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Watch em Squirm

Great stuff from EWI over at Free Stater, nice hit on the ol' Pat Robertson, who of course meant 'kill' in the 'disabling' sense. Not the dead one, no way.
Of course defeding such a complex position is a difficult thing to do, even for a Trinity Economist, or is that 'especially' for a trinity economist?
RR
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8.30.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

UN Millenium Summit

At the weekend, we were greeted with reports of leaked documents relating to the attempt by John Bolton, new US ambassador to the UN, to alter the declaration from the UN Milenium summit due to be held in September. Reaction to his attempts to railroad the agenda down American Foreign Policy Drive have brought mixed reactions. Some are of the opinion that the fireworks, friction and other confrontation wrought by Bolton on the institution are good for argument and may yield some results other than navel-gazing. Its a defensible proposition but i think in total the tpm point that all of these fights are turned into zero-sum games by the administration leaves little room for any consensus in an institution thats survival and success is predicated on successful consuensus building.
For those not following the story, TPM oultlines his basic challenges to the document as follows;
"In short, the document does the following:

~ knocks out entirely the Millennium Development Goals

~ continues to undermine collective efforts against climate change

~ knocks out targets and timetables for all goals and objectives

~ guts any efforts toward further disarmament objectives and focuses exclusively on non-proliferation, while both had always been important objectives in the past

~ strikes the section that states that countries will use force only as last resort

~ and oddly, strikes out the need to establish a legal definition of terrorism, which the Bush administration has previously stated is a requirement before proceeding towards a U.N. Convention on Terorrism."

I agree with the characterisation of Boltons actions as such, and so have zero problem plaigerising.
Now I come a cross a report from IPS, which makes clear there was deep-rooted opposition brewing in any case to the draft, which existed even before Bolton's contribution. Apparantly submissions made to the drafters by China and the G77 developing nations, representing 75% of world population, were ignored in the draft released weeks before Bolton's appointment.
In a nutshell, from Peter Hardstaff of the World Development Movement (WDM);

"The UN has produced a text that is largely an acceptance of the free market deregulation approach,
it is sad that the UN itself is producing drafts which show that it is failing to think outside the box, and failing to include the developing countries' views sufficiently. And that could get weakened further because of the U.S. position."

For even thinking such thoughtcrime, i am bound to have free marketeers up in arms. Yet the point must be made that the Global South has often best prospered in cases of initial protectionism until there existed conditions strong enough to withstand globa free trade and movement of capital. While many or some may disagree with the principles of global capital it is the unfortunate reality of todays international arrangement and desires to alleviate overty must be rooted in the realistic vision of our world, oughts and shoulds wont provide a chance for the south yet. The doctrinal approach of freeing up markets and killing social spending is undefensible in cases of countries where people are dying of Aids, HIV, Malaria and starvation. Deprivation of sevices and clean water to these people is not an ideological battle field but a concrete necessity. We must begin to deliver on our responsibilities to those who have been left to support our system, those whose oppression many feel laid the foundations of modern capitalism.
The development summit looks set to go the same way as G8, which appears thus far to have vindicated cynical views of furhter exploitation of dominance. Trying to shoehorn issues such as terror and reform on the agenda serves little outside US interest, the UN should be about more than that and it should have the ability to stand firm in its desire to discuss inequality and social justice.
The G77 outlined some points they felt should be considered in the drafting position, they are as follows and compares them to draft positions, (again from IPS);
- To reject any conditions attached to the provision of development assistance. The Aug. 5 draft declaration contains no reference to removing any of the conditions that are currently attached to aid, loans and debt relief.

- To state that the focus of the WTO Doha Round of negotiations should be on ensuring that the interests of developing countries are fully reflected. The G77 and China specifically note reaching the 2006 deadline for negotiations should not take precedence over an outcome which reflects the interests of developing countries. In contrast the subsequent draft declaration prioritises hitting the 2006 deadline, and makes no reference to it reflecting the interests of developing countries.

- To reaffirm the commitment of developed countries to provide 0.7 per cent of their national incomes in aid. The draft declaration only ''invites'' developed countries ''to establish timetables in order to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent.''

- To specify that developing countries should have the policy space to formulate development strategies. The draft declaration makes no reference to protecting policy space.

- To emphasise the need to provide an immediate solution to the question of commodities and stress the need for more effective international action to address the problems of weak and volatile commodity prices. In reference to Africa, the draft declaration focuses on 'market-based' arrangements with the private sector for addressing the problem of commodity prices, rather than the intergovernmental arrangement called for by the G77 and China.

- To make a reference to commitments made at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002. The draft declaration makes no reference to the summit at all. (END/2005)

Considering the effectiveness of a Unified Global south in Cancun who would bet aganist it happeing again in September, especially with China on board. The opportunities to create a democratic and popular consensus on issues of poverty lies before all in New York. If again the hijacking of the casue is permitted, popular movement in the name of Making Poverty History looks set to be an ephemeral piece of popular discontent which, once vented, disappears in our thirty second attention span.
Allowing Bolton to bully his way round the halls of the UN is not an option. Standing tall for global democracy and offering those who need it the opportunity to be in full control of their own destiny is the only way. Africa is not underqualified but under-free to do as it would to alleviate poverty. September's summit in New York must address the interests of the many, not simply our global super-power nor its governing ideology.
RR
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» Author: Cian » Comments:

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8.28.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Pat Robertson-Terrorist?

