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An esoteric history of Ireland courtesy of We Are Change Ireland: Wrong, wrong, wrong. April 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Ireland, Irish History, Irish Politics.

Okay, further to smiffy’s post here which shines a light under that particular stone,

I’ve been listening to the interview on the WAC site between We Are Change Ireland and historian Michael Tsarion and have to say I’m profoundly unimpressed. One reason is, that I have a bit of an academic research interest in the issue of national identity and more than a passing acquaintance with the flag. And what Tsarion is saying, and what is being received and accepted entirely uncritically by the WAC members, is simply incorrect.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it is necessary to consider his modus operandi. He starts with an uncontroversial or banal statement then shifts away at a rapid tangent drawing in links which may, or generally may not, be relevant or appropriate. Secondly he eschews any sense of history, or context, in favour of assertions. Thirdly by rapidly covering an area one group is elided with another, so that bizarre conjunctions, such as the proposition that the IRA and IRB were/are synonymous, appear.

Some examples?

He states flatly that a flag, any flag of any country, has to be registered at the Royal College of Arms in London, ‘These flags are basically applications made to the College of Arms in London and they’re disseminated to those countries accordingly…’ and asks why so many flags are tricolours, as if there is some great conspiracy behind that design. ‘What’s with the tricolours, hasn’t anyone got any imagination? If these flags are of the nation how come they’re so similar?’

Sigh. They’re tricolours because they emulate the revolutionary standard of the French Revolution and in the great wave of nation founding in the 19th and 20th centuries the states established were usually democratic secular Republics which sought to avoid monarchical and heraldic trappings and assume a more ‘modernised’ Republican gloss. It’s not a secret, it’s not a mystery (that the symbolism of the French flag is a bit more complex is neither here nor there, in this instance it is the form that is most important).

He’s simply wrong that the Royal College of Arms forces designs upon nations. In fact if he had investigated a little further he’d discover that most nations self-generate their imagery, or, as in the case of Ireland the Genealogical Office, formerly the Office of Arms – an office which was a subdivision of the RCA and held over after Independence – which is part of the National Library (which, again, has nothing to do with the design, now or then, of the Irish Tricolour) and was responsible for the design of the Presidential Flag – hardly our most widely used or even known flag. At best one might argue that the RCA has some oversight of some Commonwealth coats of arms and flags, a very different proposition from the one that is aired. That said it certainly didn’t in the case of the South African flag…

Secondly he argues that the Irish Republican Brotherhood by using the word “Brotherhood” was ‘another red flag for those who know, it means it wasn’t just a bunch of guys getting together for no reason, I mean who armed them, who funded them who created the IRA. The IRA was a wing of the the AOH at one point… a world-wide secret organisation and even though they weren’t secret themselves they had secret organisations within them…’

This is nonsense. The AOH was a nationalist organisation, entirely antagonistic to the IRB, and subsequently the IRA. I have no idea whether there was any crossover in the modern period between PIRA and the AOH, but if there was I’d suspect it was low level. The term “Brotherhood”? Well, here’s a wild idea, could the fact it was founded in the mid-19th century with all the social norms of that time as a context be a clue?

And what of our own dear flag?

The Irish Flag is particularly important because on the one flag is the symbols of the rival groups and people have to start asking who are they…

who represents the white part of the flag ‘white brotherhood’ in between who represent the neutral groups the hidden hand in between…

No. No. A thousand times no. It doesn’t ‘represent a white brotherhood’. It’s like the French Tricolour. It’s an emulation – in fact in truth that owes more to a visual symmetry than specific meaning, although it is argued that it represents a white field of unity or neutrality between the Orange and Green.

As the green symbol goes back through the United Irishmen, the masonic lodge of Wolfe Tone, in fact most of the UI… Henry McCracken, Thomas Russell, the name Russell rings a big bell, the Russell trust behind the Skull and Bones in the US… many of the original movers and shakers for Irish independence those who came up with the symbols we’re now using and certainly the ideologies… these people were Freemasons… many of them were Templers… there is a whole esoteric connection…

This again is wrong… To suggest that the symbols of Irish independence, and the Tricolour in particular, were somehow introduced by Tone is nonsense. The flag they used was one with a green field and a harp, occasionally surmounted by a cap word by the Irish. Green? Green for Ireland. Associated with the island for long before that – certainly before historical record.

As for the – natch – link to Freemasonry, well, so what? But then Tsarion, as noted previously believes in Lemuria, Atlantis, aliens and the existence of Tiamat (no, not the European goth/rock band, the other one, the water planet supposedly between Earth and Mars).

This is Dan Brown politics where a little knowledge goes a long way. And knowing, as Andrew Eldritch once sang, doesn’t mean so much… Because simply putting various facts together a thesis does not make.

Pull together some arcane information, string it in such a way that supposed links can be established, throw in some modish sub-intelligence agency jargon such as ‘false flag’ and hey presto! We have a conspiracy. That such conspiracies would entail massive energy to sustain across centuries (and in a context where we have (very) arguably only one or two pan-millennial organisations, one being the Catholic Church), that they would force individuals into frankly incredible and untenable choices as regards maintaining secrecy and suppressing any dissent, and that alternatives exist such as outright totalitarianism which would be both cheaper and more effective in terms of expenditure of human and other capital and the thesis is so absurd as to be untenable. But, this is not to dismiss the comforts of such ‘one size fits all’ approaches. It’s a lot more comforting to believe that there is some hidden hand behind the world than to recognise that chaos underlies it. It’s the same sort of comfort that some aspects of religion delivers, and it is in intellectual terms an equivalent trap. What’s most hilarious, or sad, is this bunch of supposed freethinkers in WACI  simply accept incorrect information entirely unquestioningly. And all this, all this rhetoric which the slightest investigation indicates is factually incorrect or misinterpreted, is hardly less than five minutes in on the recording…

Tributes and tribulations: Farewell Bertie Ahern, thanks for the… er… thoughts April 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Briefly, ah yes, briefly… what a day, what day as Bertie Ahern made his final Dáil questions…

Lovely stuff. Fine tributes from those who not a month ago were baying for his blood. One might think that he had left not merely under his own steam but with no ill-wind from the Opposition benches. One would be wrong.

Taking Enda Kenny’s encomium as an example, who would have thought that the figure who

…has done the state some exemplary service.

