A War of Words

When the Irish Times published a glossary of Alt-Right terms my echo chamber lost its mind. When I spewed my badly punctuated thoughts on NAMA on these pages I was grammatically held bang to rights. Words, even in this text speak era, still hold value. Words still have power and given the Alt-Right got its own glossary, I thought I’d try my hand at doing a Chumocracy Glossary. I should probably start with Chumocracy.

Chumocracy: a system of governance run by and for the Arms of the State and their Chums. I’d love to say I crated this phrase, but I stole it from someone referring to the Tory Toff Infighting around the time of the Brexit campaign. Eamon Dunphy refers to it as Official Ireland, but I think Chumocracy has a more onomatopoeic flow.

Accountability: a situation where a Chumocracy member is forced to issue a statement of deep regret, or a statement refuting findings against them. Once complete the contrite individual can usually return to their snout to the trough or pull the chord on a golden parachute pension.

Pronespeak: a series of phrases that are seemingly benign, but are actually malignant tumours on the body politic .For example: “not aware of, or privy to” and the old chestnut “let me just be clear”. These phrases rarely mean what they say and quite often they mean the exact opposite.

Populism: a smear used by Chumocracy members to describe anybody outside their groupthink bubble. Frequently thrown at an individual who has the temerity to question the morality of putting free(rigged) market ideology ahead of social crises.

Complex Issue: a term used to explain away the fact that those in power have failed to do anything about a particular issue right up until six hours before it becomes an RTE Prime Time Special. Usually the nodding heads, not wanting to be seen to be stupid, nod along and accept this explanation. Sure haven’t the government agreed to set up a…

Commission of Inquiry: a method of placating public outcry against injustices that are (more often than not) within the remit of the State to address, but might result in embarrassment for a Chumocracy member; see Accountability.

Stability: the state of being out of your depth and screwing up at your job, while simultaneously claiming that you are a safe pair of hands. For example Alan Kelly and Simon Coveney brought Stability to homelessness crisis.

Political Correspondent: a name used for many Journalist’s who allow Politicians make false or misleading claims (like “I refute” and “I was unaware of”) and often use their own type of Pronespeak, like “a source close to X said” or “a senior party member told me”, thus removing Accountability (see above).

Advice of the Attorney General: a phrase which gives the user a form of diplomatic immunity against charges of idiocy; particularly useful when trying to turn a simple matter into a Complex Issue.

Speaking Truth to Power: a Leadership Skill of standing up to the EU Commission when defending the Apple Tax decision, while prostrating oneself in front of the EU Commission when talking about Irish Water.

Independent News & Media: see Pronespeak.

Communicorp: see above.

Mea Culpa: it means No Worries For The Rest Of Your Days.

Tony Groves March 2017 Image result for lies cartoon

 

 

Straw Man Polls

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics; unoriginal and cliche, but so often true. None more so than when we forensically autopsy Opinion Polls. Despite predicting Brexit, Trump and our own 2016 General Election incorrectly, Polls are still afforded a undeserved gravitas. Today they are less of a weather vane of the electorate and more a tool of manipulation.

People who like to be seen as “Centrist” are led into the arms of the Poll topping Party. The warm embrace of the herd is an attractive lure to people who are generally too busy to give the talent pool of politics much thought. The consensus of a Poll can take the hassle out of voting.

For supporters of smaller parties or independents, Polls can act as a disincentive to vote. They’re reported in such a way as to tell an already disillusioned citizen that their views are in such a small minority that the very exercise of voting is futile. Pollsters constantly tell people, who are already on the fringes of society, that they don’t vote in enough numbers to change their lot in life. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of political stagnation.

Nervous politicians can cynically use Polls to gauge which manifesto promises they should make (only to break later) in the seat retention race. Polls can bring on Leadership Heaves against a Political Corpse, or they can placate restless backbenchers. Maybe it’s better the Cadaver you know?

Take this Irish Times poll for example. It shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, at 28% and 29% respectively, are electorally viewed as Fianna Gael. When Pat Leahy went on Newstalk Breakfast’s with the Messrs Coleman & Williams, to explain how Fianna Gael’s support plummets when you poll people aged between 18-35, the lads were aghast. Really?

Imagine scratching your head in disbelief at the idea that the generation hammered by the 2008 Crash and the Age of Austerity would have an aversion to the Parties that oversaw the entire period? The mind boggles that their mind is boggled.