From stunned.org on the boob pat robertson's idiotic comments comments. There is good reason for secularism in the modern age and if we were singularly worried about fundamnetal Muslim influence, Pat has helpfully reminded us of how many different religious types democracies must be wary of.
Is he a terrorist? Or simply a terrorist sympathiser. Thats a question unlikely to get answered, the dangers presented by religious moralists presiding over the reigns of a superpower are clear however. Cheers Pat.
RR

8.27.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

China moves toward the top

Keeping with the recent obsession of this blogger and the activity of Chinese oil interests, I am again moved to direct attention to this report from the Asia Times on the current moves afoot for CNPC to purchase petroKazakhstan.
The world has gone
China mad lately in a manner reminiscent of the time we were convinced of imminent Martian invasion. I am aware that some may grow tiresome of endless talk of China, oil and US Deficits but if anything looks set to rock the global status quo in the coming years its not Live 8. These are issues of enormous significance to all of us. The moves into Kazakhstan by the Chinese player looks set to secure in the region of 500 Million barrels of oil. Consider that it is not only the oil they look set to control but also a refinery. In the current market climate, refinery capacity is the constant thorn in the side of oil traders.
Considering the large volume of oil in reserves of PK, this comment in the piece is slightly disconcerting;
"As for buying PetroKazakhstan, according to Martin Molyneaux, managing director of Institutional Research for FirstEnergy Capital Corp, 'For China, this deal is about resources. It's material. But it's not a solution to
China's growing oil demand. PetroKazakhstan represents maybe 30% of one year's demand growth in China if it keeps growing [at its current rate]. So the Chinese would need one PetroKazakhstan every four months to satisfy demand [growth]. Still, it's a good and a fairly large purchase for them.'"

The new beast on the block has a large appetite, potentially much larger than that very uncomfortable American consumer. The deal is not set in stone yet, like the UNOCAL deal there are competitors, the bad news for US interests is that this competitor is that other sleeping tiger, India.
To see a battle shaping, up in a dictatorship, between
China and India for oil rights currently held by a Canadian company seems to be a sneak peak at the multi-polar future we are moving toward. The article touts possibilities for cooperation between the Asian players over the rights and oil fields, getting into Kazakhstan is more important than the current assets of PK alone.
The readiness of these states to get their hands dirty is nothing new, as I outlined recently the tactic of empire building is to make unpleasant friends to get your own way. Popular democracies don’t choose to be dominated by external powers.
Yet in furthering their interest
China is also playing a different tactic to that it recently attempted to pull with Venezuela. The route from Kazakhstan to China is overland. If the deal is to succeed, pipelines connecting central Asia to China and India will become the talking point.
In 'Hegemony or Survival', Chomsky (The excellent WikiBiog) pointed to the extension of the great game into
Central Asia. The difference here is that China could get oil connected directly to its state overland and through pipelines. It didn’t have to navigate waters controlled de facto by the US Navy patrols and thus not expose its oil assets to attack in the event of resource wars etc. This prospect is a direct challenge to US hegemony over oil assets and their delivery from the current majors of the Gulf area. China is investing a great deal of energy in befriending regional players. This is not simply for popularity.
Orwell's 1984 showed the danger of a tyranny who learned from prior tyranny's mistakes and was self-aware. If
China shows such characteristics in Central Asia learning from prior and imperially necessary US intervention in Central and South America, there could be trouble.
The point is that the purchase of PK by a Chinese or an Indian company holds great strategic competition to the
US. Using different forms of regional influence and exploiting land access to oil rich regions of the world (a privilege the US is running short on), the Chinese are moving into the driving seat in the rising battle for control of the next great oil reserves. The inevitable resolution of conflicting interests may be messy.
We are watching in slow motion the emergence of another power to challenge the current incumbent. However the whole concept of super power has led us down a blind alley. The leadership of the
US got us nowhere, simply because objective ideology takes little or no account for human difference. The prospect of a challenge to US supremacy, whether from 'fellow travellers' in the pseudo communist china or the 'young pretenders' in neo-capitalist India, fills me with dread at the prospect of re-enforcing the concept of global leadership. Top down authoritarian structures achieve little for the majority of us all. I am hoping that in the slight gap in timing between where we are now and where we might go, sense will prevail.
We require superpowers to secure the current system. Well maybe current systems are wrong and super-powers are superfluous. In challenging the
US, China is on a collision course with major world players, Banks, Corporations, political players and the West. Taiwan will be first to suffer and on it shall go. Elevating these entities to a status of control over human existence is folly in the extreme, humanity is not in fealty to these interests nor any other.
I will continue to be obsessed with this geo-political chess taking place between the two. In doing so I am not hoping for a winner or a loser. I am seeking to find a system where we don’t need a super-power.
RR

8.25.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Creationism and Liberal Zealotry

