Archive for September 2009

When 'responbility' is removed from the equation...

It is rather clear to everybody that 'demanding' things from government such as shouldering political responsibility for one gross negligence after the other has long become ineffective. The truth is that the GonziPN cabinet, has long abandoned the democratic and constitutional principle of responsibility. Without responsibility there is no accountability nor any transparency left in the public administration. Is this the opposition's fault for demanding a lot but getting very little? Or is it ours for being overly apathetic for far too long? And is it true that countries get the government they deserve?

Personally I don't care if this is intrinsic to Mediterranean culture. I don't care if the Italian or the Greek governments act in a similar manner. It's just not right. It is not something that one should have to put up with as a natural everyday occurrence for that would mean legitimising the abuse of power.

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Netanyahu is the real leader of this not so free world

It's an old cliche that the President of the USA, supposedly the most power nation on earth, is the 'president of the world'. This jingoist perception which delights any run of the mill gun-toting American patriot cannot be further from the truth. The most powerful nation, if by powerful we mean diplomatic sway, political influence, and an infinite supply of get out of jail free cards each time a crime against international law is committed, is not the US but Israel. The US just comes a respectable but boring second on the powerful nations charts.
Every time Israel seems to get its way in everything it does. The US has always been there to back it up of course. Either that, or else it just bows down to Israel's pressure. For no sane person on this earth can accept a system in which people are systematically kicked out of their homes (in which they have lived in forever) as something natural. This is still an everyday occurrence in the West Bank and Obama just doesn't have what it takes to pressure Israel into ending this serious inhumanity.
How can one seriously talk of peace when things like this are allowed to happen?

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Division Day

Today Malta celebrates 45 years of independence from Britain. It is a day which should unite a nation. But the partisan ramifications of this day run deep and it is difficult to comprehend whether such a significant day could ever unite the long-existing divide. It is just one of those things that our political culture has destroyed. Somewhere down the line independence became attributed to George Borg Olivier and the Nationalist Party just as Freedom Day is to Dom Mintoff and the Labour Party. The sad truth is that these days have never really been a celebration of nationhood but of the legacies of the aforementioned.

This false reality has been passed down from generation to generation and to this very day we still hear comments encouraging this divide even from people who should know better. We are now at a stage where we have been asked to choose one national day as a day that should unite us all. Even this process however, has been tainted by partisanship in the sense that whichever of the two days gets selected would be just another victory for one party and a show of weakness by the other. You can easily sense this through politicians' carefully selected discourse. Common sense dictates therefore that a more neutral day should be selected such as Victory Day. But this would not solve the problem. It would only avoid it.

What is really required at this stage is not consensus on the national day. That is something that would come later as a natural progression of something that really needs to be tackled. It is my opinion that what we really need to do is (1) reflect upon our entire notion of what we perceive to be patriotism and (2) rise above the partisan charades that choke our country to the point of suffocation. This would require a huge cultural change and it would spell a revolutionary shift from a fragmented society constructed upon the framework of 'us-and-them' to the pluralist society of 'us'. This is difficult. It is not something that is going to occur upon rising tomorrow. But it is a shift that can and must happen.

It is time to understand that patriotism is not just about celebrating our nation's sovereignty and right of self-determination. These are are just one chapter of the story of an entire people. Our, language, traditions and cultural heritage is another. They are all linked to our identity. Anyone who celebrates and defends these historical and cultural achievements vigorously is by and large a patriot. But what about those who refuse to turn a blind eye to what is happening around them - those that start to ask difficult questions and posit different views which may be at odds with our history, our culture and our sovereignty? Do they do this because they despise our nation in some way? Should they just 'get the hell out' and leave us to our business? No - they do this because they genuinely love their nation; because they do not want to see their nation go down in history as some isolated entity detached from everybody and everything else around it. Because they understand that independence and freedom carry with them not just rights but also obligations. Such are also acts of patriotism.

Secondly it is high time to start viewing politics for what it really is, i.e. not merely confined to electoral districts and political parties. Know that the powers that be have an interest in telling you what to believe and how to believe in it; what to choose and how to choose it. If we let that happen, as we have so readily done in the past, politics becomes the sole domain of the politicians and the clerics and no longer the activity which we can engage in and fashion ourselves. It becomes the politics of the red, green and blue which naturally seek division so that they could be able to conquer. It is time to emancipate ourselves from their clutches. Think for yourself and do not let others tell you what to think. It does not mean that we should abandon the political parties. Vote PL, PN, AD, AN, Imperium or Independent but vote for them because you genuinely and freely wish to do so and not because they scare you into doing so or because of the way you were brought up or because they will grant you and your family personal favors. If you disagree with all of them then don't vote for any or create your own party. This is a great liberty which a lot of us seem to take for granted.

Do not let anyone fool you into thinking that this is impossible. It will happen some day. And if it could ever be pinpointed than let that day be our true national holiday!

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How many birds must be killed?

