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The planned marriage referendum: Some sense in the Dáil October 10, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Inequality, LGBT Rights, Marriage equality, Uncategorized.
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Yesterday in the Dáil, Michael McNamra made an interesting contribution to the debate on a bill amending the Civil Registration Act. At last somebody has asked this rather obvious question,

Another issue is impediments to marriage. This is an amendment to the Civil Registration Act 2004, which was the first legislation to note that being of the same sex is an impediment to marriage. The Government tells us there will be a referendum on this but I question the need for that. Can we not simply legislate for the issue? It will be a divisive and hurtful campaign for many people and it may not be necessary to engage the public in a referendum. After all, we Members of the Oireachtas are paid to be here and the Constitution says we are legislators, although Departments are the de facto legislators and we merely apply the rubber stamp. Do we need a referendum? I am led to believe a former Attorney General said a referendum is required on this in an opinion supplied to the Government. I have not seen this opinion nor has anyone else because no one sees the opinions of Attorneys General. Can an exception be made in this case? Is there a reason such opinions are not made available? Should such opinions be made available as a matter of course? If it is a matter where the State is being sued and there is a potential liability to the State, the Government will not wish to show its hand by publishing an opinion. Surely, however, opinions relating to matters of public importance that require the time and expense of a referendum could be published. Very few people want a referendum on this issue if it can be legislated for. That is certainly the case for most of the gay people who want to marry and to whom I have spoken. Why is it not possible to legislate for this?

I am aware of cases relating to this topic such as Murray v. Ireland and a high-profile one involving Senator Zappone. In Murray v. Ireland Mr. Justice Costello of the High Court and once of this House said the Constitution makes clear that the concept and nature of marriage, which it enshrines, are derived from the Christian notion of partnership based on irrevocable personal consent. It is clear, then, that the judgments refer to the Christian notion of marriage in the Constitution and on this basis the court found it was acceptable for Ireland to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages from abroad. There is a world of difference, however, between saying it is acceptable for the Oireachtas not to recognise same-sex marriages and saying it would be unlawful for the Oireachtas to legislate to recognise same-sex marriages or allow same-sex marriage in Ireland.

It is clear the notion of marriage in the Constitution is based on a Christian notion of marriage, but that does not mean civil marriages are unlawful in Ireland. Even divorce is lawful in Ireland since the constitutional referendum on that issue. Our notions of what provisions of the Constitution mean constantly evolve. Many people accept that gay marriage is part of the right to have a family, that the security of family life should apply to heterosexual and homosexual people equally. I question the need for a referendum on this issue if it is possible to legislate for it.

Is health insurance a scam? August 14, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Health, Medical Issues.
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Is health insurance a scam?

I discovered today VHI has been including home-birth cover in my plan for some years. Gay male, late 40s, and I will so need that! More fundamentally, I’ve been paying for healh insurance for over 15 years, but as I have been approaching 50 in the last few years, the cost has been rocketing. Is it a case of reasonable rates when you’re young(er) and healthy (healthier), but push them up when you get to the age you’ll begin to need insurance, not matter how long you’ve been paying without drawing down?

This year, the price has to the point where I looked at it and wondered “why pay this?”

This morning, as I was discussing the options on the phone with the rep, I kept coming back to “If I’m so ill that I need insurance, my concern is to get the treatment, not to be in a first class hotel-standard room.”

Coltan, Congo and a missed opportunity July 3, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Business, Choice, Ethics, FairPhone.
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You might have seen the article in the Irish Times about a conference at NUI Galway, on the subject of women and leadership in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Apart from a one-paragraph nod towards Mary Robinson’s contribution, the Irish Times reported only about a plenary speech by Thomas Turner, who is a specialist for Amnesty International on the DRC.

Turner has written a number of books on the Congo and the war there. His message for the participants at the NUI conference dealt with campaigns on boycotting electronic equipment like mobile phones and games consoles because of the claims that the coltan, a mineral used in capacitors in small devices, contribute to rape and mass killings. His abstract for the conference is pretty clear on why that simplistic picture is a problem:

The latest such oversimplification, imposed by outsiders, concerns conflict minerals, mass killing and sexual violence. The Congo war is the bloodiest since World War Two, and the country is the “rape capital of the world”. However, there is a magic bullet that can put an end to the atrocities and that is banning “conflict minerals”. In recent weeks, it has been reported that most of the mines in eastern DRC are no longer controlled by warlords or militias, yet the level of rape and sexual violence remains high.

