Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time to get back at it

Uhhhh. Sorry. Just shaking off the cobwebs. I've hardly read a newspaper in a week, barely even saw 20 minutes of televised news. So, not much to offer on the big doings of the day (or week) - yet.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Losing our competitive edge

Economists Anthony Leddin and Brendan Walsh explain why being in the Euro is such a problem for us and advise potential applicants - Iceland, Poland, Denmark, etc. - to have a good look at Ireland before making the leap.
Between 2000 and 2003, the Irish economy suffered a 30 per cent loss in price competitiveness relative to all our trading partners taking both exchange rates and relative inflation into account. This loss of price competitiveness hurt domestic export and import-competing firms, leading to a fall in the growth rate and inflation but placing the economy closer to a sustainable trajectory.

An independent Central Bank of Ireland would undoubtedly have started the adjustment process earlier - raising interest rates as inflation rose and unemployment fell. But, as a member of the European System of Central Banks, the Irish authorities were limited to sounding unheeded warnings in the Quarterly Bulletin.

… Contrary to what was required under Irish conditions, the ECB cut interest rates from 4.75 per cent to 2 per cent between 2001 and 2003. Given the high Irish inflation, the result was negative real interest rates which added fuel to the already unsustainable boom.

… Following two years at a sustainable growth rate in 2001/02, the economy again picked up and the real growth rate averaged 5.3 per cent per annum between 2003 and 2007. Unemployment averaged 4.5 per cent and another 290,000 net new jobs were created. But inflation remained well above the EMU average and price competitiveness continued to deteriorate.
They don't argue that we should leave the Euro, but an obvious sub-text here is that we probably shouldn't have joined in the first place.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thanks Dave

A friend of mine sent me a present. A hat. Not just a hat, but a hat with the symbol of the #7 subway line on it. The 7 train is the Flushing line, the train to Shea Stadium Citi Field (sigh). It's also the first line I was ever on - we lived along the 7 line when I was a little kid.

And, unfortunately, I've recently been noticing the cold on my head a bit more than in years past. The once-thick-thatch on the top of my head is not providing the warmth it did in years past. So my new hat is perfect.

Where were you in 1500?

The Irish sure have scattered. Of the descendants of people living in Ireland in 1500 only 12% are in Ireland today. 76% are in America.
Using the McEvedy and Jones (1976) estimates of populations in 1500, the Penn World Tables 6.2 population estimates for 2000, and the matrix’s estimates of origins, we find that there were 31.6 million descendants of the Irish population of 1500 alive in 2000, with less than 12% of these living in Ireland, 76% in the US, 5% in Australia, and so on. In contrast, the vast majority, although not all, of the descendants of China’s year 1500 inhabitants live today in China.
Not earth-shattering, but kind of interesting.

Can we take the euro-pain?

It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only in January when Matt Cooper was asking the question: 'Is it time to leave the euro'?

I've always thought the decision to join the euro was wrong. Why? Well, it was all due to an economics lecture I attended in 1992. The topic was the currency. According to the lecturer (can't remember his name right now) being part of the single currency or not was not a major issue, but it would be catastrophic if we joined and Britain didn't. Well, looks like he knew what he was talking about.

I was reminded of all this last night watching George Lee's report on the news last night. He never mentioned the possibility of leaving the euro, but anyone listening to him had to have that question somewhere in their head? Can we endure the pain that being part of the euro is causing?

I've mentioned this to a couple of people and they all come back with references to Iceland. And, yes, Iceland is a scary example. Okay. How 'bout this? It makes more sense for us to have a single currency with the UK than with the rest of the Eurozone? That's almost heresy, I know, and bordering on a topic I never touch here, but really we'd better off with Sterling than with the Euro. Our economy more closely matches Britain's than Germany's, France's or Italy's. We can rejoin the euro when (if) the UK joins.

We should rerun two EU Treaty referendums next year: Lisbon & Maastricht. A 'Yes' to Lisbon and 'No' to Maastricht might set things right.

We're too small ...

That's the gist of Ivan Yates's column this morning. Too small for anyone in the EU to really take our complaints with Lisbon seriously. Just too small.
While they respect our sovereignty and right to self-determination, this has not extended to allowing one of the smallest and most peripheral states to dictate to the rest of Europe how EU procedures should be reformed.

They are not prepared to reopen the ratification process of the treaty within their own respective states. They are unwilling to revisit their parliaments or electorates with an additional protocol — let alone alter the treaty. Some may argue that our Government didn't try hard enough. Whether this is true or not, it is wholly irrelevant because we now have to face the collective reality of "no renegotiation".
I admire that honesty and believe there's a lot of truth in it. Look, the pro-EU forces in Brussels and in the various EU capitals were more than happy to engage in a bit of trickery - basically changing the title on the EU Constitution - to override the French & Dutch 'No' votes in 2005. That they'd have little patience with us is hardly news.

At least Yates is willing to admit the full truth; many on the 'Yes' side are not. We have no say. Not really. Not in how the rules are made. All we get to decide is whether we agree with the new rules whenever they're changed or we can leave. That's it.

Yates continues his pro-Lison argument saying that these treaty referendums are not the place to take out your frustrations on the government. That's true.
A constant characteristic in the vox pops of no voters was a "whatever you're having yourself" disenchantment. If you were fed up due to the smoking ban, drink driving rules, economic recession, Dustin's Eurovision defeat, fishing and farming woes, taxation system, health cuts or tribunal revelations — you found the referendum a suitable repository for your angst.
However, he's wrong about fishing & farming woes. Those two industries can obviously point to EU rules and regulations as having an impact on their profitability. That means those who are interested in farming and/or fishing are right to take an interest in the Lisbon Treaty and to make a case for or against.

I also believe that someone who is opposed to taxation laws being changed to mirror those in France or Germany can be at least concerned about the increasing centralization of power in Brussels. It defies belief that we can keep integrating - not just our economies, but almost all aspects of governing - without some equalization* in the tax laws. And, as Yates notes, when the big boys decide the time has come for forcing the tax laws to be essentially consistent throughout the EU, again, we'll have little say in how those new rules are written. We can agree or we can leave.

* Equalization is not the word I was looking for, but it didn't come to me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Highest turnout since 1968? Maybe.

Today's NY Times says that with all districts reporting "61.6 percent of Americans eligible to vote went to the polls this year, the highest since Richard M. Nixon beat Hubert H. Humphrey in the close 1968 race". This year's turnout was a bit better than in 2004, when turnout was 60.1%. Okay, but ...

In 2004 the total ballot was around 122.3m and this year it was 125.2m. What I find interesting is that with those vote totals that means the base population was the same in both instances - 203m. That means that turnout is (probably) based on the census of 2000. That makes no sense to me seeing as the population changes over the years after the census. That means you can only really compare turnout between elections in years ending with the same digit. {E.g. 2008 with 1988 and 1968, 2004 with 1984, 1964, etc.}

I stand by my belief that turnout was not really greater this year than in 2004.

RTE & the Irish Times on Ganley

I finally watched the Primetime report on Declan Ganley* last night. I was actually expecting it to be much worse. Maybe an Irish viewer would have been more alarmed by Ganley's American colleagues? I don't know, but I found them to be likable guys. I thought they were straight shooters too.

Sure, some of Ganley's 1990s dealings in E. Europe might be a bit shady (maybe), but I wonder how many businesses dealing in the former Soviet states just after the fall of The Wall were any different? Even big companies operating there were probably engaging in 'local customs' when it came to some business dealings. Overall, despite the sinister music and tone I actually thought the criticisms were mostly pretty thin and those who defended Ganley were credible.

Funny enough, after I watched the interview I picked up last Saturday's Irish Times where I found this column by Noel Whelan. Whelan has a go at Ganley too and, to be honest, I think his criticisms may be closer to the truth. Whelan's argument is that Ganley is simply on an ego trip and the "he's sinister" stuff is a distraction. Could be right that Ganley's on an ego trip. But what harm?

* I'm not sure if the videolink to the report will work outside Ireland.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mets in peace

For that special Met fan in your life, the gift of a (after)lifetime.

The "Best" has come and gone

Marc Coleman writes for the Sunday Independent and is the Economics Editor (I think) at Newstalk. Anyway, for reasons I can't explain I have something of a soft spot for Coleman. Maybe it's pity? I don't know, but if I didn't have this 'soft spot' I'm sure I'd make sport of him frequently. Recently he's been saying the economy's in bad shape, etc., but he was pretty late to that game. When other economists - George Lee & David McWilliams to name two - were warning us that things were starting to unravel, Coleman was still talking things up regularly. He released his book - The Best Is Yet To Come - at the end of 2007.

