Posts tagged ‘economy’

18/10/2011

The Dame Street Protest, a few thoughts.

Anyone who reads my blog will know I’m a bit of a weirdo. Politically I’m probably even more weird than in other aspects of my life. I would tend to describe myself as a conservative-liberal. What do I mean by that? Well we could start with describing it as wanting people to be free to put each other in consensual bondage without the state poking its nose in, whips optional. But also wishing common sense, not political rhetoric to rule the day. But here’s a few actual examples of my political weirdness.

Outside of situations which can not be legislated for with a universal ruling, all rights should be universal, not special rights. So there shouldn’t need to be special gay marriage law, that should be universal marriage law for everyone regardless of gender or orientation. However if you’re transsexual, you need a specific law in place to allow for legal recognition of your true gender, that’s an essential specific law, because it speaks to a situation which affects a small minority in a unique situation.

I think there should be abortion in Ireland. But I also don’t think it should be possible to use abortion simply as birth control.

I believe the Constitution is the heart of the Republic. But I also believe that as it stands it is a broken document. One which  is no longer fit for purpose, and so needs to be re-drafted, but not by vested interests, rather it should be rewritten by a national committee which does not include any serving or formerly serving politicians.

I believe there should be a 1 year period of military service in something akin to the Territorial Army in the United Kingdom. But that there should also be a conscientious objectors clause, which can allow anyone who truly believes such service to be morally abhorrent to avoid doing so.

Like I said I’m a weirdo. And many of my beliefs, where good citizenship are concerned at least, are probably rather self-contradictory. But sometimes both my liberal and conservative switches get flipped at the same time, in the same direction. Usually by a watershed, or potential watershed, event. So let’s talk about the Dame Street protesters.

These men and women are mostly Irish citizens who, along with protestors around the globe, have chosen to emulate their fellow protestors in Wall Street. They are exercising their right to peaceful protest, in order to voice their objections to the way in which the Irish State is treating its own citizens at the behest of foreign powers. But unfortunately their actual message isn’t nearly as clear as that.

I doubt that there is any need to rehash everything that has happened in Ireland over the last 12 months. But I think everyone has to admit it’s been a hell of a ride. We went from boom to bust, had a government ousted, had our country in some ways conquered without a single bullet being fired, and as a nation we took it all on the chin. Bread now in the hopes of jam to go with that bread later. I said there was no need to rehash, not that I wasn’t going to.

The protestors have reason to be angry, we all do. Our standard of living has been slashed, not for our sakes, but for the sake of apparently hopelessly inept business people spread across Europe, and perhaps even further afield. Worse still we can’t kid ourselves, we will not know the true depth or scale of what’s happened and what is still happening right now, for a very long time. Perhaps even a generation. It may take that long after the dust settles for the academics to translate the mechanics of this depression into something the average man on the street can understand.  Of course, not knowing the true scale of this disaster, is yet another reason for us all to be angry.

Fine but what both the Wall Street and Dame Street protestors seem to have forgotten is that it’s not enough to be angry. You also have to have a coherent message for people to hear. Have an established leadership, including public relations, negotiators, even ewwwww…solicitors ready to deal with changes in circumstances, either positive or negative. Hell even just having everyone chanting from the same hymn book would help project an image of solidarity, rather than semi-sentient “me too”-isms.  Put another way…

“What do we want? A fair deal. When do we want it? Now!”

Is a hell of a lot more effective than…

“What do we want? *reads long, looooong laundry list of sometimes contradictory demands* When do we want it? Uhhhh….

Unfortunately for those demonstrating around the world right now, they’re sounding far more like the latter, than the former.

I agree with a lot of their sentiments. I want there to be change. My liberal side wants there to be better services for the needy. I want there to be a fair wage for a fair days work. I want there to be a damned days work for that matter. I don’t want truly insane amounts of money being torn from the national, and local, budgets only for it to be turned over to foreign powers, and indigenous businessmen, who are just as culpable for what is happening to us all as a global economy. I want us to have government by people who have not lost all connection to what real life is like. I want the Humphreys not to have a guaranteed job for life ruling us all from the shadows. But instead have them openly, and fairly compete everyday of their professional career for those same careers, and not just with one another but with outsiders also.

