Friday, October 25, 2013

Ireland is Dying and Our Political Class is to Blame

It can be either stupidity or heartlessness to kick a person while they are already down. In some cases it is a shocking mixture of both. Yet this week our government did exactly just that. In passing a bill that cut the job seekers allowance for young people , in some cases down to a paltry sum of 100 euro a week, the members of the Dail have told the youth of today they are not important to Irish society. Indeed, by singling out people under 26 for different and lower dole money, they have in fact created a new realm of economic discrimination. Not only has the recession, a product in large part the creation of policies by many of these deluded few residing in Leinster House destroyed the prospects of a generation, they have now taken away any chance of living a respected and dignified life. It is in essence a slow push out the door on the path to emigration.

For a long time Ireland was considered a country brimming with youthful vigour. On IDA pamphlets given out at trade fairs over the world for the last thirty years, one of the biggest boasts was of a country full of young, educated people, ready and waiting for you to hire them. Demographically we are a young country, with a sizeable proportion of our nation under thirty. Yet this is no country for the young. It never was. For decades we exported our young and today that social disease of emigration infects the country all over, destroying communities and tearing apart families. For all the talk of the good times in the late 90s and early part of the last decade, it was a shoddy fa├žade, held together by cheap credit that when the banks almost collapsed in 2008, the superficiality of our wealth could be seen in harsh black and white.

For all the cautious optimism of the past few weeks about growth picking up for the first time in over half a decade and the return of our keys of economic sovereignty we shamefully lost three years ago, we are a nation dying. It is not because of the burdensome debt; we had been there before in the 80s. It is a sense of necrosis which has been festering for decades that results in us haemorraging our greatest asset, our youth. For all the talk of people leaving Ireland out of economic necessity, there is very little said about the sizeable minority who has left this country since the recession started that did so out of choice. They left perfectly good jobs in Ireland to live elsewhere and this has always been the case. It is not because the grass is always greener. It is because this is a nation that has consistently failed to create an environment to nurture our youth.

The blame for that stands squarely on our politicians. When you look at Dail Eireann there is barely anyone under thirty in the House. We have two parties with virtually no ideological differences and in the minds of many the only difference is one is less corrupt than the other. We have parties of self-preservation, whose main ideology is to maintain the status quo, disregarding everyone else. That they have done so for ninety years is frightening. We have a political establishment based on a twisted sense of nepotism. It is quite shocking when you consider that most of the major players in our politics got their seats when their father died – Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan to name but a few. Only this year, the second youngest TD in the Dail, Helen McEntee was voted in to take the seat of her deceased father. Many, many more examples are to be found in Leinster House. One can argue the merits of these individuals but you can never get over the sense that what we have is the creation of a political caste that stifles the desire for young people to enter in to politics. Why waste your time when the party machine will vouch for the child of a sitting TD?

With this selfish, self-preserving little bubble of entitlement you get the most egregious cases of stupidity and selfishness. We had a Seanad referendum based on the political opportunism of one man, Enda Kenny. Completely refusing to consider reforming the upper house saying it was abolition or the status quo no matter how dysfunctional it was, you had someone ignoring the will of the people just so he could have something to pin on his chest. Adding in a ruthless party whip system whose only goal is to turn TDs in to mindless complicit vote-punching minions and all you have is an establishment with no care for anyone but themselves.

There is a real lack of vision in this country. Our good times in the past were not built on the ideas of people and entrepreneurs. It was a convenient mix of demography and canny taxation. It seems the only thing this government and previous governments have had keeping this country afloat is by maintaining a few dozen multinationals on board by clever accounting. Let us be clear, these corporations have no love for us other than allowing them to park billions away from the taxman in their home countries and when the time comes that some other country beats us in the tax game or Europe says we need to grow up, they will leave. Yet all the time our youth are ignored or worse, harassed and constrained. While we let Apple and Google away with accounting murder, we slap our students with thousands in college fees then dump them on the streets with no hope other than 100 euro in job seeking allowance for jobs that are not even there. For the lucky few who have jobs and want to start a family, they are financially robbed by shocking childcare costs and guilt-tripped in to handing supposedly discretionary money to underfunded schools. These are the people by birth and upbringing that have strong, natural bonds to this country who in these bad times shed tears of sadness when forced out of Ireland to find work, who will do anything to stay and make a better life for themselves and the country here. These are the people who could create our own version of Google and Apple but the government do not listen.

