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This weekend I’m mostly listening to… PigBros… November 22, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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Who they? Well with a name like that one would be forgiven for imagining that they didn’t exactly reach the pinnacles of the music industry, for which one could say fair dues to them, but also, hardly a surprise. A more indefatigable musical follower at worldbystorm towers put me right to them. A band who came and went almost in the blink of an eyelid.

Excessive… excessive amounts of alcohol… I haven’t got a bogs notion of what they’re singing about, but hey, that was the 1980s when literalism wasn’t the order of the day.

There are sort if gothy inflections to the sound, but also a hint of the 3 Johns, horns sections here and there, doomy vocals – sort of, and some excellent percussion

For the more forensic amongst us members of them came from the Nightingales (whose contribution to Pillows and Prayers ‘Don’t Blink’ was rather fine and a clear precursor to the Pigbros sound – ‘I sound fascist’ being one of the lyrics… hmmmm), the Cravats and other less well known stalwarts of UK 1980s indie.

There was some linkage with the Membranes, who I saw in 1988 or thereabouts, was it once or twice, tis all a haze now. I liked them too, but I like these guys better.

Here’s yet another band from that period whose material is now deleted who can only be heard by accessing sites such as this. I, naturally, abhor that approach to making available previously entirely unavailable music which no commercial music company will re-release 😉

Building a new left in parliament and the streets – Scottish Socialist speaks – Public Meeting November 22nd November 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Scotland, The Left.
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Building a new left in parliament and the streets – Scottish Socialist speaks

PUBLIC MEETING – Saturday November 22nd at 3pm – Teacher’s Club, Dublin

Frances Curran (Scottish Socialist Party) talks about her time as a member of the Scottish parliament and the challenge of building a new radical left

Speaker – Frances Curran – Scottish left-wing activist and socialist MSP from 2003-2007

The Scottish Left has attracted attention for all the wrong reasons in the last couple of years. But the messy public row which caused so much heat has distracted attention from more important lessons that socialists can draw from the experience of our Scottish comrades. The ISN will be hosting a public meeting with Frances Curran of the SSP to discuss that experience and see what we can learn.

Over the past decade, radical socialists in Ireland and elsewhere have tried to fill the political space opened up by the rightwards march of Social Democracy and the demise of Communism. Often they have formed new left-wing parties and alliances, and tried to win a foot-hold in parliaments and council chambers, hoping to use electoral gains as a platform to promote radical politics and grass-roots campaigning. The radical left today faces new opportunities and new challenges.

Frances Curran has been centrally involved in Scottish left-wing politics for over two decades. She was a member of Scottish Militant Labour when it led resistance to Thatcher’s poll tax, and helped form the Scottish Socialist Party in the 1990s. She was elected to the Scottish parliament in 2003 along with five fellow members of the SSP – one of the strongest performances by a radical party in Western Europe for decades.

What did the SSP learn from its experience in the Scottish Assembly? What was it like to work as a socialist in a strongly pro-capitalist parliament? How did the SSP manage the tension between electoral campaigns and grass-roots protest? Were they able to use their elected positions to advocate socialist positions, and to encourage working-class people to take action outside the voting booths? Do socialists and parliament go together like oil and water, or can we strike a successful balance?

Frances will be talking about these and other questions at a public meeting on November 22nd. We hope you’ll come along and join the discussion.

from John O’Neill of the ISN.

Ganley amongst the mortals… that Oireachtas sub-committee meeting in full… November 21, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
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Gaze in wonder at the workings of our legislative bodies, consider the dizzying heights of rhetorical and analytical processes of this state, marvel at the perspicacity of those members of the sub-committee and those who are but humble guests. And note that this is long, very very long indeed, so I’ve highlighted a few choice bits for your consideration. It’s so real it’s almost like being there. You’ll thank me for it… you will, really.

The sub-committee met in private session until 10.05 a.m.
[Now that part I’d have liked to have heard…]

Ireland’s Future Engagement in the EU: Discussion with Libertas.

