Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

As another nation, Ireland, now peers into the abyss of economic chaos, once again governments are being called upon to bail out the banking industry. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Of course it does . We have been hearing this tune for the past couple of years, perhaps the most loudly in the U.S. where those bastions of our economy like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and many more were once facing oblivion and financial Hell. A fate, perhaps, well deserved – but avoided by the intercession of our government. This act of semi-divine intercession is about to be repeated in Europe as that which must not come to pass is prevented from coming to pass.

Of course, I am referring to the collapse of the banking industry in Ireland. The current Irish government, similar in philosophy to the Bush/Cheney Republicans of the U.S., enjoyed the ride while they could. The run up in housing prices, the run up in wages, the run up in credit. It was all a bubble, no different from America’s bubble and equally unrecognized by the Republican economic philosophers at the time. Everyone thought it could go on for ever, except for a few economists. America had its Cassandra economist, Roubini.  Ireland had its Cassandra, McWilliams. Both were right. They called the collapse long in advance, but neither government will admit it, and neither will seek the advice of these bright economists to this day.  Why? We can only wonder.

Here’s another “why”. Why did the U.S. government feel the need to bail out the banks and why does the European Union feel the same? Does anyone know how to spell oligarchy? We are led to believe that the banks are the sine qua non of our economy. The loss of our banks would spell doom for civilization as we know it. Really? Just the banks, I suppose.  Oh no,wait. General Motors too. We couldn’t live without them either. But what about the thousands of individuals who lost their homes? What about the millions who are out of work? Do we not need them also? Apparently not. At least not with the same sense of urgency as the banks.

So let’s take a look at the banks. What, in essence, do they actually do? Well, at their core, they are a source of money. They make loans that people and businesses need in order to carry on their lives. But how does that work, you say? Here’s an example. Suppose old J.P. Morgan had a lot of money (which he did) and he decided to use that money to open a bank (which he did). You go into his bank and you borrow $1,000. Great! Now you only have to pay it back in easy installments of $49.99 for a period of about twenty – two months. Twenty-two? Wait, shouldn’t it be about twenty? Ah, we’re forgetting the interest of about $100, aren’t we? See, you borrow $1,000 but you have to pay old J.P. back $1,100. That’s how he makes money. As Ebenezer Scrooge said, “It’s business.”

But, here’s where the magic comes in: After you pay back old J.P. his money plus interest, he pockets his profit and then what does he do? He loans out that same $1,000 again! Yes! Isn’t that amazing? J.P. can loan out the same money over and over again and make money each time he does so, and his $1,000 never wears out! The best thing for old J.P. is that he doesn’t have to do any work to make money. He doesn’t produce a product, he doesn’t farm any land, he doesn’t build anything, he doesn’t even sell anything. Being a banker has to be just about the best job in the world because you don’t have to work to make money! Even better, bankers make more money than anybody and if they screw up and made stupid loans where they don’t get paid back, the government gives them all the money they lost so they can start lending all over again.

Now imagine you were a banker – like those Payday loan guys. You could loan out money  at $300% interest and get it back in a week! Or, what about if you were a different kind of banker – a credit card banker? You could loan money at 30% interest and it would take years and years for people to pay you back – maybe even a lifetime. Of course you would get your principal back pretty soon, but the poor credit card holder will be paying interest for a semi-eternity. But that is the beauty of the system – you can then loan out the original amount over and over again! And you don’t have to take risks like building televisions or cars that might not sell, or refrigerators that might be defective and people want their money back. No, banking is the ideal business for making tons of money – and the best thing of all is that our governments won’t let you fail! Who could want anything more?