The Irish Times reports:

Mr Turner also cited the Kony 2012 campaign as another example where the public had been confused, with young people believing that if they bought a plastic bracelet they could eradicate use of child soldiers.

And this line that simple steps by western consumers and concerned citizens will not solve the underlying problems is reported in a review of Turnder’s book Congo:

avoiding the purchase of coltan-laden cell phones or mineral-containing gaming consoles is somewhat incoherent and unlikely to resolve the substantive issues

This has been a missed opportunity. I cannot tell if it was Turner or the Irish Times who missed it.

It is valid to point out the inadequacy of boycotts or of clocking up online views of the Kony video (99 million views since 2012).

But offering only criticisms of simplistic solutions is to do a disservice to those who engage with the messy complexities and work within them to try to bring real change. For example, Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, instead of boycotting coltan from the DRC has sought to secure sources of the mineral that reflect the concerns of the simplistic activists Turner criticises. And those who follow Fairphone’s work know that they are neither naive nor simplistic. They know full well that in a complex product like a mobile phone there are limits to what an organisation can do. But they also see the work they have done as only a first step.

By not exploring viable solutions and concentrating only on criticising those who are simplistic, Turner or the Irish Times, or both, missed an important opportunity.

The Economist on Piketty May 6, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Books, Capitalism, Economics, Inequality, Journalism, Marxism, Taxation Policy, The political discourse, The Right.
55 comments

I bought the Economist because the cover said it has an article about Piketty. (Reading articles about his book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, is quicker than reading the book!)

The headline on the actual article is weird: “Bigger than Marx”. That is true neither of the physical heft of the book nor, if everything I have read about it so far is valid, of the contents.

And then the content of the Economist’s review: 13 paragraphs: two are neutral; four approving; seven critical of the book. The Economist cites five critics of his thesis or aspects of it and zero supporters.

Not that I’m terribly surprised at their overall view, but they might have been subtler. Or maybe I should applaud their transparency.

Basic Income Ireland 2014 Summer Forum April 28, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Economics, Equality, Inequality, Uncategorized.
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Basic Income Ireland invites you to our

2014 Summer Forum

A half-day conversation about Basic Income.

Date: Saturday 7 June 2014

Time: 1:00 to 5:00, with informal discussion afterwards

Venue: Carmellite Community Centre – 56 Augier Street, Dublin 2

No charge. Donations/membership subs will be accepted on the day.

Registration: Please register in advance at http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html

A Basic Income is a payment from the state to every resident on an individual basis, without any means test or work requirement.

It would be sufficient to live a frugal but decent lifestyle without supplementary income from paid work.

The idea of Basic Income is being advanced world-wide as part of the solution to the issues facing today’s world.

Come join us to discuss the Basic Income solution and to plan activities for the coming 12 months.

Programme

1:00-1:45 Welcome and light lunch

1:45-3:10 Recent developments in Basic Income internationally

Keynote speaker: Yannick Vanderborght, one of the leading figures in the new wave of basic income activists. Professor of Political Science at Saint-Louis University, Brussels; Chair of Regional Coordination Committee of Basic Income Earth Network; co-author with Philippe Van Parijs of L’allocation universelle (2005) and co-editor of Basic income: An anthology of contemporary research (2013) and other books on basic income.

Yannick will speak on transnational cooperation in the campaign for basic income and on recent developments in the theory and politics of basic income. Followed by a participatory discussion.

3:10-3:30 Tea and coffee break

3:30-5:00 Advancing Basic Income in Ireland

Brief presentation and participatory discussion

Afterwards: social gathering in The Swan, Aungier Street.

Further information on basic income is available at basicincomeireland.com and on Facebook – Basic Income Ireland and Twitter: @basicincomeirl.

Register now: http://www.basicincomeireland.com/basic-income-2014-summer-forum-signup.html

Further information: Basic.Income@nuim.ie

Please circulate this notice to your friends and contacts.

Euro Horror ..still in fact going on March 26, 2014

Posted by doctorfive in Capitalism.
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Just to highlight a few things while we are likely to be looking the other way. Crisis getting crisisier.

