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Bite My Shiny Metal… October 27, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Science Fiction, Television Shows.
15 comments

Insults to the Fox network executives who cancelled it. Lethal limboing. Bender downloading an obedience virus. Romance. Heads in jars. Nudity. Email scamming aliens taking over the company, and finding the key to time travel on Fry’s ass. Futurama was great. But alas no exhortations to bite Bender’s shiny metal ass.

The Left Archive: The Worker, May – June 1974, Socialist Workers’ Movement October 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Socialist Workers' Movement, Socialist Workers' Party.
7 comments

tw-swm-2

A welcome addition to the Archive this week with a copy of The Worker from the SWM. It’s a reasonably well produced broadsheet magazine, eight pages long. The black and red colour scheme is fairly striking.

In terms of content it takes a strongly all-island approach and one that is profoundly hostile to the state in both jurisdictions.

There is a strong emphasis on industrial actions and union issues. So one reads articles on the struggles in Chrysler and Unidare, and the level of detail is considerable. There is a piece on the Irish Defence Forces which unsurprisingly paints the training regimen in the most negative of terms.

Yet it is not confined to that, there are articles on RUC and British army ‘counter-revolutionary warfare’ and a deliberate effort to make a linkage between the situation in the North and that in workplaces.

In addition to that is an excoriating article on Official Republicanism on page 5 which takes them to task for talking with the UVF. Interestingly, though, on the previous page it recommends that for he local elections in the Republic:

If there is a left-wing candidate of any variety standing in your area, although we would criticise him [sic] in detail, he should be given a vote. Such candidates would be those of Sinn Fein (Gardiner Place) and the Communist Party, left-wing members of the Labour Party and of Sinn Féin (Kevin Street) and individuals standing on a left-wing platform.

Things did get worse for Fianna Fáil. Much worse. That latest opinion poll… October 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
25 comments

Well, there then. I’d thought the results would be poor for Fianna Fáil, but the latest RedC Poll – as reported on RTÉ has seen their vote dip precipitously… down ten points to 26.

Meanwhile Fine Gael are up to 33%. A seven point lead over Fianna Fáil. Impressive enough and if it were sustained… well perhaps Enda Kenny might just have a political future after the locals.

And the oddities?

I’d linked the Green Party’s fortunes to FF, but…they only lost a point and now stand at 6%, Sinn Féin have gone up by one to 10%. I’m sort of surprised that the Green Party has held the line. But I imagine when it came to it that rather than being the mudguard to Fianna Fáil, Fianna Fáil has been the mudguard to them… which is interesting since they have no clear philosophical divergence from the process initiated by Fianna Fáil in relation to the Medical Cards issue.

The Independents, for all that their profile was raised during the week by the addition of another to their ranks are at a relatively healthy 8. No change there then.

The other big winner is the Labour Party. Eamon Gilmore is having a particularly good run with this and their poll rating has gone up to 15%, a remarkable rise of 6%. Which is intriguing since they have gained a point more than Fine Gael (accepting all the vagaries built into such polling data). Not sure what to make of this. It could be that we’re seeing some sort of dynamic relating to Cowen’s leadership which is playing out amongst the urban working class – since clear a fair chunk of their newfound support has shifted from Fianna Fáil. It is frustrating at this remove not to have a geographical breakdown of the polling data, the Dublin/urban figures might be revealing.

That the larger party is gaining slightly less in real terms and considerably less proportionately may indicate that Fianna Fáil voters see Labour as a more congenial port of call for their votes (or at least, in this poll, their opinion). That’s quite a gift to hand to Labour in the run up to a local election, odd though that Sinn Féin aren’t doing better. My own read, for what its worth, is that Sinn Féin is still regarded as somewhat beyond the pale by many of those whose vote is shifting (and again notable that they’d plump for Labour first). On the other hand 10% is also a good base to be working from.

But all told this has to cap what has already been a grim week for Fianna Fáil. They can console themselves with the thought that the next election is nominally three and three quarter years away. However I wouldn’t be complacent if I were they. If – as we continue to hear – the situation is so awful that ‘tougher’ decisions are ‘needed’, it’s not impossible to see FF itself fracturing somewhat further. That would be a while away, but worth thinking about. And in the meantime? Roll on the campaign to halt the measures taken in some areas of education. What an interesting Dáil this is turning out to be…

Some Irish music for you… October 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
11 comments

Not necessarily in any particular order…

1 Supernaut

Who knows about them? Me, sir! Me, sir! Shane O’Neill of Blue in Heaven teamed up with Dave Long from Into Paradise (a fine band in themselves) and created an album that sank without trace and yet for my money is a definitive slice of Irish experimental indie.

