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Corporate Censorship

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 10:04:51 AM EST

I have a letter published in today's Irish independent (Irelands largest selling daily newspaper). Unfortunately they left out most of the substance of the letter leaving only a slightly repetitive rump...
Save lives by making swimming safe - Independent.ie

* Twelve people have drowned whilst swimming in Ireland this past month - about as many as die on our roads in an average month. Telling people not to swim on our rare days of hot summer weather is akin to telling them not to use the roads. It might save some lives, but it is hardly realistic or practical advice.

So what is to be done? Ireland is almost alone in the world in not designating certain areas in every county as safe swimming areas and not employing lifeguards to help assure their safety.

Let's stop wringing our hands about the drownings and start doing something practical to prevent even more. Let's designate safe swimming areas in every county and employ lifeguards to make them even safer.

Frank Schnittger

The middle (unpublished) section of the letter read as follows:

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[Update] Ireland passes law permitting abortion with huge majority

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 07:00:23 AM EST


An anti-abortion protestor prays outside the Dail tonight as the amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill are debated. Photograph: Dave Meehan/Irish Times

[UPDATE 24/7/2013] The Irish Senate, the upper house of parliament, passed the legislation yesterday by 39 votes to 14. The Bill now goes to the President for signature or possible referral to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. [END UPDATE]

The Irish Government won the final Dáil (lower house) vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 by 127 votes to 31 today (11/7/2013)- a more than 80% majority despite vociferous opposition from the Catholic Bishops and pro-life groups such as the allegedly US right wing funded Youth Defence. This parliamentary vote accurately reflects the state of public opinion on the issue in Ireland at the moment. The Bill regulates the provision of an abortion where the life of the mother is substantially at risk, and includes the threat of suicide in the definition of what might constitute a substantial risk to the life of the mother in line with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the "Right to Life" clause of the Irish Constitution in the X case (1992).

It should be noted that 6 of the 31 Deputies who voted against the Bill did so because they believed it did not go far enough - making no provision for abortion in the case of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities (where a foetus has no chance of remaining viable later in pregnancy or after birth). Some were also concerned that the Bill's provision for a jail sentence of up to 14 years for procuring an abortion outside the terms of the Bill was unduly harsh and would have the effect of driving most women seeking an abortion to continue to travel to Britain.

An estimated 4,000 did so in 2012 and few people see this bill as having a major impact on that statistic in the future -despite claims by the pro-life movement that it will "open the floodgates" to abortion on demand in Ireland. Why would a women or her doctors risk criminal sanctions when an abortion can be legally procured in the UK without the onerous provisions of the Bill having to be complied with? In practice, only women in state care or who are too poor or to ill to travel are likely to apply for an abortion in Ireland under this Bill's provisions.

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The New Silk Road

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 24th, 2013 at 06:42:28 AM EST

As major global corporates like HP move from seaboard to western China in search of ever cheaper labour costs they are faced with increased costs and time delays trucking their produce to Chinese ports and thence to major markets in Europe. Now the
 Kazakhstan rail network has become a major alternative route to market for China based manufacturers. It is still 25% more expensive than the sea route to Europe, but takes, on average less than 21 days, compared to 5 weeks for the sea route. The difference is significant for high value fast moving computer goods like tablet computers where inventory costs and time to market are critical. The Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus customs union has helped to reduce customs delays and pilferage and Kazakhstan has big plans to increase through traffic:
Hauling New Treasure Along the Silk Road

Kazakhstan forecasts that rail freight will grow to 7.5 million 40-foot containers by 2020, from just 2,500 transported from western China to Europe last year. That would be a huge increase that could sorely tax Kazakhstan's rail network; Mr. Alpysbayev said plans were under way to build extra tracks to help handle the traffic. But even at 7.5 million containers, rail freight transiting Kazakhstan would still be only a tenth of ocean freight between Europe and Asia.

