Articles

irish_Pt

Right2Water and Podemos

, , No Comment

Peadar Kirby has written a piece expanding on his criticisms of the Right2Water campaign, locating them within a wider critique of what he calls Ireland’s politics of anti-austerity. He is pessimistic about the possibilities of the current mass mobilisation against austerity in Ireland, and contrasts the situation in Ireland with the situation in Spain, where as he sees it Podemos is on the verge of taking power ‘not through a politics of opposition but through a serious politics of proposing an alternative that is credible to large sectors of the citizenry’.

In this post I wish to highlight some further similarities and differences between the cases of Ireland and Spain, and in doing so, question some of Kirby’s criticisms.

Kirby is critical of the ‘politics of opposition’ rather than a ‘politics of proposal’ in the Irish case. He thinks the anti-water charges campaign ought to articulate fully how the right to water ought to be guaranteed, since, as he sees it, the likely consequence of the campaign should it prove successful will be to winnow away further at this right. This criticism relies on a strict interpretation of the right to water as codified by the UN. I agree with Kirby and others that when people are campaigning against water charges, they are not campaigning for a fully articulated and costed solution for the provision of water in keeping with UN accords. They are doing so because they feel they and others will be impoverished by water charges. But they are also doing so because they recognise that the imposition of water charges is regressive and hence unjust, and the demand for water to be paid for out of progressive tax measures, and the demand against privatisation, which are both very common in the campaign, are not calls for stripping away the capacity of the State to provide public services. On the contrary.

It is true: there are no detailed concrete proposals to this end. Kirby thinks this is a big problem. I don’t. And here is where I begin to part company with his analysis. In drawing attention to the rise of Podemos in Spain, Kirby omits the cycles of mobilisations that preceded the rise of that organisation. These mobilisations stretch back more than a decade now: from the mobilisation against the Iraq war to the V de Vivienda campaign for a right to housing to the Juventud Sin Futuro campaign, and, crucially, the 15M movement that called into question the very legitimacy of Spain’s political system, its right to call itself a democracy. And on from the 15M to the various Mareas?—?in defence of public healthcare, public education, emigrant rights, abortion rights, as well as the resounding achievements of thePlataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca in mobilising public opinion against evictions.

Read Post →

3

The Disillusioned Citizen

, , No Comment

The disillusioned Citizen

As I sit in my cold, cold house

Sticking bubble wrap to my single glaze,

The slap of the letter box like a slap to the face,

Cold as the air, in an unemployed haze.

s

Each day the horrors of my future lie in suspension

No letters of job offers, hope and acceptance; its beyond comprehension.

Dangerous ground the post man dictates,

My mood, my emotions, my worries, my fate.

s

Plenty of bills though, they keep rolling in,

Unwanted, unopened and thrown in the bin.

For their demands just cannot be met,

It’s a number of weeks till my house is for let.

s

Never have I experienced such rejection,

Something is wrong with this country, a malaise; no, an infection.

A glitch in the system, an error of ways,

The dismissal of citizens through their ivory tower gaze.

Read Post →

paintingsetfree

The Power of Paint

, , No Comment

Exhibition Review: The EY Exhibition Late Turner: Painting Set Free

Turner turned 60 in 1835 and the paintings and watercolours he went on to produce are the subject of the exhibition at Tate Britain (running until January 2015). Work labelled as ‘late’ can carry a double-edged evaluation, pointing upwards to acclaim  ascent to new ground or downwards to indicate a decline into staleness. It can go either way: late Heidegger is radical, late Wordsworth is drearily conservative and if late Dylan comes into the equation the term’s uncertainty wobbles close to collapse.

Tate Britain’s tag line for late Turner, Painting Set Free, makes clear the gallery’s pitch, indicating that we view these post-1835 works as a liberation from classical canons and traditional notions of art as merely pictorial representation. Turner, suggests the sub-text, was a modernist avant la lettre who prepared the way for Impressionism, anticipated the spirit of abstract art and educated our sensibilities towards receiving a non-mimetic notion of art.

