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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Video minute: Galway in 1963

Tax Demand Of The Most Polite Kind

There follows the text of a letter which I received last Wednesday, second post:

Dear Mr Addison, I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more-than-prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise.

I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we, at the Inland Revenue, have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the "endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat" has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer, I would cautiously suggest that their being from "pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers" might indicate that your decision to "file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies" is at best a little ill-advised.

In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a "lackwit bumpkin" or, come to that, a "sodding charity". More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain, with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay "go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services", a moment's rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to "stump up for the whole damned party" yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor's disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on "junkets for Bunterish lickspittles" and "dancing whores", whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, "that box-ticking facade of a university system".

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries: 1. The reason we don't simply write "Muggins" on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system; 2. You can rest assured that "sucking the very marrows of those with nothing else to give" has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn't render it irrelevant, the sheer medical logistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to "give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India" you would still owe us the money. Please forward it by Friday. Yours sincerely, H J Lee, Customer Relations at Inland Revenue

Chris Addison

Dubious police report: Assailant suffers injuries from fall

Orville Smith, a store manager for Best Buy in Augusta, Georgia, USA, told police he observed a male customer,  later identified as Tyrone Jackson of Augusta, on surveillance cameras putting a laptop computer under his jacket. When confronted, the man became irate, knocked down an employee, drew a knife and ran for the door.

Outside on the sidewalk were four marines collecting toys for tots program. Smith said the marines stopped the man but he stabbed one of the them, Cpl. Philip Duggan, in the back; the injury did not appear to be severe.

After police and an ambulance arrived at the scene Cpl. Duggan was transported to hospital for treatment.

“The subject (assailant) was also transported to the local hospital with two broken arms, a broken ankle, several missing teeth, possible broken ribs, multiple contusions, assorted lacerations, a broken nose and a broken jaw….injuries he sustained when he slipped and fell of the curb after stabbing the marine,” according to the police report.


Friday, June 19, 2015

All work and no pay is not the idea

Emma Kelly, Ratoath; Carol Meade, Cork Street and Louise Murray, Blanchardstown during a protest outside Clerys in support of workers who lost their jobs. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

NOW that the night of recession is lifting, what kind of country does the dawn bring? Things are certainly brightening up. Unemployment is down. Tax receipts are up. The latest economic report, issued last week by the Central Bank, says the only real threat to the economy could come from external factors.
After nearly eight black years, the dawn is opening up on a new country. But is it the one we were promised?
Last Tuesday’s programme on the late Brian Lenihan brought back the darkest hours. His rallying cry for a “patriotic call to arms” as he delivered the first of a series of savage budgets in 2008 was a foretaste of what was to come.

Saving the banks was highly controversial and, undoubtedly, a very conservative decision at a time when radical action may have been more beneficial. But the government of the day was emerging dazed from the country they thought they had shaped in their own image.
In reality, they were as likely to take a radical route as Daniel O’Donnell is to bring out a death metal album.
Brian Cowen and his ministers were wandering in a strange and alien land.
Those least equipped to withstand cutbacks bore the brunt of austerity. Those who had benefited most from the demented property bubble fared a lot better.
Nearly everybody had to endure a drop in living standards, but the 300,000 who lost their jobs were hit hardest.

What was surprising was how little serious resistance was offered to the austerity programme. It wasn’t until widespread frustration coalesced on the water charge issue last year that serious resistance was offered. Notably, in that case, it brought about changes to the proposed new regime. One thing is beyond doubt. We were promised that it all represented the birth pangs for a new society in which past mistakes would not be repeated and the common good, rather than the special interests which shaped the old country, would be paramount.

Nothing dismisses such notions more than what has unfolded in the sale of Clerys department store in Dublin. Employees and small business owners were treated with contempt by big business, as if they were pawns to be moved and discarded in a game of chess.

The business, including the building, was sold by owners, Boston-based Gordon Brothers, at 2.30am yesterday week. The company had bought the business in 2012, and is understood to have made a 100% return on its investment. The 460 employees, nearly two thirds of which worked for concessions in the store, were told at lunchtime Friday that the business was sold to a consortium which is headed up by Dublin businesswoman Deirdre Foley. That evening, a meeting was called. The 50 or so concession holders were told to lodge the day’s takings with the company before attending the meeting.

The concessions are basically small firms who are given a space to sell their wares in the store for a fee. They had an arrangement whereby they lodged their takings with Clerys daily. The store then held the money in trust, deducted its fee, and returned the remainder of the money at the end of the month. The latest monthly repayments were due on Monday last.

Thus, by yesterday week, Clerys held practically the maximum amount of cash from tenants, exactly at the time the concessions and their workers were told to clear the hell out of the building as the business was being put into liquidation because it didn’t feature in the new owner’s plans.

Is it a coincidence that the closure was effected at a time when the store had hoovered up as much money as possible from its tenants, most of which is supposed to be held in trust. Do you believe in coincidences like that? The small businesses haven’t seen their money yet. A sum estimated at in excess of €2m is floating around somewhere in the possession of one of these vulture companies working their property plays.
Perhaps the experience of the bank bail-out, and full payment to bondholders who gambled on the property bubble, has led these masters of the universe to conclude that Joe Citizen in Ireland is a nice touch for a few bob.

Perhaps these vultures are confident that the Government is not just legally in a bind over the issue, but scared stiff of calling it like it is because Enda Kenny’s main focus is the branding of Ireland as the best small country in which to do business. Perhaps the promises on which austerity was endured were all as empty as the waffle shovelled out to voters at election time.

