Monthly Archives: August 2011


A bit further down this post is a translation of a joint declaration of the assemblies of Sol in Madrid and Syntagma Square in Athens.

I don’t know why I bothered.

This kind of articulation of common solidarity across international borders in a direct challenge to the European political and economic system cannot possibly interest anyone in Ireland, because it is not as if Ireland is being destroyed by politicians acting in connivance with bankers and European policy elites.

Besides, there is a Presidential election coming up in October.

More pressingly, Fianna Fáil need to realise they’re no longer relevant.

There is an orderly schedule of bondholder repayment. It would be wrong to question this. If public money that could be used to pay for schools and hospitals is being handed over to wealthy investors, then there is probably a very good reason for it. It will be grand.



I don’t know about you, but I am more worried about the cost of sick days to business, which I heard about the other day in a news report based on a press release from the bosses’ organisation.

And it worries me that people in Spain are out mobilising for a week of action against a constitutional change that would introduce a debt ceiling and institutionalise neo-liberal economic policy. What sort of message would that send out to the markets?

No, Ireland’s approach is far better. The debt ceiling is on the menu for Ireland too. And it may require a referendum or two. But sure it’ll be grand. Here’s what Dermot O’Leary of Goodbody Stockbrokers says about it:

To this end, France and Germany agreed to take the lead on closer fiscal coordination by: (1) enshrining a debt brake in their respective national constitutions and push for similar throughout the euro-zone, and; (2) harmonising their corporation tax rates and bases. Ireland would have suspected that the corporation tax issue had fallen away following the agreement made at the July 21 summit, but it has now reared its head again less than a month later. On the former issue, Ireland and, indeed, Greece and Portugal, are all unlikely to have major problems with enshrining a debt brake into their national constitutions, given that these countries have little control over fiscal policy at this stage in any case.

Sure we can’t afford not to put the debt brake into the constitution in case it makes our European partners angry. So it’s probably best not to think about it at all.

Besides, the trade union leadership has things under control. Look:


And moreover, there is real movement toward a change of direction in Ireland, with local solutions being proferred to local problems.

Run out of money to feed the children? The Labour Party minister thinks you should go to St. Vincent de Paul. They’ll sort it out.

So there is no need for anyone to think about political solutions or collective action of any sort, and certainly not in terms of taking to the streets.

In another ten years time we’ll look back on this and laugh.

Clearly Ireland is better off out of this. These people are only embarrassing themselves. Can you imagine if an Irish assembly had appeared in this declaration? God, that would be morto.

The Citizens in Sol and Syntagma express our outrage and we invite all those outraged in every square to join us.

From the US to Brussels, from Greece to Bolivia, from Spain to Tunisia, the crisis of capitalism is worsening. And those who caused it are the ones imposing their prescriptions for overcoming it. These are: channelling public funds into private financial entities and making the public pay the bill with austerity plans which do not take us out of the crisis but rather sink us deeper into it.


In the European Union, the attacks on sovereign debt by the financial markets submit cowardly governments to blackmail and hold parliaments hostage, who in turn adopt unjust measures behind the backs of the people who elected them. European institutions, far from taking firm political decisions in the face of the attacks by the financial sharks, align themselves with them.


Since the beginning of this crisis we have witnessed the attempt to convert private debt into public debt: an example of outrageous socialisation of the losses after scandalously privatising the profits. The high interest rates charged to those of us who obtain funding have nothing in the slightest to do with our solvency, but with the speculative manoeuvres carried out by large financial corporations, in connivance with ratings agencies, in order to enrich themselves.


Economic cutbacks have been accompanied by restrictions on democratic freedoms. Among these, the measures of control and expulsion of the migrant population and the restrictions on the free movement of Europeans through the European Union. Only the euro and the free movement of speculative capital enjoy open borders.

In the Spanish State we are being collectively defrauded. Public debt (60% of GDP) IS NOT A PROBLEM but nonetheless they use this as an excuse to make us believe that a grave situation justifies the grave attacks on our rights and collective wealth, attacks they threaten to escalate. On the other hand, private debt (240% of GDP) is a problem, and instead of applying austerity measures to the banks, they are given all sorts of assistance and sinecures at the cost of the public purse. The greatest “assistance” is the transfer at knockdown price of nearly half our system of savings banks, as well as profitable enterprises and activities. Meanwhile, access routes to the Puerta del Sol, the epicentre of 15M, are closed, in violation of various fundamental rights.

In Greece, they have imposed a Memorandum. They have told us that the cutbacks, the austerity and the new taxes on the population are necessary sacrifices to take the country out of the crisis and bring the debt down. They have lied to us! Each day they take new measures, salaries are slashed, unemployment rockets, the young emigrate. And the debt keeps rising because the new loans are used to make the enormous interest payments to our creditors. The deficits of Greece and other countries of the European South become the surplus of the banks of Germany and other rich countries of the North.

Neither wages nor pensions have caused the spiral in debt. This has been caused by large tax cuts and subventions to capital, and the binge on weaponry and pharmaceuticals. They bankrupt us so as to apply more destructive measures and cutbacks, and to sell off the land and public wealth at knockdown price.

We say:

  • They must withdraw their memoranda! Get them out!
  • We do not want government by the IMF and the Troika.
  • Nationalise the banking sector. With the bailout plans, the State has already paid above market value so that they can continue speculating.
  • Open the debt accounts to the public so that we know where the money has gone.
  • Radically redistribute wealth and change fiscal policy so that those who pay are those who have the most: the bankers, capital, and the church.
  • We want people’s democratic control over the economy and production.

Therefore, both squares DECLARE:


We must show our OUTRAGE and REBEL against these abuses.

This is what we do from the 15M movement in Sol and from the Popular Assembly of Syntagma.

