Monthly Archives For February 2014

Friday Stat Attack: Severe Deprivation among Public Housing Tenants

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Eurostat has a particularly grim measurement – severe material deprivation.  They take nine deprivation indicators in which people cannot afford the following items:

  • to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills
  • to keep their home adequately warm
  • to face unexpected expenses
  • to eat meat or proteins regularly
  • to go on holiday
  • a television set
  • a washing machine
  • a car
  • a telephone

If people cannot afford four of these nine deprivation experiences, they are categorised as suffering from severe material deprivation.  This is a harsher measurement employed by the CSO – which has a deprivation rate based on suffering from two of eleven deprivation experiences.

So what is the deprivation rate for tenants with a rent at reduced price or free – which is basically public housing tenants.  In Ireland this would largely mean local authority, or social, housing tenants.

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Ireland leads the EU-15 table – higher than even Greece and Portugal.  More than one-in-four public housing tenants suffer from severe material deprivation.  This shouldn’t be surprising – the CSO estimates that 52 percent of public housing tenants suffer deprivation using their measurement.

We are getting lots and lots of talk about tax cuts.  Where do people  who suffer from material deprivation fit into this agenda?  Nowhere, it seems.  They are being air-brushed out of the debate.

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Progressive Film Club, Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre

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Progressive Film Club 

Showing This

Saturday 22 February at the New Theatre ·

43 East Essex Street · Dublin 2

2:30 p.m. Dream Apocalypse (UK)
Dream Apocalypse tells the poignant tale of what it is like to be a student in England today. We follow Joel Muckett’s life experiences and his hopes of hanging on to his dream of going to university, in spite of his disillusionment with the commodification of higher education. The increasing cost may put this education beyond his means, and his dream may be a dying dream. This is Ismael’s first film. ¦ Directed by Ismael Ahmed (University of Bedfordshire). Running time: 10 minutes.

2:45 p.m. The Colour of the Soul (India)
A documentary that seeks to address the principles on which the caste system in India is based. The social system is not without controversy and paradoxes. In India, birth has a colour. ¦ Produced and directed by Alberto Martos (Spain). In Spanish, with English subtitles. Running time: 47 minutes.

3:45 p.m. National Identity (France)
In France, for more than thirty years, foreign nationals have accounted for about 20 per cent of the prison population, even though they represent only between 6 and 8 per cent of the total population. This over-representation is explained by political choices since the end of the 1970s, particularly the repression of immigrants. National Identity spotlights the plight of former foreign-national prisoners who were sentenced to deportation after prison, which amounts to a double punishment. In the film there are interviews with victims of the system, justice professionals, and politicians, with analyses by research workers. A little-known side of the French state’s relationship with foreign nationals, many of whom hold French passports, is revealed. ¦ Produced and directed by Valérie Osouf (Granit Films / Divali Films). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 80 minutes.

http://www.progressivefilmclub.ie/

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The Trojan Horse

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As if we didn’t know, we now know what the Government’s intentions are regarding tax cuts:

‘Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has pledged to widen income tax bands as soon as the State can afford it to take people out of the higher tax bracket.  Mr Noonan said the biggest problem facing the tax system was the low level of pay at which people entered the higher tax rate. He said in Ireland people started to pay the higher rate on incomes of just €32,800 and this was far lower than in other EU countries.  “If I have the money that is where I will go. I would like to reduce the threshold at which people hit the higher rate,” he [said].

The standard rate tax threshold is the Trojan horse for the tax-cuts lobby.  It is true that in the Irish system people enter the top rate of tax at a very low wage level.

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Here, we enter the top rate of tax at €32,800.  In all other countries, the threshold is higher; in Germany, you don’t enter the top rate of tax until €250,000.   So that picture looks pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Well, no because it is not the full picture. I will address the details of marginal tax rates on incomes in different countries in a subsequent post.

But to make a quick point – if Irish workers are ‘disadvantaged’ by entering into the top tax rate so early, why are taxes so low?  These are the headline tax rates (personal allowances only) from the OECD’s Benefit and Wages database.

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Drones Come From the Sky, But Leave the Heavy Footprint of War on the Communities that they Target

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Barack Obama was seen by many of the liberals of the world as the only hope for a just and ethical American government. He was seen as the archetypal liberal; educated, young, and more importantly, not a Republican. Not long after his election however, we quickly came to learn that it would be business as usual for the White House, and more. Under the Obama administration we have seen a disastrous foreign policy in which any person deemed a terrorist or a threat to the national security of the United States, or their interests, can be summarily and extrajudically assassinated. One of the predominant methods of carrying out these assassinations is via drone strike. With what has been essentially an onslaught of drone strikes, especially in Pakistan and Yemen, the UN has begun to investigate the legality of these strikes. This investigation has thus far been part of the basis of two reports which were issued in September of last year.

The first report, Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, dealt with the issue of drone strikes within the framework of international law. The Special Rapporteur noted that, “drones are here to stay”, and that they are not necessarily illegal weapons. However, the Rapporteur also took note of the fact that drones make it far easier to kill a suspect as opposed to trying to capture them. He also noted that the sheer proliferation of the use of armed drones “may lower social barriers in society against the deployment of lethal force and result in attempts to weaken the relevant legal standards”. Added to this is the lack of transparency regarding the legal framework being used by the White House to target suspects for assassination. When combined with the relative safety with which a drone can be operated, the report states that domestic or political constraints on their use can easily be “reduce[d] or eliminated”. This is precisely how the Obama administration has promoted the use of drones; that they are surgical in their precision, clean, and more importantly, keep American lives out of harm’s way. When we dig a little deeper, the truth is much more frightful and perilous.

The exact determination of the criteria needed to target someone for assassination is not shared with the public. Nonetheless, certain details are known. According to Jeremy Scahill, in the closing days of the Bush administration, the CIA began targeting suspects for assassination on the basis of “patterns of life rather than specific intelligence”. If a person adhered to a certain list of “signatures” that the agency had devised, this was enough to make them a target. One of these “signatures” could be as little as being a military aged male in a particular region of the globe. Being an imminent threat or being involved in plotting against the United States was also not a prerequisite for being targeted. The mere potential to commit acts of terrorism against the United States or its interests became enough to warrant death. The Obama administration embraced this method of warmongering with gusto. In the first 10 months of taking office, Obama launched more drone strikes than Bush Jr. had in the previous 8 years. Obama personally signs off on each assassination on what is called “Terror Tuesdays”, where he and his advisors go over a list of suspects and decide who is to live and who is to die.

In spite of what the White House and the Pentagon may think about the effectiveness of drone strikes, it is clear that they do two things: They violate international law and they encourage terrorism. That both of these statements are truisms is unimportant. It is important though to examine them in greater detail.  As to the latter, in an interview with the journal Foreign Affairs early last year, General Stanley McChrystal made the same point that is made above; that drones strikes seem to carry little risk with maximum benefits. But this does not give the wider view of the larger consequences of such actions, pointing out that, “at the receiving end, it feels like war”.  He further stated that if drones were “used carelessly”, which he believes isn’t the case, “then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with”. Similarly, in an appearance in front of a United States Senate committee in April of last year, Yemeni native Farea Al-Muslimi related the story of how six days previous to his appearance in front of the committee, his village had been the victim of a drone strike. Ominously, but not unsurprisingly, he stated that, “What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America”. The UN report already mentioned also makes this point. The Special Rapporteur writes that, “drones come from the sky, but leave the heavy footprint of war on the communities that they target”.

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The February issue of Socialist Voice Out Now

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The February issue of Socialist Voice is now available online.

Contents

  1.     No recovery for working people [TMK]
  2.     Pete Seeger: His songs go marching on [TR]
  3.     A Greek Obama [NL]
  4.     It’s about more than losing that “Bonny Bunch of Roses” [TMK]
  5.     Lessons of history: The 1966 seamen’s strike [NOM]
  6.     The euro and the balance of payments [KC]
  7.     Whose revolution? [DOC]
  8.     A “must read” book with a disappointing conclusion [FK]
  9.     Opinion: Creating a shared future [RMC]
  10.     Union news
  11.     Who’s afraid of Liam O’Flaherty?
  12.     Films: 15th Latin American Film Festival
  13.     Is it just me, or has the world gone mad? [EON]

 

No recovery for working people

Has the time arrived for unrestrained rejoicing? Have those mighty men and women of the coalition rescued us from economic and social calamity? Can we trust indicators that are supposedly pointing to recovery?

The Taoiseach gravely tells us we have exited the bail-out; hip hip hooray! Michael Noonan welcomes a report that the Republic’s government is no longer suffering under the lash of the Moody Blues, as our bond status has been upgraded from junk to investment level by the influential credit rating agency; more hip hooraying.

Nor do the celebrations end there. Frank Daly, chairperson of NAMA, has boasted that the Irish property crash has ended; so hats in the air as well as hip hip hooraying.

However, before we decide to put gilded images of Enda and Eamon on top of the Dublin Spire, let us enter a few words of caution. Eye-catching headlines about recovery are often misleading. A slight decline in the total rate of unemployment is heralded as proof of upturn but overlooks the reduction in the real value of incomes. The finding of the Irish League of Credit Unions that monthly disposable income increased by €50 in December 2013 masks its other discovery, that 1.6 million people had €100 or less left at the end of the month once all bills were paid, while half a million have nothing at all left after meeting their commitments…………….

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Ukraine: The Next Domino to Fall to the West?

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The events currently taking place in Ukraine have an eerie feeling of familiarity about them – indeed, that feeling is becoming normalised in the western media. From Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 80s, to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Iraq, Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine, the pattern of ‘humanitarian’ imperialism is becoming the standard blueprint for the western geo-political agenda.

On the face of it, the events in Ukraine are clear-cut: a corrupt and repressive government, the age-old spectre of the Russian bogey-man in the shadows, and of course, the innocent, peace-loving, flowers-in-gun-barrels forces of democracy and liberty. It really should sound familiar by now. The story was the same in Afghanistan, it was the same in Iraq, it was the same in Libya, it is the same in Syria. Inconveniently for those of the humanitarian-intervention brigade in such influential western liberal institutions (and, by miraculous coincidence, US government puppets) as Amnesty International, these stories were and are, for the most part, propaganda – that is to say, lies, designed to achieve the support of the general public for what would otherwise be barefaced military aggression. This wouldn’t fly – the west has to play the great saviour in order for its unparalleled savagery to be acceptable.

If we look closer at the protesters in Ukraine, closer at least than the western propaganda machine does, we can clearly see a motley crew of fascists, ultra-nationalists, and conservatives; chief among these are the balaclava-clad thugs of the ‘Svoboda’ party, which, for instance, glorifies the WWII-era Ukrainian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis in rounding up and executing Jews, communists, partisans and other undesirables. Photos and videos from the riots in Ukraine show what are essentially camouflage-clad, helmeted and masked urban guerrillas, assaulting and kidnapping police officers, humiliating and beating people on the streets, vandalising government buildings, and whatnot – all the while wearing EU-flag patches on their sleeves and waving the flags of the EU and various neo-fascist slogan side-by-side.

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Friday Stat Attack: How About A Housing Recovery For Those in Need?

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You’d think that the monthly release of property prices was the ultimate barometer of not only the health of the housing market but the economy as a whole.  Are they finally increasing?  Are they still falling?  What are houses worth in Euros and cents?

But what about those in need of housing?  Any signs of recovery there?

NumofHous

There are nearly 90,000 households in need of social housing.  These households make up approximately 170,000 people.  60 percent have been waiting for two years or longer and since the start of the crisis, the numbers in need have increased by 60 percent.

Yes, we all know that there is a fiscal crisis and that money is tight.  Yet the Government has found it possible to spend money on trying to reflate property and housing market activity:  house renovation incentive, Living City initiative, property purchase incentive, REITs (real estate investment trusts), mortgage interest relief for first-time buyers, abolition of multiple Stamp Duty rates for non-residential properties, etc.

So what about those in housing need?  The Vincentian Partnership for Social Justiceputs the government’s response in perspective:

‘ . . while the numbers in need of social housing have been growing, the output of new social housing units has been dwindling. The output of new social housing units has dropped by 82% between 2008 and 2012, with only 1,391 new units added to the national stock of social housing in 2012.’

So the numbers in housing need have increased by 60 percent and social housing output has fallen by 82 percent.

I guess those waiting for accommodation will have to wait for property prices to improve.  Then, maybe, they might get a look-in on the national agenda.

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The Inquiry – Showing As Part of JDIFF ’14

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In the autumn of 1913, as the social and political maelstrom of the Lockout raged around them, legendary union leader James Larkin faced his nemesis William Martin Murphy across a conference table in Dublin Castle. It was here, in the seat of British power in Ireland, that the two men passionately articulated their respective visions for the coming Irish state.

With the centenary of the Lockout having passed, THE INQUIRY ventures beyond the rhetoric to offer a compelling account of the Askwith Inquiry, a seminal event in Irish history never-before presented on the big screen.

The film steps back from Dublin’s seething streets to explore the complex personalities and ideologies of key figures such as Larkin (Stephen Murray), Murphy (Bosco Hogan), James Connolly (Patrick O’Donnell) and Timothy Healy (Gerry O’Brien). Shot in crisp black-and-white, THE INQUIRY captures the political ferment of a country on the brink of a decade of violence, through powerful performances and a gripping narrative thrust.

See The inquiry @ the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival
The Lighthouse Cinema
Smithfield, D7
Saturday 22nd of February
12.30pm – Screen One
Photo credit: Kate Bowe O’Brien

The Inquiry – Official Trailer JDIFF ’14 from DCTV on Vimeo.

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Losers and Not So Losers

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It is often argued that the recession has been rough on all of us but that high income groups have had it the roughest.  European Commission Director István Székely came to Dublin late last year to assure us that the ‘the better-off sections of Irish society have borne the largest share of the brunt of the bailout programme’.  I don’t know whether this was intended to soften the blow as it were, making the austerity programme more palatable. I do know, however, that it is not true.   Dr. Székely is not alone; many have argued, using ESRI findings, that higher income groups have borne the greatest burden during the recession.  I will critique the ESRI findings below but first let’s go through some other evidence.

Wage Increases Higher income households have managed to increase their incomes, as noted in a recent Friday Stat Attack.

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This is not true for all sectors.  For instance, public sector managers and professionals have taken substantial hits in income. And there are compositional effects to take into account.  However, at a national level we see that this group has received a substantial increase in income compared to other workers whose weekly earnings have flat-lined.  Even if higher-income groups have taken a hit through tax increases they have managed to recoup a large part of this through increases in earnings.  This didn’t happen for most other workers, never mind those on social protection.

Unemployment

Losing one’s job is probably the biggest hit a household can suffer.  How have theselosses been distributed?

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Managerial and professional employment has actually increased during the period of recession while all other occupations have experienced a decline – in some cases, substantial declines.  And the occupational groups suffering a loss have lower income than the managerial and professional groups.   So lower income groups, on average, have been hit by the jobs recession much harder than higher-income groups.

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Callinan’s Attitude is Simply a Reflection of Irish Politics

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The saga of the cancellation of penalty points and garda whistleblowing continues to be played out in the Irish public sphere. The latest chapters have been the appearance of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), and his subsequent behaviour there to questioning from the various public representatives in the committee. His answers and their tone in front of the committee has since come under much scrutiny, along with his opposition to one of the whistleblowers appearing in front of the same committee in the following week. Said whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, did appear before the committee earlier this week, but in a private session behind closed doors. He has since stated that he hopes that the transcript of his appearance before the committee is made public, but the PAC has “received legal opinion strongly advising against publishing the transcript”. Most of the media coverage has focused on the above two incidents; both Commissioner Callinan’s and Sgt McCabe’s appearance in front of the PAC. Even though there has been some comment on Callinan’s attitude towards the PAC, none of it has linked this attitude to Irish politics more generally. His behaviour is simply a reflection of the decades of contemptuousness amongst the powerful in Irish society towards any accountability. We don’t need to dig too far into Irish history to in order to uncover such examples. In fact, another of the whistleblowers, Garda John Wilson, made this very point recently.

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Paper Tigers and Real Ones

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This is a guest post by Michael Burke.  Michael works as an economic consultant. He was previously senior international economist with Citibank in London. He blogs regularly at Socialist Economic Bulletin.  You can follow Michael at @menburke . It was originally posted on Notes on the Front.

Most people don’t care much about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or most other acronyms that get bandied about on the economy. For good reason.

The purpose of economic policy is, or ought to be, about achieving the optimal sustainable improvement in living standards for the population. If businesses produce goods that no-one buys and they accumulate as unsold inventories, or if the buying power of businesses or households declines so that imports fall, both of these count as increases in GDP.

What really matters is if the economy and society as a whole is moving forwards, if people see an increase in their living standards and reasonably expect that the next generation or two will see the same.

In that light, the latest forecasts from the Central Bank of Ireland are not very encouraging. Sure, there is a forecast of 2.1% real GDP growth for the economy in 2014. But in terms of real wages, on average they will be zero as a projected 0.5% increase in wages is effectively wiped out by the anticipated level of inflation. Government current spending is also expected to fall in 2014 more than it did in 2013, so living standards for most people will actually decline again.

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Media, Crisis and The Making Of Common Sense

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Why is the vast majority of Irish media dominated with an undoubting and uncritical attitude towards a single theory of the ‘crisis’? What role does it play in legitimising, rather than challenging, the structural causes of growing inequality? And what does this mean for radical interpretations of democracy, public space and the remaking of common sense?

In this Live Register podcast, we’re joined by Julien Mercille and Henry Silke, two academics who have been carrying out separate research relating to the Irish media.

Julien Marcille lectures at the School of Geography in UCD and has recently published research on how the Irish mainstream media have covered the Irish “crisis” from a pro-austerity position over the last five years. Henry Silke is a postgraduate researcher at the School of Communications DCU, who has been examining the political role of the Irish press during the crisis.

We used their research to frame a wider discussion of the real role of mainstream media in Ireland today, exploring how market ideology is central to how mainstream media frames public discourse, very much at odds to the perception of mainstream media holding truth to power.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #045 Dollar Hegemony

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This week our guest is Matias Vernengo.

Matias is an Associate Professor of Economics, at Bucknell University, and a former Senior Manager of Economic Research at the Central Bank of Argentina. He blogs regularly at his site Naked Keynesianism, as well as for Triple Crisis, and is currently the co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics.

We discuss a paper he recently co-authored with David Fields on the hegemonic role of the Dollar in the world economy.

We talk of the advantages of being the worlds reserve currency, the Bretton Woods agreement, Nixon closing the gold window, the Triffin Dilemma, threats to the dominance of the dollar in world trade, and the irrelevance of gold in today’s financial system.

You can find his excellent blog here.

The Triple Crisis blog here.

And the Review of Keynesian Economics Journal here.

You can also find the paper we discuss here.

Enjoy!

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