Thursday, January 29, 2009

UCD Banking and Finance

Just curious, but what are they teaching at UCD's Banking & Finance courses these days? The Black-Scholes black hole? Or maybe financial intermediation and its role in destroying the nation. I don't know. Just can't imagine how the lecturers are carrying on teaching this stuff.

And, how many of UCD's Banking & Finance graduates helped lead the banks to destruction? What value is there to the state in subsidizing this sort of education?

The government is looking for cut-backs. I suggest they start by eliminating UCD's banking & finance department. And, just to be fair, they should do the same for every university banking & finance department. No sense in wasting money in a shrinking education budget.

{And, that should probably be the policy for every university in the western world.}

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One more thing on Dan Rooney

I forgot to mention yesterday that a couple of weeks ago the Irish Voice reported that Rooney was likely to be the new Ambassador to Ireland.

Maybe if I root for the Steelers Rooney might send me that Thanksgiving invite that always seemed to get overlooked by Ambassador Foley? One can hope.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rooting for the Rooneys

I've always kind of liked the Pittsburgh Steelers. Back when I was a kid, I couldn't have told you what it was that I liked about them - they weren't my team - but I generally rooted for them against "America's Team" and other more slickly run organizations. The Steelers were gritty, tough and winners.

Today's NY Times has a long feature on the family that has owned the Steelers since their inception. The article has convinced me that what I liked about the Steelers is down to the Rooney family and their values. There's just so much to like there.

And, for those who like to keep tabs on these things, Dan Rooney has done a lot for his ancestral hometown of Newry, Co. Down.

So, I'll be rooting for Pittsburgh to win the Super Bowl on Sunday (although I won't be staying up for it).

Only in Ireland

Typical isn't it. The little guy has to pay taxes and is pursued by the state for those taxes, but the well-connected guy gets to be in charge of the tax collectors despite the fact he "forgot" to pay what he owed a few years back. Where else but Ireland would such a thing happen?

Oh wait, it's not Ireland at all, but America. President Obama's choice of Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner has successfully dodged the fact that he's a tax dodger.
Timothy F. Geithner was sworn in as secretary of the Treasury on Monday evening, confirmed by a Senate majority that concluded that his experience in government and finance outweighed concerns about recent disclosures of some $34,000 in past tax delinquencies.
Geithner claimed it was an innocent mistake, but as the Times spent years working for the Treasury Department before he joined the International Monetary Fund. He knew the laws and if he didn't, he obviously wasn't much of a Treasury Department official.
His confirmation became unexpectedly complicated this month by the disclosure that he failed to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for 2001-4, when he was a senior official at the International Monetary Fund. As an international organization, the I.M.F. does not withhold taxes for American employees, though it does provide statements of their estimated liabilities and pays them an amount equal to the employer share of payroll taxes.
I was in favor of Geithner's appointment when I first heard about it back in November, but I can't believe that he wasn't asked to withdraw when his "innocent mistake" came to light. I do not believe he is so unique that the President couldn't find someone else to run the Treasury Department, even in these difficult times. In fact, I suspect that the difficult times are going to provide greater incentives for people to get 'creative' with their tax returns. And, now, they can argue with the IRS that they "just made an innocent mistake, like your boss".

Honestly, if this had happened in Ireland and Fianna Fail was involved the press would be all over it, jumping up and down, shouting about low standards in high places. This is a bad decision by President Obama.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama's first gaffe

I have to admit I missed this one, but when I read it I was kind of surprised that President Obama's speechwriters/editors didn't catch it. During his inaugural address Obama said, "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath". Well, not quite.

Obama is the 44th President, but for reasons I've never fully understood Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and the 24th President because he served two non-consecutive terms. So only 43 Americans have taken the oath, although 44 Presidents have. Obviously, it's a technical thing, but any list of Presidents will include two listings for Cleveland. It's hardly an obscure fact.

Wilson's mother

According to the Washington Post President Obama is the first son of an immigrant to reach the White House since before the Civil War.
[n]o son of an immigrant has risen to be president since James Buchanan, whose father was born in Ireland in 1761. "This is a completely new phenomenon," said Gary Boyd Roberts, who has spent a lifetime studying the lineage of U.S. presidents and is senior research scholar emeritus with the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Mr. Roberts may have spent a 'lifetime studying the lineage of U.S. presidents', but when I first heard the Buchanan reference this week something my grandmother once said came back to me. She told me that President Wilson was keen to side with Britain in WWI because his mother was English.

Now my Grandmother rarely forgot something once she read it - and she was always reading. And with Google I've found that I can confirm those sometimes vague memories of things my Grandmother once told me.

So, a little digging on Google and I found this. Wilson's mother was from Carlisle in England and he visited there a few times, including during his 'Pilgrimage of the Heart' tour in 1918. And as I read the account of the visit from the NY Times I got a sense of what an emotional moment it was for Wilson.

So, my grandmother was right about Wilson's mother and, maybe, not all that far wrong about his pro-British leanings before America entered the war.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

First, second, third, ..., ???th author-president

I don't buy Garrison Keillor's assertion in today's Irish Times that President Obama is "our first genuine author-president". I might check for other authors & titles later, but I know Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, which was published in the 1780s. I was pretty sure Wilson had published a book (or more). Took me all of 1 minute to find this one - Congressional Government, published in 1900. Keillor doesn't know what he's talking about.

And, just because other Presidents may not have had their writings published in book form under their own names hardly means they weren't authors. I mean Jefferson also 'authored' the Declaration of Independence. Madison 'authored' about a third of the Federalist Papers. Adams drafted the Constitution of the State of Massachusetts. And so on.

Look, I can understand being an Obama supporter, being thrilled by his election and even losing the run of yourself because you're so happy. But, is it too much to ask those who publish syndicated columns to try maintain some perspective?

Update Here's another book by an author-president: The Naval War of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt. I then found this from the NY Times from 1902, which indicates that Roosevelt had written "over a dozen books" before he became President. The Times does say that Roosevelt was "in no sense a professional author", but that was their way of saying that Roosevelt's literary achievements were not masterpieces. The Times does acknowledge that Roosevelt's books were "widely read".

Okay, that's it. No more time wasted on this annoyance.

"It was a different environment"

The Financial Regulator didn't really bother regulating the banks. They regulated themselves. That's what the Financial Regulator said yesterday.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Financial Regulator told the committee that the authority is working to ensure that nothing like the Anglo Irish Bank controversy could happen again.

Jim Farrell said that in hindsight, different action should have been taken but it was a different environment.

He said the previous form of regulation had placed responsibility with banks' boards and senior management but that did not work.
"It was a different environment". Yeah, no kidding. It was an environment of extreme risk-taking and hubris in banking. Throw in incompetence and greed too. That was the environment.

Maybe I'm just being obtuse, but isn't that when you expect the regulator to step in and law down the law? If they won't act then, when it's most needed, why bother with a regulator at all? How much use is it that they're stepping up efforts now when caution is the only game in town and insolvency is a real fear?

You know, I have to add to my last post on the failure of the government and its agents to properly regulate the banks. Yes, the relationship between the bankers and the regulators was too cozy, but I think there's another issue that I overlooked until now. It takes courage to be a financial regulator.

Maybe I'm being unfair, but the weaselly words of Mr. Farrell have me wondering if all we have in the Financial Regulator's office are shy, bookish accountants. Well those people have their place, but at the top of the organization you've gotta have some guts and a bit of aggression. You have got to be able to look the bank chairman in the face and say, "This is wrong. I'm calling in my guys to go through these books with a fine toothed comb and I'm announcing it before the market opens".

That what would have put a halt to the death-defying antics of our banks. Now they've all OD'd on risk and we're all waiting to see which of them will pull through.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yesterday's Other Speech

I didn't see Brian Cowen deliver his speech marking the 90th anniversary of the first meeting of Dáil Éireann. May be just as well because I can't stand listening to him.

