Posted by Jason O on Jul 31, 2014 in US Politics
Last year, an unusual thing happened to me. Ireland held a referendum on abolishing its Senate, and I campaigned in favour of abolition. Most of my political friends were opposed to abolition. For the first time ever, I was actually in fundamental disagreement with most of my friends on a political issue. We argued during the campaign, spoke on different sides during debates, countered each other on-line.
They won, I lost. They still think they were right. I know they were wrong (!) but here’s the thing: they’re not bad people. We disagree on this, and other things, but we agree on others. The point is, I don’t think they are evil or immoral or less committed to democracy or less patriotic because they took a stand I disagreed with, nor do (I hope) they think that of me. It was the normal robust rough-and-tumble of a health free society arguing a point.
When I first heard about Barack Obama I was struck, as a read about him, that he wasn’t just another liberal black candidate. He wasn’t another Jesse Jackson, speaking eloquently for a community he came from but failing to connect with others. Obama reminded me of the young Tony Blair, who didn’t see all Tory voters as the enemy but people who had to be listened to and accommodated. It was Barack Obama the pragmatic centrist who just happened to also be black who really appealed to me.
In government, he tried to accommodate Republicans over healthcare reform, eventually bringing in a healthcare system not like the socialist single-payer system used in the UK, but one with huge private sector involvement designed by Republicans and implemented by a Republican governor. He appointed Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor to the key position of US ambassador to China because Huntsman was eminently skilled for the job.
And in reply, what does he get? Does he get Republicans who disagree with him on A, but find they might be able to do something on B if they get C? Like normal people? No, he gets people who question whether he was actually born in the US, and who actually dedicate their political time to paralysing the legislative process for fear of him achieving anything. He gets people who attack Republican governors like Chris Christie or indeed Jon Huntsman, conservatives who disagreed with the president on other things, for working with him on anything. Who get called traitors for working with the President of the United States on an issue of mutual agreement.
These are not normal people. That is not how normal people behave in their lives. Imagine a family was run on those line?
Then there are the other issues. He doesn’t think there is a gay conspiracy to destroy traditional families. He thinks that maybe having guns too easily accessible might have something to do with people getting shot. He believes in dinosaurs. He believes he was born in Hawaii. He doesn’t believe that poor people are inherently lazy. He doesn’t believe any member of any single major religion is all automatically evil. Normal stuff, believed by many conservatives around the world, not just liberals.
I don’t agree with him on everything. I think he’s way too cosy with public sector unions, and don’t get me started on drones. But that’s normal too. As former New York Mayor Ed Koch used to say: “If you agree with me on 10 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree on 12 out of 12, see a psychiatrist.”
In short, I support Barack Obama because he is the voice of rational debate and discussion. Not because I agree with him on everything, but because calm, reasoned debate is no longer the norm, but an actual wilful political choice. There are politicians now who are effectively opponents of rational debate, who dismiss whole swathes of their own countrymen and women as “un-American”. These people are nuts. I support the non-nut.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 27, 2014 in Politics
I’ve avoided writing about the Gaza crisis up ’til now for the simple reason that it triggers that irrational style of debate we see in Northern Ireland known as “Whataboutery”. You’ll know it well, where every example given is countered by another example of an injustice inflicted upon the other side. The debate then goes into a whirlpool of claim and counterclaim, and all but the most zealous partisans just turn over and do something else instead.
But I would like to make a few observations. I’m not claiming any special insight, just a few thoughts that keep sticking with me throughout this, as the disturbing, dehumanising images from Gaza continue.
1. I’ve been to Israel. It’s an strikingly beautiful country, something you never associate with it. I was only about 14, but even then I was struck about how the Holocaust is to the Israelis a living, breathing thing. It’s a norm for families to have elderly survivors, with tattoos on their arms, people who saw their parents or brothers or sisters killed in front of them.
Think about that. Not people who went to Schindler’s List and were hugely moved by it. Not people who, like me, visited Dachau or Birkenau or Auschwitz and did the tour. Real people who sit with their grandchildren and tell them what it was like. An entire country founded by a people psychologically damaged by arguably the most evil regime in human history. An entire country of people who can look at each other and think, as they look at their children playing in the garden, or look across a table at their boyfriend or girlfriend, and think that just over 70 years ago there were people running almost a whole continent who wanted to murder every single one of them. Every single one.
This isn’t just history to Israel. Unlike those of us in Europe who solemnly come out with phrases like “Never again”, and then watch as Srebenica happened, the Israelis mean it. It’s happened before, and if it’s unlikely to happen again that’s only because the Israelis built a military machine powerful enough to make the idea unbelievable. If it is to happen again, it won’t be without Israel taking as many of the bastards with them as possible. They won’t be quietly shuffling on to trains next time.