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Catholic Bishops fighting losing battle in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 07:15:04 AM EST


In Abortion in Ireland I gave a brief account of the background to various attempts to make abortion illegal in Ireland in all circumstances by introducing a constitutional right to life for the unborn. These attempts failed when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful where there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother which could be alleviated by an abortion. Controversially, the Supreme Court included a threat of suicide in the definition of what could constitute a substantial threat to the life of the mother and this position was endorsed by two constitutional referendums (plebiscites) in 1992 and 2002.

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What price, Irish recovery?

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 31st, 2013 at 09:23:27 AM EST

Almost two years ago I wrote a diary called Light at the end of the tunnel? in which I posited the notion that the precipitous decline in Irish GDP and employment levels had halted and that there were some tentative signs of recovery on the horizon. Those green shoots have gradually taken root in the meantime not helped by a very difficult political and economic environment globally and in the Eurozone in particular.

Thus whilst Euro zone unemployment hits another record high, Irish employment has begun to rise, which, combined with net emigration, has begun to make a dent in the unemployment rate  which has declined from 14.1 per cent to 13.7 per cent in the first three months of this year. That this should be happening in the context of continuing government austerity, a continuing collapse of the construction industry, and slowing export growth in the face of Eurozone recession is all the more remarkable.

But we should be clear: this is no triumph for "expansionary austerity". Ireland's low corporate tax policies have continued to attract almost every major US multinational in the ICT, pharma and finance sectors to set up their European headquarters in Ireland, and to launder their European sales through the Irish corporate tax code. Tax competition seems to be working for Ireland as a recovery strategy, but it is hardly an option for the EU as a whole. Is Irish recovery at the price of contributing to global recession by allowing almost all incremental wealth to be hoovered up virtually tax free by global corporates?

To be fair, the nominal Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% is close to the effective tax rate, and many countries with much higher nominal rates tax selected global corporations even less. But the real scandal has been the tax avoidance schemes used by some corporates such as the double Irish and Dutch sandwich which enable some corporates to pay almost no tax at all. Strangely, such arrangements, though well known for a considerable time now, seem to attract relatively little political and regulatory attention when compared to the focus on headline rates. Almost no effort has been made to close the tax loopholes in Irish, Dutch and US tax laws which make them possible even though it means that large corporates like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Google end up paying very little tax in any jurisdiction.

Now why ever could that be?

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Kruganomics 101

by Frank Schnittger Tue Apr 30th, 2013 at 05:02:33 AM EST

Paul Krugman is arguably becoming not just the most influential economic commentator on the planet, but also one of the more influential political commentators. That's partly because it's hard to gainsay the economic credentials of a Nobel Prize winning economist, but also because he has a way of putting often complex ideas quite simply. Here he gives a handy summary of his economic philosophy for the benefit of those economic simpletons who claim he is an out of touch "high fallutin'" intelectual:

The Ignoramus Strategy - NYTimes.com

1. The economy isn't like an individual family that earns a certain amount and spends some other amount, with no relationship between the two. My spending is your income and your spending is my income. If we both slash spending, both of our incomes fall.

2. We are now in a situation in which many people have cut spending, either because they chose to or because their creditors forced them to, while relatively few people are willing to spend more. The result is depressed incomes and a depressed economy, with millions of willing workers unable to find jobs.

3. Things aren't always this way, but when they are, the government is not in competition with the private sector. Government purchases don't use resources that would otherwise be producing private goods, they put unemployed resources to work. Government borrowing doesn't crowd out private borrowing, it puts idle funds to work. As a result, now is a time when the government should be spending more, not less. If we ignore this insight and cut government spending instead, the economy will shrink and unemployment will rise. In fact, even private spending will shrink, because of falling incomes.

4. This view of our problems has made correct predictions over the past four years, while alternative views have gotten it all wrong. Budget deficits haven't led to soaring interest rates (and the Fed's "money-printing" hasn't led to inflation); austerity policies have greatly deepened economic slumps almost everywhere they have been tried.

5. Yes, the government must pay its bills in the long run. But spending cuts and/or tax increases should wait until the economy is no longer depressed, and the private sector is willing to spend enough to produce full employment.

