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Even by its words shall we know it April 20, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Africa, European Union, Human Rights.
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Most of the attention has rightly been on the presence or absence of meaningful action, as against words, to prevent further drownings in the Mediterranean Sea. But the words of some of the institutions do reveal.

Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, had this to say on twitter:

Deeply saddened by death of hundreds on Europe-bound refugee boat. Pay tribute to Italy’s coast guard for doing their best to save lives.

Anne Brasseur, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a press statement that was given a headline that expressed the horror of what happened:

“Gates of Europe” bloodied again as 700 migrants feared dead in “awful” Mediterranean boat tragedy

At a global level, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the following:

New Mediterranean boat tragedy may be biggest ever, urgent action is needed now

Whatever power they have to force Europe’s institutions to act (damn all, in truth), those leaders recognised the awfulness of what has happened.

The EU has stronger powers to act. The words its leaders have used reveal that we need to be alarmed.

Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, gave the first sign that the human response was second to a careful policy position. The headline on his statement said:

Schulz for renewal of refugee and migration policies

At least the first sentence of his statement recognised the nature of what happened:

“The renewed tragedy off the Libyan coast, in which possibly up to 700 people have lost their lives, leaves me speechless

But the European Commission’s statement is shocking for the way it hedged the central, awful fact of what had happened. Here is its headline

European Commission Statement on developments in the Mediterranean

And even when it does get around to mentioning human lives, in the third sentence of the statement, it avoids the awfulness of what happened:

These are human lives at stake, and the European Union as a whole has a moral and humanitarian obligation to act.

By the time that statement was issued, 700 lives were no longer “at stake”: they had been lost.

Depressed about the future? Want to feel more depressed? July 9, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, International Politics.

Paul Mason, Economics Editor of Channel 4 News, has a piece in the Guardian which looks at the OECD predictions for the world economy until 2060 and essentially makes mince-meat of them, pointing to intrinsic flaws, and worse still to how even under their sunniest projections the situation globally is going to get worse.

And to be honest the OECD isn’t that chipper about all this either. Growth will slow, inequality will increase massively and then there’s climate change. But… the good news is that the world ‘will be four times richer, more productive, more globalised and more highly educated’.

As Mason notes, those two projections are hard to square, at least on the level of hoping for a decent standard of living for most people on the planet. And that’s where it gets really, well, ugly.
How ugly? Check this out:

World growth will slow to 2.7%, says the Paris-based thinktank, because the catch-up effects boosting growth in the developing world – population growth, education, urbanisation – will peter out. Even before that happens, near-stagnation in advanced economies means a long-term global average over the next 50 years of just 3% growth, which is low. The growth of high-skilled jobs and the automation of medium-skilled jobs means, on the central projection, that inequality will rise by 30%. By 2060 countries such as Sweden will have levels of inequality currently seen in the USA: think Gary, Indiana, in the suburbs of Stockholm.

And Mason notes that the report makes a number of assumptions that may or may not prove to be correct – for example that IT will increase productivity. Could be true, but not a given, and even the OECD is a bit sheepish, he quotes it as noting that that would be ‘high compared with recent history’.

Did I mention migration? Ah, yes.

To make the central scenario work, Europe and the USA each have to absorb 50 million migrants between now and 2060, with the rest of the developed world absorbing another 30 million. Without that, the workforce and the tax base shrinks so badly that states go bust.

Remember, this is the OECD. It’s not actually factoring in, for it doesn’t have to, the political aspects of all this and whether they are doable – whatever the rights and wrongs.

The main risk the OECD models is that developing countries improve so fast that people stop migrating. The more obvious risk – as signalled by a 27% vote for the Front National in France and the riotous crowds haranguing migrants on the California border – is that developed-world populations will not accept it. That, however, is not considered.

And let’s look at 2060. It’s not pretty, though given that I’ll be 95 then I’ve never had any great expectations one way or another. But I kind of like humans and like most of us here I don’t think that the way things are currently arranged is necessarily the way things have to be in perpetuity… but, in 2060…

…imagine the world of the central scenario: Los Angeles and Detroit look like Manila – abject slums alongside guarded skyscrapers; the UK workforce is a mixture of old white people and newly arrived young migrants; the middle-income job has all but disappeared. If born in 2014, then by 2060 you are either a 45-year-old barrister or a 45-year-old barista. There will be not much in-between. Capitalism will be in its fourth decade of stagnation and then – if we’ve done nothing about carbon emissions – the really serious impacts of climate change are starting to kick in.

