Fornication Once Again

Not a term you hear much these days, fornication. For those of you without the benefit of a Catholic education, fornication is the sin of having sex with someone who isn’t your spouse, a puzzling concept in a day and age when few still believe in sex after marriage.

Michelle Mulherin’s (FG) use of the word in a Dáil debate was amusing, but rather distracted from the issue. This being that the courts have found – years ago – that there are circumstances where a woman has a right to an abortion, but the legislature has never overturned existing or created new law to decriminalise it in those circumstances. It’s such a touchy subject that even an ostensibly woman-friendly party like Labour are avoiding it. (This attempt to correct the situation was sponsored by the tiny Socialist party.)

The basic problem is that the issue is not open to reasoned debate – not when a significant proportion of people (probably a minority now, but still a blocking one) stick with the Pope‘s opinion that human life and its concomitant rights begin at the moment of conception. It’s an extremist position, but it effectively closes down the subject. If abortion is murder, how can you even discuss it?

Others do take different stances. That humanity begins at birth, or that there is some stage of development after which a foetus may be said to be human. The latter though is really passing the buck. There is no medical definition of humanity, the start of human life – conception, birth, some point in between – is a matter of how you define life and how you define humanity, a philosophical question with no definitive answer in science, or indeed in scripture.

This being the case, can we not accept that the only relevant opinion here is that of the woman?

The Democratic Post-Mortem

The campaign car of Joseph McGuinness, who won...
It's taking a while, but it's happening

Having done nothing to repudiate the last administration’s nationalisation of private debts, what did the government expect? The only reason the judge’s pay referendum passed was that a lot of the public thought it would hurt lawyers, whom after the Tribunal bills they hate almost as much.

People have had it demonstrated to them quite clearly that one party cannot (or won’t) do anything to reverse the mistakes of another. It makes it look like government is powerless in the face of our financial dependence on the EU. Which, when it comes down to it, seems to really mean dependence on major continental banks – the very banks by and large who lent excessively to ours. It should be eye-opening that the candidate of Sinn Féin, the only major party that declares it would repudiate the banks debts, out-polled Fine Gael‘s two to one.

Democracy has been suborned by capitalism when it should have been circumscribing it, and now it begins to feel like an exercise in futility. What sort of turnout is 52% for the most fiercely-contested Presidential election in the history of the state plus two referendums? Half of the population don’t think there’s any point. And the worrying thing is, they may be the half that’s right.

Sinn Féin Out On The Final Count

Martin Mc Guinness.
My Goodness

It says a lot about the state of the parties in Ireland right now that the ‘government’ candidate and Sinn Féin’s were neck-and-neck all the way. In fact as I write they’ve just been eliminated together.

A quick explanation: In the Single Transferable Vote electoral system, you number candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference. Votes are initially distributed according to the first preference, after which the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and the votes that went to them are transferred to the one marked as second. This process continues until one candidate has a ‘quota’ of votes, which in a presidential election is simply 50% of the valid poll. (If someone had gotten over 50% of the first preference votes the contest would have been over then and there of course, but that rarely happens.)

This is good because it takes into account the fact that voters may not only prefer one candidate, but particularly despise another. For instance I gave Seán Gallagher my seventh preference – out of seven candidates.  (I could actually have not numbered him at all, but mathematically it would have made no difference.)  A simple majority system can actually help the most-despised get elected, if their opposition is split among the less objectionable candidates. A case in point is 1990, where it would have given us Brian Lenihan Snr as President.

Sinn Féin’s McGuinness and Fine Gael‘s Mitchell were eliminated simultaneously because distributing the next-preference votes of either could not have elected the other, a logically valid time-saver. It is now theoretically possible that their redistributed votes could push Seán Gallagher over the finish line ahead of Michael D. Higgins in the most astonishing electoral reversal since, well, since yesterday. But that won’t happen. Both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael voters are going to strongly prefer the official Labour candidate over the unofficial Fianna Fáil. In fact all other candidates have conceded, so the count is something of a formality at this stage.

But to get back to the original point, Michael D. was never really seen as representative of government – perhaps because he’s a socialist. Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell was taken by the electorate to be the official candidate of a government swept to power in February on a mandate for change – yet there is little between his vote and that for the man who is widely believed to have been leader of the IRA. I was surprised by this. I really thought Martin McGuinness would do better.

