Oh What A World

The media has always been known for crass headlines, biased reporting and political spin, but it was this headline on CNBC’s website that really made my stomach churn this week.

Sterling rebounds -vs- euro after death of pro-EU British lawmaker

Is this how the media and moreover, the markets, view these kinds of human tragedies?  As some kind of trading opportunity?  Is everything valued in pounds, dollars and yen?  Apparently so.  I’m not an economist, I don’t know the first thing about trading (except for the fact that you obviously need to be devoid of any kind of moral compass), but if this is capitalism, I want out.

“It’s possible that investors are anticipating something of a sympathy bump for the ‘Remain’ camp in the context of this,” said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at ScotiaBank in Toronto.

A sympathy bump?  How can people even use such language?  To reduce something so awful to votes and numbers on a trading floor, shows such a lack of basic human compassion.  I was heartened to see that a reader left the following comment:

So the Murder of this woman caused Billions of Dollars to move in Markets in the EU and US?  RIDICULOUS!!!

You can read the full article here.

But what interest would American investors have in seeing Britain remain in the EU?  Is it because they care so deeply about the welfare of the British public and see their future as being more stable and secure within the EU?  Or could it have more to do with trade and investment (i.e. profit) such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?  If you haven’t heard about this, it’s probably because these talks are highly secretive, but basically it is a trade agreement between the EU and US aimed at creating the world’s biggest free trade zone spanning the north Atlantic.  Here’s what the Guardian had to say about it:

The main beneficiaries would be big businesses, as the aim of TTIP is to reduce regulatory barriers to trade, in areas ranging from food safety law to environmental rules and banking regulations.  Concerns are mounting that TTIP could lead to more privatisation, with the prospect of US corporations providing vital public services such as transport, education, water and health.  There would also be provisions allowing private investors to sue governments for the loss of future profits due to decisions made by national parliaments.

It seems everything can be used to sway public opinion or gain votes or influence markets.  The recent massacre in Orlando, Florida has become a campaign issue in the upcoming presidential elections.  Is that really how their families want their loved ones’ deaths to be remembered?  Maybe it’s naive of me to get upset over corporate greed or the way human suffering is used as a political football, but should I just shrug my shoulders and accept that this is the way the world works?

One group of people who aren’t willing to compromise their beliefs are Medecins Sans Frontieres who this week have rejected EU funding in protest at the way Europe has responded to the refugee crisis.

“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” Jérôme Oberreit, MSF’s international secretary general, said. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.”

Again, the plight of helpless victims has become a leveraging tool.  Paying Turkey to take back refugees seems to fly in the face of the UN refugee convention that was created after the Holocaust.  Yet this is the ‘solution’ to the current crisis, which Turkey have agreed to go along with in the hope that this will further their application to become a member state.

He added: “Deterrence policies sold to the public as humanitarian solutions have only exacerbated the suffering of people in need. There is nothing remotely humanitarian about these policies. It cannot become the norm and must be challenged.

You can read the full article here.

I often hear people say ‘I’m not political’ and I know what they mean.  It’s like saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ because you’re not out on the streets protesting for gender equality.  But half of the world’s population are women; we all have a mother; we have sisters, wives and daughters.  So we should call ourselves feminists because we believe that women should have equal rights and equal protection.  Similarly, we are all citizens governed by democratically elected officials who make laws and provisions on our behalf.  So we should call ourselves political, because these laws have a bearing on our day-to-day lives and we should have a say in them.  It’s high time we asked ourselves what our values are.  Do we believe that our economy should serve our society or the other way round?  Do we believe that the government should act in the interests of citizens or big business?  It’s time to start lobbying our representatives at home and in Europe on all of these issues, because I for one just can’t bear to see another headline putting profit before people.

Dear Britain…


Feel the fear and do it anyway, that was the self-help battle cry of the 90’s.  And when it comes to politics, it’s a maxim that voters need to live by.  With the UK’s EU Membership Referendum (or Brexit) looming ever closer, I’d like to send a little message from Ireland to our neighbours across the pond and it’s this: whatever way you decide to vote, don’t let your decision be motivated by fear.

Negative campaigning seems to be the most popular approach when it comes to influencing voters.  ‘Put the fear of God in them’, is what our Irish rugby captain Paul O’Connell used to say in his pre-match speech and it seems to work.  Let me remind you of our last European referendum in Ireland, the Lisbon Treaty.  It became clear by the end of the campaign that half of us didn’t even understand what we were signing up to, but the common consensus was that we didn’t want to lose even more of our autonomy to Europe.  So we voted no.   Seeing as we were the only ones who had the opportunity to vote on the treaty, we were giving a voice to the 500 million European citizens who were denied a vote on Lisbon.  We were the catalysts for a forward move towards a social Europe, a Europe that cherishes it’s citizens.  I was so proud of our nation.  Despite our size, it seemed we had an equal voice in Europe and if we weren’t happy, they would respect our sovereign decision.

But that was until Europe told us we got the answer wrong.  We were supposed to have voted yes.  So our government decided that we were going to keep having this referendum until we got the right answer.  That’s European democracy at work right there!  And that’s when the scare tactics really began in earnest.  Along with the promise of jobs, investment and a ‘fairer’ Europe, apocalyptic tales of Ireland’s isolation on the fringes of Europe were rife.  How would we survive out in the cold?  Unbelievably, the referendum was rerun and under the guise of attaining special conditions like keeping our tax rates and our ‘highly restrictive’ abortion laws (thanks for that Europe), Ireland voted yes.  It’s amazing what a bit of fear can do.  And talk of money.

They did the same thing in Scotland – worrying the heads off people that they would be kicked out of Europe and would have to reapply for membership.  Well guess what Scotland?  You might be out of Europe now anyway, except you’ll have Wales, England and Northern Ireland for company.  The problem in these debates is the polarising views – left and right – that end up with people shouting their extreme positions at each other and the majority of people who are probably in the middle don’t have their voices heard at all.  What I think citizens really want is a certain amount of autonomy when it comes to making their own laws and deciding where their money goes.  No-one seems to understand what goes on in Brussels and the European Parliament.  All we know is that we get ‘directives’ from people who have never even stepped a foot on our soil and couldn’t possibly know what our citizens need.

What began as a mutually beneficial economic agreement has turned into a power hungry, elitist governing power that can tell farmers in the west of Ireland not to cut the turf on their own land or fishermen not to fish their own waters (giving the rights instead to European trawlers) yet refuse to step in when it comes to negotiating deals with pharmaceutical companies (Ireland pays up to 40% more than UK for the same drugs).  Not only do they issue directives, but they can block you from making decisions for your own people.  Eleven European countries have objected to Ireland’s recent decision to put health warnings on alcohol products.  Finally, our government is addressing this massive health problem of alcohol addiction that has been affecting our citizens for decades, but the European Commission fears that it will be a barrier to free trade!  It’s this kind of interference that makes me question the role of Europe and where this path is leading us?

If the British public do vote to exit the EU, what is there to be so afraid of?  Maybe it will be better!  The truth is, nobody really knows.  Nobody can guarantee economic stability.  Look at what happened to us with our banking crisis – in many ways, being in Europe made things worse for us.  Germany refused to let our banks burn the bondholders (because most of them were German) and we ended up saddling the public with billions worth of private debt.  Even the IMF have admitted that the European Central Bank gave us a terrible deal, and we had no control over inflation rates or interest rates that might have eased the austerity measures imposed on us.

It would be erroneous of me to suggest that Ireland didn’t gain from it’s membership in the EU, but is that a reason to keep supporting a system that is hungry for more control and more ‘unity’?  Perhaps we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but I think we need to ask the citizens of Europe what they want from the union and instead of terrifying them into giving the right answer, actually listen to what they have to say.  If Britain speak up now, I think it will be for the betterment of Europe.  It might be the catalyst for actual reforms and maybe we’ll come up with something better, instead of clinging to what we have now because we’re too afraid to leave.