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MEP Childers resigns from Labour


Labour MEP Nessa Childers has written to Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore confirming her resignation from the party.

She says Labour is allowing Fine Gael to pursue endless austerity policies which go against the party’s core values.

“The policy of austerity is discredited in Europe and, increasingly, at home,” she wrote, saying those policies are a “profoundly immoral way to run our country”.

Ms Childers said she had increasingly found herself discouraged and prevented from advocating a distinctive social democratic position within the Labour party.

“While I have remained constant in my views, the Labour leadership has drifted away from a progressive policy approach,” she wrote.

“My attitude is vilified as disloyal or opportunistic when, in fact, I am defending and promoting the party’s core values.”

She said a “low point” for her was feeling abandoned by the party leadership for opposing the appointment of Kevin Cardiff to the EU Court of Auditors.

Ms Childers says she’ll run in next year’s European elections as an independent candidate within the European Socialists and Democrats Group.

The MEP for Leinster resigned from the Labour Parliamentary Party in April.

via MEP Childers resigns from Labour | Irish Examiner.

Keynes, Balls, Austerity, and what Voters Deserve


Well Ed, Keynes might not have been on side..

Ed Balls’ recent announcement that Labour would prepare its Shadow Budget within Coalition spending limits came less than two weeks after the IMF urged George Osborne to slow the pace of cuts.

So why did the Shadow Chancellor meekly abandon his position just as it received tacit endorsement from an organisation that was hitherto austerity’s biggest cheerleader?

Keynesians were flummoxed. However, for all Balls’ indignation over austerity, Labour’s previous prescription was really just austerity-lite: they were still going to cut, just a bit more slowly.

Balls has recognised his limited room for manoeuvre. With the UK having lost its prized AAA credit rating in February, a slowdown in the pace of cuts – never mind a net spending boost – may ultimately increase the cost of borrowing and balloon the deficit further still.

The name of Keynes has been invoked by the Left to damn the austerity drive across Europe, while the Right ripostes that imprudence during the boom left the finances too fragile to countenance more stimulus spending.

Often overlooked is the fact that Keynes preached fiscal constraint in the boom times to leave a budgetary surplus to draw on when the economy contracts: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity,” he wrote 76 years ago.

Achieving a tri-partisan compact to pursue such policies seems a forlorn hope if you subscribe to the axiom that voters tend to vote for parties that spend heavily during boom times but lurch rightwards when the economy nosedives.

The rise of fascism is often cited as exhibit A: European trends have often supported this theory. With the debt contagion threatening to engulf the Eurozone, a wave of Rightist victories left only Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Slovenia of 27 member states with left-leaning governments by 2011.

The election of François Hollande in France and electoral breakthrough of Leftists in Greece has reversed the polarity somewhat, but we’re a long way from 2007 when 10 left-of-centre administrations held power in the Eurozone.

The undeniable hardening of opinion against benefit ‘scroungers’ amid the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1930s further validates the theory that voters grow less receptive to social justice narratives when their own economic situation deteriorates.

But people don’t simply become hard-hearted.

Swing voters – because most voters are solidly right- or left-leaning regardless – often vote for parties whose spending patterns mirror their own when income rises or falls.

But it’s counterproductive, cry the Keynesians, for the state to emulate a private household’s eminently sensible approach. Cut spending on eating out by £100 a month and a household saves precisely £100 a month. Income is entirely unaffected.

Between government spending and income, however, there’s a feedback loop, the so-called ‘paradox of thrift’: slash public spending and you put people out of work, thus increasing the benefits bill and reducing income tax receipts. Rising unemployment reduces consumer demand and fewer public-sector contracts are available to private businesses – again stunting growth and reducing the tax take.

Perhaps, then, swing voter should defy their intuition and vote in governments that implement countercyclical spending policies – so parties of the right to ‘fix the roof when the sun is shining’ and then of the left to cushion the crash.

Canada, which turned a budget deficit of 9 percent of GDP into a surplus in just three years following a humiliating ratings downgrade in 1992, represents a good case study for countercyclical spending. Scarred by the early 90s recession, there was a bipartisan consensus to avoid deficits, so the Canadians were better equipped for stimulus spending when the 2008 crash hit. Canada has created more than 600,000 jobs since the slump.

Perhaps European governments should practice what they preach to Northern Rock and RBS, who are forced to keep greater reserves of capital to act as a safety buffer during unforeseen events. “When you have an extra kidney, you don’t have to predict the source of harm – whether it’s going to be a snake or cancer or whatever,” said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, on Radio Four last year.

“Likewise if you have a lot of savings, you don’t have to predict the cause of the next crisis. But if you have debt, you need to be very accurate in your forecast of the future.

“To emulate nature, we could just say we don’t want government debt […] we want a surplus in the good years. It is completely immoral to stick your descendents […] with the cost of your mistakes. Even if debt is economically efficient, you’re not bearing the risk.”

Increased spending during downturns and retrenchment amid booms would surely result in a more serene economic cycle; lower peaks, sure, but shallower troughs too.

It seems an impossible utopia. Across Europe policymakers have coalesced behind a consensus that deficit reduction should trump growth spending. Meanwhile, the Tories berate Labour for its profligacy during the boom times, forgetting conveniently how David Cameron had promised before the crash to “share the proceeds of growth” between tax cuts and spending rises – which surely would have resulted in a similarly huge deficit.

It seems that neither the Tories nor Labour have the stomach to challenge voters’ understandable instincts over state spending, whether its indulgence of largesse in the good times or approval of self-defeating austerity in the bad.

One can hardly blame them: had the Tory Party advocated punitive cuts between 1997 and 2007 their trio of General Election defeats would surely have been far heavier.

In that sense, when it comes to boom and bust, it’s neither the fault of Labour nor the Conservatives – we, as voters, sort of get the economy we deserve.

That said, the correlation between voting patterns and the state of the economy doesn’t consistently fit this model if you examine UK electoral history.

