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The Left Archive: “Advance” from the Socialist Party of Ireland, 1977 December 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Socialist Party of Ireland (SPI).
12 comments

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As 2007 wanes, let’s cast our minds back some 30 odd years to the heady days of 1977. The year of punk, of monarchist celebrations in the UK, a failed UWC strike. And here in Ballymun and North County Dublin we have – by way of an anonymous donation – the newspaper of the Socialist Party of Ireland from 1977. Now, it’s important to make a distinction between the SPI in 1977 and the CWI orientated SP of today. The SPI was – as a most informative, and seemingly broadly accurate wiki entry says – a sort of proto-split from Official Sinn Féin established in 1971. The SPI regarded OSF as insufficiently Marxist (one wonders at who was the ultra-leftist jibe directed – step forward Mr. Costello). However, it also considered the CPI unworthy as a Marxist party.

What is interesting is that this line led it in a curious trajectory towards engagement with a number of other groups such as the indefatigable British and Irish Communist Organisation who found like minds as regards Provisional Sinn Féin and the national question. What is of particular interest is the strong emphasis on social rights issues. The SPI campaigned for divorce, contraception and abortion.

The end point of the trajectory was the Democratic Socialist Party with Jim Kemmy, where much of BICO also ended up. Still, I knew people in the WP in the early 1980s who had joined between 1977 and 1982 in some numbers.

The wiki entry says that Eamonn O’Brien, who in this edition of Advance is lauded as the SP TD for Ballymun, managed to get 6% of the vote in Dublin County North at the election and that ‘this encouraged OSF on the parliamentary road’. Well, yeah. Perhaps. Although I seem to recall a spot of bother in 1969 over abstention which might have had a bearing on OSF’s position long before 1977.

Advance is in fact quite a professional production. The design is good. Kudos to them for the star and torches logo. I’m wondering where they swiped that particular formulation from. There is a strong, and remarkably positive, emphasis on local issues. Internationally there is an identification with Moscow line parties and a run-down of some of the glories of the centrally planned Eastern European economies. There is little mention of PSF or PIRA, but the editorial speaks of:

…the Party [making] the most determined effort yet to eliminate bourgeois nationalism from the labour movement. Its realistic policy self-determination and democratic renewal for the people of Northern Ireland is proven more correct every day as the various paramilitary groups produce ever more futile mutual slaughter and destruction. However, it is still the case that many people with progressive and socialist ideas remain blinded by bourgeois nationalism and have departed completely from Marxism-Leninism in order to favour one or other of the competing paramilitary groups.

The cynic in me suggests that this was a deliberate downplaying of their more scarifying policy on the North for electoral purposes. But perhaps there is another reason. In fairness it seems like a better read that the Irish People posted up in the Archive earlier in the year. But then, the cynic in me also suggests that that wouldn’t be difficult.

Happy New Year…

Third time a charm? The Bhutto’s and…Pakistan tips from bad to worse… December 31, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Uncategorized.
2 comments

What can I say? The appointment of Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal and husband as respectively chairman and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party is surely evidence of the bankruptcy of that party as a vehicle of political change. Because the calculation that is being made is so obvious, so overt, so cynical, as to be unconscionable. And it clearly goes along the lines of ‘use the name’.

As the Guardian reports:

When Bilawal read out his mother’s political will it emerged that her first choice was her husband, Zardari. But the party elders deemed that fresh blood was needed.

With his political inexperience, shy demeanour and Armani glasses, Bilawal was not the obvious candidate to lead his mother’s party. During the press conference Zardari deflected reporters’ questions away from his son, pleading that he was at a “tender age”.

One feels that tenderness is not a feature of the Pakistani political system at this point in history.

His son’s name would be changed, he said, from Bilawal Zardari to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – a key piece of branding in Pakistan’s tribal-feudal political system.

“We will avenge the murder of Bhutto through the democratic process after winning the elections,” he said.

“God willing, when it is the People’s party’s reign, when the People’s party government is formed, then we would have taken revenge for Bibi’s blood and that blood would not have gone to waste.”

But this is all awful stuff. Benazir Bhutto was party president for life. Quite a title, but one which had real effect. The appointment of Zardari and Bilawal is a neat piece of dynastic politics. But one which merely cements further elite groups within an already perilously flawed political system.