…was our Bertie? Granted this was followed by the line…’You know my views on other subjects which are not the subject of discussion here today’, and while not suggesting that Kenny should lapse into churlish bad manners, one might ask why not give a truly rounded picture of the man. After all, Kenny said that:

…too often when paying tribute to a man, one would articulate a list of his achievements. This was one way to measure a man, but it was also a way to “lose sight of the essence of any man” by focusing on such a round of deeds…

Perhaps, perhaps. Or, more likely, no, looking at the achievements is arguably – in the supposedly harder headed context of political contest – the only way to assess a career. But for Kenny…

“One of the key pieces in making up the mosaic that is Bertie Ahern is his unequalled zest for people. There was never a pretence about it. He did enjoy every single contact,” Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny said Mr Ahern “was never a man who pedalled stories about people who confided in him for help”. “He has never been that kind of politician. He is popular, not because he draws attention to himself by being entertaining or anecdotal or great craic but by drawing attention away from himself.”

And so we lapse into soft focus stuff. Was Ahern – in the judgement of his peers – good for the country, bad for the country, merely indifferent? We will not know in the frothy mush of the ‘people person’… the friend to the itinerant politicians who stalk the Houses of the Oireachtas… the man who blends into the background and yet happens – remarkably – to be our Taoiseach.

Eamon ‘he was an extraordinary politician’ Gilmore took a more sardonic line, as befits the leader of the Labour Party, the party which I have it on good authority was more than willing to deal with the supposedly noisome Bertie should the Greens resist his blandishments. So all was sharp, but not quite cutting: ‘You came to office at a time of remarkable opportunity. You enjoyed office during a time of rapid and sustained economic growth – conditions that would have been the envy of your 10 predecessors’.

And so on and so forth. Muted words of praise, leavened by curiously opaque references to ‘other issues’.

The (nearly) great man himself concluded with a quote from the Jesuit writer Fr John Sullivan, urging that life be taken “in instalments” and that each day be a new beginning.

“Let the past go. Now let me do whatever I have the power to do.”

What is it about our politicians that they feel the need to bookend their careers with these little quotes? Who can forget the entirely resistable ‘I have done the state some service, they know it, no more of that’ that Haughey doled out… Granted Ahern spared us such egocentric stuff. Yet, while there’s nothing particularly offensive about Fr. Sullivans words, they’re effectively bromides.

And in that they’re sort of ‘thought for the day’, simple economical stuff.

Perfect for him, perfect for his constituency, perfect for the television soundbites on the news this evening. Perfect for the day that was in it where nothing really meant anything much at all, not least the somewhat, but not entirely, fuzzy fellow feeling of speeches that might as well not have been written…

Note that during the last two years full frontal assaults on him were conspicuous by their absence. Note too that today unreserved accolades were thin on the ground. But as ever none sought to wield a knife that might easily twist back upon them.

Whatever about the politics, whatever Ahern has may not be magical, but for a politician, by God, it’s effective.

Misha Glenny considers Kosovo in Prospect magazine… while Shaun Walker looks at separatism. April 23, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

I can’t argue with Misha Glenny’s recent piece in Prospect. Under the title: ‘You broke it, you own it’ he skillfully dissects the motivations of the various players in recent events and arrives at a bleak enough conclusion.

He notes that The EU’s handling of the Kosovo final status issue has been a dog’s breakfast.

This he argues has been…

…a disastrous cacophony. Europeans have poured many billions into the Balkans to stabilise the region over the past decade, and since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, have expended vast diplomatic and political effort on the region. We have derived real benefits from a long-term strategy that aims at the integration of all Balkan countries into the EU. And yet when it came to the critical decision, we allowed the US and Russia to take the lead—not on the question of Kosovo’s independence, but on the timing and framing of the province’s final status.

I find this interesting, particularly because it hints at a distinction between ‘independence’ and ‘final status’. Those of us adept at such things will also note his use of the word province.

The Americans let it be known long before negotiations ended that they would move to recognise Kosovo swiftly. This, of course, removed any incentive that the Albanians might have had to seek a proper settlement. The Russians replied that they would guarantee Serbia’s sovereignty over the province by deploying their veto at the UN security council.
Forced into making a decision by Washington and Moscow, the EU consensus collapsed. A majority opted to recognise the Republic of Kosovo (albeit in some cases reluctantly), while a resolute minority said “no” (or in the case of Cyprus, “never”).

There is much to consider here. The issue of overly hasty ‘recognition’ did, without question, distort the outcome. And in doing so it laid waste to EU pretensions to be capable of delivering a clear solution. Indeed, I’ve argued previously that it is the impossibility of arriving at anything near to a ‘clear solution’ which has been a central problem in this process.

And in this void, where ‘recognition’ was too lightly granted by the US, we arrive at a position where others are equally quick to withhold it.

The British and Americans assured other EU members that an avalanche of other countries would sign up for recognition as soon as Europe and US signalled their intention so to do.

Except… er, it hasn’t worked out that way.

The big emerging powers—Brazil, China and India—show no inclination to recognise. Despite its confessional connection to Kosovo’s Albanians, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim state, looked on in horror at the move, fearing it could threaten its own territorial integrity. Apart from Afghanistan and Turkey, the Islamic world has cold-shouldered the new state for various reasons (including the vast sums of Russian money that are being washed through the Gulf). And if the supporters of recognition do not muster a majority in the UN general assembly by September, then Kosovo’s attempts to join the key organisations of global governance will be largely in vain.

So a rushed independence leaves us in the following situation…

If Kosovo is not recognised by the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WHO et al, then who is going to look after it? The Americans who were so keen to recognise? Nope—they feel they’ve done their bit. Obviously the Russians aren’t going to help. The Saudis are always ready to fund the construction of mosques and madrassas, but are less interested in the prosaic issue of creating jobs. That leaves the EU.

This is a mess of monumental proportions. But why should it be a surprise? Glenny notes that: far from London and Washington’s [insistence] that Kosovo was a “unique” case whose recognition would have no implications for secessionist issues elsewhere in the world. But when push came to shove, it turned out that the Russians were the ones with their finger on the global pulse. Almost everyone else in the world saw Kosovo as an uncomfortable precedent. The point is not whether recognition of Kosovo’s independence was right or wrong, but that EU supporters of independence failed to make the political case on the wider global stage.

And that is the point. By pushing a concept of ‘independence’ that from the off was bound to meet significant resistance even from those who by rights should be somewhat sympathetic (consider again Indonesia’s ‘horror’) due to their own little local difficulties the EU (and the US) did no favours to the cause of Kosovo or its independence. Arguably what has happened is the development of yet another EU Protectorate, in all but name. This is sub-optimal. To put it mildly.

Add to that massive internal problems…

The west has recognised a state which is de facto partitioned. Kosovo has five governments—the Kosovo government itself; the UN administration, the EU institution-building operation, the Serbian government (which functions in the Serbian areas) and Nato, which still has 16,000 troops there. And while the UN will probably go by summer, the new country remains an ungovernable mess with high levels of both unemployment and organised crime.