Excepting one or two little quibbles, I think it's a very good speech (the English part - I had to skip the first quarter or so). He does a great job of laying out the case for Ireland's role in the EU and connecting it to the aspirations of those who sat in the 1st Dáil. Like I said it's a very good speech: until he gets to the last bit on our current troubles.

The end of the speech is where he sends us a teaser alerting us to future tax hikes. That's what he means by "solidarity", I'm sure. We're all going to have to pay more in tax as an act of solidarity with those who've lost their jobs.

All this talk of solidarity sounds great, but it wasn't a lack of solidarity that got us into this mess. It was imprudence and incompetence. And, to a great extent it was the government's imprudence - paying almost no heed to the state's obligation to properly regulate the banks - and incompetence - failure to plan for the exchange rate/interest rate crunch we're in now and which was inevitable from the moment we voted 'Yay' to Maaastricht - that allowed the credit crisis to evolve into a crisis of nearly existential proportions for this Republic.

Why should we have faith in Cowen's government when it was he and his party that (essentially) led us into this? Sacrifices have to be made Brian and your career is probably one of them. Call an election and get out of the way.

The Speech

I didn't see the speech live, but watched it late last night.

I'd heard George Hook briefly say he was disappointed about an hour after President Obama had finished speaking. After I'd watched the speech I knew what he was talking about, although I wasn't disappointed.

I was surprised by the speech, but not disappointed. I was expecting an artistic speech full of great optimistic rhetorical flourishes. There was very little of that. The new President was so downbeat it was almost like the burden of the office was already taking its toll.

I understand why George Hook was disappointed. He wasn't just there for the history of the moment, but to be lifted, energized, inspired. He seems to have got none of that and, I thought, based on the reactions, that the crowd was sort of flat after the initial burst of excitement. Maybe it was the cold.

I was sort of heartened, as has happened a few times since Election Day. I liked the pragmatic acknowledgment of the contribution of entrepreneurs and business owners. I had the sense that the focus of his new regulatory and legislative programs will be on making the bankers behave. I didn't get the sense that there was a lot of new anti-business legislation on the way (at least not from the Executive Branch). And, even though I didn't believe him, I liked the bit about how government programs that don't work will be ended.

After the speech I heard some analyst say that he thought the reference to the unclenched fist was directed to Ahmadinejad. Maybe it was, but I was thinking of Mugabe & Castro when I heard those words. Especially Castro.

I thought the Valley Forge reference fell completely flat, maybe because too many of those on the Mall didn't know their country's history. I don't know, but I liked the tip of the cap to the Indispenable Man.

I'm not sure why he felt the need for the somber tone, but it didn't bother me.

{Now I want to read others' reactions.}


It's the 21st of January and I haven't seen a single 09 car yet. I know I'm not on the roads all day, but still I can't believe I haven't seen a single one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good Luck President Obama

It's only few minutes to the inauguration and still it's dark and miserable here. I was sure His Obamaness was going to change all that so that Ireland could be the new Santa Barbara. Did not the people of Ireland prove worthy supplicants? Oh the anguish that we should not find favor.

And the young Americans too. Are they cold today? From what I understand every kid who ever owned a cabbage patch doll is on the streets of Washington at this moment. {There was something mind-controlling about that toy and it's evident today more than ever.} Did they too prove unworthy of him?

Okay, okay. I know that there are a lot of people whose views are similar to mine who are mocking the hype surrounding the new President. I can't say I'm excited, but this is always an interesting day. Maybe not as interesting as when Jefferson took over from Adams - peaceful transfer of power from one party to the other - or when Lincoln took over just 5 weeks before the Confederates opened up on Fort Sumter, but nonetheless the ceremony is good viewing and the change today is worthy of a large audience.

I wish him well, especially as long as he does what I want done! Good luck President Obama.

Should the Boss retire?

If a tree falls in the woods and you're a middle-aged man wearing ear muffs inside a large house, will you hear the noise?

You can listen to Bruce Springsteen's new album here.

