Voldemort, the dark wizard, has announced that he is declaring war on the fanatical extremists of ISIS. A spokeswizard said: “These people aren’t just, you know, baddies like me. They’re a disease, a cancer on the planet, a death cult that actually threatens normality. If NATO or China or anyone else isn’t going to step up, then I guess I’ll have to assemble an international coalition to do the job. I’ve spoken to the Daleks, who are onboard, and the Joker in Gotham City who has expressed serious concerns about their mental health. We’re currently working on reviving Stalin to help too. He’s great at motivating people, a real go-getter. Ayatollah Khomeini is coming back too. He said to me yesterday that “someone has to deal with these religious nutjobs!”
“Midnight Caller” ran from 1988-1991, and starred Gary Cole, who’d later become known to “The West Wing” fans as Vice President “Bingo” Bob Russell (and cult “Office Space” boss Bill “Yeah” Lumbergh). In fact, given that Gary Cole is pretty much in everything, one would be forgiven for thinking there is a secret protocol in the US Constitution that demands it. As an aside, his other great role was in the disgracefully cancelled after one season “American Gothic” where he played the sheriff of a North Carolina town who may or may not have been The Devil. But I digress.
Cole played Jack Killian, a former cop turned late night radio host. It was stylish for its day (especially as nearly every episode seemed to be set at night, which is hardly surprising, given its title), and was famous for Killian’s “Goodnight, America, wherever you are” signoff. Cool theme music too.
In the end, it came down to that much ballyhooed phrase, “national sovereignty”. For all the technical arguments between the Syriza government and its EU partners, the Greeks needed money and the rest of Europe didn’t believe it would get it back. After months of negotiations and little progress, the crisis in Athens forced the Tsipras; government’s hand. All the promises of restoring public sector employment and early retirement and spending to the old pre-crisis PASOK/New Democracy levels needed money, and Greece didn’t have it. What little money it had was going on barely keeping the creaking state going and paying the interest on eye-watering debts. Something had to give.
The South American option, default and devaluation, and with it a return to the Drachma, was the final tool in the box, and with angry crowds losing patience on the streets, and the fascist Golden Dawn now in second place in the polls, the decision was made. Greece was leaving the Euro.
The army sealed the borders as vehicles were searched to prevent the export of savings. Capital and withdrawal controls were introduced instantly, and the mint began printing the old notes once again. A swathe of new laws made it a criminal offence to keep large amounts of euros.
On the issue of debt, Prime Minister Tsipras and his finance minister found themselves battling the left of the coalition over the size of the default. Tsipras wanted to haircut the debt to a manageable level, but then promptly pay the new interest debt, believing it to be vital to eventually permit Greece to re-enter the bond markets at a future date. In particular, he wanted the government to focus on defaulting on other state debts. The communists in the government were outraged at any debt remaining, with some leaving the government immediately. But Tsipras got his way, and when Greece defaulted it maintained over half of its debt.
Devaluation sent imports, especially food and energy soaring in cost, with the government then having to subsidise both for a growing part of the population, eating again into state revenue. The tax system, which was now beginning to function in a more efficient manner, was slowly increasing tax revenue, especially on wealthy Greeks, but as every country has learnt, it had its problems. Ordinary Greeks took to the streets objecting to having to pay higher taxes alongside soaring imported goods prices caused by a feeble Drachma. It wasn’t long before “Traitors!” was being sprayed on Syriza posters, and the prime minister and his finance minister were being jostled in public.
The government focussed on taking advantage of the weak Drachma to transform Greece into THE value destination for European tourism. Money was invested in tourist facilities, and Euro controls were loosened to permit hotels and resorts to source the supplies they needed. Across the EU, anti-EU parties started advocating Eurosceptics holiday in Greece, and the image of Nigel Farage puffing on a cigar on a Greek beach surrounded by buxom Greek women became iconic.
The government did find itself having to make awkward decisions. As tourism started to recover, the tourism industry warned the government that large numbers of people begging were beginning to swamp the resorts on the basis that tourists had money, leading to Syriza having to deploy police (and in some cases soldiers) to form checkpoints and clear the streets, a scene that did not go down well in left wing circles across Europe, nor in Greece, causing Syriza to lose its parliamentary majority.
Although the devaluation did lead to a modest recovery in employment in the tourist industry, the failure of the government to keep its promises on the public sector and spending meant that it was now being attacked on the left by communists and former Syriza members and the right by New Democracy and fascists. The devaluation had now brought new problems with inflation soaring and the Bank of Greece aware that raising interest rates would not really help given the source of inflation. Tsipras and Varoufakis barely managed to block a proposal to get the central bank to just print more money.
A savage attack on a group of German tourists, killing two and injuring five, by supporters of Golden Dawn did not help the tourism led recovery, unleashing stories across Europe of muggings and begging and seriously dampening demand for Greek holidays with northern Europeans. The Greek tourist minister’s promise to put troops on the streets to protect tourists became a spectacular own goal.
