Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is there any good news out there at all?

Well, if you believe in President Obama's stimulus plan that might qualify as good news for those of us in Ireland who are just waiting, praying that the American economy picks up.

And, well, I thought that with all the attention on how bad things are in Eastern Europe this week, that there might be some small kernel of good news for Ireland in there. I'm not even sure I'm on firm ground here, but I guess I was figuring that despite the German resistance to cheaper money, the plight of all their investments in the East will force it on them. And we'll get some benefit from that.

Still, the most depressing thing I've read in weeks was this snippet from Brendan Keenan's column today.
The source of this was the construction bubble which accompanied the price bubble. Only Spain had a similar, deadly combination and there were some depressingly good figures from Spain yesterday. Depressing for us, that is. Even after a budget stimulus, Spain's deficit is less than 4pc of output (GDP). Ireland's is likely to be 12pc. The difference is that the Spaniards piled up budget surpluses from their windfall property taxes, and we did not. (They also made the banks behave sensibly).
See? It didn't have to be this bad. The government - and let's face it, we're talking about Fianna Fail here - acted as if rainy days had been banished forever. Irresponsible doesn't cover it. Ruinous is the word to describe their actions over the past 5+ years.

"A guy's guy"

The NY Times says the new Archbishop of New York is "a guy's guy". The Times says that people in the Church believe this will be a big asset in his effort to increase the number of young men entering the priesthood. From the little I've read about him the past two days I believe they're right.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is it time for a show trial?

I heard George Lee and Brendan Keenan on Morning Ireland this morning agree that the issue of the "Anglo 10" was next to nothing when compared with the hole in our finances caused by the bad debts at Anglo-Irish (somewhere between €6bn and €10bn). And, yes, I agree to an extent. The problems in Anglo (and the other banks) are so great that the state's continued independent existence can no longer be taken for granted. This is not the time to be looking for scapegoats.

But, ...

Imagine if the laws of justice were as easily ridden over as the rules and laws of banking were ridden over by what was (is?) an arrogant, smug, greedy few. We'd have the heads of the banks and others - think the Anglo 10, other property developers, investors, whoever - on trial already. All their assets would have been immediately frozen and their right to leave the state denied.

They'd be tried by a jury of their peers, but the normal rules of evidence would be lightly considered by the state. The judge will turn a blind eye to what he knows is wrong-doing by the state. The defense attorneys will be appointed by the state and know that nothing good can come from too strong an effort on their part.

That the accused would be found guilty is beyond doubt and the penalties would be severe. I'm not sure if they'd get much jail time, but I'm pretty sure that these convicts could expect to be fined to such an extent that they'd suddenly find themselves having to 'slum it' in a 3 bedroom semi-detached house in some anonymous suburb. The Bentley would be replaced by a 7-year-old Almera.

What surprises me when I think these thoughts is that I'm not sure that the injustice I'm describing is actually so great that such trials shouldn't be considered. The public's anger has to be acknowledged.

Sure such anger is counter-productive, but it's there and it's a factor that's holding the nation back from taking the steps necessary to right the ship of state. A show trial might be just what the doctor ordered.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Same old nation ...

I had a bad thought today. I was listening to Newstalk when their little promo came on: "Different nation, different station." After I heard that and I thought about the corruption, the banks, the 'golden circles', the unemployment, the emigration and the resurgent black humor I thought to myself, "It's a lot like the Ireland I first came to. Maybe everyone will be tuning back to RTE."

"Your questions answered"

Okay. That took two minutes and, no, your questions are definitely not answered. Not unless one of your questions is, "How are Anglo’s Tier 1 capital requirements going to be affected by the nationalisation?" Basically, all these question pages can be summed up as follows:
  • if you're a shareholder - ordinary or preference - you lose
  • if you're a depositor, don't worry the taxpayer has your back
  • if you owed us money, you still owe it
  • if we borrowed from you, don't worry - again - the taxpayer's on hand
There are no answers to questions like, "Who owes you money and how much?"; "How many people at Anglo knew what was going on?"; "What politicians (if any) were involved?".

The Reports

The Anglo-Irish Annual Report and the published version of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report into the bank are available online. Will I have time to read them in full? Certainly not, but I'll give them the quick once over today.

So far my favorite discovery is on Anglo's web site, where I came across a page they titled "Your Questions Answered". Without even looking I'm pretty sure that the questions the average person would like to ask are not answered on this page, but I'll take a quick look and let you know if I find any answers to your questions.

Microfinance, not aid

The 'Anti-Bono' is how the NY Times describes Dambisa Moyo. She wants foreign aid to Africa to stop because it breeds corruption and dependency and it makes the governments "beholden to foreign donors and not accountable to its people."

You do come across these arguments every so often, although even hinting at them in Ireland is akin to shouting "I'm a witch" in 17th century Salem. Ostracism is the best you can hope for.

Moyo compares Africa to China and asks why no one is feeling sorry for China.
Forty years ago, China was poorer than many African countries. Yes, they have money today, but where did that money come from? They built that, they worked very hard to create a situation where they are not dependent on aid.
Is she right that aid has such a malign influence in Africa? I don't really know. I'm not sure corruption is unknown in China either.

I suppose the best answer I can think of is that it's possible aid is part of the problem. Certainly the current model is not working, but that doesn't mean it would be easy to ignore the media campaigns driven by those who are part of the aid 'industry'. You'd have to be pretty sure that aid people are wrong when you know from the news that there's some form of calamity about to unfold.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Toxic tourist attraction on the quays

Gotta love the suggestion from German bank West LB that Dublin be the world's toxic bank capital.

The state government of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), part-owner of West LB, said there were several reasons for choosing Dublin.

“For a business like this you need specialists and, worldwide, Dublin has the best qualified people for the task,” said Stephanie Hagelücken, spokeswoman for the NRW finance ministry.

Made me laugh because only a week earlier I read a suggestion from Frank McNally in the Irish Times that the 'bad bank' that's been suggested by many be available to the public for visiting. He got the idea from a visit to Butte, MT where he got to see the Berkeley Pit.
The pit is where the open mining happened. When the mining stopped, it became a tailings pond. Now it’s a giant, red-brown lake full not only of copper but also of such interesting chemicals as arsenic.

… Stuck with this apocalyptic nightmare in the middle of town, and with a clean-up that will last indefinitely, the locals made the best of a very bad job. They have established Butte as a kind of centre of excellence in environmental disaster management. They built a viewing platform from which tourists could visit the lake safely (unlike the swans). They put up educational signs. And yes, they opened a gift shop.
So McNally figures that the public might like to visit the toxic bank, but just imagine how much bigger a tourist attraction we'll have if we corner the global market in toxic banks. The IFSC can be a financial Berkeley Pit.

And you know what? Better that than the ghost town it's now destined to become.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Hmm. Businessman Ulick McEvaddy described the Anglo 10 - the 10 businessmen who bought Anglo-Irish shares with money borrowed from Anglo-Irish - as "heroes."
“I think they’re heroes to have supported the bank in its hour of need,” he told RTÉ Radio. “We’re in an economic war and if we don’t have a good, solid, stable banking system, we’re going to be in serious trouble.”
I wish I'd heard the interview McEvaddy gave RTE because the most obvious question in the world is, "If they were heroes they'd pay back the €300m, right?" All they look like right now are people who were willing to engage in subterfuge in the hope of getting a payday at the end of it.

For sale in Buffalo - get em while they're hot(?)

The Irish Independent's property pages features a rental property in Buffalo, NY. {Why? I have no idea. I would have imagined that the whole overseas property thing was over now.}

It reminded me of the day - must be 10 years ago when I was working for Citibank here. I was talking with a bunch of younger employees - younger by 15 years or so - and they were asking me about Buffalo. All they knew about it was that they had to regularly deal with people working in Citibank's office in Buffalo.

They wanted to know what Buffalo was like. They'd been talking about it and they'd decided that it was a modern town, with mountains near-by full of healthy living people with western/cowboy-like virtues. How sad. I suggested that they were probably thinking of Boulder, Colorado and not Buffalo, NY. (They didn't even know Buffalo was in New York.)

By the time I'd finished with my description of Buffalo - a rust belt city with Arctic like winters (only snowier!) - their romantic visions of business trips to Buffalo were gone. Even the promise of Niagara Falls near-by held little appeal.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I can remember when I first heard of Credit Default Swaps how I spent hours looking for an explanation as to what exactly they were, how they worked and what attracted people/companies to them.

I'm having the same experience now with Contracts for Difference. I'd never heard of them until ... was it the weekend? Monday? I can't remember, but very recently. And, to be honest, I'm stunned that such a product exists and that the stock exchange allows it.

At least with the CDS I could see the logic of how it came about, as a hedge on risk. {Of course the CDS soon morphed out of all recognition and became a big part of the bankers' boondoggle.} From what I can make out CFD's exist to (a) allow traders to avoid paying stamp duty, (b) allow traders to trade with very little down (up to 50 times the cash outlay!) and (c) to allow investors to take positions in a share without having to declare that to the Exchange. On all levels this just seems wrong.

In 2006, according to the Sunday Business Post, 50% of all trading on the Irish Stock Exchange was accounted for by CFD's. 50%. I must have been asleep. I can't believe I never heard about this before.

I guess that's what happens when you pay too much attention to war or baseball or your family - you miss out on a chance to make serious money taking others for suckers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's every man for himself

Sorry for the silence this week. I've been busy hoarding canned goods and reading survivalist web sites - amazing how many useful tips there are in the Captain Dave's Survival Guide. I can't get over how unprepared I am for the economic Armageddon that is about to befall us.

If you read Morgan Kelly in yesterday's Irish Times and David McWilliams' column from last week, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. "The end is nigh" doesn't have half enough urgency to it.

Last week I was talking to a friend of mine about what might happen if we defaulted on our debts. And although I wasn't lying, I don't think I really believed it was possible. I thought I was too negative. I was really only guessing, but I told my friend that if we defaulted I thought the Germans would basically come in and call the shots. All state obligations would be out the window. Those include public sector pension entitlements, salaries for teachers, nurses, etc., infrastructural spending, ... I painted a pretty gloomy picture.

Then I saw the weekend reports that said that Ireland could, in fact, default. And yesterday Morgan Kelly spelled out what default might look like.
We would be forced to seek an international bailout, with the International Monetary Fund and European Union playing bad cop and good cop. We could expect cuts of one-quarter to one-third in public sector wages and social welfare benefits, and draconian tax rises to bring the deficit back to around 5 per cent of national income in two years.
And that's if the IMF & EU can bail us out. If other EU nations happen to be in a similar situation, then all bets are off. Kelly talks about a nightmare situation that would lead to "unprecedented civil disorder."

I wonder if they do MRE's at Lidl?

Monday, February 16, 2009

"We're making a commitment to you."

Anyone who's uneasy about the €7bn recapitalization of AIB & Bank of Ireland got a major confidence booster yesterday when they opened their newspaper. Right there amid the seemingly endless articles on the problems with our banking system and the scandals at Anglo-Irish (with a big dose of Irish Life & Permanent) thrown in, was a full page ad with "a message from AIB."

AIB wants us to know that they are "absolutely committed to fulfilling" their "obligation" to "play a role in helping to get our economy back on its feet." They want to help if we "want to buy a new home" or if we "need credit support for a viable business".

And, best of all, they have thanked us for "the support you've extended to us."

I can't tell you how reassured I was after I saw that ad. No need to worry that there might be more "unknown unknowns" lurking in the bank's books, as David McWilliams recently speculated.

And, right at the bottom of the page, the most comforting line of all: "Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is regulated by the Financial Regulator." Now, don't you feel all warm inside?

Friday, February 13, 2009

And what was Bank of Ireland's share doing at that time?

Just so I'd have something to compare it with, I checked Bank of Ireland's share price and trading volumes for the same period as I did for Anglo-Irish below. Here is the table.

I'm not sure I can say anything definitive about the movement of Anglo's share price or the trading volumes. What you see is that Anglo is more volatile over that period, but whether that has anything to do with the IL&P deposit is impossible to say. What's not impossible to say is that nearly 50,000,000 Anglo-Irish shares were traded between September 29 and October 10. And, it seems pretty unlikely that all of those who were buying and selling were aware of what was going on.

Did the market react to the IL&P deposit?

Just out of curiosity I decided to go back and see how Anglo's shares were doing around the time that IL&P and Anglo-Irish were playing fast and loose with Irish company law.

Here's a little table I put together. Note where the share price was on Sep 29 before the funny business started and where it was when business closed on October 7. I still have to track down the exact date that IL&P got its money back from Anglo, but if it was on or before October 7 then it seems possible that the Anglo's share price was affected by the coming and going of all that money.

He's still not unemployed

Okay, in today's Irish Independent, Niamh Brennan says that the IL&P transactions with Anglo-Irish bank "meet" the definition of "financial statement fraud", which is an offense in Irish law. F R A U D.

Now, let's go back to the Minister for Finance. He missed the bit in the report about this fraud because, well, he didn't read the report. But, even if had read the report and, in particular, the bit about the fraud, he wouldn't have done anything differently.

It really is mind boggling. Even if he'd been aware that these two banks had engaged in criminal activity it wouldn't have bothered him. Shareholders and potential new investors be damned. You may think the law is on your side, but it's not really.

So, my theory is that this is a big, big problem for Ireland as a potential destination for overseas investment. Am I right? Maybe not. From what I can see in the British & American media, the reports have basically overlooked this element of the Anglo story. The reports have focused on what went on between the two banks and not on what the government didn't do but implied it would have done, if the Minister had read the report last October.

I still think that somewhere down the line, all this mismanagement and, well, how about malfeasance by the government is going to rise up and bite us just when we might have hoped that things were going to get better. But, whether or not I'm right about the overseas investment doesn't change the fact that the Irish government has given me the impression that the laws intended to protect me as a potential investor in Irish shares don't actually protect me. They may be on the books, but the government will overlook them if there are big banks involved in deliberately deceiving investors.

It may be that Irish people will be very shy about returning to the market knowing that game is rigged and not in their favor. It may be that Irish pension funds will be less willing to invest in the Irish market. Time will tell.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lenihan must be fired

No decision taken by the Government was affected in any way by the fact that I did not read page 129 of the report, because my officials read page 129 of the report.
That was the Minister's lame attempt to dismiss the fact that he didn't read the full report and, thus, missed the fact that there was some (at best) fairly questionable dealings between Anglo-Irish Bank and Irish Life & Permanent last September.

In case you missed it, Anglo Irish loaned €7bn to IL&P who then turned around and placed it back with Anglo-Irish through one of IL&P's non-banking subsidiaries. This all happened as September was winding down, which happens to be when Anglo-Irish's reporting year winds down too. How would this move make any real difference? Well, thanks to the fact that IL&P used a non-banking subsidiary Anglo could book the money as a customer deposit rather than a loan from another bank. And that matters because "[c]ustomer deposits are regarded as a more secure source of funding than deposits from other banks."

Get it? The money goes on a circular journey from Anglo to IL&P and back again, but along the way it acquires a character that allows Anglo to appear a better bet for investors than it was.

Now, back to the Minister. He says that this information in the report he received in October (but didn't read) wouldn't have affected how the government acted. Well, okay, but from October the Irish government should have been aware that Anglo-Irish and IL&P had connived to potentially defraud investors out of their money. But such information wouldn't have affected how the government acted. If I had bought shares in Anglo between mid-October and January 15 when the bank was nationalized I'd be looking to sue the government for withholding such information.

If they withheld such information, but of course they didn't withhold it because the Minister never absorbed it in the first place. Regardless the message to any potential overseas investor is that you don't matter, our laws don't really protect you.

Who in their right mind would invest in Ireland again? Who? Why can't the Taoiseach see this? I've heard mention of the word 'stability' and how we can't afford instability in this crisis. Well telling the world that Ireland is a rigged game is not the sort of stability we can afford. The Taoiseach needs to fire Lenihan and now. Before the day is out.

He didn't read the report

It beggars belief. The future of the state is on the line and the Minister for Finance can't be bothered to read the full report on the state of the banking system, a report that Irish Independent says "was to form the cornerstone of Government consideration of how to address the emerging financial crisis." Okay, so it's 700 pages. If you can't read 700 pages on what is emerging as a threat to the state then what are you doing in your position?

Honestly, I've hardly been able to think about anything else today. I get the feeling from the papers that the Minister was busy, but what was he doing that he couldn't find time to read the report between October & Christmas? I just don't accept that there was never any time to read the full report. Read it, think about it, talk about it with the Taoiseach, members of his department, other cabinet officers, the leaders of the opposition, etc. It's unbelievable.

I can't believe he hasn't resigned yet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

NYC 400

I remember being in Dublin during 1988 when we were all celebrating the Millennium. It was sort of a great joke among all the city's residents because the idea that Dublin was founded in 988 was based on pretty flimsy evidence. Dublin existed before 988. All that happened that year was that some Norse King came and set himself up as ruler and well, I guess, declared Dublin (re)born.

Dublin's founding in 988 may only be tenuously connected to anything real, but it is like a mathematical proof compared with New York's 400 anniversary celebrations this year. When was New York founded? Well, we were always taught it was founded by Peter Minuet when he bought Manhattan from the Indians for $24 in 1626. I think a few Dutch families may have settled there in 1625, but that's about it.

So, what happened in 1609 that merits celebrating? Well, Henry Hudson sailed up the (now) Hudson River. He may well have pulled into the right near the mouth of the river for a night's sleep on his journey north, but I don't know if you can call that founding a city.

Regardless, New York City is celebrating its 400th 'birthday' and the Dutch appear only too happy to join in. Of course, if the banking crisis gets any worse maybe the Dutch will take it back and then pursue the Indians for a refund.

Monday, February 09, 2009

B of I pay cuts needed

Last week's big story was the government's imposition of a pension levy on public sector employees. Although I agree with the government's decision, I don't like all the flippant language about overpaid public sector employees, etc.

The government overspent and over-promised and public servants are going to pay a price for that. Sure too many were hired in recent years and sure it would have been better if they had never been granted all sorts of pay hikes, but neither of those is really the fault of the workers themselves. I don't blame them being angry. It's much harder to see your pay fall than to have never seen it rise in the first place.

I agree with the government's decision AND I have sympathy for the public sector employees. Tough choices, tough times.

Then on Saturday I saw this headline: Bank of Ireland staff get 3.5% pay rise. Well, now I'm annoyed, but I presume that the public sector workers are livid. They've been asked to take a pretty big cut in pay and yet here are those people who are for all intents and purposes becoming public sector employees - and workers in failed entities at that - and they're getting a pay hike. Why?

The Minister for Finance needs to step in right there and put the kibosh on that decision. If the Bank of Ireland and AIB are going to be splitting €7bn of taxpayers' money, at the very least their workers should be expected to experience the pay cut pain that the public sector workers are expected to endure.

Mad Men

I had never seen an episode of Mad Men before last Tuesday. I had never seen it, but I'd heard a lot about it. Mostly people - men, actually - raving about how great the series is.

Last week I watched the first 4 episodes from the 1st season while I was sitting on the plane to NY. I can't say it isn't good, but I couldn't shake the eerie feeling that I was staring at a depiction of point zero, the very start of the growing diabolical, soulless hole in American life. I don't want to see any more of it.

Snow courtesy

And, another thing about last week's snow. I got the bus from the airport to just outside my neighborhood. I only had to negotiate the sidewalk the length of my neighborhood, which turned out to be a good thing.

Despite the fact that the snow had finished fairly early on Thursday evening, no one in my neighborhood had cleaned the sidewalk in front of his house. Not one house. There were a few driveways that had been shoveled clean, but even those people didn't see fit to shovel the sidewalk.

I can't say I was annoyed or surprised, but it was slow going over the snow and ice with my bags. However, along the way I passed out an elderly woman who was making very slow, fearful progress on foot. If every household had bothered to spend 10 minutes (at most) shoveling in front their house that old woman would not have had to walk as if in a minefield.

Keystone Kops Airport

I was in New York last week for a few days. Well, 48 hours.

Anyway, when I arrived back on Friday morning it was dark, but I could see snow all around. I was surprised it wasn't cleared better from around the planes, but it didn't look like a whole lot and I didn't think much of it. Then late Friday I heard on RTE that there were long delays earlier in the day due to the bad weather.

At first I thought I must have been hearing a report from the day before because it had snowed on Thursday, but not on Friday. But, no. The report was about delays on Friday. I checked RTE's web site and found this:
Dozens of flights at Dublin Airport were either cancelled or delayed after icy conditions left aircrafts unable to refuel.
Look, I know it snowed a little on Thursday and it was chilly on Friday, but if temperatures of around freezing (0°C / 32°F) were that big an issue for airplanes then the airport in Minneapolis would be closed for 5 months of the year.

Michael O'Leary described Dublin Airport Authority as Keystone Kops and it's hard to disagree with that. 3 inches of snow causing two days of delays is a joke.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Europe & trade

Of course, Europeans are also worried by the protectionist noises coming from Washington, although a number of EU members have also been looking for ways around free trade.
The United States will not get away with expanding a "Buy American" protectionist measures as part of its economic rescue plan, European Union officials warned Thursday.

"The one thing we can be absolutely certain about is that if a bill is passed which prohibits the sale or purchase of European goods on American territory, that is not something we will stand idly by and ignore," European Commission trade spokesman Peter Power told journalists in Brussels.
George Walden in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph explained that the problem may be obvious, but avoiding protectionism may take the kind of political will that's simply not there.
Protectionism is a disease that contaminates everything and is a cure for nothing. To resist it governments will need huge reserves of political will and an internationalist spirit, both of them currently in short supply.

A major reason Obama's election was welcomed across the world was his pledge to make America less isolationist-minded, but if his first major economic act ignores the needs of the global economy and provokes a trade war with the European Union, how likely is it that China or Russia or India or South America will play by the rules?

… At Davos Chancellor Merkel said her bit, but Germany, whose industrial base equals those of France and Britain combined, has also set up a fund whose transparent intention is to shield exports, and declined to take actions, such as cutting carbon emissions, that might have the effect of costing jobs.

Looking to President Sarkozy for a staunch line on the subject would be somewhat quixotic in a country that was the author of the Common Agricultural Policy, where a protectionist spirit runs in the blood, and respected writers are openly calling for the retreat not just of France but of Europe itself behind greatly enhanced trade barriers and tariff walls. To understand the political pressures and inter-European strains in the offing, one only has to observe last week's riots in Paris, of which we shall see many more, and the fact that the cost of a French or German car exported to Britain has increased by a quarter in recent months.
Last summer Barak Obama said "we're going to change the country, we're going to change the world". I'm assuming a destructive trade war was not what he had in mind. Therefore, he must resist the protectionist forces within his party or the world will change in ways nobody wants.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"Buy American"

How quickly the mood can change. I was watching the news the other night and I thought President Obama already looks older, his face more drawn.

The conservative media in America is being rejuvenated by one tainted cabinet appointment after another, and the President is - for reasons that totally escape me - taking on Rush Limbaugh. Maybe the President wants Rush around, figures Rush is a vote winner for him. I don't know.

Anyway, the Rush vs Obama battle is a distraction. The real alarm bells are ringing in Canada. Levi Folk of Canada's Financial Post writes:
[p]lans by U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama to put a fence around its US$825-billion stimulus package by implementing a "Buy America" policy is a veiled attempt to export unemployment to the rest of the world.
Want more? How about this from the Canadian
"If these Buy America provisions are applied, they would have a significant and detrimental impact on Canadian businesses exporting to the United States," Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, says in a letter to International Trade Minister Stockwell Day. "Canadian manufacturers and exporters need reassurance that the national treatment provisions of the NAFTA and our other treaties with the U.S. provide a safeguard against the restrictive provisions of proposed U.S. legislation."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper told national media that the provision "goes against the spirit of free trade."
And, probably the best is this one from Michael Den Tandt of the Winnipeg Sun.
But now it seems the House of Representatives wants to do likewise -- for real. As it now stands the $819-billion (US) stimulus bill says that any steel used in any project funded by the bill must be made in the United States.

And it could get worse. The Senate reportedly wants to amend the package to require that virtually all stimulus-funded projects use only U.S.-made goods and gear.

That's against the law -- international trade law, that is, which the U.S. has always championed. It's also the absolute worst policy imaginable in the face of a recession. Protectionism is a virus. Its spread in the early '30s was a main cause of the Great Depression.

… We are America's largest export market, by far. Canada buys more U.S. exports than all 27 countries of the European Union, combined -- though they have 15 times our population.

Another tidbit: Canada is the largest foreign supplier of U.S. crude oil, larger even than Saudi Arabia. Canada supplies virtually all of America's natural gas imports, which fuel many of its power generation plants.

Can we afford to see a wall go up along the border? Nope. But neither can the United States of America. Members of Congress would do well to remember that, as they set about crafting a final version of this bill.
This is how trade wars start: little moves that spark a tit-for-tat, up-the-ante type battle until everyone's a whole lot poorer and underemployed. The President has to resist the calls for "Buy American" provisions in any new stimulus package.

Good luck with that, Joe

RTE editor Joe Zefran is suing the Obama Inauguration committee for "emotional distress". Poor ol Joe had bought tickets for the 'neighborhood ball' online, but "because they were purchased too late for them to be sent to him by post, he was told they would be available for collection at the event itself". {added} Unfortunately, there was no place for Joe to collect his tickets.

Not only is Joe out the price of the tickets, but he also spent "€55 on a haircut and other money on a tuxedo for the evening and would be seeking a refund for these expenses". I was on his side until I read that bit about his haircut. My haircuts cost €12. Why is he spending so much on his hair? Rather than suing the inauguration committee he should think about finding a new barber. In no time he'll recoup his lost $250.