Another one for the political junkies, “Alpha Dogs” details the rise and fall of Sawyer-Miller, one of the first political consultancy firms, and a firm that played a major role in bringing down both Marcos and Pinochet. Full of little nuggets of political wisdom, including their polling which told Listerine that as their consumers were the sort of people who obey instructions on products, they could increase their sales of Listerine by 25%, by increasing the cap size by 25%. They also proved, in getting Boston Mayor Kevin White reelected in the 1970s, that voters will vote for a candidate they don’t actually like if they can be convinced that he is a) competant, and b) will use competancy to pursue the interests of people like them.
It also highlighted for me how different Irish politics is from most other western countries, in that whilst politics is dominated by professional politicians everywhere, it is remarkable how in Ireland political issues play such a minor role in elections, something Frank Luntz talked about when he was in Ireland. Irish politicians are far more sophisticated in knowing what makes their constituents tick than any pollster can tell them, yet that knowledge seems to paralyse them into policy inactivity. It isn’t that issues like taxes or spending or immigration don’t exist in Ireland, it’s that an entire political class has managed to pull off the most brilliant political three card trick ever, and convinced voters voting to elect members of a national parliament that those issues have nothing to do with them!
A very entertaining read, and the sort of book that political anoraks will need to read with a pen in one hand for marking passages. Or is that just me?
There was once a time when you knew where you stood. The mega wealthy, the Hearsts and the Rockefellers and the Morgans were very powerful and used their wealth to further their interests. They bought newspapers, hired muscle, politicians, judges, even started wars.
Pretty much same as today, you say?
Not quite, because at least back then they had the subtlety to keep pretty much out of the limelight, and even their hired political lackeys would pretend to be working for the ordinary joe.
Now, however, we have the surreal scenario of the plutocrat class not only having all the money but actually demanding that the rest of us, under the threat of some Fox News applied collective Chinese arm-burn, say it’s a good idea.
The pinnacle of this recent movement was, of course, the nomination of Mitt Romney, a good man (I’ll get back to that in a minute) who actually felt obliged on the campaign trail to stand up for the civil rights of corporations.
Think about that for a moment. In an age where the western middle class is genuinely fearing, for the first time since World War II, that its living standards are actually in reverse, the nominee of one of America’s two great parties felt an obligation to step in and stop billion dollar corporations being bullied by poorer people, including many of those same middle classes now fretting.
And here’s the thing: I think Mitt Romney is an honest, decent man whose values told him that those businesses were being harassed by someone and he felt it was unjust. He genuinely saw them as the victim. He’s like the guy who sees Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, and thinks “Poor Lucy! She must be so exhausted having to trick Charlie Brown and make him going flying through the air every time!”
It wasn’t always this way. In the 1950s, Eisenhower and Churchill, both in office, and hardly doyens of the hard Left, saw mass society-wide membership trades unions as legitimate actors on the economic stage, with just as much right to be there as business. Both men sided with business, but saw society as a careful balancing act between capital and labour where both sides had to be able to walk away feeling they’d gotten their slice of the pie.
Now, you have an appalling lack of grace from the mega wealthy, where many plutocrats not only believe they should be free to use their resources (wealth) to further enrich themselves and their class, but then get indignant at the middle class for using its great resource, government through democratic elections, to pursue its class interest.
This leaves us with the jaw dropping scene of the mega wealthy feeling genuinely aggrieved, pointing fingers at people economically far beneath them and accusing them of “class war” for wanting things such as employment rights, universal health care or minimum wages.
It results in the grotesque spectacle of a US Republican Party, a party founded on the principle of righting one of the greatest wrongs of human history, now reduced to regarding the taking of food assistance from low income families and stripping them of low cost health insurance as a noble aim worth pursuing.
It is, quite simply, appallingly bad manners of the part of a class that should know better. A class that seems to lack, for want of a better word, class.
National Rifle Association leaders have expressed delight at the decision of the Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jeremiah Wright to call for all African American men to form themselves into armed militias, as is their right under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.