Chairman: I welcome our guest, Mr. Declan Ganley, to the meeting. Before we begin I will explain the work of the sub-committee and how we will order our business. The sub-committee was set up to examine Ireland’s future in the European Union in the context of the Lisbon referendum result. We received four terms of reference from the Government and we have split them into work modules. We are in the final week of public hearings and have asked prominent members of the campaign leading up to the referendum on the Lisbon treaty to come before the sub-committee to give their vision for Ireland’s future in Europe and to make any points they believe are relevant in that context.

To get through our weighty work programme, each guest will have ten minutes to make a contribution and I will interrupt when the speaker has one minute left. I will then hand over to my colleagues. The sub-committee is divided into four groups, each of which will have ten minutes to put questions, following which anybody who has not had an opportunity to put questions will be given six minutes to do so. At the end, we will allow a final opportunity to put any outstanding points to the sub-committee. Our work will lead to a report which is due to be published next Friday. The contributions of witnesses will be published in the record of the Houses of the Oireachtas and will be used to frame our report.

Before I begin, I must inform our guests that while members of the sub-committee have absolute privilege, this privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before it. I remind members of the parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. Once Mr. Ganley has finished, I will invite questions from members in the following running order: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Independent Members and the Labour Party. They will be allowed ten minutes and I will notify them when four minutes have elapsed.

Mr. Declan Ganley: I thank the Chairman for accommodating us at short notice. This meeting concerns Ireland’s future in Europe and asks where we go from here. I will use some of my time to look back and make clear to everybody, not just in Ireland but outside, something which we all know, namely that most of us who voted “No” – the majority of the electorate – did not vote against Europe. It was not a vote against the European Union or Ireland’s membership but a rejection of the Lisbon treaty, that being what we were asked to vote on. From my perspective, and that of Libertas, it is essential that Ireland is fully engaged with and at the very heart of the European Union. It would be very difficult to argue that the EU has been anything but good for Ireland or that our membership had not been extremely beneficial.

I speak with this accent because I am the product of generations of emigration from the west of Ireland. I hope that, in spite of these difficult times, my children will not be forced to emigrate, as my parents were and as I was in the late 1980s. Our membership of the European Union has contributed to the likelihood that my children will, I hope, not speak with the same accent as I do. It could be a worse accent, but not much worse.

(more…)

Now he tells us… The curious political journey of Noel Grealish of the PDs… November 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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You may remember articles such as this in our beloved media over the past year or so.

Progressive Democrats Galway West TD Noel Grealish has confirmed he has discussed the possibility of quitting the party with a Fianna Fáil minister.

“There has been a certain amount of discussion taking place, which has taken place between myself and a particular minister in Fianna Fáil, to be quite honest,” he told Galway City television.

And not only, but also:

“I’ll be frank. We have discussed my political future: where am I going to go, what am I going to do,” he said, in the interview, which will be broadcast tonight on cable television in Galway.

However, Mr Grealish said further talks had been postponed until he and his supporters saw the outcome of efforts within the PDs to breathe life into the party.

“We have agreed to park the negotiations for a while to see what is going to happen to our own party first.”

Noel Whelan noted in January that…Noel Grealish is openly flirting with Fianna Fáil.

By April, despite having a new leader, Ciarán Cannon, in place, Harry McGee of the ITnoted that:

…the loyalty of one of the two remaining TDs, Noel Grealish, is conditional – he has admitted to having played “footsie” with Fianna Fáil in the wake of the 2007 election.

Even as recently as September Grealish was releasing carefully parsed and neutral press releases on his future, the sort of texts that can be decoded whatever way one wishes

Mr Grealish in a statement described media reports about his political future as speculative and inaccurate.

He said he understood that the PD national executive was undertaking a root and branch review of the future of the party.

He said he intended to consult his constituency membership, his parliamentary colleagues and the wider party membership as part of this review.

Mr Grealish added that in the meantime he remained a member of the Progressive Democrats parliamentary party.

Note the careful economy of language and the reliance on facts, just facts.

