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Lusitana Paixão

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2015 by shaneheneghan

The recent furore over the coup that wasn’t in Portugal reveals far more about those who were posting about it than actual events in Lisbon.

The leader of the centre-right, Pedro Passos Coelho, was asked to form a new government by the country’s president on Thursday – despite failing to win an outright majority in the inconclusive election on October 4th and despite ongoing negotiations between the three parties on the left who have a clear majority.

It should be remembered that the protracted negotiations on the left aren’t going any where fast and that and the President is well within his bounds to ask the leader of the largest faction in Parliament to have the first crack at forming a government. The plot thickened however when the President went on to comment on the unsuitability of the far left to hold office given Portugal’s historic commitment to European integration. These comments are disturbingly partisan for a man in what is seen as a neutral position but there is no reason to believe he was swayed by outside influences in making them.

The story was intercepted by one Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph, a publication with a record of euroscepticism. His loaded text makes no attempt to explain Portuguese electoral system. It dubs the event as a Brussels backed attack on democracy without explaining that the President acted independently and well within the mandate afforded to him by 52% of Portuguese voters just a few short years ago.

The sensationalist story then went viral in the tweet machine with (predominantly anglophone) europhobes from both the left and the right who went into a hand wringing meltdown on the backs of just one article. For some people, it seems that if one narrow point of view fits your own personal narrative and opinion of an overarching European union there is no need to do any further research.

I mean, really, both Dan Hannan and Owen Jones should realise that there is so little they agree on that the matter is worth a double take?

There certainly is no need to ask a Portuguese citizen for their views on the matter, right lads?

To me this débâcle speaks to a new danger of our age. We have more access to news and media than at any other time in history. The ability to stick to a niché and only to receive our news and information that confirms to our personal world view is very real. But we are required to do more. To look beyond.

I won’t pretend that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am a European federalist. And indeed I am often faced with situations where I could confine myself to the self congratulatory Brussels bound eurobubble of news but of course I can’t possibly accept this as a valid view of the world.

One of the great tragic ironies of our time is that this age of mass media has potentially made it easier than ever to mislead the general public. This is something to watch.

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A quick word on immigration.

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2015 by shaneheneghan

There can be few more social issues as open to misinterpretation as immigration. I’ve been staunchly in favour of mass immigration for years. The fact remains that think tanks ranging from the CATO institute to Margaret Thatcher’s favourite think tank, the Adam Smith institute all wax lyric as to its benefits. The later organisation even goes so far as to say that if all immigration controls were removed it would lead to exponential economic growth.

The hysteria surrounding the amount of third world refugees encamped at Calais brings these issues to the fore. Prime Minister Cameron using terms such as “swarms” to describe them shows either panic or lack of any real leadership skills.

When we take on board both the young age profile of most would be migrants and rapidly increasing age profiles in developed countries putting extra strain on already overstretched social systems you can see why it is urgency that immigration laws become and stay liberal.

It should be added that ingenuity and tenacity of those seeking asylum in their quest to stay in Europe must make them attractive to many employers.

That said it’s pretty easy to see why immigration interpreted as a threat. The most base and easily exploited fear out there is the fear of the unknown. It’s an easy fix for those in power to pit marginalised groups against one another.

It is up to progressives to assuage these fears and to explain as calmly as possible the benefits of emigration for society at large.

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Grisis, what Grisis?

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2015 by shaneheneghan

I don’t fully understand what’s going on in Greece. It’s as unnerving as it is fascinating. I have a degree in Economics and a masters in European Studies and I am baffled. I am of the impression that anyone that claims to understand the situation has an agenda. I happen to have an agenda too. I am a European federalist. I believe the shoddy architecture of the single currency made this mess inevitable and that the solution remains more Europe, not less.

Firstly, let me explain what I think of the deal- the deal stinks. It’ is for the most part quite punitive. Not one leader in the room seemed to be sticking up for the European ideal. On the other hand, while it shows the dominance of Northern Europe it also highlights Greece’s desperate desire to remain in the single currency.

But I’d like to focus for a while on some of the issues I feel are being omitted from the coverage.

