31 October 2008

Shock and Awe - Part 2: An Taoiseach

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has made a rather strange statement yesterday. He said that "we are battling the most severe global economic and financial conditions for 100 years".

How does he know that? Did he commission a study into this matter? Perhaps like the one he commissioned into the reasons for the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by Ireland's voters?

I think not. And no-one else has heard of it either. So how can Brian Cowen have such amazing insight and defining knowledge about economic history? He is no historian, and no economist. Just a humble country solicitor from Offaly with very little practical experience, as he entered professional party politics aged 24 and has not done any normal work since.

So, I ask again: How can the Taoiseach make such a fundamental statement - one for which usually a hundred historians and economists would have to meet over several conferences to agree on research and findings - just by himself and almost off the cuff?

The answer is actually quite simple: Because he is making things up as he goes along.
He does not have a clue about economic history, or economics in general, but he has the bucolic shrewdness often found in people with a rural background. It is the kind of skill one needs when dealing in cattle or horses, or when trying to buy seeds at a bargain price. (There are quite a few of our TDs - across the party lines - who have this trait. After all, Ireland is still predominantly a rural country, and even most of our city dwellers are only one generation removed from farming the land.)

This shrewdness tells Brian Cowen that the Irish people have been successfully hoodwinked into voting for Fianna Fáil for many years, and especially in the last three general elections. So he thinks that he can carry on with more of the same now, except that this time it is not the prep talk of the "great Irish success" and the "we never had it so good".
This time it is pure scaremongering in order to frighten the living daylight out of us. (Maybe someone has told him that it is Halloween...)

And what is all this patronising lesson in homespun economic history in aid of? Only one thing: to promote a very bad Budget and tell us "that government cutbacks cannot be avoided".

This is the second stage of the 'Shock and Awe' concept, originally invented by the Pentagon for the US invasion of Iraq, but now applied by the Irish government to force a half-baked and counter-productive Budget on the nation. (for a detailed analysis - item by item - see my entry 'Shock and Awe - The 2009 Budget' of October 14th)

Cowen lectures us that "we have to change the economic paradigm and policies, but this cannot be done if people oppose every cut that is proposed".

Interesting. Unless he mutated over night into his evil alter ego, I presume this is the same Brian Cowen who told us only a few months ago that all was fine with Ireland. The same Brian Cowen who boasted about the strength of the Irish economy and our "secure finances" before last year's general election. And perhaps even the same Brian Cowen who is now a Fianna Fáil TD for two dozen years, a member of the Cabinet for 16 and Taoiseach for nearly six months.
The very same Brian Cowen who was - as Minister for Finance - responsible for the last four Budgets, and thus responsible for imprudent overspending and generous tax breaks for property developers. This financial policy of Fianna Fáil, supported by the PDs, created the crisis we find ourselves in now.

The very man who created the virus and helped spreading the disease is now presenting himself as the wise and concerned doctor, while he tries to sell us useless medicine at inflated prices.

No, Mr. Cowen, this will not wash! Your deliberate scaremongering does not impress Irish people who have retained their brain over eleven years of Fianna Fáil rule. You have brought this crisis not only on yourself, but on all of us. It did not just appear out of the blue and fall onto this island like an asteroid from outer space.

True, there is a global crisis. No-one denies that. And it certainly has some affect on Ireland and our economy, as these days much business is interlinked across the globe.
But the crisis we are in now is 90% made in Ireland. The way Fianna Fáil - which controls the Department of Finance since 1997 - has wasted and squandered billions while the money was aplenty, was a major factor in the creation of the current situation. Analysts have warned for years that things are going wrong, that concentration on the construction industry and hyped-up property prices are a recipe for disaster.
No-one listened, and least of all the then Minister for Finance: Brian Cowen.

We might well be living through the most serious financial - but not economic - crisis the world has seen since 1929. But that - in my Maths book - makes 80 years and not 100. And, as I have stated here and in many other articles, Ireland needs not to be affected by that in a big way.

Had we had a prudent Minister for Finance and a competent government, we would now have a nice nest egg in form of a sovereign wealth fund, created by the State and accumulated over the years of plenty. Norway has one, and so has Singapore (to mention only two other countries with a population similar to Ireland).
Many countries - large and small - have established sovereign wealth funds when they took in more money than they needed at the time. This is a sensible and prudent way of government.

Only Ireland - under Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Finance Minister Brian Cowen - decided that the unexpected extra money could only be spent and spent, as the Irish are supposed to be feckless and don't save money.
And not enough with that, the Irish people were heavily encouraged by their banks and by the government to borrow, and borrow more. This went on until a few months ago, and in some ways it is still going on now.

So if Brian Cowen is looking for a reason we are running out of money, a look into a mirror would give him the desired answer.
If he had any guts, he would call an early general election and give the people a chance to decide their future destination. But Cowen is a bully, and - like all bullies - a coward. He will try to hang on to the sinking ship until the water is reaching his ears. In the process he will take many of us down with him.
And - in all fairness - many deserve nothing else, as they kept voting for Fianna Fáil even when their lies and incompetence were clear and obvious, for everyone to see.

The government we have is only there because we elected it. So some "mea culpa (1997), mea culpa (2002), mea maxima culpa (2007)..." is well in order for those who voted for Fianna Fáil and for the Green Party.

But a Brian Cowen lecture on the world's economic history is not. There are plenty of ways to get out of the crisis with dignity and a maximum of fairness. It is time for the government to abandon bullying and scaremongering and turn to these decent methods. (And if they feel not able to do so on their own, they can drop me a line. I would be happy to offer my services as a political consultant and can be contacted by e-mail...)

