Friday, October 24, 2014

Actions Most Positive for Positive Action

I'd call a spa treatment and a massage some positive action. An Garda Siochana, however, doesn't see the positivity in such things. They're under the impression that the charity organization Positive Action was strictly about raising money for women infected with Hepatitis C.

There's more to Positive Action than helping the sick. What about helping the stressed individuals working so hard to generate the funds and then distribute them? One for you, two for me, one for you, three for me...and so on until several hundred thousand euro go missing.

One employee of Positive Action must have become exhausted with all the support group development and the lobbying for the best care available, to say nothing of the advocating. A massage would loosen up the tension in the shoulders, and someone whose liver is gone due to Hepatitis C couldn't begrudge an hour of such therapy. So busy was she with her work that she had to send a courier to pick up the dry-cleaning, and Positive Action came through once again. Or she charged the cost to the office. Either way, she earned the perk, right?

Have you ever tried to drive in Dublin? It's madness. So it's understandable that Positive Action would have spent €34,000 on taxi fares over a four year period. They must have had to do a great deal of traveling, what with all that advocating and ensuring the best care and such.

The organization also managed to spend €100,000 on such essentials as angel card readings and spiritual healing. Well, if the drugs aren't working, what's a patient to do? A little spiritual healing might be the only option.

Then there were the hundreds of thousands spent on overseas travel, and the astronomical sum that went towards legal fees.

Investigators are uncovering some phony invoices and inflated invoices and just about any scheme you could imagine to separate the cash from Positive Action. To help with disguising transactions, there was a secret bank account, to go along with a secret investment account.

The Health Service paid for all that lavish spending over a four year period, beauty treatments and groceries and whatever was wanted, because no one was minding the till. The employee entrusted with distributing the money to the women who were supposed to be reaping the benefits managed to reap the benefits largely for herself. Over a million of your hard-earned euro were thrown down the drain due to a lack of oversight.

The oversight is coming too late. The money is gone, and it isn't coming back.

Gardai aren't even sure where it all went.

The woman at the center of the fraud is cooperating with authorities, who have yet to charge her. They'll most likely wait to see how much cooperating she does before settling on a suitable charge.

For Positive Action, it was four years of living large on someone else's back, not unlike a pimp. That would make the Irish taxpayers the whores, apparently.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Democratic Strategist Integrity

The husband of political consultant Ann Liston quit his job yesterday, citing political interference and implications of pillow talk between spouses.

At the same time, Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney resigned from the paper, citing political interference and implications of pillow talk between spouses.

These two sentences are essentially the same, but the description of the protagonist has been slightly altered to show, rather than tell. Dave McKinney is a political reporter for a Chicago newspaper, and his wife is a political consultant. Your head is now drawing lines from Point A to Point B and you're arriving at Point 'Journalistic Integrity'.
Are they talking politics?

Mr. McKinney penned an in-depth article about Republican candidate Bruce Rauner and Mr. Rauner's involvement in a lawsuit that touched on operations of one of the many companies his hedge fund operated. The article painted him in a bad light, which is what you'd expect from an investigative journalist.

But does it make a difference to your sense of integrity to know that his wife is a Democratic consultant whose firm works with Illinois Democratic candidates to get them elected?

The journalist blames the new owners of the Chicago Sun-Times, one of whom was Bruce Rauner before he gave up the investment when he decided to run for governor. Mr. McKinney says that the publisher was put under pressure by the paper's owners to kill the piece by the Rauner campaign, but the article ran anyway. The conflict of interest angle was then floated, but still the article was published.

But right after it ran, Mr. McKinney was relieved of his politcal beat and given other options at the newspaper, none of which he cared to accept.

The reporter defended his editor, in the belief that Jim Kirk would never do that to him. Jim Kirk has been defending his integrity by insisting that no one above him was pulling his strings and it was his decision to pull the plug on a good reporter who, it turned out, married into an enormous conflict of interest.

Ms. Liston herself is not working on the Quinn re-election campaign, but her company is, and the average reader would not believe that she is so isolated in her office that a word is never passed between her and her colleagues.

