Brexit deal must be ‘inferior’ to membership to protect EU borders

Geography determines our neighbours, creating historical and cultural links too. Yet UK prime minister Theresa May seems to believe an exit from the EU will allow her country to quit the continent altogether. She also ignores that small neighbour to the west, which is firmly committed to the bloc. The UK is thus surrounded by Europe even if a large swathe of its population no longer identifies as European.

May’s attempt at setting the British identity apart from European is dishonest. Where does she think the term Anglo-Saxon came from? There are no authentic or pure identities. Europe is a melting pot of cultural idiosyncrasies and linguistic multiplicity. These are superficial differences that fail to deny the resounding truth that people are basically the same. But that is not an argument politicians want to accept since it dilutes their power.

A weak Europe

Brexit looks set to generate hostility across the continent. Leaders talk about balanced outcomes but that is impossible since a successful Brexit will spur other countries to leave. The Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat is right when he says the Brexit deal “necessarily needs to be inferior to membership”. The UK electorate may have voted leave to secure its borders but it must now accept the steps the EU is forced to take to protect its borders too.

Brexit is disappointing but the dissolution of the European bloc would be far more brutal for global stability. It would hand a Trump-led US even more power and responsibility. And while many Brexiters may think a diminished Europe would lead to the revival of the British Empire, that is a misguided and questionable ambition. Colonialism was not welcomed by its victims.

Rogue media

As Britain negotiates its exit, anti-EU rhetoric is set to soar. Media companies will use Brexit to sell ad space through news decrying the bloc as a vampire feeding off its members’ resources. There will be stories highlighting the domestic industries that have weakened under EU membership. But these stories deliberately overlook the net benefits driven by the strengthening of other domestic industries. In Britain, the Murdoch media played a huge role in Brexit by persistently publishing misleading content on the damaging effects of EU immigration. A similar phenomenon could occur across the rest of the continent as populism continues to take hold.

Brexiters should tread carefully in seeking to destabilize the EU. May argues the bloc ignored the diverse needs of its member nations. But Westminster has shown no regard for the needs of its own member nations. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain and are honest about being net beneficiaries. That goes beyond funding and grants since entry into the single market enabled these regional economies to grow. The loss of the EU market will result in larger English subsidies for the other UK nations. Brexit may simply lead to a debate on the validity of the UK since this is just another union. And a union may only be as strong as its weakest link.



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When life tends to zero

Life deals us all a finite horizon

With a probability of exit

tending to one as life tends to a hundred


But when the probability is refined

By sickness or emergency

There is an ominous approach of death


Where as family, friends and loved ones

Without thinking too darkly,

Too deeply, or too profoundly


It is incumbent upon us

To let it be known

That we love you


With our whole hearts

Bodies and souls,


To infinity,


as life tends to zero.



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Trump win proves people best swayed by vitriolic bullshit

The progressive world is aghast at the election of renowned business mogul Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. International stability has been kicked in the groin. Russia has been handed a free pass to carve up Europe and the Middle East without fear of reprimand. And Latin America has been notionally sliced off from its northern neighbours.

As Europe looks on in disbelief, many are asking how a man so famously prejudiced could become the most powerful person on the planet. But it is symptomatic of American disillusionment with capitalism. And specifically, of older voters cynicism towards globalisation and the perception that “foreigners” are stealing American jobs despite the fact the US was built by European immigrants.

Ignorant expertise

Pundits spent the better part of Tuesday discussing the pending Clinton victory. Their speculation was then thwarted by Trump’s resounding win and suddenly everyone is now an expert on the disenchantment of the American people. But where was this expertise when Trump and Clinton took to the campaign trail earlier this year? It is too late to take heed of the thriving bigoted vein that runs through the States. This should not have been underestimated in the first place.

Any European who has ventured past New York and LA into the depths of America knew this outcome was possible – even probable. In many ways, it was more shocking that this overtly conservative electorate voted for a black man in 2008 and again in 2012. That was seen as a turning point in American social attitudes. But the vote for Trump is a solid step back into a 1950s-style society where non-whites are dehumanized and women are commodified.

Legitimising hatred  

There has been a lot of comparisons made between today’s US and 1930s Germany; ideas that Trump is the next Hitler. Yet this is very likely an overstatement. A Trump presidency is dangerous for global stability and is most certainly retrograde, but it is not as phenomenal in the context of US politics as Europeans might wish to believe. The world did survive George W Bush’s presidency (albeit at the cost of Iraq).

There is no doubt the Trump victory threatens to legitimise prejudice but his win also demonstrates how this bigotry underlies large swathes of American society. He built a mandate based on racism, sexism and separatism, in full knowledge of the power of divisiveness. It did not matter that Trump’s policies were vacuous because in an era of populism, people are better swayed by vitriolic bullshit than commonsense. And so, the US will keep rolling onwards (though clearly not upwards).

Warning for Europe

The lesson for a Europe plagued by Brexit, attitudes of anti-immigration and rising skepticism towards the EU, is obvious: stability requires youthful optimism, tolerance and integration. To avoid following in the footsteps of our American cousins, Europeans need to harmonise more firmly and more faithfully.

The US has just demonstrated that societies ebb and flow between progression and regression. Europeans must then hope to defy that pattern by embracing cultural complexities and accepting that communities are not one-dimensional descriptions of societies but rather, a grand mix of all that makes the world a better place.





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Powerless to act, or acting powerless?

The Irish Anti-War Movement organised a protest against the bombing of Syria outside Dáil Éireann last night. The severity of the situation cannot be overstated, yet the turnout was low. Is it true that we are helpless to protect our fellow citizens of the world? According to UK prime minister Theresa May, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” But that is exactly the attitude promoting  xenophobia, nationalist extremism and outright racism across parts of the rich world right now.

There are complaints that the media is failing to report on violence across the Middle East because of a western bias. And there is a western bias but that is down to us. This week’s The Economist describes it as ‘The Business of Outrage‘. Shrewd entrepreneurs are making huge profits off the back of anger. They try to convince communities that society is in tatters and that the Apocalypse is just around the corner, despite hard evidence that Western societies have never had it so good. We see this most evidently in US presidential candidate Donald Trump. His entire raison d’être is to convince voters that America is crumbling and their only chance of survival is his bigoted-style of politics.

Media outlets are not shunning stories about wars in the Middle East because of censorship, although it can seem like it at times. We live in a digital era where it is instantly possible to analyse what news people are consuming. The primary revenue stream for media companies is advertising. And the only way to attract advertisers is by proving a strong newspaper circulation or more relevantly, website traffic. The sad truth is many people increasingly prefer fluff, so media companies are moving further from news and into entertainment.

If we are serious about improving our societies, we must start by taking an active role within them. The first step is to keep ourselves informed so that we can make appropriate decisions about the direction of our futures. After all, public demonstrations have furthered the rights of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT. But if our concern is mere empty words, we’re as well to keep our mouths shut and accept that there is no better.




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Is iRISH government right to appeal Apple verdict?

The Irish government has confirmed plans to appeal against an order to recoup €13bn in tax from Apple. Last week, the European Commission (EC) described Ireland’s tax breaks for the tech giant as anti-competitive “illegal state aid”. The ruling threatened to divide the coalition government, with independents rejecting an expensive and lengthy appeal.

Many commentators angry at the EC’s decision have dismissed the illegal state aid ruling as creative. They point to similar tax breaks provided by large EU members like France and Germany, questioning why only smaller nations like Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, come under fire. Tax law is determined nationally too, so the EC is being criticised for encroaching on member states’ sovereignty.

However, the EC has a point. The illegal state aid argument is legitimate because Ireland does not apply tax breaks equally across businesses. Domestic companies are not conferred with the same level of tax exemptions as multibillion-dollar US firms. So while it is not within the EC’s jurisdiction to determine national tax systems, it is within its rights to pursue anti-competitive arrangements.

In brief: Apple’s deal with Ireland

The enormous €13bn sum covers a ten-year period to 2013. Although Ireland’s headline rate of corporation tax is an internationally competitive 12.5%, Apple has effectively paid as little as between 1% and 0.005% tax on its European, Middle East, African (EMEA) and Indian profits.

There are two Irish-incorporated companies: Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe. Both are owned by the Apple group and benefit from similar tax structures in Ireland.

The Revenue Commission only claimed tax on profits earned in Ireland and allocated EMEA and Indian profits to its head office, which is registered in Ireland.

Under the tax arrangement however, this head office is not based in any country, allowing the Revenue Commission to argue it was not responsible for taxing non-Ireland profits. That means no tax was collected on products bought throughout the rest of EMEA and India, even though the sales were contractually (but not physically) made in Ireland.

In 2011, Apple Sales International alone recorded profits of around $22bn (€16bn) but only €50m was considered taxable in Ireland. That left €15.95bn of profits untaxed in a single year.

These same companies enjoy tax breaks on profits used for research and development (R&D) in the US. Again in 2011, some €1.79bn was re-routed to the US parent company under the R&D subsidy offered by the Irish government.

If the tax agreement was to be summed up in a conversation between Apple and Ireland, it would go something like this:

Apple: We need somewhere for our head office but we don’t want to pay taxes.

Ireland: No problem. Why don’t you register here but we won’t recognize it for tax purposes?

Apple: Sounds great, what’s the catch?

Ireland: We’ll tax any profits you make in Ireland.

Apple: Cool, that’s only a small bite out of the big Apple, haha.

Ireland: We’ll also let you cut your tax on those Irish profits if you use some of that money for R&D in the States. That will help sweeten our American friends.

Apple: Even better.

Ireland: Grand, job done.

The case for appeal

Ireland needs the ability to be competitive in a globalised world. As a small island nation with a population of 4.7m, it is heavily reliant on foreign direct investment (FDI). The country made great strides in the early 90s to attract and retain FDI, using tax subsidies as a way to win over, primarily US, multinationals. These policies sparked the Celtic Tiger, which transformed the state from a poor Western European backwater into one of the wealthiest countries in the world by the mid-00s.

The government also needs to defend Ireland’s reputation. By failing to appeal the judgment, it is de facto admitting the corporate tax system is corrupt. It is important to demonstrate to other multinationals that Ireland is willing to defend its tax structure, otherwise they are likely to pull out. If the appeal is successful, the likes of Google and Facebook will be reassured they will not face similar scrutiny. This will help keep them in the country and may even encourage further FDI into Ireland.

The case against appeal

International critics view Ireland as a tax haven, which is already damaging for the country’s reputation. Appeals processes are extremely costly and can last for years. Ironically, it will be the ordinary Irish taxpayer who foots the bill for an appeal against a multibillion-dollar organisation paying its taxes. Apple is already taking an appeal to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) so the government could just sit on the sidelines. That would save millions in legal fees. And it is probably Apple’s case that will determine the decision, not Ireland’s.

Even if the EC’s decision is overturned by the ECJ, there is no guarantee this will keep FDI in Ireland. In 2009, 1,900 jobs were lost at Dell in Limerick after the computer giant decided to move manufacturing to a cheaper facility in Poland. There is no preventing other countries from implementing more attractive tax deals so the Irish government’s low corporate tax environment is short-sighted. It was successful in the early 90s because production costs and wages were low, but now Ireland has one of the highest minimum wages in Europe.

Economic case

Ireland definitely needs FDI. But it is difficult to quantify whether the level of tax forgone under the current structure justifies the jobs created by multinationals. When the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published figures stating that gross domestic product (GDP) grew 26 per cent last year, the whole world laughed. Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called it “leprechaun economics”.

The CSO ascribed the phenomenal economic growth to recent tax inversions. That means there was an increase in multinationals registering their head offices in Ireland. But GDP is problematic as an indicator of economic success; it only measures the amount of cash flowing in and out of a country.

A better measure of prosperity is gross national product (GNP), which records how much of that wealth stays in the country. This rose by an impressive 18.7 per cent in 2015. However, that can be partly explained by the rise in rental prices, which have exploded by as much as 16 per cent in Dublin city centre alone.

Is it ethical?

If the tax structure is deemed illegal and multinationals leave the country, it loses both the jobs and any potential corporate tax. However, it feels wrong that a country’s prosperity hangs so delicately on intricate corporate tax deals. Why should ordinary Irish citizens and domestic businesses be forced to pay full taxes when rich foreign firms can get away with paying almost nothing?

There is no doubt that Irish living standards would dive if FDI dried up. However, the government needs to evolve FDI policymaking. Ireland has a strong level of human capital yet it regularly suffers brain drains as the most qualified emigrate to places like London, Sydney and Toronto, to further their prospects. The low corporate tax policy has failed to provide sufficient opportunities for Irish workers. Perhaps rebalancing corporate tax rates between foreign and domestic firms would help promote homegrown success. It would certainly derail the EC’s argument of illegal state aid.



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21 grams: how a leather ball can explain the mystery of the soul

We all remember Chuck Noland’s leather-faced friend Wilson in the 2000 cinematic blockbuster Cast Away starring Tom Hanks. Washed up on a desert island, Noland roams his way desperately across the beach in search of survival tools and food. Under a scorching sun, the island is the epitome of paradise. But Noland’s loneliness is palpable; life is made for sharing. Frustrated by the absence of anyone else, the protagonist gets into a fight with himself and loses. He accidentally slits his palm with a knife, takes up the volleyball in his bloodied hand and throws it hard in a total rage. Later he looks at his bloody print on the ball, scratches in eyes and a mouth, and Wilson is born.

Life after death

The ball becomes Noland’s best friend. The audience connects with Wilson as closely as they would with a loveable animal like Lassie. The threat of his survival is even more profound than the possibility that the main character could die. But Wilson is a metaphor that depicts people’s desperation for a companion. More than that, he is an example of how people attribute human characteristics to anything they want to conceptualise. When people think about death, they consider the soul. And the soul is seen as the essence of the being. So the question is, what happens to the soul when we die?

None of us know the answer. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest the soul is real. It is certainly not tangible. But we conceptualise the soul as our essence –the accumulation of all of our personal characteristics. And when we die, we might believe that our character lives on through the eternal soul. In reality, our character is a byproduct of nature and nurture. And our character is expressed through our words and actions, which are facilitated by our brains. But our brains are mere biological organs that are subject to death. Thus, when we die our character dies with us. Does that mean there is no soul? Absolutely not.

Dismantling the soul

Perhaps the soul is just the accumulation of particles such as atoms. Luc Besson’s Lucy certainly plays on the idea that people are essentially made up of balls of energy that are scattered in death but ultimately form another life source, whether that is a human, animal or plant. Like atoms, these bundles of energy are indestructible and they explain how all life forms are interconnected. The particles may never form the same living being again, but the being is never destroyed in death since their essence is merely dismantled and those particles gravitate towards others to create another being.

The weight of death is said to be 21 grams*. And for anyone who has lost somebody they love, the departure of the essence of that person is overwhelming on viewing the corpse. The characteristics and idiosyncrasies of that individual are instantly gone, and the body truly is a mere vessel for the soul – the unique accumulation of a set of particles. This set of particles is not necessarily responsible for the personality of that person, but it may explain their je ne sais quoi, which transcends personal characteristics. Everybody has an individuality that goes beyond their behaviours and characteristics.

Eternal existence

One of our biggest fears about death is the possibility that there is no afterlife, which begs the question of the meaning of life. What was it all for if we merely cease to exist again? But if our essence is a bundle of energy that gets repackaged in another being then we have always existed, and always will. We have conceptualized existence using the same method that Noland did to create his best friend; by attributing human characteristics to it. And as with Noland, that has been fundamental to our survival because we require hope in order to function and progress. But perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the belief that our soul is a bundle of energy balls is the idea that we are all formed with the same materials; that we are not only united biologically and physically, but through our shared and indestructible soul.



*In 1901, Dr Duncan MacDougall measured six dying patients’ weight before and after death. They were lighter after death and some interpret this weight loss as the weight of the soul. 

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Trump is delicious contrast to Clinton status quo

He has described all Mexicans as “rapists”; argued that terrorism can be overcome with looser gun control laws; proposed banning Muslims from the US; and bizarrely, even admitted he would “probably” date his daughter if she wasn’t, well, his daughter. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is a caricature of the world’s most fearful US president – think Stan Smith, American Dad, but with bad hair. He is entertaining and outrageous, but ultimately charismatic. And dangerously intelligent.

It is true he has suffered multiple business failures. But it is testament to his ambition that he has made repeated comebacks, and is finally at the cusp of becoming the most powerful person on the planet. His race for president was initially met with amused disbelief, but after securing the Republican nomination, the world has been forced to take note. The US electorate faces its toughest presidential choice in history on November 8th.

Decisions, decisions

Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are the most unpopular presidential nominees ever. Clinton is perceived as corrupt and untrustworthy. Questions surround the funding of her election campaign. She has undergone an FBI investigation for using her private email for government correspondence. And she is viewed as a warmonger, having voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq in 2002.

Her opinions also sway with popular sentiment. Originally opposed to same-sex marriage, she changed tack as public support for the policy gathered pace. More controversially, she has stood by her lothario husband and disgraced ex-president Bill Clinton. That alone divides attitudes. But despite her sullied image, she is the safer choice. She is experienced, level-headed and progressive, compared to Trump’s vitriolic xenophobic bullshit. Yet it will take a lot of work to convince the US electorate to get behind her.

Innate advantage

Clinton’s real edge is that she is a woman but that is not a reason to vote for her. The decision must be based on merit. Americans have to ask if their country would be bettered by her policies. And they need to weigh her policies against those of Trump, whose ideas are expressed through hate speech and hang largely on the single issue of immigration.

Trump’s edge is that he will say absolutely anything to frighten Americans. Just as the Bush administration manipulated public support for the Iraqi war by reiterating phrases like the “war on terror”, Trump is exploiting discontent by vowing to “make America great again”. Yet as a hardline capitalist, his isolationist ideas are contradictory. He is also fond of misogyny, unafraid to describe women as “fat” and “ugly” as if it mattered.

Popular populism

Behavioural economist Richard Thaler has nailed Trump supporters, telling The Economist they would be “voting with the primitive part of their brain”. Populist politics is a rising trend across Western democracies. The decision by the UK to leave the EU is the most extreme example of its success. Populism appeals, as Thaler points out, to the primitive side of electorates. It centres on the threat of the foreigner and promotes nativism. It would be little surprise if so-called natives started pissing on their own lawns to illustrate ownership, such is the ridiculous swing towards xenophobia that is being witnessed across parts of the rich world right now.

Yet like any half decent manipulator, Trump knows that repetition and volume are key to successful presidential campaigns. That means repeating the same ideas as loud as he can for as long as he can, creating sensationalist news headlines everyday until the election. For as Oscar Wilde said, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

No such thing as bad press

Melania Trump joined the charade at the Republican National Convention (RNC) last week. She was slammed for lifting direct quotes from Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech. But this was no mistake. Trump’s spin-doctors have made a conscious decision to perform an absurd campaign based on vacuous emotive sound bites rather than logical arguments. Melania’s speech epitomized that approach: it was devoid of sentiment but ensured that she caused an online raucous. And no press is bad press.

By comparison, Clinton has remained low key. Yet her opponent has no shame in battering her with insults despite being a former democrat and friend, even inviting the Clintons to his third wedding.


Trump’s megalomania is Clinton’s biggest threat. There are no limits to his ambition and what he is willing to say, and Clinton is at risk of being shouted out of the race. Her advantage is that strict Republicans don’t like Trump because he is not their form of conservatism. If she is fortunate, they will decide to abstain from voting. The flipside is that Bernie Sanders supporters could fail to back her at the polls too.

Clinton may be reasoned and even well-meaning, but Trump has a sharp tongue and an eye for trends. The result of the election will be determined by marketing and Trump is a delicious gamble compared to Clinton’s bland brand of status quo.




Recommended viewing: Michelle Obama 2016 DNC speech

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