watersbroken

Seismogramme

Posted in 1 by Editor on January 27, 2009

 

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I thought you’d like to read the e-mail below. Makes interesting reading.

The Editor

 

Dear Sir,

 

what you said about the cracks in the Nationalist Party is spot on. You Labourites are obsessed with the idea of the Nationalist camp as an invincible monolithic organisation in which everybody follows their leader. It may have been so once, in the glorious days when Austin was general secretary, but even if it really was so united then, it is no longer so today. No wonder Austin is planning to retire to his ancestral Gozo.

I don’t know about Joseph’s earthquake – I will believe it when I see it – but I do know about the coming earthquake in the Nationalist party. The warning signs are increasing in frequency and magnitude. One seismograph that has been vibrating like crazy is none other than Daphne Caruana Galizia.

It is fashionable amongst Nationalists, especially those with intellectual and liberal pretensions, to distance themselves from the lady. Well, I have never been keen on fashion so I have no problem in admitting that I regularly read her column in The Independent on Sunday. In fact, if I may add, she is the only reason why I still buy that paper. Its proprietors should thank their lucky stars that Daphne writes for them. If she didn’t, their paper’s circulation would be even lower than it is.

 

Same thing as far as her blog is concerned. I am, I must confess, addicted to it. I won’t admit this to my scholarly friends in the canteen – who congregate there between lectures to complain about Juanito’s failure to stand up to Government – but reading Daphne’s blog is fun of sorts. It is not so much that she is not much loved at Tal-Qroqq after what she wrote concerning the quality of our work and our claim for higher salaries.

 

It is something deeper that deserves closer scrutiny but this beyond the scope of this comment. It is as if what you have called the ruling party no longer has any use for Daphne. If I understand my colleagues correctly, even (or especially?) the most Gonzjani of them, she was an asset in a previous political season. She is now close to being a liability. Her fate, they claim, is tied to RCC. When he goes, they say, she goes.

 

Not if it depends on me and those, like me, that read her online in the solitary intimacy of their room. We do not brag about this solitary self-indulgence. We often, in fact, lie and pretend we don’t.. But read her we do and read her we should if we really want to know what is going on. Let’s take an example.

 

On Sunday, January 18th, 2009, Daphne wrote about the Migra l-Ferha story. (See http://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=81699).

You know, the one about how the Police caught between five and eight persons apparently attempting to smuggle into Malta a consignment of cannabis which then turned out to be ‘soap’. Daphne noted out that not all those apprehended were charged in Court and when four of them were arraigned this was done mostly behind close doors except for the bit about the cannabis turning into ‘soap’. 

 

Daphne made three, to my mind, important remarks. Firstly that “all this chortling about soap has distracted is from the rather more interesting aspects of this botched smuggling operation”. She did not quite say that someone purposely magnified the ‘soap’ bit in a bid to deviate attention from the political dimension of the story (presumably on the grounds that it is better to make the police look ridiculous than draw attention to the kin of one of the persons caught) but that is how most readers will have understood her.

 

Her second point is that if this was indeed someone’s intention, then it failed because “precisely because of those closed doors which prevent the facts from getting out into the public domain, some extraordinary stories and rumours are flying about”. Daphne then goes on to give us an example of one such ‘extraordinary story’.

 

“I heard from a reliable person not given to gossip, and who has extensive business connections in Libya,” she writes, “that the notorious brother of a cabinet minister had been picked up by the police for questioning as to his involvement with this ‘soap run’. “I had no reason”, she adds, “to doubt his word.” In a reply to a comment posted on her blog, she names both ‘the cabinet minister’ and his ‘notorious brother’. (See her Reply to John Lane, Sunday, 18 January 16:57 hrs http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/?p=1424)

 

Also significant is Daphne’s reference to the faint-hearted report of the same story in L-orizzont. She states that “through sources at the newspaper” she knows that they had the information, and that it was supplied to them by someone at police headquarters. She evidently disapproves of their failure to print names, “despite the fact that this ‘prominent businessman’ featured heavily in Labour’s anti-government campaign in the mid-1990s, when he was put across as a huge liability for his brother and for the cabinet of which his brother formed part then as now”.

 

Thirdly, she argues that unless the authorities concerned or the said cabinet minister or both make suitable public statements, “the poisonous and dangerous backstreet-information-cum-rumour-mill that was his (and the government’s) undoing in the mid-1990s will have the same effect again.”

 

You may or may not agree with Daphne that the Nationalist government’s defeat in 1996 was the result of a smear campaign by the Labour opposition, you may also agree or disagree that – it seems to follow – the said cabinet minister (thanks to his brother) was somehow to blame for the 1996 rout, but you must agree that the lady has the balls to state her mind without mincing words.

 

Of course, her judgement is simplistic and tends to divert attention from the real reasons for that defeat: the arrogance of a power-drunk cabinet and of the cliques of which it was captive. It certainly diverts attention from a whole system and style of government – of which RCC is an icon – to focus on individuals. Blame and sacrifice the said cabinet minister and save the jolly crew! She is peeved that L-orizzont refuses to cooperate with her.

 

Her fourth, and most important, point is that this incident (or incidents such as these…there is reference to the Gozo gang-rape case), may “have the same effect again”. On this point, I agree with her completely.

 

This brings me back to my point of departure. Daphne’s attack on the said cabinet minister, because that is what this is all about, is proof that the foundations on which the Nationalist party is built are really coming apart. Considering that Daphne is not a lone desperado but reflects the interests of a certain current of the Nationalist party and its social supporters, then the lady’s tkseskis against a major Nationalist political figure is a sign of the times. 

Bertoldo Cacasenno aka Gahan Lawrjat

 

Above: Achille Scateni’s seismograph, 19th century. 

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No quantum of solace

Posted in 1 by Editor on January 20, 2009

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This article appeared yesterday, January 19, on The Times of Malta. You may access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090119/opinion/no-quantum-of-solace

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I am talking about. Anybody with even the most rudimentary of political antennas has intercepted signals that indicate that we are approaching a zone of severe turbulence. The Prime Minister’s disconsolate countenance – a bearing punctuated by brave but brief and, ultimately, unconvincing attempts at a smile – is one of a series of clues of varying significance and magnitude that support the conviction of many that this government may not be standing on solid ground.

The international financial crisis, its repercussion on the real economies of our principal markets for both our industrial exports and tourism, the impact of all of this on our own real economy, our broke government’s impotence in the face of this crisis, indeed its compounding of the effects of the crisis on our economy, thanks to an insane policy dictated by its pre-electoral profligacy and decades of wastefulness… these factors go some way to explain the mood of impending doom, but not all the way.

Governments are made possible by alliances: social and political alliances, by alliances of convenience and, sometimes, of conviction, by strategic and tactical alliances, by long-term and short-term alliances. Many of the alliances that this government is built on are beginning to come apart. This is sending tremors throughout the whole edifice of Lawrence Gonzi’s government. No wonder he looks worried. But this factor too – even when taken together with the economic situation – does not go all the way in explaining the growing uncertainty.

The other destabilising factor is Joseph Muscat. The magnitude of the earthquake he has unleashed within the Labour Party has been underestimated in many quarters. It has been underestimated by Dr Gonzi himself, although his move regarding the Presidency suggests that he is beginning to realise that his political survival might stand a better chance if he were to emulate Dr Muscat and unleash his own – albeit risky – earthquakes. It has been underestimated by almost all of his Cabinet. It has been underestimated by almost all of the Nationalist Party’s general staff and the Nationalist parliamentary group. Almost all. A minority has read and deciphered the signs on the wall and is biding its time. No quantum of solace for the Prime Minister in the new year.

These three elements together will bring about change. In what direction? It is too early to say. I know where I would like it to lead but I am objective enough to realise that there are thousands of other players who will do their utmost to push and pull in directions other than the one I want.

To start with, once it becomes obvious that the PN cannot win another election with Dr Gonzi at the helm, there will be attempts to replace him with a younger person. Indeed, such attempts are already underway.

Will these attempts succeed? Again, it is too early to make any serious forecasts. There are too many unknowns in the equation. Will Dr Gonzi gracefully bow out before the next election? Will Simon Busuttil accept the crown if it is offered to him? Will other young pretenders meekly accept the Busuttil solution? Will older players miss the opportunity of settling scores and etching their name in tomorrow’s history books? What about the king-maker at 25 Rue Archimedes? He will not support anyone opposed to his nomination as EU commissioner but will his support be an asset or a liability in the portfolio of the next Kap?

In any case, will Dr Gonzi’s exit – and, therefore, the end of GonziPN – save the PN? This will depend mainly on the PL’s ability to understand and implement Dr Muscat’s new approach. The statutory modifications that the extraordinary general conference has just approved were a necessary step forward but by no means a sufficient one. Dr Muscat’s “new political season” presumes a radical change of culture within and throughout the party. No mean feat. Meet me here in a fortnight and I’ll tell you why I think it can – and must – be done.

 

Mario Vella

 

Din l-art helwa, jew qabar mbajjad?

Posted in 1 by Editor on January 10, 2009

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:27-28

 

An eloquent indication of just how morally rotten and corrupt are the networks of power that ultimately control din l-art helwa, is given to us by the confirmation that no charges will be brought against those lawyers and other go-betweens involved in the attempts to buy the silence of the family of a 14-year-old girl from Nadur, Gozo, at the centre of rape allegations.

 

In a letter sent to The Sunday Times reacting to an article published last November, police said they had investigated the case and found no “breaches of the law”.  The girl’s family, however, say that neither they, nor other key witnesses who could confirm the facts, were ever interviewed by the police regarding allegations that no less than two attempts were made to convince them not to pursue the matter.

 

Last September, The Sunday Times had courageously revealed that a lawyer, close relatives of the accused, as well as a priest who acted as an intermediary, had persuaded the victim’s mother to sign a contract stating that members of her family would not take the case to court in return for €7,000 in “psychological support”. The victim’s family, the newspaper states, were never given a copy of the contract.

 

The four defendants, all under house arrest, are Peter Paul Said, Josef Said – who stand accused of rape – and Mark Lorry Said and Peter Paul Debono – who were charged with her defilement.  The contract did not prevent the victim’s family from pressing ahead.  On the day the men were due to be arraigned, however, according to the mother, two lawyers – one from Gozo and another from Malta –  approached her with the intention of coming to “an arrangement”.

 

The girl’s mother told The Sunday Times that she told the police inspector in charge of the investigation about the contract as well as of the second attempt to stop the claims from reaching the courts. The police neither confirmed nor denied the woman’s claim. They merely said  that police reports are not public documents.

 

Chief Justice Vincent DeGaetano brought up the issue of interference when, last October, he imposed stricter bail conditions on the defendants, arguing that there appeared to have been “manoeuvres by people who had an interest to see that the case does not reach the courts”.  “It seems that,” he added, “before the accused were charged in court, money changed hands in order for there to be a withdrawal of the complaint (in respect of the accused bearing the Said surname)”.

 

Labour MP Evarist Bartolo, who made PQs about the case to the minister of Home Affairs (including a request to name the lawyers concerned), told The Sunday Times that he thought “… the law is being used to protect those who are strong and powerful rather than those who are weak and vulnerable. It continues to protect the culture of omertá (code of silence) we have in our country. […] It’s symptomatic of a sick society”. The honourable Minister declined to comment, saying there were pending court proceedings.

 

See Mark Micallef’s report “No charges over attempts to buy rape girl’s silence.
Key witnesses insist they have not been interviewed”, The Sunday Times, January 4, 2009
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090104/local/no-charges-over-attempts-to-buy-rape-girls-silence

683 later…

Posted in 1 by Editor on January 7, 2009

At least 683 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and nearly 3,085 wounded since the war began on December 27. Seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died in the same period.

Avi Shlaim, a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, writing in this morning’s The Guardian, argues forcefully that: 

“No amount of military escalation can buy Israel immunity from rocket attacks from the military wing of Hamas. Despite all the death and destruction that Israel has inflicted on them, they kept up their resistance and they kept firing their rockets. This is a movement that glorifies victimhood and martyrdom. There is simply no military solution to the conflict between the two communities. The problem with Israel’s concept of security is that it denies even the most elementary security to the other community. The only way for Israel to achieve security is not through shooting but through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years. Israel has rejected this offer for the same reason it spurned the Arab League peace plan of 2002, which is still on the table: it involves concessions and compromises.”

The tragedy that is unfolding itself in front of our own eyes, day by day, hour by hour, is a frightening reminder of the fragility of peace in our region.

A political class we (don’t) deserve. Or, Betrayal.

Posted in 1 by Editor on January 2, 2009

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A recent Malta Today editorial, revisiting the shameful JPO episode, concluded that “this is how politics works in Malta” and that when “ethical behaviour gets thrown out of the window, and politicians can hold on to their seats and posts without even a modicum of humility in the face of damning evidence, then perhaps we ought to consider that we really get the political class we deserve.”

 

One is tempted to agree with Malta Today’s conclusion, especially when this gutsy paper reminds us that the “entire farce was later crowned by (former) secretary-general Joe Saliba’s frank admission that he would pursue the same strategy had he found himself in a similar situation once again”. We must, however, resist this temptation. We must refute the assertion that this is the political class this country deserves on at least two grounds.

 

We must, firstly, refute it because it is based on the assumption that all the Maltese who have chosen to engage in politics in one way or another are all unscrupulous bastards that represent a nation of equally unscrupulous bastards. Secondly, we must also refute it because it is an assertion that exudes a sickening stench of fatalism. We are all a bunch of bastards, it says, and, what’s worse, we are forever destined to remain so.

 

We do not share Malta Today’s wholesale condemnation of all those engaged in politics nor do we subscribe to its apocalyptic pessimism. Malta Today quotes from the Noble Prize acceptance speech of one of my favourite playwrights, Harold Pinter, who is presently enjoying an unusually long pause, a dramatic mechanism he practically invented:


“…the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

 

Pinter, you may wish to note, is more cautious than Malta Today. He speaks of “the majority of politicians” not of the political class, not of all politicians. Harold Pinter’s distinction is critical. The lack of distinction exercised by Malta Today is, on the contrary, fatal.  It kills any hope some of us may have. Pause. Of changing things. Pause. Of changing. Pause.  At least to the extent that makes life on this rock worthwhile. Pause. We cannot betray that hope. Pause. It would be a. Pause. Betrayal. Silence.