Friday, December 19, 2008

Minnesota Challenged Ballots Review update

Minnesota Senate Count review of challenged ballots

I think this should work, you should be able to see the widget above. This is tracking the up to date state of the review of challenged ballots.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Breaking News - Equality Authority CEO Quits

More here as it unfolds.

Seanad Reform - After 30 years can we have our votes now?

It has been 12 months since this announcement and we've seen no action taken to advance the reform of the Seanad. In particular the rather straightforward reform of the university panels to give effect to the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

I've recently written to the 6 university panel senators asking that they do rather than talk when it comes to this matter. I'm currently awaiting their responses, and will post the letter and responses if I receive them. In the continued absence of any movement I've decided to try and get some traction via other means. Hence this facebook group

Seanad Reform - After 30 years can we have our votes now? | Facebook

I also hope to be announcing in the new year some events as part of a rolling campaign to culminate in the period of the 5th of July when the referendum was held 3 decades ago and the 5th of August when it was signed into law.

Is wider reform of the Seanad needed? Yes, in fact it is long overdue but this is the necessary first step in that process.
Are there more important things? Indeed, but we have a parliamentary and cabinet system of government so that more than one problem can be tackled at any one time.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The cause of the finanical crisis revealed!

A good number of years ago I had a not very demanding job in a land very far from home. My employer wasn’t doing great things for me and the young lady I was interested in at the time wasn’t interested in me. She did think I was quite lovely though. So I created a fantasy job, a diversionary daydream if you will. It was of the road not taken variety. In contrast to the road I was on which was well and truly of the dead end variety.

It evolved from a series of aptitude tests I and others had done for a company in the final year of college. The results had been incredibly, perhaps some might say even freakishly positive for me. There again it was very reassuring at the end of my time to discover that yes engineering was for me! As for the daydream position I would have magically acquired it upon leaving college by means of similarly interesting aptitude tests and other probing physical examinations that would have revealed my undoubted brilliance and suitability for the role.

The job started out being somewhat vague as these things tend to do in daydreams. It did involve a very nice office based in the IFSC if I recall and such excitements as a PA and a well appointed apartment. I was on a promise that I was to be extensively trained in many interesting skills, foreign languages, how to handle the media, high finance, fighting skills and so forth. It was a daydream after all, and I wanted to leave it open enough that some spying/espionage might be involved. To assist me with achievement of all this I had access to many quite peculiar and very futuristic looking pieces of technology that seemed quite out of this world. As is my wont with any such fantasy I create, I came quickly to undermine it by introducing various unsettling and disturbing elements. The excessive secrecy about my eventual role in the organisation, the origins of the top people, the disappearance of colleagues or indeed what it was the company actually did.

Later on in the daydream, (which at this stage was evolving into proper movie serial mode) I was to find after a number of worrying signs and interesting scraps that in my superior’s office was a hidden cupboard which in fact contained a teleportation device. This chamber brought me to a very substantial but largely unmanned spaceship in orbit around the earth. Yep, we were firmly back in my usual comfort zone of sci-fi territory. I snooped about the ship as one does in these things and discovered that the organisation was seeking to become the overlords of the Earth. This they would do by taking control of our financial system and by extension our political system and petitioning for the Earth’s entry into a galactic trading system whereby they would be recognised as de jure and de facto Rulers of the Earth. I’m not 100% sure that the R and E were capitalised in the fantasy but they seem sort of appropriate now. This state of affairs once ratified by the galactic authorities could not be overturned and would be enforced by the other worlds.

It was in some sense all in the best traditions of Western European colonisation - a West Spiral Arm Trading Company if you will. I was to be one of the front men (my tests had revealed a certain detachment from my fellow man, well I did say at the outset that I didn’t much like my job and so I was of a mood to feel a tad disconnected) as they declared to the leaders of the world that they had, in the parlance of the times, the financial system by the balls and having brought it to the brink of collapse they could cast our world into the abyss.

They had over the last few centuries progressively invested in those new technologies that they knew from the experience of other similar worlds would ultimately succeed over the long run. They had gotten their initial seed capital from their superior mineral assaying abilities which had given them local mineral wealth and then they had simply waited for humanity to discover the obvious to them scientific advances, with the very occasional nudge, that they could invest in and turn into even more wealth and influence. After all, transporting millions of troops across space is a very expensive way to take control of a world. If your lifespan can be measured in centuries why not just find a world that is close to making the jump to space travel and simply entangle yourself in its affairs such that its ascent becomes the engine for your own wealth.

They had completely embedded themselves in the stock market and the global financial system. Just at the point that I had been hired they were finally in position to leverage their position in the financial system such that they could readily collapse the world’s economy if our leaders decided to choose incorrectly.

Now, let’s get back to the beginning here. This was just a wish fulfilment exercise on the part of someone with a not too demanding job and too much time on his hands. Right?

I mean I was just daydreaming; not exhibiting pre-cognitive abilities like my auntie Mary had...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Who has been telling porkies

I am half expecting an outbreak of cannibalism within a week if rumours spread that human flesh is the closest thing to the taste of pig meat. And was it really necessary to destroy all pork meat? Sure I can understand in general saying destroy it instead of eating it, but couldn't it wait in the freezer for a few more days until we're sure what the specific problem is and how extensive the impact is?

And God help us but it was bad enough that this was uncovered by another country's authorities but that it was Italy makes us like even more like eejits. A country run by Burlo backhander has better standards of food enforcement than we do. OK, they do have a proper culinary tradition and they like their food.

RTe were reporting in their coverage that in Belgium 3, count them 3 government ministers resigned on foot of their dioxin scandal there in 1999. Which little piggy in cabinet will go wee-wee-wee all the way home from this?

Update: I started the above post on Sunday but am only getting around to posting it now. In the light of the review from the EU. As I said above - what was wrong with just telling people that they shouldn't eat pork until the relevant authorities had decided on whether there was a real risk to public health. By all means tell shops to take it off the shelves and that restaurants should not serve it, but to advise people to throw it out was reckless and as it is now revealed completely wasteful.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

New concepts in Laptop design

Hat tip to Cristiano, these look very sexy indeed. Not entirely sure quite how functional they all would be especially on the road but surely we can expect to see some of them popping up in the new series of 24!

Are we seeing further evidence of corrosion in the FF base?

With the outburst from Cllr and 2007 General election Noreen Ryan of FF in Limerick against the mighty local political totem that is Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, are we seeing the strain of the negative national mood beginning to tell? Many of those commenting are missing the local context in the timing of all this as the FF local selection interviews were talking place in Limerick over the last week or so. It may simply be that the new interview based and HQ driven selection process may not be proceeding as painlessly as had been hoped for. It was noted in the Limerick Leader recently with suitable expressions of disinterest in the process from local FF heavy hitters (in their own minds at least) such as Eddie (I could still get into the Dail) Wade and Jack (only a council seat makes me feel complete) Bourke. I think Wade said something closely along the lines that they could shove their interview process up a certain place and get a proctologist to examine their prostate while retrieving it. (this post is also over on sluggerotoole)

I strongly suspect that Noreen Ryan* has had her interview and picked up a definite vibe that she is not likely to be reselected. I particularly think her GE performance where she got barely 200 more votes than in the locals and she canvassed wearing sunglasses (was it the British Army that did the ad about the importance of making eye contact? Perhaps that is why she didn’t see it). That she should shoot her mouth off isn’t surprising, that the minister would retort by referring to her “as a person, utterly without credibility.” and continuing to say that “This is a grab for cheap publicity to conceal her utter inactivity and lack of performance as a councillor,”. Hmm....I can’t quite see how FF could have her on a ticket come next summer.

Fianna Fail ran 6 candidates, including cllr Ryam, in the 7 seat Castleconnell ward and they picked up 3 of the seats which was not a bad performance at all against the backdrop of the national picture. In fact it represented no change on the 1999 results. This time Labour and the Greens are making a really big push to gain a seat and with the demise of the PDs the future direction for cllr Brigid Teefy remains unclear. Might she now be looking for a home in the government party? And then we have to add in the likes of bright young lad Brian Stokes (who works with/for Peter Power TD and junior minster) who is bucking to get on the ticket in Castleconnell.

It is hard to see FF holding 4 out of 7 seats with the mood as it is now. This is moreover the case if they run too many candidates who fail to transfer amongst each other. The plain fact is FF as a party aren’t going to hold their seats by nominating imperious lads and ladies who lunch. They want them hungry and eager, and they want to have a tightly controlled panel of candidates. People who have a proven record of going off message and spending their time engaged in solo runs might well save their own seat but cost the party its other seats. While the national mood could change between now and election day, it is more likely that the government will choose to concentrate on the larger national picture and ensuring that they get things right so they can be returned to power in a few years rather than the immediate needs of cllrs. Of course, extrapolating too much from one ward is not without its dangers.

That said it may well be that this sort of radical surgery is needed if FF are to stave off the prospect that FG might pass them on. The story of the 2004 local and European was regarded at the time as being primarily about the increase in the SF vote. Yet in the longer term the vote retention and piecemeal seat gains by FG on what they had won in 1999 was of more significance. The 1999 results for FG were thought of at the time as a high water mark and later as something of a false dawn for the party in that those local successes didn’t prevent the tide going out in 2002. So sometimes it is not about the numbers of seats won but the overall context of the result.

It now seems that the FF brand and logo may even be more toxic than it was five years ago. I could tell from my own canvassing in the lead up to Christmas ’03 that many people were annoyed, disillusioned with the then FF/PD government and that they would take a hit come the summer but it was very unclear where the votes would go. In the end the votes spread out amongst the opposition parties in such a pattern as to please all concerned. The same could happen again, or any one of the opposition parties could take the lion’s share of the spoils. Only the campaigns and time will tell.

As for Cllr Ryan herself it is perhaps better for her to leave the party in a dramatic huff because she was standing up for ‘de local peeple’, run as an independent and if elected to return to the fold triumphant. With the FF logo more toxic than a tax demand on a poster it could be the only winning strategy for her and many others. No one ever said FFers were thick when it came to looking after themselves; it’s only when it comes to looking out for the rest of us that the brain tends to fail to engage.

* her site has been suspended, it would seem.

Where Mary Lou McDonald gets it wrong on Lisbon.

In an article in the Irish Times, SF’s MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald makes the case that the Lisbon referendum must not be rerun but that the Treaty must be renegotiated. The thing is she then goes on to make the same mistakes of overreach and presumption that the government did when campaigning for the treaty to be approved. What was rejected was the proposal to allow the Oireachtas sign up to Lisbon, not the content of the Treaty per se especially when so many citizens said they didn't understand it. Their response to vote No was in the circumstances quite sensible.

However, renegotiation requires that both parties are interested or able to do it. Mary Lou MacDonald argues that SF wanted the committee to look at “the future direction of the EU itself and how Ireland could shape that future”. I’m not sure how such an undertaking could possibly have reported back in any sort of realistic time frame and perhaps that was SF’s intent.

She states “There were also repeated attempts to scaremonger the public about the implications for the economy following the Irish people's rejection of the treaty. No evidence was presented to the committee to back up their claims.” The idea that the people’s rejection of the treaty has no implications for the economy is nonsense. If Brian Cowen had a bad flu, it would have implications for the economy for good or bad. That somehow our rejection of a EU treaty would have no consequences is complete overstatement of the position. Something she has rightly criticised elements of the Yes side for.

I do wonder at her suggestion about all the members of the public being given the chance to contribute in open session. It is unclear what ideas were not considered by the committee and what would have been the real value of every Tom, Dick and Harry having a chance to rant and rave at politicians on whatever their particular hobby horse, often only tangentially related to the EU is. “Sinn Féin also argued that the subcommittee should proactively engage as broad a section of the public as possible, that it should meet in open session, in and outside of Dublin, and listen to the opinions of ordinary citizens.” A halfway house idea that might have been worthwhile would have been to facilitate more engagement via the web, but the travelling road show idea as evidence by the Forum on Europe is past its best.

In talking about what needs to be addressed Mary Lou McDonald makes further missteps in saying about the report that it “sets out in detail the challenges facing Ireland and the EU and the mechanism for addressing the concerns of the Irish electorate on key issues such as maintaining our political strength, protecting neutrality, workers' rights, public services and taxation. It is clear that these issues can only be addressed in a new treaty which includes legally-binding protocols and not declarations of clarification which are not worth the paper they are written on.” There is nothing to suggest that all of the above must be addressed in order to win the support of the majority of the electorate. In a referendum all the government is required to do is gain the support of 50% plus 1 of the voters on the day. If they had adequately addressed the concerns of any one of the above issues they would probably have tipped the verdict from the vote last summer. The board scope of her argument that “...opinion polls,...demonstrate that people's concerns over neutrality, workers' rights, public services, democracy and Ireland's influence must be addressed in any future EU treaty” is also wholly incorrect.

She finishes by referring to our political goodwill with the EU while leaving aside the fact that much of this goodwill has dissipated in the aftermath of Lisbon. “It is time that the Government stood up for the interests of the Irish people and used the political goodwill which we have built up over many decades.” In essence the campaign strategy of SF and indeed Libertas was one giant blackjack hit, ignoring the possibility that we might be just as easily be bust as to hit 21.

As is her wont, she makes her point well, but doing it well does not in and of itself not make her point correct. Lastly, and of course, it is to be expected of me, given my own political leanings, to be saying this. It is quite poignant for a representative of SF to constantly refer to the democratic will of the people. It was the democratically expressed will of the people which they chose to ignore, election after election for 75 years, when it came to the republican movement’s campaign of violence which was supposedly in the name of the Irish people.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Commitment to extend Seanad voting rights should be acted on without further delay

NUI Seanad Candidate, Daniel Sullivan, has called on the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley to explain why he has still not taken a single step towards fulfilling his commitment to extend voting rights to all third level graduates. (I sent this - well a variation on it - out as a press release last week and it got the usual amount of attention that matters related to the Seanad tend to get)

‘Minister John Gormley made quite a splash for himself in a highly publicised speech about Seanad Reform on Nov 28th of last year. In particular he drew attention to the extension of the franchise to all 3rd level graduates.’ said Daniel Sullivan ‘He said that should the Seanad impede his efforts he would plough ahead anyway. Strong words, yet 12 months on we see no legislation in the pipeline. Almost one third of the way through the life of the 30th Dail and the legislative pen hasn’t even been dipped into the inkwell of lawmaking.

The minister addressing the Seanad on the issue of agreeing a consensus on the topic said “I will not be deterred from pressing ahead with the university changes if that co-operation did not materialise.” Minister Gormley specifically committed himself to reforming the university constituencies, as a first step in a complete revamp of Seanad Éireann that will allow all citizens to have a vote. For all the fanfare there has been no action to date.

Next summer will see the 30th anniversary of the referendum where the people expressed their opinion that the state should act to extend the franchise. Dan Sullivan says “Had I been elected in 2007 I would have looked to have had legislation before the house during the current autumn session. I have previously explored the option of taking a constitutional challenge regarding the failure to legislate as the people at the time were led to believe it was about taking imminent action on the matter. If the costs of such a challenge were more within the reach of someone with modest means I would already have taken the risk that the Supreme Court might view it as a matter of public interest and award me costs. I am still actively considering that option“

An amendment to the Constitution to widen the university franchise was passed as long ago as 1979 but successive governments have failed to implement the change. The 2004 report from the committee chaired by then Sen. Mary O'Rourke proposed the abolition of the Trinity College and National University of Ireland constituencies and its replacement with a single constituency of 6 seats. It’s really that simple. The same 6 Seanad seats as present but voted on by a single constituency of all Irish graduates of an Irish education institution with a level seven qualification. Close to 400,000 people or 20% of the adult population would be given a direct say in the Seanad if the registers were properly updated to include all graduates. Not the whole journey towards a fully reformed Seanad by any means but a simple first step that could be taken immediately.

Further reform of the Seanad beyond the electorate of the university panel would require another referendum. Among the proposals in the 2004 report were that the Seanad be increased to 65 senators, from 60. Some 26 of these seats would be filled from a single national constituency under a list-PR system, with a further six elected by a reformed higher-education constituency. Under these proposals another 20 senators would be indirectly elected by county and city councillors, deputies and senators under PR-STV system while 12 senators would be nominated by the Taoiseach.

Is this the most filmed fire in Irish history?

I got this in my mail yesterday and when you look at it, you will notice the many, many other views of the same incident listed beside it.

Don't be surprised if the overall viewing figures pass the 100K mark by the end of the week. And would this be some sort of record?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Prime Time turns its lens on Declan Ganley, burns self.