And perhaps we’re not actually looking at a state at all. Indeed the response from within the EU as regards recognition is as interesting as that without.

Again, as has been argued at the CLR before:

The EU will now be lumbered with responsibility for a chronically dysfunctional state for many years to come. There is a general election in Serbia in May—if we are lucky the pro-EU parties will win, but at the moment the nationalist parties are successfully making hay out of the Kosovo debacle. If they win, then the EU will face a recalcitrant, mischievous Serbia in the heart of the Balkans, capable of causing real disquiet in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a payback for the Kosovo recognition. Jealously guarding the sovereignty of member states when it comes to major foreign policy decisions is going to prove an expensive business for the EU.

Consider too Shaun Walkers thoughts in the same edition on how the recognition of Kosovo has ‘given fresh impetus to other separatist movements’.

He notes that:

There are four “breakaway states” in the former Soviet space: entities that were autonomous within their parent Soviet republics, and that when the Union collapsed in the early 1990s demanded their independence.

Some of them—like tiny South Ossetia, which demands independence from Georgia—are inconceivable as “real countries.” But Abkhazia, a strip of beautiful subtropical coastline on the Black sea, which was also part of Georgia during Soviet times, would probably be viable as an independent state.

Western politicians, however, worried about the potential knock-on effects of Kosovo in the post-Soviet space and elsewhere, have all along stated that there is no “Kosovo precedent.” Kosovo is a “unique case,” we are told again and again.

Hard cases make bad law, as the old saying goes. But Kosovo is hardly unique.

It is true that there are differences between Kosovo and Abkhazia. The constitutional status of Kosovo within Yugoslavia was slightly different than Abkhazia’s within the Soviet Union. More seriously, there’s the issue of numbers: not only is the population of Kosovo several times higher, but the Albanians in Kosovo were an overwhelming majority; the Abkhaz in Abkhazia were a minority until the Georgian population were forced out in the early 1990s.

I think that Walker makes an important point when he argues the following.

Nevertheless, “unique” is not a particularly helpful term. Of course Kosovo is unique, just like every separatist conflict. Kosovo is different to Abkhazia, Abkhazia to Kashmir, Kashmir to the Basque country, the Basque country to Tibet. Just because the Kosovars “deserved” independence doesn’t mean that the Abkhaz do too. But what Kosovo does do is set a precedent that suggests that in certain cases, there is a moral imperative that allows the often arbitrary lines of states to be redrawn. And this will be felt not only in Abkhazia but in unrecognised territories and separatist movements across the world.

How do we decide? Who decides? Parnell once said ( and I think it was Joe Lee who commented acidly that it was a marvellously ambiguous phrase) that No man shall have the right to fix the boundary to the march of a Nation. It’s a great principle, but one that in practice needs continual tuning and modification. Not because it’s untrue. It’s certainly true, but because it isn’t the only factor in any of these processes.

In the case of Georgia, the line from the west is unchanging: its “territorial integrity” is sacrosanct. But nowhere have borderlines been more in flux than in the former Soviet Union. The fact that Stalin decided in 1931 to append the republic of Abkhazia to the Georgian republic hardly seems a watertight argument for keeping it there today. “The west say they hate Stalinism and communism,” an Abkhaz minister told me last year. “Yet they are supporting the legacy of Stalinism by insisting that the borders Stalin created cannot be changed.”

Walker makes an interesting case that:

So perhaps it’s time to reassess the Abkhazia situation. If the international community were to say that no options were off the table, and started to treat Abkhazia as a mature negotiating party rather than a pesky pariah, we might start to see some progress. If, when they met with European or American representatives, the Abkhaz weren’t simply faced with the brick wall of the “territorial integrity” mantra, but with an assurance that all options are on the table, Russia’s role as the sole benefactor of the Abkhaz would be undercut.

I don’t disagree with him. My instincts are always to listen to those seeking self-determination. But… there is no established structure that can give a coherent answer to these problems (look at how sections of the left are tying themselves in knots over the status of Tibet).

There are no easy answers in the Abkhazia situation… But in recognising Kosovo, the west has admitted that there are sometimes circumstances when a country’s territorial integrity can be violated without its consent. Quite how one determines whether or not a separatist region “deserves” international recognition is difficult to say. But the Abkhaz—as well as many other separatist territories—will feel that, after Kosovo, people should at least listen to their arguments.

And there is the problem. The very process of engagement gives further legitimation to such issues. That may well be right, but in this world, as we have it today that will merely exacerbate heartfelt conflicts. There may well be no solution to this problem because we have to engage. But a bit of caution, a little less reliance on ineffable ‘uniqueness’ and a sense of how one act may precipitate others would be at least a prudent start to such engagement.

But, so what, one might say. This has little relevance, doesn’t it?

Er… no. As the IT reported last week.

Russia has announced that it will establish legal links with neighbouring Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a move whicn Georgia has condemned as a breach of international law.

The step was likely to create a new irritant in relations between Russia and western states, which are closely allied to Georgia and suspect Russia of trying to punish the small Caucasus state for its move to join Nato.

In an instruction released by Russia’s foreign ministry, President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to recognise some documents issued by the separatist authorities and co-operate with them on trade and other issues.

“The main motivating factor for all our actions in this field is care for the interests of the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including the Russian citizens living there,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Our actions . . . do not mean that Russia is making a choice in favour of confrontation with Georgia,” it said.

In a neat little reversal…

In Washington, state department spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated US backing for Georgia, saying its commitment to the country’s territorial integrity was “unshakeable”.

Why, of course… and let’s not pretend anyone in this has clean hands, not least the fact that…

Mr Putin’s order made no mention of recognising the two regions’ claims for independence from Georgia. Diplomats say Moscow is unlikely to grant diplomatic recognition because it is wary of fomenting separatism inside its own borders.

But then, that’s not the point.

And so it begins…

Tom McGurk on Enoch Powell… I seem to see the River Liffey foaming with much ink and hyperbole… April 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, media, Uncategorized.

Reading the Sunday Business Post this weekend I was surprised by a piece from Tom McGurk. For under the heading Pressing immigration debate crushed by fear of censure and the subheading Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech destroyed his career, but was there a message in it for our time? we read that:

Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech destroyed his career, but was there a message in it for our time?

Forty years ago today, in a Birmingham hotel, a leading British politician made a speech which continues to echo down the years. It was Enoch Powell’s famous address on immigration, subsequently labelled the ‘rivers of blood’ speech. The relationship of British – or, indeed, wider European – politics with the question of immigration has never been the same.