Who can know the mind of Benazir Bhutto now? Christopher Hitchens has argued that she had an Electra complex. But was that complex strong enough to wish this upon her 19 year old son? And it is fascinating and depressing to note that party elders forced the son into the limelight. Where are those within the PPP who genuinely hold a left line? Are they satisfied with this political coup de main by the Bhutto family? And shouldn’t any one who does hold a left perspective think long and hard about belonging to a formation that would continue in this line? Myself and Mick Hall have been discussing the issue of Bhutto herself over the last day or two. While I disagree with some of his thoughts on the matter today’s events certainly support his broader thesis of a political system beyond repair. But… since that is the analysis of commentators as diverse as Hitchens and Tariq Ali then perhaps we should expect no progress at all…

Huntin’ and shootin’… just why is Tom McGurk so worked up about the Green Party? December 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Environment, Environmentalism, Green Party.
8 comments

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An entertaining (albeit for the wrong reasons) article by the usually somewhat better Tom McGurk in todays Sunday Business Post. Tom has taken it upon himself to worry about:

[a] political cult, a complex 21stcentury miasma of world-enders, global warmers, suburban hysterics and political correctors; they are the new puritans come among us to spread the new materialist guilt. Daily they pronounce on all the new sins, from big petrol-guzzling engines to hunted foxes, one-off houses and the carbon costs of a family holiday in Torremolinos.

Why yes, that’d be the Green Party then.

Under the title “Greens must not be allowed to sabotage our ancient rituals” his ire is raised by;

[the] increasing concern in rural Ireland about the Green agenda in government, particularly among the equestrian and country sports communities.

Early this month, two well-attended public meetings at Slane in Co Meath and at Gowran Park in Co Kilkenny demonstrated the growing unease about the Greens in government and their attitude to hunting and other rural sports.

The Ward Union Hunt in Meath was the first to feel the displeasure of environment minister John Gormley, who delayed for months before finally granting the hunt its licence. In the event, Kafka ruled – conditions attached to the licence were such that to attempt to hunt and obey them was going to be farcical.

The true horror of this situation only brought home to him”

not only by Gormley’s attitude – to a hunt that is over a century old and unique in Ireland, if not the world – but also by the sneering cynicism with which he acted. But then, as someone remarked, Meath’s Ward Union was easier to kick around than Meath’s new highway through Tara.

In rural Ireland, many feel that the Ward Union battle marks the beginning of a campaign by the Green Party and other environmentalist lobbies to put manners on Ireland’s traditional hunting, shooting and fishing community. One Green Party website has been describing all country sports as ‘‘blood sports’’.

Good Lord. A Green Party website ‘describes’ all country sports as ‘blood sports’. Beyond belief isn’t it? So different say to a Sunday newspaper columnist who describes John Gormley as… as… Kafka!

Still, he is right, isn’t he? The ‘ancient ritual’ (Meath Ward Union: estd. 19th century) has been knocked back by the granting of a license.
McGurk further argues that unlike the UK there is no class dimension to hunting. Well, yes and no. Firstly that is to suppose that class issues are unchanging. Sure, no doubt there are many ordinary people who hunt in Ireland… McGurk says:

Hunting in Ireland is enjoyed by the local butcher, baker and farmer; it’s not about killing foxes, but about the enjoyment of horses and the countryside. Given the historic battle for the repossession of the land and our emotional relationship to it, the Greens could be picking a fight with forces they are badly underestimating.

But, so what? The class issue has always been the weakest plank in the argument against hunting. He is on even more contentious territory when he suggests that hunting is part of some integral relationship between us Irish and ‘our’ land. There is a clue in the date of the establishment of the Meath Union. The reality is that land ownership amongst the Irish in a broad sense was a factor of the 19th century (and through into the early 20th century). The sense of alienation was very much a class issue, and one directed against those who had previously expropriated the land. And it is this alienation and consequent identification amongst a broader population, and some aspect of the ethical issue as regards animal rights and welfare, much more than his straw man of:

two and a half thousand suburban votes in Dublin 4 and 6 – thanks to the vagaries of proportional representation – can result in such a threat to the wealth of our rural traditions.

…which leads to a degree of unease about hunting. A rural tradition of hunting on horseback which is a century old is a fairly shallow tradition. I’ve never been overly exercised about hunting, but I have encountered hunts in the countryside (as recently as it happens as last week) and there is something about large groups of people on horseback that raises a, perhaps, atavistic response in me. It’s an obvious response… one borne of the power relationship that humans on horses generate, a relationship not unnoticed by security and police forces the world over.

So, would I ban the hunts? Well, let’s just say that I’m happy enough with the Minister setting conditions. Still, it is later that McGurk’s argument becomes even less coherent.

Where once rural Ireland was seen as the place from which you escaped, there is now a growing sense that the quality of life there far exceeds anything to be found in towns. Communities are stronger, there’s better value in housing, there are superior schools and there is seemingly more space and more time. Perhaps most importantly of all, technology has profoundly reduced the disadvantage of distance to manageable proportions.