2 Stars of Heaven

Ah, a true classic. Brilliant stuff. Great vocals, great guitar. All that pent up and restrained enthusiasm that blended into a sound that was clearly Irish and yet also clearly drawing on a range of reference points beyond these shores. Best in show along with Microdisney.

3 Great Western Squares

The second album was better than the first, but I imagine this is what will always be associated with them.

4 Blue in Heaven


A lot of people didn’t like them. They might have been right. Shane O’Neill had a bit of an image problem, and the fixation on Iggy was fine, but a) seven years out of date at the time and b) Iggy was – and remains – still alive. Still, every once a while along came a song which proved a lot of people wrong. I like the funny synth sound in the background on this… not so keen on the video though.

5 Microdisney

Probably my favourites. The first album is perfect. I hadn’t listened to it for some years until recently and I still remembered lyrics. That’s good going for me. I never remember lyrics. And here’s a funny thing. Listening to the music now I can hear snatches of Steely Dan which somehow I missed first time around. Odd that.

6 Golden Horde

The Chocolate Biscuit Conspiracy from the mid 1980s was a fine slice of punk-powered psychedelic-infused nonsense with perhaps the only mention of an Fine Gael Ard Fhéis on an Irish album that I can think of… There may well be good reasons for that, not least the fact that somehow they managed to entice Robert Anton Wilson aboard. It took them years to release their first album proper but it wasn’t a patch on this. The above was taken from that album. Why didn’t they have a video for the earlier stuff… ah well.

7 Rollerskate Skinny

Very very unfairly dismissed by the UK music press as a rip of the Boo Radley’s this was actually a much more subtle beast. I saw them live only once but I can still remember the hairs rising on my arm as they played. Amazing stuff.

8 My Bloody Valentine

Firstly they’re not exactly Irish. Perhaps we can call them half Irish. Secondly most would prefer the second album. I still tend to prefer most of the first, but this from the second album is classic.

9 VNV Nation

I like em. And they’re half Irish. It helps that there’s only two of them. Electronic music that is wildly popular on the continent amongst select groups and wildly unpopular here. A shame. That said they’ve had their troubles with their imagery, and for a while on their website they had to point out that they subscribed to no ideology… hmmm… the problem being? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t a great ideology that a tiny fraction of their fanbase was into…

10 The High Llama’s/Fatima Mansions

This is cheating. But why not? The first few Fatima’s albums were great – the song Only Loser’s Take the Bus remains on my playlists. As does this. Then the more shouty side took over and while I admired it I never really loved it.

And so were the High Llama’s. Gideon Gaye being a particular highlight. With them too the longer they went on the more I admired them but the less I loved them. That said for both men to produce not merely Microdisney but two separate subsequent groups of remarkable talent was no mean achievement.

11 Rory Gallagher

It’s strange that it took me years to appreciate how much his music meant to me. A unique sort of a character with a sound of his own.

12 The Undertones

Ireland’s answer to the Ramones (yes, I know the Golden Horde wanted the job, but these guys were better). John Peel famously broke down when he heard Teenage Kicks, his favourite song, on the radio one day. They do have other songs on the first album. Many of them its equal.

13 Thin Lizzy

A tough one. The albums I like are the ones generally disliked, if not actively reviled, by their fans. But I still drag Renegade out. And enjoy it. And Thunder and Lightning also gets the odd listen.

14 Ash

Obvious, but no less good for it. Awful video, great song, fantastic group.

15 Bawl

An unremembered classic from the 1990s. Sly and witty lyrics (in a later incarnation they became a little less sly and a little too humourous which = a lot less likeable) Apparently Morrissey liked them too. Cue end of their career.

16 David Holmes

Dancey. And all the better for it. Incidentally the woman in the bath at 2.25 looks awfully like whatshername from Season One of Boston Legal and that action/horror movie earlier this year set in a post-apocalyptic and cannibal infested Scotland.

17 Planxty

The Blacksmith. In black and white. On the Late Late Show. Good God…

18 Sweeney’s Men

Again, what to say? Simple genius.

19 Horslips

The Unfortunate Cup of Tea remains for me their pinnacle, the point where they were still straddling two different musical worlds but doing it successfully. After that I’d go for Dancehall Sweethearts. The clip above is from a bit later. And who knows what prompted them as their career progressed to wear some pretty unusual clothes. But there’s something about this song… See him walking that golden wire… see the world reflected in his face. (oddly enough Rush wrote a song with a not dissimilar theme called New World Man).

