Leo should remain as Taoiseach for now but not without strong Opposition and challenging media #COVID19Ireland

These are unprecedented times.  Our worlds have been turned upside down and we have absolutely no idea what comes next.

I have been periodically blogging on this site for almost four years, and I have never made a secret of the fact that I believe in a Progressive government for Ireland.  This of course means the parties which have always represented the status quo such as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have never gotten my vote. I also have little faith in other parties purporting to be “left” such as Sinn Féin and Labour.

Yet when faced with a situation like COVID-19, I do not believe that a radical change to the face of our government is what is needed, even when it comes as it did right after a general election.  Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael were in power when it was time to lock the country down and particularly in the most relevant departments like those of An Taoiseach and Health, we need continuity and stability so regardless of political hue I think the correct course would be for them to remain for now.

Now I’m hoping that my established premise will be remembered as I voice some concerns over the current situation.  In his address to the nation on St Patrick’s Day, Leo Varadkar literally referenced Winston Churchill.

“This is the calm before the storm – before the surge.  And when it comes – and it will come – never will so many ask so much of so few.”

Address by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar 17th March

For the life of me I cannot fathom why there was not more of a backlash to this.  I am absolutely no fan of Sinn Féin but am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that they would be lambasted for any kind of Nationalist references at this time yet our Taoiseach, one who has often expressed a liking for the leadership of one conservative UK leader in Thatcher, gets a free pass after throwing a nod to another?

This point is one of semantics and cosmetics I know, but I make it first because of the levels of reaction I have seen on social media ever since.  Of course we need to stick together as much as possible during these times, and given the original nature of the crisis there should be much leeway afforded to our government, yet the levels of praise for his leadership have been, in many, many cases, “Churchillian”, and this concerns, nay frightens me.  

Strong opposition and challenging media are important ingredients to any democracy.  If a day ever came when Ireland had Progressives seated around the Cabinet table, I would expect nothing less than for them to have their feet held to the fire where possible, and we all know that would be the case.

And while the Green Party did not get my vote at the last election either, I cannot understand why they are being vilified for not unconditionally joining FF and FG in government.  They claim to have offered three options to the “Civil War” parties, all of which have been rejected…

“I think the idea that FG and FF would present this narrow option to the people of the two of them in power with one of the smaller parties propping them up is very self-serving. It has the coincidental effect of giving them the most amount of power, for the most amount of time with the least amount of oversight.” 

Green TD Neasa Hourigan

Why are politicians so reluctant to form a government?
Justin McCarthy – RTÉ.ie

…and the backlash appears to be “shut up and get on board”. Whatever your levels of respect were for them before, surely they would be lowered should they accept those terms.  But this post is not just about the Green Party. It’s for the type of representative body we want the Dáil to be when it comes to acting as a check on our Government.

Then there is the Irish mainstream media, one that already had a reputation for being more stenographers than challengers.  And that was even before this particular Taoiseach came to power, one who sought in virtually his first act to set up a media arm with the sinister title of the “Strategic Communications Unit“.

Below are just some areas where I would like to ask questions of Leo Varadkar and his government, in no particular order:

  1. What exactly happened with those orders from China which arrived with inadequate supplies?
  2. If Opposition parties should feel shame for insisting that the Dáil convenes due to risk of social distancing among civil servants, have any measures been discussed to allow for some kind of COVID-19 friendly Dáil sittings until the crisis is over?
  3. COVID-19 tests – they are in limited supply.  Is there any transparency as to how they are allocated?  And I have heard stories that the testing itself can take over two weeks to produce results – why is that, is anything being done to speed up the process and is this fact reflected in the numbers we are being given?
  4. We have all has been adversely affected by this crisis, but that does not mean we will all be struggling by its end.  When everyone’s assets have been reduced, the priority of Government care should be those who are left with little or nothing.  So what exactly do you mean by “tough decisions” that have to be made once this crisis is over? Is there to be a period of austerity similar to that affected by the banking crisis or will the burden at very least shared regardless of wealth if not borne by the 1% at the top?  