Why do I bring this up? Only because I read this article from The Spectator and the essence of what it says seems frighteningly possible to me. Jonathan Ruffer's column could have been titled, "The Worst Is Yet To Come".
The Americans allowed a depression to develop in the 1930s because they were afraid of the consequences of losing the principles of sound money. In an effort to avoid a re-run of the 1930s, the Western world is imposing the opposite, equally unbalanced and intemperate solution. We might thereby avoid a depression — but the bad stuff which follows currency compromise will crash down upon us with great vigour. This is the one and only one, and probably last, shock that the credit crunch has yet to impose on a still unsuspecting world.

Roy Keane — "Enraged by the jejune"

Only the New York Times. Even its blog wants to sound a cut above. I'll admit I enjoyed John Doyle's blog/column from the Times's web site, but really? Jejune?

The gist of what Doyle had to say is that Keane's rise and fall exactly mirrored the Irish nation's fortunes.
Uncannily, just as Ireland lurched from Tiger economy to stark recession, seemingly with nothing saved, nothing learned, Keane spent too much and gazed at a shambles of his own making, before he just resigned and walked away. Now, the economic bubble has burst in Ireland and Keane seems fallible.

At that, every Irish person is unnerved. Everyone projects dreams and meaning into the celebrities and sports stars we admire. But with Keane it was even more profound - an entire country obsessed about him and a nation’s psyche, all its pride and enterprise, seemed to reside in him. He is us. We are him. As he goes, so do we. The Celtic Tiger is tamed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Land of Lincoln

Illinois is a place apart when it comes to politics. According to Kathleen Parker, "[t]hree of the past eight governors have spent time in jail or prison". Current Governor Blagojevich is bidding to make it 50%.

Still, I kind of find it reassuring. The charges against Blago are so old-school. And, although the language might be a bit salty, I doubt his words would have been out of place coming out of the mouths of many of the old Tammany Hall Mayors. Yes, reassuring.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why did I throw away my ham?

We hit the panic button yesterday. And, by we, I mean everyone living in Ireland. We were told to throw away all our Irish pork products and we did. We did this even though we were reassured that there was no real health scare risk in having eaten potentially contaminated pork/ham/etc. We were advised to throw away all such products bought since September 1.

When I first heard this I almost thought it was a joke. I mean, how much pig meat have I already eaten since September 1? Loads, but don't worry because there's little health risk. So, why do I have to throw away the ham and pork chops that are still in my fridge? Surely if there's little to worry about after 3 months of eating the stuff, one or two more portions are hardly going to matter. Right? Or not?

This has been bothering me for the past 24 hours. Finally, I think I understand. This drastic measure has virtually nothing to do with the consumers' health and all to do with the pig meat industry. The dire warnings to convince us to dispose of (almost) perfectly good meat - unless we're being lied to about the risks - were to reassure us that when we return to the supermarket or butcher that the pork or ham we buy is 100% top of the line, nothing to be concerned about.

I didn't come to this revelation by myself. I had to be practically hit over the head by Dr. Patrick Wall, formerly of the Irish Food Safety Authority and former Chairman of the European Food Safety Authority. Dr. Wall was on Liveline and he first laid out the case for how low the risk to consumers is and then explained why the meat had to be recalled.

The government basically was afraid repeating Belgium's 1999 chicken problem. In that case the Belgian government played the whole thing down and waited a long time to reveal what it knew, feeding the fear when the story first broke. Their poultry industry was badly hit.

The Irish government was determined not to duplicate that experience. Ireland is a big exporter of food, which makes this sort of scare even more damaging potentially. So, they hit the nuclear button. I don't know why they couldn't explain that the food was contaminated, but could be safely eaten if you really wanted to. Instead, we were all encouraged to throw €10, €20, €30 worth of food away. And, throwing food away drives me nuts. I could have eaten those last few slices of ham.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Barmaid and the Minister

Hmm. These are different times. A barmaid and the Belgian Minister for Defense, Pieter De Crem, are caught up in a scandal, but it's not what you might think. No, the scandal is that the barmaid was fired for blogging about the Minister's boisterous behavior in the New York restaurant where she worked.

Look, the restaurant owner is perfectly within his rights to fire this woman. And, if I owned a restaurant or bar I'd like to think that my customers would at least be safe from the employees blabbling about what went on. Other patrons? Well, that can't be helped.

At the same time, I can't read Flemish, but her post seems innocent enough. Considering the Minister was in New York he should be happy enough that the Cindy Adams wasn't in the same place or it would have been a much bigger deal for him. So, although I can understand (maybe) why the restaurant owner fired this woman, Mr. de Crem (the crumb?) has gotta get real.
Mr de Crem went on threaten legal action against bloggers and warned Belgian MPs "every one of you is a potential victim".

"I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society," said during a debate last Friday.

"We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. I find that it's nearly impossible to defend yourself against this."
Come on! How precious is he? He's a government minister for God's sake and he's moaning because he was caught having too much fun (a problem for the Flemish?). What he did was hardly a big issue, but he turned it into a big issue. Why he couldn't have just said that he might have let his hair down a little too much while in New York is beyond me. He's an uptight so and so who doesn't like the fact he was spotted behaving this way.

And blogging has nothing to do with it, really. In the past the barmaid might have passed this tidbit onto a gossip columnist, but nowadays everyone does their own reporting.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fly Pottersville Air

It's Christmas time and Michael O'Leary is making another bid for Aer Lingus. Ever notice how much O'Leary's portrayal in the press makes him seem like Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life? Aer Lingus is the Bailey Building & Loan. Only the truth is it's O'Leary who's serving the "rabble", flying people around for next to nothing, which is something the press seems incapable of accepting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

I suspect Angela Merkel is correct

"Cheap money" is the source of our economic problems, according to Angela Merkel.
"Excessively cheap money in the US was a driver of today's crisis," the chancellor told the German parliament. "I am deeply concerned about whether we are now reinforcing this trend through measures being adopted in the US and elsewhere and whether we could find ourselves in five years facing the exact same crisis."
It does seem to me that there is a strong resistance in America to admitting that you can't go on spending more than you earn. You can't go on buying things on credit.

RTE - DAB hands at (mis)using my money

I heard on Morning Ireland today that RTE is going live with a new digital audio broadcast service. During the report the reporter admitted that commercial providers were not leaping at the chance to provide digital radio services and that Britain's Channel 4 had recently abandoned plans to launch a digital radio service because advertisers weren't interested. The reporter also all but admitted that pretty much the only people who will be able to listen to the new stations are people with access to broadband.

Okay, this begs two obvious questions. One, why is RTE going ahead with a new technology that no commercial provider wants to touch at the moment? And, two, why is my license money going to fund a new service that is for all intents and purposes aimed at those who have the unlimited choice of online radio?

I actually tried a few of the stations today and, well, the sound quality wasn't great (that could get ironed out over time). But, more importantly, the question "Why bother" leaps to mind after a few minutes. Dance music? Indie/Progressive rock? Golden Oldies? I think those audiences can find their needs are already met sufficiently well online. RTE Choice was the only one that might be interesting, but the 20 minutes I gave it this morning had me thinking otherwise.

If RTE has the resources to fund a new unwanted service why not simply give us a refund on our license?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"Setting apart one Day of publick Thanksgiving"

Despite the origins of Thanksgiving that we all know today, Thanksgiving was not celebrated throughout the colonies in pre-Revolution America. The first time it was celebrated 'nationally' was in 1777 and the breaking of bread between Pilgrims and Indians had nothing to do with it. The occasion was the defeat of the British at Saratoga.

After the victory, the Continental Congress established a Thanksgiving committee to make a recommendation for some form of national celebration of the victory.
In CONGRESS, NOVEMBER 1, 1777, Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligations to HIM for benefits received. . . . And it having pleased him in his abundant mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence; but also to smile upon us, in the prosecution of a just and necessary war for the defence and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties: Particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure, to prosper the means used for the support of our troops, and to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth day of December next for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one time and with one voice, the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their DIVINE BENEFACTOR.. . . That it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the PUBLIC COUNCIL of the whole. To inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them. . . under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE. That it may please him, to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people, and the labour of the husbandman. . . To take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand: and to prosper the means of religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, PEACE AND JOY IN THE HOLY GHOST. And it is further recommended, that service, labour, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent . . . may be omitted on so solemn an occasion.
I hope they didn't mean football, when they asked that "such recreation as, though at other times innocent . . . may be omitted". That wouldn't do at all. Nope, not at all.