A couple of days later a series of articles appeared like a rash under the headlines “Grealish to clarify his position in the PDs tomorrow night” and then… “Grealish to clarify his position with PDs tonight” . Exciting stuff, I think you’ll agree.

Of course no such clarification was forthcoming, and in any case had it been it would have been swamped by the decision of the PD parliamentary party to recommend winding up the party with the proposal that the party was ‘no longer politically viable’.

Still as recently as September 18th Stephen Collins was writing that… “The harsh reality was cloaked for a while by the fact that Mary Harney continued to serve as a senior Minister but the speculation of recent weeks over Noel Grealish’s departure plans presaged the end”.

So there one has it. Not merely did the studied air of detachment lend utter ambiguity to Grealish’s plans, but it also assisted in the sense that the party had no future and that the only route away was to join the big battalions.

So, by contrast, what a fascinating piece of news reported yesterday. Noel Grealish, of the Progressive Democrats, or is that late of the Progressive Democrats – who can tell as that party continues to expire very very publicly but also very very slowly – has announced that

“more than likely” he will become an Independent after the party closes down early next year, and he will not be joining Fianna Fáil.

Pardon? What’s that you say there Noel?

Because this news is a bit of a surprise considering, as noted in the Irish Times:

Speculation about Mr Noel Grealish’s future with the Progressive Democrats had been attributed to speeding up the demise of the party, which had pledged to continue until after next year’s local elections despite its poor performance in the 2006 general election.

Reports of Mr Grealish’s plans to leave the party began in early September. He neither corroborated nor denied rumours that he planned to join Fianna Fáil.

In fairness to him it’s not like, as quoted previously, there weren’t what we call ‘facts’ to corroborate what the Irish Times reports as ‘rumour’.

So, why the change of heart, or what caused the crablike sideways shift towards Fianna Fáil to come to this jarring halt?

The cynic in me, never far from the surface, suspects that the reason for this apparent change of heart is – as ever with politicians – due to the prospects or otherwise of political longevity. Simply put the Fianna Fáil brand sure ain’t what it used to be. Gone are the heady days where Grealish could claim that the Mahon Tribunal had exceeded it’s remit in investigating then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the following language:

“I think there is a serious issue . . . the way the Taoiseach, the leader of our country, is treated at times in the Mahon tribunal, and I think that a lot of the Irish people out there are tired of this campaign against the Taoiseach.

“It’s going outside the remit it was set up to do.”

“I don’t think the Taoiseach needs to resign, I don’t think he’s done anything wrong,”

Gone, not just the irrepressible Bertie, but also Fianna Fáil as a seemingly overwhelming political formation. It’s far from the end for them, but the Summer has seen more than a few spots knocked off them. Few enough would hitch their star to a wagon mired in the mid to high 20s in the polls following one of the worst Budgets in memory and the prospect of more to come. Grealish is no fool and must see that to cross the floor from one failed entity to one that is faltering, and badly, would be entirely pointless.

And he might well have reflected on how some of his constituents, or more particularly his voters, might receive such political promiscuity… they’re a conservative bunch at the best of times so I suspect not well.

One also wonders how the vote would have gone at the ‘special meeting’ of the PDs in Mullingar earlier this month had the delegates known that, far from FF providing a home, Grealish was destined for the status of Independent. A fair bit tighter it seems reasonable to presume.

I’ve previously noted that a vote to remain extant might have been somewhat embarrassing for a party with the word Democratic in its title. And surely, the situation for them was pretty grim. But, with four parliamentarians, a good number of councillors and a membership activist enough to appear for the ‘special meeting’ the future wasn’t entirely bleak.

There’s also the issue of his future political survival, now without a party apparatus to support him. Sure, it wasn’t the greatest party in the world, but the atomisation of the PD TD’s into Independents (with perhaps Fiona O’Malley and Cannon venturing forth into the larger parties) is hardly a better position. And why did no-one think of the obvious jump across the hurdle the electorate had placed in their way last May twelve months, that old stand-by of political formations in trouble… the name change.

