We bumped into an Opposition TD in the corridor.
“Slim pickings today,” he sympathised. “It’s hard to heckle Ministers with those masks on. Sorry about that.”
The face mask is the enemy of the heckle.
Muffled squawks are no substitute for piercing interventions.
A decent spot of barracking is usually part and parcel of the budget day experience, but most deputies held back this year, preferring not to sound like they were talking through a mouthful of marrowfat peas.
This inconvenient outbreak of suffocating civility allowed Paschal Donohoe and Michael McGrath to glide through their budget speeches relatively untroubled. Lambasted they were not.
At least Michael Fitzmaurice kept his end up, bellowing from beyond the perimeter rail about the carbon tax.
“What about rural Ireland? Shame on you. Shame on you!” boomed the Roscommon-Galway Independent, who is a farmer and agricultural contractor. “What about middle Ireland, driving to work? Screwing them, that’s what you’re doing.”
While the two Ministers worked through their scripts, Sinn Féin’s first responders prepared their replies. Pearse Doherty (marking Paschal) and Mairéad Farrell (shadowing Michael) got busy with their highlighter pens while in the row behind, official anorak Eoin Ó Broin got stuck into the nitty-gritty of the accounts.
For the 90 minutes it took the two Ministers to do their thing, Eoin never let up. If he wasn’t feverishly writing on sheets of A4 paper he was belting away on the keyboard attached to his iPad or punching numbers into the calculator on his phone. The detailed budget document was on his lap and he flicked back and forth through it, occasionally consulting the closely written pages of a hardback notebook open on the ledge in front of him.
Leo walked back to his office after the Cabinet meeting, casually carrying his Cabinet papers in a SuperValu plastic bag. Very
Only when Pearse or Mairéad turned around looking for a steer did he break off from the typing and writing. Sometimes, when a Minister paused, the only sound in the snoozy chamber was the relentless tap-tapping from Ó Broin.
Oh dear. Perhaps he’s bringing out another book for Christmas.
The day began with the traditional brandishing of the budget statements on the steps of Government Buildings. The Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure were over half an hour late for their photocall but, in a stroke of luck, the notoriously camera-shy Leo Varadkar was forced to walk past the photographers on three occasions.
The first was when he walked back to his office after the Cabinet meeting, casually carrying his Cabinet papers in a SuperValu plastic bag. Very Matt Damon. Not, of course, that Leo would have made that connection.
Then he walked through the courtyard with a number of advisors, to the silent awe of a party of tourists outside the gate, only to return a short time later holding a takeaway cup of coffee and what appeared to be some class of ice-pop.
Finally, the two Ministers appeared, delighted with themselves. They were accompanied by an angst of advisors, who walked them to the steps.
Paschal and Michael looked very smart in their smart, non-budget budget suits. One of the advisors spat on a hankie and wiped a smudge off Michael’s scrunched-up face while another spat on his hand and smoothed down Paschal’s little quiff.
Actually, no, they didn’t. That was done before everyone walked outside.
The second tradition was upheld by the Ceann Comhairle at the start of proceedings when the prayer was followed by the performance of the annual budget joke. They all know what’s coming but it never fails to get a laugh.
Seán Ó Fearghaíl reminded the TDs not to leak budget details and to respect the confidentially of the information until the Ministers announced it.
Knocks ’em dead, every time.
“That was not meant to be a cause of levity,” deadpanned the Ceann Comhairle, before succumbing to a sneaky smirk.
Then the ushers filed into the chamber and fanned out among the benches, distributing the weighty documents to the ravenous deputies. It’s normally the early highlight but Mary Lou McDonald’s monochrome tartan kitten heel shoes stole the show for some envious observers.
Svelte father of two Paschal flaunted his Eurogroup curves in a grey suit while father of seven Michael’s flattering navy suit showed he hasn’t held onto any of that baby weight.
Well done, boys! How do they do it?
The third tradition of honouring the Budget Speech Reply Cliches was faithfully observed by Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Doherty.
“This is the 13th time I’ve responded to a budget,” he told the chamber, which was shocking to hear.