However, it was in the (whisper it) rise in the poll of Sinn Fein, that things took a more sinister turn and subtle biases surfaced. To explain I digress, your patience please…

Between 1872-1874 over 3,700,000 Buffalo were killed. Of this gargantuan slaughter, only 150,000 were killed by Native American Indians, that’s a little over 4%. The rest were butchered by the White Man; so bad was it that “the stench of rotting carcasses fouled the very winds of the Plains.” The stench of death, 96% due to the White Man, was 100% attached to the Indians. The Indian savage narrative was a convenient shroud to hide the brutality of our civilised Whites.

In much the same way, Polls are used to civilise our electorate. In a brilliant piece of analysis, Padraig O’Mara showed how in the run up to General Election 2016, with polls showing Sinn Fein trending up, media biases became more pronounced. 1,150 articles were processed and fed through a sentiment analysis engine, analysed one by one to reveal that Sinn Fein received twice the negative coverage than the other parties.

For every 100 articles on Sinn Fein, 61 were negative, 21 were neutral and 18 were positive. For combined Fianna Gael it was 28.5 negative, 22.5 neutral and 49 were positive.

Remember, the Indians did 4% of the killing and got 100% of the blame. 4% is coincidentally the same number Sinn Fein were up in the Irish Times Poll. But rather than focus on the growth of a party of opposition, Pat Leahy quickly changed the narrative, saying Sinn Fein “tends to underperform the polls in elections”.

Neither Pat, Shane nor Paul dared acknowledge that Sinn Fein’s under-performance is part driven by media biases. That inconvenient truth doesn’t suit the cosy narrative of a civilised Fianna Gael versus a savage Opposition.

Discussing Polls exposes commentator’s (conscious or unconscious) biases. Media bubble world views explain away the trend of electorate polarisation, in trendy journalistic ways. In much the same way as the White Man explained away the extermination of the Buffalo as “the only way…to allow civilisation advance”, the Pollsters explain away large swaths of the electorate as stray Buffalo, which will be corralled back into the fold in time for Election Day.

Polls can be inaccurate, culturally biased and financially driven to deliver results more favourable to whomever is paying the bill. Yet we discuss them, parse them and take learnings from them. So much importance is given to Polls that I’d hazard a guess that they are given more airtime and ink than the Homelessness and Hospital Trolley Crises combined. In fact, forget guessing. Can I get a show of hands…?

Tony Groves March 2016 Image result for polls cartoon

Mea Cúpla Focail…

There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that while preparing for the biggest court case of his nascent career, Cicero spent his time practising only oration and voice projection. When asked if he would not be better off spending his time learning the legal arguments for the case he is said to have replied “Only a bad orator need learn to be a lawyer”.

Now this story is most likely baseless, but I couldn’t help thinking about it while watching the Garda Whistleblower controversy evolve. Thirty Six times Clare Daly, Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace raised concerns to the Dail, but it was only when RTE broadcast the widely known slurs that the “government” deigned to actually address the issue.

When I say address it, I mean speak around it, throw shapes of indignation and then search for a vehicle to park it in, while they can get back to the business of making announcements and issuing plans that hope to lead to future announcements of updated plans. There has arguably never been a more inefficient government, nor have we ever had a more unambitious opposition.

All of which leads me to the vehicle of a public inquiry and back to Cicero.

Up and down the country Lawyers, Barristers and Public Relations Gurus are practising their oration and vocal projection. Headline writers can today file their copy for the upcoming Charleton Inquiry. Words like Defiant, Refute and Rebut will be thrown around like mea culpa’s at a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting.

Phrases like “unaware of”, “not privy to”, “had no knowledge of” and “in the strongest possible terms” will be deemed acceptable answers to the most important questions.

All the while we will be placated with fluff pieces that assure the public that the Judge has the “power to compel” and “ask the hard questions” that will “bring closure”. Those responsible will point at the next person up in a vicious blame circle. Sincere expressions of sincere regret will be made that would make the Banking Inquiry blush.

There will be individual embarrassing moments and several more mea culpa’s before we arrive at a consensus that a good man was done down by a system and that because the system is to blame, nobody is to blame. Sure we all partied, on his good name.

Cicero won his case, he rose in esteem by defeating his rival orator (Hortensius)and climbed the rungs of power. The guilty party (Gaius Verres, Governor of Sicily) was sentenced to exile and was given the traditional nine days to squirrel away as much plunder to feather his retirement nest.

