Water Babies

Watermarks

How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none … And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies. – C.Kingsley, The Water Babies

Five consecutive days of heavy rainfall tend to instil a doomsday mentality in even the most positive of thinking persons.Europe is underwater. Literally. Old Europe that is.

In France the Louvre has been closed, parts of the metro that run parallel to the Seine are shut down and you cannot visit Quasimodo’s Notre Dame because that too has been deemed unsafe thanks to the alarmingly high levels of the river. Bavaria, home of beer and irritating football teams who get last minute draws , is also sinking. At the last count nine people had lost their lives in severe floods. More persons are unaccounted for on the German/Austrian border. In Belgium parts of Liege and the region of Limburg on the border with Germany were evacuated, also due to the floods. Italy’s north too is bearing part of the brunt of this mitteleuropean storm.

It’s water, water everywhere – in its dangerous and threatening form. Nature in its ire and full manifestation does not recognise borders. It does not ask for your passport before unleashing its full fury and requires no identification. Whether it is a swelling river filling the basement of an old couple’s home until there is no air to breathe or an angry Mediterranean swallowing a boatload of families and children, there is no discrimination. Death’s scythe accompanies the gods of winds and seas and skies with egalitarian perfection and democratic non-discrimination.

Water has become the latest instrument of the gods’ fury. The biblical story (as plagiarised from earlier epics) tells us that Noah’s ark was rocked for 40 days and 40 nights under incessant rain and storms (what people in Luxembourg call “summer”). In this end of days scenario we are made to suffer reports of Trump’s ascendancy, of the Brits sticking two fingers up to the European project, of politicians defying any form of accountability, of plans to overdevelop the island of milk and honey and of a worryingly increasing number of news items about tragedies involving animals.

 

Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain?
Black hole sun
Won’t you come?
Won’t you come?

Watermarks: Projects and Burgers

Watermarks

The papers report that the deadline for the gas power station will be shifted for a third time. The government that loves to speak in terms of “deliverables and receivables” and other marketing bluff once again fails change words into action. There is worrying news about the actual tanker that is being converted too since there seems to be the need to remove large amounts of asbestos from it before it becomes viable. Why, in the first place, is there asbestos on a tanker that is to be used for a new project? Much talk, too little real delivery – and this missed deadline is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another report tells us that Malta’s geological maps need updating since they are missing 50 metres of rock. So it turns out that our already not too great planning decisions are based on outdated and grossly inaccurate geological maps. Such bad planning includes decisions about tunnels and quarries. It really begs the question… can we get one thing straight nowadays?

Finally much fuss was made about the reporting in the gossip columns of Muscat’s lightning visit to Rome in the company of Glenn Bedingfield to watch Milan get robbed by Juventus of the Coppa Italia. Many seemed to agree that this visit formed part of Muscat’s private life and need not have had such exposure – whether Muscat chooses to eat at Burger King or in a Michelin joint on such trips is his business after all.

They may have a point. Then again the trip did have a few elements of public interest. First of all it was a very public endorsement of the government appointed poison-pen (as some columnists would describe him). Rather than keep it private, Bedingfield tweeted pictures of him and his rival buddy (Glenn is a Juve fan) at the stadium on his very public twitter stream. X’hemm hazin? Nothing. It is just a huge coincidence that Muscat chose this very public way of affectionate buddy-buddy tripping during the Panamagate crisis when Bedingfield is playing a crucial role to keep the diehards satisfied with government rhetoric. That Bedingfield has taken to using the same underhand tactics as the ones that are being criticised here is by the by.

And then there is the queue at Burger King. Again, possibly a private matter for a private citizen looking for some grub post-football match delirium (and in Muscat’s case post-football disappointment). Images of Muscat queuing with the much praised “middle-class” should have the effect that the Uruguayan former President had on his people. But Jose’ Muscat is no Mujica. His private trip to Rome comes shortly after a private trip to Dubai in five star hotel splendor.

The admittedly irritating invasion of privacy becomes a necessary insight into the spending habits of a PM. One minute he is hobnobbing in Dubai on a highly unaffordable family trip in five star hotels, the other he is queuing humbly in a Burger King joint waiting patiently for his whopper.

Will the real Joseph Muscat please stand up?

Watermarks: The Definition of Forgery

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We have moved from “misrepresentation” to “outright lie”. Minister Konrad Mizzi has become a specialist in libel law. It is a standard in the Maltese game of politics and carries with it the public assumption that “since X has resorted to the courts then X must be right”. It is not how it should be, it is not what the institutes of libel and slander were set up to protect but hey, no Maltese politician in recent history has shied away from abusing of the law in this manner so why should Mr. Konrad?