20 Stiff Little Fingers

What was it with the North and punk that they did it so effortlessly? One can quibble with aspects of their career subsequently, but they certainly meant it maaaaaan! back then.

I’m aware that this list doesn’t have a great representation of contemporary bands… so any suggestions gratefully accepted…

This one’s for UFO… UK National Archives releases files on sightings. October 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in History, Pseudo-Science.
11 comments

Perhaps it’s a post-modernist joke, but the link the Irish Times provides to the latest files on UFO sightings, released this week by the UK National Archives, doesn’t work.

And that’s a pity, although it’s hardly difficult to track down the recalcitrant web pages.

I’m willing to bet that these have been amongst the most downloaded of all recent files from National Archives. For me the fascinating aspect of this – and I’ll bet anyone having some experience of trawling through RoI, UK and Stormont Government files will know what I mean – is the way in which these seem so oddly familiar. There’s the same officialise, the same coding systems and yes, even in PDF format, the same bad printing and omissions. And yet, after all, these are as valid a topic of research as any other.

Problem is, just what sort of research are we talking about? Is it historical, in the sense are these historical events that are described? Or is it anthropological or social historical? And by that I mean are these representative of societal dynamics?

I think it will come as little surprise to you that despite having read far too much literature in this area I come down on the latter interpretation. Pesky rationalism. Vile logic.

What intrigues me most are the details that are concealed behind blocks of black ink with the words SECTION 40 over them. These concern the identity of informants. For example in defe-24-1940 we learn that one sighting of an aircraft described as having a ‘strange shape of [a] “Wright” brothers era’ plane which silently flew over the informants location in Henley was made by someone with an ‘Ex-Army’ background. The informant noted ‘at the beginning of the conversation’ that ‘he is listed in Who’s-Who.’.

In a way that seems more interesting than the sighting itself. Although, on second thoughts, a “Wright brothers era aircraft…” One wonders what he saw. Or perhaps what he didn’t. Who’s-Who, bottle of gin… ex-Army. You see where this is going.

There are oddities. Significant oddities that make even a skeptic like myself pause for thought. What are we to make of the report from 1990 of six RAF Tornado jets whose crews reported ‘being over-taken by a giant UFO while on an exercise’.?

The UFO was shaped like ‘one large aeroplane’, had ‘5 to 6 white steady lights. 1 blue steady light’, and was a quarter of a mile ahead. Under ‘Other Info’ we learn that ‘another 2 Tornados seen (sic) it and possible idented it as a stealth aircraft’.

And there’s a thing. Anything can be explained in one way or another. An unidentified sighting in 1990 is probably an encounter of the Cold War kind.

Then what of omissions? File DEFE-24/1940/1 on Page 114 details photographs taken of a UFO in Scotland in August 1990. Apparently ‘six colour photographs of a diamond shaped UFO and a Harrier jet were taken by two men. The pictures were given to the Scottish Daily Record who passed them to the MoD.’

Spookily… ‘however, the file does not contain the photographs’.

As interesting is the accompanying text of a ‘Loose Minute’ cc’d to the head of Sec, DD GE/AEW, DDPR (RAF).

1. ….Such stories are not normally drawn to the attention of Minsters and the MoD press office invariably responds to questions along well-established lines emphasising our limited interest in the UFO phenomenon and explaining that we do not have the resources to undertake any in-depth investigations into particular sightings. On this occasion however, the MoD has been provided with six photographic negatives of an alleged UFO by the Scottish Daily Record and has been asked for comments almost certainly for inclusion in a forthcoming story. For this reason it is felt that US of S(AF) should be made aware of the background and the line adopted by the DDPR (RAF) in responding to the newspaper.

2. The photographs, which were received on 10 Sept, are alleged to have been taken near the A9 road at Clavine, north of Pitlochrie on the evening of 4 August. They show a large stationery, diamond-shaped object past which, it appears, a small jet aircraft is flying. The negatives have been considered by the relevant staffs who have established that the jet aircraft is a Harrier (and also identified a barely visible second aircraft, again probably a Harrier) but have reached no definite conclusion regarding the large object. It has also been confirmed that there is no record of Harriers operating in the area at the time at which the photographs are alleged to have been taken. The negatives have now been returned to the Scottish Daily Record.

it continues:

3. In consultation with DDPR (RAF) it has been agreed that the attached lines to take should be used in responding to the Scottish Daily Record. These are consistent with the position adopted in the replies to the many public and occasionally parliamentary enquiries on the subject of UFOs.