All the time our politicians do nothing. They just mumble about fixing the finances as if that is the only thing they can do. There is no thinking out of the box or considering other options to fix the economy other than balancing the books. It’s like being locked out of your house and just standing at the door thinking “Oh I just gotta stay here until someone brings a key” without even trying a window or other means to get in. It is pure laziness bred by entitlement and a gene pool disintegrating under nepotism. Our country is slowly dying because a privileged few deny or worse, harass our greatest resource. They ignore their input and destroy the social ecosystem needed for them to grow. For all the talk of a tentative economic recovery, it is only a short remission for a disease created in Leinster House.

This is no country for young men. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vote NO to Seanad Abolition Tomorrow

If something is broken, do you try and fix it or do you throw it away? I suppose if it is a DVD it is an easy decision, a computer less so. But what if it is a whole part of government, an institution of our democracy that has been with us for over eighty years and interwoven in to our Constitution like an organ of the body? To some a second kidney is superfluous but woe betide if the first one fails and you don’t have another. These are the questions we should be asking ourselves while we ponder the referendum on the Thirty-second Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which we will be voting for on Friday October 4th.

For decades criticism of the Seanad festered, rearing its head once in a while in debates. To many it is undemocratic, being indirectly elected by interest groups and packed with government cronies. That is true. To others it is a smug echo chamber for a political elite, a place won by favours in back rooms of the Dail and county council offices. That is also true. The Seanad is without doubt a defective organ of government. Yet tomorrow instead of finally even considering the possibility of really fixing the upper house we have been given a blunt option of dumping the whole thing or not. There is no consideration of future reform the government says. It is of their opinion that because it has not happened before, it will never happen. That is a deeply regressive argument. Previous governments have had the ability to reform the Seanad and they still do. Then finally we have a proper argument about the Seanad. Yet we have now been given the sole option of amputation. So we are being told to remove one defective kidney and hope for the best with another that created the crisis we are all in today.

The defective reasoning behind this can be traced back to a speech our now Taoiseach Enda Kenny made in October 2009 in which he stated that a “second house of the Oireachtas can no longer be justified”. This it must be stated was only a few months after he had vouched for the merits of the Seanad, albeit a reformed one. It is rather funny that after a lot of personal soul searching and debate he is now completely and utterly for the abolition of the Seanad, that his mind has concluded so forcibly that there is no need for debate. Indeed, he has refused to argue on prime time TV or in any forum the reasoning behind his change of heart in relation to the upper house. It is as if he is a child who wants to do something, hears your argument against and puts his hands up to his ears and shouts “Na na na na na! Can’t hear you!”

What we have tomorrow is not some reform process or a way to save money or even enhance democracy, the arguments the government are advocating for. What we have is a cynical political maneouvre by an autocratic Toiseach, blinded by smugness, lubricated by the largest parliamentary majority in the history of the state. It is a means to pin a badge on a man whose pet project he wants passed, to have something to own while the rest of his mandate is discredited by austerity and a dictatorial whip system. We are trading collective democracy for personal political merit. The frightening thing is that such autocratic behaviour will only be enhanced with the abolition of the Seanad. It will be a back door power grab. For all the people who think that abolishing the Seanad will be a way to kick the balls of a privileged smug elite, the sad irony is, rather than removing a bunch of unloved politicians, you will be in fact handing an even concentrated few more power.

We as a nation deserve the best and most robust democracy we can get. We also deserve the right to the best options of getting that. Tomorrow you will not. To demand that argument be heard, vote NO tomorrow to the abolition of the Seanad. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Who Should Host the 2020 Summer Olympics? Place Your Bets Now!

If you love sports like me, you probably like to place bets on the competitions and today is a biggie. In less than 24 hours we will find out who will be chosen as the host for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games and picking a winner is turning out to be as tough and as close as a 100 metre sprint final. Coming off the racks we have three cities; Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul. At first Istanbul seemed the favourite; a sensible and noble choice of having the games for the first time in a Muslim country, straddling two continents. Nipping on its heels and inching past recently has been Tokyo, site of the 1964 Olympics. However if one is to hear the chattering from insiders it appears Madrid is right up there with Tokyo. When the International Olympic Committee decides today at their meeting in Buenos Aires, it could be a very tight photo-finish.

