Positive No

Anti- austerity demonstration, Dublin, Ireland (2)
Anti- austerity demonstration, Dublin, Ireland (2) (Photo credit: Tom Szustek)

I’m just back from the meeting I plugged yesterday – “Let’s Get Fiscal: Women’s perspectives on the Austerity Treaty”. How was it? In a word, inspirational.

In a few more words, inspirational but surprisingly poorly-attended. I don’t know what kind of turnout I was expecting to a gig with the terms fiscal, women’s perspective, and austerity in the title, especially as we were there to watch a video link you could as easily have viewed from home, but it is a shame that more people didn’t come. It was an eye-opener.

For this reason: It was astonishingly positive in tone. Usually the No side in an EU referendum campaign dwells on fear of change and the unknown. This time though it’s the Yes one that, in a fine paradox, has to campaign negatively: Pass the referendum or terrible but inexactly specified things may happen. This meeting emphasized the opportunity that the vote presents – to take a stand against the recent trend in Europe towards the economics of austerity, against the enormous long-term damage this will do to the more vulnerable economies. And especially, to the more vulnerable people living in those economies.

This is a treaty that exists to placate financial markets, to benefit the very people who brought about the crash. We ought to know by now that greed is one thing you cannot placate. The more we socialise private debt, the more we rob from the poor to give to the rich, the more those markets will squeeze. They know a good thing when they see one. This referendum gives us a chance to say no, no more.

Let’s enjoy that.

Austerity, That’s What We Need More Of

austerity
austerity (Photo credit: 401K)

So Britain has gone back into negative growth, fairly conclusive evidence that budget-cutting your way out of recession is like clearing a path through the forest with a flamethrower.

Yet in the eurozone, we seem determined to repeat the error. The forthcoming Fiscal Compact is a legal undertaking not to go into budget deficit. A good thing in principle; of course a country should, in the good times, be creating budget surpluses that will see it through the bad. That’s just prudent. The thing that appears to be escaping them here though is that these are not the good times. These are, in point of fact, the really, really bad times.

We can sign a treaty to promise to balance the budget, sure. What we cannot do, is balance the budget. Not without the wholesale destruction of not simply welfare and health systems, but everything. Policing, education, investment, the fabric of the state.

So are we signing this treaty with the intention of breaking it? Perhaps it is meant purely as a pro forma sop to the markets, Or indeed to the German taxpayers, who seem to forget that they profited vastly from the eurozone boom and so have to be wheedled and cajoled now that it’s come to payback time. “Yes yes, of course everyone is going to balance their budget.” That doesn’t seem a proper way to go about things.

I don’t mean that a fiscal compact is a wholly bad idea. If we’re going to share a currency there have to be some rules. But remember, we had rules. We had the Stability and Growth Pact, of which this is merely a sterner reiteration. Did we break those rules in the boom? Nope. Right up to the Crash of 2008, we ran a surplus. France and Germany broke them, reckless to the effect that had on other countries. They benefited from the conditions that drove our economy to meltdown, and yet somehow it’s we who have to suffer again. This new treaty is the Big Two’s more rigorous attempt to discipline themselves, but what is merely chastisement to them may beat us to death.

Here in Ireland, our Supreme Court has judged that this compact amounts to a new international treaty with constitutional ramifications, and must be put to the people. This is a great aspect to our Constitution, but it means we’re yet again going to have a fraught and confusing public debate. Highly technical and highly political, the text of the treaty is hardly going to make for clear and balanced discussion. So it’s unlikely to be for the right reasons whichever side wins.

The Yes camp will be monging fiscal fear: If we don’t pass it, we won’t be able to raise the money we desperately need to keep the country afloat. But wait, in order to borrow money we should pass a law against borrowing money? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The No camp on the other hand will be upholding our economic sovereignty. A brave stand, which has been likened to defending the virginity of sex workers. There is only one economic sovereignty, and it’s called “having money”.

At the moment, it looks like we’ll pass it. The incorrect arguments of the mistaken pragmatists will be more persuasive than the incorrect arguments of the mistaken idealists. But it is not too late to change direction. We have a chance here to make a real and lasting difference.

Sure, the last time we turned down an EU treaty they pretty much gave us another chance to say the right answer. All we really did was delay it. But this time, a delay could make a difference. The cavalry – in the form of Hollande winning the French Presidential election – might just arrive in time. He has announced his intention to reopen the treaty, and at least take some of the emphasis off austerity. (Oh those crazy reckless Socialists.) Meanwhile, the other eurozone countries have a chance to absorb lessons like that coming out of the UK.