The Emerald Islander

30 October 2008

All depends now on the Green Party

The Irish government has today won the vote on the Labour Party's motion condemning the education cuts in the 2009 Budget, which had been adjourned last night after a long and angry debate in the Dáil. (see yesterday's entry)

The result was 80-74, which means that the original coalition majority of ten has now shrunk to just six votes.
Should further Fianna Fáil backbenchers or independent TDs who support the ruling coalition defect, the government could lose its parliamentary majority in due course.

Today's vote made it quite clear that the government is now completely dependent on the votes of the six Green TDs, the second-largest partner in the coalition.
Should they - for whatever reason - withdraw their support or leave the coalition, Brian Cowen's government would fall like a house of cards, which indeed it has been for some time.

A change of government before the end of the full five-year period for which the 30th Dáil was elected in 2007 looks now more than likely. There could either be a different coalition taking over - as it was the case in 1994, after the short-lived coalition between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party under Taoiseach Albert Reynolds collapsed - or there could be an early general election.

All depends now on the Green Party, which - probably without intention - has become the crucial political force in Ireland. They can either nail their colour to the mast of the damaged ship of Fianna Fáil, or recover the rests of their once strong morals and decency that have survived 15 months in government and appeal to the mercy and forgiveness of the nation.

This morning the Green Party's youngest TD Paul Gogarty (photo right), who commented in an e-mail that his party "might eventually consider withdrawing from the coalition", stated that he was now "fully behind the Minister for Education".

He said that - contrary to media reports - "the Green Party is not pulling out of government, nor are they climbing down on the education issue".

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he does not believe there is any question mark over the stability of the current coalition government.

Meanwhile the independent Kerry TD and political 'maverick' Jackie Healy-Rae (photo left) declared that he would continue to support the government.
In statement he said that Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe had "assured him that educational needs on a school by school basis would be reviewed in a better economic climate".

Last night the opposition claimed the Green Party was facing oblivion over its stance on education cuts, and this view is shared by many political observers and analysts, myself included.

The official position of the Green Party has been that they are in government "for the long haul, even if in the short term they are seeking changes in the education cuts".

But remarks in e-mail correspondence from Paul Gogarty go further. The Dublin TD and spokesman on Education for his party, tells a lobbyist against the budget cuts that "the Greens may eventually have to pull out of government on this or combined issues".

However, he now says "it is not going to happen until the party has exhausted all avenues".

One wonders how many avenues there are in Dublin. Last time I looked at a city map of our capital, I did not notice that many.

And in my opinion the Green Party remains in an uncomfortable fix. Being the youngest of the six Green TDs, Paul Gogarty is probably not yet fully infected with the dangerous virus of incompetence and ignorance that Leinster House seems to spread so easily among our elected representatives. He is obviously still able to see clearly the political reality, to which the more senior members of his party - especially the three Green ministers - close their eyes and ears so conveniently.

Looking at the three Green government ministers, one cannot help but be reminded ever more of the three proverbial monkeys, who see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.
Quite a change from the once vibrant and ambitious speeches and actions the 'old' Green Party we had for 25 years was famous for.

I take no pleasure in writing this, but for me - until last year a long-time supporter of the Irish Green Party and environmental movement - the party as a force for good, for change and political alternatives, is dead. And if the Irish voters are not entirely blind and stupid, they will give the Green traitors the same treatment they applied to the PDs in the last general election.

The Emerald Islander

Differences between Austria and Ireland

Vienna - October 28th, 2008
  • A 35-year-old tram driver in the Austrian capital Vienna was bidding farewell to the passengers of his tram with the spoken Nazi-era salute "Sieg Heil!" (meaning: Hail Victory!).
  • The incident was widely ignored, but reported in a Jewish newspaper.
  • When questioned by his bosses, the driver did not deny using the words. But he said "it was just a joke".
  • Vienna's Public Transport Authority took action and sacked the driver with immediate effect and without any severance pay.
  • A spokesman for the public prosecutors' office in Vienna said the driver could face prosecution, as any use of Nazi symbols and phrases is a criminal offence in Austria.
  • If found guilty, the man could face a jail sentence of up to ten years.
Dublin - October 29th, 2008
  • Conor Lenihan, TD, the 45-year-old Minister of State for Integration, called Fine Gael TD Dr. Leo Varadkar in the Dáil "a Fascist" and gave the physical Nazi salute (outstretched arm).
  • The incident was widely reported in all Irish media.
  • When questioned this morning by Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1, he did not deny the incident.
  • After trying to wriggle himself out of the situation verbally by stating that "it was just a joke", he eventually withdrew his remark under pressure from Pat Kenny and Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney.
  • He did not say that he was sorry, nor did he apologise to Dr. Leo Varadkar.
  • Conor Lenihan remains a Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State for Integration.
  • No further action is taken, and no criminal prosecution will take place.
I do not think that any comment from me is needed on this. The facts speak for themselves.

The Emerald Islander

29 October 2008

Massive Protest against Education Cuts in Dublin

In freezing cold temperature and rain approximately 12,000 teachers and parents turned out this evening to demonstrate against the education cuts announced in the 2009 Budget. (This figure is according to official sources, while the organisers of the protest say that they brought 20,000 people to Dublin.)
The rally outside Leinster House coincided with a Dáil debate on a Labour Party motion calling for the increase in class sizes to be reversed. It was addressed by several union leaders, parent representatives, school managers and politicians.

John Carr (right), General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), described the budget as "an act of educational sabotage".
He said the people were there to protest in the strongest possible terms about it, adding that they would not allow the educational system to be destroyed by the people inside Leinster House.
He urged the people to "stand and fight, shoulder to shoulder, against the most savage cuts ever taken against children in this country".
The cutbacks represented one broken promise too many, he added.