And this instruction on lines it transpires is on a typewritten sheet with the following on it…

SCOTTISH DAILY RECORD – PHOTOGRAPHS OF UFO

DEFENSIVE LINES TO TAKE:

– Have looked a photographs, no definite conclusions reached regarding large diamond shaped object.
– confident that jet aircraft is a Harrier
– Have no record of Harriers operating in location at stated time/date.
– No other reports received by MoD of unusual air activity or sightings at location/date/time.

IF PRESSED

Who in MoD studied pictures?

– All sighting reports (including on occasion photographs/drawings etc) received by MoD are referred to the staff in the departments which are responsible for air defence of UK who examine them as part of their normal duties.

Other reports of UFOs from Scotland?

– UFO reports from Scotland are rare.

Sort of begs a fair few questions – doesn’t it? For example, if confident that the jet is a Harrier, does that imply that the photograph is ‘real’? Or that the diamond-shaped object is ‘real’. And what of the non sequiter about “UFO reports from Scotland are rare”. So what? But it’s the incuriosity about the sighting which is so odd. Do they take it seriously or not? Was it a photographer who mocked up in a cusp of Photoshop age some Harriers and a fake UFO? Or what?

And so on, and so forth. You see the seductive appeal of all this. There’s just enough room between the individual facts to fashion something – unusual. Tantalising. Odd.

And yet, an interesting insight into how the state deals with questioning.

I guess I’ll keep reading every file that’s issued. The truth might just be in there…

Things can only get worse… for Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. October 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
5 comments

So, what next? For both Fianna Fáil and the Green Party this has been a near-catastrophic Budget. Arguably more so for the former, but the latter are in no position to be content with their lot. The protests mid-week demonstrated a degree of anger that I haven’t seen in a generation. I happened to be close to that part of town during the protest and took a brief look at the marches. First can I applaud the Socialist Workers’ Party for attempting to convert the crowd, with – I suspect – mixed results. Secondly anyone there will have noticed the considerable number of Garda there. I thought it was excessive, particularly looking at all their vans lined up Kildare Street beyond Boswells Hotel. What on earth were they expecting. The impressions of some Green Party members in the crowd were gloomy. They’ve endured a year which saw many of the more peripheral, but still symbolic, elements of their project discarded. That met with strong, but localised, hostility. This is very different. It’s strong and generalised. I can admire their public reps attempting to make their case on Wednesday, but it wasn’t the day for it. And for them it may transpire that it’s never the day for it. Particularly if those transfers that saw many of their TDs home in May of last year fail to materialise in 2012. Or ever.

For Fianna Fáil the line has been held. Sure, they lost Behan who appears to be settling into Independent status more rapidly than some might have expected. But they won the vote and better still their back benchers know there is a long weekend. The volume of calls and emails has yet to decline but decline it will and they can tough it out. Business of government is their business, and all that. Still, it’s an unsettling situation for them to be so clearly in the doghouse. The last six months have been grim. The next six to eight hardly look as if they will be much better, and with local and European elections on the horizon their expectation is of poor returns. But, and I’ve heard this from a number of them, the belief is that this Budget was the taster, one of a series that would be equally ‘harsh’. One wonders how they can sell them, one wonders if anyone can.

Because this is an entirely new situation. Unlike the late 1980s when there was so little there was hardly anything to lose in the ‘hairshirt’ FF budgets, this has come after a time of plenty and during a period where peoples expectations – rightly – have increased. That makes this entirely unexplored political and psychological terrain and it is fascinating how inept the cheerleaders of the centre right have been in traversing it over the past couple of weeks. People, the electorate, now expect minimum levels of provision and service from this state. I think they’re right to. But the attitude in government and further abroad is that these are optional extras to be given and taken away as they see fit. The tussle between these two poles of opinion will – to no small degree – shape the future character of this state.

I genuinely hope the energy expressed during the week is sustained so that further attacks on healthcare are stymied. I hope even more that we see that energy applied to other areas, education, affordable housing and the levy which will have grievous impacts on many more people again.

So, how to take the temperature? I’m not certain if this weekend will bring a RedC Poll in the Sunday Business Post but if so the figures will be useful as a means of gauging how badly the Government has been hit. Let me refresh your memories as to the last Poll held in September towards the end of the financial crisis (remember that? Or Lisbon? Or indeed Ahern? It almost seems like years ago).