I am happy for Leo and Simon to remain in their jobs.  I am delighted that Leo is rolling up his sleeves to pitch in as a GP.  That’s all great. But if a republic values its democratic principles, no government should go unchecked, and we certainly shouldn’t assume everything is rosy on these shores based on a comparison to the leadership of the blond buffoons either side of us.  All I’m asking is that we be mindful of this. JLP

#IrishMediaWatch #GE20 : RTE 9oc News Wed 15.01.20

Mr Varadkar said he was very concerned about the case of a man who was seriously injured after the tent he was sleeping in was removed from the banks of the Grand Canal by an industrial vehicle. 

Housing issue dominates first day of election campaign
Paul Cunningham RTÉ.ie

Now that #GE20 is underway I’m planning to keep an eye on the national media outlets to see how they are covering the campaign trail, just to see how balanced the coverage is. For this first installment I have to say things were better than I expected.

On RTÉ’s Nine O’clock news Wednesday, the election featured third in their running order although the piece was related to the second story, about a homeless man who was badly injured by an industrial vehicle which was cleaning a canal area and apparently didn’t know the man was still in his makeshift tent.

This provided a segué into their election coverage as Leo Varadkar was questioned about it on the campaign trail, and in his remarks he suggested a statement from the Lord Mayor of Dublin was appropriate. In response, Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of politicising the tragedy since the Mayor is currently from Fianna Fáil.

After watching the quotes from the two men I thought “this is typical – on a classic progressive issue here’s the two Civil War parties finding a way to argue over anything BUT the search for real solutions.”. But to be a little fair to our national broadcaster, for this topic they did at least broaden the scope of opinion.

We also heard from Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who outlined his party’s plans to allocate actual money to address the problem of homelessness by way of improved social housing. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s all very well saying what you;d do if your party held a majority in the Dáil, but the odds of that are slim and none.

Eamonn Ryan of the Greens also chimed in, saying that this was a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Finally Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin appeared more interested in having a pop at RTÉ (re exclusion from debates, something I’d agree with her on if that were the topic) rather than comment on the situation at hand, although it is very possible that the clip was selectively edited.

So no progressive opinion in this piece, although Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn was interviewed for his opinion on the unfortunate homeless man.

VERDICT

As far as I’m concerned, any kind of election coverage that looks for opinion beyond the “Big Two” parties is an achievement by the Irish corporate media. I’ll give them 6 out of 10 for this piece – I wonder will anyone score higher between now and February 8? JLP

“Housing crisis? What housing crisis?” asks Irish mainstream

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“We continue to expand our macroprudential framework to ensure we have the right tools to manage potential risks to financial stability and the addition of the Systemic Risk Buffer will be an important tool for us in building a resilient banking system with sufficient capital buffers to absorb these structural shocks.”

[translation : “We want you to forget this mess is partly our fault by pointing to Brexit and using intentionally complicated economic jargon”]

Article in Journal.ie by Cormac Fitzgerald : “Hard Brexit could cause house prices to fall, Central Bank warns

Brid Smith TD addresses Drimnagh residents on the proposed ‘carbon tax’

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I could have been at home watching Manchester United v Barcelona.  But I made myself a promise that I would make an effort to get more involved in local politics, and given the amount of signs I have seen around the area for this meeting in St John Bosco Youth Club, a mere ten minute walk from my front door, to not go would be to break that pledge.

The meeting was held by local councillor Hazel De Nortúin.  Now when I say ‘local’, she hails from Ballyfermot, yet she represents me as Drimnagh has been curiously cut in two and my house falls in the ‘Ballyfermot/Drimnagh’ zone.  Still, the very holding of this meeting shows that the councillor is willing to be involved throughout the ward.

Her party is People Before Profit.  I confess to knowing little about them, save for assorted Facebook posts, but I do know that their name itself is closely aligned to my politics so it was a safe bet that I would feel at home in this company.

The principal speaker was Brid Smith TD and the theme was ‘Why Carbon Tax Won’t Stop Climate Change’.  She began by highlighting the protest by schoolchildren all over the country, but particularly outside the Dáil. where over 15,000 were reported.

Deputy Smith also pointed to a poll which found that 39% of Irish people saw climate change as one of the most important issues of today, adding that while some might think that was a low percentage, she was actually encouraged by it.

She has recently been sitting on a Special Oirechteas Action Committee which followed on from a Citizens Assembly.  She referred to it as more of an ‘Inaction’ committee because it appeared that the decision to level the carbon tax on ordinary citizens was already made.

She claimed that the supposed thinking behind the tax was that if people’s habits could be changed, ie if we can move away from carbon-intensive forms of energy, then supposedly this would influence (‘by osmosis’ as she ironically called it) the large corporations.

An interesting plan if true…especially given that when it comes to distributing wealth, corporations tend to favour things going in the opposite direction.  When it comes to the carbon tax, should we call their plan “Trickle up?”

She also pointed out that even if carbon taxes did have some positive effect, they would never be enough to tackle climate change on their own, yet once implemented the government could well consider them to be a ‘catch all’ of sorts.  ‘The one tool becomes the only tool’.

Next the TD covered the whole area of ‘Just Transition’ – when she explained it I knew what she meant though I had never heard it called that before.  Basically when a society moves from one form of energy to another, care must be taken that the existing workers in the old service are offered the opportunity to move into the new field.  Seemingly People Before Profit have been working with Bord Na Mona workers in this area.

Apparently three of the main political parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour, along with the Green Party, are in favour of pushing ahead with this tax, which probably means it is likely to go through.

In the interest of fairness I took some time to go over the websites of various parties to see how they presented their policy (if any) on carbon tax and/or climate change in general…

FINE GAEL – banner on homepage #TogetherOnClimate Climate Action – when you click it you see 16 links under heading of ‘progress’ none of which refer to carbon tax.

‘carbon tax’ search produced links on Special Oireachtas Committee

FIANNA FAIL – No search facility. No mention of carbon tax under section ‘tackling climate change’

LABOUR – ‘Labour’s clear preference is for ring-fencing funds from carbon taxes to pay for home retrofitting, including in local authority housing, and other ways of reducing energy poverty’

SINN FEIN – ‘Imelda Munster has criticised the agreement…to increase carbon tax four fold’

GREEN – Cuffe : ‘The aim of the carbon dividend, or carbon cheque, is to change behaviour. By placing carbon taxes and giving back what is taken to households it provides direct incentives for people to move to low carbon heating.’

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS – can’t find policy on carbon tax but policy section shows they are keen to reduce emissions
RIGHT2CHANGE 10-Point policy programme – ‘A Progressive Government will make protection of the rights of Mother Earth a Constitutional Imperative’

‘The IFA is up in arms over suggestions that people should eat less meat and drink less milk. No doubt carbon taxes will be pushed also as a key part of this debate.’

‘Women make up 70% of farmers world-wide yet only own 2% of land…they are responsible for 90% of the caloric intake of the average family’

SOLIDARITY – nothing on climate change on ‘what we stand for’ page

…just to be clear, my research for the above information was not exactly extensive.  There are so many parties in the jurisdiction that it isn’t easy to keep up with them all.

As you can see my attention was drawn most to the Right2Change platform – the quotes above were taken from the Facebook page of Joan Collins TD.  I like the way they constantly use phrases like “Under a Progressive Government Ireland can…” because while that may be extremely aspirational right now, if we don’t discuss and use such terminology regularly, it could remain so.

But that’s not to say I was completely turned off the PBP folks just yet.  They passed around a page for names and addresses – I offered my information though I fell short of ticking the ‘Join’ box for now.

When the meeting was over a chatted for a few minutes and then left.  I was first to head for the door and Deputy Smith thanked me for attending.

I’m glad I did, and I look forward to following the progress of the PBP’s resistance to the introduction of the tax.

Next on this site I’d like to start covering the various candidates standing for election to the council in May.

#IANWAE

 

New Iowa abortion legislation shows how Irish political climate might look even if #RepealThe8th campaign is successful

THE ISSUE

Ireland is set to hold a referendum on May 25 to repeal the Eighth Amendment which was added to the Constitution in 1983, and if the Yes vote prevails, provisions can be made via legislation for safe and legal abortions in the jurisdiction.

THE MEDIA

Article by Saeed Ahmed and Isabella Gomez in CNN.com on May 3, 2018

Iowa lawmakers pass the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban — as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected

“By passing an intentionally unconstitutional bill, Iowa Republicans have declared that they do not care about the foundational values of our state, or Iowa’s future,” Planned Parenthood Voters of Iowa said.

THE COMMENT

With just a matter of weeks left until the referendum, the focus for all campaigners right now is on winning the vote, which of course is perfectly understandable.

But with ‘Yes’ consistently leading the polls, should they be reflected in the actual vote itself, I wonder if we need to be mindful of what the political climate could be like afterwards?

Removing the Eighth Amendment will allow for legislation to be debated and passed in the Dáil, but that can of course be changed by future governments, and whatever percentage of the electorate votes ‘No’ will become an instant constituency for right-leaning parties to court in election campaigns down the line.

Take the examples in many ‘Republican’ or ‘Red’ states in the USA.  The Roe vs Wade decision of 1973 allowed for safe and legal access to abortion across the country but since that time, state governments have passed a series of laws restricting access to such services that were so severe, particularly to women from lower economic classes, that they might as well have had our 8th amendment in place, and as you can see by the article linked above, Iowa is the latest state to take it further.

My hope is that should Yes win the day, it’s supporters will remain politically active to ensure proper legislation remains on the statute books indefinitely. JLP

www.checktheregister.ie

#IANWAE

‘Inequality in America: A National Town Hall’ is required viewing all over the world

Apologies once more for the gap in posts – financial realities mean we have had to prioritise our monetised site in recent weeks as it has been a busy time for content over there.

However, even if we managed to post every day since we kicked off FPP in August 2016 we wouldn’t have been able to express our core beliefs more than this one and a half hour long video of the recent town hall hosted by Bernie Sanders.  Please check it out if you haven’t already.  It’s a shame it was only covered online.

#IANWAE

 

Economic ‘experts’ from the mainstream media act as though crony capitalism is the only game in town

THE ISSUE

We always need to be sceptical of the mainstream media, but arguably the area where we need to be more so than any other is that of economics.

THE MEDIA

Article by Dean Baker in Center for Econopic Policy and Research on February 21, 2018

It Wasn’t the Market that Made Elites Incredibly Rich, It was Elites Rigging the Market to Make Themselves Incredibly Rich

None of the rules we have in place that redistribute upward were given to us by the market. They were the result of deliberate economic policy.

THE COMMENT

When legislation is passed that cuts corporate taxes it is chiselled into concrete, yet when it redistributes wealth among the lower classes it is written on tissue paper.

The reason that quote is rather clunky is that it’s mine, and I’m far from a qualified economist, but FWIW I reckon the #AppleTax issue and way the Irish government protects its corporate tax rate are at the forefront of a status quo that is generally accepted as ‘untouchable’ and similar thinking exists in other western countries.

For that reason Baker’s quote from his article is what inspired me to write this post, but the wider point is that when it comes to economics we have to look beyond what the ‘experts’ put forward by the mainstream media say, and that is where the internet comes in.

I’m not saying we have to agree with the thoughts of people like Richard Wolf, but if we are to have a full discussion on any topic it seems a no-brainer to at least discuss the alternatives and even a massive crash like that we experienced ten years ago wasn’t enough to have us wondering if  allowing the top corporate players to run the economy wasn’t the best idea. Since then elected representatives who dare to oppose austerity are virtual outcasts both in the Dáil and in media coverage of same.

So that’s my point…but if you’re on for getting more specific, check out this Op-ed in the NYT and then read Baker’s reply.

While Economics is an academic field in its own right, there’s no reason why we the voters can’t educate ourselves to a decent standard on it once we know where to look, and more importantly, where to be sceptical.  JLP

#IANWAE

CNN’s Chris Cuomo uses facts to challenge Trump’s claims of economic success, including the President’s own words

THE ISSUE

President Trump wants us to stop focusing on anything negative to do with his administration and instead heap praise on him for the success of the US economy since he took office.

THE MEDIA

YouTube clip by CNN on 29 Jan 2018

Trump [in clip from campaign speech]: “When you hear 4.9 and 5% unemployment the number is probably 28 and 29, as high as 35…”

Cuomo [in CNN studio]: “You know what?  I agree with the President!

THE COMMENT

“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

For me, the health of an economy is far from the only yardstick by which we should be judging our government.  But even if we accept that it is, CNN’s Chris Cuomo has done a great job putting the figures Trump has been crowing about into context.

At best, the economic reports under Trump are basically continuing the success that Obama had after inheriting a disastrous crash of the market.  But as Cuomo points out, in some areas the figures aren’t even that great in themselves.

But the best evidence he has comes from ‘candidate Trump’ who’s words are often found to be in direct opposition to those of ‘President Trump’.

And don’t just take CNN’s word for it…back in August the New York Times pointed out that : ‘Trump Praises the Stock Market at 22,000 That He Said Was a Bubble at 18,000

Let’s be clear…all politicians play fast and loose with economic figures to big themselves up, it’s just that in Trump’s case he has taken it to a whole new level by selectively ignoring his own words from the not-to-distant past.  JLP

#IANWAE

Trump has done nothing but shut down key parts of government since he took office but you wouldn’t know it listening to Democrats and media

THE ISSUE

Whether it’s through stupidity, unwillingness or incompetence, the Democrat leadership cannot get across the simple message that Donald Trump’s agenda of racism, misogyny and pro-corporatism is bad for the American people, and the mainstream media isn’t much better.

THE MEDIA

YouTube clip by Dan Rather on The Young Turks on January 22, 2018

The Government Shutdown Ends With a ‘Promise’ For DACA Vote From the GOP – The News With Dan Rather

“…if most of the media ignore the year-long slow-motion shut down and if Democrats don’t raise enough stink about it, maybe it’s because too many of us have signalled that we’re on board”

THE COMMENT

Shortcomings with relief efforts in Puerto Rico.  Throwing millions off their medical insurance by hacking away at Obamacare.  Going after Medicare and Social Security.  Gutting the staff at the State Department.  Rescinding regulations for the sake of it.

Those are just some of the actions Donald Trump has taken since being sworn in just over a year ago, yet in recent days he has been able to frame the word ‘shutdown’ as meaning something that is only harmful to the US military, which already receives more funding than any other nation by a long, long way.

At first I was annoyed at myself for not realising that what the President has done since taking office is effectively a massive shutdown in itself, but I’m not involved with politics and government on a daily basis – the point is so simple and obvious that we have to wonder why his primary opposition, namely the Democrats and, as he calls them, ‘The Fake News Media’, haven’t been highlighting it all weekend?

Thankfully we have people like the legendary Dan Rather to get the message out there.  And as he points out, it’s possible that the general public is also complicit to an extent.

As I recently pointed out here on FPP, the likes of Chuck Schumer with his ‘bowl of Jello’ and Nancy Pelosi with her ‘poop Sundae’ simply don’t have the charisma necessary to deliver the kind of soundbites needed to combat Trump’s twitter tirades.  Meanwhile we have Dick Durbin gleefully using the word ‘bipartisanship’ as if it also necessarily means ‘fairness for the American people’.

Besides…if anything should have clinched the message battle for the Democrats re the latest shutdown it should have been that absolutely disgusting ad which suggested they would be responsible for any future murders by illegal immigrants.  That was nothing short of Hitler-esque propaganda [script most likely written by Stephen Miller] which speaks volumes for the intelligence levels of the demographic at which it was aimed.

The party badly needs new leadership.  Whether or not Mitch McConnell keeps to his word on DACA by February 8, the Democrats have left themselves wide open for negative press between now and then for having caved far too easily over the spending bill.

And there I was, very close to writing a post here praising them for finally showing a bit of fight.  Why do I allow myself to get so deluded?  JLP

#IANWAE

PS – As I’m about to publish, Trump has tweeted this :

I rest my case.