That becomes a problem for a newspaper that is concerned with journalistic integrity. The owners of the Sun-Times don't want to get a reputation as the spokes-paper for the Democrats, especially in Chicago where the Democrats are famous for corruption and one-party rule. They are competing with the conservative Chicago Tribune, and while a liberal slant is fine, a lack of independence from the politicians being covered is deadly.

Mr. McKinney believes his demotion was ordered by the paper's owner, Michael "Charles Foster Kane" Ferro, and he has retained some high-powered legal bulldogs to make a case that shows Mr. McKinney was the victim of political machinations at the highest level.

Is his wife the political strategist advising him?

What do they talk about when their heads hit the pillow? Should the readers know?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Take Back The (Halloween) Night

The good old days
The ancient Celts knew how to celebrate the dead. It's an art that, sadly, has been lost to our modern culture. Sure we still carve up the occasional vegetable and scare small children with grisly tales of the dead, but the true meaning of Halloween is lost.

Sinn Fein's Sandra McLennan wants to restore Ireland's former Celtic glory. She wants the government to do it, but she's Sinn Fein and they expect the government to do everything anyway. It won't happen, however, unless the Celts get behind her and stand up for their right to the night.

The old ones called it Samhain, the night of the dead, and they celebrated the holiday like it was a genuine holiday. It was also a date that marked winter's approach, an event of some importance to the ancients who had no government to offer subsidies or welfare payments if the crops were poor or a farmer didn't get his livestock secured before bad weather hit.

What was Samhain became Halloween as the ancient practices were absorbed into Christianity. Who doesn't enjoy Christmas, right, and it's just the old Roman festival in fancy dress. So here we are, us modern types, still celebrating all things that go bump in the night on the same day as the old Celts. Except us modern types have distorted Halloween into a time for terrorizing the elderly neighbors or engaging in acts of vandalism after some heavy drinking and drug use.

You might think it's all in fun until it's your dustbin that gets blown up by fireworks and you have to clean up the mess. And if your neighbor decides to build a bonfire that runs out of control, you won't be pleased to learn that the fire brigade is busy up the road and sorry about your shed burning down.

Sandra McLennan wants Halloween to become Samhain again, with a national festival that would run along the lines of Culture Night.

Her suggestion has hit a barricade in the form of Heather Humphreys, the Arts Minister.

As the Minister has pointed out, Ireland already has Culture Night so why try to clone it and then confuse people about which night is the big night. In addition, the State is already paying the costs of one Culture Night to draw in the tourists, and there isn't a lot of spare cash around to pay for another.

Then there are the many local festivals that would be lost in this nationalization of Halloween. That's a lot of toes to be stepping on, especially the toes belonging to those who work so hard to create the local celebration and organize the many activities. Someone from Dublin is going to waltz in and take over? The reception won't be warm, and the grumbling will be loud.

Unless everyone were on board with Ms. McLennan's idea, that is. The local groups would have to be brought in under the national umbrella, and what better selling point could Ms. McLennan have than the need to eliminate anti-social behavior on Halloween? The ancient Celts weren't blowing up dustbins or throwing firecrackers at the gardai attempting to keep order. Wouldn't everyone in Ireland like to be more Celtic for one night of the year?

The Irish essentially invented Halloween. Why not make it a cultural event and then promote it as a tourist attraction? The Druids are always up for a good party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Extortion At The Pharmacy

Pay up or the cigar gets it
You fill your prescriptions where it is most convenient for you. A pharmacy near your job, or where you wait for the bus to take you to your dull cubicle or the dish-washing station at the greasy spoon. Maybe it's next to the dry cleaners so you can consolidate the pick-ups to save a few minutes.

CVS doesn't care if you're inconvenienced. If you have Caremark running your benefits show and your preferred store is still selling cigarettes, you are going to pay more for your prescription.

It's extortion, in essence, at the corporate level. CVS wants all shops in its Caremark network to stop carrying tobacco products because it's not a product designed to promote health. It is an addiction, not unlike those addicted to prescription meds, but pills are so clean and they don't smell when being used according to the doc's orders.

