Morning Blog - 04 December 2010

Criticism, analysis, response: The BudgetJam live blog Email your comments here or comment below.

12:50 Gavan writes:

One of the things that budgetjam is looking for is to feature as many protest activities and plans as possible here in advance of Tuesday (so flashmobs, can you send us your membership lists?)

However, we hear alot about the futility of protest, the threat of violence from professional agitators, the dangers of sending out the wrong signals, and simply, and often, the downright immaturity of taking to the streets. Now, many of us know why we have to do some physical budget-jamming over the next while, as full scale protest and civil disobedience is the necessary response to a government - with a Taoiseach whose poll ratings are lower than our bond interest rates, nice tweet David McWilliams - determined to push through an 'adjustment' without a shred of legitimacy.

However, we'd also be letting them down if we didn't, and during their last days and all. Cast your mind back now, if you can, to the golden year of 2006. If you can't remember it, don't worry, because we were all partying. Anyway, in a pensive moment that spring, Prof B Ahern (School of Business, NUI Maynooth) picked David Putnam's Bowling Alone off his bedstand, and began worrying that we were, well, bowling alone. While you were partying, you would probably have felt, every now and then, a twinge of unease, let's call it a Maureen Gaffney moment. This twinge was the sense that amidst all the success, dynamism and confidence we were in danger of losing something soulful. It was never clear what this was, but you can distill it yourself from some romanticisations of community (poverty) and John Hind postcards. Anyway, this got Bertie worried, and he set up a task force on active citizenship (we can return to the particular vision of citizenship another time). He had this to say, at the launch of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship:

"I believe that the quality of life in society, and the ultimate health of our communities, depends on the willingness of people to become involved and active.   Active on behalf of themselves and their families, their communities and the more vulnerable members of society.   Happy the society that has people who act, rather than lament;  who organise rather than complain;  who accept a personal responsibility rather than walk by on the other side."

People who act and organise? Happy to oblige. And there's one last twist on the Ahern/Putnam recipe. Putnam worries that under neoliberal conditions (I put some words in his mouth here) people tend to hunker and retreat into forms of bonding social capital (social networks within which they have class, ethnic, professional affinities) at the expense of bridging capital (networking across such affective groups). Now, wouldn't mass protests, bridging the artificial divides between public and private sectors, for example, be a wonderful realisation of Bertie's social vision?

So when that Garda wearing fetching if cut-price London Met cast-offs asks you to get off the streets Tuesday, just tell him Bertie told you to do it.

12:42 Colin is taking on the live blogging here soon and then we have Therese for the ahem, drive time slot. Shout out to MG for help this morning. Plenty more to come here from the liveblog which is getting more complex by the day. We need to fill out certain themes, in particular:
- internationalisation
- detailed coverage of budget proposals and alternative proposals
- covering and coordinating protest activities.

So if you can help with these themes email budgetjam AT gmail DOT com, use #budgetjam on twitter or check out the facebook page. I'm also happy for people to send me links at my own gmail account: eoinomahony. Speaking of internationalisation, thanks to Jimmy Dowds (@jimmy_dowds) for this Al Jazeera link:

"Is 2010 proving to be a watershed year in politics in the West (we could add the historic defeat of the British Labour Party to this list, as well as elections in Greece in which the ruling Socialist Party pledged to impose unprecedented austerity measures)? Or do the results reflect rather an underlying continuity in the generation-long evolution of Euro-American politics towards a fully neoliberalised system - one which supports the pursuit of unbridled wealth by elites while those with the most to lose conveniently spend their energy attacking immigrants, minorities and the poor - the system's ultimate victims?"

12:25 The Examiner's supplement The People's Budget contains some quotes from people asked by journalists; a vox pop I believe they call it:

Tax the people with a lot of cash. No excuses for people living abroad in exile - tax them as well. Richard from Clonmel

Government wages and there are too many politicians. Everything seems to be a waste at the moment. Niamh from Waterford

The Government should cut the banks loose and let the senior bonholders suffer. I think that's be to the country's benefit. Brian in Killareny.

If I was minister for finance I'd be telling everyone else not to accept the budget! Throw the whole lot of them out. Ann in Clonmel

I would nationalise the natural gas off Corrib, then there would be no need for cuts. Gavin from Cork.

12:10 It was asked last week but this weekend, the Guardian published the responses to the question Can I - should I - profit form Ireland''s woes?

