Archive for April 17, 2012

The hazard waiting in the water

"That'll be €50 please..."

After the fury over the household charge came and went, we turn our attention to the next red herring – the water meters, and the charges, and how it’s all going to be done.

When will we get the message that none of this has anything to do with water or property, and everything to do with filling the massive hole in the coffers left by the banks?

Make no mistake – they’d tax the sunset if the troika told them to.

After all, they’ll soon be taxing the rainfall.

Let’s get the usual blather out of the way first. The troika is funding the state to the tune of €40 million a day, so essentially what they say goes- whether that be the most moronic attempt at a “property tax” in history, or imposing a charge for one of life’s necessities at a time when people can least afford it.

In fairness, you have to admire the socialist credentials of the troika and the government once again, as they attempt to cast the net as widely as possible.

What is unfortunate is their continued insistence on letting those who caused this crisis go unpunished, financially, judicially or otherwise.

The argument will be trotted out that the state is living beyond its means regardless of the banks, and that is true – but there are two reasons for that.

One is the collapse of the banking system and the debts foisted upon us by Fianna Fáil and the Greens (not to mention the unsustainable promises of gold and green fields to everyone in the civil service).

The other is the collapse in tax revenue brought about by the recession, which in turn was brough about by – the collapse of the banks.

Are we starting to see a pattern here?

The government isn’t.

The question is always asked- if not the troika, who? Who would provide the money to keep the state running?

The answer is that, as long as we have the bank debt – no-one.

And that is what keeps us in this downward spiral of misery.

Still, four years in, the root of our problems remains the same.

And because of the fact that we refuse to deal with it properly, it could well happen again, both politically and financially.None of us appears to have learned anything.

When it comes to private debt, much is made of the concept of “moral hazard”- that canceling someone’s debt will make them (and others) less likely to even attempt to pay debts in the future.

But it is a concept roundly ignored when it comes to the banks and those who invested in them – they are to be repaid, despite their risk being actualised, they still get to walk away as winners.

But ahead of even the banks as the ultimate examples of the risk of moral hazard are our political class – regardless of the misery they foist upon people, they are confident they will be returned at the next election.

Which side of the house they sit on matters less to them than their continued participation in the political game. Opposition? So be it. They’ll still get paid. Still part of the game.

But if they won’t punish the banks or the investors yet insist on punishing private debtors, maybe it’s about time the voters – many of them the private debtors being denied a chance to start again and bearing the burden of more and more taxes – punished them instead.

Then maybe they’ll get the point about “moral hazard”.

So Anders Behring Breivik is sane, according to Norwegian psychologists. Now we – and he – will get what we wanted.

A trial to determine his guilt for the bomb blast at government buildings and the massacre at Utoya.

Whatever happens there, Breivik will surely – hopefully – grow old under lock and key, either in a mental institution or in prison.

In allowing him to do so, rather than exact the kind of revenge that society sometimes feels entitled to, he will prove invaluable.

His would be no good to us at the end of a rope.

Instead, Breivik’s trial will drag his warped ideology out into the light and show it up for what it is.

The result will be that many of those who propagate the same hateful nonsense – the likes of the BNP and the Sweden Democrats – will be shown up for what they are.

Of all modern mass murderers, Breivik is perhaps the one we can learn most from.

Once the judgement falls and he is condemned to incarceration for a considerable period of time, we can go back to studying what made him carry out these appalling attacks. He has already told us much, and there is a lot more to learn.

He detailed his plans meticulously. His logic, his politics and his methods were recorded in minute detail.

In doing so, not only will they be used as evidence to stop him from ever committing such deeds again, they will hopefully ensure that we see the warning signs the next time someone starts down his path.

He will no doubt try – as he has already promised – to use his trial to ignite hatred and mistrust against muslims and foreigners. There is little evidence that he will succeed; in the months since his attacks, few voices have been raised in support.

Instead, the opposite has happened. Scandinavian parties of the far right are so scared of being identified with him that they have seemingly abandoned their arguments against multiculturalism, for the time being at least. They do not mention him by name, but nor do they mention radical Islam or muslims.

Breivik’s bomb and bullets have closed off that particular populist avenue to them, and it is now only in the darkest corners of internet message boards that they dare discuss it.

But were Norway’s laws otherwise, Breivik might have been condemned to die for his actions, and given the far right a richly-undeserved martyr to their cause.

The show trial of Saddam Hussein and his subsequent grisly execution might have been improved upon in Breivik’s case, but the end result would have been the same- the permanent removal of the one person who holds the answers to the questions civilised society now asks itself.

Instead, it looks like he will, in his arrogance, explain his reasoning entirely. It will make for hard listening for the families of the dead, and for the Norwegian people, but ultimately it will be a lesson for all of us about what happens when hate is allowed to go unchallenged and unchecked.

 

Labour need to stop pretending- or risk joining the Greens in the history books

"Joanna, if we'd wanted Lucinda Creighton we'd have asked her to come on..."

One of the great soccer strike partnerships of the late 90s was between Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham, who, when they played together, averaged a goal between them every 85th minute.

In other words, putting the two of them on the field together was more or less like giving Manchester United a one-goal head start; it marked one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.

The pair despised each other, and never a single word was spoken between them.

They despised each other, yet they put that aside for the good of the team.

Contrast this with the behaviour of the Labour party in government, where what used to be the worker’s movement now simply shores up the idea that this crisis should be paid for by the weakest in society.

No dissent is tolerated.

The revolution will not be televised.

But the nodding platitudes and the spoofery about the ATMs running out of cash and the household charge keeping libraries open will.