The state of the parties was as follows:

FF (-4) 36%

FG (+3) 28%

Lab (-1) 9%

Green (-) 7%

SF (-1) 9%

PD ( +1) 3%

I cannot see the figures for Fianna Fáil or the Green Party as being anything other than lower next time out. And this could be very problematic for the Government. If we cast our eyes across the Irish Sea we can see an example of a not so virtuous circle whereby poor polling figures for Gordon Brown and the Labour Party began to contribute to a sense that the British Government was a failing entity which further depressed the polling figures which further added to the sense that…and so on. Ironically the recent financial crisis has dug them out of that hole, at least in part. I can’t see recent events doing the same for Cowen and company. And therein lies the rub. Cowen has been remarkably, almost brutally, unlucky from Lisbon onwards. Fianna Fáil’s poll ratings in September had already seen them take a 4% hit. How much further can they go? And that sense of failure – infused by a bitter anger may well be their undoing. Particularly if it is true and the financial situation does see yet more ‘tough’ budgets introduced over the next while.

In the space of two weeks it is clear that Fianna Fáil has, through self-inflicted political wounds, made life considerably more difficult for itself (and its coalition partners) in a context where it was already struggling against unfavourable events. The tough talk has been replaced by conciliation on a number of fronts. The chatter of the media quashed by an unexpected pressure from the electorate. And all this in a situation where – according to themselves – it can only get worse. Quite some achievement – eh?

I liked the old John McCain a whole lot better… October 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized, US Politics.
9 comments

But here is something that takes the biscuit. Some while back – well 2000 to be precise -John McCain at a meeting/TV interview had an encounter that went like this (you may have seen it on the Daily Show)…

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. Since I’ve been studying politics, I’ve had this question that I’ve never fully understand. Why is it that someone like my father, who goes to school for 13 years, gets penalized in a huge tax bracket because he’s a doctor? Why is that — why does he have to pay higher taxes than everybody else, just because he makes more money? Why — how is that fair?

MATTHEWS: You mean…

MCCAIN: I think your question — questioning the fundamentals of a progressive tax system where people who make more money pay more in taxes than a flat, across-the-board percentage. I think it’s to some degree because we feel, obviously, that wealthy people can afford more. We have over the years, beginning with John F. Kennedy, reduced some of those marginal tax rates to make them less onerous.

But I believe that when you really look at the tax code today, the very wealthy, because they can afford tax lawyers and all kinds of loopholes, really don’t pay nearly as much as you think they do when you just look at the percentages. And I think middle-income Americans, working Americans, when the account and payroll taxes, sales taxes, mortgage pay — all of the taxes that working Americans pay, I think they — you would think that they also deserve significant relief, in my view…

MATTHEWS: How many — how many people here believe that the people who made the highest level of incomes in this country should pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes?

Miss, do you want to follow up? Miss, do you want to follow up, do you want to follow up, do you want to follow up? Go ahead.

MCCAIN: Do you want to follow up? Please…

MATTHEWS: Go ahead, please, go ahead.

MCCAIN: … you were dissatisfied with Chris’s comment, I could tell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still don’t see how the — how that’s fair. Isn’t the definition of slavery basically where you work and all your money goes? I’m not saying this is slavery, I’m saying that isn’t the defin — are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism and stuff, when you have — you have some people paying 60 percent overall in a year of their money to taxes. That’s their money, not the government’s. How is that fair? I haven’t understood it.

MCCAIN: Could I point out, one of the fundamentals of a town hall meeting is, we respect the views of others, and let them speak. So, look, here’s what I really believe, that when you are — reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more. But at the same time, that shouldn’t be totally out of proportion. There’s some countries such as Sweden where it doesn’t pay anything to work more than six months a year. That’s probably the extreme.

But I think the debate in this country is more about tax cuts rather than anything else. And frankly, I think the first people who deserve a tax cut are working Americans with children that need to educate their children, and they’re the ones that I would support tax cuts for first.

These day’s McCain is openly accusing Obama of pitching the US towards socialism. Entertaining, if only because it is GW Bush who has arguably done more to oversee intervention than any President since FDR…

You’ve also got to wonder about the level of education that student had that she was unable to understand the principles behind, and the equity, of progressive taxation…

The meat in the Budget mincer… yeah, that’d be us. October 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
16 comments

I don’t want to belabour the point but yet again the Irish Times is hunting with the hounds and running with the fox, for in an editorial yesterday we read that…

…the Government has made a hames of this Budget. It looked after neither “the auld ones” nor “the little ones”. It is profoundly unfair to the vulnerable and the less well-off in our society. It completely lacks a vision of the new Ireland of the future. That is why the call for patriotic action made by the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, to round off his Budget speech a week ago, is falling on deaf ears.

I think we’d all agree with that.

But wait!

The Government spent a great deal of time and energy conditioning the body politic for a hurting budget, one of the worst in the living memory of many voters. With the instability and uncertainty of the banking crisis across the world, the declaration of a real recession, the fall-off in consumer spending and the realisation that times are tight, the Government was given a golden opportunity.

