Posted by Jason O on Feb 21, 2015 in European Union
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.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 18, 2015 in European Union
, Irish Politics
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.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 11, 2015 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.
A repost in honour of Australian entry into the Eurovision Song Contest.
As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?) over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.
There are good reasons:
1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.
2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.
3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.
4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.
5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.
6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.
7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.
8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.
9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.
10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.
11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.
Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.
Supposing, after the terrible events of 9/11, the United States had acted differently. Imagine if it had worked to improve its intelligence and internal security capacity, but not launched the War on Terror. Instead, it deployed special forces discreetly throughout the world to destroy Al Qaeda and hunt down Bin Laden.
Imagine now we lived in a world where the US and her allies had not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Afganistan is still a medieval backwater where women are treated appallingly, and Saddam Hussein or his odious sons are still in power in Iraq.
It’s not a pretty sight, save for the fact that The West has not turned two invasions into a recruiting bonanza for Islamic extremists. Thousands of allied soldiers have not died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are not dead. Billions have not been spent on wars that have at worst not delivered what we hoped, and at best created new problems.
Are we actually that worse off? ISIS is not fighting in Iraq. The Arab Spring probably hasn’t happened. George Bush and Tony Blair have both left office in quite high esteem, two safe pairs of hands who steered The West through one of its’ darkest days.
It couldn’t have happened, of course, for the simple reason that the American people and its media would never have settled for anything short of a spectacular act of revenge. And I write that in a non-judgemental way, because it was a very human reaction to rise up and want to wreak vengeance upon those who inflicted such a terrible blow on the US.
But that’s the point. It was a hard blow, but a gnat’s blow in terms of the strength of the United States. Over 3000 people were killed, which is a savage figure. But when you consider that over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun-related deaths, without much panic by US politicians, you realise that the US, and the rest of the western world, can absorb quite a lot of pain.
America could have dismissed 9/11 with a wave of the hand and carried on if it had chosen to. That’s not to say it can dismiss threats to national security. It can’t. The next attack could be a biological weapon, and The West has to act to protect itself. But the US, and The West in general, should perhaps start considering that massive spectacular and visible retaliation does not make the US safer but creates a new generation of enemy recruits.
Imagine if Israel didn’t respond to every attack from Hamas. Imagine if Israel just stood firm and brushed off attack after attack, without bombing the Palestinians in retaliation. Yes, it would be hard, and counter-intuitive, and there would be those on Fox News screaming hysterically and quoting the bible and calling leaders wimps and cowards. But also imagine as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, of rockets being intercepted or landing, but the counter attack never coming. Imagine the anger in Hamas and Al Quaeda, as the US and Israel don’t play their part in the cycle, but instead openly mock the terrorists for their feebleness, for the fact that The West is so strong that their best efforts are as an ant to an elephant.
In short, imagine we told them that they’re just not important enough to invade or bomb. Yes, it would be hard, turning the other cheek. It would also mean turning a blind eye to terrible things done in Nigeria and Mali and Iraq and Syria. It would probably mean we’d need a more enlightened immigration policy to provide refuge for those fleeing those awful regimes, perhaps even paying another country to act as our surrogate reception area.
Would we really be worse off?
Posted by Jason O on Jan 12, 2015 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
The US Fox News Channel has lashed out at Europeans for being soft on terrorism by not permitting Europeans to buy assault rifles. Speaking on FNC’s morning show, “Bibles & Bagels”, presenters Jon Blowdry and Leeza Findhusband mocked Europe’s gun death statistics.
“Look at the numbers of death by cop, for example. In Ireland and England, where the police aren’t even armed most of the time, hardly anybody gets shot dead by police. Yet heavily armed Muslim gangs roam the streets. I heard a story of special Muslim vans playing Islamic music as they drive around, trying to recruit children with a special ice cream called a 99. You know why it’s called that? Because 99 is the number of virgins the children are told they’ll get if they kill a Jew.”
Findhusband added that a country with low gun deaths is not serious about fighting terrorism. “Look at the USA. Every year, thousands of Americans give their lives for the right to bear arms and protect this country from terrorism. Thanks to them, we live in a country where you have a much greater chance of being shot dead by a God fearing Christian patriot than a Muslim terrorist. Europe doesn’t get that!”
Posted by Jason O on Jan 11, 2015 in European Union
Amidst the debate over recent events in France, there’s been, particularly online, a sub-text. In short, it’s summarised as “Yes, we know all Muslims aren’t terrorists, but…” The Irish have an insight into the thinking, having experienced it directed towards us when we were in the UK during the highpoints of Provisional IRA terrorism. Plenty of British people looked suspiciously at the Irish and struggled to separate the murderers of Enniskillen or Hyde Park from the millions of Irish who didn’t support the IRA. Statistically, as with Muslims now, there was a higher probability that a terrorist would come from an Irish Catholic background.
There was no shortage of talk that the Irish as a people “weren’t doing enough” to condemn and oppose terrorism. Yet, what would a crack down on the Irish population in the mainland UK have done for reducing terrorism? As much as the hardline did in Northern Ireland for IRA recruitment?
The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.
Speaking for myself, I don’t want to live in a Europe where the targeting of one religion is regarded as a solution to our problems, even dressed up as something like fighting terrorism. We have been here before, the only difference being that our great grandparents in the 1930s had never experienced the outcome. We have. We’ve seen the footage and we’ve stood in the places that result when you single out one religion. It starts small, with registration. Then certain jobs are restricted. Then they are made live in certain controlled zones. There are those, when faced with this argument, who say that The Jews weren’t carrying our terrorist attacks. Either are The Muslims. Nor were The Irish. Some Muslims are, and the moment we start pointing at a group as a single monolithic bloc, well, we know where it leads.
Europe is the freest place on Earth, where you can sit on a beach and on one side see Muslim girls wearing hijabs and on the other women sunbathing topless. Where a Muslim, a black and a white police officer be honoured for defending our and their way of life. The threats to that freedom come from extremists on many sides, and we must be vigilant.
But the biggest single threat to that freedom is not a savage attack on a magazine. We can face that down. We are stronger than those bastards. The biggest single threat is the temptation to destroy our freedom by forgetting the lessons of our European past, by listening to those who point to one group of Europeans and say that they are the problem and we must find a “solution” to them.
We have been here before.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 7, 2015 in European Union
As a general rule, there’s something pretty obnoxious about setting out to insult someone else’s religious beliefs. In a free society, one has a right to do it. But good manners sometimes dictates that you keep your opinion to yourself. We all have to live here, after all, and the mark of a civilised society is that we all tolerate and respect each other, even those we disagree with.
Having said that, the right to offend has to be pretty much inviolate, because like democracy itself, mankind has yet to devise a better system. Surrender the right to offend with your opinions, surrender it to the state or some other authority, and you chip away at freedom itself.
Too much freedom of speech is always less of a risk than too little, and those who advocate restricting freedom of speech are nearly always talking about other people, not themselves.
But using violence to define the borders as to what opinion is acceptable? That has no place in the free world. Believe in that, and there is no place for you here. Go to one of those lesser nations who believe in the approved opinion, the ones whose people are always fleeing to live in Europe or North America or Australia or New Zealand.
This is not negotiable, if you are born here or came here. Freedom of speech, democratic elections, the rule of law, religious freedom, equality between men and women are not some a la carte menu to be chosen from when it suits. This is our society, and it works. The United States and the countries of the European Union could give away a million free passports in a day if we wished, with no doubt that there’ll be no shortage of takers. These are the fundamentals, and we may tinker with them, but they aren’t going away. If you can’t bear to live in a society where people can tweet cartoons you don’t like, then you should go away.
If you choose to take up arms against that society, then we will take up arms against you, and there are literally millions of us ready to fight to defend what we have built here.
Our society, for all its flaws, is the pinnacle of Human progress. It separated church and state, ended slavery, defends the rights of minorities and believes in individual freedom.
It is not up for negotiation, and as the millions on the streets of France and across Europe tonight have shown, it will be defended.
Folks: I’m hoping, in 2015, to start a podcast called “Right, Left & Centre”. The idea will be to have three guests and myself discussing a big political or social idea of Irish, European or international interest. Each guest will be asked to designate themselves as right, left or centre and I hope to have one of each on each panel.
The big questions will be something like “Is Ireland about to get its first left wing government?” or “Is it time to scrap the European Union?” or “Fianna Fail/Fine Gael: is it time?” or “Are the robots going to take all our jobs?”. I’m hoping to avoid the usual Irish “The Week In Politics” party political bunfight, and have no interest in having guests who can’t see beyond the party political, if only because it’s tediously boring.
We’ll be recording over a two hour period on weekday evening or on a weekend as scheduling permits. Assuming the thing works: the first thing could end up a disaster or in the high court.
So, if you’re interested, get in touch on Twitter or on the site here, and yet me know. And don’t forget to class yourself as right, left or centre. And please: there’s a tendency of every Irish person to call themselves centrist, so bear in mind that I only want one per show, unless we have a show where it’s unavoidable!
Most importantly: I want this to be fun and to prove the point that you can disagree with people politically but like them personally.
One more thing: if you’re interested in libelling people or espousing corruption theories about certain millionaires, feck off and do it on your own podcast. I haven’t got the pockets.
1. You, and everybody else, has a right to offend and be offended. Too much freedom of speech always trumps too little.
2. Everybody has the right to keep their money as much as you have the right to keep yours.
3. Before demanding someone have more power over someone else, imagine giving that power to your worst enemy, and see if you’re comfortable with that.
4. The validity of an argument is not increased by how strongly you feel about it.
5. It is possible to disagree with someone’s politics but like them personally.
6. Everybody minding their own business is the solution to far more problems than you think.
7. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a compassionate welfare system. There is something wrong with thinking that basic maths has nothing to do with it. Every euro spent has to be taken or borrowed off someone else.
Berlusconi. Putin. Erdogan. Farage. Le Pen. Wilders. What do all these names have in common? All have built a cult of personality on a platform of authoritarian nationalist populism. But another factor is that each one of them has built a movement which will suffer a serious, possibly even fatal blow, if one of the above were to die suddenly.
It’s a curious feature of the hard right, the centralising of power around a key figure. As Franco, Mussolini and others proved, pull the keystone figure away and the whole structure could collapse in a way that democratic centrist parties just don’t.
If Farage, Berlusconi or Putin in particular suddenly passed away in the night there’d be a actual chaos in their organisations, a genuine vacuum and lack of clear succession that could destroy the whole enterprise in a vicious struggle for power.
Just a thought.