Sunday, February 24, 2008

Irish journalist Tom McGurk pays tribute to Fidel Castro

Apologists for communism living in democratic countries, have been common through the decades and Vladimir Lenin apparently termed the early admirers of the brutal experiment, "useful idiots."

The biggest prison in the world, North Korea and the island of Cuba are the remnants of the failed experiment that was a Gulag Archipelago.

It's easy to forget that in the heart of Europe until 1989, people risked summary execution for trying to leave their country without State authorisation.

This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that South Korea's decision to return 22 North Koreans who may have tried to defect is drawing criticism from defector groups, human-rights activists and some politicians who say government agencies acted too hastily.

The North Koreans -- 14 females and eight males, three teenagers among them -- floated to South Korea on two small boats, and were repatriated 13 hours after being found Feb. 8 near an island off South Korea's northwest coast. South Korean authorities usually hold North Koreans who venture across the border for several days and conduct lengthy, individual interviews.

The situation gained urgency early this week after several South Korean news outlets, citing government sources anonymously, reported that some, and perhaps all, of the 22 people were executed after their return to the North.

Irish journalist Tom McGurk, afflicted by blinkered anti-Americanism, pays tribute in the Sunday Business Post to Fidel Castro, following the announcement by the Cuban dictator this week of his retirement.

Extract from How Castro showed up Uncle Sam:

Today, the average Cuban has a long life expectancy, free education up to university level and levels of public health services and literacy better than the average citizen of the US. This speaks volumes for Castro’s experiment. Any predictions about what will happen to Cuba must now take account of the huge pride Cubans have in this, their truly remarkable achievement.

Of course, the average Cuban has little material wealth, and the Party remains at the centre of everything. But, then, this is a society where, with food, housing and transport so cheap, and education and health free, material wealth is largely irrelevant. Anyway, since the state owns all the shops, goods are the same price everywhere.

To be in Cuba is to experience the wonder of a society where the tyranny of consumerism does not exist. There is no advertising at all and individualism comes second to the common good. Cuban television is like a community channel - devoted to education and sport.

Unlike the Soviet empire, there is no evidence of either party corruption or the power of apparatchiks - communist party officials seem to live in much the same manner as everyone else. And, of course - importantly, in the greater scheme of things – unlike much of the rest of the Americas, Cubans have enjoyed half a century of relative peace.

The wealthy McGurk's armchair concern about the "tyranny of consumerism" should be contrasted with the real tyranny of Castro.

On March 05, 2007, we published the following tribute to Mario Chanes de Armas, one of Castro's earliest and closest companions in the fight against the Battista dictatorship:

The founding father of Soviet communism Vladimir Lenin may or may not have coined the term "useful idiots" to describe Western reporters and travellers who endorsed the Soviet Union and its policies in the West.

The ailing leader of Cuba Fidel Castro, has similar admirers who conveniently downplay the dark side of his rule

Mario Chanes de Armas, who died last week at the age of 80, was one of Fidel Castro's earliest and closest companions. He fought alongside Castro in the 1953 attack on the Moncada army barracks and helped launch Cuba's guerrilla war in 1956.

Castro won power in 1959 and Mario Chanes de Armas could have had a key position in the new regime but opted to return to his job in a family brewery. For two years he watched Castro restrict liberties and human rights while increasingly embracing communism. Chanes was tried as a "counterrevolutionary," and on July 17, 1961, was imprisoned for 30 years. He spent six years of those years in solitary confinement in a windowless room.

Chanes de Armas' son was born while he was in prison and died at 24 without his father being able to attend his funeral.

On his decades in jail Chanes said: “I watched men get shot, point blank, beaten with bayonets, arbitrarily pulled out and punished. But we were alone. The world didn’t know.”

Even after his release in 1991, aged 64, Castro refused his former comrade permission to leave the country.

Chanes never showed bitterness about his years in Castro’s jails, saying they had never crushed his spirit. “After my release, during my two years in Cuba, I realized that no-one on the island was free anyway. I don’t have feelings of hatred or vengeance. Vengeance is for cowards.”