SOme worrying news comes to us from publictheologian.com, regarding the actions of academics in the U.S. toward a journal editor who decided to publish an article in a biology journal on cretaionism. For those who have been mia, the debate in the us over intelligent design versus darwinism seems to be hotting up as Bush gets closer to leaving the White House.
Creationism, Intelligent Design, Darwinism(Evolution).
I encourage you to read on but in true liberal fashion I support defeating this theory through channels of debate and argument. Hounding an editor over such a decision sounds more like the religious zealots than liberal zealots. Both are as harmful as the other. To abandon principles held dear to liberals in order to prevent an argument is not something praiseworthy. Lets have it out with the creationists and lets win. Also from PT, this post is on the debate.
RR

8.23.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Towards Two Poles, Venezuela, China & The US

The recent talk about increasing Ruso-Sino relations and the increasing cooperation of the two states (see their recent festival of war games), is proving troublesome for many in the US and their allies. News, then, that the nemesis of American Imperialism, Hugo Chavez, and his national oil company are to open an office in central asia soon should raise a few eyebrows. The news comes from AP. Growing cosiness of nations who align themselves,if not anatagonistically then certainly outside of, US interests looks set to cause ructions.
In this era of $60 oil and growing scarcity of capacity to refine, we look to have a wounded bear scenario on our hands in terms of the US consumer. Weaned for years on an economy and society that took cheap oil and gas for granted, the recent upsurge in prices is hurting already low savings levels and affecting the consumption boom.
The venezualan move to sell 300,000 barrels of oil per day to the chinese economy looks like a smart positioning of interests between the two players shaping up to slug it out over the next 25 years. It is a position of consistency for a man who enjoys close relations with China and still uses his oil to keep doctors coming in from Cuba. The benefits for Venezuela in selling oil to two states looking to begin challenging (well China challenges while Russia holds on and hopes) are numerous.
In diversifying interests, Venezuela is creating an environment where in a few years, scarcre supply will allow him to name his price between the two/three different poles. This is a dangerous position however and here again Chavez has managed to cover himself.
The US has always reserved the right to treat Central and South America as a fiefdom, since the days of the Roosevelt Corollary of Monroe Doctrine, and this act by Venezuela of shipping oil to a country which is not the US or a special ally is going to bring a great deal of consternation Chavez' way. Hold on a tick though, this second part of the grand strategy looks to be the fact that in China and Russia he has two major players. As the worlds greatest exporter of goods, China holds a great deal of US treasuries in its vault, any prospective US agresssion toward Venezuela may spark Chinese recriminations. The prospect of a US-Sino trade war is not something many cheer over. The US is growing deeply reliant on the rest of the world to fund its deficit problem and over consumption.
This advantage is double locked for Chavez through the Russian veto. Not since the cold war days have we really considered division of relatively equal powers each tending their own fiefdoms. This prospect may yet re emerge as resource become scarcer and the two major economies slug it out for juice.
So where to from here then? Venezuela has a reputation for being a bit of a cowboy country, its recent show of solidarity with the Argentines, buying up treasury bonds and effectively underwrinting debt for the country, shows Chavez is a man seeking his own 'third way' in doing so however he is more than happy to allow the first two ways to benefit him. Thus the major US corporates are still present in the capital.
In positioning himself between two poles, Chavez is running a tight line. He cannot be guaranteed safety, nor can he ever wholly trust a suspicious US.
The actions of Chavez are greeted differently and attitudes toward him are coloured by ideology. The man does seems to have some good points and certainly some policies have merit, notably his means of supplying oil for doctors. His actions however may begin getting him into trouble when it gets to the crunch in terms of oil supply and every barrel counts. At such time the US will not sit idly by and allow him to ship 300,000 barrels a day to Asia.
The positionings of China and Russia over the last few months and years suggest a willingness on their part to get stuck into the messy business of peddling influence and supporting unsavoury characters in the name of national interest and global power. This is a proven trajectory of empire as far back as history can recall. The US is but the most recent beneficiary of such a strategy.
It seems that with a population of over a billion, 60% of which have yet to be industriaised, growth in China has enormous potential. They are in the black and net exporters. The US is in the red and a net importer. Its position at the top relies on a complex of debt and consumption. I fear that these actions are but a small step on the path to a bipolar world though not the one Jacques Chirac desired.
Those who oppose US imperial tendencies, should begin developing a similar critique of China and new ways to get heard.
On the other side of the ocean, what exactly is China's intention with South America, recent trade visits have gone well and deals with many countries have been signed. Activity round the southern cone is an obvious affront to the Monroe Doctrine but not so grevious an insult to lead to attack. CNBC is worried about the potential strategic loss of 15% of US supplies of oil. Other contributions have been less helpful. The long term strategy of China is to displace the US at the top of the tree, how this may happen is not very clear. It took two world wars for the US to achieve it over the UK and a further 45 years to become sole superpower.
Is the rise of China and the building of alternative alliances an affront to the US which is cannot halt? Is the return to a multi-polar palnet inevitable. Is there really a need for superpowers anyway? These questions look set to be answered in retrospect.
For the moment little looks set to come of the Venezuelan diversification, it will take a few years for china's refineries to become calibrated to Venezuelan oil. When that happens, oil will still be expensive and we will be closer to peak oil, not matter when it is. The increasing scrabble for hydrocarbons, the increasing scarcity of these minerals and two strategic alliances forming should make that time a forment of imperial activity.
Sitting on the sidelines in little old ireland, I fret over one thing. If oil gets too expensive for companies to locate anywhere but india and china, what does that do for our jobs market? HOw many of you reading this work in a multi national. Should they pull out for cost reasons, what will all of you do?
The Prescott-esque tectonic plates are moving slowly. Its likely they will stop at a bi-polar world of two alliances. Yet again those who get squeezed out are pro-democracy campaigners. In a world of options, the peoples voice is too hard to predict and control, democracy only works in those cases where options are controlled and outcomes certain anyway.
Ultimately, the driver in all of this is oil, who has it, who wants it. The conflicts looking set to emerge in years to come will be geo-political nad geo-strategic. Some argue they all are. How can those of us who care about Human Rights and Democratic empowerment create the conditions of stability and freedom from empire? I am unsure but if there is a time to begin considering it, perhaps it is now.
From a little post on oil to a broader post on international relations. I hope it isnt as jumbled as i fear.
RR