Democracy Is Over

OECD member states (as of 2006)
Organisation of Economically Crippled Democracies

So those young anarchist protesters ten years ago were right, globalisation did bring devastation and exploitation. Not to the Third World though. It actually turned out to be quite a treat for a lot of people there. In Europe and the US however, it has led pretty much directly to the collapse of democracy.

Globalisation has de-privileged the ordinary people of the West. And by the ordinary people, I mean anyone whose income derives from work rather than from ownership. Increasingly they find that they are in competition for employment not with the people of their own countries, or even with those of other Western countries, but all possible people.

In particular of course, people who aren’t the descendants of generations who fought for better working conditions, better wages, and democracy. Bluntly put, the work conditions and democratic freedoms enjoyed in the West were created when wealthy people needed a great deal of skilled and unskilled labour.

Conditions for the poorest improved suddenly and drastically at only two times during Western history. The first was after the Black Death. That decimated the peasant labourers, but it meant that afterwards there was a shortage of them. They could reject the previous conditions of their employment, which were more or less slavery, and start bargaining.

The second time was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Industrial Revolution created renewed demand for labour. Conditions in factories were of course horrific at the start when the supply of poor people exceeded the demand, but that turned around and labour was able to organise and gain much safer conditions and better wages. Ultimately, it gained political representation and universal suffrage.

Easing up conditions of trade with the rest of the world has completely undermined the position of the workforce – right up to the most skilled. Yet at the same time it has created new opportunities for business. With plunging labour costs, profitability has generally soared. But the tax base of most Western countries is not the wealth of business owners. To say the least, these are the people who can afford not to be taxed. They can afford the accountants. They can afford the lawmakers. So the tax base is collapsing. The countries of the West are simply running out of money, one after another.

But what can we do? It seems too late to introduce protectionism. The only option is to extract more money from the people who profited by exporting jobs – the corporations, and in particular the super-rich personally. But all the major political parties clearly do not dare to, they are helpless in the face of wealth.

Welcome back to serfdom.

Break The Dress Code

Love Parade 2007 in Essen
Less shirt, more pink

We voted for change. All we’re going to get is a change of clothes.

I will never support any TD who votes to enforce a dress code in the Dáil. A silly thing to be upset about? It is not – because this stands for something.

We voted for people who rejected the uniform. We voted for men who refused to wear suits. We voted for those who did not dress up in fancy clothes to show that they were important. This stood for something.

And now the established parties tell us, “You cannot have those people.

“You must have more people like us. You must have the obedient, the conforming, the place-holders. Your choice is what we say it is. Whoever you vote for, the establishment wins.”

This is the message the major parties want to send us. It is not acceptable.

Ruin A Country, Reap Rewards

"San Francisco Speculators", illustr...
Don't worry, it only looks like a racist caricature

Brendan Howlin has soberly explained that they looked at all the options and reached the conclusion that burning the senior bondholders would not be worth the consequent costs. This is sensible.

It is not however what they promised, and it’s not why we voted for them.

If not this way, then how are we going to punish the speculators, the people who drove house prices into the idiosphere and turned a healthy growing economy into molten radioactive waste? It seems we are not going to punish these people. We are in fact going to reward them.

So who will be to blame when they do it again?

The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type I.doubt.it and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here.

http://I.doubt.it – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Here Comes A Government, Just Like The Other One

It seems the election was just some sort of weird dream we had.

Ireland’s new government will stick to the fiscal targets laid down in an EU/IMF rescue package, a source familiar with the coalition deal agreed between the two main political parties said on Sunday. ~ Reuters

Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises. ~ Irish Examiner

So the parties decide to drop what most would consider the central planks of their campaigns, not only backing away from making the senior bondholders pay for their mistakes but agreeing to the original timetable rather than Labour’s (minor) blow-softening of an extra year. Two thirds of the fiscal adjustment will still come from cutbacks, rather than the 50/50 split with tax increases Labour wanted. Essentially, Labour are adopting FG’s manifesto – and Fine Gael are adopting Fianna Fáil’s.

Why, when it cannot work?

Because no plan can work – none at least that requires the exchequer to miraculously break even in just a few years. The only way we could make our income balance our expenditure that soon is by burning down the country for the insurance.