So Ireland could play a key role here in saving the EU from a tragic, destructive mistake. Enforcing balanced budgets in the long term is a sensible idea. Enforcing balanced budgets during an already murderous recession is not economics, it’s applied sadomasochism.

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Let’s Get Fiscal: Women’s perspectives on the Austerity Treaty

Anyone in Dublin or Galway interested in a public meeting on austerity policies, with particular reference to their impact on women? You can attend the event physically at Feminist Open Forum, Central Hotel, Exchequer St, Dublin, or by live streaming at the One World Centre, 76 Prospect Hill, Galway.

Tonight, THURSDAY 26 April at 7pm.

EU To Ban Crucifixions – Ben Dunne

It’s now got worse, they want us to do away with crucifixions, they want us to deny we are Christians publicly.

Ben Dunne either advertising his chain of gyms or his contempt for democracy. Possibly both.

So said Ben Dunne, in a bizarre tirade to a radio chat show. The paper corrects him to ‘crucifixes’, sadly, but the rest of his wild and weird inaccuracies – that the EU wants Ireland to stop playing the Angelus bell on public radio, or Christianity is being banned and that European money is somehow contingent on this – still stand.

Of course, most of you don’t know who Ben Dunne is. Time to put on your safety harness, we’re off on a brief, scary ride through the dark side of Irish politics.

A former tycoon, famous for lavishing gifts of money on politicians, more famous for an embarrassingly public cocaine-and-hooker freakout in an Orlando hotel (my favourite response: A t-shirt with a map of Florida, a line of coke, and the legend “Ben There, Dunne That”), most famous now for his part in business dealings described by a public judicial investigation as, “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking”. Yet there he was on the radio, ranting – even raving – in defence of his religion.

Pretty sure his religion was wishing he’d shut the hell up.

Before the last Lisbon Treaty, one of the things I got a commitment from senior people in politics about was that the Angelus wouldn’t be done away with.

He thinks he can get politicians to change continent-wide treaties to suit his personal desires. The scary thing is, there was a time when that might not have been delusion.

Of course, the Lisbon Treaty had as much to do with broadcasting the Angelus as it did with tourist visas for mermaids. Opposition to Ireland’s national broadcaster playing one religion’s chimes every day doesn’t come from the European Union. It comes from Irish people who want the separation of church and state to actually mean something. Anything.

Dunne is clearly teetering on the edge of derangement. You would feel sorry for him if it wasn’t for his egotism and bullish bluster, and for the incredibly destructive influence he has had on Irish democracy. He cannot be scapegoated for all political corruption – there’s simply far too much of it – but he is so perfectly emblematic of it. And in a way it explains his faith – or perhaps vice versa. How else could he have done all that, without an unshakeable belief in a saviour who can forgive anything?

But he is a man out of time. There were headlines when the census results were released about Ireland still being ‘overwhelmingly Catholic’ after all that has happened, but that really depends on what you mean by Catholic. Sure, 84 percent of the population identified themselves as such, but for a lot of people religious affiliation is mainly just that – a cultural, historical identity. Many assume that you are supposed to put down the religion you were born into, whatever you actually believe now.

Two thirds of those who call themselves Catholic don’t attend a weekly mass any more – and that’s according to a survey published the church (PDF). Three quarters find the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality “irrelevant”, and a similar proportion says woman should be allowed to be priests. Three in five think the Church is wrong about homosexuality. 87 percent think that priests ought to be allowed to marry.

If we define being Catholic as accepting Catholic dogma, there are almost no Catholics in Ireland at all. It’s mainly just Ben.

Stay Free

Industry
They’re coming for us – Image by okano via Flickr

Maybe all I need here is a good hug. Ideally, one that will last years.

But I must get it together. We’re under attack. Market forces should be making entertainment industry conglomerates less relevant these days. But why accept the market, when you have the influence and – despite all the protests of enormous theoretical losses – the wealth to get laws passed?

Laws that could make you richer than ever.

It is my view that, under the guise of desperately needing protection, the entertainment industry is trying to pull off an outrageous power-grab. What big businesses know better than anyone is that the secret of success is not making the best product, but controlling the marketplace. They know the Internet is their only future marketplace. They want it.

SOPA and PIPA, their US bills, have been pushed back for now, but there’s a new threat looming from an intergovernmental treaty called ACTA. Ostensibly to control the trade in counterfeit goods (including, it should be noted, generic medicines), it actually concerns all types of intellectual property – suggesting that governments (or their industry sponsors) wish us to think of copying a song or video as “counterfeiting” now – a serious crime of intentional deceit.

