Closing Time

This is the last article in the J’accuse series on the Malta Independent on Sunday. I have decided to concentrate on J’accuse the blog and limit any print contributions to an ad hoc basis. Until the next print adventure… it’s been emotional. Don’t forget to subscribe to J’accuse and receive updates by mail. Use the box below the video clip to the left of your screen. (Accuse Me!) 

Interesting times. 2012 has begun very much in the way 2011 ended: with the fireworks, the ominous cloud of crisis(es) and a general holding of breath for what is to come. Metaphorically we are still holding our breath and I am not just referring to the election-no-election saga but to the world of wider affairs and economic crises. Malta – the civilisation of 400,000 people at the centre of the known universe – kicked off the year with a horrible double-murder and then shifted its attention to one man who holds the fate of our political history for the short-term, foreseeable future.

I have often referred to the Chinese curse that goes “May you live in interesting times” that is based on the assumption that interesting times would involve war, blood and danger. Well insofar as insular politics are concerned it does not get more interesting than this. The survival instincts of every politician on the island are piqued at this moment – raring to plunge into another battle of passionate electoral proportions and no amount of Standard & Poor degrading will deviate their attention from the ultimate Holy Grail of a parliamentary seat.

Ah yes. We’ve been downgraded. The fact that Malta’s rating now has less A’s than Franco Debono’s school reports has a lot to do with the fact that this country forms part of an elite group of members of the eurozone who are also intimately tied with saving packages and funds intended to soften the damage of any impending crises. S&P were not very positive about these plans and chose to clip the credit ratings of Malta – and France, and Italy, and Spain, and Austria (among others).

Lost in Translation
Well the Merkozy efforts to recreate a solid European Union economically speaking, the S&P rating reviews based on eurozone performance, the events happening beyond the Mediterranean’s navel…. they’re aeons away from reality. Once you land in the island of milk & honey it’s time warp time and all that noise is lost in translation. Joseph Muscat’s election team has a new buzzword… 1996’s Hofra is 2012’s Instability. Sure, economic instability is happening far, far away and trickles down to us in the form of) budget tweaking but we also have political instability don’t we?

Which brings me to the greatest show on earth after the big bang (pace Jovanotti). Franco Debono is a colleague of mine in more ways than one. I too am an Old Aloysian (a year younger than Franco’s) and I too am a law graduate (same class of ‘99). Don’t ask me for my school or university report. In the first instance I was busy being the Aloysian equivalent of Just William – splitting my time between detention room duties and crazy dares as to who would get the grade closest to zero in our spot tests. At university I preferred to concentrate on the extra-curricular buzz of student politics while getting just enough results to have a degree of sorts conferred on me. Experience has taught me that in both cases my time was well spent. Anyway, as Franco would probably never say, this is not about me.

Franco Debono
I had thought of using this last article of mine (see conclusion) to write an open letter to Franco. I would appeal to the sense of disciplined logic that our Jesuit education imparted upon us (Serio et Constanter) and to the sense of social justice that might have trickled into our system at philosophy of law lectures. I would have appealed for a sense of perspective that has long been lost in the heat of the events that are unfolding before us. I would have shown a sense of solidarity with Franco in so far as a number of the causes he claims to champion are concerned.

Yes Franco, there are a few among us who understand the compelling need for change. We understand the incremental amount of damage that the bipartisan system, rules and methods are causing to the development and maturity of our country. I have long claimed through my blog that the PLPN are a huge handicap to open competition, transparent exchange of ideas and to the emancipation from our insular mentality. Franco you might have come to the same conclusion from within the system.

Then something went wrong. You probably got caught up in the vortex of twisted checks and balances that the system kicks on when it’s very own survival is threatened. And you did not help either. I would not be the first one to criticise your methor. Was it panic? Was it an inability to prevent yourself from becoming another politician caught in the rut? Was it an impatience with the rules of the system that insist that everybody wait his turn? Whatever happened forced you to switch to becoming a nervous contradiction – drowning your original crusade in a storm of tantrums, nervous reactions and inconsistencies. That is the picture people have of you now – even those applauding you only do so because of the enormous window of opportunism (sic) that you have thrown wide open for them.

Franco, we share certain convictions about the changes needed in our political system. Yes, even some fundamental constitutional changes might require discussing and implementing. Our similarity stops there. I may salute you for what seemed like the early courage that you displayed when you challenged the establishment. What I cannot salute is the manner in which you seem intent on undoing your achievement noisily, nervously and with an inexplicable unabashed sense of self-aggrandisement. The principles that you originally claimed to espouse have been watered down by your need to constantly focus attention on yourself – forgetting the fundamental tenet of a politician’s guide: that he is there to serve and be judged.

