tag: Ireland



25
Mar 2014

There’s still money in mediocre coffee

For almost three years the façade stood bare. An empty shell of a building where once beat – symbolically at least – the dark heart of the Celtic Tiger. But the ephemeral nature of consumer capitalism means even the mausoleums are fleeting. A pause for reflection. But not too long, there’s still money to be made and we wouldn’t want to dwell, would we? We’ll always have the photo-montage I suppose… a reminder of how banal it all ended.

And so it was that the building that once housed Anglo Irish Bank lay empty for three years. Lurked more than lay. An unhappy reminder every time you were on Stephen’s Green of what happens when you gather all the greed and all the stupidity into one building and bizarrely hand them the reins of power.

But three years is a long time for Stephen’s Green real estate to lie fallow. I mean, decorum is one thing but wantonly throwing money away? Tch tch tch.

And so it was that earlier today someone captured a photo of the new tenants having their façade installed. Someone should tell Zizek, he’ll love this…

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion


10
Feb 2014

Bank of Ireland redefine time

Most of us, when we hear the phrase “that will take 24 hours” assume that means one day. The thing “that will take 24 hours” will be done the following day.

Not so the Bank of Ireland. For them, 24 hours seems to equate to “some unspecified time over the next week”. And this isn’t just a case of them being late in a particular instance; this is how the system works. They have redefined 24 hours to mean “some unspecified time over the next week”.

Last Thursday I logged into their online banking system. I clicked the relevant buttons to make a transfer from a deposit account to a current account. This process “should take 24 hours to complete”. So, in a world where bankers aren’t in charge of defining units of time; a world – in other words – where a modicum of sanity prevails; that means the money should be in the current account some time on Friday. Makes sense, right?

Well, it’s Monday afternoon and I’ve just spent 15 minutes on the phone with a nice lady at Bank of Ireland who, through no fault of her own, found herself insisting that 24 hours from Thursday afternoon can actually – under certain circumstances – mean Tuesday morning. It seems that when it comes to time distortion, the Bank of Ireland could teach Doctor Who a thing or two.

Bank of Ireland

Remarkably, during our conversation, she explained that when I make an online transfer between a deposit and a current account, I’m not actually setting the transfer in motion. I’m effectively sending a message to someone in a Bank of Ireland office to do it for me. That’s right, despite the shiny web interface and claim that I’m engaged in an “online transfer”, I might as well be mailing them a letter requesting they carry out the transfer for me.

As I pointed out to the nice lady at the end of the phone, if I’d popped down to my local branch on Thursday afternoon and withdrawn the cash at the counter, then deposited it directly into my current account, the transaction would have taken less than 5 minutes. Instead, thanks to the magic of modern technology, I’ll be lucky if it takes less than 5 days.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


25
Jun 2013

Where’s Hell when you need it?

I almost wish the religious fundamentalists were right. I almost wish there was a hell in which the evil burn for eternity.

The reason I (almost) wish this, of course, is because we have created a society where the evil face no retribution so long as they have money or political influence. A society where people like John Bowe and David Drumm can giggle, sing and sneer while they rip the heart out of the country. The most vulnerable people in Ireland are being subjected to a death by a thousand cuts. And yet the Agents of Mammon who brought us to this precipice simply jet off around the world to find the country with the most lax bankruptcy laws so that they may emerge from the disaster they created relatively unscathed.

Hell, many of them don’t even need to do that. John Bowe, head of capital markets at Anglo Irish Bank, was made a director of the IBRC. This is the man who can be heard laughing and singing Deutschland Uber Allies on the recently released Anglo Tapes. The man who can be clearly heard conspiring to defraud the Irish people of yet more money even after he’d helped sink the economy (or in the words of Simon Carswell in The Times, “[seeking] to hoodwink the State into getting [Anglo Irish Bank] a bigger bailout than it let on it needed”). Yet he’s one of the guys our government paid to deal with the mess.

HilariousAnd the politicians who appointed this man to help deal with the mess? They are no better. One Labour TD has resigned from the party in disgust as they inflict yet more pain on those least able to bear it. The rest of them should just apply to join Fine Gael and be done with the tasteless charade that they are somehow a party of the ordinary people. Just like Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the Irish Labour Party represents the rich and powerful. It is one leaf in our trinity of Bankers’ Parties.

