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.