What’s left unwritten
There, I would have written that and more. I would conclude appealing to Franco’s sense of justice that should be enough to tell him that forcing an election now is the most irrational and counterproductive act he could ever commit. An election needs parties with a program for the next difficult years ahead. Muscat’s labour is aeons away from any coherent plan beyond the all important “getting into power” bit. Gonzi’s PN is still learning it’s lessons from the errors committed in 2008 and that ironically rewarded it with an extended government by coalition. My bet is that my appeal would have been superfluous. By now it is clear to me that come Thursday Franco will abstain on Labour’s motion if only to extend his current nervous honeymoon with the dizzy heights of power.

That is why this is not an open letter to Franco. I have written more about this in J’accuse – www.akkuza.com – particularly the two posts entitled “That Constitutional Question” and “Windows of Opportunism”. More of course will be added to the blog and this is where I break a sad bit of news for you, the reader. In the coming weeks and months if you feel the need to see what the J’accuse take on things is you will only be able to do so on the blog.

Closing Time
Yes. This is the end of the J’accuse series of articles on the Malta Independent on Sunday. I have decided to concentrate on the blogging side and take my ideas and crazy writing back to the blog where they started. I probably miss writing the weekly column much more than you will miss reading it. In any case it has been a great ride and I would like to thank my fellow adventurer Bertu who has prepared the last two toons for this series.

In this country that loves speculation and gossip I must rush to add that this decision of mine is in agreement with the Independent editors – I am merely taking the opportunity of a time of stock taking to refocus on the online blog that remains the primary mode of expression and promises to be an important actor in the coming months. So don’t forget to add www.akkuza.com to your bookmarks (if you hadn’t done so already) and to subscribe to the mail updates.

I hope that it’s been as pleasant for you to read this column as it has been for me to write it. Thank you all for your patience and custom. See you on the net.

Last one out, switch off the lights.

www.akkuza.com is Malta’s longest running quality blog. Since the 10th March 2005 provocative thinking worth reading. www.bertoons.com contains a full collection of the illustrations that have brought you a smile on Sunday over the last few years. P.S. The honeymoon was great – thank you to all the well-wishers.

The J’accuse 2011 Tag Cloud

We have reached the point in the Julian Calendar when we indulge in retrospective analysis prior to letting ourselves go with reckless abandon into the New Year and whatever it may bring (including Mayan end-of-the-world prophecies). I thought it would be meet and fitting to give you, my kind and patient reader, a “tag cloud” of sorts – this time with a short reflection appended to each tag. Think of it as the J’accuse reference for 2011. Allow me a caveat – it has no claim to completeness and like everything else marked J’accuse comes with our trademark slant and perspective. Here goes (the order, I hasten to add, has no particular significance).
Euro Debt Crisis : The big, scary one. It’s shaking our way of life, threatening our future and quaking the constitutional foundations of a union that has kept a continent out of sabre-rattling action for nigh sixty years (what solution for Europa?). Arab Spring: It’s not about the money – from Tahrir Square to Tripoli the protestors (Time Personality of the Year) rose in unison yelling “Enough”, “Freedom” and more. As I type the military is in Tahrir Square (again) and the spilling of more blood seems to be the destiny of the prolonged “spring” (a stark reminder – if needed – of the Universality of Human Rights).

Palestine : The US cutting of funding to UNESCO as Palestine becomes the latest member reminded us of the complicated politics in the Middle East. Israel and Iran will both throw their tantrums again and again while US troops finally quit Afghanistan before the year’s end (The Middle East is still “partying” like it’s 1979). Japan, Thailand & New Zealand were the latest victims of mother nature’s ire and quirks.

Steve Jobs: The biggest “changer” of his era passed away this year – as insignificant men standing on this minuscule point in time we can only marvel at the waves that the man in the black outfit managed to cause (iMissYou Steve). Higgs Bosun & God : Science has Higgs Bosun, Religion has God : both are sure that the other exists – one tries desperately (and ever more successfully) to take a snapshot of it while the other faithfully lives the truth (A Large Hadron Collider: When proof and faith collide).

Gaddafi, Mubarak, Berlusconi: Dead or out of public sight. Each in their own way have stepped out of the equation – expect the comeback from the Bunga Bunga party man though. (Karma Chameleons). Christopher Hitchens: The pain is still fresh, the tag is growing – farewell to a role model and a massive figure, a giant of the media world (standing on the shoulders of the media gods).

Rule of Law: this nation of ours may be almost 50 but is showing up a major deficiency in the understanding of its constitutional and social underpinnings that hold us all together (the naive servibus legis). Good & Evil: It is not just politics, it’s everything we do – dichotomous thinking and judgemental (angels and demons). Austerity: We’ve either never had it so good or we’re begging for a scrap of pizza at the rich man’s table (l-għaks – with a “k” dear – u l-ħbieb tal-ħbieb).

Censorship: It’s the flipside to expression and can either be self-inflicted or imposed – we’re having a tough time coming to terms with its strict relationship with intellectual honesty and maturity (gags & megaphones). Expression: see censorship and next entry. Education: This one’s a tough one – standards are crashing down it seems and we fail to realise what an important pillar of our society this particular element is (Reap, sow etc). Family : A tag of its own that’s been pilloried and battered through the year – it’s not divorce or gay marriage that are the threat (at all) but the inability to realise how the underpinning element of a “family” is mutual love and responsibility (here’s to a future nation built on love).