12:00 On Thursday evening I went to the Irish Film Institute to see Risteard Ó Domhnaill's The Pipe. His wonderful documentary deals with the struggles of the fishermen, farmers and residents of north west Mayo trying to stop Shell bringing gas to shore. By times emotionally and politically charged, Risteard has compiled an eloquent tribute to these struggles. At the questions and answer session that followed the screening, there were two platforms: one for those in the film and its makers, the other for a motley crew of those connected with related issues. It got heated and Leila Doolan did a stand up job of keeping it somewhat on track. What is clear from the film is the broad applicability of the problems with the pipe to the rest of the economic crisis that we now face.

This was the concentration of economic and political forces with the aim of running over the wishes of the people of Ireland and its laws to the profit of Shell. Frank Connolly's report is still online (despite McDowell's best efforts) and the film is now showing nationwide. Connecting the struggle of the people in Rossport with the provisions of the EU-IMF-FF 'bailout' is imperative. The concentration of these forces into a 'coherent plan' is ongoing, despite the increasing uses of the past tense this last week.

11: 40 Therese Caherty has been in touch via something new called email:

EU Observer reports that Peter Mandelson, former EU Trade Commissioner, is returning to consultancy business - another example of the cross-over between business and politics.

And what about Bertie Ahern? Last January, the Sunday Tribune ( reported that he was now chair of a forestry body being financed by a Swiss firm that specialises in offshore banking. He got the job late in 2009 - another nixer in his growing portfolio of business interests.

The main backers of the fund are Helvetia Wealth AG of Switzerland and the Irish Forestry Fund, which plans to invest in trees in Ireland, the UK and Central America. The group is considering acquiring Coillte, privatisation of which was mooted in the report of An Bord Snip Nua". Coillte employs 1,100 people and owns over 445,000 hectares of land, about 7% of the land cover of Ireland. Imagine, Coillte could finish up in the hands of a Swiss off-shore banker - with the help of a former Taoiseach, of course.

11:35 JG is shocked that the "facts" don't always speak for themselves. Asked if he finds it overwhelming, he says they "remained calm in the face of adversity." Has he spoken to Paul Gogo recently?

What is all this repersonalisation of John Gormley going on there on RTE radio?

11:25 Shane Hegarty (@shanehegarty) has some good observations on cluiche na gcliche. John Gormley is rewriting recent history faster than I can refill the analysis monkeys' troughs. Damn apostrophes.

11:20 If I had, hic, a drrink for evry time , hic, this fella uses one of thoose cliches, I'd be much drinker thna I am right now.

11:18 It's all "personal" John. This is the most pernicious electioneering I have heard since Mattie McGrath's "breedin' bitches".

11:15 Enough of the therapeutic approach already! John Gormley, is a government minister, not a psychoanalysand. "I can only be responsible for my party" Hey JG, we all partied!

11:10 Ah Marian. Which paternalistic megaleader will you put before us this morning? As she gets into her stride, here are a few snippets from a bizzare puff piece in the accompanying supplement in the Irish Examiner, "The People's Budget", page 3, Niamh Hennessy is the culprit:

So we partied. While the going was good we splashed out on houses, bought brand new cars, turned our nose up at Aldi and flocked to New York on shopping sprees.

Ireland's obsession with property is a major part of the reason the country has found itself in the position it is in today. [Hi Conor McCabe]

A positive kickback to the downturn [so 2007] has been a renewed confidence among consumers.

Consumers are learning to do things for themselves.

And so on, and so on. Sorry, as Marian would say "cetra cetra". Oh, here's Gormley talking about the public interest and working with th homeless.

10:45 Before I grab some coffee here, thanks to Abie Philbin Bowman for the RT. Our new tagline? "The Revolution will be ReTweeted."

10:40 Gavan's on the ball this morning, having spent two hours liveblogging (hic!) here already:

I see that the Indo editorial have re-instated the drinking game after leaving us so cruelly on the dry yesterday. In fact, linking it to Harry's point, it amounts to an attempt to smother over the illusion that there might be ideological differences between Labour and FG. Pointing out that neither of their budget proposals mentioned the IMF-EU intervention yesterday (the leader writer calls it a 'rescue'), it argues that while the IMF might give FG a hearing, that Labour's proposals will not be entertained despite increased analyst agreement on the huge deflationary impact of the 4-year plan. So, given this iron cage, any deviation from agreement with the IMF-EU-FF prescription can be explained as electioneering. So, line up the tequilas for the conclusion:

"The sad truth is that economic matters are largely outside our control. The Government will do the country more service -- and perhaps do itself more good -- if it concentrates on the things it can deal with and which are the real cause of our woes."

Yet wasn't their editorial yesterday based on the idea that because this is so obviously beyond our control, that the 'pain of adjustment' is an unnecessary form of collateral damage inflicted on the basis of a plan that has already failed?

I couldn't get to the end of his comments because I was too busy looking for that bottle of tequila.

10:37 George Hook on Newstalk: "if you work harder than everyone else, if you work smarter than everyone else, you'll make it!"

10:27 On The Business on RTE  Radio right now, a man who sells burgers is talking about opportunity. Opportunity is everywhere it seems and we're going to see more of it around in the next 8 to 10 years. And there we have it: a call for the cut in the minmum wage. Get rid of "the extras": like higher rates on Sundays and PRSI.

10:20 The Irish Examiner (thanks Mary) has a Millward Brown poll on its front page this morning. They lead with:

Cut spending, don't touch taxes and scrap the Croke Park agreement, that's the message from the public to the Government ahead of Tuesday's budget.

It is not clear what don't touch taxes means because in the next paragraph it states that a large majority of people favour a taxing of child benefit for high earners and the introduction of property tax as means of closing the deficit. Is this an attempt to put more clear Blue water between FG and Labour in the run up to the election. In this, they've certainly got vocal support from both this paper and the Independent. As I read it, this article is not only really badly written, they represent the data very poorly. They have two small charts on the front page, not with the questions asked of the sample but with statements. It is unclear if these are the statements produced for the sample. For example:

Eight out of 10 people thought the agreement not to cut jobs in the public sector under the Croke Park Agreement was unrealistic and should be scrapped.

Eh? Generally speaking, the statements that the sample were presented with seem to be straight out of the FG playbook, and hey, just in time for their 'alternative' budget too!

10:00 Harry's been in touch with the analysis monkeys here in budgetjam towers:

Really, liveblog, you may be giving Labour a little too much credit when you suggest their differences with FG are 'ideological'. The differences are certainly not, as PBH suggested on Drivetime, 'really big'. I can see the point, politically, in highlighting the possibility of a leftish goverment -- despite Labour's repeated ruling-out the prospect -- but there is also a risk in stressing the party's affinity with the likes of SF and the ULA: of merely boosting Labour's transfers and thus its 'bargaining position' when it does what it clearly intends to do, i.e. forming a government with FG. As for me, I am not casting a vote for Eamon Gilmore as Taoiseach and Bruton and Varadkar in the economic ministries.

09:58 Three quick reminders:

Unite have published The People's Budget

Sinn Fein are looking for you to sign a petition

Bring a pot and a pan this afternoon, Dublin and Galway (FB)

09.51 Scanning the newspapers this morning, it seems to me that there's been a ramping up the analogy / metpahor machine in the mainstream media. I've a selection below but one comment about this. Between zombies, the patient and the asylum there's an awful lot of evasion about. This evasion is characteristic of not only an inability to communicate complex ideas but also of a crisis of politics. In the last 12 hours, Hugh Green has pointed to this: it is the evacuation of politics from policy. FF have been very good at this in the last while: we have no choice, these are hard choices, tough decisions make us unpopular. For the natural party of government, policy is an inconvenience.

Firm grip on the finances

Tough choices to be made

Straitjackets in the asylum

Cuts are painful

Taxpayers will be hit, they'll take a bruising

Pensioners will be protected from the worst

The material world does not exist in this understanding of communicating economics. It is an image game and we cannot separate one from the other at this stage. We might side with Slavoj Zizek in this anamorphosis.

09.25 Eoin back here again. Thanks Maxi, I mean Gavan for the last few hours. Early on a Saturday morning you have put it up to me. This will be less Morning Ireland and more Scrap Saturday with some of the headlines I am scanning this morning:

Potential coalition parties differ on tax, cuts and public sector - The Irish Times

Government confirms record 32% deficit - RTE News online

Fine Gael, Labour at war over tax hikes - Irish Independent

This last one is choice given that it is reporting the fact that both parties made their alternative budget plans available to the public. I have visions of the Bull Noonan up against Bruiser Burton on this headline. Nothing further from the truth. There are some differences in these documents and why should there not be? The sooner that Labour start emphasising these ideological differences, the better. Whatever about the Greens being FF's mudgaurd, Labour Party must step out from under the yoke of FG's mudgaurd and pitch to the left to form a left-wing coalition.


08.30 Good morning post-citizens and welcome back to the Budgetjam live blog. This is day 4, think of us as a kind of Advent Adjustment Calendar in advance of Tuesday, where every day you can open a little window on the crap being planned for you. Now, after yesterday's mysterious and frankly suspicious technical glitches, we've done a wikileaks and fled the state. We couldn't quite afford Sweden or Switzerland, but a useful side effect of the property boom is that Europe is scarred with the empty and derelict residences of the Irish Belle Epoque. So, if you want us, dark forces, come and smoke us out here

 Gavan here for the early hours, warming up for Eoin, the Maxi to his Morning Ireland, as it were. But plenty to round up from yesterday, a day where the gatekept version of public opinion seemed to swing, for a start, behind a dawning sense of the futility of the bailout and Ireland's role as...well it's very early, so let's go with a metaphor. Ireland is Ann Darrow, the Faye Wray character in King Kong. With a bit of plot fast forward, Ann is in the clutches of the beast, neck snapping back and forward in his callous grip, and all those biplanes are being mobilised to save her, directed by crestfallen exhibitionists safely on the ground. Except they're not that interested in her - they want to re-harness the monkey's vital energies, or kill him. Only Jack Driscoll, the first mate from the ship, really cares about her (this role can be played by David Cameron or George Osborne). So this is where we are. Corsetted in a hairy fist, insisting that this is the best deal possible, and that the monkey really loves us. This is a mistake: the monkey may desire us, but monkey love, like capitalism, involves desire begetting desire. Soon another starlet, screaming 'me ajude!' will take centre stage. We seem to think that a strict diet will get our monkey back, and stimulate growth. But it won't. Now, I'm not making great claims for this contorted metaphor, other than to point out that yesterday seemed to be the day when many media commentators realised that it's all about the monkey. The starlet, having agreed to all those sleazy things the directors requested, is heading to a career in dinner cabaret.

 8.45 On the Day 2 Blog (17.55) Colin reported on George Hook’s discussion of the IMF as involving a necessary injection of ‘testosterone’ and being the ‘strict Headmaster’ that the nation needed. Aside from the application of ruggerhugger fantasies to political economy, the myth that the IMF is some form of neutral technocracy, and that it is efficient, can only be a product of Eurocentric amnesia. Here’s Andy Storey, in a letter to the Irish Times that didn’t get published last week:

 ‘Dan O'Brien (Irish Times, 30th November) points to the fact that Ajai Chopra, the head of the IMF mission to Ireland, led the IMF mission to South Korea in the late 1990s.  So how did that work out?  The Korean government budget was slashed (leading to massive redundancies), despite the fact that government overspending had nothing to do with the Korean crisis. Between 1996 and 1999, South Korea’s unemployment rate tripled and the proportion of the population identifying themselves as middle-class fell from 64% to 38%.  Korean trade unions and other forces opposed these policies but they were quickly assured that their opposition would count for nothing, as documented by Naomi Klein in her book The ShockDoctrine:

“the end of the IMF negotiations coincided with scheduled presidential elections in which two of the candidates were running on anti-IMF platforms.  In an extraordinary act of interference with a sovereign nation’s political process, the IMF refused to release the money until it had commitments from all four main candidates that they would stick to the new [IMF] rules if they won.  With the country effectively held at ransom, the IMF was triumphant: each candidate pledged his support in writing… [Y]ou can vote, South Koreans were told, but your vote can have no bearing on the managing and organisation of the economy”.

The parallels with the current Irish situation are striking as cross-party consensus is demanded for the broad thrust of an austerity programme that nobody has voted for.  The EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Olli Rehn, has warned that it would be inadvisable for a new government to try to renegotiate either the interest rate on the EU/IMF loan or the use of the National Pension Reserve Fund in shoring up the banking sector. The Irish economy will be gutted by this programme - Irish democracy already has been’.

This is an instructive parallel given the confusion running through Labour’s media responses to their intentions viz the ‘bailout’, more on that later. But if Andy nails the nature of the ideological testosterone, a recent piece in The New Internationalist by Chris Brazier has a lot to say on the efficacy of the strict headmaster:

"The IMF record in restoring countries to rude financial health is so appalling that were it a private corporation selling its advice on the open market it would long ago have gone bust. Its advice to any finance minister is exactly the same, whatever the international economic climate, whatever the local market circumstances: cut government spending; privatize your public-sector organizations; remove subsidies of all kinds; open up your economy to transnational finance and corporations. Even leaving aside the moral or political problems with such a programme, its imposition without research, without taking account of local knowledge or circumstances, is bound to result in failure."