I suspect that it is into this new 21st century political territory that the Green campaign against country sports is heading. This is a territory where, as we saw in Britain, prejudice rather than rationality held sway. For example, in a world dependent on factory farming and globalised animal production, the notion that the killing of a small number of wild animals by that minority of the populaton involved in country sports is morally different is simply absurd.

The first paragraph is full of unsustained assertions. Perhaps he’s right to shed a tear for ‘community’, or perhaps not. Others with an equal measure of sentimentality and distance shed a tear for the rare ould times in Dublin’s inner city twenty years back, when said city was plagued by crime deprivation and drug abuse. And no doubt some in twenty years will look back with equal fondness on the present situation urban and rural. But… if – as we see – urban sprawl and a movement of people back to the land through largely unrestricted development, that too generates its own traditions which are at odds with the supposedly ‘ancient’ ones he defends.

The second paragraph contains an odd argument. Purpose is all, or at least it has some traction in this debate. Killing an animal for sport is not the direct equivalent of killing an animal for food. And farming is increasingly regulated to provide for animal welfare. It’s not enough and there are many who find the killing of animals simply abhorrent, but it is a factor. Still, he doesn’t see it that way.

The cruelty argument against hunting has neither a scientific nor a moral basis, given the farming methods by which our species survives. In fact, it is hard to imagine a community whose relationship with animals is closer and more intense than the farming community from which most of the hunting community is drawn.

When prejudice, not to mention hysteria, takes over, and the arrogance that goes with telling other communities – which have spent many generations with animals – how they should treat them, the debate will sink up to its axles in its own pointlessness.

I love this argument. The logical conclusion is that democracy, or indeed potentially any level of animal welfare, should not apply in certain circumstances. But worse again it would sanction any sorts of behaviour simply because it had gone on for generations. Nah, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t believe that.

He concludes with a bizarre point:

Extraordinarily, they (the Greens) are happy to cover the historic landscape of Ireland with enormous windmills, but go berserk at the prospect of someone digging a new septic tank. The now extinct PDs have vacated the moral high ground, only to be replaced by ‘know-all of Sandymount’.

You read it here first – next year all of this will have political ramifications for Fianna Fail and its rural vote if the Greens turn out not to be the house-trained environmentalists that Bertie had anticipated.

Examples perhaps of the supposedly ‘beserk’ behavior? Why none. What is one to make of it? A media keen to find an ‘enemy’ now that the dreaded Shinners have been badly wounded and an election is still 4.5 years away? An excess of Christmas pudding leading to dyspeptic fears for the future?

As it happens I think there are interesting debates to be had as regards the rural and the progressive (including different forms of hunting), and I suspect some may throw up outcomes that are less than congenial to progressive thinking. But… to argue that a rather mild-mannered Green presence in government and response to a hunt is a harbinger of political Apocalpyse and the egregious destruction of all that is rural is no more than hyperbole.

And returning to:

the world-enders, global warmers, suburban hysterics and political correctors

Does one sense that here, as in so many other places in our supposedly ‘liberal’ media, there is a retreat from actual engagement with issues into facile denigration and name calling? Or is it just the rush to make that New Years deadline? Must do better in 2008…

Powercuts, the night sky and a green solution to light pollution (sorry, couldn’t resist)… December 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Environmentalism, Science.
8 comments

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This Christmas I was given a book on the last 50 years of spaceflight: Space, the First 50 years. It’s great, co-written by the grand old man of astronomy (and remarkably reactionary) Patrick Moore and it’s a great addition to a small library of space science books. Incidentally for a fantastic book with a broader remit can I direct you towards Cosmos: A Field Guide which I picked up in Chapters in Dublin last year. I’m not sure what it is, but paradoxically the rationalist and materialist in me finds a somewhat pantheistic comfort in the incredible imagery of space that this era has provided.

Anyhow, I’d been thinking of writing a post on Astronomy Ireland and their efforts reported on Monday in the Irish Times to counteract the light pollution which has effectively made the night sky a pale shadow of its true glory [click on the above image to see how bad light pollution has become]. They’re pushing, as part of an international campaign, led I think by the International Dark-Sky Association, for better more energy efficient public and commercial street lighting.

David Moore of Astronomy Ireland is reported as noting that as much as 30 per cent of the bill for public lighting (€300 million a year) could be saved in a transition to energy/light efficient fittings.

He says that: ‘What we have… are light fittings that are incredibly badly designed. They are just a bulb hanging out of a pole and so much of the lighting gets wasted because it goes upwards and not where it is supposed to go. With light shade deflectors you can go down to a lower wattage bulb, space them further apart and save energy’.

‘It’s a win-win situation. Astronomers get their skies back and the public get lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint’.

