Who is to blame for Savita Halappanavar’s death?

This controversy emerges from the fact that no legislation has been put in place to recognise in law, what the constitution says. There was an opportunity to make the constitutional clause stronger (i.e. dismissing suicide as a threat to the mother’s life), but that was rejected by the Irish people.

Savita Halappanavar either caught her infection before or after the procedure that evacuated her womb. If it occurred after her miscarriage, then it is simply another case of our dirty hospitals killing our people.

If however it happened before she miscarried, then there is some very real blame which needs to find a home.

Now some things are clear about this case, if Savita Halappanavar had a dilated cervix, with blood and amniotic fluid flowing freely from her womb, she was miscarrying. At 17 weeks there was no chance that the baby could have survived. Then, as I understand it, the appropriate thing to do is to digitally remove the baby, or where that is not possible, it is dismembered internally, and then removed, this is then followed by a procedure called a curettage – essentially the womb is scraped out.

In the case where the Irish state was taken to the European Court of Human Rights by Miss ‘C’ (who had a rare form of cancer when she became pregnant) the chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was very clear that in such cases, this is not considered an abortion. Though a series of mental backflips (essentially, because if a mother was to die because of pregnancy, then the child would never be) an abortion is not an abortion, because there is no baby.

In the case of poor Savita Halappanavar, either she was the victim of medical incompetence, having caught an infection because she had an open wound left untreated for days. Or she was a victim of a prejudiced medic who did not want to preform a procedure on conscientious grounds. Or she was a victim of a situation where a medic feared to do a necessary procedure because they were operating within a legal vacuum.

If this is simply a terrible instance of incompetence then we need to know why our doctors are capable of making such stupid decisions.

If the second scenario is true, then we are in the incredible situation that we have to find a way of protecting our citizens against the wilful harm that some of strict religious observance are prepared to do them.

If it is the third scenario, then we, ALL OF US, are to blame. Ms. ‘C’ brought this state to court, successfully. The European Court of Human Rights agreed that it is unfair that the sick pregnant women of Ireland are not catered for within our law, despite the constitutional clauses which protect them.

For a generation the Irish state has failed to recognise the protections that our own constitution affords the mothers of Ireland.

There will be a coroners inquest, this will determine the facts which surround Savita Halappanavar’s death. If it is the case that she became infected during her miscarriage, and if the doctor was not simply incompetent, then the state failed her. Either by not protecting her from religious zealotry, or by not facilitating her doctor in doing what was necessary.

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On why I voted no

When I went to the voting booth yesterday, I voted No.

It was not a case of last minute gitters, nor was it a case of my being terrified by the austerity threats of the no-campaigners; I just didn’t have it in me to vote yes.

This was the first time I’ve ever voted against a European referendum, and I did it because I have lost my faith in the institutions of the European Union.

On a whole the European Community has been a wonderful thing. Europe (if we ignore our collective culpability in the atrocities of the Balkans) has been at peace for longer than at any other period in history.

The results aren’t in but my sense is that there will be a marginal victory for the yes side. I didn’t campaign for a no vote, though mostly because I found those on that side of the debate to be too unsavoury, or too ideologically removed from me, or both.

My reasons for voting no emerge from a technical point within the treaty, which illuminates my wider difficulties with the institutions of Europe.

Article 3, section 1, subsection b states:

if the annual structural balance of the general government is at its country-specific medium0term objective as defines in the revised Stability and Growth Pact with a lower limit of a structural deficit of 0.5%  of the gross domestic product at market prices. The Contracting Parties shall ensure rapid convergence towards their respective medium term objective. The timeframe for such convergence will be proposed by the Commission taking into consideration country-specific sustainability risks…

So a consequence of this is that the commission would have a hand in guiding the budgets of the European countries. I am not against hard fiscal rules, though over forty years of experience in the United States has shown that they have no great net effect on the financial health of states.

My difficulty is that the Commission will decide, on a state by state basis, what budgetary conditions the state should operate under. This obviously confers a lot of power upon the Commission. The question I have is whether we can trust the Commission.

