Friday, November 26, 2010

The IMF has such good taste

After a hard week chuckling over the future of Europe with my transcontinental colleagues at the Presseurop offices, there’s nothing I can resist quite as much as scooting off to poor banjaxed ould completely knackered Ireland in an Air France jet and just “letting go” at the Merrion Hotel, “one of the finest luxury hotels in Dublin City Centre” as its elegant website informs me. Whether I’m in for a €239 “Superior King Bed” or a “Speciality Suite” at €1100 per night, let me tell you, there’s always something special about the “exquisite service” provided by an army of discreet and wide-cheeked Eastern Europeans, especially when they earn a lot less than me.

Whether I’m laughing my head off in the Carrera marble bath, or chucking down my gullet Half a Dozen Carlingford Oysters (€42.00) at Patrick Guibaud’s “Michelin” starred restaurant - a €98 Roast Lacquered Challans Duck to follow! - one thing about the Merrion is that you won’t hear anyone quacking about “bankers” or “de politicians” because, like me, they’re the only people who can afford to be here – as I guzzle a caramelised pear (€24).

All this to say I would like to raise a glass of vintage port (€25) to the IMF, which have booked no less than 16 rooms at my home from home for a minimum of three weeks, with a bill of anything from €80,304 to €369,000 to enjoy “magnificent views of Government Buildings” - which is apt, considering they are the new government ;-). Like Ajay Chopra and the “lads”, I too have a taste for rooms with “Irish fabrics and antiques to reflect the architecture and original interiors of the 18th Century Townhouses.” And of course by the time Ajay has finished overseeing the Irish budget of €15 billion in cuts, 18th century Ireland it will be! Santé, and here’s to austerity, les amis…

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It's TINA, stupid

This is the Presseurop editorial I wrote as the EU / IMF men in back landed in Dublin. It's available also in 9 other languages at our site.

In the coming weeks, if not months, the story you are likely to hear will be one of a plucky nation, emerging from a legacy of colonial oppression, poverty and mass emigration, whose rise to riches was as spectacular as its downfall. And there are no better masters of this narrative than the Irish themselves. On the day that experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary fund flew into Dublin to oversee Ireland’s economic affairs, the Irish Times leader lamented - “There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be masters of our affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty”. The cause of this? “Having spent the last decade in a fog of intoxicating self-congratulation for our economic success, we now face the reality that it was illusory,” writes novelist Joseph O’Connor, in the Guardian. “Inept politicians, greedy bankers and property speculators have wrecked the certainties on which our recent notions of ourselves were founded.”

But is Ireland’s economic car crash a purely local phenomenon, one that can be attributed to its inept politicians and greedy speculators? Looking to the south-western fringe of Europe to Portugal, rumoured to be the next candidate to hand over the keys of economic sovereignty to the EC, ECB, IMF triumverate, then another narrative emerges. “Portugal’s problem is different,” writes the New York Times. “Its banks are not especially troubled, but the state itself has high debts and low growth, and the mound of both public and private debt is considerable.” If we add to this unfortunate duo the recent case of Greece, once accused of "ineradicable guile", clientelism and fraud by German weekly Focus, it is nonetheless surprising that three such highly distinctive destinies all lead to the exact same outcome – collapse, bailout, loss of sovereignty. Read on at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet the new government of Ireland

The only thing sovereign in Ireland right now is the contempt which the government holds for its own people, denying point blank that an EU/IMF bailout for the national economic car crash is imminent. So first off I would like to offer profuse thanks and curtsies to Simeon Djankov, deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, for finally calling a spade a spud when he blurted, "I expect a bailout decision to be taken within a week." This was before a gathering of journos in Brussels, none of whom reported afterwards that my man Simeon burst into a fit of giggles, with his eyes crossed, and tongue stuck out. So perhaps I would not be naïve in assuming Simeon is telling the truth, and that Taoiseach Brian Cowen, as well as French finance minister Christine Lagarde, have been telling the reverse of that.

This means also that the “team” consisting of experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that landed in Dublin today can now be called the de facto government of the Irish Republic, with powers to oversee Ireland’s mad austerity and budget plans. In a depressingly limpid turn of phrase from the delightful people over at the EUobserver, said team will “maintain a degree of authority over the elected government of Ireland.”

Seeing as they now hold a degree of authority over the government of Ireland, it would only be normal, think you, that we get acquainted. You know, whether they got their Leaving Cert, favourite cheese, star signs. However, according to deliciously named EU spokesman Amadeu Tardio, "These people do not do press conferences. They do not need to speak to the press.” Amadeu’s thoughts have been echoed as if from one and the same brain by an ECB spokespeep - "These people do not need to have a public profile… People do not need to know who these inspectors are," she outputted.

So essentially, this new non-elected de facto government of the Irish Republic is also a secret one. And if a secret government in a democratic society is not strange enough, then what about Amadeu’s declaration that he doesn’t know how many they are. "There will be more than two but fewer than 10 people going," he said.

I would like to offer some serious advice to Amadeu, which he could then pass onto “team”. Given that the supervisors will not be suffering themselves from any austerity budgets – this is not Commish, ECB or IMF practice - as they oversee the next round of €15 billion cuts in the next four years (proportionally over twice the size of slasher Osborne’s UK cuts), they should all go out for a nice meal now and then in that lovely restaurant called L’Ecrivain on Baggot Street. But careful!, Amadeu, if the lads have a hankering for a starter of Jerusalem Artichoke Rissotto followed by a Wild Wicklow Venison with a caramelised pear for only €59 a pop, I’d be worried about the reservation.

“Good afternoon, L’Ecrivain restaurant?”

“Hallo, I’d like to make a reservation for dinner.”

“For how many people?”

“There will be more than two but fewer than 10 people going.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said a table for more than two but fewer than ten.”

“I’m afraid I can’t make a reservation for that.”

(Muttering in the background)

“Ok, aha, well, let’s say a table for, eh, 10, but nothing could be further than certain.”

“Can I have a name, please?”

"People do not need to know who they are."


“These people do not need to have a public profile.”

You would surely agree, Signore Tardio, that while in the public affairs of a nation it’s apparently no longer necessary to say who you are and how many you will be, this kind of carry-on won’t get you a table at L’Ecrivain.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The new Irish famine

“The Irish famine killed more than a million people, but it killed poor devils only. To the wealth of the country, it did not the slightest damage.” So wrote Karl Marx back in 1867. As 21st century Ireland peers out over the debt drop, beneath which lie the open jaws of an EU/IMF “bailout”, I’d like to make some outrageous parallels between then and now.

Back then, Ireland’s colonial masters massively restructured the national economy, effectively turning the Irish countryside into one big pasture upon which livestock for export could feed. Right now, members of the European Commission sit at Merrion Square overseeing cuts to the Irish economy worth €15 billion over the next four years. If this were a country the size of the UK, George Osborne’s tastefully appellated “Spending Review” would be axing €207 billion instead of a mere €91 billion. Cleverly, the Irish government anticipates that such a society, with bits of its legs and arms amputated, won’t need much of population to live in it. That’s why it’s dropped a big hint that 40,000 will need to emigrate in order to maintain the unemployment level at its current 13.8 per cent. 13.8%? Hohoho.

By 1866, the result of the economic convulsions was “1,032,694 Irishmen replaced by 996,877 head of cattle, sheep and pigs.” 144 years later, the Irish government officialeses the medium term outlook for the exporting sector as “reasonably favourable given the adjustment in competitiveness”. But “the additional employment-content of growth will be limited to some degree by the export-led nature of the recovery.”

Translated into English, this means that while there won’t be much of an influx of new pigs, there will be, by some mystery process, a scenario where exports are “favourable” but “employment-content” won’t have, well, any content. In other words, a diminished country that works for diminished wages, on diminished expectations, but to the wealth of the country, not the slightest damage. Back in the days of the USSR, factories turned out saucepans with four-inch thick bases or shoes with the heel where the toe should be in order to satisfy the numbers of tons to be churned out according to the master plan laid out by Moscow, in kilos and not utility. In the stunted new world coming into being, “growth” is any quantity that a bureaucrat notes on a report, regardless of whether anything cooks or not.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Attack of the fantasy bombers

Booby-trap bomb sent to Nicolas Sarkozy”,Greek parcel bomb plot targets Merkel”, “Italian police investigating parcel bomb sent to Berlusconi”. To go by yesterday’s headlines, you put a bomb in a box, do a gift wrap, post it “personally addressed” to Nicolas Sarkozy, Elysée Palace, Paris, and usually it should end up on his desk, or in Merkel’s case, in her “office”. Imagine, there’s le Président in his 365 room house, with 1000 staff, pouring milk over his cornflakes and reading the Daily Mail – “How ah love those provocative English ‘eadlines,” he chuckles, as his international wife gazes benignly on. Some jam and tea, then it’s time to open the mail! Bank statements, death threats from Islamic jihad, 40% discount on a new pair of glasses from “Optic 2000”, more death threats, a reminder about the electricity bill, a ten page rant against gypsies – from some nutjob calling himself the Interior Minister, donate a fiver to the Red Cross, etc. “Ach,” complains the president, as the doorbell rings, “so many letters to read, so little time, but what’s this?” Opens the front door and there’s Pierre the postman with a parcel from some funny address in Greece. “Did you order anything on ebay?” wonders the President as he walks back to the kitchen. “Nothing,” says his attractive wife. “Well, seeing as it’s personally addressed to me, and you know ah just love surprise packages,” he says, eagerly ripping the seal, pulling out a box, opening it up and KABOOM.

All this is supposed to be the work of the "Conspiracy in the Cells of Fire", a Greek group that likes to send bombs to government buildings and which obviously wants its name to sound like the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. While Harry Potter and the Conspiracy in the Cells of Fire must be fantasists to think they can “personally” address bombs to world leaders, they are nevertheless linked to Harry Potter and the Sect of Revolutionaries. The Sect of Revolutionaries this year bumped off a journalist investigating corruption amongst the Greek elite. Which is exactly what anarchist groups do, don’t they? - killing journalists investigating, well, corruption amongst the Greek elite… While it’s hard to keep track of what is fantasy and reality, one thing we can be sure about after these fantasy bomb attacks, like last week’s “trial-run” bombs sent to a gay Chicago synagogue from Yemen (just who opens surprise parcels from Yemen?) is another plethora of ridiculous security rules in airports around Europe. Thanks to a complicit press, this is when fantasy unfortunately becomes reality.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Meet France’s Number 1 scroungers

Pff… strikes, strikes and more strikes. There I was, only yesterday, railing on a metro platform with my two plastic bags at all these sluggy, pasty faced, socially-assisted scroungers running France into the ground, when my train turned up 30 seconds late and I got to work on time. To think that three million of these good for nothings, born with “a hair in the palm of their hands” as the French perfectly say, had the effrontery to go marching yesterday in “protest” against raising retirement age, and probably also against pension slashes overseen by caring Eric Woerth, the minister connected to that tax-evasion scam that involves his wife, an heiress and a butler.

Obviously, they’re being brainwashed by the looney left media, and not listening to proud President Sarkozy who’s been saying till he’s blue in the face that “there is no money to finance the Social Security deficit” which stands at an absolutely apocalyptic €20 billion euros. And speaking of do-nothing scroungers, those socially assisted Trotskos over at French news site Mediapart (who are probably on holiday right now) have been jabbering on about the state financial institution Conseil des Prélèvements Obligatoire” study revealing that French companies pull in “good years / bad years €175 billion to €200 billion in fiscal and social tax breaks” - delightfully called “niches” in French. Perhaps tainted by some Marxist Leninist left-handed deviance themselves, the Conseil des Prélèvements Obligatoires insists that these measures “are not very efficient with regard to the objectives they have been attributed - ie stimulating competition and job creation.”

Snakelike Mediapart ridiculously writes that “these gifts particularly benefit big CAC40 groups whose heads are part of the inner circle of friends present at “Fouquet’s Night” (the tasty dinner Nicolas "Great" Sarkozy attended the evening he was elected).” And what’s wrong with that? They include “advisors and friends of the President at TOTAL, GDF Suez, Lafarge, Sanofi Imerys, Pernod Ricard, without forgetting M. Arnault, France’s greatest fortune, Bouygues, Bolloré...etc ” who are totally brilliant and deserving, Mediapart would have added, if they weren’t such swivel-eyed, beardy, Jean Paul Sartre reading hunchbacks, that is.

Mediapart amazingly imputes that all this money lines the pockets of Medef members – the glorious Mouvement des Entreprises de France ("Movement of French Enterprises, or for hair-on-palm people, the French “bosses’” union). Madame Parisot, who is the fantastic boss, “hasn’t enough words to explain that the unemployed are socially assisted and that workers in this country had better keep working and this for even longer.” And straight-spined, right-footed people like us see no correlation absolutely between the €20 billion Social Security abyss and the €200 billion carefully going to deserving unscroungelike cigar-smokers. As the Medef website optimistically explains – “In 2010, more than ever, entrepreneurs must demonstrate creativity, energy, an exceptional ability to bounce back. With the crisis, this will be more difficult, but behind your daily struggles, Medef is there to help you and to create the most favourable conditions to prepare the future.” They'll be behind us indeed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Frontex flies under the radar

Frontex anyone? What sounds like a brand of prophylactic actually is one - an EU body charged, among other chores, with keeping illegals out of Europe. Of French inspiration, a crunch of Frontières Exterières (ie External Borders), Frontex, in its own words, provides “particular added value (my italics) to the national border management systems of the Member States.”

In the UK, not even the richest sources on EU news, which spring, ironically enough, from the Eurosceptic press - The Telegraph etc – bother much about Frontex. And you could have easily overlooked a 3 October article from Le Monde reporting that on 28 September (i.e. nearly a week after the event) a Frontex chartered plane flew out of Warsaw to repatriate fifty-six Georgian citizens arrested in Poland, France, Austria and Germany. Frontex heads enthused that the Lithuanian Boeing 737 going for €100,000 was “the cheapest” on the market. Gil Arias Fernandez, vice-director, chirped that European capitals would no longer have to “carry the burden”, such is the “embarrassment, and even public disapproval”. You could tell he was really happy about this. After all, this was the first time the Warsaw based org became a de facto airline for foreign undesirables.

Human rights organisations have been watching Frontex for a few years though, and have commented on its rapidly expanding powers, its increased militarisation, its lack of transparency, and the absence of independent monitoring and democratic accountability of its power. For instance, since 2006, Frontex has overseen the extension of Europe’s external borders by using Spanish navy ships and helicopters to harbour hunt the Senegalese coast for boat refugees seeking passage to the Canary Islands. Like the best prophylatics, Frontex has remarkable stretch.

And as the Fernandez remarks imply, with their utter lack of self-consciousness, the “added value” for democratically elected governments is obvious. After all, when a state expels migrants, messy stuff happens like media coverage, open debate, and eventually an electorate holding it to account. Frontex’s calling card is that it takes the naughtiness out of the political issue that is immigration and turns it into a technical process that goes underneath the media radar. How about that?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

McCreevy and the Brussels afterlife

You really have to hand it to Charlie McCreevy, ex-European Commissioner. There he was, leaving his office at the Commish on a bitter cold February morn this year, no doubt with a couple of plastic bags full of personal effects, and gloomily contemplating what life might be from without the glass walls of Berlaymount. No doubt, as Europe sank into crisis, he did worry about the rent and whether there’d be a rasher on his plate for breakfast, but no, the Commish is generous. It set up a system of “transitional” payments to help former Commissioners like Charles McCreevy “ease into life after Brussels” which according to the Financial Times Deutschland amounts to a squiddly €135K per year, which is exactly how much my shoes cost.

La vita post-Brussels isn’t easy though, even if, as the Irish Examiner once noted, McCreevy also receives a Commish pension of €51,068 per year on top of his Irish ministerial pension of €70,710 on top of his pension as a Kildare North TD of €52,213. This brings his total annual pension to a laughable €173,000, which is what I paid for my dinner last night. The only conclusion you can sensibly draw from this is that life after Brussels is the biggest shock a man can have in this world, enough to turn him into a jibbering, unintelligible wreck. And I understand. That he continues to claim his "ease into life" payments.

But hang on. Post-traumatic stress disorder ex-Commissioner McCreevy in a tribute to human survival against the toughest odds of colossal salaries and tasty emoluments has overcome the shock and already sits on the board of NBNK Investments, a group that is creating a new high street bank in England and planning to swallow AIB, Ireland’s largest bank. In addition to such achievements, Courage McCreevy has started working on the board of Ryanair for that incredibly irritating master of bug-eyed grimaces Michael O’Leary. Perhaps Ryanair, which as you may know are EU-subsidy scavengers supreme, are only paying McCreevy five pounds like a Ryanair flight and expecting him to top up the rest with his uncomfortable EU pension? No, they had to cough up an annual €47K. For me, that's just enough to cover my tips to the servants.

For Irish people, Charlie “Sacrifice” McCreevy is the man from the fertile, horse-famed county of Kildare who, back in the days of internal jousts in the ruling party Fianna Fail gave great moral lessons to our Bandit King, the late Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. Haughey loved robbing the plain folk of Ireland blind, but McCreevy was there warning us that the man who wooed the Irish nation with his unscrupulous piratical ahar! was not to be trusted. Charles “Soaraway” McCreevy, the moral fibre supremo, was there to show us that there was another way, a higher one, a Ryanair one.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The truth? There is no crisis

Very recently, I ran into a copy of London’s ultra-glam Plastique, a “Bi-Annual Luxury Fashion and Culture Magazine”. Plastique is so stratospherically glam that its website just leads you to three photos of a woman who looks like she’s been on the skag since her sex change but is too rich to care. You can click on absolutely nothing  else. On the Info section of its Facebook page, however, Plastique’s mission in capitals is “Let the Truth be Told”, and after a few minutes of leafing through smurm inducing glossy pages of androgynous seven foot long models and socialites either in semi-porn scenarios or partying mode, which are sort of the same thing in a Plastique world, (i.e. people looking like drool is about to fall out of their mouths, but their eyes say “Not Now”) interspersed with an Alain Badiou interview, it struck me that a certain truth had been told.

Let the Truth be Told came to me again after seeing a poster for some new stratospheric super smurm luxury brand in Paris’ Place de Republique which depicted the dishevelled, lubber-lipped, owl-eyed kids of Mick Jagger, whose names I’ve completely forgotten, in partying mode ( i.e. about to start drooling). And the truth is that in a certain parallel society, this is the Roaring Twenties, or the Belle Epoque. This is strange, because if you read the papers, you’d think there was crisis going on.
Now this can mean either one of two things, that the Roaring Twenties was a myth: that a certain section of society roared, while the majority squeaked. And if the insouciance of the twenties is a lie, then the terrible thing is that the lie endures, while the historical reality is forgotten. On the other hand if the Nouveau Belle Epoque/Twenties images of Plastique in any way reflects a mood, a trend, then it follows that there is no crisis at all.

This is where Mick Jagger’s children come in, since they are proof that a new age of dynasties is thriving. Traditional aristocracies have faded, but the children of new money from the media and the arts become global brands through droit du sang. This is even more flagrant in societies like France, where majority of film stars and directors are the children of, well, film stars and directors, who when they’re fed up with acting, make an album or something, which then goes platinum.

All this, then, to this blogger, at least, suggests that we are in a period of social regression. Nevertheless, I would like to insist again, that there is no crisis. There is only which side of the money you're on. On a more personal note, I would like to propose that neither was there ever a boom, a tiger, in countries like, say, Ireland. The roads, the trains, local councils are still rubbish and always have been. The one stretch of motorway between Navan and Dublin still doesn’t have a petrol station. Not one. The towers of Finglas still contained poor people, junkies still shuffled on our Champs Elysées – O’Connell Street - while we crowed about growth and how Germany could learn lessons from us. But this also means that talk of Ireland defaulting in the future is all fiction too. If we are living in caste-bound societies, static as the Egypt of the Pharoahs, then there is nothing to look forward to nor regret. Buy a copy of Plastique, the Magazine of Luxury and Culture, and you’ll soon understand what I’m getting at.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Et pourquoi pas English?

On Tuesday, Libération’s Brussels correspondent, the indomitable Jean Quatremer, mounted his favorite hobby horse, the perils of the use of English at the Commission. This time it was Viviane Reding’s condemnation of France’s expulsion of the Roma that caused his cables to snap. It’s worth quoting in full the following passages which I fear fail to convey their vigour in original French, but hey -

“Her intervention was in the language of Shakespeare only. According to a Commission spokesperson, Reding, a citizen of Luxembourg and therefore perfectly able to speak French and German, deliberately did this in order to mark her distance from France.

“Her choice, let’s be clear about this, is quite simply scandalous and I am measuring my words here. As if the fact of speaking French or being French leads quite naturally to a discriminatory attitude towards the Roma and even towards racist behaviour… A logic which would have led to the banning of the German language in 1945… Viviane Reding furthermore gives the impression that “Brussels” is not able to express itself in any another language but English and this comforts the suspicions of a number of French that see the Union more and more as a foreign body which has the presumption to rule France from outside its borders: aside from a small elite, the French, no more than the Germans or the Italians, do not speak English.”

Firstly, she probably spoke in English because she knew it would have maximum impact not just in Europe but around the world, if the world is at all bothered by this sordid tale of a French presidency running on empty and casting desperately about for a cause. Secondly, with all due respect to Quatremer, it’s completely untrue to say that only “a small elite” speaks English in France, Germany and Italy. I would hazard a guess that the majority of young Europeans under forty, let alone French, Germans, Italians, speak moderate to good English, or at least can get by with a limited vocabulary of a few hundred words, which is all you need to read The Sun, as legend has it.

But in typical French fashion, Quatremer confuses the use of English as a vehicle for Anglo-American values and power rather than a means to get more followers on Twitter, or get the latest downloads or something. “The commissioner seems to consider that English is to say the least a neutral language or even one that embodies values far superior to the French language. Someone should go explain this to the detainees at Guantanamo or the prisoners in Death Row in the United States.”