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The Intellectual Foundations of Austerity destroyed

by Frank Schnittger Fri Apr 26th, 2013 at 03:26:16 AM EST


Ken Rogoff in Davos

Reinhart and Rogoff wrote the single most influential economic paper supporting the Austerity policies introduced by Governments around the world. Now a paper by some graduate students reduces their findings to rubble - saying they were caused by some elementary arithmetic coding errors in Excel, the selective exclusion of available data, and some highly questionable averaging methods. Is this what "thought leadership" in the western world is reduced to?

Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff - WP322.pdf

Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff  by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin. April 15, 2013.

Abstract

We replicate Reinhart and Rogoff (2010a and 2010b) and find that coding errors, selective exclusion of available data, and unconventional weighting of summary statistics lead to serious errors that inaccurately represent the relationship between public debt and GDP growth among 20 advanced economies in the post-war period. Our finding is that when properly calculated, the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public-debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as published in Reinhart and Rogoff. That is, contrary to RR, average GDP grow that public debt/GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different than when debt/GDP ratios are lower. We also show how the relationship between public debt and GDP growth varies significantly by time period and country. Overall, the evidence we review contradicts Reinhart and Rogoff's claim to have identified an important stylized fact, that public debt loads greater than 90 percent of GDP consistently reduce GDP growth

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The Politics of Competitive Austerity and Class War

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 3rd, 2013 at 02:17:46 AM EST

Paul Krugman keeps writing piece after piece lamenting how stupid politicians are to be heaping austerity policies onto already depressed economies and then wondering why the outcome is ever more depression. He heaps scorn on discredited theories of "expansionary austerity" or that excessive public borrowing might "crowd out" private investment pointing out that all the macro-economic evidence is to the contrary.

Absent from his analyses, however, is any theory as to why political leaders (and many of their economic advisers) might be following such counter-intuitive policies, other than the implied or explicit notion that these people must be really stupid. I want to begin the process of offering a more rigorous theory here, and it is in two parts:

Part 1 is a variant of our old friend competitive devaluations: In the days of floating currencies many countries sought to improve their short run competitive position by allowing or encouraging their currency to devalue relative to their trading partners. In the longer run of course, this resulted in inflation which tended to erode this advantage, and it only works in the short term if your country manages to devalue more than your trading partners.

Of course in a currency union this is no longer possible relative to your fellow currency members, and so the only way to improve your relative competitive position is to deflate your economy more than your "partners". This leads to two problems: Deflation is much more economically damaging than external currency devaluation, and if every country in a currency Union deflates at the same time, they achieve no competitive advantage relative to each other, but manage to massively deflate the currency area as a whole. Indeed one country's deflationary policies exacerbates deflation in their neighbours. This is what is currently happening in the Eurozone with record unemployment and forward economic indicators sufficiently bad to strike terror into the hearts of anyone likely to be looking for a job in the future - itself a cause of further depression.

But part 2 of the explanation is perhaps more insidious still, and it is to Marx rather than Keynes that we have to look for inspiration: What if the current depression is also being caused by an inter-generational and class war - currently really only being effectively fought and won by the older and wealthier classes? Not all older people are wealthier, I know, but there are inter-generational as well as class aspects to this divide. Follow me below the fold if you feel this hypothesis merits further exploration and elucidation.

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Irishtimes.com: The Perils of redesigning your website

by Frank Schnittger Wed Mar 20th, 2013 at 10:11:21 PM EST

The Irish Times recently launched a redesigned version of its online edition to almost universal criticism from its online users. I took part in some of those online debates and, as a result, have been asked by the Village Magazine to write an article on the redesign. The article is still being fact checked, but I thought it might be useful to put a draft of it online here to get ET users reactions to the article and the Irishtimes.com redesign itself. Given that ET is also going through a redesign process some of the issues may also be of relevance here, although please keep in mind that the article is written for a general audience in Ireland.

Amazingly, the screen-grab above shows three and a half full screens of content displayed on Irishtimes.com when the site is being viewed at full width on a laptop. The first screen really only shows you the top banner ad, the Irish Times Logo, and the top level menu. A drop down menu appears if you hover your mouse cursor over one of the menu options, but you can only read and select from the full menu if you scroll down the page first, and then hover back over the menu. Note the advertisements are in French, even though the website is being viewed from Spain (I.e. the Laptop IP address is in Spain).

For the complete text of the proposed article, please follow me below the fold.

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Cyprus: A Germanic Morality Tale

by Frank Schnittger Tue Mar 19th, 2013 at 09:31:12 PM EST

Cyprus is small enough not to be really significant in economic terms for the Eurozone as a whole. (Let's treat the strategic significance of Cyprus giving exclusive gas exploration rights to Gazprom or a Mediterranean naval port to Russia in return for a bail-out as a separate issue for now).

So the mostly German bankers who run the European Central Bank (ECB) decide this is a good opportunity to demonstrate to all and sundry the consequences of not playing ball with your creditors. The ECB refuses liquidity to insolvent Cypriot banks because the Cypriot Government refuses to implement the ECB bank bail-out plan. The banks have to limit withdrawals (say to 20k Max) because they cannot sustain the outflow of funds that would otherwise occur. The banks are declared insolvent and a liquidator is appointed. Bondholders/depositors are given shares in the banks in lieu of their investments over 20K and the banks re-open under new "ownership and management".

Russian "investors" (otherwise known a money launderers)  lose their shirts. Some bigger businesses become illiquid and may have difficulty trading. Small businesses and individuals are generally ok with 20K working capital but don't trust the banks as a place to maintain their working capital funds. A mattress/cash economy emerges. This works fine for small local cash businesses but business trading with other Eurozone countries cannot get credit and may have difficulty settling accounts with other Eurozone suppliers/customers. Cyprus may have to issue its own currency again but has difficulty getting it accepted by its trading partners. The larger economy grinds to a halt. The tourist industry almost collapses. Cyprus is effectively quarantined and "thirdworldised".   German Finance Minister Schäuble  has already said on ZDF TV: "The business model of Cyprus is no longer sustainable. Someone has to tell the Cypriots."

ECB central bankers look on with some satisfaction because this will teach the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese and Irish et al just what will happen if they don't play by the rules. They are happy enough the Russians got burned, but may cut a deal with Putin to stop the aforementioned Gazprom or Naval Port scenarios. NATO threatens a blockade if Russia does try to set up a naval base in Cyprus. Turkey decides this is  good time to consolidate it's position in Northern Cyprus by formally occupying and developing Varosha in Famagusta. Europe is once again on the brink of war.

All of this may seem ridiculous when you consider how small Cyprus is in the larger scheme of things. And then you remember that WW1 started because of the murder of a relatively obscure Archduke in Sarajevo. Once again the greed of central European elites threatens the security and prosperity of the continent as a whole.  Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.

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Ireland took one for the team?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 21st, 2013 at 12:24:19 PM EST


Michael Noonan, Irish Finance Minister, is famous for his sometimes impolitic remarks. Here he is in a Bloomberg interview making the case that Europe owes Ireland for "taking one for the team" when the Irish banking bailout saved the European banking system from the contagion that an Irish banking collapse might have precipitated. It is a view widely held in Ireland, though perhaps more in hope than in expectation. Some think that the ECB "holding its nose" whilst the Irish Government restructured Anglo-Irish bank debts was the first installment of some payback by the EU. Germany's Jens Weidmann criticised the restructuring as bordering on monetary financing but did not actually block the deal when he had the chance.

The more general case Noonan is making - as one would expect from a Finance Minister - is that the Irish bailout is working, modest growth has returned, bond yields are coming down, and that Ireland should be able to exit the bailout and return to the sovereign debt markets on schedule next year. I would welcome the views of ET members as to whether this is a realistic or desirable prospect, or whether he is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Comments >> (2 comments)

Ireland restructures Anglo-Irish Debt

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 7th, 2013 at 05:25:18 PM EST

Ireland has spent about €64 Billion on bailing out (mostly German, French and British) bondholders in failed Irish banks. To put this in perspective, this is more than any other EU country, including much larger economies like Germany spent on bailing out their banks, and represents c. 40% of Irish GDP. Whilst the Irish economy and population represent about 1% of the EU, the Irish people, have shouldered approximately 40% of the total cost of bank bail-outs within the EU, or about €14,000 for each man, woman and child within the country. It seems unlikely that German taxpayers would have tolerated a bank bail-out on a similar scale. Even the much criticized American bank bail-out constituted less than 5% of GDP, most of which has already been repaid by the bailed-out banks.

Much of this was, of course, caused by the seriously stupid Irish bank guarantee and a failure to regulate the banks properly. However it should also be remembered that the Irish property boom was caused in large part by inappropriately low interest rates maintained by the ECB (to aid German recovery) and by the EU drive for a single market in financial services without any adequate accompanying EU wide regulation of that market.

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The Trillion $ Coin

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jan 12th, 2013 at 05:54:29 AM EST

I've been reading about and advocating the Trillion $ Coin option as a means of avoiding the US Debt Ceiling impasse on US Blogs for some time now, but have always sought to leave the lead role in writing diaries on the topic to legal or economic experts. And just when I finally decide to weigh in in a more substantial way Krugman decides to write more or less exactly what I wanted to write:
Barbarous Relics - NYTimes.com

There will, of course, be howls from the usual suspects if that's how it goes [and the President decides to mint a Trillion $ coin]. Some of these will be howls of frustration because their hostage-taking plan was frustrated. But some will reflect sincere horror over a policy turn that their cosmology says must be utterly disastrous.

Ed Kilgore says, in a somewhat different way, much the same thing I and people like Joe Weisenthal have been saying: what we're looking at here is a collision of worldviews, one might even say of epistemology.

For many people on the right, value is something handed down from on high. It should be measured in terms of eternal standards, mainly gold; I have, for example, often seen people claiming that stocks are actually down, not up, over the past couple of generations because the Dow hasn't kept up with the gold price, never mind what it buys in terms of the goods and services people actually consume.

And given that the laws of value are basically divine, not human, any human meddling in the process is not just foolish but immoral. Printing money that isn't tied to gold is a kind of theft, not to mention blasphemy.

For people like me, on the other hand, the economy is a social system, created by and for people. Money is a social contrivance and convenience that makes this social system work better -- and should be adjusted, both in quantity and in characteristics, whenever there is compelling evidence that this would lead to better outcomes. It often makes sense to put constraints on our actions, e.g. by pegging to another currency or granting the central bank a high degree of independence, but these are things done for operational convenience or to improve policy credibility, not moral commitments -- and they are always up for reconsideration when circumstances change.

Now, the money morality types try to have it both ways; they want us to believe that monetary blasphemy will produce disastrous results in practical terms too. But events have proved them wrong.

And I do find myself thinking a lot about Keynes's description of the gold standard as a "barbarous relic"; it applies perfectly to this discussion. The money morality people are basically adopting a pre-Enlightenment attitude toward monetary and fiscal policy -- and why not? After all, they hate the Enlightenment on all fronts.

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Abortion in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 19th, 2012 at 03:10:32 PM EST

In the 1980's and 1990's there was a lot of political turmoil in Ireland in response to the economic changes wrought by globalisation and the liberalisation of social mores in response to Ireland's membership of the EU. In what many interpreted as a rearguard action, the Roman Catholic Church and associated pressure groups sought to introduce constitutional "safeguards" to prevent future Irish Governments from legislating for abortion with very counter-productive results (from the perspective of their proponents).

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution (7 October 1983) sought to introduce a constitutional prohibition of abortion by giving "the unborn" an equal right to life to the mother. However, the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling called the "X" case (1992), found that the "equal right to life" provision of the 1983 amendment meant that Irish women had the right to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, and included the risk of suicide as a legitimate risk to the life of the mother. In addition, the Supreme Court found that the Government had a duty to legislate to vindicate that right but for 20 years Irish governments have run away from that "hot potato" issue and the almost inevitable confrontation with the Catholic Church that any such legislation would entail.

