"Et tu brute," some of the last words of Roman dictator Julius Caesar, as he recognises his protégé Marcus Junius Brutus among his assassins, according to a version of history penned by William Shakespeare, in the play Julius Caesar. Betrayal of trust and its victims has been a multi-theme story in 2009 and apart from the administering of the last rites to Catholic Church authority, not much else has changed fundamentally in Ireland.
In times past, when life was better for many Irish people, the Julius Caesar expression, was part of the gallows humour deployed by a businessman I knew, as his company was floundering and ten years of his life's work was draining away like water through sand. Similar personal tragedies for the victims of the recession, are being played out across the land in a shadow world, beyond the public bickering between vested interests, over retaining the spoils of the bubble. Collective power is what counts in Ireland and the individual unless an insider, counts for little.
The insiders, may well prefer to think of themselves as outsiders and they are not only at governance level but from across the society. It's a fair bet that broadcaster Joe Duffy who earns about €400,000 from the State-owned RTÉ and newspaper work, is not aware that the majority of private sector workers have no occupational pension. This is an extract from an interview published by The Irish Times on Saturday: “When I see people who came into RTÉ with me 22 years ago retiring on civil servants’ pensions, there’s a good bit of me now that is sorry I didn’t stay like that. I went on contract only when I started filling in for the summer and they said if you want to be paid for the extra work you do during your holidays, you have to go on contract. I’m self-employed. I don’t get a salary or wages. I don’t get anything that goes along with that, such as a pension.
“You’re entitled to nothing, as they keep reminding you. You’re an egg supplier and if they decide tomorrow they don’t want my eggs, I’m gone, with no pickets outside the gate, no redundancy, no sick pay.”
But you’re paid more than the Taoiseach? “That’s nonsense. He’s on wages, he’s entitled to a pension for life. I was told that if I was to be entitled to the pension he would get, it would add 51 per cent to my salary to buy that pension...I read that Ivan Yates before he was 50 had drawn down a quarter of a million euro of a pension from his time in the Dáil so it’s all pointless and unfair. I’ve never complained about my salary and I won’t, but the head of the Combat Poverty Agency wasn’t living in poverty."
He almost sounds like a banker or Liberace, crying all the way to the bank! The politicians' rip-off scheme is of course the template of the elite.
Reviewing the adjustment from what my mother would have called a feast and a famine, the Irish remain a very conservative people despite a liberalisation of social laws such as ending bans on divorce, homosexuality and the importation of contraceptives. Change comes ever so slowly and the focus of the Government in 2009, has been on fire-fighting rather than reform. Despite the crash and the lifting of the veil on a society that turned a blind eye to child abuse, it does not appear that the Irish are ready to face home truths. We love to think the whole world knows of us, but headlines in overseas newspapers such as Irish priests raped children, tell a deeper story than the arrogance of entrenched power and the corporate-like effort of defending the brand.
Every country is sustained on myths, some that have no credible basis. I asked earlier this year was Ireland an Organised Hypocrisy - - a term that had been used by the nineteenth century British politician Benjamin Disraeli, about his own Tory Party.
There is an interesting aspect to the Easter Rising of 1916, that in the history of my youth got a brief mention and then the story moved on to a more compelling scenario. This was the angry reaction of Dubliners to the prisoners in the aftermath of the rebellion; then the sentiment turned after the executions of the leaders by the British.
We should ask now, why we have been so craven to flawed authority and tolerant of mediocrity and corruption that is not victimless?
It has been striking in this year of crisis that one would struggle to use ten fingers in counting politicians from the part-time Oireachtas (Parliament) of 216 members, who could competently address important issues, such as the banking crisis. Despite welfare cutbacks in the Budget, the special annual tax-free payment of over €40,000 - - more than the average annual wage - - paid to so-called "independent" TDs and first agreed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 1997 as an inducement for their political support, remained untouched.
Meanwhile, the old-fashioned trade union leaders who did well themselves during the boom, have little to say about the unemployed or sustainable job creation. However, they can deliver "transformational" public sector reform, at a price. They were paid through the misnamed "benchmarking" process and delivered nothing. Now the small country is in a multi-year struggle, trying to create export jobs, which it wasn't able to achieve during the boom.
Political leadership with vision, beyond just cutting spending, is a dire need.
Finfacts article: The challenge of creating 160,000 new Irish jobs
At an international level, Barack Obama become the 44th President of the United States and has made a good start in difficult times. In his augural address, he said: "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age" -- seems familiar indeed.