Stop the austerity and bailout plans

No to the payment of illegitimate debt. This is not our debt . We owe nothing, we are selling nothing, we will pay nothing!

For a real and direct democracy NOW!

In defence of the public interest. Not a single sale of public property or services.

For the co-ordination of all those outraged across all squares.

Again, I’m sure this is all a load of nonsense, and the Irish government and advisors like Goldman Sachs grandee Peter Sutherland know just how to get us out of this. And sure if some of those progressives can slip a little advice here and there when they get a little ear time with technocratic elites, then that’s a Brucie bonus.

Best say nothing.

Bye now.

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Reborn Dreams

There was a general strike on in Chile this last couple of days. The Reuters wire report in the Irish Times began as follows:

Protesters barricaded roads and burned tires in parts of Chile’s capital today as a two-day national strike began against unpopular president Sebastian Pinera (sic), but mining in the world’s top copper producer was not disrupted


I had not been able to find other reports on this in the Times or in the other two main newspapers, the Independent and the Examiner, until news emerged that a 14 year old child had been shot dead by government forces.  


The last time Irish media attention was turned to Chile was during the long episode of the miners who were trapped in the copper mine. When that episode concluded, present Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who was seeking the position of Taoiseach at the time, appeared on RTE’s prime time chat show The Late Late Show. He claimed that if elected Taoiseach he would approach the economic and political crisis with the same vigour that Piñera (the billionaire Chilean president) had approached the problem of getting the miners out of the mines.


There are other interesting coincidences between Chile and Ireland beyond the management style of certain members of the political class. For instance, because of past economic growth rates –largely a result of its mineral wealth, particularly copper- it became a commonplace to refer to Chile as ‘the jaguar of Latin America’.  It also has a caste of politicians who make a virtue out of running the country as if it were a business, and a Minister for Education with a taste for making money out of private investments in higher education.

Most reading this will be familiar with the story of Chile under Pinochet as a laboratory for the free market economics of the Chicago School after a US-backed coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.


And yet the deep inequality entrenched by the Pinochet dictatorship was within Chilean society was never properly redressed, even as the Pinochet dictatorship receded and the Concertación –a coalition of centre-left parties- took over the running of the country during the past 20 years.

Indeed, post-dictatorship Chile has long been a poster child for neo-liberal voices who sought to sugarcoat their ideological devotion to the market with a social democratic tinge. Chile was held up as the reasonable, measured alternative to the populist revolutionary inclinations of the Chávez government in Venezuela.

Consider, for instance, this analysis by British Labour Party MP Denis MacShane from 2009:

<a href=" “>Barack Obama has robbed Chávez of his main anti-American card. Washington is calling for the return of the ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and Obama is seeking to support democracy and rule of law in Latin America.


President Lula in Brazil or Michelle Bachelet in Chile are trying to create a step-by-step Latina social democracy in place of the populism inherited from the Peronist tradition.


These leaders seem more worthy of support from the British left than Chávez.

(I should point out that Manuel Zelaya did return to Honduras, but two years later, but not as president, and only after the Obama government had done everything it could to sustain the coup government and support the laundry of the coup through elections which, as Mark Weisbrot notes here,most of the rest of the hemisphere, and the world, rejected as neither free nor fair’).

It is interesting to revisit MacShane’s comments in light of a recent Wikileaks release from the US Ambassador in Chile, which ‘looks at ways the U.S. can counter Chavez and reassert U.S. leadership in the region’.

The cable assesses that

‘many of the region’s leaders and opinion makers…reject the notion that Chávez best represents the region’s interests’,

which is hardly surprising, given that the leaders and opinion makers usually come from the ruling class and largely represent ruling class interest whereas Chávez draws his support from the broad mass of poor Venezuelans.

The cable also notes that

‘Chávez has made significant inroads, particularly with local populations, by providing programs for the underprivileged and by casting the U.S. as elitist and only interested in promoting free trade to the benefit of big business.’

You would wonder how on earth he managed to convince local populations devastated by IMF adjustment policies of the latter.


‘The slogans are facile: Neoliberalism makes the rich richer and the poor poorer;’

which, as populations across Europe are now learning, is facile in the sense that ‘cigarettes are bad for you’ is also facile.

But how did the ambassador to Chile envisage Chávez’s influence could be countered? In many ways, but one way stands out:

Chile offers another excellent alternative to Chavez.  FM Foxley seeks to integrate Chile more fully into the global economy.  Chile has not only stated but demonstrated — e.g. Bachelet’s letter to House leader Nancy Pelosi expressing Chilean support for congressional ratification of FTAs with Peru, Colombia, and Panama — its willingness to help bring along other Latin American countries into the global economy.  We should look to find other ways to give Chile the lead on important initiatives, but without making them look like they are our puppets or surrogates.

This, remember, is the social democratic government of Bachelet, not the current right-wing government headed up by the billionaire Piñera, whose management style Eamon Gilmore has admired in public.

This translated account by Victor de la Fuente from the Chilean edition of Le Monde Diplomatique provides the background to what is going on in Chile at the moment.

It illustrates that if there is something that ought to inspire Ireland from Chilean experience, it has nothing to do with persisting with obedience to the dictates of the market or Labour Party leaders seeking to adopt the managerial style of Chilean billionaires, but with the mobilisation of a student movement against government which serves entrenched privilege and supra-national financial institutions.

In Chile, the dreams of Allende are reborn

Hundreds of thousands of young people are demonstrating in the streets, something that has not been seen since the final years of the dictatorship. Chilean students, in three months of mass mobilisations, have changed the face of the country and placed the right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera in an uncomfortable positon.

Chilean society has woken up after two decades in which it was half asleep, since it had somehow conformed to the idea that there was no alternative to neoliberalism.

“A stage in the history of this country is ending. It started more than twenty years ago and has encompassed five governments. It began full of hope when in 1988 the Chilean people put an end to a dictatorship. Whatever its achievements, the postdictatorial stage built up despair and frustration. The unkept promises have consolidated a profoundly unjust society”, claims a text written by three leaders of the new left force.”

“Where did the exemplary “Chilean model”, the “Latin American jaguar” end up? If forty years ago, when the country was poorer, education was free, what has happened with development and the high rates of growth? Where is the money from progress?”, the young people are asking themselves.

On the 28th of April, presaging the large movement that would be unleashed in June, the first national mobilisation of university students took place, from public and private campuses, against the high level of indebtedness that they must take on in order to  access higher education.

In May winds of change began to be felt when thirty thousand people demonstrated in Santiago, and several thousand in various cities, against the HidroAysén project, which seeks to install five mega-dams in Patagonia. The opponents reacted swiftly in defence of the environment and in condemnation of the gigantic enterprise of the multinational Endesa-Enel, linked to the Chilean group Colbún. This project, supported by the government and leaders of the right-wing parties and of the Concertación, was approved despite public opinion, thus causing widespread condemnation throughout the country.

A little earlier there had been significant regional movements, such as in Magallanes against the rise in gas prices and in Calama for obtaining benefits from the production of copper in the region, as well as land reclamation and hunger strikes by the Mapuche. Then other demands emerged, the victims of the 2010 earthquake, who are spending their second winter in emergency dwellings, the copper unions who brought the mines to a halt, the demonstrations for the right to sexual diversity, but without doubt it was the secondary school and university students with mass strikes, demonstrations and school occupations, demanding free and quality education, who transformed the situation giving another dimension to the mobilisations and cornering the right-wing government.

They question the system

The student movement attacked the very foundations of the neoliberal system, staking a claim to the role of the State and demanding that education should not be considered a commodity. They demand an end to the education system based on profit, that the military dictatorship left behind. The most chanted slogan has been: And it will fall, it will fall, the education of Pinochet!

To achieve the fundamental changes they have set out the establishment of a Constituent Assembly to elaborate a new Constitution. The students also propose that funding for free education be carried out through the renationalisation of the copper industry and tax reform.  They seek the solution to the conflict by demanding more democracy, with the establishment of a plebiscite so that the citizens decide what type of education the country wants.

The students condemned the official press which is criminalising the demonstrations, and they conducted tough criticisms of both 0the Piñera government and the Concertación. They took over the TV channel Chilevision, and they also occupied the headquarters of the ultra-right UDI and the Socialist Party.


In parallel there is a strong rebirth of the figure of Salvador Allende, young people dressed up as the socialist president were enthusiastically applauded in the demonstrations, in which placards such as “The dreams of Allende are possible” appeared. The speeches of the martyred president, conducted more than 40 years ago, on education and the nationalisation of copper, broke records for internet hits.

The student movement has been characterised by its political clarity and also for its massiveness and persistence. It has been all-encompassing, with the participation of secondary school and university students, as well as teachers, parent associations, ONGs and unions.

As with other rebellions throughout the world new technologies have been widely used, but perhaps the main thing is that it has been a democratic and participative movement. The students have sought to maintain a good relation between with the activities of the leadership and the participation of the grassroots, with assemblies held where everyone gives an opinion and decides.


They have shown great creativity in the form of their protests, each day they would appear in the streets with something new:  costumes, dances, imitations of collective suicide, mass kissing sessions, painted naked bodies, impersonation of preachers, standing still in the street, ingenious banners…by doing this they do not merely wish to attract attention, but also to involve other sectors and to distinguish themselves from the reports of street violence. They have gone as far as to repair damage caused on the fringes of the protests, painting the walls of houses or collecting money for the owner of a car that got burnt out.

Chilean education

If the mobilisations have been this strong it is also because of the injustice of the Chilean education model, implanted by the dictatorship and developed by the civil governments that succeeded it.

In primary and secondary education, in the last three decades there was a boom in private or subsidised schools, which nowadays take in 60% of pupils. There is not a single free public university since all of them –the public as well as the private- charge high fees, the only such case in Latin America.

Less than 25% of the education system is funded by the State and more than 75% of the rest depends on student payments. The State only dedicates 4.4% of GDP to education, considerably less than the 7% recommended by UNESCO. Today there are 60 universities in Chile, the majority of them private. The students must pay between 170,000 and 400,000 Chilean pesos (€250 and €600) monthly, in a country in which the minimum wage is €182,000 (less than €300) and the median salary 512,000 pesos (less than €800).

This situation means 70% of Chilean students take out student loans. 65% of the poorest quintiles stop their university degree because of economic problems.

According to the sociologist Mario Garcés it is a case of a perverse system, that leaves thousands of middle and working class Chileans in debt as soon as they finish study, since student loan repayment begins with one’s first job. He adds that education stopped being a mechanism for social mobility in Chile and ended up the opposite: a system for the reproduction of inequality.

Why now?

It is true that there were student mobilisations during the different governments of the Concertación, including that of 2006, under the presidency of Michelle Bachelet, known as “The revolution of the penguins” (because of the dark colour of the uniform and the white shirt of the secondary school students in public colleges).

However, never, in the last twenty years, were the protests so important as these. During two decades the Concertación administered the system by trying to maintain the complex balance between market policies and state regulation. It carried out some reforms, managing to lower the rates of poverty and extreme poverty, but raising inequalities,  leaving Chile as one of the 15 most unequal countries on the planet. At the beginning the Concertación had the benefit of the positive image of having contributed to the end of the dictatorship, but the discontent and the criticisms from the population kept building up, along with the indebtedness of the students. The injustice of the system became flagrant with the arrival of an openly right wing government that runs the country like a business.