John White (left), General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), said the cuts would affect every single school in the country.
He urged those at the rally to go back to their communities and ascertain what the effect of the cuts will be on their local schools, and then tell their local representatives.

Ferdia Kelly (right), the General Secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents the Boards of Management of more than 400 Secondary Schools in the Republic of Ireland, warned that from January children may have to be sent home from schools, or schools may even be closed for a time, because of the proposed cutbacks on substitute teachers.
For generations, he said, teachers, parents and management had worked hard to keep Ireland near to the top of the international league on education.

Áine Lynch of the National Parents Council Primary (NPCP) said the increase in the capitation grant announced in the Budget will not even cover the rise in fuel prices and other day-to-day running costs of schools. The NPCP now fears that the cost of the deficit of running schools will be passed onto parents.
It also expressed concern about the reintroduction of the ceiling on language support teachers.

Meanwhile in the Dáil chamber this evening, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) warned that "even with the Budget economies and cutbacks, the country will still run a deficit which will have to be tackled in the years ahead".

He was responding to questions from opposition leaders, including Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.

Labour's education spokesman (and former leader) Ruairi Quinn (right) described the government's Budget as "an act of social vandalism which attacks children".
Introducing the Labour Party's motion seeking the reversal of the education cuts, he said that one effect of the cuts would be "to push young, shy children into classes of over 30 other children".

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe (left), who is becoming increasingly rude and aggressive, accused the opposition of "hysterical claims and scaremongering" in the debate.
He described the changes as "a measured adjustment" and told TDs it was "not credible to claim that the primary school system will be in crisis next year as a result". It was pretty obvious that he was not comfortable in his role and stumbled through his speech in a very bad way, not to be seen from him often.

Fine Gael's Education spokesman Brian Hayes (right) said it was "stomach churning" to hear the Green Party justifying their support for the government cutbacks.
He predicted the controversy would prove "the Green's Stalingrad", claiming that the Green Party would never recover from the serious damage caused by breaking their pre-election promises.
Deputy Hayes emphasised that Minister Batt O'Keeffe "has no credibility in the education sector", describing him as "Brian Cowen's puppet".

Sinn Fein's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin (left) called the Budget cuts a "callous attack on Irish children" and - reaching out across the party lines - urged "all members of the Dáil, regardless of allegiance" to join him in the "defence of our young, our schools and our education system".
Deputy Ó Caoláin, himself a teacher by profession, arrived a few minutes late and entered the Dáil chamber while Ruairi Quinn was already speaking.
He came directly from the mass demonstration outside the parliament and introduced himself to the debate as "a messenger of thousands of teachers and parents gathered outside in outrage and anger over the government's onslaught on the education and future of our children".

A nasty incident overshadowed the debate for a while and raised the political tempers even further. Conor Lenihan (right), Minister of State for Integration and brother of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, shouted across the Dáil chamber during the speech of a Fine Gael TD and called Dr. Leo Varadkar (left) - Fine Gael's spokesman for Enterprise, Trade and Employment - "a fascist".
Lenihan augmented that outrageous statement with
giving the Nazi salute, which caused uproar on the opposition benches and led to the intervention of Leas-Cheann Comhairle Brendan Howlin, who chaired the session in the absence of Cheann Comhairle John O'Donoghue.

The debate, which saw spirited exchanges between speakers from all parties, has now adjourned until tomorrow morning.

The Emerald Islander

IPPN urges Government to rethink Budget Cuts

The Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN) has called on the Irish government to reconsider the planned cuts in spending on education.

The network has a membership of 5100 school principals and deputy principals, representing 90% of all Irish primary schools.
It stated that upwards of 1000 teachers would be lost to the system as a result of the budget cuts.

IPPN Director Sean Cottrell said that it is "unthinkable that consideration would be given to cutting back on an educational infrastructure that has served the country so well."

"Recent history shows us clearly that our education system is an essential part of Ireland's infrastructure," he explained. "Just as it is unthinkable that we would dismantle our transport infrastructure in the face of economic pressures, so too is it unthinkable that we would consider cutting back on the educational infrastructure, which has served - and continues to serve - us so well."

Nine days before the 2009 Budget was introduced in the Dáil, IPPN President Larry Fleming had called on the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan not to cut the education budget in order to give our children the education they need to succeed later in life. (see my entry of October 5th)

It appears that Brian Lenihan has not listened to the IPPN's plea, and meanwhile his party and cabinet colleague, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, has nothing better to do than to hurl insults and groundless accusations towards teachers and their organisations.

This is especially outrageous and disappointing as Mr. O'Keeffe was a teacher himself before he became a politician. But instead of supporting his former colleagues in their daily struggle for better education and fairer conditions, O'Keeffe has now become the fiercest enemy of Ireland's children, their teachers and the whole school and education system.

The Emerald Islander

Quinn calls Budget "a Dog's Dinner"

The Irish Labour Party's spokesman on Education (and former party leader) Ruairi Quinn (left) has described the 2009 Budget as "a dog's dinner" and said that its measures are "an attack on children".

Quinn was speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, where the Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources Eamon Ryan (Green Party) said there was "not a cut in the education budget, but a € 300 million increase".
Ryan said he did not want to see education bearing the brunt of the financial crisis, but at the same time he did not think it would be right to "completely ignore the possibility of achieving savings or getting greater efficiency".

However, Declan Kelleher (photo right), President of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) has said that primary school children are "the least funded sector in the Irish education system".
Kelleher was speaking ahead of a demonstration by teachers, parents and students outside Leinster House in Dublin this evening, in protest against the planned cutbacks .
The campaign to stop the cutbacks would be fought from every parish in the State, Kelleher stated defiantly.

Earlier the Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe (photo left) accused teachers' unions of "scaremongering".
In an interview on RTÉ's Prime Time programme last night, O'Keeffe said that the government would "not change its stance on the issue".

The Dáil resumed this afternoon amidst the continuing controversy over the government's Budget proposals.

Attention will centre this evening on a Labour Party private members' motion, criticising the cuts in education funding which will focus attention on the Green Party's position on this issue.

Fianna Fáil backbenchers faced opposition taunts last week, and this time it will be the turn of the junior partners in government. The Greens must now effectively defend proposals that will see class sizes in Irish schools rise.

Yesterday the Green Party said it was "committed to remaining in government", prompting one of their most prominent members - Clontarf Councillor Bronwen Maher (right), the only Green member of Dublin City Council - to suggest her own party has "no moral or political bottom line".

Last night a party spokesman said the Green Party was "disappointed and a little puzzled by her comments".

Well, as I expressed in my analysis yesterday, the Green Party is now waking up to the realities of Irish politics and has to live with the fact that it joined their main enemy's camp last year. (see yesterday's entry fro details)
There is really only one alternative: Either the Greens betray their moral and political principles of 25 years' standing (as Bronwyn Maher noticed), or they leave the government coalition and thus trigger an early general election.

The Emerald Islander

Ex-Minister supports the Raising of Asgard II

Robert 'Bobby' Molloy (photo left), a former Irish Minister for Defence, is supporting calls for the raising of the Asgard II from the seabed in the Bay of Biscay, where she sank in the early hours of September 11th. (see my entry of that day)

During his time as Minister for Defence, Robert Molloy approved the original funding to build the brigantine specifically as Ireland's national sail training vessel.

In an interview with Ireland's national broadcaster RTÉ, Mr. Molloy said that the Asgard II (archive photo right) had made "a huge contribution to the nation, training thousands of young people and helping to formulate their characters".

He emphasised that it was "essential for safety at sea to know what has happened to the vessel" and that the State should continue to provide sail training for young people in the future.

Two separate investigations by the Irish Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) and by the French maritime authorities have not been concluded yet, and the current Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea told the Dáil that tenders for lifting the Asgard II from the seabed will close next Friday.

The costs for a salvage operation are expected to be substantial, but since the vessal was insured for € 3.8 million, that amount of money should be well sufficient to raise and restore her.

Willie O'Dea (photo left) said that Coiste an Asgard, the committee which runs the vessel's operations (and which he chairs), has also been looking at a possible replacement to continue national sail training, but has not yet made a decision.

Mr. Molloy, who retired from politics in 2002, said he had met with the present minister and that many people were concerned about the future of the Asgard II. He called on all sailing people to make their voices heard, in order to get the sunken brigantine salvaged and returned to service.

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I have done this already for the past six weeks, and even made further suggestions. (see also my entries of September 13th and October 3rd, 5th, 12th & 18th)
I will continue to do so and welcome the statement and support of Bobby Molloy. Without his clear vision and determination in the early 1980s the Asgard II might not exist at all, and he is a most welcome ally in the campaign to safe her from an eternal grave beneath the waves.

The Emerald Islander

28 October 2008

The Greens are beginning to wake up to the uneasy Reality of Sitting in a political Trap

Ireland's coalition government is stumbling from one crisis into the next, and the three parties involved are drifting from uncertainty to uncertainty now on a daily basis. Crisis has become the normal condition, and worries about the next problem around the corner makes many politicians ever more nervous.

Today TDs and Councillors of Ireland's Green Party - the second largest force in the coalition - have been meeting in Dublin to discuss their (belated) response to the ongoing controversy over the 2009 Budget. (see also my entries of October 14th & 20th)

After a long and deafening silence in the previous week, which saw the Budget introduced by the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan (FF) and the Irish nation erupt in anger and protest over its new measures - in particular the withdrawal of medical cards from the elderly - the Green politicians are beginning to wake up to the realities of being a junior partner to Fianna Fáil. This - to call a spade a spade - means nothing else but sitting in a political trap, with little legroom and even less leeway. Having burned their 25-year-old ideological ships last year when entering the coalition, they have hardly anywhere left to go, except political oblivion.

Some within the party are now expressing concern about the proposed cutbacks in education, which will be at the centre of a Dáil debate tomorrow and on Thursday.

Ireland's Green Party knows only too well that it stands already fully in the spotlight.
Two independent TDs - Joe Behan and Finian McGrath - withdrew their support from the government over the new budget, rendering the support of John Gormley (above) even more important for Taoiseach Brian Cowan and Fianna Fáil.

Gormley's TDs will have to support the government in Thursday's vote on a Labour Party motion on the education cuts, and that will be difficult and uncomfortable for them.

Dublin TD Paul Gogarty (left), the youngest of the six Green members of the Dáil, has already called for the cutbacks to be reversed and has suggested alternatives to the Minister for Education, Batt O'Keeffe (FF).

Green Party leader John Gormley has said that he is in government for the long haul, but many of his party's Councillors are worried about their prospects in next year's local government elections and may have a different view.
They have already voiced their opposition to the medical card cuts and will be just as unhappy about many other budget provisions.

In order to survive as Taoiseach, Brian Cowen needs the Green Party, and in oder to provide this vital support, John Gormley needs the support of his whole party, not just the six TDs and two Senators he has in Leinster House.