It was the first national Thanksgiving, but it didn't become an annual affair until Lincoln issued his famous proclamation in 1863.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's time for Citi to take a nap

"Citi never sleeps". That's Citibank's slogan. Or at least it used to be. Today, the banks' managers are the poster children for a driver fatigue campaign.
Yet as the bank’s C.D.O. machine accelerated, its risk controls fell further behind, according to former Citigroup traders, and risk managers lacked clear lines of reporting. At one point, for instance, risk managers in the fixed-income division reported to both Mr. Maheras and Mr. Bushnell — setting up a potential conflict because that gave Mr. Maheras influence over employees who were supposed to keep an eye on his traders.

C.D.O.’s were complex, and even experienced managers like Mr. Maheras and Mr. Barker underestimated the risks they posed, according to people with direct knowledge of Citigroup’s business. Because of that, they put blind faith in the passing grades that major credit-rating agencies bestowed on the debt.

… To make matters worse, Citigroup’s risk models never accounted for the possibility of a national housing downturn, this person said, and the prospect that millions of homeowners could default on their mortgages. Such a downturn did come, of course, with disastrous consequences for Citigroup and its rivals on Wall Street.

… In fact, when examiners from the Securities and Exchange Commission began scrutinizing Citigroup’s subprime mortgage holdings after Bear Stearns’s problems surfaced, the bank told them that the probability of those mortgages defaulting was so tiny that they excluded them from their risk analysis ...
This is the root of the whole mess. They were making tons of money and they didn't have a clue what they were doing, what they were selling or the risks involved. They really were like sleep-deprived drivers trying to keep on a straight line and not seeing the "Bridge Out" signs along the road.

“We have a simple thesis. There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.”

This is a long and not always easy-to-understand article on the subprime mortgage debacle, but there are enough entertaining moments to make it worthwhile.
By then, Eisman was so certain that the world had been turned upside down that he just assumed this guy must know it too. “But we’re sitting there,” Daniel recalls, “and he says to us, like he actually means it, ‘I truly believe that our rating will prove accurate.’ And Steve shoots up in his chair and asks, ‘What did you just say?’ as if the guy had just uttered the most preposterous statement in the history of finance. He repeated it. And Eisman just laughed at him.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Daniel told the C.E.O. deferentially as they left the meeting, “you’re delusional.”
This wasn’t Fitch or even S&P. This was Moody’s, the aristocrats of the rating business, 20 percent owned by Warren Buffett. And the company’s C.E.O. was being told he was either a fool or a crook by one Vincent Daniel, from Queens.

Does Barack Obama think I'm a fool?

Fools fall in love in a hurry
Fools give their hearts much too soon
Okay, maybe I'm not in love with Obama, but sheesh he's sure trying hard to win my heart. Today the NY Times says that the President-elect will keep Robert Gates on at Secretary of Defense. Then I read that once the economy starts humming again he's going to cut, cut, cut!!!
“We can’t sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists or interest groups,” Mr. Obama said. “We simply can’t afford it.”
Again, I may be reading way too much into this, but these don't sound like the words of a man who's about to authorize a massive increase in the size of the federal government in order to implement a national health care plan.
Just put in two bars of stardust
Just hang out one silly moon
Oh! They've got their love torches burning
When they should be playing it cool
I used to laugh but now I'm the same
Take a look at a brand new fool

Monday, November 24, 2008

I missed a chance to be offended

According to today's Irish Independent "RTE has received a "significant number" of complaints after an appearance by the dance troupe, the Satanic Sluts, on Friday's 'Late Late Show'". Now, maybe I would have been offended if I'd watched the Late Late on Friday, but I gave up on that program many, many years ago. I can't believe people still watch it.

Friday & Saturday nights are dead time on RTE as far as I'm concerned. Between the Late Late and Tubridy Tonight, RTE 1 might just as well not exist. I really can't believe anyone enjoys the toe-curling, stomach-churning, cringe-making embarrassment that those two programs serve up on a weekly basis.

What offends me is that I have to hand over €160 a year to keep this stuff on the air.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I used to work for Citibank

In fact, I did two different stints at Citibank, which may explain why I found this so funny. Oh, and in case you don't know Citibank's been in the news lately because, well, let's just say that a Big Mac now costs more than a share of Citi's stock.

I have tears in my eyes. I love the Weekly World News.

"Change has come to America"

This is probably more of a stretch than my other posts on Obama, but when I heard him utter those words in his acceptance speech I thought to myself: "So, he's the change. It's come. From here on in it will be a change to better management rather than significant new policies".

Now, two things. First, when I had those thoughts I was - again - projecting on to him what I wanted to believe. However, the choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State and Timothy Geithner at Treasury is pretty darn reassuring to me. I'm not sure how those who voted for Obama in the primaries feel about these selections but I'm breathing easier after today. If he opts to keep Robert Gates on at Defense then I'm definitely going to relax.

Second, I don't want to want to sound flippant. The choice of Barack Obama as President does actually represent a massive change in America even if that's a change that's been underway for quite some time. Change has indeed come to America.

"Now somewhere in the black mountain hills of dakota ..."

I was too young for Beatlemania, which when I was young I thought was merely the name of a Broadway musical. When I got a little older I acquired a lot of Beatles albums, but I don't really love most of them. My favorite, however, is the White Album, which - according to what I heard on the radio last night - was released 40 years ago. Rocky Raccoon is 40 years old.

Speaking of music from days of yore, I used to make noises about how good Roy Orbison was when I was a student. I knew he was someone I should like because everybody said so. But I never really did. It wasn't that I didn't like Orbison I simply made no effort to discover whether I would or not.

Well, recently I've been listening to some of his albums and he really was great. It seems some of those excessively earnest music lovers from my college days knew what they were talking about. In this case anyway. His last album, Mystery Girl, which was released after I'd graduated from college, is incredible. I have to admit that I'm not sure I'd have appreciated it as much then as I do today.

To the Irish Examiner?

Dear Irish Examiner,

You might want to check your distance charts to see how many British airports are within 300km of Dublin.
FLIGHTS to most British destinations will escape the full force of the new air travel tax after Finance Minister Brian Lenihan bowed to pressure from regional airports to exempt them from the top rate.

Under amended arrangements confirmed yesterday, the €10 per passenger rate, due to come into force at the end of next March, will only apply where the destination is more than 300km from Dublin Airport. Flights to nearer destinations will be taxed at the rate of €2 per passenger.
"Most British destinations"? Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow squeaks it at exactly 300km from Dublin. That's it. I really believe that the Irish Examiner has confused its kilometers with miles.

Could politicians sit out Lisbon II?

Bill Cullen says he'd join the 'Yes' campaign if a new referendum was held. This reminds me of something I've been wondering for the past couple of months. What would happen if the government and political parties simply stayed out of the (second) campaign? What if others who favored the treaty put themselves forward as its advocates?

I would imagine that if you're a 'Yes' advocate you might figure such a strategy might be worth a try, right? Look there's been a lot of complaining about Declan Ganley, his money, etc. and the 'No' campaign. I would bet that those who want a 'Yes' could find equally deep pockets and passion among its ranks to provide the fuel and backbone the 'Yes' campaign needs.

Truthfully I don't think the talkaholics in the government/Dáil could resist. Yet if they did, I think it would be a plus for the 'Yes' side. The public has very little respect for politicians these days. Their faces on posters and the television are not a plus for the 'Yes' campaign.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No, and only No to Lisbon

Sarah Carey says we shouldn't let Rupert Murdoch decide Ireland's future. I guess I agree, if Murdoch is deciding Ireland's future. I'm not sure I believe he is, however.

What bothers me about Carey's headline grabbing thesis is that it distracts from what I think is a decent thesis in her column: that the Sunday Times should have published a pro-Lisbon column by her or by someone, but they had a policy of 'no pro-Lisbon comment' in the paper. Carey assumes that Murdoch is anti-Lisbon thanks to his "well known pro-US-hawkish views" and this is why the paper pursued such a policy.