Sebastián Piñera and the new leaders arrived with an even clearer conception of leaving education in the hands of the market, which was the last straw, moreover the young –who did not live under dictatorship- are less influenced by anti-statism.

Conflicts of interest also contributed to the student rebellion since the Minister of Education himself, Joaquín Lavín was a founder and shareholder of the Universidad del Desarrollo [a private university – R].

The discredit of the political class is at a high level. All opinion surveys show a persistent drop in support for right-wing parties in government and also in support for the Concertación, currently in opposition.

The young people only trust their own forces and those of the social movements, but neither in the parties nor in the institutions, rejecting the mediation of politicians and even the Church.

The government, in tackling the mobilisations, has used dialogue and repression, moving more and more toward the criminalisation of the movement. The official press –that is, nearly the entire press- has emphasised the violent actions, which have taken place at the end of many demonstrations, promoted by marginal groups, some of them delinquents and infiltrators, even police, who have been denounced using videos and photos.

The fourth of August past turned out to be “Black Thursday” for the government. The president Sebastián Piñera said “everything has a limit” and the Minister of the Interior, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, denied the right to students to demonstrate down the Alameda [the main thoroughfare in Santiago – R], as had become customary. The repression was systematic during the whole day, and 874 students were arrested, according to official figures. The response of the citizens did not take long in coming and that very night the street demonstrations, the ‘cacerolazos’ throughout every neighbourhood and city in Chile. The government, with its intransigence, turned the march into a National Protest, as in the times of the dictatorship. That same 4th of August the influential CEP survey gave Sebastián Piñera only 26% support, the lowest rating for a president since the return of democracy.

The students persist in their mobilisations, they reject the proposals of the government to lower the loan rates and they demand a radical change of the system. They have joined the rest of the social movements, they are taking part in the National Strike on the 24th and 25th of August and they continue to seek a plebiscite so that the Chileans themselves decide democratically. In whatever way the mobilisations might continue, a new form of practising politics has been born, from the social movements. The young Chileans are opening the great avenues that Allende mentioned.



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Time For…!!!

The quasi-official term indignados used to name the 15-M movement in Spain derives from the perception that the inspiration for the movement was the Spanish translation of Stéphane Hessel’s bestselling book Indignez-Vous!, or in Spanish ¡Indignaos!. The proverb that one should not judge a book by its cover is a wise one, but it is interesting to compare the French cover


and the Spanish cover



and the English language cover:


Whereas the first two are simple, direct and emphatic, the third is disconcertingly elaborate. For one, what is the relevance to the content of the pen sketch of Hessel? Practically no-one knows who he is in English-speaking countries so it’s not going to capture people’s attention by making them think, oh look, a book by that guy

Also, what is the point of the French flag? True enough, Hessel is French and was a member of the Resistance and the book deals with France more than other countries, naturally enough. But the addressees of Indignez-Vous! are not specifically French. Hessel is at pains to emphasise the universal dimension to his concern (he was one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) as opposed to the ‘international’ dimension proposed in the drafting of the UDHR by those he describes as ‘our Anglo-American friends’. 

Thus the book is presented to the English-speaking market not as a political text intended to rouse outrage, but as a cultural artefact; a curiosity to be inspected by political anoraks who might take an occasional interest in things going on across the channel. Moreover, by translating the title as ‘Time for Outrage!’, the sense of a text that directly and urgently addresses a collective is lost, and in its stead there is a near parody of a call to arms. ‘Time for Outrage?!’ – under what circumstances would you find yourself shouting that at someone? It sounds like the sort of thing an Oxbridge drinking society might shout in the event of some rotter making off with their crate of Pimms.

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Time For…!!!

The quasi-official term indignados used to name the 15-M movement in Spain derives from the perception that the inspiration for the movement was the Spanish translation of Stéphane Hessel’s bestselling book Indignez-Vous!, or in Spanish ¡Indignaos!. The proverb that one should not judge a book by its cover is a wise one, but it is interesting to compare the French cover


and the Spanish cover


and the English language cover:


Whereas the first two are simple, direct and emphatic, the third is disconcertingly elaborate. For one, what is the relevance to the content of the pen sketch of Hessel? Practically no-one knows who he is in English-speaking countries so it’s not going to capture people’s attention by making them think, oh look, a book by that guy

Also, what is the point of the French flag? True enough, Hessel is French and was a member of the Resistance and the book deals with France more than other countries, naturally enough. But the addressees of Indignez-Vous! are not specifically French. Hessel is at pains to emphasise the universal dimension to his concern (he was one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) as opposed to the ‘international’ dimension proposed in the drafting of the UDHR by those he describes as ‘our Anglo-American friends’. 

Thus the book is presented to the English-speaking market not as a political text intended to rouse outrage, but as a cultural artefact; a curiosity to be inspected by political anoraks who might take an occasional interest in things going on across the channel. Moreover, by translating the title as ‘Time for Outrage!’, the sense of a text that directly and urgently addresses a collective is lost, and in its stead there is a near parody of a call to arms. ‘Time for Outrage?!’ – under what circumstances would you find yourself shouting that at someone? It sounds like the sort of thing an Oxbridge drinking society might shout in the event of some rotter making off with their crate of Pimms.

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News Corporation director José Maria Aznar and his wife attending mass celebrated by Pope at World Youth Day in Spain (Juan Carlos Hidalgo (Efe) via).


Poster for 1993 film Tirano Banderas, based on a 1927 novel of the same by Ramón del Valle-Inclán, about a despotic dictator who rules the fictitious Santa Fe de Tierra (Holy Faith of Earth).

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Ah Now For President

(to be sung to the tune of Who’s Gonna Feed Them Hogs by Tom T. Hall. Credit for the original idea to Eoin.)


Ah Now For President

I met him in a hospital about a week ago

He was lyin’ on a trolley and his voice was hushed and low

He said “son I’ve been here two whole weeks and don’t want to start a row

But the man I want for President is the man they call Ah Now.”


“Ah Now for President he does work behind the scenes

No-one else comes close you see for greeting kings and queens

Ah Now for President put an end to Ireland’s shame

Just the man to open Tesco Extras in our name”


I scratched my head “Who dat?” says I and he “Why, don’t you know?”

“Ah Now’s the only fella to keep this place on the go

He’s an economist, a jurist, a banker of great fame

And when silly doubts start bubblin’ up the folks cry out his name


“Ah Now for President that is the nation’s dream

The markets gave their blessing and they want him on our team

Ah Now for President that all important function

Just the man to serve our superegos an injunction.”


He was getting kinda heated and I said to him “relax”

But old fella here kept fussin’ on ’bout corporation tax

And the public sector workers who just had to share the pain

But when I mentioned bank bailouts he issued this refrain:


“Ah Now for President the man for stormy weather

No flouncing prima donnas now, we’re all in this together

Ah Now for President to bring us back to wealth

He’ll help you help the IMF to help you help yourself.


“The name Ah Now was firstly heard up on Calvary

When Jesus cried out “God above, why you forsakin’ me?”

Well the clouds they parted there and then, as the life drained from his brow

And from the heavens up above a voice cried out AH NOW!”


“Ah Now for President to lead us from the dark

I’ve visions of eighty thousand people packin’ out Croke Park

It’s twenty sixteen, and here we are, renewing our vows

Our hands on heart to breed a race of six million Ah Nows”

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Only asking, like, for debate, like.


Look at this poll here by the Journal. It is a consequence of a call made by a Fine Gael councillor to have it banned. Here is how the Journal reported the Fine Gael councillor’s call:


Simply by making the call himself, the councillor was now leading a more generalised call, as though this were a civil society movement of some description, like the call to end slavery, or the call for mortgage forgiveness, and not simply the knee-jerk reaction of people here and there when confronted with burqa scare stories.

There are lots of things to be said about this, but I would like to focus on just one: the wording of the second option in the poll: ‘I oppose a ban: women should be allowed to wear the burqa’. This option smuggles in a rather troublesome premise: that regardless of the decision taken to ban it or not, the state has the legitimate power to ban it. Not only that, but it is the state that authorises the woman to wear the burqa -and by extension, everything else- in the first place. So beneath the veneer of ‘let’s-have-the-debate!’ liberalish there is a wholly uncritical and automatic acceptance of the invincible legitimacy of state power.

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The relation between the power of the Church and class power are seldom considered. In mainstream discourse the standard practice in Ireland is to talk about the Church and the State as two monolithic entities and not bother mentioning class at all. So it is of no relevance, for instance, that many of the most exclusive schools in the country whose purpose is the cultivation of an elite, demanding huge fees for entry but still receiving funding from the state, are run by Church orders. So the Irish Times sees no issue in referring to the ‘prestigious Gonzaga College‘, a Jesuit school, as though this prestige were part of the natural order of things. In fairness,that is the way many of its alumni see it. How is it that a religion whose founder was crucified by the powers that be ended up with a Church hierarchy that in many places for long periods was -and still is- a key element of those powers? This translated article by Vicenç Navarro deals with one part of the answer: the saints.


I should point out from the start that I am not a believer, that is, I do not possess what believers call ‘the gift of faith’. I belong however to a family and a tradition that always drew a distinction between religions on the one hand and the institutions that reproduce it, such as the Church, on the other. My parents taught me to respect religions and believers, but not always the ecclesiastical authorities that run the churches, which, as human institutions, configure religions and their beliefs so as to optimise the interests that keep them going. An example of this is the composition of the collective of saints and blessed in the Catholic religion, picked out by the highest authorities in the Catholic Church. The study of who is named a saint, when, how and why, says a lot about this institution and its interests during the 20 centuries of its existence. It is highly interesting (especially for those who study how power is generated and reproduced) to analyse how this is perceived by the heads of the Catholic Church and what the objectives are in naming a particular person as a saint, and their relation to this power.


In theory, the naming of saints has the objective of establishing reference points, that is, models for orienting Catholic believers, since it is part of the teachings of the Catholic hierarchy to honour and celebrate them. They are therefore exemplary individuals that should inspire the Church faithful. But to be “exemplary” also implies that we should know what they are exemplary of, and the objective behind this. And this becomes very clear when one analyses the political context that largely configured the decision to bestow sainthood on some people as opposed to others.

These thoughts arise from reading an article titled ‘Roman Catholic Sainthood and Social Status: a Statistical and Analytical Study’, published by two historians at the University of Rochester, Katherine and Charles H. George, in the Journal of Religion. This article obtained most of its data from the detailed biography of the saints by Alban Butler, along with the work of Herbert Thurston and others, published in a total of twelve volumes.

What the article’s researchers sought to know was the social class or social status of the 2,494 saints about whom there is enough biography published. Needless to say there are considerable methodological problems when trying to compare social class or status throughout history since the establishment of the Catholic Church. But the authors of the article have carried out credible and rigorous work, showing in each epoch those sectors of the population that corresponded to the upper classes (nobility in the feudal epoch and bourgeoisie in the capitalist epoch, for example), middle classes and popular [in Spanish – ‘popular’ – R] classes with lower status. It turns out the authors found that the large majority (1,950 of the 2,494, that is, 78%) belonged to upper statuses, which they define as upper class; 422 (17%) were middle status, and only 122 (5%) came from the popular classes.


The authors of the study point out that the upper classes, of high status, made up only 5% of the population of the countries studied; the classes of middle status 10-15%; and the popular classes made up the great majority (from 80 to 85%). The exemplary beings for the Catholic Church were on the whole people from ruling elites, and this in spite of the famous saying in the Bible that “it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven”. Naturally not all ruling elites throughout the history of the last 20 centuries were the richest people in that society, but it is a reasonable supposition to assume that if they were not, they were at least at their service.

What is even more interesting is the social composition of the saints according to the century in which they were named. And it is only in the first century of Christianity when the saints belonging to higher status are not the majority. In the first century, people of middle and popular status had more possibilities of being named a saint. Not so from the second century on. Since then, the domination of saints  among the upper classes is almost absolute, reaching its high point during the Middle Ages, a period in which the Church acquired greater power and wealth. In reality, sainthood was frequently related to the donation of riches to the Church, to the point that entire families were named saints. For example, the noble Dagobert was named a saint, as were his mother, his grandmother and his four children. The noble Dagobert and his relations donated all their properties, on dying, to the church. This domination by upper class saints diminished somewhat in the 18th,19th and 20th century, when other groups of middle ranking status emerged which the Church wished to capture. Saints among the popular classes, however, continued to be a minority.


In Spain, apart from status, what has been decisive when it comes to conceding sainthood, has been one’s position within the co-ordinates of power. Thus the naming to sainthood of Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei and the defender of the military coup and dictatorship it established, as well as that of the priests killed by out of control groups (and opposed by the Government of the Republic), without ever sanctifying the Basque priests killed by the putchist State, is a clear indicator of how the Church identifies with the antidemocratic and reactionary forces in power in Spain, for which the Church was their central ideological support. And its leaders are proud of it.




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The Reinvention of Nearly Everything?

Andrew Brown in today’s Guardian writes, of the protests in Madrid against the pope’s visit:

the ability of mainstream Christianity to attract a crowd of 1.5 million young people seems to me a damn sight more newsworthy, since we expect people to protest against the pope, and we do not expect them to turn out in large numbers to support or see him.

Numbers don’t prove truth, of course. But they are measures of commitment, and of political importance. Three hundred times as many people have travelled to Madrid to see the pope as have travelled to protests against him. Which group is more important to know about?

There is something of truth to this. People should be interested in the social forces that lead 1.5 million people to Madrid, and of the wider social and political implications for such a movement. So what are they? 

Pope Benedict XVI is in Madrid  for the celebration of World Youth Day. In Spanish, this translates as Jornada Mundial de la Juventud, or JMJ as per the common abbreviation. Not being well up on World Youth Day in Spanish, the first time I saw JMJ used in association with the Pope in a newspaper headline I thought it stood for Jesús Maria y José.


The Pope’s visit has caused a lot of consternation. For lots of reasons, not least for the fact that the Spanish hierarchy of the Catholic Church are megalomaniacal demagogues closely associated with the most reactionary sections of the Spanish ruling class, or the fact that the Catholic Church in Spain for the most part was deeply intertwined with Franco’s fascist regime. It is therefore seen as an affront by many Spanish people who want a fully secular state that World Youth Day’s staging in Madrid should be solicitilously attended to by the Madrid government. Those who have taken to the streets to protest have been beaten off it by the police. Here in this video, at 1:30, you can see the police beat a young woman (to whom they refer as a ‘niña’ – a young girl) and a journalist.

Various journalists have complained of their violent treatment at the hands of the police. In this video below, you can see a police officer remove the credentials of a journalist, and refuse to answer her questions as to why he is doing so. He then claims that he is unable to identify her properly because her credentials do not contain the name of her parents, her address..he then threatens to thump her, and demands that she produce identification. He then calls for her to be placed in handcuffs.

My own feeling about this is that we are witnessing a recrudescence of right-wing authoritarian Christianity as a product of the political and economic crisis sweeping Europe.

This is not quite so palpable in Ireland, since the brute facts of the abuse perpetrated by Catholic Church authorities are fresh in the public mind. But even in Ireland, there are some aspects of the reaction to the abuse scandal that bear consideration.

First of all, in his much-praised speech in the Dáil, Enda Kenny spoke not only in his capacity as Taoiseach but as a faithful member of the Catholic Church. He used Catholic teaching to repudiate the actions of the Church hierarchy. He spoke of the ‘good priests’, the ‘Church’s light and goodness’. He talked about what the Church needed to do for its own good (‘to be a penitent Church’). He said that it needed to do this ‘in the name of God’, and ‘for the good of the institution’. He spoke of his agreement with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. And yet the robustness of his statement that the Church should not be above the law of the State -hardly a radical stance- was greeted as though it were a heroic and epoch-changing declaration.


More recently, Wednesday night in fact, TV3 broadcast an edition of Tonight With Vincent Browne, presented by Libertas founder Declan Ganley.


Ganley is also the ‘chairman and chief executive‘ of St. Columbanus AGThis Swiss asset management company claims on its website that the firm was:

named after St. Columbanus who emerged from the austerity of Celtic Christianity to become one of the most outstanding sources of cultural, educational, and spiritual renewal in Europe, which was struggling to create a new unity from the many regional conflicts resulting from the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries.

On the Browne programme, Ganley featured David Quinn, Irish Independent columnist and head of the Iona Institute, a right-wing Catholic think-tank. Also present was Breda O’Brien, a fellow member of the Iona Institute, and Kevin O’Connell, a former Metropolitan Police commissioner . The topic under discussion was the London riots. The emphasis of the discussion, resolutely enforced by the leaden insistence of Ganley, was that the riots could be explained in terms of absent fathers and abdication of parental responsibility, and that prevailing political and economic conditions had nothing to do with it.

