HARMLESS RANTING & RAVING

 

If you stroll south out of Newry today and stick to the main road you will pass a currently unmarked point on the road where you cross from Co. Down into Co. Louth. You will actually have crossed from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland too but soon you will also have left the UK and entered the EU.

The Irish border will probably become the only land border between London and Brussels. As things currently stand the first inclination the motorist gets that they have crossed a border is the slightly different road signs. Other than that though, the grass is equally green on both sides and for the British driver, there is no difference between a PSNI officer or his counterpart in the Gardai. The language doesn't change, (though the accents certainly do), but the currency is different as it always has been anyway. 

BREXIT is in the news today and our own gombeen men are speculating wildly about what it will mean for this potato republic.  In the North, the paddies and the sammies had a spat so they'll be busy with an election for the next couple of months. The madwoman in Scotland gave a cold shoulder to London, but then got a cold shoulder from the EU right back and for all I know she's back home licking her wounds and frantically trying to think of some high profile stunt to save her ailing political career. Oddly too, we never get any indication over here as to how the Welsh collectively feel about what's happening. We get the impression that they'll kind of get along with whatever the Brits decide.

Our own great leader is supping wine in Davros as we speak while at home, Fianna Fail is frantically shape-shifting to try to find a form that would see them back into power. I would characterize it all as the great BREXIT lull. Apart from some unseemly sniping and name calling between Brussels and anyone who'll listen to them, nothing much has apparently happened since the UK vote. Doubtless behind closed doors there is mad activity but for the offending voters, all is much as before.

The joker in the pack is about to enter the White House, (though his arse isn't in the chair yet). The Donald is predicting that more countries will leave the EU and the lad is hinting at the demise of NATO for good measure also. The shrewd boyo in Moscow is playing global chess, Merkel is shoring herself for an election and the PIGS countries are keeping their heads down. The Middle East is ablaze, the Chinese are up to something, you just know they are and Australia has become very strange indeed. When you look about you, you don't immediately see a steady hand on any tiller anywhere. There's just a lot of huffing and puffing and jockeying for position. There's an eeriness to it all, isn't there?

The alternative media see the collapse of most currencies, the scientists see irreversible global warming and bible-thumpers see the end of days. Locally here in Mayfield we've just heard we are to lose our Post Office in March but there's a new diner opening on the old TSB site sometime in the summer. The 'Cotton Ball' has a new brew called 'Vienna Amber Ale," and not only is it pure nectar but it's selling at €3.65 a pint. Isn't it funny what constitutes news these days? There is a point where the whole thing just becomes so bizarre and disjointed. As an old fella said to me recently, "If the world does fry, I'll be long gone." If the euro does disappear then I'm sure there'll be some other kind of zloty I can use for the Vienna Ale and I'm up to date too with the prayer and fasting in case there's any truth in those other rumours.

But it's a kind of helplessness where everything is just so big and complicated that I couldn't be bothered. Vulture funds and banks are just legalized thieves and politicians are liars. The media are paid liars and all of what once passed as pillars of society are just so much shifting sand now. From a pessimistic standpoint the world looks like a hot pot about to boil over. The cynic in me senses guiding hands behind all of it. There are powerful people somewhere, (perhaps Davros?), who believe that not only will they survive a Third World War but in some perverted way it will be a good thing, (for them at any rate). That is so utterly depressing and anti-human.

And in the middle of all of these happenings there's lads whose overriding concern is a new designation of toilet that suits their particular ablutions. 

Maybe in the end it is all just a tragicomedy? 

 

 

THE SHEER MAGNITUDE OF IT!

Twice a week I indulge in what I call, the Lotto dream. For a few modest quid I can mentally masturbate on all of the things I could do with the one chance I'll ever have of knowing real money in my life. It's a harmless fantasy as long as it ends each time I discover I didn't win again, until the next time.

But my mind game titillation always gets bogged down in Euromillions figures like the sixty-million prize this week. I don't know about you but I can't my proletariat head around an amount  that size. I just can't imagine it in my hot little mitts.  In one job I had I was responsible for a sales target in excess of twenty-million Euros a year but the total came in twelve distinct incremental parts and was mentally manageable that way. 