This has been a familiar way of viewing Turner for half a century now so there is nothing shockingly new in Tate Britain’s approach but what does distinguish this exhibition is the concentrated gathering in one space of so many works by Turner over a precise period of time. The result is a visual feast that takes narrative moments from myths, the bible and history and stirs in a heady blend of watery mists and hazy but vibrant colours to enact ethereal dramas of light and dark.

The atmosphere of his paintings comes from light-drenched vistas that exist independently of whatever set of humans, nymphs, gods or goddesses happen to inhabit one portion of a canvas. Turner is not afraid to add touches of impasto while remaining loyal to his palette of airy blue, creamy to murky white, golden yellow, russet that mutates to scalding red and burnt orange.

Read Post →

mbT

If this is a recovery why are people getting poorer?

, , No Comment

On the same day that the CSO reported that the economy grow by 3.5% from a year ago, the Irish Times reported deepening gloom among households with survey respondents reporting decreasing disposable incomes. 45% of people said they were spending more on utility bills, and many others reporting increased costs of transport, healthcare and housing.

How is it both possible for the economy to be expanding at a decent clip yet the population is becoming poorer? Leaving aside the possibility that the population is expanding at a faster pace than the economy (which is not the case here), then either the data is false or all of the benefits of recovery and more are going to a minority of society. Or both.

The reality is that the CSO vastly overstate the improvement in the economy, which in reality is doing little more than bumping along the bottom. At the same time, the austerity policy works to redistribute incomes from poor to rich, from labour to capital, especially unproductive capital such as banks and landlords. If energy bills are rising in real terms incomes are being transferred to them from households. If rents are rising, real incomes are being transferred from tenants to landlords, and so on.

Fake exports, real stagnation

The export-led recovery that is so widely touted by supporters of this government and of austerity generally is a statistical fiction. Over time a number of commentators have pointed to the tax regime as a source of huge distortions to the external accounts. This facilitates the booking of costs, output and profits in this jurisdiction in order to avail of extremely low effective tax rates, way below even the headline rate of 12.5%. Constantin Gurdgiev at True Economics has also shown that this is a key factor in the current inflated level of GDP.

One marker of this distortion to the trade data is that the monthly CSO accounts show total goods exports of €23.2bn in the 3 months of Q3.  Yet the data included in the Quarterly National Accounts show exports at €27.3bn. There is a different methodology for the two pieces of data. But there is a truth gap between the real level of goods exports and reality, which has widened over time. In 2008 the export totals were almost aligned, with the GDP data showing exports just €1.8bn higher for the whole year. Now that annualised discrepancy amounts to €16.4bn. This is greater than the entire recorded improvement in real GDP since the trough of the recession at the end of 2009, which is €15.7bn. Without the fakery of an ‘export-led recovery’, statistically there is no recovery at all.

Because the export data is so distorted, it is important to consider the trends in aggregate domestic demand, which is the sum of household consumption, government consumption and investment (Gross Fixed Capital Formation).

Fig.1 Real Final Domestic Demand, €bn

MB1

Read Post →

3t

Working Hard to Maintain the Status Quo

, , No Comment

In an article in last Saturday’s Irish Times entitled ‘The water charges fiasco: a lesson in how not to do things’, Kathy Sheridan describes the saga as “an accessible, textbook study of how an unaccountable Government and Civil Service can unite to patronise and insult us.”  Drawing on the views of Eddie Molly, she goes on to identify a number of reasons for public anger at the charges: rushed legislation, perceived cronyism in terms of board and management appointments, and, under a deal with the trade unions, the guaranteeing of workers’ jobs at Irish Water. I have to confess that at last week’s mass demonstration against the charges I did not see a single banner bemoaning the fact that workers were being allowed keep their jobs, but it was a very big turnout so maybe I missed one.  

However, many banners highlighted other issues concerning Irish Water, including the regressive nature of the charges and the fear that a public asset might be privatised.  The vast majority of people on the march were not attacking a claimed bogeyman nexus of civil servants and trade unions.  Many were, however, attacking a perceived cosy relationship between decision-makers and corporate interests, specifically those of Denis O’Brien.  The story of how an O’Brien-owned company won contracts to install water meters despite not being registered as a company at the time, and had a large chunk of debts owed to the former Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., the public) written off, need not be rehearsed again here, but it was common currency on both posters and in speeches at the demonstration. Kathy Sheridan’s elision of corporate power’s baleful influence over governmental decision making serves a reactionary agenda that places Ireland’s governance problems at the door of public sector workers and trade unions.