Er… for what? Read on…

It fluffed it. It took a mid-summer report by the Economic and Social Research Institute to shock the Government out of its own complacency. And its response – in spreading the message that the economic climate had changed fundamentally and hard times were upon us – was both delayed and inadequate. The knee-jerk reaction by its own backbenchers to a range of budgetary measures that are already being viewed as inadequate says it all.

So, the Budget measures are both ‘profoundly unfair’ and ‘inadequate’? Now they can be one. Or they can be the other. But they can’t, in all reason, be both.

If you’re confused by this inconsistency, well join the club. Because the truth is as ever the Irish Times, and our political establishment are unwilling to say what they mean.

What they want is swinging cutbacks in services, ‘reform’ of our public services, the further reification of a business centric model that has been curiously rubbish in recent years.

But they can’t say that, any more than Minister of State for Health John Moloney or Fiona O’Malley, like lambs to the slaughter, were unable to justify the Medical Cards fiasco at St Andrew’s Church (and wasn’t it telling – the dazed expressions on all the politicians faces at that meeting? The likes of this haven’t been seen in at least a decade, not even the SIPTU march some years back had this raw anger).

So what they do is publish articles such as this one by Tony O’Brien, head of business consulting at accountancy company Grant Thornton who is, so it would seem something of an expert on public sector ‘efficiency’.

Now, let us remind ourselves that the financial sector just oversaw the essential collapse of the international banking system, so for advice on such matters to emanate from it might be considered just a tad suspect, but not for the Irish Times.

For Thornton has a new message… that being ‘Cut public jobs with a scalpel, not a chainsaw’.

He argues that…

IF THE Government is determined to even achieve its short-term public sector efficiency targets by way of redundancies it must lay-off 11,000 people almost immediately,

However, in reality, the State should be looking at savings well in excess of the three per cent outlined by the Department of Finance. This target aims to balance the budget for the next year and does not take account of the real potential for efficiency gains.

If tackled correctly we could be aiming for efficiencies of 10 per cent, which is equivalent to just over 36,000 positions.

Now what on earth does he mean by ‘efficiencies’? Well strangely he’s a bit coy about that.

The search for efficiency can be diverted too easily when organisations start talking about the outcomes they generate and not outputs. Outputs can be clearly defined, such as public sector houses; whereas outcomes can be achievements such as improved social integration. Anything can be justified if we focus on outcomes; true efficiency starts with deciding what outputs we need to generate those outcomes.

You see?

The second task is to ask how outputs could be provided most efficiently. This could be by the public sector; the private sector; the private sector acting as sub-contractor to the public sector or, in particular areas in the social sector, by voluntary bodies.

Which is interesting because earlier he notes that RTÉ in a bid to find ‘efficiency’ has…

…announced that it was targeting €25 million in savings but insisted there would be no forced redundancies among its 2,300 permanent staff. Meanwhile TV3 has been cutting staff for some time in reaction to the massive fall in advertising on television.

In reality, RTÉ is saying that it will only look at staff efficiencies as a last resort. This doesn’t mean large numbers of jobs will not be lost as a result of RTÉ’s savings.

Independent television production companies are already bearing the brunt of the advertising downturn. Some of these producers have already laid off more than half of their full-time workforce and their situation is likely to get worse.

RTÉ will, effectively, simply transfer redundancies from the public sector to the private sector.

Indeed. Which is presumably what he is proposing too – albeit by stealth – through a transfer of outputs to the private or voluntary sectors (incidentally something that was attempted in the US in recent times with extremely mixed results). And for those who laud the private sector as a model of efficiency, well, and this from personal experience in management positions so caveat emptor, my sense was of an area that wasn’t so much Fordist, or post-Fordist as expense account at any and all costs. Or to put it another way, the idea that the private sector is a monolith of efficiency is wide of the mark. Very very wide of the mark. And this is to presuppose that the models in the private sector can be imported into an actually quite radically divergent workplace.

Anyhow he continues that:

Thirdly, we should look at how public sector bodies organise themselves, particularly in those cases where there is a contact with the customer. Why is it that in many customer service areas of the public sector the more experienced an employee becomes the further away from the customer he or she tends to be? What could be achieved if customers could access the right people that can make decisions? While experienced senior people may have higher salaries, very often they need far less time to deal with a situation, and can be far more cost-effective.

The public service is used to benchmarking – for salaries. Benchmarking key operations such as finance or capital project management would be a very useful – and for the taxpayer – a very rewarding exercise.

Finally, we need to have sufficient flexibility to allow the public service to reduce staff where and when it is necessary. Real long-term efficiencies are best generated by focusing on the areas where savings are most likely to be achieved and being able to do what is necessary to achieve them.

But here is the thing. He himself, echoing what Fintan O’Toole has noted recently, accepts that excluding health and education where…

Employee numbers in health have grown by 73 per cent, while education numbers are up 42 per cent on 1995 levels.

…and that…

…there has been just a 5 per cent increase in public sector employees in all other areas. This is very small compared to the national labour force, which saw a 45 per cent increase from 1995 to 2006.

Now that is a derisory increase relative to the national labour force and calls into question the thesis about ‘efficiencies’ being found. As for Health and Education? The numbers employed in the former have been driven by political pressure from – that’s right – the electorate and the latter by demographic change.

It’s not as if, as with any structure contrived by humans, that there aren’t improvements to be made. That is an on-going process (and for evidence of same consider the near-acceptance of the ASTI that seniority can no longer be the sole determinant of promotion in secondary schools). And yet my interactions with the public sector which rose almost exponentially during the 2000s after a hiatus of some time would suggest – purely anecdotally – that there was already a shift in culture. And for the better. But it is the manner in which this particular debate is framed which gives the game away.

So what is this then? I’d argue that it is yet another attack on the public sector, which note is characterised as ‘bloated’ and ‘inefficient’ when the statistics tell another story entirely. And why? Because the centre right is currently casting around for something, anything, to soak money from in order to make good the mess that they created.

And they lecture us about patriotism?

******************

Meanwhile the unlikely troika of Cowen, Gormley and Harney appeared on our screens on Tuesday evening at a press conference. I don’t know how this will work for the Green Party – and here I’m considering this on a political level. I’m presuming the calculation is that their distancing over the weekend will have given them sufficient political cover to allow them to cosy up to the ‘solution’. I fear they may be disabused of that notion as other aspects of the Budget continue to work through the system. I’d bet that they’re going to take a hit from this one, the size of which remains to be seen.

Incidentally, can I say a few words of praise for Eamon Gilmore’s performance in the Dáil on Tuesday. He was, to my ears, in much better form than last week. Of course – as with the Government – he’s had a full week to contemplate the nature of the Budget, but the time hasn’t been wasted. And he asked a central question…

…if you start today withdrawing the universal entitlement to the medical card [for pensioners], where are you going to stop? Is it going to be the bus pass next year, is it going to be something else the following year?

But the obvious follow-on from that question is, who is next after the pensioners?

Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live… hmmm… not the greatest idea. October 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
17 comments

Sarah Palin may be a good sport – or a politician in desperate straits willing to try anything, or both – you decide. Her appearance on Saturday Night Live doesn’t entirely tell us which.

And her famed ability to interact and convince her audience might well have made her campaign think that this was a good way to ‘humanize’ her (US spelling used deliberately). But, if that was the intention it didn’t work.

The jokes were very much at her expense. Very very much. And while idea of Alec Baldwin as typical Hollywood liberal sounds good on paper, and granted she got a good crack back at him about preferring his brother as an actor, it somehow didn’t translate into reality. His digs at her unpleasant as they were, as he ‘thought’ she was Tina Fey, simply diminished Palin, his mild discomfiture after he ‘discovered’ who she ‘really was’ hardly sufficient to outweigh her palpable unease.

The real oddity was watching Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin and then watching Sarah Palin watching Tina Fey. And in a way that wasn’t odd enough.

The shock effect that powers such humour is in the recognition of similarity in other. The idea that this is someone so close to being Palin to be able to say the things that we think, suspect or fear that Palin will say which she cannot in real life. Fey can be funny being Palin because the humour is in seeing a caricature, an exaggeration, but one the viewer believes is rooted in truth.

So when faced with the actuality of Sarah Palin it is impossible for it to function as effectively. The jokes have been vetted. Their edge watered down. She can be funny. But not as funny. The joke then really is on us.

So in a sense Tina Fey operates as a better, truer, more credible Sarah Palin than Sarah Palin ever could.

And this was one time that Sarah Palin couldn’t win by projecting her personality because the format was too constrained. Her inability to deliver others lines has been well demonstrated during the campaign to date. Her power is in delivering her own lines which have an absolute authenticity about them. One may disagree with them – perhaps even vehemently – but she is effective, and more so than she is given credit.

But this? Not good. Not good at all. And – it also harshly pointed up the vacuity of the jibes about Obama and how little he is ‘known’ by the US public. He’s been through the ringer for two years now. She for, quite literally, only a few weeks. We still don’t know her. With a bit of luck we probably never will.