Anxious to close the suicide "loophole" in the 1983 Amendment, the Government, under pressure from the Catholic bishops, introduced The Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992) to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion further by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and specifically excluding the risk to the life of the woman from suicide as a grounds for an abortion. This was put to a referendum in November 1992 and was defeated by a resounding 65-35% margin.

However many anomalies remained. My late wife was forced to resign from her job as the administrator of the local community education centre when she refuse to remove leaflets from the community education information centre which gave advice on where further information on "options" for unwanted pregnancies could be obtained. The spectre of the police preventing pregnant women from obtaining information on abortion services abroad and from traveling to UK to have an abortion eventually resulted in two more amendments to the constitution being passed which further weakened the effect of the 1983 ban.

The Thirteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state (to have an abortion in abroad) and the Fourteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries. A second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion was defeated in 2002 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was rejected by the electorate.

In December 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland) ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s abortion law violates women’s human rights and that Ireland must make life-saving abortion services available.

Coincidentally with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar (2012), an "Expert Group" reported on what actions the Government should take to legislate for the X Case judgement, and now, 20 years after the Supreme Court directed the Government to make legislative provision for abortion, the Government has finally committed to introducing legislation and regulation for abortion in 2013. Cue a histrionic reaction from the Catholic Bishops and associated pressure groups.

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Of Monsters and Men

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 17th, 2012 at 09:04:35 AM EST

It is a sure sign of having too much time on your hands when you start writings Letters to the Editor on the subject of sport. Perhaps it is that the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown or the continuing Eurozone dance of death are simply too depressing, and we need some light relief. Certainly sport has been one of the few highlights in Irish life in recent times, and rugby has been a large part of that success. However the prosaic truth is that I am sad enough to write Letters to the Editor on all manner of topics, and only the most trivial tend to get published (in an edited form).

Monsters needed - Letters, Opinion - Independent.ie

On a weekend of Heineken hell, all four Irish provinces were defeated in the Heineken European Rugby Cup. All were reasonably good performances against formidable opposition, but there is no hiding the structural flaws in Irish rugby: we were bullied up front in each match. We simply don't breed forwards big and powerful enough.

Who knows whether this is a steroidal deficiency or a genetic inheritance, but it is clear that small is no longer beautiful in top-class rugby. Short of a eugenics programme, it is not clear what the solution is.

Matches are decided by referees giving penalties to teams whose scrum is deemed to be trundling forward and by high kicks followed up by marauding beasts. Not the most exciting fare if you are looking for intricate running and handling skills, but the rules and their interpretation will hardly be changed to suit "smaller" nations unless TV earnings are effected.

Anyone got any 6ft 10in, 20 stone, muscle-bound monsters in their extended global family?

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Nobel Peace Prize for the EU

by Frank Schnittger Mon Dec 10th, 2012 at 10:48:28 AM EST

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has a curious sense of timing: awarding President Obama the Peace Prize before he had accomplished anything much in office, and now awarding the EU the Peace Prize at a time when it seems intent on unraveling much of what has been achieved in European Solidarity in the past 60 years. Perhaps both awards can be described as a form of preemptive peace making: Instead of the more usual approach of rewarding a peacemaker for a life-times achievement of making peace long after it can do any good to help their efforts, it chose instead to reward Obama early in order to make it more possible for him to unwind the warmongering of President Bush. And now it is rewarding current EU leaders for NOT YET having unraveled most of what has been achieved in terms of EU solidarity in order to remind them of the rich peace making heritage bequeathed to them by the EU's founders, and thus make it more possible for them to reverse current negative trends.

In any case, that is the most charitable spin I can put on today's Nobel Peace Prize presentation ceremony in Oslo. Many readers here may view it as a study in the increasing irrelevance of both the Nobel Peace Prize committee and the EU: The establishment congratulating itself on how relevant, innovative and peace loving they are - whilst all the while destroying the efforts of their predecessors and taking and giving credit where none is due. However it seemed odd to me that a forum dedicated to European Affairs would let the day pass unremarked, so this is my attempt to get a conversation going. What relevance has the EU and the Nobel Peace prize got to peacemaking today? Are both still making a valuable positive contribution, or are both living off (and diminishing) past achievements?