I listened to Bruce's new album and my oh my is it boring. I know I was down on Magic, but this one's worse. There are at least 5 very dull songs on the album: My Lucky Day, What Love Can Do, Tomorrow Never Knows, Kingdom Of Days, & Surprise Surprise. This Life Is is worse than bland. I think it's supposed to be meaningful, but it's vaguely nothing.

No song on this album is as good Devil's Arcade from the last. The Wrestler is the best offering here, but I sort of didn't mind: Outlaw Pete, Working on a Dream, Queen of the Supermarket, Life Itself (got the free download) & The Last Carnival.

America's still involved in wars in the Middle East & central Asia, but that doesn't seem to have inspired Bruce. The world's economy is falling apart, but that doesn't seem to have inspired Bruce. There's a young man taking over in Washington (for whom Bruce campaigned) and that doesn't seem to have inspired Bruce. It's as if he's just too married, too middle-aged, too contented to write great songs these days.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What would you do if you're on a plane that's about to crash?

I like how this NY Times article starts.
Some passengers screamed, others tucked their heads between their knees, and several prayed over and over, "Lord, forgive me for my sins." But a man named Josh who was sitting in the exit row did exactly what everyone is supposed to but few ever do: He pulled out the safety card and read the instructions on how to open the exit door.

… Then Josh stood up. "Someone tried to pull the door in," another passenger recalled, "and he said, 'No, you've got to throw it out.' He twisted it and threw it out.'"
Here's this guy who must have wondered if he was living his last moments, but instead of being pessimistic he grabs the safety card and starts reading. It's a great image.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Closing Guantanamo - within the first Four Years

I wonder how Europeans will interpret this:
In a wide-ranging 70-minute interview with Washington Post reporters and editors, the president-elect pledged quick action on the Middle East once he takes office, promised to support voting rights for D.C. residents, and said he will consider it a failure if he has not closed the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by the end of his first term in office.
There are people around these parts who are expecting Guantanamo will be closed by Tuesday evening.

The Mets' new home

I can't stop laughing after reading my favorite Mets blog today. Shea Stadium is gone and the Mets' new home will (still?) be called CitiField. Citi with an 'i' because it's sponsored by Citibank. You know, yeah, that Citibank.

Anyway, Steve over at The Eddie Kranepool Society has been calling the new stadium Bailout Park for a few months. But today, I see he's renamed it Paupers Field, which is an all too realistic acknowledgment of the deterioration in Citibank's position since the fall.

"Social Inclusion Consultant"

The Limerick Southside & Northside Regeneration Agencies are seeking bids (not sure the link will work for everyone) from interested parties to be included on a "Panel for Social Inclusion Consultants". In order to be considered for the panel the potential panelist must (a) have a tax clearance certificate {fair enough} and (b) "provide evidence of turnover of €50,000 in the last financial year".

Pardon? Come again? In order to be a "Social Inclusion Consultant" you have to be grossing €50K? Isn't that a bit, I don't know, exclusive?

We need new leadership

A year ago we still harbored hopes that the economy would come down gradually and not-too-painfully; that we'd get a 'soft landing'. Well, that now seems out of reach. Who do we need to help us now.

Well, someone with a background is this sort of thing. An expert. Perhaps someone who is Visiting Scholar at Berkeley's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management? Someone with a bit of experience of keeping calm, keeping cool and properly managing crashes.

Chesley B. Sullenburger III for Taoiseach.

Crisis of Governance

I was listening to Joe Higgins on Pat Kenny's show this morning. The discussion was about Anglo-Irish Bank and Joe said that this was a Crisis of Capitalism.

Now, Joe's not alone putting this idea about. Yet, the problems at Anglo-Irish and to a lesser extent (so far) at the other banks actually say more about the ability of the state to do its job than it says about the people in charge of the banks. What has the current crisis told us about the people running banks? Well, some of them are incredibly greedy and some of them are incredibly inept and in many cases the two groups overlap.

Okay, maybe it's a bit of a revelation that so many of the people in charge of the banks are inept, but that many are greedy can hardly be an eye-opener for anyone. But, still, the primary revelation is that the state and its agents are incapable of providing the oversight that we as taxpayers, bank customers and investors assumed they were providing. The real crisis is in governance, not in capitalism.