Representation: Quit coughing in the back. This was the annus horribilis for the D’Hondt Majority – that one chair magicked out of the “wasted vote” election turned into a sword of Damocles for government and a symbol of unfulfilled hope for an opposition. It turned out to be an eye-opener for those who wanted to see that “representation” in our parliamentary terms is a whimsical minefield blotted with “free-votes”, “Private Members’ Bills” and foot-stamping, tantrum-throwing backbenchers (Who’s YOUR representative then?).

Valuri sodi : Well, not really – when push came to shove our politicians failed to show us what this was all about. We may have an “updated” set of values (Roots 2.0) but the general feeling is still of a “pick’n’mix” umbrella politics of the one-size-fits the ballot sheet variety. (Insert Policy Here). Progressive & Moderate : We’ve never been big fans of this oxymoron but it’s there as a form of battle cry in the warm up for the next election – thing is we’re still trying to understand where exactly the P&M really comes in (tanto fumo, niente arrosto).

Labels: This one is not so evident but when anything from LGBT to hunters to immigrants becomes more of a label and less of a person we should be worrying – when the labels are brazenly manipulated by politicians then  alarm bells should be ringing(I’m a wankellectual). Crime: For a tiny nation that we are there’s a tad bit too many guns, drugs and corruption – and now a drug ridden prison: Who will fix it? (Confessions of a criminal nation) Honoraria: It might have been a reasonably justifiable raise but it was more the manner in which it was introduced that left the Gonzi government with an indelible stain (The secret of comedy is timing). Cannabis: 10 years imprisonment? Get real! (decriminalise it).

Arriva: The local favourite – it’s a matter of timing and a symbol of our schizophrenic approach to change. They just won’t get it will they – now they’re importing bendy buses from Boris in London (Did we really need being driven round the bend?). City Gate Project: Enough already, get the damn thing built and move on (Lapparelli eggs them on). Utilities Bills: The latest victim of political ping pong – will we ever get down to doing the business because it needs to be done rather than because it pays this or that party to promote/criticise it? (and what’s this about Sargas and John Dalli?) Vested Interests: Nothing gets done for altruistic reasons or as Dr House would have it “Trust no one” (We’d love our political class to be more transparent about their operations but then again we’d also love a three-day working week).


History Manipulation: I’m predicting that this one will be a big tag in 2012 – rewriting history or abusing it will become the trend in the election run up as will… Blogs – expect a flourishing of those. 2012 will surely give us a blogging overdose as every party lackey under the sun suddenly discovers the power of independent media and then goes on to soil it as only they can (namesurname.com is the new fad). 51 Proposals We’re still waiting to see whether they should be taken seriously (it’s just a sketch) or whether they are the new path to enlightenment (Ara kemm hu bravu Joseph he answered 10 questions with 51 answers). J’accuse stands by our earlier assessment: it’s a load of incongruous marketing bullshit.

Divorce Debate: Did this debate, referendum and vote signify a schism from the conservative past and an appreciation of a more liberal society? Not really. Our society has a particular way of evolving that mimics a youth going through puberty with the stilted growths, ugly self-doubting and involves loads of acne. Somehow we move on but there’s still lots of Clearasil waiting round the corner. (When I grow up, I want to be a healthy nation).

Newswatch: Facebook+, Twitter, Blogs, Online Papers, Commentators, it’s not that debate and expression is missing – at least in the ether. It’s that the honest quest for the truth that is symbolised by such greats as Mr Hitchens is a rarity in our parts. It’s an interest-driven complex of self-referential goldfish bowls and there seem to be no signs of change for 2012 as far as this aspect is concerned (yes,
that includes you Mr Calleja
).Births, Marriages and J’accuse: The last tag is private. 2011 was meant to be a “lucky year” for me should I really believe in numerology. 11/11/11 was also my 36th birthday and by then I was married and four days away from becoming an uncle. The j’accuse family welcomed Ella, Lee and Simon (in that order) and of course the lovely wife Lara. Who’s complaining?I’d like to wish all readers a Happy Christmas and New Year. The next time we will meet we will be well into 2012 (15th January) since I am off for a well deserved long honeymoon trip. Be good and be nice to each other.The revamping www.akkuza.com will also be on honeymoon mode – we leave you with the J’accuse slogan for 2011: “in un paese di coglioni, ci mancano le palle” which is modestly speaking quite a good summary for the year.

J’accuse : Cool Britannia?

Listening to London’s Heart radio on a Saturday morning, I got to know that for the first time ever the capital’s Oxford and Regent streets would be traffic free for the whole day. The reason for this car-free bonanza was of course shopping. Londoners who forwent the option of visiting such colossi as Bluewater and Brent Cross would be granted the possibility of traipsing around the main shopping streets free from the polluting nuisance of cars. Conservative estimates had it that by the evening of this busiest shopping day of the year (for London), a million and a half shoppers would have hit the stores − presumably to spend some of their well-earned British Pounds.