Among ACTA’s many negative effects, it appears that it would make your Internet service provider (ISP) liable for any illegal online activities, forcing them to monitor you. That is not different from requiring the postmistress to read your mail and report anything suspicious she finds, and I don’t think it’s acceptable in democracy.

If Big Entertainment gets its wish, the Internet will eventually cease to be a way for people to freely communicate with one another, becoming instead just a secure channel it can use to deliver its goods to us. And to keep us monitored, of course.

High-Speed Chicken Crisis

This is an actual serious real statue
This is an actual serious real statue

Today a pair of chickens that flew off in opposite directions came home to roost. I’m needlessly introducing the concept of flying chickens here, but bear with me. We are seeing two long processes reaching the crunch simultaneously: EU integration, and Thatcherism.

That these would reach a joint crisis point was perhaps predictable. They were two trains going to different destination while trying to use the same tracks. I’ve already given up on keeping my metaphors coherent. This has been on the cards for… Well, about thirty years. Ever since Margaret Thatcher brought a value-for-money attitude to bear on the idealism of the European process. Since then, Britain has been avowedly in Europe for what it can get out of it, and this has grown into a weird political schizophrenia as politicians, Tories especially, cynically portray a Britain-versus-Brussels conflict for domestic electoral advantage while their businesses reap the rewards of the Union.

The chicken of integration has come up against the buffers of political reality too though. It was never likely that a single currency would succeed without real central monetary authority, but the project was started – in typical political compromise fashion – with only the bits everyone liked. I’m sure deep down they knew it would take a crisis to complete the process; I doubt they envisaged this though.

That it should turn into a crisis over the direction and even definition of the Union was also perhaps foreseeable. Creating EU-wide financial controls that have a hope of stabilising the European economy would entail reversing some of the banking deregulation that, while bringing vast profits to relatively few, helped precipitate the recent crises. And which, since the Thatcher revolution, has been so championed by the UK – perhaps because that same few has a disproportionate influence over the Conservative party.

So we just saw the UK use its veto to block a decision that the Eurozone countries see as vital to their financial survival. Now there is no other option except an international, multilateral treaty between – it now appears likely – every EU country except Britain. A treaty that will, if you will, be a massive Fuck You, UK.

Address To The Nation

Enda Kenny making a speech in the Burlington H...
The Taoiseach, saying things. For some reason

The country stood by today as our leader Enda Kenny addressed the nation – only the sixth time in history that a Taoiseach has done such a thing. His speech left but one question on lips across the country.

What the hell was that for?

The speech contained much that would have been bad news, if it had been news. It was depressing, sure, but confusingly it did not contain the really awful tidings that would have justified its existence. So it’s pretty much as we expected.

No mention of any welfare rates being further cut, but no mention of them not being cut either. So expect that.

Direct taxes will not be raised, but indirect will. In other words, money will be extracted not just from those who have it, but rich and poor alike. Or as Enda put it:

“I wish I could tell you budget won’t impact on citizens in need, but it will.”

It seems the poor and sick aren’t actually going to be rounded up and shot though. Presumably they’re dying off at a rate sufficient to give markets confidence in our government’s international-finance-friendly ruthlessness.

The highlight I think was when he told us that the economic collapse was not our fault, even if we were all going to have to pay for it. Nice of him to mention that I suppose. We did know though.

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Our Man In Luxembourg

European Court of Auditors
The Headquarters of the Society of Shepherds. 

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation Richard Bruton has said the Government wants to see the nomination process of Kevin Cardiff to the European Court of Auditors through to its conclusion. (RTÉ News)

Why – what did he ever do to them? This is just going to be humiliating.

You can see the government’s standpoint – while also seeing how hopeless it is. They want to emphasize that they are a different regime from the one that let the Irish economy down the plughole. Well and good, but they have an uphill battle merely to convince the European Parliament that any Irish nominee deserves to be on the Court of Auditors.

We just had an economic collapse due largely to the ridiculous lack of oversight by our Department of Finance, with every sign of excessive personal closeness between government and the money industry. Why should anyone from a country like that be even allowed a nominee? The “Court of Auditors” is a rather dull-sounding name, but this is the EU body specifically tasked with fighting corruption. It’s like having the wolves nominate their shepherd representative. There’s really only one reason why they will accept any Irish representative at all: They have to. It’s in the treaties.

So there was every reason to expect that a nominee to the court from Ireland was going to come under the closest possible scrutiny. Yet what do we send? A man who held a top position in our disastrous Department throughout the boom and bust. A man who was actually present when the inexplicable bank guarantee was given.

They must think we’re joking.