“the coalition agreement, clinched after midnight, seems designed to curry favor with the fiscally conservative Germans” ~ Reuters again

Ah. I get it. The CDU won our election.

So it’s a sort of masochism tactic. Look, we’re taking our medicine. Watch us whip ourselves bloody. They hope that by showing a snivelling level of victimhood they will eventually elicit the pity – and the funds – we need to stop the economy smashing into the landscape.

Bjørn Sigurdsøn, SCANPIX
Angela Merkel discusses Enda Kenny's Fiscal Rectitude with her girlfriends

TAOISEACH-in-waiting Enda Kenny has conceded that his government is unlikely to burn senior bondholders in the banks, despite Fine Gael’s pre-election promises.

Parties Appeal For Food Aid From China

OK, they ordered takeout. Things aren’t quite that bad, yet. Fine Gael and Labour have been shut in negotiations all day. Outside meanwhile, look what happened to Pat Rabitte’s car. A rich vein there from which to dig metaphor and prognostication. Let’s just say that if Labour go into government, they’re liable to find themselves clamped firmly by the round bits.

I think I would prefer if they did however. Though in all probability it will be bad for them, without them on board it will be worse for humans.

But I want to lay down a marker here, otherwise in five years (or sooner), Fianna Fáil will be saying “Look, this government did even worse than we did.” In five years time we will be worse off than we are now – no matter who is in government. Though the foundations of the house-of-cards economy have been kicked out, it has yet to finish falling down.

Of course things are going to get worse. Right now nobody has any idea for a solution that won’t actually exacerbate the situation. Raise taxes, cut public spending, borrow at ruinous interest rates – these will all further depress the economy an already ravaged economy. That will accelerate emigration, further shrinking the tax base. And as fewer people want to live here, house values will fall further and mass mortgage default become more likely, destroying the value of assets that the public now hold. What they’re arguing over, right now, is exactly which combination of these ‘solutions’ will be least disastrous.

If in five years the place is not actually a burning wasteland patrolled by packs of feral horses, the next government won’t have done too badly.

The 360° Revolution

360 CartoonIt is finally, officially, over. And no more damning political verdict has ever been rendered in the history of this or many another country. Even the pro-union vote in 1918 was larger. It’s shocking that they got seventeen percent, that thousands were still ready to put their party before their country. This kind of unthinking loyalty is like a set of shackles on Irish politics. But perhaps it is broken now.

So I am torn between expressing relief at having thrown off the worse government we have ever had, and lamenting the fact that we have given a mandate to a party whose ideology and economic approach are so similar that it takes at least an hour to explain to interested foreigners why they are separate parties at all. It is a hell of an anticlimax, and frankly I am a little depressed. (Though the fact that I got about one night’s worth of sleep during the whole count probably isn’t helping there.) Was all that anger just for this, all that upheaval to deliver no change? Have we had a 360 degree revolution?

There is only one real advantage. The new administration will not have been busy sharing the good times with the rich and the powerful – well, not for fourteen years anyway. This will make them somewhat more disinterested and honest. But it’s not as if they’re chosen from a whole other class of innocent outsiders. Their interests are not the interests of the average person, and certainly not the interests of the poorer person. For Christ’s sake, the chairman of Anglo Irish is a former leader of Fine Gael. Didn’t anybody think that might be a bit of a bad sign?

But Kenny must get his one hundred days or whatever is the suitably polite interval, his chance to come up with a brilliant solution to escape the chains the last government left us in. Can he?

No. Sure he’s going to renegotiate the bailout deal. But by that he means begging for a slightly lower interest rate. That is not a negotiating position. A slightly lower interest rate on a debt we will never be able to pay back anyway, that is going to crush our economy back to 1940s levels? That is not an improvement of the situation. It’s an avoidance of reality.

What would I say to a meeting of Eurozone heads of state? What would you say?

“We cannot afford to borrow money to pay debts unjustly created for us by a previous, corrupt government. Indeed we cannot afford to borrow enough money for even the minimum necessary level of public expenditure, at this or any interest rate. Therefore we will pay ourselves in our own currency. In other words, we’re leaving the euro. This will be painful for us, what with soaring import prices, but the euro will almost certainly collapse so it will be even more painful for you. Sorry, but it’s that or we sacrifice the health, future, lives of our people in order to reward the selfish and greedy actions of a ludicrously wealthy banking industry.”

That is a negotiating position.