Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guns in the US

The IT had the now obligatory "aren't-those-yanks-dreadful-for-owning-guns" editorial last Saturday:

THE TRAGIC shootings in Fort Hood, Texas, have drawn attention again to the frightening availability of guns in the US – a staggering 97 guns for every 100 people. Although the killings took place on an army base, neither of the pistols used were army-issue. And the state of Texas, ranked 27th by a gun control lobby group in terms of the ease with which guns can be bought, has no requirement that handgun buyers obtain a licence or undergo any type of safety training. Police do not know how many guns are in the state or where they are.

I sent the IT a letter, which they didn't publish:


Your editorial which criticised US gun laws overlooked a rather serious flaw in the law relating to firearms in Ireland. While ownership of a handful of guns is illegal, importing a boatload to equip a private army on a twenty year rampage of murder, mayhem and maiming will in practice be retrospectively legalised the moment you publicly announce your intention to stop.

Not only will you not be prosecuted but you will instead be thanked for your contribution to the bizarrely named 'peace process' and invited to participate in constitutional politics.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Did joining the Euro cause the crash?

We appear to be seeing something of a pro-Lisbon propaganda campaign being launched. Today's IT reports that David O'Suillivan, the EU Commission's Director General For Trade made the bizarre claim that:

IF THIS country had remained outside the euro zone, the Irish punt would have “crashed through the floor” creating a far worse crisis than the present one, the European Commission’s top trade official has said


“The recent financial crisis and the recession it has provoked only further reinforce this argument. Without membership of the euro zone, the former Irish punt would have crashed through the floor, creating a major crisis for the economy well beyond this crisis we are currently experiencing.”

There's a slight problem with this reasoning - If we hadn't been in the Euro the retail banks wouldn't have been able to get their hands on Other Countries Euros to back their insane hundred Billion Euro lending spree. The recent property bubble couldn't have happened. In fact if we still had the Punt it might well have dropped like a stone, but it would have restored our competitiveness as it did so...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Defending Sean Russell...

It never ceases to amaze me how people are still willing to try and defend the 'Useful Idiot' Sean Russell. The latest comes from a Mr Tom Cooper:

Madam, – The latest attack on the recently re-erected statue of the late Irish republican leader Seán Russell in Fairview Park is a most sinister development. ( “Vandals deface memorial of republican leader Seán Russell”, July 9th). Graffiti proclaiming that Russell was “Nazi scum” which was sprayed on the statue, is just as inaccurate as the reported date of his death....

I've sent this to the Irish Times:

Tom Cooper is no different than other defenders of Sean Russell's reputation in that he hides behind patriotism instead of addressing the facts. The fact is that Russell was not an elected leader and had no authority to represent Ireland, yet traveled to Nazi Germany and on his own initiative invited a violant fascist state that had proven contempt for the rights of small nations to militarily intervene in Irish affairs.

In order for Russell's plan come to fruition he would have needed more help from the Nazis than a couple of boxes of rifles. Any aid he received from them would come with enough strings attached to ensure that he would be their puppet should his tiny group somehow manage to drive the British out of the North and overthrow the Irish Free State.

Sean Russell was a man who despised the Irish Free State and who actively conspired against it. It's very easy to underestimate the threat he posed to Irish society because nothing ever came of it, but then nobody in Norway took Vidkun Quisling and his two thousand followers seriously until they received the same kind of 'help' from outsiders that Russell was looking for.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Attention Dishonest Scrap Merchants: Advice On How To Steal The Sean Russell Statue

Just how stupid do the National Graves Association think people are?

Not only have they insulted and offended pretty much all of Europe by re-instating the unwanted statue of the Nazis's 'Useful Idiot' Sean Russell in Fairview Park but they expect us to believe the following:
  • It's made of Solid Bronze (possible, but would they have the money?)
  • It has motion sensors that will set of an alarm if it's moved (unlikely - no wiring)
  • It's head has a GPS tracking device so it can be recovered if stolen (utterly ludicrous)
So if you happen to be a financially distressed scrap metal dealer who could do with a large chunk of bronze to melt down make sure you wrap it in Aluminum foil before you nick it. It should weigh about 8.5 times the weight of a person the same height of the statue, so you'll need a crane that can comfortably lift 850kg.

It's very unlikely there is a motion sensor as they'd have had to dig up half of Fairview park to run the electrical lines.

As for the GPS sensor - apparently it's one that works in Solid Bronze. And there's some guy looking at a screen right now to make sure the statue hasn't moved. Yeah, Right!....