The religious fundamentalists are wrong about the evil burning in hell. But I almost wish they were right. Because the vile excuses for human beings that inhabit the upper echelons of our political and financial institutions will never be held accountable for the damage they inflict on the rest of us. Bankers and politicians worked hand-in-glove-puppet to bleed Ireland dry. Then, when they’d done as much damage as they possibly could, they appointed one another to well-paid positions in the clean-up operation. And, as the Anglo Tapes reveal, this clean-up operation was simply viewed as yet another opportunity to unleash their bottomless greed.

I don’t know who our next government should be. But let me say this now, as loud and clear as I can… if at the next election, dear reader, you vote for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Irish Labour, then you are also complicit in the destruction of this country. There can be no more excuses. I only hope that none of them dare knock on my door when canvassing for votes, because frankly I’m at the final straw stage – and I could do without having to face an assault charge in the courts. Our politicians and bankers need to be replaced immediately. And most of them should be imprisoned for their complicity in the subversion of the Irish constitution.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


27
May 2013

Even the ‘centre left’ is on The Right

A little while ago I put together a graphic as a metaphor for just how much the political spectrum has shifted (specifically in the western liberal democracies) over the past few decades. This shift wasn’t started by Thatcher and Reagan, but they – and those who followed them – did most of the heavy lifting. The result of this shift was to effectively exclude the left-wing from mainstream politics, so that today, those who would once have been viewed as being centrists, are now the hard-left. Views that would label one as a moderate left-winger in the 1960s would – in the opening decades of the 21st century – place one firmly in the radical communist camp (and as such, essentially irrelevant when viewed from the mainstream).
Modern political spectrum
In my view, this shift has been tremendously damaging to the societies in which it has happened – and to western civilisation in general. By narrowing the discussion, we narrow the possibilities available to us. The result is a significant reduction in the amount of flexibility* within our culture. Thatcher, Reagan, their acolytes and fore-bearers quite rightly must shoulder a large proportion of the blame for this loss of flexibility and consequent social damage. But the blame does not lie entirely with them. Indeed an argument could be made that their role in this political shift was less influential than that of the leftists and centre-leftists who allowed themselves to be dragged – or in many cases, who willingly stepped – to The Right.

And the fact that – for example – the Labour Party in the UK can still be described as “left wing” in the mainstream media demonstrates just how insidious this shift has been (it’s “the country’s leading left-wing party” according to The Guardian; a supposedly “left-wing” newspaper). This is despite the fact that some members of the Labour Party have denounced unions for “exert[ing] excessive left-wing influence” (source). At the same time, the party talks openly of its plans to “rescue capitalism” (source). When rampant capitalism plunges the entire world into major crisis, anyone who is genuinely “on the left” would be talking about ‘a new socialism’ or asking ‘how do we replace capitalism with something more just and sustainable?’ If your priority is to “rescue capitalism” then you are “on the right”. To suggest otherwise is ignorance. Or it’s propaganda.

Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea…

This shift to the right has, of course, not been restricted to a few places. Certainly there are exceptions (often significant ones… most notably in South America), but as a general rule it has swept across the globe and infected almost all so-called “liberal democracies”. Ireland’s socialist traditions were savaged by the Celtic Tiger, and the speed with which our own Labour Party dashed rightwards was undignified in the extreme. They almost kept pace with Tony Blair… and that’s saying something. Strangely enough though, our media appears to be slightly more perceptive than that of our British cousins, and it’s quite difficult to track down a recent example of the Irish Labour Party being described as “left-wing” in the mainstream media. Nonetheless, they are still described as being “centre left” by most political commentators and are still members of Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists.

This ill-informed nonsense really needs to be challenged. When a member of Labour (or indeed one of their critics) describes the party as being “left” or “centre left” they should be robustly lampooned for the sheer absurdity of their utterance. They should be viewed in roughly the same light as a spokesperson for the North Korean regime who insists on describing the nation as the “Democratic People’s Republic”. Sometimes labels are important. And when the Irish Labour Party talk about being “a centre left alternative” they not only make a mockery of our public discourse, they actually damage the political fabric of the nation. How can people – especially younger people who have grown up with this new political spectrum – possibly understand political reality, and hence make sensible use of their political influence, when identical policies born of rampant capitalism are labelled centre-right by one party and centre-left by another?

The Irish Labour Party was formed by James Connolly, William X. O’Brien and James Larkin… genuine revolutionary socialists. When I see the modern Labour Party’s annual Connolly Commemoration, it’s difficult to hold down the vomit. There’s a lot of “comedy of dubious taste” that I will admit to finding amusing. But this graceless charade is deeply unfunny, and they should really be required to stop it. If I were to visit Arbour Hill Cemetery every year to urinate on the grave of James Connolly I suspect I’d soon find myself behind bars. Why should Eamon Gilmore be treated any differently?

An Apple a Day keeps the Revenue Commissioner Away

Of course, these thoughts aren’t new to me (or this blog). But every now and then something will prompt them to bubble back to the surface where they must be vented, lest the pressure build up and blow the top off my head. Today that prompt was provided by Labour Senator, John Gilroy. In a single tweet, he illustrated just how far rightwards the Labour Party has moved since the days of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien.

The tweet came as part of a conversation between Gilroy and Michael Taft. Taft is “Research Officer” for the Irish UNITE trade union and is one of the most recognisable faces of the modern Irish trade union movement. Of course, just as with mainstream political parties, the Irish Trade Union movement has been a victim of the rightward lurch. Thankfully, they’ve not been dragged quite as far from their original principles as the Labour Party and haven’t been quite as eager to embrace selfish individualism and unfettered capitalism. Yes, they’ve all but abandoned any tendency towards militancy. And their opposition to the austerity policies imposed by – among others – the Labour Party with which they are affiliated, has been muted and ineffective. Nonetheless, Taft and others within the movement have at least continued to publish the data which demonstrates the truth behind government lies.

Today for instance, Taft responded to the embarrassing nonsense emerging from the government on the subject of corporate taxation. For those who haven’t followed the story, it recently emerged that the largest corporation in the world (by certain metrics), Apple, “paid taxes of just 2 per cent on its foreign earnings”. It did this “by channelling much of its huge overseas earnings through a network of Irish subsidiaries to minimise its tax bill.” (source) In response to this revelation, the US Senate condemned Ireland’s status as a “tax haven”.

What was the response of the Irish government? Well, initially at least, it hasn’t involved a promise to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance. Instead, we’ve had both coalition parties issue whinging statements insisting that Ireland is not a tax haven, and how dare anyone suggest otherwise. In fact, our government plans on writing a stern letter to the US Senate to that effect.

“Yes”, they will say, “the largest corporation in the world funnels huge amounts of profit through our country. And yes, we pretty much ignore it and don’t even require them to adhere to our already laughably pro-corporate taxation regime. But that doesn’t make us a tax haven.”

They don’t really explain why Ireland isn’t a tax haven. I mean, they try of course; they talk about how US corporations actually employ people and manufacture things in Ireland, which is a far cry from buying a P.O. Box in the Bahamas. But while technically true, it’s misleading to the point of almost being a lie. Apple funnelled almost two-thirds of all profits earned in 2011 through Ireland despite less than 5% of its global workforce being employed here (source). So no, Ireland isn’t identical to the Bahamas, but in terms of tax policy, we certainly have a hell of a lot in common.

And today Michael Taft ably demonstrated this fact with an article (Tax Haven Dictionary) on his website. It includes data to prove that Ireland’s effective corporate tax rate is far closer to the likes of Luxembourg and the Bahamas, than it is to places like France or the UK. This article then sparked a twitter conversation between Taft and the Gilroy (the Labour Senator). Gilroy’s final contribution to the conversation was to pose the question: “does the current tax regieme give ireland a competitive advantage?” If it hadn’t been typed, one imagines it being asked in a fairly triumphalist tone of voice.

Now, Taft’s response to the question was: “Less than is imagined. Will be discussing that in an upcoming post.” However, I want to ignore that response (at least until Taft’s article is published) and concentrate on the question and what it implies about John Gilroy and the Labour Party in general.

The Purpose of Taxation

If you were to ask any one of the founder members of the Irish Labour Party, “what should be the prime motivation of Irish taxation policy?”, their responses would have all been along similar lines. “The redistribution of wealth with the purpose of reducing socio-economic inequality”. Pretty simple really. It’s a philosophy that underpins all genuine socialism, and – I would argue – is at the heart of any attempts to achieve widespread social justice in a large society. Taxation policy, therefore, is primarily designed with the interests of the majority in mind.