The history books may not be kind about the personalities involved or the turns this story has taken, but there is a certain irony in the way that the Irish media, including those who would often consider themselves to be the PDs cheerleaders ultimately assisted in destabilising that party to the point of it’s demise. Quite some feat.

The term is ‘will be’… very definitely ‘will be’… the new health levy… November 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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From the Irish Times Breaking News section yesterday

New levy to subsidise health cover for over 50s

12:37The Government is to introduce a €300 million tax relief scheme to subsidise health insurance costs for subscribers aged 50 and over. It is to pay for the scheme by introducing a new €160 levy on companies for every adult with health insurance. This may or may not be passed on to consumers.

Irony, what’s that? November 19, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in Uncategorized.
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Quote of the decade from Dennis Pearce, a BNP member, on BBC News:

“Sadly, it’s as though we’re living in a fascist state where people are being victimised for being in a legitimate political party.”

You go first, no you go, no really – I insist – you go first… that public sector pay cut poll… November 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
45 comments

.

crocodile said it most effectively about yesterday’s latest Irish Times poll, which trumpeted the finding that 53% of the public polled thought the public sector should emulate the Taoiseach and Ministers and take a 10% pay cut, here

And was there ever a more fatuous headline than today’s Irish Times lead: ‘Majority of voters back pay cut for public servants’.
What was the question I wonder?
Maybe ‘There’s a crisis in the public finances: who would you like to pay for it? a. You or b. Somebody else ‘?

And to see this reified in the Irish Times to the level of holy scripture, by… guess who, Stephen Collins is hardly a surprise.

He noted that:

A MAJORITY of voters believe that public servants should be asked to take a pay cut in response to the crisis in the public finances, according to the Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll.

There was a problem though, a big big problem. Although…

…the poll also showed that spending cuts rather than tax increases are favoured by a majority to deal with the crisis, but they also believe that the cuts announced in the Budget were too tough.

It’s tricky, because…

When voters were asked if the Government should place more emphasis on spending cuts or tax increases to deal with the financial crisis 52 per cent opted for spending cuts, while 32 per cent backed tax increases and 16 per cent had no opinion.

This view is shared across all social classes and regions.

Which is sort of easy when you think about it. Financial crisis? Cut away. The problem being, what and where.

Start to throw out elements of the budget, or even just remind people of the budget, our most recent exercise in this sort of thing and suddenly people draw back (not entirely surprising, since the Budget is the reason Fianna Fáil’s poll rating has dived – and if FF are bad because of their Budget, a Budget that introduced significant cuts, then logically the Budget was bad because of the cuts. Cue cognitive dissonance and a wish to find someone else to take the strain). Education, health, welfare provision, increased wages in the public sector. Wait a minute there. Increased wages in the public sector. Feck them, let’s cut wages, particularly if the question is a loaded one as regards 10% wage cuts taken by Cowen and the Cabinet.

But let’s work it through a bit more. Brian Cowen has a good wage. No, wait, Brian Cowen has a great wage. €310,000. Let’s note that to lose, say, €31,000 of that isn’t going to see him out on his uppers. He’ll still be making more than the President of the United States.

And so it is with our senior politicians in government.

Whereas 10% cuts for the more humble public servants, well, you get my gist.

And let me reiterate, I’m entirely in favour of a wage freeze in the public sector on both salary and increments – and since I work on contracts in those areas I’m not doing myself any favours by advocating same.

But back to the poll…

So those advocating fiscal pain for all others were hitting a brick wall as regards their own wishes and demands.

Still, note too the following…

When voters were asked if they were prepared to pay more in taxation to ensure there is no reduction in public services the result is a little closer, with 49 per cent saying they are not prepared to pay more in tax while 43 per cent say they are and 10 per cent have no opinion.

I guess it’s not much to build a progressive consensus on in the current era, but it’s something. And it points up that nuance in this is everything. It’s easy to shout for spending cuts over tax increases until the result of those cuts are made plain. And then the picture begins to shift somewhat.

