Monthly Archives For May 2016

Hardship never lasts forever…

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In 2006 I concluded my review of Reem Kelani’s debut album Sprinting Gazelle with the phrase “I believe it’s a masterpiece.” That belief has subsequently matured into a certainty, and the disc has become one of my favourite albums in any genre. A full decade later Kelani‘s follow-up album Live at the Tabernacle, on Leon Rosselson’s Fuse label, could easily have proved an anti-climax. Instead, it complements its predecessor admirably while also being a masterpiece on its own terms.

Kelani refers in the album booklet to “live concerts” as “the essence of what my musical journey is all about”. This journey has hitherto also entailed composing, teaching, musicology, and performing in works by classical western composers with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, so it is hardly surprising – if frustrating for her growing legion of fans – that she regards recording as something of a sideshow.

The performance recorded here took place at the 2012 Nour Festival of Arts in London (the Tabernacle, Notting Hill), and the double-album eventually materialised thanks to a Kickstarter campaign of which Kelani says: “In an age in which music is structured according to the laws of the market place, and political narratives are suppressed, nothing is more comforting and assuring than grassroots support which can be neither bought nor sold.”

Concerning Sprinting Gazelle, I wrote that Kelani “shuns political rhetoric, preferring to allow the music to speak for itself”. This is as true of the Palestinian material on the new album as it is of Kelani’s comments both on stage and in the excellent booklet accompanying the recording (I really recommend buying the hard copy, as the whole thing is so beautifully produced). Of course Kelani is hardly apolitical. She is a member of the Anti Capitalist Roadshow, a “collective of singers and songwriters… opposed to the ideologically driven austerity programme imposed by this [UK] millionaire government”. Some of the material on the second Tabernacle disc relates overtly to the 1919 Egyptian revolution and the 2011 Tunisian revolution. However, she seems content to allow Palestine’s interminable trauma the status of an implicit if unmistakeable backdrop.

So has a political narrative been suppressed here after all? An informative and sympathetic Guardian interview from 2008 clarified that Kelani “initially struggled to get a record contract here [the UK] because of her [Palestinian] subject matter.” She admits that on the cover of Sprinting Gazelle “I was very careful…I did not say ‘from Palestine’. I said ‘from the motherland’. I’m walking on eggshells all the time.” Nonetheless, she asserted that “[t]here is a message that Palestinians don’t exist, so my narrative is… my existence, both personally and collectively … As a human being, as a woman, as a Palestinian.”

By now Reem Kelani’s existence and hence her narrative is so firmly established that she could probably afford to kick aside the eggshells, although admittedly the defamatory energies of the Israel lobby are inexhaustible. In the CD booklet Alan Kirwan, curator of the Nour Festival in 2012, writes that “[a]t the heart of her work is the recurring image of Palestine”, and the album’s epigraph – cited in English and Arabic – is a defiant quatrain from the jubilant traditional Palestinian song Il-Hamdillah:

                                                Praise God, that evil is no more

                                                We planted peppers in the heat

                                                Our foes said they wouldn’t turn red

                                                Praise God, our peppers grew and turned red.

This song, which euphorically closes both this album and Sprinting Gazelle, contains lyrics “collected… from field recordings of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon and Jordan”. The  opening track on Disc I, Let us in! (Hawwilouna!), was “recorded from a group of Palestinian refugee women, originally from the village of Sha’ab near Acre” (in present-day Israel).

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DDCI calls on New Government to Strictly Regulate Vulture Fund Acquisitions

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DDCI calls on incoming Government to prioritise strict regulation of controversial funds

A new report  released today (Tuesday May 3rd) by Debt Development Coalition Ireland highlights the manner in which vulture funds have aggressively bought up large volumes of debt in recent years, and how this form of financial speculation has had hugely negative social impacts both in Ireland and the Global South.

Entitled “From Puerto Rico to the Dublin Docklands: Vulture Funds and debt in Ireland and the Global South”  the report shows how the Irish government has actively facilitated vulture funds through both the IBRC and NAMA.

For example, Texas based Lone Star Capital bought 60% of all assets brought to market by IBRC, while 90% of assets sold by NAMA went to US firms, the majority to private equity firms.  

DDCI Director, Maeve Bateman, said:  

“Vulture funds have earned their nickname through the aggressive and unusual tactics they pursue. The government has welcomed vulture funds into the Irish property market, without properly considering the impact. We would call on the incoming government to prioritise this issue. Immediate steps need to be taken to find out just how many mortgages are owned by vulture funds unregulated by the Central bank, and to ensure that the tenants and homeowners living in these homes are better protected.

The relatively recent role of vulture funds in the Irish market highlights the ongoing impacts of our own debt crisis, and shows the case for an independent global sovereign debt resolution mechanism has never been clearer”. 

The report’s author, Dr Michael Byrne of the UCD School of Social Policy, said: 

The funds’ history of aggressive asset management strategies poses significant risks for tenants and homeowners in Ireland whose homes are now simply assets on balance sheets for the funds, highlighted by the recent case of tenants in Tyrrelstown and business closures such as Clery’s.”

