Monthly Archives: October 2009

More on…

that ‘democratic deficit‘.

“the Iraq war – and, most importantly, the way in which he kept his EU colleagues in the dark as he deliberated with then US president George Bush – has left a sour taste and bad memories.” [Mark Hennessy, Blair’s crowning as EU president is no sure thing, The Irish Times, 28/10/09]

The professional journalist must detach him or herself from the subject and report only the facts in the name of objectivity and balance. Mark Hennesy today in the Irish Times accomplishes this task spectacularly well, describing the power game (read: school yard politics) between Europe’s political elite as it relates to Blair’s EU presidency bid.

At the very same time, Hennessy highlights the enormous gulf between this elite and the populations they purport to represent. Here, in the case of the Iraq war, a mere footnote to Blair’s legacy, according to Hennessy at least, the fact other leaders weren’t ‘in’ on the secret fabrication of a case for war is the sticking point, not the war itself. A view completely at odds with European public opinion, which was at the time of the deliberations and remains to this day opposed to US / UK military aggression against Iraq.

This kind of reporting envisages democracy as nothing more than a spectator sport. The news reader, the avowed ‘Irish Times reader’ anyway, is privy to the inner workings of politics, but there’s little suggestion that he or she should actually be involved in it – in contrast to the style of reporting favoured on those rare occasions where public opinion is required by some constitutional anomaly. In effect then, ‘objectivity’ and ‘balance’, is actually a system of information control just as, if not more, effective (or corrosive depending on your point of view) as  the derogatively termed ‘campaigning’ journalism of the likes of John Pilger.

Thankfully, the other way still appears from time to time.

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Reuters Short Story Competition

First set the scene, à la war time Britain perhaps:

Israel and the United States launched a major air defence drill today as part of what Israeli public radio called preparation for a faceoff with Iran.

Introduce your central characters, the evil mastermind and the reluctant hero maybe:

The United States and other world powers are trying to talk Tehran into giving up nuclear technologies with bomb-making potential, while the Israelis watch warily from the sidelines.

Identify what’s at stake, existence itself for example:

Israel, which is assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal, has hinted it could resort to force to prevent its arch-foe attaining the means to threaten its existence.

Temper the dominant plot driver with an element of doubt:

But some analysts believe that tactical limitations, and US misgivings about pre-emptive strikes, may compel Israel to accept a more defensive posture with the help of its top ally.

[Israel tests defences with US, The Irish Times, 21/10/09]

Exchange with someone in the Meeja

Edited to preserve their identity (hopefully).

The Heathrow Terminal Transfer
The Heathrow Terminal Transfer

Dear [edit],

The biggest problem for news consumers is deciphering who or what influences the news they read. For instance, it might be reasonable to ask whether the media’s focus on cutting public sector pay and defending politicians expenses is a reflexive defense of the establishment?

Certainly, continually forcing a separation between NAMA and the rest of the economic malaise is an interesting lesson in equality.

Best wishes,

David

HI David

On the issue of expenses – I’m not defending them. At all! I think they are outrageous.  But I think Mary Harney used the jet more than O’Donoghue did, so why should he go for doing what everyone else did? I want the whole lot out! And the whole system changed! And JoD probably had to go because of the sensitivity of his position, but I would have given him 1 more day to make his case. It’s an act of compassion to a man who was on the way out. It was the lack of mercy afforded to him in the name of PR that shocked me – not that I thought he deserved his job. I just thought he should be allowed to go with dignity.

Finally  – on the public sector – by insisting on private sector benchmarking – the mainstream left is left with a problem since the private sector is being made redundant in their hundreds of thousands.(and btw, temp public sectors workers too, especially in county councils).

If they had used their power to ask for pay rises for the lower paid parts of the public sector and say, making temporary teachers permanent etc, then they wouldn’t have this huge problem when people say – “em, benchmarking on the way up, then why not on the way down?” The logic is inescapable and they are left with a big problem of defending themselves.

Finally finally, I’m not sure what your job is, but I really don’t think any garda or prison office or assistant general secretary can know what its like to go to bed and not know if you’ll have a job when you wake up. For those in the private sector with jobs, there can be no solidarity and no “equality” with those who have that sense of security.

The money is gone. There are a few horrible years ahead, but more horrible for those without jobs than those with safe jobs. It’s not defending the establishment, it’s just a fact.