There has been already a split in the Green Party earlier this year, when two thirds decided to support the Lisbon Treaty, while one third voted against it. (for this see also my entry of January 20th)
The latter elements of the party were found in happy and rather easy partnership with the People's Movement in the NO camp before the June referendum, and it is likely that at least some frustrated Greens will give up their party membership sooner or later over the ever more unpopular closeness of their leadership to Fianna Fáil.

Perhaps those members of the Green Party who - against critical advice and against common sense - rushed into the coalition with Fianna Fáil in June 2007, will now feel the eyes of their friends on them, and hear their angry questions ringing in their ears. As things stand right now, anything could happen and no political surprises can be ruled out for the foreseeable future.

The Emerald Islander

27 October 2008

29th Dublin City Marathon

Mass Marathons have become very popular in recent years, and there is hardly any major city in the world now that does not have one. Thirty years ago the idea was new and somehow odd, but it began to win more and more support throughout the sporting communities around the globe.

In 1980 the idea reached Dublin and the first city marathon was organised by a group of running enthusiasts led by (the late) Noel Carroll.
He persuaded the Business Houses Athletic Association (BHAA) to support the event, and in the first year 2100 runners - most of them Irish - took part. 1420 of them finished. Dick Hooper of the Raheny Shamrocks Athletic Club claimed first place, in a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 14 seconds. The first female winner was Carey May, who finished the marathon in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 11 seconds.

Much has changed in the nearly three decades since. We had and lost the economic boom of the 'Celtic Tiger' and many foreigners now live in Ireland and participate in our sporting events. Many foreign athletes even travel to cities to participate in the now popular marathon races, and thus it is no surprise that the number of runners has increased nearly six-fold. But one element of the event has not changed: it still takes place on the last Monday in October, which is always a bank holiday in Ireland (compensating for Samhain, which is unfortunately still not a public holiday).

This morning over 11,700 runners assembled at Fitzwilliam Square, the traditional starting point of the race, for the 29th Dublin City Marathon, run in aid of the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght. It was a crispy cold, but sunny day, as we have quite a few here in October, so mood and conditions were quite good.

There was a major increase in Irish runners this year. Over recent years more than half of the participants had come from overseas, but Irish runners made up 57% of this year's entrants. There were also more women than ever before, making up one-third of the field.

But there is only one Mary Hickey Nolan, the only woman who ran in all the Dublin City Marathons to date, with this being her 29th race.

The event started at 8.50 a.m. with the wheelchair entrants, followed by the elite and then the general field at 9 a.m.
As usual the route went from Fitzwilliam Square through the inner city and the Phoenix Park, to end at Merrion Square.

The first male runner to finish this year was the Ukrainian Andriy Naumov, who ran the 26.2 mile distance in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 6 seconds. As the overall winner he received the Noel Carroll Memorial Trophy and a € 15,000 cash prize.

Thus for the 16th year in a row the winner of the Dublin City Marathon was not Irish, a price we have to pay for opening the event to foreign competitors. The best runner from Ireland was Michael O'Connor, while the Russian Larrisa Zousko was the fastest woman with a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes and 55 seconds.
The special wheelchair race was won by Paul Hannan from Armagh in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 33 seconds.

Even though I run for at least an hour every morning - and on some days longer - I have not yet attempted a marathon myself. I have the greatest respect for anyone who has done it and wish them all the best, together with my sincere congratulations to the winners.

The Emerald Islander

26 October 2008

The Making of Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is not John McCain's 'spontaneous' choice for US Vice President and was not chosen by him.
She is a fundamentalist right-wing creature that was planted on him by party managers.
She was secretly groomed and prepared for her role by right-wing Republican 'spin doctors' for 18 months and originally meant to be the 'running mate' of Rudy Giuliani.

Read the whole story of the Making of Sarah Palin below in this


Sarah Palin, the right-wing creationist, 'hockey mom' and governor of Alaska, was sold to the Republican Party, the world's media and the general public as a 'spontaneous' choice of the presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, apparently showing his vigour and love for unconventional decisions.

That presentation was a lie.

I did not buy it right from the start and have been sceptical from the first moment I saw and heard Sarah Palin speak.

This woman, even though clearly inexperienced and a country bumpkin from the wilderness of Alaska, was too much groomed in certain ways, and uttered - almost like a parrot - just the kind of words the right-wing fundamentalists in her party wanted to hear. There was no spontaneity in her 'spontaneous' appearance, and I smelt a rat straight away.

However, between having a hunch and being able to establish that one is right there is a long stretch of thorough research. And not always does one find what one expects to be there.

But this time it is, and today I am happy to share with you the findings of my investigation into the making of Sarah Palin, who was neither a spontaneous choice, nor was she chosen by John McCain.

When Senator McCain presented Sarah Palin as his 'running mate', everyone was completely baffled. Sarah who? - people kept asking one time after the other. And she is the governor of what? (It was quite an interesting observation on the side that many Americans, including even some journalists, seemed not to know that Alaska is one of their 50 states...)

If John McCain had intented to surprise his party, America and the rest of the world and show once again what a great 'maverick' he is, pulling the name of this widely unknown and totally inexperienced backwoods politician out of a hat only two days before the party's convention would indeed qualify as a 'maverick' stunt.

But John McCain is as much a 'maverick' as my neighbour's little hamster. The Arizona Senator and former naval aviator likes the idea of a 'maverick', and he would really love to be one. But that's as far as it goes.
In his long political career - four years in the House of Representatives and 21 years in the US Senate - he has not left many impressions of independent behaviour. And during the nearly eight years of the current administration McCain voted in over 90% of all decisions with George W. Bush and supported his policies.
Not really the behaviour of a 'maverick', is it?

In fact, the artificial image of John McCain as a 'maverick' has only been used by himself and his campaign team since he decided to be a candidate for this year's election and began to run in the 'primaries'. And the sole reason for applying this label to himself is his - later aborted - attempt to switch sides in 2004, when for a short time there was even the possibility of John McCain becoming the 'running mate' of the Democratic candidate John Kerry.

For a few months, during which he was very annoyed and angry with George W. Bush and his administration, he contemplated moving over to the Democrats (inspired and encouraged by his old friend and fellow Senator Joe Lieberman) or even setting up a third party under his own leadership. If he were a real 'maverick', he would have done one of these two things. But after many talks and proposals, nothing came of it and McCain stayed put and quiet as a Republican.

McCain's moves did not remain hidden from George W. Bush and his team, lead by Karl Rove. And after a face-to-face meeting in the White House in the late summer of 2004, the Senator from Arizona was a changed man. Forgotten was all his anger, forgotten were his ideas to make a bold move on his own.
From that time on he voted even more often with the Bush administration and supported it in almost everything.

We don't know exactly what was said during this meeting, of course, and what the two men agreed on, but it is very clear that on this day John McCain sold his soul, and all what was left of his independent mind, to George W. Bush and Karl Rove.
We can assume that Bush promised McCain a 'free run' for the presidency in 2008, when he himself could not stand again. He and Rove might even have promised McCain support from the fundamentalist 'Christian' right, which they both had used as power base for their own success.

It was therefore no great surprise that after John McCain's 2007 announcement to run for the presidency, no strong or serious candidate was nominated from the right wing of his party.
Only Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee threw their hats into the ring of the 'primary' circus, but neither of them had ever a real chance to become President, or even be nominated as the party's candidate. Romney is a prominent Mormon, and even a right-wing America is not (yet) ready for a Mormon in the White House.
And the fundamentalist 'Christian' and backwoodsman Mike Huckabee, though popular with the right-wing creationists, is a real 'maverick' who would never have mobilised enough voters from 'middle America'.

Thus the only serious opponent for McCain was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (left), who made a real mess of his campaign and fell by the wayside after only one 'primary', the crucial vote in Florida.

It has always baffled me why an experienced and shrewd politician like Rudy Giuliani flatly refused to campaign in the smaller, but nevertheless important, east coast states and put all his hopes and money into Florida.
Could this have been just a diversion, a deliberate failure to leave McCain the open road to the nomination? We will probably never know, but it is quite possible.

After he secured the Republican nomination - long before the convention - many people wanted to know who John McCain's 'running mate' for the vice-presidential office was going to be. But despite repeated and ever more urgent questions, McCain remained silent and only said he would tell the world soon enough. Once again he wanted to play the 'maverick' and had a real surprise in stock for his party. He was going to take his old personal friend Joe Lieberman (above), 'independent Democrat' and Senator from Connecticut, with him to the White House.

When John McCain's chief adviser Steve Schmidt (left), who took complete control of the campaign in July, learned of this plan, he was shocked and outraged.
What the party needed was a staunch Republican as vice-presidential candidate, he argued, especially as McCain himself was still seen as "too soft and too liberal" by the strong right wing of the party.

Joe Lieberman would not be acceptable, Schmidt said, as he was not only a Democrat, but also an orthodox Jew from the east coast. What the party needed was "not Joe Lieberman, but an ordinary Joe" people could relate to. Better even a Josephine, as "a woman always brings extra attraction".

After lengthy arguments McCain gave in eventually and left the selection of the 'running mate' to the 38-year-old Steve Schmidt.
This was not a hard task for the right-wing campaign manager, as he had in fact made his selection already. For quite some time a small group of selected right-wing Republicans, led and organised by George W. Bush's former campaign manager and chief 'spin doctor' Karl Rove (above), had prepared and groomed Sarah Palin for this position. The whole operation was done with the utmost secrecy, and only a few people knew of the plan. John McCain was not among them.

The young female governor of Alaska, hardly known to anyone outside her own state, was just the kind of person Rove and Schmidt needed.
A mother, housewife and politician, who stands on the far right of the party, loves guns and shooting animals, and - most important of all elements - a strict fundamentalist evangelical 'Christian' and creationist, who is vehemently opposed to abortion. She ticks all the crucial right-wing boxes, and it could not have been better.
(That Palin's 17-year-old unmarried daughter would become pregnant at the politically most unsuitable time no-one expected...)

That Sarah Palin is less than two years in her current job as governor and has absolutely no experience with foreign affairs did not bother Schmidt or his mentor Rove. After all, George W. Bush was in the same situation in 2000, and he provided the right-wing war mongers under the leadership of Richard 'Dick' Cheney with two full-sized conflicts after he was briefed in the right way.

However, the 'discovery' of Sarah Palin as a potential vice-presidential candidate was neither made by Steve Schmidt nor by Karl Rove, who taught his associate all the dirty tricks while they both worked in the White House under George W. Bush and Richard 'Dick' Cheney (the latter being advised directly by Schmidt, before he was chosen as the campaign manager of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the gubernatorial election in Calaifornia in 2006).

The rather dubious 'honour' of having found Palin and recognised her potential must go to a young college student in Colorado named Adam Brickley (right), who - at the tender age of 20 - started a private one-man campaign for the selection of Sarah Palin as the Republican candidate for Vice President of the USA.
Brickley, a youth and student activist on the fundamentalist far right of the Republican Party, was looking for new faces among Republican state governors, senators and members of the House of Representatives, with the idea to pick the most appealing for his self-ordained mission to find and promote the next Republican 'celebrity'.
It is not known how many political biographies Adam looked up on Wikipedia or other online sources, but sooner or later he came across Sarah Palin, and he liked what he saw and read.

Being a bit of a computer nerd, he decided to use the internet - and especially blogging - for his promotional purposes. So with his mind made up, Adam Brickley started a new weblog, which had the clear and unmistakeable name Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President.

The first text on this weblog was posted on February 26th, 2007, which was:
  • less than three months after Sarah Palin was inaugurated as the newly elected (first time) governor of Alaska (on December 4th, 2006);
  • two months before Senator John McCain announced (on April 25th, 2007) that he would be seeking the nomination of the Republican Party for the US Presidency;
  • more than 18 months before John McCain presented Sarah Palin as his 'surprise running mate' at the Republican convention on August 29th, 2008 in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
In this first post Adam Brickley explains what he was doing, and why. He writes:
"This blog is the result of about a month worth of research on potential Republican Vice-Presidential candidates for the 2008 election. I had been considerably less than thrilled with all of the early speculation, mostly swirling around second-tier presidential candidates, so I decided to see if there was anyone better suited for the job that I hadn't been hearing about. So, I developed the following profile for the perfect VP candidate (using Rudy Giuliani as my presumptive presidential candidate):
1) A energetic, young, fresh face who will energize the electorate
2) Not connected to the current administration
3) Pro-Life
4) Pro-Gun
5) A woman or minority to counter Hillary or Obama and put to rest the idea that America only elects white males
One of the first names I found that fit these qualifications was that of Sarah Palin, the recently elected Governor of Alaska. I knew that I had stumbled upon a fantastic candidate for national office, but I kept looking in the hope that I could find other potentially viable choices. However, after looking at every GOP [Republican] governor, senator, and congressperson, I found that Palin had only become more appealing."

So, how did the weird idea of a college undergraduate from Colorado make it right into the frontline of the presidential election? It was a long and rather strange journey.

At first the whole 'Palin campaign' was indeed only Adam Brickley and his weblog. And it was not the Arizona Senator John McCain whom young Adam wanted to be the next Republican in the White House.
For the right wing of the party McCain always was - and still is - a suspect 'liberal' and not the man of their choice. (Most of them will still vote for him, now that he is the party's candidate, but there are hard-line fundamentalists who will not.)

Adam Brickley's preferred candidate for the highest office in the USA was Rudolph W. Giuliani, who for most of 2007 was the clear frontrunner in the Republican Party. The only child of an Italo-American Mafioso from New York and until the end of 2001 the Mayor of that city for eight years, Rudy Giuliani - the man who invented 'zero tolerance' - was the hope of most right-wing Republicans, until he totally mismanaged his campaign and had to quit the race after coming third in the Florida 'primary' election, the one he had expected to win with a substantial margin. (How much this was stage-managed by the White House to keep the promise made to John McCain in 2004 can only be guess work.)

So when Adam Brickley sat in front of his computer in Colorado and selected Sarah Palin as potential 'VP' candidate, he chose her as the 'running mate' of Rudy Giuliani, and not for John McCain.
But when events overtook his preference, even a right-wing hick like Adam was flexible enough to adjust his online campaign to the new political realities on the ground.

The blogging campaign for Sarah Palin was not the first time that Adam Brickley - online also known by his internet name 'ElephantMan' - had started a political weblog.
On July 29th, 2005 - a Friday evening with nothing else to do - the then 18-year-old created ConservaGlobe, which - as he described it himself - was a "right wing commentary on world politics from a man on a mission to prove that Conservatism transcends national boundaries".
(By the way, the name 'ElephantMan' has in Adam's case no connection with the famous John Merrick and is instead a verbal link to the mascot animal of the US Republican Party, which is - strangely enough - an elephant.)

For nearly two years 'ElephantMan' ran ConservaGlobe, featuring a large number of political news items and comments from around the world.
For an American living in one of the land-locked states, Adam showed an unusually strong interest in the rest of the world, and although his posts reflect clearly his right-wing political orientation, the ConservaGlobe weblog was maintained well and quite informative.
The last text there - with the rather strange title "Are Terrorists Targeting Gordon Brown?" - was posted on July 1st, 2007, when Adam's newly found obsession with Sarah Palin began to take all his attention.

Because within less than six months of Adam Brickley starting his strange campaign for a woman he had never met or spoken with, the Republican puppet masters had taken him and his idea under their shady wings.

To most outsiders this was not obvious, but behind the scenes the right-wing spin machine began to work for and on Sarah Palin, preparing and grooming her slowly but steadily for a position as 'running mate' for Rudy Giuliani.

The only visible change was the appearance of a second name on Adam Brickley's campaign weblog.
Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President had suddenly another writer, one Stephen R. Maloney, who shaped up the weblog and put more political spin onto it.
Most visitors to the site might not have noticed that and probably did not notice the significance of the new name either. But for political observers and analysts it meant a lot.

Stephen R. Maloney is a right-wing US writer (author of "Talk yourself to the Top") and political consultant, who - after many years in the conservative South - lives and works now in Ambridge, Pennsylvania (a state heavily targeted by the Republicans and one they need to win if they want to win the election).
Besides his work as a political consultant, Maloney has a long track record as a speech writer, working mainly for large US companies who support the Republican Party - and especially the Bush administration - with huge donations. Among them are Phillips Petroleum, Gulf Oil, USX (US Steel), Aetna, Merck, Lilly and many others.

This accomplished 'spin doctor' took now control of Adam Brickley's weblog, and worked closely with the masters of the Republican propaganda machine, Karl Rove and Steve Schmidt.