At the time, Britain was one generation into principally Afro-Caribbean immigration. Powell used unacceptable language and expressions to attack the then unrestricted immigration policy.

In brief, he said that if immigration were not stopped or curtailed, Britain would, in the near future, be utterly changed. In particular, his depiction of the ‘‘black man one day left holding the whip hand over the white man’’ left little to the imagination.

And what lesson might we need to learn other than that unreflective or exaggerated use of rhetoric regarding any issue ranges between unhelpful and downright inflammatory?

Why… that…

…such was the opprobrium that descended on Powell’s head that, ever since, all political debate about immigration seems to have taken place in the shadow of his words.

And that Powell had, apparently,

tried to start a debate about the wider consequences of immigration, but the nature of his speech succeeded in stymying any argument on the subject. Powell limped away from mainstream politics, before finally resurfacing as an Ulster Unionist MP in the 1980s.

But wait…

Now, 40 years after the speech, the question of immigration is once again creeping into mainstream British politics. The results last week of a series of opinion polls, tied into television documentaries about Powell, are threatening to recast his Birmingham speech in another light.

And he continues…

Finally, a debate is breaking out on immigration. To date it has been dominated by the propagandists for multi-culturalism – an approach which has already proved a disaster in Britain.

To date, all conversations about immigration have taken place under the watchful monitoring of the political correctors. Even to attempt to discuss immigration has been to be accused of racism.

Remarkably, given the numbers who have come and given the changes those numbers have brought about, there has been little debate on the subject in the Dáil. Is there any difference of opinion in any of our political parties in relation to the question? If there isn’t, why isn’t there?

The answer of course is that public representatives are terrified of being branded racists. Censorious attitudes have succeeded only in preventing public debate and burying what could well be a growing sense of public concern, if not foreboding.

And the Irish context?

Forty years on, immigration is now threatening to become a concern in Ireland. In just one decade, this country has experienced its greatest increase in population in recent history. Opinion polls in Britain consistently show that the real concerns are not xenophobic or based on racism, but are about the strain on the services and social network that mass immigration creates. This may yet prove to be the case here.

In Ireland, for example, the burgeoning crisis in the primary schools system is perhaps the first signal from communities that they are now beginning to understand the wider implications of immigration.

Add to this, the continuing crisis in our health service and the consequences of having to provide for more and more people, or treat rarer and rarer medical conditions, and perhaps the political consensus about immigration – the honeymoon – may be ending.

But hold on a second. There are so many unsubstantiated arguments in this piece that it’s hard to take it seriously. Is the lack of debate on the issue reflective of terror of ‘being branded racists’ or is it, as is my experience from canvassing during recent elections indicative of a general apathy on the part of the electorate as regards these issues (truth… not once across two campaigns in the past number of years was I once asked about race or immigration). What precisely is the methodology that he uses to determine that immigration has proven ‘a disaster’ in Britain? And who, exactly, are the ‘propagandists for multi-culturism’?

And then note the mealy mouthed sentence constructions… ‘threatening to become’… ‘this may yet prove to be the case here’… ‘perhaps the first signal from communities’… ‘the honeymoon – may be ending’… (and what precisely is the point about ‘rarer and rarer medical conditions’, particularly in the context of the most mobile Irish population in recorded history who are no slouches at catching infections and developing conditions themselves when abroad).

Of course one should look at the original text of Powell’s speech, so consider the following quotes…

…After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: “If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country.” I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn’t last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

….Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General’s Office.

…..There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population.

….The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming.

This is why to enact legislation of the kind before parliament at this moment is to risk throwing a match on to gunpowder. The kindest thing that can be said about those who propose and support it is that they know not what they do.

….But while, to the immigrant, entry to this country was admission to privileges and opportunities eagerly sought, the impact upon the existing population was very different. For reasons which they could not comprehend, and in pursuance of a decision by default, on which they were never consulted, they found themselves made strangers in their own country.

…They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. They now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by act of parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.

….The other dangerous delusion from which those who are wilfully or otherwise blind to realities suffer, is summed up in the word “integration.” To be integrated into a population means to become for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its other members.

Now, at all times, where there are marked physical differences, especially of colour, integration is difficult though, over a period, not impossible. There are among the Commonwealth immigrants who have come to live here in the last fifteen years or so, many thousands whose wish and purpose is to be integrated and whose every thought and endeavour is bent in that direction.

…For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

…That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century.

Reasoned? Balanced? Sensible? I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”? I seem to see hyperbole. I seem to see elisions of many different matters, from service allocation to communal structures to a lack of democratic participation. And which party was it that Mr. Powell belonged to? [Although in fairness to Ted Heath he stomped on this sharpish].

To all this McGurk argues:

We might start the debate afresh by looking at the failures elsewhere and by trying to avoid repeating them.

Crude and cathartic as Enoch Powell’s comments were some 40 years ago, given today’s context, his speech at least deserves some re-reading, if not re-evaluating.

The problem is not that Powell’s comments are ‘crude and cathartic’ but that they were wildly overblown, demonstrably wrong in terms of prophetic power and in their very rhetorical violence assisting rather than defusing the sort of outcomes that he projects into the future. Indeed so overblown that they fundamentally cannot contribute as a starting point to debate – anymore than an edition of the Protestant Telegraph could be seen as a credible contribution to debate about communalism in the North. And then the question is did Powell genuinely try to start a debate? The text supports a reading that his intention was the opposite. He effectively sought to stymie discussion, not least by overstating every situation and context. By staking out his territory in the emotive terms that he did he actually prevented rational analysis of the issues – not least because, again, it fed directly into a discourse of eschatological negativity about such matters.

A couple of further points. Powell’s speech was very much of its time – which frankly is no excuse. The societal discord in the United States during the 1960s clearly played on his mind, hence during the speech he takes pains to distinguish between the US and the UK experience. But the very distinctions between those two experiences was what led to different processes and dynamics, not least being a markedly less fraught (although not tensionless, and I don’t mean to diminish the problems encountered by all within the process) British societal engagement with matters of race and ethnicity.

