Friday, February 07, 2014

The Liberal Left and the New Religion

Narcissists? We've been heading
in that direction for some time.
In an over-used and most likely incorrectly attributed quotation, when asked what the influence of the French Revolution had been on Western Democracy, the Chinese Foreign Minister replied that is was too soon to tell.  Given the apocryphal nature of the story, and the layers of invention that the Internet places on such stories, we don’t know if Zhou Enlai smiled as he said it.  The most significant shift that happened with the French Revolution – and the Enlightenment generally – was the shift from peoples and tribes to individuals and rights.  The Cartesian fundamental coigito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) had made its way through the corridors of time and consequence from arcane academic existential consideration to politics, and war, and statecraft.  If Millenials are accused of being all about me, me and me on the cover of Time Magazine, it’s only because we've been heading that way for several hundred years.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Ireland Needs Drones

Drones come in all shapes and sizes, not just Predators
with sidewinders attached.
Drones have got something of a bad press recently, what with all of the extra-judicial killings and what not, and Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, and all sort of other folks getting concerned about the automation of lethal force.  Much of the focus is on the US, but it should be noted that there are dozens of countries deploying their own drones now, and not just for pre-emptive strikes on irksome alleged terrorists outside state borders.

Monday, January 20, 2014

More Unbelievable Truths from the CRC?

Ham Goulding's attempt to clear the air in a series of interviews at the weekend, in an attempt to pour water on the raging fire of the Central Remedial Clinc scandal, appears to have failed.  The Public Accounts Committee still wants them all in, and Mr McGuinness will have his show.  Goulding claimed that the settlement was an attempt to save money, because keeping Kiely on as Chief Executive would have cost €2.1m over six years.

Let's do the math.  First, the settlement of €740k means that the net saving would have only been €1.36m over the six years, which Goulding acknowledges.  However, they then immediately agreed to appoint Brian Conlon on a salary of €125k (later reduced under pressure from the HSE).  That's a total of at least €750,000 over six years, which leaves the benefit at €610,000 at most.  Therefore, adopting Goulding's logic, they paid €740k in order to save €610k.  This is despite the fact that one board member went so far as to have it noted in the minutes her reluctance to agree to the departure of Mr Kiely - being such a fine Chief Executive - but for it appeared that he was resolved to leave.  Go figure.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NAMA: Rebadging Failure as Success

Photo Credit: Google Images
Fintan O'Toole calls out the economic failure in Ireland in today's Irish Times (and, incidentally, in The New York Times also) and in particular those politicians who hold the country up as an example to others. The debt has soared, public services have been slashed, and quality of life has deteriorated for all but those who have emigrated in the last five years. Things are admittedly pretty awful, and made worse by rich men in expensive suits praising the country for its prudence and fortitude.

NAMA was actually designed to do this.  Its model works thus: you have a property worth $50m, for which a developer has a loan of $100m, you pay the bank $20 for the loan, re-capitalise the bank for the $80m shortfall (i.e. repay the German inter-bank lender) through off-books sovereign debt, then sell the property for $30m, making (ahem) a $10m 'profit'. So NAMA then is a success, because it drove a profit from its loan book. The State, meanwhile, is crippled.

Anyone can be successful if they are allowed to define the rules for success themselves.  Small minds are destroying this place.

A No-Vision Rest Home for No-Vision Politicians: The Conservative Reform Alliance

Didn't get the memo then?
In Susan Neiman's 2008 Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, there is at least some part of the answer to why we are all so cynical these days.  Neiman talks of things like reason and hope - not incompatible, it seems - and says of aspiration that so long as it is limited by the actual, no other idea has a chance.  Good bedtime reading for Lucinda Creighton, one suspects.

Her fall from high office has been well documented, losing the whip on the abortion bill, and subsequently forming the Reform Alliance, an entity not quite a political party, but registered for fundraising and populated by politicians.  Today, it emerged that several high profile independent TDs would not be supporting the breakaway movement, dealing a significant blow to the Alliance, and seriously undermining any ambitions it may have had to real power. Which is a shame.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Ireland: Land of the Blind

Just when you think it really can't get any worse.

It's bad enough that we pushed the national debt towards €200m, or roughly four times what it costs to run the country every year.  Furthermore, we've destroyed the construction industry, crippled the property market, and plunged anyone who bought a house in the last ten years into negative equity.  We're cutting our way to growth, which seems insane, insisting on paying all of our debts - notwithstanding the systemic flaws in the Euro structure that have been at the heart of Ireland's inability to recover.  We have acceded to the decimation of our population and its future through youth emigration, of a type that we have never seen before - it's not financial, and these ones don't intend on coming back.  This is no mere release valve for unemployment with some of them going because they're young, free, and up for a bit of an adventure.  It's not a lifestyle choice, it's a life choice.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Seanad Result: An Irish Identity Crisis

There are those who would argue that the Seanad result is a vote against the government, a protest vote. Others say that it is a vote in favour of reform. I think it runs deeper than that, however. What we are seeing in this country is a pattern of negativity and absence in our politics that has become progressively worse over the last ten years.

The problem is that there is no vision, no direction being articulated by our elites.  Elites have never been a problem in this country, we are a people seemingly happy to subjugate ourselves before our betters, whether that's the British, the Catholic Church, or Fianna Fáil, though each of them found that there was a limit to our patience.  Each represented a kind of vision, an identity, a belief that we could attach ourselves to.  With the British, we were a part of Empire; with the Church, we were a Catholic Leader country, with education, healthcare and the entirety of our social fabric tied up in the Church; and with Fianna Fáil it was the political extension of the late nineteenth century Gaelic Revival, a kind of Irish exceptionalism, we saints and scholars, a cult of the extraordinary that was almost fascist in its design.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Retaining the Seanad: Vote No!

I was unsure about this referendum.  The Seanad has long been a bit of a wasted opportunity.  A landing spot for failed Dáil candidates; Bertie's appointment of Eoghan Harris; the famous 'weekend Senators' who get appointed for a couple of days at the end of a term in order to get past-members' parking rights and all that other bullshit.  Generally speaking it is a failed institution, and in truth we won't miss much if and when it's gone.

I'm voting to retain the Seanad.  Why?  Because of the cynical, populist, and arrogant way in which the Government has decided to execute its campaign.  This isn't reform, it changes nothing.  The problem is with the concentration of power, and this does nothing to address that.  This is nothing to do with saving money - no permanent jobs will go, and no buildings will go.  Yet the Government has said that this is why they are doing it, and, according to the Irish Times poll on Monday, that is why most people are in favour of abolition. Kenny and Fine Gael may have trumpeted the abolition of the Seanad loudly as a policy platform in the run up to the election, but they never once mentioned cost.

The abject lack of reform in the Dáil is what is being swept under the carpet here.  Once this has been put to bed, electoral and Dáil reform will be off the agenda for the remainder of the Dáil term.  The whip system will remain.  The electoral system will remain the same.  The excoriation of the Dáil as a relevant chamber will persist.  The concentration of power in the executive, in the top of the executive, will endure.  The government has succeeded in creating an effective dictatorship, without checks and balances, without accountability, and doomed to repeat the same mistakes that we made the night of the Bank Guarantee.  The government is too close to see it, and the rest of us are either blind or disinterested.  Sure, we have elections, and we can change who the dictator is.  But the song remains the same.