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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Talking about economics...

Very late (and lazy) ...but just came across this podcast of my contribution to the TASC conference last October in Dublin City University....enjoy

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Celebrating the Cuban Revolution

Off later this afternoon for a boat trip on the river Lagan for a trades unionist organised celebration of the Cuban revolution in 1959. The revolution is now 51 years old and the 26th July movement celebrates the 1953 campaign leading up to the overthrown of the Batista dictatorship, which began with Castro and others attacking the Mocanda barracks in Santiago de Cuba

While of course not saying that Cuba is perfect, it has abused the human rights of its citizens in the past and is still short of being a democracy - and therefore should be criticised - it has made some remarkable achievements nevertheless and has on the whole improved the welfare and lives of millions of Cubans. The fact that it's managed to survive in the face of concerted US pressure and the continuing blockage led by the US (though Obama has relaxed some of the worse excesses of the Helms-Burton act) is remarkable and something worthy of celebrating.

Not least of the reasons is the fact that Cuba had its 'peak oil' experience decades ago when the Soviet Union collapsed and had to adjust rapidly to a declining oil economy. The Power of Community film that's commonly shown and discussed in the Transition Town movement is about how Cuba responded to growing food when oil, chemicals, fertiliser, machinery etc (the oil-based elements of industrialised agriculture) gives an indication of the ingenuity and community-based solutions Cubans came up with. Cuba, warts and all, therefore has something to teach us...and then there's the fact that it has some of the best health care outcomes for its citizens that countries with much more wealth....and at the UN Haiti Donor Conference on March 31st, the government of Cuba made the offer to rebuild the entire Haitian National Health Service. What this translates into is that Cuba has made a commitment to Haiti greater than the entire G7 bloc...nuff said...

Hasta La Victoria Siempre !

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Economics Anti-Textbook...

Just got a copy of The Economics Anti-Textbook: a critical thinker's guide to micro-economics - really looking forward to reading it. Have just posted a quick 'preview' on Progressive Economy...will do a full review when I've read it fully...

Celebrating the 12th across the entire island

Former PD leader and Irish minister for justice, Michael McDowell made a (calculated) media splash at the annual McGill Summer School in the Glenties in Co. Donegal this week by suggesting that the 12th of July should be celebrated in the Republic of Ireland. Before I give my own reaction/take on this I want to point out how his suggestion was received here in 'norn iron'.

His comments were welcomed by the Orange Order and some unionist politicans while others, such as the normally sensible Nick Garbutt in the Newsletter condemned it his opinion piece yesterday 'Flags, Emblems and Ignorance' His argument completely by-passed the possibilities and debate opened up by McDowell's comments, focusing instead in McDowell's starting position of 'republicanism' and the fact that not all Protestant or Unionists are members of the Orange Order. On the former point I think McDowell was engaging in an attempt to reclaim republicanism from Sinn Fein (something that is to be welcomed and indeed the articulation of a 'civic republicanism' is something I support and have attempted to flesh out from a green political perspective in some of my academic writings). On the latter Nick seems to approach the debate about a more inclusive celebration and public acknowledgement of the 'orange tradition' in Ireland, determined from the outset to reduce that tradition to the Orange Order. That was not McDowell's point at all. His references to truly celebrating the 'orange panel' in the Irish Tricolour is, if one reads his speech, is about the 'non-gaelic, non-catholic' tradition on the island of Ireland i.e. that bit which is (take your pick, British, Anglo-Irish, Ulster Scots) and largely located in Northern Ireland. No one, I think, reduces the 'orange panel' to the Orange Order but the call for the celebration of the 12th opens up a debate about the Republic of Ireland becoming more mature and inclusive and living up to the spirit of a republican polity and society in the public acknowledgement of pluralism and diversity (and as indicated below, a recognition of the sectarianism suffered by the Protestant community in the Republic. But more significantly, and taking Nick's point head on, it raises the issue of what the 12th of July celebrations mean for those Protestants and Unionists who are not members of supporters of the Orange Order. It seems to me that this calls for a debate about whether there is a need for another non-Orange Order, non-12th July celebration of Britishness, Anglo-Irishness, Ulster-Scottishness etc? Because at present this public celebration is defined and confined to the 12th July. Thus it is unfair to criticise McDowell for reducing the cultural celebration and public display and acknowledgement of Unionism to the 12th celebrations since there are no other ones currently available. But the main issue is that McDowell should be congratulated not accused of ignorance for starting a long overdue debate on this issue.