Not just astronomers though. We all get our skies back. So, here we have a convergence of science, environmentalism and green politics in an area which will allow us to actually reap a serious benefit both in terms of energy efficiency and giving us back something that we’ve lost from our personal environment in the past fifty odd years or so… a genuine appreciation of the night sky.

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I can count the number of times I’ve seen the Milky Way in such a way as to truly appreciate the term ‘star field’. Once on Inis Mean in the early 1990s, once in Tunisia and once in the countryside outside Kilkenny. That’s absurd in the context of decades on the planet and a lifetime looking at the sky.

Anyhow, curiously enough, there was a powercut tonight in the part of Dublin I live in. Spooky? Well not really, it was fixed within an hour or so (and oddly enough another gift I received, a windup torch, came in handy). But what was revelatory was how even a limited reduction in ambient street light allowed a significantly enhanced view of the sky (mind you, it played havoc with alarms and such like, and was actually genuinely spooky before torches came on to be caught within a near pitch black environment).

This is the easy stuff, improved technology, better planning and consequently a genuinely better standard of life. Mick of Organized Rage made the point recently that little, except perhaps true love, exists outside political culture. Well, while this is love (of a sort), it’s also political and cultural. And most importantly it makes good sense.

It’s an ‘optional’ kind of civil rights violation December 28, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Bioethics, Ethics, Ireland, Judiciary, Technology.
5 comments

The Irish Times has an interesting piece today (Sub required) with Justice Minister Brian Lenihan laying out his priorities for the year to come in an interview with former left-wing revolutionary turned Irish Times Legal Affairs correspondent Carol Coulter. The interview flags up the forthcoming Immigration and Residence Bill and points to the benefits this will have in the area of human trafficking, two items I intend to return to in coming weeks as it happens. But it is the proposed DNA database, which is dealt with at the very end of the article that struck me:

“However, he said legislation on a DNA database was coming. “Admissions are declining as a source of convictions. Science will play a greater role. I will be bringing proposals on a DNA database to Government. “People who are convicted will have their DNA taken. But I think there is a reason for a much broader database – not on a compulsory basis, but we could promote people voluntarily giving DNA. That could exclude people who innocently left traces at a scene.””

Ahh….voluntarily.

Little has been heard of this proposal since last August when the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) issued its observations on the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill 2007, which aims to establish just such a database. The IHRC makes clear its concerns about the human rights implications of such a database not being understood by the wider public and points to a lack of safeguards in the existing legislation. Two aspects of the legislation in particular terrified the Hell out of me when I first read it.

The first was that DNA samples provided would be held indefinitely. So, hypothetically, I decide in the interests of assisting the Gardaí to provide my DNA to rule me out as a suspect in a case where a rape took place at a party I attended. It saves the police time in considering me a suspect and from my point of view eliminates me as a suspect saving me time and grief. Yet though I gave my DNA for this specific reason, my DNA can be stored indefinitely. With increased EU level legislation around the sharing of data held by police and security forces such as the proposals on air passenger data retention, it is likely that at some point my DNA could be transferred to police forces outside of this jurisdiction if they felt it was necessary. Indefinite retention of DNA samples is not the international or European norm. And if, by the way, I choose to exert my right not to give a sample, does this make me more of a suspect? One assumes it does in practice whatever about in legal theory. Yet rights not exercised can fade away, overtaken by the ‘practice’ on the ground.

The second is that under the Bill the Forensic Science Laboratory can out-source or delegate responsibilities around the creation of the database to other parties inside or outside the state. In theory my DNA in the above case could be sampled by a person working for a private company hired by the Gardaí to carry out the taking of samples, sent to another private company who carry out the analysis and then stored with another private company who are responsible for the storage. There’s just no end to the gravy train for private companies being fattened up with the people’s money. Would these private companies be most concerned with ensuring my rights are protected or with maximising their profits by cutting corners? I think history can answer that for me.

And even if the proper safeguards are in place, what price incompetence? In November the British lost two computer discs with the personal details of every family with a child under the age of 16, containing the bank account and insurance details of a mere 25 million people. What price corruption? As we reported here in August Gardaí and other government officials routinely access confidential information which ends up in the hands of insurance companies, private investigators and the media.
The DNA database debate will, in all likelihood, be one that is ill-informed and hysterical in much the same way as the one on Anti Social Behaviour Orders, on which I remember no less a luminary than Gerry Ryan giving his two cents arguing that anyone opposed to them was supporting anti-social behaviour. But the IHRC, who are not opposing the idea of such a database, deserve to have their call for an informed debate heeded.