There are too many over simplifications in the coverage of this crisis. Firstly, on the Greek government,

The media frequently refer to this as a government of the hard left. There are a few things wrong with this. Firstly, Syriza is in coalition with a right wing party known as the independent Greeks – the only thing these two parties would seem to have in common is sheer bloody mindedness.

If this is a radical government, then why has it remained content to leave Greece as one of the few European countries without even basic recognition for same-sex couples. Any credentials they might have as social liberal are further undermined by the massive subsidies still lavished on the Greek orthodox church.

The issue of Greek military spending which remains staggeringly at 50% above NATO recommended levels is interesting in this case. Neither the Greeks nor the creditors seem to have it this up for discussion until very recently.

The process of European integration is not one of giant leaps more of little steps here and there. The solution is not likely to be one of a giant leap toward statehood but of several medium size changes that hopefully can gain some momentum.

Greece has a debt to GDP ratio of 175%. Debt forgiveness must be considered. The counter argument that other heavily indebted nations such as Portugal and Ireland would also seek relief is valid which is why I would advocate relief for such countries should happen simultaneously. The question of how exactly much debt relief will be near impossible to answer but a formula must be reaches.

In addition to relief, we could also advocate a certain amount of debt pooling or sharing. The fact of the matter is that the debt levels of one member of a single currency affects the economic performance of them all in extreme cases like this. As a unit, we can theoretically pay a much lower interest rate on shared debt than the periphery can alone.

Again, the decision process around how much and which debts will be shared will be tricky. Perhaps we should start working on algorithms?

A debt pause of a certain length could also be a valuable solution. We know Greece is still in primary surplus (for now!) and that therefore should, on paper at least, enter into a period of fairly solid growth if the debt issue was put to one side for a while to allow growth.

Finally I would suggest some targeted economic stimulus. The European Structural funds have been some of the most effectively spent public funds in Europe since the second world war revitalising infrastructure and leading to growth in many countries. Yet they scarcely represent more than about 1% of European GDP. What would happen if this were to be gradually ratcheted up to about 3%?

There is, of course the problem of diminishing marginal returns to think about but I think the real problem here, would be that the larger the programme gets the more open to corruption it could become. The key to the success of these monies thus far is the technocratic manner in which they have been spent. Whilst allowing for democratic oversight, this must be kept in-spite of any political pressure that may come to bare.

In closing, I would always say in these situations that despite the awful set of circumstances Greece finds itself in we should bare in mind that the media who always love a good apocalypse and in the case of the anglophone media are often bitterly euroscpetic. This may not be as big a crisis as we are led to believe. I remain confident that the euro will prevail in any case.

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The Rotten Borough

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2014 by shaneheneghan

Ireland is dismayed at having come nowhere near winning Eurovision for a third year in a row. Who could have predicted that employing more or less the same selection format year on year would not eventually start to work?

 

People often ask me what I think RTÉ could do differently. (Fair enough, that’s a lie but I force people to listen to my answer to that question anyway.)

 

Ireland is now the rotten borough of the Eurovision Song Contest. Eurosong seems to be kept as low-key as possible. The contest is not even mentioned let alone promoted by the broadcaster until the January before the contest whereas the Swedes will start the hunt for contestants for next year in the next few weeks or so. My first suggestion, that I might add, would not cost a penny, would be to be just a little bit more proactive.

 

The reputation of Eurovision here isn’t the best. A potential winner is not just gonna walk into Montrose of the street. People from all parts of the music industry should be asked. I know folk will laugh and doors will be slammed but it will be worth it. The two Dutch country singers who were asked to take part this year assumed Dutch television were joking when they were asked and took some convincing before they agreed to perform. They ended up coming second – Holland’s best placing since 1975.

 

We need to banish the mentality that only a eurovision-esque entry can win. Most of the better winners of the past few years have not fit immediately into that stereotype. One must think outside the box.

 

Finland is a country that spent decades following what was en vogue in the contest never daring to try anything different resulting in them never getting a top five finish until the turned to a band of monster rockers from within the Arctic circle. You know what happened next.

 

This system of appointing “mentors” responsible for coming up with acts who seem to have little qualification for the job bar being in one of Linda Martin’s old address books should go as well.

 

I’d also suggest TG4 get involved. They have proven to be a very resourceful and innovative broadcaster with very modest resources and it would be interesting to see what they come up with. I am not suggesting a return of an obligatory Irish language entry. I would give TG4 free rein on finding two entries for the contest bringing the total to seven. This would put a bit of competitive pressure on the national broadcaster and increase the amount of choice and diversity of act available to the public

 

In closing, I would say that inertia is not a viable option. I would prefer Ireland to withdraw than to carry on with the current format. The selection for Eurovision would seem to follow a pattern set by several other rotten institutions on this island in that it is little more than a cushy number for a handful of long established insiders that ceased to be fit for purpose years ago.

 

Articles

Eurovision 2014 Predictions – 2nd Semi Final

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2014 by shaneheneghan

I’m a bit late with this. But here we go. Let’s start with a recap.

I got 7 out of 10 the last night and am hoping to do better this evening.

 

01 Malta

Inoffensive mid tempo ballad. Malta love Eurovision. Should go through.

 

02 Israel

Think P!ink, singing with a hangover then making an ill advised language change into Hebrew mid song. I know what you’re thinking, but it grows on you.

 

03 Norway

I love Norway for trying things that differ slightly from the Eurovision norm. They have taken some notable gambles over the years. This is a ballad on mental health that if delivered well may easily end up in the top five on Saturday.

 

04 Georgia

These guys are a lot further away than three minutes to earth.

 

05 Poland

I don’t get why people like this but they do. Sounds like a lot of stuff you hear on Polish radio to be fair. It’s also the most sexist song this year

 

06 Austria

This bearded lady is more than a novelty act and has a powerful voice. This will struggle to get votes from the east but will probably pull though.

 

07 Lithuania

Apparently this is an example of that horrible dub-step nonsense the young people do be listening to.

 

08 Finland

I love the confidence that Finnish entries have in the post-Lordi era. A nice bit of up-tempo pop-rock and the least Eurovisiony entry tonight.

 

09 Ireland

Those lyrics make no sense. A clear knock off of last year’s winner with a bit of paddy wackery thrown in. Apparently, this entry comes from a country that won the contest more than any other country and has one of the strongest music industries on earth. Who’d a thunk? I think there is a good chance this will scrape through but it will be in close, and as usual, I have to get rid of an eleventh name.

 

10 Belarus

What is it with the ex-Soviets singing about baked goods this year?

 

11 Macedonia

I’m afraid nothing about this stands out. If you are going to be eurovision be noticeable.

 

12 Switzerland

Happy clappy country number that I think is infectious enough to go through.

 

13 Greece

Greece always go through with stuff like this and I suppose in it’s own hodge podge way it is one of the more modern entries this year.

 

14 Slovenia

If it’s staged and sung well I see no reason why this shouldn’t go through but I’m not certain. Looking at the geography, there is an opening an ex Yugo and a central European country. They are both.

 

15 Romania

This pair sang for Romania before with a much better song. Luckily, part of the appeal then as now is there on stage chemistry.

 

 

 

Articles

Eurovision 2014 Predictions – 1st Semi Final

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2014 by shaneheneghan

Has it been a year already? Yes, it’s Eurovision week again. Below is a review of the entries in the first semi final with the countries I project to qualify highlighted in bold.

And here is a quick blast of each song.

01 Armenia

This is the bookies favourite to win the whole thing and whilst it is a decent song there are stronger ballads this year. The dubsteppy bit shoved in at the end for the sake of modernity seems awkward to me. Also, you don’t win this contest by making comments like this.

02 Latvia

There’s always an eejit from the Baltic states with a guitar and lyrics that make little or no sense at all. Mildly endearing but only for the first thirty seconds.

03 Estonia

The first typical Eurovision song this year. This sounds a little more eastern European than most Estonian entries- they usually fall over themselves to make themselves seem as Scandinavian as possible. (Where’s the key change, lads?) Definitely strong enough to make the final but I feel it may not make it to the top half of the scoreboard on Saturday.

04 Sweden

This is what I meant when I told you there are stronger ballads this year. Sanna Nielsen won Melodifestivalen on her 7th attempt and if anyone can sell a song she can. Definitely going to the final and one to watch on Saturday.

05 Iceland

Sounds like something out of a secondary school talent show. Sorry Iceland, I expect more from you.

06 Albania

She’s got a unique voice and the song seems to stand out. I’m going out on a limb by saying it will qualify.

07 Russia

Very typical mid-tempo Eurovision fare but probably going to the final.

08 Azerbaijan

I am very critical of Azerbaijan’s record in this contest for reasons I won’t go into here, but I can’t help but like this song.

09 Ukraine

Infectiously catchy, “eurovisiony” and cheesy but this is what Ukraine is good at in this show. The kind of typical eurovision song that finds way into many a guilty pleasure list.

10 Belgium

A sentimental Fleming singing a ballad about his Mammy. He’s got a big voice mind you.

11 Moldova

This shows what can go wrong when you shove the standard elements of a stereotypical Eastern European entry into a blender and hope for the best.

12 San Marino

This Valentina’s third year in a row singing for San Marino- can no-one else over there carry a tune, I wonder? I like it even though It’s all very 90s. Don’t think it’s going to the final.

13 Portugal

Oh Portugal! Now, what is this? Is it still the 90s nostalgia section of the evening?

14 Netherlands

Possibly a bit too sophisticated for a Eurovision semi-final, I reckon and hope it’s position in the running order will allow it to scrape into the final.

15 Montenegro

A rather pleasant Balkan ballad and where would we be without rather pleasant Balkan ballads. I wanted to put this on my list but then I’d have 11 predictions not 10. You gotta make the cut somewhere.

16 Hungary

You see, this is the song I think the Armenian entry was trying to be. Nice up-tempo pop that should make the final easily.

 

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Soler y Keynes

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2014 by shaneheneghan

I remember one of those minor news items on the fringes of Eurovision 2012 in Baku. The scandal went that that the Spanish entrant, Pastora Soler, who had been predicted to do well, had been asked by Spanish television not to win due to the costs that they may incur in hosting the following year.

This was an example of sloppy journalism reinforced by sloppy economics.

Firstly, it is one of the oldest myths associated with the Eurovision Song Contest that the winning country is obliged to host the show the following year. The winning country is offered the right to host the following year and has the right to refuse. The fact that this has not happened since the 1970s surely illustrates how lucrative an opportunity at self promotion for a country the Eurovision remains. Anyone working in PR, tourism or marketing would value the kind of exposure the contest offers in tens of million of euro if not arms and legs.

Indeed, if one remembers how dependent the Spanish economy is on tourism one can easily conclude that Spain could benefit hugely from hosting and that the story originally reported above was of course utter nonsense as, indeed, it turned out to be.

This item was also revealing perhaps of a wider issue regarding the understanding of public spending in general. The narrative of the past few years in Anglo Saxon countries has held that public monies are rarely a good return on investment. In the mind of the monetarist, Keynesian style public spending is a road to ruin. It is merely a means of ratcheting up the national debt while having little, if anything, to show for it.

However, even Keynes himself was eager to point out that all public spending must be targeted and strictly monitored. An example of what he was talking about would be the structural funds spent by the European union in the past 30 years. This spending has been highly targeted at certain areas yet this spending rarely rose above a few fractions of a per cent of total European GDP yet as any Irish road user will tell you, the effect of this spending has been immense. It cannot be overemphasised that Keynesianism is not a power hose it is a very discriminate watering can that focuses it’s resources where it will be best used and lead to the best results.

It would make sense in Spain’s case, for example, if they chose to host it in a city that was large enough so it already had the infrastructure to host the contest, but small enough so that it did not already have international exposure and could benefit from an increase in attention. Bilbao or La Coruña spring to mind.

In the event, of course, we know that it was Sweden and not Spain that were triumphant in Baku and indeed, you might say that the Swedes followed the above formula in choosing their third largest city, Malmö, to host for the following year. From a budget of about 150 million SEK, the event generated about 185 million SEK in extra tourism revenues as well as over a billion SEK’s worth of PR for Malmö and the wider Skåne region of Southern Sweden. Solid proof that this is an event worth hosting.

The whole thing reminds me how pervasive neo-liberal thinking is. This consensus has found fertile ground after decades of pork barrel, uncoordinated and to be blunt, bad spending. Examples of positive spending to the contrary such as those outlined above should be emphasised and should be cited more regularly by progressives