Richard Boyd Barrett of the United Left Alliance was ceaselessly interrupted and the right-wing commentators were given free rein to make their case, unencumbered by any need to cite evidence or justify assessments. While this may be merely a stronger dose of the formula usually pursued by the normal presenter, it is striking that Ganley had been given the slot in the first instance. In one of his previous appearances on the show, in which he had been invited to respond to a new book on Marx by Kieran Allen, Ganley used the opportunity to bark anti-communist gobbledygook, demonstrating in the process that he had not even bothered to read the book. It might therefore seem odd that he should be considered a suitable candidate to present a current affairs programme. But the pedigree did not matter: in the end, it was welcomed. And this provided Ganley the opportunity to dedicate a full programme to the association of morality with police.


Of particular note here was David Quinn’s invocation of Edmund Burke, whom he claimed had spoken of an ‘inner policeman’ -derived from parental and clerical authority- that removed the need for more police on the street. It scarcely matters here if the ‘inner policeman’ is a religious deity in disguise or the incarnation of a forbidding patriarchal male superego: what it demonstrates is how austerity becomes fertile ground for an authoritarian imagination. It is worth noting in passing that Edmund Burke -who was pro-slavery and believed that the law of the market was the law of god- recognised that an authority based on fear would rob the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning.


(A few little drops of fear always comes in handy when consolidating democracies)

We should therefore ask what real resistance there is in Ireland to a revamped version of Catholicism based on a veneration of capitalism-and-freedom and accompanied by a message of renewal and rebuilding.

Back to Spain. Below is a translated piece by Juan Carlos Monedero, more of whose work I translated here.

Benedict XVI in Spain, Ratzinger in the Puerta del Sol, 15-M in the street.

History tells us it is a religious custom to exterminate those who, having a same intellectual fixation -consistent with believing in imaginary or real beings with highly unlikely- attribute those extraordinary facts to a being with a different affilation to one’s own. Sin was not initially so much about not unbelief, but believing in the same thing with slight differences. It was only with the development of civilisation that the number of atheists grew. This increased the range of candidates for execution, since as well as the heretics, there were now the wicked and the godless. It should not be surprising that, from time to time, religious believers reach an agreement to get rid of a common enemy, leaving their history of fighting for later. At the end of the day, who cares if an atheist gets stabbed by a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim or an Orthodox?

Though it might seem strange, to burn those who profess a different religion is part of the evolutionary process, even though, at the same time, it is still a clear sign that it is not enough for the process of hominization to be complete to assume that the process of humanisation is also complete. When homo sapiens developed langauge, he began to bury the dead (something that no other species does). A cold eye cast over the past can freeze the smile of those who do not dare to think of themselves as one of eternity’s random episodes. What happens when the gods are everything but kind? If instead of being an explanation for evil they are its directors?

The neanderthals, that extinct ancestor of ours -that gave way to the cro-magnons from which today’s humans come, including the pope- already worshipped the dead. This meant that they thought in some sort of life after death and in some keeper for the inn beyond the grave. And yet, they disappeared as a species. When a whole human species intelligent enough to believe in gods disappears, is it because it wasn’t sufficiently developed to believe in the true god? If this were the case, what guarantees are there that today’s homo sapiens, which has given so many indications of brutality and backwardness, is not condemned to the same fate, such that those gods in which it believes abandon it and make it disappear from the world? As Isidore of Seville said, live as if you were going to die tomorrow and study as if you were going to live forever.

The less believable something is, the more pomp and circumstance it needs. To crown a king needs more pageantry than hanging a sash on an elected president. Judges have so little credibility that they need to dress up. It is unthinkable to have an army without dungeons for those who question the stripes. And the Catholic Church prefers to spend 50 million euro on proselytising rather than send that money to the Horn of Africa. Jesus Christ, if he were alive today, would be in Somalia. Though he would have been excommunicated by Rome beforehand. The pope, on the other hand, prefers Spain. And to prepare his visit, Ratzinger sent the Jungen Katholiken to take the Puerta del Sol. It could have been nice to live and let live in Madrid (with those communities who have been locked in, making the streets their own). But that was not how it turned out. They lack the irreverence of the young. A young person who does not ask questions of herself has been born old. Some of these young Catholics, after leaving McDonalds in Arenal street, tried to stop the secular march from entering Sol. But theindignados had already learned the way. “This plaza/belongs to the pope”, said the Catholics. And the indignados, looking on them with clemency, thought: “what ignorance”. Although, with the things of the beyond, who could find the right argument?

Days earlier, within the 15-M movement the pope’s visit was discussed. As is often the case, the movement showed its wisdom. It has nothing against the individual beliefs of anyone, but against a religion that wants to tell everyone else how they have to behave. And, moreover, with public money. This is, mainly, the complaint against the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the administrative successor of the Holy Inquisition). But it is obvious that there are more reasons.

In 1953, the US and the Vatican were the countries that broke the international isolation of the Francoist dictatorship, which was born out of the defeat of the constitutional government of the Republic. The gringos did it in exchange for military bases. The Church, in exchange for privileges.


It was the same Catholic Church that blessed Franco’s cannons, that allowed the dictator to enter cathedrals under a canopy, that placed its corps of priests in the service of the denunciation, punishment and repression of Republican men and women. 


The same Church that has not sought forgiveneess for the Francoist genocide supported by the Catholich hierarchy. It was Ratzinger who recommended that the pilgrims visit the Valley of the Fallen, the mausoleum in honour of fascism, built by Republican slave labour.


Difficult to say hello to him nicely on the streets of Madrid. One keeps imagining him making the Nazi salute.

After the short parenthesis of the Second Vatican Council and the Church of the poor promoted by John XVIII, John Paul II, and his armed wing, the current Pope Benedict XVI, set about breaking the spine of liberation theology. In this task of demolishing the greatest renewal of the Church in the past two centuries, they relied on the Legion of Christ and Opus Dei, the latter elevated to Personal Prelature. Do we need reminding that the founder of the Legion, Father Maciel, was responsible for polygamy, paedophilia and corruption?