8.22.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

University, CAO and Places

A number of stories and angry sounding press releases around today has focussed my otherwise blurred attention. Its silly season and suddenly everyone cares about standards in education and student welfare and investment in the future etc. Come september the whole thing will have moved on and little achieved in terms of reform.
Currently we are facing genuine problems in our education system, we are not alone in this however (1,2). Reports across the press this morning are making hay on the numbers of places available to study Medicine and other High-points courses in Ireland. There appear to be a high number of places reserved for full fee-paying students from overseas according to the Irish Times.
I attended a talk with Liz Macmanus, Labour Spokesperson on Health, last year and she cited the reservation of places for foreign fee-paying students as having a detrimental effect on our own staff levels in Ireland. A&Es would benefit greatly from a higher proportion of graduates required or desiring to work in this country after graduation.
It is not in the region of medicine alone however that many are getting hot under the collar. As a missive from the Labour Press Office points out today, many in business and Trade Unions are citinig large skill shortages in the economy going forward and this needs to be addressed if we are to maintain any advantage over foreign locations. There are other issues affecting Irish industry that make me uncomfortable at the moment also, but for industry bodies it seems to be a forthcoming skill shortage.
As usual the answers here are putting onus on institutions of education to alleviate the problem. Labour call on institutions to offer spare CAO places that arent filled to students who will work part time toward their degree. The problem is that in this day and age unless each student in a part time course were to be subsidised it is unlikely that it would be feasible or considered by the authorities.
The labour position is thus;

"'This is not the first time I have made this suggestion to the colleges. The vacant places problem, especially in engineering and computing, has been with us for years, but this is the first time that, even before CAO offers, there are dozens of vacant places in university degree courses.

'I believe the universities and institutes have a duty to make an imaginative and practical response, and I am calling on them to do so.'"

They certainly do and I agree with the sentiment. The problem is that government and political parties have an equal responsibility to put in place a system whereby Universities are encouraged to take such students on board instead of offering spare places to foreign full-fee paying students. The dilemma here is again about the role of the state in making third level accesible to those who want or need it and making it feasible for Institutions to assist in educational attainment.
As with all things educational, ideology puts people on different sides of the fence. Shall we subsidise and pay for the movement of people through college to satisfy the indsutry demand.
Should education be free at the point of access and paid for later on simply free, paid for by tax. The dilemmas currently facing our institutions is that their standard is faling through lack of investment. Capital spending on facilities is to be paid for from research profits and other money making arenas. Outside of fees the arena for revenue generation in University sector is limited.
So how do we open up the sector to those who we need to get in and maintain equal entry into University? Is there a place for means testing of ability to pay? Or is it simply a case of arguing for further investment from government in third level places?
Surely making it profitable and easy for Unis to offer places unfulfilled part-time to those looking for them is the way forward and here the ideological blinkers descend.
Getting people into uni is a progressive ideal, more education empowers us all, makes us aware of our surroundings and our society.
The role of the state is to provide places and to encourage equality of access to places. So it should encourage a framework of flexible places which do not jeapordise institutional revenue so as to continue to invest in our third level framework. The role of the state, either as responsible for the citizen or if you prefer as facilitator of business and profit making is to offer citizens cheap or free education in an institution of repute and international quality.
The interest in this subject will soon pass again until next august. Reform of the leaving cert followed by University reform will come roung again and again, if we could trust in governmental foresight then perhaps this could be the last time we bring up the issue.
RR

» Author: Cian » Comments:

