Monthly Archives For November 2012

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U-Turning Our Way to Somewhere Else

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The Independent has published leaked budget proposals (but, as always, check against delivery).  There are three issues covered:  cuts in Child Benefit and medical card prescription charges, and the imminent property tax.  Here is what the parties and the Government said about these issues in the recent past.

Property Tax

There are so many U-turns on this issue, I’m surprised Government Ministers haven’t fallen down from dizziness.  The fact is that both Government parties actually campaigned against the  property tax they are now going to introduce.

Fine Gael actually opposed the introduction of an annual household property tax.  This is from their election manifesto:

Fianna Fail’s proposal, now endorsed by the Labour Party, to introduce by 2014 an annual, recurring residential property tax on the family home is unfair. But as we tackle the fiscal crisis, we will have to cut central exchequer funding for local authorities, and we recognise that local authorities will have to find more sustainable sources of revenue appropriate to local circumstances. What will be viewed as fair in South Dublin might be viewed as unworkable in rural Clare.

In this context, we will empower local authorities to put in place, following the 2014 local elections, fairer alternatives to Fianna Fail’s and Labour’s recurring annual tax on the family home. The options would include:

  • No extra local taxes, forcing local authorities to close non-priority services and / or to deliver increased efficiencies;
  • Increased local user charges for waste etc.; or
  • The option of a local “site sale profits tax”. Such a tax would be levied on the profit made from the site value on the sale of a residence (sales proceeds, less cost indexed by inflation, less stamp duty paid and less home improvements)

The final measure might be considered as both fairer and more economically sensible than an annual recurring property tax.

There is no question – Fine Gael campaigned against a property tax.  It called for alternatives (the site sale profits tax could be a positive measure) but committed that those alternatives would not be introduced until after the 2014 local election.

Yet now they are introducing a property tax.  This is similar to their opposition to a Household Charge and their u-turn on the issue when they introduced . . the Household Charge.

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The Live Register – EP04 IFSC: The City Within

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I have to put up the latest and greatest episode of the Live Register.

It's an excellent exploration of the Irish financial services sector and its exaggerated yet highly influencial role in the Irish economy. It talks about the Clearing House Group, Hedge Funds, tax avoidance and transfer pricing, the origins of the IFSC, light-touch regulation, ultra low tax, what happened to Depfa Bank, Brass plate companies, the reality behind the employment myth in financial services and much much more.

Guests include Shane Brett, Harry McGee and Professor Jim Stewart.

Here is Jim Stewart's 2006 article “Financial Flows and Treasury Management Firms” which was mentioned in the interview. In the study of 41 Treasury firms he found that in many there was a median employment of zero.

“A treasury management subsidiary is a common feature of MNCs. Treasury Management firms are the conduits for the global movement of intra-firm financial flows by MNCs. They often form part of a complex organisational structure whose immediate parent may be located in a tax haven (Stewart, 2005). (pg3)

A database of all Irish registered companies was searched in order to identify Treasury management firms. Ultimately 41 firms with available accounting data were identified. These firms are of considerable economic interest. The median size in terms of gross assets in 2002 was $379 million, median profits in 2002 were $6.3 million ($9.6 if those reporting losses are excluded) but the median number employed was zero.(pg4)”

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Dole TV: Father Feidhlim

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Great clip from Dole TV The first time as liturgy, the second as farce… Credits: Father Feidhlim/Jon Right: John Breslin Graphics and Editing: Barry Hamilton Camera and Lighting: Thom McDermott. Post Sound and Music Composition:…

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Means-Test Central

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The Troika is at it again – putting pressure on the Government to do something.  This time the ‘something‘ is to introduce more means-testing.

 ‘The Irish Times understands that the Government is under pressure from the EU-IMF-ECB troika to reduce the duration for which the means-tested jobseeker’s benefit is paid.  At present the payment – worth up to €188 a week – is paid for up to 12 months to people who are out of work and covered by social insurance. However, this would be reduced to nine months under proposals to be considered by the Cabinet.  As a result, those on the benefit would face moving on to means-tested jobseeker’s payments much earlier. This would see thousands of people receiving lower rates. The move is aimed at encouraging people to seek work, or what policymakers call a “labour activation measure”'

The report above is somewhat confused – Jobseekers’ Benefit is not means-tested (this could be a typo).  But you get the point:  increase means-testing.