The rich truly are different… Chief Executives, age and what that tells us about the society… December 28, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Business, Social Policy, Society.
2 comments

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I was pretty entertained by a piece in the Irish Times on Monday. Straight from the Business section it was part of a syndicated column from the Financial Times by John Gapper. He noted:

…the news this week that Tim Mason, the 50-year-old head of Tesco’s US operations, is ruling himself out of the race to succeed Terry Leahy as the company’s next chief executive on the grounds that he is too old.

Anyone who is 50, or approaching that age (for those wishing to send me a card, May 31 2009 is the date), must feel a pang at the idea that we are over the hill. Mr Mason’s logic, picked up by the FT on a tour of Tesco’s Fresh & Easy US stores, is that Mr Leahy will be there for some years yet and the board will seek a successor who can stick around for a bit.

He continues:

To judge by the average age of chief executives in the US, Mr Mason may be being a little over-sensitive. According to Spencer Stuart, the head-hunting firm, the median age of new CEOs of S&P 500 companies last year was 52. This week, Sprint Nextel appointed Dan Hesse, a “54-year-old telecom veteran”, as Dow Jones put it, to be its new chief executive.

Indeed:

“My feeling is that people have to change their perception and say: ‘I am still going for it. I am a contender’,” says Jeri Sedlar, a senior adviser to the Conference Board, the US business research group, on such matters.

But UK companies appear to favour fortysomethings these days, perhaps encouraged by the practice of splitting the jobs of chairman and chief executive, which allows experience and energy to be bundled separately. Andrew Witty, designated successor to Jean-Pierre Garnier as chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, is a mere 43. “When I heard that,” says Ms Sedlar, “I said: ‘Whoah!'”

And:

One reason that chief executives used to be older is that more stayed at the same company for most of their careers and gradually worked their way up. The corporate world was also a more stable place, with not only less job-hopping but also a greater expectation that one company would be able to maintain competitiveness over decades within its industry.

In that world, it made sense for jobs to be arranged according to an age pyramid, with people hitting the top within striking distance of retirement. Having a younger chief executive would have disturbed the carefully constructed system of training and advancement.

But it is fading and an open market for executive talent is emerging instead. The average tenure of CEOs is falling as investors become less tolerant and there is greater demand for executives in their 40s with leadership potential. Private equity funds are eager to recruit them and head-hunters tout them to other companies that need a boost.

For the most part, these recruiters are acting rationally. They know that someone who has run a couple of divisions at a big company by the time he or she is 45 has enough experience to be given a shot at a top job. There is no need to hang out for even more grey hair.

It all sounds so… benevolent and reasonable. Gapper even treats the story as a bit of a laugh.

In short, the fact that chief executives are getting younger does not mean that the rest of us are doomed. I am not sure I even take at face value that Mr Mason really believes he is past it. He may not be Tesco’s next boss, but he has sent a signal that he is available.

They’re wily, those 50-year-olds.

Still, as someone who has passing experience at directors level in companies I can point to at least one other reason underlying the falling age of Chief Executives. And this is the extravagant and indulgent levels of remuneration that many (though not all by any means) receive. The idea is that they will be able to retire, not in their late 60s or even early 70s as we are exhorted to by our political representatives, but in their mid-50s and with sufficient funding both from pensions, accumulated saved wages and golden handshakes that they can maintain a high standard of living.

Consider another story from the FT from October where Francesco Guerrera and Daniel Pimlott (a relation of Ben?) reported that:

US companies are facing fresh pressure from regulators and shareholders to rein in excessive executive pay as research shows chief executives have been paid up to 10 times more than their top lieutenants.

The average total compensation for a S&P 500 chief executive was about twice as much as the second most highly paid executive last year, according to a study conducted for the Financial Times by the research group, Salary.com.

However, at SLM, the student loan group known as Sallie Mae, the pay of Thomas Fitzpatrick, chief executive, who resigned in May, was more than 10 times that of June McCormack, his executive vice-president.

At more than 30 other companies, the gap ranged from four times to seven times.

Note though that this did not go unnoticed with:

The Securities and Exchange Commission is believed to have asked a number of companies to explain the reason for large pay gaps between top executives, as part of a review of corporate pay.

The rationale between such investigations is that:

Investors argue a huge pay differential may be a waste of shareholder funds; indicates the board is not an adequate counterbalance to the chief executive’s powers, and could drive away talented young executives.

“[The gap] is a red flag for investors. It is a classic sign that the board may be beholden to the chief executive,” said Christopher Ailman, chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (Calstrs), the US pension fund.

Difficult to know… certainly consider the disparities between the executives and the rest of the workforce and while one might laud the SEC for taking an interest, one might consider just why it is that it doesn’t take the next logical step.