Isreal and Gaza

The worlds media has descended on 2% of old palestine to see a historic process of handing 20% of palestinians back 2% of their land. I am not a curmudgeon, this is a process with some good points. It simply seems that the media circus taking place in Gaza is intended to create the feel good factor which opens the door to solidifying Isreali presence on the West Bank.
Theories abound and clearsightedness is lacking.
No one seems to be getting a chance to catch their breath in the whirlwind of human interest stories sweeping the news channels, tales of Jew against Jew and celebratory Palestinians make good stories of Journalists from all sides. Yet the picture is at best opaque and from the palestinian side, uncovered.
In totality this is an exercis in limited gift giving. Whatever is given is done so on condition and with strings attached. The exercise of pullout from Gaza has been cited by some as an exercise in curing the 'demographic problem', by others as a conspiracy to cantonise the West Bank and focus on the building of the security barrier.
I readily submit to being sceptial of the actions of hte isreali state. This is not a position that is indefensible, however the myopic palestinian=good isreali=bad strain of such thought leaves many questions unanswered.
Looking across the board at coverage of the momentus and historic decision, we can see that there is deeprooted belief that the removal of Gaza settlers strengthens Isreal's hand in ignoring the Road-Map, by keeping steps ahead and remaining uni-lateral.
If we were to consider for a moment the new political reality being entered into by the Palestinians, liberation may not be the most suitable word.
In the most sceptical of commentary sentiment is hardline toward media coverage;
"....In the 5 years of Israel's brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family's memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live." from Counterpunch
The pullout from Gaza, is a withdrawal of IDF forces from Gaza to the border, retaining the capacity to first strike, sending in airgunships or whatever the weapons of mass civilian destruction are called these days. In returning land to Gaza the Isreali's are maintaining their imperial stranglehold by controlling borders and ports. Life in Gaza is stifling through economic decay as much as Isreal intervention militarily.
To quote from the IPS regarding the duplicity of the pullout;
" The average compensation packet for an Israeli settler home is around a quarter of a million dollars. But to that has been added a bonus payment, two years free rent at the new location, help to set it up, removals expenses, compensation for loss of land and redundancy compensation. For some families the compensation package is closer to half a million dollars.

On the other hand, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been busy stocking food to make sure that poor Palestinians in Gaza do not starve as the settlers move out."

The WFP is concerned at the manner in which roads and infrastructure will be shut down to facilitate the pullout and this will cut off palestinians from their land and livelihood.
The occupation of plaestinian land has impoverished and imprisoned many of those in the Gaza strip.
From the counterpuch article;
"
The World Bank reported in December 2004 that both poverty and unemployment will rise following the "Disengagement" even under the best of circumstances because Israel will retain full control over the movement of goods in and out of Gaza, will maintain an enforced separation of the West Bank and Gaza preventing the residents of each from visiting one another, and will draw up separate customs agreements with each zone severing their already shattered economies-- and yet we are forced to listen day in and day out to news about this historic peace initiative, this great turning point in the career of Ariel Sharon, this story of national trauma for the brothers and sisters who have had to carry out the painful orders of their wise and besieged leader."

The belief that the disengagement represent a moment of historical progress seems delusional, life in plaestine looks likely to get harder as it reamins occupied de facto the lack of contiguity cited by some NGOs in palestine is in contravention of the Road Map and other international agreements reagrding the state of palestine.
Diatribes against Isreal achieve little, it has the full support of the super-power in its actions and a large messianic movement influencing settler policy. Life in the middle east is going to change following the disengagement but how and whether it is for the better is not certain.
Human RIghts must begin to be offered to Palestinians, life must be allowed to improve and the evidence of occupation removed.
Palestine is oft-quoted as an influence for extremists, in the 21st century with human rights at the forefront of international action, to abandon palestine is no longer tolerable.
The palestinian issue is one of the best arguments for abloishing the veto of the security council of the UN.
While the media gets carried away in human interest stories, life on the ground is to change forever in the middle east, if we allow the break down of contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank, we may have out third Intifada.
RR

8.19.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

That Eddie Hobbes Feeling

Talking to a friend of mine today regarding Ireland's latest people's champion, Eddie Hobbes, he reckons that his new show 'Rip-Off Republic' could bring down the government. While such rhetoric may be overblown, it would be certainly misguided to dismiss out of hand the Hobbes effect. His show is causing waves all over the place. I think The Last Word led with a piece inspired by last nights episode on fun and booze.
The show loosely based around winding people up about how much money they throw away when they purchase goods in Ireland. It is not this not so shocking fact that offers the show its potency, although the ire which it seems to be releasing in us ordinary folk is fascinating, it is instead the venom which he pours on the government. Lifting names almost verbatim from the phoenix, Hobbes has coined his own lexicon of government official's; Big Mac, Michael McDowell, Minister for Fun, John o Donoghue. etc.
Hobbes looks like out populisting the populist minister for justice. This is a good and a bad thing. For those of us concerned at the manner in which this government has constructed a superficially low-tax economy while maintaining some of the highest prices in Europe, a cheer must be given for the man Hobbes. His pointed and often simple critique of the government is that at all times it has facilitated vested interests in ripping us off. If one includes tax and especially double taxation as vested interests, as some in the blogosphere might, one has just about the kernel of his argument together. By and large the diagnosis is ok.
There is a large and often justified feeling that we in Ireland are being ripped off by anyone who subscribes to the ideals of profit. However the deep discomfort that will be felt by most progressives in this country is the simplicity with which a populist message can become a witch hunt. Hobbes experiment in media influence in the political process may be one of the kick off points in populist led democracy in this country. If it is to become a fixture in our political discourse this is a good thing. Hobbes' programme is doing more to get people discussing competition and prices than any government ad campaign. Surely the government want him onside, I know I would.
However the difficulty of conducting a debate through the television is that many of the important and often complex points get passed over. Pricing and competition in beer is one thing, issues such as taxation and the moral responsibility to redistribute wealth is something that Hobbes glosses over to demonise the government for being unable to tax properly.
Hobbes' show is an experiment in popular democracy by TV, from our own living rooms we make a statement by simply watching the show, government is held over a barrel by robust language and harsh criticism. Yet the show left major impressions of being little more than a rant.
We need to become aware of the role of tax and of profiteering in our current 'market system'. The benefit of Hobbes is he opened a can of worms and pushed the boat out in terms of attitudes to politicians. His show is a good model of accountability in Irish politics, it seems that lots of aggressive talk is and embarrassment is the best way to secure accountability.
Im still addicted, bombastic Eddie is a cackle to watch, in broader political terms progressives should consider the benefit of popular shows to publicise some of the most unequal aspect of Irish society. We should also be alert to the potential for a populist circle to develop where the call is not for sensible legislation and regulation but simply lowering taxes. The state needs to finance its meager attempt to fulfill its responsibilities and tax is the plank in such a process.
Still, power to the people is the unpredictable side of democracy that so scares democratic states into repression and oligarchy.
RR