A spokesperson for the gun rights group also expressed support for the decision of pro-gay rights groups, Arab-American groups, the Occupy movement, the American Socialist Party, welfare and food stamp support organisations and pro-choice organisations to also begin to heavily arm themselves into “Liberal Militias”.
The spokesman, who sweated increasingly during a press conference as the various groups made their announcements, stuttered a few times as he welcomed the rights of all Americans to exercise their right to bear arms. In response to a specific question, he replied: “Yes, I’m sure all our members are delighted at the idea of every African-American man carrying an assault rifle when out walking through white neighbourhoods, as is their right.”
He was then seen screaming at his PA to order more ammunition.
In other news, the anti-death penalty movement has, pending its abolition, called for the death penalty to be extended to white collar and financial crimes. John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives remarked: “Eh, let me get back to you on that.”
I recently published “The Gorgeous War”, a short story on Amazon.com about a product which allowed the great majority of people to be, effectively, beautiful. I wrote it primarily because it’s a subject which fascinates me, in the fact that our society, especially with the rise of handheld devices, is so incredibly visually orientated.
That orientation has had all sorts of curious effects on our society, from the manufacture of political candidates (look at Forza Italia) to the arguable reversal of feminism and the rise of the WAG, to the recent Abercrombie and Finch row, where a business suggested that a selective approach to seeking custom based on the physical attractiveness of their customers might well be a reasonable business model. Odious as it is, I’m not sure they were wrong in their analysis.
There are those who despair at it, who question the fact that we seem to value the beauty of a world class model over, say, a world class research chemist. I’m not so sure: after all, is it right to differentiate between a person who inherited DNA which made them physically attractive over a person with DNA which made them intelligent? Probably not.
Then, of course, there is the reality that physical attractiveness as a general rule has a shorter lifespan than intelligence.
But what would happen if we could manufacture beauty cheaply?We can do a lot now, of course, with plastic surgery and weight reduction surgery, but supposing we could do it at a cost that permitted pretty much everybody to access it?
Within minutes of starting to read “2030: the real story of what happens to America” I knew I was going to love it. In fact, I’ll go one step further. This is my favourite novel of the last 12 months. It’s just plain great.
Set in 2030, the novel tells the story of the issues faced by Americans in that year. There’s a president not only recognising that America is no longer the world’s leading nation but also finally having to confront its inability to add to its massive debt. There’s the consequences for individuals caused by inter-generational strife as a result of senior citizens living far longer than the social security net ever planned for.
It’s also funny in a wry way, exceptionally thoughtful, and full of little future nuggets.
But most importantly, it is very, very credible. Reading it, you can see a direct line from where we are today to where the novel arrives at. This is an indictment of reckless entitlement democracy at its worst.
I hesitate to call it science fiction over satire, but it is both, throwing out “what ifs” in the best speculative tradition of both genres.
I really, sincerely hope that this is not his only novel in this genre, because Brooks has a serious talent for it.
Let’s be honest: not a lot is going to happen with Obama II. It’s not a reflection on the president, but the truth is that, with the exception of immigration and maybe gay marriage, there is simply not much he can afford to do. This term will be about economic consolidation. That’s not to say that his eight years will not be regarded as historic. From first black president to healthcare to the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to General Motors and Bin Laden and coupled with reelection, barring major upsets his legacy is safe. Having said that, he might have an additional opportunity to appoint liberal judges to the Supreme Court. But the big stuff? Forget it.
But that’s ok, and here’s why: when he leaves office in 2017, gay marriage and immigration as issues will probably be settled, and the Republican Party will be heading back towards the centre. Imagine, on the other hand, if Mitt Romney had won last November, confirming every prejudice the far right had about how they spoke for the real America and that the president had just been an anomaly?
The fact that he was strongly reelected, despite a huge effort by some to paint him and his values and supporters as unAmerican, is the final piece in the Obama legacy. That his values are not those of some radical elitist, but what those of us who regard ourselves as centrists always knew. That he spoke for that great value, American decency, and we’ll take another four years of that, thank you very much.