By the 1980s however, “redistribution” had become a dirty word and the left wing – as part of their inexorable shift rightwards – had begun to describe taxation policy as a means to fund essential social services for those who could not afford them. Already at this point we see a major change in the mainstream left’s attitude towards taxation. It’s no longer primarily aimed at reducing socio-economic equality and is now focussed on providing a basic safety net to prevent the poor from starving or dying of easily-preventable illness. The rich can get as rich as they want so long as they chuck a few quid into the bucket to pay for minimal social services. Taxation policy by this point (in the eyes of the mainstream left, remember) is no longer about the interests of the majority and has become a question of accommodating the interests of a small minority while retaining enough of a welfare state to ensure corpses don’t start piling up on the streets.

By the late 90s of course, the right wing was already begrudging society’s expectation of a minimal contribution from the rich and powerful. At this point the mainstream left could have salvaged a shred of dignity by standing firm, insisting that they’d already made a massive compromise in their wholesale abandonment of the social justice agenda, and The Right would just have to accept the obligation of the wealthy to allow the occasional crumb to fall from their replete table.

But they didn’t.

Instead they simply bought into the right-wing agenda of rampant greed and the increasing concentration of wealth. So now we have a Labour Party Senator openly acknowledging that taxation policy can be justified by how well it serves the interests of large multinational corporations even if it is clearly not catering for the needs of the wider population. It’s obscene. And any vote for Labour at the next election is obscene too.

Some might suggest that John Gilroy and his ilk are more concerned with the international competitiveness of Irish tax policy than they are with its fitness for purpose. But it’s a lot worse than that. John Gilroy and his ilk see Irish tax policy as perfectly fit for purpose. Because they see that purpose in terms of international competitiveness, not in terms of social justice. John Gilroy and his ilk need to be cast firmly into the political wilderness; they have no right to a place in our national discourse. Instead they should go work directly for the corporations they represent. Though I doubt they’d be considered competent enough to do so.

* I am using the word “flexibility” here in the Batesonian sense; see: “Bali: The Value System of a Steady State” and especially “Ecology and Flexibility in Urban Civilization” (both in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, by Gregory Bateson). At its most basic, Bateson’s “flexibility” can be defined as “uncommitted potential for change”, and he argues that any reduction in this flexibility will have negative consequences on the ability of society to handle crises. Ultimately, if you reduce flexibility enough you will be left with a society that cannot cope with even minimal change without sustaining damage (up to and including finding its very existence threatened). In this sense, flexibility becomes a measure of the health of a society. Bateson also argues that as the flexibility within a culture decreases, there is a corresponding decrease of flexibility within the environment that sustains the culture, but that’s a discussion for another day.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


11
Apr 2013

What’s in the wind, I wonder. Money worry.

Typical of the Irish financial industry’s inability to get anything right, today we learnt that the Central Bank is unable even to copy a couple of sentences without screwing up. In what is clearly something of an embarrassment, a limited edition silver €10 coin minted in honour of James Joyce contains an error in the Ulysses quotation inscribed upon it.

James Joyce coinThe coin features a portrait of Joyce alongside a quotation from his most famous work (and perhaps the finest work of literature in the English language). While the error, arguably, isn’t a huge one (the insertion of the word “that” in the second sentence) it reveals much about the Irish Central Bank. Either it’s just a mistake – in which case, we see once again the sheer incompetence of those in charge of our money supply. Or it’s deliberate… and we see yet more of the arrogance of our bankers, believing themselves a better judge of how the lines should flow than Joyce himself. Sheer incompetence or blind arrogance? Neither are particularly desirable traits in those who control our finances.

Personally I think the real problem is the chosen quotation. Don’t get me wrong… “Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read.” is a glorious couplet. Indeed, you could pluck a line from damn near any page of Ulysses and have a piece of writing worthy of carving into metal. I just think there are more appropriate lines given the current state of the nation. My own suggestion, for example…

I have no money but if you will lend me your attention I shall endeavour to sing to you of a heart bowed down.

Alternatively, they could make reference to the collapse of credit availability with Stephen’s line…

Where would I get money? Mr Dedalus said. There is no-one in Dublin would lend me fourpence.

And there are many many others that would better fit the mood of the times.