Our guilty parties will also be “exiled” and in the words of Oliver Callan subject to the full rigours of a massive pension. Cicero said we must “let the welfare of the people be the ultimate law”. Ultimately, I predict the conspirators and and participants in this sinister plot will fare out very well. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Tony Groves February 2016

Disgustingly Decent

Disgusting. It’s disgusting that a man can have his life ruined over Penalty Points. It’s disgusting that our Senior Police Force can seem to orchestrate these things and only ever be held to account in an inquiry with limited frames of reference and no real powers of enforcement.

It’s disgusting to watch our Political Leaders scurry away from microphones like cockroaches when the light is tuned on. It’s disgusting to hear Politicians, who are paid exorbitant salaries, are unaware of things widely known (and sadly believed) throughout the country.

It’s disgusting to be governed by RTE’s Prime Time. It’s disgusting to have to wait for a Television Programme to force a Do Nothing Dail into limp-wristed, hand-wringing action. It’s disgusting to see Ministers then get a platform to say they weren’t aware of anything and then express their own disgust and upset.

It’s disgusting to be preached at by the same Commentariat who propagated the lies about the best way to proceed now. It’s disgusting to listen to much of the Media bemoan the stink of Fake News on Social Media, while expecting us to hold our noses while they peddle their own brand of Horse Shit.

It’s disgusting to know (deep down we know) that after the storm has dissipated and the next crisis arises, nothing will have gotten reformed, those responsible will shuffle away to large severance deals and chunky pensions. It’s disgusting to realise that this is the inevitable outcome.

It’s disgusting to think how much money has already been spent, and will continue to be wasted, in helping us not to get to the bottom of this entire disgusting episode. It’s disgusting to hear of a criminally underfunded Garda Force, while aware we are burning money in propping up the injustice at the centre of the blight.

Martin Callinan called the Whistleblowers disgusting. The Chumocracy went along for the disgusting ride. The public tut tutted in disgust. An innocent man was ruined. I am disgusted at my Health Service, my Government, my Police Force and myself.

Maurice McCabe is the opposite of disgusting, he is thoroughly decent. And we could all do with a little more decency in our lives.

 

Tony Groves February 2017 simon

image courtesy of the very decent @feckthelottom

Bubble Bobble

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There’s a myth doing the rounds, a tale that WE are living in dangerous times. Fascism is on the rise, hard won human rights are under threat and that the relative benign accords that brought peace to the Western World are under threat. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is true. The myth is that the challenges of our time are unique to our time. They are not.

Cicero warned, “The only thing we learn from history, is that we never learn anything from history”.

In 1861, the American Civil War kicked off. The beleaguered Native American Indian population felt sure they would get some respite, while Bluecoat fought Graycoat. They were sadly mistaken.

By the time the war had started there was probably less than 300,000 Native Americans left. There numbers had been “culled” by about two thirds since the European settlers arrived in Virginia and New England, around 1607.

The White Man had come and he had come in Yuuuge numbers, more than 30 million of them by the this period. No pesky war was going to slow their march and no call to arms would slake their thirst for what they needed above all else, Land.

The Indians were driven from area to area, denied access to hunting grounds and forced into reservations. These reservations were little better than open air prisons. Even some of the Soldiers, paid to make sure the Indians didn’t leave, wrote letters beseeching Washington for better conditions. One put it; “The cost to us will be no more than $1 million per year. Which seems high, but is very little when you consider the wealth we have attained from the lands they have given up”. Such honest entreaties fell on deaf ears.

Fast forward to 1891 and we discover that the White Settlers have become the dispossessed. Farmers in the South are losing their land to banks, big business and rail-roads. Workers in the East are exploited by super-rich businessmen. Wealth is created at a faster rate than at any time before in American history, yet as Henry Georges Progress & Poverty explained, the majority of people are getting poorer. The key driver of the inequality, Land.

It was a result of this inequality that the first Populist Party (The People’s Party) was born. Populist’s allied themselves with workers, joined with trade union movements and sought to tackle the inequality endemic in American Society.

It failed. But not before scaring the life out of banks, elites and the Democratic Party.

Today our media commentators throw the term Populist around like confetti at a wedding. Dare to speak about growing inequality and you’re quickly bracketed with the mad Populist, Donald Trump. The fact that they also scream “Populist” every time Paul Murphy opens a packet of Tayto should be the end of it. I mean, if  we are told that Trumps a Populist AND that his ideological opposite Paul Murphy is a Populist, then how dare they get their collective knickers in a twist when report after report shows that trust of the media is at an all time low.

