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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 8, 2008 @ 10:00 am

    Newsflash: Country in a State of Chassis

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    While I would not necessarily agree with Vincent Browne, in his Irish Times column today, that the Oireachtas debate on the Bank bail-out Bill should have been a long-drawn-out affair, as took place in the US Congress, there is a good deal of truth in his more general assertion that Dáil Éireann is a fairly toothless body nowadays: the legislative branch of Government has been pretty well sidelined by the executive branch (Cabinet).

    There are intelligent and capable people among our parliamentarians but they have been reduced to the level of voting fodder for a good deal of the time. Cabinet is all and Ministers are mini-gods, swanning around in their state cars with civil servants as well as  politically-appointed spindoctors and special advisers to tend to their every need. A female former minister once told me, somewhat indelicately, that the staff “would nearly pick up your knickers after you”.

    As a debating chamber, the Dáil is a grave disappointment (maybe just a grave!) TDs are frequently reduced to the level of constituency messenger-boys (and a few girls): a role some of them appear to gladly accept.

    It’s a sad state of affairs but reflects a more general malaise of conformism throughout the country. God be with the days when there was vibrant debate about the North, women’s rights, birth control, abortion, divorce, property speculation, homelessness, industrial issues, etc, etc. It’s not the just the West that’s asleep, all of Ireland is overcome with torpor. Or as the Seán O’Casey character declared: “The whole counthry’s in a state o’ chassis.”

    Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times

    • newkon says:

      Thanks, very good.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      The whip system does affect the room for independent thought amongst our TDs. Backbenchers rarely if ever oppose the Government, in part because the majority is so tight. That is at least one upside to the UK system, that it gives the government MPs room to manoeuvre.

    • Steve Rawson says:

      Quite so. And while many would find the description such a depressingly cynical take on the election of an Executive (Government/Cabinet) by your colleague Michael O’Regan, who, in an almost Pavlovian reaction on the ponderings of Government formation, always replies, ‘It’s a numbers game’. Nothing more, nothing less. Policy, passion and pride are too often, with some notable and honourable exceptions, replaced with the necessary compromise for a seat at the table. Meanwhile dubious secret deals with independents are cobbled together allowing them to claim everything from ending poverty to world peace. The prime goal being to make up the numbers for an absolute power that sucks the oxygen of democracy out of the air for all involved – both actors and audience. Of course, the odd amendment to a Bill might be accepted but will depend largely on the whim of the Minister responsible.

      There are other factors. The now -ucrative salary and generous expenses coupled with Bertie Ahern’s legacy of five-year terms have also contributed to a general air of complacency. These factors may lead to what pundits describe as ‘stable government’ which is always attractive to those who crave predicable certainties but the downside is a toothless legislature going through their paces hindered by a distinct lack of any edgy creativity.

    • Elaine says:

      I ofen looked up at the sky an’ assed meself the question – what is the moon, what is the stars?

    • Deaglán says:

      Good to see there is another O’Casey aficionado out there, Elaine. The present crisis reminds me of Captain Boyle’s comment when he was down to his last sixpence: “The last o’ the Mohicans — The blinds is down, Joxer, the blinds is down!”

    • paul m says:

      just flicked through a back issue of Time magazine there and spotted an ad for Fortis bank that should be framed for poster(ior)ity.


      “here today. where tomorrow?”

      ne’er truer fiscal advice spoken

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      The postbank ad (An Post and Fortis) shows people coming and taking all the banks expensive pictures and various other overheads away. Not having a fancy office didn’t stop them from being complete eejits just like the rest of them.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      We in Ireland have long since abandoned debate as a means to address issues and develop policy, let me tell you about how we deal with debate:

      On September 7, 2000, in an address to the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York, then President of Cuba, Fidel Castro, foretold the collapse of the world’s financial system, a collapse currently unfolding before our eyes. He said that the virtual economy created by speculation would implode “within a fairly short period of time”.

      He was, of course, derided at the time, not least by Irish politicians who showed their contempt by staying away from the session entirely. Pity: he was right, they were wrong. The Irish ministers who missed the speech, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, returned from the Summit only to follow their neo-liberal ideological masters in Washington in cranking up the liberalisation of credit, further inflating the economic bubble that Castro had spoken about.

      Cuba did the opposite. Within 12 months of Castro’s speech the Cuban Central Bank had divested itself of all foreign currency holdings denominated in US dollars in preparation for the impending collapse of the dollar.

      As a result of these divergent approaches, the Cuban people will survive the collapse, their society intact. Others will not be so lucky. Non-Cubans will have to hope that the “new world political and economic order” that President Castro spoke of will eventually emerge from the ashes of the current chaos, an order which will, for the first time, regard them as sovereign citizens whose interests need to be safeguarded by their elected government, not sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered in the interests global capitalism.

      Here is an extract of the relevant part of Fidel’s speech:

      The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century

      by Fidel Castro Ruiz, 7 Sep 2000


      “There is no longer a real economy. There is a virtual economy. World exports total somewhere over six trillion dollars a year. However, everyone knows that 1.5 trillion dollars are involved in currency speculation operations, following the elimination of the gold standard in 1971, precisely at the time when the United States’ gold reserves had dropped from the initial 30 billion dollars to just 10 billion. With those 30 billion, it was able to maintain stability buying gold when there was a surplus and selling gold when there was a deficit.

      Everyone knows that, but in 1971, after so many hundreds of billions of tax free dollars had been spent in the Vietnam war, Nixon simply made the unilateral decision, without consulting anyone, to eliminate the gold standard for the U.S. dollar. This led to instability in all currencies. De Gaulle was opposed to this, of course, he was opposed because he knew what would follow: the unleashing of speculation. Today, 1.5 trillion dollars are involved in currency speculation operations every day, in addition to another 1.5 trillion in speculation with all sorts of stocks and shares. This has absolutely nothing to do with a real economy.

      For example, some stock markets have turned 1000 dollars into 800,000 dollars in a period of just eight years. This is more of a perception, something in the realm of imagination, based on prospects even if the companies involved register losses. A colossal virtual economy has been created. An enormous bubble has been inflated and one day it will burst. This is absolutely inevitable. Then, we will be faced with the major crisis that might help to create a new world political and economic order.

      Meanwhile, we can build awareness, delve more deeply into these problems and spread ideas like all those that have been expressed here. Because everything that has been said here and many other ideas should be disseminated. We cannot be pessimistic.

      I am convinced that this will happen within a fairly short period of time.”


      Read the full speech here: http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2000/ing/m080900i.html

    • Deaglán says:

      And yet — and this is not a facetious point — there seem to be a good few people in Cuba who will risk anything to get to the US but one rarely hears of anyone wanting to emigrate in the opposite direction.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Deaglán, your point is well-made but based on a misunderstanding of the reality. In fact, what is remarkable is how few Cubans emigrate to the USA, given the benefits. Let me explain.

      If you are Cuban, you get immediate free housing in the USA, immediate social security payments, a work permit and 12 months within which to take out your automatic entitlement to US citizenship. Tell that to the 25,000 illegal Irish in the USA who would give their eye-teeth to get a similar deal.

      You will lose most of those supports if you arrive under their version of the Donnelly visa system. In other words, if you arrive legally you are penalised. My guess is that they want you to arrive on an inner tube for the benefit of the cameras.

      There is even an illegal boat-taxi that will pick you up from a beach in Cuba – for a fee. The mafia traffickers who operate this service to the USA never seem to get prosecuted for some unknown reason – human trafficking being technically illegal under the US constitution. (Many of them seem to be retired CIA agents who invested their retirement bonuses in fast boats which can outrun the costguard. Guess they saw a good business opportunity in the boat-taxi business. Put them in front of a court and you might get more than you bargained for.)

      The downside: the US government won’t let you visit Cuba once you become a US citizen (which explains the one-way traffic.)

