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.

Why Tories Don’t Get It

Conservative Party poster from 1909, in which ...
Not much to do with the article, but ain't it great?

The basic problem of the Conservative party is that they’re the party of old. Not even the old, just old in general. A young Tory is like a baby smoking a pipe, a puppy barking at strangers, a flower behind glass in a museum. Oddly inappropriate and not very pleasant. It is not youthful to be a Conservative, and in the end the party always has to appeal to and reflect the mindset of the older voter. They absorb it, and come to embody it.

So despite the fact that riots occurred in the 80s in the same cities and even the same neighbourhoods, the problem must be social networking. Because it’s new, and the rioters used it to talk about rioting.

Look, I use social networking to talk about sex. That doesn’t mean it causes sex. I can assure you. It’s just the way these things are done now. If the riots had occurred five years ago, the Tories would have been talking about banning text messages. Five years before that, they’d be trying to shut down Internet chat rooms. As it happens though there were no riots on those occasions, so it’s fortunate that the Tories weren’t in power. Not of course that we’re suggesting any possible oh yes we are.

If I were a British voter, at the last election I’d have been tempted to vote for the Conservatives – or at least abstain from voting for Labour. Why? Mainly because of Labour’s pursuit of ID cards. I thought it was a case of a socialist party going a bit collective on individual liberty. But here are the Conservatives, party of individual rights and responsibilities, wanting to police our texts and sit in on our conversations. Because they don’t know what else to do.

“Free flow of information can be used for good,” said David Cameron to the House of Commons. No David. Free flow of information cannot be “used for good”. It is the fundamental basis of liberal democracy. If you don’t understand that, get the hell out.

Let Watson At Him, Dammit!

They’re not letting Tom Watson at him again. He was the only one who managed to put pressure on the Murdochs. Now they’re being let do their prepared statement stuff once more. It’s nearly a free commercial for them.

Funny – Murdoch seemed to really perk up after the attack. I guess the adrenalin did him the power of good.

Press versus Politics

Murdoch's papers actually boasted that they could decide elections

What’s happening in Britain today is pretty damn exciting. Bluntly put, politicians have been running scared of Rupert Murdoch for decades. He has been a kingmaker. He owns enough of the media, including dailies and sundays in both the broadsheet and tabloid markets, to influence the entire political agenda, arguably even deciding the outcome of elections.

Politicians have feared him, politicians have tried to appease him. And not just because he could shape the agenda of public debate. He could also use his papers, and the people employed by them, to exert personal pressure. The man who owns the London Times also kept a couple of rottweilers, and had no qualms about using them to intimidate.

The more success he had at pushing politicians around, the softer they went on media regulation and ownership, so giving him more power. His ownership of leading names in all the paper markets was leveraged into a major interest in Sky, the biggest money-earner in UK TV. Money which helped further increase his market dominance and so his ability to push politicians around.

This was never going to end well.

And it looks likely to happen all over again in the US, where his Fox News has helped shift the debate drastically towards the right – and indeed away from debate at all, to a place where actual democratic politics is paralysed by polarisation and shouting. Murdoch is a businessman willing to damage the public cultures of countries within which he operates in order to profit.

What we’re getting to watch here is the worm finally turning. And it’s wonderful to see. Realising that public opinion might for once be on their side, cowed politicians are beginning to get a gleam in their eyes. They are imagining a world where they are not afraid. And they are thrilled by what a better world that could be.

For once, you can sympathise with the politicians. The press must be powerful, it must be free and strong. But dominance by one man and his organisation is every bit as pernicious as dominance by government.