I think there are valid arguments about the level of immigration a society can sustain – who seriously disputes the fact that a society has finite resources? But there are no valid (or put it another way, realistic) arguments about the fact of immigration itself. That is a constant of human history, no society that has any aspirations to liberty or fraternity can stop it, or should stop it. To argue that Powell’s words are helpful in the context of this society, particularly a society lacking in the very specific post-Imperial contexts of the United Kingdom which gave a particularly malign spin to discussions of immigration is no argument at all (and let’s not forget that the UK context changed radically since the late 1960s). And reading McGurk’s piece that is not the logic of his argument. He accepts that Powell’s intervention destroyed the possibility for a more reflective consideration of these issues. Why then is it that he is not excoriating Powell and a speech which set back such debates by decades rather than explicitly suggesting we should return to it? What, indeed, is the point of this and similar exercises? Well, part of it is no doubt to find something to write about on a Sunday. Part is a dearth of any particular ideological position, however diffuse. And in such a context anything, yes, even to the point of dragging Powell’s speech into a context where it is utterly inappropriate as guide, reference or yardstick, will do. And, to be honest, McGurk is writing about ‘solutions’ to problems which have yet, if ever, to exist on the sort of level he proposes they will…

…but was there a message in it for our time?

Yeah, there was. Don’t mess around with hyperbole and rhetoric. Don’t exaggerate an issue. Don’t write words that will become both touchstone and near vindication (and validation) for the worst fears (and instincts) of people for decades afterwards.

Rumour has it Tom McGurk was once close to Peoples Democracy. Could it be true?

Adventures in Libertas revisited April 21, 2008

Posted by smiffy in Lisbon Treaty.

To begin with, an apology.  I am conscious that, when writing previously about the Lisbon Treaty campaign, I have focused on marginal opposition groups like We Are Change and Libertas, or have discussed on relatively minor issues like the establishment of the Referendum Commission.  I have not, I realise, outlined my own position (currently a probable – albeit unenthusiastic – ‘Yes’ voter) nor have I engaged with the more substantial arguments against the Treaty which I have at least some respect for, even if I don’t accept them. 

I will do my best to produce a more serious piece addressing these issues before the referendum in June.  In the meantime, however, I hope readers will the indulge me if I examine some of the latest developments in the Libertas camp, prompted by an unsolicited arrival in my letterbox over the weekend.

I’m not sure what it is about Libertas that makes it so intriguing as an organisation.  Certainly it’s not a shadowy or mysterious group of anonymous individuals like WAC (and, to flag a personal interest which will surprise few, I know and like Dave Cochrane personally).  Neither is it an organisation whose political views in relation to the EU have changed over the years, the change itself being interesting (as in the case of, say, the Green Party).  Perhaps it is the strange mixture of the success which has allowed the group to – to a large extent – dominate the ‘No’ campaign in the mainstream media and the utter incoherence of its message, at times leading it to make what could most generously be described as ‘schoolboy errors’ when it comes to matters of fact and accuracy (one hopes these are errors, as the alternative would be a deliberate distortion of the truth).

One such embarassing mistake was The Case of the Purloined E-Mail.  Libertas were handed a wonderful story on a plate – a rather embarrassing leak from the British Foreign Office about a briefing given by an Irish official on the government’s plans for the referendum campaign.  Let’s leave aside the fact that, contra Libertas, WAC and others, there’s really nothing in the e-mail about the contents of the Treaty itself.  Libertas’ press release on the subject demonstrates that they have trouble grasping the basic facts of the case.  They confuse (deliberately or otherwise) the suggestion that most people won’t read the Treaty with a hope on the part of the government that this will be the case, they fail to understand who actually sent the e-mail in question (it wasn’t the Irish official), rather central to their demand that this person resign.  In fact, they can’t even get the names right, even though they’re right there in the story they link to.

Secondly, while it’s not really a new development, cactus flower over on Machine Nation links to a very interesting article written by Declan Ganley in 2003 for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  In it, Ganley argues:

One of the most pressing areas is that of free trade, in spite of the progress made with the establishment of the WTO (one of its visionary architects being Ireland’s own Peter Sutherland). The current European structures still impose ridiculous and amoral barriers to free trade. We do this, ultimately at enormous cost to ourselves. Disincentivizing those engaged in farming across Europe by operating a highly inefficient structure that does not provide for any future prospects of a better standard of living or higher incomes. By mindlessly spending over half of the EU’s EUR89bn budget on a common agricultural policy, when a fraction of that capital invested more wisely into those same communities would provide for greater incomes, higher living standards and zero dependence on farm subsidies. Think of the improvements in Europe’s social, economic and security infrastructure with an extra €40bn available and managed efficiently and accountably.

Now, Ganley’s position wouldn’t come as much of a surprise and wouldn’t be that unusual among large sections of the business community in Ireland, including those advocating a ‘Yes’ vote.  However, it does seem rather underhanded to, on the one hand, argue for greater liberalisation of international trade, a removal of protectionism and the dismantling of the CAP (including the abolition of farm subsidies) while, at the same time, issuing posters in rural areas across Ireland advising people not to vote for ‘Mandelson’s Europe’, a clear attempt to exploit the fears for the agricultural sector that any upcoming WTO deal, spearheaded by Mandelson, would disadvantage Irish farmers.  Ganley’s vision actually goes much further than anything which could conceivably be agreed by the Commission at the WTO.  It’s understandable, although not very honest, that Libertas would implicitly criticise ‘Mandelson’s Europe’ without ever explaining what ‘Ganley’s Europe’ might look like.

Most exciting of all, however, is the much heralded Libertas leaflet, which arrived at my house over the weekend, just in time for the Libertas national tour (which it also advertises).  Indeed, of all the quirks and oddities of the Libertas campaign strategy, this tour must surely rank as one of the strangest.  Not for what will be presented at each venue (that’s not revealed in the leaflet, perhaps adding to the mystery), but for the scheduling. 

The tour consists of 14 appearances over five days, starting this morning at the Lough Lannagh House in Castlebar, the meeting kicking off at 7.30am.  Now, I would never suggest that the good burghers of Castlebar aren’t interested in the Lisbon Treaty.  However, I would perhaps question whether the people there are quite so engaged with the issue that they would present themselves at a small hotel at daybreak to partake of the wisdom of Declan Ganley (assuming, of course, that Ganley’s actually present).  This doesn’t apply to Castlebar, of course; I’d say the same about Roscommon, Athlone, Drogheda.  Even, perhaps, Ballsbridge (Friday’s morning meeting takes place in the Schoolhouse Hotel on Northumberland Road).  A cynical man might suspect that the holding of these meetings is motivated less by a desire to discuss the Lisbon Treaty with the public in an informed and dispassionate way, and more by the desire to have said that the meetings have been held.  In fact, the duration of the meetings (varying between 90 minutes at most and 45 minutes for some – barely enough time to get one’s trousers off) would tend to support the latter contention.  However, perhaps some of our more dedicated readers braved the early morning in Castlebar and attended today’s meeting.  If so, perhaps they might let us know how it went.

As to the substance of the leaflet itself, it’s essentially a collection of points about why, in Libertas’ view, the Lisbon Treaty is a bad thing – six reasons why Fianna Fáil is wrong, and five reasons to vote ‘No’.  There’s something of a greatest hits element to the leaflet.  Many of the old favourites of ‘No’ campaigns over the years are tossed into the mix, with a few new innovations to add flavour.  All in all it’s a rather ‘kitchen sink’ approach on the part of Libertas, with little or no consistent message or point of view (other than that the Treaty is very much A BAD THING).

Of the eleven points Libertas make, each contains at best a distortion of the facts and, in some cases, an out and out lie.  They play the abortion card, suggesting that the ‘European Courts’ may overturn Ireland’s position on abortion (they can’t; the Maastricht Protocol is still in place, which explicitly excludes this possibility).  They deny the (admittedly fairly minor) additional role national parliaments are granted in the scrutiny of EU legislation stating, bizarrely, that ‘Our National Parliament is controlled by the Government who agree to the decisions in the first place, so that’s not relevant, and not true’.  This exposes not just Libertas’ ignorance of the decision-making process at EU level but their complete misunderstanding of the basis of parliamentary democracy in this country.  They roll out the old favourite that ‘Lisbon can be amended without a further referendum’, ignoring the point that’s been made over and over again that the Libson Treaty changes absolutely nothing in terms of the constitutional requirement to hold referenda on issues related to the EU (i.e. if a change to the Treaties required a referendum before Lisbon, it would still require a referendum in a post-Lisbon environment).  They complain that ‘Lisbon creates an unelected President of Europe’, forgetting (or ignoring the fact) that no such position actually exists, that the permanent President of the European Council (the actual job being created) won’t be ‘lecturing us on how to run our country’ and that Ireland will actually have a vote in who gets the position, unlike the current situation where the only people who have a say are the voters in whichever country happens to hold the Presidency at any given time.

Possibly most disingenously, Libertas states that:

France has said that it is committed to “harmonising” taxes in the EU – this would mean that we would have to pay the same rates of tax as them.  Low taxes have been great for Ireland.  Article 93 of the Treaty would allow the European Court to rule that Ireland’s low tax rates are an unfair “distortion of competition”.

Now, let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that this is simply untrue, and that the Lisbon Treaty changes precisely nothing in relation to the role of the EU in determining levels of taxation at national level (it has none).  Libertas argues that the emphasis on competition in the Treaty opens the door to harmonised taxes.  However, if one looks at their The Lisbon Treaty – A Business View section of their website, one finds the following:

The EU’s traditional commitment to “free and undistorted competition” which has featured in the preamble to every treaty since the founding Treaty of Rome in 1957 has been relegated to a protocol in the Lisbon Treaty.  This was at the behest of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who has stated his support for the anti-competitive protectionism of so-called “national champions”.  As a small open economy, Ireland relies on having free and undistorted competition to give our domestic entrepreneurs and companies scope and scale for growth.  Ryanair, CRH, AIB, Airtricity and a host of other successful Irish companies are the testament to this and are counter-examples to what the Treaty of Lisbon proposes to do.

Is there really no limit to the hypocrisy of Libertas?  Vote No – the EU will use the competition requirement to change our taxes!  Vote No – The Libson Treaty takes away the competition requirement!  Whatever the organisation started off as – a vaguely pro-business group criticising the Treaty from the right – it’s descended into a mish-mash of confusion, name-calling and the worst kind of lowest common denominator politics.  They don’t seem to have much respect for the facts, or the truth, and will trot out any argument, regardless of its merit, if they think it will scare people into opposing the Treaty.  Any old thing seems to do, which re-raises the key question about Libertas – what’s the real motivation behind it?  It’s hard to imagine that they genuinely believe everything they put out (if that was even possible) which suggests that there’s some other agenda at work.  I still tend towards the view that it’s just a self-indulgent ego-massaging vehicle for Declan Ganley, esconced in his Galway compound like a latter-day Euroskeptic Colonel Kurtz, with Ulick McEvaddy dancing around shrieking “I’m a little man, he’s a great man!”.

Now, if Libertas was just a fringe organisation like We Are Change, they could be written off with a minor shrug.  However, given that Ganley is so feted by the mainstream media  (certainly compared to figures like Kieran Allen or Anthony Coughlan, both of whom could claim the same mandate to speak on behalf of ‘No’ voters as Ganley) and is being presented as the voice of the ‘No’ campaign, it’s important that both ‘Yes’ and – if I may – the left-wing ‘No’ campaigns become much more assertive in challenging the evasions and inconsistencies of the Libertas message.

Paisley hints at seeking political asylum in Heaven during trip to Cork? April 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Ian Paisley’s visit to Cobh and Cork went well according to today’s Irish Times, apart from Republican Sinn Féin that is and a lone protester:

…Pat Allen, donning a replica mask of Dr Paisley complete with horns and a devil’s pitchfork and carrying a tricolour, maintaining a vigil outside City Hall for the hour-long visit.

Earlier in Cobh on Friday night, three men were arrested for public order offences during a protest organised by Republican Sinn Féin and attended by about 60 people objecting to Dr Paisley’s attendance at the 50th annual dinner of Cobh and Harbour Chamber of Commerce.

The good Dr. was in ebullient form. All is well. All will be better. And the dread South is not merely a good place, but the reception he received was such that he said…

“Overwhelming – that’s how I feel at the welcome we’ve received here during our visit and the more people from the North who travel south and the more from the South who go north the better we can take care of all our interests,”

Meanwhile, perhaps it was Mr. Allen’s pitchfork and tricolour which prompted the following…

“I’m going to write a book and put on record the things that need to be put on record. Maybe I won’t have it published until after I’m away from this world because I might cause such a furore, I’d be better in heaven,” he said, before breaking into a hearty chuckle.

The Left Archive: “Labour”, from the Irish Labour Party, 1967 April 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Labour Party, Irish Left Online Document Archive.
1 comment so far


Delving back in time, what about this? Labour, the ‘Official Organ of the Labour Party’, dating from 1967.

This is from a period when Labour was making some gains politically. As the front cover trumpets not only had they made a significant breakthrough in Dublin (13 Dublin Corporation members, only 2 behind Fianna Fáil), but they had also ‘secured 26.2%’ of the vote in Limerick, and in vote share had beaten Fine Gael to become the second party in Limerick. And yet… this last pointed to a structural problem which was acknowledged in the article…

‘…as in other parts of the country, however, Labour’s vote was not reflected in seats gained, and this is the most important factor. All over the country, Labour secured about 17% of the total poll but only secured about 10% of the total number of seats. (This is a field which Labour leaders will have to study for the next national test to see if more candidates are needed)…

The reason for this success was pinned on…

…Labour adopt[ing] its full Socialist policy. All the party leaders, all party statements and programmes spoke of Labours Socialist solution. This was regarded as daring and audacious but it was substantially proved to be correct. Not alone did our old supporters stay with us but they were joined by thousands of others.