That’s one side, and it allows many good people in Israel to sleep easily in their beds.
I’m not even going to get into the founding of the state, and the effective taking of Palestine off people who lived there. I just wanted to write about the Israeli mindset.
But here’s the question: What would happen if either side stopped what it was doing?
Supposing Hamas stopped firing rockets, indeed handed over its weapons to a respected third party. Would Israel stop firing? Probably. Would it improve the lives of Palestinians, aside from not dying from shelling? Probably not that much. Same with Israel: if the Israelis stopped retaliating, and let Iron Dome defend it, and let the IDF protect against ground attacks and incursions, and never set foot in PNA territory again, would Israel get any thanks? Probably not.
But I will tell you one thing: Israel is definitely losing the media war, and that surely is the Hamas aim. Not to militarily defeat Israel, which is impossible, but to rely on Israel reacting exactly as Hamas want them to react, in the full view of the world.
Israel is blinded by its own strength. Israel seems to believe that it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks, as long as it has the US on its side, but it does. More importantly, with the occupation and the building of settlements, Israel has ceded the moral authority it had a right to hold after the Holocaust. The occupation isn’t anything comparable to the Holocaust, but it is a filthy black mark across a country that should know better. You can’t treat millions of people like this and be a decent country, and that’s the problem. There is a section of Israel, like there was a section of the old South African population, who believe that the status quo is acceptable and can be continued indefinitely, but it can’t. Things change. Israel looks more and more like old South Africa, keeping millions of people in a political non-status, and across Europe a new generation of politicians do not see a respect for remembering past injustices as a carte blanche for present ones.
Every Israeli shell is not making Israel safer. It’s a recruiting machine sucking in the brother and sister of every victim, the son and daughter who watched their parents die. Some will just throw rocks, or maybe strap a bomb to their chest and try to get on a bus. But one day one will learn how to manufacture a biological weapon, or a crude atomic bomb. This is not making Israel safer.
Finally, let me say one thing: in recent days, I’ve stopped, maybe one of two paragraphs in, reading anybody who tells me that this is all 100% X’s fault. It’s true that Israel is the more powerful player by far, but even Israel can’t impose a solution on this, short of the total annihilation of the population of Gaza and the West Bank, something which Israel would never do because Israel is just not that kind of country (watch how that sentence sends the trolls bezerk. Even as I wrote this, I was constantly re-editing because “that’ll send the pro-Palestinians nuts” or “That’ll make the pro-Israelis kick off”).
But this? Israel is better than this. Israel has most of the power, and so the onus is on Israel to take the risks for peace if its current leaders are serious.
I shall now post this, and sit back and be accused by both sides of being an apologist for the other.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 24, 2014 in eNovels & Writing
*A warning to readers: this is a long, speculative short story. Cup of tea and a chocolate digestive recommended.
Lars Wentworth III was a right wing Tea Party supporting billionaire who thought that President Obama was a communist. Throughout his life, most of which was spent as America’s ninth richest man, he had funded right wing candidates who held such extreme positions that many of them would have been arrested had they opened their big yaps in Europe, or Canada or any of those countries where not letting poor people die from illness was not regarded as proof of Marxism.
However, acute observers of Wentworth would have noticed one surprising factor about the candidates that the billionaire generously funded. They all kept quiet on gay issues. Read more…
Sometimes it’s the little things. In 1989, after failing to win a majority in the Irish general election, Charles J. Haughey was forced to formally resign as Taoiseach. People forget this now, because Haughey remained as acting Taoiseach until Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats did the business and assembled a Dail majority to re-elect him as Taoiseach proper.
But it set an interesting precedent, because it means that in 2016 Enda Kenny could return to the Dail with a mere 40-50 TDs, and remain indefinitely as head of a Fine Gael minority government if there is not an agreed majority to replace him. It’s not enough to lose the election: the Dail has to agree on who actually won, and looking at the recent RED C poll, that could be anybody’s guess.
All because of the Haughey precedent of 27 years previously.
The little things matter, and the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission is going to be another one of those things that will snowball into something much bigger in the future.
Juncker was nominated in Dublin last March by the European People’s Party, the largest centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, and the party of both Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny. The Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the Left in the European Parliament also nominated candidates. All with the same understanding: that whichever party won the most seats would supply the next President of the Commission.
It’s this which large elements of the media (and, it would seem, David Cameron) missed. Even now, when you ask people about the European Parliament (you know, the way you do, down the pub) you get back the “powerless talking shop” quip.