The idea behind the extortion plot is to force the pharmacy in question to remove the cigs because their clients are going to go elsewhere to buy their meds and the pharmacy will be forced out of business.

If you're doing business with CVS directly, at one of its 7700 pharmacies, you've already adapted. You get your ciggies elsewhere because the pharmacy doesn't carry them any more. If your health insurance plan contains a prescription drug benefit plan operated by CVS-owned Caremark, you will either pay up for your pharmacist's stubborn refusal to be told what to do by some big faceless corporation, or you'll go elsewhere to avoid paying the extortion.

The Mafia makes millions from shop owners who pay the goons to not burn down the store. Now CVS is going thug and making everyone pay if the pharmacy doesn't follow orders.

The company you work for wants all the employees to give up smoking because health care costs are higher for long-time smokers. They have an unpleasant tendency to develop cancers after prolonged use, and if you get sick while still employed, the health insurance provider has to pay up and they really, really hate that. You can still sneak the smokes, of course, but it's going to be made more inconvenient because you can't just pick up a pack when you get your blood pressure meds. You have to go to the nearest gas station or the convenience store on the corner.

What can you do, to keep doing things the way you've been doing?

Walgreens doesn't care if you smoke or not. They're competing with CVS to get prescriptions. So it's up to you and your fellow smokers to put pressure on whoever at your place of employment picks the insurance policies. Down with Caremark! Up with liberty! Down with extortion! Don't tread on me!

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Question Of Celibacy

Father "Do As I Say Not As I Do" Rosbotham
Two men dispute ownership of a holiday cottage. They both claim ownership rights.

Not a particularly earth-shattering revelation. People can be found in courts everywhere, arguing over who owns how much of what if they own a piece of it at all.

Such disagreements between two people in a relationship that does not have the legal framework provided by marriage are often contentious. What a wife might get in a divorce settlement is not what a lover can expect to automatically receive when the relationship ends. Then the courts have to wade in and calculate how much each party invested in the asset in question, and the feuding couple has to testify in court about various aspects of their personal life that would otherwise never become public knowledge.

For instance, there could be two men arguing, and the next thing you know, everyone is made aware that the lads are not just old friends or work colleagues but homosexual lovers.

And where did our subjects here work? They worked for the Roman Catholic Church. One used to be a Franciscan. The other is still a priest.

What of the vow of celibacy, gentlemen?

Parishioners in Kilmoremoy, in County Mayo, were a bit stunned, at least those who attended Mass on Sunday. Their bishop read a letter to them, which itself was a shock. You don't often see the bishop at a Mass at a small local parish. But there he was in all his majesty, letting the faithful know that their curate was being given a time-out to reflect on the things he preached about. Things like sin and fornication and the like. The things Father Gabriel Rosbotham was doing for years with his Franciscan lover.

Father Rosbotham makes no apologies for being gay, and in keeping with the Pope's call to not judge homosexuals, the Church hierarchy isn't saying anything about his sexual orientation. What has the Church upset is this latest example of hypocrisy, which is doing more to drive people away from the Church than the most boring series of sermons ever could.

Priests must be celibate, and let someone suggest that the celibacy issue is part of the madness of the institution and you'll be told it's tradition, a gift, a sacrifice, or whatever excuse will do to stop any mention of ordaining married men. Don't even get them started on the suggestion that women be allowed entry.

The sexual relationship between Father Rosbotham and Hugo Crawford was exposed in court when the two argued over a cottage in Donegal. Father Rosbotham ended up with a legally decreed 27% share, and the Catholic Church ended up with another fire to extinguish. A pair of clerics were getting up to all sorts of fun in a scenic section of Donegal for ten years, and their superiors knew nothing, or at any rate, Bishop Fleming says he knew nothing. Women can't preach from the pulpit but a hypocrite can because he's male?

A gay priest? Not shocking at all. But a priest who lives a lie? That's not shocking either.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Star Spotting

What does Ireland have that can be used to generate jobs and tax income?