Remarkable too the cognitive dissonance exemplified in the following…

Voters in the most well-off AB social category, which is most strongly in favour of spending cuts, are far more willing to pay more tax to protect public services than any other group. The strongest resistance to paying any more tax comes from the least well-off DE social category.

There’s an awful lot of confusion out there. And to read that:

People in all age categories, including the over-65s, also opted for spending cuts rather than tax increases. Supporters of all political parties, except Labour, who are almost equally divided, also take this view.

… is a near heart-breaking indictment of the state of our left and it’s influence more broadly in a society where public good has been weakened consistently across the last two decades.

Some oddities, Sinn Féin voters were in favour of cuts, but… “…they feel that there should not be a reduction in public sector pay.”

And here is a fascinating nugget which may give at least a partial explanation as to how the Green Party has remained remarkably buoyant in the polls, at least until recently…

Among party supporters the Green Party was the only one where a majority felt [the Budget] was about right or not tough enough.

I genuinely don’t know what to make of it. Was the poll sample to small to reflect the generality of opinion within the GP, or is this a pointer to something else? If I have a suspicion it is this, those within the GP that I know appear to be wedded to a language of economic ‘pragmatism’. I can’t be certain but it seems to me that this is the result of a party with a fairly unclear view of economic activity and that this has fed into the sort of ‘hard-headed’ analysis reflected here. It’s quite something when the GP will tacitly underwrite a Budget generally regarded as functionally (as well as politically) one of the worst to be presented before the Irish people.

But perhaps there is a sense that, this Budget as well as this Government, is in some sense ‘theirs’, to be supported through thick and thin. It’s true what the commentators are saying, this can only end in pain, but I’m wondering for who, at least on the political level.

History Wars. Korean Style. November 19, 2008

Posted by Garibaldy in History, Korea.
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Professor Ciarán Brady of TCD likes to joke, paraphrasing Henry Kissinger, that the arguments over Irish history have been so vehement because the stakes are so low. However, the writing of history can have serious implications. It has the potential to cause diplomatic rows, perhaps the best known example being the arguments between Japan on the one hand and China and the two Koreas on the other caused by Japanese school history books that fail to take account of the brutality of Japanese imperialism. The interpretation of history can also become the focus of bitter dispute within countries, as France has demonstrated over the past few decades, most spectacularly with the bicentenary of the French Revolution and more recently over a law passed by the National Assembly that demanded that the positive aspects of French imperialism be taught. Israel has also provided a good example, where the work of Benny Morris (who it seems has Irish roots) arguing that the creation of the state of Israel was facilitated partly by the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs has caused outrage and major rows. We at Cedar Lounge Revolution have discussed before The Fight for Irish History, and just recently had an, ahem, lively debate on the hardly pressing topic of Soviet foreign policy in the years before World War II (perhaps proving Brady and Kissinger’s point?).

During the course of the latter debate Korea was brought up. I was pleased therefore to come across this story from the International Herald Tribune on an argument that is raging in south Korea over a high school textbook. The book has offended conservatives by arguing that the end of World War II brought not independence but a peninsula that remained under the domination of foreign powers, the USSR and the USA.

“It was not our national flag that was hoisted to replace the Japanese flag,” reads the textbook published by Kumsung Publishing. “The flag that flew in its place was the American Stars and Stripes. Our liberation through the Allied forces’ victory prevented us from building a new country according to our own wishes.”

The conservative government has become involved in the row.

On Oct. 30, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology demanded that the authors of the Kumsung book and five other textbooks currently used in high schools delete or revise 55 sections in their texts that it said “undermine the legitimacy of the South Korean government.”
“A textbook of modern history should be written in a way that does not hurt our national pride,” it said.

Such sentiments will be familiar to anyone who reads the Aubane Historical Society’s criticisms of people like Roy Foster. As will the response of those who favour opening up the past to more critical scrutiny.