Nothing abnormal there is there? Whether it is Sliema, Valletta or London, every town will be doing its best to get the lion’s share of the Christmas spending market and London is no exception. Enthusiasm oozed out of the radio as the announcer coordinated listeners through traffic jams, transport hitches and special opening times towards the giant Mecca of consumption. Here was Britain’s answer to the US Black Friday. There was even a whiff of the Dickensian Christmas that could be detected through the advertorials… until the half-hourly news stepped in.

Are you being deceived?

Yep. For the news could not miss out on the greatest item of the day. Europe (the naughty, naughty EU) had decided to forge ahead without the UK. It was all over the place − from the indignation and anger of Sarkozy, the unaffected matter-of-factness of Frau Merkel, and the schoolboy half-hearted apologies of David Cameron: The Euro 17 + 9 others (that means all the EU minus the UK) will forge ahead with an intergovernmental pact. The Euro Debt Summit (you know how bad things are when the word “Debt” creeps into the summit title) had unsurprisingly resulted in egg on the face for whoever thought that states would pool sovereignty as easily as they pool debts.

The best off-record comment I read about the summit has been attributed to an anonymous French diplomat. He said: “The Brits turned up to the Euro Summit like a man who turns up to a wife-swapping party without a wife.” I’m assuming it was not Strauss-Kahn who said that but probably someone with very much the same mentality. What did happen of course is that many states were not that eager to have a rapid tinker with the Treaties as the Merkozy duo had suggested at the beginning of the week. What they have opted for is the sort of Intergovernmental Agreement that consolidates the belief that we are still at a stage where nations and their sovereignty come before any idea of union and solidarity, which is also what federations are about.

United we lend

Behind the minutiae of the agreement lie a few unaltered truths. States will hang on to their fiscal policies and will only allow a mechanism that punishes deficit defaulters if they are allowed to create the deficit in the first place. Essentially, while the Lisbon criteria regarding deficits were a sort of invitation to budgetary discipline, the new agreement turns that invitation into compulsory conformity − with consequences for those who fail.

Why is the UK out? The UK is out because it never was really that far in. It sat at the table for 10 hours demanding the impossible in exchange for its participation. Frankly, the UK is not the problem. The issue here is how much of this is a long-term solution and how much will turn out to be cosmetic playing to the markets. The opting for an intergovernmental approach is also a clear sign that Europe might have once again missed its chance of institutional integration within a federal framework. One of this week’s blog posts on J’accuse (http://www.akkuza.com/2011/12/06/aaa/) looks at a speech delivered by Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski.

Calling spades

Sikorski’s speech has the added advantage of having that no-nonsense approach. Here are his words of advice to the UK:

You have given the Union its common language. The Single Market was largely your brilliant idea. A British commissioner runs our diplomacy. You could lead Europe on defence. You are an indispensable link across the Atlantic. On the other hand, the eurozone’s collapse would hugely harm your economy. Also, your total sovereign, corporate and household debt exceeds 400 per cent of GDP. Are you sure markets will always favour you? We would prefer you in, but if you can’t join, please allow us to forge ahead. And please start explaining to your people that European decisions are not Brussels’ diktats but results of agreements in which you freely participate.

If you can’t join us please allow us to forge ahead. That was Sikorski’s “plea” to the UK on 28th November. By 9th December, Europe was doing just that − forging ahead.

The UK was left wondering whether this opt-out was really such a good deal after all. Either that or, instead of wondering, it was busy shopping in Oxford and Regent streets because the recession might turn out to be one big Brussels lie after all … might it not?

J’accuse : Midnight in Malta

This week I watched Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest invitation to an hour or so of light pseudo-intellectual engagement, and enjoyed every bit of the movie. Gil Pender, the protagonist played by Owen Wilson in this modern fable, is a Hollywood scriptwriter who happens to be in Paris with his fiancée while struggling to write his first novel. We witness Pender’s attempt to write his novel while trying to satisfy the needs of his rather shallow and socialite fiancée.

There is no real depth to Woody Allen’s characters in the movie but this is probably because he is busy eagerly exploring psychological themes. “Midnight’s” recurrent theme is very topical, especially in our current political climate, and deals with what is called “Golden Age nostalgia”. Our writer protagonist is plagued by this nostalgia and ends up travelling in time to the age he craves for most − Paris in the 20s. There he gets to meet his heroes from Scott Fitzgerald to Hemmingway, from Dali to Buñuel (Allen and his surrealist obsession) and while interacting with them he discovers, among other things, that even these people − living in what he considers to be the best age ever − themselves craved for a better age in the past: La Belle Époque Paris.

Nostalgia

“Midnight” is about artistic nostalgia. Over the past week we have witnessed a twisted form of nostalgia on our own shores. In between storms and floods that laughed in the face of the “Ghaqal” and “Serjetà” adverts, we were regaled with a battle of historic political propaganda. Political anniversaries tend to be more pronounced when the year is a multiple of five. There is no other reason for this than the fact that we think in decimals.