Well, that was one hell of a piece rubbish television especially compared to other investigative programs Prime Time have done in the past. The overall flavour was of the Rowdy Roddy Peeper segment in the Simpsons. Actors in shadows, dark moody music. I was half expecting a black and white clip with a damsel laid out on a train track with some high tempo piano tinkling going on in the background to surface but it didn't.

A couple of weird things did strike me during the course of it though. Katie Hannon told us the wife of the man murdered in Albania told her stuff but wouldn't do it on camera (don't they have the blurry face thing anymore) but we were lead to believe she was fine with Hannon standing outside her house quoting her, not even to voice record her? And we're to take Hannon's word for it that the wife actually said X Y or Z. That's very strange for an investigative program. Usually if you can't get something on the record then it simply isn't used. Whither Woodward and Bernstein.

Ganley also made reference in the program to a phone conversation that Katie had had with the former junior Latvian minister and which the minister (now forester! how exciting) also said that he wouldn't be adding to when she went to visit him but we didn't get to hear any of that phone conversation. Why was that? What was the content of it? Was it any cop? And yet she played a recording of a conversation in the guys office. I take it she recorded that legally, I mean some countries do allow you to record your own conversations, others require the permission of both parties. In some places you can only do it in a public place in others it is ok to enter someone's home or place of work and record without their knowledge. I presume RTe confirmed what the situation is in Latvia and I can only presume that is why couldn't she try to do the same in Albania? Or did they simply make an editorial choice.

Over the course of the show a lot was made of claims by people that claims by Ganley had been overplayed or that people's roles were more than they actually were. So while it was possible that Ganley had overstated his role in Latvia but it wasn't apparently possible that the person in Albania had overstated their role in Anglo-Adriatic or that others were overstating it now. The Albania voucher scheme sounded like all kinds of interesting weirdness but despite this tease we magically didn't get any concrete detail on what happened. We seem to have been told that the state gave out vouchers which were to be linked to priviatised state assets and Anglo Adriatic collected these vouchers but then the state didn't honour them and along the way people started trading in the vouchers. But was Anglo Adriatic involve in that trading? RTe never said, nor were we given to understand why Anglo-Adriatic were even collecting them or were they buying them? The picture presented was as clear as soft-focus image taken by someone with a shakey hand of a murky lake waters, at dusk, in winter, in Lapland.

So the view from the show is that Declan Ganley embellished his role in advising the Latvia government at some point in the early 90s and that some people lost money on some strange voucher scheme in Albania used to privatise, and that his company may have engaged in overreach in contract negotiations with the US CPA in Iraq.

Now I wouldn't personally be inclined to become too involved in business dealings with Mr. Ganley simply because he strikes me as too much of a shrewd operator and Kerryman that I am, we know a hoor that's too cute for us.

Overall, the program gave us nothing you could call concrete or a smoking gun, only rumours and impressions. If this is something that RTe is doing to assist in securing a Yes vote next time (something I would on balance like to see) then God help us all.

As for the talk of the Standards in Public Office. The current SIPO set up doesn't give you any real idea where the money for the major parties comes from as they simply work around it with small donations. People should read some of Elaine Byrne's articles in the IT to see what I'm talking about. There may well be questions from SIPO for Libertas to answer about funding but the question is why would Libertas be expected to provide this information ahead of all other organisations that campaigned for/against the Treaty. One can only presume that Coir and the Alliance for Europe have gotten similar letters at the same time that Libertas did or has Libertas been singled out?

Update: it now appears that Libertas are saying they have not yet received the letter that RTe showed as coming SIPO. Where did RTe get it from?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Take my wife, please!

What is it about Irish business people and high ranking public servants that they can't spend a few days away from their spouses? In the reporting of the trip in 2004 of Minister Mary Harney we're told that she travelled "in a party that included the former director general of Fás, Rody Molloy, and his wife, and the then secretary general of Ms Harney's department, Paul Haran, and his wife."

Why, why were their wives brought along? Are these top-executives unable to make their way in the world without their wives? Or are these menfolk mere proxies for their more capable other halves? Evidently it has been going on for years. Sen. Mary White sought to regale us with her foreign policy credentials in her quest to be president by telling us about all her trips with her husband then head of the IDA.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So cats are smarter than dogs eh!

I saw this over on Andrew Sullivan (no relation).

In my view both cats and dogs are capable of stupidity, it's merely that some owners can't see it in their furry house guests. I've been thinking about getting a cat but it would have to be one of these bombay black types as they don't shed so much.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is Ewan McGregor A Basque Terrorist?

Ewan member of ETA?Is Breaking seriously trying to tell us that Ewan McGregor is a Basque Terrorist? Or do they think we need to be told what a terrorist looks like? Or is this just another one of those unfortunate image/story screw ups that happens from time to time. I think the still is from Incendiary but I'm not 100% sure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What to do about crime in Ireland

I find myself wondering about how often are we going to do this rehashing of the term watershed. Purely coincidentally I was opposite Donna Cleary's house the morning after her murder as I was doing a NEAR fm radio panel show in the Northside Civic centre. As a few readers would know I was a candidate in that area for the 2004 locals. There is an awful feeling of despair and helplessness that comes in the aftermath of such a senseless act. And senseless it was, shooting up a house because you weren't let into a party.

Part of the problem is that the guys involved have no fear that they will face real life altering consequences in response to their crimes. In fact, most of them have seen the same response from the system each step along the way as the seriousness of their crimes has escalated. 2nd chance after 2nd chance. I'm a believer in 2nd chances but not in 10th or 20th chances.

As for what I think we should do I would suggest the following

  • that we need to end the lax mentality of granting free legal aid without properly ascertaining someone's financial situation.

  • We should have a microCAB unit to investigate the circumstances of people who appear to be living very well yet are only on welfare and who obviously appear to have other sources of income.

  • an end to concurrent sentencing for violent and crimes related to the supply of drugs, as it creates a loophole for those on bail that when convicted they can plead guilty to other offenses while in prison and serve no further time. Each crime is different and should be deal with separately.

  • an end to automatic unearned remission.

  • a recall capacity vote for judges by the public every 5 years perhaps run to coincide with the local elections whereby the public can remove those judges from the bench that they feel are not reflecting societal norms in their sentencing policy.

  • There are judges in Limerick who appear to fall for every sob story going. And yet no one chases up these tales of woe or references to million euro contracts to verify whether they're true or not. If people were neglected as children then charges should be brought against their parents and those involved should be prepared to act as witnesses.

  • This is a small country and Judges should be rotated around areas more frequently. It is very odd that with only 4 million people and given the size of the country that so many bench warrants are outstanding.

  • A new prison or the building of an existing one specifically designed to provide hard time for those prisoners who are no interested in rehabilitation.

  • Put an end to the practice an automatic right to rehousing in the private rental sector by the HSE. If you abuse a local authority house then that should be it for you.
I'm sure that there will be those that read the above and judge it harsh but harsh is part of what is needed and even deserved.

Friday, November 14, 2008

FF's poll implosion

I've been banging on for quite a while now that FF have been suffering the same decline in core support as FG as the generations shifted but that in their case it was covered up by the fact that they were considerably more adept at hoovering the significantly larger floating vote. In the aftermath of the 2009 budget that is what has changed and is now being reflected in the polls.

The ice shelf of floating voters has calved from the frozen continent of FF and is now in open water. Currently it is located solidly in the territorial waters of FG and the Independents. Whether it stays there is an open question but it is very definitely drifting away from FF who seem not to understand that it is even loose.

Just a quick bit of context but both George Bush and Nixon had at their lowest ebbs higher satisfaction ratings that this government currently has. And at 18% satisfaction barely half of the government parties own supporters are satisfied with their performance to date. That is pretty damning stuff.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unpopular decisions aren't necessarily right.

I find it odd that government representatives appear to believe that the mere fact that a decision is unpopular is somehow proof of how right and appropriate it is. A wrong decision can be unpopular just as easily as a right one,. A popular decision is equally likely to be wrong or right. There is no intrinsic link between the two concepts. Either a decision is right or it is wrong. Revelling in the unpopularity as some marker that you're on the right course is all kinds of dense.

And let's face it the recent government decisions on medical cards, on class sizes, on cervical cancer vaccines are just plain wrong. Oddly enough a subsequent decision on the medical cards for the over 70s that the same amount of money would be paid by the state to doctors for treating people over 70s irrespective of their reasons for qualifying for the card is a correct decision. And while it is likely to be unpopular with doctors the government are due some credit for making it. Even if they've been damn slow to get around to it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vincent Browne's double standards

Watching TV3's VB show the other night I was struck by the insistence on the part of VB that the reaction to the murder of Shane Geoghegan somehow meant that the populous valued different lives differently. It doesn't. People simply react differently to the murder of someone in a gang to the murder of someone not involved in any such criminality at all.

For the same reason that people react differently to the death on the road of someone who was young and made a habit of driving fast and reckless to that a pedestrian teenager killed by a car mounting the footpath. It's not that one life is worth more but that one is more unexpected. People reacted in horror at the murder of the young plumbing apprentice Anthony Campbell just as they are doing now to the murder of Shane Geoghegan. These were lads who had done nothing but go about their business as we all do. It has nothing to do with social background.

I really wish Vincent would stop stretching different events as he attempts to shoe horn them into his world view. One other related crib with Vincent Browne is he often seeks to bring in the state and society's rather woeful treatment of travellers not matter how tangentially related. Yet in his coverage of the murder of Shane Geoghegan he makes no reference to the likely individuals involved membership of the traveller community. To Vincent the killing of John Ward by Padraig Nally was all about him being a traveller and not about him engaging in criminal activity yet we see extended families engaged in turf wars who operate omerta in a manner that would do the Scilians proud and not a mention of they being travellers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Think tank: Let’s all have a vote

I had an opinion type piece in the Sunday Times a few weeks back. It's a step up from my usual letter writing. I was mainly trying to talk about something that might be feasible rather than using the chance to have a crack at something that already exists. This is the slightly longer and somewhat less well edited version.

Think tank: Let’s all have a vote.

Are we seeing the emergence of a real democracy?

In the aftermath of the Lisbon Treaty campaign considerable attention has been devoted to the apparent disconnect between the electorate and the body politic. During the course of the campaign it appeared that the public were engaged in one type of conversation while the professional political class seemed to, many members of the public at least, to talk amongst themselves. The travelling road shows of the Forum on Europe and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, despite considerable expense to the public purse, failed utterly to engage the people drawing small crowds of political anoraks. And if I’m being completely honest I would have to include the likes of myself in that last grouping.

Yet the wider public were quite eager to talk about Lisbon or at least what they thought Lisbon was about. When they sought to do so, all too frequently, they were not so politely told to ‘Hauld your whisht’. Rather than be silent some decided to take their views elsewhere. They went on-line.

As European Commissioner Margot Wallström noted in a recent report the on-line discussion in Ireland had a tendency to be negative towards the treaty. Yet the EU and the state’s efforts in this area, again at cost to the taxpayer, did not provide for discussion not to mind dissension. Sites such as singularly failed to engage the voting public. They existed purely to carry a line to the public, much as posters and even television and radio ads to. No questions could be asked, in some cases not even the dead letterbox of the email us to contact.

In contrast there existed outside the state sponsored sector a veritable free for all. There the discourse was perhaps all too reflective of that taking place across the country. It mirrored in all its gaudy chaos the woolly thinking, messiness, unpredictability, bald inaccuracy, prejudices and tendency towards hyperbole, all the while exposing a broad spectrum of viewpoints both for and against the treaty. The general confusion in the public mind was manifest on-line long before it came to the notice of the mainstream media. That this was the case and that the mainstream media missed it is something they appear to be unable to forget not to mind forgive.

Though much of the discussion on-line has many, many flaws, it does demonstrate that we have at our fingertips the means to extend democratic involvement beyond what Americans term ‘the beltway’. We could if we so chose seek to move away from the stale binary mentality that sees people as either passive voters or active politicians. It’s a world of gray.

Pres. Jed Bartlet, “You know we forget sometimes, in all the talk about democracy, it's a Republic. People don't make the decisions; they choose the people who make the decisions.”

In a democracy, it’s not alone the citizen’s role to ensure that they are as informed as possible when casting their vote but it is their responsibility to continue to hold to account and to actively challenge those we elect to positions of power. This is meant to be an ongoing process not just saved for election time.

The ideals of democracy are rooted in the principle that all the people or 'demos' should be involved in both the discourse and decision making process. The parliamentary forms of representative democracy that we are used to were created in large part because of limitations in travel and communication that along with the lack of educational attainment meant that only a minority of citizens could gather in one place and understand the issues being debated. That is no longer the case.

Public participation in the political process as evidenced by voting, party membership and attendance at public meetings has entered a steady decline in recent decades. The focus in addressing this disengagement has primarily on making voting more accessible, simpler and easier. This is to address the wrong problem.

By and large voting is popular with the public. Participation by the Hoi Polloi in even in the most trivial reality shows such as Big Brother, X-factor, and Fáilte Towers demonstrates people have no problem with voting. Voting is not the problem; public participation in all that comes before a vote is cast is the crux of the issue.

What we need to do is extend the arena of the political discourse to embrace the general public. Our system of parliamentary procedure has changed little from the time of Gladstone and Parnell. A day in the chamber typically consists of ritualistic jousting with press releases. Most Deputies aren’t even present to listen to what others have to say. Genuine debate, a real contest of ideas or even limited constructive argument is substantially absent from the Dail.

The majority of the population have neither the time nor even the inclination to get involved but they could be afforded a significantly greater opportunity to be involved than at present. For example, why not allow citizens to submit parliamentary questions or to have ministers address their questions in committee? Or participate in the scrutiny of legislation? A broader spectrum of involvement would be possible especially to those who do not feel the party political format fits to their range of views. This is not to eliminate the final voting power of representatives but to instead embed it more directly as the penultimate steps in the decision making process. Those who vote must lead by convincing those who would support them that the course they will vote for is the correct one. The public similarly should vote for those whose ideas and votes reflect the course they believe to be the correct one.

In the mean time, online forums and group blogs such as, and appear to be hot housing embryonic communities that may evolve into more participative forms of democracy. If a potential transition is in prospect, it must be one that serves to underpin democracy rather than merely leading to a form of e-mob rule. It is all too easy to see technology means being used like the radio was by many in the 1930s as a means to whip up a crowd and for the leader of the mob to surf to power on this wave. Let a hundred thousand flowers bloom through experimentation. In due course the public will select what works best for them once the limitations in our broadband infrastructure are overcome.

This idea/exercise in thinking out loud is intended not a magic bullet to solve the problems democracy is faced with; rather it is a diet and exercise regime that can help it revive if there still exists the will that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

‘We have the technology, should we seek to rebuild democracy?’

Update: I mentioned e-mobs and a mate of mine asked if I was coining it. Little did I know that we were about to see the media overwhelmed by some e-mobs.

I think these chaps said it quite well.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

RED C poll numbers for Oct 26th 2008

FF 26% down ten percent, FG up 5 to 33%, Labour up 5% to 15, SF on 10%, Greens on 6% PDs on 2% and others on 8%. Those numbers if true, and given the source I'm strongly inclined to believe them, mean the government.

With independents like Jackie Healy Rae moving on to education the terrain isn't going to get any easier for the government and this moment probably represents the Green's best moment to hold FF to the pin of their collar and force concessions in the budget. Failure to do so will leave the Greens tied to this budget as closely as are FF right now.

And if FF don't revise the budget massively on foot of Green party pressure they should cut and run. It's the punch that FG should have thrown in '94. An election while FF are completely on the back foot could be the only chance to get the mandate an Irish government needs to take the actions that are necessary. Will they take the chance or like Gordon Brown fluff it?

Update: poll numbers confirmed on RTe News

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What if McCreevy had continued to extend medical card threshold?

I mentioned yesterday that I'd take a look at a counter factual where instead of abolishing income as a factor for the allocation of medical cards to those over 70 that the minister of finance had simply continued to aggressively extend the income threshold.

In 1999 the income thresholds for medical cards even for the over 70s were much lower than they are now. Of course, governments had considerably less revenue in those days before the Celtic Tiger and also had more outgoings in respect of unemployment etc. The thresholds were subsequently increased as per a budgetary commitment by roughly 33% each year until March of 2001. In Budget 2000 McCreevy announced that the next and final step would be to remove the income threshold completely for those over 70. Yet what if he had persisted with his original measure?

