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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Politician wanted. No experience necessary

“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried from time to time.” So said Winston Churchill. Of course to have a democracy you need freely elected politicians; the rest just needs brute force. One thing all of them do not need is experience. That can be learned on the job even if you get to find you have your finger on the nuclear button. Mind you, there maybe no one else around to find out how good you could have been, which may unfortunately include you.

It is an amazing fact that you need absolutely no experience at all to be a politician only a personality. Well, some anyway.  Depending on your brief, you can be head of Education, Health, Defense, Justice and more. Laws can be newly dictated, justice rewritten, and cronyism further institutionalised and continued. 

Because of the lack of any defined credentials or morals in any area not of your comfort zone, you can hire those that claim that they have and call them experts. When anyone gets anything wrong afterwards, you can blame them for starters by the now traditional byline: “Based on the information we had at the time.”  This will almost certainly get you out of a mess and leaves any politician blameless in the short term, and even if found out and they are already heading for the exit door, they will be compensated by an obscene pension in the long term. 

Without any intending disrespect to the following occupations or belief systems, and as long as they were not convicted of a state crime, a politician can be head  of the resident military machine even if he was a Klu Klux clan member from Cork. He can also be head of equality and justice while a member of the Kerry branch of Al-Qaeda where any member is automatically qualified to do exactly the same job.  

If you believe that the world is still flat and that Darwin was a heathen and a charlatan, and dinosaurs are only 6000 years old, this will not stop you from being the head of Education, Health and Reform. What a job if you never had one before!  

After democracy, the normally rather optimistic Churchill saw that without it, it was all down hill after that. I am afraid he may well have been right. We get what the enlightened majority elected and that is Donald Trump.....The best thing about Donald is that he is a sure fire guarantee of at least to not be boring and that can be a heavy indictment in itself. 

Barry Clifford

Photo Minute: The world we live in

Sunday, December 4, 2016

In 1847 was the year it all began

In 1847 was the year it all began
Deadly pains of hunger drove a million from the land
They journeyed not for glory 
Their motive was not greed
A voyage of survival
Across the stormy sea
Christy Moore (Singer)  from the song- City Of Chicago

In 1847 the Choctaw Indians, an indigenous and oppressed people in North America, sent money to Ireland to help the Irish famine victims. It was a total of $174, an awful lot of money then and worth about €10, 000 now, and worth millions more in terms of ratio to what they had and ultimate gave, that in the end their gift could only be called priceless.

To one newspaper then this act of kindness was not directly attributed to the Choctaws but to the white Christian man when it wrote this base prejudice piece built from ignorance: 

“What an agreeable reflection it must give to the Christian and the philanthropist to witness this evidence of civilization and Christian spirit existing among our red neigbour. They are repaying the Christian world for bringing them out of their benighted ignorance and heathen barbarism. Not only by contributing a ‘few dollars’, (That $174)  but by affording evidence that the labours of the Christian missionary have not been in vain.” 

It was lost in translation that a philanthropist is normally someone that has money against the Choctaws who did not. 

A decade earlier in 1837, these were the same tribe that were forced to march on the infamous Trail Of Tears after their homeland were stolen from them, and many of their people murdered that included women and children in order to help carry out the robbery. Yet, this long beaten down tribe was no doubt moved again by eye witness accounts in 1847 such as the following, of which they knew much about in terms of their own suffering:

“I started from Cork heading for Skibbereen, and saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible, in the vast numbers of famished poor, nearly dead or dying, who flocked around the coach to beg alms. Among them, was a woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine child, and making the most distressing appeal to the passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin to bury her dear little baby.” 

Barry Clifford

So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be?

Remember all the news reports suggesting, without evidence, that the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising created conflicts of interest? Well, now the man who benefited from all that innuendo is on his way to the White House. And he’s already giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like, as authoritarian governments around the world shower favours on his business empire.

Of course, Donald Trump could be rejecting these favors and separating himself and his family from his hotels and so on. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s openly using his position to drum up business. And his early appointments suggest that he won’t be the only player using political power to build personal wealth. Self-dealing will be the norm throughout this administration. America has just entered an era of unprecedented corruption at the top.

The question you need to ask is why this matters. Hint: It’s not the money, it’s the incentives.
True, we could be talking about a lot of money — think billions, not millions, to Mr. Trump alone (which is why his promise not to take his salary is a sick joke). But America is a very rich country, whose government spends more than $4 trillion a year, so even large-scale looting amounts to rounding error. What’s important is not the money that sticks to the fingers of the inner circle, but what they do to get that money, and the bad policy that results.

Normally, policy reflects some combination of practicality — what works? — and ideology — what fits my preconceptions? And our usual complaint is that ideology all too often overrules the evidence.
But now we’re going to see a third factor powerfully at work: What policies can officials, very much including the man at the top, personally monetize? And the effect will be disastrous.

Let’s start relatively small, with the choice of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Ms. DeVos has some obvious affinities with Mr. Trump: Her husband is an heir to the fortune created by Amway, a company that has been accused of being a fraudulent scheme and, in 2011, paid $150 million to settle a class-action suit. But what’s really striking is her signature issue, school vouchers, in which parents are given money rather than having their children receive a public education.