Still, expect a defense of such things, whether jocular or otherwise. Perhaps along the lines of:

Barry Diller, chief executive of internet group IAC, [who] has lashed out at corporate governance reforms for undermining the competitiveness of US business and dismissed executive compensation as “no big deal” for shareholders.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Diller, one of the best-known and best-paid media executives, said the greater scrutiny of corporate America had made management overlycautious and was pushing many companies, including his own, to consider going private.

Go on…

“We [Americans] have found ways to take our competitive edge actually mechanically away from us,” Mr Diller said. “You have boards now that are skittish in every area. They’ve made chief executives very skittish.”

The former head of Paramount Pictures and founder of News Corp’s Fox television network, Mr Diller has built IAC into a collection of internet businesses, including the Expedia travel service, Ticketmaster and Match.com dating site.

Lovely…

More recently, he has become both a target and vocal critic of the corporate governance movement, which has risen up in the wake of US business scandals, such as Enron.

Mr Diller said executive compensation was “a very tiny slice” of companies’ overall expenses and blamed journalists for inflaming the issue. “I think it’s close to criminal,” he said of recent press coverage critical of high levels of executive pay.

But let’s contextualise this in terms of money…

Mr Diller came to the defence of Robert Nardelli, the former Home Depot chief executive, who was lambasted by shareholders after he left the company and got a $210m severance package in spite of its poor performance.

Bravo Mr. Diller.

Benazir Bhutto Murdered… Pakistan tips just a bit closer to the edge December 27, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
20 comments

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Whatever else one can say about Benazir Bhutto one cannot say that she wasn’t clearly enormously courageous on a personal level. That thought struck me when she returned to Pakistan, and that is evident in the aftermath of her (and many others) death. The next while is going to be filled with no end of finger pointing as to who is to ‘blame’ for this, and we’ll no doubt hear about her faults and flaws.

And the truth is there are those who will have at least some small part to blame in these events. Perhaps many. And yes, she had many faults and many flaws.

For leftists the PPP has been too compliant, too strategic, too caught up in the politicking within Pakistan. It actually contains at least one self-professed Marxist MP Manzoor Ahmed. George Galloway has a fine tribute to her here:

Benazir Bhutto is yet another martyr from a family whose tragedy would have taxed Shakespeare himself. Her father, both brothers and now she have been murdered one way or another whilst serving Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party was hanged by the military tyrants who have sucked Pakistans blood since its foundation. Her brothers, Shahnawaz was poisoned, and Mir Murtaza was gunned down in much the same way as she now has been herself. I have no doubt that Benazir has been murdered by the dictatorship of General (Retd) Parvaiz Musharaf. The professionalism of the assassination, the way in which the killer managed to get within pistol range of the opposition leader, the decoy suicide bomb story all point to the intelligence apparatus of the dictatorship being involved in the crime. But it is worse than a crime, it’s a blunder. A terrible wave of violence and extremism will now sweep and perhaps break Pakistan. I was lucky enough to be Benazir’s friend from the time she arrived thin, bleeding from her ears as a result of ill-treatment in the Rawalpindi jail in the early 1980s. I was with her when she became the first elected woman leader of a Muslim country in 1988, with her too when she was twice deposed with western collusion and in her long exiles. She was the bravest woman I ever met, bright brave and beautiful. I planned to be with her on the campaign trail from January 2nd. I am broken hearted that I will never see her again

But, as well as personal courage, Bhutto represented – flawed as she was – at least in part some sense that there might be progress in Pakistan, and beyond. She was in herself an historic figure, the first female head of state of an Islamic country. This wasn’t a small achievement, it was arguably an epochal shift.

And the outcome of this? More chaos, a flawed democracy weakened yet further. A nuclear power destabilised just a little bit more. A remarkable woman murdered. Bitter news to have to hear.

Sinn Féin’s nine months of madness continues December 26, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Democratic Unionist Party, Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Republicanism, Republicans, Sinn Féin, The North.
43 comments

Beginning with a public apology to WBS for leaving him so long to carry the site by himself, something he is more than able to do I should point out. But the strains of moving house in December caused more than a little difficulty in the Little household.

It’s a pity, because when I read this fantastic story  where, as I’m sure people already know, Sinn Féin’s former Unionist Outreach official Martina Anderson argued that immigrants were the wrong sort of Catholics I would have given a great deal for a good broadband connection. Beneath the lunacy there is a serious point that nationalist areas continue to be more economically deprived than unionist areas and there is, I suppose, a legitimate concern that Polish immigrants might skew the numbers due to their ability to get jobs when the Sinn Féin voters of West Belfast cannot. But the manner in which it was made, and Anderson’s failure to realise that it is Sinn Féin’s habit of thinking along sectarian lines (Not the same, before the crypto-provos that I was amused to see inhabit the site descend on me, as saying it is a sectarian party) that created the problem in the first place.