On the day of the water demonstration itself, Sheridan was scathing about the fact that the protestors had, she claimed, “hijacked” World Human Rights Day and foregrounded such relatively petty concerns above more pressing rights violations such as those endured by the people of Gaza.  Well, maybe there is something in that, though I saw lots of people at the water demonstration who I also see regularly at small Gaza protests (where I am pretty sure I have never spotted Kathy Sheridan). Let us take one example of what is a very urgent human rights concern in Ireland right now – the scandal of Direct Provision for asylum seekers.

Sheridan interviewed the Minister responsible for Direct Provision in November in an article entitled ‘Minister with a mission to deliver’ and in which Frances Fitzgerald is described as “[p]ractical, tireless, sharp and fast-moving”.  It was the sort of article that makes one wonder why the Minister bothers with a PR officer when she has the services of Ms Sheridan available to her.  In fairness, Minister Fitzgerald is quoted sympathetically as saying that “I think it’s quite tough on families”, but she is referring to the problems faced by the families of politicians, not asylum-seeking families forced to live for years in inadequate and  often abusive conditions.

Am I being unfair in singling out Kathy Sheridan?  Perhaps, but she exemplifies many of the traits of Ireland’s mainstream journalists.  She professes horror at the state of governance in Ireland but ignores the corporate constituencies that have been at the heart of bad government and the current economic crisis.  She laments the lack of protest in Ireland and then maligns and distorts the views of those who have the courage to come out on the streets. She claims to be concerned for human rights but, given the opportunity to ask a minister challenging questions about human rights abuses, she opts instead for servile flattery. The status quo is safe in such hands.

 

Read Post →

2

A Mini-Tax-Cutting Budget? Abolish the USC? Can It Get Any Worse?

, , No Comment

Christmas comes early for employers, high-income groups and right-wing ideologues.  The Sunday Times (behind a paywall) reports on demands from Government backbenchers to introduce a mini-budget in an attempt to salvage the Government’s fortunes.  And what would be the centre-piece of such an initiative?  The race is on between Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers over who can make the most outrageous tax cutting promises, including the notion that the Universal Social Charge (USC) be abolished.    Ho-ho-ho.

Let’s first deal with the idea of abolishing the USC.  Who would be the greatest beneficiary?

USC 1

As seen, someone on the minimum wage would get a boost of 2.2 percent in net take-home pay from the abolition of USC.  This rises to over 10 percent for those on €100,000 and it gets even more lucrative for those on very high incomes.  Abolishing the USC would be highly regressive – benefitting those on the highest incomes the most.

But this doesn’t tell the full story as the above refers to headline tax rates.  High income groups can hire an army of accountants to avoid paying large amounts of income tax, inheritance and gift taxes, capital gains tax – exploiting a huge array of reliefs and allowances and other legal tax reduction strategies.  However, that army is defeated when it comes to USC.  There is no getting out of paying it.  So, if anything the benefit to high income groups would be disproportionately higher than the chart above.

Let’s put this in Euros and cents.

USC 2

Someone on the minimum wage would get €7 per week; at the higher end they would get over €350 per week (that’s right, a €16,000 annual tax cut).  From my own, admittedly back-of-the-excel-sheet, calculation, over 46 percent of USC revenue comes from those earning €70,000 or above.  Less than 10 percent of USC revenue comes from those earning less than €30,000.  Guess who wins out in that tax-cut auction.

To be fair, some proponents of abolishing the USC claim that alternative means of getting revenue from high income groups can be introduced.  This is simply not realistic.  USC collects over €4 billion per year.  That’s over one-third of what income tax takes in.  How could you make it up?