My own views are that what McDowell's suggestion opens up is to be first and foremost to be welcomed. If the Republic of Ireland is to live up to its 'republican' (i.e. civic republican) not Irish nationalist character (though of course the latter has historically dominated and coopted the former) then making the 12th July a public holiday in the Republic - or failing that, providing some state-backed i.e. public recognition of it (beyond the President hosting a 'private' reception), has another (in my view) progressive advantage. And that is the acknowledgement within the Republic of Ireland that the Protestant community has suffered sectarian discrimination, marginalisation and unequal treatment since the foundation of the Irish state. That this discrimination was uneven, subtle and did not mirror the levels suffered by Catholics in Northern Ireland, does not in any way undermine the fact that there has been a wall of silence and a refusal within the Republic of Ireland to acknowledge the fact that to think that 'sectarianism' was and is something confined to Northern Ireland in general and is another term for 'anti-Catholic' in particular, was and is simply wrong.

That many within the Protestant community in the Republic quickly realised that to get by within the new state the best course was to 'keep their heads down' is itself evidence of how, to abuse that well-worn phrase and apply it to a different context, the Republic of Ireland was 'a cold house for Protestants'. It is of course for members of the Protestant community in the Republic themselves to articulate the extent to which this was and is the case, and it is good to see that in the last number of years there has been a steady stream of academic research focusing on the sectarianism and discrimination experienced by them.

If we are to build a new relationship between the two parts of the island, the two dominant political and religious traditions (which involves the active seeking to create a more pluralist set of identities upon which to base political interests and politics), then a public debate needs to begin the Republic of Ireland around the claim that it was 'a cold house for Protestants'. This has begun - fitfully - for an example see the exchange between Senator Eoghan Harris and historian John A Murphy on the extent of anti-Protestant discrimination in Cork

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Killing the Messenger: Con-Libs close down the Sustainable Development Commission

The cuts have begun...the Con-Lib coalition has lost no time in cutting one of the few 'critical friends' of the government, the Sustainable Development Commission, described as an 'arms length agency' by the DEFRA (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) Minister who announced it was to be axed at the end of the current financial year in the House of Commons on Monday. Also to go is the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which shared with the SDC an unrivalled reputation of evidence-based, brave and courageous inquiries, reports, holding government to account and advocacy.

Clearly the Tories don't want any friends paid by the taxpayer (critical or otherwise) while they're running the show (as a rule Tories don't have too many friends...unless the 'market' dictates some 'optimum' number of course). The message is clear, the Tories (despite Cameron's piffle about 'being the greenest government ever') could not give a fuck about the environment, climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, soil fertility erosion or any of the other related newly categorised 'non-problems' the UK faces. Have a problem with the implications of really implementing 'sustainable development'? Well, here's a solution, simply kill the messenger. Power speaks so clearly and eloquently when it this case organises something 'out' without reason. Why should a reason be given, the fact that the government has spoken and determined that the £3 million saved from the SDC is 'the reason' is sufficient...nevermind that it was one of the few decent initiatives of the previous government in terms of preparing this country for life in the 21st century, that is life in a carbon constrained, climate changed world.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Centre for Progressive Economics

Sneak peak of a new progressive think tank I'm involved with in that space!

Mission statement of the new Centre

The Centre for Progressive Economics Economic exists to promote an alternative, progressive economics for Northern Ireland and beyond. A range of progressive economists, activists and social policy researchers working in universities, the labour movement and activist research organizations have come together to break the cosy neo-liberal consensus that controls the public debate and dominates economic policy. We have joined forces to ensure that a critical and alternative perspective is heard.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

New publication

Bit of self-promotion...well if I don't do it who will? Just got the proofs of a new book Renewable Energy and the Public, edited by Patrick Devine-Wright in which I have a co-authored chapter (with Geraint Ellis, a colleague from Queens). Our chapter's entitled 'Beyond Consensus?: Agonism, Republicanism and
a Low Carbon Future'.

One of the things we argue for is that the transition to a low carbon economy should not shy about from embracing, accepting and ultimately viewing conflict, debate and disagreement about that transition as negative or worse, to shut up, marginalise or otherwise vilify those who object to the decarbonisation of the economy in general or who raise objections to specific renewable and low carbon energy technologies or initiatives - such as most commonly objections to wind farms. Rather, from a broadly civic republican perspective (which values pluralism and agonistic/respectful democratic disagreement over 'consensus') we suggest that what is required is to move the debate away from a narrow focus on renewable or low carbon energy production (which is sadly the dominant political response). To quote from our conclusion:

"The argument we have outlined is that, by allowing a greater range of options for communities to choose how (but not whether) they ‘do their bit’, changes their incentive structure to allow a greater range of low carbon options to be negotiated in each locality. This requires moving beyond a focus on energy production to include reducing energy consumption, increasing, efficiency and adopting nonenergy carbon options such as ‘green’ waste management, food, transport, housing etc. This would require a major reformulation of the institutions in which energy and development are regulated; for example, changing land use planning to energy descent planning. Indeed, a rethink of the regulatory system is necessary in order to provide the appropriate context for the bargaining we have outlined here, with a need for a nationwide low carbon energy strategy in which communities (spatial or aspatial) know that they must achieve carbon reduction targets, but with a degree of flexibility about how they do this.

This may paradoxically) deliver more renewable energy deployment than one which narrowly focuses on the installation of renewable energy technologies. However, the greater penetration of renewable energy is not the only, or indeed the most, important consideration – it is but one among a variety of means by which the transition to a low carbon economy can be achieved. We need to take a ‘bigger view’ than renewable energy production as the only way in which we can create a sustainable energy future: allowing communities the option, for example, that a sustainable energy future may be one that uses less energy. "

Now yer appetites are whetted, go ye out and buy loads of copies!

Overcoming addictions

Nice to see the new Lib-Con (or is it Con-Lib...or just a simply Con?) government's Energy and Climate Change secretary (secretary for DECC now there's a title!) the Liberal Democrat's Chris Huhne following in the wake of his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland, the Green Party Minister for Energy, Eamon Ryan, in a public all for the UK to end its addiction to fossil fuel. As he put it,

"But as oil becomes ever more difficult to extract, and as demand for oil surges in the emerging economies, we need to recognise the dangers inherent in our history of fossil fuel addiction"

Also interesting to note his brazen appropriation of the language of the 'Green New Deal' championed by the Green Party and think tanks such as the new economics foundation.
No mention of peak oil, unlike Eamon Ryan's open acceptance of this as the policy and geological context within which we need to address energy security, and of course nothing about reducing energy consumption. It will be interesting to watch how far each - Huhne and Ryan - can get in their plans for decabonisation of the economy given the constraints each face politically as junior coalition partners in bed with right-wing, non-progressive parties.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Deputy leader of Rwandan Green Party hacked to death

"The deputy leader of Rwanda's Green Party was found murdered yesterday amid a crackdown against opposition organisations before next month's presidential elections. Andre Kagwa Rwisereka's body was found in the early hours on a riverbank, a couple of miles from his abandoned pick-up truck. His head was nearly severed and a large knife was found nearby. The murder followed complaints by senior party officials of death threats, police harassment and intimidation."

Terrible, just terrible...

Against the backdrop of the Democratic Green Party being banned from registering as a political party and to stand candidates in next month's election.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Orange parades, protest and rioting

Well...its that time of year again when I'm torn between wanting desperately for some sunny, rain-free weather and wanting it to lash out of the heavens to keep the 'recreational rioters' off the streets. We've now had four nights rioting, attempted shooting of police, attempt to burn the Dublin-Belfast train and while I can't say I'm a fan of the Orange Order and their insistance on walking down areas they're not welcome or wanted (the ostensible reason for the rioting and protest by nationalists) neither do I support the wanton violence that we've seen here (mostly by young men, but there are reports of kids under 10). It seems things have 'kicked off' in part due to the concerted and organised efforts of republican dissident groups such as erigi who for example formed the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective which effectively ousted the original Ardoyne Community group from protesting against the Tour of the North Orange Parade. Even Sinn Fein has criticised GARC as a 'self-styled and non-elected' i.e. they represent competition for them.

On a related point I cycled into work on Monday - the 'Twelfth' as its known here, the main day for the Orange marches and met about four of the them on my 14 mile trip from Bangor to the University - no issues there. But I went to get lunch round the corner from my office in Botanic Avenue - those from norn iron will know - quite an experience...Two drunken young men out of their heads singing sectarian songs (could not make them out they were that drunk but something along the lines of "If you''re a taig"), groups of people squatting around drinker export larger and blue WKD, general air of menace about the place. Two PSNI landrovers cruised about, one with a touching (and large) sign which read 'Alcohol may be confiscated'...decisive policing!
Went home late ...mistake, Botanic a sea of druken men and women with the policce trying calmly to contain them, had to pass people blocking the road on Donegall pass, then the stand off at Short Strand where on the other side had to wade through crowds of people - drunk of course- and hoping they would not hear my accent. Welcome to Norn Iron!