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Cuba In Angola – War of Independence 1975 December 3, 2016

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Decent documentary about Cuban involvement in Angola.

The public sector wage claims December 2, 2016

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Stephen Collins was once more singing the old song in relation to the public sector in the Irish Times. But why bring this up – perhaps because the very next day the polls suggested that that song has lost its resonance and he himself hints in the course of the piece that that might be the case.

If the public service unions are allowed by a fragile Government to bully their way to unsustainable pay increases then all of the sacrifices of the past years will have been set to naught and the road cleared for the demagogues itching for political chaos.
The bottom line is that if the substantial public pay increases being sought over and above the Lansdowne Road agreement are conceded them the outcome will be worsening public services for those who need them most or tax increases for already heavily taxed middle-income earners.

And he’s found ammunition, of sorts:

The appalling injustice of this was spelled out in a courageous letter to The Irish Times on Thursday from serving public servant Arthur Boland, who put it in a nutshell.
“I have job security, and when I retire I will receive a lump sum and a guaranteed pension. So I am very well off compared to many people working in the private sector and compared to the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed who have to depend on the relatively meagre State benefits to support themselves.”

But there’s a problem. Firstly not all public sector workers are in such a good position. Many are on relatively low wages – furthermore, and surely Collins can’t be deaf to this, there are already calls to alter that ‘guaranteed pension’. Indeed although I’m on contract to the PS, those I know in that sector are fairly convinced that they’re unlikely to receive said ‘guaranteed’ pensions in the future. Collins continues:

The blunt facts of the matter are incontrovertible. Public services pay is the biggest item of government spending and accounts for one third of all expenditure.

And then writes:

According to the Central Statistics Office, public service pay is 20 per cent higher than that in the private sector.
Economist John Fitzgerald reckons that even if its is accepted that public servants have higher educational qualifications they are still on average paid 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts.

There’s more. Add to that another factor, that private sector wages are often low. And a further factor. The lack of provision in the private sector in relation to occupational pensions.
Then Collins takes a further swerve… he argues that unions are painting their members as the ‘most serious victims’ of the crisis. Not sure that’s correct. But…it gets worse:

Its seems that just as in the Brexit referendum in the UK or the Donald Trump election campaign in the United States, facts don’t matter.
If something is repeated often enough and loudly enough it is taken to be true by those who have a vested interest in its acceptance or those gullible enough to be swayed by the empty rhetoric.

I find that frankly absurd. And interestingly Collins notes implicitly that public sympathy is a lot more with than against PS workers later in the piece (I wonder did he have advance warning of the sort of polling that was seen in the latest RedC/SBP polls where fully two-thirds support PS wage increases?):

Despite this the public service unions are managing to successfully portray their members as the most serious victims of the economic crisis who deserve pay “restoration” in full.

And:

When key public servants like gardaí, doctors and nurses go on strike the public tends to blame the government of the day rather than the strikers for the disruption.

Surely not Stephen. How could any resist the arguments of the orthodoxy?

Interesting, but pointless? December 2, 2016

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The messing around with the electoral college.

A teenager from Washington state has become the seventh person to indicate that she will break ranks with party affiliation and become a “faithless elector” in an attempt to prevent Donald Trump being formally enshrined as president-elect when the electoral college meets on 19 December.
Levi Guerra, 19, from Vancouver, Washington, is set to announce that she is joining the ranks of the so-called “Hamilton electors” at a press conference at the state capitol in Olympia on Wednesday.

Begrudgery? December 2, 2016

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Brian Keegan in the Tax Take column in the SBP is no fan of Capital Acquisitions Tax. No fan at all. For him it is “a heartless encroachment by the state into a family bereavement” no less.

He argues that:

Inheritance tax concerns are a needless source of stress of the elderly, and a heartless…etc… Such encroachment might be justified if inheritance taxes collected a significant amount for the exchequer but they don’t.

Hmmm. Does he meant that? If they collected more than €400m (he admits this is during a time of depressed property prices, but hey, that isn’t going to be the case for ever) he’d be happy with it? I don’t think so.

He complains about complexity because it is calculated by the degree of relationship to the person receiving the gift or inheritance. Wouldn’t seem to me to be an insuperable issue, and I say that as someone who regularly files tax returns.

He then further complains that:

…the worst aspect of all inheritance tax is that it is the harshest form double taxation. People pay tax on their income throughout their lives, and use whatever’s left to buy a home, make investments, or perhaps put together some savings. Then they die and the state takes a further one third out of what they leave behind. The exempt thresholds on the value of estates, below which the tax doesn’t apply, do little more than put a veneer of fairness on the whole troublesome arrangements. We are finding just how thin that inner is, as asset values start to recover and people of modest means find themselves losing a third of their inheritances.

Doesn’t that directly contradict his earlier point re lack of take from the tax? And doesn’t that also get the dynamic entirely wrong. If one dies one cannot be ‘taxed’ in the sense he means. The tax isn’t on the person who dies, it is on the person who inherits through no effort of their own monies. How is that ‘double’ taxation?

What one suspects he wants, and he talks of ‘reform’ of CAT, is the abolition of it entirely, or to reduce it to nothing (he mentions applying the probate tax system, ‘a fixed levy on the value of estates’). As to begrudgery – I don’t begrudge the state taking a slice in the slightest, wouldn’t begrudge it taking more if I eventually inherit something – IIRC I’ve paid CGT on stuff on foot of someone’s death and never seen a reason to complain. I didn’t earn that money, I had no part in generating it, and of course I never want to see someone die simply so that I should I profit, why should I complain about what is indeed a gift (and by the by the thresholds for CAT aren’t exactly low).

This double taxation stuff about CAT is quite the rage these days, google it and you’ll find some neat rebuttals.

That Richmond By-Election December 2, 2016

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A victory by the LibDems over Zac Goldsmith who resigned his seat over the plans for a third runway at Heathrow and ran as an Independent. With Labour, Goldsmith and LibDems all against the Third runway it seems to have boiled down to Brexit.
Hard to know if its a new dynamic of pro and anti Brexit cooperation. Anti Brexit parties backed The LibDems whilst UKIP and the Tories backed Goldsmith. Labour were stuck in the middle.
We’ve seen anti government votes, tactical voting and so on before in the UK but will this signal a more concerted Brexit Battle?
LibDems standing aside where Labour have a chance to beat the Tories, LibDems and Labour standing aside to let the Greens take on UKIP /Tories and so on.
It will take another by-election or two in a different type of constituency to see if , for the moment anyway, Politics becomes about being pro and anti Brexit. Where does Labour fit into this?

Web woes… December 1, 2016

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CMK linked to this last week, a piece by Sam Kriss in the Atlantic on that odd and unlovable phenomenon, the Web Summit, now in voluntary exile in Lisbon. Guarded, no less, by police with automatic weapons as noted in this piece by the Atlantic. Ignore the first paragraph which is a bit overly decorative in its use of language and there’s some great stuff, as CMK notes, in it, not least this:

Across dozens of stages, various electrified prophets announce the coming of a new world. One is showing, through a chart of human population, that all of history prior to the Industrial Revolution, its wars and empires and art and thought, is entirely irrelevant; humanity learned its purpose in the 19th century, which is to innovate; more is always better.

I loathe that attitude. It consigns hugely complex human histories and prehistory to the scrap heap where only the novel is valued. Culture, philosophy, are as nothing. It also, and tellingly, ignores the sheer weight of human misery then – and as importantly and certainly more immediately now, that characterised life as humans on this planet in the past. And of course it is ahistorical nonsense. Human history has had many cul-de-sacs, but we are where we are, building upon that history for better or for worse.

But the author asks a pertinent question which demonstrates that the view described above is in its own way irrelevant.

For instance, what do any of the companies exhibiting at Web Summit actually do? Much of the conference space is given over to these start-up exhibitors; each of them gets a meter of wall and a plug socket for their laptop, along with a big sign in which they announce their ambitions in terms that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Having been to a sort of cousin of the Web Summit, trade fairs in various tech and electric industries – throughout the 90s and early 2000s I’ve more than a nodding acquaintance with that too. And this is spot on in relation to the absurd rhetoric around these phenomena:

It’s a strange kind of language, all modifiers bleached lifeless by cliché, employing the most grandiose terms (‘discover,’ ‘transformational,’ ‘revolution’) to describe what tends to be a new way of doing paperwork, spinning precariously on the edge of meaninglessness, but it’s still language.

And there’s another side too away from the hollow boosterism:

Among the companies that have a clearly comprehensible purpose, many are downright sinister. Something called InvoiceCapture “allows companies to collect debt efficiently without any human intervention needed,” conjuring the horrifying image of a robotic debt collector without conscience or emotion, a fully-automated social sadism running rampant over the world, beyond law, beyond responsibility, beyond hope. But possibly the worst of all was a firm called Tap My Back—Build Stronger Teams. “Boost workplace motivation with a simple employee-recognition software,” it announces. “It’s like saying ‘thank you’ but with badges and on a public feed.” Finally, something to relieve executives of the burden of having to personally thank their workers; finally, a way to discipline your workforce through a quantifiable and patronizing system of shame and reward; finally, the kindergarten gold-star method has been digitized and is ready to conquer the world.

Where does this leave us all, this absurd reification of the novel, of the empty, of a future where humans are secondary, if not indeed tertiary to requirements? How does any of this address increasing mechanisation of processes and the sidelining of labour – bar adding to that? What is it actually about? The author argues that with a tech bubble approaching and despite the heroic language of entrepreneurial endeavour much of this is froth, companies hoping to be bought out by others. But beneath that remarkably cynical aspect of it, what does it profit us?

Perhaps no surprise then that amongst the ‘special’ guests was…Bono.

After Jo Cox December 1, 2016

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Two disturbing reports in the Observer/Guardian this weekend. The first notes that:

More than 50,000 abusive and offensive tweets were sent celebrating Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder and lauding her killer, Thomas Mair, as a “hero” or “patriot” in the month following her death, prompting calls for the government to do more to tackle hate speech online.

According to researchers on the social media site, the tweets were sent from at least 25,000 individuals and have been interpreted by hate crime campaigners as a sign of an emboldened extreme rightwing support base.

This is of a piece with the sharp spike in hate crimes recorded in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. The murder of Jo Cox was in part a result of Brexit. It is a measure of the sheer scale of Brexit and other events that that murder has in some respects been diminished or sidelined.

But what of this if one is attempting to understand the nature of the current discourse?

Only two British newspapers failed to feature a picture of Jo Cox on their front pages today, as the terrorist killer of the MP was jailed: the Financial Times and the Daily Mail.

And:

So what happened at the Mail? And what does it say about that paper’s view of – and impact on – the UK’s political life that the verdict on the first murder of a sitting MP for 26 years can be relegated so far inside its pages?

The story about Mair’s sentence came after a full 17 pages welcoming the verdict of an “upbeat chancellor” confounding those dastardly “remain doom-mongers”. In the pages that followed this autumn statement coverage came news reports about “laughing migrants”, photos of a bikini-clad model taking a shower and the headline news that Santa is not real. They also featured a full-page column asking why leftwing comics laugh at the Queen.

When today’s Mail finally gets to the verdict on Mair, the main headline points out that he “wanted to kill his own mother”, while the secondary story asks: “Did neo-Nazi murder Jo over fear he’d lose council house he grew up in?”

As the Guardian notes, someone observer that even in death the Mail managed to imply immigration was a cause of her death. But Cox’s death is an inconvenient truth, for here was the expression of the furies that the Mail and others had unleashed across decades. Read the list of comments tweeted, the terms used, the ““hero”, “patriot”, “white power”, “rapists” and “traitor”.” and so on. They didn’t come from nowhere. They were a result of a campaign of propaganda as insidious as it was long lasting. And extensive too, covering a broad range of areas far beyond Brexit – anti-state and anti-left amongst them.

And the Mail and others will neatly step aside from any responsibility for what happened, or indeed what is yet to happen. Note how even with the British government admitting last week that the costs of Brexit were smashing a hole through financial forecasts the Mail talked about ‘remain doom-mongers’. How bad would matters have to get before they could admit to simply being wrong? To ask the question is perhaps to misunderstand the dynamic. There is no point they could admit to such. Their beliefs aren’t founded on the actual or rooted in the everyday. What happens is merely a backdrop, their position secure above the fray that they themselves have initiated.

More vermin the lot of them.

No plan, no direction, not a lot of hope of a positive outcome… December 1, 2016

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I don’t agree with William Keegan calling for the Brexit referendum to be overturned, though I do think that a second referendum on the terms arrived at is reasonable. But he’s not far wrong in arguing that no one in the UK has a plan for Brexit. In fairness to him he may have changed his mind since holding that line. But, all that said, it really is astounding how unprepared those forces who called for a referendum, initiated it and proposed the idea of exit actually were in terms of the basic aspects of how a Brexit might be achieved.

And it’s interesting to hear Diane Abbott – who is a strong part of the Corbyn camp, and Keegan often comes across as old, for which read pre neoliberal Labour himself – articulating a line almost identical to his when he says:

Unfortunately, there is a timing problem. One suspects that when the true implications of Brexit become apparent in higher prices, squeezed incomes and an aggravation of austerity, large numbers of Leave voters will have second thoughts. The tragedy is that a lot of damage will have been done by then.

Abbott argues:

She also suggested that parts of the country dependent on the EU for business but in which people voted overwhelmingly for Brexit were “incrementally beginning to wonder whether they did the right thing”.

“I think there’s a little bit of Bregret, and because the Tories don’t have a plan, because their approach is so chaotic, I think we’ll see more Bregret as time goes on,” she said.

She also makes a very valid point:

Labour will not win a general election if it lurches to the right to become “Ukip-lite”, Diane Abbott has said, as she called on her party to hold its nerve over the issue of immigration.

I’ve mentioned before how loathsome it is to see some on the Labour right (and not just there) attempt to assuage what they perceive as sentiment in favour off jettisoning freedom of movement (though it is worth noting that there may not be much choice given that the UK is unlikely to want to sign up to other aspects of this – at least a UK where the Tories are leading the negotiations).

One other point of Keegan’s is well made:

But Robert Chote and his colleagues at the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] did not get where they are today without possessing a lot more sense and judgment that the Brexiters who have landed us in this mess. These are Brexiters who are so bereft of common sense that they argue departure from the EU will free this once-great nation to be able to trade with China, India, Australia and the rest of the world, as if we did not trade with them already.

Ah, they say, but freed from the constraints of the EU we shall be able to do even better. Tell that to Germany: an economy that, allegedly constrained by the EU, seems to fare a lot better in world markets than we do.

It is quite mad to read the sort of stuff emanating from Tory and UKIP Brexit proponents whose grasp on international trade appears shaky, to put it mildly.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series December 1, 2016

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A new month, and thankfully November is behind us. So, what to look forward to for December?

The ‘dead cat’ of water charges December 1, 2016

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…sure, and fascinating to see FG stumbling as far away from the corpse as is humanly possible, but whose cat was it? One would never think they’d been instrumental in their introduction.

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