Archive for June 10th, 2011

Nil Nisi Bonum

I turned on Liveline for a second. Joe Duffy was talking about how Brian Lenihan’s death was eliciting condolences from across the political spectrum, bringing people from different political parties together. I turned it off again, so don’t know what happened next. Maybe he turned on himself and started foaming at the mouth about how stupid someone would have to be to think that the normal state of affairs is that people wish other people suffering and death because they belong to another political party. Maybe he started to wonder aloud if this connection between death and a desire for the abolition of political difference has an insanitary history. Somehow I doubt it.

I looked at a few internet threads. A platoon of the most pious of the public mourners were out policing sentiment, making sure that speaking ill of the dead would be met with indignation and opprobrium. How awful that someone was ‘liking’ news of Lenihan’s death on Facebook!

I can’t recall these same people out and about whenever Brian Lenihan and his government sided with financial speculators and property developers against poor and working people in Ireland, or when they were bankrupting the state, cutting wages and welfare, appointing the agents of corporate oligarchies to public bodies, entrenching a health system that privileges the rich, or seeing to it that industry bosses found it easier to throw people onto the dole. But, you know, show some respect.

Ah, but all that –and let us remember that the former Icelandic Prime Minister is currently facing criminal charges in Iceland on account of his actions during the financial crisis- must be set to one side in order to preserve the sanctity of a public figure’s death.

He was, we are told, a decent and personable character, a highly impressive human being, an educated renaissance man, a paragon of stoic patriotism, and so on, and so forth.

You can say all these things, but don’t you dare say things like he was a suave spoofer who lied to the population on behalf of the ECB and the IMF, or that he stood up in front of the Dáil and spouted manipulating claptrap about patriotic calls to arms while working assiduously to bail out property and banking magnates.

No, let us huddle ourselves together sedately beside the wireless or in front of the television to consider his place in the pantheon of Irish Politics, that realm of stately grandeur where deference to those above and contempt for those below is the eternal order of things, where what binds us, the reach of our love, is most amply and definitively expressed in heartfelt tributes to would-be patricians, our generosity in calling a time to forget about politics, and not in our regard for the former slaves of state-sanctioned laundries or for the asylum seeker on the brink of suicide. Let us sort out his legacy first, and let he who thinks ill there be shamed.

Brought to Book Rental

Society of St. Vincent de Paul | Help Us Cut the cost of school books

Education is a right, and it’s supposed to be free. But Ireland is one of only a few European countries to make even the poorest pay for books. It’s a shocking  burden on hard-pressed families.

This campaign sticks in my craw. St. Vincent de Paul operates in Northern Ireland so it knows very well that parents of children there do not pay for schoolbooks. This has been the case for as long as I can remember.

It is indeed true that parents, especially poor parents, are being relentlessly exploited by the demands that they pay for endless production of new educational materials.

However, for St. Vincent de Paul to advocate a ‘book rental scheme’, such as the one in most European countries, whilst ignoring the reality on its doorstep, is hard to comprehend. It is as though certain considerations that might issue during a normal functioning of democratic politcs -for example, why can’t this be paid for out of direct and progressive taxation?- were excluded ex ante.

For those who work with St. Vincent de Paul, there may be certain realities even closer to home, in terms of power and influence of certain groups and institutions, that prevent them from raising such questions. Or maybe not. Maybe that sort of democratic approach is out of the question because, well, reality is shaped in such a way that it doesn’t even occur to people.

Capital Ideas

You know that question, which goes something like this: why should ordinary people have to pay for speculator debts? And you know the way no convincing answer ever comes? The way no-one ever provides a reason that’s not synonymous with ‘because that’s just the way it is’? Among other things, this is symptomatic of an absence of democracy. But when you get the ‘because that’s just the way it is’ answer, you get it from someone who hates democracy. It just so happens that in Ireland, as elsewhere, the ‘because that’s just the way it is’-style answer is the favourite answer from the near entirety of the political class and the owning class.

Anyway, this translated piece is from Francisco Morote, ATTAC once again.

The title of the piece rhymes in Spanish –‘15-M: La crisis neoliberal, que la pague el capital’ -it may be a chant, I’m not sure.

15-M Let capital pay for the neo-liberal crisis

15-M Movement, Spanish revolution, Spanish spring, Spanish May…there are various names, and with these various meanings and echoes evoked by these names. Whatever the name chosen, and time will surely pick one in particular, the key question is what consequences will it have?

It is difficult to answer this question so soon, because the 15-M Movement, the Spanish revolution, the Spanish spring, the Spanish May are still underway, and, what is more, it could be that the impetus of its expansion has not yet ceased, that from Spain it intends, no less, to go global.

Now, to my judgement, the social movement started in Spain by Democracia Real Ya, in order to reach a global dimension that can be adopted by all peoples, needs to settle on a common objective, with which the citizens of the world can identify, and this is that the general crisis provoked by neoliberalism should be paid by those who provoked it, which is to say, by capital.

This objective involves committing parties with governmental responsibilities to make a Copernican turn against the anti-popular exit from the crisis. And should those parties not take on the commitment with an exit that causes the weight of the efforts, to say nothing of the sacrifices, to fall on capital –in 2010 1% of the world’s millionaire population possessed 39% of the planet’s wealth, according to the Boston Consulting Group consultancy group- we shall see appear and grow, in a natural manner, new political forces and proposals that respond to the demands of peoples struggling for universal justice.