Regards

[edit]

Hi [edit],

O’Donoghue’s fall was his own doing. A dignified exit was his to earn, and he failed majestically on that front.

The fact this rolling head has been so controversial is testament to the emptiness of the ‘share the pain’, ‘we’re all in it together’, ‘we lost the run of ourselves’ mantra hammered home by journalists, politicians and various rich people over the last year or two. Funnily enough, elsewhere reactions aren’t quite so dramatic, for instance the Swedish Minister for Culture resigned this time three years ago for not paying her TV licence fee.

It’s quite amazing how the media can to a certain extent create and fuel such immense controversy over what are really marginal issues of tax wastage through expenses, when greater issues of corruption and incompetence go unpunished.

It seems entirely unequal for commentators to moralise over the dignity of a single self-indulgent politician and at the same time call for the slashing of public sector pay, when the elephant in the room is that a penny ‘saved’ in public sector pay is really just a penny spent on the banking ransom. The old slogan ‘Socialism for the rich, Capitalism for the poor’ couldn’t ring any more true.

Best wishes,

David

Hi David

Do you know, I find almost nothing I can disagree with in your email

For the last few weeks I have to say I’ve been reeling trying to make sense of everything that’s going on – the expenses, the financial horror that is Nama, the clear sense that government ministers really have no idea that one man’s bonus is another family’s riches, the strike threats and yes, I am appalled at what I hear and see in the meeja too

I console myself with a comment one economist made which was that despite everything that happened in Iceland  – life goes on. Food is on the shelves, electricity is supplied and people get up in the morning and function. A lower standard than we’re used to, but some comfort!

All the best

[edit]

Political hypocrisy about Sinn Fein

In this morning’s Irish Examiner a letter was headlined ‘SF hypocrisy knows no bounds’ .  It rails at Sinn Fein for ‘leading the charge’ against John O’ Donoghue (wasn’t it Labour and Gilmore who did that?) and pointing to their past history as a justification for, pretty much, dismissing anything they might have to say. 

I fired off a response as follows:

“In response to her letter in today’s Irish Examiner I’d like to ask Marie Murphy, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael politicians – and others who engage in routine hypocrisy and sanctimony about Sinn Fein to please give it up.  The history of all three parties is identical in that they are all bathed in blood accompanied by the rhetoric of liberation and freedom fighting.  Here in Clonakilty we have a large statue of Michael Collins overlooking Emmet Square to which ‘respectable’ people make routine pilgrimages.  Collins was arguably the most blood-thirsty and ruthless terrorist of them all, depending on your point of view.  The only difference between modern Sinn Fein as led by Gerry Adams and the others is that the Catholic minority in the North had to endure serious discrimination for several decades after the heroes of 1916 and their successors had become revered and comfortable old men with little inclination to try help their former comrades in arms.  The rationale for what Sinn Fein did was identical – there is no moral high ground from which Fianna Fail or Fine Gael can lecture them – not least because they insist, for example, on annually marking the anniversaries of bloody ambushes on British soldiers and such like – behaviour that is entirely inconsistent with their own sermons about identical behaviour by Sinn Fein.  RTE are currently showing a programme about the killings of 19 protestant people in the Bandon area before the civil war had begun, apparently murdered in cold blood.  If the same behaviour was wrong for Sinn Fein in the North, then it was wrong for the older parties too and all three must share a deep sense of shame.  Or if any one of them are to be hailed as heroic freedom fighters, then the same must be true of the others.  You can’t have it both ways and the passage of time is irrelevant.  At any rate, it is a straightforward fact that our nation state was forged out of the same sort of violence, however it is now labelled, and that we have made heroes out of those who were responsibile for it.  Sinn Fein have long since signed up to a peace process which they played a significant part in briging about themselves.  If we are glad of the peace then we must acknowledge what they have done and move on.  The Labour Party too shuns the possibility of political co-operation or alliance with Sinn Fein, thereby doing the country a serious disservice, though it sees nothing wrong with the possibility of alliance with the ultra right-wing Fine Gael, idolisers of Michael Collins.  Sinn Fein have demonstrably taken the political establishment at their word and have honoured their own. Perhaps it was naive to believe that the other political parties would behave maturely in those circumstances.  It’s now clear that petty resentment at the prospect of losing votes to Sinn Fein is what motivates them. To continue to promote the idea that Sinn Fein were and are uniquely evil and that every time Sinn Fein engage with the political process it is nothing more than an opportunity for hypocritical and sneering superiority, makes it clear that our main political parties did not mean a word about preferring genuine democratic dialogue over violence.
Yours sincerely
Miriam Cotton
Woodlands
Clonakilty

