Monthly Archives For November 2012

A Catholic Country

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(After William Carlos Williams)

so much depends

upon

a doctor’s white

coat

impregnated with Christian

heartbeats

beside the haemorrhage

of grief

on which

so much depends

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Enough of Apps

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I was at a poetry reading not so long ago when one of the poets made a great point of displaying the phone screen on which he had composed a poem and from which he was now going to read. I have to admit that the poem doesn’t stick in my mind though I’m not sure that is any reflection upon the quality of the work. I was simply too distracted. It felt a bit like finding a great pub with a decent counter and a fine pint when the barman suddenly flings on Sky Sports above your head and the whole space takes on a different dimension. Here too the technology worship, I thought. The acceptable bling. The cool consumerism. Not, I’ll admit, that my mind was on the truly nagging issues behind these Apple and Google sects, ‘the chaos that lies beneath’ them as one Observer journalist recently put it, the mined and rare materials neodymium and europium, the cobalt and coltan from the Congo over which people are killed, those factory camps in China with their nettings to prevent suicide. The hidden costs behind the latest must-have phone or laptop. No, to my shame I was merely lost in suggesting to myself that poetry is, perhaps, the ultimate in insecure arts. Damien Hirst and David Hockney are two widely known and acclaimed artists but I have spoken to quite a few artists, painters and sculptors who have freely admitted that, for all their acclaim, Hurst is widely recognised as at worst a charlatan and at best a mere salesman. Hockney is admired for his paintings but giggled at for his I-Pad creations. They don’t shy away. They know. Yet, as the poet Laureate in Britain launched a poetry App recently, among such true poets as Harry Enfield and David Cameron’s friend Helena Bonham-Carter, the one of whom the Irish actress Kathy Burke was so profoundly descriptive, how many of us wanted to, I don’t know, shout enough. Enough of this nonsense. Enough of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Or are we too frightened of being seen as reactionary, of being in opposition, as if the purchase of a phone was now the signifier of an open and adventurous mind. After all, despite those noises a few years back about the arts being the saviour of the economy we know deep down that market economics treats us with a deep indifference. We know that the School of Chicago economics, the reduction of everything to its market value, which is essentially the belief system we live under, leaves next to no room for poetry. Might that then explain Seamus Heaney’s praising of Eminem, or Carol Ann Duffy’s equating of poetry with texting or tweeting. I even read recently where one poet claimed that texts and tweets meant we were thinking harder about our writing than ever before. I tell you I LOL about that one. It’s all a bit desperate. It’s all a little bit like trying to get down with the kids. I mean I’m no spring chicken but even I cringed when Carol Ann Duffy praised the verbal dexterity of rapping by citing the Arctic Monkeys.

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I Want to be an Agent of Economic Recovery But They Won’t Let me Play!!!

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One of the keys to an alternative budgetary strategy is to stop cutting current public spending.  This would provide an opportunity to re-direct or re-invest productivity gains and spending efficiencies into expanding growth and employment.  This would be more effective at repairing public finances than the current austerity strategy.

Let’s take an example.  The Government reduces the drugs bill by €400 million.  This is a good cut.  There is likely to be little if any deflationary impact; jobs will not be lost, income will not fall, and growth will not be cut.  This is one of the few examples where a cut actually equals a savings of the same magnitude.

What do we do with that cut?  Do we just remove it from public spending?  If so, the deficit falls by €400 million but not much else happens in the economy.

So, why don’t we do something creative with it – address a social need, increase growth and employment, and reduce household costs?  Why don’t we roll out an affordable childcare programme?

Childcare in Ireland is one of the most expensive in the OECD and has been identified as a substantial cost to households in work, or attempting to return to work.  What would be the economic and fiscal impact of rolling out an affordable childcare network?

Let’s first examine the cost of rolling out such a network.  Deloitte, on behalf of the National Children’s Nurseries Association, prepared a detailed study – Review of the Cost of a Full-Day Childcare Placement (it no longer seems to be available on-line). They calculated the cost providing childcare places – wages, rent, insurance, materials, food, etc.  In 2007 they found that the average weekly cost of providing a full-time childcare place was €227.

I updated costs – by increasing non-staff costs by 10 percent and staff costs by 17 percent (employing childcare assistants at €19,300 is far too low for this important function).  When I do this, the cost of providing a place in a childcare centre comes to €260 per week.

Therefore, the €400 million drug bill saving would, if re-directed, finance 30,000 affordable childcare places.  Does this mean there is no deficit reduction?  Let’s see.

Employment:  The €400 million investment in childcare places would directly create 7,700 jobs – based on the ratios used by Deloitte. Of course, a portion of this would be a transfer of staff from existing private and voluntary crèches so that job creation would not be net.  Still, there would be considerable job creation from this.  This doesn’t count the jobs created/retained due to non-wage expenditure – purchasing materials to run the childcare centres from private sector (purchase of food, materials, etc.).

Impact on GDP:  Being job dense, this investment would increase in GDP by €350 million.  This only counts the wage element of the expenditure.  There would be additional growth from the non-wage investment.

Impact on Deficit:  Using the Department of Finance’s Debt Sensitivity Analysis, this growth would reduce the deficit by €175 million – but this would be slightly higher when the non-wage impact is included.

Fees Income:  If we assume an average weekly fee of €60 per week at 45 weeks, the potential income would be €80 million.  This would reduce the gross cost and, so, feed into deficit reduction.

There’s more. 

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Chewing the Bullet: Henry James & A Portrait of His Novel

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Even if The Portrait of a Lady has not been read, viewers of the rather fine Jane Campion film with Nicole Kidman —  a movie mercifully free of period-drama trumpery — will be familiar with the story. An inexperienced but likeable young American woman, earnestly in love with her own liberty, journeys toEurope; there she rejects two proposals of marriage, sensing that either of them would curtail the adventure of setting out on life’s exciting odyssey. Freedom, she feels, becomes her. All very Emersonian, until in Italy she meets and pledges her soul to a man whom she thinks singularly complements her own exceptionalism; but from this high point, where she had fondly hoped they could together look down generously on the world, she falls to ground and comes to realise she has married not just a hollow and mercenary dilettante but a malevolent narcissist who demands the sacrifice of her life spirit. She had thought she was free but the sordid truth that her husband married her for her money puts paid to her imaginative idealism and she confronts the truth of her marriage and the catastrophic collapse of her American Dream.

Michael Gorra’s enjoyable account of The Portrait of a Lady is very reader-friendly given his easy-going and often personal tone, and his gloss on the novel is interspersed with a mini-biography of the writer. Gorra calls the structure of his own book ‘dialectical’, using the term loosely to capture the way he focuses on key incidents in the novel before bouncing off these moments to acquaint us with episodes in the life of James as well as the history of the novel’s publication, from its initial serialization in magazines to its first book publication in 1881 and the author’s revisions in 1906. Addressing the style of The Portrait of a Lady, Gorra contrasts its series of dramatic scenes, pregnant with meaning, with the multi-plotted, knotted style of a novelist like Dickens and in the course of Portrait of a Novel there are neat commentaries on key moments from James’s text. He draws attention, for example, to the Godless universe that comes to the fore in the scene between the dying Daniel Touchett and his son Ralph:

There are many deathbeds in Victorian fiction, some full of prayers…. Many of them show us characters sunk in fear, and others hit a high note of hope. But I have read no such scene so entirely untroubled by the hereafter as this one; its originality lies in what James feels himself free to leave out. Neither Ralph nor his father speaks of God, and they do not call a clergyman at the last.

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Claiming the Alternative

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How many times do we hear from those who criticise the critics of austerity – ‘well, what’s your alternative.’  That the alternative has been outlined and measured by a number of groups for years is rarely acknowledged.  This time, however, it will be difficult to ignore given the recent work by Claiming our Future.

They have compiled a menu of tax measures which would largely impact on high income groups, capital, property and corporate income taken from a range of civil society groups. It shows that not only are spending cuts unnecessary, tax increases on low-average income groups are also unnecessary.  The key message in the CoF document is that if the Government wants to hit low-average income groups, it is a political decision – not one based on economic or budgetary necessity.

CoF takes proposals from TASC, UNITE, Social Justice IrelandNevin Economic Research Instiute (NERI) and ICTU which supplied the revenue estimates – most of which has been taken from the Department of Finance (the proposals and estimates supplied by UNITE have not yet been published).

The full list can be accessed at the link above.  Here is a broad breakdown.

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Cathechism: This is a Catholic Country

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Cathechism: This is a Catholic Country

Q: Why were a hundred thousand children abused?
A: Because this is a catholic country.

Q: Why did the abusers get away with it?
A: Because this is a catholic country.

Q: Why did the people of the country, to their as yet unpurged disgrace, let the
abusers get away with it?
A: Because this is a catholic country.

Q: Why are LBGT’s still beaten up on our streets, and why are they still afraid
to hold hands on most of our streets, and why are so many young LBGT’s driven to self-hatred and suicide, and why do LBGT’s still not have their equal rights?
A: Because this is a catholic country.

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It’s Official. Government Employment Policy is Failing (so says the Government)

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It’s official.  The Government’s employment policy is failing.  This finding comes from the Government itself, in the form of projections contained in yesterday’s Medium Term Fiscal Framework.  The projections are chilling and depressing.  Let’s first turn to employment.

In April last year, the Government was somewhat bullish about employment growth; projecting that the numbers at work would grow by 102,000 by 2015.  After the launch of the Jobs Initiative and the Action Plan for Jobs, the Government lowered their forecast to 67,000.  Yesterday, they lowered their forecast again – to 18,000.

In 2011, there were 1,810,000 people working (this includes full-time and part-time).  By 2015, the Government expects this to rise to 1,828,000.  After all the Government’s initiatives, IDA job announcements, protestations that jobs remains at the core of public policy – the Government itself admits that net job creation will only be 18,000 by 2015.

Let’s look at the annual projections.

In April last year, the Government expected employment growth to start this year, increasing by 37,000 in 2015 alone.   Now, the Government accepts that employment will fall this year (by 22,000) and won’t start growing until 2014.  In 2015 alone net job creation will only be 24,000.

This is grim.  During the life-time of this government, employment will rise only marginally.

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The Gathering, Mr Varadkar, The Gathering

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It is not often I feel the need to praise someone who plays a public role in Irish life but this time I do. In an age obsessed with celebrity, where being famous is seen as an achievement itself rather than doing something notable that has the side effect of fame, keeping some space celebrity free is a necessity. Remember after all that this is a country in which last Christmas the Taoiseach Enda Kenny had a two hour meeting with the rock singer Bono to discuss, and I quote, ‘affairs of state.’ Yes, affairs of state. With a singer. I wonder did Dickie Rock get a meeting too. Or maybe that Irish fella that won Big Brother.  Or Brian O’Driscoll’s wife. Or that Mullingar kid in One Direction. Though perhaps, depending on their levels of fame, their time spent with the Taoiseach discussing ‘affairs of state’ was a bit shorter. No one, after all, is more famous than Bono. So forgive me if washing up in the kitchen the other day I was only half paying attention when the actor Gabriel Bryne popped up on the radio. Not for long though.

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A History of Uneven Development

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Book Review: Maurice Coakley, Ireland in the World Order: A History of Uneven Development (London: Pluto Press, 2012; ISBN 978-0-7453-3125-6; £17.50)

“We are not a young people with an innocent record and a scanty inheritance. We have engrossed to ourselves an altogether disproportionate share of the wealth and traffic of the world. We have got all we want from a territory, and our claim to be left in the unmolested enjoyment of vast and splendid possessions, mainly acquired by force, often seems less reasonable to others than to us.”—Winston Churchill (1914).

This remark by Churchill to his government colleagues on the outbreak of the First World illustrates part of what Marxists understand as the law of uneven development. Not all countries in the capitalist global system developed at the same pace or with the same freedom and control. Colonialism sped the development of capitalism in the colonial powers and left them in a dominant position in relation to colonies, with control over the resources required for developing capitalist production relations and technology and with a subject market for their commodities.

Even where some colonies gained independence politically, the uneven relationship remained, in both material and ideological ways, and consequently many former colonies are trapped in a neo-colonial and subservient relationship, resulting in the global capitalist order having a centre-periphery division. Not all countries are equal. But uneven development also occurred where colonialism didn’t exist, as Coakley points out; so these two situations cannot be reduced to a single one.

Slower capitalist development also occurred as a result of internal contradictions. Where an area was poor in resources or delayed in the commercialisation of agriculture or the use of technological innovation, this left it in a disadvantaged position in production and global trade.

Coakley’s contribution regarding Ireland’s development economically, politically and culturally is a unique analysis of Irish history. Many histories have been printed in recent years that emphasise the role of economic and productive forces in our development, but none has so acutely emphasised the role that our colonial past—in its effect on class, culture, and ultimately the two states that were imposed at the beginning of the last century—has had on our position in the global order.

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The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians?

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Book Review: The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? Gulglielmo Verdirame, Cambridge University Press, 2011

 “One should always be aware of the risk that the distance between ‘might on the side of human rights’ and ‘human rights on the side of might may be a short one.’

The UN and Human Rights: Who Guards the Guardians? is based on the premise that UN operations around the world involving humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping, and implementations of sanctions have resulted in extensive human rights violations. Yet the UN continues to cite democracy to defend its legitimacy. The book’s author Guglielmo Verdirame quotes David Chandler; professor of International Relations at the University of Westminster and author of Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, to assert the UN’s defence of illegitimacy.

“… democracy can be taught or imposed by international bodies on the basis that some ‘cultures’ are not ‘rational’ or ‘civil’ enough to govern themselves …  a transitional lack of sovereignty and the denial of self-government is necessary in certain situations.”

According to Verdirame, though the UN is bound by international human rights law and international humanitarian law, institutional concerns for liberty and accountability have faltered in certain cases due to the UN’s legal incompetence, impunity and lack of adherence to human rights standards.

The overstepping of mandates by international organizations bound to the UN has often been shielded by immunity, resulting in conquests of power granted by influential UN member states. As article 105: 1 of the UN charter states, “The Organization shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes.” Therefore, human rights violations have been committed by international organizations affiliated to the UN with impunity, impunity which undermines the UN’s accountability.

A historical overview of the UN shows that legislation was always influenced by social, political and economic interests, leading to international human rights discourse which lacked “moral concern” and relied heavily on international relations. Humanitarian discourse plays upon conscience in society, usually bringing about a form of political hegemony which derives its strength from exploiting divisions within a state. The hegemony within human rights discourse has impacted both theory and humanitarian practice, influencing the humanitarian agenda without emphasizing the necessity to maintain human rights.

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Labour and Fine Gael bear responsibility for death of woman who was denied abortion

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United Left Alliance press statement from Clare Daly TD and Joan Collins TD

Labour and Fine Gael bear responsibility for death of woman who was denied abortion.

Legislate for X Case NOW.

Protest at Dáil, Weds November 14, 6pm.

The recent death of a woman who was denied a life-saving abortion is an outrage which demands immediate action, said ULA TD’s Clare Daly and Joan Collins.

“Sadly,” said Clare Daly, “the very thing we feared last April when we put our X Case Bill before the Dáil, has happened. A woman has died because Galway University Hospital refused to perform an abortion needed to prevent serious risk to her life. This is a situation we were told would never arise. An unviable fetus – the woman was having a miscarriage – was given priority over the woman's life, who unfortunately and predictably developed septicemia and died.

First and foremost we wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the woman's husband, family and friends for their terribly loss. This loss is all the worse because it need not have happened.

Make no mistake, had Labour and Fine Gael acted upon our Bill, medical guidelines could have been in place which would have ensured that there would have been no grounds for equivocation about performing an abortion when there was a risk to the life of the woman. Instead, the government took the cowardly step of hiding behind the fourth 'expert group' on abortion since 1992. This refusal to act has contributed to the circumstances which brought about this woman's death. Fianna Fáil and the Greens also bear responsibility, due to their failure to legislate for the X Case.”

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Treasure Ireland

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We are constantly assured (warned) that ‘everything is on the table’.  All manner of tax increases and spending cuts are being considered, and none are ruled out in principle.  So, goes the script. There is one issue, however, that is not on the table.  It is not even in the room.  It is not even in the house or lurking around the grounds.  And that issue is the corporate tax rate.  Why?

If we increased the corporate tax rate, this would undermine our ability to attract foreign direct investment.  This, in turn, would result in fewer jobs being created and put current jobs at risk; further, it would lower exports which would skewer our balance of payments.  All that value-added and economic activity would be jeopardised.

Before we confront this argument, let’s first look at how successful multi-nationals (MNCs) are in racking up profits in Ireland (also, this analysis from Michael Burke is also worth a read).  From this, we might get a sense of how sensitive they would be to an increase in the corporate tax rate. For, in truth, they are really really racking up the profits.

Ireland is not just a league-leader, it is off the chart.  MNCs here make more than four times the profit per employees than the average of the other EU-15 countries reporting (no data for Belgium or Greece). No wonder more and more multi-nationals are making Ireland their home.  It should be noted that this Eurostat data does not include the financial sector so the massive profits being made in the IFSC are not included.  Nor does the above include taxation – we’ll come to this later.

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30 Reasons to March on the 24th of November – No. 18: Unemployment Payments Are Too Low

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From Dublin Council of Trade Unions

During the 30-day countdown to the Anti-Austerity March on November 24th Dublin Council of Trade Unions has been publishing a Reason to March each day on their blog. Each post is also available to download in PDF format. There are, of course, many more reasons to march against austerity: so you can visit our Facebook page and leave your own ‘Reasons to March’?

The November 24th Anti-Austerity March is being organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions together with the Spectacle of Defiance, the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes, and the Communities Campaign Against the Cuts.

It will start from the Garden of Remembrance at 1 pm on November 24th.

Reason 18: Unemployment Payments are Too Low

Despite the constant misinformation, unemployment payments in Ireland are among the lowest in Europe. How much would someone on Irish average pay of €35,000 receive if they lost their job?

Of the Eurozone countries in the EU-15, Ireland ranks second last – only ahead of impoverished Greece.  Unemployment payments would have to rise by over €67 a week to reach German levels, and by over €130 a week to reach Dutch levels.

And this is before the cuts in unemployment payments in 2011.

Why should we march?  Because there are too many unemployed on incomes below the poverty line.

Download a PDF of this post here.

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