If you do happen to find yourself stopped by the Guards while in possession of this statue say that you found it in the park and you were taking it to Dublin Corporation's lost property section. Given that the statue is owned by the National Graves Association but has been carelessly left in a public park handing it in to Lost Property is a perfectly reasonable excuse.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Blasphemous Libel

I sent a letter to the IT about this but it didn't get published:


Fianna Fail has many of the attributes of a religion - irrational faith in its leaders, delusions of infallibility, a profound sense of entitlement, eccentric financial arrangements, unusual relationships with certain groups in society and a view of the past which is inconsistent with the historical record. Will they come 'out' as a religion when the libel proposal is made law?

David Rolfe
Leinster Road
Rathmines, Dublin 6

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lenihan rattled by McWilliams...

In today's Indo our Minister for Finance attempts to reply to David McWilliam's opinion piece from yesterday. It's fairly clear that Lenihan doesn't want to hear any criticism, constructive or otherwise of his (mis)handling of the banks:

Informed and reasoned contributions to the debate about all the options available to Government are very welcome. Unfortunately, yesterday's contribution from Mr McWilliams fails on both scores.

He then totally fails to address David's point which is that NAMA and a blanket guarantee of bank liabilities can't co-exist without creating a huge moral hazard - If NAMA makes their previous sins go away and the guarantee gives them the financial credability of Ireland when borrowing money what incentive is there for them to act rationally? Bear in mind that nobody us suggesting that the protection for retail investors be dropped - just that once NAMA is up and running the bank should be on a viable footing and aren't supposed to need government backing.

I think that given the circumstances Mr. McWilliams has been pretty mild. Sooner or later Lenihan's going to have to answer questions like:

  1. Why hasn't the managment of the banks been cleared out?
  2. Why did the government voluntarily take non-voting preference equity which leaves them with *no authority* at the boardroom table?
  3. How will NAMA value assets?
  4. Why did he hack at the income of the middle class instead of confronting the unsustainable costs of the public sector?
  5. Why isn't the government forcing the ESB and Bord Gais to reduce prices? Doing so would have a bigger practical effect than restoring the Xmas bonus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Indo's advice to B of I stockholders: Put more money in!

"Ordinary shareholders in Bank of Ireland will be happy to inject €1.5bn in fresh capital, predicts Paddy Stronge"

In last Sunday's Independent there was a wonderfully reassuring piece from banker Paddy Stronge, in which he explains that if you're one of the lucky investors in Bank of Ireland who've seen 90% of their value erased all will end up well if you put more money in. Seriously!

Apparently B of I can't sell its bad loans to Nama at a discount from what the bank thinks they are worth:
It would be unwise to rely on Peter Bacon to determine the appropriate valuations as he has not reviewed the individual loans to be transferred.

The bank's own detailed assessments, independently confirmed, are likely to be much more accurate.

However, if Nama were to somehow insist on unreasonable write downs of the loans, the bank's directors would be in an untenable position. They have a fiduciary duty to look after the interests of their shareholders.

Which means that Nama is just going to have to buy the loans at B of I's valuation, because otherwise B of I will, will, will .. do something. I wonder if they'll come with the rose-tinted crystal ball that was used to value them?

At this point, the bank will be in a strong position to raise new capital from its existing shareholders. The bank will need to raise €1.5bn from the existing shareholders before December 31, 2009, to ensure that the Government cannot exercise its option, under the recapitalisation scheme, to purchase 10 per cent of the ordinary shares of the bank at 20c a share.

The take-up by the Government of Bank of Ireland shares at such a low price would be a disastrous permanent dilution to be borne by the ordinary shareholders. Many shareholders have already lost more than 90 per cent of the monies they have invested in Bank of Ireland and there would be little chance of significant recovery in the share price if the Government were to exercise this option.

Leading to the logical conclusion that:

At that point, though it may seem difficult for shareholders who have already lost thousands, the final endgame is for them to commit further funds to the bank, thereby avoiding nationalisation and helping the share price to make solid gains in the years ahead.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ESB Creating 'Jobs' with your money

Why are the media so uncritical of the ESB? We pay some of the highest electricity rates in Europe. I now pay three times what I was paying in California, and that was with Enron on the rampage.

Today the Semi State monolith announced it was going to 'create' 3600 jobs. Bear in mind that this will be done with taxpayers money. Why couldn't they just give the money back to their long suffering customers?

In the short term the ESB is doing the government a favor but is also improving its profile with the public, who are starting to ask questions about its punitive charges of over 14c/Kwh.

In the long term the ESB also wins because it makes itself larger, thus justifying its charges and can also hold these jobs hostage when a future government sees sense and tells it to reduce its prices.

If you doubt me on this hear it from Mr McManus himself:

Padraig McManus, ESB chief executive, said job-creation needed to be a priority for companies that had the resources to invest.

I'm sorry - what did he just say? Since when has creating jobs been a priority of private enterprise? Or is this a public enterprise engaged in a turf war?

By engaging in this kind of meddling the ESB is sending a clear signal to enterpeneurs that it will muscle in on them if they set up here. If you were going to invest in alternative energy and had a choice as to where you do business would you do it in a country where semi state agencies like Dublin Bus get away with using their state-backed monopoly status to strangle competitors at birth?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vincent Browne Thinks 'Retail Deposits' Are From Supermarkets...

Does anyone edit Vincent's stuff before it goes out? In today's Irish Times the great man says:

We got a glimpse of who the Anglo Irish depositors and lenders were, courtesy of Brian Lenihan on January 20th last. Anglo Irish had 300,000 retail depositors, of whom only 72,000 were Irish. The number of corporate depositors was 12,000, of whom 3,500 were Irish and 8,500 non-Irish.

So, to be clear, the beneficiaries have been these high-net-worth individuals, then the depositors who had deposits of over €100,000, retail depositors (mainly supermarkets of whom only a few are Irish) and corporate depositors (a large number of whom were non-Irish).

Which is fine, but I always thought that a "Retail Depositor" was someone like your or me who uses a bank. If, as Vincent says, the "Retail Depositors" are 'mostly supermarkets' then Anglo appears to have held a global monopoly on supermarket bank deposits as it held 300,000 of them....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Idea's Campaign" Continues to get coverage from uncritical press

Why haven't the press started asking the hard questions:

  1. Who's actually behind this?
  2. Who decides which ideas make the cut?
  3. Why are there virtually no ideas that involve cutting expenditure being published?

Meanwhile the idea I gave to Mr McWilliams is now the second most popular one he has. Bizarrely enough nothing like it has been presented by the 'ideas campaign'...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Media failure to cover Civil Rights aspect of Picturegate

Neither the Irish Times nor the Independent are covering the most alarming aspect of Picturegate today:

A garda visited the offices of Today FM yesterday afternoon looking for email contacts the Ray D'Arcy Show show had with the artist who painted the nude portraits of Brian Cowen that were hung in two Dublin galleries.

On his show this morning, D'Arcy said the show’s producer Will Hanafin had spoken with the garda who had told him that “the powers that be want action taken”.

Mr Hanafin said he was told that the Gardaí wanted the name and contact details of the artist so they could caution him and when he declined to pass the information on, he was told a warrant might be sought to get access to the show’s emails.

Gardaí visit radio station in Cowen painting inquiry - The Irish Times - Wed, Mar 25, 2009

Let's get this right shall we? The Gardai have been sent - by someone - to harass an artist for the non existent crime of 'Insulting the Prime Minister'. Even though most Gardai are educated men who in theory understand the law it was possible for someone in 'the powers that be' to give such an order and have it obeyed without question. None of the alleged criminal acts - obscenity, incitement to hatred or 'criminal damage' have a hope of holding up in front of a Jury. If the picture in question was of anyone other than Cowen this would not have happened.

Yet they still went to the offices of a national radio station and threatened the staff as if they were employees of a third world secret service.

This is the story of the decade. Never mind the economy. Our civil rights are being threatened by 'the powers that be'. One would expect blanket coverage by the two major newspapers. Instead we get silence. Why? What have the 'powers that be' said to them?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Irish Tax Authorities Enlist help of 'Legion of the Bouncy Castle'

While doing my taxes I encountered this page on the government's tax website:

Yes, this is indeed real. In order to file taxes you have to approve an applet signed by the "Legion of the Bouncy Castle".... The fact that they are an open source encryption organization doesn't really excuse the fact the the revenue commissioners ought to have got their own cert...

Bear in mind this is from the people who told you to trust Electronic Voting.

So much for security...

More 'Ideas Campaign' Lunacy...

They must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel:

Just think of all the customers your business will get if you do this:


Google, according to the front page of today’s Irish Times, is sending 5 cars with cameras on their roofs to record “streetscapes” for addition to Google earth and Google maps. This will allow for people to virtual tours of streets in towns and cities of Ireland. The cameras will pick up details of shop fronts and displays in windows etc.

If each business prominently displayed the business web address (website location) boldly on windows or door name plates, free advertising of that business would ensue and potentially generate extra “after hours” or international inquiries. So… start displaying your web addresses and watch for the Google cameras as they drive around capturing your details!

Some of them may even be from Wales:


Why not build a four lane bridge from Ireland to Wales, the building creates jobs, the maintenance creates jobs, creates jobs in customs, security on both sides. It speeds up delivery of goods from one country to another; no plane costs, no shipping costs, no waiting around for the truck to be loaded up etc.

The toll would say be €12 and €10 of that is divided evenly between countries with €2 being used for maintenance. It’s 64 km from Dublin to Wales. To summarise it, cuts cost for travel for ordinary people and business creates jobs in both economies both economies will benefit from money regains tourism industry will grow as it’s easier to come over and leave

(This idea is very long and detailed and has had to be edited for space reasons)

What's amazing is that the supposedly sane people at IBEC are backing this nonsense...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is the 'Ideas Campaign' a left wing plot?

I hate to be openly suspicious and cynical but there's something going on here.

Like David McWilliams the people at 'The Ideas Campaign' are collecting ideas on how we are supposed to get out of this economic quagmire. This sounds like a great idea but there's some small print:

Each working day, we will be publishing new ideas to this website. We will only be publishing a small sample of what we receive. But we’re being very, very careful. If we see evidence of ideas that have confidential, sensitive information we will not publish them. Also, we are editing some of the contributions for sense, length and balance.

'A small sample of what we receive' - Editorial control is not a bad thing bug who are the editors? Nowhere on the site does it make clear who's in charge and who's deciding which 'small sample' of ideas is used.

'Editing for .. balance' - What constitutes 'unbalanced'? And here's where it starts to get odd....

You can't see all the ideas that have been submitted, So we've no idea what editorial filter is in use. So far they have released batch 1, 2 and 3 of people's ideas. And when you read them you start to wonder what's going on. While they cover a wide array of activities things which involve cutting government expenditure barely get a mention.

Some of the ideas so far are good, but may already have been tried to some extent:

Generic drugs are much cheaper than branded drugs and could save millions in government finances. Why not push for these obvious savings?

This one is long overdue but won't happen unless the government force An Post to relinquish its effective monopoly on knowing where everyone lives:

We need to immediately introduce a post code system. The only reason we don’t have one despite numerous studies and reports is to preserve the monopoly of An Post. A postal code will encourage competition in the postal and parcel delivery system. A post code system will be of major benefit to companies wishing to sell online, but also to Local Authorities, Government Departments and the emergency services.

Some are idiotic. We're going to save the economy by encouraging illegal immigration:

Tourism - We need to get more people into the country. And here’s how. Our planes are flying out to such places as America, Dubai, Russia etc. and some are coming back with 20-25% empty seats. So what we need to do is, in conjunction with our embassies around the world, give these seats away free of charge.

Those who get the seats will be responsible for their return trip home. Here is how the economy wins: people who avail of the free seats to Ireland have to stay somewhere (hotels), they have to eat (restaurants), they will socialise (pubs) and they will buy gifts (retail).

This is a simple measure; it only needs the willpower. These seats are empty - let’s fill them

This one is a 'Bit Irish' but might actually work:

Move St. Patrick’s Day to mid-May or late-September and stretch out the tourism season (and get it out of Lent!)

And almost none suggest the government should spend less money. The nearest I found was this:

Drop the minimum wage to make employment more affordable and to bring rates in line with mimimum wage across the border and cut out penalty rates for restaurants & entertainment industry at weekends and evenings.

The vast majority of posts are the kind of policy proposals you'd get from a Young Labour convention.

Not one single post advocates cutting public sector jobs. What's going on here? Who are these people? Well, the domain is owned and operated by an eCommerce consultancy called AMAS. The site itself is the brainchild of Aileen O'Toole, one of AMAS's directors. According to the Irish Time's piece announcing the project:

All ideas will be moderated by campaign staff before they go online, she said, to ensure only legitimate ideas were made public. “If this project is to have credibility, we can’t let ideas out there unless they have legs, unless they are achievable,” she said.

I hate to point this out but apart from a complete lack of ideas on how to cut expenditure the ideas that survived the moderation process include 'acheivable' goals like these one:

My idea is that the Government should ban the use of automated telephone answering services in all areas of the Public Service i.e. Departments, Semi-State bodies, Local Authorities and Government Agencies of every description.


The government should give a grant of €250 for a course of driving lessons to anyone buying a car.

With more cars on the road there will be more tax revenue for the government. Making drivers safer will also reduce road accidents and save the country money.

Given that we don't know what the editorial criteria are (or for that matter who the editors are) shouldn't we be cautious in listening to what they say, especially as the ideas that survive the moderation process don't seem to involve cutting the public sector?

Could it be that a group of people are trying to shift the focus to anywhere but cutting the public sector?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fintan O'Toole wants to know how much money you make...

Fintan has come up with a great idea to raise the standard of debate when it comes to the economy:

Those of us who take part in debates on the financial crisis should declare our incomes

Why? Because apparently everyone else is richer than Fintan. Not only that, but being rich makes them insincere and makes them argue dishonestly. So Fintan's fix is to make everyone disclose their incomes up front so we can tell up front if they are evil rich bastards:

IN A PERFECT world, the journalists, broadcasters and commentators who set the political agenda would be paragons of absolute objectivity. We would be able to completely separate our views from our interests, to put forward ideas that are not, even in their subtlest shadings of nuance or emphasis, influenced by our own private circumstances.

Most of us, I think, genuinely strive for that ideal. Equally, though, we are the first to point out the naivety of similar claims made by, for example, politicians. We never tire of telling Ministers or TDs that they live in a bubble because they earn so much more than most of those they represent.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been fairly prominent in debates on radio and TV about the current crisis in the public finances. I’ve been struck by the stark fact that every single person involved in those debates (including me) earns much more than the vast majority of those who will be affected by our prognostications. Every contributor is earning at least twice or three times the average wage.


All human beings have a limited perspective. We should stop pretending otherwise. In the first place, those of us who take part in debates on the financial crisis should declare our own incomes, and, where relevant, our pension arrangements.

It is not for us to judge whether these facts create perceived conflicts of interest, but for the listeners and viewers. Secondly, the range of voices in this debate needs to be broadened.

So if we want to argue with St. Fintan about why the public sector does rather better than poor schmucks like me when it comes to pensions we now have to produce a P60 and a balancing statement from the Revenue Commissioners. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried....

Monday, March 9, 2009

Giving David McWilliams ideas....

David McWilliams spent the best part of a decade predicting the collapse of the housing market, and as a result is now being quoted by the same people who used to dismiss him. He's opened a forum for ideas on how we can get out of the miss the government has created for us so I've made a couple of suggestions:

Shut the Aer Corps

The Aer Corps is a waste of taxpayers money:

  1. The Aer Sea rescue mission has already been outsourced
  2. The Gardai have their own Aer Wing
  3. The private sector can provide a dedicated Aer Ambulance service.
  4. The executive transport function has been grotesquely abused. If government ministers need to travel privately then they can rent aircraft for the occasion and charge the costs to the activity concerned. NetJets and other companies would be delighted to have the government as a customer
  5. Baldonnel would make an ideal second airport for Dublin and could be sold to the private sector
  6. The Aer Corps does not have a credible air defence function - the existing Pilatus aircraft do not have the capability to intercept anything other than light aircraft in good weather. Ireland also lacks the political will and chain of command to order a shootdown so why not stop wasting money and buy the Army some SAM capability instead?
Impose Private sector standards on the government

In order to have any credibility when it comes to saving money the government needs to start with itself. It should immediately impose private sector standards on all its own activites. This would mean:.

  1. Executive pay - All cabinet ministers pay to be comparable with those in similar size European countries such as Denmark or Belgium
  2. Expenses - Receipts required for everything - Current practice of gratuitous per diems and allowances for non-existent hotel stays to end
  3. No more extra days off - No more Xmas shopping days for civil servants
  4. Benefit In Kind to be charged at market rates for parking in Dublin, education and canteen facilities
  5. No more junior ministers. The Taniste to be a sitting cabinet member with other ministerial responsibility
  6. Ministerial transport to be subject to benefit in kind if provided on a dailiy basis
  7. The introduction of a defined contribution pension scheme for all public servants and the closure of the current defined benefit scheme to new entrants.
  8. No use of government facilities by politicians for political purposes. No more pre-paid envelopes for political spam
  9. No more use of Aer Corps transportation for matters that do not involve national security

Monday, March 2, 2009

Yet More Government Waste...

The country's in dire financial straits. We'll have 400,000 unemployed soon. We've had an entire generation grow up who didn't expect to emigrate and and unlike the 80's there's nowhere for people to emigrate to any more. Given that the government has totally failed to act decisively up to now they must be planning some big radical move involving drastic expenditure cuts right? They must be pulling out all the stops, burning the midnight oil etc, etc? Evidence of this frenetic activity can be kept secret no longer:

Minister escapes injury as door falls off helicopter

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen was fortunate to avoid serious injury this afternoon when the door of a helicopter in which he was travelling came off 500 feet over Killarney National Park.

The Air Corps helicopter was bringing the minister and one of his officials back to Dublin from an Irish Hotels Federation conference in Co Kerry when it was forced to make an emergency landing at a helicopter pad at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club.

It had been in the air for less than three minutes when the main door on the left hand side came loose and fell to the ground.

Martin Cullen, the minister for "Arts, Sport and Tourism" was clearly in fact on some secret mission to rescue the nations finances when some enemy of Ireland attempted to down his helicopter. After all, the alternative explanation that he's gallivanting around the countryside at a couple of thousand of euros an hour while the economy shrinks by the minute is clearly implausible....

On a practical note it's not the end of the world when a door of a plane or helicopter opens in flight (it's happened to me!) and the single biggest risk is that it will distract the pilot. Regretably it's clear that neither the Aer Corps nor Mr Cullen got the message that God wanted him to save taxpayers money:

Another helicopter was diverted from Cork to bring the minister back to Dublin this evening.
So now we're up to at least twice as many Euros as before.

The aircraft, an AW 139, will remain grounded until technicians from Air Corps HQ at Baldonnel examine it on the ground.

Please don't tell me they'll fly them down in a third helicoptor....

Newton Emerson outrages the IT's readership...

Newton Emerson's did a tongue in cheek article on how working women are responsible for the credit crunch. The article itself was one of his weaker ones and the responses from outraged IT readers were to be honest more entertaining, but maybe that's what he had in mind all along. A typical response was Dr Julie Mullaney's:

Literary history tells us that satire is often a poor mask for the expression of populist prejudice, fuelling bigotry and discrimination, especially at times of social tension and unease. Such “satire” has real social effects – in this case promoting the denigration of Irish women, whose battle to take their rightful place in work has been hard fought.

Yep, that's right! Newton Emerson is Ian Paisley in disguise!

But she ends with a totally untrue statement:

Racist hate speech wouldn’t be tolerated in The Irish Times , so why is it OK to retreat into silly, sad sexism? – Yours, etc,

Actually it is. You can say pretty much anything you want about Jews or Americans without fear of criticism. This is what I sent to Madam Editor, without fear of publication:

Dr Julie Mullaney is wrong to say that racist hate speech wouldn't be tolerated in the irish Times. On January 19th this year you published a virulantly anti-American Opinion piece by Finan O'Toole which includes such statements as "Bush and his neoconservative ideologues didn’t invent the barbarism long intertwined with US civilisation". You wouldn't normally allow any national, social or gender group to be described as 'barbaric' but apparently American citizens are treated on a 'seperate but equal' basis by your newspaper.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

If only optimism was worth money....

You have to admire the Independent's sense of humour. Every now and then the publish articles that are unintentionally hilarious.

Paddy Stronge, who might just have connections with the banking industry, was unleashed on the unsuspecting readers this weekend with the balanced headline:

Our economic 'big freeze' is already starting to thaw

It's line after line of hillarity:

We should realise, however, that we are actually very close to the bottom already, and then things will start to improve. Significant government investment, falling mortgage rates, bank recapitalisations, and a stabilising of house prices, all mean that the big freeze may actually soon begin to thaw.

Really? And there was I thinking the economy was in an uncontrolled graveyard spiral while our leaders dithered. But what does he base this optimism on?

Firstly, the Government is planning to borrow €18bn this year and pump it in to our economy. That is an investment of €4,500 for every person in Ireland. Much of this money has been allocated to improving school buildings and roads, so more people will be employed. Businesses will benefit from higher sales as those working on Government projects are tempted to spend.

The government is actually planning on borrowing 18 billion to fill a huge hole in tax revenues equivalent to around 20% of the budget. Yes, we're spending on existing capital projects but only because we've already signed the contracts. And as for 'tempted to spend'? The last builder I dealt with kept running out of credit for his prepaid phone.....

For the ailing property market, there is also a break in the clouds. According to recent reports, the decline in the asking price for houses in Dalkey, Dublin, is of the order of 40 per cent and real bargains are now available.

Many are beginning to realise that now is the time to plunge into purchases, while house prices and interest rates are at such low levels.

A 'real bargain'? In Dalkey? Given that the historical average house price is 3-4 times income 'real' prices in Dublin would be around €170,000. In Dalkey even now you'd be lucky to get anything for ten times that....

It's at this point we really start to wander off into fantasy land:

Ulster Bank recently announced a scheme where builders will pay up to 15 per cent off new mortgages if house prices are up to 15 per cent lower in five years. Under this arrangement, the purchaser of the property is protected from downward price movements, so the fear of overpaying is eliminated.

The builders will pay you if the price goes down. Ah! right. I can see that working. And will Ulster Bank guarantee that the builder will pay? No, didn't think so....

The stabilising house market will encourage builders to build again to meet demand. They will need employees, and so, the increase in those joining the unemployed should begin to slow down.

Once the building industry shows signs of life, there will be an improving, albeit slight, trend in government finances too.

"stabilising house market"? 1 in 6 houses were built in the last 6 years. One in six houses is vacant - allowing for holiday homes. So 'demand' to build new houses as opposed to shift the current inventory is a long way off, especically as the banks will sooner or later have to unload them for whatever they can get. And we're still clinging to this notion that construction drives the Irish economy.

Good news should also be around the corner for share investors. The recapitalisation of the banks involves the funding of preference share issues and not the issue of new ordinary shares

...which is actually catatophic for the taxpayers. How are the government going to explain to the electorate that we've given what is it 7 billion to the banks in exchange for non voting equity and have no practical power over the banks? And that nobody only planet earth except us was stupid enough to want preference shares in an Irish bank? You do realize they now play "Road To Nowhere" in the lifts at B of I? Actually the lifts may now be silent - Muzak corporation has gone bankrupt.

At some stage, the markets will realise that this course of action will support improving bank share values. Share investors should start to see the beginnings of an upward movement taking place in bank shares. Confidence will then begin to return to the financial markets.

Anybody who invests in bank shares for any reason other than they wanted to gamble wildly and couldn't be arsed to go to Vegas deserves to lose every penny. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dublin Bus: Get people out of their cars? We compete against the Luas!

More Lunacy from Semi State bodies. This time John Lynch, the man in charge of Dublin's bus service, explains why having increased bus services in the past few years in line with the government's stated goal of encouraging public transport over private motor cars they are now cutting services:

These increases were delivered in a more competitive environment, including the introduction of Luas (tram) services, and the growth in private bus operators, and reflect the success of, amongst others, quality bus corridor development, enhanced commuter services in our cities and regions, and the improved quality of our fleet.

However, the economics of public transport are simple – if there are fewer people working, if there are fewer people shopping, if there are fewer people socialising and making discretionary journeys, there is less demand for public transport.

The key phrase, in case you missed it, is "a more competitive environment, including the introduction of Luas services, and the growth in private bus operators". Even though public transport is a classic example of a network effect and the Luas is in fact good for bus services Mr. Lynch appears to think that other providers are the competition he needs to worry about. And there was I thinking that his government mandated role was to compete against the automobile. Surely now, with many families realizing that they can no longer afford several thousand a year to own and operate two cars this is the time to be pushing the benefits of affordable public transport?

And don't think Dublin Bus is a customer focused organization either. For readers who aren't from Dublin and haven't alreadty encountered this Kafkaesque piece of customer service this is the procedure for getting change back when you get a bus ticket:

Q. How do I collect my change?
A. If you pay more than the exact fare on any bus, the driver will issue you with a refund ticket for the overpayment. This passenger refund ticket, together with your travel ticket, must be presented to Dublin Bus headquarters (59 Upper O’Connell Street, Dublin 1, Ireland) in order to claim refund for the overpayment. Note that we cannot refund without both tickets being presented.

The primary purpose of most semi state bodies in Ireland is self-perpetuation with occasional outbursts of empire building, and if the taxpayers somehow see a benefit then good for them.

A great of example of this is that until the music stopped a couple of months ago Irish Rail was promoting a truly lunatic scheme to build an underground railway between the capital's two main train stations. Which is a great idea if you ignore the fact that such a tunnel already exists....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Desperate Times In Dublin...

The Indo, having spent several years acting as a cheerleader for the property industry has now lurched to the opposite extreme and is promoting desperate schemes to restore national prosperity:

ADVICE on how to beat the recession has come from the unlikeliest of places.

The Naked Cowboy, now world famous for playing his guitar in Times Square wearing nothing but his hat, boots and underwear, has jetted in to offer the despondent Irish public advice on how to beat the credit crunch.

While I don't doubt Mr. Burck's entrepreneurial skills I have two major reservations about all this.

Firstly I have to wonder whether naked cowboy busking is what the business school guys call a 'Scalable Business Model' - If all of New York can support one naked singing cowboy could one scratch a living in Ireland? Could we replace the jobs Microsoft provide with people doing this?

The second problem is that the Irish have already gone beyond Mr. Burck's old fashioned play-songs-and-make-money-while-looking-silly business and moved into the high concept and very Celtic Tiger area of Human Statues, in which people stand in Grafton Street and expect to get paid for doing nothing...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not So Stupid After All...

Imagine, for a moment that you are in a charge of a large public financial institution. Nice isn't it? Corner office, flash car, all the perks and benefits that go with being a "Titan Of Business".

But there's a problem. A fairly serious one. Actually a very serious one. And this problem has friends. And you know that when all your problems come out into the public eye things may get a bit .. legal. Not circuit court legal. We're talking about not having to worry about being housed and fed for a few years because the Minister Of Justice will be looking after that side of your life.

So what do you do? Obviously you hire really good lawyers. But then what? You could become a fugitive but that involves running away and leaving all your nice toys behind.

You could try being a visibly nice guy - visiting orphanages, hugging kittens, that sort of thing. But it's very unlikely to work.

Or you could go on national radio and do an interview in which you announce that Child Benefit and Pensions be means tested, along with pretty much every other program the government has for the less-than-very-rich. Of course doing this will make everyone, and I mean everyone, hate you.

But it will also make it really hard to find an unbiased Jury who are smart enough to understand the kind of financial shenanigans you were involved in...

Maybe that interview wasn't such a dumb thing to do after all...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Passing the Fintan O'Toole Morality Test...

In today's Irish Times Fintan O'Toole argues that George W. Bush isn't the worst president in history because all US presidents are bad and the US is an irredeemably bad society. You really have to wonder about Fintan - does he really believe this stuff? If so there's clearly hope for us all as apparently having an arm's length relationship with reality doesn't prevent you from holding down a job at the IT. I penned the letter below but then decided to put it in my Blog instead...


Fintan O'Toole argues that the historical treatment of
Native Americans by the United States was an act of
evil that permanently disqualifies the United States
from any sort of moral leadership. But if we are to
follow his reasoning who can assert such leadership?
Britain, France, Belgium and other former colonial
powers are obviously disqualified. Russia isn't going
to pass the test. Let's not even mention Germany. Or
Austria. Sweden might be peaceful and fun loving now
but applying the O'Toole test we have to count them
out due to a long track record of military adventurism
in neighboring countries. And while we're on
Scandinavia what about those vikings? That means we
can rule out Denmark, Norway and Iceland as well. We
have to pass on Central and South America due to all
those nasty Juntas, which involved the locals
oppressing each other, albeit with outside assistance.
Since South American generals kept their money in
Switzerland we 're going to have to make them
ineligible as well. Wait! The Canadians! No, they club
baby seals to death. How about Africa? Granted the
invention of the Kalashnikov and the demented national
boundaries dreamed up by imperial mapmakers haven't
helped but the place wasn't exactly a garden of eden
before the Europeans showed up, as the slavers could
rely on the Africans to catch other Africans for them.
What about China? No, the Dali Lama just objected.
Wait! Nepal! No, they have some weird stuff with
Maoists and a Royal family. We're going to have to
pass on Japan - all that 'Co-Prosperity Sphere' stuff.
Maybe somewhere in the Middle East? No. Drew a blank
there. How about the Pacific Islanders? No - 'Not
Being Eaten' may not be an enunciated civil right but
they used to do it and it's probably covered by the UN

Coming back home Ireland doesn't count, because the
Irish spent several hundred years providing the
manpower to expand the British Empire before they got
down to the real business of fighting each other. De
Valera's signing of the condolences book when Hitler
died doesn't really help either.

The bottom line is that no nation passes the "Fintan
O'Toole Moral Superiority Test" - and if we find one
that does it's only because they haven't been given
the opportunity to fail it yet.