8.16.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Role for Secularism

Recent coverage of the response in the UK to terror attacks by radical muslims, has got me thinkinh again about enlightenment values and the central role of secularism in liberal democracy. The recent use of radical islam to cover for extreme political and sociological violence, should and must force us to examine the manner in which we as liberals treat issues of religion.
Much of the initial response shied away from associating the attackers in London with the views of the majority of Muslims, criticism as such for the central role of religion in legitimising attacks on western related targets was resultingly muted for a time.
Nick Cohen touched on this point yesterday in relation to the stifling objective truth peddled by some imams and others in traditional religious communities. The 18th century thinkers from Descartes to Rousseau began to examine the dominant European religion of Christianity in a critical light, began to question claims to absolute truth and total knowledge. The route they took fused the issues of religion and politics into a branch of secular politics still practiced in France. Recently however it has been coming under threat from the problems of insufficiently integrating new immigrants into society. This is not to say they should become clones of ourselves, on the contrary, their difference necessitates their rapid inclusion in order to bring fresh light and new life to a culture. It is however, the fusion of alienation with the predominant trends in religious life, i.e. literalist simplistic answers to life's complex questions and the outsourcing of responsibility to a greater power, that is posing a large threat to our society and our democracy.
Liberal Secularism if it is to survive, must show that respect of Human Rights, opposition to torture and solidarity with global democratic movements is as powerful a force for change as extreme religion. The beauty of the enlightenment is that it opened a door in the intellectually stifling atmosphere of religious theocracy. It offered free thought and human solutions through reason. It also set in motion some of the bloodiest revolutions in history in France and America. The same is true now, to repeal some of the victories won in the blood of the 18th century, religion must begin to attack to sercure its position as holder of absolute truth.
Claims to truth and knowledge are dangerous and hubristic methods at the best of times, when the power to question these claims is stripped of adherents then the empire returns. This is not solely directed at the surging support or sympathy of extreme Islam, there are strains of this thought in all major world religions, including Communism and neo-Liberalism. The tendancy of Humanity to swallow precepts set out as objective global truths is the strongest argument for preservations and defence of secular values. Systems of democratic governance need to protect us from ourselves also.
The power of religion to make on feel godly should always be viewed with suspicion and grounds for claiming access to all knowledge of right and wrong equally challenged. Our response to the attacks on the west by extreme islam should be to challenge those who claim objective knowledge, seek to confront those who use religion as a front for political and social upheaval.
Rousseau in the social contract is eqully sceptical about the role of religion but realises it is a natural human condition, so he supports a state sanctioned church to feed out the needed platitudes. Until humanity learns to wean itself off the crutch which is religion, wars of objectve truth and morality look set to continue.
Stifling intellectual climates are no place to formulate policy or to seek to govern society. Thus religion is a private practice incompatible with the workings of the moders multi-ethnic state. Integrating those who would remain outside requries full and frank teaching of enlightenment values and the opening up of educational time to dialogue and independent critique. Learning that not all claims to truth are true is an important lesson in any polity.
RR

8.15.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Iran and Nukes

There is a very sensible post over at Fi Fie Fo Fum by Al regarding the response of the FI to the current Iranian standoff. The musings are very sensible and talk of nuclear weaponry and non proliferation should be done in the context of the recent memorials of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In sixty years many on the left fear the lessons of the nuclear attacks at the end of WWII have yet to be learned.
The presence of a nuclear arsenal has as yet failed to prevent the most hardened terrorists from attacking either the US, UK or Isreal. The issue of nuclear energy versus weapons programmes is an issue that was intended to be tackled by the NPT and its inteded successor. There has been no successor and that it down primarily to the US striking unilateral poses. As i argued yesterday regarding the UN and previously regarding the NPT, we need increasede cooperation and multilateral democracy in order to secure peace and stability.
Terming the potential iranian arsenal as an islamic weapon is rightly criticised by Al, it is unhelpful to isolate everything which may be done by muslims as done in the name of islam. Iran has other reasons for not trusting the US/Isreal and allowing the global system, particularly the UN, to offer Iran cover in the form of chinese and russian vetos is deeply troubling.
The Iranians do have rights to nuclear energy under the NPT, the nuclear states have a responsibility to promote safe technology and not to use this as a tool of foreign policy. Proper regulation of the global nuclear sector must come hand in hand with regulation of Arms and energy generally.
Hardheaded tactics by the Iranians need to be wound down also unless they are genuinely attempting to build weapons. If they are then we should be no more worried that their presence across the Irish Sea and atlantic ocean. Attempting to criminalise the iranians for wanting nukes should be done in tandem with criminalising the death and destruciton that nukes seem to give us without really offering detterence. Many have argued that nukes should go, notably the recently deceased Robin Cook M.P. in the guardian (surprise)(and follow up here).
The iranian question should be examined in the broader context of examining the role and destructiveness of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. We cannot nuke al-Qaeda or other asymmetric threats and perhaps its time to admit their role is dead. Thank goodness if it is.
RR