One thing to point out is that all three have been here before in the last twenty years and at the final hurdle have failed to win the gold medal of hosting. Istanbul lost the bid twice for the 2000 and 2008 games, Tokyo once for 2016 and more noticeably Madrid for 2012 and 2016. Not only are the final three made up of previous losers, they all have very noticeable handicaps. It is in many respects the weakest Olympics bid in decades. For all the talk of the importance of the games and legacy to their countries and the world, most likely these impediments will be a big factor to the IOC committee members and how they decide in the voting later today. The recent self-promotion by each of the host cities however makes the decision a race between “the safe pair of hands” vs “the best atmosphere” vs “something new”.

“The Self Pair of Hands”

The Japanese pride themselves on their sensibility and reliability. In a country where a train is a minute late is something to raise an eyebrow over, Tokyo is selling itself as the city that will deliver the monumental planning for the games in time, on budget and with the least, if any fuss. The Japanese delegation have emphasized the positioning of the Games, meaning nothing is ever more than 8km away and deciding to reuse the 1964 Olympic stadium, albeit spruced up with a slinky Zaha Hadid design. The Games would cost only $4.9bn, in many respects about half what London ended up costing with no need for major infrastructure construction to cater for the two weeks each of the Olympics and Paralympics Games.

The chair of the Tokyo bid, Masato Mizuno stated: “ We are a safe pair of hands….These are the hands that can be used to lead to show a super Games in uncertain times”. Sadly recent news about continuing and dangerous radiation leaks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant damaged in the 2011 earthquake have raised questions as to how reliable the Japanese really are. The Japanese have unfortunately developed a reputation for covering things up, whether it is the health risks of Fukushima or the corporate fraud at Olympus. Furthermore, it is still not clear if the IOC has been influenced by the events of FIFA in wanting to geographically rotate the World Cup to other continents. If that is the case, having the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang South Korea may make some delegates consider a different region for the next games.

“The Best Atmosphere”

You’ve got to give it to Madrid. It came tantalizingly close to stealing the crown from London for the 2012 games, even going ahead in the first round of voting. It fought admirably against Rio for the 2016 games considering the Brazilian city was always the firm favourite from the start. Could it be third time lucky? If there is going to be a sympathy vote today, Madrid will get it. The city has hinted it may just give up trying after today and no one really wants a good sport to just resign itself like that. The city has learned from its deficiencies in the previous two bids and has a well-refined proposal for the IOC. In many ways it lost to London because the British capital teased the IOC members with lots of spectacular settings for many of the sports in central, historical locations such as Greenwich for equestrian and Horse Guard Parade for beach volleyball. Madrid plans to do exactly the same for example transforming an old bullring in to the venue of basketball and the Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid for football. It also plans the Games to be cheap, emphasizing that it will only cost just over $2bn as basically all infrastructure and venues are in place with only a few things such as the Olympic Village to be built.

Madrid is seen as a vibrant, fun city, socially liberal where all are welcome, a glaring contrast to the situation of Sochi next year. The IOC was in awe at the vibrancy of London and the great atmosphere of the 2012 games and Madrid is quick to assert that it can even surpass that.  It is they state the defining impression people around the world have of the Olympics, a big sports party and if there is one thing Spain is good at, it is hosting a party.

Madrid has its faults. No matter how much it reiterates the modest bill of the Games, Spain is a deeply troubled country economically, with a quarter of the workforce unemployed. The IOC likes to hear how the Games will inspire the youth of the host country (something London did very well for the 2012 bid) and looking at a nation that in many ways is failing theirs with nearly a half of them without a job doesn’t look inspiring. Madrid counters that things are looking up economically and that the construction and hosting of the Games will be an economic stimulus. We will know later today if the IOC members can be swayed to look above current financial constraints and give the Games to Madrid.

“Something New”

If there is one word that comes to mind about Istanbul, it is unique. Situated where east meets west, it is the largest city in Europe. Istanbul is a booming metropolis of 14 million people on a continent beset by economic malaise and the largest city in a secular, Muslim country. Istanbul is highlighting repeatedly the great opportunity their bid has to connect stronger with other regional voices in sports and to inspire more people in the Muslim world to take up sports. It is by far and away the most ambitious of the bids, costing almost $14bn. The vast majority of the money is to be spent transforming the city in to a modern world-class city with the Olympics being the catalyst. Therefore massive infrastructure projects are to be planned or speeded up for the Games in 2020. When the bidding cities were announced, Istanbul was seen as the favourite. It had the most fervent governmental backing of all the bids, not surprisingly considering Turkish PM Erdogan is from Istanbul. Bringing the Olympics to the city would be seen as his crowning achievement and the springboard for his presidential bid next year. Again, like Madrid it had learnt from the London bid and planned many of its spectacular sights as locations for tournaments.