Thoughts on the expenses ‘crisis’

Is there any possibility that our politicians will take from the expenses crisis the lesson that is writ large therein if they would only take heed of it: that, aside from a rump of stubborn Fianna Fail supporters, the  climate which tolerated abuses of power and privilege no longer prevails among Irish people?  This is a point which needs to be driven home forcefully and effectively.  A window of possibility has opened with the resignation of John O’ Donoghue which is in some danger of being shut firmly again if there aren’t swift moves to ensure that it is not.  It can’t be that this solitary gesture will suffice for so much that has been so wrong for so long.  The expensive frustration of corruption tribunals, the lack of accountability for gross icompetence, the erosion of democratic transparency, the destruction of our economy and the monstrous proposal that is NAMA – undoing the conventions and thinking that have resulted in these things is essential if the country is to make a genuine recovery.  Genuine reform must come first.  A sacrifical Bull won’t accomplish any of this. 

Irish politicians are among the most authoritarian, arrogant and devoted to themselves of any western democracy.   Their salaries alone attest to this.  But even they have begun dimly to appreciate that we are not in a mood not to be taken seriously any longer.  Trust is completely gone and for good reason.  It can hardly be a comfort to them that the Lisbon Treaty result was almost certainly a consequence of a conviction at large that there is noone trustworthy, responsible or capable at the helm.

We have to throw our disapproval at them like a bucket of ice water over a sleeping drunk.  Otherwise they will simply marvel that they have once again gotten away with it.  If JOD’s resignation is enough to quiet us about even more serious matters they will carry on as normal. 

Some early signs are not good.  Already people are throwing around accusations of ‘trial by media’ when in fact the media was largely if belatedly doing a more thorough job for a change by reporting uncomfortable facts.  For example, someone (I can’t remember who) pointed out on Eamon Keane’s Newstalk programme that when Mary Harney and her crew were on their junket in Florida there was a substantial retinue of journalists in tow – none of whom appeared to notice the nature of what was going on at the time.   However, if the media now behave more like a pack moving from culprit to culprit in pursuit of individual scalps without any serious challenge to the underlying issues it will all be for nothing.   Opposition pliticians, commentators, academics and ordinary people themselves must ensure that the political agenda stays firmly focused on the real business of reform.  Enda Kenny to give him his due has repeatedly complained at the way the government functions so secretively – preferring to liaise with consultants in private than to discuss their plans openly as is supposed to be the function of parliament.  Civil servants too have been marginalised thereby laying waste to a body of experience that is supposed to inform government without prejudice.  Whether they do or not is another matter, but they at least function under an entirely different tradition to commercial consultants who are only too happy to tell governments what they want to hear – often on behalf of clients with vested interests.  This is the sort of thing that needs to be investigated and routed.

There are more heartening signs elsewhere that things may turn out well.   In the case of NAMA, honest capitalists (I know, I know) such as Constantine Gurdgiev, Morgan Kelly, David McWilliams and Joseph Stiglitz have had the courage to put their heads over the parapet and tell it like it is.  The word ‘criminal’ is at long last – and deservedly – in play.  NAMA  is not playing by the rules of capitalism they say.  Failed banks are their own responsibility.  The rest of us have enough to do dealing with the damage they have inflicted on us without being made to pay for their gambling debts. 

Fianna Fail politicians are in the habit of throwing almighty tantrums when things don’t go their way.  They are typically foul-tempered and aggressive when brought to book about anything – lashing out at messengers and victims of their wrong doing alike.    Sadly, the media often run like frightened rabits when they do.  It is much to be hoped that editors, journalists, opinion column writers and the public at large will show some metal in dealing with this sort of bullying for a change.

Foreboding

This must be the democratic deficit we were warned about:

“Ms Merkel has touted Jean-Claude Juncker, of Luxembourg, for the role, but the backroom dealer would hardly set European pulses racing. It is understood that President Sarkozy proposed Felipe González, of Spain, privately to Ms Merkel, but that she was suspicious of endorsing the Socialist.” [‘President’ Blair waits on voters of Ireland, The Times, 2/10/09]