The treaty asks us to play a game where the goal posts have yet to be set and where, when they are set , they can be moved. This is not an idle consideration. The initial Stability and Growth Pact failed under the weight of the French and the German economies. When it became obvious that the French and the Germans could not operate within the strictures of the Stability and Growth Pact, the Commission amended their reading of the Pact such that “investment” spending such as infrastructural payments by the state, spending on education etc. did not fall within the terms of government spending; hence the French and the Germans were never technically in breach of the Pact.

This sorely undermined the Commission. When later it began to rightly argue that the Irish economy was overheating, the response from Merrion Street was that the Germans couldn’t live up to their own rules on spending, but regardless they were comfortable lecturing us on our spending.

The Commission has form when it comes erring in favour of the bigger European states while it is interpreting its responsibilities, and thus it has lost my trust.

I think that the European project has been a wonderful thing, though not universally so. The peace dividend which we have reaped, the defence of the rights of man, the trade and educational benefits have been marvellous. But I have come to the opinion that there was hubris among those who drafted the Maastricht treaty and beyond. The desire of the authors of the later treaties was to leave their fingerprints indelibly on history. They hustled the European Community into the European Union, I believe, with too much haste and without finesse. The institutions of Europe had become more important to these men, than the effects of these institutions on the citizens of Europe. The integration of the institutions outpaced the integration of the peoples of Europe, and by a long distance the integration of the economies of Europe.

And we bear the fruit of this poisoned tree. The ambition of those who wanted to be the authors of a European Constitution, have squandered the common wealth of those of us who will have to pick our way among the detritus of their decisions

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The Zollvererin roots of Germany’s sovereign power grab

When we try to understand the actions of Germany, with respect to the Eurozone, we have to look first at the Zollvererin league.

The Zollvererin was a stepping stone to a united Germany, and it is supposed that the Euro will be the bridge that leads to a united Europe (why else are there imaginary bridges on the notes).

But the logic immediately breaks down there. The Zollvererin was a currency which united the disparate Germanic states, of what had been the core of the Holy Roman Empire, after the excesses of Napoleon. But they were relatively homogeneous (certainly compared to the EU of today) and they were facing an existential threat (they couldn’t know that French imperial power was sundered at that stage) so first they united in commerce, and then ultimately in war (under Bismark against the French).

There is a large degree of myth making in the foundation tales of any nation, for Germany the primary myth it is the inevitability of Germany. There were epochs where events got in the way of a united Germany but there is a definite sense that regardless of all hindrances Germany would be one. So Germany became one again to crush the French (rather than say, wily politicians used the war to allow Prussia to dominate central Europe).

If you approach it from the perspective that there was a natural progression towards Germany, much as water flows towards the sea, then the Zollvererin was a vital prerequisite of the united Germany (as it allowed links of commerce and  culture to be forged under the protection of this initially international institution, which became ultimately federal, albeit is some detours in between).

It is almost as if, given that the Zollvererin facilitated the inevitable, then the Zollvererin must have been a necessary precondition to the united Germany; which is of course a logical fallacy.

But that is what Claude Levy-Strauss argues myths are for, to hide our internal contradictions, the conquering of cognitive dissonance.

This myth also fails to note that most currency unions end in failure, so it is not sufficient precondition for political union.

Compounding this, there is the German tendency towards Hegelianism, that conflation of what is rational, with what is moral. The Germans have never been a logical people, but the see themselves as so, and therefore make the mistakes of the fundamentalist; they confuse believing that they are correct in thought and action with “right”, and so introduce the false dichotomy that those who disagree with them are either stupid or clever (but corrupt).

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The scam of scams

 

Andrew Haldane has argued that:

rapid credit expansion, often through the development of poorly understood financial instruments

has been a scam on investors. Investors were hoodwinked by by the faux certainties of the mathematical chimera which backed up the financial products which they were sold. But the scam goes deeper than that, we are emerging from a forty year financial bubble.