Anyway, when it comes to sheer magnitude, my old employer is re-defining the term, moving the goalposts and in fact taking things to an unforeseen level of ……. I don't know what! Ten years ago this year, Steve Jobs unveiled the first smartphone and the world has not been the same since. iPhone was one of several lines of technology the company had developed and was successfully selling and perhaps it was no big surprise that it took off too. But it's the scale of it that gets me.

Silicon Beat tonight predicts that Apple's revenue from iOS and iPhone will have generated $1 trillion sometime later this year in accumulated earnings since its inception. That is mind-boggling. I struggle to even imagine a billion anything, I don't know about you. 

The article states that, "To some extent, Apple is spreading the wealth. Developers making apps for iOS have been paid $60 billion, and the money’s been flowing faster of late, with payments reaching $20 billion a year, according to Asymco. market-intelligence firm." This is to guys writing little program-ettes in their bedrooms for God's sake. And none of that trillion includes Mac revenues globally, iPads or iTunes or any other eyes you can think of. 

Fucking staggering!!!!!

A TAXI LESSON

Life, I believe, has its own natural balances and you only get in bother when you swing the pendulum too wildly one way or the other. 'Going off the rails,' should refer to a temporary period off the behavioral tracks you know and traverse normally.

But evidence of life's balance is elsewhere also. I happened to have a stimulating conversation with a very ordinary pleasant taxi driver this afternoon over a pint and his real life parable struck me enough to share it with you.

So my man picked up a fare one night, a drunken attractive woman in her early twenties with her beau. The young lad was being led by the nose, (or his zipper perhaps), while the tippler was out to show her bossy aggression. Where better way to demonstrate her ability than with a humble taxi driver?

"Turn left here Dude," she says dismissively from the darkened back seat. "Now right here you fucking ejit," she shouts. "Where do think you're taking me?" Matters progressed in this unnecessarily abusive manner for the duration of the journey after which my man asks for the fare shown on the meter. An unholy row ensued before the drunken biddy threw the money over the seat and left in manufactured indignation, howling at the moon. The taxi was almost back in the city lights when an unexpected phone rang in the back seat. The, ahem, young lady had left her smartphone on the seat of his car. Well, You could, couldn't you?

Anyway the family man who owned the taxi drove home quietly and slept soundly that night. The not-too-mysterious phone had twenty missed calls signaled the following morning so he clicked a ringback and a sweet most respectful young female voice came on the other end. "Are you the taxi-man from last night?" she asked hopefully, "Because I'm ringing on my boyfriend's mobile and I think I might have left mine in your car." 

When the guy got that far in his story, I sat back and smiled. "All the aces?" I asked. There was a satisfied nod. So this now sober humble lassie is willing to accommodate any venue he suggetsat a time of his convenience to get her precious phone back. My man suggests one and they meet that afternoon for the exchange. "What did you say to her?" I asked still amused. "She offered me a reward but I declined," he told me. "Then she offered to pay my fare to and from where I'd come from to return her phone and I declined that too. So she says what can I do for you?" wherein my man says, "You can promise to never flag me down again for starters," and off he went.

There is a ring of good old-fashioned natural justice to that, but I want to think about the girl a little more. On a Saturday night, full of drink, she's a bad tempered, ill-mannered bitch just trying to humiliate and look down on any victim she can find to bully. On Sunday morning though she is a sweet innocent girl again seeking any help to retrieve her most treasured possession. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. So which one is the real thing? The gentleman who did the driving showed himself to be probably what he's always been, one of nature's gentlemen, but where does that leave 'yer wan?'

Even the most brassy modern female when on their own will often revert to character and present a most mild and gentle exterior. Then, on other occasions,  we Irish will often use the expression, "The drink was talking," as if that's an excuse for ever being uncivil. I can't tell you what this girl involved  is really like because I don't know her so I haven't an educated opinion either way, but the incident was mild in the grand scheme of things and we are all left only to speculate in the end.

I do look for high standards from women but I look for differently high standards from men also. Civility in ordinary communication is a minimum from both though. The behavior of the girl would be unacceptable if you were doing her a favour but I don't see it as much different if you are earning an honest living from seeing such people safely home. You should not be subjected to unwarranted abuse in such circumstances. 

