Archive for February, 2009

The Irish Right at War

February 27, 2009

I’ve just put this up over on Cedar Lounge, but I’m sticking it up here too. Because I can.

There has already been some mention here of the remarkable ten minute televisual feast that was Junior Finance Minister Martin Mansergh and Margaret Ward of the Irish Times debating the southern economy on Hearts and Minds last night. Available to us all thanks to Pete Baker at Sluggerotoole. Without him some of us may have been denied the opportunity to see Mansergh demonstrating that he is not cut out for the cut and thrust of frontline politics by nearly losing it. Noel Thompson’s introduction pulled no punches, describing the Celtic Tiger as “toothless tabby” and the south set to be the worst performing developed economy in the EU, as well as raising the issue of a European bailout. Margaret Ward has offered her account of the debate, and I want to pick up on some of what she said, and how it relates to the emerging discourse of crisis we discussed here.

So what was Ward saying? She accused the government of fiddling while Rome burned, arguing that its inaction was itself a form of action. Here is her own paraphrase of what she said

Paraphrasing it I basically said this was an emergency and that we were at war for our economic survial. It was
time for unity. The time for party politics is over. We all need to come together, start talking to the social partners and make cuts
across the board. Why isn’t the Financial Regulator organisation in the dustbin? All senior bank management still not gone?
People are frightened – they’re losing their jobs, emigrating, huge numbers of small businesses are failing with banks refusing to
make loans…They need some hope.” I asked him loads of questions and asked him what they were doing about it. Why weren’t
they asking for help from the extraordinarily intelligent experts we have in this country? Why weren’t they communicating a plan to
the people?

As with Eoghan Harris, John Gormley and others, Margaret Ward is convinced that there is something rotten in the state of the Irish economy, and that we are now fighting for our very life. Engaged in a war no less. I’ll come back to the implications of this argument at the end. However, unlike them she believes that the corruption scandals have hurt the Irish economy in the eyes of the world.

If you are not extremely angry about what is going on then you should be. Ireland will be bankrupt in about 12 months. We are burning through about €1 billion or so a week. Internationally, Ireland Inc. is viewed as corrupt country where cronyism is rife and that’s accurate. Are you happy with that reputation? I’m not. It’s embarrassing. We ALL have to inform ourselves about the FACTS and then take action – quickly.

She was more explicit on Sluggerotoole

No one wants to lend to us because we are seen as corrupt fraudsters. As a result, we pay more to borrow money than other countries.

The other half of her argument was that the government was not ensuring that enough money was getting to private enterprise from the banks, and that a new bank should be created by the state to loan to small business. No arguments from me about the need for a new bank, about the need to ensure that businesses do not go to the wall where possible, but of course we also need to expand this to individuals, and especially to their mortgages.

It’s fair to say that Mansergh was not best pleased with her attitude and arguments. It’s also fair to say that I find myself in the unpleasant and unexpected position of being on his side of the argument. Mansergh made the point that the government was not going to clobber the people all at once. Ward’s response was an outraged and repeated “Why not?” The implications of her question are remarkable. While trying to appear as the voice of the man on the street, alone, abandoned and ignored by government, the actual consequences of her policies being adopted are simple. She said the government needed to talk to the people, to communicate with it. That is all well and good. But what does it seem she thinks the government should actually be saying? We are cutting your wages, your benefits, your public services, your schools, your hospitals, and our commitments to you and to social welfare. Instead we are going to concentrate on ensuring that we give money to business so that if you are lucky some of this will trickle down to you (because there was no mention of helping individuals out, just businesses). This is her version of offering the people hope. Spare us.

As I’ve noted already, this argument is being made by a range of government and media figures in the language of war. Ward in fact argued that there was a danger of being “economically colonised” by Europe. Yet it never seems to dawn on any of them to ask what governments do during times of war. Do they cut public spending? Do they reduce their activity? Do they downsize their role in the economy and in the lives of the citizens? Of course not. In order to win a war, the government takes into its own hands the direction of the entire economy. It creates new factories and new jobs. It suspends political ideology in favour of the efficiency offered by the collective energies of the people harnessed by the state. Perhaps when they meditate a little more on that, Ward and co might rethink their use of the terminology, or even the supposed solutions they are offering to the crisis.

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A new low from Ryanair and the Power of the State

February 27, 2009

So, Ryanair is thinking of charging people to use the toilets on its planes. The depths to which it will sink should have long ceased to amaze us, but I’m still quite shocked. The question is, faced with the power of a multinational and its determination to wrack every last drop of profit out of its consumers, is there anything we can do? It seems to me that this is a health and safety issue, and that the state – or the EU – should regulate to ensure that this is impossible. Ryanair needs its wings clipped, so to speak.

Unity Government in the south?

February 26, 2009

John Gormley has been talking about the possibility of a unity government in the south. I’ve posted about it at Cedar Lounge Revolution.

US Embargo on Cuba a Failure: Leading Republican Senator

February 23, 2009

A further welcome outbreak of realism from Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. Lugar has admitted that the embargo has failed to break support for the Revolution among the Cuban people. He recommends the reversal of the additional, petty vindicative restrictions introduced by the Bush regime, increasing cooperation between the two governments, and allowing the Cubans to buy agricultural machinery on credit. However, he has stopped short of calling for an end to the embargo, though that is clearly the logic of his position.

As Cuba seeks to rebuild those areas affected by the hurricanes, the ability to buy agricultural machinery on credit would be particularly useful. The Cuban government in pursuing reforms is seeking ways to improve productivity and the purchasing power of its citizens, and the relaxation and ultimate ending of the embargo would be a key factor, as well as providing other countries the opportunity to benefit from trade with Cuba, and especially with its advanced medical research in areas such as vaccinations, without the prospect of being punished by the remaining superpower.

The fact that moves are coming from within the Republican as well as the Democratic Party bodes well for Obama’s stated policy of seeking to engage with countries that the US has previously tried to bully, invade, strangle, and starve into submission. We can only hope that this approach will continue not only towards Cuba, but also the DPRK and elsewhere. From an Irish point of view, it makes the continued pursuit of Seán Garland initiated in the dying days of the Bush regime look all the more the petty and ideologically-driven act of vindicativeness it was.

Terminated

February 19, 2009
A solution to his party's factional struggles?

A solution to his party's factional struggles?

So, California’s public sector is, not to put too fine a point on it, scheduled for termination. But not at the hands of the man-machine himself, but rather his cohorts in the Republican party in the state Senate, who are refusing to pass his budget, insisting on tax cuts for ideological reasons. Arnie is one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed. The consequence is that one in five workers employed by the state will lose their jobs. This is, at a local level, the same type of dispute that held up Obama’s stimulus package. So we have a Republican arguing that they will protect the people from more taxes. Great I’m sure. Although if you lose your job because of this, probably not so good. I hope that at least one Republican will see sense, though I doubt it. Let’s just hope the voters punish them, and hard, for it at the next opportunity. I’m sure though there are plenty in the Irish Republic’s establishment taking heart from the Republican comrades in California.

ADDS: Splintered Sunrise has a post putting this story in much broader context.

Economic Crisis? Forget that – what about the dinosaurs?

February 13, 2009
Artists' Impression of the DUP front bench

Artists' Impression of the DUP front bench

Extremely depressing news that the number of mortgage arrears in Northern Ireland has gone up 64% over the past year. Meanwhile, what is exercising our senior politicians? “Insidious propaganda” from New Labour suggesting – shock horror – that global warming might have something to do with humans, and the outrageous idea that the Ulster Museum is planning an exhibition on Darwin but not including Creationism. Glad to see that everyone at Stormont has their priorities right. This is the sort of political shadow boxing designed to distract from the incompetence of those elected to represent us. Expect this to accelerate as the next election approaches.

Garland Gets Bail

February 13, 2009

Good news from Dublin, where Seán Garland has been granted bail, albeit under very onerous conditions. Justice and humanity dictated that someone in his condition should not be in gaol while the extradition proceedings are sorted out. No to the extradition of Seán Garland!

Irish Labour in the North: The Future is…?

February 13, 2009

A while back, in this post I discussed a post by Jenny of South Belfast Diary on the rejection by Eamon Gilmore of the Irish Labour Party standing in elections in the North. Jenny now has a brief account of her last meeting as a member. It’s an interesting read.

Silver Lining

February 12, 2009

The Israeli election results have been a bit of a disaster, with Kadima and Likud first and second, and the racist Yisraeli Beiteinu pushing Labour into fourth place (not that Labour are any great shakes these days). However, the Israeli Communists, Hadash, have secured an extra seat in the Knesset, now having four. Things could be worse. Hasta la victoria siempre!

More At Cedar Lounge

February 10, 2009

Just a quick link to a post I’ve put up on Cedar Lounge with some personal thoughts on the attempt to extradite Seán Garland.