  • Increase the top rate of tax from 40 percent to 57 percent.  That would do the trick (though as mentioned above, those who can afford accountants would be able to get around the high marginal tax rates).
  • Abolish tax relief on pension contributions, health insurance and mortgage interest.  However this would only bring in €1.5 billion – or 37 percent of the USC loss.
  • Abolish PAYE tax relief.  This would raise €2.8 billion – still, far short of the USC loss.  And every worker above the income tax threshold would lose €1,650, wiping out gains for all low and average income earners.
  • Increase VAT to nearly 30 percent.

There are other measures such as a wealth tax which the Nevin Economic Research Institute estimates could raise €250 and €500 million.  You could toss in increases on capital income (inheritance, capital gains) but there’s a limit.  Of course, there’s a real loss here.  Instead of using the additional revenue from wealth and capital taxes to invest in social housing, education and health, we would only be clawing back a tax break that we gave to higher earners in the first place.

Read Post →

1

Don’t Mind What’s Going On – Feel The Spin

, , No Comment

You’d think there would be concern among commentators about the latest GDP numbers produced by the CSO.  After all, a quarterly growth of 0.1 percent is not that far from negative growth.  Or that consumer spending has fallen in the last two quarters (an interesting contrast to all those feel good anecdotes about increased consumer confidence).  Or that the explosion in export growth doesn’t quite tally with global trends or even other numbers produced by the CSO.

But there’s a class of commentators who are determined to cheerlead regardless. Michael Hennigan gives a flavour of these – with economists talking up the ‘fastest growing economy’ in the EU.  Sure, why not.

Read Post →

A2O1t

From Alpha to Omega Podcast #057: The Physics Of Class

, , No Comment

This week I am delighted to welcome Gavin Mendel-Gleason to the show. Gavin works as a Post-Doctoral researcher in the computer science department at Dublin City University. Gavin also writes for the very interesting blog: Spirit of Contradiction, which focuses on various different aspects of leftist or socialist politics and theory.

Gavin recently wrote a really interesting article on some empirical and theoretical evidence from the world Econophysics that chimes with Marx’s two-class analysis of capitalism. These results are extremely interesting and serve as another illumination of the accuracy and power of Marx’s work. We also talk about Gavin’s experiences working as an anarchist activist in Ireland, and his journey from that to more formal party politics.

You can find his Spirit of Contradiction blog here:

The music featured on this show was:

‘The Order of the Pharaonic Jesters’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra
‘Working Man’ by Rush
‘Top Hat, White Tie and Tails’ by Fred Astaire
‘Time Will Tell’ by The Lafayette Afro Rock Band
‘Water No Get Enemy’ by Fela Kuti

Here are the instructions on how to leave a review on iTunes:

1. If you don’t already have iTunes installed on your computer, first you need to install it.
2. If you don’t already have an apple_id, please carefully follow the instructions here where you can create an account without having to give them your bank details (i know… swine!) http://support.apple.com/en-us/ht2534
3. Got to the iTunes website for the show: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/from-alpha-to-omega/id530114975?mt=2
4. Click on the ‘View in iTunes’ button
5. Click on the ‘Ratings and Reviews’ tab
6. Click on the ‘Write a Review’ button.
7. If you have not already logged into iTunes with your apple_id, you will now be asked to.
8. Write the review, and click on the submit button.
9. If you are having any trouble with all of this, drop me an email to: alpha2omegapodcast (at) gmail (dot) com

Read Post →

roll

An Taoiseach’s Ode to Self

, , No Comment

Four years ago, I took charge

of a country that had forgotten

how to tie its shoe laces; a nation

that no longer knew where

its undergarments were;

the saddest little great country

on this small part of the planet

many of whose people

had woken up to find

themselves on lavatory seats

not of their own making,

and those who hadn’t

could feel something

cold against their faces

and, on opening their eyes, discovered

it was the pavement. With policies got

from the late Herbert Hoover’s crypt

to encourage a flowering of

pound shops all over the country,

we taught the people of Ireland

how to properly wipe

their own rear ends again.

_

Giving people the confidence

and security to clean themselves

in the privacy of their own bathrooms

is what this Government is all about.

I’m glad to say that some people

are experiencing this as I speak.

Many more don’t yet

have the confidence

to tear off the toilet paper

themselves, and still need our help.