      20,000 US citizens who have visited Cuba are currently being processed through the courts for violating the US travel ban. Some will end up in jail. I guess there is something the US government doesn’t want their citizens to know about Cuba – like the truth.

      Cuban emigration to the USA per head is among the lowest in Latin America or the Caribbean, in spite of the fact that Cubans are the only emigrants who are legal as soon as they set foot on US soil.

      I’d call that a system designed to create an immigration flow, wouldn’t you?

      If those terms were on offer to Irish emigrants today there’d be no one left in this country. Last time they were, two million of us got on coffin ships headed to the USA. And then there was no free housing or 12months of social security benefits thrown in.

    • Deaglán says:

      Thanks for your well-argued comments Betterworld Now. I seem to remember three would-be exiles getting executed for their pains a few years ago. When is Cuba going to loosen up in a genuine way? I would love to see it emerging as a kind of Latin American version of the Czech Republic, democratic but independent. The expected liberalisation seems to be going rather slowly.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Ah, yes the old unequal yardstick appears again.

      I don’t make the laws in Cuba or the USA but both retain capital punishment. In Cuba that is restricted to very few crimes, whilst the USA is more “generous” in its legal definitions on such matters. Aircraft hijacking involving no loss of life, for example, is a crime carying a death sentence in the US states of Georgia and Montana today.

      In 2003 Cuba executed 3 people for the crime of hijack – but more of that later. That same year the USA executed 65 people for a wide variety of crimes. Since then, the Cuban Council of State has commuted the death sentences of almost all prisoners on death row; Cuba has executed none. Meanwhile, in spite of the best efforts of campaigners, state killing continues in the USA where a further 242 people have been executed.

      Now, who would you say is more worthy of your criticism?

      If holding 8 innocent tourists at knifepoint on a small boat on the high seas for 12 hours is not a serious crime, then I don’t know what is. But that’s not where it ends.

      The actual charge could accurately be summarised as: ‘aggravated hijack likely to endanger the security of the state’. Understanding the charge leads me to a different view of the sentence, allow me to explain.

      Some months previous to the hijacking, Cuba was warned by the US Secretary of State that allowing an exodus of its citizens to head to the USA (as it famously did in the 1980 Mariel boatlift) would be interpreted as “an act of aggression”. This was in response to the implosion of the Soviet bloc and the resulting near- collapse of the Cuban economy. At the same time they announced the extension of their care package for Cuban exiles who arrive in the USA illegally (that care package includes free housing; full, social security payments and an automatic entitlement to a ‘green card’), hardly a disincentive to would be hijackers. It seemed that Cuba was being set up for attack.

      Given their propensity to invade poor countries at the drop of a hat, Cuba was forced to regard that US threat seriously, hence the framing of the charge. The Cuban authorities regarded hijacking then as a rather more serious crime than we might do, or indeed than they might themselves regard it today, given that the US war machine is bogged down elsewhere. You will remember that just the “belief” that Saddam Hussein posed a potential for “acts of aggression against the USA” got him deposed by a US invasion in 2003. Back then, the US military was primed, armed, invincible and a warmongering Bush/Cheney administration itching to find a target for their bloodhounds, not to mention a source of profit for their war profiteering supporters.

      Death sentences are never justified, but these three come closer than most.

      Again and again, once you scrape away the myths peddled by the western media about Cuba you find that the truth bears little resemblance to the myth.

      Which is also why we haven’t heard about Cuba’s current lack of a banking crisis.

    • Deaglán says:

      I won’t get into a protracted ideological wrangle on this. The death penalty is wrong and I don’t care whether the executioner is waving the Red Flag or the Stars and Stripes. Cuba is a one-party (until recently one-man) state with no free press. The US is an exploitative capitalist country with a range of parties and media from which to choose – obviously the disparities in wealth mean that some citizens are freer than others. Strangely, although so many hate the US in political terms, virtually everyone seems to want to go and live there. I wish Cuba well and hope it makes the difficult transition to a normal democracy with parties and votes and media, both serious and outrageous, before too long. The great Cuban people deserve it.

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