“Mr. Konrad”, now there is a curious way of referring to a Minister – or anyone for that matter unless you are a slave on a cotton plantation in pre-emancipation US. Yet that is how Karl Cini of Nexia BT refers to the Unportfoglioed Minister in his correspondence to Mossack Fonseca. Cini is speaking to Mossack Fonseca about Mizzi’s PEP status and is also endeavouring to explain the “How many?” and the “Wherefrom? of the funds that will be eventually subject to movements to companies that are set up by Mossack Fonseca.

It is here that Mr. Konrad’s speech of “outright lies” finds a huge banana skin on which to slip and fall. Without playing the special investigator one can see why Konrad Mizzi finds himself in an immense schizophrenic conundrum. Why? Well over the same period of time there had to be two Konrad Mizzi’s:

The first Konrad Mizzi is the one who delegates Cini to contact Mossack Fonseca and set up a structure that requires a considerable amount of funds in order to justify its continued existence. That Konrad Mizzi has an interest to explain that he has quite a considerable amount of personal funds and also has an interest to downplay his role as a PEP. That is why Karl Cini stresses that “our legislation openly allows PEPs to hold shareholdings in other businesses”. So whether he is lying or saying the truth to Mossack Fonseca, Mizzi (through his agents at Nexia) would like the truth to seem that he is loaded with money coming from ventures that are legal notwithstanding his status as a PEP.

The second Konrad Mizzi is the one who was made Minister by Joseph Muscat. That Konrad Mizzi was at first supposed to be a wunderkind who earned loads-a-money while abroad (fuelled by the myth that “studja barra u hadem barra ergo qed jimpala l-liri“) and owned property/properties abroad and has an international family. That was the early story to explain why he needed an international structure involving a tax haven even though his overall worth amounted to a pittance (by multimillionaire tax haven standards). The second Mizzi wanted us to believe that the whole set up cost a couple of tens of euros (was it 90?) and that it was all about family planning.

You can begin to see the dilemma facing Konrad Mizzi. The documentation that is trickling out of the ICIJ Panamaleaks is slowly but surely pointing towards the Konrad Mizzi that one would expect to exist – one who either has or claims to have the kind of funds that justify such operations. The second Mizzi – Minister Mizzi – can give us as facts his Ministerial declarations of worth that obviously clash with declarations done in his own name by the first Konrad Mizzi.

So you see. Speaking about “outright lies” is dangerous in these circumstances. In the not so halcyon days of studying criminal law I still remember now Chief Justice Camilleri lecturing us about fraud and forgery. A forged document is one that “tells a lie about itself”, he would tell us. I wonder what kind of fraud or forgery would be one that yells that it’s an “outright lie”.

Watermarks

Watermarks: Walking on Water

Watermarks

Watergate

I re-watched “All the President’s Men” yesterday. It’s a 1976 movie featuring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann and it chronicles the work of Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that led to the uncovering of the Watergate Scandal and the eventual resignation of President Nixon. The facts surrounding Watergate happened in the early seventies – a time without the mass means of communication and information that we know of today. Journalistic investigation was painstakingly slow and when the main whistleblower “Deep Throat” speaks in riddles there is much digging for information to be done.

Watergate was all about a money trail. Nixon and his party were using huge slush funds from the GOP campaign to finance covert operations intended to sabotage the Democrat campaign. There was no sudden discovery of all the information. It all started with what seemed to be a simple burglary at the Watergate complex and it was only thanks to the dogged work of the two journalists against all odds that the whole extent of the scandal was uncovered.

When the Post decided to run with the first big title linking big heads in government to the corruption trail, the official response was big and could be summed up in one word: denial. Nixon’s spokesperson attacked the journalists and the entity they worked for and came up with the phrase “shoddy journalism” and “shabby journalism”. Nixon’s people implied that there was a misreading of facts and that the Post had an ulterior political motive for “fabricating” such information.

All Nixon’s men did was gain some more time. They used that time to abuse their positions in power to try to harass anybody who was on their trail and close to obtaining damning information. Astonishingly Nixon won an election when the scandal had only just broke – but not so astonishingly at that point the pieces of the puzzle were far from Nixon and it was hard for the man in the street to make the connection. As more evidence was compiled – mostly by “following the money trail” – Nixon’s position became untenable.