Again, why does being pro-US mean being anti-Lisbon? Truth is, the American in me feels that the Lisbon Treaty is just what the EU deserves, but the fact that I'm an Irish citizen too and a resident of Ireland makes me more skeptical about the merits of the Lisbon Treaty.

Here's another theory on why the Sunday Times may have adopted the policy it did: it might have sold more papers. When others were selling confusion, the Sunday Times was selling clarity. And, given the level of confusion about Lisbon maybe customers were happy to get a steady diet of negative comment (propaganda?).

Other Sunday papers were providing a basically pro-Lisbon agenda, but with varying degrees of anti-Lisbon comment sprinkled in. The Sunday Times may have thought there was an opening in the market for a simpler message. I don't know, but it's possible.

Carey's column is pretty damning of the Sunday Times and Irish editor Frank Fitzgibbon, but she distracts from this by pointing the finger at every leftist's favorite media boogie man - Rupert Murdoch.

{I want to add that I don't know enough of Carey's views to know if she's a leftist or not. She should just have written the column without bringing Murdoch into it.}

UPDATE: Nov 21, 9am: Roy Greenslide agrees that Murdoch was probably not personally involved in the Sunday Times's Lisbon policy.

Felon-free Senate

Ted Stevens has lost. Hard to shed a tear when the guy's recently been convicted of lying on his financial disclosure forms. Still, the Republicans' grip on a sliver of power is now even more tenuous. All that stands between them and political insignificance is a Minnesota recount and a Georgia run-off for Senate seats.

What's good for GM is good for ...?

What's good for GM is good for America. We all learned that as kids. Now GM along with the "competition" - Ford & Chrysler - are asking for Congress to do what's good for GM. But is what they ask good for America?

No, says Mitt Romney. Romney was not my favorite Republican presidential candidate, but if any of them knows anything about the car industry and what this bailout will mean, he's the one.

Romney says that the current management must go and the unions must be brought to heel. The costs of cars produced by the big three are simply too high.
First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota's Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.
I wonder if Romney would have written those words if he was still courting Michigan's voters, but it does seem to make sense that the big three cannot keep producing cars that are too expensive.

So, what should be done if not the bailout. Again, Romney serves up a succinct plan for the Federal Government.
It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.
And what of GM? Micheal Levine writes in the Wall Street Journal that a managed bankruptcy is the best option for GM.
The social and political costs would be very large, but if GM fails after getting $50 billion or $100 billion in bailout money, it'll be just as large and there will be less money to soften the blow and even more blame to go around. The PBGC will probably need money to guarantee GM's pensions for its white- and blue-collar workers (pension support is capped at around $40,000 per year, so that won't help executives much). Unemployment insurance will have to be extended and offered to many people, perhaps millions if you include dealers, suppliers and communities dependent on GM as it exists now. A GM bankruptcy will make addressing health-care coverage more urgent, which is probably a good thing. It would require job-retraining money and community assistance to affected localities.
Okay then. Deep breaths everyone. Now pull the plug.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I see the government is going to ban the 'traditional' bedsit. Shame. Horror stories about the places where one has lived as a student are the kind of thing you dine out on here, particularly as the years pass.

I know I told you a little about my flat-mate, but did I ever mention the bed-sit we shared during the 1986/87 academic year? It was in Ranelagh (where else?) and was a two 'room' bedsit. One room had a kitchenette (and emphasis on the ette!) two chairs and a sort of coffee table. We had a t.v. on the table. The room was about 6' by 9'. Th other 'room' was an addition to the house and it had two single beds and about two feet of space between them The walls were nothing more than plasterboard insulated by wallpaper! It was COLD in there.

One particularly vicious night I opened the door to the bedroom and was sure my flat-mate was dead. I woke him up to make sure he wasn't dead. He was so cold he was glad to be awoken so he could go into the other room to warm up. He'd been sleeping with his toes in hands.

Anyway, I know there are few former students here who don't have similar tales. Sad to think the government is trying to eliminate this grand source of reunion chat.


I think it was last year, but maybe it was the year before that I stumbled onto a documentary on Jonestown. I'd forgotten all about it.

I know crazy suicidal religious cults seem a dime a dozen these days, but Jonestown was my first experience of this particular lunacy. I remember the following days in school the whole thing was as much a source of humor as horror to us teenage boys. Just the shout of "Hey, Kool Aid" was enough to start you off laughing.

Anyway, as I watched that documentary on Jonestown I remember how surprised I was that over 900 people had died that day, November 18, 1978. I guess I thought the number was in the 150 or so range. It seemed a lot more horrific to me as an adult than it had when I was 14.

Tim Reiterman's eye-witness account is worth reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Caution is advised

Another reason I'm not that upset by Obama's win is that I have this sense that deep down he's a naturally cautious man. And, after 16 years of guys who like to gamble and throw caution to the wind (whether sexually or politically), I'm happy to have a guy who'll think first, think again and then act.

Am I right about Obama? I don't know, but since everyone else is seeing in him what they want to see, I may as well join the crowd. Right?

Obama's win

I've been trying to write a post on Barak Obama since election day, but it just gets too long and involved. I decided to just throw out a few short posts and see how that goes.

First, as I said, I wasn't that unhappy about Obama's win. Why? I don't know, but I think it's because I couldn't help but feel happy for all those black people on the streets singing and dancing. It was their moment. How could you not be happy watching those scenes?

Don't get me wrong. I still hate losing and my happy feelings for black people did not (and do not) extend to Democrats generally and certainly not to smug, sanctimonious Europeans. Each time I hear one of them on the radio I get all tied up in knots again. I'm really, really hoping Obama disappoints them. I don't even know if I care how he does it.

It's April 15 in Ireland

That's how I always think about it, anyway. April 15 is the deadline for filing taxes in America and that deadline is just ingrained in the American psyche. That's not quite true here because apparently many (most?) people who work and pay taxes don't bother to file a return, although I'm not sure why. Regardless, today is the deadline for filing the return and paying off your tax bill for 2007.

I suspect that a lot more filers will be reporting smaller incomes/profits for 2007 than the government wants to believe and that the revenues will be lower (& refunds greater) than expected. And, additionally, the payments for preliminary taxes due on 2008 income/profits will be a lot lower. I think the recent budget forecasts will prove to have been too optimistic.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Heard on the bus the other day

I found a seat up top of a double decker one day last week. It was early and quiet, except for one guy. He was talking to another fellow (who I couldn't hear) and letting us all know that (a) he was good with numbers and (b) he was sure the public sector had to be cut back. It must have gone on for 30 minutes, 'teachers ...' followed by 'nurses/doctors ...' followed by 'civil servants ... & ...'.

Anyway, just as I'm getting off I hear him say where he works: AIG! I wanted to turn around and roar at him that he was a member of the public service himself these days (although part of the American government, not the Irish) and that you'd imagine that he'd be just a tad more reluctant to damn government employees. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is it time to legalize drugs?

If you don't know who Shane Geoghegan was that's simply because you're not in Ireland. Geoghegan's death is the biggest news story and, from what I've noticed, talking point in the country.

For those of you outside Ireland, Geoghegan was shot and killed just a few yards from his house in a case of mistaken identity. Apparently Geoghegan looked somewhat like a local thug, drug dealer and gang member. The gang member bit is important because it was a gang in competition with this local thug who murdered Geoghegan.

By all accounts, Geoghegan was a nice guy, popular member of his rugby club, a loving boyfriend, brother, son. And now he's dead at 28 for no other reason than some dirtbag couldn't be bothered to make the effort to establish the identity of the man he was about to kill because killing, even in error, meant little to him.

I don't really have a whole lot to offer on this. I mean what can be said? I feel shocked, sick, helpless and enraged all at once just like everybody else, but I also believe we'll continue to mollycoddle thugs/gangsters/murderers and that not much will change.

Just because I don't think anything will change doesn't mean I'm opposed to change. I know it's not a 'conservative' position, but the more I hear journalists say that the gardaí admit that the war on drugs is lost the more I'm open to other suggestions, including legalizing narcotics, cocaine, whatever.

I just heard solicitor Gerald Kean (I think that's who it was) talk about this on Newstalk. I've thought about this myself and just can't help wondering if legalizing drugs would make things much worse than they are now. I don't know, but I'd love to hear the pros and cons to such a move.

Open up on Lisbon

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin says that remarks by Czech President Vaclav Klaus on the Lisbon treaty were "an inappropriate intervention".
Mr Klaus held a joint press conference with the founder of the anti-Lisbon Treaty group Libertas Declan Ganley, ahead of a private dinner in honour of Mr Klaus in the Shelbourne hotel.

He warned of a shift towards "supranationalism" in Europe, and that the Lisbon Treaty would not enhance freedom and democracy.

He also said he was "not happy" with what he saw as attempts by Europe to "forget the Irish referendum and to change the result".
The Minister probably has a point, but you know what? The old ways didn't work so why not just keep quiet and let people like Klaus come and have their say. By all means invite those who can make the pro-Lisbon case too. I think if the Irish government was more open to the debate it might help get the people to accept it.

Besides, it's not like Sarkozy & Barroso haven't been here making similarly "inappropriate interventions".

Suspension bridges

I'd heard of John Roebling and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but I never heard of James Finley before. There are probably others who contributed to the development of the modern suspension bridge, but still I find it interesting that Finley is credited with being the 'father of the modern suspension bridge'.

This Friday Finley will be honored by the state of Pennsylvania, where he lived and worked. And, although Wikipedia claims Finley was born in Maryland, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Structure magazine both assert that Finley was born in Ireland in 1756.
Judge Finley has been cited as Father of the Modern Suspension Bridge, a well-deserved accolade based on his efforts to introduce this style of structure in the form now used all over the world. In June 1810, he presented his theories and methods in an elegant essay appearing in a Philadelphia magazine, The Port Folio. The essay was later expanded into an instructional booklet published at Uniontown the following year.
Irish born and the "Father of the Modern Suspension Bridge". Is Finley part of the curriculum here? I hope so, but I doubt it. None of my children mentioned Finley to me even when I was waxing lyrical on Roebling or Brunel's bridges.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm pretty sure this is not in the AP stylebook

Maybe I'm the only person who cares about this stuff these days, but I'm really annoyed that today's Sunday Independent has a front page headline that includes a word (s**t) that I'd rather my children never use.

The headline is right next to a big ad (not cheap, I'm sure) for the Halifax Bank. If I was the guy at the bank who okays the money for the bank's ads in the paper I'd ask for a refund for today.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Emmanuel & the Irish media

I haven't seen this in the Irish Times nor heard it on RTE yet, but I wonder if Obama's choice of Rahm Emmanuel for Chief of Staff will play well with the Irish media down the road.

From YNetNews.com
Israel may earn more White House representation than it bargained for, in the event that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama emerges victorious from the November 4 elections.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has served in the Israel Defense Forces and even speaks a little Hebrew, could be appointed the White House's next chief of staff.

… When Bill Clinton began his campaign for presidency, he appointed Rahm Emanuel to direct the campaign's finance committee. But Emanuel left when the Gulf War broke out, in order to volunteer in the IDF.

He served in one of Israel's northern bases until the war ended, and upon his return to the US became Clinton's advisor in the White House for almost eight years.

Smokin' in the White House

I wonder if the Councillors on the Redbridge council felt any twinge of regret at their decision to ban smokers as they watched the scenes of the Obama family at the celebration on Tuesday night. Why should they feel any twinge? Because Barack Obama is a smoker, which would mean that if the Obamas relocated to Redbridge they would not be allowed to foster children.

I was trying to figure out last night who was the last smoker President. I know the current President doesn't smoke and I don't think Clinton did either. Going further back, I can't remember seeing Bush or Reagan smoke, although I'm sure Reagan smoked as a young man. Carter? I don't know. I have this idea that Ford & Nixon smoked a pipe, but again I'm not sure. Anyway, Obama's a smoker and it's all part of the "change".

I presume Obama will not be allowed to smoke in the Oval Office. He was careful not to be photographed smoking during the campaign, it's such a social negative these days. I remember reading something about Hillary having suggested that Obama would be constantly heading to the White House doorways to satisfy his nicotine cravings, but that seems a long time ago now.

Smokers need not apply

A local council in Britain has banned smokers from acting as foster parents. This strikes me as ridiculous. The report in the Guardian admits that it may "become harder to find loving homes for vulnerable children". I bet.

I always thought that those who were good foster parents were truly special people, not always easy to find. Now, thanks to the council's decision, some children in Redbridge will be denied the chance to live with some of those truly special people because one or both parents happens to smoke. I'd love to know what other behaviors are ruled out (& what's ruled in).

"Wasilla hillbillies"

So McCain's team is putting it about that Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a continent, "barely understood the structure of US government", etc. This is, I guess, supposed to convince us that Palin was the reason McCain lost. I guess. Strange because, unless I'm mistaken, IT WAS JOHN McCAIN WHO CHOSE HER!

For what it's worth, I don't believe much of this stuff. Sounds like the bitter, twisted rantings of people looking for excuses for their loss. There's a word for people like that: LOSERS.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

No longer embarrassed to be American

Having just read Hadley Freeman's column in today's Guardian all I can say is, "Hadley, get over yourself and grow up".

Freeman is relieved because she's no longer embarrassed to be an American living in Britain. Ah, the poor dear. It must have been so hard for her.
But all Americans who live or even travel abroad have, for the past eight years, become used to living with a glaze of protective, self-defensive and at times chippy armour. The American accent lost its aura of modernity and glamour, which it still had when I moved to Europe 20 years ago. Instead, the hint of a twangy vowel carried connotations of ignorance and arrogance: Hicksville instead of Hollywood. No matter that many expats hadn't voted for Bush: for eight years we have been represented by him.
First of all, the American accent denoted a "colonial" when I first went to Britain in the mid 1980s. I never had the sense that it was glamorous.

And there were plenty of Europeans who didn't like President Reagan and were not shy about telling me. There were many Americans I met then who were "embarrassed". And, I find it nearly impossible to accept that Freeman wasn't a bit "embarrassed" during the Lewinsky scandal (and I count this as different because it wasn't a government policy, but something ugly, dirty and unnecessary).

There's no reason to be embarrassed to be American because Europeans don't like American policy. You too might disagree with American policy, but all countries make mistakes, end up with elected officials who fail them. These things happen.

Of course she's not just embarrassed by the Bush Administration. She's also embarrassed by American culture.
Some might see Thanksgiving as awkward - marking the time when the pilgrims stole land from the Native Americans and imposed a tradition of supersized feasts.
Thanksgiving is "awkward"? Shaddup. Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday, in fact I don't know of any other nation that has a holiday that is so perfect.


The Irish Times editorial starts with "WHAT A marvellous day it was - the first black president of the United States, the hugely increased turnout and public engagement ...". What if the turnout wasn't all that "hugely increased", would the day have been any less "marvellous"? I only ask because I can't make sense of the turnout figures.

This page claims that turnout was 64.1% or 148m voters. But, if that's true then where are all the other votes? As of right now, with 98% of the precincts reporting Obama has 64m votes and McCain has 56.5m. That only adds up to 120.5m votes and when all the precincts have reported that will still only be around 123m. We can throw in another 2m for the minor candidates (I'm in a generous mood), which would make total vote around 125m. In 2004 the total vote was 122m, which - given the fact that the voting age population was about 10m smaller in 2004 - would mean that turnout was down this year. Not quite as "marvellous", I guess.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Electing a felon?

No, not Obama. I wish I was gloomier about Obama's win, but I'm not really. I really could have been quite happy with an Obama win if the Republicans could have had control over even one house in Congress. Didn't happen, of course.

Anyway, I'm referring to the Alaska Senate race. Right now Republican Ted Stevens is ahead by 3,600 votes with 96% of the votes counted. It's just over a week since Stevens was convicted "on seven felony counts of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations".

Forget about the "Bradley Effect" and welcome to the "Felon Effect". The last poll indicated that Stevens's opponent, Democrat Mark Begich, was ahead by 22% and yet Stevens may pull it out after all. I guess a lot of voters were a little uneasy telling pollsters that they were going to vote for the convict.

I'm not sure what happens next if Stevens wins. It's possible the Senate will expel Stevens, which would, I think, mean that who replaces him is in the gift of the Governor - Sarah Palin. I wonder if she could/would send herself to Washington?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Elections Americaines

I was switching around looking for a bit of late night election news and stumbled on to TV5, the French channel. The French really do things differently, don't they? First I saw a couple of reporters talking about the election from inside an aquarium. I was only guessing, but I presumed it was the Shedd in Chicago. Of course, for all I know it could have been a seafood restaurant in Paris.