Do we need reminding that Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer was an important pillar of the Francoist dictatorship? Ratzinger was the main instigator of the cover up of the crimes of paedophilia within the Church. If in democratic Ireland there is evidence of more than 25,000 cases of abuse of minors, what happened under the dictatorship in Spain? Only in 2010, Benedict XVI denounced the “appalling crime” of paedophilia. But when the Irish authorities sought to apply the same laws to priests as to any other civilian, the Pope recalled his ambassador, in a clear threat of breaking off diplomatic relations. The crimes of the Church have tribunals that only concern their god.

In Spain we have spent too much time putting up with the privileges of the Catholic Church, despite Spain being a secular country. Privileges in education, where public money is used to finance religious schools; privileges in tax returns, where one is invited to dedicate the social contribution (even in 2011!) to the Catholic Church; privileges in the funding of priests and their presence in public spaces; privileges in the funding of activities of proselytism (such as the current visit); privileges in the dereliction of duties on the part of prosecuting authorities on a multitude of crimes -sexual, real estate, banking, media, homophobic, patriarchal, racist or of other types committed by members of the priesthood. Privileges that emanate from a Concordat negotiated before the Constitution and whose Francoist character makes it incompatible withour democracy. When a group of crazed individuals who confer extrasensory qualities on the state show contempt for the lives of others [not sure what he’s talking about here – R], the law ejects them from institutions and closes, even without any proof, their magazines and newspapers. And why should the press organ of the archbishop of Madrid be afforded the luxury of calling for rape to be removed from the penal code? Why does this ecclesiastical invitation to rapists, in a country that still murders women, not receive penal prosecution?

Ratzinger in Madrid has come to the city that has woken up. The city that is telling tired Europe how it has to reinvent itself. Since Machiavelli at least, one does not believe in coincidences. Cameron the conservative blames the disturbances in London on the “loss of values”. Not on the rupture of the egalitarian foundations of democracy. He repeats, albeit with less intelligence, Daniel Bell’s argument in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976), a work intended to do its little bit for the struggle between the crisis of legitimacy that the left explained and the request for governmentality and demand for Moral-Christian rearmament of the right. And one of the main intellectual battles is going to be fought in Madrid. On the side of the Vatican -and Spanish national-catholicism- there will be an attempt to raise the religious Reconquista from the capital of the kingdom. The 15-M movement, on the other side, is going to keep calling for a democracy that is worthy of the name, and that is incompatible with the dark kingdom as signified by the obscurantist, authoritarian and reactionary conception of the Vatican. The right wing is clear in its aim. The police charge in the Puerta del Sol makes one think that the government is still stumbling. If social democracy, which has lost its direction since adopting the third way, loses the banner of secularism, what does it have left?


All the more reason to continue to call for the reinvention of nearly everything.



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I was looking at the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2011 online (my fund manager forgot to post me a copy). It has some very interesting detail about the desires and concerns of certain people:

high-net-worth individual (HNWI)

These are defined as a ‘person whose investible assets, excluding their principal residence, total between $1m and $10m’.

ultra-high-net-worth individual (UHNWI)

These are people ‘whose investible assets, excluding their primary residence, are valued at over $10m’.


Eating into profits

For instance, the type of thing they invest in.


So instead of using land to produce crops for food for people, this will be used to make fuel for machines. Demand for food will rise as potential sources of supply are limited, and HNWIs want a piece of the action. But there are problems!

A spectre is haunting High-Net-Worth-Individuals

South America also offers farming on a massive scale and remains a preferred target for many investors because of its productive climate and soils, but values in more popular areas have started to climb. The spectre of farmland nationalisation, as seen in Venezuela, also worries some investors.


Critics of foreign land ownership in Africa, especially deals where most of the crops are shipped back to the investing nation, call it a new form of colonialism of little benefit to hungry populations. The political upheaval in Tunisia was partly driven by the rising cost of food. Indeed, Stephen Johnston of Canadian fund manager Agcapita prefers to keep his investors’ capital closer to home. “We could have gone anywhere,” he says. “But I don’t think you can make a long-term case for investing in developing countries. Poor people vote and politicians listen. At some point, somebody will get elected who will nationalise farmland.”

This whole poor people voting, politicians listening thing is just not on. Someone should have a word.

Displeasure at other people’s leisure

Feeling like you’re doomed to spend your life working, or looking for work, and the remainder of your time dealing with household tasks, paying off exorbitant household bills and generally doing a whole pile of stuff you don’t want to be doing? The High-Net-Worth-Individuals feel that way too! About you, that is. They don’t see much of a future in the whole business of relaxing.


The Havens And The Have-Nots

You would think, wouldn’t you, what with the attention devoted to tax havens these days, that the tendency would be towards a clampdown. Not so, according to this geezer


You may, if you are a High Net Worth Individual, be nonetheless concerned at the negative attention being devoted to tax havens. You will therefore be gratified to learn that the arc of indirect taxation bends in your favour, and away from the proles.


So to use a practical example, it is a good thing for the global rich that indirect taxes such as the upcoming household charge in Ireland are imposed, because this will mean that they won’t have to rely on tax havens so much! Neat, yes?

Barack Obama meanwhile, is proving his socialist tendencies by presiding over a 15% growth in the wealth of High Net Worth American Individuals to $13,000,000,000,000. And that’s only in the course of 2010.    


Ireland, of course, has had its wealth destroyed, as everyone knows. Not a weekend has passed without a Sunday Independent story about some poor rich soul deciding to end it all. But sure it isn’t all bad news:


On a per capita basis, The Little State That Could is still punching well above its weight in terms of having lots of rich people. And of course the trend toward indirect taxation in Ireland will soften the blow for Ireland’s HNWIs at there being only five Irish billionaires.

Something for us all to be cheery about, what?



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