Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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The Misguided Nostalgia of the Nation-State.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 13, 2016 in British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, Politics

Europe_before_WWIFrom Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Gerry Adams in Ireland to Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in the UK, there’s a common theme emerging across modern Europe.

After 50 years of European integration and globalisation, it has started once again to become fashionable to believe that nationalism has the answers. That if a country could just retreat behind its borders everything would be fine.

It’s a very attractive proposition in its simplicity. Close the borders, tell Brussels and whomever else to f**k off and we can all go about our business like we did in the nostalgic golden period that existed before the EU. When did it exist again? Before 1914? When we didn’t have obesity because the poor literally hadn’t enough food? The 1920s and 1930s when one after another European government fell under fascist control? That Golden Age?

But let’s set that nostalgia to one side, and face the reality of the nation-state as solution to our modern problems. Can we control multinationals and make sure they pay tax? Perhaps the US can, maybe China, but pretty much nobody else.

Immigration? Given the option of every country just quietly moving the refugees onto their wealthier neighbours, the answer is that border control would cost expenditure on a de facto warlike footing. That imaginary money you’d save by stopping immigrants, on housing and healthcare? Spend that now on border police and fences and holding centres and massively expanded navies.

Then there’s selling stuff. Regulation, tariffs, quotas, all the tools of the nation-state trying to keep various interests happy, and all with a price attached.

Want to buy a new imported car? Sure why would you need that when we make our own here? Why doesn’t it come with Bluetooth? Listen to you and your unpatriotic notions!

There is something of a gut appeal about the nation-state, being amongst “our own”, with our own culture  and language and music. It feels safer for sure. And let’s be honest: it does work. As long as a country is willing to make its own hard choices about its own resources, and carry the appropriate burden, it can work. But as you expel young foreign workers and tax their imports and restore the national currency, be aware of the choices, as other countries send your aging ex-pats back to you.

The greatest source of unhappiness during the Great Recession has been the anger created by governments making hard choices. Every nationalist hardliner has tried to suggest that nationalism presents an easier path of less hardship and easing of burden.

A Europe without the euro and the EU is a Europe of sovereign nations standing up for their own interests. Sounds fine, and it will be right up to the moment the French government shields French farmers from Irish and British competition. Or Germany puts a tax on German pension funds investing in London. Or Britain taxes pharmaceuticals coming into the UK from Ireland. Or Spain devalues the Peseta Nuevo against the Franc Nouveau. All the acts of sovereign governments. All new problems.

The European Union was, and remains, a forum where like-minded nations can work together to resolve the problems of the modern world, which are bigger than modern nations. Syria isn’t a British or Danish problem, but it affects them, and their leaders know it too.

The leaders of modern countries know that so many problems from trade to disease to war to refugees to crime start outside our borders. You can either cooperate on them, or hide behind your borders and try to manage the consequences. But the idea that the problems themselves will vanish or get easier is nonsense.

This is the world we live in. It isn’t going away no matter had hard we wave our flags.

 
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The Empire vs. the Federation: a comparison.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 21, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious., Politics, Science Fiction

death star 2Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.

Which works better? Depends on the question.

Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”Star Trek Enterprise Ship 1701 2

The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.

The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.

The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.

Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ‘em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.

Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.

The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.

So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.

If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.

In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.

Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.

 
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Christmas gifts for the political anorak.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 15, 2015 in Politics

Either you’re the one, or you know one: the guy or girl who’s “into the politics”, and it means that this time of year buying gifts is deemed easy. “Sure isn’t he into the politics, won’t he love Eamonn Gilmore’s book?” Except, and here’s the thing, he probably won’t. He’ll have either read it already if he really wanted to, or has no interest in reading it, because just because it’s about politics doesn’t mean he wants to.

So, what to do? Well, fret not. Here’s a list of gifts for the political junkie in your life that they may not have. More importantly, some of these are old enough that you might even get them for very modest money in a second-hand bookshop. And yes, if it is the right book, they won’t mind it’s second-hand, something non-readers never seem to understand.

1. The Clann by Kevin Rafter. A short history of Clann na Poblachta, and with the election coming, a fascinating insight into a new party and what it takes.

2. Any Magill Election Guide from the 1980s. They’re harder to get these days, but are crammed full of the stats and pictures of aul fellas looking young pol-junkies love.

3. Making the difference? The Irish Labour Party 1912-2012. A collection of fascinating pieces on the history of Labour.

4. “Borgen” (DVD). Less people have seen this Danish political drama as it’s a bit pricey to buy. But it’s great. There’s also a Borgen companion book out now too.

5. Talking to a Brick Wall by Deborah Mattinson. Gordon Brown’s focus grouper, and a fascinating insight into modern political communication.

6. “Veep” (DVD). I have to admit to being a big fan of the HBO comedy series about the US Vice President. Again, not seen by many.

7. “Seven Days in May” (DVD): a thriller from the 1960s starring Kirk Douglas, about an attempted coup in the US. A great yarn.

8. “State of the Union” (DVD) A 1948 Frank Capra movie about Spencer Tracy’s millionaire industrialist running for President. Famous for his speech at the end.

9. “The Last Hurrah” (DVD) Another Spencer Tracy, this time about the old machine ward boss mayor of Boston running for re-election. You’ll see exactly what we did to US politics.

10. “City Hall” (DVD) Al Pacino as the mayor of New York. A cautionary tale about the compromises good men make in politics.

11. “The French Minister” (DVD) French comedy about a young advisor to France’s dynamic yet demented foreign minister during an international crisis.

12. “Salamander” (DVD) Belgian political thriller about a political conspiracy triggered by the robbing of an exclusive bank. Particularly entertaining for the dour middle aged police inspector hero who bizarrely has women flinging themselves at him.

 
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Cultural Appropriation is a good, rational, liberal thing.

Posted by Jason O on Nov 26, 2015 in Politics

I’d never heard of the phrase “cultural appropriation” until about two years ago, when someone objected to white people using a (non-offensive) word of American black origin. I can’t recall the word, but I remember the fury of the writer at the idea that other people could use words her ethnic group had originated. 

As a concept, I find it bizarre, the idea that a word or idea could be owned by any person, let alone a group. 

“We invented the colour yellow. Anyone else who uses it is oppressing us!” Am I supposed to be outraged at an Englishman using the word “craic”? Should an Englishman be offended at me using that great Irish phrase “Careful now!” because it is in his language, or me offended because it was written by two Irishmen for a British sitcom starring Irish actors filmed predominantly in London with British money but set in Ireland? More to the point, does any of this actually matter?   

I’m old enough to remember when Cultural Appropriation was something racist bigots feared. From Alf Garnett style fear of “smelly foreign food” to the KKK’s terror of the blood mixing of the races and the contamination of the bloodline, the far right looked at other cultures and saw nothing they wanted. Are we supposed to applaud that now? If I look at other races or nations and see food, clothing, language, things that I like more than my own native culture and suddenly that makes me some sort of colonial? Seriously?
Let’s just be clear here: the idea that you can look at another culture, see that they do something better, and say let’s copy what they’re doing, is what we used to call progress.

Ah, scream the Permanently Offended, but what if that food or culture belonged to a people who had been oppressed by your ancestors? You know what, I don’t give a toss. Let my ancestors answer for their crimes, I’m not carrying the can for them. Let us answer for our own crimes, not the crimes of ghosts.

Cultural Appropriation is if anything a badge of respect and open mindedness, that you accept that there is no such thing as an all knowing master race but that we can all learn something from the other people.

In short, Cultural Appropriation is the epitome of being liberal.

 
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Welcome to Bertieland.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 15, 2015 in European Union, Irish Politics, Not quite serious., Politics

Bertie AhernBertie Ahern had sat down with a mug of tea and a small plate of chocolate digestives, just as “Murder, she wrote” was starting, when his mobile rang. It was lashing down outside, real cats and dogs with extra dogs weather.

He frowned at the number. He didn’t recognise it, and had problems in the past with smart alecs getting his number and giving him abuse over the phone. The gas thing was that every one of them thought he was the first fella to do it. Bertie rarely hung up, just put the phone in the breadbin in the kitchen and went about his business, letting them tire themselves out. He’d occasionally pick up the phone to see if they were still there, catch a “Galway tent” or the like, and just carry on. They’d normally hang up in frustration, although one got quite distressed at the fact that Bertie had neither replied not hung up, and started asking was he OK. The former Taoiseach had ended up talking to that one, and they spent twenty minutes talking about the upcoming Premiership season. Your man hung up with a cheerful goodbye, having completely forgotten why he’d rung in the first place.

Bertie answered the phone.

“Mr Ahern? This is the Federal Chancellor’s office: can you take a call from Chancellor Merkel?”

Half of his chocolate digestive fell into his tea with the shock. He hadn’t spoken to her in a few years.

“Oh, eh, yeah. Of course.” His brain was racing. Could this be some smartarse radio DJ?

When the voice came on it sure sounded like her. Her English was better than people thought, but she didn’t really feel at ease using it. She always struggled to sound happy to be talking to someone, even when she was.

Read more…

 
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Fishamble presents: Bailed Out!

Posted by Jason O on Jul 29, 2015 in Irish Politics, Politics

bailedIf you enjoyed Colin Murphy’s excellent “Guaranteed!” which told the tale of the bank guarantee, then, like me, you’ll be looking forward to “Bailed Out!”, the story of Ireland and the Troika.

Based on official accounts and off the record interviews, Murphy sets out to tell the story of the crisis that nearly crippled the country. If it’s half as good as “Guaranteed!” we’re in for a treat.

Coming to the Pavilion Theatre from September 23rd.

 
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Crisis: a nuclear attack on Israel.

Posted by Jason O on Jul 3, 2015 in Fiction, Politics, US Politics

nuke

Repost.

The weapon, later identified as a 10 mega-ton former Soviet warhead, detonated just as the new Knesset began proceedings. In a flash, Israel’s administrative capital, political leadership and just under three quarters of a million Israelis died, along with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank.

The news was greeted in different ways. In the US, the president was rushed to the emergency national airborne command post, whilst the vice president and others were sent to the alternate national command centre in Mount Weather. US forces were ordered to def con 2.

In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh, spontaneous crowds gathered in grotesque displays of euphoria.

Read more…

 
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Good TV: Boss

Posted by Jason O on Jun 18, 2015 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Politics, US Politics

boss_poster

You’d be hard pressed to find a more cynical show about American politics than the two seasons and then cancelled series “Boss”, starring Kelsey Grammar. Grammar plays a Richard Daley style mayor of Chicago, and plays it very convincingly. Many say they struggle to watch Grammar without seeing Frasier Crane, but I find him a very watchable dramatic actor, and he certainly puts his acting chops on display here. He manages to be charming, impressive, cold, neurotic and terrifying in the role of Mayor Tom Kane.

I’m not surprised that it was cancelled as a show, because it lacks charm. if there is one word to describe it, it’s bleak. The style’s similar to Glenn Close’s “Damage”, which was another great drama but was just so full of morally bankrupt or compromised people and completely devoid of humour. This is the problem with “Boss”. Having known as many politicians as I have known in my life, I just can’t believe that everyone in public office is an amoral, self-serving, unsmiling prick. Is US politics, and Chicago politics in particular different? Possibly, but I doubt it. The show lacked a genuine human angle.

Like “House of Cards” that came after it, “Boss” works on the assumption that almost everybody in politics is on the make, including Kane’s icy wife played by Connie Nielsen in a proto-Claire Underwood. It also assumes that voters are very easily manipulated by pretty speeches and handsome candidates and soundbites. Indeed, it’s a very fashionable view in media circles (outside of political correspondents, who actually know better)  and indeed with growing numbers of voters, but it just ain’t true.

Kane as a mayor is convincing as the corrupt bastard who makes the buses run on time and keeps the streets clean, and I can buy voters holding their noses and voting for that. But the other candidates seem like stuffed shirts talking in soundbites, doing that thing non-politicians think is possible: moving votes by really subtle actions. You know the sort of thing: “Don’t forget to mention that your cousin was Polish. That’ll get the Polish vote on board.”

“Boss” is a watchable show, but does nothing to dispel the feeling that democracy is warping into something very very ugly.

 
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Is democracy itself the problem?

Posted by Jason O on Feb 18, 2015 in European Union, Irish Politics, 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.

 
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New Zealand politics: worth a look.

Posted by Jason O on Feb 10, 2015 in Politics

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.

 

Copyright © 2017 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.