If you read or listen to anything contemporary in economic thinking this gap between jobs is a growing concern to a broad range of economists from various political positions – almost as much as the increasing levels of inequality. Not that the Irish media would bother its little head with such matters. There’s a lot of ideas floating around, some of which sound almost faux-Marxist.
As to the OECD, Mason notes that…

The OECD’s prescription – more globalisation, more privatisation, more austerity, more migration and a wealth tax if you can pull it off – will carry weight.

None of which seems like a solution in any meaningful way. Anything but. As he also notes:
But not with everybody. The ultimate lesson from the report is that, sooner or later, an alternative programme to “more of the same” will emerge. Because populations armed with smartphones, and an increased sense of their human rights, will not accept a future of high inequality and low growth.

As to the report itself, I’d strongly recommend people read it – the conclusions if the 68 pages available above appear too daunting. Check out pages 7 through 9 on the PDF for policies to ‘address inequality concerns and adjustment costs’. Even there there are so many evident problems… for example:

Adjust tax and welfare systems to increasing mobility of capital and labour, e.g. by
shifting taxation towards immovable factors (e.g. property and extraction of natural
resources) and reform employment regulations, benefit systems and activation policies to
support workers’ mobility and ensure better matching of skills to jobs. Such policies can
raise employment and thus lower income inequality, even though they may not help to
lower earning inequality.

And so much is current orthodoxy that it’s near risible – though is that a note of concern in relation to the end of the last point as to potential political instability and pushback?

In some cases, pro-growth policies may entail trade-offs relative to other policy objectives.
For example, if increased investment in tertiary education were to be solely financed with public
funds, public spending in OECD countries could increase by on average 1% of GDP by 2060. Given
already large fiscal challenges stemming from the crisis, rising fiscal pressures from ageing and
high cross-country mobility of the high-skilled, reforms to ensure that the beneficiaries of higher
education carry a larger share of the funding burden should be pursued.

• In other cases, trade-offs may be more deep seated. With growth increasingly driven by
knowledge and skills, growth in itself could keep generating rising tensions and inequalities. On
current trends, earning inequality in the average OECD country may have risen by more than
30% in 2060 and would then face almost the same level of inequality as is seen in the United
States today. Moreover, structural adjustment will continue, especially across firms within
sectors (e.g. from low to high productivity and from polluting to less polluting firms) and in
emerging economies, and the consequences for workers’ wellbeing will have to be managed. If
left unaddressed, such increases in inequality and costs of adjustment could eventually backlash
on stability and growth.

On a slight tangent, there’s one very major caveat in the OECD report. Right there on page 11 of the PDF (pp10) it notes issues that are not dealt with in the paper “Analyse policy settings and the specific challenges that non-OECD non-G20 countries face. In particular, developing economies are largely outside the scope of this paper, in spite of their potential for strong growth and the significant policy challenges they face”.

That alone must give pause for thought because of the potential for any number of random effects they may have on the broader global context, from migration issues, impacts on climate change policy, local and regional warfare (up to and including thermonuclear), etc.

“History & Politics” Quiz, a guest quiz from O’er the Water set by NollaigO. May 23, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Guest Quiz, International Politics, Irish Politics.

A very welcome guest quiz on history and politics, Irish, British and further afield, from NollaigO.

1. According to legend, in April 1912 the Aberdeen Press & Journal had the front page headline “Aberdeen Man Lost At Sea”. What was the background to this headline?

2. He was elected as Conservative MP for Harrow in 1918. He became an Independent MP after falling out with the Tories over the use of the Black and Tans in Ireland. Became a Labour Party MP in 1924 and a government minister in 1929 but resigned when Labour would not accept his radical proposals for dealing with the depression. Who was he?

3. Locomotive 293 in WW1 and Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109 in WW2 carried which future national heads of state?

4. In which famous musical piece is Marshal Wade urged to
“sedition hush and like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush.”

5. This city’s name was changed to Leningrad in 1924. Changed from which previous name?

6. He was the French Minister of War at various periods from 1922 till his death in 1932. He was continuously concerned that France was poorly defended against Germany and he incessantly campaigned for a better defence. His name was much used in the early days of WWII. Who was he?