The report recommendations include:

  • The creation of an international sovereign debt resolution mechanism;
  • Legislation to bring about much improved transparency regarding the actions of vulture funds and to bring them under the regulation of the Central Bank
  • Greatly strengthened legal protections for mortgage holders.

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Warning: Ultra-Low Spend Economy Ahead

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We are potentially heading down a dangerous stretch of road ahead –leading us into the Ultra-Low spend zone.  In this zone, investment declines and, so competitiveness and productivity; health and education services suffer; income supports falter adding fuel to the inequality engine.  A low-service, low-waged, low-productivity future awaits.

Of course, spending a lot of money doesn’t guarantee you optimal results.  But spending too little certainly won’t get you optimal results.  So how far behind are we falling?  Let’s compare public spending (excluding interest – this is called ‘primary’ expenditure) in the EU-15 countries.

I’ll use the method devised by Seamus Coffey who hangs out at Economic-Incentives.  He excluded elderly-related expenditure and then compared Ireland with the rest of Europe.  He did this because Ireland has an advantage here – we don’t have to spend as much on pensions and related expenditure because we have a smaller proportion of elderly.  In the EU-15, the over 65 cohort makes up 19 percent of the population; in Ireland, this cohort makes up 13 percent. 

2014 is the latest year we have data for old-age expenditure.  In the following, old-age expenditure is subtracted from total primary spending.  For instance, Ireland spent 37.2 percent of its adjusted GDP (adjusted per the Irish Fiscal Council’s hybrid-GDP estimate that factors in the accounting practices of multi-nationals).  It spent 4 percent on the elderly, leaving an expenditure level of 33.2 percent excluding elderly-related spending.  Figures for European categories are mean averages. 

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Ireland ranks below all the European averages.  What difference would it have made in 2014 in actual Euros and cents?

  • To reach the average of other EU-15 countries, we would have had to increase public spending by €6.5 billion
  • The next comparison is with other Northern and Central European economies (other NCEE). This is the EU-15 excluding the poorer Mediterranean countries like Greece and Portugal.   To reach this average, we would have had to spend an additional €9.6 billion.
  • The final comparison is with Other Small Open Economies, a category used by the IMF. These are economies with a small domestic market and a high reliance on exports.  Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are in this category.  This is arguably our peer group.  To reach this average we would have had to spend an additional €15.5 billion.

[Note:  some will say that defence spending should also be factored in as other European countries spend more than us.  This is true.  In the EU-15, defence spending makes up approximately 1.3 percent of GDP; it’s 0.4 percent in Ireland.  In any event, defence spending is a policy choice and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be excluded from comparisons.  But if you insist, knock off about €1.5 billion off the numbers above.]

In 2014, it could be argued that we are already a low-spend economy but as I wrote here, the situation could actually be worse.  I have reservations about Seamus’s method.  Excluding old age expenditure not only removes the demographic driven part of overall spending, it removes policy choices.  Most other EU-15 countries spend more on elderly per capita than we do.  Second, if we are to adjust for the elderly population, then we should also adjust for youth demographics.  In Ireland, under-20s make up 28 percent of the population, compared to 21 percent in the EU-15. 

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May Issue of Socialist Voice Out Now

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The May issue of Socialist Voice is now available online.

Water: Scarce commodity or valuable natural resource?  Jimmy Doran:

As Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agree to set up another committee to manage the affairs of the rich, water charges and Irish Water have been used as a political football between them. In this centenary year it just goes to show that James Connolly got it right when he wrote: “If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the Green Flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain.

Opinion: Two strategies: Connolly’s (1916) and Sinn Féin’s (2016)D. R. O’Connor Lysaght

James Connolly is presented as the ideological inspiration of the majority of the politically committed in the 26-county Republic of Ireland. Of that state’s four main parties, only Fine Gael would deny him this role, tracing its roots to a compost of John Redmond and Michael Collins. Its rivals, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and Labour, each describe themselves as the keeper of Connolly’s flame.

Tories’ attack on doctors is only the beginningTommy McKearney

Do you, like me, subscribe to the view that Britain’s Conservatives are an unscrupulous lot, forever searching for new ways to make the rich even richer? With this in mind, and in spite of the absence of documentary proof, it strikes me that the intensely bitter dispute between junior doctors in Britain and the Tories’ secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, is about more than just pay.

Time to get rid of special courts: Paul Doran

With the election now over, the issue of the Special Criminal Court has been largely forgotten—that is, unless you are stuck in one of Europe’s most disgusting prisons, namely Port Laoise, where “slopping out” is still the practice.

Irish GDP: The great con trick: Eoghan M. Ó Néill

Capitalism has been in stagnation for decades. Economic growth has been sluggish, rarely rising above 2 per cent. Ireland, on the other hand, is once again the poster economy of capitalism. Having cast off the shameful remnants of the “Celtic Tiger” years and the financial crisis of 2008, Ireland is once again an economic powerhouse, with the growth in its gross domestic product (GDP)

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