Maloney is a very prolific blogger and involved with at least 18 different right-wing political weblogs, most of which he controls himself. (This number includes at least five new weblogs which already project and promote Sarah Palin for the next presidential campaign in 2012!)

One of these 18 weblogs, called Campaign 2008 Victory A, was established by Stephen R. Maloney on June 25th, 2007, shortly after he had stepped in as Adam Brickley's political mentor, and more than 14 months before Sarah Palin was presented by John McCain as his 'surprise running mate'.
At that time McCain did not even know she existed, but she was already groomed secretly by right-wing manipulators as his potential vice-presidential partner.

In his first text, posted on this weblog on June 25th, 2007, Stephen R. Maloney wrote:
"I do like Sarah Palin - a lot... Sarah has the character, charisma, and communication skills necessary to appeal to the American people. She doesn’t come with the political history - and the high 'unfavorability ratings' - associated with most national figures. I’m prepared to burn a great deal of time in the effort to get Sarah on the ticket... I’ve invested at least 200 hours so far, and I’m ready to spend at least 2000 more. Why? Because I believe it’s essential to the country that there be a new dynamic - specifically, a dramatically different personality - in American politics. As I’ve said before, if our ticket is the usual one - two aging white males in gray suits, both carrying more baggage than an army of red caps - then we deserve to lose, and we will lose."

To remind you, this was 14 months before Sarah Palin's nomination, and about one year before the increasingly senile John McCain ever heard of her.

But while the Arizona Senator was preparing for his 'primary' campaign across all 50 US states, the right-wing spin doctors manufactured what was in their eyes the 'perfect vice-president' who would not have to run the gauntlet of the 'primaries' and could appear later like a rabbit from a magician's hat - Sarah Palin.

At this early stage none of them even contemplated that John McCain would be their party's nominee, and they were not interested in him at all. Their favourite at that stage was Rudy Giuliani, with actor and former Senator Fred Thompson a possible candidate. These two were the potential candidates Sarah Palin was groomed to assist, in an election they clearly expected to run against the Democratic Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton.

As Stephen R. Maloney writes on June 25th, 2007: "Admittedly, I may be wrong, but I don’t think Fred [Thompson] can defeat Rudy [Giuliani] in the Republican primary. And I don’t believe Giuliani alone can defeat Mrs. Clinton in the general election. Recent polls suggest my gloomy assessment is correct. Could Rudy running with Sarah defeat Hillary Clinton? Maybe. Could Fred Thompson running with Sarah defeat Mrs. Clinton? Possibly. I like some of the other Republican presidential candidates, but I see no evidence they could emerge as winners in November 2008."

And he continues: "We’ve never [had] anyone remotely similar in high office. For one thing, Sarah is the mother of four children. [By now she has five.] We’ve never had a high official from Alaska, a state blessedly free of many of our political obsessions in the 'lower-48'. We’ve never [had] a President or a Vice-President whose spouse has actually held what most of American regards as 'real jobs' - in Todd Palin’s case as a commercial fisherman and oil field production foreman."
"The idea of Sarah going to [Washington] D.C. as the nation’s first female vice-president makes me smile. It has a little of the quality of Jimmy Stewart’s old 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'. Imagine that: sending a real person - someone with whom a hundred million American[s] can immediately identify."

He goes on: "On critical issues like energy, faith, and family, Sarah might be the best-informed person we’ve ever sent to Washington, DC. She won’t have learned about those matters by reading books; she has lived them first-hand.
Sarah is good at running things. That traces back to her childhood, and especially to her role at a point guard on a state championship basketball team. The point guard brings the ball up the court and decides exactly how the offense will attack the defense.
In both life and politics, Sarah has almost always been a winner. The 'almost' qualification comes from the fact that she lost her race for Lieutenant Governor. She obviously learned a lot from that. She came back to defeat former Senator and then-Republican Governor Frank Murkowski in the primary. Then, she defeated Democrat and former Governor Tony Knowles in the general election."

Concluding the article, Maloney addressed Sarah Palin directly: "So Sarah, you may barely know I exist - at this point. But I’m going to devote every hour I can to making sure you have to relocate sooner rather than later from Wasilla, Alaska to Washington, DC."

And Stephen R. Maloney kept his promise. He and his collaborators ran a subtle campaign - making good use of the internet and blogging - to make Governor Sarah Palin the Republican vice-presidential candidate for - originally - Rudy Giuliani, and then, after he failed and dropped out, for the eventual nominee, John McCain.

He, the former navy pilot, war hero and long-time politician had nothing at all to do with the selection and the 'making' of Sarah Palin.

When the time came to nominate a 'running mate', he was told who it was to be.

His own long-term choice - Senator Joe Lieberman - had never a chance. The party machine, reluctantly accepting McCain - the man they least wanted - as presidential candidate, forced him to do what he was told.
Such is politics, and in particular Republican politics in the era of Karl Rove.

The rest, as people often say, is history.

Most analysts - myself included - expect a Democratic landslide win on November 4th. And one of the main reasons for that is Sarah Palin, the woman who - for a short time - energised the Republican core voters, but has quite the opposite effect on everyone else, including the crucial independent voters who are ever more the deciding factor in US elections.

Given the fanatic devotion some political activists like Stephen R. Maloney and Adam Brickley have for her, they will probably do everything in their power to keep her alive on national level, hoping to run her again in 2012.
But if the current investigations into her abuse of power as governor of Alaska are taking on their own momentum, such efforts - including the already existing five weblogs Maloney has created for a 'Sarah Palin 2012' campaign - might become irrelevant.

The Emerald Islander

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