Tag Archives: Irish Times

ESRI – Thought-provoking or depressing?

There’s another ESRI report out today. Below are two takes on it, one from a Nobel Prize winner in Economics and the other from the Editor of a newspaper that has an expensive sideline in property advertising and has championed fiscal consolidation since the ‘downturn’:

“In a thought-provoking excercise, published today, the ESRI sketches both a “high growth” rebound and a more plodding “low growth” pace of recovery.

Stronger international demand for Irish-made goods and services will act as an engine of growth, hauling the economy back to sustainable prosperity.

But the positive effect on the overall economic outlook of its upward revision for exports is more than offset by its more downbeat analysis of the costs of the banking crisis. These are far greater than it believed just 14 months ago.

[T]he ESRI concludes that even in its best- case scenario, the Government will need to introduce further budgetary consolidation measures, on top of those to which it has already committed, if it is to bring its budget deficit below 3 per cent of GDP by 2014, as it has targeted.

At a time when kites of many kinds are being launched in anticipation of the forthcoming budget, the ESRI flies its own. It suggests that there may be real benefits, in the short term and long, of a more front-loaded fiscal adjustment.

Specifically, the report’s lead author, Prof John FitzGerald, calls for the Government to consider a reduction in the deficit next year of €4 billion, rather than the planned €3 billion. This additional pain could yield gains in terms of lower debt servicing costs and higher investment. The Cabinet will begin its consideration of all these matters today.” [The Irish Times, July 21, 2010]

“There’s a new report out from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute (pdf) calling for even more austerity, arguing that this will lead to faster economic growth. And the report looks authoritative: it’s full of charts and tables, and frequently refers to an underlying quantitative model.

What the careless reader might miss, however, is the fact that the policy conclusions are not, in fact, derived from the analysis — they come out of thin air. The authors simply assert that more austerity now would lead to a lower risk premium and hence higher growth, based on no evidence I can see. They don’t even offer any quantitative assessment of the extent to which more austerity while the economy is still depressed would reduce future debt burdens. In short, it’s a pure appeal to the confidence fairy.

One more thing: a key element in the ESRI analysis is the assumption that the financial crisis has permanently lowered Ireland’s growth track. That may be so — but if it is, a large part of the reason is the effect of a prolonged slump on investment and structural unemployment (the long-term unemployed tend to stay that way even after recovery). Now, some of us would argue that these effects suggest that government should do all they can to avoid prolonging the slump even further, that austerity may be self-defeating. But such concerns don’t even get mentioned.” [The New York Times, July 21, 2010]

US war on Afghanistan – “A more realistic perspective”

An Editorial in today’s Irish Times brings readers bang up-to-date on the US war on Afghanistan.

We are told “NATO…are quietly scaling down their commitment to it ahead of withdrawing troops,” while the US and UK are still willing to give military means one last chance before the inevitable “political negotiation with the Taliban.” As the costs continue to rise, their critics are not so confident, saying “it is time to scale down ambitions there and to reduce and redirect the military effort.”

Afghans are in agreement, they “do not want Nato there and support efforts to reach a political deal with the Taliban, based on the assumption that it is not a unified resistance run by al-Qaeda, but a coalition of regional and local opponents who could be attracted to an alternative path.”

An ‘assumption’ supported by at least onewestern official” in Afghanistan, who said in 2006:

“The name “Taliban” may be misleading, he explained – as certainly is the assumption that its insurgency is a simple black and white struggle of foreigners versus fundamentalists. “This is about narcotics, corruption, tribal tensions, warlordism, illegal armed groups, Arabs, Iranians, Chechens – and all of these factors are interrelated. You never know who you are dealing with. You probably have some guys working for good and bad at the same time.” [July 4, 2006]

The US legacy to Afghanistan is summarised as follows: “rampant insecurity, endemic corruption, widespread poverty and weak government.” Along with the possibility of “a new civil war” potentially resulting in “an effective partition between the north and south of the country, which could make parts of it even more of a haven for international terrorism.”

This analysis is interesting in several respects, the most obvious of which being that the story is told entirely from the perspective of those in Washington and London. According to the Times there are only two sides to the war: the proponents in the White House and Downing Street and the critics in the White House and Downing Street.

Long gone are the days when anti-war activists (the vast majority of the world, including Afghans) had a say in the matter, even if the reasons for their objections became entirely bastardized when squeezed through the journalistic editing process practiced at the Times: “They were never going to be convinced it could work, or convince a country that believes it has a right to strike back.” [October 10, 2001]
Another useful omission is the purpose of the whole bloody venture. The purpose of the war, which has gone through countless improbable iterations, now seems to be the idea of a courageous defeat, following Obama’s unfulfilled lofty ambitions of “reveres[ing] the recent impression of slow defeat or stalemate.” But lest we forget the original motive, finding and killing Osama bin Laden:

“The United States-led military riposte so intensively under preparation since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th is now under way. A formidable force has been assembled to attack bases in Afghanistan used by the al-Qaeda organisation and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and the political and military infrastructure supporting them.” [October
08, 2001

“Nearly three weeks on from the beginning of the US-led military campaign against Afghanistan it is clear that its objectives are increasingly difficult to attain. There is little sign that the Taliban regime is close to collapse. It is proving difficult indeed to assemble an Afghan coalition that might replace it. The search for Osama bin Laden and his al-Queda organisation, blamed by the United States for the atrocities in New York and Washington on September 11th, has so far proved fruitless.” [October 26, 2001]

“It should be remembered that even if a major transition is successfully engineered in Afghanistan as a result of these events the objective of bringing the perpetrators of the attacks on New York and Washington to justice remain to be achieved. The chief suspects, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation, are still at large.” [November
14, 2001

The “military victory” of this “this short war” “demonstrates the awesome effectiveness of modern US air power accurately deployed.” “It will allow the US-led campaign in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation to go ahead unhindered and maybe successfully.” [December 7, 2001]

“The 18,000 US troops still deployed have failed to find Osama bin Laden despite inflicting huge casualties on his supporters.” [November 21, 2006]

No Weapons of Mass Destruction and no dead bogeyman. That’s 0 for 2 for the US military, unless that is, they had an ulterior motive?

[Image via Wikicommons “Pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. 1988. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.”]

I’ll eat my hat if the Irish Times publishes this


Given the significance of the Corrib gas project to the Irish economy and the highly controversial nature of the way it has been carried out so far it beggars belief that severe criticism of the project from no less a person than a former Norwegian oil company board member does not get front page billing in The Irish Times.  On the 12th of July another of Lorna Siggins’ scrupulously accurate pieces about Corrib was once again buried in the paper despite the importance of its content.

Could your muted coverage be explained by Managing Editor, Peter Murtagh’s documented hostility towards the local people who oppose the project for all the reasons identified by Mr Stein Bredal?  When an experienced oilman observes that just about everything is wrong with the project – from the location of the pipeline and refinery to the terms on which the deal was done this is big news indeed.  Mr Bredal also refers to the tried and trusted tactic of oil and gas companies who set out to manipulate the media to act against local communities by accusing them of being ‘crazies and fundamentalists’.  This is exactly what has happened in much of the Irish media in relation to Corrib, with Mr Murtagh being among those most willing to lead the charge against people under enormous stress, including many incidences of physical assault and, according to Pat O’ Donnell, the threatened use of guns.  Two men are now scandalously in jail on dubious charges for opposing the Corrib project on entirely legitimate grounds – both of them caricatured by the media exactly as Mr Bredal describes.

Of course Peter Murtagh is by no means alone.  Pat Kenny for RTE, for example, has marked him every inch of the way in helping to promote a mountain of widespread media inaccuracies about the protest such as claiming that the pipe in Mayo is no different to the domestic pipes that are under the streets of Dublin.   In fact the pipeline in Mayo would be running at up to five times the pressure and will contain volatile, untreated gas close to some people’s homes – allowing them just 30 seconds of life in the event of a rupture.  I wonder what the story would be if the pipeline and refinery were located outside their own front doors or in whatever no doubt leafy suburb or satellite of Dublin they live in? Is there any siginificance in the fact that Shell Oil’s most senior PR representative in Ireland, Mr John Egan, was previously an RTE reporter, well known to his former colleagues and friends in the small world that is the Irish media?

The IMF have just ordered Brian Lenihan to discover another E3.5bn from the wages of Irish people but still no editorial from the Editor of Ireland’s paper of record calling for a root and branch reappraisal of our disgraceful oil and gas licensing terms though we so desperately need it.  Meanwhile, Mr Connor Lenihan has confidently announced that there could not be a BP/Gulf of Mexico type of disaster in Irish waters.  If ever The Fates were tempted, they surely were by that.

And I will eat my hat if this letter is actually published.
Yours sincerely
Miriam Cotton

‘Officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘according to an official’

Below is an exchange with a senior journalist from the Irish Times, who takes issue with our latest MediaShot ‘The false reality of news journalism’ – Reporting Palestine and the Mavi Marmara.


I did not manage to get beyond the second paragraph of this because of your self-serving selective quote from the report to which you refer. You say below: “An Israeli naval patrol killed at least four Palestinians…on their way to carry out a terror attack.”

But the Reuter report, as published on our breaking news service, said: “An Israeli naval patrol spotted a boat with four men in diving suits on their way to carry out a terror attack and fired at them,” an Israeli army spokesman said, adding that the patrol had confirmed hitting its targets (emphasis added).

We therefore anchored the claim of motivation firmly where it belongs – with an Israeli army spokesman. It is the duty of the media to report assertions of both sides, as we did in this case.

If you are going to throw stones, you’d need to do rather better than this.

[Name withheld]

I responded:

[Name withheld],

That’s exactly the point made in the piece. As Fisk says further on in the piece: ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘according to an official’.

With regards the opening reference, clearly we’re reading different reports. The report leads with a two paragraph justification from the Israeli military. It is followed by a statement from Hamas officials confirming the deaths. The report then mentions the flotilla attack, before adding a short tit for tat and then concluding with the journalists own commentary, corroborating the Israeli official’s ‘claim of motivation’: “Palestinian militants in Gaza frequently try to attack Israeli border patrols and sporadically fire rockets and mortar bombs at Israel. In February, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza sent explosive devices, thought to be primitive sea mines, out to sea intending to hit naval vessels. At least three devices washed up on Israeli beaches and were detonated by sappers.”

I can’t imagine a situation where if Hamas’ military wing conducted assaults in Israeli territory killing a number of Israelis (military or otherwise) the Irish Times would publish reports leading with ‘claims of motivation’ from Hamas officials, followed by a short sentence from Israel confirming the deaths, followed again by a couple of paragraphs about, for instance, the number of attacks launched by Israel over the last couple of years or maybe reference to the number of Palestinians killed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

In the same way I couldn’t imagine a situation where if the Turkish military killed 9 Israelis the Irish Times would publish an opinion article by the Turkish ambassador 7 days before they published one from the Israeli ambassador.

Here’s another few examples. I’ve just plugged the words ‘palestinian’ ‘attack’ ‘israel’ into the Irish Times archive.

5 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought.

5 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Confirmation of the deaths by both Israeli and Hamas officials. Context for the killing provided by Israeli official only: “Before the Israeli air strike took place, militants fired two rockets from coastal Gaza, both striking near the city of Ashkelon and causing no casualties, a military spokesman said.”

1 Palestinian “gunman” killed by Israeli troops. Israeli statement sought only. Context provided as follows: “Hamas has been urging smaller militant groups to refrain from launching attacks against Israel, which carried out a devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip 17 months ago with the aim of halting cross-border rocket fire. Israeli air strikes targeted tunnels in the northern and southern Gaza Strip this morning after Palestinian militants fired two rockets that landed in fields inside Israel. The Israeli army says that some 350 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip since Israel ended its military offensive there in January 2009. More than 3,000 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2008.”

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Israeli officials dominate report. Palestinian officials relegated to closing lines.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

2 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

3 Palestinians killed by Israeli military. Israeli statement comes first, followed by Palestinian statement. The Palestinian statement is broken by commentary: “Palestinian medical workers said three workers in the tunnel, part of a system used mostly to smuggle goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip, were killed and six wounded when the tunnel collapsed in the attack.”

No one is throwing stones. The Times’ record speaks for itself.

Best wishes,


Sailing into ‘the nexus of media-government power’

It has been a long time coming, but we have finally had a look at media reporting of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla. This latest MediaShot can be found here or here: ‘The false reality of news journalism’ – Reporting Palestine and the Mavi Marmara. If nothing else it contains some excellent insights from Robert Fisk, like this one:
“Again and again journalists use the words of power in this way – “officials say”, “officials say”, “officials say”, “according to an official”. In effect we are now using the words of the Defence Department, Downing Street and so on. I think the reason for this is because it is easy, it is less likely to invite criticism. But the problem is that in using these words we desemanticise the war, because, while I disagree with all violence, if you see a Palestinian throw a stone and you know it is because there is a “wall” being built around his house, you can begin to understand. But if that dispute is about a “fence”, you might be led to believe all Palestinians are generically violent.”

“Afghan strategy needs review”

Today’s musing by the Irish Times Editor on the US government’s grand intervention in Afghanistan is a quick lesson in subservience to power.

The entire context of the editorial is fixed within the conceptual frame prescribed by the Pentagon, the war is a “counter-insurgency”, where Afghans are the insurgents and the invading foreign troops are the counter-insurgents.

The current military approach is opposed by European and US critics, not because “the Afghan people do not want us there,” but on the grounds that it is believed to be “unachievable” or, according to the more optimistic Editor, just “difficult to achieve.”

In much the same way “Soviet leaders and commentators criticised and debated, not the fundamental +illegality+ of the invasion, but the merit of the +strategies+ for achieving its goals” during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan:

“Soviet Chief of General Staff Ogarkov argued in 1979 (before the invasion), that the decision to send troops to Afghanistan was “inexpedient” because the initial invasion force of 75,000 was insufficient to the task, which was to “stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.” It was “impossible to achieve this goal with such a [small] force”, he claimed. (Quoted, Lyahovsky & Zabrodin, 1991, p.59). General Gareev, a top Soviet advisor to the Afghan armed forces, argued in his memoirs that “from the military point of view, it was perhaps more advisable to conduct a more massive and powerful invasion of Afghanistan”. (Gareev, 1996, pp.45-46)” [Nikolai Lanine and Media Lens,

The US plan, we are told, “combin[es] aggressive forward engagement with a campaign to win civilian support through social and community programmes and trying to limit civilian casualties.”

So we are to believe US objectives amount to subduing the resistance (simply branded ‘the Taliban’) and attempting to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of the locals, as if there were no great US strategic and economic interests in Afghanistan other than undermining the Taliban (who will eventually be bargained with) and building a few schools.

Which is funnily enough exactly what the Soviets were up to too, as Pravda explained:

Military personnel constantly echoed government claims that intervention was required “to help the hapless Afghan people to defend their freedom, their future”. (Krasnaya Zvezda, January 5, 1988)

[Image via Wiki]