Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Free Trade Agreements, Tariffs and Tax Reductions: “Squeezing the Lemon Dry” on Behalf of Giant Corporations

Big capital has constantly decreased its contribution to the state – creating a gap in the state’s coffers which is then filled by more and varied taxes on ordinary people – ultimately shrinking the very market big capital needs to sell its increased production of goods.

Tariffs and Taxes
“Before the income tax was imposed on us just 80 years ago, government had no claim to our income. Only sales, excise, and tariff taxes were allowed.” Alan Keyes
Free trade areas and free trade agreements have allowed for the growth of multinational corporations but the concomitant reductions in tariffs caused a decline in income for the states involved.
Tariffs are defined as “a tax imposed on the import or export of goods. In general parlance, however, it refers to “import duties” charged at the time goods are imported. Tariffs have three primary functions: to serve as a source of revenue, to protect domestic industries, and to remedy trade distortions (punitive function).”
As tariff income declined income taxes and payroll taxes increased. In many cases workers also objected to reductions in tariffs as cheap imports had deleterious effects on their industries and jobs.


In the USA the changing proportions of government income since 1792 can be seen clearly in this table. The percentage of Federal Government income from tariffs ranged from 25.4% to as high as 95.0% between 1792 and 1910. With the passage of the 16th Amendment income taxes began in 1913 and the percentage of Federal Government income from tariffs quickly declined to 6.1% by 1940. In that year payroll taxes were also introduced and by 1955 the percentage of Federal Government income from tariffs declined to 0.8%. Between 1955 and 2010 the percentage has hovered around 1.3%. Since then it has averaged out to about 1.7%. As income declined from tariffs, the state very quickly filled in the gap, moving the burden of taxation very substantially from industry in general to workers in particular. Also, during the 1930s and 1940s the wealthy paid high taxes:
“And then, in 1945, with the country loaded to the gills with war debts, the top bracket hit an all-time high: 94%. This was assessed on anyone making more than $200,000. The following year, 1946, rates were trimmed a bit. The top rate was reduced to 91%. And taxes stayed pretty much just that way for the next 15 years, until the early 1960s. Importantly, this was one of the most successful eras in US economic history. The middle class boomed, the economy boomed, and the stock market boomed. And all with the top marginal income tax rate over 90%.”
However, by the early 1960s, the high rates for the wealthy in the US began to drop, declining to 70%, then 50% in the 1980s to around 35% now.
When the state is denied or limited sources of income from taxation on production it falls back on taxing people in more and more varied and imaginative ways to counter the shortfall. According to one commentator, “Americans will fork over nearly 30 percent of what they earn to pay their income taxes, but that is only a small part of the story.  As you will see below, there are dozens of other taxes that Americans pay every year.  Of course not everyone pays all of these taxes, but without a doubt we are all being taxed into oblivion.  It is like death by a thousand paper cuts.” The author then lists 97 taxes Americans pay every year.

Free Trade Agreements


The increase in personal taxation went hand in hand with job losses as free trade agreements allowed for cheap imports even by companies that had once formerly been national employers. The long term effects of tariff reductions in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, which went into effect on January 1, 1994, are described thus:
“American manufacturing jobs were lost as U.S. firms used NAFTA’s new foreign investor privileges to relocate production to Mexico to take advantage of that country’s lower wages and weaker environmental standards. U.S. job erosion worsened as a new flood of NAFTA imports swamped gains in exports, creating a massive new trade deficit that equated to an estimated net loss of one million U.S. jobs by 2004.”
Similar discussions are currently taking place regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP):
“In concrete terms the EU and the US have made substantial progress on market access for EU and US companies in all three areas meaning: tariffs, services and public procurement. [A] [s]econd tariff offer was exchanged, so both sides now arrived at a comparable level of proposals in terms of tariff line coverage which would facilitate further talks.”
As the list of bilateral and multilateral agreements gets longer and longer, states fall ever deeper into debt and MNCs (multinational corporations) increase their profits exponentially.
The global search for cheaper labour costs and the lowest taxation on corporate profits has made some companies richer than countries. One writer noted that:
“Corporate America has more cash than the economies of Belgium and Sweden combined. S&P 500 companies, excluding financial companies, collectively had $1.43 trillion in cash reserves sitting on the sidelines in the second quarter (April to June) of this year [2015], according to FactSet. That’s the second highest level in 10 years, and just a tad lower than the highest — $1.45 trillion — set in the fourth quarter last year.”

Tax avoidance
Some companies have used corporate inversion, tax havens, transfer pricing, tax avoidance etc. to bump up profits even more.  Citizens for Tax Justice notes the differences between corporations and domestic business and the repercussions this has on society in general:
“U.S.-based multinational corporations are allowed to play by a different set of rules than small and domestic businesses or individuals when it comes to the tax code. Rather than paying their fair share, many multinational corporations use accounting tricks to pretend for tax purposes that a substantial portion of their profits are generated in offshore tax havens, countries with minimal or no taxes where a company’s presence may be as little as a mailbox. Multinational corporations’ use of tax havens allows them to avoid an estimated $90 billion in federal income taxes each year. Congress, by failing to take action to end to this tax avoidance, forces ordinary Americans to make up the difference. Every dollar in taxes that corporations avoid by using tax havens must be balanced by higher taxes on individuals, cuts to public investments and public services, or increased federal debt.”
Once again, tax avoidance by MNCs affects public services and investment in infrastructure. This avoidance extends to the wealthy who own these companies. The recent revelations of the Panama Papers show the extent of tax avoidance by wealthy individuals is having a knock-on effect on states and societies starved of tax income:
“The Panama Papers [a one-year investigation by over 100 reporters worldwide], containing info on thousands of shell companies set up to avoid taxes and hide assets for over four decades from 1977 to 2015, are all about millionaires and billionaires and the politically connected “sticking it to” average citizens of the world by hiding money from fellow countrymen’s taxation policies and/or theft of state funds and laundering money.”
The Social Contract
While corporations can move around the world, states are fixed and the producers of goods live in societies that need to provide education systems, transport systems, communications systems, health systems, social welfare systems, houses, food, traffic lights, etc. that all cost a lot of money.
The legitimacy of authority of the state over the individual derives from general acceptance of the social contract: “Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.” The lack of social justice apparent in the increasing gap between wealthy elites and ordinary people can break down, and result in disorder, looting and rioting. In a worst case scenario there is the possibility of governmental collapse and the creation of a failed state where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly.
At the very least, it has been shown in a book by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, “that austerity is now having a “devastating effect” on public health in Europe and North America. The mass of data they have mined reveals that more than 10,000 additional suicides and up to a million extra cases of depression have been recorded across the two continents since governments started introducing austerity programmes in the aftermath of the crisis.[…] And in the UK, the authors say, 10,000 families have been pushed into homelessness following housing benefit cuts. […] Cuts in HIV-prevention budgets have coincided with a 200% increase in the virus in Greece.”
The impoverishment of the state through squeezed funds affects the poorest most as wealthy individuals can easily purchase privatized versions of state services.

Weakening domestic demand
The imposition of austerity and cutbacks not only adds to the general misery but also at the same time reduces demand. One economic research institute looked at the effects of austerity in Ireland:
“Domestic demand has been hard hit, shrinking by almost a quarter. Though the export sector has not been hit as hard, the lack of investment in public infrastructure reduces the potential of this sector to grow in the years to come. Also a reflection of the weak state of the economy has been price deflation. Between September 2008 and January 2010 prices fell. Though inflation is not of itself a good thing, the fact that it has been so low for so long is a reflection of the weak state of domestic demand. Though there was a brief spell of deflation immediately following the Second World War, one must go back to 1933 to see an instance of deflation as severe as that which has recently occurred in Ireland.”
The effects of cutbacks by the state in the form of job cuts, social welfare cuts and pay reductions is to reduce income for the state (less taxes and VAT) while at the same time creating a drop in demand as people have less money to spend on goods. This can be seen generally around Ireland (with businesses closing down e.g. CorkSligoGalwayLimerick) except in areas where multinational corporations have relocated, accounting for a lot of the much – vaunted Irish ‘recovery’.
According to Eurostat, Ireland now has one of the Eurozone’s poorest living standards:
“The typical German living standard is the highest in Europe while the Irish, Italians and Spanish are among the Eurozone’s poorest, according to data published Wednesday by Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office. […] Eurostat has been highlighting Actual Individual Consumption (AIC) as a measure of living standards and it says that it “consists of goods and services actually consumed by individuals, irrespective of whether these goods and services are purchased and paid for by households, by government, or by non-profit organisations.”
Central Banks wade in
However, the decline in consumption is a global problem and numerous measures have been taken to try and solve it:
“Since 2008, global central banks have cut interest rates 637 times, they have injected 12.3 trillion dollars into the global financial system through various quantitative easing programs, and we have seen an explosion of government debt unlike anything we have ever witnessed before.  But despite these unprecedented measures, the global economy is still deeply struggling.  This is particularly true in Japan, in South America, and in Europe.”
The extraordinary success of big capital (aided by the global spread of neoliberalist policies such as privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation and free trade – policies which directly and indirectly reduced incomes to the state) is sucking society dry, while big capital itself is sloshing around with never-before-seen levels of liquidity.
The desperation to get some money back into the economy can be seen in a recent statement where ECB chief Mario Draghi refused to rule out the prospect of ‘helicopter money’ drops, “the process by which central banks can create money to transfer to the public or private sector to stimulate economic activity and spending.”