A letter from Mario Draghi on Monday. As you are well aware the Irish banking sector remains “a source of some concern with outstanding issues requiring swift and decisive action”

Despite the considerable progress made in recent years, there are several outstanding issues which still require to be addressed. These relate, in particular, to: (i) the completion of the banks’ restructuring and reforms; (ii) addressing the still very large stock of non-performing loans; and (iii) ensuring the viability of all nationalised banks

[..]

As stated on several occasions, the ECB is of the view that it would be preferable if these issues were to be addressed before the conclusion of the SSM comprehensive assessment.

Meanwhile, Obama is in Brussels, with an entourage of hundreds. Events in the East will alter the agenda to some degree but if you haven’t been following details of the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade & Investment Partnership, it’s terrifying frankly and far from the panacea presented in the press over the last twelve months.

Linda Kaucher

The EU’s international trade agreements, including corporate rights to access government spending, are actively promoted by transnational financial interests – well represented in the City of London.

The major component of the US/EU free trade agreement is ‘regulatory harmonisation’ between the US and the EU, harmonising existing but particularly new regulation for maximum benefit to transnational corporate investors.

[..]

This trade agreement, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) by the EU Trade Commission but the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US will be a neoliberal pact between the world’s two biggest economic blocs. The stated aims are not only to ‘harmonise regulation’ between the US and the EU, but also to pull in other countries including the big developing countries like India and China. In this way, the TTIP is meant to achieve the global corporate rights and benefits that the stalled World Trade Organisation Doha Development Round has failed to deliver.

‘Regulatory harmonisation’ will without doubt mean reducing corporate regulation to the lowest levels to produce the maximum corporate benefit,

And Monbiot

This trade deal has little to do with removing trade taxes (tariffs). As the EU’s chief negotiator says, about 80% of it involves “discussions on regulations which protect people from risks to their health, safety, environment, financial and data security”. Discussions on regulations means aligning the rules in the EU with those in the US. But Karel De Gucht, the European trade commissioner, maintains that European standards “are not up for negotiation. There is no ‘give and take’.” An international treaty without give and take? That is a novel concept. A treaty with the US without negotiation? That’s not just novel, that’s nuts.

You cannot align regulations on both sides of the Atlantic without negotiation. The idea that the rules governing the relationship between business, citizens and the natural world will be negotiated upwards, ensuring that the strongest protections anywhere in the trading bloc will be applied universally, is simply not credible when governments on both sides of the Atlantic have promised to shred what they dismissively call red tape. There will be negotiation. There will be give and take. The result is that regulations are likely to be levelled down. To believe otherwise is to live in fairyland.

Last month, the Financial Times reported that the US is using these negotiations “to push for a fundamental change in the way business regulations are drafted in the EU to allow business groups greater input earlier in the process”. At first, De Gucht said that this was “impossible”. Then he said he is “ready to work in that direction”. So much for no give and take.

But this is not all that democracy must give so that corporations can take. The most dangerous aspect of the talks is the insistence on both sides on a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS allows corporations to sue governments at offshore arbitration panels of corporate lawyers, bypassing domestic courts. Inserted into other trade treaties, it has been used by big business to strike down laws that impinge on its profits: the plain packaging of cigarettes; tougher financial rules; stronger standards on water pollution and public health; attempts to leave fossil fuels in the ground.

Wouldn’t blame the Commissioner for packing it in sometimes.

 

Direct Provision: An Open Prison March 13, 2014

Posted by doctorfive in Community, Inequality, racism.
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Kelly, SME debt and some bigger fish March 13, 2014

Posted by doctorfive in Business, Capitalism, Irish Politics.
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Rates! cried Ibec

Rent! cried Isme

Wages! cried the Sfa

Regularly and unopposed since 2008 until Morgan Kelly this week pointed to SME debt. Mark Fielding

The Association called on Minister Noonan to address the fears of vulnerable Irish SMEs and to give assurances that the Irish Government will not allow the ECB to use the Irish economy as an example of strict deleveraging

Perish the thought.

It is just not sufficient for Minister Noonan to ask Prof Kelly to chat to the Central Bank and compare figures. The Minister must be much more forthright and confirm that the SME sector will not be targeted by our bailed-out banks whether under orders from the ECB or not.

Time for the Finance Minister to stand up to the ECB and the market. He will be changing his name to ‘Stop the water tax Fielding’ next.

Last year Fiona Muldoon, formerly of the Central Bank, warned that at least twenty-five billion euro or half the total loans to small and medium firms are “non-performing”. That is just shy of another Anglo and more should the worst of Kelly’s claims come true.