How many birds must be killed before tougher policies aimed at curbing illegal hunting are enacted by government? It is clear that a good number of hunters believe that laws and directives have no application. How unfortunate. In the press we read a lot of stories and comments about how hunting is a traditional pass-time and if it is taken away lives will be shattered. But we never get to hear what the real victims in this institutionalized tragedy have to say because they simply cannot speak. And those that try to speak up for them are either treated as a group of persons poking their noses where they don't belong or largely ignored.

Not long ago some of us rejoiced that the supposed ban on spring hunting gave rise to the beginning of the end of the more-than-powerful hunters' lobby. But I am really confused about whether this actually happened. And if politicians lack the will to change things it may be high time for citizens to take a stand.

How long will it be before there is no turning back?


Abortion: One step at a time

Muscat had declared from very early on that he, as Joseph Muscat, is all out against abortion. He was very open about the great pains he had gone through, together with his wife, who almost lost their children. With this personal experience in mind it is no big surprise that he is against all forms of abortion, including the morning after pill. I respect his firm position on the matter, I really do. In fact I am not really one to talk since I have absolutely no experience on what it is like to become a parent.

It's just that sometimes one needs to draw a line between the personal belief and the public reality. To put it bluntly, should a future Labour government bury abortion simply because of its leader's personal opinion? Of course, the leader of any party, or prime minister of a country for that matter usually has the final say and it would be somewhat difficult that leader to approve of something that he vehemently disagrees with.

Let me declare from the outset that I do not look at abortion as a form of birth control. I think that would be downright irresponsible. That is why our nation needs to start growing up and take sex education out of the taboo jungle and into ordinary/regular school life. And what's all this hullabaloo with putting condom machines on campus? I am not such a big fan of the "it's my body and I do what I want" argument either. However I do believe that women should be given the choice to terminate their pregnancy under certain conditions and hence abortion should, for starters, be decriminalized.

I think the British position on abortion is the best one. In the UK abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks on condition that continuing with the pregnancy involves a greater risk to:
  • the physical or mental health of the woman, or
  • the physical or mental health of the woman's existing children than having a termination.
And after 24 weeks if there is:
  • risk to the life of the woman,
  • evidence of severe fetal abnormality, or
  • risk of grave physical and mental injury to the woman.
One must not fear asking difficult questions. Should victims of rape and incest be given a choice to terminate? I believe so.

Of course, these are my opinions, just as much as JM and everybody else has his and her own opinions. The worst thing any of us can do is to kill off all forms of debate or give one (unelected) section of society (GoL for example) the liberty to decide for everybody else and future generations.

Yet one needs to be realistic. The reality is that abortion, unlike divorce, is still a taboo subject. As much as you may agree with abortion, know that in all probability it's not going to come round any time soon. It is not an excuse to remain silent on what you believe in but an understanding that in Malta (especially) it is all about taking things one step at a time.

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What's the problem?

As the divorce debate continues to rage and tempers begin to flare in the most humid rock of them all I decided to assume heroic responsibility and clear the matter once and for all. My first conclusion is what's the problem? In Malta we have divorce already. Instead it's called annulment - mhux xorta? I mean, what's in a name?

In case you did not know, the Marriage Act has a nice little section (19+19A) which specifically caters for the annulment of marriage. The idea is simple. Marriage is a contract and just as any other contract may be annulled on grounds that it was invalid, so too can marriage. Lets say for instance the good ol' chap goes up to the pretty lass and tells her "Listen, marry me or I'll knock your teeth in." Fearing for her teeth and all the Orbit she's been saving up for a bad breath day she has no other choice but to get married. All she has to do is wait three months, go to Court and tell the wise judge "Dude, my marriage is invalid because it was motivated by violence." Maybe a year or two later (patience please) you're bound to be marriage free! No Church involved or anything! Just a civil court judge in a civil court case! If he knocks her teeth out after marriage however, perhaps she should have thought twice about coming back home at 4 in the morning after a wild night out with her girl-friends now shouldn't she?

And it doesn't even have to be so dramatic. You can also get an annulment if your partner happens to have a severe case of Mr.Floppy and thus unable to perform the 'conjugal act' (again, the anomaly must have existed before you got married of course - if it happened after and sought annulment then you'd just be a sore loser). Oh, and if you're soooo into the whole divorce shenanigan you have a remedy as well (the law is so beautiful because it takes into consideration everybody's needs and feelings indiscriminately). Just take a holiday, a really really long holiday, say 10 years in some lovely Parisian suburb and get a divorce from there (stupid French people, why did they have to go through all the trouble to enact 'divorce'!?). You'd be killing two birds with one stone because you'd get to experience life in another country and procured for yourself a nifty divorce certificate recognizable here! Everyone can afford it can't they?

I beckon you to understand that annulment happens to be cheaper than divorce because with annulment you are only obliged to maintain your spouse for a maximum of 5 years whereas in divorce a silly judge may come up with the silly opinion that it may happen to be more, perhaps even for life "if circumstance so desires". Sheesh! What injustice!