The failure of the state to ensure that our banks were were not taking excessive risks and were operating transparently calls into question the very idea that Ireland can be an independent state with regards to banking and finance. Why this should be so is, I believe, due to the fact that Ireland is just too small.

Ireland is too small to find the people who are willing to get in the faces and ask the hard, searching questions of those who run the banks, to undertake the kind of audit that would uncover both unethical loans to chairmen & directors, but also have the nerve and the authority to lay down the law when they see that a bank is taking excessive risks.

Is Ireland too small to find sufficiently capable people to oversee our banks and financial services industry? Well, maybe it is, but I think there's more to it than that. Ireland is too small in that there are too many links between the people who run the banks and those who are responsible for overseeing the banks.

Some of what I'm getting at was mentioned by Michael Casey before Christmas.
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.
But, it's more than that. This is a small country and seeing as the banks and regulators are all based in Dublin, it's even smaller. The bankers may play golf where the regulators play golf, they may have shared friendships, their spouses may know one another, their children may attend the same schools, play in the same rugby clubs, etc. That makes it more difficult for a regulator to come down hard on a banker if it's going to cause tension in the home life. It's just too small, too cozy here.

So, what's to be done? Well, there are two options to try to get around this problem. One, outsource our regulation. Just give up the very idea that we should have our own banks and our own banking oversight. I've often heard that people from abroad wouldn't understand the Irish market the way the locals do, but based on what we're experiencing now that might not be a bad thing.

But, if we must maintain our own banks and regulations, at the very least the central bank and financial regulator need to be moved. They should be sent to Sligo (or wherever) so that the potential for family life inconvenience is mitigated. The regulators can do their job just as well from outside Dublin as they can from here. Move them all, lock, stock & barrel to Sligo or Tralee or wherever it's distant enough so that there's less chance for an overlap among family and friends. We need regulators who are not afraid to regulate.

I bought a few shares of Anglo last night

No, not on the market, but as a taxpayer. The Brians decided that I (& the rest of you suckers taxpayers) would like to own a piece of Anglo-Irish bank.

I'm pretty sure I heard Joan Burton this morning insist that the government tell us the names of those who owe the bank. That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Now that we own the bank surely we should be told the gory details. I'm assuming that those who executed the transaction on our behalf already know the details, but I see no reason for them to keep it a secret. Let's have the names of those who owe large sums to Anglo-Irish. What harm can it do? And, it's not prurient for us to want to know who owes us money. I would never lend money to someone without at least getting their name first. So, who owes me (all of us)?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More support for Israel?

This article from the Christian Science Monitor is a week old, but even allowing for the passing of 7 days the thrust of this article caused me to do a double take. Basically Europe is less pro-Palestinian now than it was previously.
"There is a general 'Arab fatigue' in Europe," says Denis Bauchard, an adviser to the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "The Palestine issue continues, the violence continues, the Palestinians are divided, and it just creates a kind of fatigue."

"Europe fears an Islamist threat, whether internal or external, and this has begun to change the overall views on the Israel-Palestine conflict," says Aude Signoles, an expert on Palestinian movements at the University of La Réunion in Madagascar.
The article is more about general trends and cites the Pew polls in France & Germany as evidence. I wonder if what's happening in Gaza will have any long term impact on these trends.

As for Ireland, even prior to the recent military actions in Gaza I hadn't sensed any change in attitudes here with regards to the Israelis & Palestinians. And, based on what I hear and read here I think it's pretty likely that anti-Israel attitudes have hardened here since the end of December.

I guess I have to row back

Today's Irish Times seems to have no anti-Israel column and, in fact, has one that is outright supportive of Israel. A second column by Irshad Manji is not so much pro-Israeli as anti-Hamas.

Then there's Tom Clonan's analysis on the behavior of both the IDF and Hamas. I have to admit that I often find Clonan annoying, but that's because I generally have no answer to some of the the things he writes that make me uncomfortable.

For example:
It appears that the IDF is using the full spectrum of its conventional combat capabilities indiscriminately. Under the terms of the Geneva Conventions, the use of such weapons systems in this manner among civilian population centres is interpreted as "indiscriminate". In other words, the IDF can legitimately be accused of "wanton destruction" and "wilful killing" within Gaza.

Specifically, IDF attacks in recent days are in direct contravention of protocol one, article 51, sections four and 5a of the Geneva Conventions. They prohibit the use of weapons systems, or a "method of attack that cannot be directed at or limited to a specific military objective" or "where there is a concentration of civilians or civilian objects".

The Geneva Conventions proscribe such attacks in urban environments where civilians reside and state that, when an attack "could cause incidental loss of civilian life or damage to civilian objects, then the attack must be called off".

Given the ongoing loss of civilian life in Gaza, the IDF and Israeli government would appear to be legally bound to heed immediately the UN Security Council resolution requirement to halt the offensive.
I've often wondered if the Geneva Conventions have any real application against an enemy that will deliberately endanger his own children – "Hamas has also been shown to be launching rockets from the environs of schools, mosques and other civilian locales" – but such actions make me uncomfortable, as I said.

How much easier it is to live in Ireland rather than Israel.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Must take Hamas seriously

Jeffrey Goldberg's column in today's NY Times is tremendous. Goldberg argues that Israel cannot make peace with Hamas.
Periodically, advocates of negotiation suggest that the hostility toward Jews expressed by Hamas is somehow mutable. But in years of listening, I haven't heard much to suggest that its anti-Semitism is insincere. Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. Both groups are rhetorically pitiless, though, again, Hamas sometimes appears to follow the lead of Hezbollah.

… I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? I felt slightly ridiculous asking: A man who believes that God every now and again transforms Jews into pigs and apes might not be the most obvious candidate for peace talks at Camp David. Mr. Rayyan answered the question as I thought he would, saying that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel.
I heard a spokesman for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign on the radio yesterday dismiss the very notion that Hamas was committed to the destruction of Israel. I was dying to ask him what evidence he had that Hamas is not committed to that goal? Jeffrey Goldberg has at least gone in search of such evidence and not found it.

Goldberg sums up the difficulty of Israel's position.
There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.

The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.

Vincent Browne - channeling Ahmadinejad

This may be an exaggeration, but basically there's a column a day damning Israel in the Irish Times. Today's is by Vincent Browne, who starts out negative but eventually gets to the nub of his problem with Israel: it shouldn't exist in the first place.
The UN's role in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict has been inglorious from the outset.

Indeed, it was the UN that played a large part in igniting the conflict at the outset by calling for the partition of Palestine and the creation of Jewish and Arab states, without any regard to the wishes of the people of Palestine.

At the time, Arabs constituted more than two-thirds of the population of 1.78 million.

The state of Israel was declared on May 14th, 1948. There followed a war, during which 700,000 Arabs were driven or fled from their homes.

More than three-quarters of the territory of Palestine was incorporated into the new state of Israel.

The international community was guilt-ridden by the then recent revelation of the Holocaust and its appreciation of its complicity in the pogroms against Jews over the centuries. The infliction of another historic injustice, this time on the Palestinian Arabs, was the means whereby that guilt was idly assuaged.

That monstrous injustice lies at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East since then.

The refusal of the international community to acknowledge the origins of the state of Israel is the obstacle to a resolution of the conflict.

A large proportion of the 1.7 million people trapped and besieged in Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees from 1948. Is it any wonder Hamas refuses to recognise the state of Israel? Is it any wonder many Palestinians and others in the Middle East are committed to the destruction of a state that was founded on such wrongs?
If you don't believe Israel has a right to exist in the first place then that's that. No point discussing Israel's 'right' to self defense and how they should exercise that right.

I can't claim to be an expert on the founding of Israel, but I believe Israel has a right to exist. I remember reading this years ago and thought it sounded reasonable on Israel's right to exist. Fr. Flannery makes his case better than Browne makes his.

You want to read something that'll put a chill up your spine?