Then they went to their panel discussion. On the panel was the coolest looking guy I've ever seen on a political discussion program. Behind the panelists there are women (mostly) walking around drinking wine.

You can watch the coverage here, but unfortunately, they've changed panelists now so the cool guy is gone. Still, it's worth it just for the difference in images, etc.

Ambassador Foley doesn't love me (sniff sniff)

I heard on the radio that there's a big bash at the American Embassy today. I guess Ambassador Foley's the host? (I tuned in too late.) Anyway, he's snubbed me two Thanksgivings in a row and now an Election Day bash. That's IT! I'll, I'll, I'll … I'll think of something.

Hennessy & Staunton

Over the weekend I spent a lot of time catching up on my newspaper reading. A lot of what I read was the Irish Times's coverage of the American election. I can't point to anything definite, but after reading many articles by both Mark Hennessy and Denis Staunton I noticed that there was a difference in the style of the two reporters.

I think the difference is that Hennessy's reports struck me as his attempts to report what he was hearing and seeing as he traveled around with the two campaigns. Staunton's reports have a more editorialized tone. Obviously I can't say for certain, but I wonder if it's down to the difference between being one Irish reporter being temporarily in America to report on an event and the other being the full-time Washington correspondent.

Hennessy normally reports on Irish politics and only turned up in America in September (August?). Staunton, meanwhile, sounds like he's spent too much time having drinks with correspondents from the NY Times and Washington Post (& their wannabes).

Anyway, after an hour or so I stopped reading Staunton's articles and stuck with Hennessy's.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Talk about infomercials

Last night TV3 showed United 93. I hadn't seen it before and I guess I wasn't really expecting the emotional impact that it had. I've watched so many documentaries about September 11 that I thought I was inured to the images of what happened that day. I was wrong because I wasn't ready for United 93. The movie is something else and so much better than Oliver Stone's gobbledygook.

I wonder if that had been on ABC rather than TV3 if it would have had the effect of being an infomercial for McCain. Maybe, maybe not, but it sure gets you angry again.

Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

This cheered me up this morning. The Erie Canal is getting more business these days thanks to the rise in fuel costs. If it doesn't 'absolutely, positively have to be there overnight' then the canal can, apparently, be pretty cost effective.

I grew up near the canal and even though I knew there'd been some increase in pleasure boats using the canal I didn't realize there was any commercial traffic still using it.
We've hauled some barges in our day,
Filled with lum-ber coal and hay,
And ev'ry inch of the way we know
From Al-ba-ny to Buff-a-lo OH

Friday, October 31, 2008

Common sense from the Guardian

Wow. I can't believe it. Martin Kettle in today's Guardian with a load of common sense about the election.

And yet when, a week from now, we reflect on the immense fact that America has elected a black president, or even if we are reflecting on the scarcely less immense fact that it has not, it will be important to remember what it feels like now - that this campaign has not fundamentally been about race at all.

Don't get this wrong. The Republicans are engaged in an "othering" of Obama into which race is inextricably woven. But the othering of 2008 is not something new and unique but something old and familiar. In 2004 they othered John Kerry as a rich liberal. In 2000 they othered Al Gore as a beltway geek. In the 1990s they othered Bill Clinton as a draft-dodging child of the 60s. Before that they othered Michael Dukakis, Jimmy Carter and George McGovern, each in his turn, right back to the othering of John Kennedy as a Catholic in 1960. Othering, in other words, is what Republicans - and sometimes even Democrats - do.
Okay, I don't agree that the Democrats are any less guilty of this than Republicans, but that's beside the point. The essence of his point, that there's nothing much new here, is true. This election isn't all that different.
That is the reason why, next Tuesday, American voters face a double choice - electing a president of a race they have not previously voted for; and, at least as important on the day, electing a president from a party that, in modern times, they rarely vote in.

Look at it this way. Obama may or may not have a problem getting white Americans to vote for him. But he is doing much better than most of his recent Democratic predecessors ever managed among such voters.
This column should be mandatory reading for everyone in the British & Irish media and anyone who feels the urge to voice an opinion.

Dream On

Sure Obama has Bruce, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi and loads of others, but McCain has Joe Perry. Perry brings with him some campaign songs that could be immediately useful: Walk This Way - obviously; Dream On - always a winner; Dude (Looks Like A Lady) - just to confuse people; And Sweet Emotion - because it's great.
Some sweat hog mama with a face like a gent
Said my get up and go musta got up & went.
You got good news but you're a real good liar
Cause backstage lover set your pants on fire.
I know time's short, but I can't see how this won't tip the scales in McCain's favor.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama's infomercial

One of the great joys of traveling from Ireland to America is that before I get used to the time change I always find myself wide awake at 4am or so. When that happens I generally turn on the t.v. and switch around until I find half an hour on the Little Giant or the Vacuseal or some special mop that cleans your floor whether it's tiles, carpet or linoleum. There's great entertainment in these productions.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see Obama's infomercial last night. I'm sure Obama didn't employ any of the traditional infomercial production values, but I'd like to imagine he did. The gross (& grotesque) overacting that is part and parcel of every infomercial would have suited Obama's purposes perfectly and it would have been more entertaining than what I'm sure was a very sincere and earnest half hour.

Just think of it.

First you'd see a shrunken, flustered McCain with hair all a mess and purple in the face in a dimly lit Oval Office trying to handle some crisis or whatever and then you'd switch to a brightly lit Oval Office where a cool Obama is soothing staff and the nation simultaneously. Next you'd see McCain stepping on the neck of some poor person while patting some Wall St. guy on the back followed by Obama cuffing the Wall St. guy as he hands over the keys to a new house to a 'typical' family.

Ah, if only.

I don't hate the Phillies

One of the strange things about living away is that the teams I hate is frozen in time. In the 1980s. I hated and still hate the St. Louis Cardinals, who were the Mets' main rivals in the 80s and who beat the Mets in 2006. And, of course, I hate the Yankees.

I don't hate the Philadelphia Phillies, although it seems that most of my fellow Met fans loathe the Phillies and their (relatively) nearby fans. Last night the Phillies won the World Series and I was rooting for them. When the series started I was uncommitted, but after the first two games I realized I was actually rooting for Philadelphia. Given the depth of feeling most Met fans seem to feel for the Phillies I feel almost traitorous.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The die is cast. (Or at least my vote is.)

I voted and mailed the ballot paper off yesterday. It's irretrievable. And who did I vote for? Okay, yes, but no extra credit for guessing correctly that I voted for McCain. It has to be said that I voted with little enthusiasm and less hope. (And the fact I vote in NY State means that I already know beyond doubt that my guy's not going to win my state.)

Back in January I said it had to be anyone but Clinton. Now Hillary seems like a distant memory. It looks like Obama will win, but I won't be joining in the celebrating.

Time to clean house in Brussels

First we had Jaime Smyth in a newspaper article and now we have RTE's Sean Whelan testifying before an Oireachtas committee that our representatives in Brussels are suffering from low morale after the Lisbon vote. Time for the government to act. Time for new people representing us in Brussels.

Circumstances have changed and the kowtowing brown noses are now useless and what we need are combative, argumentative diplomatic soldiers for Ireland. We need people who relish being disliked. Annoying, cantankerous so and so's. We need a team of Michael O'Leary types. Have we got any of those available to the Irish government?

Where Parker is wrong

I didn't have a chance earlier to finish my thoughts on Kathleen Parker's column on Sarah Palin. Near the end Parker says:
And though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?

Had Antony not fallen for Cleopatra, Octavian might not have captured the Roman Empire. Had Bill resisted Monica, Al Gore may have become president, and Hillary might be today's Democratic nominee.
There is absolutely no question but that Monica does not belong there. Bill Clinton was not "intoxicated by" Monica's "power", but rather indifferent to her vulnerability. She was an insecure, plain-looking star-struck young woman (girl, really) who was simply another play thing for Caligula. She was no Celopatra.


The New York Times has a long-ish profile of Sarah Palin today. I actually didn't find it all that interesting, but this paragraph caught my eye.
Friends say Ms. Palin’s itinerant college journey was nothing unusual, that it was routine for Alaskans without money to tour colleges in the Lower 48, uncertain about their interests and attracted to anywhere that sounded warmer. Many here ticked off their own tallies of colleges attended.
There's been a lot of noise about how Palin attended all these different colleges, but from what the Times says this is just another Alaskan quirk.