The 25th, 30th or 80th anniversary of an event has no deeper meaning than the 21st, 32nd or 11th. This is more so when the occasion is one of remembrance and not a celebration of endurance or longevity of some record. It’s one thing celebrating a long stretch of time − like an Independence anniversary or the founding date of a club for example − but remembrance is not about the time that has passed but about the meaning of what is being commemorated. On 11th November we do not go around counting the years since 1918 − we just remember and honour those who died for our freedom. That is the point: “Lest we forget”.

Which is why the fact that 25 years have passed since the tal-Barrani incidents should not be the main reason for remembering what happened and what we believed we were fighting for at the time. Yes, I definitely count myself among those who believe that this kind of episode in our history should not be forgotten and should be one of the learning blocks in the building of a nation. It is also not out of a twisted exercise of “balancing” between historical truths that I also believe that the “Interdiction” period for example is also part of our collective memory.

Luce

What happened this week though did not feel like remembrance. Remembrance does not use history as an instrument for current political campaigning. The feeling you got was that the memories were being used as a warning against the current Labour clan because they would bring us more of the same. As an unnamed blogger put it: “It’s like asking those who lived through the Second World War to dismiss a Nazi that seeks power. Forgive maybe, forget never.” By that rationale Labour would be eternally unelectable because it could never shed the historical links to an ugly past. Which is rubbish. There is a reason why the Nazi party has been outlawed and the Labour Party hasn’t.

That was the Nationalists shooting themselves in the foot by attempting to turn history into contemporary electoral propaganda. Then came the Labourites − and they went one better. I watched a clip from the ONE TV programme Inkontri that supposedly chronicled the work of post-1987 government till today (To see the full clip go to the blog www.akkuza.com on the post called “Daqqiet ta’ Harta”).

I felt physically sick. First it was evident that the effort was a counter-reaction to the tal-Barrani PN series. Worse though was the fact that it was clear to anybody with a brain between his ears that this was an effort at blatant political revisionism. Revisionism is not even the word. This was creative fantasy that falls to the same level as holocaust denial. You’d think that the PN governments since 1987 were run by a clan of Mintoff’s friends − from Ceausescu to Kim-Il Jong through Gaddafi.

The Labour Party still cannot come to terms with the fact that in a liberal society you do not lock up or gag people like Lou Bondì and Daphne Caruana Galizia but you get the right to answer and argue back or ignore them. The irony of watching the Inkontri presenter stand outside PN HQ and complain about how in today’s society the right of free expression has been completely negated, was in all probability lost on the fawning viewers.

Golden Age

Back to Allen. The nostalgia for a Golden Age is described psychologically as a form of escapism. It is a form of denial of modern realities. The Nationalist Party might have committed a faux pas when appealing to the sense of solidarity that many of us had in 1987 when the call for “Work, Justice and Liberty” gave us an instant rush. The faux pas was not about remembrance but about its abuse. The distraction effect from today’s’ troubles is minimal and to be honest the transference of the sense of optimism and hope experienced at the time is nigh impossible. Better keep their feet to the ground.

As for Labour, the problems run deeper. Nostalgia does not help much but the past keeps raising its ugly head even when “those bastard Nationalists” are minding their own business. There’s worse. Labour acolytes must have experienced another psychological phenomenon mentioned in the Allen movie: “Cognitive dissonance”. Wikipedia describes this as “the discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously”.

When psychologists first studied cognitive dissonance they looked at groups that had predicted imminent disasters (such as the end of the world). They looked at what happened when the prediction failed − and noticed that such groups grew “by sharing the cult beliefs with others they gained acceptance and thus reduced their own dissonance” (Wikipedia). Another example often given is “smoking”. You know it is wrong for you but you smoke anyway − the two thoughts coincide uncomfortably in your mind.

Loyalty and Creed

Nostalgia is about thinking of the golden ages of our respective parties and of the events that made them stronger. Engaging heavily in nostalgia at the moment is very probably a form of escapist denial − a failure to engage with current issues and the present. The dissonance in the voters’ mind is between the side of him that wants to see his party as a solution − come what may − and the side of him that is beginning to see gaping flaws in the way forward that is proposed.

Muscat’s 51 proposals from another planet must have induced cognitive dissonance in many a Labour sympathiser. It was evident even in the comments on J’accuse. While the Labour Party was evidently pitching the list as a set of solutions (see the official email sent out explaining how Gonzi has only got questions but Muscat has solutions), sympathisers still insisted on “giving Muscat a chance” or about how this was just a “general plan” not the solution itself. Even given all the evidence in the world that the 51 proposals was just a list of propagandistic blah-blah, the Labour side of the brain fought desperately to “believe”.

Striking Twelve

The Belgians finally got a government this week. On 2nd December, the first day of government, a general protest was announced and thousands took to the streets protesting against the austerity plans. That baptism of fire was not enough though − an issue of Belgian government bonds was oversubscribed on the very same day. The news at the end of the day was about the mixed messages being given by the Belgian people (for a change). Was this an episode of national cognitive dissonance?

Whatever the case may be, we would do well to pull our socks up and leave nostalgia to historians. At times like this, positive governance and clear direction is not a luxury but a basic necessity − the less political games and distractions the better. Decisions such as investing in sustainable energy and power as well as reforming a justice system cannot and should not be taken lightly. The less time spent in futile propaganda wars the better.

It’s either that, or it’s midnight in Malta.

 

www.akkuza.com has been blogging non-stop since 10 March 2005. We haven’t stopped writing and you haven’t stopped reading. That’s a good enough reason to keep at it.

J’accuse : That Bohemian Planet 51

Is this the real life? Or is it just fantasy?I think I’ve mentioned before the popular Chinese curse that involves wishing someone: “May you live in interesting times”. Well, it does not get any more interesting than this. French intellectual Jacques Attali (listed in the top 100 by Foreign Policy Magazine) has been quoted as saying that the euro might not survive Christmas – the common currency will drown sometime between Black Friday (that’s last Friday) and St. Stephen’s Day.Here is this week’s leader in “The Economist”: “The chances of the euro zone being smashed apart have risen alarmingly, thanks to financial panic, a rapidly weakening economic outlook and pigheaded brinkmanship. The odds of a safe landing are dwindling fast”. Help! I’ve added the “Help” bit (just in case the end-quote escaped your attention) and “Help!” is just the kind of default mode disposition you’d expect a normal citizen to have in this crisis-stricken period. At least “HELP”… if not “What shall we do about it?”During a lift conversation with a German work colleague of mine conversation shifted to things trivial (as it always does in elevators) so I asked her somewhere between the fourth and third floor whether she believed she’d be shopping in Deutsche Marks (or the German Dollar) come Christmas eve. She looked at me with the kind of resignation that Angela must have reserved for Silvio and said “I’ve stopped thinking about it. My grandma always said that you should always worry about things that you can do something about. If it’s got to happen, it will happen.” Ah. These practical Deutsche Mensch (und Womensch).Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality. You’d think that given the current circumstances even the nation that believes itself to be a planet of its own right would “come down to earth” so to speak. You’d think. Hollywood must have taken up the offer of Tonio Fenech’s new residence scheme and is now a permanent part of our lives thanks to the screenings offered by our supposed leaders and leaders to be. The purveyors of fiction from all sides of the house have contrived to collude in the creation of a mind-boggling, reality-twisting cocooned fantasy carrying along with them most of the citizens of Oz.

Tonio Fenech gave the nation its budget not so long ago. Since then the Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to ignore the accusations of doctoring of figures (and such wondrously magickal words as capital expenditure) and concentrated on proving how under his leadership Malta is weathering the storm. My question (since questions seem to be the order of the day) to Prime Minister Gonzi would be: Has Malta decided to think like my German friend and opted to concentrate on matters that are within its control? So we can’t save the euro but what is our plan for the crisis? If so what is our default plan for the day the euro dies? Do we need one? Surely not everything is “Ward u Zahar”. (Sweet smelling roses).

I’m sorry to be the one to ask PM Gonzi this question but the PM-in-waiting seems to be busy working on Malta’s first ever space program. Or so I gather from the evidence that is available. Well yes. I am about to criticise “Inhobbkom Joseph” again. I was told more than once this week that since my return from my nuptial escapade I seem to be digging my critical talons deeper into Joseph’s flesh than is to many a Labourite voter’s liking.

Open your eyes. I had quite an argument with Bertu the cartoonist this week. After I had, as usual, described the toon that I would require to accompany this week’s article he challenged me to convince him first that Joseph Muscat deserved more attention (and picking on) than the Gonzi government (and budget). Hot on the heels of his objection came one or two comments on facebook accusing the Great J’accuse of not balancing his repartees out and “picking on Labour too often”. Like it’s a game. I cannot stand this bloody “mhux fair” reasoning.

Here’s one reason that should suffice. Joseph Muscat wants to be the leader of this country. “Iss, imma Gonzi IS the leader now” I hear them object. Fine. What the Labourite advocates of par condicio (balanced criticism) fail to realise is that my concentrating on Muscat and what he has to offer implies a decision to not consider the “GonziPN” option next election. Yes dears. The average non-flag waving voter would have to go through that mental process that begins with thinking “So. I do not like what the Gonzi government has done for X reasons so I will definitely not be voting him back into government. Let’s see what “the others” have to offer”.

Look up to the skies and see. Well yes folks. As i put it to Bertu, if I have a stomach ache or an ulcer that is bothering me I do not reach for my grandpa’s old hunting rifle and aim in the general direction of my navel. Yes, you’ve guessed it – a gastroenterologist will do the trick most times. So if you believe that there is a problem, studying the right solution is not an exercise in “opposition bashing” but a careful check to see if there really is someone better to take the reins of the country into his hands. And tough shit for your dreams of a flag fest and carcade if the tests prove there isn’t.

Anyway the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me. So as the Labour-lites were showering plaudits on their Dear Leader for his supposedly wonderful performance in producing a larger number from his hat than did Lawrence Gonzi (51 beats 10 –  booyakasha, raspberry and italian ombrello for good measure) J’accuse and plenty another pundit actually contrived to read the 51 “proposals”. For our reaction please refer to the post “51 proposals from another planet” on www.akkuza.com.

We were not amused. There was a children’s movie that goes by the name of Planet 51. The first words of the trailer describe another planet “Somewhere far, far away. There is a place where life is simple. Children are care free. And everything is pleasant”…. Planet 51. Muscat’s 51 “proposals” were written for this kind of planet. A planet oblivious to the universe around it where “everything is pleasant” and a few catch phrases (not to mention empty phrases like “We’ll give priority to fishing and farming” or “Youth before bureaucracy” – did they forget “Age before beauty?”) are supposed to magic away everyone’s woes.

Easy come easy go. Right before Tonio Fenech’s budget speech we were regaled with the sad scene of opposition bench members “daring” the government to mention the European crisis. You could see them ROTFL-ing and LOL-ing every mention of Greece, Spain and the European instability. After the budget we got Joseph Muscat’s proposals that are so intangible and detached from actual workability that they might as well be from another planet. Planet 51. Yet the nation remains divided and it is evident from reactions on the net that the mental sieve that is required by your average voter in order to make weighted choices is conspicuous in its absence. The next election is round the corner, there’s a record-breaking economic crisis out there and we still vote on the basis of tribal instinct.

Got to leave you all behind and face the truth. It may be jarring for many who would love to see the back of the Gonzi government that some like myself persist in surgically dissecting the Muscat option. We get called “armchair critics” (iss how easy) by people from both sides of the spectrum. In this case it is our realism that hurts. What we see from here is a nationalist party that is shedding most of its uncomfortable elements – JPO announced that he will not run again (will Labour woo him too?), Austin “Bulldozer” Gatt is on his way out and meanwhile there is a never-too-late rereading of the Basic Principles.

Muscat meanwhile is fast becoming a predictable populist puppet of easy words and shallow promises. Which does not mean they will not work. It takes big balls to prioritise your desire to run a country above the need to have a plan of how to run it once you’re actually in the driving seat. Big balls or a particularly devious mind driven by ignorance. Is this really a little silhouetto of a man we are seeing before us? One for whom nothing really matters, anyway the wind blows so long as it gets him to Castille?

In the end, when the curtain falls it is up to the audience to applaud or to boo. Joseph Muscat gave us 51 proposals in answer to Lawrence Gonzi’s 10 questions. If you are willing to believe that the 51 proposals are the solution that this country needs in these interesting times then you deserve a Labour government. Those who don’t believe the 51 proposals don’t deserve a Labour government, but at the rate populist feeling is going it seems that they’ll get it anyway.

That. In short. Is the beauty of democratic government.

www.akkuza.com has always been biased. We declared a journalistic passion for questions and a search for answers as from the beginning. Which makes us biased in our quest for the truth. This article is dedicated to the memory of one of the great philosophers of the twentieth century: Farrokh Bulsara a.k.a Freddie Mercury.

J’accuse : The New Labour Stupid

It’s been ages. If a week in politics is long then almost a month getting married, going on a mini-moon (that’s the trendy half honeymoon while waiting for the real thing) and becoming an uncle immediately after that, while also marking your 36th year of existence, is not only a mouthful but a googleplex of eternities. When the celebrations and tsunami of emotions had subsided, I half expected to look at the papers and find a changed world armed with a strong euro abroad and a Labour government that took over from GonziPN after the latter had imploded.

“Hożż fl-ilma.” Which is a much better expression than “Yeah right!”and accurately conveys the idea of how far off the mark my wild imaginings had been. The events over the past month have given us two incontrovertible truths that will be rather difficult to change in the foreseeable future. The first is the confirmation that the eurozone and EU nations are in one hell of a big mess. The second is the sad unmasking of the empty Opposition that has long gone past its sell-by date and has failed the expectations of all those willing to give Joseph’s New Labour a chance.

The new republics

First let’s take a look at the Europe of Merkozy where words like “spread” apparently no longer excite bunga bunga masters like Berlusconi. What name should we give to this crisis now that it seems to be definitely here to stay? Is it just a Debt Crisis? Is it limited to an economic maelstrom of sorts or does it extend beyond the confines of stocks, shares, bonds and hedge funds?

The more I look at the crisis and its immediate effects, the more I am convinced that from a wider angle (and that includes a longer span of time than the proverbial week in politics) we are at an interesting turning point for our market-oriented democracies. The liberal-democrat world as we know it was of course built on the will of “we the people” constructing the basic elements of government − for the people by the people. We were brought up in a world of checks and balances where politicians were supposed to be elected to responsible positions at the helm of nations, guiding them in a principled manner for the “common wealth” of the people. Sure we had the extremes of socialist sharing and liberal laissez-faire but the ties that bound us were clear. We were all servants of the law because we wanted to be free.