How about the American people? Wouldn’t we want something more, something different? One might think so, but I don’t hear a lot of people complaining about our banking system. I guess that’s because if we change anything it would make us communist or something even worse – just like with health care, and public schools. Still, I have to wonder…why can’t our government run the entire banking system like a utility?  Do we really need privately owned banks that produce no tangible product and charge the highest interest rates possible? Why can’t we just get loans from a government bank at 0% interest? Why not? It would be our money anyway – you know: our tax money. Isn’t that a good use for our tax dollars? If the government, via the Federal Reserve, can print all the money it wants and then give it to the banks at extremely low interest rates, why can’t the government do the same thing for the citizens and eliminate the middlemen bankers who bleed us and our economy while doing no productive work at all? Is it really so un-American to even think about a redo for America’s banking system? Think about it….

Why wouldn’t it work?

Read Full Post »

It is John McCain’s greatest fear: the redistribution of wealth.  He’s not the only one who is afraid of course, there are plenty of other people like him.  They have made their fortunes one way or another, and they are damned if they are going to share it with anyone.  Good Christians all, I suppose.  It’s a touchy subject for the very wealthy – they would rather we talk about something else, like lowering taxes or the right to bear arms or freedom of choice in health care.  All good subjects, no doubt, and all emotional trigger issues that are guaranteed to distract the easily distracted from something they would rather not dwell upon.  America has become a country polarized by unequal – very unequal – distribution of its wealth.  Current estimates are that the total wealth of the United States is about $53 trillion. That is a lot of money.  The thing that John McCain would prefer that you don’t know or dwell upon is that, of this amount, about $18 trillion (a bit more than 1/3 of all the wealth of the U.S.) is owned by only 1% of the population.  The other thing that Johnny doesn’t want you to think about is that at the other end of the spectrum, the total wealth of almost half the people in the country – add up the wealth of 150 million Americans – is only about $0.5 trillion, i.e. less than 1% of the total wealth of the country.  Of course John McCain and the other rich folk think this is perfectly OK – and let’s talk about something else, can we? Like freedom, or the enemy, or taxes, or big government, or something.  Anything else. This is America, right?  Anyone and everyone has an equal chance to be a billionaire, don’t they?  So stop whining.

I am reminded of a new song written by a very good Irish songwriter, Jimmy McCarthy, called The Sky Road.  It tells about a young man named Danny who, I suppose, left Ireland long, long ago – centuries ago.  It starts like this:

Danny’s made his mind up

He’s leaving for America

He’s leaving for America

Leaving all of us behind.

He says there’s nothing here not drenched in beer

In blood and retribution

And the wealth distribution’s

Been weighing heavy on his mind.

Allow me to put this in a little perspective:

In the aftermath of nearly a thousand years of defending itself from constant invasions from England, Ireland finally fell to Oliver Cromwell’s extraordinarily savage attacks in the mid-1600’s. (This was at exactly the same time that English colonists were busy taking America from the Native Americans in the “New World”).  Ireland now belonged to England (soon to be called The British Empire) – all of it.  Mostly,  Ireland belonged to a very small number of people – the English aristocracy.  They had promptly declared it to be  illegal for any Irish person to own land in Ireland.  There was little for people like Danny to do except leave, particularly when the potato crop failed in the mid-1800’s, and the Irish starved to death, literally by the millions.  All the while, the English-owned plantations in Ireland continuously exported massive amounts of food (beef, pork, butter, grain, and so forth) to England.  It’s a story of genocide not usually taught in our American schools, is it? One can only wonder why…

The society in Ireland before the famine in the 19th century had become polarized into two classes: a small but enormously wealthy upper, aristocratic class, and a very large class of poor, landless laborers who worked for the aristocrats.  For all practical purposes, nineteenth century Ireland was a feudal society – and the English aristocrats were delighted with that.  The important thing to note here is that the aristocratic class, those who had attained their wealth through theft and murder, hadn’t the slightest care about the welfare of the poorer class. Good Calvinists, they felt justified because they believed it must be God’s plan – otherwise things wouldn’t be that way, would they?