If any of the bids have been offset by recent events, the most likely one to be affected and thus make IOC members vote against it is Istanbul. The recent crackdown on protestors in the city itself and the heavy handedness of PM Erdogan in relation to this has tarnished the Turkish bid. Many in the IOC have said it is not a major factor as they make a more determined decision by looking at what the country will be like in seven years time. Nevertheless the IOC has been getting flak from protestors for handing the Games to Russia, a country that 6 years after winning the bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics passed virulent anti-gay laws. Considering the perceived determination of Erdogan to Islamicse many aspects of Turkish society and therefore antagonize many people in the country, it is not known whether or not the protests this summer were a flash in the pan or the beginning of a conflicting movement in the country. The IOC is not enjoying the attention it has been getting concerning Sochi and the anti-gay laws and may prefer to shunt the Games off to a safer bet. Furthermore, no one knows what will happen in neighbouring Syria, a country falling apart that could become a haven for terrorism.
Buenos Aires, the venue for the IOC conference

Who to Bet For?

Who would I put my money on is a question I have been asking myself for a while. Tokyo for a long time and in many respects still does feel the safest bet. Istanbul seemed at first but it is like those dates you see in movies where it is all going great between the guy and the gal in a bar or a restaurant until suddenly an old drunken friend or ex notices the gal and spills all the dirty, dark secrets on the unsuspecting guy and he’s immediately turned off. For Istanbul that was Syria and Taksim Square, for Tokyo that was Fukushima. In many ways it will ultimately be decided by the presentations today in front of the IOC, that personal interaction where all the great and good is shown, blinding the negativities before the ballot. My safe bet is on Tokyo but I am going to be a bit daring and put it on Madrid.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

We Must Intervene in Syria

Syrians bury their dead in the civil war

Bashar Al Assad was a polite and affable man. During his time doing his postgraduate training in London in ophthalmology, he eschewed any interest in politics and was considered quite simply a nice man. If it wasn’t for the untimely death of his elder brother and heir apparent of his dictator father, he probably would be living a normal life with his elegant wife in some salubrious London suburb. He would not be considered today as a bloodthirsty tyrant, the unflinching instigator in the deaths of over 100,000 of his own people and the displacement of millions more.

Today the world is debating the consequences of his murderous regime and whether or not his minions in the army blatantly ignored international norms and indiscriminately massacred over a thousand Syrians, mostly innocent civilians. For a civil war that has bounced along the headlines for over two years, revealing horrific imagery; the photos of children, lined up dead with little of serious physical injury as if asleep, almost preserving their innocence the victims of a supposed sarin attack were enough to rouse the frustrated anger of nations over the tipping point. If the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, it is utterly inexcusable and must be punished.

The debate itself is quite rightly centered around the need for firm, verifiable proof of chemical weapons use. For over two years other nations refused to intervene and for a while that was the right move to do. However no one could have perceived when Bashar Al Assad cracked down on some peaceful protestors would result in over two years of unbelievable bloodshed resulting in so much death and suffering, affecting almost every part of the country. There comes a time when the internal difficulties of a nation are so acute that international intervention is needed. Just as it is the case in natural disasters, humanity has a duty to halt an unprecedented calamity, in this case a man made one.

Many have argued that nations like the US, UK and France have been gung-ho about intervening for a long time. I would state that these countries have been incredibly reserved about getting involved. In fact the statement by the Obama administration that they would not get involved unless chemical weapons were used was in itself a strong statement of intent of staying out of the conflict. By making the bar of action so high, by in effect basing it on the use of a kind of weapon virtually the whole word reviles and would consider any nation or regime using it as complete and utter lunacy was a strong admission of wanting to stay out of the action. But the Syrian regime may have been that stupid to use them.

Bashar Al Assad and his Wife
One could call this the Iraq effect. After a coalition of countries invaded Syria’s neighbour ten years ago on dodgy intelligence about supposed WMD,  politicians and the public were burned and loath to get involved in another war, let alone when the evidence is staring them in the face. In many respects the result has been a much more detailed, vociferous debate about the intelligence now concerning the use of chemical weapons and that is a good thing. But there is a fundamental difference between the two: Intent. Saddam Hussein was no angel and had used chemical weapons against Kurds in an uprising in the majorly Kurdish north but there was no fundamental evidence of WMD and the regime’s intent on using them on a grand scale against its own people or others. Yet every day we watch the news and we see the regime of Bashar All Assad intentionally and brutally butchering his own people, disregarding innocent civilians.

With Syria and the debate on intervention, you are damned if you do and you are damned if you don’t. The question is which of the options is the least worse? For me staying out is the worst option. The intervention being considered by the US and others certainly won’t end the war. In many respects that is not the intent of the plans. There will be no ground war that will bog down soldiers for years, the main fear of the electorate in countries like America. If chemical weapons have been found to have been used then the international community is bound to make a stand and punish the Syrian regime for their callous actions. An example must be made that flouting international norms in such a way will not go unpunished and thus make others think twice in the future of using chemical weapons.

Syria is falling apart. As a composite nation, created by bureaucrats in Europe after WWI disregarding its many layered ethnic groups, it risks falling in to the trap of Bosnia twenty years ago. Even now, the rabble opposition that has no central command is ripping out mini fiefdoms and in parts tiny caliphates of fundamentalism that would make groups like Al Quieda proud. This festering cancer risks creating further massacres regardless of who wins the civil war. The longer these groups are allowed to distill their beliefs further, the more dangerous things are for not only Syria but also for the region as a whole. One should only look at recent events in Mali to see this happen. We cannot sit idly by as Syria becomes the next Bosnia.

Samantha Power
My personal opinion is based on a question. What is the difference between guns and sarin? Both are weapons. Both are used to maim innocent people. For the supposed 1,400 people that the US says have been killed by sarin in Syria last month, there have been over 100,000 people murdered by bombs and bullets. Just because one weapon is considered more heinous than the other does not discard from the fact that this regime deliberately intends to murder and that there is no limit to how many their own people get in the way of achieving their goals. It has been a drip feed of murder. If 100,000 people were killed in a day at the start of this civil war by one bomb or like in Srebrenica over a week or Rwanda over four months, rounded up indiscriminately and shot or hacked to pieces we would not be sitting around doing nothing.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN has been quite rightly quoted often in this debate. She writes in her book A Problem From Hell:

"Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their head down will be left alone. They urge cease-fires and donate humanitarian aid."

She goes on further to say: “States that murder and torment their own citizens target citizens elsewhere. Their appetites become insatiable.” In essence this really isn’t just a Syrian problem, it is and it can go further than that.

We all watched while 500,000 people were killed in four months in Rwanda. We stood by for too long while Bosnians murdered each other along ethnic and religions lines. With both  we deeply regretted letting down not just them but humanity as a whole. We may learn to regret getting involved in Syria. So one should not just consider the concept of international norms concerning chemical weapons as a justification for intervening.  Intervening will be messy regardless of its outcome. A line must not just be drawn in the sand about the use of sarin but on the indiscriminate massacre of people on an epic scale that has been occurring ceaselessly for over two years. Otherwise when historians look back, Syria will be just another chapter right beside Bosnia and Rwanda in the heinously abject failure to prevent humanity from murdering each other in such a way.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Glad to Be Here: A Personal Opinion on the Abortion Debate

Me, aged 2

For most of my adult life I have lived with a strange, indescribable feeling. It is something that pops up now and then, swirling around in my subconscious making me pause and reflect. You see for as long as I remember I have known I have been adopted. There is of course nothing odd or unusual about adoption. In fact I find it one of the greatest things a person or family could ever do, to bring in to your home a child and give them unquestionable love and care. I will never be able to convey the huge gratitude to my parents for what they have done for me for the thirty years I have been on this earth and for sticking up with me.

However that is not the strange sensation I feel and wish to explain to you all. It is something else, which has been accentuated by current events at home and in the United States. Basically I keep thinking that if abortion were legal when I was conceived, what would have become of me? For when the Eight Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland was being voted upon that constitutionally banned abortion, I was by then undergoing the process of adoption as a sprightly, over-active 6 months old baby. Being completely honest I have never felt a desire to discover my biological parents, a decision I made on my own. They have always been without question Margaret and Joe who adopted me. However at times I keep thinking about what were the choices and ideas my biological mother had when she was pregnant with me. Was she a young mother, maybe unwed in a still at times puritanical Ireland? Was she someone who just couldn’t afford to bring up a child?

What to do with an unwanted pregnancy is one of the toughest, heart-wrenching decisions a woman has to make and is never taken lightly. If Ireland had abortion in 1982 when I was conceived, could I have become just a statistic in a clinic; having never had the chance to take my first steps, go to school, see the world and become the man I am today? It is an unexplainable concoction of guilt and fear melded with other emotions that has always been in me. What has made me write this little piece was to convey a personal opinion on the abortion debate that swirls like a tempest right now here in Ireland and in parts of the United States.

Now you might think from my perspective that I am anti-choice or to use jargon we hear in the debate ”pro-life”. I am not. Nature has created a situation in which a woman bears the weight of conception and gestation. A woman, like a man should have the right to determine what they want to do with their bodies, whatever that may involve. I know some rabid anti-choicers will jump at me for having some sort of twisted hypocritical view of things and my reply to that is, funnily enough, it was the “pro-lifers” who led me to this view.

My dad Joe and I
What I see today is an argument blown out of proportions, fuelled by the most vicious animosity I have ever seen. But what has sickened me the most has been the actions of some of the anti-choice faction here and in the US.  In America anti-abortion is I feel the last vestige of a conservative agenda in decline after the battle against such things as gay marriage have been lost in the arena of public opinion. In Ireland in many ways it is the same. I have no doubt the people who are anti-choice have strong convictions in their belief against abortion but it is misguided and has been hijacked by an abhorrent minority that has pushed many like me who in their minds could be persuaded either way in to the pro-choice camp.

What I see now is the demonization of the woman who decides whether to terminate a pregnancy or not; a woman in need of help, advice, care and attention. No one, man or woman, regardless of their situation should be made to feel this way, to be branded a murderer or criminal for making a decision over their own bodies. Countless hours and vast resources, mental and financial have been wasted over the years in basically assailing women. But attacking the only person naturally capable of bearing the child is utterly misguided because fundamentally it is about the woman. To force a woman to have a child is a monstrous attack on personal liberties plain and simple.  To do this to a woman pregnant due to incest or rape, prolonging for nine months that attack on someone is unfathomably sickening and inhumane. Yet today this is what is happening.

We live in a world where protecting the unborn we cause mental and physical harm to others. In any other situation it would be unquestionably wrong but to even have a hint of a pro-choice agenda you are fair game to have bloodied dolls resembling fetuses mailed to you, to be physically attacked or unjustly made in to a pariah. This makes me seethe with anger. In the very act of trying to save some humanity you degrade it with actions like these. Now I am not letting off the hook some of the rabid pro-choice campaigners but the actions of a small minority who are against abortion have led me to be pro-choice but within some parameters.

I will admit, I have for a very long time been sitting on the fence in relation to abortion, not just because of my own personal experience that I gave earlier. At conception, some form of life is created but it is not whole. Until that fetus can live independently from the mother it is ultimately up to the woman, that individual whose body the fetus can only survive on to decide. I therefore am in favor of term limits after which abortion should not be allowed unless the woman’s life is in danger.

With my parents and sister, August 2011
But what this whole argument needs is greater understanding of the whole situation, the creation of an environment for a woman to be given proper care and consultation on options. My biological mother if abortion was legal could have terminated me and I live with that feeling all the time. I am glad she did not. I hope that she was given the proper care and advice, told that she could give the greatest gift imaginable to others such as my mother and father, Margaret and Joe. Sadly we are living in a time of budget cuts to welfare to help women make the proper choice, actions ironically enough taken by politicians who are themselves against abortion.

This debate is not just about abortion. It is about pregnancy, about choice and understanding of which abortion is just one but very important part. We need to look beyond abortion and allow pregnant women to have a conducive environment to decide what is best for them. I’m obviously glad my biological mother never decided on abortion but I respect her, like others to make that choice and we should be doing more for women to make that big decision rather than throwing weapons at them and at each other.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Argentina: An Observation

When a bunch of trees on the main street of the capital city become a major political talking point, either the news has become rather dull with nothing of merit to report or something odd is going on. In Argentina, nothing is ever ordinary, from the overly plastic celebrites on their version of Dancing With the Stars to the exchange rate of the peso. This is the country where old ladies walk their dogs on the street at 3am on a weekday night, the steak on your plate is the size of a small child and no restaurant website contains prices because they go up so quickly and at a rate no one, not even the state knows or admits to knowing. For some foreigners this can seem exhilirating but at the same time it grates, making one age quicker than they would normally do. Yet somehow Argentines seem to revel in it.

Argentines are people of extremes; hot and cold with a distrubing penchant for a kind of masochism for faulty things that rather than fixing them would find more pleasure in the the act of protest, the white heat of emotion than the cold, calculated need for collective consensus and planning.