The authors rejected the interference, saying their critics were trying to “beautify” the country’s problematic history, overlooking Korean collaboration with the Japanese occupiers and postwar dictatorships. The liberal opposition in Parliament said the government’s attempt to censor the textbooks raised the specter of those dictatorships, which once controlled everything from what books South Koreans could read to the proper length of women’s skirts.
“National pride? Patriotism? They should be based on historical facts,” said Hong Soon Kwon, a history professor and co-author of the Kumsung textbook.

The textbook under fire is one of six that replaced the single textbook that was used in south Korean schools until 2003. This is not just an academic squabble, but is about the relationship that south Koreans have with their past, with the dictators who ruled the country in the past, and about how they view the nature of the relationship between Seoul and Washington. One critic has labelled the books “patricidal history” and accused them of suggesting that south Korea should never have come into being. The article gives some quotes from the books as they stand, and suggested changes.

One popular textbook, published by the Institute for Better Education, says that Rhee, revered as the nation-builder by the conservatives but detested by liberals as someone who ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the name of anti-Communism, exploited the North Korean threat to “shore up his dictatorial regime.”
The Ministry of National Defense has demanded that this be rewritten to read: “He did his best to contain Communism.”
According to the Kumsung textbook, Park Chung Hee – who seized power in a coup in 1961 and tortured political dissidents while mobilizing the nation for export-driven economic growth – was “a president who placed himself above the nation’s Constitution.”
The Defense Ministry wants this to be replaced with: “a president who contributed to the nation’s modernization.”
As for the “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea espoused by former President Kim Dae Jung, whose inauguration in 1998 ousted the conservative establishment and brought many former dissidents into positions of power, the Ministry of National Unification now suggests that this term be replaced in textbooks with the official if drier “policy of reconciliation and cooperation.”

The article offers explanation for the shift in historical emphasis. It stresses the prevalence of teachers with no experience of the Korean War and whose formative years were under the various dictatorships, which they blame the Americans for allowing to thrive.

They came of age amid other formative experiences: Many were students during campus protests against Chun Doo Hwan, who took power after the assassination of Park Chung Hee in 1979 and who, in 1980, deployed troops to kill hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the southern city of Gwangju.
When the United States, which technically had command of the combined U.S.-South Korean forces, did not prevent Chun’s junta from unleashing troops against its own people, students turned against Washington. If the division of the peninsula engendered a mistrust of big powers, Gwangju helped shape views of the United States, historians say.
That resentment persists and surfaced in the huge demonstrations against American beef imports this year.

In a situation with parallels in Europe and Nazi collaborators, conservatives are angry at historians digging up nasty aspects of the past. They seek to justify – or at the least contextualise – the choices made by those involved in the dictatorships.

Conservatives seethed with anger as the Kim and Roh administrations delved into long-hidden aspects of the recent past – collaboration with Japanese colonialists (Park Chung Hee was a Japanese Imperial Army officer), mass killings of civilians during the Korean War and the abuse of political dissidents.
They argued that these liberals ignored the difficult choices faced by earlier South Korean leaders.
“In the turbulent era we lived through, no one could be completely innocent, no one could live by law alone,” Cho Gap Je, 63, a conservative columnist, said to the cheers of elderly South Koreans who gathered recently to denounce liberal teachers. “When necessary, we shed blood, sweat and tears, so that our children no longer have to shed tears.”

More worringly, the Ministry for Defence in July banned soldiers from reading 23 books that it said were a threat to the security of the state because they are

“pro-North Korea, anti-government, anti-American and anti-capitalism” works, including two by the American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky.

Even if we concede for the sake of argument that there might be grounds for banning books that support a country with which the state is technically still at war, banning books that are critical of another country and of an economic system seems to go far beyond national security. Which helps explain why seven of the military’s own lawyers are challenging the ban in the Constitutional Court. Chomsky’s response? “Perhaps, for the sake of honesty, it should be renamed: ‘Ministry of Defense against Freedom and Democracy”.

This whole debate serves to remind us of the importance of revising and revising again our history, and facing up to the unpleasant aspects of it. Part of the reason for the discontent that burst out in 1968 was that much of western Europe had never seen a proper settling of accounts with the Nazi years, and in our own emerald isle, we could do worse than understand the role of sectarianism and authoritarian tendencies in the creation and bedding in of the southern state. Starting perhaps with an acknowledgement that support for the Nazis was not confined to the Blueshirts and elements of the IRA, but was widespread throughout southern society, just like in most European countries.