All through the scandal that dragged on for two years, Nixon’s behaviour smacked of abuse of power and disrespect of institutional authority. At one point Nixon ordered the Attorney General (Richardson) and his deputy (Ruckelshaus) to sack special prosecutor Cox. Neither of the two accepted such a blatant abuse and both resigned in protest. Nixon only managed to get what he wanted when he found an appeasing Attorney General in Bork. Responding to members of the press for this Nixon stated emphatically “I am not a crook”.

Walking on Water

Events closer to home are uncannily similar to what happened in the Nixon days. We have a musical chairs of police commissioners who hesitate to prosecute when it is blindingly obvious that there is matter sufficient for prosecution. We have a government machinery that functions on blanket, unfounded denial and that resorts to bullying tactics when it comes to investigative journalists doing their job. Yesterday we had a Minister without portfolio mimicking Nixon’s spokesperson accusing journalists of not knowing how to read and of being “malicious”.

Every day is bringing to light more damning information linking more and more dots in a scandal that knows no equal in Maltese history. The Prime Minister and the two persons directly involved in the story choose to bury their heads in the sand and cling onto power hoping for a miracle of the walk on water kind. Apparently these scandals are not enough because some still claim that Malta is “economically strong”. I seriously believe it is only a matter of time that this fabrication of statistics falls apart – especially in the light of the fact that the greatest supposed economic injections under this government are tainted and linked with the scandalous events of Panamagate.

Muscat prefers to drag Malta through scandal after scandal rather than bear the responsibility and act in the interests of the nation. Like Nixon he believes that he will not “resign a position that he was elected to fill”. Like Nixon he prefers to use his incumbency in his favour so long as it is possible – thus protracting the agony of an electorate in need of clarity and honest politics.

One day, in the not too distant future, Muscat might face a journalist like Frost who when asked by Nixon “what would you have done” replied:

One is: there was probably more than mistakes; there was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not; yes it may have been a crime too. Second: I did – and I’m saying this without questioning the motives – I did abuse the power I had as president, or not fulfil the totality of the oath of office. And third: I put the American people through two years of needless agony and I apologise for that.

Watermarks is a new series on J’accuse. The idea consists in having a morning “short” taking a quick look  and reflection on current events in the news – what is trending and why.

I.M. Jack : The one about the WYSINWYG

La Trahison des images (Ceci n'est pas une pipe). 1929. Oil on canvas, Overall: 25 3/8 x 37 in. (64.45 x 93.98 cm). Unframed canvas: 23 11/16 x 31 7/7 inches, 1 1/2 inches deep, 39 5/8 inches diagonal. Purchased with funds provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection (78.7).
La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe). 1929. Oil on canvas,

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a quick I.M. Jack take on the major news items. The theme this week is about WYSINWYG or what seems to be the apotheosis of the governmental policy of What You See is NOT What You Get. This blog has for some time now described Muscat’s government’s actions in terms of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” We are used to having this or that government representative exhort us to look for the facts beyond what our eyes can see – “what you see is not what really is” they seem to tell us. Thus the traffic clogging the sick arteries of our nation is just a question of perception, we only see lack of qualification in government appointees because we want to and the price of oil in Malta is actually cheap today if we consider that it could be cheaper in the future. Hence WYSINWYG – what you see is not what you get.

Will the real budget please stand up?

The speaker hath ruled. The real budget is not the one that was physically tabled in parliament or the one published on the government website. No the real budget is the one read by Minister Scicluna in fits and starts. The speaker’s ruling is actually an apotheosis of all that has been Taghna Lkoll until now. Do not believe the facts and figures. Only believe what we say. Anyway we have to make do with the new mantra of “genuine mistake” that seems to be as permissible with this lot as it was anathema with the previous lot.

We are genuinely mistaken

Such was the excuse when Minister Cardona once again committed a “genuine mistake” appointing a person from the bench to a government entity. The euphoria of appointments to this and that chair is such that sometimes the Ministers or their minions for whom they are directly responsible get carried away and end up signing up people who are not fit for the purpose. In this case such lack of fitness was not due to incompetence (that actually is allowed – just look at our ambassadorial appointments) but due to the fact that the person being re-nominated for a bit of the parastatal company gravy train had already been fit comfortably in the puzzle of judicial appointments – and judges and magistrates are not allowed to sit on government entities. Plus ça change.

Get him to the Greeks

Cuschieri junior is being nominated ambassador to Greece is he? And there was Tsipras thinking that he had faced his greatest challenge yet. This is the same Cuschieri whose position on the Greek debt crisis was largely influenced by very personal issues of whether or not he would be allowed to take up his seat in Strasbourg. “in the midst of the Greek bailout talks, Cuschieri called on Malta to deny the debt-afflicted state money under the EFSF lest they green-light the enlargement of the European Parliament.” (MaltaToday). Sweet isn’t it? What better man to send to Athens if not this genuine Floriana FC (and, alas, Juventus) fan?

What you did was very spiteful, but it was also very brave and very honest and I respect you for doing that. But the content of what you said has made me hate you. So there’s a layer of respect, admittedly, for your truthfulness, but it’s peppered with hate. Hateful respect. (Alduous Snow – Get Him to the Greek)

X Arab Bank

Peppi Azzopardi tried to act smart with the “patriots” of Malta. He must have reasoned that the chicken-brained reasoning that is normally spouted by intolerant bigots can be easily countered on his show. For my sins I watched the whole show on streaming. It was a disaster in many ways. It was once again a testimonial to the lack of civic education and by that I am not referring to the patriot’s lack of knowledge of the words of our national anthem. Take Peppi’s bold assertion that it is up to members of parliament to interpret the law – and that since a member of parliament has stated publicly that wearing the burqa is not illegal then so it is. Not it isn’t Peppi. Members of parliament form part of our legislative branch. They legislate. What they do not do is interpret. That is up to the courts to do. It’s part of this little game called separation of powers. You could be forgiven Peppi, with this government the whole concept of accountability and respect of the separation of powers is fast going up in smoke. We are left with a nation that is in search of its basic values and still trying hard to understand how the whole “liberal democracy” thingy works.

Labels

Labels tend to help us understand who we are and who our interlocutors are. It has become a common occurrence though to maliciously use labels for sweeping statements and assumptions. When an arab loses his mind in Paceville and goes on a stabbing rampage then it is a cue for “immigrants out” and for patriots to charge through Valletta or Birzebbugia like a bunch of oafs on a xalata. If an assembly of Croats and Serbs decide to re-enact part of the Balkan issues on St Rita Steps in Paceville the same reaction is not forthcoming. We have said it many a time: a crime is a crime is a crime – irrespective of who is committing it and irrespective of who the victim is. The confusion that results out of trying to define aggravations based on colour, race or gender (or lack thereof) of the aggressor or victim only serve to compound the melting-pot of intolerance that our country is fast changing into. We have now had news of a priest who was arrested on charges of pedophilia. Cue the hypocrite anti-frock crowd to once again come out en masse barking agains “the church”, “religion” or “priesthood”. What a load of bollocks. The crime would be a crime if the person accused were a plumber, a nurse, a footballer or whatever other profession you may think of. It is heinous, punishable and condemnable. What it is not is testimony that one particular profession is more prone towards it than others. Pointing fingers at “the church” is tantamount to accusing “arabs” after a Libyan goes on rampage in Paceville.

Traffic

It will never be solved. Not without a fascist unelected government of wise men and women. Only then could the Maltese “suffer” the imposition of a car-free island where most money is spent on an efficient common transport system. Reducing the car amount to a bare minimum can only be dreamt of so long as politicians pander to the perceived “needs” of a population that has been bred to be “hurt” (read: throw a tantrum) whenever it does not get what it wants.

Maybe that is why Taghna Lkoll fares so well among the Maltese. More often than not they are led to believe that they are getting what they always wanted – irrespectively of the fact that what they see is not actually what they had hoped for.

Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain. – Nicolo Macchiavelli

 

Constructing Truce

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Tourism is not Luxembourg’s main industry. The Duchy is much more renown for its tax haven status than for the busloads of over-nighters visiting its quaint capital and tourism remains low on the priority list for the nation (not that no investment is being made there either). Malta’s politicians, on the other hand, are obliged to give particular attention to the industry that is the bread and butter for so many. Any measure that improves conditions for tourism is surely welcome in Malta.

So it was to my surprise that I was reminded once again of a practice that is peculiar to the construction industry in Luxembourg in the middle of summer (well I say summer but we did wake up to 12 degrees again). The construction industry in the Duchy grinds to a halt on the 31st July and will not resume before the 22nd of August. This happens thanks to a collective leave agreement that applies to 1,452 companies (21 202 employees). Only the most essential of works (renovations in schools for example) remain open during this three week moratorium imposed on construction.

Now imagine that the same happened in Malta. It’s a dream of course. The mighty Malta Developers Association and its chief lobbyist Chetcuti are bound to throw a massive fit claiming that this was an attempt to choke a much needed “industry” on the island. Surely in an island that is desperately in need of 40 storey towers in the middle of Sliema we cannot afford to take a pause and breathe.

Yep, we might as well build ourselves to oblivion.

See L’essentiel: 1452 employees seront en congé collectif cet été