“The Sum Of All Fears”, filmed in June 2001, was possibly the last of the pre-9/11 political thrillers, set in that twilight period when Communism was no longer the enemy but before the attack on New York and Washington DC. Based on the novel by Tom Clancy, it tells the story of a missing Israeli nuclear bomb and its use in a plot by a Neo-Nazi Austrian billionaire to escalate a major international crisis.
Starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman, the real stars of the movie are actually the galaxy of character actors in all the secondary roles, from (the very under-rated) Liev Schreiber to James Cromwell to Ciaran Hinds to a dozen others you’ll recognise from pretty much every US TV show made in the last ten years.
It’s a good yarn, with plenty of big set-piece action scenes whilst also showing how the hopes of the post-Cold War Clinto era, where Russia was on the verge of becoming a real democracy veered on into such a different direction.
If someone had told me that it would be the Labour party that would finally put the seal on my political cynicism, I would have disagreed strongly. Take political reform. No one believes Fianna Fail’s commitment to radical political change because in their last 14 years in power they actively blocked every single attempt at major political reform. Fine Gael are Fianna Fail with an inferiority complex. But Labour? I thought Labour actually believed in things. In their last term in office, Labour implemented nearly every single social reform (divorce, homosexuality, contraception) of significance.
But look at them now, conspiring with Fine Gael to ensure that nothing of significance happens as a result of the Constitutional Convention, that power remains exactly where it is now, behind closed doors in the cabinet. Exactly where Fianna Fail left it.
How does that make someone who thinks real reform might be a good idea feel? Well, consider this: We have tried FF, FG and Labour and this is what we have ended up with. Sinn Fein have too many risks attached. The Greens, who I think were genuine about reform, were completely out-played when in coalition. The People’s Front of Judea are mad.
In short, there is no actual real point to voting anymore. Oh, sure, you can vote to keep the Shinners out, which is fair enough, but there is now nothing to actually vote for. Instead, best thing to do is to make sure that you legally deny this crowd as much of your money as possible, by shielding as much of your income from tax as possible. Get a good accountant, and remember this little fact: given the amount of money wasted (PPARS, E-Voting) or just plain helped to (ministerial pensions), the chances are that every single cent paid in tax by you as an individual reader is less than the amount that has been squandered. In other words, if you had not paid it, it would not have made a difference.
Fact is, you can almost certainly squander your own money far better.
Most Irish people I meet automatically support Scottish independence, as if sticking two fingers up to the English is hard wired into our political DNA. Yet, if they actually think about it, a Scotland outside the UK but presumably within the European Single Market is not in our interest. Just consider that country’s core appeal to Foriegn Direct Investment. A free Scotland would almost certainly cut its corporate taxes. It speaks English. It has good universities. And it has land access to the 55m people of the English and Welsh market as well as the Channel Tunnel. A low tax Scotland could survive on that proximity to market alone, and that would take a big chunk out of the Irish FDI argument.
Nope, despite what our hearts and love of Mel Gibson tell us, a Free Scotland would not suit us at all. In fact, we should pray for a No vote in the 2014 referendum because if they do vote to leave the UK, we will find ourselves in the position of knowing that vetoing Scotland’s application to join the EU is in our national interest, even though that would be an act of the highest political two-faced prickery since De Gaulle said “Non!” it’s not that we mind being a nation of pricks. But we sure as hell don’t like foriegners calling us out on it, and making a show of us. Imagine how mortified we’d be at demos outside Irish embassies over this.
“O, a presidential novel”, is a 2011 novel written supposedly by a high level political activist in the vein of Joe Klein’s Roman a clef “Primary Colours” about Bill Clinton and his pursuit of the Democratic nomination in 1992.
“O” is about the first black President’s 2012 campaign for reelection against a millionaire businessman and one-term governor (and former general). It’s not as charming as Klein’s book, lacking its humour, and does not have quite the same insider feel, possibly because it was allegedly written by a McCain campaign staffer.
Having said that, it’s an enjoyable read in its own right, giving an interesting glimpse at ultra-high level political operations and how über Beltway stuff snowballs into real issues in the campaign. It also offers an interesting perspective as to how technical a modern political campaign is, and how opposing campaigns throw nonsense at the other side not because they believe it will swing voters but because it will eat up the most finite resource in a tight campaign galloping towards polling day: time.
Some of the characters are interesting too, especially one character who goes on a journey from being a simple helper to O when he starts out as a political nobody, and so ends up with a bank of loyalty built up when O becomes President, a concept very familiar to people involved in Irish politics.
Warning: This is a long post. You might want to get a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
Deep in the body politic of every western government, there is an ugly truth: our people are assholes. Now, you say that and people get very upset and no politician will every admit it, at least not in public. They’ll talk about the shrewdness and wisdom of the hardworking ordinary family who can do no wrong, but let’s get to the heart of it. The west’s problems are caused by a majority of voters wanting more stuff off the government than they are willing to pay for in either taxes or productivity. That is our problem right there.
In fairness, it is not solely the voters fault. Since WW2 we have had politicians of left and right telling people that you could have your cake and someone else’s cake as well. The left promises huge social spending. The right promises significantly less social spending (and only sometimes delivers) but also pledges increases in war spending, coupled with lower taxes. The system trundled along, funded largely by the bond markets, until the 1970s when high taxation became politically unpopular and economically less tenable as capital controls were abolished and the brain drain punished high tax countries.
But no one educated the voters, and when the wheels came off and the bond markets realised that the west’s IOUs were essentially written on toilet paper, and not even that nice quilted one with the aloe vera sold by puppies, the flow of easy money stopped suddenly.
As Luxembourg prime minister and EU elder lemon Jean Claude Juncker has pointed out: “We all know what we have to do. We just don’t know how to get re-elected afterwards.”
Such is the crisis in the west that developing countries are beginning to look enviously at China’s quick and long-term decision making process, as opposed to the quivering jellies of Europe and the US who strut about talking tough but get humiliated by the bond markets and their own self-deluding voters.
At its core, the problem is this. Modern democratic politics does not permit long-term “You’ll thank me in 20 years” politics. Political advisers wrack their brains looking for short term gimmicks to win the next news-cycle, and the public will not tolerate truths it does not like. As a result, we end up with a democratic system that is paralysed, incapable of making unpopular but necessary decisions.
It should be stressed, however, that whereas democracy is by no means a guarantee of good government, it does prevent tyranny, which is pretty much a golden reason in itself. Say what you will about Nixon, or George W. or Charlie Haughey or Berlusconi. They all left the most powerful offices in their respective lands in accordance with the law and not as shells landed on their official residence. But long-term decisions in the common good? Not so much.
What needs to be done to bring democracy and good government closer together?
For a start, good government needs a well-informed electorate. Hoping that the voters will somehow improve their grasp of why decisions must be made is very hopeful. But tying knowledge to actual decisions of voters would be a first step. A move to more managed direct democracy where the public have to choose themselves between spending cuts and tax rises, as opposed to the lazy Yes/No option of the conniving populist could be considered.
Secondly, the failure of governments to point out that most voters claim far more in benefits and spending than they contribute in tax must be addressed, if only to confront the general population with reality.
The political system itself requires radical change. Across the west, the influence of powerful business and union interests in the political funding process is detrimental to the concept of all votes being equal. Whereas banning political donations would be the desirable option, it may be legally difficult on freedom of speech grounds. On the other hand, putting a 1000% tax on political donations, with the proceeds of the tax used to fund lesser candidates, would surely improve voter information about competing candidates without restricting anyone’s freedom?
Electing our leaders to a single non-renewable term of reasonable length (six years maybe?) could allow reforming candidates to win public office, achieve the specific reforms they wish, and return to ordinary life. From day one, they would know that they could not seek the people’s approval again and so could pursue more long term aims. As to the argument that term limits are undemocratic and will deny us the type of long-serving experienced professional politician we have today, I say two things: One, if the people demand that is how they want their parliament or president chosen, that is their business. Secondly, it probably will deny us the type of long-serving experienced professional politician we have today. As part of such a system, we would have to ban retiring leaders from working for interests they policed when in office, at least for five or ten years. If they don’t like that, then they should not run for office.
Finally, there is the money issue. The clustering of wealth at the top of western society coupled with the falling living standards of the middle classes is a threat to the western free market and democratic system. Whilst we must be careful not to extinguish the incentivising power of capitalism, we must recognise that wealth redistribution is a concept that must return to the political agenda. We either have the mega-wealthy buy slightly smaller yachts or face mobs willing to torch their yachts. Reform or revolution is what is on the table.
It didn’t take long, and that was the first thing that made her cheeks redden slightly. Fresh from Labour’s greatest every victory, winning seats in places undreamt off, and knocking Fianna Fail (Fianna Fail!) into third place, it was Christmas and Birthdays and the Lotto all rolled up in one. Yes, things were hard, but now that Labour are in power tough but fair decisions can be made. Tough but fair, not like Fianna Fail who were only in it for themselves and the money and their banker buddies.
Some of the decisions are great. Putting Zappone in the Seanad, and the gender quota, that’s the stuff! Then the Special Needs Assistants have to go…wait, sorry, what was that? Surely there’s been some mistake?
Then corporate donations are retained, something about the constitution. But, didn’t we know about the constitution before we promised…sorry, WHAT? WATER CHARGES? WATER CHARGES? Labour has been out of power for 14 long years and now Shinners and the People’s Front of Judea are putting out leaflets attacking Labour’s right-wing water privatisation agenda? But, we’re the goodies! They’re our special words! Stop using our special words!
Ok…deep breaths…we all have to be realistic…look, if it wasn’t for Labour, Fianna Fail would be bringing in some form of third level fee! Sorry? Who’s on the phone? The Department of Education? What do they want?
Is that the political ghost of John Gormley in the corner? What’s he laughing at?
For the past two weeks The Irish Times has been running a series covering the new Dail constituencies. It’s informative but depressing stuff, because in its accuracy it confirms everything that is wrong with Irish politics. The series highlights the fact that the vast majority of Dail constituencies are elected not on the basis of a debate as to how we will run our society, but a battle of parishes. In short, it’s not as much an election as a Viking raid, where a parish sends forth its most suitable candidate with a clear message: go to another parish and steal whatever you can from those f**kers and bring it back to us. We basically don’t give a toss what happens elsewhere in the country as long as we get our school or hospital.
And yet, here’s the thing: it’s a lousy system. Is there a single constituency where the sitting deputies will say, after 90 years, that their constituency has gotten its fair share? No. Every county in the country whines that it has been cheated out of its entitlement by politicians from more wily constituencies.
There is an interesting alternative. I don’t know the name of the chap who devised this system, although I understand he’s a physicist from Tipperary. He proposes we have twelve ten or twelve seat constituencies, elected by STV, with each constituency allocated to a month. Each voter is assigned to the month they were born, and vote that way rather than geographically.
Now, before you start rolling your eyes, just think about the concept for a moment. Suddenly, every TD has constituents in every parish in the country. Suddenly TDs can’t favour one school over another or one hospital over another. Now they have to care about national policy and setting common national standards that work because they all represent the whole country for real. And it doesn’t mean that TDs can’t help individual voters either. Do you really think Michael Lowry or Michael Healy-Rae won’t help a constituent in Dublin or Donegal if they are in the right birth constituency?
It’s a radical idea, but a fascinating one, and one that I would love to see the Constitutional Convention look at.
By the way, if anyone knows the name of the guy who came up with it, let me know so I can credit him.
I ran against Chris Andrews in 1999, and found him to be a warm and decent guy who I can only imagine must be mortified at where his actions have led him. But what fascinates me more about this whole affair is the background to it, which seems to be a tale of FFers squabbling over the party and where it is going and going to extraordinary lengths to shaft each other now utilising electronic surveillance equipment and stakeouts. Seriously?
Put aside the whole Spooks aspect of this and Chris Andrews as a person and look at what it is really about. Despite its historic defeat in the last general election, Fianna Fail still has not developed an ability to openly and publicly debate its past mistakes and future direction, instead engaging in faceless sniping online. Open criticism of the party’s actions and players within the party is still regarded as treachery. Large numbers of Fianna Fail activists still seem to believe that the future of the party is a private affair to be discussed in huddled corners and certainly not in public. Yet they are wrong. Fianna Fail is not a golf club. It’s a political party aspiring to lead our country and if those activists believe that the future of that party is not the voters business, let them say that to their voters.
Just on the off chance that you get tired of my tiresome repetitive whining (imagine that) I’m throwing out an appeal to readers who may like to submit a guest blog.
Here’s the rules:
1. Length as suits, but I suggest around 600-800 words as a rough rule of thumb. And no, you won’t get paid.
2. Don’t get me sued. No libel. And no racist stuff either.
3. You don’t have to agree with me. I’m a liberal centre right pro-European. You can be a high taxing leftie or a Eurosceptic social conservative. Of course, if I disagree with your piece I will reply, but would you expect any different?
4. In particular, I’d love to hear from FF/FG people on what values actually separate their two respective parties, as I’m one of those annoying people who thinks there aren’t any. Please do not send a party puff piece though, because nobody ever finishes reading them.
5. Send a jpg and a short bio too. Is it worth your while? The blog gets a very modest 12,000 – 15,000 visits a month (outside of election and referendum periods), but the great majority seem to be involved in politics and the media, certainly going by my email and Twitter followers. Bizarrely, 10% of my readers seem to live in Belgium. Imagine that.
Supposing you went into a nightclub looking for a lover, where the odds were stacked in your favour. Where everybody else was single, in the same social and economic class as you, interested in the same things you were interested in. In fact, supposing you had seen pictures of everyone going to that nightclub beforehand, and had been able to pick which ones should be let in. And supposing every person in the nightclub had done the exact same thing.
The Government is doing this for the entire single population of the country. Many people are delighted. But what about the people who profit from the lonely?
Who is going to eat all that chocolate cake and ice cream on a Friday night?
The Ministry of Love: available as an eNovel on Amazon.com.