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How matters may stand in eight weeks… September 17, 2019

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A no-deal Brexit? The effects for this island? Messy.

A European ‘way of life’? September 17, 2019

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Not sure I fully agree with this analysis. Daniel Trilling in the Guardian, correctly in my view, argues that there’s something noxious about ‘the incoming president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to unveil a new role on Tuesday: vice-president for protecting the European way of life.’
And what is the ‘European way of life’? Attempting to define it demonstrates how impossible it is to answer that question.

But I think Trilling over-stretches in the following:

It is nationalism, not populism or an “anti-establishment” feeling among voters, that poses the greatest threat in Europe – and it is a problem that cuts across the political spectrum. As the sociologist Sivamohan Valluvan argues in a thought-provoking new book, Europe is experiencing its third historic surge of nationalism…Nationalism is an inherently exclusionary ideology, argues Valluvan, in which political community is always defined in opposition to “alien” outsiders, however much we might wish it otherwise.

And:

But it can take many forms. Alongside the conservative nationalism of the right, which emphasises tradition, religion or ethnicity, there are liberal nationalisms that can be just as powerful and as exclusionary. Think of the way that British governments, from the 1990s on, have made a forceful distinction between deserving and undeserving migrants: for instance, in policing access to the welfare state. Or of the way in which supposedly European values of tolerance and free speech are deployed in order to stigmatise outsiders who, for religious or cultural reasons, are assumed not to share them.

Those are some fairly massive generalisations about nationalism. I can think of the SNP immediately, or even SF, as examples of nationalist formations that have eschewed precisely that approach across the years. Sure, SF is republican as well, but the point stands.

Moreover I’m always struck by those who seem to think that say, British Labour or continental conservative parties aren’t somehow ‘nationalist’. Those with long memories will consider that 1914 disabused most of us of the idea that nationalism is embedded within nations and indeed the left.

Indeed the term ‘nationalist-right’ seems to me to be a better definition of the dynamics he is describing.

Curiously Trilling takes a different route again in the following:

Since the Brexit referendum, the EU, especially among liberals, has often been held up as the antidote to nationalism. Yet for all its laudable aims – and its successes in reducing conflict between states – it plays host to its own, pernicious kind of civilisational chauvinism, one that draws a rigid line between “Europe” and neighbouring regions to the south and the east. The long history of ideas about European superiority, and the racist logic through which they were enforced, cannot be ignored here. We all know that “European” is often still used as a synonym for “white people”. Indeed, when Von der Leyen proclaimed that her new commissioners would be “as diverse as Europe is”, noting their gender balance and range of national backgrounds, she seemed not to notice that all of them were white.

None of this is wrong, but it is perhaps attempting to bring together radically different phenomena.

Europe can only be a very shallow short-hand for the very diverse populations that live on this part of the continent. But Europe isn’t a nation and a European ‘nationalism’ doesn’t come close to existing. Indeed the complexity is such that those who adhere most closely to Europeanism tend to the opposite, and are enthused by the multiplicity of nations working together. That can be starry eyed nonsense in its worst iteration, but a more sober approach incorporating that is no unpositive. For an example of very real movements of people I can point to no better examples than those who we see in this state, or those of us who have moved across Europe to various points. That there are contradictions in regard to those outside the EU is unquestionable – but it is also worth keeping in mind that it was precisely those flows within the EU that have been used by the English far-right and nationalist-right to gain support.

And I’ve puzzled over the following and still am no clearer as to what he means:

It is understandable that people in Britain might feel there are more pressing issues than appointments in Brussels. But the rightwards drift of the commission has an important connection to our own arguments about Brexit. The question of the UK’s future relationship with the EU has to be more than a choice between fighting to remain within an unchanged Fortress Europe, or leaving to create our own Fortress Britain instead.

Is that the question, is that the choice? I’ve never heard or read it defined as such. Anything but. In reality Brexit means that the UK will leave an area where the citizens of 27 nations are able to largely move at will across its expanse.

Losing working conditions as against wages… September 17, 2019

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Long argued that the wrong tack entirely was taken during and after the crisis in relation to union negotiations – perhaps starting with some of those negotiations, but also the remarkable willingness of unions to negotiate away hard-fought for benefits for workers. Take this prime example from the Haddington Road Agreement of 2013.

New middle-ranking civil servants have lost a claim to be entitled to similar flexi-leave arrangements as longer-serving colleagues.
The Civil Service Arbitration Board has recommended assistant principal officers appointed after July 1st, 2013 should not have a right to accrue and take leave under flexible working arrangements as sought by their trade union.
In a ruling on a dispute between the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Board said no concession should be made for the reintroduction of flexi-leave for such civil servants.

My feeling at the time was that wage cuts could and should have been pushed back against sharply and consistently, but that simultaneously the removal of such work practices was likely going to be a much longer fought struggle.

And the Dáil returns September 17, 2019

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It is going to be revealing to see how a variety of matters are treated there from the continuing shambles of Brexit – where the EU has stated that the UK has still to offer ‘viable Brexit proposals’ through to no-deal Brexit plans.

Not sure how to read Johnson eschewing participating in the press conference with Xavier Bettel, PM of Luxembourg. On one level it is a clear evasion public scrutiny, and one might think that would play badly with those who believe in the new ‘buccaneering’ Britain. On the other perhaps it feeds into the self-pitying world view of that same cohort? Though even the Telegraph’s Michael Deacon noted that (in light of Johnson’s abysmal Incredible Hulk rhetoric of the weekend):

My favourite episode of The Incredible Hulk is the one where a small group of people shouted too loudly so he ran away.

Electronic counting? September 16, 2019

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Very educative Your Politics podcast on RTÉ recently which looked at electronic voting and the attempt in the early 2000s to introduce it in the Republic. As has been now well proven, such voting systems are far from impervious to manipulation. However, Edel McAllister, who was adamantly opposed to electronic voting, did raise the Scottish example where electronic counting is a feature. Her own opinion was that such a move would be a pity as she’d miss the tallies – but what do people think about that approach?

Those ‘alternative arrangements’… September 16, 2019

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Katy Hayward, reader in sociology in QUB and senior fellow of UK in a Changing Europe and a member of the Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group has produced this, a 16 page overview of alternative arrangements. The idea is that this provides a ‘framework for analysis’ but reading it one may well feel that many, many problems are raised just in detailing the supposed alternatives…
To take but one example:

First, a general exemption from customs procedures and reporting for small/micro enterprises trading below the VAT threshold has been proposed


But:

It is worth noting key problems that need to be addressed were this to be offered as a potential alternative arrangement to the backstop:
5.5.1. The assumption behind this proposal is that there is a ‘low risk’ arising from small cross-border transactions. The question immediately arises, however: what is the risk? Is it fiscal, regulatory, health, phytosanitary, economic, illegal immigration, security? Any such risk would be dealt with differently and should be viewed on different scales. And, secondly, how is it assessed to be ‘low’ and against what measures?
5.5.2. Secondly, the assumption that low risk is associated with small cross-border transactions is belied by the scale of the exemption. If it relates to 94% of all those businesses from NI trading, and to 47% of the value of all exports from NI to ROI [Republic of Ireland], then it cannot be considered to be of low risk from a wide number of perspectives, as noted above.
5.5.3. Thirdly, such an approach would incentivise non-compliance, not just in VAT and customs areas, but across all tax heads and other regulatory requirements.

There’s more in that specific instance, and more broadly in the other areas addressed. So, technological fixes?

6.4. It needs to be acknowledged that any alternative arrangements relying primarily on advance cargo information will require a level of data sharing and analysis that is currently not known anywhere in the world when it comes to crossing a land border. This is because at other land borders, the default position can be to deny entry; in the case of the post-Brexit Irish border, entry will be (be by? default) unopposed. The question then arises: why would a business submit the necessary detailed information? Incentive to comply needs to be paramount if any alternative arrangements system based on addressing this particular cornerstone of border management is to work.

But wait – there are so many elements to such fixes, that each requires outlining in detail – technologies that ‘can be used to confirm when a vehicle (or potentially a container or item on that vehicle) crosses a particular point at a particular time’ or that ‘can be used to verify information submitted’ or for ‘facial recognition’ and so on. But Hayward outlines the problems with each of these.

In total it makes the quest for ‘alternative arrangements’ look misguided at best.

Not so close encounter with an asteroid… September 15, 2019

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Was entertained by the reports in the news media this weekend about a close encounter with asteroid 2000 QW7.

A huge asteroid up to five times as tall as Dublin’s Spire will pass by Earth tonight, scientists have said.

Asteroid 2000 QW7 is between 300 and 600 metres long, according to NASA data, but it poses no danger.

Indeed. So how close will it pass by the Earth?

It will fly by around five million kilometres from Earth at 23,000/km/h, according to NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.

Just to put that in perspective that is:

…around 14 times the distance between the Earth and the moon

There’s a serious point here though, that there are asteroids that pass closer, much closer to the Earth. As wiki notes:

Scientists estimate that several dozen asteroids in the 6–12 m (20–39 ft) size range fly by Earth at a distance closer than the moon every year, but only a fraction of these are actually detected.[1][2]

And were some of those to impact…

For comparison, the 1908 Tunguska event was caused by an object about 60–190 m (200–620 ft) in size, while the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor which injured thousands of people and buildings when it generated a large airburst over Russia was estimated to be just 20 m (66 ft) across.

And:

The table shows about 14 events in the 12 decades of 1900-2020 involving a body with an upper size estimate of 100 m (330 ft) or more making a close approach to Earth within one LD, with one (the Tunguska object) making impact.

Maria Walsh FG MEP, interviewed… September 15, 2019

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Jason O’Toole in the Mirror talks to Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh.

What’s telling is how little policy appears to exercise her. The big issues of the day hardly get a mention… she’s all about walking the Camino, and making it clear she ‘went to Mass every day’ the first time she did it but ‘was unable to do so on this occasion on the more isolated route’.

And:

As a lesbian, Maria said she is not happy about the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage.

She added: “But if you’re not in the pews then it’s very hard to make a statement then, isn’t it? And I get more out of the Church than what some people do. It just makes sense for me.”

And politics?

[she] acknowledged there couldn’t be a worse time to be starting out as a new MEP with Brexit looming.

Asked for her thoughts on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, she said: “I think he’s out of touch with reality.

“The question needs to be asked to the people again and I think you’d get a different outcome.

“I think when you’re quite blase and jovial with your wording, particularly around the peace process, my feelings of confidence in somebody lessens and that’s where he sits rights now.”

And that, bar a cursory mention of the election date, is her done. Is this the new politics?

Sunday and other Media Stupid Statements September 15, 2019

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Helen Thomas, Tory advisor, in the IT, during the week, argues in a piece lauding Johnson’s tactical and strategic skills that:

If the UK will not impose a border, then it will be up to Ireland to decide how to maintain the integrity of the single market. Rather than the Border being a weapon that forces the UK to choose between the union and the EU, it will instead force Ireland to choose between the UK and the EU.

At this late stage, does she really believe that?

Speaking of belief, does the author of the following genuinely believe that comments on television and radio reports carry the almost inexorable weight he seems to assign to them?

Last Tuesday, Bertie Ahern was equally emphatic – there could be no unilateral solution to the backstop that did not involve the majority of unionists.

Proof of the power of pluralist words came swiftly from Jeffrey Donaldson on RTE News that night.

“I welcome very much the comments today by the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin, and by the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I think they were very significant comments, recognising that unionists have valid concerns that need to be addressed… and I think these comments were very helpful.”

Though there’s this that the same correspondent seems to think is gold, despite the words of numerous PSNI and NI civil servants about the dangers of a resumption of violence:

Henry McDonald, correspondent with The Guardian, author of Two Souls, a dark but hilarious novel about Belfast in the 1970s, spoke to Hot Press.

He was caustic about how media opponents of Brexit were bigging up the dissident threat.

“People are dishonestly ramping up the Brexit effect, saying, ‘We’re going back to war’. No, we’re f**king not. It’s insulting. I find some journalists the worst offenders.”

And then on to a degraded public discourse on both this island and the one to the east… for example a sitting TD said the following this week:

But if you watch the news and you listen, and even our Taoiseach three weeks ago said he’d take in an extra 200, eh what do you call, migrants from Africa – these are economic migrants.

“These are people that are coming over here from Africa to… to sponge off the system here in Ireland.

And there’s this contribution from the UK:

On Boris Johnson’s comments that Britain will break out of EU like The Incredible Hulk, Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said: “The Hulk was a winner and was extremely popular and I’d rather be backing a character and a leader who is The Hulk rather than one who is on the chicken run as Jeremy Corbyn is.”

Felines… September 15, 2019

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Read this the other day about the ‘science of stroking a cat’ by Lauren Finka, of Nottingham Trent University. Thought this sensible.

Whether cats make good “fur babies”, then, is very debatable. Lots of cats do like being touched, but lots probably don’t – and many tolerate it at best. Ultimately though, when it comes to cats, it’s important to respect their boundaries – and the wildcat within – even if that means admiring their cuteness from afar.

I like cats, but the idea they are ‘fur babies’ kind of grates on me. Particularly since having two cats in the house – courtesy, I kid you not, of LeftAtTheCrossroads, for which I am very grateful – it is difficult to feel that sort of sentimentality about them. One is a friendly creature, much given to patrolling the neighbourhood and vanishing for the night while doing so. He returns to eat and sleep before commencing the patrols again. The other is more inclined to spend time in the house, but allied to that she is a fantastic hunter, almost too good. In the last couple of weeks alone she has delivered a number of dismembered pigeons to the back door and I found her at the weekend batting a small and very terrified mouse around with the sort of enthusiasm I hope I never see replicated in a human. Fur baby seems almost demeaning as a term for creatures who are excellent predators.

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