7. Richard Millhouse Nixon was succeeded by Lyndon Baines Johnson. Who succeeded Lyndon Johnson?

8. The First lasted from 1792 till 1804. The Second from 1848 till 1852. The Third from 1870 till 1940. The Fourth from 1946 till 1958. The Fifth from 1958 till the present. What?

9. In which European city is there a prominent monument consisting of a pair of bronze boots on a plinth? For a bonus point, what is the name of the monument?

10. On his election in 1979 Tory MP Stephen Dorrell became Baby of the House, an unofficial title for youngest member of the British House of Commons. He was succeeded to the title on April 1981 but regained it in May of that year. Who succeeded Stephen Dorrell during that brief period?

11. Which former member of the IRA won a Nobel peace prize in 1974?

12. London born Erskine Childers became a supporter of Sinn Féin in the War of Independence, 1919 -1922. In the subsequent Irish Civil War he was executed by the Free State Government for illegally owning a pistol. Who, ironically, gave him the pistol as a gift?

13. A biography about him, The pen and the Sword, was written by Michael Foot.
When he died in 1745, he left the bulk of his estate for the founding of a psychiatric hospital.
He wrote his own obituary, which contained the following lines: He gave the little wealth he had, to build a house for fools and mad: And showed by one satiric touch, No Nation wanted it so much.
Who was he?

14. On Guy Fawkes Night, November, 1970, a social was held in a Camden Town, London pub attended by several famous people from many different left wing organisations. The social was in support of Frank Roche who was in jail at the time and who had achieved newspaper headline fame in Central London on the previous July. For what?

15. When met by Lady Tirconnell, he proclaimed that ‘My cowardly Irish ran away’. This evoked the retort from the good lady ‘Then I see Your Majesty has won the race’. In this apocryphal exchange of words, who was the king and what was the occasion?

16. Arthur Wesley was born in Dublin in early May 1769. How is he better known?

17. What post have Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, David Miliband , Boris Johnson, Peter Mandelson and five others held over the last ten years?

Technology and the trappings of statehood May 4, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
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The thought struck me looking at the video of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the image below that it’s presumably never been easier to cobble together the trappings of statehood. It’s not just that near enough anyone can put up a Facebook page, or tweet (I’ve just managed to learn myself recently), video technology is ubiquitous and in a world with multiple media outlets straining at the leash to get as much content as possible there’s always an audience even before one seeks to reach out to actual people.

And look at the flag. I caught myself wondering who designed and printed it, how long did it take? Watching coverage on BBC world news on Friday during the day it was clear the colour scheme – red and black – was pretty much everywhere being used by the separatists. The flag is pretty well designed yet I’d doubt it took all that much time to produce and distribute.

Smoke rises around the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic

In societies where the ability to sew was ubiquitous and cloth was ubiquitous as in the past it wasn’t that difficult, but it just seems somewhat easier, and the reach is definitely much greater. Or perhaps it is that the finish seems better. Of course none of these things necessarily mean very much. Any more than the Ukraine flag now flies over the Crimea (and how does the issue of sovereignty work there, is there an embargo or blockade on the ‘Ukrainian’ side of the ‘border’, or vice versa between the territories?) so these new flags may mean little or nothing should the Ukraine be successful in quelling the insurgency. The ability to project and impose military force is the key determinant after a significant enough pool of support in any given population.

On a broader political note this has been a crisis handled so appallingly badly by all involved, Ukraine, Russia and so on, as to be – were the impacts not so serious – almost laughable. And still it trundles on with no resolution in sight. I’d tend to think that the Russians won’t breach Ukrainian sovereignty outright in the way the process occurred in Crimea. But then again, with this level of volatility who can say?

The new cold (online) war. March 3, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

Whatever the views people have on the crisis in the Ukraine, it is fascinating to see how comments sections on various media are suddenly filled with pro-Russian comments in – and who I to speak, I guess, not great English.

Just on the crisis it’s difficult to quite determine the legality of the change of power in Ukraine. On the one hand Yanukovych was not exactly impeached, although a bill and vote on same was promised imminently by the opposition. The question is is whether the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) also had the right to hold a vote of impeachment which was carried with 328 Deputies voting in favour and none against (of a total of 450 deputies). This figure included those from Yanakovych’s own party. Problem being that sources such as Radio Free Europe argue that proper constitutional procedures weren’t followed in the vote (and of a necessary 338 votes plus a constitution court review, they were ten votes short). On the other hand – and it’s difficult to pin down the chronology 100 per cent, he did appear to depart Kiev the day of the vote along with most Cabinet Ministers which whatever else is deeply problematic.

Deeply deeply unclever of the Ukrainian parliament to vote on the status of minority languages (even if the result was vetoed) directly after such a problematic transition.

In a way that may be irrelevant. Clearly sufficient political forces were swayed to turn against Yanukovych to allow the events to unfold and that may matter more. We shall see. Can’t see this ending well for any concerned, whether Ukraine, Crimea or Russia.

Ukraine and the shape of politics to come February 27, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, Irish Politics, The Left.

Thanks to Jim Monaghan for posting this link to a very clearly written piece on Ukraine that cuts through a lot of the rhetoric we’re being subjected to on that subject from points various, whether the mainstream accounts of what is happening or elsewhere. It’s main points, that Ukraine isn’t a clear cut example of fascism versus an embattled democratically elected government, or said government versus the IMF or whatever is very necessary to keep front and centre.

One of the key points in this is made by the author of the piece, Mark Ames, when he writes:

In Ukraine, there is no populist left politics, even though the country’s deepest problem is inequality and oligarchy. Memories of the Soviet Union play a big role in turning people off to populist-left politics there, for understandable reasons.

But the Ukrainians do have a sense of people power that is rare in the world, and it goes back to the first major protests in 2000, through the success of the Orange Revolution. The masses understand their power-in-numbers to overthrow bad governments, but they haven’t forged a populist politics to change their situation and redistribute power by redistributing wealth.

The latter paragraph is a consequence, it seems reasonable to suggest, to the dynamics extant in the first paragraph. With no popular left alternative, not even a vaguely social democratic one, of any real size – and a look at the wiki page on the composition of the Ukrainian parliament is instructive, it’s as if Ukraine has a large party right of Fine Gael, and another right of Fianna Fáil and another a bit like a cross between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the social democratic left is unrepresented though there is a CP representation and a heap of Independents (sounds familiar?) – it is locked into a situation where radicalism will almost of necessity be expressed increasingly to the right of the spectrum and in then most noxious ways possible.

The depressing aspect of this, and Ames points clearly to it, is that there is a sense of collective mass action and the potential in it, but that it is directed and shaped to deliver a means of ejecting governments, but not to ensuring that their successors are any better. It’s as if they are in a political loop where there is a degree of agency to the people, in so far as they can go through the same motions, but progress achieved appears minimal.

Ames makes one other troubling point.

The front-center role of Svoboda and the neo-fascists in this revolution as opposed to the Orange Revolution is, I think, due to fact that the more smiley-face/respectable neoliberal politicians can’t rally the same fanatical support they did a decade ago.

That has an importance well beyond the borders of Ukraine. Indeed in my darker moments I wonder if politics in this state, and elsewhere in Europe, may be heading in a not dissimilar direction, where because the centre of gravity of political activity in the so-called ‘mainstream’ has tilted so far to the right the left as an option, in any of its forms, is now fading.
It’s actually not that difficult to see a situation emerge where the predominance of the centre right and right of centre parties here – which is an unarguable fact across the history of the state, is strengthened further towards the right. And particularly in relation to governance.

Just what is the DPRK? February 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

It’s a question that comes to mind reading about the United Nations report on North Korea. None of this will be news for those of us who follow these matters, this is, after all, a state that itself admits to kidnapping Japanese citizens (and mostly civilians at that – not that that should or does make a difference) from the coasts of Japan.

There’s much to consider – and much that some should think long and hard about, from the songbun system which seems arguably to be a perverse combination of collective and individual punishment, the use of food as a system of mass societal control, a network of prison camps, and a broad range of acts that the ICC argues ‘meets the threshold needed for proof of crimes against humanity in international law’. Where this goes next is a most interesting question. Probably nowhere given the local balance of forces and the blunt reality that the PRC will sustain the DPRK for its own geo-political reasons as long as it suits them. But on the other hand it offers a yardstick by which to measure future developments or lack of same.

This isn’t a leftwing state, the dynastic element alone is such that it precludes it from being so – and indeed the most recent events in relation to its governance where a non-blood relative was purged most publicly underlines that dynastic element even more forcefully. But if not left-wing then what is it precisely?

Interesting analysis too here:

The report concludes that many of the crimes against humanity stem directly from state policies in a country which, since it was formed from the division of Korea, has been run on a highly individual variant of Stalinist-based self-reliance and centralised dynastic rule. The inquiry found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, with citizens brought into an all-encompassing system of indoctrination from childhood.

But I wonder is that missing the point to position it within that framework because – as with the point about dynastic rule – it seems to sit somewhere else entirely where the outward trappings of Stalinism – more a reenactment than a facade – are bolted onto a much older socio-political dynamic, none of which is intended in any sense to excuse or wave away those trappings – they were clearly used to pernicious and appalling effect. But there’s almost a sense that that was opportunistic, that they provided a methodology at a certain historic moment to acquire and retain power but that their function subsequently was subsidiary. Subsidiary to what?

The state appears to contain competing elite power centres, the Army and so forth, but state legitimation is embodied in a single ruling family and all is subordinate below that level. How much or how little agency that family has is – to some extent – beside the point, though all indications are that it has more than sufficient. That is the system, that is how it is run. That is for who it is run. There is even in the attitude towards the state founder an overt element of ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. Look again at the concept of songbun, an explicit approach that pits the majority of the population as being either ‘neutral’ or ‘hostile’ to those in charge. The state itself comes into implicit conflict with those it purports to represent. That is the logic at work there.

Where concepts such as solidarity or socialism fit into this is quite some question.

Intelligence service September 10, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.

Some may have mentioned this already, but what of this here? In a report on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, one which suggests that Assad was not personally involved (something that, and I’m no fan of the man, would seem entirely likely given he would be aware of the counterproductive nature of any such use of those weapons in this conflict) it states:

The intelligence findings were based on phone calls intercepted by a German surveillance ship operated by the BND, the German intelligence service, and deployed off the Syrian coast, Bild am Sonntag said.

What precisely is a German intelligence ship doing off the coast of Syria in the first place? It’s a fascinating question in the sense that it reveals just how far flung intelligence operations appear to be. And it raises further questions. Are there German, French, Brazilian, or whoever, intelligence ships off the coast, of say, the PRC? Vast fleets of vessels listening in on other states, and non-state actors, communications. A sort of covert panopticon.

By the way, it’s worth noting that if the BND picked up a communication like this then most likely others would have done so too (and interesting too the way this crisis is unfolding, not least the Russian response in the last twenty-four hours. It will be telling if the Syrians bow to pressure from Moscow, or rather if they feel they have no choice but to).

Characteristically gracious in victory… September 7, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, International Politics.

…was Rupert Murdoch on Twitter following the victory of the Australian right in their election.

The News Corp chief took to Twitter shortly after Abbott delivered his victory speech in Sydney. Murdoch tweeted: “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time.”

Lovely – clearly the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of his media outlets. Let’s hope he’s wrong.

Just on that election, what a mess. But an interesting mess in a way, because broadly speaking the economic conditions were good to great for the government (albeit softening very slightly in recent months) and the opposition was notably coy about what it intended to do once in power. In fact it seems to have been the chaos in the Labor Party leadership which ultimately sunk their chances.

How that would map onto the Irish situation is another question entirely.

Back in the DPRK, again. This time they mean business! September 4, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics, US Politics.

Here from NPR’s Planet Money economics podcast one about:

U.S. citizens who want to buy stuff from North Korea have to write a letter to the U.S. government asking for special permission. As regular listeners know, we’re sort of obsessed with North Korea. So we decided to try to get those letters.


…we try to figure out who sent the letters, why they wanted to do business with North Korea, and what that tells us about the North Korean economy.

You can also see the letters in the original at the web address above.

The podcast mentions, North Korea Economy Watch, an economy blog on that very topic, and has a fascinating interview with the guy behind it. He argues that far from the DPRK being unaware of the ‘kitsch’ or ‘novelty’ aspect of products being produced there, is very very aware and modifies its message according to the recipients.

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