What now? When governments from Spain to Greece to Italy collapse (or if you like, politely step aside) and allow the infamous “technocrats” to waltz in and attempt to minimise the damage we are witnessing a paradigm shift. The paradigm shift is one where “we the people” don’t really end up calling the shots but “they the number crunchers expecting quick results on spending and debt” insist on who (or at least what type) of person should help the leviathan weather the economic storm.

“They the number crunchers” would not have sounded so nice on the 4th of July in 1776 (although a Freemason or two signing the document would not have minded) but the truth is out there… our elected politicians risk becoming less and less relevant during the economic downturn unless they prove to be able captains when weathering the storm.

The real Opposition?

Which brings me to what has been going on in Malta. We jumped from a confidence vote and early lessons in constitutional law to Tonio Fenech’s budget that was thankfully lacking in holy talk and concentrated on substance. The budget should have been (and is mostly) about the government and its plans for the economic side of the business of government. It was also inevitably a bit of a pre-electoral budget: not so much a handout budget but one that was criticised in some quarters for dispensing sugary goods to the elusive “middle class” (seems more like “everyone” to me) and families.

From where I am sitting, we heard more noise coming from the Opposition and its Internet mouthpieces than from the government benches and apologists… and boy was the noise an ugly cacophony. Squeezed down to its bare minimum, the collective ensemble of Labour intelligence (if you excuse the clumsy oxymoron) boiled down to the tired clichés of “pizijiet” (burdens) and “cost of living”. It’s 2011, Joseph Muscat has had three years to restyle and redefine what Labour means and they are still investing all (that’s a big word) their capital in one basket: public discontent − whether real or fabricated.

Discontent is good for pitchforks and takings of Bastilles, but in the complicated world of the New Republic it takes much more than the unnerving capacity to hypnotise part of the people into a whinging collective to become eligible to run the country. This however is a Labour collective that INSISTED (my caps) that the budget discussion be held in a vacuum away from the European reality that are the governments and markets of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Were it not for a last minute reaction by Brussels-based Prof. Scicluna, you’d have thought that our government-in-waiting was edging towards Mintoffian isolationism once again. “Il-Haddiem qabel il-barrani” and that sort of claptrap, which should have long been confined to forgotten chapters of the annals of history, were back to being order of the day.

The Christian Democrat DNA is back

The likes of Karmenu Vella and Anglu Farrugia thus became easy targets for the flotilla of calm sharpshooters ever prepared to highlight Labour’s deficiencies. For once, so long as they kept away from personal insults, J’accuse could not but agree with the necessity to expose the fake promise that is New Labour. New Labour is turning out to be a stupid reshuffle and deprives the nation of a valid Opposition that would be necessary at this point in time to refresh the waters with new ideas.

Trust the Nationalist Party to morph into the second Opposition at this very moment. After almost two years of being browbeaten into accepting the fact that the state of affairs in social rights is not exactly kosher − from censorship (expression) to divorce − the PN has done what J’accuse has been stressing it should do ever since the first blogpost back in 2005. This weekend’s General Council has a new document before it that is a revisiting of the “Basic Roots” document that is the bible of Nationalist Party thinking.

The document outlines the Nationalist “fingerprint” (I sense that someone would have loved to mention DNA but had to settle for second best). “Our roots” is a return to understanding “what the Nationalist Party believes” and “how it will set up to bring into effect its beliefs”. The new document is an opening − a reaction to the discontented within the party who for the past few years became a vociferous second Opposition − from the backbenchers to the lost votes. This was a rallying cry for the “umbrella party” to redefine itself. If the motion is backed with sincere plans and a clear step-by-step approach to proper legislation and affirmative action, the PN will have made giant steps into filling that value vacuum that made it look ever so antipathetic to the discerning voter.

Values

Number crunchers might (only just) save the moment economically, but a politic that is built around the dignity and potential of the human being and recognises the diversity and fragility of the world we live in can be worth a hundred saving funds from many a European bank. If the PN is ready to put its values where its mouth is then it has just leapt forward, far ahead of the tantrum-throwing toddler who just wants his moment of fame to toy with the lives of a nation. Rather than complaining about supposed “U-turns” by “GonziPN”, the Labour ensemble would do well to notice that it is already late (very late) as it is − they do not only need a proper economic plan but also a clear framework of values to convince many of us that they are even worth considering.

And now Simon

A big welcome to the world to my first nephew Simon − thanks for waiting for my wedding to be over (you’ll soon be told how much your uncle loves being in the spotlight). There’s a brave new world out there full of interesting things waiting for you to discover them. Take your time… God willing we’re here for a while and as you might soon find out… change happens fast. Really fast.

 

www.akkuza.com ist verheiratet − (I’ve been dying to be able to say that one). The blog is back too following the nuptial happiness. Cheers to everyone for the patience.