It is difficult to think back to the position Sinn Féin enjoyed in the second week of March. They had just achieved another triumph at the ballot box in the Northern Assembly elections, managing to give the SDLP a kicking on one of their flanks, and a motley crew of alternative republicans a kicking on the other side. The party leadership had delivered an endorsement of policing by the members little short of unanimous and they faced into an election here in May with every chance of doubling their seats in Leinster House and livening up their Dáil team. There was an expectation of a dividend from Southern voters for the Assembly being re-established and the image of Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together drawing a line under so much of the negotiations impasse. If there was a slight cloud on the horizon political anoraks might have noticed Adams’ appalling performance on A Week in Politics the night of their Ard Fheis, but few people watched that show and surely they would have sorted out the problems, such as not knowing what tax rates his party was proposing, by the election.

And then, it all went horribly wrong and has been continuing to go wrong since. The election result in May has already been analysed to death but the party has lost a number of councillors since then in the South. Some for political reasons, some for personal ones and some for ‘personal’ ones. I reckon a number of people saw the bandwagon was running out of steam and decided to get off before it collapsed altogether. The DUP have bitch-slapped them around the place on the Irish Language Act, which the Shinners concentrated their attentions on while ignoring economic issues. Caitríona Ruane has proved an unmitigated disaster in education with her handling of the classroom assistants dispute set to enter the textbooks of administrations on both sides of the border about how not to handle an industrial dispute. Her proposed alternative to the 11+ is confused, scanty on details and poorly thought out. There is no sign of any momentum for devolution of policing powers and indeed the resignation of their Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA and former Agriculture Spokesperson Gerry McHugh along with the refusal of Sinn Féin councillors in Strabane to sit on the Policing Boards shows that the anti-policing section of the party retains some pull. Conor Murphy hasn’t done a bad job on water charges, approaching it in a sensible fashion regardless of what the far left thinks, and Gildernew has managed to hold the fort in Agriculture as well, but there has been nothing spectacular from Sinn Féin in the North. Except for attacks on Margaret Ritchie of course, which seems to have a lot more to do with attacking the SDLP regardless of what they’re doing than anything else.
Down here, the party has reviewed itself thoroughly and decided that it did nothing wrong, or at least its leaderships did not. It is telling that despite Fine Gael’s success Kenny fired Phil Hogan and a question-mark remains over Kenny’s leadership. Rabbitte and the authors of the Mullingar Strategy in Labour have been cast aside. Sinn Féin’s upper leadership remains intact and the move of key northern activists like Declan Kearney into positions of authority in the party in the South suggests that Adams, having listened to the opinion of Southern members for the last six months has decided to ignore it and continue to centralise control in the mistaken belief that someone other than him, and he alone, is responsible for the party’s disastrous election campaign. The murder of Paul Quinn brought out the standard Sinn Féin approach of blackening the name of the victim with accusations of criminality that seem unproven. What seems more clear is the eager desire among their political opponents to hi-jack the Quinn’s case to attack Sinn Féin, but they would have no campaign to manipulate were it not for Quinn’s murder and how Sinn Féin handled it.

WBS has already looked at the coverage of the Sinn Féin conference and the only thing I would add to that is McDonald’s comment that Sinn Féin does not have an ‘open door’ policy on immigration is no policy shift. The Shinners, despite the accusations of far-right lunatics on Stormfront, have never had such a policy but the party’s strong support for immigrant rights has often seen them cast that way, though like WBS I don’t think it affected their election performance. What interests me is the conference in Dublin Airport, at which the press were not welcome, held a couple of weeks beforehand. Criticism of the leadership, and of Ruane’s performance in education in particular, was much in evidence and my Southern SF based source who attended was slightly surprised to see the extent of the internal criticism of Ruane from Northern colleagues.

For the Shinners, they have two opportunities to get themselves back in the game in 2008. The first is their Ard Fheis in March. The reality is that the party is still shaken and still lacks energy. The Ard Fheis is also the most likely time and place for leadership changes to be announced with members of the current leadership not contesting positions and newer, probably Southern, people being put forward for one or two of them. It will also be interesting to see if there are candidates against leadership choices for the main positions from the grassroots. If there are to be some of the serious internal reforms the party needs and have yet to appear, this is the place for them.

The second is the EU Reform Treaty. This brings me neatly to a favourite topic, which is the madness of Vincent Browne who argues at the back of the current edition of Village that Sinn Féin has not made its position on the EU Reform Treaty clear and it is his opinion they are likely to back it. Ahh Vincent, take thy head out from the Mahon Tribunal and read a paper. Sinn Féin’s party leadership, and McDonald & Adams in particular, have been making clear their intention to not simply oppose the Reform Treaty, but to lead the opposition to it. Most recent press statement from the party on it is here. What makes Browne’s error all the more mystifying is that the former Sinn Féin European Director Eoin O Broin now writes for his magazine. This referendum campaign gives Sinn Féin the opportunity to portray itself as the ‘real’ opposition to establishment centrist politics and even the possibility of fighting a winning campaign, which would be a massive boost to a party going into Local Elections in 2009, and European Elections where only a miracle will save their seat in Dublin.