The role of the state?
New trade agreement proposals such as TTIP and TPP show that big capital still has more cards up its sleeve with more tariff reductions on the horizon. The further liberalization of global trade does not auger well for the future of financing the state. Only by changing the relationship between the state and big capital while at the same time reevaluating the role of the state in society and questioning its sources of funding, can people protect themselves from the worst excesses of neoliberalism.
Otherwise, the deepening implementation of ‘austerity’, with its social and economic ills of job cuts, depression and suicide, will drive a return to a state where life becomes, in the famous words of Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes (http://gaelart.net/). His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Stormy Times: Climate Change and Instability as Predicted

In June 2008 the Community Climate Change Consortium for Ireland (C4I) produced a 118 page report entitled Ireland in a Warmer World: Scientific Predictions of the Irish Climate in the Twenty-First Century (supported and co-funded by Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Higher Education Authority) which forecast “an increase in the frequency of very intense cyclones, and also increases in the extreme values of wind and precipitation associated with them. This implies an increased risk of storm damage and flooding in vulnerable Irish coastal areas.” The report also suggested that the “[d]emand for heating energy is likely to reduce significantly as the climate warms.”

Now in 2016, we are already seeing these predictions come true. There have been six storms already since the beginning of winter and a weather station in Donegal recorded its wettest day for any month since 1885 and its highest December temperature in 60 years. There has been unprecedented flooding in many parts of rural Ireland combined with severe winds.

Storm Frank (after Storms Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva) has “caused localised flooding, road blockages and led to thousands of homes being without power across Ireland.” 13,000 homes had their electricity cut off and in the south of the country there was 60mms (almost three inches) of rain. The towns Midleton and Bandon were the worst affected by extensive flooding “with some 90 properties affected in each of the towns.”

70 millimetres of rain and gusts of up to 120km/h have been recorded along the Atlantic coast and around the country ferry sailings have been cancelled, roads closed and rail services disrupted. The Office of Public Works (OPW) issued a report stating: “we remain in a severe flooding situation on the Shannon catchment and many of the above other catchments. Ongoing flood defence efforts (for example pumping) will have to continue for some time yet”.Drone footage of Enniscorthy after Storm Frank shows the disastrous levels of inundation suffered by the inhabitants of that town.

It seems that the frequency of storms hitting the UK and Ireland has led to the development of a project by the UK Met Office and the Irish Met Eireann “to name severe winter storms, much in the same way that hurricanes are named.” The press were giving unofficial names to the storms, sometimes given different names by different sources leading to confusion. Hence Storms Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva and Frank and we can look forward tostorms Gertrude, Henry, Imogen, Jake, Katie, Lawrence, Mary, Nigel, Orla, Phil, Rhonda, Steve, Tegan, Vernon, Wendy.

The C4I report also noted that “[s]ea levels are rising on average about 3.5 cm per decade around Ireland.” Coastal erosion, especially at high tides, is becoming apparent all around Ireland with dunes being eroded and cliff faces sliding into the sea (see photos of local examples).

Corballis Beach, Donabate (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin, December, 2012).

The Donabate-Portrane cliff walk near Dublin. The constant heavy rain of the last few weeks combined with high tides has caused a drop of around three feet in this landslide. The rest could collapse any moment (Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin, January 2016).

A European Commission report (The Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) ‘Climate Impacts in Europe’ ) published in 2014warned that “[t]he impacts of river flooding will be most pronounced in Ireland and the UK if a business-as-usual model is adopted and global warming isn’t tackled” and, as has been noted in many discussions on Irish media recently, that “economic damage from winter storms will cause crippling bills.” According to Professor John Sweeney, who compiled UN reports on climate change, “Ireland’s wetter, and has a winter maximum rainfall, with more impermeable soils which tend to be waterlogged in winter,” and “[b]ecause we’re at the western side of Europe we also bear the brunt of storms from the Atlantic unlike the other countries which are less affected.”

