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via Hawkes77 / Flickr / CC Licensed

Like many people, I was stuck to my computer on Friday as the news about Hosni Mubarak’s departure from the political stage was announced in Cairo.

The Egyptian protestors deserve worldwide acclaim by the way they conducted themselves. Some have said they deserve a Nobel Prize, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s rare enough to see those qualities we all aspire to on display: courage, dignity, resilience, the refusal to stay silent in the face of injustice and a single-minded yearning for the freedoms many of us take for granted.

Yesterday, the young people of Egypt gave the world a timely reminder that they are not so different to the rest of us. At the core, they want the same things as us, and who are we to tell them they can’t have them, purely as a result of an accident of birth?

This is the beauty of democracy. Although it’s no panacea: corruption, economic collapse, inequality and injustice do not respect political forms; it nevertheless gives people a say in the way their country is run, it entitles them to have their say, no matter how unpalatable the message, and it keeps would-be autocrats at bay. It demands that bloodless coups – free elections – become part of the woodwork, so that the powerful can never outstay their welcome. To our great shame, we in the democratised lands have looked blithely askance when questioning why it shouldn’t be available to everyone in the world, not just in the so-called West. Wasn’t it from similar tyrannies that many of our own democracies originated?

It is important for us all that the Egyptians are given our full support as they transition to democracy. The same is true for Tunisia and the other soon-to-be-freed nations of the Middle East and North Africa. History is slowly moving our world in the direction of democratic freedom for all.

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Berlin Wall

Photo: GothPhil (Flickr - cc licensed)

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event I remember as if it were yesterday. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the high point of an astonishing period in world history, beginning with the fall of the Polish government in June 1989 and culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the space of a few months, the world changed utterly. The message, at least for a while, was one of hope: that repressive regimes can come to an end when the conditions are right.

Ten years before this, another political change took place in Iran, when the Ayatollah Khomeini wrested power from the Shah in a popular uprising that swept the nation. Khomeini created an Islamic Republic, supposedly freeing the country from the yoke of dictatorship and setting up a kind of utopia on Earth along Islamic principles. This new Iranian state quickly revealed itself to be just another tawdry dictatorship in clerical disguise, and now the youth of Iran are fighting for the same freedoms as their parents, thirty years ago.  Some are paying with their lives.

Iranian protest

Photo: faramarz (Flickr - cc licensed)

If history is any guide, rotten regimes often  succumb eventually to a combination of relentless external and internal pressures. These pressures do not need to be violent, but they do need to be sustained. We can only hope that this will be soon be the fate of the current Iranian republic.

The Irish government over the past 10 years has been a disaster. I hate their arrogance. I hate the fact that we are all going to have to pay through the nose because of their blithe mismanagement of the economy. I wish some of them could see jail time, convicted of the felony of driving a country while hopelessly drunk on power. I hope they are obliterated in the next election. There. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Nevertheless, I will vote Yes in the Lisbon Referendum. One of the many reasons why I will be voting Yes is precisely because our government were so incompetent.

If we have learned anything in the past two years, it is that government arrogance can lead to extraordinarily bad decisions. During the ‘good times’ it was incapable of listening to good advice, of taking the foot off the pedal, of acting in the best interest of its citizens.  It paid lip service to the longer term needs of its people while it cosied up to the property developers and bankers. Cautionary warnings from the EU were treated with disdain. The perceived “deadweight” of the EU resulted in a lack of urgency defending the first Lisbon referendum against its critics. These chickens came home to roost when this referendum was comprehensively defeated in 2008. Perhaps we need to take take the views of our European partners a bit more seriously in future.

There is an assumption that an Ireland, free from EU interference, could make better decisions, but where is the evidence for this? Before the EU came into being, Ireland was a bloody awful place – conservative, illiberal and pandering to the needs of the well-heeled few. When we did eventually join, these same self-interested forces within our own country fought tooth and nail to prevent even the most basic social and environmental reforms to take place. Without European influence, there would be no such thing as a minimum wage. Our environmental record would be disastrous. Homosexuality and condoms might still be on the banned list. If there is one big achievement of Europe, it is that it dragged this country kicking and screaming into the modern world. I am proud of my country but I don’t think I would be quite so proud of the place if the basic reforms that came with EU membership had not happened during my lifetime.

Another reason I am voting Yes is because I don’t see how giving our government a bloody nose will benefit any of us in the long term. It’s one thing to hurt the government if you see a benefit in doing so, but it is quite another thing if the outcome is a vote for economic meltdown. The outcome of Lisbon is long-term and will transcend many governments in the coming decades. If you have a problem with the government, the place to make that dissatisfaction clear is in the polling booth at the next General Election, not in the referendum, where a negative result will have lasting impacts on our economy.

So for those still thinking of voting No just to give the government a kicking, here’s a handy chart..

Lisbon Flowchart

Cheney passes into history

I was originally going to post a snarky message comparing the ex-VP to Peter Seller’s comic creation, but then I saw this photo and realised that what I was trying to do wasn’t really that funny.  What I see instead is pathetic and rather sad.

Here is a man whom history has already judged. Over the coming years, as the threat of censure fades, as the files documenting the Bush Presidency get released, the judgement of future generations is destined to get much, much harsher.

For Dick Cheney, there will be no kind epitaphs. No entry into the pantheon of the American Greats. No statues or streets named after him outside of his home state. Merely whispers, rumours and that background radiation of anger that accompanies the memory of someone who did so much to spread misery and resentment during his time in the limelight.

via OpenCongress.org

via OpenCongress.org

 

Some time ago, our CEO, a well known and incredibly successful and charismatic man, addressed his employees via a video link to talk about how the company was doing overall. He talked about the future, and the successes of the past. I was struck by a common theme throughout his talk. He declared, on a number of occasions what we were not involved in, what we not prepared to do, what wasn’t of interest to us as a company, what wasn’t yet a mature market.

Not, no, never, can’t, shouldn’t, won’t.

That is strategy:  the realisation that you can’t do everything, that you have limited resources and limited time, and that you are much better off doing some things very well rather than doing everything poorly.  

So, when I was listening to President Obama’s inspirational inauguration speech yesterday I was struck by the level of expectation heaped upon his shoulders, and what he expects his government will be able to achieve in the next 4 plus years. I couldn’t help wonder about the depths of the problems facing him. Iraq. Afghanistan. Al Qaeda. Global Warming. Financial Meltdown. Liquidity. Unemployment. Homelessness. Inadequate healthcare. A crumbling infrastructure. An educational deficit. Peak Oil. The restoration of international law and America’s moral standing in the world.

Where do you start? 

However he does it, he will need to pick his battles wisely, because he and his administration will not be able to do it all. He can’t do everything. Maybe all we can expect, at least in the short term, is that he is judicious in sowing the seeds of change.

Here’s something to kick start this cold, cold week (gratuitously stolen from Compu-Diva).

One sunny day in January, 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he’d been sitting on a park bench. He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”

The Marine looked at the man and said, “Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.” The old man said, “Okay”, and walked away. The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”

The Marine again told the man, “Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.” The man thanked him and, again, just walked away. The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U.S. Marine, saying “I would like to go in and meet with President Bush.”

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, “Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I’ve told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don’t you understand?”

The old man looked at the Marine and said, “Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it.” The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, “See you tomorrow, Sir.”

obama-speech

I have the happy fortune to be in California at the moment to witness a piece of history. The excitement all day was palpable. I was consulting my iPhone all evening as the results started to flow through. Then, sooner than expected, it was all over. Obama had crossed the line of 270 electoral votes and quickly had over 300 votes in the bag. All over bar the shouting, as they say in Ireland.

This is a terrific day for so many Americans. I was in a bar at the time and the whole place went silent when Obama stood up to deliver his victory speech. There were tears in peoples’ eyes. The king is dead*, long live the king.

* Well, metaphorically, and even then not until January… All the fun has been taken out of the modern day political leadership changes, don’t you think? No tumbrils, guillotines, or even chopping blocks these days. Such utter killjoys..

Like most people around the world, I am absolutely hooked on the upcoming American presidential election. It seems to me as if history is being played out in front of our eyes. It’s my belief that, with the now almost certain victory of Barack Obama, America is about to change forever.

I don’t think that the likes of a George Bush (or Sarah Palin for that matter) will ever get elected to the highest office again. This is the beginning of the end of the Christian Right’s domination of American politics.

Why do I think this? One word. Irrelevance.

America’s right wing built its power selling myths to its people. God, guns and gasoline, the belief that America was somehow special and superior to all others. A fear of the outside world. Ferocious self reliance – no safety nets and little care for those that do not make it.

Like a living organism, ideas need a context in which to survive and thrive. America’s relative isolation provided that context. It allowed many of its citizens to believe that they were superior, that life really was a clear and definable struggle of good against evil and that the resources of the world were somehow inexhaustable.

No more. Technology, education, cheap travel, globalisation, climate change, international terrorism and the failure of classical American foreign policy have punctured this myth, with only the most ardent believers (and there are still many of them) continuing to hold out defiantly.

It’s becoming increasingly more evident that, for America to prosper, to compete, and to address complex challenges such as disease pandemics, global warming, nuclear proliferation, financial meltdown and terrorism, it must engage constructively with the rest of the world. With the vessel of isolationism in retreat, the carefully nurtured myths that held fast to its hull have no home to go to.

Lest my American friends think that I am attempting to paint America as one homogeneous, naive, reactionary mass, nothing could be further from the truth. What I am describing is not some overnight phenomenon. Many Americans “get” this changed reality, and have done for years, if not decades. The election of Obama, I believe, will be the tipping point, where the prevailing ideology of the isolationists will finally become a minority view. To regain the upper hand, Republicanism will need to reinvent itself, but given the arch-conservatism of its support base, this is no easy task.

But what do I know? I don’t come from there, nor do I live there, but fascinated in the country I will always be.

It’s not such big news considering the global situation, but Ireland’s fabled “Celtic Tiger” got shot a few months ago. Shot, gutted, skinned, skewered and then roasted. Like an express train travelling at 200kph towards a half-finished bridge, everyone saw it coming, but few dared to scream halt. The whole country was complicit in an unprecedented property scam. Ireland, for a while, became the land of the golden SUV. People were taking four holidays a year. You were measured by the size of your kitchen extension.

And all this time, the government was rolling it in. Larging it up. The cash was there from increased taxes and almost full-employment, so why not give this nation of habitual complainers the services they always wanted? Every spare penny was spent on cushioning: padding out the public services, propping up the salaries, silencing discontent with cash. Nobody complained. How could they? Nobody, after all, likes a party pooper. 

But then, in 2007, the property market crashed. Crash. Bang. Wallop. Thud. Every month since then, less and less money has flowed in as waves of construction workers and their dependents find themselves out of a job. The Irish Government, with no money stored away for a rainy day, is now broke. Officially, indisputably, skint.

And yet, the public expectation is that the Celtic Tiger services stay exactly the same. That’s the public for you and who can blame it? You fight hard to get your privileges, and damned if you are not going to put up a fight if someone tries to take them away. 

You would think, in a situation such as we find ourselves in today, that the political classes might get together to figure out what needs to be done. All the parties – government, opposition, everyone. Get the best administrators, the most capable leaders, the most innovative thinkers, and put together a plan that hurts like hell, but eventually gets the country out of the mess it now finds itself in. 

Instead, what we find is political point-scoring on a massive scale. The entire opposition has decided that siding with the populace is the way to go. That sympathising with Mr and Mrs Murphy on Leitrim St is going to solve the countries problems. That blame is better than solution finding. That it is better to seize the opportunity now to get elected than to be constructive and engaged in solving this overwhelmingly bad situation. 

Well, oppositiony politiciany folks – we need your rampant opportunism now like a chasm in the head. Unless you start telling us how you are going to solve the political crisis by making deep, painful cuts in public expenditure or increasing taxes, could I ask you to fuck off and leave the professionals to it?

There. Rant over.

I can think of 5 reasons.

1) A slow start. While the government was busy changing its leaders, the NO campaign had plenty of time to prepare. The YES side appeared to be blind-sided by the intensity and focus of the NO people, and subsequently spent the rest of the campaign on the back-foot.

2) Simple Messages. The Yes side failed to create simple reasons why a YES vote would be advisable. They had no equivalent to “Keep our commissioner”, “Tell Mandelson where to go”, “If you don’t know, vote NO”. On the YES side it was just blandishments: “A stronger voice in Europe”, yadda, yadda.

3) Populism: The NO campaign was much more populist, much more likely to appeal to the man on the street, whereas the YES campaign conveyed a perception that “we know better than you”. The NO side capitalised on this, and particularly benefited from support by the highly effective communication skills of popular contrarians such as Eamonn Dunphy and Shane Ross.  

4) Fear: The YES side didn’t do enough to allay people’s fears. One woman on the radio voted No yesterday because she didn’t want her son to be conscripted! Others feared unrestricted abortions and goodness knows what else. A secretive French plan to assault the Irish taxation system was mentioned. Thousands of people were scared into voting no.

5) Confusion. This was one seriously complicated piece of legislation. Few would have the time or inclination to tease out the minutiae. Even if you wanted to vote YES, you might still have niggling doubts. Better the devil you know, then. 

Whatever your views on the matter, it has to be admitted that the NO side ran an extremely smart campaign. The YES campaign didn’t do enough to anticipate what they might do, and now they will reap the whirlwind. 

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