The key question about Sarah Palin is not why did she attend all those different colleges, but - "Is she up to being President"? I believe the answer to that question is 'Yes', but I'll admit that the evidence in favor is lacking. I think she's plenty smart enough and I think her judgment is sound.

If she loses next month she'll have 4 years to fine tune her political philosophy and acquire sufficient knowledge to 'appear Presidential' in 2012. She will also gain more executive experience as Governor.

So did McCain make a mistake choosing Palin? Well, maybe, but who would have been a better choice? Romney, maybe, given the economic problems, but he's such a turn-off. Really McCain didn't have a lot of good options.

Kathleen Parker thinks McCain chose Palin for 'other' reasons.
One does not have to be a psychoanalyst to reckon that McCain was smitten.

… As my husband observed early on, McCain the mortal couldn't mind having an attractive woman all but singing arias to his greatness. Cameras frequently capture McCain beaming like a gold-starred schoolboy while Palin tells crowds that he is "exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief." This, notes Draper, "seemed to confer not only valor but virility on a 72-year-old politician who only weeks ago barely registered with the party faithful."
I'd love to dismiss this as nonsense, but I can't. I think most men - especially those who are at least 35 - find Palin attractive. She's pretty, smiley and seems so full of life. It's possible that this did - even if subconsciously - figure in McCain's own thinking, but I'm also sure the more cynical in his campaign would have known that she'd be a hit.

I also think her good looks explain why so many men on the left want to paint her as some airhead Barbie; it's safe enough to be attracted to her so long as she doesn't threaten you. I think even the NY Times's profile provides plenty of evidence that she's far from the ditz that these people say (hope?) she is. If things go against her on November 4, she'll be back and better next time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Medical card fiasco

To be honest I haven't got a lot to say about the medical card and the government's handling of it since the budget last week. I don't even have a clear idea what a medical card is or what it's used for. I don't have one, which explains a lot, I suppose. I have this vague understanding that a medical card ensures free medical care for poor people, but sometime in the not-too-distant past it was extended to include anyone over 70 years of age.

All of that is a preamble to my view that I just don't know how the government didn't see that taking something away from old people - even if they've only had it a few years - was always going to be a problem. Once people get used to an entitlement, it's very hard to take it away from them. And when you're taking it away from either the very young or the very old it doesn't much matter about the rights and wrongs of it, you're on a political loser.

Defending such a move in print, even indirectly or only partially, is a brave decision. I applaud Sarah Carey for her article this morning pointing out that many of those who are opposed to the government's recent attempts to cut back on the medical card for old people were among those who opposed the granting of it in the first place. She also pointed out that the number of old people getting private insurance had increased since the free medical card was introduced. (I bet her life won't be worth living for a while after this column.)

Carey's column combined with what to me seemed unseemly behavior at the protest yesterday has almost made me sympathetic for the government. Almost.

Angela's Ashes & Hitchens

I recently read Angela's Ashes. I'd read Tis a while back so I knew what to expect as far as style and general themes were concerned.

I enjoyed the book, although I can't say I believed it. Not all of it, anyway.

Now I'm reading Love, Poverty, and War by Christopher Hitchens. The book is essentially a selection of his essays, columns and articles over a period of 15 years or so. I knew very little about Hitchens before I started reading this book other than that he was a writer for The Nation (don't know if he still is) and that he was in favor of the Iraq war.

Well, I tell ya, he can write.

It isn't just his grasp of the subject that strikes you - whether it's Kipling or Trotsky or the Kurds or Route 66 or even Malcom Muggeridge - it's how he makes you want to know even if you never really cared before (which I can say is true of many of his subjects in this book). And when he touches on a subject that's been gnawing at you (like the hipsters' worship of the Dalai Lama) it's like a lightning bolt of clarity has struck you.

I haven't finished the book yet and I know there are essays on some leading figures of the Church that might be uncomfortable. Doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to them, though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oh to be hip in London

I found myself in Notting Hill in London over the weekend. I hadn't intended to go there nor had I ever been there before. After 5 minutes walking around I realized that the chicest (is that a word?) fashion accessory was one I didn't have: an Obama badge. I saw three or four being worn by the 'coolest' people around. There weren't just wearing them, they were displaying them.

I wondered to myself how my Bush-Cheney '04 cap would have gone down?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hockey fan?

I know it's not looking too likely, but what if McCain wins? What about all those Gore/Kerry/Obama voters now? Well, this option's still there.

Friday, October 17, 2008

If Obama wasn't black ...

I heard George Lee on Today with Pat Kenny say that while watching the debate the other night (no, I didn't watch) the thought occurred to him that if Obama weren't black (he actually said "colored", but I can't kill him for that) he'd be well in front by now (or something to that effect). If this was the only time I'd heard this, I'd ignore it, but I hear it all the time - on the radio/t.v. and in conversation. I don't buy it at all.

First of all, if Obama were a white guy he would never have won the nomination. No similarly urbane, cosmopolitan white guy would have won the black vote against Hillary as Obama did. For example, Obama won 80% of the black vote in South Carolina. There's just no way that a 'white Obama' would have had similar success among black voters. Therefore, if Hillary had run against 'white Obama' Hillary would be the nominee right now.

But, what about the general election? Would Obama be further ahead if he were white? Let's face it, the underlying assumption when people like Lee make this point is that there are a large number of racist white Americans who won't vote for Obama because he's black. Is that true? I doubt it.

First, I'm sure there are some white people who are drawn to Obama because he's black. How many? Who knows?

Second, it's obvious that Obama is inspiring greater interest among black people in this election than in any previous presidential election. And he's going to get their votes in greater numbers than a 'white Obama' would. He's currently out-polling McCain among like black voters by 91% to 3%. That's a good deal better than Kerry did against Bush in 2004, when Bush won 11% of the black vote.

And, last, you have to expect that Republicans were always going to vote for the Republican candidate. So the only possible segment of the electorate that Lee and others could be talking about are those Democrats and Independents who are voting for McCain, and McCain has an appeal for independents and some Democrats. He always has. So to pin a 'racist' tag on all non-Republican McCain voters is wrong, ugly and irresponsible.

I'm sure there are some people out there just waiting to go to the polls on Nov. 4 to vote against the black guy, but I honestly doubt they outnumber those who are equally keen to vote for Obama because he's black.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Our cousins

I haven't got a lot to say other than this is a great article from National Geographic on the Neanderthals. Every time I think about Neanderthals I wonder to myself how different the world would be if there were two species of human beings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Explaining the financial crisis

I like this from Jim Manzi at National Review Online. He uses hunters and gatherers living in caves as the example of how a banking crisis - like the one we have now - might arise. Here's a paragraph on Credit Default Swaps, which are often explained in nearly incomprehensible terms.
While this is happening a couple of sharp operators might sit together in a dark corner of the cave, and make a wager about whether Og will default on his bond. In plain English, we would call this a side bet. Though if you wanted to sell this idea to a fairly gullible person who holds Og’s bond, you might make it sound kind of gee-whiz by calling it a Credit Default Swap. If I hold one of Og’s bonds and I take a bet that pays out if Og defaults, then I’ve just hedged my risk.
Read the whole thing.

For a good article on CDS's this one from Newsweek is pretty good. Provides interesting background too.

The ballot

I got my ballot yesterday. I didn't even know Ralph Nader was in the running this time. He's listed as the candidate of the Populist Party, which I didn't know was still around. Cynthia McKinney is the Green candidate, where Nader had a home the last two elections.

Also on the ballot are Roger Calero (Socialist Workers Party), Gloria La Riva (Party for Socialism and Liberation) & Bob Barr (Libertarian). See? It's not just about the big two. (Yes it is.)

I was disappointed I didn't get one of the Osama ballots.

Harper reelected

Stephen Harper was reelected yesterday, although not with the majority he wanted. Still, he retained his job and that's not to be sneezed at during these tumultuous times.

So, if Obama wins in November, will he be the most left wing leader of any of the G-7 nations? Merkel in Germany, Sarkozy in France, Berlusconi in Italy and Harper in Canada all hail from the right in those nations. I'm not as sure of Aso in Japan, but I think he's considered to be 'right-leaning'. Then there's Gordon Brown. I guess he could be to the left of Obama, but I'm not sure. If David Cameron comes to power that will leave Obama as the only leader coming from the left.

Funny turn of events.

