Human Value

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The Authorities (capital A) have decided that the status known as Temporary Humanitarian Protection N(ew) – THPn in short – will no longer be renewed for what seems to be hundreds of migrants living in Malta. You may have seen stories in the press by now about Malta-born kids to Eritrean families who face imminent deportation thanks to such a decision. It does not matter whether these families are gainfully occupied, whether they are fully-paid up on their taxes and whether they have somehow integrated into our way of living – none of the above matters – they will not have their THPn renewed and this will mean their being sent back wherever they came from (if possible).

Prime Minister Muscat is quoted as having said that “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate immigrants who have been found to be here illegally.” It’s a matter of credibility then. There is already a bit of a fallacy there since the issue of legality had been dealt with pretty superbly under national sovereign law with the creation of this TPHn system – it is now, and only now, that the labour government has decided to change this state of affairs in line of the winds of change propelling the likes of Trump to the seat of power. Also, after all, the nation holding the rotating presidency of the EU must lead by example no?

There is a deeper issue at play here though. This is not your normal immigrant/refugee situation that falls under the black and white category of whether a nation is willing to take on the “burden” of life saving. The deeper issue is the value that we attach to humans – the human value – in our political field. If these were just souls wandering in on a dinghy and waiting the cynical sorting that goes on in such situations it would be a “simple” immigration issue. Instead we have discovered that these carriers of THPn permits might run into the hundreds (a very conservative estimate would be around 600). Most of them have settled in one way or another and are earning their bread in gainful employment

Suddenly the mass deportation of a substantial figure of Malta’s working population has direct consequences on the economic market. The more cynical among us might not have batted an eyelid when it came to deporting individuals straight off their dinghies of death. Instead we saw genuine concern by employers of these people who are set to live in a short limbo of uncertainty that will culminate in a loss of employees. This is not some trumped up figure of record unemployment thanks to an incucio between the GWU and government magicking thousands off the record books. These are real employments that risk being wiped off the fragile Maltese markets – and funnily enough it might finally give Maltese society as a whole a reason to care.

This news comes at a time when the Nationalist Party is trying hard to attract what we used to call SME’s to the fold with new taxation incentives – for those who behave a 10% tax. Numbers and money all seem nice as the PN and the PL vie for the title of champion of the  businessman. With the party in government selling off anything they can get their hands on, the PN opted to champion the middle ground in business terms and good for it.

What happens now though when the two parties notice that this move of cutting out completely the holders of the THPn will end up with a huge gap in the employment market that will not and cannot be easily replaced? Will we finally see some value in the humans that they are because they can be quantified as real contributors to the economy? Will we be cynical enough to take a step back (in the case of government) or champion their cause (in the case of the opposition)? Or are the winds of Le Pen, Trump and Geert Wilders too strong for comfort?

« Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no. »

– P.  Levi


That’s justice not funny

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On the day that Labour’s former deputy leader Toni Abela and former Gozo party president Grazio Mercieca joined the judiciary, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri warned against bashing and ridiculing judges and magistrates.  There is no doubt that the judiciary is not a sector of society that should be basking in permanent ridicule or “bashing”, if anything the judiciary should be deserving of the utmost respect what with its being one of the main pillars of a modern liberal democracy. That the Chief Justice would parry any bashing and ridiculing in advance goes a long way to show the state of the judiciary today notwithstanding the much vaunted reforms that, according to the claims of many paladins of democracy, are supposed to have made judicial appointments a much more transparent and balanced exercise.

The problem though is that one cannot expect from a government that has not got the least respect for the concept of meritocracy to suddenly change its tune when it comes to a particular branch of appointments. Worse still these appointments might be asked to hold that very government accountable in the near future and we all know the allergy that this government has for accountability. Maybe, just maybe, the Chief Justice’s appeal not to further ridicule the judiciary was a subtle plea to the government itself to stop the tomfoolery of blatantly biased appointments.

Franco Debono may end up copy pasting endless links to his Quixotic exercise of “pushing in a reform against all odds” but the sad truth is that the patchwork set of changes have not in any way changed the way such appointments are made and the interests that are underwritten in this sense.

“Ridiculing” and “bashing” the courts is one way of putting it. Another would have been to ask the press to renege on its duty to highlight the anomalies and conflicts of interest that are being served here.  It would take a Donald Trump to ask a drama troupe to refrain from “offending” a vice-President with their opinion… I am quite sure that Chief Justice Camilleri would have none of that.

Donald Trump is set to revolutionize the balance in the US Supreme Court thanks to the next nominations. It is part of the way the US Constitution is set and a consequence of the liberal vs conservative divide. The “jerrymandering” of the judicial balance in Malta is not a constitutional requirement but rather the abuse of an anomaly that has not been corrected. In fact it goes against the very spirit of the constitution.

Unfunny business indeed.


Inspiration

Asked to comment on Trump’s recent victory, comedian John Stewart made a fair point when he stated that one point that struck him during the election was that no one had asked Trump what was needed to “Make America Great” again. We don’t have the “metrics” to measure how Trump will achieve this greatness because we were never told what was missing for the “Greatness” to be there. It’s not just a question of metrics it is also a matter of not knowing what to aspire for. Make America Great sounds like a great project and to participate in that project would be an inspiration for every citizen ideally. Is it though?

Back in Malta I noticed a post on facebook by a professional graphic designer named Corinne Cutajar. Here is what she had to say about the logo adopted by Malta for its period of EU Presidency:

Waking up to this… don’t know whether to feel amused or pissed off for having my logo (right) copied. Last year I got hardly any exposure for my work and yesterday this student’s copy was blown out of proportion! #goodriddance

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Yep. It’s quite a blatant rip-off. This from the government that is supposedly all about artists and their freedoms and development. Let us not forget the high rise tax that is supposed to be channeled to a fund for artists or something of the sort. Malta’s government and its Minister of Culture who is somehow obsessed with fantasy novels are desperate to Make Artists Great again. If you want to get a finger on the pulse of what people really are bred to think about artists and compensating their efforts then look no further than this article on Illum where a hairdresser complains about the annual fee that he has to pay to the Performing Rights Society in order to play music in his salon.

The Hamilton business was also an interesting turn in the first days post-Trump’s election. By now we have all heard of the drama troupe that decided to take advantage of the presence of Trump’s VP-elect in the auditorium to read out a sort of liberal declaration reminding Pence of the diversity of the electorate and of the hope that no body will be left behind when making America great again. I must admit that I do find it ironic that the message in the theatre piece is not enough and that a troupe has to hijack the audience after the curtain falls in order to add a bit of its own drama full of bourgeois menace. At the same time the reaction by Trump and his supporters is outright ludicrous – surely VP Pence is made of sturdier stuff than one that wilts when confronted with a different message than his own.

Only this morning we got reports that Trump has backed out of an interview with the New York Times because he does not like the way they report him. Very un-presidential. Our very own Trump-at-home and his minions are making it a habit of engineering press conferences and tailor-made Q&A’s in order to be in a position of answering only the questions he/they like/s. The difference is that the veil on Making Malta Great has long fallen. We are now in the phase where the masks are thrown and the only inspiration left is the jobs for the boys, the few lies that still fall on fertile ground and the ever-widening ‘establishment’ that is none other than the circles of beneficiaries of the decisions of a government that is the antithesis of greatness, of meritocracy and of decency.

Copy that.

 

 


Lest we forget.

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FIFA, the world football organisation, is set to fine the English and Scottish FA if they go ahead as planned and wear football gears emblazoned with the poppy in tomorrow’s World Cup Qualifier. The problem is not that England and Scotland will wear the poppy on their gear during the football match. The problem is that all the other countries won’t.

“Lest we forget” is not an exaltation of war heroes it is a timely annual remembrance of the follies that the whole world descends into on an all too regular basis. Rather than fining the English and Scottish FA’s for wanting to wear the symbol despite the sanctions, FIFA should be using its world stage to encourage ALL countries to wear signs of remembrance.

Because yes, we do forget. Too often. Too quickly.


The Land in Question – an introduction

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“(Finally), in the early morning hours of November 20 (1969), the fourth attempt coalesced and more than 90 Native Americans landed on Alcatraz. The island’s caretaker, Glenn Dodson, who was 1/8 Cherokee, told the landers that they were trespassing, winked, and then showed the landing party to the warden’s house. It was there that the occupiers established their headquarters.” (History Nuggets).

In the mid-eighties Manoel Island was our playground. Wednesdays – days off from the disciplinary jesuit school – were days of adventure and roaming. “We” were a band of urchins from the greater Sliema area spanning from the Gozitan in Paceville to some guys from Fond Ghadir, Tigne and some even from the point where the barrier between Sliema and Gzira becomes murky (Gzira would have been “other people”). Cursorily vetted by our parents it was “kosher” for us to hang out together and hang we did making the land stretching from Pembroke to Valletta our realm that we would shuttle around in on wide skateboards or hitching rides on buses.

Ruins. Desolation. Abandoned buildings. They were the disneyworld and playstation of our day. We did not hunt for pokemons or ride the rollercoasters in some luna park. We went to the crumbling villas on the QuiSiSana waterfront, we rode our skateboards blindly down the lanes of Pembroke from El Alamein to Juno and Tunis. We “explored” the barred gates of Australia Hall and braved the dangers of mad dogs that could be unleashed any moment by caretakers or “residents” of some of the ex-army houses that had been reclaimed thanks to Mintoffian concepts of public good. We were known to have raided the vast desolation that was the Gzira Stadium with it’s jungle like growths, corrugated iron mazes and leftover mementos.

Most of all though we owned Manoel Island. Nobody knew it at that point but a band of young twelve year olds were the actual rightful owners of the island named after a grandmaster. Crossing the bridge onto the island was an act of liberation from the mundane boredoms of everyday life. Once we were past the turnstiles of the old stadium (the one on the island not the one in Gzira) we knew we were back in our land. There were ramparts to be climbed using rudimentary ropes (purchased at the Sunday Monti along with all the army surplus we could find – diligent kids were we), there was an abandoned hospital to be inspected from top to bottom, there were miles of tunnels to be walked through with trepidation and a faulty torch. There was also the actual fort guarded by the usual token army of rabid dogs but nothing was an obstacle to our water war games and camping exploits.

Safety was never the question. Nobody in his right mind would let their kids run the whole gamut of risk-taking actions nowadays. Neither, had they known, would our parents ever have allowed us to roam the land of used syringes, satanist relics and rusted obstacles. The used syringes were the marks of a burgeoning addict community that used the abandoned zone for their needs away from the prying eyes of the public. The “satanist” marks deep in the bowels and tunnels under the fort were also the clues of  life away from the public – a pentagram here, a box of candles there. Some crazed fools doing their trendy thing as some were wont to do in the 80’s – and scaring the living bejeezus out of the teens exploring the tunnels like some a latter day Famous Five minus the ginger beer.

Pembroke, Saint Andrew’s (including Saint George’s Bay), the stretch of land behind the Hilton, Qui-Si-Sana, Tigne’ and Manoel Island. Their time in the eighties was a time of desolate abandonment. Beyond the point where the old ITS school used to stand was a vast stretch of rough land and a bit of asphalt. It was an alternative point of gathering to Ta’ Qali for those football-loving fathers and sons who gathered religiously on Sunday afternoons – the fathers to listen to Serie A on radio and the sons to form a myriad of football matches until the four o’clock siren call to turn back in for a hot shower and supper.

Bit by bit each of these fantastic zones would be imagined away by some architect closed in a room where he “designed” his latest project while surrounded by fake trees ready for the to-scale model that he would pitch to the businessman in whose hands one would find the most flexible politician or party with the least amount of spine possible.  We all know which way Australia Hall went. We have seen the battle for foreshore access around (ex-Hilton) Portomaso. We have sat and watched while the coastal path around Saint George’s Bay becomes a nostalgic memento. We have seen the old Qui-Si-Sana turn into an unrecognizable monster and Tigne point is … well it’s Tigne point.

The coalition of local councillors and activists that have put their foot down on the matter of Manoel Island and access thereto are a welcome breath of fresh air. In this here age of post-truth politics it is becoming harder and harder to get people to understand how much political decisions actually affect their rights – especially when their rights are not so easily tangible. Much of the problems of corruption in today’s politics have not sunk in for many of the voters and citizens – mainly because they can be fobbed off with words and spin.

Access to the foreshore, access to a park, to open air to clean public spaces. Now that is tangible. It is the ideal first building block to recreate a socially active part of the populace that finaly has had enough of being told what can or cannot be done for and with the public good.

Well done Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent. That is a well done that cuts through the ages. It comes from a band of kids whose skateboards scratched the pavements all along the Front, who marked their time with Swatches and whose day was made when they found an extra bit of strong rope that would let them climb that extra bit of metres onto the rampart outside the fort where they would sit and watch the crazy society far way in its rushed madness to an ill-conceived idea of progress.

Grazzi KEA.


Ban the Bikinini

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A French court has given some reprieve to the burkini craze that struck the last part of the crazy summer news. After several French beach-side resorts had banned the wearing of the burkini at the beach things had gotten even hotter with a few incidents of aggression. We had also seen some officers of the law inflict fines on women who insisted on wearing the apparel that many conservatives perceived to be provocative. One aspect of the burkini saga was particularly jarring and confusing. On the one hand those who could be said to be of a liberal frame of mind would argue that it is not up to the state to tell women what they can or cannot wear at the beach. This was not to be an extension of the “public security” debate surrounding the burqa. Here was another facet of the issue – whether the wearing of a burkini is yet another vindication of the rights of self-determination under the western-style package of individual rights.  The counter-argument of course was made that the burkini is yet another extension of the “oppressive” nature of Muslim strictures. Women, the counter-argument goes, should not be forced to wear a burkini or a burqa and therefore should either not wear them or basically not turn up at the beach at all.

I admit that it is all mighty confusing. The whole question of volition lies behind the dilemma. Is it a choice that women make of their own volition or is it something that is being forced upon them by their religion? If it is being forced upon them under the religion they freely choose to adopt is it then up to the state to prohibit the wearing of more modest attire? This is not a question of mores per se. After all we only (only?) have to go back around a hundred years to find that the social regulation of modest attire at the beach was a standard held highly by the majority of the members of society. Even closer to this day and age I have a very clear recollection of groups of women hitting the beaches early in the morning and swimming in full black dress. A religious inclination and interpretation of the concept of modesty was behind it all at the time too.

I’m just back from a holiday in the states during which I had the chance to swim in a couple of hotel pools to cool off the California sun after a day of driving and touring. It was not uncommon to share the pool with men who swam in t-shirt and shorts – modesty? Perhaps. Or maybe, unlike me they were not prepared to wield the sad excuse for a beer belly that I have developed. The thing is that swimming attire IS a question of choice and the state should not be anywhere near regulating what people wear when they take their dip. The whole burkini issue got out of hand – primarily because what people wear to swim is no business of the state but also because discussing the oppression of women by some religion or another has no place in this context.

Watching Maltese persons comment on the burkini ban was another thing altogether. This is a country that still regulates what people can or cannot wear at the beach by law anyway. A woman opting to sunbathe topless in Malta will almost certainly feel the strong arm of the law come down on her. Streaking is also against public mores for the most part and the recent trend of gentlemen taking up nude walking along the sea front does not seem to be forcing any change in the status of illegality that they enjoy.

The reality on the tiny Mediterranean island is such that anybody barking about the burkini ban missed the fact that we are quite content in having the state tell us what we can or cannot wear on our own beaches without as much as batting an eyelid. Add that to your list of ironic things if you are Maltese lovinmalta, I’m sure you’ve got one somewhere.