Taking the lower of those over 70 figures for 1999 of £133.00 which equates to €168.87 as our base point we see the intended increase of 33% or €55.72 per year in the threshold would have been up to €337.74 in March 2001. Note this is more than the initial revised threshold from last week! And it’s the figure from 7 years ago. So had Charlie McCreevy continued with the same level of increase annually (not % wise but in flat cash terms) the threshold would have been

March 2001 €337.74 (this is double the initial 1999 figure)

March 2002 €393.46

March 2003 €449.18

March 2004 €504.90

March 2005 €560.62

March 2006 €616.34

March 2007 €672.06

March 2008 €727.78

So think about that for a moment, the income threshold would now be higher than that most recent ‘final proposal’ of €700 per week gross to come from the government on Tuesday of this week. Plus, it wouldn’t have involved any re-negotiation with the IMO and consequent explosion in the cuts of the scheme which apparently cost us €254 million last year. Just imagine for a moment what else we could have done with the billion plus Euros over the last 6/7 years? How many more children in lower income families we could have offered medical cards to in that time or funding for nursing home care?

What am I saying sure they didn’t know what to do with the billions for Euros they did have so given them more would have only have lead to throwing good money after bad.

*Figures as from a Cork/Irish Examiner (it's TCM anyway) article in 1999

Medical card means test thresholds:
Up to 66, 66 to 69, 70 to 79*, Over 80*.
Single - living alone: £92.00, £100.00, £133.00, £140.00
Single - living with family: £81.50, £86.50, £115.00, £120.00.
Married couple: £133.00, £149.00, £198.50, £208.50.
Allowance for child under 16: £16.00.
Allowance for other dependants: £17.50.
Allowances for outgoings on house:
Excess over £16.00 a week
Reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in travelling to work
Excess over £14.50 a week
* These are the thresholds likely to apply from March 1, 1999.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What McCreevy hadn't given the medical card to everyone?

Back in 2000 when Charlie McCreevy announced the plans for the extension of the medical card in Budget 2001 to all over 70s irrespective of income he was introducing it as the next step of a process by which the government had doubled the income threshold necessary to get the medical if you were over 70. The question we have to ask now is why didn't he stick with that idea, extending coverage in a progressive indeed aggressive manner but all the while based on income and ability to pay.

Charile Dec 6 2000 - Medical Cards for Older People In my 1999 budget, I announced that the income limits for medical cards for people aged 70 years or over would be doubled over three years, commencing in 1999. That process will be completed next March, and it is now proposed to take the next step. I am pleased to announce that, from 1 July 2001, entitlement to the medical card is being extended to all those aged 70 years or over.

What was wrong with simply progressively extending the threshold for the card and the benefits associated with it year by year? Oh I forget we were due a general election and McCreevy reckoned the older members of our society could be bought off. And if you look at the raw polling data he was dead right. Later today, I'm going to try and extrapolate why we might be now in terms of thresholds if McCreevy has stuck to his guns.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

There's a hole in the budget, dear Brian. A hole!

So it seems the threshold for the over 70s medical card is to be raised again. And FF (or the cabinet at the very least) must be hoping that this will lower the temperature enough that they can get through the week without more people going overboard.

However, at first reading one has to ask if most of those receiving the benefit of the card will now retain that benefit then the government has close to 100 million of a hole in its budget calculations. To be added on to this is the possible/probably changes in the income levy, we're told that about 800,000 people who work don't pay income tax, but they would be paying the levy as it is on all income. So let's at a minimum scenario and presume they're all earning the minimum wage that means they could be paying €180 per year under the Lenny Levy. If all 800,000 were to be exempt from the levy that would be another €150 million missing from the budget. A hundred million here, a hundred and fifty million there and soon we'll be talking about real money!

Update: It does sound from the statement that the government has adopted the idea from Fine Gael that savings could be made in the drugs area by more use of generics. I wonder if the media will even notice or acknowledge this. Also it now appears the government is modifying the competition act in order to make it possible for it to negotiate with the IMO in future, that might work locally but what about European competition law. They really are making it up as they go along.

On the radio this morning

I'm due to be on the Joe Finnegan show on Shannonside / Northern Sound about 9.30am this morning, Oct 21st. You can listen live, I hope. I'm meant to be talking about the fit or suitability of our politicians as compared to their actual jobs but you never know. This is live radio after all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Will Bertie be there?

So with the not unexpected announcement that pairs will be offered by FG only for those government TDs on actual proper business for the state, in this case the trip to China, the arithmetic for Wednesday's Dail vote on the Fine Gael motion starts to look somewhat interesting. For example, where will Bertie be I wonder? Is he even in the country? I've mailed them at his office to ask, I wonder if I'll get a reply. After all, I am a citizen, this is a republic, he still works for me, or is collecting a salary at my expense.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Possibly solution to the over 70s Medical Card mess

I'm talking out of turn here, but if anyone is interested in a practical solution to the over 70s medical card fiasco, there's my tuppence worth.

I might be asking a rather obvious question here but if the GPs charge the state €640 (the figure itself isn't really relevant at the moment) for giving people over 70 a level of card consistent with a medical card then shouldn't it be possible to set a number of bands of support and tailor the subvention from the state towards that 640 annualised figure that would relate to your income (we could look to factor in assets too but that would be really messy to administrate).

So let everyone under 17K (or whatever the annualised figure for the minimum wage is) per annum get 100% of that GP yearly charge paid by the state,
those between 17K and the average industry wage gets 75% of the figure paid by the state and pays 25% themselves (which at 100 odd quid for as many visits as you like isn't very bad value.)
Those at the 130% of the average industry wage pay 50%
those at 150% of the AIW pay 75% and
those on pensions over twice the AIW can pay the full whack or pay per visit.

I wonder if anyone will take the idea up, I've also no idea how much it would save. But this is the sort of pragmatic idea that our politics lacks. I believe that the government has acted in bad faith by removing the cover, but it also acted badly by providing the cover in such a profligate manner by giving the cover to all and sundry irrespective of income or wealth. I've long believed that the all or nothing status of the medical card is just plain wrong.

Perhaps someone from the department of finance might look to run the numbers...

Cowen on HIGNFY

Taoiseach Brian Cowen made an unexpected appearance in Have I Got News for You last night

Doesn't he just look like a little lost lamb?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stop the lights, Bunny.

I've heard some nonsense in my time but this is really of the biscuit taking variety. Reported by the Beeb yesterday a council in Wales is switching off street lights. It's for the environment don't you know. Seriously. Just as an aside are the savings of 250K from the council budget.

Street lighting along with sewage, the police, fresh drinking water and the town crier (an early version of a mobile RSS feed, ask your granny) was one of the most basic services that local city authorities undertook to provide in the pre-Victorian era. Even the bloody Romans provided street lighting.

Live Blogging of Budget 2009

I know there's a good few others having a crack at this, but the more the merrier I say. You can do a sort of speed read of the previous budgets here as homework if you like.

NB: This is a kind of test run for me for other events. Feel free to add comments as I go along. Next time I will try and add other folks into the live feed itself using the panellists feature

Monday, October 13, 2008

Alternative budget proposals

With all the talking down of the budget prospects, I've been thinking about a few silver bullets of my own.

a) create an immediate slave caste from those under 5' 6" tall.

b) designate 1 in 40 taxpayers as 'the unfortunate b'stard', and impose a tax rate of 80% on all their earnings past and future.

c) create a new currency local to each county.

d) make the amount of spam you receive indicative of your 'net profile and tax accordingly.

e) tax people based on their site traffic. You know they must be making money somehow from it all even if they say it's not for profit.

f) a time based entry charge for those travelling south from the north while in possession of a GAA county jersey.

g) a charge for the temporary export of silverware. Might make those bearded lads think again about going for 2 in a row.

h) make language a revenue producer by rationing terms like 'property bubble', stagflation, resurgence.

i) nationalise 4x4s to be used to bring feral children to school.

j) charge those under 40 'an old geezer' levy to be written off by spending time listening to someone over 65 regale them with tales of the misery of the old days.

k) require licenses of people under 65 to complain about how the youngsters won't know what hit them.

Feel free to add your own suggestions.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where did all the money go?

At this point, we all know that people in the financial sector (I think the technical term is fecking eejits) paid over the odds for assets that we now refer to as toxic. But where has that money gone? After all, if people paid excessive amounts for their stinky soggy ex-hot potato parcel and that parcel isn't worth what the buyer thought then at least the seller has the cash right? right?