Back to the Land.

Today I received an 84 page document entitled: The 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2017. Rating Middle-Income Housing Affordability. A riveting title, it’s sure to be a bestseller. Only it should be. It should be compulsory reading for our Politician’s, our Planners and anyone who gives a damn about inequality.

What this body of real experts (as opposed to the experts who brought us Irish Water) do is work out how affordable is a house, based on dividing the average price by the average wage.

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The good news for Ireland is that we currently have zero Severely Unaffordable housing markets. Great news, right…

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The bad news for Ireland is that we are fast on our way to getting there

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Look at the warning above. Dublin has gone from Moderately Unaffordable 3.3, to a Seriously Unaffordable 4.7, in less than 5 years. As I type we are probably tipping over into the Severely Unaffordable zone of 5.1 or over. Think this is only a Dublin problem, think again. Galway and Cork are rapidly climbing the charts.

Without denigrating Cicero, I refuse to believe that we cant’t learn anything from history. History teaches us that a malfunctioning Land market breeds inequality. Inequality means doom. Blame becomes the currency and it’s spent on creating division and fear. Elites, deriding the rise of Populism, can have only themselves to blame.But they use their resources to deflect blame. So it manifests itself in uglier, Trumpian ways.

Ireland has a chance to avoid this “fear of the other” and blame-throwing culture. We had an Unaffordable Score of 6 at the top of the Celtic Tiger insanity. If we don’t act urgently, we will return to that level.

Remember these facts when you hear developers aren’t building because of low profits. How can profits be too low and Unaffordability so high?

Remember these facts when trying to reconcile the the Governments Housing Plan has less ambition towards building Social Houses than we had in the darkest days of the Irish Economy.

These are facts, don’t listen to the alternative facts, post-truths or fake news. A lie is a lie is a lie.

We don’t have a deficit of Land. We have a deficit of vision.

When the American Indians were driven to the edge of extinction, the American Settlers knew what riches they had acquired, calling it a land “whose value can hardly be estimated…a princely realm.”

Dublin has over 60 hectares of vacant land, a princely realm indeed. We don’t need incentives for developers, the only incentive for building we need is the FACT that we are rapidly headed back to Property Bubble Land. And Bubbles Burst.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. If we farcically allow this to happen again, then the joke will be on all of us.

Tony Groves January 2017

Trumps Animal Farm

I’ve been asked three times this week “Why don’t you write about Trump?” and I never really had a good enough response. The truth is that my hot take on the Golden Shower scandal is as lukewarm as a week old urine sample.

The other fact is that I don’t really care all that much what the (soon to be) President did or did not get up to, his proclivities are his business. But I do care about, as should we all, his Business and Businesses. We should care deeply.

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a Business,man.” – Jay Z

Watching the world go into collective hysterics over Trumps unintentionally(or intentionally) hysterical “Press Conference“, I wasn’t sure how to react. Luckily my kids were there to put things in context. Out of the mouths of babes…

I’ve been reading Animal Farm to the kids and they drew my attention to a Napoleon (the dictatorial pig) and Donald Trump (the wannabe dictatorial pig) parallel. If you’re not familiar with the story, Animal Farm is basically a tale of how downtrodden animals revolt against the oppression of human beings, only to find themselves under the oppression of their fellow Comrades, the pigs. A salutary tale, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What my kids observed was this: Trump and his gang shouting down the attempts of a CNN journalist to ask a question was exactly the same as when having given orders contrary to the Animals Commandments, Napoleon has the sheep start bleating “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad”, thus drowning out any opposition.

After such a “meeting” Squealer – Napoleon’s Press Secretary –  would trot around the farm to placate the animals and assure them that Leader Napoleon was only making these changes for their own good. Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer fills this role in the real world version. But Spicer doesn’t seem to have Squealers persuasive skills, relying instead on bullying and threats and yet…

Yet none of this Non Fake News, Fake News circus matters when put into context of Trumps cabinet picks. I read this morning that former Irish Health Minister, James Reilly is in trouble for accepting a donation of €1,000. The donation amount is not in breach of the Standards In Public Office (SIPO) regulations, it is the fact that he took it in cash that’s put him on the wrong side of the law. A minor breach, but a breach nonetheless.

Now let’s look at the Trump cabinet, not the individuals, but at their candidacy. Rather, let’s not look at their candidacy, as many of his picks have not completed the required Ethics Review or submitted the required SIPO paperwork. The fact that these checks are required has not stopped the candidates undergoing their Confirmation Hearings.