8c extra a liter

The budget hiked the cost of a liter (okay, litre) of gas (okay, petrol) by 8c (that's $0.41 per US gallon). That's a substantial, punishing increase on the already overtaxed motorist. Okay, it's a "tough" budget as everyone's been saying. This is just more pain, right?

Not if you're John Gormley, who's clearly happy about this measure, which only makes me angrier at the government.
Mr Gormley also pointed to what he called "Green Party gains" including: a substantially increased budget for water services; new funding for home energy efficiency and warmer homes scheme; increases in petrol prices; the bicycle initiative; and an increase in motor taxes.
Gormley is Fianna Fail's (that FAIL has rarely seemed so accurate) partner in government. Think about that: FF is sharing power with people who are today reveling in the pain being endured by millions of voters.

Even though I'm not sure if a Fine Gael-Labour government would do much differently, I'd be happy with the change in tone. On the one hand you have Fianna Fail acting as if this budget mess is a mystery to them, like they've only recently come to power. And there holding their hands in government are people who are sneering and laughing at the vast majority of Irish citizens. Time for a change?

"Long haul"? Is this a joke?

I heard the Minister for Finance on the radio last night explaining aspects of the budget. However, when I heard him explain that long haul flights will incur a tax of €10 and short haul flights will have an extra €2 added on I thought to myself, "Well, it could be worse".

It was only later I found out that "long haul" is any flight of 300km (200 miles) or more. Well that leaves a lot options open to people looking for the short haul flight. From Dublin you can go to Liverpool, Manchester, ... Wait surely there must be others? Let's check again. ... Eh, No. That's it. Although maybe they'll throw Glasgow into the mix seeing as that's listed as exactly 300km from Dublin. And, from Shannon? Well, there's always the t.v.

Wikipedia defines 'long haul' as any flight over 500 miles (800km), which would be a lot better for Irish travelers AND those who might want to visit us.

I later heard the Minister explain that he used a Netherlands law as a model. Well, excuse me Minister, but maybe had you checked a map you might have seen that the Netherlands is NOT an island off the northwest coast of Europe. They don't have to include 60+ miles of open water in their distance charts. And, they have other travel options - road, rail, etc. - that we don't have. (And, forget about the ferry. When you have to spend at least 2 hours to travel the first 60 miles that's not an option.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blaming the Central Bank

Now, I've already said I'm favorably disposed to laying a lot of blame for the financial crisis at the feet of the Federal Reserve. In America. Here the Central Bank is getting some criticism and, well, I might be willing to cut them more slack.

One of the problems that the Central Bank has is that it has no control over the currency or interest rates. We should have had much higher interest rates for a number of years, but due to the fact we foolishly joined the euro our central bank has been powerless to make the adjustments necessary. That meant we were able to borrow at rates far too low for an economy growing so rapidly.

And, on top of that, the exchange rate with the dollar for so long favored us too. The weak economies at the center of Europe meant we had a weak currency to go along with our low interest rates. Low interest rates a weak currency and a rapidly growing economy were always going to create a bubble. All that extra wealth had to go somewhere and, given Irish people's love of property, that's where the money went. Land speculation, buying houses to rent, investing in overseas property.

Now, back to the Central Bank. Should they have known we were heading towards a disaster? I think so, but I'm not sure. When you read the statement of Governor John Hurley delivered on July 10 it's hard not to conclude that something was wrong with the Central Bank's monitoring.
Accordingly, the banking sector here has not experienced the write-down of assets that has required some of their international peers to raise additional capital, thus Irish banks are well capitalised with good asset quality. In line with the results of previous exercises, the preliminary results of our latest macroeconomic stress tests on the banking sector, which are designed to test the financial position of banks in the face of a serious economic downturn suggest that the banking sector’s shock absorption capacity remains strong. This strength is an essential prerequisite for the more challenging times that have arisen.
"Good asset quality". I'd love to know how they arrived at that conclusion. Maybe they're right, but seeing as the state is now insuring the banks, why not publish the details on that assessment? Let all of us judge whether we agree with the regulators on the "quality" of the banks' assets.

Former Central Bank Chief Economist Michael Casey isn't quite ready to throw is ex-employers under the bus. Yet.
If, however, it turns out that none of the Irish banks needs to be recapitalised, then the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator may, in retrospect, be seen to have done a reasonable job.

In that eventuality it will probably be accepted that the main problem affecting Irish banks was the lack of liquidity and the seizing-up of the global inter-bank market - problems which the present State guarantee are designed to address.
It's a reasonable column. He does a good job of presenting the "what if is a capital and not liquidity problem after all" scenario too. Then he provides us (me at any rate) with this nugget.
Close relationships between regulators and banks - difficult to avoid in a small country - will have to be ended. It is not being suggested here that the Irish system suffers from "regulatory capture", but the long-standing practice of former governors and senior regulators joining the boards of banks on their retirement should be stopped. The ordinary taxpayers of this country have been placed on the hazard for an unprecedented amount of money. They deserve no less than that those already on the boards of institutions which they once regulated, should stand down, if only for symbolic reasons.
I shouldn't be surprised by this. You come across this sort of thing all the time here. It's a small country. Still, I can only say 'Amen' to that last sentiment. It's time all you ex-Central Bank big shots stand down from the banks' boards of directors.

Budget rumors

One of the rumors regarding the budget is that there will be a €10 tax on all flights out of Ireland. That will be the kiss of death for our short trips on Ryanair. It will also be a bitter pill for anyone in the tourism trade, but what's another industry tossed on the fire?

Budget day

Today's budget is going to be the toughest in "living memory", according to the Minister for Finance. Cutbacks and tax hikes. The media's so excited it's like Christmas has come early for them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

He's not as sensible as Kermit

I don't use the expression - it doesn't sound right coming out of my mouth - but I do like it. "Ya muppet" or "He's a muppet" to describe someone who is or, at least, is behaving like an idiot.

Well, yesterday we had further proof that Enda Kenny is "a muppet". Again, I say, it's time for Fine Gael to grow up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's happening on Squawk Box?

The past week I can't shake Joey Ramone's song from my head. Every night I tune in for my CNBC fix and there she is, Maria Bartiromo.
What's happening on Wall Street?
What's happening at The Stock Exchange?
I want to know

I watch her at the big board every single day
While she's reporting, you best stay out of her way
I watch her everyday
I watch her every night
She's really outta sight

Don't blame deregulation

I guess because what's been gnawing at me the past few weeks is all this talk about how deregulation was at fault for the financial mess. How many times has it been said? And yet, what laws were changed that led to today's problems? The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 is the only one recently that I know of that may have played some role in the current crisis. (And, I know about the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, but I haven't been able to pin down what, if any, part it may have played.)

Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post points the finger elsewhere - to the Federal Reserve.
So the first cause of the crisis lies with the Fed, not with deregulation. If too much money was lent and borrowed, it was because Chinese savings made capital cheap and the Fed was not aggressive enough in hiking interest rates to counteract that.

… Rather, the key financiers were the ones who bought the toxic mortgage products. If they hadn't been willing to buy snake oil, nobody would have been peddling it.

Who were the purchasers? They were by no means unregulated. U.S. investment banks, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bought piles of toxic waste. U.S. commercial banks, regulated by several agencies, including the Fed, also devoured large quantities. European banks, which faced a different and supposedly more up-to-date supervisory scheme, turn out to have been just as rash. By contrast, lightly regulated hedge funds resisted buying toxic waste for the most part -- though they are now vulnerable to the broader credit crunch because they operate with borrowed money.
This gets to the crux of what's been bothering me. I kept reading/hearing about the deregulation (usually the word 'Republicans' appears near-by), but if you're going to blame deregulation, what regulations were rescinded that shouldn't have been?

If, however, the Fed is the source of this problem doesn't that make you wonder if Ben Bernanke is the right man to be leading the charge now?

Mallaby continues:
If that doesn't convince you that deregulation is the wrong scapegoat, consider this: The appetite for toxic mortgages was fueled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the super-regulated housing finance companies. Calomiris calculates that Fannie and Freddie bought more than a third of the $3 trillion in junk mortgages created during the bubble and that they did so because heavy government oversight obliged them to push money toward marginal home purchasers. There's a vigorous argument about whether Calomiris's number is too high. But everyone concedes that Fannie and Freddie poured fuel on the fire to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
There was no lack of regulation, but there may have been a lack of oversight or, worse, the wrong emphasis among the regulators. You've got to identify the problem correctly before you can correct it.