This is being presented as a ‘work incentive’ measure but in truth it is cost-cutting measure – for many households, once their Benefit runs out they will either be excluded from Assistance (e.g. if their partner is working) or have the payment cut because they have savings, etc.

Or it is an attempt to drive people back into the labour market at lower wages; more people competing for fewer jobs has that effect.  Whichever, It will represent one more step in degrading an already enfeebled social insurance system.

But let’s take a step back and look at the wider picture.  To what extent does Ireland means-test its social protection payments compared to other EU countries?  There is a powerful lobby calling for more means-testing in order to ‘direct money to those who most need it’.  How do we compare now?

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Savita Halappanavar and the Doctor’s Plague

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When my sister was born my mother began to haemorrhage badly and was in danger of bleeding to death. My father and my aunt (a nurse who qualified in England) pleaded with the doctor to carry out a hysterectomy – then the only treatment. He refused on the grounds that a hysterectomy would prevent her having future children. In effect it would be a form of contraception. When my father threatened to take him to court he held out both hands and said, ‘Mr Wall, these hands were blessed by the Pope’. Nevertheless, under threat of legal action, he buried his conscientious objections and did the deed and saved my mother’s life. This was more than fifty years ago.

The recent denial, in similar circumstances, of appropriate treatment to Savita Halappanavar by staff at University Hospital Galway and her subsequent death from septicaemia has caused much controversy here and abroad, not least in her home country where the India Times ran a headline that said: ‘Ireland Murders Pregnant Indian Dentist’. It is, I think, a fair accusation.

There are a few things I would like to say on the matter.

Firstly, what Savita Halappanavar died of – septicaemia – used to be called ‘puerperal fever’ and puerperal fever was nicknamed the ‘doctor’s plague’. It resulted from the increasing tendency to medicalise childbirth from the 15th century onwards. By contrast, incidence of puerperal fever was much lower for traditional births where midwives attended women in their own homes. In other words, for many centuries it was more dangerous to give birth in a hospital than at home. Puerperal fever achieved it’s ‘plague’ status because of the presence of large numbers of women giving birth at the same time in a factory-type situation – and, significantly, the handling of their bodies by men, namely doctors. It was not a plague that affected doctor’s but one that they created. In that sense it was truly ‘the doctor’s plague’.

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Note to neo-liberals: Earth orbits the sun

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In the next 15 years one of the greatest turning points in world history can occur. In five to seven years China will become the world's largest economy. In about 15 years China will achieve the annual $12,000 GDP per capita qualifying it as a developed economy by World Bank criteria. China is so large that these events will change the world. For example, China's 1.3 billion population is larger than the combined 1.1 billion of all existing developed economies.

But these successes are not inevitable. China has enjoyed tremendous economic achievements since 1978, experiencing in the last decade the fastest per capita GDP growth in any major economy in history, and the fastest growth of consumption in a large country. It achieved this because it followed economic policies laid out by Deng Xiaoping from 1978. But now an attempt is being made by some to divert China onto an economic path, neo-liberalism, which has failed wherever it has been carried out. Examining the factual record of neo-liberal policy shows the scale of what is at stake both for China and internationally.

Neo-Liberal policies were applied in Latin America in the 1980s. The result was that Latin America's per capita GDP fell by an average 0.5 percent a year for 10 years.

In the former Soviet Union neo-liberal shock therapy, based on full privatization, was carried out after 1991. Russia's GDP fell 36 percent, the greatest decline of a major economy in peacetime in modern world history. Russia's male life expectancy fell by four years, to only 58, by 1998 and Russia's population today is 7 million less than it was in 1991.

Neo-liberal policies in the US instigated under Ronald Reagan led to the colossal accumulation of debt that culminated in the international financial crisis of 2008. During the earlier Keynesian period of US economic policy, lasting from the end of the Korean War (1950-53) until 1980, US state debt fell from 70 percent to 37 percent of GDP. During the succeeding neo-liberal period US state debt rose to 88 percent of GDP by last year. Over the same period the 10-year moving average of annual US GDP growth fell from 3.3 percent to 1.6 percent. Under neo-liberal policies US state debt more than doubled, and US economic growth halved.

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The Unemployment Crisis: A Modest 0.7% Response

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Even the Government admits their policies are having little effect on job creation.  They expect unemployment to remain at 13 percent by 2015, a fall of only one percentage point since they took office.  The number of people at work will only grow by 12,000 over the lifetime of this Government. Truly, we are into a period of medium-term stagnation.

A number of analysts have rightly called for a sustained and substantial programme of investment.  This would boost growth in the medium-term while putting people back to work in the short-term.  But it cannot, alone, fill the jobs gap – especially for those seeking to participate in the service sectors of the economy.  There needs to be complementary strategies.

David Begg, General Secretary of ICTU, recently provided one of them. Speaking at the TEEU annual conference he said:

‘I would say that ultimately the State must be willing to contemplate being an employer of last resort through local authorities or social employment. The lessons of the Great Depression may have been lost but they are as valid in social terms now as they were in the 1930s. No country, no society can afford to regard so many of its unemployed citizens as expendable.’

The state as Employer of Last Resort (ELR) – that’s a considerable intervention.  The concept is simple:  during periods of enforced unemployment, where the private markets cannot employ people who want to work, the state should employ people until sufficient job creation commences.

An ELR programme would employ people through the mainstream public sector, local authorities, or community, voluntary and non-profit organisations on socially beneficial projects.  There are a number of questions over how this would work.  I will focus on two and, in so doing, start the work of outlining an ELR programme.

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Dublin Council of Trade Unions march against austerity, Dublin 24th November 2012

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Statement by Michael O’Reilly, President of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, following the Anti-Austerity March yesterday (Saturday)

Speaking after yesterday’s Anti-Austerity march in Dublin, which saw around 20,000 people from a wide range of trade unions and civil society groups raise their voices against austerity in advance of the Budget, DCTU President Michael O’Reilly said the march was just one step in an ongoing campaign.  Expressing disappointment that a small minority of protesters chose to disrupt the address by Congress President Eugene McGlone, Mr O’Reilly said he would be seeking an early meeting with the other organisations involved in organising the march to ensure that future events planned by what he termed the ‘anti-austerity coalition’ were not marred by similar incidents.

Mr O’Reilly also said the DCTU would be entering dialogue with its affiliate unions regarding the possibility of concerted action next March, when another €3.1 billion is due to be paid to Anglo Irish.

“Some months ago, the DCTU started forging a broad civil society alliance aimed at mobilising people to say ‘Enough is enough – neither our economy nor our society can afford further cuts’.  The fundamental principle underpinning the trade union movement is solidarity, and yesterday was an impressive demonstration of that solidarity between trade unions and a wide range of civil society groups affected by continuing austerity policies”, Mr O’Reilly said.

“The Dublin Council of Trade Unions respects the fact that all unions affiliated to the Council are democratically accountable to their own membership.  We especially commend SIPTU and other unions in both the private and public sectors for their role in mobilising for yesterday’s march and helping make the day the huge success it was.

“Members of the trade union movement have worked tirelessly to highlight the harm being done by the austerity policies adopted by the current and previous governments.  We were extremely disappointed that a small minority of protesters saw fit to disrupt the address by Congress President Eugene McGlone.  Successful movements for change must be built on mutual respect, and we will be reviewing yesterday’s events together with the other groups involved in organising the march to ensure that this ‘anti-austerity coalition’ is not marred by such incidents in the future.

“Yesterday was just one step in a campaign which will see further mobilisation on Budget day.  The possibility of concerted action to coincide with the Anglo payment of 3.1 billion next March should also be considered, and to that end the Dublin Council of Trade Unions will also be entering dialogue with our affiliate unions and the rest of the coalition”, Mr O’Reilly concluded.

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DCTU No to Austerity March: Saturday 24th Nov. @1pm Parnell Sq

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Here are some of the 30 reasons to join the DCTU No to Austerity pre-Budget 2013 march tomorrow.

For Every 30 People in a Dole Queue – There is Only One Job

Because low pay in Ireland is really low pay

The Most Profitable Businesses Are Making No Sacrifices

Hundreds of Thousands of Children Live in Deprivation

Investment is the Key

we shouldn’t be burning €3.1 Billion Annually.

Don’t Cut – Expand and Re-invest 

And of course there are many more reasons here.

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The Children of Gaza Have Names

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I wake up in the middle of the night to go check on my child. She breathes, she makes little sleep-noises. I leave the room. Again, half-an hour later I go back to check if she is alright. If she still breathes. I go back again and again through the night because instead of sleep­ing I have been watching the news com­ing in from Gaza. This is the sev­enth day of bomb­ing in Gaza, ten chil­dren are dead and 140 wounded. I refuse to call them “chil­dren”. They are not “chil­dren” to be com­pressed into a com­mon noun by the west­ern press: they have names, they had toys, they also once cried in their sleep while their par­ents went up to check on them.

Let us call out: Jumana and Tamer Esei­fan. Jumana and Tamer were killed by an Israeli mis­sile in the town of Jabaliya. They were not yet four. Let us call out: Iyad Abu Khoussa. Iyad was killed when another Israeli mis­sile hit his home. He was one. 10 mem­bers of the al Dalu fam­ily were killed in an Israeli air­strike while they were sleep­ing in their beds. Let’s call out some of their names: Sara was 7, Jamal was 6, Yusef was 4, and Ibrahim? he was 2. The New York Times reporter, Jodi Rudoren, described the funeral for the al Dalu chil­dren as an exer­cise in “pageantry”. Accord­ing to Rudoren los­ing ten fam­ily mem­bers in one day was no excuse for for­get­ting your man­ners and weep­ing in public. Jumana and Tamer. Iyad and Sara and Jamal. Yusef and Ibrahim. Let’s remem­ber they have names. Let’s remem­ber they also had toys.

When the bombs star­ted to fall why didn’t their par­ents flee? Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journ­al­ist based in Gaza, tells us why.

Gaza does not have bomb shel­ters, and with the bor­ders closed, the shoreline block­aded and many of the tun­nels des­troyed, no one can leave. The Palestinian edu­ca­tion min­istry and the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have shut all schools in this coastal enclave. Mosques and churches are not safe. The sta­dium is not safe. Media offices are not safe. Gov­ern­ment build­ings are not safe. Homes are not safe.

There is nowhere to go. But when the bombs stop fall­ing what will life be like for those who remain in this ‘open air prison’ that is Gaza? What does child­hood in Gaza smell of when there are no airstrikes?

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Open Letter Condemning the Israeli Assault on the Defenceless People of the Gaza Strip

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An open letter sent to Irish Left Review and many others this morning, asking people to share and sign and to add their voice of condemnation and protest. 

We the undersigned watch with horror yet another ruthless and criminal Israeli assault on the defenceless people of the Gaza Strip. The assassination of the Hamas’ military commander, Ahmad al-Jabari, by Israel was intended to disrupt any chance for a permanent cease fire between the two sides and caused the current cycle of violence. For the last five years al-Jabari had been responsible for limiting rocket attacks on Israel.

The inaction of the Western governments is further proof of their indifference to their electorates’ wish to stop Israel from perpetrating yet another massacre against the Palestinian people.

We call upon our governments, which have stood aloof and indifferent, in the face of Palestine’s  dispossession and colonization since 1948 to take immediate and effective action. No other people in the world has been subjected, for more than sixty years, to such relentless acts of collective punishment and military brutality as have the Palestinian people.

We call for the removal of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the free movement of people and goods in and out of the region and a total cessation of lethal attack from the air, land and sea, against a helpless civilian population in one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.

The world cannot stand by when Palestine is once more battered to death.

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