Except it isn’t true. It used to be. But now the EP can hire and fire the Commission, block or amend almost any EU law, including the EU budget, and now, as David Cameron has discovered, threaten to veto any European Council nominee for President. The European Parliament just took on Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and beat it. Powerless talking shop? They’ll be wearing “Our Parliament can beat up your prime minister” tee shirts in the Espace Leopold this week.
For years, Europe’s leaders kept getting stick every time they negotiated a new treaty. Europe, they were told, isn’t democratic. Their response was to throw a few bones down the stairs into the basement where they kept their pretend parliament. But nobody seemed to notice that the parliament was gobbling up everything it was given, and growing, and suddenly there’s a banging on the basement door and Europe’s leaders discover there’s a fully grown parliament standing in front of them, and it’s not happy living in the basement anymore.
Jean Claude Juncker can see the new reality. For the first time ever, we have a European Commission President who didn’t get his job purely from the gift of the EU’s presidents and prime ministers, sitting around a dining table and holding an Election by After Eight. His name was one the table early, picked by the EPP, and the Parliament was adamant. The Council has the power to nominate whomever it wants, but Parliament was only going to accept one name.
Juncker is Parliament’s man. He knows it, they know it, and if he wants a second term, he’ll have to remember it too, and being the savvy old operator he is, there’s no doubt he will. He is the prime minister of a majority of the members of the European Parliament. They are the hand that feeds, not the member states.
After all, do you know who (and only who) has the power to sack Juncker? The Parliament. Not the member states. Yet another bone the member states threw down the steps without thinking, hoping it would keep the shouting from the basement down. Now look what they’ve done.
The whole affair can be looked at two ways. One, the British way, is of an old Euro Federalist playing the game much better than Britain’s poor outclassed prime minister. Britain outsmarted once again by devious backroom continental dealers with their compromises and Everybody Must win A Prize ways.
Or there’s another way.
How was Juncker’s outgoing predecessor, Jose Manual Barroso picked ten years ago? The answer: out of the blue days before the vote, pretty much unknown to anyone who wasn’t Portuguese.
Yet those of us who actually care about this stuff (the Trekkies of international democratic politics) have known that Juncker, the Socialists’ Martin Schulz and the Liberals’ Guy Verhofstadt were the names on the table. In a debate before the European elections, transmitted on telly (with an RTE host, by the way) and hardly watched by anybody, Schulz said very clearly, with Juncker to his side, that the next President of the European Commission would come from one of the candidates on the stage.
This wasn’t some secret backroom deal. This was the most transparent process for we have ever had for choosing a Commission President ever, and whilst it’s true that most Europeans didn’t even vote in the European Elections, that’s a choice in itself. The whole point of being a democracy is that you can’t make people participate in it, only have the right to participate.
But this all matters. In 2019, when the next European Elections come around, will the media and the member states pay closer attention to the nominees of the European parties? You’re damn right they will. This is a game changer.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 19, 2014 in Not quite serious.
, US Politics
In a crushing blow to the administration, a new Fox News poll has revealed that a stunning 94% of people who didn’t vote for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 disapprove of his administration and its policies.
“It’s a shocker,” Fox News’ Sherrii McBlonde told viewers this morning: “There are literally millions of Americans who did not vote for the president’s policies and now are bitterly angry that he is carrying them out. I mean, what sort of democracy is that?”
Sources in the GOP have called for a constitutional amendment whereby presidents whose names rhyme with Arak Mohama should be stripped of executive power, as a safeguard.
“I haven’t met a single ordinary American who disagrees with that sensible moderate proposal. Not one, in all the surveys I’ve carried out in the Republican caucus room. Not one,” GOP spokesperson Chuck Chuckerson III said yesterday.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 15, 2014 in Not quite serious.
, US Politics
Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has announced that congressional Ðemocrats will be tabling a motion to impeach Texas governor Rick Perry on the off chance he’s elected president in 2016.
Speaking to reporters, Sen. Reid said: “We feel that the Republicans have made much more progress on their impeachment capabilities than we have. We tried to impeach Nixon for actual crimes, which is apparently very old fashioned now, whereas Republicans went after Clinton because he got more women than they did, and Obama because they didn’t like his name or that he believed in socialist concepts like gravity. So we’re thinking to be absolutely ready to go after the next GOP president. I mean, he’s from Texas. That’s a sort of crime, isn’t it?”
The Republican National Committee responded by announcing that it wanted to know why Malia Obama didn’t give regular press conferences, or appear before congressional committees. “What’s she hiding?” A spokesperson asked.