My conservative side wants tighter oversight on all public spending. Means test all non-contributory social welfare. Bring in military service, it’s insane to have a population of over 4 million, the vast majority of whom are virtually incapable of defending their own nation if the need arises. Keep controlling interests in all the semi-states, and force the national will on them. Crack down on unionism in Ireland. What started as a way for common workers to safely air grievances with their employers have become a shadow government. One which answers only to itself. One nation, one government, elected by the people, not self-selected. And not one which as we now all know is perfectly capable of holding the entire state to ransom, on a whim.

The protestors here and over there want what we’ll have to call a “National Dream“. A good life for themselves and their children. But I don’t think for a second that a few tents, or even a lot of tents here, or in New York, are going to change the course we’ve all been forced to sail. All they can do is voice their dissatisfaction. Make it clear what parts of their plans we approve of and what we don’t. Then all we can really do is wait to see if there’s anyone who can bring us back to something approaching prosperity. Perhaps there are a handful of young leaders out there waiting for their turn who will do the job the way it should be done. Who can stabilise the world economy, through new ways of thinking, of doing business, instead of slamming us all violently on to the rocks until something gives.

I hope that the conservative, and liberal viewpoints can find a middle ground where real equitable change can be achieved.  Rather than both sides becoming more and more polarized. Rather than politics again becoming about us and them. After all the last time that happened in the 1930’s, it didn’t end well very well for Europe, or the rest of the world for that matter. Depressions are dangerous, history shows us that, and let’s be honest here, that’s what we’re living through.

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24/04/2011

And so I am left with an unpleasant question, about the EU.

More years ago than I like to think about, I asked a German exchange student how he felt about Germany in the post World Wars Europe.  Then I was too young to realise how potentially insensitive a question that is.  Regardless he answered and that answer turned me into an instant lifelong supporter of the European project.

A fifteen year old German exchange student, in halting english, rather than answering my question directly explained that the EU did one thing.  It stopped future European wars.  I’ve never learned if that answer was a part of German rote learning or a heartfelt belief, but either way it opened my mind in a way that few things have since.   He was right, since the EU was formed there have been no wars between EU states.  Or at least there have been no hot wars.  A hot war being defined as, any confrontation where one or both sides make use of armed military might.

I was convinced there and then.  Later as I grew up and educated myself in the ways of the world, I only became more convinced that the EU held significant potential as a keeper of the European peace.   Even more I have come to believe that there is a need for another large political block to counter China and America.  To provide a third voice, a voice which I hope might avert disaster in the future.  After all let us never forget that as a planet, we’re only ever really one bad tequila away from a global military catastrophe from which humanity and perhaps even the planet itself would probably never recover.

I still believe that Europe needs a common defence policy, especially if we start to add near-east countries such as Turkey to our membership.  I absolutely believe that free travel and the right to work in any EU state is a boon to our combined civilisation.

Despite all this lately I have however been weighed down by one very unpleasant question.

Is the European Union unknowingly already in a state of civil war?

Ok yes I do know that the word “civil” is not wholly accurate, but with this question I feel we must view Europe as a single entity rather than as an alliance of separate nations.  But that quibble aside, if we were to view the EU as something akin to the pre-civil war USA could we be viewed as being at  each others throats?

Diplomacy is sometimes described as “war continued by another means.”  Might that not also be true of international economics?  With reports starting to trickle in to the public arena of the European Central Bank, having possibly instigated a near run on the Irish banking sector, I am beginning to wonder. If Ireland were someone hanging by their fingertips from the edge of  a cliff, France and Germany bullying our representatives in what I hope will be a vain attempt to force a raise in our corporation tax, is rather like someone walking up and stamping on the cliff hangers fingers.  We can only wonder about what is happening between the great European financial powers and the other troubled economies of the EU.

Are Greece, Portugal and Spain being dealt with in the same high-handed manner as Ireland?

So I sit here today and wonder are the peripheral nations of Europe at war with the central powers?  Has what was supposed to be an alliance for mutual benefit become the foundation for a new form of Imperialism.  Where the Euro and private debt made public and where penury in the disguise of bail outs replace tanks, guns and bombs.

Despite this I still hold out great hope for both my nation and Europe as a whole.  If there does in fact exist an economic war within Europe, I am encouraged by the lack of those tanks, guns and bombs.  Let’s face it a war without a daily body count and state funerals is definitely a step forward or at least it marks only a small step back.