_

And as my government enters

this new phase of

final collapse, I want to pay tribute

to our workers. Despite waves

of economic incontinence,

they went out each morning,

on anxious and galling days.

_

We have learned from our ridiculous past

only to make sure we repeat it.

When I look at myself

in the giant gold mirror

you bought me, I still

can’t quite believe I’m here,

And know very soon

I won’t be.

_

KEVIN HIGGINS

Read Post →

dw

The Day Before The Revolution?

, , No Comment

From the personal journal of Basil Miller

YOU HAVE TO PREPARE FOR THESE THINGS.

That’s what I’m telling myself as I contemplate the mobilisation tomorrow.

Tomorrow is 10 December 2014. From the early hours, all over Ireland busses and trains are filling with people. Cars are crammed full as the pooling system set up by local groups gears up for the journey.

Banners are rolled, placards packed, supplies fill the backpacks. Cameras and fancy smartphones have been charged.

It is a truly momentous occasion. Historic, even.

And it’s all down to water. The true elixir of life, as essential as the air we all breathe. I tell myself, you could live for as long as 70 days without food — but with no water, you’d be dead before the week is out.

By now we all know the background. A simple notion that very few people would have a problem with in principle — that water should be charged for — has divided a people from a nation’s government as no other issue in the past six years of grim, grinding soul-destroying austerity.

I’ve paid water charges. I paid them in the Netherlands when I lived there many years ago. That was no biggie. I understood. In a country where much of it lies below sea level, and three of Europe’s biggest rivers annually threaten to overflow the system of dykes, it is very costly, and complicated, to ensure both flood control and clean, safe drinking water.

Water is so important in the Netherlands that it has its own many-tentacled organisation, the Rijkswaterstaat, and has had for centuries. It is seen as a state within a state, and one which no invader has ever dared interfere with or try to administer, so complex are its functions and so arcane its expertise. And the people trust it.

But here in Ireland, I will not pay a cent to Irish Water. Like hundreds of thousands of us, I do not trust this entity. I do not trust the motives behind it. I do not trust the government that set it up. I do not trust the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the Troika, or the vulture corporations hovering in the background ready to pick over our dwindling incomes when they can get their hands on Irish Water through privatisation.

In any case, I’ve paid for my water already. A lifetime of income tax. Special increases in VAT and motoring taxes which were, I was told, destined to upgrade, repair and improve our water supplies and their quality — but instead were diverted elsewhere.

Read Post →

LL3

LookLeft 20 is Out Now in Easons and Country Wide

, , No Comment

LookLeft 20 is in Easons stores and hundreds of selected newsagents across the country now. Still only €2 the highlights of this issue include:

Boiling Point – Dara McHugh takes a look inside the working class revolt over water charges from Donegal to Cork.

This ain’t no fairy tale - Justin O’Hagan takes on the myths and realities of the Northern economy.

Not afraid of the fight - Brendan Ogle has been to the forefront of organising the water charge resistance. Paul Dillon discusses the campaign with him.

No debtor solidarity - Éilis Ryan looks at Ireland’s shameful lack of solidarity with other debt-ridden nations.

Citizen Baby - Michael Taft outlines the need for a greater State role in supporting families, while Éilis Ryan and Gyunghee Park assess the damage done by bad policies.

Forum - Opinion from across the Left, trade unions and the feminist movement.

After the referendum – David Jamieson and Tom Morrison debate the Left’s next steps in Scotland.

The republican congress – Brian Hanley looks back at one of Ireland’s most iconic Left organisations.

Cycling ac ross the border – Jimmy Dignam takes a spin through the famous Rás Tailteann and republican cycling.

Women to blame - Therese Caherty looks at Ireland’s feminist struggles, past and present.

And much, much more…

Read Post →

peoplesnews

People’s News No. 115 Out Now

, , No Comment

The current issue of the People’s News No. 115 is out now

P.1 “Water in its natural state” – the threat posed by CETA to public ownership of water. The treatment of water and water services in international trade agreements remains a controversial issue globally.

P.3 Dutch had euro-exit plan while we were being ruled by troika. Details have emerged that both the Dutch and German governments were preparing emergency plans for a return to their national currencies at the height of the euro crisis.