The core issue we are being repeatedly told is that loans were given to people to buy their homes and these are people who can't now afford to make the repayments. Yet it is worth remembering that not all of those people will default and even those that can't make loan repayments will be able to pay rent which has to be worth something more than nothing.

In part I suspect that by painting the situation as bleak as possible serves to allows some people who are directly responsible for this way of doing business to pretend that there was nothing they could have done differently. That this is, in words all too familiar to users of the Irish health service, a system's failure. It's not, it's a failure directly attributable to those same individuals who were collecting the bonuses for how great they were doing. Those who made the decisions should be fired.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Does Sarah Palin read adult magazines?

Katie Couric asked Gov. Palin in the last few days what magazines and newspapers she reads and she wasn't able to name any. “Um, all of them, any that have been in front of me all these years.” Now, Sarah Palin studied journalism at college. Yet when called upon she can’t name a single newspaper, magazine, or periodical that she’s ever read.

Could it be that she was just embarrassed by her choice of reading material? But why? Then it hit me, was Gov. Palin suggesting in some very roundabout way that she reads adult magazines? I mean after all they are available in lots of good book stores across America even in Alaska. As has been noted down the years a few of those publications have some damn fine articles.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

EU is none too pleased at how the Irish government acted - Sod'em!

Well, would you get her?
The EU seems miffed that the Irish government acted what they view as a unilateral manner to deal with the situation in Ireland vis-a-vis the banks. I've personally got a lot of qualms about the way in which the government's underwriting of the banks had been handled but one thing I don't have a problem with is that they didn't wait around for the EU to have a conflab about it. As McCreevy pointed out later on member states don't have the luxury of waiting forever and a day while Brussels ponders. In truth I sense the hand of McCreevy in all this, he was in Ireland on Monday and I suspect he was consulted at least to some extent on the options.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Potential flaw in local election expenditure limits

John Gormley's announcement that he is looking to establish spending limits for the local elections should be something to be widely welcomed. However from what he has said so far there are a few problems with the approach he is suggesting should be followed. He mentions one area of consideration "Should different amounts apply in elections for city and county councils, and town councils;". On the surface that seems a sensible distinction to make but that's not quite the case when you look at how it would play out on the ground.

The thing is that different counties have different ratios between councillors and voters. I'm using 2004 numbers for electorates but the comparison holds up. In Dublin city council for example the Artane Ward had an electorate of 26, 000 compared to Limerick Ward 2 which was only 9,000, both for 4 seats, both city councils. Or more extreme Ballinamore Co. Leitrim a 6 seater for just 6,000 voters as compared to Midleton a 6 seater in Co.Cork but for 40,000 people. Being a city, county or town council should not be the point of divergence in spending limits. In truth it must be linked to the number of people each candidate is seeking to represent. And in doing that it is likely that we will see a reopening of the can of worms that are issues of pay in proportion to the number of people being represented and perhaps too the fact that members of the Seanad are elected by councillors who represent varying numbers of people.

Couple this divergence in size with the absence of any reference to date to the use of publicly funded facilities by incumbents (photocopying in city hall can save a candidate quite a pretty penny in paper and printing costs in the lead up to an election campaign, especially when you know for certain the date of the contest) and you've got a recipe for a tidy little legal mess come next year. That isn't to say the topic shouldn't be gone into, just that it is about more than set caps on spending.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eurovision to be fixed!

The folks behind the Eurovision have announced that they are to re-introduce jury voting to run alongside the popular votes. Hurrah, that should finally restore some much needed credibility to the world's premier kitsch fest. Might Terry come back?

N.B. I still reckon Sopho was robbed last year.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jean Claude Van Damme as

Jean Claude Van Damme. I only became aware of this tonight via pop la femme chien. And it's absolutely brilliant!

Teaser below

and the Trailer is below

It's a tasty fish, I've nothing against it.

George C. Scott gives his views on carp. Yes, carp! I was attempting explain the magic of George C. Scott's voice to someone recently and used this as an example.

It is, in my view at least, a piece of cinema brilliance. And I can recommend Exorcist III for rental as an overly neglected and underrated movie. It's based on the actual book sequel to the Exorcist by William Peter Blatty and was directed by him. Honestly, the dialogue crackles along at a brisk pace and it is much more of a suspense movie and thrill ride than a horror.

On the subject of neglected movies, might I also offer The Hidden with Kyle McLachlan. It's an off beat cop movie/sci-fi mashup which I reckon has one of the best openings ever for a movie. "What'd he do rob a bank?". I've got a minor beef with Sky in that they keep showing the same films again and again on sci-fi when there are underrated classic, they could get for half nothing and show during the night for us to Plus and watch the following evening.

One of the weird but wonderful aspects of the 80s was that we were hit with a deluge of sub mainstream movies that never got close to being movie releases over here but which were quite passable of a dull winter's evening when we had no jobs or money.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

It wasn't me!

It seems some eejit took it upon himself to rush the stage at the V festival when Oasis were playing and ended up shoving Noel Gallagher into a monitor speaker and damaged his ribs. Even more bizarrely for me it seems his name is Daniel Sullivan. Well, just for the record it wasn't me. I wish Noel a speedy recovery and that other bloke is right off the family Christmas list.

I will say that I have seen Oasis play, it was in Dublin at the Tivoli in 1994, good, good gig. First time I'd ever been offered way over the odds for a ticket as I'm going into the venue.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Who is running Alaska?

A big deal has been made of the demands of running Alaska in recent weeks. How it gives one such rounded executive experience. It naturally begs the question who is running the place right now while Gov. Palin is criss-crossing the lower 48 campaigning to be VeeP?

Hang on, it’s got to be the Lt. Gov - Sean Parnell right? but hang on a minute he’s in a slow death march of a count for the republican primary for a congressional seat. If he wins through there then he's got an election campaign for the congressional seat to work at between now and election day in Nov. So, if Alaska can be let on auto pilot for so long then is being Governor of the place really all that demanding? After all, if it's not a real full time job, if it is like a time share thing then how much worth can we put in doing it for 18 months before become your party's nominee for the vice-Presidency? The last Governor the US elected who wasn't a full time hands on type of guy was W. and look where that got the US.

Seriously, if McCain was really all that gone on executive experience then that nice Mike Huckabee chap was governor of Arkansas for over a decade and his views on many social conservative issues overlap with those of Governor Palin. And Chuck Norris had endorsed him so he had the gun club folks too.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A cinema giant passes on - and you won't know his face or his name.

Don LaFontaine the king of voiceovers has died aged 68. How can we go on "in a world where" this man can no longer guide us through the troubles of life and the power of imagination. This winter and next summer things will be just that little bit bleaker. That really was a voice to launch a movie, you can hear more here. Volume is a tad loud mind.

Things you hate to love

Caught this at the weekend* on Dave!, Stephen Fry talking about things you hate to love, like in his case, Darts! (the game/sport, not the band) and ABBA, and Georgette Heyer and gibberish and swearing. It was a fantastic concept for a show. I hope it was real and not one of those things that your brain does while you're sleeping. Read more here.

*I was tired, I'm writing a paper on something and I had nothing to wear so I stayed in, it happens.

The economy has sphinctered

It's pretty much official now that the economy is not slowing down rather it is closed for business. I did like that an auctioneer in Tuam on the RTe news was saying that there was a need for the building industry to reduce prices drastically in bring people back into the market and then went on to be quoted as saying there as €15 million in new unsold property in the area. Now was that €15 million in terms of the current asking price or should we read that as really being €10 million's worth? Tom Parlon joined in the fun fest by asking for a direct state bailout of construction. Wasn't he in a party once that believed in the free market?

Yes, indeed the Irish construction industry has truly overdone its reaction to the credit crunch or the fiscal trots as some might term it and we're stuck looking at the rest of the economy sphinctering out of sympathy.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Oireachtas reform

I know I've made some hay previously about reforming the Seanad to make it somewhat more consistent, but what about something more fundamental like reforming the entire electoral system. I believe that the Oireachtas, local government and large swaths of Irish public life are broken ,busted, banjaxed. I believe that the current system has served us badly.

Let's take for a moment the view that the Irish people really do need all these people helping them with form filling and ringing up the planning office and coming to their funerals. So let's keep people in the system to do that but let's also keep them the hell away from the drafting, consideration and voting involved in legislation.