However, on an even more urgent note, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that “there is strong evidence that global sea level gradually rose in the 20th century and is currently rising at an increased rate, after a period of little change between AD 0 and AD 1900. Sea level is projected to rise at an even greater rate in this century. The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion of the oceans (water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice due to increased melting.” If the rise in sea levels is not decelerated significantly then the result will be permanent inundation of large parts of coastal and low-lying areas of the country. Examples of the possible effects of rising global temperature levels on sea levels can be seen in the ‘Risk Zone’ maps of Climate Central.

Their analysis of the potential effects is spine-chilling: “Carbon emissions causing 4°C of warming — what business-as-usual points toward today — could lock in enough sea level rise to submerge land currently home to 470 to 760 million people, with unstoppable rise unfolding over centuries. At the same time, aggressive carbon cuts limiting warming to 2°C could bring the number as low as 130 million people.”
If major steps are not taken soon to solve these potential disasters then we will discover that our ‘sandbagging’ will eventually become an expression of regret rather than community cooperation in the face of adversity.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on geopolitical themes, Irish history and cityscapes of Dublin. His critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country on his blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Sacred trees, Christmas trees and New Year trees: A vision for the future

Trees are a very important part of world culture and have been at the centre of ideological conflict for hundreds of years. Over this time they have taken the form of Sacred trees, Christmas trees and New Year trees. In the current debates over climate change, trees have an immensely important role to play on material and symbolical levels both now and in the future. With the rising awareness of climate change, climate resilience i.e. the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change, has become the focus of groups from local community action to global treaties. The planting of trees is an important action that everyone from the local to the global can engage in. Trees act as carbon stores and carbon sinks, and on a cultural level they have been used to represent nature itself the world over.

As symbols, trees have been imbued with different meanings over time and I suggest here that they should continue to hold that central role as a prime symbol of our respect for nature, and not just at Christmas time but the whole year round in the form of a central community tree for adults and children alike. In an uncertain future, the absolute necessity of developing a society that harks back to much earlier forms of engagement with nature in a sustainable way will have to have a focal point. Trees as important symbols of our respect for nature have a long and elemental past.

The Tree of Life
From earliest times trees have had a profound effect on the human psyche:
“Human beings, observing the growth and death of trees, and the annual death and revival of their foliage, have often seen them as powerful symbols of growth, death and rebirth. Evergreen trees, which largely stay green throughout these cycles, are sometimes considered symbols of the eternal, immortality or fertility. The image of the Tree of life or world tree occurs in many mythologies.”

In Norse mythology the tree Yggdrasil, “with its branches reaching up into the sky, and roots deep into the earth, can be seen to dwell in three worlds - a link between heaven, the earth, and the underworld, uniting above and below. This great tree acts as an Axis mundi, supporting or holding up the cosmos, and providing a link between the heavens, earth and underworld.”

Yggdrasil, the World Ash (Norse)

Sacred Trees
However, both Christianity and Islam treated the worship of trees as idolatry and this led to sacred trees being destroyed in Europe and most of West Asia. An early representation of the ideological conflict between paganism (polytheistic beliefs) and Christianity (resulting in the cutting down of a sacred tree) can be seen in the manuscript illumination (illustration) of Saint Stephan of Perm cutting down a birch tree sacred to the Komi people as part of his proselytizing among them in the years after 1383.

Stefan of Perm takes an axe to a birch hung with pelts and cloths that is sacred to the Komi of Great Perm (a medieval Komi state in what is now the Perm Krai of the Russian Federation.)

Christian missionaries targeted sacred groves and sacred trees during the Christianization of the Germanic peoples. According to the 8th century Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, the Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface and his retinue cut down Donar's Oak (a sacred tree of the Germanic pagans) earlier the same century and then used the wood to build a church.

"Bonifacius" (1905) by Emil Doepler.

Christmas Trees
Over time the pagan world tree became christened as a Christmas tree. It was believed that evil influences were warded off by fir or spruce branches and “between December 25 and January 6, when evil spirits were feared most, green branches were hung, candles lit – and all these things were used as a means of defense. Later on, the trees themselves were used for the same purpose; and candles were hung on them. The church retained these old customs, and gave them a new meaning as a symbol of Christ.’(p20) While there are records of this practice dating from 1604 of a decorated fir tree in Strasbourg, it was in Germany that the Christmas tree took hold in the early 19th century. It then “became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia.”

Father and son with their dog collecting a tree in the forest, painting by Franz Krüger (1797–1857)

The Russian Revolution
In Russia the tradition of installing and decorating a Yolka (tr: spruce tree) for Christmas was very popular but fell into disfavor (as a  tradition originating in Germany - Russia's enemy during World War I) and was subsequently banned by the Synod in 1916. After the Russian Revolution in 1917 Christmas celebrations and other religious holidays were prohibited under the Marxist-Leninist policy of state atheism in the Soviet Union.

A 1931 edition of the Soviet magazine Bezbozhnik, distributed by the League of Militant Atheists, depicting an Orthodox Christian priest being forbidden to cut down a tree for Christmas

New Year's trees
Although the Christmas tree was banned people continued the tradition with New Year trees which eventually gained acceptance in 1935: “The New Year tree was encouraged in the USSR after the famous letter by Pavel Postyshev, published in Pravda on 28 December 1935, in which he asked for trees to be installed in schools, children's homes, Young Pioneer Palaces, children's clubs, children's theaters and cinemas.” They remain an essential part of the Russian New Year traditions when Grandfather Frost, like Santa Claus, brings presents for children to put under the tree or to distribute them directly to the children on New Year's morning performances.

Trees in public places
In many public places around the world Christmas trees are displayed prominently since the early 20th century. The lighting up of the tree has become a public event signaling the beginning of the Christmas season. This is now usual even in small towns whereby a large fir is chopped down and displayed prominently in a central part of the town or village. While fir trees are now grown expressly for sale and display, in the past the cutting down of whole trees (maien or meyen) was forbidden: “Because of the pagan origin, and the depletion of the forest, there were numerous regulations that forbid, or put restrictions on, the cutting down of fir greens throughout the Christmas season.”(p20)

​Bringing Home the Tree by Norman Rockwell. 12/18/1920.
Not cutting down trees
However if we look at the origins of sacred trees the important point was that they were not to be cut down, as respect for nature took precedence. The cutting down and destruction of so many trees today has become an important part in the commercialization of Christmas. However, growing a tree in the centre of villages, towns and cities as the focal point of our relationship with nature could be a year round celebration for adults and children and another aspect of the call for climate resilience policies the world over. The tree could then be decorated at Christmas or New Year. The decorations can be removed from the tree afterwards, allowing it to become a focal point for other festivities throughout the year. The educational value of this strategy for children would also be as an object lesson in the importance of sustainability and conservation. 

Celebrating nature by chopping down the material reality of nature in the form of a tree every year is a contradiction in terms and could be remedied by encouraging people to grow trees or buying potted fir trees instead. Our ancestors from all over the world knew the importance of the balance of nature and tried to keep that balance through rites and prayers before the sacred trees. Now, in an era of climate change, rapidly becoming climate chaos, it is incumbent on us more than ever to develop a new appreciation and respect for nature and especially for trees as a primary symbol of that relationship.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes. His critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country on his blog.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Ireland: Obesity, the “Western Diet” and the Global Food Challenge

Ireland: Obesity, the “Western Diet” and the Global Food Challenge

Recent reports have suggested that Ireland is set to become the most obese country in Europe.
Estimates of obesity, projected out to 2030, are part of the World Health Organisation’s Modelling Obesity Project and were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague, Czech Republic during May 2015. The figures for Ireland have huge implications for the seriously financially-squeezed Irish health system:
In terms of obesity alone, the estimates show a big jump for women in the Irish Republic, soaring from 23 per cent to 57 per cent. The proportion of obese Irish men was expected to increase from 26 per cent to 48 per cent, while the figure for those either overweight or obese rises from 74 per cent to 89 per cent.
According to a combination of statistics from WHO, OECD and Eurostat Ireland is third in obesity levels in Europe after Hungary and Great Britain.


There is no doubt that there is a link between levels of obesity and what is known as the Western pattern diet. The Western diet has been characterised ‘by high intakes of red meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods, and refined grains. It also typically contains high-fat dairy products, high-sugar drinks, and higher intakes of processed meat.’ However, there is a certain smugness in the mainstream media which points at fast food restaurants as the source of all food evils in society yet on a recent visit to a ‘good’ restaurant in Dublin I noticed that at least 80% of the clientele were overweight and about 20% were grossly overweight.
Yet, in all fairness, it is almost impossible to avoid fatty foods when you go to these restaurants because the ‘vegetarian’ section of the menu can be just as rich as the carnivore sections, for example, salads with salad cream and oil, ‘creamy’ mash made with cream and butter, ‘Mediterranean’ roasted vegetables roasted in oil, grilled aubergine covered in oil and mozzarella etc.

There is also the global cost of the Western diet with the increased demand for red meat and meat products. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations):
Meat consumption in developing countries has been continuously increasing from a modest average annual per capita consumption of 10 kg in the 1960s to 26 kg in 2000 and will reach 37 kg around the year 2030 according to FAO projections. This forecast suggests that in a few decades, developing countries’ consumption of meat will move towards that of developed countries where meat consumption remains stagnant at a high level.
It is estimated that the 70 billion farm animals raised globally contribute to 51% of all anthropogenic greenhouse emissions found in our atmosphere. According to ScienceDirect, agriculture globally ‘accounts for 92% of the global freshwater footprint; 29% of the water in agriculture is directly or indirectly used for animal production’ and according to Livestock Exchange ‘Livestock systems occupy 45% of the global surface area’. The FAO also states that ‘almost 50 percent of the grains produced in the world are fed to livestock, yet there remain about 800 million people suffering from hunger and malnutrition mostly in the developing countries.’
Richard Oppenlander notes, in his book Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work, that:
One cow will provide 300 pounds of meat, which results in 120 pounds per 1 acre of land used in one year. For reference, an organic vegetable farm […] produces on average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per 1 acre of food, such as tomatoes, fast-growing greens, and herbs that are infinitely healthier for us to consume. (pps 85-86)
In Ireland, a government fact sheet on agriculture shows that 81% of agricultural area is devoted to pasture, hay and grass silage (3.63 million hectares), 11% to rough grazing (0.47 million hectares) and 8% to crops, fruit and horticulture production (0.38 million hectares).’ In other words, 92% of all agricultural land goes towards the raising and feeding of cattle and 8% to plant-based food.
As Oppenlander also notes:
Of the four leading causes of death and disease in the U.S. today, animal products and animal protein are implicated in all four – coronary heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes, as well as their precursors, hypertension and obesity. (p.256)
The research work of biochemists, doctors and surgeons (such as T. Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn, John McDougall, Neal Barnard etc) into the relationship between nutrition and disease has been met with industry opposition yet they have provided clear evidence of vastly improved health with dietary change away from the Western diet pattern. Their collective pursuance of a whole food, plant-based diet leads the way to a more enlightened understanding of diet and food production.
Countries like Ireland have a huge investment in cattle and dairy production but a new mindset will have to be developed both by farmers and consumers alike. It has often been said that Ireland has ‘forty shades of green’ yet in reality there is only one shade – the colour of grass – and this needs to be changed to a landscape of multi-varied crops instead.

If people change their dietary habits (in clear knowledge of the relationship between their diet and their overall health), then farmers will also be able to gradually move away from meat production and towards more tillage with huge benefits to our collective health and the environment.

• For a collection of resources compiled by the author on the whole food, plant-based diet, food and food production documentaries, etc. see here.

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes. His critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country on his blog. Read other articles by Caoimhghin, or visit Caoimhghin's website.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Making International Art: Rejecting ‘endless lines and squares’

Making International Art: Rejecting ‘endless lines and squares’

By Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

Despite all the contemporary global interconnectedness, the lack of an international social consciousness among artists (whose work is linked only by its sameness and market-ready designs and styles) evokes frustration in the politically conscious critic and commentator. As Andre Vltchek wrote after a recent trip to Paris:

"Galleries exhibit endless lines and squares, all imaginable shapes and colors. In several galleries, I observe abstract, Pollock-style ‘art’. I ask owners of the galleries, whether they know about some exhibitions that are concentrating on the plight of tens of thousands of homeless people who are barely surviving the harsh Parisian winter. Are there painters and photographers exposing monstrous slums under the highway and railroad bridges? And what about French military and intelligence adventures in Africa, those that are ruining millions of human lives? Are there artists who are fighting against France becoming one of the leading centers of the Empire? […] No new symphonies or operas dedicated to the victims of Papua, Kashmir, Palestine, Libya, Mali, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Iraq."[1]

​Crisis? What Crisis? by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Triptych / Oil on canvas / 60cm x 180cm / 23.6 in x 70.6 in

The difficulties of creating a socially conscious art are revealed in the comments by Jim Fitzpatrick, a contemporary Irish artist with an internationalist outlook who is well known for his iconic two-tone portrait of Che Guevara created in 1968 and which was based on a photo by Alberto Korda.[2] Fitzpatrick’s internationalist consciousness is evident in his early awareness of Che’s revolutionary activities:

"I was very inspired by Che's trip to Bolivia. He went there with the intent to overthrow the intensely corrupt government, helped by the Americans at the time, and that's where he died. I thought he was one of the greatest men who ever lived and I still do in many ways."[3]

Fitzpatrick met Che in the Royal Marine Hotel bar in Kilkee, Co Clare, in the summer of 1961 and his description of their meeting highlights the reciprocity of international consciousness:

“We talked for a few minutes once he realised that I knew who he was. His English was faltering, but he could make himself understood. The first thing he said was, ‘You know I’m Irish. My father was Guevara Lynch.’ I was taken aback by that because I didn’t know that at all.”[…] “Che read his James Joyce. When he was a young lad he began keeping a philosophical dictionary. He didn’t write or speak much about the Irish rebellion, but it’s my understanding that he was certainly aware of it, and aware of the idea of the Irish rebel, which appealed to him very much."[4]

9/11 Mystery Play by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Triptych / Oil on canvas / 60cm x 180cm / 23.6 in x 70.6 in

Fitzpatrick’s poster of Che was published in 1968 and immediately ran into trouble:

"Every shop that stocked the poster was threatened or harassed: in the very fashionable Brown Thomas of Grafton Street [Dublin], which sold cards and posters in those faraway days, a well-turned out lady bought the entire stock, tore them all to pieces in front of the astonished staff and walked out!"[5]

Despite the fame and notoriety in certain quarters the poster brought him over the years, his influence over younger artists was countered by state conservatives:

"The artist himself tells the story of a conversation he had at a party many years ago with the then president of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin: "You probably don't know this, but every year at least half the candidates for placement in the college have portfolios that show the huge influence your work has on the younger artists of this country...." "Quite right," said Fitzpatrick, feeling slightly gratified at such a great compliment, “I had absolutely no idea; what do you do with them all?" "Oh, we just fuck them all out!"[6]

Gaza Ambulance by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Triptych / Oil on canvas / 60cm x 180cm / 23.6 in x 70.6 in

The difficulties of doing international political art are well described by the American artist, Leon Golub (1922 – 2004). Much of Golub’s work covered themes such as racial inequality, oppression, exclusion, and violent aggression. In one interview he stated:

"I was attempting a kind of heroic/antiheroic public art. The kind of thing which is emblazoned in a big way on the walls of a culture. Take, for example, "Interrogations"- a painting that is 10 by 14 feet. Perhaps that's not public art in the conventional sense as torture scenes are usually hidden from view and are not ordinarily celebrated on public walls. At the same time it is an ordinary fact that in many countries torture is a day-to-day reality, people are yanked off the streets, jailed, and tortured. In that sense, to put out an Interrogation is to make a public statement. Even if the statement has to stay in a studio - if you're lucky, end up in a museum. Even a museum might be reluctant to acquire one."[7]

Golub describes his methodology:

"I'm always on the hunt for source material. I have a huge collection of photographs as I've been doing this for many years. […] In the earlier works, for example, the Vietnam paintings, typically although not invariably, the figures were not projectively imagined; they're taken from photographs, partially varied but basically whole. More recently a figure will be constructed from many source photos, partly as I want to make it my own and partly because I can be more dramatically effective. This guy who's smiling with the flag on his chest, I don't have a head just like his but I have a number of heads of guys smiling in somewhat similar fashion and I work it out that way."[8]

Odessa by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Diptych / Oil on canvas / 60cm x 120cm / 23.6 in x 47 in

It is in the desire to create an international art that the aesthetic principles of Social Realism [witnessing/painting local people/situations] begin to break down. It is not always possible to be a witness to international events so source material has to be found using other means. Today the internet is used by many artists in the same way as journalists as a basis for research.

While Golub collected visual material from many different sources some artists work directly with people in difficult situations. Another contemporary Irish artist, Brian Maguire, produces paintings which cover many subjects from around the world. His work reveals a strong social conscience, tackling many difficult situations that do not always get the attention of the main-stream media. One project covered the deaths of thousands of women slain at the hands of drug cartels in the Mexican city of Juárez:

"The killing campaign in Mexico has taken the lives of more than 1,400 young women since 1994, mainly factory girls working in maquiladoras, sweatshops of sorts, who were abducted around town. Maguire spent time with the victim's mothers, discussing their daughter's lives and premature deaths, before beginning to paint two portraits of each victim: one representing the young girl during her life and another, after death.[…] “You have to bring some value to the place and people, which gives you the right to work there […] For a start, I can take their story outside Mexico, and tell it to Europe…I can campaign for them by showing my paintings in museums.”"[9]

Making art with an international social consciousness maybe an uphill struggle for many artists but it gives the artist an important role in the struggles of many ordinary people while at the same time showing that art can be a voice for the expression of the many in the face of adversity. Furthermore, taking stories outside of their original contexts reveals to many others the similarities of distant situations, often connected by the same globalist entities.

[1] See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/20/the-collapse-of-french-intellectual-diversity/
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Fitzpatrick_%28artist%29
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guerrillero_Heroico
[4] http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/jim-fitzpatrick-and-che-guevara-inspired-by-irish-rebels-288646.html
[5] http://www.insideyourart.com/artists/Jim-Fitzpatrick
[6] http://www.insideyourart.com/artists/Jim-Fitzpatrick
[7] http://www.no-art.info/golub/interview-en.html
[8] http://www.no-art.info/golub/interview-en.html
[9] http://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-show-at-fergus-mccaffrey-inspired-by-murder-of-1400-women-in-juarez-270800/

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin is an Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes (http://gaelart.net/).  His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Irish Workers and Apartheid

Irish Workers and Apartheid

By Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
8 December 2013

On July 19th, 1984, Dunnes Stores worker Mary Manning refused to check out a customer’s South African fruit (Outspan).  Her union, IDATU (the Irish Distributive & Administrative Union), had directed their members not to handle goods from South Africa. She was given five minutes to change her mind and when she refused, she was suspended on the spot.[1] The 1980s were also a time of high unemployment making strike action a difficult decision for the workers.

Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

Photo: Derek Spiers

“Most of the workers at Dunnes in Henry Street went on strike that day, and eight of them joined Mary Manning and Karen Gearon thereafter. They would stay on strike for the next two and a half years, surviving on strike pay of £21 a week, returning to work only after the Irish government prohibited the sale of South African fruit and vegetables in Irish stores.”[2]

Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
(St Bernard was the Dunnes Stores brand)

This selfless action by Irish workers in 1984 led to extraordinary events as support for their actions grew despite fierce racist reaction by some individuals. Karen Gearon and Mary Manning were invited to meet Desmond Tutu in London and Gearon testified in front of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid. Then things really hotted up when the girls were invited by Tutu to visit South Africa.

Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

““Myself and eight of the strikers flew to South Africa and weren’t allowed in,” says Brendan Archbold, the IDATU official in charge of the strike. “We were held at the airport and weren’t allowed contact our families for over 24 hours.” They were put on the next plane back home. The furore over their disappearance captured the public imagination. “It definitely changed the tide,” says Gearon.”[3]

Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

At the time, myself and many others would join the strike on Saturdays, the busiest day of the week for Dunne’s Stores. I was in my last year in art college and decided to base one of my final show prints on the strike.

Photo: Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

While taking photos of the offending oranges and grapefruit I was stopped by the management who threatened to take my film on the basis that I was ‘stealing their display designs’.  The finished print can be seen below.

'Fresh Ideas About Fruit', Silkscreen print by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin

The strike would last nearly 3 years before the Irish government banned South African goods from being sold in Ireland.

Their story entered the popular imagination as the Dunnes Stores strikers had songs written about them by Christy Moore (‘Dunnes Stores’[4]) and Ewan MacColl (‘Ten Young Women and One Young Man’).

Several months after being freed from prison in February 1990, Nelson Mandela met with some of the strikers when he visited Dublin and told them that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment.

Cathryn O’Reilly, from Finglas, one of the Dunnes Stores strikers, presenting Nelson Mandela with a Robert Ballagh print calling for the release of the Birmingham Six in 1990. Photograph: Frank Miller

In 2008 the workers strike action was commemorated with an official plaque in central Dublin.

Plaque to the Dunnes Stores Strikers, outside

The eleven Dunnes Stores workers from Henry Street were: Mary Manning, Cathryn O'Reilly, Karen Gearon, Theresa Mooney, Vonnie Munroe, Sandra Griffin, Alma Russell, Michelle Gavin, Liz Deasy, Dorothy Dooley and Tommy Davis. They were later joined by Brendan Barron who worked in the Crumlin branch of Dunnes Stores. [5]

Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin  (@cocroidheain) is a prominent Irish artist who has exhibited widely around Ireland. His work consists of paintings based on cityscapes of Dublin, Irish history and geopolitical themes (http://gaelart.net/).  His blog of critical writing based on cinema, art and politics along with research on a database of Realist and Social Realist art from around the world can be viewed country by country at http://gaelart.blogspot.ie/.