Matt Miller, Left, Right & Centre… KCRW November 18, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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If you want to make the case for pessimism. It’s a little bit sad when Democrats have to count on a Depression to put through the kind of minimal social protections that most other advanced nations take for granted.

Absolutely Matt (and once more it is refreshing to hear a self-described moderate and centrist and one time deficit hawk speaking a language that some of our left would find difficult to articulate), but he clearly hasn’t been to Ireland where some are counting on it to take away the kind of minimal social protections that most other nations take for granted.

Tax them until the pips squeak… er… not quite as the government unveils a 3% income levy… and Lisbon? Ah, we’ll always have Lisbon… November 18, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics.
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This is some craic. Isn’t it? The most malleable Budget in years recedes into memory, although its aftereffects remain. What’s that one hears about servers in Dáil Éireann being overwhelmed by emails on the cervical vaccine issue? And now we read that:

THE GOVERNMENT is expected to introduce a further series of measures in the next two weeks to deal with the economic crisis, including a 3 per cent levy on incomes over €250,000.

Great stuff. €250,000. And not before time. I’ve already noted that the concept of progressive taxation, however blunt, and this is blunt, seems hitherto to have eluded the Cabinet. So, two cheers for this measure. A step in the right direction after a whole series of missteps. But here’s an oddity.

The Government had already decided, after consultations with the trade unions, to exempt those earning less than the minimum wage of €17,542 from the income levy introduced in the Budget.

So…

The 3 per cent imposition on the higher-income group is expected to generate €60 million in revenue, which the Government says is equivalent to the amount that would have been collected if the levy on the lower-income group had been maintained.

I wonder. Is this in part meant to be a demonstration – as some would see it – of the futility of raising taxes for those on higher incomes as a source of revenue? Because let’s not forget that the reduction of the top rate some years back resulted in a loss of annual revenue of circa €480 million.

Quite a difference, I think we’ll all agree, with €60 million.

And I love the juxtaposition of the minimum wage sum with this as if this in some sense indicated a parity. As it happens, and I’ve expressed this before, I don’t believe anyone should be outside the tax net in the sense that all should pay tax and then those towards the lowest incomes should be rebated. It’s a small thing that I like to go on about called social solidarity, the sense that we’re all part of the society, that we are all citizens. But this smacks of a point being – grudgingly – made.

There’s also some further sleight of hand in all this as when the IT notes:

On that basis, the Government insists it has not made a U-turn and sources said this type of adjustment was normal between the Budget and the Finance Bill.

Right. Right.

Whatever.

But look, much as with the issue of recapitalisation of the banks (and check out the Money section of the Sunday Business Post for thoughts on that), something the government has said time and again it won’t do, but we all know it ultimately will – and anyone like to bet on which of our major institutions will be first to merge? Anyone? – the reality is that the next Budget, like it or not, will see further increases in taxation. It’s going to happen. Which means the battle for progressives is to ensure that they are not accompanied by cuts in public provision.

**************

Meanwhile. Lisbon reaches out. The latest fit of optimism for the YES camp, as brought to you by Stephen Collins in the Irish Times, is that…

A SECOND referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has a chance of being carried, according to the Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll which shows a swing to the Yes side since the referendum defeat last June.

The poll shows a change in public attitudes since June with 43 per cent now saying they would vote Yes, 39 per cent No and 18 per cent having no opinion.

Now me. I’d say that the word ‘chance’ in the first sentence is the crucial one. There is indeed a ‘chance’. It’s better than no chance. Not so compelling as a ‘good’ chance. Somewhere in between. Guess what end of the scale. That 18% having no opinion (yeah, really?) is what strikes me as the important figure.

