BALLINA, Ireland–Even by Ireland’s legendary standards for rain, this summer has been particularly wet. But it not the weather that accounts for the gloom in the Emerald Isle. As heavy rains were pushing the River Moy, which flows through this Co. Mayo town of 8,000, above flood stage, the attendees of the Humbert Summer School (a kind of think tank) were pondering this solemn subject: “Can Ireland be redeemed?” The answer was maybe, if there was a single answer.
Ireland is in the grip of two crises and is facing a third—three crises that undermine its national self-confidence and imperil its economic future.
Crisis One: A shattering report on child abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland has found that it was systematic and extended possibly over centuries; that it was known and tolerated by the highest levels of government; and that it was also known and tolerated by the Vatican. Indeed Tom Arnold, head of Concern, a Dublin charity, told the conference that the Vatican did not act because it believed the church would be undermined and it wanted a devout Christian country to counter the secular nature of neighboring Britain.
The child abuse scandal, which dwarfs church sex scandals elsewhere, is alleged in Ireland to have been more pervasive, more institutionalized and to incorporate cruelty, especially by the notorious Christian Brothers, a disciplinary educational order. For the Irish, with their large families and sense of family values being paramount, the full extent of the scandal has been devastating, causing a great swath of the population to wonder how long they have been living a lie.
Crisis Two: The Irish economy is in tatters and, by most analysis, will not recover in tandem with the rest of the world.
In recent years Ireland has enjoyed prosperity, the like of which it has never known in history. It boomed partly because of European Union structural funds and partly because of American computer companies, which located there to take advantage of the population’s high literacy rate. Computer firms flooded cities like Galway: once a dreamy seaport city more famous for its bookshops than its millionaires.
The boom caused Ireland to be dubbed “The Celtic Tiger.” Ireland was growing faster than any other economy in Europe.
With dynamic growth came overheating and property speculation. And with property speculation came banking insanity. The banks were eager, too eager, to lend against inflating property values. Sound familiar?
But now, the banks are being bailed out and the taxpayers are howling. Justice Vivian Lavan told me that no houses are being sold because no one knows how to value them. Unemployment, under control for 15 years, is back and climbing beyond 13 percent.
On the horizon is Crisis Three: Once again, the Irish have to vote on the Lisbon Treaty: a document that tidies up odds and ends in the structure of the European Union. A year ago, Irish voters rejected the treaty to the considerable annoyance of the rest of the EU and the embarrassment of the Irish government.
Now Irish objections have been met and a new vote, critical to Ireland’s continuing influence in the councils of Europe, is scheduled for Oct. 2.
Ireland, with a population of only 4.5 million, has worked tirelessly to extend its influence through “good offices” and diplomatic maneuvering. Now, that is imperiled. Ireland may well again bite the hand that has fed it generously.
In favor of the treaty are the main Irish political parties (Fine Gael and Fianna Fail); the Irish business establishment: and the inward investors, including American companies like Shell Oil and Dell. Against is a strange coalition that includes the nationalistic Sinn Fein (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army), extremely conservative Catholic groups, Greens and a band of hippie activists. On paper they are not much, but they defeated the Lisbon Treaty last June. They argue that Europe will legalize and promote abortion, imperil Irish neutrality, raise taxes and dilute labor laws. Proponents say there are cast-iron guarantees on all of these issues, but detractors say they are not worth the paper they are written on. The Oct. 2 referendum on the treaty will test a battered island. –For North Star Writers Group
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One can only be glad that so many white middle-class conservatives are fairly late in life learning the joy of protest, the feeling the thrill of the barricades, and experiencing the carthartic wonders of getting involved.
Let’s face it, public protest is exhilarating. To see so many otherwise stodgy people on an adrenalin high as they shout down their elected representatives and lay siege to the very idea of a town-hall meeting as a forum for ideas, is to take one back to civil rights marches, anti-nuclear demonstrations, picket lines and construction protests.
You’ve not lived until you’ve yelled your heart out in public. Protest–even misguided protest–is good for the soul.
Day after day we see really nice respectable people giving voice to their dislike of the Obama administration, their sense that the America that has been so generous to them is changing; that it may not be as generous to their grandchildren.
Righteous anger is as good as a whole slew of martinis, and there are no calories and no hangover.
After all, this all about heat not light. You’re out there yelling in public for one of two reasons: (1)You’ve missed doing it since the days of Vietnam War, protests, or (2) It’s something you’ve never done because the beastly liberals were doing it.
These protesters want to take back America. But first, they want to wrest the joy of public protesting from the liberals. For too long these crypto-socialists have had all the fun, from free love to smoking exotic cheroots and pouring into the streets to protest every conservative initiative, social policy or war. Just think of Victor Hugo.
Begone liberals. You can’t have all the fun because now we have some of it. And if any of those crackpot, socialistic, inconveniently elected Congress types try and sell their Dr. Government health care schemes by town hall meeting, we’ll be there, golf shirts and pants with a touch of spandex freshly laundered. Protesting is no longer for the unwashed; people with Brooks Brothers suits in the closet can now head to the barricades to fight for the right.
These town hall meetings are the gift that keeps on giving. There’s really no impediment to the joy of protest for the aging guys and gals who find
retirement a yawn. Public policy activism is the tonic these people need. Get out there and let Obamacare take it on the chin. Tell them that old people are left to die in England, that rationing dominates in Canada, that the French are forced to guzzle wine in lieu of medication, and that the Japanese are falling like flies.
Isn’t this a great country in which even conservatives can have a go at hitting the bricks?
You’re the rebels now, at the baracades, standing strong against the forces of the evil reformers. Compare socialized medicine with the post office. Beat on those bureaucrats, who you claim are going to be making health care decisions instead of doctors.
Here is a quick guide for the neophyte protester:
Don’t use an out-of-state car. Don’t wear too many diamonds. Journalists don’t understand; besides they’re in the tank for Obama. Try to look like a liberal: shabby. Don’t mention daddy’s fortune, your Palm Beach pied-a-terre, or the place in France. Go forth and shout for America.
Just one more thing: Whatever you do, don’t let it out that you are on Medicare. Sadly, it’s one of the most popular government programs ever. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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Things are lovely in New England this time of year. And nowhere lovelier than on Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where billionaire bankers like to get away from the carping criticism of the enormous bonuses they got for screwing up the global financial system.
All is well on Martha’s Vineyard. The faux Englishness thrives in the faux villages. During the day, happy children crowd the beaches and parents shop for nick-knacks in overpriced shops. In the evening, the island’s summer people party with the same people they partied with the night before at a different house.
There are three East Coast destinations for the effete mega-money set: Martha’s Vineyard (known to the cognescenti simply as “the Vineyard”); its neighboring island of Nantucket (a bit smaller, but more of the same culture of mansions in the sand); and the Hamptons on eastern Long Island.
Now we learn that our president, Barack Obama, and his family have been seduced by the joys of Martha’s Vineyard. They are going to vacation there on a 28-acre farm (it last changed hands for over $20 million) where there is a place to shoot hoops, nearby golf and even a tee more less outside the kitchen door. It’s been vetted for fun and passed with flying colors. Bill Clinton vacationed there once when he was president.
But why, oh why, are the Obamas headed for the Vineyard? Sure there are a surprising number of liberals–mostly banker and real estate types from Manhattan–on the island, but what is the message?
Obama, one of the hardest-working presidents, deserves a swell holiday. He deserves to shoot hoops, play golf and swim without having his swim trunks analysed in The New York Post. But where?
The thing is that it is important where the president and his family grill their hot dogs: It is not trivial. Presidential vacations can be transformative, putting obscure places on the map or giving a financial boost where it is needed. It is unlikely that too many of the summer people on Martha’s Vineyard are about to be foreclosed on.
There is an historic dimension, or tail, to presidential recreation. Lincoln used to ride across Washington to a cottage on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, now a tourist attraction. Fourteen miles up the Potomac River from the Chesapeake Bay, Piney Point, Md., was the rustic retreat of Presidents James Monroe, Franklin Pierce and Teddy Roosevelt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt put Warm Springs, Ga., on the map by taking the waters there.
Before the two big Ts that dominate presidential life in our time–television and terrorism–it was possible for presidents to travel more or less incognito. Teddy Roosevelt was extremely mobile and once spent a three-week presidential vacation hunting bear at Glenwood Springs, Colo.
Also, the physical White House was less demanding of the presidential presence than it is today. The telegraph made it possible for presidents to leave the country without worrying about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So it was that Woodrow Wilson was able to attend the Paris peace talks after World War I and present his 14-point program for world peace, and FDR was able to meet with Winston Churchill around the world, from Tehran to Yalta to Quebec.
But those were working trips. Presidential vacations are about getting away from it all. You can do that nicely on the Vineyard, but would it not have been nicer if Obama had chosen some equally alluring spot that needed a presidential boost? Remember the White House entourage spends money, and so do the press spends (less and less) and the security apparatus. A presidential visit is good for business in most places but of little account on the Vineyard.
There are many beautiful and deserving places where the presidential cavalcade can leave a mark. For example, how about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? It is a glorious vacation destination, and it has not really had a boost since Esther Williams made those ridiculous swimming movies on Mackinac Island in the 1940s.
More to the point, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Hoops and links are ubiquitous all across America, Plenty of them in Michigan. –For North Star Writers Group
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He moves across the lobby of Washington’s Metropolitan Club with the assurance of a man in his own environment. This is the habitat of party elders, Republican and Democratic. This is their comfort zone– safe, secure, orderly and predictable. This is where graybeards lunch, scheme and reminisce. It is as someone once called it: a hotbed of social rest.
Here on the well-worn Persian carpets, men and women of achievement in many fields, not the least politics, talk over unexceptional food, always with an eye for another grandee who deserves a wave across the dining room.
The man who just entered the lobby is a Republican through and through. He has done a lot for the party; has advised at the highest levels, since the Reagan presidency; and has been rewarded with a major ambassadorship. He will know a lot of people in the dining room on any day and even more will know him.
To dine at the Metropolitan Club is to step back to a time when eminent graybeards—yes, they were almost exclusively men and almost all lawyers–worked behind the scenes to help presidents and their parties. Names like Barbour, Clifford and Cutler come to mind.
Now lobbyists now whisper in influential ears, and the doyens of the Metropolitan Club are not in demand. Like the Georgetown dinner party, some things are now in the past.
There is no time for profound consideration, no time to weigh the data and no time to exercise institutional memory. Omar Khayyam’s moving finger writes very fast now; so to deal with new situations and crises, politicians fall back on old ideology. “Is it progressive?” ask Democrats. “What is the free-market solution?” ask Republicans.
Blame the warp-speed news cycle, and its overemphasis on politics over programs; the quick response over data and rumination. The relentless news machine wants speedy answers, everything in an instant.
A few blocks from the Metropolitan Club, the bloggers and twitterers in the White House press briefing room parse and comment upon the words of press secretary Robert Gibbs just as fast as he speaks. This is a de facto system where the trap is constantly sprung for the gaffe not the substance. If no gaffe is likely to occur, induce one.
Step forward Lynn Sweet of The Chicago Sun-Times with her race-heavy question about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This happened at the end of the last presidential press conference, when the chosen reporter usually goes for something light or fun. Not Ms. Sweet.
A few seconds at the end of that press conference eclipsed President Barack Obama’s earnest but dull defense of his health care reform proposals; eclipsed the previous 55 minutes. Obama was in a place he did not want to be, and he would stay there for weeks. No time to ask some party elder how best to handle the situation.
If Democratic grandees are sidelined in the new news-driven politics, then Republican statesmen, like the man at the Metropolitan, have been sent into exile. They can write an occasional op-ed and argue at think-tank seminars. But for now, the party has been hijacked by its broadcast wing. Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin have become the censors of the party. They intimidate its elected officials and will brook nothing they hear from their own wise counselors.
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There’s a bear in our backyard. He’s often there and just two days ago he walked, well, lumbered down the road in front of our house, turned up the driveway, and unhurriedly disappeared into some woods behind the house.
It was alarming to see the bear in the road. Foxes and deer are killed there with great frequency by cars. I want the bear to be safe, so my wife and I wondered who in the government we should call. There must be a program for bears who are penetrating built-up areas (we live only 45 miles from Washington, D.C.)
We haven’t yet called the government. Which one, federal, state or county? Which department? Agriculture, animal welfare, forestry, land conservation, or just our congressman and let him worry about the electoral dynamics of saving bears? There may be enough people worried about bears becoming roadkill that there are votes in it.
The main thing is that somewhere in the enormous apparatus of government, I know there is someone who worries about errant bears. In this case, I’m glad that we have big government so that when I decide who to call, someone will tell me what to do about my ursine neighbor.
But there’s the rub also. What’s the role of government in society and how much should it do, or how much should we expect it to do? You’d think this had been hammered out in the seminal events of the 18th century.
If we’re going to have a national conversation about anything, let’s have it about the role of government. What’s proper for government to shoulder and what should be done in the private sector?
The ongoing debate about health care highlights the clear divisions in the country about the responsibilities of government. Liberals, it seems to me, want the government in there, offering its own insurance. Conservatives want the government out, but they want it to do a few things on the way through the door such as forcing private insurers to take patients with pre-existing conditions, assuring greater portability and granting relief to small employers.
Liberals and conservatives alike say they want less government, but they have very different ideas about what that reduced government should do; so the government, under both Republicans and Democrats, grows.
Liberals think that too much of our national treasure goes into weapons systems, defensive and aggressive. Conservatives think that the government can’t get anything right and should largely be supplanted by the private sector.
Here are some big things that could be privatized, although whether they would be better is unknown: air traffic control, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the postal service, the administration of the national parks and the Government Printing Office. Government should be prohibited from competing with the private sector in small things like publishing periodicals and books, and organizing conferences.
But does anyone think that the National Institutes of Health should be handed over to the pharmaceutical industry?
Or consider these problems which, somewhere one hopes, the government is working on: the effects of rising sea levels; the over-fishing of the oceans; the notorious Panama disease, which is wiping out bananas; the mysterious and massive death of U.S. honeybees; and the proliferation of feral pythons, which are endangering cats, dogs and possibly people in Florida and soon across the South.
Without government research, we wouldn’t have the Internet, Velcro, the aeroderivitive turbine, or the cute little winglets on jet airplanes which make them less lethal to other jet airplanes. If, like the Europeans, we decided the government should get behind the arts, we’d have many opera companies to rival the New York Met and provincial theater would boom.
I’m ambivalent about health care reform because I’m on Medicare and I think it’s dandy; but I wish my wife’s insurance wasn’t so expensive. Right now, I’d like someone in the government–someone with real clout–to do something to keep the bear in my backyard from becoming roadkill. Will he join the sad roster of bears, deer and foxes that became roadkill because the government didn’t care? I tell you it would be different if bears voted. – For Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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