Thirteen years, man and boy, listening to other people’s spending plan for the coming year.
Pearse Doherty, who normally burst a few eardrums with his annual speech, sounded quieter when he spoke. Another sign of subtle changes in the Shinners?
But those long years stood to the Donegal man on Tuesday. He was able to reprise the classics in his reply. Although he reverted to pre-pandemic mode when he began by referring to “Budget 2020”.
“This budget is a reflection on the Government that delivered it: out of touch, out of ideas and out of time. Never has so much been spent to achieve so little. No answers, no urgency and no leadership.”
It should have been a budget of “vision” and “change”.
Any parts he welcomed he said were filched from the Sinn Féin alternative budget.
Back to the Government side, where the Ministers declared the country is enjoying the Covid “rebound”.
“We are in recovery,” announced Paschal, pointing to the “remarkable rebound” in the country’s jobs outlook. He talked about “anti-reverse hybrid rules”.
Michael quoted Nelson Mandela. He talked about bringing Ireland’s investment in capital to “almost 5 per cent of GNI star”.
The budget, by the way, is “anchored in a conviction that we can take the learnings from Covid . . .”
In the run-up to the big event, Sinn Féin’s approach to the nation’s finances was described by some commentators as showing a softening towards some aspects of its economic policy, particularly where middle-income earners and certain businesses are concerned. This, it was posited, was to make the party more attractive to more non-working class voters as it powers ahead in the polls.
And Pearse Doherty, who normally burst a few eardrums with his annual speech, sounded quieter when he spoke. Another sign of subtle changes in the Shinners?
Perhaps not, for following him was Mairéad Farrell of Galway West. She puts Pearse in the ha’penny place when it comes to voice projection.
As she neared the end of her high-decibel reply to Michael McGrath, colleagues took umbrage on her behalf, saying the Taoiseach was talking loudly as she was speaking. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle asked a highly affronted Micheál Martin to pipe down. He insisted he wasn’t talking. Later, he explained that McGrath had been showing him some figures from the National Plan, that was all.
“It’s so ignorant,” huffed Pádraig MacLochlainn.
Labour’s Ged Nash said that Paschal and Michael were “politically indistinguishable”. Like the entertainers Ant and Dec, one of them should stand on the left and the other on the right so people can identify them.
Funny, but after the announcement that contraceptives are to be available free to young people aged between 17 and 25, we kept looking at the pair of Ministers and thinking of The Two Johnnies.
Speaking of which, we understand Joe Duffy slept in an oxygen tent on Tuesday night to prepare for the reaction.
Systematic American Mistakes Are Making Russia Great Again
Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
After a year and a half of silence accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft and wire fraud.
He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet, used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.
There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.
There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.
There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution, Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.
It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove, mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just ignored it and crapped in it anyway.
The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!” is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore, Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia; therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And so on…
If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:
1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August 21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force. Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using Tomahawk missiles.
2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries, falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine, but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump administration has continued Obama’s this policy of Making Russia Great Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and advice.
3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support, was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.
4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there have been some differences of orientation among the members of the Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian economy, giving it a major boost.
Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it, unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is, of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it, but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great Again? Because it probably will.
Rotunda to lift restrictions on partners attending appointments
Restrictions on partners attending appointments at the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin are to be removed from the beginning of November.
The Rotunda said it was planning to return to “pre-Covid” access to appointments for patients and their partners as the country enters the next stage of living with the disease.
It said that from next Monday partners would be able to attend booking visit appointments and appointments in the hospital’s high-risk clinic. From November 1st, the hospital would “remove remaining restrictions for partners for other antenatal outpatient appointments”.
The hospital said it reviewed and risk assessed its Covid-19 safety measures each week, while taking into account rates of infection in the community, vaccination rates amongst patients and the hospital’s “unique infrastructural challenges”.
“We have already restored access similar to pre-pandemic levels in most areas of the hospital, including early pregnancy scans, anomaly scans, the emergency and assessment unit, and our inpatient wards,” the hospital said in a statement.
It said many of the Rotunda’s outpatient areas were “in older buildings with very small waiting areas” and in order to manage potential overcrowding in those areas it “strongly encouraged” patients to attend outpatient appointments alone. It recommended that women only bring partners for “occasional visits, such as if you have a complicated or special issue to discuss with your care team”.
The Rotunda said that at times when there is high footfall, partners could be asked to “wait outside the building until called to the consultation room”. It dded that it was important to remember that Covid-19 “has not gone away and is in fact endemic within our community”.
When will face masks no longer be compulsory indoors in Spain?
With Covid-19 vaccine campaigns in their later stages and infection rates generally lower, several countries around the world have eased their face mask rules.
Such is the case in England, where masks are now not required in shops and even on certain modes of public transport, or in the US, where fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear one in most indoor settings.
Spain on the other hand has been strict on its mask-wearing policy throughout the pandemic and its citizens have willingly complied in general.
Many people are still wearing masks outdoors, even though they’ve not been required by Spanish authorities since June, as long as a safety distance of 1.5 metres can be maintained.
So when might it be possible to remove face masks indoors in Spain (other than for eating and drinking) ?
In early October, Spanish media reported that Health Minister Carolina Darias had said that the use of masks indoors would be required until the spring of 2022.
On Wednesday at a press conference after Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council, Darias stressed she never stated that the mandatory use of masks would end in spring next year.
“The face mask has come to stay, at least while the flu virus or other possible viruses are present this autumn,” she reiterated.
“Spain was one of the first countries to regulate the safety distance in outdoor spaces to not have to wear a mask outside, but we know the importance of its use indoors where transmission by aerosols is proven”.
“Let’s take it slowly,” Darias concluded.
As usual, Spain’s regional governments have their own views on Covid-19 rules.
Madrid president Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional leader with the most liberal take on Covid restrictions during the pandemic, has again taken a different approach by actually offering something closer to a date for when mandatory mask-wearing indoors will be scrapped.
The end of indoor masks should come “after Christmas,” stated Ayuso in late September. “Total” normality and “pre-pandemic” life should not be delayed beyond the spring of 2022, she added.
Castilla-La Mancha president Emiliano García-Page has also suggested February 2022 as an end date for mandatory masks indoors in the central Spanish region.
Are regions relaxing any mask-wearing rules?
Catalan Education Minister Josep González-Cambray said on Wednesday that “We will get rid of face masks in schools as soon as we can”.
According to González-Cambray, the use of face masks in schools is a “health measure” dependent on epidemiological criteria, which is why it will be down to the health departments to decide.
In Valencia, the Generalitat government has said that it will scrap the requirement for children to wear a mask in the school playground.
“We are working every week with the Health Department and in the next few days the protocol will be updated” because the numbers have been very favorable,” said Valencia’s Minister of Education Vicent Marzà on Saturday.
However, in the Balearic Islands, the regional government has decided the use of masks in the school playground should continue, causing an outcry from many students and their parents.
Balearic Minister of Health Patricia Gómez confirmed yesterday that the use of masks will continue to be mandatory in school playgrounds “until the situation improves”.
Why wait until after the winter if the numbers are good now?
The epidemiological situation in Spain is currently the best it’s been since autumn of last year, with a 14-day cumulative incidence of 40.85 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
This means that the country is currently at very low risk for Covid infections according to the categorisation used by the Spanish health ministry.
In addition to this, almost 80 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a percentage that’s higher still if focusing only on those who are eligible for the vaccine (people aged 12 and over).
According to César Carballo, deputy emergency physician at Hospital Ramón y Cajal in Madrid, Spain is in a good epidemiological situation now which should allow to at least remove their masks outdoors.
But flu season is on its way, government leaders and health professionals are keen for the use of masks indoors to continue until after the winter.
“There is talk that we may have more cases of the flu. We do not know. Last year the flu disappeared completely. We will see this year,” Carballo told Spanish TV channel La Sexta.
“Health personnel are exhausted … to suffer a wave of flu this year would be a severe blow,” he added. “If it were up to me I would maintain that mask-wearing indoors should be required until January or February, accompanied by hand washing and distance”.
Experience of pandemic in Dublin and London worlds apart
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