Is the task difficult? Almost impossible, and, nonetheless, living in a time when the capitalist system is showing signs of arriving at the limits of the possible and the reasonable, hope is not a chimera.

Global capital, the owners, managers and administrators of capital, entrenched in their privileges, will not give way easily, but the parties with responsibilities to govern, or governments, can be sure that if they do not reverse the situation, the 15-M movements and their democratic amps, in a world of impoverished cities and citizens, will proliferate like spores throughout the entire 21st century.

Also, here is the global video for Democracia Real Ya. I think the translation is a bit dodgy, and the music sucks, but have a look anyway.

I would not translate ‘mercancía’ as merchandise, not least because ‘mercancía’, if I recall correctly, is the counterpart of ‘commodity’ in El Capital by Carlos Marx.

To A Pact Audience

Latest piece on Euro Pact Plus. This one comes from Público, via ATTAC Spain. The authors are Daniel Albarracín, Bibiana Medialdea, Bruno Estrada, Manuel Garí and Nacho Álvarez. Incidentally, as the standard bearer for a liberal class that crows about how European it is by contrast with the muck savages who voted no to Lisbon twice, the last mention in the Irish Times of the Euro Pact Plus was on the 17th of May in a European Diary article by Arthur Beesley.

Of Kidnappers and Rescues

The Euro Pact Plus is the path chosen by EU government leaders for executing their Plan for Economic Governance. This involves, among other things, cutting back on wages and social spending, eroding systems of social protection and introducing greater precarity for labour. By consecrating constitutionally the corset of the Stability Pact, the Euro Pact Plus imposes a limit on the budget deficit (3% of GDP), on public debt (60%), and, along with this, a procyclical character to economic policy. It will mean the application of more regressive fiscal policies and a shrinking of the public sector. As a result the member states will see popular sovereignty reduced, along with room for movement in economic, social and labour policies, since they will have to adapt these to institutionalized criteria which, unless there is strong political and social mobilization, will be practically irreversible.

With the Euro Pact Plus, the financial bailouts of Greece, Ireland and now Portugal bring with them a wider process, if possible, of socializing debts. Especially private debt, which in Spain, using Bank of Spain figures for 2010, represented 87% of the total. This indebtedness, which depresses the economy with tax cuts and bailouts for the banking system, has increased public debt. It also carries with it a transfer of wealth: the creditors –especially the big central European banks- will have their loans paid back –their solvency given a blast of oxygen-; meanwhile, the new debts built up by the states bailed out by the European Union will be paid by the citizenry as a whole –at a cost of fewer public services and social entitlements- and by the wage-earning population –in the form of more unemployment, labour counter-reforms, and weakened incomes and labour rights.

These prescriptions open the way to economic depression, and submit us to the dictatorship of the creditors; and those who are responsible for the crisis will be its beneficiaries. There will be no correction –on the contrary- to the same policies that have exacerbated divergence and uneven development. And public debt will go up. Who, then, is saving whom? The chickens end up locked in with the fox.

There is no easy alternative. They present us with two options: bailout and adjustment measures, or market attack on public debt. How do we break this tragic dilemma? Tiny Iceland disobeyed: it rejected the social adjustment measures, it has not paid back the debt to the creditors, it has prosecuted those responsible for the crisis, it has nationalized the banking system, it has rejected the “bailouts” set out by their creditors, and it’s exiting the recession! Besides, whilst interest rates on public debt issued by Greece and Ireland have risen after their respective bailouts, those of Iceland have experienced a significant drop.

The European Trade Union Confederation, against the Euro Pact Plus, proposes the issue of Eurobonds to alleviate the abusive differentials in risk premiums. It also sets forth that the European Central Bank undertake a monetary policy that emphasises job creation, and for the development of a greater co-operation among member states.

The trade unions in the south of Europe go further, demanding a greater regulation of financial markets, a tax on financial transactions, the creation of a European debt agency – a European public treasury in embryo- and a greater public spending budget for the European Union. These measures would be effective in putting a stop to the recessionary bloodbath, since they would unblock the existing financial short-circuit, and moreover would allow the laying down of foundations for a more ambitious progressive reform.

But bringing a halt to the crisis in a way that benefits the majority would demand measures of even greater weight and audacity: a rejection of adjustment measures and of the socialisation of private debt, a public audit of expenditure items financed with public debt and of the conditions in which the latter was issued and acquired; restructuring and write-off of debt acquired through odious means –so that the creditors bear the main burden of the crisis-; recovery of public banking; renewed taxation of capital income, investing the new tax receipts in programmes of social utility and transition to sustainable energy, with the effect of economic reactivation and job creation.

What is needed is a profound change in European politics, which drives, not only a firm regulation of financial markets, but also international fiscal harmonization based in direct and progressive taxation, as well as an upward convergence in social and salary entitlements. The management of the deficit and the debt should be prefigured with a criterion that guarantees countercyclical investment policies for the recession we are living through, something that the Euro Pact prevents.

We must find a path toward a supranational alliance to rein in the European Union, to oppose and disobey the Euro Pact Plus to support and co-ordinate politically so as to begin to build another Europe. It is a matter, in sum, of applying pressure with firm basis and criteria in favour of the majority of society that the working class represents, in a direction diametrically opposed to what is, ever increasingly, a Europe at the service of big financial oligarchies.

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June 2011