Financial risk has been subsidised by taxpayers, where the interest on business loans becomes tax deductible then the costs of  accessing finance is depressed. The risk/gain ratio is compromised, and ever greater leveraging is incentivised.

Had this been used for the generation of wealth, invested in the future, then there would have been some argument for these subsidies. Instead they led to ever greater inflation within the equities markets, supported by the tax payer.

But worse,  returns on investment were benchmarked against financial products, where obfuscation and subsidy led to expected returns of 7% per annum. All investments were deemed to be inefficient where they underperformed against the financial product standard.

The consolidation within the newspaper industry is a classic example of how this destroyed real value in the actual economy. Access to cheap cash, enormous leverage has, across the world, seen small local newspapers eaten alive by conglomerates funded by high powered finance.

These investments had to produce returns at 7%.  How do you develop such returns in a labour intensive industry?

Sell more papers (in an already competitive market)?        Too difficult.

Increase prices?      Not at 7% per annum.

Sell more advertising?     Not sufficient.

Cull staff, and reduce quality of the publications?      BINGO!!!

 

Well, it is easier than the alternatives. And it has destroyed the media. We live in an information environment where journalists are expected to produce 5, 6, or 7 articles every day. A new story, every hour or two, every day of the week, every week of the year, from every journalist. No journalist can produce a valuable product under such restraints. Stories have become commoditised.

Journalists rewrite, or reproduce, other people’s stories, other people’s press releases; but that isn’t journalist, it is just lazy sub-editing.

Journalism suffers. Society suffers. Democracy suffers. We all suffer. And suffer because that 7% had to be squeezed out of a valuable industry.

The expansion of growth through finance has been a scam, but the diversion of investment, the devaluation of industry, the inefficiencies of the financial sector, the destruction of wealth has been a terrible cost to bear, a generation of opportunity tragically lost.

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Know thyself, and know thine enemy.

The citizens are revolting

 

Chatting with the #occupiers of Dame Street has been interesting, if not very revealing.

What seems to be happening is that they:

  1. know that something is wrong and,
  2. know that they are not happy.

What then seems to happen is that the #occupiers then interpolate these two facts and then engage in a process of  confabulation wherein they explain these two facts using whatever schema that they believe explains the social reality of the world around them.

Consequently every one of them seem to have their own story, founded on their personal prejudices, that is internally consistent  with their view of the world. There are some commonalities. At lot of mentions of the reintroduction of a gold standard, and plenty of discussion on how the IMF is raping the country. These thoughts are probably emerging from the Seomra Spraoí contingent of the Anarcho-Communist community, who remember the Argentinian default so well.
They are obviously wrong about a gold standard, there is nothing intrinsically valuable about gold beyond our desire for it. The only benefit is that it stems inflation, and reintroducing it would copper fasten the wealth of those who have it now, and enforce an era of deflation (making those who are wealthy now, wealthier, year after year).

And they are wrong about the IMF. The IMF want to see a European solution to a European problem (and they are lending to us at the lowest long term rates). The ECB want their money back (they have lent 104 Billion of short term money to the insolvent Irish banks @ 1.25 % – 3 cheers for Super Mario)

It is the oligarchs from the European Commission who are the enemy. They own the euro (and have allowed the Germans to fuck it up). And in the words of Brian Hayse they need a “win”. They need to salvage some form of victory from this mess. The EU civil servants have been completely undermined by the council of ministers from the start of this crisis. They need to show that their policies work somewhere. They can’t “win” in Greece, nor in Portugal. So they have to win in Ireland.

Ireland following their policy of perpetual poverty through decades of deflation will show the rest of Europe that at a higher, almost moral level, the commission is right after all.

Our permanent government is facilitating them.

Our elected government are too economically illiterate to raise objections.

Which is why we need the #occupiers. Their lack of coherence would suggest that they will accomplish little directly.

But, there are second order effects to consider. If our government are too economically illiterate to counter the arguments emerging from their civil servants. And if their civil servants are entirely in thrall to the European Commission then who is left to counter the proposals of the commission.

And parse the words of István Székel carefully. What they propose is perpetual poverty driven by decades of deflation. They that Ireland  will collapse it’s expenditure, but will not tackle the underlying perversities in the property sector that has undermined the constitution of the country.

For as long as property assets remain over priced (and they are still over priced) then they (as non-traded factors) will undermine our trading competitiveness.  But to allow a resetting of the property sector would demand a fresh injection of capital into the banks. Allowing the private and business rental sectors to hit their real economic level would require that rents would collapse: undermining NAMA,the buy-to-let housing sector (which by strange coincidence is dominated by civil servants with second homes), and so the banks would be hit by another wave of foreclosures.

The Brussels oligarchs want to avoid realising these losses and allow the slow inflation of the Eurozone to eat into them (which will take a generation). But with our leaders incapable of leading then we are defenceless.

Every set of oligarchs are conservative. They are the ones whom the current system suits, hence they fear change. They therefore fear revolt, and change is all they really fear. Highly visual dissent causes them pause for though. The Irish are remarkable. Every country that has ever required an IMF bailout has rioted, except us. While Irish people hurting Irish people for the sake of European money will never be useful, in the absence of real governmental leadership, public dissent – of a peaceful kind – will be all that protects us from the powerful

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Mario Draghi “Italian inflation izza best inflation”

Mario Draghi lets Trichet know how he really feels

 “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” :- Neils Bohr

The markets are not predictable, they never have been, and they probably never will be.

The most accurate predictor of today’s prices are yesterday’s prices, a concept know as “the random walk”. Prices today are approximately the same prices as yesterday, plus or minus some error – whether plus or minus, none can tell.

When new information arrives, this alters the beliefs of traders (what they believe the future holds in store for them), and they act. Their actions drive prices up, or drive them down. The upward or downward movement of price, and it’s amplitude is a function of this new information. If a 31 year old loses 2 Billion of your dollars  this will have an effect, an obviously negative effect, on your share value.

This gets priced in, and the market moves onwards. When information enters the system it provokes change, the more new information, the more change and so the greater the volatility of the price.

This is why central bankers move slowly. There is a long courtship between the central bankers and the traders. Like the ugliest teens at a parish dance, they flash and signal to each other what their intentions might be – neither might be happy about where they might end up, but they have few alternatives. The only thing worse than going home alone, is the shock of being publicly rejected by someone fuglier than themself.

So they signal, tentatively they make eye contact, they smile, they wink, and they send their friends to sound the other out. They do this to scope out their potential futures eager to avoid sharp shocks.

Central bankers have had a tradition of moving calmly, slowly and signalling with coded phrases: Strong vigilance”, heightened alertness”, etc.  what their future intentions might be.

The mandate of the ECB is to support “price stability”. Broadly this is and anti-inflationary policy, but also a  low volatility strategy.

With Super Mario, dropping an unexpected rate cut on the market, in response to the current chapter of the Greek crisis, can only lead to wider volatility on the stock markets, while also fuelling inflationary pressures (the ECB target inflation rate is 2%, the Eurozone rate is now 3%). This will also lead expectations to change, and expectations about the future are always priced today.

If Super Mario is to act so differently to his predecessor (and on his first day on the Job) then we can assume that the ECB’s hard limit on inflation has softened considerably. The future will have low-interest rates and high inflation – a good time to owe money. Unless I’m wrong – the future is the hardest thing to predict.

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The State that we are in

“Irish self-fascination is not productive and contributes to extremes in sentiment – hubris during the tiger year when Ireland knew best and self-loathing now as some believe the country is worst for everything. The truth is that all countries are unique. There is nothing uniquely unique about Ireland.”

 

Dan O’Brien – Ireland, Europe and the World

 

 

The State that we are in:

 

We live in a benign country. Our weather is moderate, if damp. Year after year, regardless of the efforts we make, the sun fails to give us heat stroke. The last time we had a hurricane was January 5th 1839. An oiche gaoithe mór was an event so rare that it was used to determine whether a person was eligible for the five shillings pension that the British introduced in 1909. If you were old enough to remember the night of the big wind, then you were old enough to draw down the pension.

 

Our rain, while incessant, fails to be monsoon-like. Our rivers flood in an almost apologetic manner, they fail to rage torrentially, they rarely tear buildings asunder, and if they go about annihilating villages like their Andean cousins, well they don’t like to talk about it.

 

Spring does not bring us the drowning horror of the mudslide. Our summers do not sear the soil. Each autumn, brush fires do not threaten our homes. In winter, we do lot live under the terror of the thunder of an avalanche.

 

In Ireland we have few, if any hazards. Our most dangerous wild animal is the bumble bee. Getting on the wrong side of a bad heifer is far more likely than shark attack.

 

The only force of nature that we seem vulnerable to, is gravity.

 

Not only are we safe, we are safer than almost everywhere else. We are less likely to die in an accident than our European neighbours. According to the World Health Organisation’s 2009 country assessment[1], our roads are safer than the rest of the continent, we are less likely to die in a fire, be poisoned, drown or be killed by another person than our fellow citizens of the European Union.

Source: WHO 2009 [2]

 

Our children are less likely to be killed than is the European norm.

 

Even when we consider alcohol abuse, our people died from alcohol poisoning at a quarter of the European rate. And if we can extrapolate directly from the coroner’s data[3] even our death rate by alcoholic liver disease was only half the EU rate.

 

Despite the apocalyptic descriptions the HSE hospitals that accompany any discussion of health in Ireland, life expectancy at birth is higher than the European Region average, for males and for females. This is neither new nor unexpected; there was a downward trend in injury mortality rates the 1980s, a leveling off and a slight increase in the 1990s, and again a downward trend in the 2000s. Our birth rates are higher than the European average, our death rates lower, our mothers have a lower child birth mortality rate.

 

Our leading cause of unintentional injury-related death is falling.

 

The vast majority of us can expect to die of an age related illness complicated by life style issues, which we never got around to sorting out.

 

We are safe.

 

We are also relatively crime free. As the CSO states in their Quarterly National Survey “In 2010, 9% of all households experienced property crime. This was a reduction from 12% and 11% in 2003 and 2006 respectively. There was a fall in the rate of personal crime experienced by those aged 18 years and over in 2010 (4%) when compared with 2006 (5%).” Fear of crime has also been in decline, 40% of people worry about being a victim of crime, this is down from 58% in 2003.

 

Despite this more than four out of five people believe that crime in Ireland is a serious, or a very serious problem. Almost two thirds of people feel personally safe from crime. Three quarters of people feel safe walking home, alone, after dark. But there is an overwhelming belief that crime is getting increasingly out of hand.

 

Both the CSO[4] and the National Crime Council[5] agree that we have low rates of crime. Fortunately we have also lower rates of fear of crime than the Scots, the Welsh, the English and the Irish of Northern Ireland. Fear of crime has a particularly debilitating social cost as it leads to avoidance behavior and social isolation. And is an unnecessary social cost, like other countries, those who are most likely to fear crime; rural people, the aged, and the widowed are those who are least likely to experience crime. The typical victim of crime is the young, urban male, he is rarer than is European peer, and generally he doesn’t let it bother him.

 

What Dan O’Brien calls “The myth of lawless Irish… [our] self-image that [we are] a nation of inveterate rule breakers” is essentially untrue. We have a sense that our country, outside of our neighborhood, beyond the experience of our friends and family is a much more unpleasant place than it really is.


[1] Progress in the prevention of injuries in the WHO European Region – Ireland, WHO 2009

[4] “Crime and Victimisation” Quarterly National Household Survey

Central Statistics Office 2010 http://www.cso.ie/releasespublications/documents/crime_justice/current/crimeandvictimisation_qnhs2010.pdf

 

[5] “Fear of Crime in Ireland and its Impact on Quality of Life”

A Report Commissioned by the National Crime Council and published by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform April, 2009 http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf/Files/Fear%20of%20Crime%20in%20Ireland.pdf

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