Let me add… Christopher Hitchens raises a point in Slate which I’d vaguely noted previously but not thought sufficiently about.

I would like to ask her whether by this she means that creationism ought to be given equal time in science classes. And I have a follow-up: How many years old does the Republican nominee for the vice presidency of the United States believe the Earth to be? There are several other questions I would like to ask her, as, no doubt, would you. Lots of luck with that, because it seems that the Grand Old Party intends to go all the way to Election Day without exposing the No. 2 person on its ticket—the person who would become chief executive if President John McCain succumbed to illness—to a press conference.

Forget about politics and political positions and consider that Democrat or Republican, or those of us further afield, deserve a genuine opportunity to hear from a candidate for any elected office. It’s the essence of democracy and the fact that it isn’t happening here tells us all we need to know…

Medical Cards…Progressive Taxation…and talking about a rebooted Technical Group… October 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
4 comments

Okay, so the Medical Cards issue has been ‘parked’ as it were for a while. The anger at the Pro-Cathedral was something to behold, I’m more convinced than ever that we’ve just seen the fourth rail in Irish politics come into operation. Mess with it at your peril future governments. Of course if they’re sugaring stuff there has to be a pill and who knows what shape future incarnations will take, and still… still… there is this inability to understand that taxation is an answer.

And here’s a fascinating snippet. In the Sunday Business Post Finola Kennedy, economist and former Board member of ACC said it like it is.

The scenario that faced Brian Lenihan when he set about preparing his budget was – to borrow a phrase which he himself employed in a different context – ‘‘not a pretty picture’’.

So she suggested that:

What could the minister have done? My formula would have combined a progressive income tax with targeted expenditure.

A progressive income tax which increases with the size of income and takes account of the numbers who depend on that income is accepted as a fair tax. It meets the requirements both of vertical equity (that is, equity between rich and poor),and horizontal equity (that is, equity between those on the same income, but with a different number of mouths to feed).

And further that:

A levy on gross income which disregards both the absolute size of income and the number depending on that income offends against both vertical and horizontal equity. As a result, it could become a trigger for social unrest.

So the benefits of a progressive tax rate are as follows:

If the door had been bolted on public sector pay and related pensions, then the way to proceed was via the reintroduction of a more progressive income tax. For example, a 50 per cent rate could be levied on those with income over €100,000, while allowing for the number of dependants. Furthermore, the ceiling on PRSI contributions could have been abolished.

Now for some of us this may seem blindingly obvious because we’re … well, leftist. But let’s remember that it’s not that long ago that truly progressive tax rates, albeit at punitive levels for ordinary workers, were the order of the day. Or as she notes:

Until 20 years ago, we had a progressive income tax system, combined with child tax allowances.

But one of the great successes of the political and economic consensus in recent decades has been to suggest that this was in principle somehow wrong. And so we have two tax rates as it were with no gradations. Which is curious, not least because it obviously benefits those on much higher incomes.

Wouldn’t it be great to have left parties that said it like it as, that in order to fund Medical Cards, or equivalent, and public schooling, and significant investment in enterprise, we require progressive equitable taxation?

But then this is the SBP which in its editorial said the following:

The mess over the medical cards aside, the budget showed some willingness to take the steps necessary to fix the public finances. But that can’t happen unless the public sector shares the pain being experienced by everyone else.

Making business and the private sector bear all the costs of the economic slowdown isn’t just unfair – it will slow any future recovery, which will be generated, after all, by the productive, wealth-creating sectors of the economy.

After ten years in which the public sector pay rises and pension benefits have outpaced those of their private sector colleagues, surely a little equality is not too much to ask for

Again, the old canard that the public sector is essentially parasitical is trotted out. I like the SBP, not least because it’s a serious paper, but in this instance it is seriously wrong. In a month where regulation and state oversight is demonstrated as absolutely necessary for financial markets it seems counterintuitive to hear once more that the public sector is not ‘wealth-creating’. Well, here, how about ‘wealth-enabling’ as a replacement term.

And in the meantime… what was I thinking of? Given the chance of new Technical Group everyone who might be involved would jump at the opportunity. After all think of all those lovely perks that flow from it from speaking rights to some extra financial provisions… and also, a Chief Whip! Not that looking after four SF TDs, Tony Gregory, Finian McGrath and A.N. Other would be that difficult a job. Not quite identikit, but enough to generate a genuine awkward squad in the Dáil. Even if one or two of the constituent elements might remain open to the blandishments of our ever generous government.

Should Joe Behan still not be convinced of this let’s see how he likes life as an Independent TD with close to zero access to a public profile in the Dáil chamber… perhaps we could start a clock on it.

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