Archives for category: politics

Let me just say something straight out. ISIS/Daesh are a gang of murderous, vicious thugs. They are part of a network of religious cults that would put the Moonies, Scientology and Jim Jones in the shade. Their poisonous ideology is reminiscent of the Blut und Stahl mindset of Nazi Germany, where ideology overrode basic humanity, allowing all manner of atrocities to occur. It’s the worst, most hermetically sealed, conspiracy laden, violent, misogynistic, racist, anti-human worldview of our time. ISIS/Daesh must be defeated.

The question is, how to defeat them.

There appears to be a small number of widely-held views, depending on which side of the political spectrum you lie on, that I call “placebo solutions”. The aim seems to be to address the feelings of those who espouse them, without actually dealing with the real problem.

On the political right, you have the “they are all the same” placebo solution. Under this idea, all Muslims are considered to be potential (or actual) terrorists, particularly the hapless refugees who have left their homes in Syria and Iraq in search of an uncertain future in foreign states. Right wingers want them scrutinised, vetted, isolated and thrown back to their own countries. In those lands, they want to bomb them into oblivion. All this in spite of overwhelming evidence that most Muslims and refugees are peace-loving ordinary people. Irish people should be well familiar with this mindset, given how we were viewed with suspicion during the murderous IRA campaigns of the 1970s and 80s.

Not only are these just salves for right-wing anger, they have the side-effect of further marginalising Muslims and pushing unemployed youths into the arms of the terrorists. It also creates local, reactionary terrorism – vigilante gangs whose lack of forethought is matched by their violence.

On the political left, you have the view that this terrorism is solely the creation of the West and that military action is never appropriate. the more conspiratorially minded would suggest that ISIS/Daesh is a creation of the West. That, instead of going to war against ISIS/Daesh, we need to understand the causes, maybe even pander to their views as if they had an equal place at the ideological table. This is to discount the fact that Salafism is a pretty hard-boiled system of thought at this stage. It is far more than a response to victimisation. The main focus of ISIS/Daesh wrath has not really been Westerners, but other Muslim sects and local groups, such as Yazidis and Kurds, with no record of imperialism and domination. In fact, local civilians have been, by far, the greatest victims of their outrages, thus the refugee crisis.

When threatened with war, countries have no choice but to use whatever means are at their disposal to protect their citizens and those who call their country home. War is an abomination, but what do you do when confronted by war from others? There is always a fine line to be tread between civil liberties and protection and in a peaceful society it should always veer towards personal liberty. But in times of war and evidence of real danger from an enemy force? What then? Just stand by and hold out flowers to them?

 

Placebo responses only help to sate pre-existing views. They do nothing to solve the problem. What we need are cool heads, better intelligence sharing, and intense co-ordination between multiple states. Strategies are needed to identify the ringleaders, destroy their ability to function and, ultimately, eliminate them. If ISIS/Daesh want to play war, then, for certain, our war professionals – generals and military experts – are more adept, more strategic, more networked and better resourced than any rag-tag bunch of terrorists could ever be. In situations such as what we are seeing, we need to let them get on with their jobs with a minimum of political interference.

Ultimately, the crucial objective is not really the elimination of ISIS/Daesh, although this is a necessary pre-condition. It’s the rebuilding afterwords and the creation of a long lasting peace that will allow people to return to their homelands. Hospitals, homes, schools, electricity, water – the basic services of life. Remove the threat, then rebuild. This is the big challenge for the civilised world if the peace is to be permanent.

Minister James Reilly must face a panel of 4 doctors and two psychologists if he wishes to keep his job, a government source revealed today.

“I really want to keep my job”, Reilly was quoted as saying, “but the doctors and psychologists think I’m a danger to civil life, and they are suggesting I abort my well paid government position as soon as I possibly can”. According to draft legislation, Reilly can appeal to a further panel of doctors and psychologists, but he faces stiff opposition. “We expect this legislation to go full-term, but not if it emerges out of an asshole”, commented one doctor, who wished to remain unnamed.

Since he became minister in 2011, his political life, rather than the health of his citizens, has been foremost in his mind. Now an expert panel will rule over whether his right to choose trumps the choices of everyone else, or whether this latest act, in a long sequence of mishaps, is political suicide.

A source close to the situation believes a termination is the only possible course of action in this instance. “Ideally it might lead to resignations on demand, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”

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.

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.

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