The statement: "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath," was wrong and could have been cross-checked with Finfacts !!: Jan 20, 2009 - - Obama to become America's 44th President today; First non-white among 43 men to hold the office since 1789.
The US battle for healthcare reform has highlighted the extent of legalised bribery in the American political system, which we have written about this year.
Meanwhile, the Copenhagen Accord on climate change is not an ideal blueprint but it's a start in getting agreement from over 190 nations.
The Christmas issue of The Economist is a great read (one article claims that personal cleanliness may be going out of fashion; another is on the changing art of politeness in different cultures; there is also an advertisement for a Chief Executive Officer for the Health Service Executive, the largest organisation in Ireland, with a staff of 110,000 -- more than all US firms employ in the country - - tasked with delivering a "world class" service. Even if we just had "economy class" politicians, we would have something to cheer about.)
The Economist reports that Houston, Texas, has elected a gay mayor and she is the only woman who will run one of the ten biggest cities. Annise Parker beat a black man in the election. So credit for diversity in a so-called red state.
In contrast, another country is going backwards.
Africans maybe the target of a lot of discrimination but they are no shrinking violets when it comes to their own intolerance.
The Financial Times reports that the Ugandan government is supporting a parliamentary bill, which provides for a minimum life sentence for anyone convicted of having gay sex, and a mandatory death penalty if they were HIV-positive. The draft bill would also introduce a three-year prison sentence for anyone who was aware of homosexual activity and failed to report it to the authorities within 24 hours - - presumably a useful weapon against political opponents.
In the age of celebrity, it appears that developing a media profile is one key factor in being viewed as a person of consequence. A well oiled industry thrives on building up "icons" and "legends" to feed the gullibility of the masses, which appears to be a bottomless pit.
In Sunday's New York Times, columnist Frank Rich wrote on Tiger Woods: "What makes the golfing superstar’s tale compelling, after all, is not that he’s another celebrity in trouble or another fallen athletic “role model” in a decade lousy with them. His scandal has nothing to tell us about race, and nothing new to say about hypocrisy. The conflict between Tiger’s picture-perfect family life and his marathon womanizing is the oldest of morality tales.
What’s striking instead is the exceptional, Enron-sized gap between this golfer’s public image as a paragon of businesslike discipline and focus and the maniacally reckless life we now know he led. What’s equally striking, if not shocking, is that the American establishment and news media -- all of it, not just golf writers or celebrity tabloids - - fell for the Woods myth as hard as any fan and actively helped sustain and enhance it."
Woods earned almost $1 billion from the fairytale.
Finally, we conclude with brief tributes to three men who died in 2009 and left monumental legacies.
Senator Edward Kennedy (1932-2009), a genuine friend of Ireland, left a stunning legislative record in support of the causes he championed; Norman Borlaug's (1914-2009) Green Revolution is said to have averted famine in India in the 1960s and he is credited with saving more lives, than anyone else in the history of mankind; Yegor Gaidar (1956-2009) died last week. In 1991, when over seven decades of Soviet communism collapsed, at the age of 35, he became responsible for the transformation of Russia to a market-oriented system. He had to abolish price regulation to avert famine, at the time when the country's foreign reserves fell to $27 million. He became a hate figure to many who had suffered economic dislocation. In contrast with many of his colleagues, he did not use the chaos to enrich himself. Anatoly Chubais, one of
Gaidar's colleagues who was in charge of the privatisation programme, wrote last week that: "Yegor Gaidar, in the early 1990s, saved the country from famine, civil war and disintegration. Few people in the history of Russia and in world history can be compared with him for force of intellect, clarity of understanding of the past, present and future, and a willingness to take the most difficult but necessary decisions."
|Michael Hennigan/Rubio busy with his music.
Having reported on too much grim news this year, this holiday season will end on a high note, with my son Michael, a native of the Philippines, who had narrowly escaped death in Sydney three years ago, after a mugging incident, returning to the land of his birth, for the first time since leaving at the age of ten months, in March 1986. It was a time when the 20-year old dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos ended and while the Philippines still has some big problems, the generally friendly ethnic Malay people of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines - - the counterparts of the Latins in Europe -- who are more easy-going than the peoples of the colder north, can also look forward to better economic times as Asia continues to grow. The once Spanish naval station at Subic Bay, north of Manila, and then in control of the US from 1898 to 1992, is now a thriving freeport with more than 70,000 employed. I have met descendants of the original aboriginal settlers of the main island of Luzon there, who are known as Aeta.
Finfacts article: Ireland 2009: People of the Year, Brass Neck and Golden Fleece Awards!