Well… perhaps. But read on for a time when – for a while at least – some progress appeared possible in forwarding Labour as the dominant socialist voice on the island (and it is the island, for note the column written by one Michael Farrell on Page 8 on ‘The Northern Scene’).

Pope to Officer Krupke: “Society’s to blame!” April 20, 2008

Posted by smiffy in Religion, United States.



A lot of time and many column inches have been spent covering this week’s visit to the United States of the Pope (much to Gordon Brown’s chagrin, perhaps) in particular in relation to the issue of clerical sexual abuse.  The Pope, the story goes, has devoted much of his time apologising for the Catholic Church’s rather unsavory history in this regard.  However, does he really deserve the kind of praise he’s receiving and is the apology all that it’s cracked up to be?

The most sustained examination of the issue on the part of the Pope during the trip so far has been the address to the US bishops in Washington on Wednesday.  While the issue of abuse receives relatively little attention in the course of an extremely long speech, it is worth examining it in some detail to reveal the precise nature of the apology and the Catholic Church’s understanding of its own role in the scandals of recent decades.   He tells his fellow clergymen:

Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God’s people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.

Even taking into account the fact that he’s speaking to an audience of bishop’s, it is surely in rather poor taste to open his remarks on the abuse of children by Catholic clergy by speaking about the pain of Catholic ‘communities’.  Don’t the victims (i.e. those who were actually assaulted, as opposed to those devout Catholics who suffered the ‘pain’ of betrayal when the crimes became known) deserve a little more than that.

However, far more distasteful is the rather self-congratulatory note in the piece.  How great the bishops are in striving to eliminate this evil (the evil, unquestionably, being the actions of individual priests who in no way reflect the immense goodness and piety of the vast, vast majority of clergy in the country … or so the story goes).

Except, of course, that this is only part of the story.  Horrific as the actual abuse was, what turned the phenomenon into a scandal is the complicity of the institutional church.  By attempting to cover it up, by moving priests from parish to parish when accusations of abuse arose and by failing to report the crimes to the state (perhaps one should say ‘temporal’) authorities, they made themselves accessories after the fact.  None of this is reflected in the tone of the Pope’s address.  Dealing directly with the point, he says:

Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was “sometimes very badly handled”. Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.

So, in effect, it was a tricky situation, perhaps some mistakes were made (note the mealy-mouthed use of sentiments attributed to others, something for which we’ve noticed the present Pope has a fondness), you guys can’t really be blamed for the past as no one really understood what was going on, but you’re doing a great job now.  Keep it up! 

Worst of all, however, is the following section:

If they are to achieve their full purpose, however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context. Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike.

Now, I would have thought the the head of an organisation which colluded in the rape of children on an industrial scale over decades might be a little more humble, a little more circumspect in discussing issues of sexuality and children.  I would certainly have imagined that such an individual would have lacked the sheer gall to start drawing implicit moral comparisons between the crimes of the clergy against children and internet pornography (as if the abuse should be seen in the context of the degraded sexuality of secular society, in contrast the more spiritual and pure attitude towards sexuality held by the devout). 

I suppose, however, that when you see yourself as being chosen by God to be Pope (as opposed having attained the position through the internecine squabbling of a roomful of septuagenarian celibates) you’re bound to be a little bit cocky.

What this does suggest is that despite all the crocodile tears for victims and hand-wringing about ‘hurt’ from the likes of Breda O’Brien, the old Catholic Church is still there, as arrogant and sure of itself as ever, ready to make excuses for its own crimes, and continue to assert its own moral superiority in contrast with the world around it.  As the Jets might say of Ratzinger:

It ain’t just a question of misunderstood
Deep down inside him, he’s no good!

Don’t do it Obama, a former Python is no guarantee of success… but those polls, oh, those polls… April 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Media, US Politics.

Got to say, for me my heart sank when I read the following.

Monty Python legend John Cleese is to offer his services as a speechwriter to Barack Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination to become US president.

The British comedian, who lives in California, said that his jokes could help the Illinois senator get into the White House.

As I’ve noted before, I’ve no particular horse in the Presidential race, other than being certain that a Democratic President would be a slight improvement on a Republican. But really, do we need this?

‘I am due to come to Europe in November but I may be tied up until then because if Barack Obama gets the nomination I’m going to offer my services to him as a speechwriter because I think he is a brilliant man,’ the 68-year-old told the Western Daily Press newspaper.

My advice, for what nothing it is worth, would be to ignore such blandishments. For as noted in the piece:

In 1987, Cleese recorded a party political broadcast for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, the centre-left third-biggest party in British politics, now known as the Liberal Democrats.

And curiously they have been the third biggest party from then to now.

Celebrity assistance? Avoid.

But that may be easier said than done… because:

…rock star Bruce Springsteen yesterday became the latest public figure to endorse Mr Obama for president, saying he stood “head and shoulders above the rest”.

In a message posted on his website, Springsteen said the Illinois senator had “the depth, the reflectiveness and the resilience” to be the next US president.

Just avoid Born in the USA… Obama. Or read the lyric sheet first…

Meanwhile, for all the furore, and yet again Obama has been forced on the defensive, over the ‘bitter’ remarks, they appear to have done little to impact on his poll ratings.

His current standing in the polls for Pennsylvania (April 22nd for all of us with a vote – which is probably none) according to Slate is weirdly all over the shop…

Pennsylvania polling has become increasingly varied as the Keystone State’s April 22 primary approaches. One poll shows a Clinton landslide by as much as 20 points, while others project a much tighter race. The latest PPP poll (PDF) defies the conventional wisdom that the fallout from Obama’s “bitter” remarks would reverse his recent gains, and shows the Illinois senator leading Hillary Clinton, 45 percent to her 42 percent. Other polls have also shown Obama’s chances haven’t taken a significant hit since he made his “bitter” comments.

And as reported in the Irish Times:

new polls suggest that Mr Obama’s controversial remarks about small-town Americans have yet to alienate many voters.

A Philadelphia Daily News poll showed Mrs Clinton leading Mr Obama by 46 per cent to 40 per cent in Pennsylvania, which votes next Tuesday.

Mrs Clinton’s favourable ratings among registered voters have declined to 58 per cent from 65 per cent in March, while Mr Obama’s favourable rating has risen from 47 per cent to 53 per cent.