So I don't know who she is and I don't want to. But I do hope that she is sufficiently civilised to have returned home that day with her phone again safely in her possession and thought, "I'd really better cop myself on." I hope she considered the incident and saw that there are normal decent people around her who would not dream of treating her as she treated others. I'd like to think she felt sufficiently humiliated by the experience. I hope in short that she learned a lesson from this simple thing and it makes her think in the future. 

Because if she doesn't and there's a repeat performance, then she's just a worthless bitch in my books.

BANKING ON YOUR HOME 

Back in August 2016 I wrote a piece entitled, "Who owns what?"  A year before that in July 2015 I wrote another on a similar topic entitled, "Whose Liable?" The subject matter was about our homes and the banks and the necessary evil of our having to borrow from those banks to buy our homes. 

To refresh your memories, the mortgage contract you sign/ed with your bank is a pretty one-sided agreement. In return for imaginary money the Bank conjures out of the blue, (brings into existence), you must pledge up to thirty years of your working life to pay them back far more 'real' money than the imagined amount they created in the first place. My previous articles raised the question as to which party actually owned the property for the duration of that mortgage. Most of us came home one day saying, "I've bought a house," but what does that really mean?

To understand all of this you need to go back to your most simple interaction with the banking system. Take for example the regular action of depositing cash in your saving's account. Your clear understanding of that transaction is that they are accepting the cash to put it in safe storage for you should you need it later. However, the bank's understanding is entirely different and their understanding forms the legal basis of that transaction. The bank's view is that you are loaning them that cash to do as they please with and that is exactly what they do.

So when you give the bank deposit money you are actually loaning it to them. When the bank gives you the mortgage money, they are loaning that to you. It seems very straightforward. However, again the understandings between the parties are at variance. You view your mortgage as a debt that you owe to your bank while they view that debt as an asset the bank owns. However, right from day one, you also view your home as your asset. You truly believe that you own it and you even idly scan the property pages to find out how the value of that asset has improved. I have heard grown men in the pub openly boasting about having made twenty grand the previous year without lifting a finger. To further confuse things, during the boom the banks were loaning money based of the higher value of your asset. In doing so, they were treating the home as yours. Strange then that when the bubble burst the banks were able to eject so many from family homes and re-possess the properties. 

I argued in this article that the family home should have a special status, which would forbid a bank from re-possessing it. As the law stands, when you signed the papers in the bank the day you got the mortgage, you entered into a formal and legally binding agreement with that bank. When you can't make the repayments that same bank utilizes that formal and legally binding agreement to eject you and your family because in law, you have not kept your side of the written agreement with that bank while they have kept theirs. I have serious reservations about this but now something else even more sinister has come to light.

Under the headline, “You get an awful fright when you get a letter to say your mortgage has been bought by a vulture fund,” the Journal this morning highlights this new practice by the banks. It goes back to the fact that when they get your signature on the mortgage agreement they, (your bank), consider the resultant debt to them to be a "Bank asset." Like all assets then, the bank feels within its rights to sell or dispose of it as they see fit. To my mind, this could not possibly be legal, never mind the blatant lack of morality. Your binding contract is with Bank A and if they sell that 'asset' to Bank B, it has nothing to do with you because to my mind, you never signed anything legal with Bank B, they never gave you any imaginary money and in fact, you've never met them or set foot in their place of work. When Bank B come calling for the monthly repayments you should be legally in your rights to tell them you have no signed contract with them to pay them. If your personal debt can be bought and sold then so too can your reputation or anything else you hold dear.

Look at it another way. Who owns what because we're back to that again? You are in the house, you have money outstanding to Bank A for the privilege and then along comes Bank B stating they too have a claim on your bricks and mortar. Surely you could just say to Bank B, I'm sorry to hear that you are owed money but that's not my business. My business is with Bank A and if they are breaking the terms of my signed agreement with then twenty years later then I no longer have a contract with them. So if they then sold you, (Bank B), that agreement then more fool you. Otherwise all contracts become worthless and all money will have to be up front or not at all. 