Today, in America, a nation of equals (at least theoretically), we find ourselves in the midst of an argument about health care. Is it a right for all?  Should it be paid for by taxes? Why should the wealthy pay for the medical needs of the poor?  The Wall Street Journal has leaped into the fray calling our Congress “reckless” for even considering higher taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for a health care plan. We are hearing commentators talking about possible class warfare and the evils of the coming wealth redistribution.  The important thing to note about all this talk is that the extremely wealthy people in America, the ones who have benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts and the elimination of the estate tax, feel entirely justified in tightly grasping and hoarding their billions of dollars while they do absolutely nothing to help those who are suffering.  After all, this is surely God’s will isn’t it?  Otherwise it wouldn’t be this way.  And therefore, aren’t these wealthy people demonstrably God’s elect? Surely they have no need or obligation to help the poorer people – let them help themselves.  Didn’t John Calvin say as much?  Christianity at it’s best.

I can still hear John McCain’s voice from the campaign trail as he warned about class warfare and wealth redistribution.  He is typical of the new class of would-be American aristocrats.  Content to sit back and do nothing while they watched the people of New Orleans drown, they are equally happy to bomb the people of Hanoi or Iran or anywhere else that suits their needs.  This new society of American aristocrats, led by their genius, George W. Bush, are without a conscience, caring only for their own wealth and intent on deceiving the American people that health care for all is the worst thing that could happen in America.  The fact that their Republican political party has aligned itself with the so-called “Christian” churches in America is an extraordinary irony.  Never mind “What would Jesus do?” What would Jesus say?

History has shown time and again that when a society becomes extremely polarized, and a small number of very wealthy people dominate, an unstable society is produced.  It is always the case that the poorer people suffer under the domination of the wealthy and that the wealthy use all their power and wealth only to amass even more wealth. We are in such a situation now.  For the past eight years, the extremely wealthy have used their power to enrich themselves, while in the process bringing the world’s economy to its knees.  The extremely wealthy have used their power to rewrite our tax laws so they could significantly decrease their tax burden while simultaneously increasing the tax burden on the poorer people.  We need only to look at the catastrophe of Czarist Russia to see what happens when a large poorer class is continuously abused by the wealthy few. It is the lesson of history  that has occurred over and over again.  And this lesson is what our current American aristocracy fears the most, which is why we hear the cries of “class warfare” and “wealth redistribution”.  Even so, they won’t relent.  They don’t believe they should subsidize anyone’s health care, and so they propagate their lies about European health care – which is in fact, far superior to U.S. health care.

In the end, the struggle is not about freedom and values and patriotism;  it’s all about money and wealth.  And greed.  Lots of greed.  The wealthy American class has tried mightily to convert us into an aristocratic society – and they have succeeded.  Now they want to keep it that way.  It’s worth remembering that two hundred years ago, when Danny left Ireland for America, he had a reasonable hope of being treated fairly in a new country where the English aristocracy didn’t already control everything.  However, our situation is different from Danny’s.  If we quietly allow our fair country to continue to spiral downward into a John McCain/George Bush style aristocracy, where only a very small number of people own all the wealth of the land, we won’t have anywhere else to emigrate to, because there is no other America.  This is it.

It is time for the vast numbers of ordinary people in the United States to stand up against the lies of the wealthy, otherwise they must inevitably surrender and forever live under the heel of this new and heartless American aristocracy.

Read Full Post »

The annual Saint Patrick’s Day meeting of the Taoiseach of Ireland and the President of the United States took place this morning in the White House as Brian Cowen presented Barack Obama with bowl full of shamrocks – the traditional gift from the people of Ireland on this day. The water in the White House’s north and south lawn fountains was dyed green – under the direction of Michelle Obama, and America prepared once again to celebrate…to celebrate…to celebrate just exactly what?  It seems on Saint Patrick’s Day that almost everyone claims to have at least a bit of  Irish blood, and that in itself is cause to go out and have a pint.  The question that one must ask though, at some point, is why do we celebrate this day? Why celebrate the Irish, and why is it that it seems that almost everyone considers themselves to be at least a little bit Irish on this day?