A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of likely Democratic voters gives Mrs Clinton a 46 per cent to 41 per cent edge in Pennsylvania but puts Mr Obama ahead in Indiana and North Carolina, the next states to vote on May 6th.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, two out of three Democrats now see Mr Obama as better able to win in November, a dramatic change from February, when Mrs Clinton was five points ahead on this measure.

Among all Americans, 58 per cent now say Mrs Clinton is not honest and not trustworthy, 16 points higher than two years ago, before the presidential campaign began.

Most of the polls were conducted last weekend, after news of Mr Obama’s controversial remarks about small-town Americans broke but before the media amplified them and Mrs Clinton accused him of sounding condescending and out of touch.

Now, really, that’s not bad at all, is it, for a man who whose campaign we are told is coming apart. Indeed he has actually broadly cut a double digit lead for Clinton in previous polls. But, whether this is likely to be any help, or whether indeed these polls are accurate is a completely different issue. The next round of polls, and indeed the primary itself will tell us all. Probably.

Could it be that the US electorate is a lot wiser than the chattering classes give it credit and recognise a fumble when they see it, or is it that the polls are skewed wildly? Or is it that the undecideds will go one way or another… erm… well obviously they will, but which?

Rasmussen has Clinton on 50%, Obama on 41% with a disturbing 9% undecided. Even the PPP poll quoted above by Slate has a considerable 13% undecided.

I can’t read this at all, no surprise there. But it makes for gripping stuff.

As regards the debates, well I caught as much as I wanted of the latest one and have to say, if I was trying to make my mind up, I’d still be puzzled. Again, no surprise there either. Both are capable candidates. No doubt minds are wandering to November and which would be most coherent a challenge to McCain. But then, McCain has his own problems. Let’s not forget that. Either way, more months of this lie ahead.


Meanwhile… John Waters, reinventing the wheel of life… yeah, right. April 18, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Social Policy, Society.

I can’t let this go past, following on from Chekov’s comments earlier. The article Chekov referred to is by John Waters in today’s Irish Times. It’s about the lesbian couple who won their case in the High Court as regards guardianship, and it really is a piece of work. Most stuff I can tolerate, but this?

At the hear of this case is the agreement by the father, purporting to waive most of his natural claims in favour of ‘uncle’ status. Of course it is morally impossible for the father to do this.

Er… no, actually it’s not, and perhaps out from under the shade of whatever tree Waters has been most of his life he might recognise that sperm donation is not new, it’s not particularly different and that his talk of ‘natural’ claims and ‘moral’ impossibilities is just that – talk (incidentally, what is it about men of a certain age who move from nuance to absolutism, and that’s a big hallo to Nick Cohen too).

We need to be clear that what has happened in this case is that a man’s child has been, in the language of creation, stolen. The fact that he colluded in this wrongdoing is beside the point.

Nah, mate. This is talking the language of bollocks. The fact that he ‘colluded’ is absolutely central. Again. Get out of the shade John. What too of adoption? What of single parents, where a father (or mother) is denied access for one reason or another? What of children in foster families? What of the universe of complexity in human relations which leads to family building and shaping that somehow despite everything tends to work out broadly speaking for the best. Optimal? Perhaps not, but we live in an entropic universe. Nothing is optimal. Not for John, meat and two heterosexual parents, Waters though. Dismiss everything beyond the specific, the normative, the familiar. Ignore the reality that sperm donation has been a fact of human life (incidentally, what does JW make of statistics printed some time back in the Guardian that showed the percentage of children genetically different to their purported parents – due to who knows what, well, okay, they suggested affairs – was remarkably high? What of the sacred wheel of life in that context? Is that ‘natural’ or ‘moral’?).

Drunk with liberal hubris, have we reinvented the wheel of life, deciding that two lesbians playing House can trump the claims of the forces that create human life?

This last is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of his piece (uncharacteristically – and go look at the printed version – clearly lacking at least three or four paragraphs, one wonders if the Senior Counsels the IT employs were chewing on the top of their pencils into the wee hours of last night about that missing text). “playing House” is so revolting dismissive, so teeth-grindingly ignorant that it is beyond redemption. And all smothered in a sort of pseudo-Biblical, pseudo-New Age language that no doubt read well at 12.30 am this morning, at least in our correspondents head. Well, two can play at that game.

By his words ye shall know him.

smiffy adds:

It really was a phenomenally nasty article ( “playing house” ) even by Waters’ standards.  One or two quick additional points, though. What’s notable in this is the stark hypocrisy of Waters’ argument. He is quite happy to throw around pseudo-philosophical terms like ‘the wheel of life’, ‘the language of creation’, ‘the natural order of things’. What he seems blithely unaware of is the fact that such arguments can easily be turned against him (and let’s not mince words here – this piece is entirely about Waters own domestic situation. I’m surprised he didn’t open by saying ‘Speaking as a sperm donor myself …’).

Waters has spent the last decade complaining about the bias against fathers, particularly unmarried fathers, in the family law system, and such a bias certainly exists. However, surely if there’s any justification for such an approach it comes precisely from the same ‘natural order’ that Waters clings to in this piece. Mothers, fans of the ‘wheel of life’ view of the world might argue, are the ‘natural’ rearers of children and when relationships break down surely the civil law should reflect this. Indeed, given that men are ‘naturally’ poor caregivers, why should they have any ‘natural’ claims on children at all? At a push, one might even argue that a family ‘naturally’ contains two parents who live together, so the female couple at the centre of this case could be seen as a more ‘natural’ family than two biological parents of a child who don’t live under the same roof.

In the hope of avoiding confusion, I should state that the positions listed above aren’t ones I would necessarily share. However, unlike Waters, I don’t share them because I find terms like ‘wheel of life’ to be utterly devoid of meaning and irrevelant to any debate between rational adults. What’s his view?

Similarly, and more insidiously, for all that Waters derides ‘liberals’ and ‘feminism’, his plea for equal treatment rests entirely on a liberal position if it is to make any sense at all (admittedly, quite an ‘if’ in Waters case). The only reason the general principle of sexual equality, which Waters relies on, achieves such an overwhelming consensus of support is the struggle of various minority and otherwise oppressed groups in demanding equal rights, usually in the face of opposition from people just like Waters. Now he’s piggybacking on their achievements while denying them the same respect and equal treatment he feels is his due.

One quickly notes that Waters rejection of the judgement in this case is based solely on what he perceives the rights of fathers to be. Nowhere does he refer to the best interests of the child in question (other than to note that the court – unlike him – felt it was important). A rather telling omission.

As a minor aside, for someone who is fond of throwing the term ‘Kafkaesque’ about, I don’t think he has any real understanding of what it means, other than as an alternative to ‘Orwellian’ in the Waters catalogue of cliché.

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