It was less than thirty minutes after stepping off my plane I came in to contact with this side of the Argentine psyche. As the airlines disgorged their passengers, many of them locals with oversized bags full of electronic goods their government had tried to discourage them from buying at home with import restrictions, the crowd slammed head on into the painfully slow queues of customs. Literally hundreds of people were met with just four x-ray machines as if a storm surge came in to contact with an impregnable dam. People packed up in lines that swirled around the baggage claim area for hundreds of metres like a drunken snake. It was 9am and after an overnight flight lasting 14 hours I was not prepared for the electric atmosphere that resembled a football match. People screamed, shouted and slow-clapped at the indifferent and lazy customs officers who grumpily barked at you to put your bags through the x-ray machines. There were no riots but certainly irate people yet strangely it almost felt like they were consumed in parts by the whole experience. It seemed like the frustration emitted a pheromone that the locals just could not get enough of, one that certainly I was not affected by as I grudgingly and quietly slugged along in the queue.

This was not something new, a product of increased passenger numbers with no increase in supply of customs officials and machinery. It has always been this way. They say the British love queuing but in Argentina it is warily a part of life, an inevitability like humid summers in Buenos Aires. It is to be expected but no one can do anything about it but to everyone else who is not from Argentina would certainly beg to differ. They will moan and complain yet nothing will change.

Argentina has successfully made itself an image out of not changing. Buenos Aires is the city of “Faded Grandeur”, a place that in parts resemble Belle Epoque Paris with a metro over a hundred years old that until recently ran on one of its’ lines the same clickety, wooden cars that swooped through its’ tunnels upon its inauguration in 1912. History abounds, looking forlorn and lived in without the spruced-up chocolate box look many other cities around the world have created of their architectural heritage. In that one can find charm but also something more sad and symptomatic of inherent problems in Argentine society.

Glamour and decline on Buenos Aires Metro
In a society of so many extremes, there is no middle ground. You are either a Boca Juniors fan or supporter of River Plate; a Peronist or not. In the 19th century you were either a firm believer in a strong, centralized state or for a loosely federal nation. There was and to many extents there still is no middle ground. Consensus is an alien term, bereft of the passion and conviction of taking sides. It is here that lies the handicap of Argentine society that has hobbled it for generations and to this very day. It manifests itself in the strangest of ways but has distilled itself in to its finest form in the politics of the nation.

From the fulcrum of the Argentine Congress and the Casa Rosada, the official residence of the President of the Republic, its’ tentacles latch on to a constellation of issues and grievances. The fate of some trees on the vast expance of 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world become pawns in a political struggle where environmentalism is just an excuse for lobbing another political bomb at the opposition.

Each side has at its head a charismatic leader, someone who fights tooth and nail for the cause, who advocates an existentialist fight where you are with or against them. If against you are a dangerous threat and must be eliminated. All this passion feeds the masses who lap it up and come under its spell. A strike by border police hints a government official is akin to a coup, the end of support of a major media group for the president results in legislation to break it up. From each side the leaders stand on their podiums to berate, instill fear and galvanize their supporters. It is almost theatrical if it was not so damaging. All the time any concept of the middle ground is evaporated in the heat of the political fire from the extremities. Politics is made on the foundations of consensus, without it, the edifice of the nation slowly crumbles.

Argentines are consumed by the drama of protest
Argentina seems to be thoroughly engrossed with its own personal theatre while its neighbours slowly and calmly move on. Many of its South American peers have had a similar history to Argentina yet have in the past twenty years taken a different path, one where the hard work and the building of bridges is bearing fruit. On a recent trip to Santiago I was surprised by how different it was in Chile. Basically things worked while in Argentina they did not. While both have grown rapidly over the last decade, the physical product of that effort is to be seen in Chile with clean streets, extensive, modern infrastructure and a city one feels safe in. This is to be contrasted with the shoddy, dog excrement-strewn and at times dodgy streets of Buenos Aires, full of tragic looking old buses, unkempt and old highways and a metro that until very recently was a neglected relic, incapable of accommodating the increased passenger numbers.

In Argentina’s closest neighbours; Chile, Uruguay and Brazil; the bitter divisions of the past have been constructively tackled and an air of consensus has prevailed. In Brazil, former president Luiz Inacio da Silva, an ardent left-winger worked closely with other parties generally opposed to him in Congress to create a consensual framework to reduce poverty and harness the wealth of resource-rich nation. Working together is not seen as denying the original cause but a means to move forward bit by bit. If the United States wanted to see the effect of a polarized and divided political establishment, it would find a chilling example in Argentina.

This drug of drama intoxicates the nation and handicaps it while its’ neighbours move along the steady road of progress. While leaders galvanize hearts and minds over nonsensical and trivial notions and the people pleasure themselves masochistically over the products of their failures of crumbling infrastructure and indemic corruption, a nation which a hundred years ago held so much promise and was the fifth richest nation in the world continues its slow decline. As much as Argentina needs a big slap truth, it continues its own dance. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote that “reality is not always probable or likely”. Maybe this Argentine had his country in mind. It certainly feels that way there. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Congress Supported Terrorism This Week

Neil Heslin and a photo of his son murdered at Sandy Hook testifying in front of a Congressional Committee

It really was a tale of two cities in the US this past week when the effects of terror played out in front of us all to see. While one showed the powerful and admirable resources of the state in hunting down and capturing dead or alive of the perpetrators, the other showed the mind-boggling failure of a bunch of egregiously self-centered elected officials to pass legislation to help prevent the recurrence of a kind of terrorism that affects the country every single day. You can all guess that the first city is Boston and the tragedy of last Monday’s marathon bombing. The second however is not just one city, but nevertheless is epitomized by the horrific murder of twenty-six people, mainly young children in Sandy Hook late last year. It is in fact every city in the United States, from Boston to San Diego and Seattle to Miami. It is the kind of terror borne in the barrel of a gun and played out in the homes and on the streets of the United States that has taken the lives of over three thousand people since one man walked in to that elementary school in mid-December and proceeded to murder everyone in sight.

I am in no way trying to belittle the shocking deaths of three people and the maiming of nearly two hundred more last Monday. Both examples I have taken are of violence a government, an elected representative should do their best to make sure never happens again. But I couldn’t control my rage looking at the result of the Senate vote where a bill to implement background checks on gun buyers was defeated in a 54-46 vote. It stunned me and then hearing the voice of Neil Heslin, whose six year old was murdered in Sandy Hook, my emotions went from overwhelming sympathy to a personally previously inconceivable sense of anger that has led me to write this article. I am not alone. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a woman who miraculously survived being shot in the head at point blank range at a mass shooting a few years ago penned a heart-wrenching piece on the failure of the vote on Wednesday. It was not a lament but the combination of anger and frustration of a woman who fought for her life after being shot and tried her best to prevent that from happening to herself and others again.

The result of the vote has been spinned by all sides of the political spectrum but I want to make my feelings on it clear and simple. Both Boston and Sandy Hook are examples of terror and therefore in my mind terrorism. While one will result in the full gauntlet of the state security apparatus being implemented which will affect every single individual in the country; from increased patting down at airport security, more intrusion on our privacy and the curtailment of liberty, the other will allow a tiny minority to go about and buy weapons to kill any individual they want with the flimsiest (if any) restrictions. And they do it every day.

Now one can go on about the semantics of terrorism. It is a word saddled with fierce emotion and like many words is almost a term for a whole spectrum of ideas but is dominated by a certain kind. Boston is an example of what we take for granted as terrorism. But what do you call the actions of a gunman in a school, the fear in the hearts and minds of young children as their teachers barricade doors from an evil man and tell the kids they love them so the last overwhelming thing they sense before death is not the brutally sharp piercing of a bullet in their bodies as their lives wilt away? This is just one example. What is it called when someone walks in to a cinema and proceeds to shoot at innocent people watching a movie? The list goes on. The actions are not just to kill but to instill terror.

On Wednesday, Congress prevented the curtailment of a form of terrorism that happens on a daily basis in the United States. It was a bill that was supported by ninety percent of Americans yet it came down to the opinions of a simple hundred individuals in the gilded halls of Washington. In failing to pass the most basic forms of background checks, something even prior to the tragedy of Sandy Hook that brought about the bill in the first place seemed common sense; these fifty self centered puppets of vested interests failed a nation and its people, not to mention the legacy of those children who lost their lives in December. They have taken the survival of their own political lives over the survival of countless thousands who in the future will be murdered in cold blood by guns. It is not just about the children of Sandy Hook, but of future children who will grow up to take a gun and shoot dead the innocent future children of others in the United States.

While Boston brought to us a form of terrorism we have not seen in the United States for years, many of us and most certainly a lot of lawmakers fail to see the terror the unrestricted use of guns has on a nation. Nevertheless it is a crime that politicians have not been accounted for in their failure to prevent from happening on a daily basis. So with the same determination they have shown in the past in preventing traditional terrorism and the unity of belief after Boston, they must do their upmost to prevent people from killing and maiming innocent citizens with guns.