Not much in the way of precious gems, major manufacturing, lumber, gold, and the list goes on and on. What Ireland does have is beautiful scenery. And what does Hollywood want and need? Beautiful scenery that hasn't been used as backdrops so often that film-goers instantly recognize the actual location of the shooting.
Filming Star Wars 7 On Skellig Michael

Hollywood is also looking for discounts. The industry is facing a decline back home in California because it is too expensive to work there. Watch the credits of your average movie and you'll notice a lot of thanks going out to varioius foreign countries who provide some hefty tax incentives, along with a cheaper supply of labor.

The Double Irish is going away, but there's nothing to stop the State from modifying its tax credit scheme to draw in more Hollywood productions, which means more Hollywood A-listers arriving and more tourists following on their heels to get a glimpse of Brangelina and their menagerie or maybe George Clooney and is he escorting the missus or do they seem to be having a little spat there?

Scenery has its place, but to Hollywood's beancounters, it's all about the money.

Ireland will now make it about the money as well, if Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has her way.

Film crews can make use of a tax credit for the first 50 million they spend, but the major Hollywood blockbusters spend far more than that, and if you're competing with Prague for the business, you'll lose out to Prague. Ms. Humphreys would like Ireland to recognize the fact that the more desirable business is the more costly business, and the tax incentive should be upped to cover the first 100 million.

She throws in the usual bit about job creation because every tax scheme needs a job creation number to support it. That film production could generate 2,000 new jobs is most likely the absolute best case scenario that's more wishful thinking than hard numbers, but it is not easy to calculate the knock-on effect of star spotting as a new tourism draw.

After all, we speak English in Ireland, we have beer that we think is better than what you'll find in Prague, and we have all that cead mile failte to throw around.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'll See Your Double Irish And Double Down

The Double Irish tax scheme has been under fire from non-Irish countries, like the United States, that do not wish to lower their corporate tax rates and insist that Ireland raise its rate so corporations stop flocking to Ireland to save some money.

The grumbling has verged on extortion in America, where AbbVie has just decided to drop its acquisition of Shire Pharmaceuticals because new laws meant to punish Double Irish consumers would have made the deal less profitable. All to the good of Shire, which stands to gain a break-up fee of something around one billion dollars, which it will then use to buy another company so it can grow while AbbVie can go explain to its stockholders why things just didn't work out in the pending marriage.

Enticing foreign corporations to locate on Ireland's shores brought in so much money that the Celtic Tiger was born. There was no need to produce anything, and on an island without a lot of natural resources, that means a great deal. It was the tax inversion that brought prosperity to a poor country for the first time in its existence. Under pressure, Ireland has had to scrap the scheme.

At the same time, governmental types are well aware of the benefits of tax inversions, and just because they have caved in to the pressure on the Double Irish, they aren't going to not offer special deals and various bargains for foreign corporations willing to set up a small office in Dublin. And hire a couple of Irish nationals to shuffle the paperwork.

So the State will see your Double Irish rate of 12.5 percent and double down.

Have a patent, perhaps? Register it in Dublin and it's Irish intellectual property. Your tax rate? 6.25 percent.

It will be called "The Knowledge Box", as in computer technology knowledge that might be used by Amazon, Apple, Google, or Ebay. It's new drugs that might be developed by any of the big pharma companies that already have a presence in Ireland, and might therefore be enticed to stay.

Government is working with the very executives of these multinational firms affected by the death of the Double Irish, and together they will develop a policy that will save those multinationals some money. You don't see anyone in Government consulting with foreign heads of state on the new scheme, do you? It's being done to keep the tax inversion money flowing in, and what those foreign heads of state competing for the same pile of cash want is the opposite of what would be best for Ireland.

If the EU doesn't go for it, then there are other schemes in the works that can be modelled on similar tactics currently in force in other EU nations that were hoping to siphon off Ireland's tax exiles who would leave when the deal wasn't so good, and go looking for a more welcoming tax levy.

The Double Irish might be gone but the notion of attracting foreign investment via tax savings is still very much alive and well.

All that chatter out of Washington DC will not kill off what brought new life to a poor country. There is always a way around whatever barriers are erected, especially when money is involved and the Irish taxpayer is stretched to the limit and can't be asked for more.