The government was faced with a dilemma. The only way out of its downward spiral was economic growth. The problem was that the actions needed to trigger that growth, including market and labour deregulation and lower taxation, were pretty much the exact opposite of what Syriza had been elected to do. Greek exports to the rest of Europe were growing as a result of devaluation, but the country was simply not producing enough export income to fund the social welfare system it wanted. Instead, it wanted the welfare system first. More Greeks were in employment now, but the soaring cost of living was making their standard of living worse than under the Troika. It was becoming a common joke that the Euro was still the de facto currency in Greece, with large purchases having an official Drachma price, and an under the table Euro price. Families kept Euros under the bed for a rainy day, despite the law.
Devaluation was also resulting in higher raw material costs, which began to feed through into export prices, making them less competitive.
Golden Dawn rallies attacked the government for not cracking down on immigration, and racial attacks were becoming more widespread, with the under-resourced police either stretched beyond capacity or in some cases sympathetic to Golden Dawn.
With no majority, and paralysed, the Syriza government called an election, with polls putting it in fourth place behind the Communists, New Democracy and Golden Dawn, all vying for top spot. The European Council, which had already suspended Greek voting rights after the Syriza government had unilaterally defaulted, warned that if Golden Dawn formed the next Greek government, the option of the expulsion of Greece from the EU would have to be considered.
On election night, Golden Dawn narrowly defeated New Democracy and won a majority. In his victory speech, the incoming prime minister announced that he had already negotiated a deal with Russia to build a massive Russian naval base. That night, 42 illegal immigrants were killed by fascist gangs, in some cases in plain sight of police. The Kremlin offered to send Russian police to assist in the maintaining of law and order.
Repost: Some years ago, a number of Irish politicians knowingly sentenced some their constituents to death. A report by experts pointed out that small local hospitals did not have the experience, capacity and technology to provide specialist care in the case of heart attacks. In effect, the report said that a person who had a heart attack on the steps of the local hospital stood a better chance of survival if they were flown by air ambulance to a regional hospital with a dedicated experienced unit who dealt with heart attacks every day.
A rational analysis of the report would have led to a debate about how to ensure that such an efficient air ambulance unit could be provided. Instead, in Ireland, the local deputies argued that every small local hospital should have such a cardiac unit, a proposal that was not only impractical but if attempted to be implemented would suck resources from other parts of the health service, thus resulting in unnecessary deaths from non-cardiac related illness.
Why did they do it? Why did these elected representatives knowingly campaign for a policy they knew would actually kill some of their constituents? Primarily, one would suggest, because their constituents demanded it, and in a democracy, the voter is always right. Even when he or she doesn’t read the report or just plain refuses to accept its findings because he or she simply don’t like them. The voter rules.
When the voter is then standing over the grave of his or her wife or husband who died on an operating table from a heart attack, in the local hospital, it’s not their fault. It’s the health service’s fault for not providing a world class cardiac unit in a tiny town. The local deputy will attend the funeral and agree that the wife or husband has been let down, despite having known this would happen from the expert report. And so on it goes.
In a democracy, the pointed finger beats rational fact every time.
Francois Hollande ran for the Presidency of France promising to reverse Sarkozy’s very modest pension reforms. How could any intelligent rational man looking at the demographic and life expectancy statistics conclude that people should be permitted to retire earlier? Pensions and increasing care for the elderly cost money, and so more people must work longer and pay taxes to fund those services. Is Hollande a fool, in the real sense? Probably not. But he knew that the voters didn’t care about the statistics. They stamped their foot in the Free Stuff From The Government aisle and had a tantrum, and would only leave with him if he promised them a young pension. Even though he must have known that it was the wrong thing for France’s long-term viability as a self sustaining nation.
It’s an issue we don’t want to confront: modern life, with modern expectations, is incredibly complicated. If you want to build a world class cardiac capacity, it takes years of planning, to bring and train the right people together, in the right place, with the right equipment. It takes long term planning. But democratic politics is becoming less and less tolerant of long term planning. It’s attracting candidates who are thinking more and more short term, sometimes just to Friday afternoon or the following days newspapers, candidates who aren’t interested in anything that they can’t wave at their voters before the next election.
That’s not to say we should scrap democracy, of course. China does long term planning very well, but it also uses tanks against its own people. Democracy is still the most effective bulwark against tyranny and for that alone must be maintained. But as a guarantee of good, rational government it is becoming less and less effective.
It was with huge excitement that I saw the first trailer for Guy Ritchie’s 1960s spy caper “The Man from UNCLE” released this week. In the early 1980s, this then 12 year old was fascinated by a TV show that had been off the air for over 15 years. It was kitschy by today’s standards, and ironically I only realised much later that I’d never even seen the first season which is hailed by fans as the best one, but rarely repeated because it’s in black and white. Although TG4 did, a few years ago, curiously enough.
What was it about the adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin that caught my imagination so much? Certainly the international locations (actually all filmed in California. Every airport looked the same, save for a policeman in a different uniform and different tourist posters on the walls!), the derring-do, the wise-cracking of the two agents, and the beautiful yet sophisticated girls all played a part. But also, I was fascinated that UNCLE was international, the Russians and the Americans cooperating together against Nazis and megalomaniacs and of course the evil THRUSH organisation. It’s a concept that shaped my politics even now.
So, here’s hoping the new movie, out in August and starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Hugh Grant as their boss tips the hat a few times at their predecessor.
*”Open Channel D” was the standard UNCLE greeting when communicating with their New York headquarters.
Picture the scene: a charismatic immensely popular Labour party leader leads his reformist, centrist party into power, having first agreed with his talented finance spokesperson that he’d step down after two terms in favour of him to succeed him. After two terms, he finds that he quite likes being prime minister. It all kicks off. Welcome to Australia, 1983.
Continuing on my latest dipping into the fascinating world of Aussie and Kiwi politics, the documentary below, “Labor in power”, tells the story of the battles of the Bob Hawke governments of 83,87,90 and the eventual strife over his successor. The documentary is very well done, primarily because both Hawke and Keating (prime minister when it was made) participated in the making, and give very open and at times pretty frank observations about the events of the era and more importantly, each other. As I watched it I couldn’t help thinking how spectacular a Blair/Brown doc would be if both participated to this degree.
Both men are on the camera so long that you get a real feel for them. Hawke’s charisma (he was leader of the Australian unions before he became an MP and was pretty much a political rock star from day one) comes through, as does Keating’s determination and frustration to do big things.
Additionally, Bob Hawke must have the most luxuriant hair of any politician this side of Mitt Romney! Definitely worth watching.
The Irish Department of Finance has confirmed that in the event of a No vote in May’s Marriage Equality referendum legislation will be brought forward to give a special LGBT tax free allowance. A spokesperson said: “Our lawyers have been looking at this. Turns out that it may be unconstitutional to be denying people equal rights but expecting them to pay the same level of taxation for less services. So we reckon a 10% tax cut should level it out.”
When asked as to how the Revenue Commissioners would work out who is actually LGBT, the spokesperson was unclear: “Yeah, that’s an issue alright. You know what the Irish are like. If there’s money involved, half the country will come out. We’re putting together a formula to create a threshold, you know, how many Pet Shop Boys tracks do you listen to on Spotify, how you pronounce the name “Liza”, and whether you think Kim Catrall is marvellous or not. That sort of thing.”
The anti-Marriage Equality campaign, “They’re Coming! They’re Coming!” has called for a tax credit for heterosexual men. “Real men,” their spokesman announced, “not a bunch of fairies. You know, the sort of guys who work out in the gym every day, letting the sweat run down their manly hairy chests as they pull their tight tee shirts over rippling…” the spokesperson then asked to be excused.
This is the first part of a documentary series about the political revolution brought about in New Zealand in the 1980s, when a new Labour government led by David Lange, faced with economic ruin caused by its conservative neo-Gaullist predecessor, brought about some of the most radical Thatcherite reforms (nicknamed first “Rogernomics” after its architect, radical finance minister Roger Douglas, and then “Ruthanasia” after his successor Ruth Richardson!) ever attempted in a western economy. Absolutely fascinating, expecially as it led to radical changes in New Zealand politics itself. Ironically, by the end of the series, the biggest critic of the policies the party pursued seems to be Lange himself.
It starts with a drunk prime minister of the time, Rob Muldoon of the National Party calling a snap election. Fascinating stuff.
Socialist Party Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy has lashed out at the Garda Siochana for treating him courteously and respecting his civil rights following an arrest earlier today.
Addressing a group of working class supporters who didn’t seem to have to go to work, Murphy said: “This is typical of the right-wing oppressive forces at work in the Garda Siochana. If this had been Chile under Pinochet I’d be beaten to a pulp, speaking to you now in a shirt covered in my own blood.
Or possibly even dead and on an iconic teeshirt!
But no! This regime is so opposed to socialism that they refuse to cooperate, and instead gave me a cup of tea and as many chocolate digestives as I could eat, all paid for by your taxes if you please! The fact that the oppressive police of this state refused to oppress me, that they actually allow us to speak here without shooting us even with plastic bullets, shows how devious and oppressive they really are! If they truly supported the working class they’d be baton charging the working class to remind the working class that they were being oppressed by being baton charged!”
Deputy Murphy continued in this vein for a a good twenty minutes until Jennings, his butler, collected him and drove him home.