American Presidential Election.

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Today in America millions of people will go to the polls to vote on various local proposals and elect local officials. The vast majority believe that they will also be voting for one or other of the candidates for the presidency but in this they are wrong. American presidents are not elected by the people but by an Electoral College and it is the membership of this body that will be determined in today’s vote.

But surely, you might say, the Electoral College is a mere technicality, a mechanism for giving rubber-stamping the popular decision. After all, don’t the ballot papers list the candidates names?

Well yes the ballot papers will have the names of Clinton, Trump and the others but a vote for one of those has no legal significance in determining who will become president. They merely determine what candidates the Electors are required to pledge to support in the actual presidential election which will be held in December.

The pledges made by Electors may impose a moral duty but they are not legally binding as the American constitution allows them an almost totally free choice in who the vote for – the only limitations being the candidates age, place of birth and previous incumbency.

An elector pledged to Clinton is perfectly free to vote for Trump and vice versa. Indeed they’re not restricted to voting for the declared candidates at all. They could if they wished, vote for say, Ross Perot or Oprah Winfrey.

Now this might seem a tad esoteric. After all, apart from a handful of occasions when so-called ‘faithless electors’ failed to vote for the candidate they were pledged to the system has always operated pretty much as expected. That could well change on this occasion.

As I write the expectation is that Clinton will ‘win’ the election. That is to say she will secure at least 270 Electoral College pledges. However Trump has hinted that he might not accept such a result and the Electoral College gives him a legal mechanism to do something about it.

When all the fuss has died down tomorrow, Trump (or Clinton should she ‘lose’) is free to try to lobby Electors pledged to Clinton to change their vote. He can try to persuade them that the popular mood was mistaken and that he would still be a better president for the country and their state. He could even be successful in overturning the popular result if the margin is narrow.

While it would certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons were that to happen and it would likely lead to all manner of civil unrest, it would be entirely in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the US constitution.

And if it does happen like that, remember you read it here first.

 

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Calling the bluff of the self-employed

Talk to a self-employed person in Ireland today and you’re sure to get the full beal bocht lecture about how the evil state is crushing the entrepreneurial class and oppressing the wealth creators.

Commercial rates are certain to get a mention. Our glorious business dynamos are utterly opposed to paying for public services but are so insistent on having services provided that they won’t even shake a bit of salt on the footpath to clear snow if the state doesn’t do it for them. Far better it seems, that customers stay at home.

When they’ve exhausted the rates rant they’ll switch into overdrive to tell you how they’re treated differently to everyone else by the Social Welfare system. This topic is guaranteed to move what you may have thought was a sane and reasonable person to a foaming-at-the-mouth, hysterical, lunatic. And the bizarre thing about it is the rage is based on a lie.

The self-employed are treated exactly the same as anyone else by the welfare system. If they pay for benefits they can avail of them and where they’re not entitled to benefits they are entitled to apply for welfare allowances on the very same basis as any other person.

Well now there’s a proposal with government to deal with one of the ‘inequalities’ that our poor entrepreneurs must labour under. The Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare has suggested that the self-employed should be allowed to pay for and earn an entitlement to sickness benefit on the same basis as employees.

You might suppose that this would be a cause for some elation in the business community. After all, it would deal with what they constantly claim is a gross unfairness. Alas that’s not the way Irish business operates.

Organisations representing the self-employed are apoplectic in their denunciation of the proposal. The problem you see, isn’t access to benefits, it’s having to pay for them. They want entitlement to the same benefits as employees but they don’t want to pay the same price as employees.

The Advisory Group has called their bluff. If they don’t accept this proposal they’ll never again have any credibility when they moan about welfare benefits.

And they will moan.

ESRI playing the glass bead game.

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A few years ago the ESRI produced a report that purported to show that public sector workers enjoyed a substantial pay premium over their private sector peers. It was immediately seized upon by those who are ideologically opposed to public services and those who would stand to make a fortune out of privatisation as a stick to beat the public sector with.

What wasn’t trumpeted by the PS bashers was the fact that the report was just an academic exercise. No Magister Ludi from Castalia on the Liffey could be expected to stoop to the vulgarity of comparing actual like jobs in each sector so what they did was look at all sorts of charts and tables and apply exquisite and arcane formulae to them to come up with a notional salary for various jobs and then they drew their conclusions from that. A thing of beauty it was to the cognoscenti but entirely worthless in the real world.

Well they’re at it again. This time their target is those who, to use Joan Burton’s words, make the lifestyle choice to go on the dole. People are staying on the dole because, it seems, it costs €142.43 a week to go to work.

The working paper on The Costs of Working in Ireland, which uses 7 year old data, makes a number of assumptions some of which seem counter intuitive – apparently it costs more to heat and light your home if you’re away at work for a significant part of the week – but the real gems are in the part that deals with deal with appearance at work.

“Some companies like their employees to keep up a certain standard of appearance which necessitates the buying of professional clothing from impressive jewelry and watches, the correct shoes, bags and even to the correct hair style. All these items cost money which the employee has to bare. (sic)”

More sophisticated people might not bat an eye on hearing that taking up a job would be conditional on wearing a Rolex and carrying a Prada bag but it’s a novel idea to an old culchie like me.

Staying with clothes the authors are of the opinion that:-

“the highest expenditure on work clothing and expenditure decreases the older the age group which is intuitive as younger people need to buy work clothes for the first time as they enter the job market, however a mature person may have already purchased work clothes in the past and thus only need to replace worn clothes when required.”

How about that? You buy a load of work clothes when you’re young and then patch and darn them until they fall apart and compel you to replace them as you get older.

As might be expected this paper has been accepted uncritically by the media as proof that our social welfare rates are too high – both the Indo and RTE have already called SW rates ‘generous’ on foot of it. Even if we believed the figures had any relevance to 2012 realities it shouldn’t surprise us that that’s the way the story is being spun. Only a very naive person would have expected to hear questions about employers paying a living wage or excessive taxes and charges on low paid workers.

And while all this is going on our so-called left wing politicians are doing intellectual somersaults to defend a tax dodger. Only in Ireland.

Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010. By Elaine Byrne.

I finished this book yesterday and I’m still scratching my head wondering why it was written. Essentially it’s a meander around the various tribunals of enquiry that have been held over the years with little comment on anything else. There isn’t much that I could see in it that isn’t in the public domain already and Prof. Byrne doesn’t add any great insight or new understanding to the events she covers.

The most corrupt relationship in the country since independence has been the one involving politicians and other agents of the state and the Catholic church. At its worst it led to politicians, educators, gardaí and the judiciary facilitating and concealing the rape and torture of children for decades but sadly, Byrne doesn’t explore this at all.

Neither does she examine the relationship between the media and politicians. Media organs are owned or controlled by wealthy and powerful people and she would have done a great public service had she shone some light on the extent to which governments have served the interests of that group in return for favourable coverage.

It may be that the book was rushed out to capitalise on current public interest in political corruption but that doesn’t justify the many errors it contains. For instance, the Ministers and Secretaries act is referred to as the Ministeries and Secretaries act, The IDA is called the ‘Irish’ rather than the ‘Industrial’ development Authority. When she tells us that Denis O’Brien is a ‘Corkyman’ we can assume she means he’s from Cork but it’s anyone’s guess what she’s trying to say when she claims that “In many ways he is a synonymous public figure…”

As a scholarly work it lacks the academic crispness of Claire Hamilton’s The Presumption of Innocence in Irish Criminal Law or the narrative fluency of Joe Lee’s Ireland 1912-1985. It’s unambitious in scope, clumsy in execution and peppered with irksome little errors. My advice would be, give it a miss.

Mick Wallace – Just another prick in the Dail.

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Mick Wallace is a criminal from the more foul end of the white collar sewer. Last December he was convicted of holding on to money he’d taken from his employees for the purpose of paying it into their pension fund. Once caught he paid over the money so by Irish standards the slate was clean. Certainly the episode caused him no problems with his fellow Technical Group members in the Dail. The hard Left Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance don’t have any qualms associating with employers who rip off their staff.

Today Wallace has come out and told us that he’s a liar and a tax fraudster who knowingly made a false declaration to the Revenue in relation to VAT liability. The timing of his Pauline conversion to honesty is interesting, coming as it does just days before the affair is to be published in Swindler’s List.

There’s a pattern in Wallace’s law breaking – He takes money people give to him for other purposes and puts it to whatever use he sees fit. In the present case, people who bought flats from him paid him the VAT on the understanding that it would be paid to the Revenue. The money they paid will in most cases have been added to their mortgages so they’ll be repaying for maybe 30 years, money that Wallace claims he put into his failing business. To add insult to injury, that business has gone to the wall anyway so now the taxpayer will be saddled with the cost much of its unpaid bank debt.

The arrogance from Wallace is breathtaking. His legalistic distinction between his person and the legal entity that is his company puts him in the same league as Ray Burke (who was jailed for making false tax declarations), the Flynns, Haughey and all the others of that ilk. It also raises questions about the nature of limited liability businesses. If a business has a tax liability arising out of a false declaration by the owner or director of that business then it’s an obscenity to allow that owner or director to avail of the protections of limited liability to avoid paying the debt.

A second grave issue that arises is the continued practice whereby the Revenue makes ‘settlements’ with white collar crooks. Such settlements are totally opaque which means they’re open to abuse. Indeed there have been serious questions in the past about settlements with the likes of Haughey and some of his benefactors.

Even if there is no corruption it is repugnant to the ideals of a democratic republic to have those who commit crimes using spreadsheets and ledgers processed in a parallel and preferential justice system to those who employ more vulgar techniques in their criminality.

It would be nice to think that this scandal will prompt the state to address these issues but I’m too long in the tooth to expect that anything will be done. Meanwhile, if Wallace wants us to believe that he’s genuinely contrite about his wrongdoing there’s only one honourable course he can take, he must resign his seat. If he doesn’t then he’s just another prick in the Dail.

Rare sighting of Phil Hogan.

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He’s the most unpopular member of the cabinet after the comprehensive mess he made of introducing the Household Charge and the Rural Tax. So politically toxic is he that FG had to hide him away in Gump’s bunker in Mayo for the duration of the referendum campaign. But fear not, Big Phil has escaped his captors and he’s back in the land of the living.

In his first media appearance for weeks he was on RTE radio tonight promising to close down the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA) over the next 18 months.

Would it be terribly cynical to think there’s anything more than coincidence in his returning to the airways during the referendum broadcast moratorium when he can’t be asked about the treaty and so can’t drive throngs of voters over to the No side?

Has Sinn Fein damaged the No campaign?

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Sinn Fein tried to pull a stunt by taking a last minute challenge to information provided by the Referendum Commission and it’s backfired on them rather badly. That wouldn’t cause me too much upset but it may also have set back the No side and that’s a lot more serious.

While they are undoubtedly the most cynical party in the Dail, they’re hardly idiots. They would have known that their challenge hadn’t a hope of success so why did they take it?

Headlines? Probably not. As the only semi-coherent voice on the No side they were already getting huge media exposure so they didn’t need a high-risk stunt. More likely, I think, is that they were hoping that there would be just enough leeway in the judgement to allow them to claim some sort of victory. By delaying the case until the cusp of the moratorium they ensured that any such claim wouldn’t be challenged until after polling and that would allow them to exaggerate their role in the campaign in much the same way as they hype the result of the Doherty by-election case. Unfortunately for them, the judge wasn’t playing.

The comprehensive rejection of their claim by the courts left Simple Simon Coveney with an open goal on News at One earlier today. He oozed smugness as he forced home all the FG tosh about why we should vote Yes. Mary Lou McDonald was left spluttering about the meaning of the word ‘opinion’ in the manner of a creationist saying ‘It’s just a theory’.

The moratorium that might have worked in their favour suddenly serves the Yes side and voters were left with the impression that the entire No position is without merit.

The problem with stunt politics is you can’t leave anything to chance . SF forgot that and did the country a grave disservice in the process.