Apart from the small businesses and their employees that got burned, the store’s own staff were treated with callous disregard. Some of these people had worked all their adult lives in the iconic store. Many had rolled up their sleeves in 2012 when flooding damaged the building and helped with the repair work, under the false impression that they were employed by a paternalistic employer.

Now, just a few years later, they were just told to vamoose, without as much as a thank you note for services rendered for years or decades. No longer were they treated as human beings, but mere pawns who had outlived their usefulness.

Clerys isn’t the only manifestation of this post-recession dawn. The ongoing issue at Dunnes Stores over low-hour contracts, in which workers don’t know from week to week what they will earn, is another black cloud.
Government figures have wrung their hands over the matter, but what exactly will be done? The employers group Ibec has made plain it will resist any attempts to bring changes to a regime that treats workers as little more than pawns.

Just last week, Ibec director Danny McCoy told a conference that the era of the paternalistic employer is over.
“It is time to reset the narrative that flexible hours or part-time working is poorly paid, undesirable or precarious work,” he told the International Labour Conference in Geneva.
“Many workers actively choose to work in sectors where flexible hours are available in order to achieve the work-life equilibrium they require or desire.”

To some workers that might sound like a clarion call to improve pay, and if logic follows, include a premium for those who will no longer benefit from the status of an employee as it was understood heretofore.
Except, McCoy’s organisation told the Low Pay Commission last Wednesday that the current economic circumstances did not justify an increase in the minimum wage at this time.
So the deal is to pay workers less to work in an insecure environment, where bigger forces will decide at the drop of a hat whether they are of any further use even in those reduced circumstances.
Was it for this that Lenihan made his patriotic call to arms? 

Michael Clifford

Bank guarantee night is the ultimate whodunnit

Much of the time the Oireachtas banking inquiry seems to take on the character of a whodunnit, writes Michael Clifford

Josephine Citizen was murdered on the night of September 29, 2008, in government buildings. The murder weapon was a sharp-edged bank guarantee. Present were a splendid cast of suspects, including fatcat bankers, clueless politiicians and inept senior civil servants. Whodunnit?

Was it Professor Cowen, leader of the boisterous cult known as Fianna Fáil? Did Dr Lenihan try to save Josephine only to be repelled by feckless bankers? Had anybody drink taken? Were the civil servants awake when the deed was done? Does any of it really matter?

Apparently so, if we’re to follow the inquiry. Yesterday, one of those who were in the drawing room on the night in question appeared before the investigating politicians.

Kevin Cardiff was a second secretary with responsibility for banking in the Department of Finance at the time. He has had a good recession. After promotion to secretary general he subsequently lifted off to a big European job pulling in 250 big ones.

Yesterday, he filled in some details about the night Josephine met her end. The bankers were out to get the best deal possible for the banks (wow!). Cowen and Lenihan had a private meeting that probably sealed the deal. There were a lot of comings and goings.

Unfortunately, Cardiff couldn’t assist in locating a smoking gun or blood- stained knife, anything that might lead to a suspect being fingered for what has been pumped up to have allegedly been the worst night in the history of the state.

He did provide one home truth that will probably get ignored. The guarantee, he told the inquiry, “was the option least likely to lead to disaster”.

In other words, far from being the source of all woe that was to follow, the guarantee was a necessary reaction to the recklessness in banking, regulation and governing that persisted for up to five years before the night in question. Such an analysis was also provided by Patrick Honohan, but it does not fit into the political and public requirement for a neat and tidy answer to a very messy question.
The most relevant issues around the collapse were asked as something of an afterthought. Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath wondered why the department had not looked “under the bonnet” of the banks in the summer of 2008, as disaster loomed?

“We believed the regulator had a good picture and a level of stress-testing had been done,” the witness replied. Ah yes, here we go again. Somebody was asleep at the wheel but it wasn’t me.
Delving further back into the halcyon days of the galloping Tiger, Cardiff was asked did he have any concerns about ballooning public spending on the back of receipts from the property bubble. Here, the former senior civil servant said the blame lay to a greater extent with the politicians.

“Everyone decides we see the risks, but we’ll keep spending unless things get bad. The department would have wanted a much tighter fiscal policy than government or opposition and while we would have been more conservative [than the politicians] we weren’t conservative enough.”
But what of the harbingers of doom? Chairman Ciarán Lynch wanted to know why warnings were not acted on.

“Most people who saw the crash coming saw it too late to be in a position to undo most of the damage and even those who had an inkling that things were now in a dangerous place by 2006, the quandary then was how do you climb down off the cliff without a crash.”
That told more than any drama about the guarantee. The serious damage was done by 2006, and for up to two years after it was head-in-the-sand stuff because the truth was too awful to bear.
Cardiff’s other contribution was to give a first-hand account of how Ireland was forced into the Troika bailout in November 2010. He confirmed the ECB did their best to threaten with a smile, and the US treasury secretary Tim Guithner insisted that the bailout include shelling out to the gambling bondholders.
This stuff is shocking in its contempt for democracy, and some form of redress, or at least acknowledgement, should be sought. Cardiff also pointed out that a bailout was inevitable.

During his appearance at the inquiry, Honohan said that the bailout ensured less, rather than more, austerity. Cardiff’s analysis appears to concur. But let’s not allow facts get in the way of political rhetoric that casts the Troika as the font of austerity. A whodunnit needs plenty of villains to maintain the suspense.

Michael Clifford