Read David McWilliams's column this morning.
When this borrowing splurge stopped abruptly last year because the credit markets shut down, the Government was faced with the choice: does it allow the banks to collapse because they were so borrowed that they couldn't finance themselves or does it guarantee the banks, buy time and see whether it can put a plan B in place? Had the Government allowed banks to go bust in October, there would have been a run on the other banks, leading to a collapse of the system and we would have been "Iceland inside the euro".

But amazingly it didn't put plan B into action, it never came up with a plan B and now the banks are again in dire straits. Although the guarantee means that they might not default, their delinquency has contaminated the sovereign debt and now the market thinks that the banks will bring the State down with them.

Consider the position of Anglo. If Anglo goes bust, because people withdraw their deposits, the State will have to write a large cheque. That cheque could be as big as €30bn if the assets in the bank's balance sheet are as bad as many fear. Will Ireland be able to write this cheque? Will we be able, at short notice, to borrow that much cash?
He then looks back to the mid-70s when the Federal Government bailed out New York City (although Ford never did tell the city to "drop dead").
To avoid a similar situation threatening the euro, the Commission imposed the 3pc budget deficit rule on all euro countries so that no country could undermine the currency. What would happen if we were to test this? Would the EU bail us out rather than countenance a sovereign default that might destabilise the euro? Could we renegotiate Lisbon along such lines? Could we go to the ECB and look for a bailout?
I love the way he tosses in Lisbon. Although the situation is very serious, it is kind of amusing to consider that we may need our European partners to bail us out after voting no to the Lisbon Treaty. I think the re-run of Lisbon will be an offer we can't refuse.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blaming Britain

Britain is one of our partners in the European Union. They opted to remain outside the euro. Why? Precisely because they wanted to remain in control of their currency. Ireland opted to join the euro? Why? Because we were too small to have an independent currency and joining with the Germans & French would provide low interest rates and stability.

Well we've got the stability that we wanted. While the American dollar and British pound have been tanking our currency has been holding fairly steady, which means it's been increasing in value against those other two. So, why exactly is Brian Lenihan berating the British when we've got what we wanted?
The pound's losses came as Brian Lenihan, the Irish finance minister, accused the UK authorities of, in effect, devaluing the pound by expanding the UK money supply, action that was causing "immense difficulties" in the Irish economy. "It is a question for all of us in the EU as to the extent to which a competitive devaluation can be used as any kind of weapon," he said.
I honestly cannot believe that there is someone running the Department for Finance, a member of the party that was in power when Maastricht was approved, who didn't realize that this situation was inevitable from the moment we joined the euro and Britain didn't.

Honestly, it's embarrassing. Please Minister, shut up or go.

Pay cuts

One reason I believed that being part of the euro is such a problem is because I never believed that workers would accept pay cuts. Pay cuts - for both private and public sector employees - are the only real mechanism available to us to try to regain competitiveness, particularly with regards to the UK. If the public and private sector workers - unionized or not - are willing to accept significant pay cuts, say back to 2006 levels, then I think we can survive membership in the euro.

Toll bridge nonsense

I've driven over the M50 bridge late at night a few times recently. If someone isn't already aware that there is a toll bridge there I think it would be pretty easy for them to be unaware that they owed anything for the trip. Sure there are signs, but when it's very late and it's raining who's reading such wordy signs.

There's no flashing light to alert you to the fact that you're about to incur a cost and there's no flash from the equipment when you pass under the camera that records your trip. I bet a lot of visitors to Dublin will be surprised to learn that they've incurred a €3 charge for their journey around the M50. (And, I'm still not clear how the state plans to make visitors from outside this state pay.)

Oh yeah, and I registered with eFlow. What a joke.

They send out a letter saying you must call to activate your account, although you can use your account before it's "active". I have to provide my unique code over the phone - can't do it online - to activate my account.

So, I call. After making me go through the automated answering service, based on my last response to their "If you want to … press button …" there should be no doubt that I want to activate my account. Okay, I can live with this hassle.