In last year’s US presidential election, there was a clear choice on offer. Both parties offered a pretty distinct social platform, and each an economic platform that had some differences. In the UK general election in May 2015, the European question will mean that voting for one party over the other will probably have a profound difference on what sort of country Britain will be post 2017 referendum, if it happens. The point is that the results would shape daily life.
The same cannot be said of an Irish general election. In the last 36 months we have experienced life under Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. We can also see, looking North of the border, what life under Sinn Fein would look like, and it does not look that radically different than like life down here. Sinn Fein will of course claim that a govt south of the border has greater room for action, being a sovereign state. This is true. But the reality is that Sinn Fein is moving towards a policy centre which will make it pretty much where Labour are now. Talk to people in Donegal or Kerry or Monaghan about their Sinn Fein representatives, and they will tell you that aside from waving the tricolour they no more want to frighten the horses than your average Fianna Failer. Radical socialists they are not, as their bitterly disappointed leftwing voters will discover. Life under a Sinn Fein coalition will not even be as left wing as France under Hollande.
Of course, says you, there’s always the Greens and the People’s Front of Killiney. True, but the Greens, despite their best intentions and efforts, showed just how resistant the rest of the Irish political establishment is to reform. As for Joe and the gang: Jaysus, they couldn’t even run a parliamentary group of seven people without splitting four ways. They are populist panderers, not even socialists, so don’t be holding your breath.
So just don’t vote? Surely that’s a cop out/Is this what the Men/Women of 1916 stormed a biscuit factory for, etc? Not really. I’d still vote in a referendum, and if they reform the Seanad and elect the panels I might vote in that. But even that would be purely for the sport, that I enjoy a good election count and the transfers and all the rest. But would it change much. Nah. This country, and here’s the thing, does not want change. We are actually a politically content people. The fact that a majority of our voters support FF or FG in polls confirms that. So move along, there’s nothing to see here.
Following yet another massacre of children/shoppers/churchgoers/joggers/voters/sports fans/concert-goers/hikers/gallery-visitors/night-clubbers/subway-users/apartment-dwellers/farmers/hotel guests the National Rifle Association has condemned those who suggest that reducing the number of guns available in American society might reduce the number of gun deaths and instead called for the provision of more well-armed and trained officers in schools/shopping malls/places of worship/public parks/sports-stadia/polling places/National Parks/museums and art galleries/nightclubs/public transport/dense areas of residence/rural areas/hotels as a measure to return America to the “peaceful Norman Rockwell or Frank Capra country we all grew up in, where every small town family walked peacefully and safely past a SWAT team on the way to church or cheered on their local team under the watchful eyes of police snipers”.
Note: whilst wanting to make a satirical point, I’ve had to keep postponing posting this piece because I did not want to make light of a recent gun tragedy, and so had to find a gap in between shootings to do so. Which is a point in itself, I suppose.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has launched an attack on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after the potential presidential rival suggested in an interview that he did believe in the concept of gravity.
Speaking to a seminar entitled God Made The Earth, So Obviously The Sun Revolves Around It, Sen. Rubio condemned Gov. Christie for supporting such “European” notions as gravity. “Governor Christie’s support of the theory of gravity is, quite frankly, offensive to many Christians like me. If the governor spent more time reading scripture he’d realise that people and objects are held fast to this planet by Jesusglue, which is all around us and was created by God. I know of many learned readers of scripture who believe that to be a teaching not ruled out by the Holy Bible, whereas, gravity, like dinosaurs and letting women get all uppity, does not get one mention in the Bible. If God had created gravity, don’t you think he would have mentioned it?
Next the governor will be saying that God didn’t put handles on bananas or put skin on oranges to reduce packaging costs for small businesses, like they say in France.”
Earlier this month, Sen. Rubio attracted controversy when he hid in the Senate toilet to avoid voting on a Tea Party bill to strip accreditation from any geologists who claimed the Earth was over 9,000 years old as alleged in the Holy Bible.
The senator had apparently been about to vote in favour of the bill until he received a phone call from the CEO of Exxon Oil telling him to “knock it off”.