To top things off I am aware that our Courts have been quite liberal in granting annulments over the years - since the worst and most brutal dictator of all Europe decided to defy the Church and introduce civil marriage in the 70's. It's only on rare occasions that some civil court judge happens to formulate his opinion on the basis of Canon Law (the law drafted by the Saints - not the football team - actual Saints with halos and all) even though the far less inferior and sinful 'laws of man' forbid him from doing so. But Malta is a secular country so you need not worry. As I said, its very rare.

Folks, take a chill pill and stop all this moaning. Its giving us a bad name! Malta has 'divorce' already!

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The boss is back

I would have thought that the progressive alliance in the European Parliament would have at least made an effort to vote NO to Barroso instead of abstaining. So what if he was uncontested? A close yes-no margin would have sent the message that Barroso has won the battle but alerted him to change his ways of pleasing national governments first before working in the EU's greater supra-national interests. With a comfortable and absolute majority I very much doubt that this is going to happen. I reckon that once the [second] honeymoon is over and the light begins to glisten at the end of the [financial crises] tunnel it will be back to business as usual.

It is unfortunate that the European left finds itself in such a mess that it could not even push for a suitable alternative to head the European Commission. But one augurs that serious and constructive effort is made to take the left back to its winning ways. It is going to be a tough five years but with a little less moping and bickering and a little more of doing and working together positive results can certainly be achieved.

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In Finland there exists a peculiar situation as to which is the national anthem. From the little I have read the 'de facto' anthem is Maamme (Our Land) but this has not been officially recognised. Otherwise the popular Finlandia hymn is also widely supported. One particular rendition of the hymn holds a very important and strong message of international fraternity and world peace. Perhaps 'national' is a misnomer. These are the words:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
This is my song O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

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Constructing the Progressive Left

The construction of a progressive movement may be Muscat's greatest ambition and ultimately the largest 'earthquake' on the richter scale. Unfortunately, in a country which has become somewhat infamous for being thirty years behind every other and in which politics is characterised by tribalism, parochialism and the exploitation of ignorance it is no surprise that this grand project has been met with a great degree of cynicism by many who profess to be progressive, including myself. The greatest spoke in Muscat's wheel is undoubtedly from within Labour itself which houses some of the country's staunchest conservative politicians and which at times finds itself on a fast-forward march towards a brand of excessively populist and nationalist-oriented politics instead of building upon the basic ideals that characterise the left.
Possible or not, the idea is a good thing in itself, not just for Malta but for the rest of Europe where social-democratic, labour and green parties are finding it hoplessly difficult to overcome the neo-liberal mainstream. Unless things do not change we will soon see the rise of the Tories in Britain, the fall of Zapatero in Spain and fascist parties across Europe going from strength to strength with victories for the left becoming far and few between (one hopes that PASOK will emerge triumphant in Greece). Meanwhile, Germany's Merkel, France's Sarkozy and Italy's Berlusconi are not set to leave the political climate any time soon. This is not a rant but a wake-up call for progressive parties across Europe to do something about it.
The primary starting point for constructing a progressive coalition of the left is to reconsider this strong infatuation with Giddens-inspired 'third way' which made Clintion and Blair role models for social democrats and progressives across the Western world back in the mid-90's. However, main-land Europe now finds itself in a situation with no distinguishable political platforms when you consider that social-democrats are just as equally free-market oriented as conservative neo-liberals and conservative neo-liberals tend to be just as socially-liberal as social democrats (Sarkozy comes to mind). The differences have become so minimal that it is no surprise that the Greens have (thankfully) emerged as a considerably strong force by proposing new and ambitious ideas such as 'The Green New Deal' which seeks to create millions of jobs by harnessing the earth's sources alternative energy; a great response to rising unemployment and a global environment in peril. The problem is that the greens cannot bring about change alone, which brings me to my next point.
It is time to realise that no political party enjoys a 'monopoly of wisdom'. The my-way-or-the-highway mentality must be eradicated once and for all. To form a popular progressive movement, progressive parties should respect the premise that 'we are all in this together'. A pluralistic approach should become the core of the progressive left. This does not mean that progressive parties and their supporters should abandon their ideals for the sake of forming one popular front. It is about respecting our differences as well as our common vision. Britain's Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob explains that "We all have our loyalties and allegiances and it is futile to demand from each other that we renounce them as a pre-condition for unity. On the contrary, we need to find new ways to exert pressure on the political establishment, and forge new alliances that bring together a progressive coalition that can start to shift the political centre of gravity to the left." Left academic Pat Devine wrote in Red Pepper that "one way forward is to work towards the formation of a loose-knit electoral alliance united in opposition to the neoliberal mainstream and dedicated to campaigning for electoral reform and a green new deal."
A progressive coalition musn't become a militant minority which is hardly able to converse with anyone beyond its patchwork of colour but a progressive majority for change. The plural left should thus strive to move social democratic and green values to the mainstream where they belong as opposed to being occasionally hip sound-bites, disconnected from everyday and everybody. For privatising idealism and comfortably preaching to the already-converted will only lead to many progressives finding themselves politically unrepresented and cursing in anger at a world they thought would be different.
This post has been largely inspired by Mark Perryman's critique "We’re all in this together: - Towards the political practice of a Plural Left" published by Compass think tank (UK).

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