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The Rising Tide – LookLeft 19 in Shops Now

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LookLeft 19 is in Easons stores and hundreds of selected newsagents across the island now. Still only €2 this issue includes former Worker’s Party President Séan Garland’s assessment of the career of Eamon Gilmore, an exclusive article by Greek economist, Yanis Varoufakis, on the failure of European Social Democracy, an interview with new Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger, an examination of the growing militancy among trade union members in Ireland and John Cooney on Scottish Independence and much, much more…

Contents include:

CLASS AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

The links between Irish corporate and clerical elites, Richard McAlevey investigates.

RACISM, NORTH AND SOUTH

Brian McDermott and Kevin Squires discuss the rise of racism on both sides of the Border.

THE OIREACHTAS’ NEWEST SOCIALIST

Kevin Squires meets Ruth Coppinger to discuss her aims in the Dáil.

CAN RENT CONTROLS WORK?

Osal Kelly discusses how to put a lid on a the bubbling housing market.

WHAT IS TTIP?

Dara McHugh and Padraig Mannion discuss the threat to democracy from the secretive trade deal.

RISING TIDE OF EXPECTATIONS Workers are seeking a new militancy in the trade union movement, Francis Donohoe explores.

THE FORUM Seán Garland bids an unfond farewell to Eamon Gilmore. Also featuring John Cooney, Anna Quigley, Cian O’Callaghan, Marie Moran and Gavin Mendel-Gleason.

WHAT NEXT FOR EUROPE?

Yanis Varoufakis and Terry McDonough discuss the fall of European social democracy and look at how the Left can rise instead.

RADICAL PROTESTANTS

Conall Parr looks at the legacy of radical Protestants in Northern Ireland politics

GLAM ROCK AND ANARCHY

Dara McHugh talks music, politics and petty theft with pioneering Dublin folk band Lynched.

NO NAZIS AT MALMÖ

Neil Dunne discusses the reactions of Malmö FC to the stabbing of a fan by neo-nazis.

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Phil Hogan, the Embodiment of the Crony Capitalist Links Between Business and Politics in Ireland

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Criticism of the government’s nomination of Phil Hogan as Ireland’s EU Commissioner has tended to focus on his lobbying, in 2012, to prevent a Traveller family accessing social housing.  On this basis, independent MEP Nessa Childers has reasonably described the nomination as a “step backwards for equality”. The other main strand of criticism concerns his signing off on bloated consultancy payments for the establishment of Irish Water, an issue that Sinn Fein in particular is highlighting.  Again, the criticism is legitimate and important, as is the fact that he spent the summer appointing former Fine Gael and Labour councillors to state boards and that he quashed inquiries into planning irregularities (including in his own fiefdom of Carlow) when he took office as Minister for the Environment.

But the problem with Hogan goes well beyond anti-Traveller racism, the wasting of public money, the dishing out of sinecures to political cronies, and taking a relaxed approach to dodgy planning. Most Irish politicians engage in all of the above. Hogan’s real importance lies in his being a prime exemplar of the noxious nexus between political and corporate power in Ireland.

The Moriarty Tribunal in 2011 concluded that former Minister Michael Lowry had “an insidious and pervasive influence” over the awarding of a mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s East Digifone consortium.  In fact, the tribunal described Lowry’s conduct as “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breath-taking”.  Lowry was an honoured guest at Hogan’s 50th birthday party in July 2010, and only days after the publication of the Moriarty report Hogan had an official meeting with Lowry – allegedly to discuss unrelated matters.  But then this should not be so surprising, Hogan has form here.  As Jody Corcoran has reported, “Hogan was personally engaged in the extraction of at least two significant sums of money from O’Brien, or his companies or associates, for Fine Gael at or around the time of the granting of the licence”.  Coincidentally, Siteserv – an O’Brien-owned company that had substantial debts it owed to now state-owned Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., you and me) written off – has won some of the contracts to install water meters in Ireland, water charges of course being another of Hogan’s legacies to us.

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The Loneliness of a Low-Tax, Low-Wage Economy

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The new Global Competitiveness Report is out. This is produced by the World Economic Forum (the crowd that occupies Davos once a year). It purports to rank countries by their business competitiveness. Ireland was ranked 25 in 2014. Last year we were ranked 28. Our competitiveness has improved. Yawn.

The rankings are based on a number of indicators – infrastructure, taxation, business efficiency, labour market, ease of doing business, etc. The rankings are compiled based upon a survey of 13,000 ‘business leaders’ throughout the world. So it is subjective – opinions formed by the executives of multi-nationals and large companies. You can only imagine what they might think. They’d probably give gold stars to countries that have hardly any tax, any wage, and require workers to bow every time the owner’s son drives by.

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But actually, no. These captains of industry and finance actually like (or don’t dislike) high-tax, high-spend, high-regulated economies – everything that we have been told is bad for our economic health. Here’s how our peer group – small open economies in the EU-15 – rank in competitiveness.

All the other small open economies are ranked higher than Ireland. Two of the countries are ranked in the top 10 in the world – Finland and Sweden. Let’s go through some of the economic sins as written down in the orthodox bible and see how the different countries fare (taxation data is taken from Eurostat’s Taxation Trends).

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Ideology and the Corporation Tax Debate

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As the Scottish independence referendum approaches, most polls and observers suggest that the Yes campaign will just fall short but at the same time secure of greater devolution to Holyrood. Against this backdrop, Northern Ireland Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has given the strongest indication yet that the Tory-led government is prepared to hand Stormont the power to reduce corporation tax for the region. The relative absence of a debate around this issue in the Assembly is a reflection of the consensus between all five Executive parties’ on cutting the tax. Only the Green Party has voiced opposition to a reduction in the headline rate, while the local media has proved unable or unwilling to facilitate a serious discussion about its merits and demerits.

It is not surprising that the UUP and DUP are giving this proposal their uncritical support. The former is a local embodiment of Toryism with a tendency for highly conservative social views. The latter gives representation to an aspiring middle and petit bourgeoisie and with every new scandal that transpires the stench of shysterism emanating from the party grows stronger. Both purport to represent large sections of the Protestant working class, yet have enthusiastically welcomed the prospect of introducing welfare reforms that will remove up to £750m annually from the local economy. Not only will these cuts hit Northern Ireland harder than other regions of the UK, but disadvantaged areas are on course to suffer the biggest loss per adult of working age. The two Unionist parties are concerned that Stormont may lose approximately £100m this year in fines for its failure to introduce welfare reforms, but are prepared to countenance the much more devastating cut that anything close to full implementation of the Welfare Reform Bill will bring about. This says something about the ideological position of mainstream Unionism and its contempt for the working class.

The increasingly polarised nature of the welfare reform debate is an apt demonstration of how Sinn Féin’s electoral success presents an opportunity and a problem for the party. By adopting an austerity-critical approach in the South, it has managed to capitalise on working-class disenchantment with a toothless Labour Party and emerge, along with socialists and independents in the Dáil, as the most vocal opponents of Fine Gael’s class war. At the same time, there is pressure on the northern Executive to introduce Tory cuts in the manner of a regional council. It is widely believed that, with the support of senior figures such as Alex Maskey and Eoin Ó Broin, Gerry Adams intervened to ensure that his colleagues in the North reversed an earlier decision to endorse parts of the Welfare Reform Bill. Various media reports suggest that this is the reason for Leo Green’s acrimonious departure from Stormont, where he held the position of key Sinn Féin strategist.

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Open Season on Workers (Again)

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The Sunday Business Post ran four stories last weekend- including a front-page banner headline – attacking not only public sector workers’ living standards, but workers in public enterprise as well.

Semi-States Enjoy Pay Increases During the Recession

Sitting Pretty in the Semi-States

Public Sector:  the Insider Story

The Special Protections of the Semi-States

The Sunday Business Post is determined to outdo the Sunday Independent in public sector worker bashing.

And the most interesting thing about these articles is that they are based on a survey and a reading of wage numbers that are not only completely wrong – but make the most basic statistical mistakes.  This is poor analysis, masquerading as informed commentary.  Let’s look at some of the claims and see where they went off the rails (unfortunately the SBP is behind a paywall).

The SBP Survey on Public Enterprise Wages

The SBP did a survey.  It purported to show the average wage in a number of public enterprises for 2009 and 2013.  From this they deduced whether the average wage rose or fell.  Here’s what their survey found.

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From Alpha 2 Omega Podcast #53: What’s Next? Part II

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This week we have part two of our discussion with Professor Peter Hudis, of Oakton Community College, about his book ‘Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism’. The first part can be found here.

In this week’s show we talk about the Soviet experiment and the alienation of labour, the role of the state in a post-capitalist society, the Spanish revolution and the anarchist understanding of revolution, and the co-operative model as an alternative.

You can get the Professors book here.

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After the Gaza Massacre and After the Marches, What Do We Do?

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The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel looks like holding up. It is a cause for celebration that the mass killing has stopped; the destruction of entire neighbourhoods is over for the moment in Gaza. It is hard to celebrate though when the siege still goes on, the occupation of Palestine with all its associated violence continues apace, and those who perpetrated the Gaza massacre have not been brought to justice. In the current bleak post-massacre crisis which Gaza faces, the work of solidarity organisations are needed now more than ever. The question is what form this solidarity will take.

On Saturday August 9th, between eight and ten thousand of us marched the all too familiar two miles to the Israeli embassy. It was the largest demonstration of Palestine solidarity on this island – a truly national demo with banners, placards and people from all the 32 counties, it was a joy to know so many other people cared and to be marching alongside these people. And now we know this, that so many people in this country are willing to make the effort and stand and march in solidarity with Palestine, what do we do next?

The simple answer I want to give is that we don’t go back to the embassy, instead we engage in boycott actions around the country, bringing the energy from the demonstrations back home and making it meaningful.

Why not march again? Marches mobilise us and they energise us – but if all they mobilise us to do is simply to mobilise yet again, then we are making the march about ourselves and how good we feel chanting pro-Palestine slogans and being in solidarity with each other. That’s not good enough.

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Two London Exhibitions: Two Ways of Seeing

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Two Ways of Seeing: Review of Exhibitions by Kazimir Malevich and Dennis Hopper

Tate Modern is currently home (until 26 October) to a major Malevich retrospective, the likes of which has not been seen in Britain before, while at the Royal Academy there is an exhibition of over 400 photographs taken by Dennis Hopper and on show in Britain for the first time. Malevich and Hopper are both regarded as radical figures who challenged convention but their differences outweigh any perceived similarities. This is not down to painting and photography being different art forms but to the uncrossable gulf between someone who revolutionised the nature of art and someone who happened to be around at a time of social change and captured aspects of it with a camera.

Malevich experienced the October Revolution and then enacted it artistically, dramatically tearing down the old canvas and inaugurating a new way of representing reality. But like most such sweeping summaries, it occludes the history that leads up to a significant moment, washing it over with a rhetorical flourish that rinses out a meaningful understanding. What distinguishes the Tate retrospective is its resolve to show Malevich developing as an artist in a particular place, Russia, and at particular times, from pre-revolutionary tsarism through to Stalinism.

Born in 1879 into a Polish family in Kiev, Malevich travelled to Moscow as a young man, discovered impressionism, saw the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse and began to develop his own style of painting while still feeling he had to speak the language of the western avant-garde. This shows in his Self-Portrait of 1908-10 which takes from Gauguin a compositional ploy which positions the image in front of a painting – a just discernible scene of bathers in this case – while presenting himself as dapper and urbane. Room Two of the exhibition shows him as an artist drawn to Russian themes and styles, painting rural workers using simple forms and expressive colours to portray their hard-working, honest lifestyles.  The Scyther of 1911-12 reveals the influence of modernism without sacrificing allegiance to a Russian cultural identity. The figure is barefoot, as poor peasants would have been, set against a warm red background signifying the rye harvest;  the farmer’s form and mass is far from traditional representational art but the word for the colour red in the Russian language also denotes something beautiful (hence, Red Square) and this is also part of the painting’s iconography.

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Dismal Job Numbers Expose Government Spin

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Question: why has employment growth collapsed in the first half of the year after recent claims by the Government that 60,000 jobs per year were being created?

The answer lies in statistical misunderstanding, Government spin and the failure of many commentators to read the numbers correctly. For the fact is that the 60,000 job-creation number was never real and the recovery in the labour market is sluggish at best. This post may get a bit involved but stay with me – for this is as much a story about how the recovery is being contrived as it is about bald numbers.

Last year, employment growth suddenly took off. In 2012 employment actually fell by 11,000 – and this was after a loss of nearly 300,000 since the start of the crisis. However, in 2013 everything changed. Employment grew on a full-year basis by 43,000 (this is consistent with claims by the Government who were using quarter-to-quarter figures).

This was quite a turnaround. The Government claimed their policies were working. For many commentators this was proof that recovery had returned. But there were a couple of problems.

  • First, this employment growth took place while the economy remained in a domestic demand recession. Given that employment is sensitive to domestic demand, this didn’t make sense.
  • Second, the usual pattern of an economy coming out of a recession is that employment growth lags. This is because if there increases in business output, the first beneficiaries are those already in employment; they get an increase in hours which had previously been cut.
  • Third, the actual job numbers were throwing up some strange happenings. Self-employment (own-account workers) grew by over 10 percent and made up over half of the total employment growth. At one stage, self-employment was growing by nearly four times the rate of growth during the boom. This didn’t make sense – not with domestic demand stagnation. Agriculture employment showed a similar pattern.

These concerns were dismissed. Government policies were working and critics were just nit-picking. However, the CSO published warnings throughout all last year – warning people against interpreting growth trends. Why? Because they were re-aligning their sample base with the recent Census (don’t forget, the Quarterly National Household Survey is not a comprehensive head-count, just a sample; like a poll). This happens after every Census.

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Deng Xiaoping – The World’s Greatest Economist

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This article was originally posted on John’s blog, Key Trends in Globalisation on the 23rd of August.
August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country. But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.

China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:

  • China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
  • China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
  • China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
  • Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
  • During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.

Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to “pragmatism” and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.

In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice.” But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.

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Perverse Economics and Water Charges

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If you’re into perverse economics, then you’re going to love the debate in the run-up to the budget. Already we have Minister Simon Harris calling for income tax cuts (didn’t the Taoiseach tell Ministers last year to shut-up during pre-budget discussions?). Of course, there is almost no discussion regarding affordable childcare, reducing education costs or introducing universal pre-primary education, providing affordable pay-related pensions to all workers, reducing health costs, reversing the high levels of deprivation and poverty, etc. Almost no discussion at all about how we can improve our living standards.

But of real interest to fans of the perverse is that while Ministers and interest groups line up to demand tax cuts, the Government will be introducing an extremely regressive ‘tax’ on almost all households – and there is no discussion about how this can be avoided. I am referring to the water charge.

While there has been considerable discussion about the costs to the average household (measuring showers, baths, brushing teeth), there has been little reference to the distributional impact of the charges; that is, the impact on different income groups. Let’s see if we can start to fill this gap.

Of course, we don’t have a history of water charges to measure so let’s look at waste collection charges. User charges, like sales taxes (VAT, excise) are generally regressive – they impact more on low/average groups. This is in the nature of the tax as lower income groups consume, whether goods or water or waste, more of their income than high income groups. The CSO Household Budget Survey provides information on waste collection charges from 2009/10.

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There are two things worth noting about the above chart.

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Women, This State Hates Us.

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or cead mile failte, are you here for the torture?
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In case you had managed to misremember
how much our country hates us
along comes another woman needing shelter;
because someone transgressed against her
she needs help from us, just for the moment
until all this is behind her,
and do we make her welcome?
Does she get the help she needs? Ah
you know the answer: does she hell-
this country hates the likes of her
this country rapes the likes of her,
we will leave her with her bodily integrity in tatters
while psychiatrists fight it out about her psyche
and noone will ask her opinion
on what’s to be done with her
she is not considered sentient
and our state penetrates her
over and over and over-
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this woman will be incorporated as evidence
in a poisonous debate that skims over how
very many ways the state we’ve built
is willing to degrade us, she will get a code name
and become a touchstone, something (not someone)
that we can talk about in concerned tones
on Marion Finucane and we will shake our heads
and say it’s clear now that our state hates us
as if we hadn’t always known it
as if we haven’t always felt it
as if it hasn’t been the subtext of our paths
through life to womanhood-
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men friends it’s clear now too,
that if you are so inclined you could rape us,
and in all but a few cases you’d serve no sentence
not only that lads but here in our little Ireland
you could impregnate us, force a conception
that we played no part in, then you could
sit back and wait for our institutions
to force motherhood upon us
and they’ll do it- they’ve proved it
even if they have to perforate our mouths with tubes
and force feed us, even if they have to sedate us
then slice our wombs open with surgical knives,
they can and obviously will do it
and deep down we always knew this:
we knew Savita Halappanavar
we knew the Kerry Babies
we knew of lonely deaths on wet nights in Granard
and the A,B, C, and X cases
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and the fortunate amongst us,
the ones with resources know what ferry terminals
look like at night time and how much it costs
to raise a child in all sorts of currencies,
we know whether we are or are not up for it
there should be no shame in that but here, well,
we must keep it secret because of how much
our state hates us, when we make love
we take the risk of ending up in hospital
in a country where if you’re a pregnant woman
‘state care’ is an oxymoron, it’s a shame to say
that as long as we have the capacity
to bear children, Ireland is not a safe place for us;
women, rise up, this country hates us
it’s long past time we changed it
enough is way too much this time.
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Referendum now – repeal the 8th Amendment.

Sarah Clancy

Image from a video of a protest which took place on Wednesday the 20th of August at the Spire in O’Connell St, Dublin. Courtesy of USI and Paula Geraghty.

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Obstruct Reality, Consciously Manipulate, and Deny the Denial: Propaganda, Irish Style

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The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien.  The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.

But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.

The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations.  As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.

That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.

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