SME arrears throw up complex issues and there is a high-level of property related borrowing.  In effect, in Ireland, literally and figuratively, all roads lead to property.

Given 70% of people in private sector employment are employed by SMEs there is a further direct knock-on for these employees (& past employees) into the whole area of household debt and mortgage arrears in particular.

We have had five years of kicking the can down the road domestically and EU level and it probably a reflection of just how many are up to their neck in bubble property that the obvious SME issue has run under the radar for so long. The austerity agenda was a convenient parallel for all concerned. No one wants to peek at the horror below. It runs right across eurozone, multiples of the kind figures we have quickly gotten used to.

That 70% figure of Muldoon’s relates to another point of Kelly’s where he noted that Ireland is “peculiar” in having lots of multinational and very few large Irish companies. It’s almost as the country has been run in the interest of a very small few.

Last month on Primetime we had the usual adversarial debate on wages increases and tax cuts but I wondered how many at home would notice that it was much venerated entrepreneur vehemently opposed to private sector workers taking home more pay. Similarly,  as lobbying is back in fashion, it is worth drawing attention to this story from 2012. Ireland First, an all star cast

Michael Berkery, John Bruton, Leslie Buckley, Pat Cox, Dermot Desmond, Frank Flannery, Ray MacSharry, Denis O’Brien, Sean O’Driscoll, Michael O’Flynn, Mike Soden, Michael Somers, Dick Spring, Peter Sutherland, Brendan Tuohy

One item of particular concern was upward only rent reviews, something almost unanimously acknowledged to have cost thousands of jobs up and down the country.

[A] discussion document to be submitted to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by Ireland First by a high-powered group of the country’s most successful businesspeople who came together last autumn to try to think of ways to restore Ireland’s economic fortunes.

Outside of Nama’s remit, but still in the area of property, the same source said the new Government needed to move to end the uncertainty surrounding the future of upward-only rent reviews for commercial premises. Under the Programme for Government, the Coalition has given its commitment to end upward-only rent reviews for existing leases.

Commenting on this, the source said: “The rent review issue has to be addressed now. The uncertainty surrounding this is having a serious and direct impact on our potential to attract foreign direct investment. Nobody wants to put their money into commercial property in a country where the goalposts can be moved overnight.”

Michael Noonan had removed this ‘uncertainty’ on budget day the year before citing advice from the Attorney General. “Susceptible to constitutional challenge on a number of fronts” but ongoing pressure saw government suffer defeat in the Seanad just last month and Fergal Quinn’s Bill on the issue now heads for the Dáil.

So who was it doing the leg work against the great many hardpressed, downtrodded, real world, lifeblood, private sector SME?

It is understood that the co-chairs of Ireland First — One 51 chief executive Philip Lynch and Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins — will lead the various delegations once meetings can be agreed with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Government.

Le Monde Diplomatique: “The corporation invasion” December 21, 2013

Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Economy, Environment, Inequality, International Finance, The Far Right.
8 comments

Readers might be interested in this article in Le Monde Diplomatique

Imagine what would happen if foreign companies could sue governments directly for cash compensation over earnings lost because of strict labour or environmental legislation. This may sound far-fetched, but it was a provision of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a projected treaty negotiated in secret between 1995 and 1997 by the then 29 member states of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) (1). News about it got out just in time, causing an unprecedented wave of protests and derailing negotiations.

Now the agenda is back. Since July the European Union and the United States have been negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), a modified version of the MAI under which existing legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will have to conform to the free trade norms established by and for large US and EU corporations, with failure to do so punishable by trade sanctions or the payment of millions of dollars in compensation to corporations.

(1) See Lori M Wallach, “A dangerous new manifesto for global capitalism”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 1998.

And why haven’t you heard of it?

The TTIP/TAFTA negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. The US delegations have more than 600 corporate trade advisers, who have unlimited access to the preparatory documents and to representatives of the US administration. Draft texts will not be released, and instructions have been given to keep the public and press in the dark until a final deal is signed. By then, it will be too late to change.

The full article is available here: http://mondediplo.com/2013/12/02tafta

Money on the Mind September 30, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in Capitalism.
8 comments

In a series of startling studies, psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” Ongoing research is trying to find out what it is about wealth — or lack of it — that makes people behave they way they do.

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