Loosening Up

All right, not usually as loose as this

I must apologise form the infrequency of posts in the last while. That whole girlfriend business didn’t exactly help of course, and I’ve a cartoon commission on that has proven to be much more tricky than expected.

My work usually concerns ideas and words – so much so that at their worst, my cartoons are just two people talking. My drawing, if it can even be called such, is normally minimalistic, loose, and spontaneous. This job is quite the opposite. While still cartoony in style, it’s to illustrate the precise way that certain tools are used (I’ll tell more when the clients have actually published), so suddenly I have to pay enormous attention to tiny details. The tools have to be drawn correctly, they have to be held correctly. Hands! Endless hands. No one likes drawing hands… My own are physically tired now.

And we’ve had predictable communications problems. The clients of course know precisely how the tools are employed. So when they describe what they want, they know what they mean. I merrily walk off with a profound misapprehension of their wishes, and consequently have to discard hours and hours’ worth of entirely useless work. Perhaps I’ll do an exhibition of those later in the year. Under the title “Unnecessary Pictures”, because that will make them sound like art.

But this will be finished shortly – I hope – and I will try to make up for my absence.

And Why Not A Tax On Age?

Tax
Generic Tax Illustration

But first…

Desperate times call for desperately unfair measures. A popular one is cutting back on public overindulgences like health and education. Another is increasing flat taxes like VAT rates, because they at least seem fair. Indeed the richer you are, the fairer they seem.

Basically, it’s all about finding ways to squeeze those who can least resist the squeezing.What’s the point of trying to tax the richest after all? They’ll always find ways to bribe you not to. So it’s the poor that get it.

But mammies are sacrosanct. That’s the rule, or so we thought. It’s not worth the political risk. Make life hard for the elderly, and you make the whole country angry. They already have enough to worry about – i.e., everything you ever do or might do. The last thing they need is a vaguely threatening letter, apparently designed to sow the maximum amount of fear and confusion.

Yet that’s what mothers and grandmothers all over the country have just received. Statements, to be exact, of their revised tax credits. Now I am self-employed. I do my own accounts, make my own tax returns, so on. But I have read one of these letters, several times, and I have no shrieking idea what it means.

Many retirees have a work pension as well as their state one, both of which they paid towards of course, and neither – they were given to understand – liable to tax. But now the worry is that between them they create a tax liability. This means people with zero hope of ever increasing their incomes are now in fear that the money they budgeted for is going to be suddenly reduced. By how much? Will they still be able to feed themselves, still afford fuel? They have absolutely no idea. All the have is a document covered with the calculations of bureaucrats, that might or might not represent an end to any security.

This is wanton cruelty.

President Higgins

On October 29, 2011, two days after the presid...
Image by infomatique via Flickr

I’m watching the replay of the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins as President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), a significant threshold occasion in our history. An event in my personal life too – this is after all my old Sociology professor. And, one I missed. Yesterday I had to do something to sort out the utter mess my finances had gotten into since the economy hit the windscreen.

It is moving now though, to see one of the few politicians I’ve ever had any respect for become First Citizen. What the hell happened there? After over a decade of naked materialism we’re suddenly electing a socialist intellectual, and with no intervening transition except the global failure of capitalism.

It is a bittersweet occasion though. We now have as President a man who you can say without embarrassment is passionate about equality, about justice, about actually changing society. That we esteem him enough to raise him to this position is a wonderful thing. But at the same time, it’s sad that he was raised to a position of esteem only. As President he has less power than an ordinary citizen; they at least are free to express their own opinions.

Which is unfortunate. Now more than ever we need voices like his.

 

The Fianna Fáil Revival Starts Here

LOL (Laughing Out Loud) - Bertie Ahern
Image by infomatique via Flickr

I don’t know what Bertie Ahern‘s balls are made of, but perhaps we should be using it to generate nuclear energy. For they are massive. He told us today that not preventing the national economic collapse was the fault of the media, because they were too preoccupied with investigating his wrongdoing.

No that’s just awesome. Even Berlusconi must have gasped.

It’s utter nonsense of course. The media were full of voices shouting stop – certainly more so than government. Mr. Ahern is living out a self-justifying fantasy, and his words are as relevant now as, well, pretty much anything else said by a member of Fianna Fáil. With the obvious exception of course of Seán Gallagher. Yes, I think we can regard him as a member still. Though it appears he did resign both from his cumainn¹ and the party’s national executive, he hasn’t exactly distanced himself from the organisation, launching the campaigns of FF party candidates – presumably for a fee – as recently as six months ago.

It looks very likely therefore that his split with the party was not moral or ideological, but pragmatic. He wanted to be elected. To have any chance, he had to lose the stinking albatross-corpse of a Fianna Fáil ticket. And the ruse seems to have worked. People say they will vote for the honestly-really-not-Fianna-Fáil candidate. I don’t know what to say, you’re all mad. Mad, or masochists.

Rather like McGuinness², he’s building foundations for his party’s eventual rehabilitation. Unlike McGuinness though, he might actually win. And if he does, what are the odds of him returning to the party – in a greatly enhanced role – just as soon as his term is over? If not sooner.

  1. Local party branch.
  2. Sinn Fein’s presidential candidate.

The Passing Of Steve Jobs

Perhaps we should have expected it. Why would have Steve Jobs stopped doing the job he loved one moment before he had to? It is a great loss. I’ve never been an Apple fan, I liked to criticise him. But I liked to criticise *him*. Criticising lesser mortals will never be as much fun.

The image above is a detail of one posted by BoingBoing.net, of people leaving tributes at the San Francisco Apple Store. If you’re feeling particularly sad it’s a good size to use as your desktop.

Is The Norris Campaign Unfinished?

Senator Norris, Here Seen Fondling Some Of My Cartoon Characters
Senator Norris, Here Seen Fondling Some Of My Cartoon Characters

Last night Senator David Norris made a play to revive his bid for the Presidency. Did he do enough?

His interview on Ireland’s Late Late Show was a robust one. Excessively so some thought, but really it could hardly have suited him better. Certainly he was asked tough questions; about the way he acted when his ex was convicted of statutory rape, about quotes attributed to him concerning underage sex. But these were exactly the questions he needed to face publicly if he was to have any hope of competing again.

He even volunteered answers to questions presenter Ryan Tubridy fought shy of asking. In order to contextualise his remark about wanting to be “molested” when he was a child, he brought up the fact that it is quite normal for younger people to fantasize about older. His new, hard-won political experience showed through here though. He didn’t actually say younger people, or adolescents, or teenagers. He said people “of 17 or 18”. People of legal age.

We all know that it is in fact perfectly normal for people years younger than the age of consent to fantasize about adults. We also know that it would have been political suicide for a middle-aged Gay politician to say what we all know to be true. It’s the sort of hypocrisy politics demands. And it will be good for his campaign, because it demonstrates he now has a level of political awareness that he demonstrably did not have when he wrote to the Israeli Appeals Court. This judicious use of half-truth shows he can play the game.

Which seems a little sad, but it is not completely unreasonable. We want a President who is circumspect, diplomatic, who can tell when he’s on the verge of saying something that will scandalize and hold back, who isn’t going to spring any surprises when he’s representing the country abroad.

Well OK, most people want that. Personally I want a President who comes out with stunningly undiplomatic but heartfelt opinions and makes gleefully off-colour sexual remarks – preferably about other people’s Presidents. But we shouldn’t always get what we want.

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.