These hearings are designed to allow Senators, who have access to the Ethics Reviews reports on the candidate, an opportunity to question candidates as to their suitability for their potential role. So what we have now is a group of trumps picks, without proper vetting, being questioned by Senators who have none of the information required to ask pertinent questions.

I don’t really care about what did or did not happen in a Moscow hotel room. I care deeply about a Cabinet of people taking office, who potentially have more ethical flaws and conflicts of interests than any other Cabinet since the birth of democracy.

Trumps presidency has already had more scandal than in the entire eight years of the Obama administration. While everyone was on a Buzzfeed Buzz, Trumps pick were busily being rush through their Confirmation Hearings. While the world was going mad over whether Trump is compromised by a Russian dossier, he was busy compromising an already fragile democracy. That is the Real News.

So forgive me for not getting swept up in the Golden Shower-Gate, but “a donkey lives a long time“.

Tony Groves January 2017

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Ctrl + Alt + Right + Delete

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Chekhov is my favourite writer. His descriptive brevity has opened my mind in more ways than any metaphor laden prose has ever done. His short story, The Huntsman, is a continual source of inspiration. Capturing the beauty in the bleakness of life is no mean feat. No one does it like Chekhov. Chekhov was a Centrist.

Tolstoy, on the other hand, is anything but. He writes with a goal. He writes with an ambition. When he wrote War & Peace, he wasn’t neutral. His voice was in the characters, the journey was turned in directions of his ideological choosing. He is a participant in his work. Tolstoy was a Protagonist.

A little known fact, Chekhov and Tolstoy were great friends. Tolstoy often critiqued his friends writing by saying he could improve it greatly if he’d only offer the reader “a point of view”.  Chekhov, for his part, hated Tolstoy’s moralising and pontificating. They’d argue and malign each other often, but remained true friends until Chekhov’s untimely death, aged only 44. It was the ultimate irony that Chekhov, the Doctor, worried terribly about Tolstoy’s health.

Get to the point Tony!

The point is simple really. 2016 saw a shutting down of hard won advances in human rights. Trump, Brexit and victories for Far Right political parties have promised to curb the rise of “snowflake” liberalism. Liberals, so sure of the rightness of their arguments, have failed to explain themselves. Choosing to wring their hands and mourn, rather than take direct action. Liberals and true Social Democrats have (mostly) seceded the floor to the Right.

The Irish Times gave a platform to a man who threatened refugee children, to explain and normalise the rise of the “Alt Right”

The Irish Political Right, so embarrassed by the actions of their fellow ideologists, have re-branded themselves as Centrists. Paschal Donohoe, recently described himself as “a liberal centrist”. The daftness of this statement went unchallenged. Paschal represents a Right Wing Free Market Ideology that has failed people since inception and most spectacularly since the 2007 global financial crisis.

Fine Gael (and to a lesser degree Fianna Fail) wanting to distance themselves from this have decided to say they are Centrists. Michael Noonan even went so far as to quote W.B Yeats:

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Centrist sounds great, it sounds sensible; because if it was good enough for Chekhov, it’s good enough for us, right? Wrong.

To be Centrist in the modern political landscape is to play it safe. It’s to obfuscate decisions. It’s to kick the can down the road when faced with difficult choices. to be a Centrist is to be set, to be set is to be stuck, to be stuck is to be unable to move or change. Centrists then, by definition, merely protect the status quo and are blockers to change. Give me the much derided Populist Dreamer over the Feet of Concrete Centrist any day.

When you hear a Fine Gael Minister or spokesperson say Centrist, remember it means Right Wing. Say to yourself that the fulcrum of the Global Right has shifted to far to the so called Alt Right that the old fashioned Right Wing Free Market Merchants are scared. So scared and afraid to challenge it that they want to pretend they’re not associated with it.

Enda Kenny even went so far as to warn against the rise of the Far Right. Having spent his entire time in government sowing the Right Wing seeds, he’s now complaining about the crop he helped cultivate. You couldn’t make it up.

So in  2017 it is the duty of Social Democrats and Snowflake Liberals to yell “Bullshit”. Whenever we see a wolf in sheep clothing, we must signal the alarm. Yes, I prefer Chekhov’s Centrist literature. But I’d rather have a pint and discuss Tolstoy’s Societal Ambition, than sit and sulk over Chekhov’s Centrist staidness.

 

Tony Groves January 2017