The reasons for Labour’s silent acquiescence are twofold – a desire to be in power and the modern Irish democratic problem of optics.

Not so long ago, the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” idea actually had some credence – there was a possibility that, given how the free marketeers had been allowed run riot and destroy the country, Labour might actually become the biggest party in the country.

That notion is now laughable, mostly due to the narcissistic notions of Labour themselves.

As soon as Gilmore handed over the hostage to fortune that was “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”, the game was up.

The best that they could hope to salvage was what they ultimately got – a junior role as a powerless party in a coalition government subservient to Europe.

The Labour/Worker’s Party old guard got one last shot at power, only to be given the mop and bucket and told to do the dirty work at ministries like Social Protection.

Meanwhile, the pitiable Joanna Tuffy is sent out on Vincent Browne with a pocketful of spin that neither she nor we believe in. Beaten into the ground, she clutched at the final straws of guff.

“People are more hopeful now,” she opined. Indeed they are – hopeful that, at the next election, the likes of the spineless Tuffy will be ousted from Leinster House.

Tuffy’s myopic performance is symptomatic of how politics in Ireland is reduced to who can spin faster.

The optics of modern Irish political theory demand that the government must be seen to be unified – no contrary voices may be heard.

This is the single most damaging factor to come out of the last election – in getting such a large slice of the vote and deciding to use it to go into government, Labour have effectively neutered themselves.

We hear a lot about the size of the government mandate, but this is not what people voted for.Those that voted for both Labour and Fine Gael have every right to feel betrayed.

But at long last, the more canny operators on Labour’s front bench – Howlin and Burton – appear to have spotted this and are now starting to make their move. The cracks are beginning to show.

There are things being done by this government that no Labour party should ever support. It does not need to support every single decision made by the government.

Nor should it demand that its deputies do so, gagging them about the household charge when every other left-leaning organisation railed against it.

In short, they could be the Andy Cole to Enda’s Teddy Sheringham.

(That is probably the first and last time that comparison will be made).

Standing up and being counted would be a good thing for the Labour party.

This will not be the last government in the history of the state. But it might be the last one to feature Labour.

After all, the Greens allowed themselves to be swept along on the tsunami of Fianna Fáil’s greed and corruption, and eventually it drowned them.

Unless Labour find their way back to their roots and stop agreeing with everything Enda and the troika says, a similar fate awaits.

Tell the truth and shame the troika

Spin is the crack cocaine of Irish politics – once you start, you can’t stop.

No matter how stupid it makes you sound, or what the long-term damage to our already-battered democracy is.

Recent examples are Fianna Fáil’s attempts to convince us that there are “50,000 ordinary, genuine” party members who aren’t corrupt. As if that’s some sort of badge of honour.

Well done- as comedian Chris Rock once said, there is little merit in seeking praise for refraining from things you aren’t supposed to do in the first place.

- “I ain’t never been to jail”

- “You ain’t supposed to go to jail!”

Then there was the threatening litany about the household charge- the local services, the libraries, the potholes that wouldn’t be filled.

The government threatened and cajoled, and still it only managed to get less than 50% of those liable to register.

Of course, what they should have done is tell the truth, but – like Fianna Fáil before them – they do not think that the Irish electorate is capable of understanding what it is they are trying to do.

So they try to play a three-card trick, and end up upsetting the taxation table.

The household charge is nothing to do with local services, and the €100 – even if paid by everyone – is less than useless in the face of an €85 billion debt. It’s about effectively targeting the next round of taxes demanded by the troika to service the debt foisted upon us by Fianna Fáil.

What the government was trying to do was find out who actually lives in our country, and what they can be hit for next time around.

We’ve heard a lot from Big Phil about how every country in Europe has what has variously been described as a property and/or wealth tax. What they also have, in most cases -and what we lack in Ireland – is a system of registration for the population.

(They also don’t have a country broken by the ineptitude of a single greedy party, who miraculously managed to wreck the place, despite 50,000 genuine souls ostensibly keeping guard.)

In other words, they know where you live.

Big Phil doesn’t.

And if he doesn’t know that, he can’t tax you to the extent that the troika would like.

What most likely occurred was that, in discussions about how much Ireland’s middle and working classes would be forced to pony up and how quickly, Olli and the boys spotted this anomaly.

Instead of whacking on a wealth tax immediately, the government was given time to get its act together and find out a few basic nuggets of info about who lives in Ireland, and where.

But that kind of project costs money, so what did our esteemed political leaders do? They began spinning like a top.

No doubt there was a latte-bearing “advisor” or twelve (most likely being paid over the two hundred grand they’re forced to scrape by on) involved.

“OK yah, so, loike, we have to register all the peeps roysh, but we haven’t got the spons, so, yah, we’ll, loike, make up this charge of, loike, a hundred yoyos and make them register and, loike, BANG! We’ve covered the cost of the exercise, and we’ve, loike, managed to get everyone to tell us they’re there. How do you like them apples, Big Phil?”

Big Phil liked those apples alright. He liked them a lot.

It’s this kind of genius that stops us ever being a proper democratic state.

But the general public didn’t like them apples at all.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m fully in favour of the state knowing where you are and what you can contribute. Without that, it cannot function properly.

Not only that, but how much easier would life be if we had ID cards and a system whereby tax and welfare information were all harmonised to ensure everyone paid in – and got the benefits they deserved too.

Fraud (for the most part) would become a thing of the past, and tax evasion (as practiced on a massive scale by many, even the 50,000 decent people in Fianna Fail) would be made all the harder.

Forced into a corner by the troika, this government had a chance to start a national conversation about tax and spending and the future of our state. But instead of doing that, it reached for the stick.