It might surprise many American Irish to find that if they visit Ireland and ask the Irish people, they will find that most of them do not consider the American Irish to be Irish. They consider them to be Americans, because, these days, in Ireland the thinking is that you can only be Irish if you were born in Ireland.  Except, unless you immigrate from somewhere in the European Union, places like Poland or Slovakia, or if you are a refugee from Nigeria or Rwanda. Maybe, then you will be considered Irish. You will be called the “New Irish”.

Of course many Americans of Irish descent feel a bit left out by this line of thought, but it’s all quite rational.  In America, people consider themselves to be Irish because their DNA. In Ireland you are considered to be Irish by the legal rulings of the State. If the State declares you to be Irish then you are, and if the State says you are not, then you are not.

The problem with the State’s way of thinking is that it disregards history and genetics. It is also fickle.  Twenty or so years ago, you had a valid claim to be a citizen of Ireland if one of your great-grandparents had been born in Ireland. In this way many Americans, whose ancestors arrived in America as famine refugees, were eligible for Irish citizenship and Irish passports.  Then, for who knows what reason, the government of Ireland changed its mind. This was about the time that Ireland was beginning to really feel the boom in its economy known worldwide as the Celtic Tiger.  Ireland soon went from being the poorest country in Europe to being the second wealthiest country in the world.  Until recently, there were more millionaires, per capita, in Ireland than in either the U.S. or Saudi Arabia.

So the Irish government decided that the great-grandchildren of Ireland’s famine refugees were no longer Irish.  Zap!! They changed the law and said you could claim Irish citizenship if your grandparents had been born in Ireland, but not great-grandparents.  Sorry.  Thus, they disenfranchised millions of American Irish, Argentinian Irish, and others around the world who, sadly, had never been aware that they even had a claim to Irish citizenship.  A few years ago, the then Taioseach, Bertie Ahern, made a speech on the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and he talked about the difficulty of defining what it means to be Irish. He said, “We must begin a great national conversation on what it means to be Irish, on the values that we hold and the hopes that we cherish”. Note that he said “national” and not “international”.

At the same time, another voice in Ireland, David McWilliams, a columnist for the Irish Independent newspaper had a different take on the concept of Irishness.  He thought that Ireland should use the example of Israel, where anyone who is Jewish can be a citizen of Israel, the Jewish people all over the world  know that despite war or dislocation they always have a place to go, a home when no one else will take them in: Israel. McWilliams called upon Ireland to emulate this policy with the Irish diaspora, noting that this could also provide a massive economic stimulus to that tiny island nation.  Unfortunately, the Celtic Tiger was still in full roar and his words were ignored by everyone in the government.

Today, the roar of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger is barely a meek meow.  Ireland is facing a dire economic future because of the worldwide recession.  Some say that’s Ireland’s plight is the worst of any country in the world. So, it is interesting that only a couple of days ago, Taoiseach Brian Cowen declared that it is time to rethink the definition of Irishness and that he plans to reinstate the provision for the great-grandchildren of people who were born in Ireland to also be allowed to claim Irish citizenship. That is welcome news indeed, I suppose, to many of the disenfranchised descendants of the famine Irish.  Yet, I can only wonder if Ireland’s economy were still the envy of the world, would Mr. Cowen still be so anxious to welcome the Irish diaspora “home”?

Mr. Cowen and President Obama joked today about the fact that they both have roots in County Offaly.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be related. Even so, the people of Ireland have eagerly claimed President Obama as one of their own. Perhaps there really is no one as Irish as Barack Obama. But then we have to face the question that Bertie Ahern posed: just what does it mean to be Irish?  Is someone Irish because some politician in Dublin says he is?  Is someone not Irish because another Dublin politician says he isn’t?  And what, if anything does DNA have to do with it?

It’s a great day for the Irish.  It’s also a great day for the Americans and others of Irish descent to pause for a moment and reflect on the lives of their ancestors. It’s also a good day to reflect on their own values, and their hopes for the future, and, at least for a day, just what does it really mean to be Irish?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: