The fallacy of democracy


News out of Ireland this week is that it is undemocratic to be given a vote on the future of your country.

Declan Ganley - whoever he is
Declan Ganley - whoever he is.

Declan Ganley, a millionaire businessman whose opposition to the Lisbon Treaty saw him become a TV star along the lines of X-Factor or something, said: “The Irish people had a vote on the Lisbon Treaty. They voted No. A higher percentage of the electorate voted no than voted for Barack Obama in the United States of America. No one’s suggesting he should run for re-election next month.”

Cute quote.

The argument is that once you vote on something, that’s it.  No more votes.  “No” means no.  Of course it hasn’t worked this way in the past as Deco and his fellow No to Lisbon-ites well know.

Divorce and Divorce II

In 1986, when Ireland was asked to vote on the existing prohibition of divorce, the country overwhelmingly rejected it by 63% to 36%; almost 2-to-1.  Rather “undemocratically” we were all asked to vote again on the same issue nine years later since the re-elected Fine Gale government of the time refused to accept the previous will of the Irish people.  That time the vote was carried by a margin of 9,000 votes or 0.5%.

I wonder how many people who were happy to be able to get a second chance to vote “yes” to divorce in 1995 are now crying foul over Lisbon II?

In 1983 the country enforced a constitutional ban on abortion that leaves Ireland in the company of the likes of Chile, El Salvador, Malta and Nicaragua as places with outright bans. Isn’t it about time we revisited that issue now? Or does “no” still mean no in this case?  I’m confused.

How about in a case where Northern Ireland has a referendum on the unification of the island of Ireland – if the answer was “no” would that be the final time we’d vote on that?  Would Sinn Féin (steadfast opponents of Lisbon II) concur to a second vote in that instance?

Unqualified voters

Divorce and abortion are social issues that everybody can relate to.  The Lisbon Treaty is a vague and complex document (seemingly open to no end of interpretations) of which a large number of people have – understandably – insufficient understanding.  It’s probably fair to say that a lot of people should be considered unqualified to vote on Lisbon given that lack of understanding.

Look how easy it is to manipulate those who are ignorant by scaring them with groundless pap such as that voting “no” will lead to a loss of jobs and isolation or that voting “yes” will lead to abortion, conscription to a European army (they’ve been wheeling that one out since 1973) and a minimum wage of €1.84 an hour.  How is that democratic?

Democracy in action

Ganley’s complaint that “no” means no is a nice catchphrase when the re-vote doesn’t suit your agenda.  It would be great if democracy was perfect but of course it isn’t.  It is tainted by one side or the other having more charismatic spokespeople, more funding, better media coverage, or just being superior at using the truth more economically.  It’s a bit imperfect, like the justice system I suppose – and that’s why we have retrials.

If we have a referendum every day and nobody is excluded from voting then this is democracy in action.  The result will always be the will of the people.  I have no problem with this.

I elected someone to vote for me

I’m all for a Constitution as it helps provide a country with a legal and moral framework.  But I don’t want to have to spend a Friday afternoon voting on a document that I will never truly understand.  I think the government should pass legislation like this without having to bother me about it.  It’s not like it fundamentally changes the core principles of the state such as neutrality, abortion or economic autonomy.  Right?

Or isn’t anyone sure yet?


Ciaran Cannon joins the party of leadership and inspiration

As Irish political party the Progressive Democrats collapse in to nothingness, former leader Ciaran Cannon today confirmed he is defecting to the main Irish opposition party, Fine Gael.

Ciaran Cannon

Part of his motivation for joining Fine Gael was that he felt the ruling party, Fianna Fáil, “lacked leadership and failed to inspire people”.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present HIS new boss, the head honcho of the Fine Gael party, the inspirational leader…Enda Kenny!

The inevitable Blacksburg blog

The horror perpetrated at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA on Monday morning is beyond the comprehension of someone like me. Thirty two people were killed at the hands of Cho Seung-Hui, yet another of America’s outcast underbelly.

I’m not going to traipse over the details as I’m sure, unless you’ve been avoiding the story, you’re all aware of them.

The one quote that I found most interesting was that of John Markell, the owner of the shop, Roanoke Firearms, that sold Cho the weapon.

“It was a very unremarkable sale,” he said. “He was a nice, clean-cut college kid. We won’t sell a gun if we have any idea that a purchase is suspicious.”

A very unremarkable sale.

In my world – one where there is no right to bear arms – the sale of a gun to someone who has absolutely no need for it would be a very remarkable sale.

A nice, clean-cut college kid.

How often do the neighbours of serial killers comment in post-arrest interviews that he was “a nice man, quiet, kept himself to himself”?

They won’t sell a gun if we have any idea that a purchase is suspicious.

Well if instincts and suspicions were 100% right all the time then there would be no doubt and no murders. There was a short-story and subsequent movie about this – it was called “Minority Report” and it was science fiction.

The right to bear arms
My knowledge of the US Constitution (enacted 1789) and the Bill of Rights is minimal but it was the Second Amendment to the US Constitution that protected the people’s pre-existing “right to keep and bear arms”. It is this Second Amendment right that the National Rifle Association (NRA) vigorously aims to protect through its aggressive lobbying in the United States.

While the English Bill of Rights (1689) included a provision that granted persons to use arms for defence “as allowed by law”, it was effectively a privilege rather than a right. The right to own and use guns has not existed for centuries. To own a gun in England you need to demonstrate a need and show that you are sufficiently responsible.

Similarly, in Ireland, you will not be granted a licence for any weapon for the purposes of personal protection, protection of others or the protection of property. Ireland has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.

Am I concerned that I’m going to get shot by a burglar or mugged on the street by a handgun-wielding drug addict? No, I’m not. Even though the weapons black market exists and it is probably not too hard to get a gun, we don’t have this passion for guns that exists in the United States.

The American obsession with guns is not even morbidly fascinating. It’s, at best, puzzling; at worst, disturbing.

There have been attempts to tighten gun laws but when some of these merely restrict fixated patrons to one gun a month or ensure that you’re not a convicted felon before selling you a fully-automatic weapon it doesn’t amount to much. Basically it’s akin to shutting the gate after the gun-shaped horse had bolted.

Statistics demonstrate that States with strict gun laws often have higher homicide and robbery rates than ones with liberal laws. Washington DC’s murder rate has risen 134% since restrictive gun control laws were implemented in 1976. New Jersey’s murder rate went up 46% two years after their strict gun laws came in to force in 1966.

Guns are so pervasive in American society and culture at this point, it will take a nationwide amnesty and ban to get control.

The Gun Owners of America, another US gun lobby group, issued a predictable and nauseating statement saying the shooting showed that gun bans were the problem and Americans should have the right to carry arms to defend themselves.

“It is irresponsibly dangerous to tell citizens that they may not have guns at schools,” said director Larry Pratt. “The Virginia Tech shooting shows that killers have no concern about a gun ban when murder is in their hearts.”

It is irresponsibly dangerous not to have a gun. If that’s not a society gone wrong I don’t know what is. Mr Pratt (hmm) is effectively recalling the “my Dad is bigger than your Dad” psychology of the Cold War: let’s all get weapons and point them at each other and no one is going to be stupid enough to push the button first.

This right-wing ideology does not allow for a deranged loner on a suicide mission no more than a top-heavy nuke arsenal could dissuade terrorists from flying planes in to buildings. In the landscape that Mr Pratt talks about a gunman could still manage to pull the trigger a number of times before he is taken down by someone else with a handgun.

In Ireland a deranged loner does not have access to firearms in order to commit such a heinous crime. Instead they take their own life, usually by hanging themselves in their bedroom taking their hate and resentment to the grave with them – but thankfully not 32 innocent people as well.

Look where being on Bush's shitlist gets you

Saddam Hussein is dead.

Kind of weird isn’t it?

Iran-Iraq war
When I was about 7 or 8 years of age his name was on every newscast, accompanying rather violent pictures from the Iran-Iraq war. Despite Hussein’s use of chemical weapons and his human rights abuses, actor Ronald Reagan sent senile Donald Rumsfeld over to shake hands and make friends with him. At the time the US government were afraid that Iraq and the Middle East were going to be over-run by the Iranian Islamic Revolution so they sided with Hussein, giving him tons of weapons and economic aid – a real life example of how “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

The war claimed 1,000,000 lives and achieved absolutely nothing for either side.

Gulf War
Hussein – who was armed to the hilt with conventional and chemical weapons kindly provided by the Soviet Union, France, China, Germany, the UK and the US – “gassed” thousands of Kurds in the north of Iraq and then decided in 1990 that invading Kuwait would be quite a good idea. By this point the US had begun to tire of Hussein and was a bit worried about his huge arsenal and open hostility towards those Israeli friends of theirs (whose nuclear arsenal is of no concern to any of us of course).

Oil was the primary concern. The worry in 1990 was that the powerful Iraqi army would choose to also invade Saudi Arabia and take control of a number of their oil fields. George Bush Snr spun a few fibs about troop build up and why it was necessary to “check that aggression” and on January 17 1991 (right in the middle of the Spurs v Chelsea League Cup match on ITV) the first ever 24-hour TV news war began.

It might be dull today but it was compelling viewing back then. Regular programming was shelved and busy newscasters introduced feeds from the battlefields while updates scrolled along the bottom of the screen. Who can forget the CNN reporters Bernard Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett crouching under tables, dangling their microphones out of windows so we could hear the air attacks on Baghdad?

I digress. The point is that on February 28th 1991 the war was over. George Bush was criticised for leaving Saddam in power after the war. His hope was that an uprising would remove Hussein and save American lives in a ground war in Iraq – with a 1992 election coming up that would be rather unpopular with voters. He still lost the election to Bill Clinton, one of the reasons given being, ironically, that he didn’t finish the war properly in Iraq. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The Nineties
So Saddam stayed in power through the nineties although he was somewhat “in a cage”. It was a gold-plated cage though – while UN sanctions caused hardship for his public, Hussein lived in palaces and was said to be worth $7bn. Hussein grew more and more arrogant as the years went on and regularly defied UN resolutions and sanctions. Bill Clinton – under pressure because of a stain on a dress – sent fighter planes to Baghdad to distract everyone. It was kind of like this: “I did not have sexual relations…uh…hey! Look! Planes! Bombs!”

Post September 11th
Post September 11th 2001, Saddam returned to the news by doing, well, nothing at all really. George W Bush finally got his reason to start another war and lined up the reasons why Saddam Hussein must be stopped.

1. Weapons of Mass Destruction – Loads of them and they were going to be used against America before too long.
2. 45 Minute Claim – The time it would take for Saddam to mobilise weapons of mass destruction against the west after the order was given.
3. Uranium – Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to build an atom bomb and blow up innocent people like us.
4. Harbouring terrorists – Saddam was harbouring and funding the terrorists that flew planes in to the twin towers.

Saddam was once again promoted as public enemy number one ahead of all the other tyrannical despots out there in the world. The four above claims were either proven false or never proven at all. It’s nearly four years since the invasion of Iraq and not one weapon has been found – something arms inspector Hans Blix repeatedly told the US before the war started. The “45 minute claim” was simply untrue, documents proving Iraq was trying to buy uranium were forged and no terrorist cells or evidence of them was found in Iraq.

Within three weeks the war was over and by the end of the year Saddam was captured – very convenient for a President who was facing stinging criticism for the amount of American lives being lost in what had become a dirty guerrilla war. As has been proven since, it was an unnecessary and illegal one too.

Hussein was put on trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and on November 5th 2006 he was found guilty. A month later his appeal was quickly rejected and 25 days after that Saddam Hussein – a man who has been pretty much a constant figure in my life since the early 80s – was executed by hanging.

There is no denying that Hussein was a tyrant of the worst kind. His presence on the planet did no one any good but the manner in which he was sent to die is something that irks me. Saddam was sent to die not because he was a murdering, nerve-gas using dictator but because he would not play the game the west wanted him to play like the rulers of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait do.

He used conventional and illegal weaponry supplied to him by the west against his enemies but when his antics threatened the cosy oil-enriched lives of the powerful, they had to act. They saved the oil fields in 1991 and again in 2003.

Bush hunted down Saddam on the back of outright lies and embellished claims (turning the once-respected Colin Powell in to a deliverer of those lies at his speech to the UN Security Council on February 5th 2003). Bush’s actions were not for the benefit of America (to which Saddam was no threat) but for the benefit of himself, his family (“this one’s for you Dad!” he might have said) and his powerful friends.

Ban the phone pests

My obsessive nature has caused me much pain over the years whether it be ensuring that I walk on pavement cracks with both feet or that my beard is shaved evenly on both sides.

One thing I obsess about frequently are drivers who have absolutely no regard for other people and no regard for the laws by which they are bound.

However, there were several breakthroughs in Irish legislation this summer with regard to road safety that may help us turn the corner.

The first was the implementation of random breath-testing. The second was the introduction of a ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving. The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to EUR2000 and, as of the autumn, two penalty points on their licence.

Our Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, has been strongly criticised for the delay in the penalty points being implemented as part of our recent Road Traffic Act. The transport spokeswoman for the opposition Labour party, Roisin Shortall, said: “If we are to improve road safety and reduce both crashes and road deaths, then all the provisions of the new Road Traffic Act must be implemented without further delay.”.

It’s a fair point. The death toll on Irish roads this year is 244 with another three added to the list this bank holiday weekend.

The focus has been on drink-driving with the Road Safety Authority (RSA) working with our Gardai to try and educate our mis-guided Irish brothers who think that the cost and inconvenience of taking a taxi home from the pub is far less than the cost and inconveneience of being killed, or killing someone else.

But as I walk the streets of Dublin I can be sure that every minute or so I’m going to see some reckless bastard tearing down the road with one hand on the wheel and the other pressing the mobile phone to their ear.

Figures just released in the UK show that last year there were 13 deaths that were directly related to drivers using mobile phones. Another 429 accidents which resulted in serious injury were directly attributed to drivers using mobile phones. And these are just the ones that can be proven. You can be sure that the real figures are much higher.

If you take in to account that driving using a hands-free kit is just as dangerous, it’s frightening how far this can be taken.

This week a 31-year old lorry driver in the UK is starting a four-year jail term for killing a woman while behind the wheel of his seven-and-a-half-ton lorry because he was distracted by using a mobile phone .

00031_001And take a look at this girl. This is 11 year old Rebekka Hudd who last month should have been celebrating her 21st birthday. Instead, her parents are laying flowers on her grave. She was killed by a driver using his mobile phone. He was fined UKP250.

Rebekka’s mother, Lynda, said regarding drivers who flout the law: “Sometimes I hoot at them and they throw the phones on the floor because they know they are in the wrong. Others just stick their fingers up at you.”

And that, my friends, is a microcosm of what we’re dealing with.

That is why a couple of penalty points and a small fine (in the UK, it’s UKP30) is not good enough. Driving while using your mobile phone is dangerous and needs to be equated to drink-driving.

It’s time to ban mobile phone users from the road. It’s time to send a message that using your mobile while driving is so serious that it will cost you your licence – and for some people that may mean their job and livelihood.

But that’s only half the problem. The other half of the problem is that the laws are not enforced. The only way to effectively enforce them is to have officers on the roads in unmarked cars, ready to pull over unsuspecting drivers who think that they are in the clear because they can’t see flashing blue lights behind them.

If a Nanny State is what is needed to improve safety and save lives then let’s do it.

One hundred and eighty six million reasons a day

Although I generally avoid the news (I do ‘the ostrich’ on it), one could not help watching the amazing scenes from New Orleans. Founded in 1718, the world-famous city is now destroyed with thousands of its inhabitants dead and over a million homeless, victim of the Category 5 Hurricane Katrina.

Opponents of the US Government/policies/people (some consider them one and the same) will say that this is karma. Some will say that God caused it, punishment for the direct and indirect oppression of Muslims. Moving away from religious mumbo-jumbo, some may argue that the US is merely, and unfortunately, ‘reaping what they sowed’.

While this view can be easily dismissed as simplistic, naive or even disgustingly facetious, in one way it is based in fact.

George Bush stormed his way to power for a second term on the back of a campaign that focused on the threat from abroad and the importance of winning the war on terror. The number of people likely to be confirmed dead from Hurricane Katrina will rival the number killed by Al Qaeda on September 11th 2001. Statistically you would hope that Bush might wake up and recognise that his Middle East tunnel vision has actually forsaken the people who voted him in last year.

If you want to get political about it you could bring up the fact that in June George Bush cut over $70 million from the New Orleans Corps of Engineers budget – a 40%+ cut. You could also raise your eyebrows at Bush’s administration repealing the Clinton Government’s policies on wetlands. Why is this important? Wetlands on the Gulf Coast apparently behave as a natural buffer between the cities and storms at sea. Clinton tried to stop these areas falling in to the hands of developers – but Bush put a stop to that. While this was not a decision that affected the damage caused by Katrina one way or the other, it’s an indication of where the American Government places the environment on its list of priorities (controlling Middle East countries, rewarding big business with tax cuts and huge Government contracts sitting above it, for example).

With the cost of rebuilding New Orleans set to top $100 billion, Bush is now fighting a war at home and abroad, his approval rating never lower.

Bush created the war in Iraq and, per day, spends $186 million of tax-payers money there. For their money the American people can count a growing list of US casualties, an inflating dossier marked ‘Reasons to loathe America’ and an ever-increasing national deficit that, at current spending levels, is set to double in the next ten years, on the list of achievements.

Add to this the fact that the war was not only illegal but also based on downright lies/misinformation (delete as fits your level of cynicism) about weapons of mass destruction.

You can be sure that Americans – including poor Southerners of Louisiana who bleed red, white and blue and who overwhelmingly brought Bush back to power – don’t care a jot about Iraq any more. They just want him to protect America. It’s now obvious that it is a job that begins at home.