Take the number of TD 166 and for every 3 of them at present let's try and suffice with just the 2 who will become what I would term public advocates. They will sit in a people's chamber that gets to vote on legislation but only to reject it by a 2/3 vote. So, that's 111 of them advocates to be elected by PR-STV. And then we should have 100 members of an actual legislature 80% of whom are to be elected by a list system on a provincial basis, and the remaining 20% by national list.

And those in the latter chamber would actually be the only ones who could draft, debate and vote on actual proposed new legislation. And then members of the cabinet can be drawn from both chambers or none. But they must be approved by Oireachtas committee (much like the US senate hearings to approve cabinet members.

And let's pay the advocates more than those in the legislature so that people aren't tempted to use it as stepping stone to get into the legislature as people currently use the county/city council seats. Pay the advocates 100K (after all they're doing the work of 1.5 TDs and we pay TD's 100K as of today) and the legislators just 80K say. Members of the cabinet get a top up to bring them up to 150K. And the top dog can have 180K and the use of a flat in town along with the lodge at Farmleigh for the family.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama vs. McCain - who is better for Ireland?

Does anyone in the media know anything? This piece in the examiner today states that Ireland does better under republican presidents than under Democrats. Really? Did anyone do any fact checking at all?

The 1950s were times of bleakness matched only by the huge rate of emigration with that nice Ike (Rep) what people said they liked in the White house. Most people reckon the 60s were pretty good here economically with Lemass and his plans and the general opening up of the country, but weren't Kennedy and Johnson Democrats? And then when things went to hell in handbasket in the early 70s that Nixon chap (Rep) was commander in chief. We had a brief boom in the late 70s due to the government getting drunk on tax cuts and inflationary public spending but the chickens and most forms of farmyard fowl came home to roost in the 80s. That would be when Ronald the non-McDonald (Rep) was letting things supply siding it up and trickle down.

Times were even tighter here under Bush I (Rep). Most people place the emergence of the Celtic Tiger from the undergrowth (though it's birth pangs were probably felt in the latter days of Bush I) at some point between '94 and '96 when Clinton (Dem) was still paying attention to non-cigar related activities and our recent housing related boom and bust was under Bush II. So, I don't there is any solid pattern there but if you were making any kind of correlation it would be more plausible to suggest that we do better when the Dems are in charge. Though we need a period of republican rule to prepare us.

As for the future it is not completely unreasonable to suggest that if Obama pushes a protectionist agenda that it may will harm our position but there is nothing in recent history to support the actual tone or title of the article.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Banana splits to reform!

The beeb are reporting that the banana splits are coming back. Hurrah, I say. It must have been ten years after I stopped watching it that I discovered there was a dessert of the same name.

Not long now

Is it just me or does the delays in the Russian withdrawal from Georgia proper remind anyone else of a couch surfer you met while on holidays, who turns up on your doorstep to take you up on your inebriated offer of crashage and who then makes themselves more at home that you intended and who appears to have no concrete plans to shift themselves.

"We'll be out of your hair tomorrow! Probably..."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What if the landlords of the banks couldn't pay their loans?

Interesting question posed in the pub a while back- what if either of the sets of people who bought the HQs of the two largest Irish banks couldn't continue to finance their operations? Many people thought at the time that when BOI and ABI sold their HQs and leased them back that this was a sure sign that the property market had peaked. And that may well turn out to be the case. Yet what of the finances of those who bought them, what if they were to find themselves over stretched? Would the banks lean on them or ease off for fear that they might seek to renogitiate the leases

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Old white dude 0 - Paris Hilton 1

When reading it I thought the idea of Paris Hilton responding to John McCain's Obama - Celebrity ad was really lame. Yet it works brilliantly, in what it has to be her best performance to date she is actually convincing talking about energy policy. Watch it here

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Russell Howards updates Yes Prime Minister

I had mentioned over on IElection that I'd seen a brilliant piece on Mock the Week done by Russell Howard. Well here it is if you missed it.

And this is a somewhat older piece of wit along similar lines.

Jim Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:

* The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
* The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
* The Times is read by people who actually do run the country;
* The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
* The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
* The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
* And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?
Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

Things I liked about yesterday

Things I caught or saw or hear yesterday.

Midnight in the garden of good and evil - really brings home how the visuals of cinema can shape our feel for a region or place.

Disclosure - not a very good movie, but it has a vaguely engineery feel to it and does suggest a great idea for a sequel. Let Demi Moore come back to try after ten years and try and buy the company but Dear God let the technology it is all tied in with be better than Cd-Rom's.

And then The Stand started with Don't Fear the Reaper by the Blue Oyster Cult. Just how good is that track!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil launches, drops the L plate too.

Saw on the beeb site that Cuill* or Cuil as it now is has launched. I had personally suspected that Cuil was going to go after the search as a service market for big iron folks but it is out there now as a Joe Public service.

Interesting that folks locally seem to be focusing on the Irish connection with Tom Costello, however there is a strong Irish link on one of the other co-founders in the office of the President of Cuill too. She was also in University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign around the same time as Marc Andreessen of Netscape. She is a very, very, intelligent individual and quite pleasant too.

The best of luck to them I say. Interestingly, their frontend UI puts me in mind of which is more a search assistant in many ways. Now if cuill were use the Searchme UI as an option I'd nearly count it as love at first site.

Update: Cuill is stated by some as being derived from old Gaelic, it doesn't state it was our form of Gaelic. In Manx legend in Gaelic it would seem that it was a Finn Mac Cuill who created the Isle of Man, and through Fionn mac Cumhaill or Fionn MacCool we get to the Legend of the Salmon of Knowledge. And hence the link to the name. Now, I'm off to the leaba to read my Poirot.

*Just to be clear I'm not the Danny Sullivan quoted in the beeb article. He would be a proper tech-head commentariat person to my amateur dabblings.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

It was just good clean S&M!

Max Mosley* has won his case against the NotW which characterised his engagement with five ladies of negotiable virtue as being a 'Nazi themed sex orgy'. As the judge said "The "bondage, beating and domination" that did take place was "typical of S and M behaviour"," So all good clean fun then!

I do wonder some times if we really need to be that interested in every aspect of people's lives. After all Max Mosley is running Formula 1 not a girls' boarding school. Is it in the public interest that every aspect of people's lives. In an age when more and more social activity is on-line and traceable are we saying to anyone that wishes to engage in any role in public life that they must be completely and unbearably open about how they live every aspect of their lives whether it impinges on how they execute that role or not? I would hope not, but I can see it going that way.

*the spell check with Firefox recognised Mosley but not Max! There's a message there I'm sure of it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is a big quake due in Japan?

Another quake in Japan today, following on from one off the east coast and another in the north in mid June - the 3rd in about 6 weeks. Quakes are not uncommon in Japan but there is a concern that large quakes can de-stabilise areas as well as relieve tension in the tectonic plates. They can be sort of pre-shocks to a more significant movement.

When I was living there, I remember being told that there are three major faults lines running through the main island and the Kanto region where Tokyo-Yokohama are and that all 3 were due/overdue to hit, that was back in the early 1990s. The Kanto area gets a big one every 70 years and the last one in 1923 caused 140,000 deaths mainly from fire. I think two of the lines were north-south and the other from the north-west to south-east. I don't think was more than a 4.5er when I was there which amounted to more or less a strong tremor where I was living. Still gave me the willies all the same.

Of course the averaging out of hits from quakes is rough work at best. I sincerely hope that the current quakes are simply relieving tension in the plates and not precursors to something major brewing in mother Earth's tummy.

Boston of all places has a risk of a magnitude 6 quake every 500 -900 years but the last was in 1755. However New England gets more moderate (magnitude 5) quakes happen every 50 to 90 years. And their problem is all the building that was done on the BackBay which is infill!

5 minute cake takes Web by storm!

The five minute cake recipe appears to be taking the male lazy cook world by storm. Load of folks are trying it and sending pictures of the results to their mates. And it looks moist and delicious. Now about those seven minutes abs.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Who watches the Watchmen? All of us I hope.

Watchmen trailer.

Got to say the Vietnam imagery is excellently realised, makes one realise why people would want to surrender to the good Dr. themselves. Pass it on.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Same sex relationships - won't someone think of the aunties?

Breda O'Brien returns to the topic again today 'It is the belief that wherever possible, a child should be reared by a mother and a father, and that children have the right to know and have a relationship with their biological parents.' I wonder if 'wherever possible' is the 'wherever practicable' of social thinking amongst the new Christian right. I say new right but they sound a lot like the old right to me.

I'm sure my own individual mail (see bottom of post) had nothing to do with her returning to the topic but I suspect she got lots of mail over the week and that fact probably did have something to do with her response. I had mentioned in my mail that I thought a more important fact was that 'Children have the right to be raised in a loving home, ...'

First though, let's start with the above comment she made' children have the right to know and have a relationship with their biological parents' - is she in truth suggesting that all current adoptions should follow this route with biological parents being required to play an active part in their children's lives? I would wish that she would be clear and state that she is also objecting to the adoption of children by single people and also objecting to IVF. David Quinn has mentioned that a few times but hasn't banged that drum too loudly as most people are inclined to be sympathetic to those who go for IVF. They're no eejits these lads and lassies.

Moving on from there she doesn't mention at all that more important than being 'reared by a mother and a father' is that you are reared in a loving, nurturing and supportive environment. the mere presence of a male parental unit, and a female parental unit is not sufficient to ensure that those elements are going to be present. Shouldn't we think more about the importance of children having loving and caring parents at all than what their sexual orientation is?

This is what I'd sent to her last week, I'm sure she had other comment too during the course of the week.

'I’m not at all clear how asking a straightforward yes or no question like “Are you homophobic?” is a "have you stopped beating your wife?" type of question. Surely a version of that question would take more a form like “When will you stop persecuting homosexuals?”. I suspect Matt Cooper was as interested to know what was behind Senator Walsh sudden interest in
the topic (or in legislation more generally) given that he is one of the more laid back Senators when it comes to debate within the Seanad. He is more known for his work tending to the needs of those cllrs who vote for him than a strong interest in the legislative role of his office.

I don’t doubt that people use the term homophobe as a battering ram in many a discussion but it is also the case that the rights of children is being used to serve a similar purpose. Children have the right to be raised in a loving home, while I would have my own bias that it may well be a family unit with a mother and a father, aunts and uncles, grandparents and even siblings has the benefit of long practice. But the absence alone of some component of that ideal family is not a sufficient reason to preclude someone from the adoption process. I wouldn’t seek to prevent single people or those in same sex committed relationships from adopting simply because of their sexual orientation or the fact of being single.

No one has argued for the right to adopt children that I aware of. In fact no one has the right to adopt a child. They merely have the right to apply as people should be only able to adopt if they are suitable to provide a safe, secure, loving and nurturing environment to the particular child. The greatest challenge to traditional marriage is the attitude of some of those entering into it that it should come as easy as pie, when in truth all relationships require work and are all the more rewarding for it.'

Dublin South bye-election - Part 2

This could be the PDs Bootle byelection, if Fiona O'Malley runs (and she simply has to given that she announced she was targeting this constituency once DL went to 4 seats; she can't choose to nor run now in a constituency where they had a seat up to the last election and then try to run in the next general election) and if she gets considerably less than what Liz O'Donnell got - say under 5% - then the party would have some cause to simply wind itself up much as the SDP had to do after coming in behind the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Battlestar - Irish Government cross over episode

It's not hilarious I admit but it's more a test of what might be possible once the telly card comes out of the plastic wrapping and into the maw of the machine.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Dublin South bye-election

It could be some months yet before we see the writ being moved for the by election in Dublin South following the early passing of Seamus Brennan. None of the early presumptive candidates from FF/FG/Labour had large votes in the general election last year, so they start from a situation where their personal bases are substantially the same.

With almost 42% of the vote FF should be favoured to win easily here but much of that vote is personal to both Tom Kitt and Seamus Brennan and as such more mobile than might otherwise be the case. FG with 27% would seem next best placed here after FF, but Labour's probable candidate Alex White got marginally more than the presumptive FG candidate in the general and has had a year as a member of the Seanad. That said as a local cllr O'Leary would have been on the ground more often than White and in a bye election the local connection counts.

Fianna fail - Maria Corrigan is in the Seanad and was appointed by the Taoiseach so if elected she can be easily replaced. However, if she does run then you can be sure her relationship with Joe Burke and by extension the former Taoiseach will come up. In that sense she may have first call on the nomination but it could turn out as a negative for her if the election was about another referendum on Bertie.

FG - Jim O'Leary must be favoured, he towed the line when required in shifting wards in 2004 and run an effective campaign as the 3rd option last time out. A safe solid choice.

Labour - Alex White may have to fend off Culhane again for the nomination. There again that may be all done and dusted.

Progressive Democrats - Fiona O'Malley simply has to run, whether for the PDs or more spectacularly for FF.

SF - will run whichever of their council candidate they wish to most promote most Most likely in my view to be Sorcha Nic Cormaic who polled higher last year.

Greens - would be best advised to do as SF will do and run someone just to give them a profile for the locals.

The bookies will favour Corrigan out of the blocks but if you see decent odds from the bookies on O'Leary or White throw a few quid at it or bite their hands off whichever you prefer.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Jedi Gym

Much of it is funny in the way you'd expect it to be, but there are less obvious gems too.

Excellent work my young apprentice. Hat tip to Kerry.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Willie takes aim, he shoots, he scores!

I was reading the Sindo on line yesterday (seriously, you don't think I'd paid for it?) and I was shocked but not appalled by the contribution of minister Willie O'Dea. Willie did his usual short, sharp shock job but on this occasion in his sights were the twin arguments commonly raised against Civil Partnerships that they will undermine existing marriages and that God has told some folks that it just ain't right. While I'd personally prefer if the government went further with these proposals I'd not be inclined to vote against them just for the sake of it. The piece is short and well worth reading. Nice one Willie.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Dr. Who prediction

Since the place they've gone to is 2 secs out of phase with normal time it is entirely possible to bring back Christopher Eccleston as a one off. They could even do one of those different person in the mirror things to have David Tennant and Eccleston on screen together. Just a guess mind, the jury is still out on my prediction about the final cylon.

Talking down the economy

Why is Cowen so exercised about this - there is a long and honourable(ish) tradition of it in Fianna Fail.

I wish to talk to you this evening about the state of the nation's affairs and the picture I have to paint is not, unfortunately, a very cheerful one. The figures which are just now becoming available to us show one thing very clearly. As a community we are living away beyond our means. I don't mean that everyone in the community is living too well, clearly many are not and have barely enough to get by, but taking us all together we have been living at a rate which is simply not justified by the amount of goods and services we are producing. To make up the difference we have been borrowing enormous amounts of money, borrowing at a rate which just cannot continue. A few simple figures will make this very clear...we will just have to reorganise government spending so that we can only undertake those things we can afford.

—Charles Haughey, January 9, 1980

Christopher Hitchens - water broading

If you've ever had an asthma attack or anything like it then you may have some hint of what water boarding is really like. We are so surrounded by air that we readily forget how frequently we require it. Christopher Hitchens in writing for Vanity Fair decided to see what it was like for himself.

This is the article from Vanity Fair which is well worth the read (only 2 pages) and below is some video of part of the experience he had. It is not disturbing to watch in itself but it comes more unsettling once you start to consider how you would feel in the same position.

The key point missed by folks who think this sort of thing is just plain dandy because of the war on terror is that the people it is used on are merely suspects who have not yet stood trail in most cases much less been convicted of anything. It is worth remembering that with all the time and resources available to them compared to the time pressures that the military operate under the justice system in the US has placed people on death row who have been exonerated later. And indeed executed some who were later found to be not guilty. So a goodly portion of those subjected to water boarding are most likely innocent of what they are suspected of.

The reason we have all the safe guards we do in our legal system is not to protect the guilty but to ensure that the innocent don't pay a price on behalf of others. I've long held the view, that when it comes to the death penalty, that those who seek to restore it should offer themselves as collateral in case of mistakes. When a single innocent person is executed then 12 of those who supported the restoration of the death penalty should be randomly selected and added to the line of those to be executed with no leave to appeal. After all, if you believe in the system so much why should you expect another innocent person to pay a price you wouldn't pay to ensure the system continues. So, let's do the same with water boarding. For every person who is subjected to this practice and not found guilty of anything then 12 supporters of the practice should be subjected to it too. I would include in that figure of 12 at least one lawmaker in congress and then work my way down into the state legislatures. After all if the price in civil liberties is supposedly worth paying shouldn't those deciding it must be paid also be the ones to pay at least some of it?