Posted by Jason O on Jul 12, 2014 in China
, Cult TV
, Science Fiction
SURE, MEGATRON MAY THINK HE’S TOUGH, BUT HE’S YET TO MEET THE PEOPLE’S COMMITTEE!
Spoiler alert: I recently went to see Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and wanted to write about a political aspect of it. In order to do that, I need to write about the plot, so if you don’t want to have that spoiled for you, stop reading NOW….
Still there? Grand. What I found really interesting about this overly long movie (honestly, it could have lost 45 mins easily. And Michael Bay knows that there are other women rather than just 18 year old not very bright long legged girls in ridiculously tight shorts, right?) was the effect the rise of China is having on movie making and plotlines. In it, the US government is portrayed as corrupt, in hock to big business, and incompetent.
But when the baddies attack Hong Kong, it’s a whole different ball game. A Hong Kong official declares (bizarrely, in English. All the other Chinese characters speak Mandarin) that “we must contact the central government for help!” Cut to the handsome, square jawed Chinese defence minister (a million miles from the snivelling White House chief of staff), surrounded by People’s Army generals, jutting out his jaw and announcing that “Hong Kong will be defended at all costs!”.
Seriously. I mean, I know we want to sell movies in China, but this is the way it’s going to be? The Central Committee are actually going to just have this stuff dropped into it? Really?
Note: this is a very long bit of fun I wrote in June 2013. It is obscenely long, so you might want a biscuit and a nice cup of tea. Alternatively, you can download it here as a PDF for enjoyment later.
Part One: A woman named Valerie.
The image, of a sad looking Adolf Hitler wearing a blue armband with a European Union flag on it, said as much about The Daily Mail as it did its cover story.
“Freedom at last!” the headline declared, with a smaller picture of young Conservative activists burning an EU flag in Trafalgar Square. Inside, a well-known right-wing historian speculated, perhaps through the use of a medium, as to how disappointed Adolf Hitler would have been at the news of British withdrawal from the European Union.
A free “Dad’s Army” DVD was given away with each copy. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Jul 5, 2014 in Irish Politics
I’ve written about it before, that moment in 2016 when around 50 Fine Gael and Labour TDs will go through one of the most emotionally devastating moments of their lives as they are ejected by the voters at the count. Many will never hold political office again. Some will take years for both they and their families to recover from that day. A small number never will.
What’s even more revealing is that, having fixed the economy and received public anger for it, they will then hand over the fixed economy, the increasing tax revenues, and ALL political power to their opponents in Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.
What fascinates me is the sheer inability, through capture by institutional inertia, of those FG and Labour TDs to do anything about it. They are just going to wait for the kicking because they’re so paralysed by “The way things have always been done” that they will literally let their own personal lives be devastated by it.
People like me have the luxury of banging on about political reform, and political hacks will always tell you, correctly, that nobody ever got elected because they were going to reform the Seanad. That’s true. But what never ceases to amaze me is how this government in particular has been unable to grasp how political reform could actually be used as a weapon to help them get re-elected.
They don’t seem to understand that by centralising all power, they have turned the rest of the non-cabinet political system, from Oireachtas through the councils, into a blame-free no-responsibility taxpayer-subsidised platform for the people who want to take their seats off them. It’s hard to imagine how they could help their political opponents any more than they are now. Why can’t they see this?
If Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein had to elect a load of directly elected mayors with specific responsibility to set the property tax and local budgets, and who in office were barred from running for the Oireachtas, the property tax would be their problem. It would also deprive FF and SF of many of their best candidates for the Dail. Property tax bills, with the photo, signature and party affiliation of the mayor could be arriving through letterboxes all over the country, reminding voters that these guys have to live in the real world of spending and taxing choices too.
Instead, the stultifying inability of Fine Gael and Labour to do anything new is going to sleepwalk them into electoral annihilation, and they seem incapable of anything else.
There’s a rumour floating about that there’s a plan for a imperial-style presidential inauguration ceremony for Jean Claude Juncker, to be held at the European Parliament.
Please, in the name of God, don’t let it be true. There would be nothing more grating than for the rest of Europe to watch thousands of EU employees, all on the taxpayer’s eurocent, applauding another EU employee for getting the Job of Jobs. This is the sort of stuff that would make The Daily Mail do an “Oh my!” in a southern American accent and faint.
Seriously, understatement is the key here. A small group witnessing JCJ take an oath, quietly and elegantly, is the tone to set.
Where? Well, the location should underline a theme of the incoming presidency.
Perhaps the Estonian-Russian border?
Will it annoy UKIP? Almost certainly. But who cares what Putin’s Party thinks? If UKIP don’t like it, let them go back to Moscow.