25/01/2011

Why immigrant bashing is no joke and not just when our own now face the same.

The Emigration Statute, Cobh, County Cork.

For the longest time it could honestly be said that Ireland’s greatest export was her own people. There is a huge amount of truth in this and in fact one need only look at the Irish global diaspora to see just how far and wide the Irish have cast their net. The diaspora is often spoken of with a perverted sort of pride by the Irish at home. But that pride, I believe, is nothing more than a disguise.

What is it disguising?

In a word, pain.

I am 32 years of age and I truly believed that I might live my lifetime without seeing the horrors of mass emigration being visited again upon my country, my family and my friends. Well, that belief is now torn to tattered shreds and what I am now experiencing has only hardened a strongly held view-point of mine: that immigrants should never be the objects of vilification or of ridicule by the indigenous people of any nation.

Leaving your home nation at heart is an excruciatingly painful action. A horror story played out not inside the pages of a novel but in the real world with real world consequences. We, the Irish, have for generations experienced those pains and yet at the height of the boom years I often heard foreign nationals ridiculed or vilified.

“Fuckin’ Pols taking our jobs.”

“Fuckin’ Nigerians scrounging off of our country.”

Despite our own experiences of the horrors of emigration having been as recent as the 1980s and even the early 1990s we had buried those memories beneath a blanket of newly minted superiority. We had forgotten that within our nation’s living memory are signs in London saying

“No dogs, no blacks, no Irish.”

We had forgotten the Paddy jokes that were a staple of music hall, comedy club and sometimes even television comedians. We chose to forget that emigration hurts amid our new-found sense of privilege.

But now we’ve found ourselves remembering those pains as a new generation who never had to cope with the pain of emigration before now find ourselves staring down into its abyss which until recently we had bridged over with our total belief in our ability gainfully to employ our own.

I never allowed jokes at the expense of immigrants to be uttered under my roof. I like people from other nations. They help us to grow as a people, not only culturally, but also they help us to grow more tolerant of the differences in others by bringing into stark contrast the differences that mark the separation even between one Irish person and another.

I truly believe that the arrival of so many eastern Europeans, Africans and other nationals of less tolerant regions of the world to our own shores had a sobering effect on our own civil rights activists when they saw how we were not that far ahead of some very unpleasant places. This in some small way helping to galvanise an even greater struggle for LGBT rights, the rights of women and children etc.

I believe that those same foreign people have also helped to create a broader Irish palate for foods, drinks, art forms and all the other elements that going into making the lifeblood of any nations culture.

Just as alloys of different metals often tend to become stronger and more useful, Ireland’s immigrant population has helped to make us a stronger and more rounded nation.

But they did this at a great personal cost. They left their homes, their families, their lives, their loves and their dreams for the hope of employment on our shores. Some of them found what they sought, others didn’t and moved on to other even more distant shores. They took the jobs that we Irish didn’t want anymore and they more often than not did them extremely well.

But it cost them and those who love them pain, horror and suffering. Try to imagine Christmas without your family while you live alone in an apartment in a strange country. Now imagine Christmas without your favourite person while you fear for their happiness and even safety in a country that isn’t their own. Some of the Irish made jokes during the boom times and forgot their own experience of this.

I never accepted jokes at their expense before. I’m now even more vehemently against their utterance.

Even though I was a child in the tail end of the last period of mass Irish emigration I never truly understood what it really meant until just lately. I knew in a sort of academic way what it entailed and the sheer loss to a small nation such as ours that any mass migration of young people represents. It was an academic understanding.

It isn’t anymore.

My knowledge is now personal, not the knowledge of raw data and distant, hazy memories.

Someone I love is leaving, the first of my circle to do so.

I wish I could magic things better in my country. Not for my country, but for my friends and my family. I wish they could stay. I wish I didn’t have to worry about my sister’s welcome in the country which she hopes to soon call home. I wish we could live on the same continent so I can see her, so I can help her and her I, so this looming gulf won’t be there.

You see what I’ve learnt is that not only the people leaving lose a great deal from their lives but also that the people staying behind are horribly reduced by their loved ones being absent.

P.S. All that said I hope and pray to any God who’ll listen that your life there will be everything you dream of. And you know that I’ll never stop being here for you and that I will visit as often as I can.

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