Labour governments were elected during the 1930-34 and 1973-76 recessions, although the early 80s downturn ushered in Margaret Thatcher and the Tories also presided over the next contraction, between 1990-1993. The 2010 General Election, the first since the 2008 financial crash, again returned a Conservative Prime Minister, albeit the Tories failed to win a majority despite the incumbent Labour administration having presided over the worst slump since the 1930s.

Winston Churchill is often quoted – falsely, it transpires – as saying:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

You might also tell swing voters that if they don’t lean right during a boom and left during a bust then they’re fuelling a boom and bust cycle (a less catchy saying, I know).

via Keynes, Balls, austerity, and what voters deserve – The Commentator.

Austerity Today- Austerity Won’t Work if the Roof Is Leaking


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 Austerity Won’t Work if the Roof Is Leaking


New York Times
Hasn’t Germany been one of the most outspoken advocates of fiscal austerity after the financial crisis? Yes, and that’s not a contradiction. Fiscally responsible businesses routinely borrow to invest, and so, until recently, did most governments 
See all stories on this topic »

 

Anxious, austerity-minded, but worldly: the young Britons of Generation A
The Guardian
This is Generation Y, born between the 1980s and the millennium, hammered by the recession andausterity. Generation Y faces more years of financial slowdown, but what is to become of the cohort following in its footsteps, arguably moving through an 
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Labour and the Tories’ woes show our political system is breaking apart
New Statesman
On the other side of the political aisle, activists from the People’s Assembly Against Austerity don’t think much of Labour either. One of their luminaries, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, spelled out why in his Staggers piece last week, berating 
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Potential Mistakes (Wonkish)
New York Times (blog)
Understating output gaps leads to excessive demands for austerity and excessive complacency at central banks; this perpetuates the depression; and the longer the depression goes on, the more misleading the standard estimates become. So it’s good news 
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Municipal workers protest in Greece over government layoff plans
Press TV
Greece has been at the epicenter of the eurozone debt crisis and is experiencing its fifth year of recession, while harsh austerity measures have left about half a million people without jobs.” Greek municipal employees have held demonstrations against 
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Calls for a 5pc rise in welfare cash for our poorest OAPs
Herald.ie
Age Action Ireland says the cumulative impact of a series of austerity budgets is having a devastating impact on our senior citizens. The advocacy group has pleaded with the Government, particularly Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, to include a 
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Bulgaria’s president calls for early elections amid mass anti-government protests
The Province
The government of Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski took office after the May 12 early elections following the resignation of his predecessor Boiko Borisov amid antiausterity protests. The appointment of controversial media mogul Delyan Peevski as head 
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Teen ‘lying on the road for an hour’ in wait for ambulance
Irish Independent
AUSTERITY measures are to blame for leaving a 14-year-old girl lying on the road awaiting an ambulance for more than an hour, the union representing HSE ambulance drivers claims. Also in this section. Robinson at festival · Dissident arms haul is 
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Social Justice Ireland wants Govt to increase pension payments
Irish Examiner
Cuts to income and services have left pensioners at breaking point, it was claimed today. Age Action warned Government that the cumulative impact of multiple austerity budgets was having a severely damaging effect on the most vulnerable of older people.
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The withering of America’s exception agriculturelle
Financial Times
Lacking the money for a proper stimulus and the time to wait for the healing power of austerity, Europe’s leaders have pinned their economic hopes on trade with the US. Negotiations on the proposed transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which 
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Ipsa: MPs’ role in our democracy ‘should be recognised’
Telegraph.co.uk
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) chairman Sir Ian Kennedy admitted that theausterity being felt by the country made its review of MPs’ salaries and pensions tougher, but said that the role MPs play in a democratic system means they 
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China: luxury dining goes mid market
Financial Times (registration) (blog)
There is plenty of room for skepticism about whether Beijing’s latest austerity drive will have any lasting impact on the per capita consumption of Lamborghinis by government officials. But in one area it clearly has had a marked effect: luxury dining.
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Italian austerity drive forces Vatican to pay more property tax
BusinessGhana
More ». Italian austerity drive forces Vatican to pay more property tax. News Date: 5th July 2013. The Vatican said Thursday it had to pay an extra 5 million euros (6.5 million dollars) in property tax last year as a result of austerity measures 
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The politics of abortion


The tactical astuteness of Fine Gael TDs opposed to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is impressive. Rather than confront Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a single, explosive challenge to his leadership, they have eked out their resistance in the hope of securing legislative amendments or, at least, the prospect of early party forgiveness. By staggering their challenge, they have sought to minimise the offence created. Any doubt has been removed by already expelled individuals who insist they are not members of a cabal and who aspire to represent Fine Gael in the future. While the Bill is being debated, the scale of eventual opposition remains uncertain. On the basis of a recent Irish Times opinion poll, which showed general Fine Gael support for legislation at 79 per cent and opposition at 16 per cent, the defecting deputies could number between six and nine. Public opinion, however, is not always reflected in the pattern of Dáil voting. The tyranny of the party whip and the prospect of expulsion and career damage are powerful conditioning factors while, on the other hand, a free vote encourages outside interests to apply pressure and for TDs to engage in vote-poaching at constituency level. How else to explain the Fianna Fáil vote? Party leader Micheál Martin showed a deal of courage when he spoke in favour of the Government Bill and said it would provide necessary protection for the lives of women and fulfil Constitutional and international requirements. Having secured a free vote, however, his colleagues opted for traditional opposition tactics and 13 out of 19 voted against the measure. If opinion within Fianna Fáil is taken as a template, no more than four TDs should have rejected the Bill on the grounds of conscience. Their actions appear to have been an attempt to target unhappy Fine Gael, Labour Party and Sinn Féin voters while, at the same time, signalling concern with Mr Martin’s style of leadership. Willie O’Dea was quick to declare his support for Mr Martin, even as he struggled to explain his position on the legislation. A Second Stage vote is normally regarded as being on the principles of a Bill. Mr O’Dea supported the principles of the Bill but voted against it, explaining that if a review clause was introduced at a later stage he might change his mind. An equally unconvincing approach was adopted by European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton and by a number of her Fine Gael colleagues. They rejected the principles underlying the Bill but voted for it on the grounds that it might be amended. Support for this legislation is remarkably uniform across all political parties. When Catholic Church pressure failed to ramp up Fine Gael defections, a majority of Fianna Fáil TDs went in search of disaffected voters. It’s what drives politics.

Via

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/oireachtas/the-politics-of-abortion-1.1451645

Irish government to impose austerity until 2020


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The Fine Gael-Labour coalition in Dublin is currently discussing a proposal from Finance Minister Michael Noonan, which imposes austerity budgets until 2020.

Although the programme has not yet been published, government officials have made clear that its purpose is to intensify the spending cuts under the bailout agreed with the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund after the programme expires later this year.

Referring to the dictates of the troika, which have ensured the implementation of a large part of the more than €28 billion of austerity measures since 2008, Noonan said, “When we leave the programme we won’t have that kind of discipline within our system any more and I want to make sure that, because of more loose arrangements, that we don’t lose impetus.”

Specific savings are expected to be outlined by the proposal, and fiscal targets will be included. Spending ceilings for the coming three years are to be presented in the 2014 budget, which will be announced in October.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, like Noonan a member of Fine Gael, was explicit that the government’s strategy would be to step up the downward pressure on labour costs in order to build a “competitive economy.”

“There isn’t a crock of gold that you can dip into and create an alternative to building sound enterprises that are oriented to export markets and who sell innovative products,” he proclaimed.

The Labour Party’s Public Sector Reform Minister Brendan Howlin is playing a leading role in slashing government spending. A letter was recently issued by him to each government department, detailing percentages of budgets to be cut in the years 2015 and 2016. These are thought to include annual savings of at least three percent in the budgets of the health and social protection departments. Other departments could face annual targets of five percent.

The state pension fund will be bled dry to offer incentives to foreign investors and private equity firms to come to Ireland. The Financial Times reported that the remaining six billion euros in the National Reserve Pension Fund would be used by the government to create a “co-investment” fund.

There has been hardly any public discussion on these new developments, which will condemn Irish working people to unending austerity for years to come. These policies will worsen the conditions of misery which already prevail, including an unemployment rate standing at 14 percent.

Essential to the enforcement of austerity is the full support of the trade unions, which the government can be assured of. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has been locked in talks with the coalition since February to reach an agreement to impose the latest round of savings on public sector workers. The successor to the no-strike Croke Park Agreement between government, employers and the unions, which expires next year, aims to save €1 billion by 2016.

The unions are currently trying to force through the Haddington Road Agreement in the face of widespread opposition among workers. In the first vote on the deal in April, a large majority of workers rejected it, including an overwhelming number of teachers, medical staff and emergency service workers.

The bureaucracy then entered new talks on a union-by-union basis in order to divide the emerging opposition. They accepted as good coin the claim from Howlin that the three year agreement would be the last time workers would be asked to sacrifice their wages and working conditions to pay for the collapse of the banks, even as he prepared to outline with Noonan proposals which will see austerity and labour market reforms continue for at least another four years thereafter.

The deal now being voted on by the public sector unions retains all of the cuts demanded by the government. It contains reductions to overtime pay, longer working hours, redeployment measures designed to cut numbers in the public sector, and the freezing of pay increments.

These measures will exacerbate the exploitation of workers who have suffered significant pay cuts since 2008. In the public sector, average wages have fallen by 14 percent, while in other economic areas it is even more. This has been an integral part of the drive by the ruling elite to permanently lower labour costs. According to one study, labour costs in Ireland fell between 2008 and 2012 by 8.4 percent.

On this basis, the Irish stock market is achieving its largest rally since the crisis. Stock values have more than doubled since a low point in early 2009, and companies are predicting that they will secure their biggest profits since that time. One trader bluntly pointed to the source of these renewed gains, telling Bloomberg, “We have to give Ireland credit for actually sticking to the reform programme and taking the levels of painful social adjustment that few countries in Europe have come close to.”

The continued expansion of profits is unsustainable, and there are already clear signs of the danger of another banking collapse. Last week, it was revealed that €3.5 billion of funds loaned to Allied Irish Bank during the near collapse of the banking system in 2008-09 would not be paid back to the state, but would be converted into preferential shares. One press article pointed out that this one move would see the state lose more money than the total savings it had planned in the 2014 budget.

The banks will likely require access to even more financial support from the government, another important factor driving the cuts. Noonan discussed this possibility at his last meeting with the IMF, in the event the banks fail stress tests scheduled for early 2014. The tests, initially planned for autumn 2013, have been pushed back amid concerns over the stability of the banks. Fitch released a report this week stating that “significant risks” still remain in the financial system.

In the absence of agreement within the European Union on allowing the EU’s bailout fund to lend directly to banks, Dublin would be faced with taking even more debt on to the state balance sheet in order to cover the capital requirements of the financial institutions, under conditions in which state debt is already greater than 120 percent of GDP.

In an ominous report released at the end of May which indicates the scale of the developing crisis, Ireland’s Central Bank pointed out that a total of €25.8 billion of mortgages were in arrears by more than 90 days, and small businesses had fallen behind with payments on loans totalling €10.8 billion. The banks have only €9.2 billion in capital to act as a buffer.

While the banks can expect to obtain full access to billions more in state resources, the latest figures point to a sharp rise in severe poverty. One in ten are suffering from food poverty, defined as an inability to afford a meat or vegetarian equivalent meal every other day, or having missed a meal over a period of two weeks because of money problems. The real number of those living under such circumstances is certainly much higher, since the figures from this report were collected in 2010. In a separate study, the Irish League of Credit Unions revealed that almost 50 percent of the population have to borrow money to meet the cost of basic bills.

via Irish government to impose austerity until 2020 – World Socialist Web Site.

Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics


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On Saturday 11th May, Labour Intercultural held an event on the Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics. This event came about when Remba Osengo, a member of the Labour Party in DunLaoghaire approached the group to organise a conference where ethnic minority community leaders could engage with the party and it’s public representatives.

Speaking at the event Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton noted the changes in her own constituency, Dublin West, over the past twenty years. She emphasised how Ireland has only a small fraction of time to adapt to a multi-ethnic population compared to countries such as Britain giving the examples of the UK and Germany where the process happened ‘over a 50-60 year period’.

The minister said there was room for improvement, but Ireland had done relatively well in absorbing the many new arrivals from different countries since the Celtic Tiger period. “Twenty years ago Ireland was very homogeneous,” she told the audience largely composed of ethnic community representatives.

Professor Bryan Fanning from UCD addressing the event said that members of ethnic minorities who wanted to stand for public office should root themselves in their local community. He added that people did not have to be full citizens to stand in local elections, and there have been some successes in that arena, such as Nigerian-born Rotimi Adebari, who became mayor of Portlaoise in 2007.

“Maybe they [members of minorities] need to be more vociferous in what they are asking for,” Professor Fanning said. He said Ireland was an interesting contrast in that it had “a society that is very diverse, and polity that is very monocultural.”

Dublin MEP Emer Costello, noted the number of new citizens since the the government had come into office and encouraged them to register to vote and to use their vote in referendums and elections. She said that

Dr Jaroslaw Plachecki, lecturer in social sciences at Dublin City University and editor of the Irish Polish Society Review, told the gathering that his experience of young Polish people in Ireland was that they knew practically nothing about the political process.

Also Speaking at the event was Solicitor Michelle Lee, who informed the audience of the employment law situation for immigrants.

Labour Intercultural will be holding similar events in the future and working with the elected representatives in the Labour Party to ensure that the issues of ethnic minorities are highlighted.

By Karen McCormack (Co-Chair 087 293 2828)

via Impact of Ethnic Minorities in Irish politics | Labour Blog | The Labour Party.

Opponents have a field day at country meeting of the rich and powerful – The Irish Times – Sat, Jun 08, 2013


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In the eyes of its most extreme enemies, the illuminati are not a creation of the author Dan Brown but, rather, a group of powerful people meeting this weekend in a luxury hotel in the English countryside. Now nearly 60 years old, the Bilderberg Group has been accused of being a secret, shadowy society controlled by the ultra-rich, intent on world domination.

Since Thursday, 130 senior business, political and legal figures have been enjoying the pleasures of the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, behind tight security. There, they are debating the need for more growth, “jobs [and] entitlement”, “nationalism and populism”, medical research trends and “the politics of the EU”. The topics also include “cyber warfare and the proliferation of asymmetric threats”, online education and “Africa’s challenges”.

No minutes are kept and no decisions will be made, they insist. Because of the privacy that surrounds it, “the participants are not bound by the conventions of office or by pre-agreed positions. As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights.”

Such declarations are exactly the problem for its opponents, who see the Bilderberg Group as a body free of democratic restraint, responsible for the Iraq War, airborne chemicals, cancer and privatisation.

Powerful people

Not all of its critics, however, delve into conspiracy-filled language, although, the Labour MP Michael Meacher argues, “These are 130 of the world’s most powerful people. This is not just intended to be a chat. This is intended to reach some decisions and we are not being told what they are.”

Meacher, a former minister under Tony Blair’s Labour government, criticised the presence of politicians such as the European Commission’s Manuel Barroso, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Labour’s Ed Balls, and, before them, his former leader, Tony Blair.

The list includes two Irish names: Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International, a long-time attender, and a former attorney general, Paul Gallagher, who has come every year since 2010. The head of Google, Eric Schmidt, is present, along with two directors of Facebook, Christine Lagarde of the IMF, and a string of bankers, including HSBC’s chief executive, Stuart Gallagher.

Jake Bexx, who says he is making a documentary on Bilderberg, became interested in it after he listened to “the conspiracy theories told to me by my tattoo artist. I used to believe in world government, the illuminati and all of that. I don’t any more; but they don’t tell us what goes on,” he says.

Two years ago, Bexx began a battle with the treasury to get information about the past attendance of George Osborne at Bilderberg meetings. “They eventually threw me a bone about his expenses,” says Bexx, “£350 for a flight to Switzerland. “I didn’t care about his expenses. I wanted information about what he was doing there.”

The treasury refused, citing a series of exemptions allowed for under freedom-of-information legislation, and on the grounds that it was “information relating to the formulation or development of government policy”.

The first Bilderberg meeting was held in 1954 following concerns about the “growing distrust of America which was making itself manifest in western Europe and which was paralleled by a similar distrust of western Europe in America”.

Propaganda was not needed, said one of its creators, Dr JH Retinger. “It was of far greater consequence to us to have mutual understanding and goodwill among men occupying the highest positions in the life of each country than to try to influence the man in the street directly,” he wrote in a 1956 note.

The choice of men, for it was then all men, was key: “The first essential is undoubtedly to have men of absolute personal and political integrity; the second, to have men of real international standing, or whose position in their own countries is such as to give them considerable influence.”

For years, conspiracy-filled accusations were of little import to the Bilderberg organisers, the rantings of a few without a platform since it was rarely reported on.

Things have changed a little: globalisation is increasingly under question, charges about the influences on politicians have become more common-place following scandals in the US and the UK. Fuelled by websites such as infowars.com and wearechange.net, Bilderberg has begun to enter a wider stream, even if it is still far from widespread public consciousness.

A PR company was appointed, though it says little. The attendance list has been published for some years, while a partial agenda for the gathering in the Grove hotel has been given out.

On a hill half a mile from the hotel there is a press encampment, where speakers rail against the group’s existence. Opponents include anti-austerity campaigners, old hippies and conservative libertarians such as Alex Jones of infowars.com. Jones is the star of the press camp, with his acolytes hanging on his every word. “We can’t let the ants stand up, that what’s they fear. Because if one does they might all stand up. And there are more of them,” he declaims through a bullhorn.

The campaigners are not united, however. One writer for an alternative media publication mocks a Guardian journalist for “your trivial little stories”.

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via Opponents have a field day at country meeting of the rich and powerful – UK News | Online Newspaper | The Irish Times – Sat, Jun 08, 2013.

Alan Shatter


He won’t resign because, as a member of Fine Gael, he is incapable of having done anything seriously wrong. The spirit of Paddy Donegan lives on.

But when one notes that;

(A) The gardai wanted to test him for drink-driving so they must have formed a suspiction about him.

(B) That he’s using an unconvincing excuse to explain why he didn’t take the breathalyser test. If you’ve enough puff to make long speeches in the Dail you can blow into a tube.

(C) He obviously invoked Dail privilege, there was no reason for him to mention where he was coming from otherwise.

I’d say on the balance of probabilities it looks like Shatter was in breach of the law on that day and weaselled out of it. Though we can’t know this for certain.

I’d hope that those who pounced on the ‘hypocrisy’ of Ming and Wallace will be as zealous about exposing the contradictions of Shatter’s stance.

For one thing his humbuggery about being so keen to stick the boot into political opponents because he wants to protect the good name of the Gardai rings a bit hollow given that (A) he dropped the Commissioner into the shit to save his own face and (B) his love obviously isn’t requited given that they’ve just dropped him into it.

He’s a petty little bully who wouldn’t be tolerated in office anywhere else. But let’s watch Gilmore and the Labour Party suck it up as they show their unlimited capacity to endure humiliation.

via They say the situation is… | The Cedar Lounge Revolution.

Decay and Ruin in Mrs. Thatcher’s England by TARIQ ALI


This interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by Die Presse in Vienna and appears in German in the paper’s Sunday edition.

What is Mrs Thatcher’s legacy?

Her legacy is clearly visible in the state of Britain today. It is essentially a story of decay and ruin: A small, post-imperial vassal state dependent on nostalgia and, more importantly, the United States to keep itself afloat. On the economy the Thatcherite model (astonishingly, still being praised by blind politicians in denial) was effectively the deindustrialization of the country, the purchase of working-class votes by squandering the monies that accrued from North sea oil and laying the foundations for a financialised economic model that exploded with the Wall Street crash of 2008. We live in a world where it is convenient to personalize politics. Thatcher obviously pushed through the measures required by capitalism with a raw and ruthless energy that was her very own. She was a great believer in appealing to the lowest common denominator, to the animal instincts that remain present in the psychological make-up of individuals regardless of their social origins.  Another politician could have done exactly the same things as she did using a less charged rhetoric. A number of old Conservatives were not shy in stating that their party had been taken over by English ‘poujadistes.’ She almost came a cropper. Had the Falklands war gone differently which it might have done if Pinochet’s dictatorship (pushed by Washington) had not backed Britain.

She outmaneuvered the once powerful Mineworker’s Union, forcing it to call a strike on her terms and then destroyed the union and in the process broke the back of a once powerful British labor movement. She had referred to the striking miners as the ‘enemy within’.  Even as she neutered the unions, she effectively destroyed the old Labour Party.  Thatcher’s favorite Chancellor of the Exchequer and cabinet colleague, Nigel Lawson, while reviewing a book in the Financial Times noted admiringly that the tragedy for the Tories was that Thatcher’s real heir was Leader of the Opposition.  Blair’s policies were little more than a continuation of her policies with better PR and an aggressive control of the media. Blair was less lucky with his wars. Iraq finished him off. He was exposed as a simple and straightforward liar. The Scottish writer, Tom Nairn, was accurate in his assessment: “Like other flotsam on the ‘no-alternative’ wave of the nineties, they think that the essence of ‘modernization’ is adjusting society to fit economic and technological advances. Which means serving such changes, via a machinery of collusion between government public relations, a compliant legal system and a servile press.’

With Murdoch dominating the press agenda thanks to Thatcher’s ‘generosity’, she sent her tank commanders to fire a few warning shots at the BBC. A reliable and appropriately named toady, Marmaduke Hussey, was catapulted on to the BBC board as chairman. His first task was to sack director general Alasdair Milne for “leftwing bias” and ‘not being one of us.’ Thatcher was livid that the BBC had permitted her to be grilled on the Falklands war on a live programme by an ordinary woman viewer from Bristol who successfully demolished the prime minister’s arguments. Hussey appointed a pliable Director-General in the shape of John Birt, a dalek without instincts or qualities, who transformed the BBC into the top-heavy managerial monster that it has become. When New Labour won, a New BBC was already in place. Blair and his spin doctors Campbell and Mandelson turned out to be even worse control freaks than Thatcher. Together with their subordinates, they regularly harassed producers complaining about what they perceived to be anti-government bias. Radio 4′s Today programme became a favourite Blairite target. Simultaneously they were crawling to Murdoch at regular intervals, hobnobbing regularly with the editors and staff of the Sun and happily inhaling the stench of the Murdoch stables.

What do you consider her biggest achievement?

I can’t think of any, but the English establishment would see the destruction of union power and the opposition party (Blair and his coterie Thatcherised the Labour Party as is obvious to this day) as an prerequisite to the privatization and marketisation of the country, with  private money enable to enter the hitherto hallowed domains of the public sector. This was their finest hour and just look at Britain today. The film-maker Ken Loach has suggested that her funeral should be privatised too and the highest corporate bid should take charge. Or, one could add, it could be sponsored by several firms with logos proudly displayed on the coffin.

What do you consider her biggest mistake?

Everything from neo-liberalism to wars. From her point of view she was supremely successful. Her legacy lives on, thanks to Blair and Brown, except insofar that she was a xenophobe and a racist as the Australian foreign minister reminded us this week. She told him don’t let Sydney become like Fiji. He was shocked since his Malaysian wife was standing next to him. Thatcher in her election campaigns used the phrase that she feared how ‘Britain was being swamped by immigrants’. This was when 2 percent of the population was non-white! Blair and Brown preached a bland multi-culturalism. But Cameron and Miliband have started off on immigration once again.

She proved to be as divisive in death as she had been in life. Has she permanently split British society in “haves” and “have-nots”, in winners and losers, in “wets” and “dries”, in “one of us” and “not one of us”?

She did not do so as an individual. A new course for British capitalism had already been agreed to by her party under Edward Heath. She implemented it and those who followed her went even further. British society is extremely divided but there is no reflection of this in the House of Commons. All three parties constitute the extreme-centre. The democratic process is under  great strain and all over Europe and North America.

How do you view the street parties celebrating her passing away?

Inevitable, but also a sign of despair. Had she been defeated politically and her TA_KL_MTlegacy reversed her death might have been ignored. But I always disliked the misogynism by sections of the left. ‘The Bitch is Dead’ makes one cringe.

Is the Britain we live in today “her” country in the sense that it is still shaped by her influence and legacy, and in the sense that she would recognise it as a country developing in a way and direction she would approve of?

Without any doubt, apart from Scotland. The Scots never voted for her, but whether they will have the courage to break from her successors and come out for an independent Scotland remains to be seen. I hope they do. It will shake up politics and open a new space in England as well.

Who is her true heir? Was it New Labour? Cameron’s Tories? UKIP?

Blair, Brown and Cameron make no secret of their admiration for her and her policies. If he’s in form, Blair might manage a few tears at the state funeral she is to be given next week. They’ll turn to millstones as they fall.  I hope, second-rate actor that he is,  he does. It will be very diverting.

What lessons can be drawn from her reign?

The 19th century poet, Shelley,  expressed well what needs to be done. Then , as now, the country is without a serious opposition.

Children of a wiser day;

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many, they are few.

Enoch Powell famously said that “all political careers end in failure”. Is this also true for Mrs Thatcher?  How will she be remembered?

I always regretted that her career ended via a putsch within her own party. She was seen by some as a martyr. It would have been far better for the country had she been defeated by the electorate, but her personal humiliation should not be confused with her political successes on behalf of the class that she represented. They, and those in their thrall, will always remember her with affection. And her opponents should heed Spinoza’s words: ‘Don’t laugh or cry, but understand.’

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

Via

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/12/decay-and-ruin-in-mrs-thatchers-england/

UK – NHS competition rules to be changed


The government has agreed to re-write controversial rules on contracting out in the NHS in England.

The regulations were published three weeks ago to provide guidance on how the NHS reforms should be implemented.

But critics had argued they would open up many more services to competition from private companies and could disrupt services for patients.

Health Minister Norman Lamb told MPs the wording of the regulations had “inadvertently created confusion”.

He said there would be no privatisation of the NHS and that competition was only a means to improving services not an end in itself.

The regulations were drawn up as previous guidance on the issue was set to be rendered obsolete because it applied to organisations that were being scrapped on 1 April.

But after they were laid before parliament concerns were voiced that they broke previous assurances from ministers about the extent to which competition was going to be used.

Continue reading the main story

Analysis

Nick Triggle

Health correspondent

If you read the 12 pages of regulations 257 governing NHS procurement, the first thing that strikes you is the contradictory nature of the clauses.

On the one hand the document talks about contracts only being awarded without competition for reasons of “extreme urgency” and treating all providers equally particularly on the “basis of ownership”.

Yet it also makes it clear that any changes need to ensure services are being provided in an integrated way and not against the best interests of patients.

It is hardly surprising this has caused confusion and concern. In less than a month’s time arguably the biggest overhaul in the history of the NHS will go live.

Ministers claim it is more cock-up than conspiracy. If that is so it begs the question how the regulations managed to make it to parliament drafted in the way they were given the controversy over the reforms as a whole.

Read more from Nick

‘Utter chaos’

Last week more than 1,000 doctors have written to the Daily Telegraph claiming the legislation makes “virtually every part” of the NHS open to private firms.

Then over the weekend the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges said it could cause “dangerous” fragmentation of health services.

Labour had also managed to secure a debate on the issue in the Lords. It was due to take place later in the month.

Mr Lamb acknowledged the concerns, but said it was a matter of the regulations being badly drafted rather than an intention to ramp up the use of competition.

He added: “I have listened to people’s concerns and my department is acting quickly to improve the drafting so that there can be no doubt that the regulations go no further than the previous set of principles and rules inherited from the previous Labour government.”

But shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the changingof the regulations represented a “humiliating retreat”.

“In less than four weeks’ time new GP commissioners take control and yet today there is complete confusion about the job they are being asked to do.

“Coalition policy on competition in the NHS is in utter chaos.”

If you read the 12 pages of regulations 257 governing NHS procurement, the first thing that strikes you is the contradictory nature of the clauses.

On the one hand the document talks about contracts only being awarded without competition for reasons of “extreme urgency” and treating all providers equally particularly on the “basis of ownership”.

Yet it also makes it clear that any changes need to ensure services are being provided in an integrated way and not against the best interests of patients.

It is hardly surprising this has caused confusion and concern. In less than a month’s time arguably the biggest overhaul in the history of the NHS will go live.

Ministers claim it is more cock-up than conspiracy. If that is so it begs the question how the regulations managed to make it to parliament drafted in the way they were given the controversy over the reforms as a whole.

via BBC News – NHS competition rules to be changed.

via BBC News – NHS competition rules to be changed.

Thatcher’s Zombie Ideology Preying on our Collective Imagination


Thatcher-zombie

Even in death, Thatcher’s zombie ideology that “there is no alternative” will continue to feed on our imagination. The time has come to prove her wrong.

Thatcher is dead — and I am in a state of mourning. I am mourning because she got away with it. Just like that disgusting dictatorial friend of hers, General Pinochet, when the mass-murdering monster peacefully died in his sleep in 2006. They both got away with it. And worse: each left behind an ideological legacy so politically and culturally pervasive that we are still beating our heads into the wall just to try and erase it. Like some kind of zombie ideology preying on our collective imagination, the undying spirit of Pinochet and Thatcher lingers on into the 21st century. We protest, we write, we riot — but nothing ever seems to change. For these are the undead. They cannot die.

“Liberalize, privatize, stabilize!” The austerity mantra is repeated by bland and lifeless technocrats from Mexico to Greece, while teenage students lock themselves up in high schools and go on hunger strike in Santiago de Chile. Others run riot in the street, dragging policemen off their horses and beating them up with sticks. In London, the disaffected youth rise up in riotous fury, attacking police, looting shops and burning down their neighbor’s homes. “There is no alternative,” Thatcher said. In this neoliberal era of cynicism, the only alternative left for Generation Playstation has become the emulation of the effigies of consumerism; or burning down its symbols of authority.

The traditional Left still has good reason to hate Thatcher, and perhaps to organize some kind of public party on her state-funded grave. I don’t blame them. But I also don’t think the celebration of her long-awaited death will do the cause of the Left much good. The traditional Left — based as it is on defunct political parties and dysfunctional trade unions that toppled over the moment the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a whiff of its neoliberal hot air at them — is clearly moribund and destined for the dustbin of history. Partly, the ferocity with which Thatcher pursued her state-based class war was responsible for its demise; but for the most part the decline of state-oriented labor activism is simply the result of a process of structural change that goes far beyond the actions of an individual woman.

In an otherwise profoundly misguided article, Slavoj Zizek once rightly observed that the greatest achievement of Thatcherism was not the 11-year rule of Thatcher herself, but the premiership of Tony Blair. There is a truth in these words that should weigh heavily on the conscience of all those who remain committed to social change today. The great triumph of Thatcher’s neoliberal project resides not in the many confrontational ways in which she sought to weaken Labour, but rather in the subversive ways in which her polarizing rhetoric actually ended up strengthening Labour — eventually turning it into the most powerful weapon of the capitalist class. If anything, Tony Blair proved that it was never really Thatcher who ruled Britain, but the financial interests in the City of London all along.

From the very beginning it was clear that Thatcher was really just the bitch of financial capital — who did not mind biting ordinary citizens in the face on its behalf. She deregulated the financial sector with a religious ferocity that would make even an inquisition-era Pope blush; but she was by no means single-handedly responsible for the financialization and de-industrialization of the British economy. Indeed, the seeds of that process go back way further, at least to the late 1950s, when a combination of structural pressures and deliberate state actions helped to establish the so-called Eurodollar markets in London, which effectively served to re-establish the City as a major international financial center. And, of course, Thatcher’s deregulation of the City continued with equally dogmatic conviction under Tony Blair.

In this sense, Thatcher is hated not because she assaulted labor and destroyed the British welfare state — but because she did it with such religious zeal and such extreme determination. She was hated, in other words, not for the policies and ideas she pursued but for the ugly face she put on them, and the extremely obnoxious squeaking voice with which she barked at her opponents. Ultimately, Thatcher was hated because she personified the naked logic of class warfare operating underneath the technocratic surface of her neoliberal project. She was hated because she made “there is no alternative” sound like there really was no alternative; and because her version of class warfare seemed to veer on the same blunt brutality that had marked the profoundly dehumanizing logic of laissez-faire capitalism in the Victorian era.

For this, we should actually be grateful to Thatcher: at least she made it very obvious where she stood. From the extreme police brutality at the Battle of Orgreaves to the highly symbolic milk snatching from school children, Thatcher’s approach to class struggle was straightforward and in-your-face: “my job is to stop Britain going red”, she once proudly boasted. Under Thatcher, as under Reagan and George W. Bush, the battle-lines were clearly drawn: you were either with her or against her. Things were so simple then. What are we to do today, with the Orwellian ideological apparatus of the neoliberal project firing on all cylinders? Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing as society” became Cameron’s “Big Society”. The policies and social outcomes are still the same, but many people just don’t see it anymore.

In the global class war of the 21st century, Thatcher’s blunt upper-class sneers have been replaced with the seemingly progressive reason of the embarrassingly subservient Nick Clegg; Pinochet’s murderous role in suppressing the Left became Piñera’s heroic role in saving trapped Chilean miners; Reagan’s cowboy attitude to CIA-sponsored coups and US invasions in Latin America has long since made way for Obama’s friendly smiles and silent drone strikes. In the process, the dehumanizing logic of global capitalism and neoliberal ideology is obscured with a gentle layer of good-intent. This is capitalism with a human face; a blend of market fundamentalism specifically tailored to making you believe it is in your best interest to obey.

But the financial meltdown of 2008 and the deluge of public debt that followed in its wake have made it clear that the financial sector still pulls the strings everywhere, and that the political puppet-show and democratic dress-rehearsal repeated every four years or so are just that: superficial changes to cover up a terrifying process of structural change towards ever greater capitalist control over our lives. Coming on the heels of the collapse of the corporatist Keynesian compromise that had marked the post-war decades, Thatcher’s relentless assault on the working class came to embody that structural change — it came to represent it. But it remains crucially important to make a distinction here: it was not Thatcher who systematically erased our dignity and destroyed our society. It was the capitalist system she sought to defend.

If there is one thing that captures Thatcherism as an ideology and sets it apart from the naked logic of capitalism as Thatcher otherwise expounded it, it must be the immensely effective mantra that “there is no alternative.” In this respect, Thatcher helped to bring about one of the most dramatic and most successful suppressions of humanity’s collective imagination since the invention of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the mantra was so powerful that it continues to be repeated ad nauseam by the right today — in the proclamations of Troika representatives, for instance, when they claim that “there is no alternative” to dramatic budget cuts, impossible tax hikes and a mass firesale privatization of state assets in Greece or Spain. This is surely the most powerful way to repress change and avoid any democratic debate.

And yet the mantra’s most destructive and subversive legacy resides not in its dogmatic appropriation by the right, but in the many subversive ways in which it managed to undermine the collective imagination of the Left. For instance, when reviewing David Graeber’s new book on democracy, John Kampfner argues that “Graeber’s unwillingness to set out credible economic and political alternatives is curious.” But did not Graeber, by helping to set up the New York General Assembly and by explicitly mentioning Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots and its emphasis on direct democracy, provide precisely such an already-existing alternative? Was not the prefigurative politics of the Occupy movement precisely the type of real-world alternative we have all been longing for? By just refusing to see it, Kampfner indirectly helps to perpetuate Thatcher’s dictum that there is, indeed, no alternative.

Either way, regardless of how successful her ideological mantras may have been, Thatcher was never really the prophet her supporters made her out to be. In the 1980s, she unapologetically defended the Apartheid regime in South Africa, stating that Mandela’s ANC “is a typical terrorist organisation” and “anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.” For Thatcher, there was apparently no alternative to white racist rule in South Africa. Luckily, it only took a few years for the Iron Lady to be proven wrong. Now that global capitalism and neoliberal ideology are running on their last legs, the time has come for us — those anti-capitalists living in “cloud-cuckoo land” — to prove her wrong once more.

via Thatcher’s zombie ideology preying on our collective imagination | ROAR Magazine.

via Thatcher’s zombie ideology preying on our collective imagination | ROAR Magazine.

Labour, Crisis and Heaves – what happens next


The Labour party is in the midst of an internal storm. A storm the leadership is trying to control. We are not used to such events in the Labour party, associating them more with their partner FG and even more with the heyday of FF. However, heaves are not easy to organise or execute, just ask Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar. It’s a game that requires huge political tact.

So the first thing to ask is why are Labour in this position? That’s simple, firstly they over promised at the election, the buck for that stops with the leader. Secondly, the perception is that Labour are being rolled over by FG. Eamon Gilmore has done himself no favours by being so determined to always show a united front with End Kenny. Distance and the odd falling out can destabilise governments but it is much better for your leadership.

The next question to ask is how serious are the rumours of a possible heave? They are pretty serious. I said at the start of the year that Eamon Gilmore was in a spot of bother and things have got worse since that. Labour are losing far too many personnel. The grassroots are feeling sidelined and angry. Now, we all know that in the normal course of events party grassroots don’t make the big decisions, however, once they start to get agitated they have enormous power as TDs feel the pressure and start to listen to people they are close to on the ground about the implications for their seat. All of those who have walked out of Labour parliamentary party are gone unless the leader changes. The only way to heal a rift is to move on from it and to do that, a leader must be changed. This is even true when a heave occurs. An FF leader never lost a heave vote. It’s what happed after that caused problems. Equally I have always maintained had Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar and others not agreed to return to the FG front bench and held their nerve, Enda Kenny would not be Taoiseach today.

Labour are starting to realise that the only way they can convince people they are going to change and get tougher is if they start with a new face and perhaps also remove some others at cabinet. Pat Rabbitte and Brendan Howlin will be most certainly in the firing line.

Now, back up the horse, because all is not lost for Eamon Gilmore. He is rumoured to be talking to TDs. That’s a wise move, he needs to know what he’s dealing with then he needs a strategy. The first stage of this would be to try calm fears, and avoid an all out vote against him. Heaves are useless and get no where unless one of your front bench moves to support it. Gilmore can rest assured that he has strong support from his ‘old boys’ he has one weak link, Joan Burton. He needs to stop Joan making any attempts in the short term and just buy some time.

Joan has her own issues. She knows there are limits to what Labour can achieve. If she were to take over then she would certainly be expected to take a tougher line with FG and be far less chummy with them. That’s fine, she also knows that FG are desperate to remain in power and avoid an election so she could get a few big wins on that basis, but it would require brinkmanship and that will weaken the government. In reality such a strategy may start to halt the Labour decline, even gain them a few points but it wont be huge (a few points could be at least 10 seats saved though). However it’s unlikely the government would last full term, she would be looking at an election in 12 -18 months. Timing would be everything. She may well prefer if Gilmore could remain for another year and she could face such a strategy and timescale from next year. However, the opportunity may be presenting itself in the coming months. Timing is everything in such a strategy. This helps Gilmore as he may be able to keep Joan onside for the next while.

That’s valuable breathing space but then he needs to figure out how to use it. He needs to talk to Enda. The chummy façade needs to stop. FG need to realise that they are better off with Gilmore than whomever might replace him, therefore they need to find an issue that they can publicly disagree on, let it carry on, argue, and then allow Eamon a decisive victory that will shore up his support. It may hurt FG but its better than the alternative and if FG are really smart then they can surely find an issue that they know they can afford to lose on but matters to Labour.

That would allow Eamon Gilmore escape from his current predicament, but he’s on the ropes right now and there are a lot of ‘Ifs’ in that strategy. Those in Labour hoping for change need to be far more organised and need to know who they support. No matter how you look at it, Eamon Gilmore is now only Leader at the behest of Joan Burton, she can decide to loyally follow him until its too late (a bit like Micheál Martin did with Cowen) or she can ensure he is removed now and give Labour a fighting chance of showing a new image. The question is does she want the job? Such heaves require a certain steel, an ability to stand by what you do and accept the repercussions, they can even end your career. It needs enormous conviction. All sides will be tested in the months ahead

Labour, Crisis and Heaves – what happens next.

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