At this point there’s a lot of evidence on how well school vouchers actually work, and it’s basically damning. For example, Louisiana’s extensive voucher plan unambiguously reduced student achievement. But voucher advocates won’t take no for an answer. Part of this is ideology, but it’s also true that vouchers might eventually find their way to for-profit educational institutions. And the track record of for-profit education is truly terrible; the Obama administration has been cracking down on the scams that infest the industry. But things will be different now: For-profit education stocks soared after the election. Two, three, many Trump Universities!

Moving on, I’ve already written about the Trump infrastructure plan, which for no obvious reason involves widespread privatization of public assets. No obvious reason, that is, except the huge opportunities for cronyism and profiteering that would be opened up.

But what’s truly scary is the potential impact of corruption on foreign policy. Again, foreign governments are already trying to buy influence by adding to Mr. Trump’s personal wealth, and he is welcoming their efforts.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is illegal, in fact unconstitutional, a clear violation of the emoluments clause. But who’s going to enforce the Constitution? Republicans in Congress? Don’t be silly.

Destruction of democratic norms aside, however, think about the tilt this de facto bribery will give to U.S. policy. What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.
Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

One would like to hope that national security officials are explaining to Mr. Trump just how destructive it would be to let business considerations drive foreign policy. But reports say that Mr. Trump has barely met with those officials, refusing to get the briefings that are normal for a president-elect.

So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be? The best guess is, worse than you can possibly imagine.

By Paul Krugman

Photo Minute: Running wild and still free

With record numbers sleeping rough our priorities are skewed again by water charges

WHAT matter that a record number of people are sleeping rough as temperatures dip below zero — once we’re not doomed to pay water charges.

A homeless camp site on the outskirts of Limerick City

Who cares that large chunks of housing stock are being treated like a lotto win by vulture funds — as long as our taps are allowed to run free?
The focus of the body politic in the week gone by was on the publication of the report of the expert commission on domestic water services. Precious little of the debate that ensued concerned the most pressing aspect of the water infrastructure, which is the state of waste water treatment in the country. Rivers may turn brown, beaches wash up untreated excrement, but as long as shapes can be thrown on the issue of charges, none of it really matters.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, the cost of how we governed prior to the collapse and during the recession mounts.
On Wednesday, as the watery water report was being torturously dissected, the latest official figures for rough sleeping in Dublin found 142 souls on the streets. That number does not include the 77 people who were sleeping on the floor of the Merchant’s Quay Ireland café on the night last week when the count was taken by the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive.
The number of rough sleepers is up by more than 50% on last year, but the real volume of those exposed to the elements as the most inhospitable time of year is almost certainly far greater.

The statistic doesn’t include others such as the occupants of a gathering of tents to be found along the Dodder river on the south side of the city which was reported on last week. If past experience is anything to go by, and taking into account the inflated numbers sleeping rough, somebody will die a needless death on a street between now and the first shoots of Spring.
Dublin is not alone. During the week, RTÉ reporter Brian O’Connell explored another mini tent city on the outskirts of Limerick, something also reported in the Irish Examiner.
The occupants didn’t want the location identified, but O’Connell delivered a searing report that might have been lifted from a dystopian movie, except this was the real world, in an economy which is smothering society.

Spiralling rents are putting most of these people out of their homes and nowhere has the spiral been greater in the last 12 months than in Cork. Average rents in the city went up by 18.2%, according to As with the other cities, this has thrown record numbers onto the streets, as hostels overflow with bodies and the attendant dangers of violence, fuelled by alcohol or drugs.

Still, at least the expert commission came down on the side of no charges. What kind of country would allow a system whereby consumers would have to make a direct contribution to the treatment of water? That, as some self-styled socialists have been pointing out, would amount to an abuse of human rights. No country that describes itself as civilised would permit such an odious regime.
On the eve of the publication of the expert commission, it was revealed that the capo di tutti capi of vulture funds, Cerberus, paid €1,900 in tax on profit of €77m last year.
Depaul to open 67-bed hostel for the homeless in Dublin this month 

Cerberus is currently the focus of a Dáil inquiry into the disposal of Nama’s property assets in Northern Ireland. There is an overpowering smell from the deal, with millions diverted into an off-shore account, among other things. Cerberus bears no responsibility for that stuff, but the mad rush to flog the property meant the field was open for others to turn a quick buck on the side.

Why was there the mad rush to sell property that was appreciating in value? This approach appears to have informed much of Nama’s mission over the last five years or so. Instead of being an asset management agency as designed, it turned into an asset disposal agency, flogging property to entities engaging in feeding off the carcass of the Irish economy. This, in turn, suits a short-term political culture, where almost anything can be mortgaged for the next election.

Much of the assets were disposed to vulture funds like Cerberus, and others such as those operating under a charity called the Matheson Foundation, which is linked to the Irish law firm, Matheson.
These funds are operating on a charitable status in order to — legally — avoid paying tax. Meanwhile, rents are pushed up, renters pushed out and the tax-free profits mount.
Where is the urgency in dealing with this appalling vista, in which lives, not least of developing children, are being damaged in increasing numbers because of short sighted and craven policies?