But this is actually a typically French assumption about language, that it is a vehicle for values, if not influence and power. The appropriation of English as a world language, however, means that it no longer has a national or an ethnic underpinning, does not reflect the prejudices of London or Washington. As someone fortunate enough to be able to speak French and make himself understood, albeit comically, in five other European languages, I’m beginning to wonder if European construction is at all possible if one language cannot predominate. I couldn’t care less if it wasn’t English, but why shouldn’t it be?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brian Cowen, no credit can he gain

Last night consternation hung like a dreadful cloud over the capitals of Europe and the world… if you follow the Irish media, that is. From Brussels to Bratislava, and along the ancient Silk Road via Kazakhstan to China, the alleged drunkeness of Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen on national radio was evoked in hundreds of exotic tongues.

According to the Irish Examiner, the story “hit the headlines around the world”, before citing such august institutions of report like, er, New York Daily News, and “Fox Business”. Ok, it got a wee link in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and was noted in the BBC, but let’s be honest, this is not a talking point amongst Berliners, Chinamen and Bolivians. This isn't headline stuff.
But to the Irish media, the merest mention of our nation in the press of the Yanks and the Brits is sufficiently “around the world”. You can’t help but note in the midst of this spiteful glee and pseudo indignation about the global importance of the Taoiseach’s drinking habits, there lies beneath it all a provincial gratification that our betters are talking about us.

On RTE Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party summed up the mood of the self-righteous middle classes conjuring up “the damage to the reputation of the country outside”. But what the “outside” thinks of it is one of the reasons Ireland is in such a state. Whether it’s the government’s desire to please the international markets to the ruin of the nation’s finances, or Brian Cowen’s stumbling delivery, the only concern amongst the elite is a slave-like addiction to what kind of bella figura Ireland has. Similarly, the myth of the Celtic Tiger made it easy to ignore the gulf between have and have nots that meant it rivalled Turkey and Brazil in the inequality league stakes during the boom years of the nineties.

As for Cowen’s intervention, you can listen to it at this link. Outside of the Irish media bubble, there is nothing particularly “hungover and drunk sounding” about it to this ear. Compared to the following extracts of France Minister’s of the Environment Jean-Louis Borloo at the Assemblé Nationale, and former Walloon Minister of Finance Michel Daerden totally off his skull, Cowen might sound a tad rusty, but coherent. True, he is spouting gibberish about the nation’s much abused finances, but he does this when he’s drinking water too.

To be honest, I find the fact that in the early hours of the fateful September 14 Cowen sang the Lakes of Pontchartain, as the Irish Independent reports, rather endearing, if only he had heeded to lines like “I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain”. It somehow makes this hitherto colourless man a lot more human, a reminder that Ireland remains - just about - a country where the ability to sing a song, or to tell a story, is something of a virtue, one that’s been lost in most European societies for three or four generations. His assertion that Irish politics has hit “a new low” are inaccurate though. Irish politics hit the bottom of the trough a long time ago, and is still gleefully snuffling inside it. The emergence of a tee-totalling non-entity in the ruling Fianna Fail party to rival the non-entities in opposition Fine Gael will have little or no remedial effect on a country that confuses appearances with reality.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thilo, the self-hating Sarrazin

Who can feel sorry for Thilo Sarrazin, who lost his cushy Bundesbank job after the publication of “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany is deleting itself), a diatribe against the lower orders, but probably would have held onto to it had he avoided talking about Jewish "genes". In nine chapters of pop science with graphs and pie charts, Thilo proves that the lower orders are getting stupider, and that one of the reasons for this is the influx of mainly Muslim, mainly Turkish immigrants into Germany. Turks, as Thilo puts it “have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade." “"I don't want the country of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be largely Muslim,” he froths, “or that Turkish or Arabic will be spoken in large areas, that women will wear headscarves and the daily rhythm is set by the call of the muezzin.” Eventually, Germany will become a stupid country, Thilo concludes, and no-one will know how to make Mercedes Benzes, or nice beers, or something. It’s not clear.

Thilo is a member of Germany’s SPD, formerly the 20th century mainstream standard bearer for human liberation in Germany, if not Europe. Now that it’s abandoned its working class base like New Labour in the UK, or the PS in France, it’s wondering like them why the working classes are awful, so prone to populist demagogues, so prone to not being middle class like Thilo, eating crap food and emitting carbon dioxide and not speaking German correctly. Thilo somehow fails to mention any correlation between the decline of the German working classes and the utterly vacuous, idea bereft, bobo ghetto that is the latter-day SPD though.

For centuries conservatives and the wealthy have asked why the poor and marginalised are poor and marginalised, unlike themselves, and, surprise, they invariably hit on the reassuring idea that it is down to their own stupidity. Conversely, they attribute their own high standing to their “hard work” and their superior “values”. But basically, this is ideology. Conservatives see the world as static and history as cyclical. They will always find a posteriori arguments that reinforce their own standing in the world, while expressing their own fears about the world in the making.

Taking a wide-lensed view, though, history is basically a series of population movements. Thilo, with a surname like that - Sarrazin, as in Saracen - should be aware of this. Once upon a time, a Muslim went to Europe and fathered kids, and so on, who eventually fathered Thilo. Over the years they lost their faith, converted, while the place they lived in became Germany. That is, Thilo’s great-great etc grandpa became something he wasn’t. One day, Germany will no longer exist, then Thilo’s descendants will be living in a different place but maybe they’ll still have that evocative name. But they’ll be different. In some way it’s an astounding testimony to humanity’s capacity for change and mutation that a descendant of a Turk who was probably besieging Vienna in 1529 could now sneer at those with whom he shares the same genes.

But genetics, schmenetics. Every age produces daft ideas that try to seek genetic/physical/hereditary causes for impoverishment, criminality, sexual preference, social unrest. In the nineteenth century people like Thilo would have palpated criminal skulls to detect which lumps and protuberances denoted the longing to acquire other people’s goods by illegal means, and often at night. Phrenology looks stupid now. Several years from now, Thilo’s book will also look stupid, if it isn't that already.
But what’s really stupid also is that a bitter clapped out leftie should ruffle so many feathers that he gets booted out of the Bundesbank. Having worked for several years in the French financial world, I came across a fair share of wild reactionary opinions, including one man who wanted to keep the borders of France safe by conscripting the country’s 3 million unemployed. If they were little more assertive about what our values were, the German elite would have laughed deluded Thilo off, and invited him perhaps to spend all that venom on fiction à la Michel Houellebecq, with whom his rants share a similar nutjob flavour. But they’re not. And because they’re witch-hunting Thilo the Saracen, they are also taking him more seriously than he should be taken.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dublin, toytown of literature

So Dublin has been named a UNESCO City of Literature. Greeting the news, the Irish Republic’s Minister of Tourism said, "Being one of only four cities in the world to achieve the status of UNESCO City of Literature, will enable Dublin to increase its market share of tourists and attract more people to both the city and the island of Ireland."

Indeed, Dublin is one of four cities, along with Edinburgh, Iowa and Melbourne – which are all, by the by, English speaking - to make it onto this apparently monolingual UNESCO programme. It is hard to know where to put the inverted commas around such titles as Cities of Literature awarded by an organisation best known for sending actresses out to Darfur for famine zone photo ops, but fortunately the Minister has helped clarify the issue. Literature, for her, and in Ireland in general, is merely one other article of consumption useful for generating revenues in the economic wasteland that is the actual existing Irish Republic. Read on at 3am magazine...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

European integration? Go to jail

Quite often Mr Wolfgang Schäuble and Madame Christine Lagarde make sense. But then again, it seems that just when the synapses get sparking all luminously, the connects short circuit. Take this initially promising declaration they have just posted to Herman Van Rompuy. “A single currency simply cannot work properly without enhanced economic policy coordination”. Correct. Indeed, it’s obvious that to avoid 15/26 members states trying to be Germany and eating each other up, that we need some European division of labour. Let the Germans make cars, French farmers strong cheeses, the Brits decent sitcoms. Let the Czechs be beautiful and rude, the Romanians export bananas, and so on, and so on. So how do you go about that? By throwing deficit states into jail, obviously. 

Eh? Well, look at the rest. It all goes Securitate when they wonder how to enforce the whole thing. How about “political sanctions such as the suspension of voting rights” for “member states which infringe common engagements in a serious and/or repeated manner”? In simple terms this is called disenfranchisement. It’s what happens to citizens when they get locked up for mugging grannies or doing over an off license. Surely the union has others ways to assert its authority than the creation of delinquent states? But then it would need leaders with democratic spines, a federating vision entirely devoid of Schäuble and Lagarde’s upstairs/downstairs mindset.

Green taxation, green sadism?

Individual consumer, Joe Sausage, muddling through this vale of CO2, be warned. If your planet is warming, seas are rising, glaciers turn to soup, entrapping polar kittens etc etc, then it’s all your fault, or your dodgy heater’s, or draughty attic. Take this case spotted by The Times yesterday – with hat doff to @tiredhack. The new caring Tory / LibDem admin is so concerned about “energy wastage” that it is toying with a scheme whereby homebuyers will have to pay “thousands of pounds in tax if the property they are purchasing has insufficient insulation, an old boiler or draughty windows.” The logic behind this is that “ministers are concerned that grants and other incentives for installing insulation are having limited effect and are being ignored by many homeowners.” 

Put on your jumpers, unincentivised homeowners. Cheerfully you have signed up for 30 years of credit slavery in a dodgy economic climate as austerity cutters come scything across the land. Cheerfully, government – in the name of the environment – makes those mortgage shackles just a little heavier about the neck. As The Times notes, owners may be forced to upgrade before houses can go out to market, which could result in “people becoming trapped, unable to sell but unable to afford to upgrade”. The scheme, by the way, comes ahead of the 2012 Green Deal. Would it be safe to predict that any Green Deal will inevitably lead to all sort of Catch 22’s for us reckless fuel-guzzlers? In the green-friendly world being made, the question of vital heat, and electricity, and water – everything which should be cheap – will always be recast as a fault, as original sin, on the part of the individual consumer. And he shall repay.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet Europe’s highest paid politician has just posted a list of the world’s highest paid politicans, four of whom are European. Confining ourselves to the Eurololly-list only, we get Angela Merkel in fourth place, David Cameron third, second spot for Nicolas Sarkozy and taking the gold medal is…is…is… Monsieur Brian Cowen of the Irish Republic...

Who with his cool €263,000 can have a right laugh and say a Peuh to Sarkozy’s piffling €247,000, whose football team cheated Ireland of a World Cup, after all. And he can even toot a diamond encrusted vuvuzela of historical tables turned at David Cameron, whose ancestors cheated the great Irish people of nationhood and potatoes for seven thousand years at least. Having grown up in eighties Ireland, I know what a “boost” victories at the Eurovision were for our downtrodden race, so at least on the day that Moody’s gave it another downgrade and big life-loving Brian’s government just after sitting down thinking up another €3bn in cuts, we have this to sing about. Right?

P.S. One thing the post overlooked was the salaries of the two colossi locked in dreadful combat for supremacy at the head of the Union. Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy earn +500K apiece. With their healthier “continental” European lifestyles, they look a lot better than Brian though. Sort of.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bring Paul the Octopus to Brussels

News has just come in at the Presseurop office’s that Paul the Psychic Octopus has officially retired, following his latest prophecy that Spain will beat the Dutch in this Sunday’s World Cup final. Octopus life expectancy being only two years, Paul, already an advanced two and a half, shall be no more by the European Championship 2012 and World Cup Brazil 2014. Spiegel reports that the director of the Sea Life Oberhausen acquarium where Paul currently resides, wants to “train” another octopus in the arts of divination.

Seeing as Paul’s accuracy rate this World Cup has been 100%, I propose that in his declining days his powers be put to the service of the European Union. Is Iceland or Serbia to be the next EU member state? Who will first leave the Eurozone – Greece or Germany? You can imagine the excitement in the glass palaces of Brussels as Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso drop the transparent boxes with national flags into Paul’s aquarium. Paul contracts and expands in wavy, whirly octopus motion in his liquid medium, edges towards a defaulting Greece, a Euroreluctant Germany, before prizing of the lid and gobbling the juicy mussel of fate.

And why should his prophecies be confined to the fate of nations only? Should the EU pass a carbon tax? Will slash and burn austerity budgets help the recovery? At what age should we retire? Will Catherine Ashton emerge from obscurity? Given that Sunday’s football final is now a foregone conclusion, the EU will no longer have to defend itself against accusations of back room deals and transparency deficits. Paul foresaw it all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ECB, the bank that looks after its own

A lovely little bit of news comes from the Financial Times today. The European Central Bank, champions of fiscal austerity across a continent, has been giving Romania an earful for hitting employees of the country’s central bank with a 25% pay cut. “In a strongly-worded statement,” the FT writes, “the ECB on Monday warned that Romania’s actions violated European Union treaties allowing monetary authorities to operate freely and without political interference.”

Let’s remember that this May Bucharest went on a public service slasher that would have had austerity zealots thrumming exquisitely at such innovations in fiscal pain. But while the ECB has absolutely nothing to say on the impoverishment of teachers and nurses, etc, its lower lips trembles when the budget machetes come down on colleagues. As the FT respectfully points out, the “ECB’s stance could trigger criticism that it sees central bankers as exempt from public spending cuts.” Less respectfully you could argue that the ECB’s attitude is entirely consistent with a union that preaches the bonkers economics of austerity while keeping its own institutions austerity free. As a quiet, ineluctable brazilification of a continent takes hold like so much CO2, you simply must look after your own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Will the Tories do Sarkozy’s bidding?

European Voice reports that UK Foreign secretary William Hague, speaking at the Foreign Office in London, has said that the UK government is ‘determined’ to increase its influence in the European Union. “The idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction,” he said. “They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions.”

Such a confident, assured declaration makes for heady reading, only a day after the Daily Telegraph relayed predictions of senior European officials that “David Cameron will break his promise not to transfer powers to Brussels by yielding to plans for an EU economic government”. Springs to mind one Nicolas Sarkozy, who back in May soothed his party cadres nervous about the prospect of a Eurosceptic Tory government in the UK by saying that David Cameron will “do like the others. He’ll start out anti-European and he’ll finish pro-European. That’s the rule.”

Teetotaller Mr Sarkozy often sounds like a pub philosopher. Though pub philosophers are not always wrong, most Tories, I suspect, understand that Hague means to use this increased authority over in Brussels to return powers to Westminster, in order to avoid what those candid, and somewhat smarmy, Brussels officials predict. But I just wonder how. How do you become more of an authority and a power over in Europe without becoming, well, especially with all those bright young British officials, just more of an authority and power over in Europe? How do you do the EU, enfin, without becoming more EU? One suspects that Hague is trying to ménager la chèvre et le chou, keeping the ravenous EU super-goat happy whilst making sure it doesn’t guzzle the British cabbage. Your ideas would be welcome on this, preferably with a diagram or two.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Football cannot affect your retirement plan

Has France gone daft? 10 days after its shambles of a national football team shuffled out of the World Cup and we’ve got a public inquiry into the “fiasco”. Today, a parliamentary “Commission des affaires culturelles et de l'éducation” led by Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot held an in-camera hearing with French coach Raymond Domenech to determine why Les Bleus are so, well, rubbish.
I would have thought that you didn't need an inquiry to twig the fact that the petty, vindictive Domenech, who had the arrogance not to select the brilliant Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri (note - these are Arab names) was simply a rubbish coach who had even failed to earn his squad's respect. But apparently the nation needed to hear something else. But didn't. Hot off the press from Le Parisien, it seems that “the MPs were visibly disappointed”. “I didn’t understand why Raymond Domenech didn’t shake the South Africa coach’s hand,” whined Jean-François Copé of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement. “I learned nothing,” despaired his colleague Renaud Muselier. “But it is our role to conduct hearings with those responsible in football when the image of France is tarnished.” Meanwhile, Madame Bachelot, who obviously hasn’t punted a ball around with her foot for any length of time, is still doing her nut in about Les Bleu’s “mediocre intellectual baggage”.

Can the image of France ever recover? Should we have more left-brainers like hack philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (who calls the team “hooligans with the morals of the mafia”) showing off dribble skills instead of drivel? And what are politicos doing sticking their noses into the beautiful game? Typically the left-wing commentariat detects a conspiracy - this is a deliberate diversion from more “serious” issues like pension cuts, unemployment etc… (insert drone of vuvuzelas here).

Personally, I wonder if it’s not a French state desperate to look relevant, which is why it leaps at anything it thinks can rally public opinion. A few months ago it was the saddo minority taste that is the burqa, this week it’s a game that might get your adrenalin up for 90 minutes, but at the end of which leaves you back in exactly the same world you left when you switched on your telly. More relevant might be to haul Bachelot, Copé et al before a commission and ask them why keep running about in circles, making shrill about others, kicking the ball wide, diving in pseudo agony, when there’s a country to run.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Austere, moi?


Is France heading for a British style expenses meltdown? Maybe not, since this is the country where a C’est normal is as much a default reaction as a frothy mouthed Ce n’est pas possible. However, now that details of politicians’ expenses have replaced political debate across the Channel, it was inevitable it should come over here like rabies in reverse. Recently, satirical journal Le Canard enchaîné revealed that the Secretary of State for Development, Christian Blanc, had €12,000 euros worth of cigars paid for him by the nation’s indulgence, while Libération also reported that Rama Yade, Secretary of State for Sport, had €600 rooms for her and her entourage whilst in South Africa, and a minimum outlay of 45 big ones, while watching the French team make a show of itself. This is the same Rama Yade who only a few weeks back complained the French teams’ accommodation was far too ostentatious, while neglecting to mention that it was cheaper than her own. Clearly, in Ms Yade’s case, it’s a question of where the lower orders should sleep.

But these are minor deities compared to the king of the Republic, Monsieur Sarkozy, who looking into his deep heart awarded himself a 172% pay rise two years back, and which he apparently intends to keep while his government preaches the new voodoo of austerity. A note for non-French speakers here, since “l’austerité” is a taboo word here in government circles - only “la rigeur” will do. In addition to the rigours of a wage he awarded himself, he has also gone ahead with a new Airbus A-330 plane for himself valued at €180 million. With Monsieur Blanc aboard, one hopes there are sufficient extractors to remove the smell of his Havanas, since even the best cigars can have a cheesy, tooty waft to them betimes. I’m here reminded of a song appropriately entitled Blowin’ in the Wind, in which Bob Dylan asked “How many times can a man turn his head / Pretending he just doesn't see?” Well, quite.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anti-smoking lobbyists, meet Ms Bacall reports that a Belgian judge has filed two complaints with the EU court in Luxembourg calling on the union to ban the sale of cigarettes in Belgium. If the tribunal finds the case admissible, and then rules in favour of it, this could “lead to a ban on the sale of tobacco products across the EU.” At least “in theory”, the EUobs thankfully points out. Said judge, who goes by the name of Baudouin Hubaux, a “Belgian anti-smoking campaigner” (this would sound really funny in French), is asking the court “to examine if the sale of tobacco products goes against the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Mr Hubaux muses that “Future historians who will explore the 20th century will surely be surprised at the timidity of measures against smoking. If we fail to reduce consumption, smoking will kill 520 million people worldwide between 1950 and 2050, 10 times more than the Second World War.”

I’m more inclined to think that historians of the future will “surely be surprised” that people with university degrees like Judge Hubaux made the question of fags a human rights issue, with World War II as the ultimate moral authority. I have no recollection that the armies of Nazi Germany ran through France, bombed London, or besieged Stalingrad with cartons of Marlboro Red. Unless the historians of the 22nd century are stupider than us, then they’ll also be aware that industrial societies have a vast appetite for noxious substances that prohibition cannot curb. There’s an unwritten law to human behaviour that if you repress something it pops up somewhere else as something else. Let alone the social impact of a blanket tobacco ban on, say, midnight on the 31st December 2011 (the Obs says this case could take 17 months), and the ten of millions of smokers who might be somewhat irked, then ratty, then doing a nicotineless berserker on New Year’s Day 2012, the good Judge doesn’t seem to forsee that a black market would inevitably scoop up the resulting loss of revenue, estimated at €67bn, to member states. But then maybe he doesn’t get out enough. By the way, EU stats report that smoking costs the union less than 5% of tobacco revenues at €2.5bn annually in health costs, but the bottom line should be that as 100% of human beings eventually die, health care should be completely unconditional. But sadly, the pathos of the human condition is so lost on these joyless puritans that they pontificate over people’s consumption habits as well as make free with World War 2 metaphors. Using their own accountant’s logic, I’d love to know what kind of revenue they generate, and above all how much they cost? More importantly though, did they ever bring a fraction of the pleasure to the world that a smoking Lauren Bacall did?

Friday, June 4, 2010

One law for Europe, another for Africa

Africa Research Centre has just published a study by Dr David Hoile on the International Criminal Court. Coinciding with the ICC’s first ever review conference in Kampala, Uganda, its title, The International Criminal Court: Europe’s Guantánamo Bay? somewhat betrays the mood. “While the ICC presents itself as an international court this is quite simply not the case,” the abstract runs. “Its members represent just over one quarter of the world’s population: China, Russia, the United States, India, Pakistan and Indonesia are just some of the many countries that have remained outside of the Court’s jurisdiction.”

The European Union provides the ICC over 60 percent of its funding. The study argues that with its independence compromised, the selection of judges, “some of whom have never been lawyers, let alone judges” is the outcome of horse-trading among member states. Plus “ICC’s own statute grants special “prosecutorial” rights of referral and deferral to the UN Security Council, or more specifically its five permanent members.”

Could this lead to some discrepancies? “The ICC has ignored all European or Western human rights abuses in conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq or human rights abuses by Western client states… Despite over 8,000 complaints about alleged crimes in at least 139 countries, the ICC has started investigations into just five countries, all of them African.” The report also accuses the EU of “economic blackmail in tying aid for developing countries to ICC membership.”

Hoile has been accused of acting as a propagandist for the Islamist Sudanese government. He was formerly a researcher for Conservative MP Andrew Hunter, described by the Guardian as a “hard-rightest”. Admitted, it’s in Khartoum’s interests not to be arraigned before the ICC for crimes in Darfur, but however unusual Hoile’s pedigree, he seems to have raised pertinent questions about European double-standards. As the undisputed kings of bodycount, our claim to teach the rest of the world lessons in justice has something of the surreal about it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Europhrenia – Tonight’s blog isn’t about Israel

The boffins at Eurostat have published figures for unemployment across the EU, which now stands at a 10.1% high, with obvious, if I may be so bold, “regional” variations. Without wishing to sound like a Eurovision, here are the results of the pear-shaped jury, and what a pear it is, with all sorts of non-standard lumps. And the lowest jobless figures go to The Netherlands and… welcoming Austria, at 4.1 and 4.9%, while right at the top we find Spain and Latvia at 19.7% and 22.5%. La Lettonie, vingt deux points! When you think that most states diddle their unemployment statistics, how much would we bet that there are many more than a nation-sized 23 million out of work across our fair union? 
But a special mention has to go to Estonia. Estonia is a joy for journos, who of recent have been doing cartwheels over its e-government (you can vote online, hoorah) and 2011 accession to the Euro (whizz!). As one writer beamingly wondered over pints of beer (I’d say about at least fourteen) with an Estonian citizen – “How does he explain his country’s magical success and the self-confidence of his compatriots?” Well quite. In the first quarter of 2009 unemployment in Estonia was at an allahkhazam 11%. It now stands at a hey presto 19%. I know I said this blog wouldn’t deal with Israel, but I don’t even think the formidable Tsahal press machine, which all week has portrayed its crack troops as victim puppies in the clutches of the Gaza flotilla mob, could pull off a pitch quite as beer-goggled as the “magical success” of mass unemployment. Clearly, the land that brought us the parting of the Red Sea, the voice of God in the burning bush, etc, has a knack for tall tales, but for brass neck, Europeans are more than a match.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Europhrenia – Why is Israel judged by different standards?

So far it seems that nine civilians were killed during the storming by Israeli commandoes of the aid flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip. And, as far as I know, some Israeli soldiers got a proper kicking. Seth Freedman in the Guardian can’t get over “quite how savagely numerous activists greeted the arrival of the troops on to the ship.” In an article helpfully entitled “Israel had no choice”, he fumes that the activists did not conform to the “cute and cuddly image of stereotypical aid workers.” Savage that I am, Seth, if soldiers armed to the teeth absailed onto my boat, ostensibly not for a round of gins and tonics (a hat doff to Sam Jordison), I’d probably like to take a swing of greeting at them as well.

In Europe, rage over the massacre has surged then trickled into the appropriate institutional channels. L’Humanité, the official organ of the dregs of the French Communist Party wants the EU to “immediately suspend its association agreement” with Israel. Flemish daily De Morgen deplores “the EU’s support for Israel’s recent accession to the OECD.” On Facebook, there is now an Irish group calling on “any decent people” to sign up in order to expel Ireland’s Israel ambassador.

EU and OECD member states mandated by the UN continue to slaughter Afghan civilians month in month out, with only a fraction of the screeching that Israeli atrocities produce. “Decent” people apparently believe that these same states and institutions that have overseen sixty two years of destitution for the Palestinians can somehow solve the Middle East conflict, rather than their being the instruments that have sustained conflict in that region for, let’s say it again, sixty two years. This can only mean that British, French and American atrocities, assassinations and spin come with some higher moral authority that makes their ambassadors so much less expulsable, their economies so much more OECD appropriate.

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Europhrenia – Israel, not altogether pleasant

So far we know that at least 10 activists have been killed (others reports are saying 19) and scores injured during the Israeli army storming of the Gaza aid flotilla this morning. Understatement of the day must go to Israel’s Minister of Trade and Industry Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. “The images are certainly not pleasant”, he owed, after viewing the clips. A bummer that, to have no pleasant images.
The attack is all the more unusual given that on May 28, Israeli officials admitted that they were in a losing battle with the flotilla focussing attention on the humanitarian fallout of Israel’s three-year blockade on Gaza rather than on Hamas. Said Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry – “It doesn’t matter what we do, if we let them into Gaza, they will speak against Israel. If we stop them it will also be a bad picture.”
Blogs and tweets are all pointing out the “illegality” of the intervention, taking place in international not Israeli waters. Outcries over the “legality” of a massacre strike me as worse than useless but it’s hoped we will soon discover just how the IDF went from resigned about bad pictures to gun-happy in three days, with even commentators sympathetic to the Israeli point of view noting how this isolates Israel politically.
Whatever the case, the smear campaign of the dead has begun. In the IDF video of the event, we are told that activists tried to “kidnap” one of the soldiers. How with helicopter and navy to back him up is one supposed to kidnap a soldier who has boarded your boat? To where? Never fear, the Spectator probably has the answer. The “real purpose of this ‘armada of hate’ was not merely the further delegitimisation of Israel but something far worse.” This being “to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world.” “As I write”, the blogger writes in a fever of a posteriori deduction, pun on posterior completely intended, “reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem.” In the midst of the spin, keep a cool head, folks.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Europhrenia - Ryanair, masters of actually existing capitalism

The Irish Times has just reported that ex-Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has been appointed to the board of Ryanair. For a while the European Commission wrestled with its conscience as to whether this might be a conflict of interest, and won. McCreevy, with his oodles of insider knowledge of labyrinthine EU processes must surely not be without his uses to the low-cost airline much of whose profits are derived from EU regional funds. McCreevy is joining just as the Commish reopens seven inquiries into some of Ryanair's allegedly dodgy contracts with European airports. His work, though, as a director is restricted “to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.” All above board then, perceptions wise. To my utopian minded Central and Eastern European colleagues who are all devotees of the free market, I’m often compelled to draw their attention to such glowing examples of Actually Existing Capitalism.

Still on the subject of planes, over forty days after his death in the Katyn air disaster, French daily Libération reports that Kaczynski mère has been finally informed of her son Lech’s demise. This comes a week after Russian investigators confirmed that there were non-crew members in the cockpit at the time of the disaster. “The question of whether the crew were pressured to land remains unanswered,” an official said. Ouf, as they say in Paris. It’s still quite plausible, isn’t it, that the non-crew members were in the cockpit wondering whether it was a good idea to land. All that fog. The Libération headline for the above story runs “Goodbye Lenin with the Kaczynskis". Ouf again.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Europhrenia - Predicting the future, rewriting the present

The Irish Independent led this morning with news from the OECD that Ireland’s economy “is close to a turning point and could rebound to 3 per cent growth next year.” According to the “influential” body’s twice-yearly global report, “export-led growth would be almost twice the expected level in the 16-nation euro area,” the Dublin daily beams, “and more than twice the predicted 1.3 per cent growth in Britain.”
To be twice as good as the Brits always make an Irishman’s heart leap. And what with The Indo being a major exponent of the infamous budget “pain” the country endures, such news must be welcome. Over the Irish sea, however, the Lex column in the FT advises taking the OECD report with “a truckload of salt.” While forgiving it for having “missed the initial meltdown”, Lex reminds us that in 2008 the OECD forecast that “the US economy would expand by 1.1 per cent (it contracted 2.4 per cent) and the eurozone and Japan would grow about 1.5 per cent (the former shrank a whopping 4.1 per cent, the latter by even more).”
Looking into the seeds of time, wondering like Macbeth’s future stab-victim Banquo “which grain will grow and which will not” is one of the functions of influential bodies. However, in recent times, you’d be a lot better off talking to Shakespearean witches. Shakespearean witches, although they’re not good on letting you in on when the bloodbath starts, are reliable concerning the seeds of time. They would probably have been a bit cagier than in influential Moody’s which, two years before it opened hunting season on Greece, foresaw all kinds of growth for future zombie Lehman Brothers.
Joe Strummer once said that the future is unwritten. When the present is obscene, these are important words to remember. Right now, 300,000 homes lie empty in Ireland and yet town councils and banks are continuing to evict people who default on their loans and rents. The Irish government, so eager to save its banks, has ruled out saving such irresponsible people. Like the Irish Independent, it is no doubt waving around the OECD’s empty prophecies. When there is no future to offer, then you must rewrite the present, you write reality out.
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Europhrenia – Leave Naomi Campbell alone

The BBC reports that Naomi Campbell might be subpoenaed to testify at the trial of Liberia’s ex-President Charles Taylor. Let’s remember that Mr Taylor, among other things, is accused of selling diamonds and buying weapons for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels, who, among other things, used to hack off people’s hands and legs during the 1991-2001 civil war. He was also quite a nasty piece of work in his home country too.

Did the supermodel between turns on the catwalk fly down to West Africa to get stuck into a spot of war crime? Apparently not. Prosecutors at The Hague say she was given rough diamonds by Taylor back in 1997 at Nelson Mandela’s house in South Africa. Says the prosecution motion filed with Special Court for Sierra Leone “Ms Campbell’s testimony is necessary as there is evidence that Ms Campbell was given rough diamonds by the accused (Taylor) in September 1997.”

It’s hard to know where to begin here. But firstly, let’s take a look at the notion of international war crimes tribunals. Trials are being held for Sierra Leone, and also for the ex-Yugoslavia, that is to say, for, failed, weak, easily overrun-able states. On the other hand, crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the British, American, French, German armies do not fall into the same category. Attempts to have Tony Blair prosecuted as a “war-criminal” enjoyed a vogue a couple of months back, but from those who consider Blair guilty of murder in Iraq, we have heard little about Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan. This is apparently because the West’s involvement there is a just cause. As long as we feel morally superior, the mission to civilise Afghan civilians with bombs and drone missiles might lead to hand-wringing but little else.

Aside from the obvious publicity an eventual subpoena on Ms Campbell might generate, you’ve got to wonder why her evidence is “necessary”. No questions have been raised, as far as I can see, as to why Nelson Mandela would have been dining with Taylor, or for that matter what insights Naomi Campbell could have brought to such an unusual repast. The only thing obvious here is that complex, dirty wars are now being reduced to the problem of the individual consumer. There is a weird hint here that Ms Campbell is complicit in a horrific war for having been the beneficiary of a product that funded it. In which case, in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to declare my complicity in the Iraq war. I am completely addicted to HobNob biscuits from England. I buy at least two or three packets of the things a week. Almost every day, my shirt is covered in crumbs of guilt. After all, part of Hobnobs’ revenues must have gone in taxes to the UK’s 32.6 billion pound defence budget. Subpoena HobNobs eaters now.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Europhrenia – Let’s drink to water scarcity

“Brussels has warned that Europe is facing water scarcity and droughts, and not just in the drier Mediterranean countries,” writes the EUobserver. A report from the Commission states that even the Czech Republic and Belgium are at risk, with “water scarcity” reported even in these reputedly dribbly places. What might be the solution to the problem?

As the EUobserver notes, the word from the Commish is that increasing the price of water might be a good start. Said one spokesman “We consider water to be a commodity like anything else”.
Researchers now warn of “water poverty” i.e. those who can’t afford to pay for their water consumption. What happens in that case? Will bailiffs charge into your home and padlock the mains? Will WCs be exempt or will the flush not work either? One measure the executive is urging on people is “to use less water while showering”. By extension, you could just shower less. As a male of the species, I put in one per day as a gesture to my wife, the colleagues I share an office with, the strangers I sit on the metro beside. But perhaps this needs revising. What is sure, however, is that “water poverty” cannot be of a genteel kind, since it will come with its own distinctive waft.

Some other solutions spring to mind. Drinking more alcohol during meals or on breaks or just cooking everything in alcohol. After reading Goethe’s Conversations with Eckermann a few years back, it struck me that Germany’s genius was putting back at least three bottles of claret a day and could still make his way to the desk and find a pen to knock out Faust. On a nineteenth century note, if you do a wine bottle count for the opening lunch in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, it must be about seven pints between pals Levin and Oblonsky. I have also noticed as a football fan that water tends to collect around the goal area in early spring, so practising dives and flying headers as a means to attain personal hygiene might be useful. There is also bumming “showers” off friends who work at the Commish, or any EU body, since these appear to be only places of secure employ for the considerable future. They could always create a mechanism to claim tax credits off “water gifts”. But I’ve forgotten, they do not pay tax either.

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Europhrenia – Escape the future, become a luvvie

Not without a soupçon of relish is The Daily Telegraph grinding out stats in its series on “Rebuilding Broken Britain”. Public debt exceeds £777 billion and will metastise to £1.4 trillion by 2014-15 etc, etc. It’s impossible to grasp what such figures represent, so right now, being confused as to what money itself is supposed to represent, I’ll pass.

On the other hand, the budget rigour, the financial redemption through “pain” that chancellor George Osborne is preparing in order to propitiate the black light all this anti-money emits, is another matter. To me, at least, it looks like nothing less than a final onslaught on the welfare state. This means a massive change to our culture. Welfare, after all, has legitimised the British state, and others, for nearly seventy years. So what next?

Perhaps there are some pointers at the bottom of above-quoted article with the list of those occupations on the rise in Britain? From spring 2008 to summer 2009, 69% more hotel porters, nearly 70% more pharmacists, and a staggering 90% more actors were observed walking the land. If you have ever known the giddy, chirruping, ultimately tradge world of actors, then it’s quite possible that they are same ones lugging open the doors to the Ritz, the Hilton, the Savoy, the same ones making queues at all the new chemists to get over the humiliation of lugging open doors at the, and so on. The moral of this being that in the Britain to come, there will be actors everywhere. Now that is truly pain.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Europhrenia - If Ireland is sovereign, then this duck will ride bicycles again

It’s a long time since we last heard from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Ireland’s equivalent of Gordon Brown, but whose political career is unlikely to survive beyond the opening minutes of the next general election, let alone a week like Brown’s. Cowen is quoted today in Cork’s Examiner addressing the Dail, Ireland’s parliament, telling it that - “The strategy that the Government has been pursuing since July 2008 has been vindicated". By recent events in Greece. At least, he offered, Ireland is “credible” on international markets and “we have not lost our economic sovereignty".

It’s become a sport in Ireland these last few months to be uppity with the Greeks. Comparison is odious, n’est ce pas? But let’s look at Ireland’s credibility and its assumed sovereignty. Its banks are in hock to the banks of Italy, France and Germany to a post-modern aphonic tune of €12billion, €41.8billion, and a blood-freezing €127.4 billion respectively. According to the obscurantist genius of the times we live in, Ireland's zombie banks have been bailed out a so far disclosed sum of €100billion, which "assets" are then shifted to the risk and the indulgence of the Irish nation and its institutions. In the midst of such gigantic cascades of money, it might just be simpler to conceive of what for an individual a massive burden of debt is, and then argue your way through to a glittering vision of his or her alleged sovereignity, autonomy, freedom. Let alone thinking that all risks traditionally assumed by banks confided to Paddy, PJ and Aishling, but think of how your own mood is affected as a new month begins by the number at the bottom right-hand corner of the bank statement that is now coming through your letter box? Free,  or magret of duck?

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