8.10.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

Developing a Critique of Islam

Here is a very thoughtful piece the was published in the IHT while i was away, written by Phillip Blond, lecturer in philosophy and religion at St. Martin's College, Lancaster and Adrian Pabst a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies.
A few extracts for the lazy;

"On the contrary, Islam is linked from the beginning with the practice of divinely sanctioned warfare and lethal injunctions against apostates and unbelievers. Islam experienced no period of wandering and exclusion; from its inception, Islam formed a unitary state bent on military conquest.

The Prophet died a successful military leader who created a single Islamic polity that expanded - through warfare - all over the known world. The caliphate combined the double logic of a religious community and an imperial state.
This dual identity explains how Islam can be simultaneously peaceful and warlike. While the Koran enjoins that there shall be "no compulsion in religion," Islam still regards it as a holy duty to extend militarily the borders of the House of Islam against the demonic world of unbelievers: "He who dies without having taken part in a campaign dies in a kind of unbelief."

"Maududi was a decisive influence on Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Maududi, Qutb fused the history of Mohammed's travails with a revolutionary vanguard-type ideology that removed medieval limits on warfare by championing a modern death cult in the quest for a revivified caliphate.
The ideology instigated by these two figures is fuelled by dreams of a prior Islamic golden age. Al Qaeda sympathizers avidly read European fascist literature and pursue religious ends via atheist methods. Recruits to the cause are not the excluded uneducated poor, they are intellectuals with a radical critique of Western society and its impact on Islam.
Neither the "war on terror" nor political negotiations will overcome Islam's totalitarian turn. Western repression is everywhere fuelling the ranks of radical Islam. Equally, there can be no accommodation with an ideology that seeks to fashion the whole world in its own image. The essentially Islamic nature of this terror demands nothing less than a reformation in the name of an alternative Islam.
Islam, with good reason, will never embrace Western secularization. But it could begin to develop a critique of its history by recovering some of its aborted traditions. Islam must place true religious conversion (like that of Sufism) over territorial conquest.
Islam needs to restore the legislative authority of communal consensus to allow Muslims to develop along with, rather than against, the future"

Great article and I encourage all of you to read it in full.
RR

8.09.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

UN Reform

Kevin over at DI yesterday set the ball rolling in terms of posting on the UN reform programme. His concise rundown of the issues at heart, i.e. the expansion of the Security Council to 25 seats with additional veto powers is excellent.
Myself I agree that fundamentally the UN is in serious need of some reform. The most fundamental value of the UN in all of its operations is democracy. For that reason it is highly ironic that all reform plans seem to do is exacerbate the current system which resembles the chinese communist party. Votes are only allowed on issues that cannot be affected or altered, in most cases General Assembly votes are meaningless and unreported especially if they dissent from the Security Council line.
Most major decisions are made by the cadres of the Victors in WWII. This is sadly resemblent of decision making in a Communist institution rather than one which supports and stands to represent global democratic spread. The UN really needs to represent and advocte the peoples will in its actions, not be seen as a rubber stamp for US led foreign policy and intervention. To this end the UN must be aware of the agendas at play in the debate over its future. Many in the US wish to see it as a docile puppet of foreign policy, divinely theirs to control by virtue of their status as sole super power. This is not by any means the only view, there are large numbers of multilateralists in the US who would wish to see the UN reformed along democratic and cooperative lines.
Although the Security Council is unlikely to disappear in favour of broad based democratic decision making in the Assembly, those within who value freedom and a free world need to consider the cyclical route history is taking. There is growing consensus that China is destined to challenge or replace the US as hegemon. Their actions resemble some of recent US foreign policy which secured global dominance, cosying up to Sudan and Iran and offering veto power as Security Council level is an old trick, more recently one being peddled by an emerging rather than receding power. If the chinese are on the rise and another cold-war style standoff ensyes then veto power at the SC spells another long period of ineffectiveness at international level.
The irony is that to effectively maintiain power over the system and prolong its influence the US now has to cooperate with calls for a more democratic UN and for removal of Veto power from those few states that feel they earned it. Expanding the Veto resembles electing more cadres to the governing committee of the communist party than the spread of global democracy.
The UN is not a representative body, we do not elect officials to it, but it can go much farther in it's current boundaires to ensure global consensus and the unyielding promotion of justice, fairness and democracy throughout the globe by ceasing to be hamstrung by the veto power of a few middle-aged western men.
More democracy is a simple call, scrapping the veto is the wise move. Should the US agree and others follow, we may all stand to benefit.