Such was the hue and cry about goddamn water charges during the week that there was little room made for a private members bill signed by most of the opposition which is designed to keep people from being turfed onto the streets.
The Secure Rents and Tenancies Bill, sponsored by Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, should have been the focus of the body politic during the week.
The Government, in particular, should have been properly held to account for refusing to play ball on something designed to stem the flow of people onto the streets. That was beyond the base instinct of the political culture though in the week that was in it.

But look, water charges are dead, and that’s the main thing that occupied Leinster House and beyond since last Wednesday.
Fine Gael has long since hooked on the display of Phil Hogan who once obnoxiously declared “water pressure will be turned down to a trickle”, for those who failed to pay water bills. Now they are wrestling over whether to refund the mugs who did pay.
Micheál Martin has been brilliant in his tactical awareness, having located his inner Bertie and dispensed of any notion of principle on the matter.
The Shinners were slow out of the blocks, but they made up for it with attempts to hijack the whole anti-charge campaign.

They won’t get fooled again.
And top of the heap is Paul Murphy and the AAA, which have made some terrific political capital on the whole issue.
Paul, one assumes, awakes in a cold sweat the odd night with the realisation that some day all of this will end, some day water charges as an issue won’t matter anymore.
Some day soon, with any bit of luck. Then at least all that energy wasted on cynicism and populism might be redirected to addressing the real problems that persist, none more so that the abuse of a basic human right to a roof over one’s head.

Michael Clifford

The ‘right’ to be spared from guilt

The word “inappropriate” is increasingly used inappropriately. It is useful to describe departures from good manners and other social norms, such as wearing white after Labor Day and using the salad fork with the entree. But the adjective has become a splatter of verbal fudge, a weasel word falsely suggesting measured seriousness. Its misty imprecision does not disguise but advertises the user’s moral obtuseness.
A French court has demonstrated how “inappropriate” can be an all-purpose device of intellectual evasion and moral cowardice. The court said it is inappropriate to do something that might disturb people who killed their unborn babies for reasons that were, shall we say, inappropriate.

Prenatal genetic testing enables pregnant women to be apprised of a variety of problems with their unborn babies, including Down syndrome. It is a congenital condition resulting from a chromosomal defect that causes varying degrees of mental disability and some physical abnormalities, such as low muscle tone, small stature, flatness of the back of the head and an upward slant to the eyes. Within living memory, Down syndrome people were called Mongoloids.

Now they are included in the category called “special needs” people. What they most need is nothing special. It is for people to understand their aptitudes, and to therefore quit killing them in utero.

Down syndrome, although not common, is among the most common congenital anomalies at 49.7 per 100,000 births. In approximately 90% of instances when prenatal genetic testing reveals Down syndrome, the baby is aborted. Cleft lips or palates, which occur in 72.6 per 100,000 births, also can be diagnosed in utero and sometimes are the reason a baby is aborted.

In 2014, in conjunction with World Down Syndrome Day (March 21), the Global Down Syndrome Foundation prepared a two-minute video titled “Dear Future Mom” to assuage the anxieties of pregnant women who have learned that they are carrying a Down syndrome baby. More than 7 million people have seen the video online in which one such woman says, “I’m scared: What kind of life will my child have?” Down syndrome children from many nations tell the woman that her child will hug, speak, go to school, tell you he loves you and “can be happy, just like I am — and you’ll be happy, too.”

The French state is not happy about this. The court has ruled that the video is — wait for it — “inappropriate” for French television. The court up held a ruling in which the French Broadcasting Council had banned the video as a commercial. The court said the video’s depiction of happy Down syndrome children was “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

So, what happens on campuses does not stay on campuses. There, in many nations, sensitivity bureaucracies have been enforcing the relatively new entitlement to be shielded from whatever might disturb, even inappropriate jokes. And now this rapidly metastasizing right has come to this: A video that accurately communicates a truthful proposition — that Down syndrome people can be happy and give happiness — should be suppressed because some people might become ambivalent, or morally queasy, about having chosen to extinguish such lives because . . .

This is why the video giving facts about Down syndrome people is so subversive of the flaccid consensus among those who say aborting a baby is of no more moral significance than removing a tumor from a stomach. Pictures persuade. Today’s improved prenatal sonograms make graphic the fact that the moving fingers and beating heart are not mere “fetal material.” They are a baby. Toymaker Fisher-Price, children’s apparel manufacturer OshKosh, McDonald’s and Target have featured Down syndrome ads that the French court would probably ban from television.

The court has said, in effect, that the lives of Down syndrome people — and by inescapable implication, the lives of many other disabled people — matter less than the serenity of people who have acted on one or more of three vicious principles: That the lives of the disabled are not worth living. Or that the lives of the disabled are of negligible value next to the desire of parents to have a child who has no special, meaning inconvenient, needs. Or that government should suppress the voices of Down syndrome children in order to guarantee other people’s right not to be disturbed by reminders that they have made lethal choices on the basis of one or both of the first two inappropriate principles.

George F Will