But, the guy who answers the phone can't activate my account because "his system is being uploaded". So, why is he answering my call when I've already indicated that I want to activate my account? No good reason. Anyway, someone will call me back "shortly".

Four days and a follow-up e-mail later I call again. Same automated system. Finally a human being. "My account number? Sure, it's ########". "That can't be right, it's too short for one of our account numbers". "I can't help you there - I'm reading it right off your letter".

Eventually we both learn that the account number I've provided is not, in fact, too short, but is correct. Now to activate. "There was no need for you to call, your account was activated a few days ago". "What? What about all this nonsense about me providing my unique code or whatever? Never mind, good-bye".

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Free Palestine"

I was in London on Saturday. My son & I spent a few hours at the Science Museum and found ourselves mingling with a lot of protesters on the train when the day was done. The protesters were returning from an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian rally near to the Science Museum.

The train was packed and I found myself standing very near to a woman who'd been at the protest. She was about my age and she looked like she was comfortable enough materially. She was fairly well dressed and on her lapel she was wearing two buttons. One said "Stop Israel's War" (or something to that effect) and the other said "Free Palestine".

Now 'Stop the War' is a position I can understand even if I have a less definite opinion as to what's going on. However, I was dying to ask the woman what was the message of the "Free Palestine" button. To me that sounds awfully like something that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would say. I really wanted to ask her if she too believed that Israel should be "wiped off the map", but I didn't want to start something because I had my son with me. It bothered me all the way home, though.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why God invented Florida

There's a very good reason why Walt Disney decided to open his first big amusement park near Los Angeles and his even bigger second park near Orlando. He didn't choose a flat area just outside Chicago for one very good reason and I learned what that was the past few days.

We were in Disneyland Paris and my Lord was it cold. Let me tell you, wind blown snow can really burn the eyes when you're twirling above the Earth in an open Dumbo. That was Monday's lesson. Yesterday I discovered that waiting in line to see Donald when the temperature is in the mid 20's (-4°C was the high) with a strong breeze can be fairly sobering, although, strangely, not for those under 10.

The magic of Disney is something the Disney people like to emphasize constantly, but there must be something to it based on the fact that somehow human beings under the age of 10 or so are immune to the elements when in the Disney parks. There seemed to be nothing but smiles on the frozen faces while the adults all looked like cartoon characters who'd just stepped out of an ice box.

The only saving grace of the January Disneyland Paris experience was that 20 yards outside the Park gates there was a little hut selling fairly large cups of vin chaud. And, at €4, I considered them excellent value.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dr. John Pryor

Flags across New York State will fly at half staff on Monday in honor of Major John Pryor. Pryor, who was 42, was killed in Iraq last week.

I didn't know John Pryor, but he grew up in the same town and graduated from the same high school as me.

Major Pryor was a doctor, a trauma/critical-care surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; he joined the Army Reserve Medical Corps shortly after September 11, which is how he came to be in Iraq last week.

From everything I've read, Dr. John Pryor was an amazing guy. In addition to his responsibilities at the hospital and with the Army, Pryor was chief medical adviser to the Red Cross in his area and "often had spent hours teaching Red Cross volunteers how to handle traumas".

Quite a loss.

The things you learn ...

I made two interesting discoveries over Christmas.

First. I hadn't heard of Dialwise until New Year's Eve. I have no idea how long they've been around, but that I can call America (or Canada or Taiwan or just about anywhere) for the price of a local call using my house phone was big news to me. I don't understand how Dialwise makes any money out of this and I haven't seen my phone bill yet, but I did try out the service yesterday and it works just fine. Quality and ease of connection were unchanged as far as I could tell.

Second. Now, I would never do this myself because I'm sure it's dodgy from a legal perspective, but the fact that every DVD player has a "secret" menu where you can change your player's region code was unknown to me. I overheard two guys talking about this on the train and (it seems) you can change your DVD player and allow it to play movies bought in America (or anywhere else) as well as those you buy locally. All you have to do (apparently) is google your DVD player and the "secret" menu will be revealed.

Maybe everyone already knows this, but I found it interesting, although merely in academic sort of way.