Bearing in mind, however, that the essential debate being waged here is impinging on a far greater process. As the IPS reports, it looks like the UN Millenium Summit in september is to be overshadowed by terrorism concerns and UN reform, instead of the promised focus on development issues. Many NGOs have been crying foul as the process moves emphasis from meeting the 2015 Millenuim Development Goals (MDGs) and toward powers to combat terror and increasing naval-gazing in the reform arena.
Above all else the UN must be relied upon to support the agenda that needs it most at a time when the West seeks to set sights on the issues of Terror etc. Global trade and debt have not been solved since G8, and unless progress is made in september look unlikely to be acted upon for some time.
The NGOs are right to start kicking up a fuss, this summiti was not intended to be a forum for reform but one which could focus all nations not just a select few, on the issues of the developing world. If in our willingness to debate political systems, we ignore the crises unfolding daily in Africa then shame on us.
As Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, whose country is opposed to an increase in permanent members in the Security Council, told the General Assembly last month, what is at stake is the success or failure of the September summit.

"At stake is whether we can achieve important decisions on development and genuine U.N. reform, or squander our political energies on a selfish and ultimately fruitless demand of a few ambitious states for unequal privileges.” (END/2005)


RR

» Author: Cian » Comments:

Kenny's Ready!!

Hat Tip to Dick o Brien again for this one. Its nice to see the examiner pick up on something i have been looking at for a long time (here, here), namely the complete image makeover of Enda Kenny as a man ready to govern. Whether or not the polls or the electorate are ready is another matter entirely.
From his cringeworthy appearance on the restaurant to soft focus interviews in the houswives favourite RTE Guide, he is doing his damndest to become the softest man ever to be a hard leader. All things to all men and suitable grey in terms of ideology to find favour among the tiger cubs.
Just a little bit of trumpet blowinig to say i got there first.
RR

8.08.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments:

A nation at war...with itself

I return to find some of the UK blogosphere entranced by the reaction of the left to Islamism. The antics of George Galloway seem to have been causing a stir across the pond as well as reactions of Stop the War coallitions and others to the new anti terror moves.
I plan on commenting more globally on the UK reaction soon. For now though it seems that the left has finally fallen out of love with the fellow-traveller syndrome which Nick Cohen rightly points out, as did Orwell in his essays, was rife from the thirties onward.
The current recriminations taking place on the left seems to mark an attempt to move away from the global religion of socialism and my enemies enemy is my friend toward some more practical attempt to make out what consititutes left wing morality and attempt to support action which promotes that.
Its great to see those like cohen flex the intellectual muscle they have and it is certainly challenging to see. The left does have questions to answer over the strange bedfellows picked up in the name of fighting capitalism.
RR

» Author: Cian » Comments:

Gosh What a Happening Place

Having returned from holidays, I find that its been all go. The IRA have gone away, not a major surprise to most but many will remain sceptical until fully verified. It seems that they got out of the way just in time to avoid being extradited from the UK for 'gloryfying terrorism' and other such acts or crimes preparatory to terror. Looks like good timing all round then once one takes the SBPs poll into account yesterday.
The results of that poll futher underline the ground that is to be made up in the event of full democratic moves by the republican movement. The numbers look good in ways but it is also clear to see a redivsion of loyalties according to the national question. For quite some time now, the national question seems to have been swept off the agenda in an effort to make do with the status quo and try to put together something which works in the south. The re-emergence of Sinn Fein in a new and fully democratic guise looks set to move the focus of Irish politics away from structural and the tentative left-right divisions of the recent past toward renewing post civil war attitudes.
The biggest gainers in a policy of playing the nationalist card is the sinners as most of the other parties look to fight out for the scraps of their fringe support and outright opposition.
While they may not be successful in any short term in moving the debate away from structural issues and toward the ideology of a united ireland (one which hasnt disappeared alongside the IRA, see here, hat tip Dick O Brien), the sinners long term goal is in effect to force the irish political agenda back to what they see as the unanswered question of irish unity.
To be fair i think they have a point. Since 1921, the issues of irish identity have been tied up in attitudes to the North and the UK. Many of the older generation defined irish identity in romantic terms crossing borders while others saw northerners as a lost cause and some as west brits. This is a festering sore in irish political mentality which has been happily left alone by the governing consesus. The sinners will attempt to force answers to a united ireland from us if and when they arrive in government. Doing so will open up a much larger pandoras box that may contain more zenophobic and violent elements.
If we wish to conduct the debate and argument with SF over the island of ireland and the broader issue of our own form of identity politics then we must be prepared in our stance and aware of our responsibilites to foster peace, trust and democracy.
The arrival of a more supportable Sinn Fein in the political arena will make life tough for all of the other players and if it pursues hard questions and difficult debates, particularly those that it feels need closure then we may actually begin to truly close the book on our recent past and become a nation comfortable with ourselves and out nationality.
RR

» Author: Cian » Comments:

Progressive Ireland Returns

Im sure so many of you have been lost without me while I was away, well fear not, for I have returned to emancipate your from your loss. As of today progressiveIreland is back online, although i am unsure as to how soon I can hope to begin posting as many other jobs currently clamour for my attention.
Hope you didnt miss me too much while gone. FYI, just added a new and very excellent blog to the blogroll, the very ascerbic FI Fie Foe Fum.
I encourage all of you to head over and take a look. Healthy debate always makes for some fine entertainment.
RR

8.06.2005 » Author: Cian » Comments: