Monthly Archives For March 2014

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Gas, Gender, and Ideology: Reflections on a Prime Time Debate

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As I sat in the audience of a Prime Time feature on Irish gas and oil (RTÉ, March 11, 2014), I wondered what I was doing there. I’m probably not the first person to ponder their attendance on such an occasion but it was a unique thought for me as I’ve been interested in the topic of Irish gas and oil for over 8 years. I’d also spent nearly 4 years conducting extensive research into the Irish state’s management of its gas and oil as the basis of my PhD in Sociology.

So why was I questioning my participation in the audience? This narrative piece explains why and illustrates how a seemingly innocuous event like a television debate can reveal issues of gender inequality, differing ideologies,  and questions of knowledge and ‘experts’, while problematising how the mainstream media frames discourse surrounding matters of public concern.

My reflection on the experience began with the question of why I wasn’t given the opportunity to participate in the debate. After all I’ve carried out comprehensive research into the subject of Irish gas and oil based on extensive documentary research, case studies, observations and interviews with 30 key stakeholders (including former Ministers, current and former senior civil servants, politicians, oil industry personnel, media, civil society, people affected by the Corrib gas conflict, and trade unionists).  I’d also assisted some of the other speakers with their publications. For example, I co-edited a new book by Own Our Oil (2014), contributed to Shell to Sea’s Liquid Assets (2012), and co-authored Optimising Ireland’s Oil and Gas Resources (SIPTU, 2011).

The lack of engagement didn’t make sense , particularly as during the equivalent of an hour of telephone conversations spanning two days, a Prime Time researcher had made it clear that the editorial team “really want[ed]” me there. While they couldn’t guarantee that I would have the opportunity to speak during the debate, it seemed most likely that I would be asked to contribute.

Indeed, this researcher and I agreed 3 key areas that I would highlight during my planned input: issues surrounding the control and ownership of Irish gas and oil, or  in plainer terms the privatisation of Irish hydrocarbons in exchange for one of the lowest rates of government take in the world; the absence of mechanisms for consultation or developing consent of communities for oil and gas developments; and fragmented and unsuitable permission systems as most evident in the Corrib gas debacle. I’d planned to locate these 3 topics within a broader statement around how the Irish state’s approach to the management of its gas and oil is fundamentally flawed and that the proposed review of Irish fiscal terms by Wood Mackenzie is insufficient to address the deficiencies inherent to the state’s model of hydrocarbon management.

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Friday Stat Attack – War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Recession is Recovery

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RTE’s David Murphy described the Quarterly National Account numbers as ‘really good’.  Professor John Fitzgerald said the numbers showed a ‘reasonably robust recovery’.   We are told the actual numbers  aren’t all that important– the ones that show economic growth actually declining in 2013, the ones that show that the decline in the final three months of last year was the worst quarterly performance since 2008.  Don’t mind any of that downer stuff.  Like the following chart.

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Domestic demand comprises consumer spending, investment and government spending on public services (excluding exports and imports).  This makes up 75 percent of GDP.  It is one of the better indicators of the domestic economy, but by no means the only one.   Another great advantage is that it is not as sensitive to multi-national accounting activities as other indicators.

So what does the above chart show?

A flat-line for the last three years.

Stagnation.

Six years of a domestic demand recession.

It goes up a bit and a down a bit (slightly more down), but never strays too far from the flat-line.  Domestic demand fell in three out of the last four quarters.  Since the Government took office, it has fallen seven out of eleven quarters.   In the final three months of last year, the fall in domestic demand was the most severe since 2011.  ‘Really good’?  ‘Robust’?

Some commentators pointed to rising GNP.   The problem with using GNP is that it is determined by international flows; if a company keeps profit here, GNP goes up; if they export it, GNP goes down.  Whichever the company does has little impact on the domestic economy.  So GNP went up last year – but it was not based on rising domestic activity.

RTE news last night, as part of its coverage of the CSO economic numbers, featured a successful café.  The owner claimed that patrons have started spending a little bit more – which I’m sure is true (the business opened its third outlet).  This anecdote was used to portray the entire economy as starting to grow through higher consumer spending.

But the CSO reported that consumer spending fell last year.  It fell faster than the year before – 2012.  It fell three times more than the year before.  Nothing on that in the RTE report – that would cut across the constructed narrative of an improving economy.

Sigh.

Have a good St. Patrick’s weekend.  Have a better one than the economy is having.

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Zugzwang

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Zugzwang

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The last frontier

is a turnip

under frozen mud.

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As this

generation

of journalists

brush up on their Russian-

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the spelling of Simferopol

and Sevastopol

,will for a time,

be known

on Twitter

– people will gaze down

on the Crimea

through Google Earth,

surprised that there is

somewhere

more east than the Balkans

in the West.

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A place

soon to be forgotten

like South Ossetia, Abkhazia,

or Sudetenland.

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From Youth Guarantee to Mandatory Labour

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The Youth Guarantee programme is potentially a positive development.  To prevent long-term youth unemployment, the Government launched a programme that would guarantee young people either a place in education, training or a job.

However, a couple of developments put in question the operation and effect of this guarantee – and both revolve around our old friend, JobBridge.  First, as part of the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan, JobBridge will now become mandatory:

In the case of young people, failures to engage that will give rise to sanctions will include:

  • Failure to apply for or accept an opportunity on the national internship scheme (JobBridge)

This suggests two things:  first, young unemployment must now pro-actively apply for JobBridge – something that wasn’t required before.  Second, it seems the Department will pro-actively create new JobBridge opportunities (that is, contacting employers to participate in the scheme) and then offering them to young unemployed; previously, JobBridge opportunities were generated by businesses alone.  This indicates a substantial increase in the scheme.

And the sanctions will be pretty harsh.  Young people could see their Jobseeker payment cut by up to 25 percent.

The second development is the news that one company – Advance Pitstop – has taken on 28 interns.  This company employs 200 people nationwide so the interns, whose labour is essentially free, make up 14 percent of their payroll.  Unsurprisingly, this made national news and not a little bit of criticism (this company is not the only one that has been featured in the media).

Should a scheme that provides labour to employers for free be mandatory?  Clearly, there are areas of social protection which are already mandatory.  For instance, a Jobseekers’ recipient must show they are available for, and actively seeking, work.  Past practice also requires recipients to meet with Department officials as part of the evaluation process, take up a ‘legitimate’ offer of training / job or attend an accepted training / education course (of course, there’s a number of issues with ‘legitimate’).

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Bishop Accuses Spanish Women of Holocaust

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I joined the International Women’s Day march in Valencia on Saturday night. Sources estimate between 10,000 and 20,000 people turned out for the event, from my perspective about 40 percent of those marching were men. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city, after Marid and Barcelona, where marches also took place. This day is usually a day of celebration of women in history and society as well as a chance to draw some attention back to the gender inequalities still present in work and pay. However, yesterday’s event also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the anger and exasperation building up around the new anti-abortion law being carried through the Spanish parliament by the conservative Partido Popular.

The proposal would overturn a very recent law (2010) that legalises abortion on demand in the first trimester, meaning that rape or a serious threat to the woman’s health – currently the conditions for abortion in the second trimester – would have to be proven by anyone seeking an abortion. I have read that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the Spanish people oppose this bill. I’m not sure how accurate that is but the big turnout across Spanish cities for what is normally a fun family event was telling. The day before the protests I attended an assembly of women from the trade union Comisiones Obreras. The hall was filled with about 200 women and was brimming with anger. In one of the opening speeches tribute was paid to a lady called Concha Carretero who died on January 1st this year at the age of 95. Carretero’s story, as I grasped it in my broken Spanish, reminds me of the potency behind the word often used at Spanish protests – indignada.

Carretero, born in 1918, was first imprisoned when Franco’s army entered Madrid in 1939. Arrested after attending a meeting of the Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (United Socialist Youth) on her first night in prison, she was beaten and electrocuted and made to clean up the blood of her fellow captives. Lying unconscious after a beating on the night of August 4th, 1939 her cellmates, thirteen women, were taken and executed by firing squad. Almost a year later, Carretero was released only to be quickly re-arrested. This time she avoided freezing to death when stripped naked and doused in buckets of cold water by exercising all night in her cell. By then Carretero’s father, an anarchist, had been found dead on the street, and her mother, who had suffered a serious injury when a lift fell on top of her while cleaning in the dark shaft, slept unbeknownst to her daughter under the archways of the prison where she was held. Not long after her release Carretero’s husband and father of her first child was arrested and shot by firing squad. Carretero’s crime had been her involvement and work with the Republican army, making clothes and minding the children of men and women on the front during the Civil War. But more than that it had been to dare challenge the might and divine authority of fascist Spain. Going on to re-marry and have five more children, Carretero attended the Almudena cemetery in Madrid every year to mark the anniversary of the execution of her thirteen cell mates, the Thirteen Roses, and every year she called for the “Third Republic”. (Further info here: Fallece Concha Carretero, compañera de las trece rosas rojas, by Gustavo Vidal Manzanares, nuevatribuna.es).

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Irelands’ Bank Guarantee: A Lesson In Class Power

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The following article by Conor McCabe, is taken from the first issue of the relaunched The Bottom Dog, published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions. Copies of the full print issue are now available in Connolly Books. You can also follow The Bottom Dog on Facebook.  

At the start of 2013 the indepen­dent TD for Wicklow, Stephen Don­nelly, stood up in the Dáil and ta­lked about the bank guarantee. He said it was passed because ‘of a di­ktat from Europe that said no Euro­pean bank could fail, no Eurozone bank could fail and no senior bond­holders could incur any debt.’ It is a curious opinion to hold, as the on­ly foreign accents heard on the re­cently-released Anglo tapes are imitations done by Irish bankers of considerable wealth and influence.

The tapes shone a light on the short-term focus, the scramble for capital that was to the front of the bank’s management team. John Bowe, the head of Capital Markets at Anglo Irish Bank, told his collea­gue Peter Fitzgerald that the strate­gy was to get the Irish central bank to commit itself to funding Anglo, to ‘get them to write a big cheque.’ By doing so, the Central Bank wo­uld find itself locked in to Anglo as it would have to shore up the bank to ensure it got repaid.

The Irish financial regulator, Pat Ne­ary, in a conversation with Bowe, said that Anglo was asking his offi­ce ‘to play ducks and drakes wi­th the regulations.’ Once the gua­rantee was passed the bank’s CEO, David Drumm, told his executives to take full advantage but advised them to be careful and not to get caught.

This was reinforced by an article in the Sunday Independent on 17 No­vember 2013 which looked to the British Treasury’s archives for in­formation on Anglo and the bank guarantee. ‘The documents reve­al’ said the newspaper, ‘that the Fi­nancial Regulator tipped off Britain that Anglo might be “unable to roll €3bn [in funding] overnight,” but not to worry as if that happened the Central Bank or Government would step in to bail it out.’

The idea for a blanket guarantee, however, did not originate entirely with the Anglo management team, regardless of how much they em­braced it. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the idea of a gu­arantee was flagged in the natio­nal media by people such as David McWilliams and the property deve­loper Noel Smyth.

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Normal Euro zone Countries Don’t Export Their People

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The Live Register has fallen below 400,000 – the first time since May 2009.  While the Live Register is not an official measurement, the Seasonally Adjusted Standardised Unemployment Rate shows unemployment at 11.9 percent.  Our unemployment rate is now down to the Euro zone average.  This led the Minister for Social Protection to state:

‘Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the figures were encouraging and signalled Ireland’s return to being a “normal euro zone country”’.

Yes, when it comes to a straight unemployment rate we may well be a ‘normal euro zone country’.  But there’s something that has been not so normal and which has impacted directly on the Irish unemployment rate.  Yes, I’m talking about emigration.

Let’s compare the increase in Irish emigration since 2008 with that of other EU-15 countries.   We’ll do this by taking the annual average number of emigrants between 2008 and 2011 (the last year Eurostat has data for) and comparing it with the annual average number of emigrants between 1998 and 2007.

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Spain has been particularly hard hit – with over 400,000 emigrating in 2011.  Ireland comes second followed by Portugal.  After these three countries, the next hardest hit by emigration was Italy.

Irish emigration has been more than five times the average of other EU-15 countries.  In terms of emigration, Ireland is hardly normal.

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The Eighth Amendment Must be Repealed

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This week Fine Gael will host the European People’s Party (EPP) Congress in Dublin. Among the expected attendees is Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is currently leading an attack on reproductive rights with legislation that, if passed, would drastically restrict access to abortion in Spain. This would be an extremely regressive move at a time when most European countries are moving in entirely the opposite direction. In France, for example, MPs voted at the end of January to reword the law to state that it is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. Late last year the French Government also introduced changes so that the cost of abortions will now be 100% reimbursed by the State.

At the same time that the EPP will be meeting, the GUE/NGL grouping in the European Parliament will hold hearings on defending sexual and reproductive health and rights. The Abortion Rights Campaign has been invited to present on reproductive rights in Ireland, and we will use the opportunity to highlight at a European level the grave consequences the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution has had for reproductive rights and maternity services in Ireland.

Introduced by referendum in 1983, the Eighth Amendment equates a pregnant woman’s life with that of an embryo or foetus. Until it is removed, there can be no progressive legislation on abortion beyond the narrow terms of the X case and, arguably, in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. Even after the passing of last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, Ireland still has, along with Malta, the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in Europe. But the reality of abortion in Ireland is that the Eighth Amendment is simply not fit for purpose. It does not stop women from terminating pregnancies; it only serves to make the journey much more difficult. Every single day women travel abroad to access abortion. Others self-administer abortions at home with pills ordered from reputable websites such as Women on Web. If caught, these women could face up to 14 years in prison under last year’s abortion legislation.

Opinion polls have consistently indicated that public attitudes to abortion do not support the imposition of such onerous penalties on women who end pregnancies. Since 1980 over 150,000 women have left the country in order to access abortion, while unknown numbers have found the means to end their pregnancies in Ireland. Do citizens really believe these women should be imprisoned? As much as anti-abortion organisations try to perpetuate shame and stigma around abortion, most reasonable people do not want to see their friends, sisters or partners behind bars because they terminated a pregnancy.

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Marx was right all along, says investment bank

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This article appeared as a post on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday the 4th of March.

Well, not quite. But a recent study by leading investment bank Credit Suisse shows that long-term growth rates of GDP in selected industrialised economies are negatively correlated with financial returns to shareholders. That is, the best returns for shareholders are from countries where GDP growth has been slowest, and vice versa. Where growth has been strongest, shareholder returns are weakest.

This is shown in the chart from Credit Suisse below.

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Business Insider magazine carries a report of the research. It makes a series of bizarre arguments in an attempt to explain the correlation. The first is that stock markets anticipate future economic growth. But given that these data are based on the last 113 years, the stock markets must be very far-sighted indeed. The subsequent arguments do not get any stronger.

The negative correlation does not prove negative causality. But it does support the theory which suggests that the interests of shareholders are contrary to the interests of economic growth and the well-being of the population.

The clearest theory which this data supports, that the interests of shareholders are counterposed to that of economic growth, was formulated by Marx. In Capital he argues that the ‘development of the productive forces’ (the investment in the means of production and in education that are required to increase the productivity of labour and hence economic growth) runs up against the barrier of the private ownership of the means of production*.

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Jesus, Mary & Joe Duffy

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        ssss

I was sitting in my kitchen

listening to the bithchin on the radio

my head was wrecked ya know;

people moaning down the phone

about the taxes on their homes,

(which in fact the banks own)

and the greedy seed was sown

by the Dail’s C.E.O.’s

who couldn’t give a shit

about the people being hit

by the cuts……..

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Children going hungry in our schools

whilst there clearly are no rules

for the bankers run around

with their heads in the clouds

an untouchable realm

don’t you know they’re at the helm?

Under the influence

high on affluence

they’re gonna sink this ship

then hop, skip and jump

with a tidy lump sum

upon a safety boat

and off they will float

to a far away land

letting go of the hands

of the Irish population

drowned by inflation

don’t forget the creation

of a blockbuster film

yes, FILUM!

     ssss

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Architecture is Politics

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Book Review: Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the tradition of progress, John Allan (Artifice) and 21st Century London: The New Architecture, Kenneth Powell (Merrell)

Today, the idea that architecture plays its part in changing society only gains purchase with a pejorative sense of what change entails. Look to the Dubai skyline, where architects are still binging on cocktails of concrete, glass, indentured labour and fat fees – 25% of the world’s cranes were operating there when 100 skyscrapers went up in ten years,  — producing a mad jamboree of eye-catching buildings.

But it can’t be said the architecture fails to respond to the needs of the community because Dubai, peopled with expatriates lured  by the loot, waiting for their contracts to end, doesn’t have anything so organic as to be properly called a community. London, on the other hand, is a city of many communities and while it’s not Dubai the architecture that is currently redefining the city’s skyline is similarly characterized by excessive ostentation fuelled by the inexorable logic of capitalism and purchasable architects eager to join a bandwagon.

The mantra for the architectural companies winning contracts in London is build it big, construct a photogenic monument that will stand alone in glorious and pastless isolation from its neighbourhood, untroubled by its surroundings, self-sufficient testimony to its own ambition. Kate Goodwin, the curator of the Sensing Spaces exhibition now on at the Royal Academy of Arts, spells out what is missing : ‘Unlike almost any other art form, architecture is part of our everyday life, but its ability to dramatically affect the way we think, feel and interact with one another is often overlooked’. The greatest architect who has worked in London, Berthold Lubetkin, would have shaken her hand in warm agreement.

John Allan’s book on Lubetkin is an astonishing achievement and one wonders how many years he spent putting it all together. When it first appeared in 1992 — a second edition has now been published – it was praised as ‘the most intelligent English-language account of any twentieth-century architectural career in its context’ and the accolade still holds. The whole story of Lubetkin’s work is here, from his birth in Georgia in 1901 to his appointment in 1947 as architect-planner of a new town for 30,000 residents in the Durham coalfields. This, his greatest project, was never realized and John Allan analyses with care the reasons behind his resignation from the post.

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