Can we seriously look to the EU to make a further positive contribution to European and world Peace today, or must we look elsewhere, and if so, where?

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Would an abortion have saved Savita Halappanavar?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 20th, 2012 at 05:49:09 PM EST

The death of Savita Halappanavar has provoked world-wide condemnation of the Irish health service and the social and legal infrastructure which underpins it. There have been allegations of Roman Catholic dogma determining the medical treatments  available to non-Catholics in Irish hospitals; allegations of racism; and allegations of a patriarchal medical system and culture that would rather have a woman suffer in acute pain rather than give her appropriate treatment and relief.

Some or all of these allegations may turn out to be true. Some have certainly been true in many other instances in the past, as the outpouring of personal reminiscences by Irish women which have appeared in print and in the media over the past few days testify.  The mass protests at her death seen in Ireland and abroad indicate that a very raw nerve has been touched.

But there is also an altogether more innocent explanation of what happened in this particular instance of which we should be aware before we jump to conclusions and condemn all involved. I have spoken to medical personnel with some knowledge of the hospital and staff in question (but with no direct knowledge of this particular case) who rule out the likelihood of racism and point to the possibility of a very different scenario:

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What right to life?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 15th, 2012 at 03:56:19 AM EST

Letter to the Editor
"The occasion of tragic death of Savita Halappanavar is not the time to be scoring political points or rushing to judgement as to the quality of care she received in University Hospital Galway. However the fact that she was apparently told that  "this is a Catholic country" when her pleas for an abortion of her dying unborn child fell on deaf ears tends to suggest that her own wishes and medical criteria alone were not allowed to determine her care and ultimate fate. Are Hindus not allowed to live and die by the precepts of their own faith in this allegedly tolerant and multicultural island of ours?"

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Turning the "Fiscal Cliff" to our advantage

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 13th, 2012 at 04:15:14 AM EST

The Bowles-Simpson Commission sequestration of expenditures and the expiration of the Bush and Obama payroll tax cuts present President Obama not only with the greatest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity of his Presidency. The threatened economic melt-down could also be an historic opportunity to reverse the 30 year long trend in increasing income in-equality in the USA. Follow me below the fold for an analysis of how the President can turn this crisis to America's advantage and achieve one of the greatest progressive transformations of the political and economic landscape since the New Deal and Great Society of FDR and LBJ:

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Democrats have lessons to learn too [Updated]

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 7th, 2012 at 03:32:31 PM EST

President Obama has won a decisive victory, winning the popular vote by over 3% and winning all the states he won in 2008 except for Indiana and North Carolina for a 332-206 win in the electoral college. He has done so in the context of continuing difficulties in the economy, in the face of an absolute wall of dark corporate money facilitated by the Citizen's United judgement, and despite some absolutely disgraceful voter suppression tactics adopted by some Republican run local and state administrations.

Democrats also made some gains in the Senate and House and won ballot initiatives in some states to permit same sex marriage and restricted use of marijuana. Some unapologetic progressives were elected: Notably Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts,  Tammy Baldwin, the first openly LGTB Senator in Wisconsin, whilst Chris Murphy will be a big improvement on Joe Lieberman.

On the Republican side here has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Many seem in shock that they couldn't defeat the "black, Muslim, terrorist loving socialist from Kenya" in the aftermath of a severe recession and continuing economic difficulties. Some have begun to realise that you can no longer build a successful governing coalition on the basis of the conservative white vote alone: that you cannot win if you alienate minorities to the point that 80% vote against you - not to mention the gender gap exacerbated by some truly extraordinary comments and policies on rape, abortion, contraception and equal pay.

But there are also lessons that Democrats can learn from the election results, and chiefly from their failure to make any significant inroads into the Republican majority in the House. What Democratic successes we have seen have generally been due to some truly awful Republican candidates such as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in the Senate and Alan West in the House.  There has been little evidence of a systematic shift to Democratic candidates in the House despite 2010 being a high water mark for the Republican party. So why is this?

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