. The compact could be individualised to each individual citizen, and for many people, it will be the first time they are ever told this information. It will also be the first time many citizens will realise that they are not taxed as highly as they think they are, and that they get more than they put in.
We are emerging from a post-consumer era where many believe they are entitled to more than they contribute, be they bankers or others. What we need now is an era of responsibility, where citizens have to be made realise that rights and responsibilities are inseparable. It’s the only way anything is going to work.
Many of us, when we were in secondary school, had a friend who was an non-deliberate asshole. What I mean is that he or she kept doing things that annoyed or irritated other people even though he or she was not deliberately trying to annoy other people. I remember there was once an American guy in my class who just could not stop bragging about where he’d been and the things he had done, and it made him very unpopular. He wasn’t a bad guy, he wasn’t doing it to annoy people, but he just kept rubbing people the wrong way. I would occasionally defend him, but just as I’d managed to convince people that he wasn’t a dickhead, he’d go and do something else.
Francois Hollande is Europe’s non-deliberate asshole. Think about the scenario: Angela Merkel probably recognises that Germany will have to do more to save the EU, and occasionally drops hints about X being done first and THEN maybe Y could be looked at in the long-term. Just as she calms German taxpayers about their fear that the rest of Europe will go all Zsa Zsa Gabor with their credit card, Francois opens his big yap and announces that the French can stop working at sixty and someone else (a phrase that makes Germans prick up their ears) will pick up the tab for the rest of their (getting longer) lives.
Seriously, can you blame the poor woman? We are living in an age where people will quite possibly live to see 100 and this guy is going around telling people that they won’t have to work. Which begs the question: does he really believe that such a plan is economically viable, and who does he think is going to reasonably pay for it? Or is Hollande just the latest addition to the Chirac/Sarkozy pantheon of bullshit panderers who will say anything to get elected?