Mario Chanes de Armas arrived in Miami on July 21, 1993. He wrote an article for The Miami Herald's "Hemispheric Dialogue," an occasional series in which heads of state and other principal figures in the hemisphere discussed issues from their own perspective.

I BARELY remember youth and tranquillity. A brief part of my adolescence was spent in the waning years of Cuba's last democratic government, on the eve of general elections that never took place because the coup d'etat of March 10, 1952 abruptly interrupted the electoral process. The nation then fell under a dictatorial regime that soon became tyranny.

I belonged to a generation of young people who rebelled against the usurpers of power. We had no alternative but to confront dictatorship head on, to act to give back to our nation the freedom and the democratic institutions that Gen. Fulgencio Batista's coup had abrogated.

Getting acquainted and getting together were not difficult. Young people with patriotic sensibilities recognize each other by a simple exchange of opinions. I found my colleagues in the work place, the school room, the trades hall. Soon we formed a nucleus of people cognizant of what we condemned and what we fought for.

Standing out from all the rest, a young lawyer, Fidel Castro, was the man who most clearly expressed our ideas and harmonized our differing opinions.

Against the frustration and impotence that shrouded Cuba's society, we brought confidence and a fighting spirit. We founded a modest but effective publication, The Accuser, which we distributed secretly among the population.

I don't want to rewrite a novel that has more than enough protagonists and that I've lived intensely until today. If I left my youth behind the bars of a political prison constructed by my own companions; if I endured imprisonment under two political tyrannies; if I never accepted the birth of an authoritarian regime that -- far from installing the righteous government we had fought for -- hastened to bar the return of our institutions and freedoms from the very moment it seized power; if I did all this, it's not because I'm an exceptional man.

That, I am not. I consider myself the simplest of persons. I did it because some of us react viscerally to the betrayal of principles that are a revolutionary movement's reason for existence. We had not struggled merely to exacerbate a class struggle that only led to hatred. We were not deposing a dictatorship merely to impose our ideas.

When Castro's campaign against the independent media began, I believed that our government was entitled to express its opinion -- but only if it respected others' opinions. In 1959, when I left prison -- where I had been sent for taking part in the Granma landing and for my overall revolutionary activities -- Fidel Castro was the supreme authority. His incendiary, nine- hour speeches had a vehement irrationality I wouldn't have expected from my former comrade-in-arms. The democratic nature of our discussions, which led to the raid on the Moncada barracks, was gone from his new harangues.

The young man who chose the 26th of July to break into the military fortress at Santiago de Cuba and seize the weapons to place in the hands of the people now addressed an abstract, invisible audience. He was only waiting for the masses' applause and support to activate a machinery of vengeance and terror. Discontent spread through the revolutionary rank-and-file as the Popular Socialist (Communist) Party expanded its participation in government. The party -- which had publicly condemned our objectives and our methods, and which had refused to participate in our acts of insurrection -- became, at Fidel Castro's behest, his sole and trusted ally.

For a while, anyway. At the end, its leaders suffered the same fate of all those whom Castro utilized while pursuing his monomaniac political agenda. Swiftly, the old communists who edged out our colleagues became themselves a thing of the past: members of "the first Marxist party of Cuba," a rhetorical entity. The "true" Marxist-Leninist party would be his creation alone. More

The Economist's Obituary

Saturday, February 23, 2008

McCreevy's one stroke in 2003 that paid off

Charlie McCreevy, EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Photo: Construct Ireland

Charlie McCreevy, Minister for Finance in 2003 and currently European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, pulled two strokes in that year and one of them has worked as intended.

The biggest public sector restructuring plan in thirty years was the rabbit-out-of-the-hat announcement in December 2003, that 10,000 civil servants were to be moved out of Dublin and in true Tammany Hall style, ministers got the first choices in picking departments and agencies for relocation to their constituencies. It was all to be completed by 2007 and while the scam hasn't worked, it is still promoted as a success because the revised date for completion is whenever that target is met.

Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton has been advised that the number of Freedom of Information requests received by the Department of Finance dropped by up to 78 per cent from 2003-2007 following amendments to the FOI Act in 2003.

The Irish Times quotes an unnamed spokesman for the Department of Finance who said the €15 fee was necessary as time and money was being spent by departments to track paperwork and other extensive documentation in each case.

It's not as simple as that and McCreevy can claim credit for drawing a shadow over the very limited transparency in the very British system that his anti-Brit party Fianna Fáil, has left essentially unreformed over the decades.

I was told by the Procurement/Tenders Unit in the Department of Finance last year, that information on annual procurement would have to be requested from 15 individual Government Departments and the catch is that at their discretion, each of them can charge for the cost of providing the information, after the event. What that would be or include, would be unknown in advance.

Anyway, haven't we sufficient oversight with 23 Oireachtas committees - complete with 69 TDs/Senators getting additional salaries, research staff and so on?

Yes, indeed!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Obama the Messiah

Senator Barack Obama may well seize the Democratic Party presidential nomination on his message of change delivered in oratory that has won him many supporters.

Obama has acknowledged the transformational impact of President Ronald Reagan but the former two-term successful Governor of California, in 1980, had domestic and foreign policy platforms that offered significant change.

Caroline Kennedy daughter of the 35th President last month wrote an article for the New York Times titled: A President like my Father.

If the Kennedy Administration had survived beyond 1,000 days, who knows if the quagmire that involvement in Vietnam became, would have been the same or the high risk behaviour such as having sex with an East German spy in the White House, would have doomed his presidency?

Kennedy had said in his Inaugural Address: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more."

Obama recently said: "We know that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored, that will not be deterred, that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, make this time different than all the rest.”

Being a beacon to the world, has always been part of the moral underpinning of American foreign policy and Ronald Reagan used to often talk about "building a shining white city on a hill."

The genesis of this metaphor dates back to 1630, when the first Governor of Massachusetts John Winthrop penned his sermon A Model of Christian Charity, as his ship the Arbella, approached Boston Harbor.

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

The world will welcome the passing of George W. Bush with acclaim but silver words won't kill all the Anti-Americanism that's about.

Edward Luce of the Financial Times recently wrote about Obama: Each of his three central messages is as old as the Republic – the promise of bipartisanship (“to put an end to the bickering and the partisan ways of Washington”), an ethical foreign policy (“to restore America’s moral place in the world”) and delivering change through unity (“to stand up and say we are one nation; we are one people; and our time for change has come”).

Each of these themes also share two traits. First they are drawn from the school of “American exceptionalism” – the belief that America offers a uniquely moral beacon to the world. And second, they are virtually impossible to accomplish.

The extent of the inevitable disillusionment that would follow from the wide gulf between the rhetoric and reality, would depend on good luck that would come the way of a President Obama in particular with the US economy.

There would be no bipartisanship and the reprise of winning "Obama Republicans" similar to the "Reagan Democrats" in Congress - Conservative Democrats who supported Reagan's program - would not happen.

Most people have forgotten that Bill Clinton's first six months as President were a disaster and the first controversy was on gays in the military. Besides policy implementations, more than 3,000 positions have to be filled by the new president.

James Fallows of the Washington Monthly wrote in 1994: Four months after Bill Clinton's inauguration, the verdicts were in: He had failed disastrously as a leader and his administration was for all practical purposes at an end. In early June, Time published its cover story on "The Incredible Shrinking Presidency," and Newsweek's cover showed a picture of Clinton with the caption, "What's Wrong?"

The Washington Post ran a front page story presenting Clinton as a case study of what it means to use up your "political capital." A New York Times editorial asked "Can the Democrats Govern?" and a Times columnist wrote, "Four months into a new presidency, people who voted for it are wondering if it can be saved." The weekend talk shows rang with schadenfreude-edged dissections of "another failed presidency." Even David Broder, usually the soul of sobriety, weighed in with a column calling Clinton's performance a "calamity that reached beyond our borders." This column ended, "That this is happening to a man who will remain as president for the next 43 months is an international disaster."

Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote: There’s a big difference between the Republican and Democratic campaigns: The Republicans have split on policy grounds; the Democrats haven’t. There’s been a Republican divide between center and right, yet no Democratic divide between center and left.

But when you think about it, the Democratic policy unity is a mirage. If the Democrats actually win the White House, the tensions would resurface with a vengeance.

The first big rift would involve Iraq. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have seductively hinted that they would withdraw almost all troops within 12 to 16 months. But if either of them actually did that, he or she would instantly make Iraq the consuming partisan fight of their presidency.

There would be private but powerful opposition from Arab leaders, who would fear a return to 2006 chaos. There would be irate opposition from important sections of the military, who would feel that the was squandering the gains of the previous year. A Democratic president with few military credentials would confront outraged and highly photogenic colonels screaming betrayal.

There would be important criticism from nonpartisan military experts. In his latest report, the much-cited Anthony Cordesman describes an improving Iraqi security situation that still requires “strategic patience” and another five years to become self-sustaining.

There would be furious opposition from Republicans and many independents. They would argue that you can’t evacuate troops just as Iraqis are about to hold national elections and tensions are at their highest. They would point out that it’s insanity to end local reconstruction and Iraqi training efforts just when they are producing results. They would accuse the new administration of reverse-Rumsfeldism, of ignoring postsurge realities and of imposing an ideological solution on a complex situation.

All dreams of changing the tone in Washington would be gone. All of Obama’s unity hopes would evaporate. And if the situation did deteriorate after a quick withdrawal, as the National Intelligence Estimate warns, the bloodshed would be on the new president’s head.

Either the election of a woman or black as President of the United States would be historic milestones but a campaign theme "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!" without much substance, will flounder in the real world of politics.

David Henninger of The Wall Street Journal provided an edited version of an Obama speech this week, "stripped of the flying surfboard":

"Our road will not be easy . . . the cynics. . . where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits . . . That's what happens when lobbyists set the agenda. . . It's a game where trade deals like Nafta ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart . . . It's a game . . . CEO bonuses . . . while another mother goes without health care for her sick child . . . We can't keep driving a wider and wider gap between the few who are rich and the rest who struggle to keep pace . . . even if they're not rich . . ."

Here's his America: "lies awake at night wondering how he's going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can't afford health care for a sister who's ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin' Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I've fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren't denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories."

It ends: "We can cast off our doubts and fears and cynicism because our dream will not be deferred; our future will not be denied; and our time for change has come."

Henninger wrote that odds are that he will ride it to the nomination among Democrats for whom America can never quite escape the Depression. Hillary Clinton can only offer what she's got -- a clear-eyed ambition to get, and use, Democratic power.

Henninger said everything in life has a top -- stocks, football teams and political phenoms, as she well knows. Though down, Hillary ought to suck it up for Ohio and Texas and hope the Obama wave starts to break. On current course, it will.

There is still an election to be held in November and on Friday Bloomberg highlighted that the "Republican Attack Machine" is ready to tarnish the preacher of change, if he is their opponent.

Obama has conceded it was ``boneheaded'' of him to buy a home in June 2005 for $1.65 million with the involvement of a shady associate Antoin Rezko, who was under federal investigation at the time. Rezko was indicted 16 months later on unrelated corruption charges, and is awaiting trial in jail. Over the past year, Obama, has returned about $85,000 in campaign contributions given or raised by Rezko.

When Obama bought the home in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood, Rezko's wife, Rita, purchased, for $625,000, adjoining land that the house's owners insisted on selling at the same time. Seven months later, she sold the Obamas one-sixth of her lot, for $105,000, so they could expand their yard.

Senator John McCain has his own skeletons and was among five senators who took contributions from savings- and-loan executive Charles Keating and were then accused of seeking favors from regulators for him. The Senate Ethics Committee reprimanded McCain, though it cleared him of wrongdoing.

On Thursday in Ohio, Senator Hillary Clinton said she offered "solutions" rather than the "speeches". On Friday in Wisconsin, Obama said that Mrs Clinton's "solutions" were beholden to Washington lobby groups.

"In this campaign, Senator Clinton has taken nearly double the amount of money from lobbyists than any Democrat or Republican running for president," he said. "That's not being a part of the solutions business. That's being a part of business-as-usual in Washington. And that is what we are trying to change."

The only certainty is that business-as-usual in Washington will remain as business-as-usual in Washington.

Dr. Peter Morici: Challenges for the New US President - - Voters are focusing too much on personalities and not enough on issues

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Irish Politicians and Fact-Finding Junkets

Mary Harney, T.D, then Tánaiste, Leader of the Progressive Democrats and Minister for Health and Children addressing the 2nd Annual Conference of the Rehabilitation and Therapy Research Society at UCD on Friday, May 26th 2006

I had a boss once who liked to send floral bouquets to business contacts' wives but when he was signing off on a petty cash list with a £5 contribution that was made to two nuns who had called at the office, it was as if someone had given away the company cheque book.

It struck me that it's always easy to be generous with other people's money and "fact-finding" trips by Irish politicians are obvious examples.

Eleven years as a minister with all and sundry tugging the forelock, it's not surprising that the sense of entitlement grows bigger the longer the tenure lasts.

Health Minister Mary Harney presumably had her staff pulling the levers with the US embassy for Super Bowl tickets prior to last week's junket trip to the United States. It's hard enough for the average punter to get tickets for an All-Ireland at home but Harney and her entourage that was ferried from places like Washington DC to Arizona on the Government jet, managed to get tickets for herself, her husband, press secretary and special adviser.

The rest of the trip to cancer and dentistry facilities by the former school teacher and the rest of the non-medical professionals, was simply a freebie week away from grim Dublin in cold February.

Irish-born Tom Keane has been recruited from Canada to establish Irish "centres of excellence" for cancer treatment. So what benefit could Harney garner from visiting American centres for the well-off?

Wouldn't it have been a surprise if a medical centre in some place like East LA, was on the schedule of the junket?

As for Harney's husband who retired in 2006 from the business lobby group IBEC, being on the junket, a spokeman was quoted as saying that when a minister is on a long overseas trip i.e a week, it's normal for the spouse to tag along.

Harney who was awarded a 12% special salary increase last October, should bother to check out how life in the private sector is sometime, for both most SME owners and employees. Up to 900,000 workers don't even have a basic occupational pension.

We have 35 ministers and four in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Most of them have non-jobs and while the great unwashed can worry about greenhouse gases, the big ministerial getaway for St. Patrick's Day is already being planned.

Besides the overworked politicians dividing up the destinations across the globe, it's a handy number for all the hanger-ons that they will have in tow.

Where is the Outrage? Gombeenism thrives at home while in Paris, OECD staff work on proposals for Irish public service reform

Monday, February 04, 2008

Optimist on Irish Economy; Pessimist on Eurozone Economy

The Sunday Independent reported on Sunday that Ireland's fear that it's headed for an economic downturn could be the decisive factor in making it happen, according to who it termed "a leading economist."

Austin Hughes, Chief Economist at IIB Bank, was reported to have warned that a self-fulfilling "wall of gloom" is contributing to the recent rise in unemployment.

"The economic expert was speaking following the release of latest live register figures, which revealed a 7,800 increase in the jobless total in the past month," the report said

"There is more or less a wall of gloom for the outlook of the economy at the moment and, in those circumstances, the likelihood is that firms in the broader economy where conditions are still okay . . . are probably being more cautious about their hiring plans and particularly in terms of casual and short term labour, they're probably easing back," explained Hughes.

"Firms are being more cautious, consumers are gloomy.

"Most media commentary is fairly downbeat so it is understandable if everyone is erring on the side of not hiring and not spending," he added.

Austin Hughes has been playing a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on this issue.

Hughes forecast that the European Central Bank would cut its benchmark rate twice in the first half of 2008. He expected that a rapid deterioration of the Eurozone economy would force the ECB to reverse gears.

A fellow economist had termed his position as "wishful thinking."

The Eurozone economy is slowing but very few economists are expecting a slide that would prompt early interest rate cuts.

There may well be interest rate cuts later in 2008 but they will be prompted by bad gloomy news in both the US and Europe.

A recession in Europe could boost the Irish housing market if the ECB was to emulate the US Federal Reserve but how many European jobs should be sacrificed?