As for the party in the North, it’s not my area of expertise but I suspect the DUP and the Northern Ireland Civil Service will be allowed to continue to drive the agenda on important issues while Sinn Féin shout about the Irish language or wrestle with the conundrum of whether Polish Catholics are ‘real’ Catholics or some sort of ‘provisional’ Catholic. There is an old saying that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is King. Lacking such a person, I suspect for Sinn Féin in the North it will be whichever one of them has the stick.

A long way from the heady days of March 7, 2007.

Season’s Greetings… December 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
3 comments

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It’s almost Christmas Day. Santa Claus knows whose been naughty and who has been nice. Snow is falling… Children singing…

Ach no… it’s none of those. It’ll be turkey and more turkey and beer and a bit of wine and indigestion and insomnia and so on and so forth. Second hand television scheduling, dodgy DVDs, noisy toys for kids. It’s an odd way to have fun.

Still, putting that to one side let’s consider the proposition that the one great aspect of Christmas is that it provides a psychological full stop to twelve months. Time to recuperate, reflect and recover. Which most tend to do by mildly poisoning themselves with an excess of food and alcohol with not enough exercise. Yeah, bring it on…

If I can get it together I’ll post a Left Archive piece later in the week, but I’m not promising anything. Normal service will be resumed by Thursday or Friday – probably!

A small word of thanks to my comrades on the blog mbari (still MIA), joemomma, franklittle and smiffy, and to the growing number of you who have contributed posts, discussions and thoughts, and to anyone else who is just passing through and been good enough to pass the time here.

I’d also like to thank a heap of blogs and sites out there – you know who you are – who have provided a real education. It’s great. There’s a lot to know… but it’s important to know how to use that knowledge usefully.

Last year I asked “who knows what 2007 will bring – rocket shoes and holidays to Jupiter perhaps. If not, mines a Beamish”. I’m disappointed by the lack of arrival of rocket shoes, so it’s still a Beamish.

Le Gach Dea-Ghuí Don Nollaig agus don Athbhliain

Nollaig Shona Daoibh.

This Ireland: 1916 – 2007 ooops, I meant to write 2016 – A new and different form of Irish patriotism.. December 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Ireland.
2 comments

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For some reason we’ve largely avoided discussion on the Tribunal. Not entirely sure why. Perhaps because it’s so opaque, so subjective. Perhaps – speaking for myself – because others can and have done it better, look for example at contributors to Irish Election. But, it would be nice, just once, to hear instead of short tempers and self-justification, some sense that whether right or wrong much of what has emerged simply looks and sounds wrong. That it cannot and must not happen again. That the personal and private is – at least on a financial level – the public, and that the demos deserves better. That a genuine patriotism (and in this specific case, one which has led to remarkable achievements on this island) requires no less.

On a related matter Mark Hennessy wrote in the Irish Times on the 13th of December:


The Government is to begin planning for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising early next year, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said last night, as he launched a book recounting the events surrounding the 50th anniversary in 1966.


Ahern also noted that:

…it was impossible for anyone, regardless of their political allegiance, if any, to know how they would stand in 1916 and in the events that followed, including the Civil War. “To ask today what side would you have been on?” was a superficial question which ignored the fact that personal experiences and connections were central to most people’s actions, he said.

It is true. We can have very little certainty how we would align in historical circumstances of particular divisiveness, particularly ones which didn’t draw in clear left/right divides.

An Oireachtas committee led by Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, which organised the planning for the 90th anniversary military parade in Dublin, will be reformed in January.The committee will have representatives from all of the political parties and one from among the Independent TDs and senators.

Hmmmm… perhaps Eoghan Harris will be given the position from the latter group [and incidentally, let the CLR be amongst the first to congratulate him on his recent marriage].

“We simply cannot know how we would have reacted in similar situations. What matters today is their idealism and what we have built on the foundations they laid,”


Very true.

Ireland’s more mature democracy is “hopefully arriving at a situation where all parties accept that Ireland’s history belongs to every Irish person and is beyond political posturings”.

Great.

“Lemass, despite being a veteran of the Rising, interpreted 1966 in terms of the present and the future. The message of the commemoration was that what Ireland needed was . . . a new and different form of patriotism.”

Aye, indeed. A new and very different form of patriotism. That’d be nice.

But not too new, and not too different.

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