P4 Italian campaign against Euro launched. The leader of Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement has taken his campaign for a referendum on the euro to Brussels.

P.5 The current status of CETA. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a trade agreement – very similar to TTIP – between the EU and Canada.

P.5 European Commission threatens to leave small firms in the lurch. Since 2009 the Commission has been examining new legislation for its effects on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

P.6 TEEU votes to ‘Scrap TTIP’. The recent TEEU Biennial Delegate Conference in Kilkenny pledged the union ‘to oppose the ratification and implementation of TTIP in all forums in which it participates.’

P.6 Need for Plan B? It is quite clear that the Eurozone structural problems have never been resolved and probably never can be.

Read Post →

dec9

Tweedledum Tax Cuts vs. Tweedledee Tax Cuts

, , No Comment

Apparently the Government, if not having an outright row, is at least engaging in a ‘strong debate and discussion’.  What’s it about?

  • The introduction of a Living Wage and associated reforms such as abolition of zero-hour contracts and minimum wage increase?
  • A comprehensive affordable childcare network – with savings of €400 to €500 per month for families with young children?
  • Universal access to free community health services – such as GP visits, outpatient services and heavily-subsidised prescription medicine?
  • Maybe a debt-relief programme – not only for households in arrears, but also for those caught in the terrible debt spiral of money-lenders and their interest rates which can exceed 100 percent?
  • Or a guarantee of an adequate income and home-help services for all people in retirement?  Or additional supports, such as a ‘cost-of-disability’ supplement for disabled women and men – of whom 50 percent are officially described as living in material deprivation?
  • Or a major drive to reduce rents in the private rented sector – through rent freezes combined with a new public enterprise drive to directly deliver quality, affordable rental units to private tenants?
  • Is the row about any of these or something similar (like eliminating all education-related costs such as school-books, transport, ‘voluntary fees’)?

No.

It is about which tax cuts the Government should pursue.  Good grief.

Let’s call it for what this is.  First, this is a deeply disingenuous debate – ‘my-tax-cuts-are-better-than your tax cuts’.  No Government Minister, TD, or candidate should be allowed to come to the doorstep, seeking votes by claiming ‘we can cut your taxes and still deliver European-style living standards – income supports, public services, economic and social investment’.  To make such claims is either hypocritical or completely indifferent to how the real world operates.

Living Standards 1

Second, tax cuts will undermine the next government’s ability to actually improve people’s living standards – affordable childcare, affordable rents, reduced public transport fares, free and comprehensive primary health care, real free education, etc.  Let’s not forget that Irish living standards are closer to Greece’s than it is to most other EU-15 countries.  Question:  how will a couple of extra Euros close this gap?

Read Post →

_t

The Time for Left Unity is NOW!

, , No Comment

The latest Ipsos MRBI poll shows that ‘Independents and Others’ are currently on 32% therein making them the most popular group amongst the electorate. If these poll figures were to be replicated in a general election tomorrow this would equate to around 52 seats – by all accounts a massive number. To put this number in perspective, in the 23 general elections that have taken place in the state since 1937 Fine Gael have only managed to exceed this figure on 7 occasions. This is pretty remarkable considering the complete duopoly they have shared – alongside Fianna Fail – on our political system.

Now it goes without saying that the ‘Independents and Others’ grouping is a broad brushstroke comprised of People Before Profit, the Anti-Austerity Alliance, former Workers Party members, ex Labour party members, the Fine Gael rejects and a range of other independents from across the political spectrum. And the conflicting political positions of this 52 mean that it would obviously never act as a coherent political unit. In fact some are even rumoured to be considering starting a party of their own, likely a centre right entity reminiscent of the Progressive Democrats – so in other words, nothing we haven’t had before.

However, in saying that, many of this 52 if not elected on a left platform could at the very least be considered anti-austerity anti-establishment candidates. These individuals should certainly look to coordinate as much as possible but where the small left wing parties are concerned this should go beyond mere coordination toward something more concrete. We saw that the transfer pacts used during the local elections in May bore fruit, but the question is why stop there?

Read Post →