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31
Mar 2013

All fools

Tomorrow is April 1st. The day when, traditionally, we’re encouraged to play practical jokes on one another. Over in the UK, the Tory government (note: just because the Lib Dems are part of the coalition doesn’t stop it from being a Tory government… Clegg’s All-Star Sell-Outs are merely craven enablers) has got a truly hilarious jape up their collective sleeve. Because that’s the date when the new tax and welfare reforms come into force. “Hilarious?” Well, historically speaking, heaping misery upon the poor and vulnerable has generally provided an endless source of amusement for those in power.

Iain Duncan-Smith (the face of evil)Make no mistake, what’s happening in the UK tomorrow is not an honest attempt to reduce the deficit or “balance the books”. Rather, it’s the introduction of yet another series of policies aimed at transferring wealth from the bottom to the top. Tax cuts for the wealthy coupled with benefit cuts for the poor can’t be honestly interpreted otherwise. Especially when occurring in tandem with the wholesale dismantling of the National Health Service. It’s my contention that the UK is currently witnessing an extreme example of class warfare. One wonders when the poor will consider fighting back.

Certainly, social media is buzzing with exhortations to “rise up”. But in our digitally mediated world, that seems to translate to little more than adding one’s name to an online petition. And I’m sorry to say it, but I just don’t see the Tories changing their policies because lots of people type their email address into a website.

What’s more, the last polls I read suggested that a snap General Election would result in an overall majority for the Tories (with the Lib Dems facing complete meltdown, coming in fourth behind Labour and UKIP). This is not because the majority of voters are being made better off by these “reforms”; it’s because people are apparently easily persuaded to vote against their own best interests.

… under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

Albert Einstein | Why Socialism?

Michael Noonan (the face of evil)Of course, it’s not just the British people who are guilty of this kind of self-harming behaviour. Here in Ireland the public have been reduced to a flock of turkeys consistently voting for Christmas. The heart was ripped out of the country by more than a decade of Fianna Fáil government. In response, we voted for Fine Gael – a slightly more right wing party whose policies were essentially identical to those of Fianna Fáil. And then we acted all surprised when nothing changed. Current polls suggest that Ireland is angry at this lack of change… and that as a result, Fianna Fáil are making huge gains once again. Seriously.

A Word About Cyprus

Meanwhile, on an island in the Mediterranean Sea something strange is happening. In an attempt to save their economy, the government of Cyprus (under extreme pressure from Germany and the ECB) is imposing a windfall tax on bank deposits above €100,000. The right wing see it as an outrageous attack on private wealth (though when they learn that the money will be used to prop up the banking system, some of them reluctantly accept it as a necessary evil). The left wing, meanwhile, find themselves backed into a contrarian naysayer corner. They oppose the policy because the ECB are in favour of it. And they warn that Cyprus is just the test-case, and that this policy will spread.

To which I reply… “Great!” I mean, isn’t this essentially a wealth tax? Isn’t that what the left have been calling for since this financial crisis began?

Personally I’d have set the limit a little higher than 100k (so that pensioners wouldn’t be hit quite so hard), but even at 100k this is a policy I would support not only for Cyprus, but for Ireland and on a pan-European basis. Of course, the extremely wealthy tend not to leave most of their wealth lying around in banks, so the policy should be introduced in tandem with a tax on stock-holdings and other investment devices. The fact is, Cyprus is the first nation to genuinely force the wealthy to bear some of the burden of austerity. Despite claims that “we’re all in this together” or “the burden must be shared”, European austerity measures have hit the poor and vulnerable hard while actively protecting the wealthy and powerful. Cyprus has turned that on its head and should be loudly applauded for it.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland (and across the water in Britain) our corporate media continues to push the market-capitalist, neoliberal agenda on the people. And we lap it up willingly despite the fact that it’s demonstrably against our own interests. April Fools… the lot of us.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


25
Feb 2013

Comparative losses to Irish exchequer

Earlier this month, a chap called Andrew Fisher posted a diagram to Facebook demonstrating the relative losses to the UK treasury produced by tax evasion / avoidance and benefit fraud.

Rather shamelessly, I decided to nick the idea wholesale and use it to illustrate the same point in an Irish context. The Irish government, however, makes the exercise far more difficult than their UK counterparts. They do not publish any estimates of unclaimed social welfare entitlements. Nor do they publish any estimates of income lost through tax evasion / avoidance. However, they do publish estimates of social welfare fraud. This fact alone is extremely revealing and seems to answer the question… is our priority to balance the books? Or to demonise the poor?

However, an international organisation called the Tax Justice Network does publish a country-by-country estimate of revenue lost to tax evasion / avoidance. So that figure is available despite the best efforts of the Irish government to hide it from us. The amount saved in unclaimed payments, however, is not – to the best of my knowledge – available anywhere. If someone has a reliable source for this figure, then please do let me know in the comments.

So the next time you hear a government minister lambast welfare fraud, or see a tabloid headline shrieking about “benefit cheats”… well, the diagram speaks for itself.

Priorities

Total social welfare budget: €19.797 billion
Estimate of “fraud and error”: 3.4%
(average of lower and upper estimates – 2.4% and 4.4%)
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to fraud: 31%
Proportion of “fraud and error” attributed to error: 69%

Tackling Social Welfare Fraud (an Irish government publication)

The estimate by the Tax Justice Network of amount lost in tax evasion / avoidance is reported in the Irish Examiner.

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22
Feb 2013

The UK Bedroom Tax

Here in Ireland the government is waging low-level war on the poor and vulnerable. Hiding behind the utterly false claim that their “hands are tied” by the conditions of the bailout, they inflict death by a thousand cuts on those least able to sustain those cuts. A few million off disability allowance here, a tax on child benefit there… a property tax here, a reduction in the rent allowance cap there… pretty soon the poor are even poorer and even those on middle incomes find themselves bled dry. Which in turn, of course, means the vast majority of people are spending less, with inevitable negative consequences for the local economy.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny and Fine Gael along with the traitorous Labour sycophants who toe the right-wing neoliberal line (in return for a few years with their snouts in the trough) steadfastly refuse to impose any meaningful austerity on those who can actually afford to shoulder a greater share of the burden. Profitable corporations and high income individuals remain untouched by the vicious cuts imposed elsewhere. Ireland remains a wealthy country, but the wealth is all concentrated in the hands of a small minority who are not expected to contribute to the well-being of the rest. As much as I’d like to see genuine socialist policies enacted in Ireland, I don’t expect it to happen given how much the political spectrum has narrowed over the past few decades. I do expect a modicum of basic fairness though… but it seems even such a humble expectation is thwarted by craven politicians without an ounce of decency or honour among them.

And yet, despite this betrayal of the vulnerable by those entrusted with representing their interests, we Irish merely have to look to our nearest neighbour to see what happens when a low-level war on the poor turns into an outright assault. I genuinely don’t understand anyone who votes for the British Tory party. Seriously, I just don’t get it. Those who defend the Conservatives generally mutter something about “sound economic policies” or how “business friendly” they are. Or maybe they’ll use the phrase “the party of law and order” or mention “family values”. But all of this ignores the fact that choosing a Conservative government is choosing to be ruled (and the way they run the government definitely merits the word “ruled”) by a bunch of vicious bastards without a shred of compassion who appear to genuinely enjoy inflicting suffering upon those they consider “less deserving” than themselves (a category that includes damn near everyone in the country).

David Cameron’s party consists of a bunch of small-minded, nasty little shits. Every single one of them. And even if they did have “sound economic policies” (which incidentally… they don’t!) it wouldn’t compensate for them being small-minded, nasty little shits.
Small-minded nasty little shits
The latest wheeze being introduced by the Tories is the “bedroom tax”. Leastways, that’s how it’s now known. Essentially this slice of undisguised cruelty applies to anyone in designated social housing, or receiving rent allowance. If they have an unoccupied bedroom in their house, their social security is reduced by 14%. Two spare rooms results in a 25% reduction. These are people right on the very edge of poverty (hell, many of them are already over that edge). Cutting their social security benefits is likely to leave them either cold or hungry (probably both). It is quite deliberately inflicting extreme hardship on people whose lives are already pretty damn hard. Meanwhile the British government continues to spend more on their military than all but three other nations. They continue to allow large corporations evade tax and they reduce taxation on the wealthiest individuals… they even go so far as to heavily subsidise some of the most profitable companies in the country by offering them a large, free workforce (an utterly self-defeating strategy, incidentally, and one that’s about as far from “sound economic policies” as it’s possible to get).

Bedroom taxOf course, the bedroom tax will hit certain people disproportionately. People who require carers (i.e. those with disabilities or health issues) are likely to get the most vicious kicking. I guess the Tory Party (along with their obnoxious enablers, the Lib Dems) can at least claim to be an Equal Opportunity Bully. And while it’s completely understandable that organisations who represent carers and those with disabilities will campaign on behalf of their interests, it seems to me that this is a much wider issue of social justice. Of course it’ll be a good thing if the most vulnerable manage to win themselves an exemption, but it won’t be cause for celebration. It will merely be a further example of a right wing government successfully pitting one group of vulnerable people against another. Everyone in the UK should be angry about this tax being imposed on even one person; carer, disabled, ill, healthy, able-bodied, it doesn’t matter… this is a fundamentally evil policy and its imposition will make the UK a fundamentally less just place.

For a party that claims to be all about “small government”, it’s difficult to imagine anything more intrusive than a policy aimed at stipulating the number of rooms a person may have in their house based upon their economic circumstances. People who have perhaps lived for years in a house or flat with an extra room will now find themselves forced out of their homes (or go hungry… can’t say they don’t have a choice I suppose) by a government that insists it hates interfering in the lives of people. What they really mean, is they hate interfering in the lives of people who matter. In other words, the rich.

But if you’re poor; they’ll tell you what house you can live in, they’ll tell you what job you must do, they’ll take away your healthcare and force you into debt if you want an education. Small-minded, nasty little shits. And I’m sorry to say this… but if you vote for them, then so are you. There are no longer any excuses.

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22
Feb 2013

#BieberToCrokePark

So I was checking twitter and glanced at the ‘Now Trending’ column. It being a European football night, most of the current trends were footie related, “Liverpool”, “Suarez”, “Zenit” and so on. But right at the top of the Irish trends was the hash tag #BieberToCrokePark. And it sparked a moment of extreme cognitive dissonance.

After a couple of seconds it became apparent that the tag was a manifestation of the demands of Irish Justin Bieber fans that the teen popstar play a concert at Croke Park – Ireland’s largest stadium and concert venue. However, Croke Park is also the location of the conference centre used by the government when negotiating with the public sector unions. This is why the terms and conditions under which public sector workers are employed are collectively known as “The Croke Park Agreement”.

And because The Croke Park Agreement is currently being renegotiated (recast for our Austere Age), it’s in the news almost constantly these days. Hardly a day goes by without a headline including the words “Croke Park Agreement”. Whether it’s Garda representatives walking out of negotiations and refusing to re-engage until pay cuts are taken off the table, or the Health Service Unions expressing “deep misgivings” about the Croke Park Agreement. If you don’t live in Ireland you’ve probably never heard the phrase. If you do live in Ireland, you hear it all the time.

Which is why the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw #BieberToCrokePark was “Whoa… will he be negotiating on behalf of the government or the unions?” The second thing that crossed my mind was “WHAT!!!??? What does that even mean?!” Thankfully though, the thought “hang on, it’s probably about him performing, isn’t it?” arrived just in time to prevent my brain from exploding.
Justin Bieber takes part in the Croke Park negotiations

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7
Feb 2013

The Anglo Promissory Notes

Still busy busy busy with work, but I’ve got just enough time to post a few thoughts here.

Today, over at On This Deity, my article on The Maastricht Treaty has come around again. I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate or entirely inappropriate that, on the anniversary of the treaty that probably did more for European political and economic integration than any other single act, the Irish government have passed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Bill 2013 (PDF).

supplicationThis Act of Parliament is being hailed by the government as a great success. And they expect it to lead to a deal with the ECB on the issue of the Promissory Notes. All of which probably sounds like gibberish if you’re not familiar with the Irish situation. So here’s a brief crash course:

In 2007 the Irish banking system began to creak. But everyone involved – bankers, regulators and the government – all insisted that nothing was wrong.

In 2008, the Irish banking system collapsed. The only thing that surprised me about this was the fact that lots of other people seemed surprised by it. The response of the Irish government was to issue a blanket Bank Guarantee. This was a massive mistake and I still believe the people responsible should be in prison. They’re not.

At the time Ireland had several banks, all of which were in serious trouble. The two main retail banks – Bank of Ireland and the Allied Irish Bank – were taken, in large part, into public ownership and the government is still propping them up. These are costing the Irish people quite a lot of money, but I can just about understand the argument in favour of the government’s course of action with these two banks, even if I think it’s wrong.

There was another bank, however, called Anglo-Irish Bank. This bank was responsible for massive loans to Irish property developers and – although we’re unlikely to ever get to the bottom of how this bank was mismanaged – the whiff of naked corruption coming from its direction is overpowering. Together with another failed financial institution (Irish Nationwide Bank) Anglo was renamed Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and effectively moth-balled. It ceased trading as a bank, but remained a trading corporation (or “zombie bank”, as it came to be known).

The reason for this was that the corporation owed upwards of €34 billion euros to European banks and investors who had pumped money – via Anglo-Irish Bank – into the Irish property market. Just so we’re clear; private investors and private financial institutions speculated on the Irish property bubble and when the bubble inevitably burst (as anyone with an IQ higher than that of a brain-damaged bumblebee knew it would), they demanded they suffer no losses as a result of their speculation. Instead, they exerted a huge amount of pressure on the Irish government to cover their losses. And – spineless gombeens, every last one of them – the Irish government acquiesced… transferring those gambling losses onto the shoulders of the Irish people.

This transfer was done using a mechanism called “Promissory notes”. In essence, our government promised to pay more than €3 billion to the zombie bank, on March 31st every year until 2023. The observant among you will note that €3.1 billion per year, every year between 2009 and 2023 comes to quite a bit more than the €34.7 billion owed by Anglo-Irish Bank. This is because the gamblers whose losses being covered by the Irish people are also demanding that we pay interest on their losses. You could make it up, but people would think you were high.

Anyway, this €3.1 billion per year is just for the Anglo mess. The Irish government is in all sorts of other financial and economic trouble without that particular millstone hanging around their neck. So ministers have been appearing on our screens for the past couple of years insisting that “a deal on the promissory notes” is just around the corner. It’s a hell of a big corner.

Because rushed, late-night decisions always turn out well

Last night, during a last-minute, rushed sitting of The Dáil (the Irish parliament) – in a move that eerily echoes the night of the blanket Bank Guarantee back in September 2008 – the zombie bank was finally wound up. Part of it was transferred to NAMA (the National Asset Management Agency), which was a structure set up to handle the bad debts of the banking industry after the collapse of 2008. And the promissory notes have disappeared for good.

CapitalismExcept they haven’t of course. The plan is to replace them with government-issued bonds. Perhaps 15 year bonds… perhaps 20 years… perhaps 30 years… who knows? Our government is awaiting instruction from the European Central Bank. Because heaven forbid the Irish people be permitted to have a say in the repayment terms for private debts they shouldered at the behest of the ECB.

As I say, this is being portrayed as a victory by our government. In reality it’s nothing more than the final step in the transformation of the private debt into sovereign debt. Up until now the mechanism of the promissory notes provided a barrier of sorts (albeit a very weak, almost invisible one) between the Anglo-Irish Bank losses and Irish sovereign debt. The Irish government – if it actually had any principles – could have cancelled those notes without triggering a sovereign default (though in all likelihood the markets would have reacted in much the same way as they would have done in the case of such a default). There would have been a short-term crisis, certainly, but this time next year the Irish people would have weathered that crisis and we’d have shrugged off €32 billion of debts we never incurred.

Of course, we’d still have billions of private debt on our books thanks to NAMA and the other banks, but that particular weight would have been lifted.

Instead, our government has basically mixed all that Anglo debt in with our other debt. It is ours now, and refusal to pay it would constitute a national default. Our finance minister, Michael Noonan, has managed to summon the awesome power of all twelve of his brain cells and sunk us even further into debt than we already were. As he did so, our glorious leader (Enda “The Irish People Went Mad Borrowing” Kenny) insisted that extending the terms of repayment represents some kind of triumph. I’m expecting to see a photo of him stepping off a plane waving an ECB document in the air. “Growth in our time” he’ll exclaim. And then trip down the stairs.

It strikes me that portraying a repayment extension as a victory is about as insidious as it gets. Ireland is like a man being forced to pay off someone else’s mortgage. “Look”, say the ECB, “we realise you’re having some problems paying this debt as fast as we’d like you to. So we’ve decided to let your kids help you pay it off once they’re old enough to work. Can’t say fairer than that!”

Except you can. Pretty much anything else you say would be fairer than that.

[The issuing of long-term bonds] is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a peddling politician.

Thomas Paine | Common Sense

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