On the other hand when I was told about this this morning I was initially disbelieving. I’d have thought that the figures would have been tilted sharply against the government in line with

The IT is ahead of us…

When the “don’t knows” are excluded this gives the Yes side 52.5 per cent, with the No side on 47.5 per cent. It compares to the referendum result in June of 53.4 per cent No and 46.6 per cent Yes.

But it’s still pretty dicey. Because we can’t really exclude the “don’t knows”.

It is true that there has been a shift in opinion towards the Yes side within voting groups.

Among the most well-off AB voters the Yes side is in the lead by 57 per cent to 27 per cent while among the less well-off DE voters the No side leads by 47 per cent to 29 per cent. What will be heartening for supporters of the EU is that among the biggest C1 social category, covering lower middle-class voters, the Yes side has a lead of 53 to 33 per cent.

And…

Farmers are now in favour of the treaty by 46 per cent to 32 per cent which represents a substantial shift since the last Irish Times poll before the referendum in June.

I think it’s an interesting poll, because anti-EU sentiment has run higher than I can ever recall since Lisbon, so the fact that there has been a shift towards a Lisbon Yes would appear to indicate that other forces are bearing upon people. That’s even more marked when one looks at party voters and their inclinations…

In party terms, Fianna Fáil voters are the most positive with 51 per cent intending to vote Yes and 34 per cent No. Supporters of the Green Party also say they will vote Yes by 45 per cent to 33 per cent.

Fine Gael voters back the treaty by 46 per cent to 36 per cent while Labour voters are also in favour by 47 per cent to 38 per cent.

In the last poll in June only Fianna Fáil and Green supporters professed themselves in favour of the treaty with a majority of Fine Gael, Labour voters rejecting the advice of their party leaders and voting No.

How to read this? Was it a case of people giving the government a lash at a time when the situation seemed relatively good all things considered, and is it now a case of people being less keen to do so again? That would certainly account for the Fine Gael voters. But there is a paradox here which makes me think that there might well be a chink of light for the government. Note that despite party polling, as with the example on Friday, indicating that the government is down, the issue here is up. So, as with the actual Treaty, party affiliation or support is of less importance either good or bad to the levels of support the issue has. And considering how abysmal the government poll ratings are that has to be good for them.

Incidentally, yesterday evening I read this from the Green Party, a press release from Deirdre De Burca. Seems like the Danish model, established after their NO vote in the 1990s, is the way thinking is trending amongst those circles. So how would that work?

After Danish voters said ‘No’ in June 1992, EU leaders gave specific assurances to Denmark at their summit in Edinburgh the following December. Denmark got ‘declarations’ on key issues of concern, which were underwritten by the EU leaders’ political endorsement.

The Danish government further copper-fastened these assurances by registering them as an international treaty. Later the assurances were given further legal certainty by giving them recognition in another EU Treaty.

De Burca thinks that this might be a way forward…

“This formula – combining Irish, EU and international law – could offer the Irish people guarantees they effectively demanded as of right when voting ‘No’ last June. It would also allow the resolution of a dilemma without disrupting the treaty ratification in other member states,” Ms de Burca summed up.

Perhaps… The appeal to international law is in some respects quite persuasive, and to be frank, they have to come up with something better than what has been available before. That it implicitly generates a second speed, or rank within the EU is neither here nor there. Denmark has been living off that arrangement for over a decade and a half now (and are pretty keen to jettison it, but that’s another story). But is that enough to cut the Gordian knot? I guess we’ll find out soon enough…

Even pitched in those terms, and note how one international element that is disliked (the EU) is played off another that is set up as an higher authority (international law), it’s still a risk, an huge risk. But it’s one I’d bet they and the government more generally are almost willing to take. After all. How much worse could it get? And the next stop after a second rebuff? I’ll be we’d see a vote on our relationship with the EU itself.

I wouldn’t do it. I think that Lisbon II is lost before it’s begun. I suspect we might actually be fast-tracked to that next stop and that the ballots will ask us whether we want in or out. But it could be that amongst all the political gloom, both general and specific, someone in Government Buildings is looking at this, making a calculation and advising that the ‘chance’ is worth it.

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