Where is the legal flaw in that thinking?

MODERATION IN ALL THINGS, (including moderation).

Even in the venerable pages of the Irish Times you will struggle to see a reader's letter that is not perfectly politically correct in all respects. Somehow our citizens are all toeing the party line and chanting the official mantras and without a single free thought of their own. 

So I'm grateful to John Sheehan of Rathfarnham in Dublin 14 for his observations on our drink-driving laws. He begins by saying, "Reporting on drink-driving often shows a cavalier attitude to statistical evidence," to which I can only say that the same is true of all reporting today. He continues, "We were told recently that the Garda Síochána had detected 34 per cent more cases of drink-driving this year than 12 months previously. There was a complete failure to address some simple questions." 

He then asks the obvious ones such as, were the same number of people checked year-on-year, (are we comparing like with like?), were these checks in the same places and at the same times and had either Garda procedures or equipment improved in the meantime? You cannot report an increase in drink-driving without knowing these simple basics first. For the sake of argument, what if Garda checks had doubled this December over last? If so then the 34 per cent increase in detection would represent an actual fall in the incidences or an overall decrease in drink-driving nationwide. 

Like myself too, John Sheehan questions just what is drunk-driving. If you've had a pint then you are hardly drunk but if you've had ten you most definitely are. But a half-pint can put you over the limit, hence technically drunk. The point of his letter is to point out that in the absence of hard reliable accurate evidence it is impossible to make any kind of reasoned or rational decision on drink limits for drivers. Instead we get feigned emotional knee-jerk reactions from idiot politicians, all paid for by the vested interests with the strongest lobbying power. 

Is it still the law that you must respect the law I wonder?

Oh! Some wit wrote to the papers today asking if one half-drink of alcohol can alter ones judgement so much behind the wheel then surely the Dail bar must be closed for good today. 

Will we take a vote?

BUS-T

As someone who has spent at least a half of my working life behind the wheel of a car, I always keep on an eye on transport stories.

Today in the "Indo," Paul Melia covers the problems being experienced by C.I.E. our State transport company. Paul writes that, "More competition leading to lower fares is a good thing. The more bus services available, the more likely people are to use them. The fact that 19pc of Bus Éireann's customers use Expressway shows there is a market, but something must be done to make services more attractive." Expressway, our inter-city bus services, is currently under the spotlight for pruning or abolition.

But I think Paul is being a tad disingenuous here. The C.I.E. Company is subsidized to bring services to popular as well as unpopular routes and Paul will know this. So in theory, while competition is a good thing it does not always provide the best solution for the end-user. Private bus companies have been picking at the carcass of the wounded C.I.E. and scheduling services on their busier routes while the big company continues to provide services to underpopulated rural backwaters as a part of its responsibility.

But when a limited and arrogant Government Minister sits to compare the spreadsheets, he sees a big wasteful behemoth faring badly in respects to smaller, more efficient, streamlined private operators. To Shane Ross's jaundiced eye it is proof that ruthless privatization is the only way. Of course, the same Shane Ross will be long gone with his vulgar pension when lonely isolated communities are trying to cope with the disappearance of their last viable contact with the outside world. Without the profit motive, private operators would run a mile from the word 'service' so the many little journeys from one small hamlet to some local village or town will just cease.

It is obvious more than ever that the country is split into the Dublin frame of mind and everybody else. Viewed from Dublin, if a 35-seater bus runs four times a week at under ten per cent occupancy, then it is obvious the locals don't want it at all. But for the three or four who do travel each day, it may just be essential. De Valera instructed that all the rail lines be torn up and as a result, trains are thin on the ground in the rural landscape. But Dublin is the hub of all trains, they have the largest bus service in the country, the only DART rail lines, the LUAS trains, more taxis than you could shake a stick at and all sorts of private services using the best maintained roads in the country. If you live there you must wonder what all the fuss is about.

But if you live up a remote rural lane, off a backroad, leading about a mile to the cross that takes you to the main road and you are then five miles from the nearest village, you'd better have a car or else. At the moment perhaps, a C.I.E. bus may stop at the cross at 10.00am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but right now in Dublin, Shane Ross has his beady eye on your only link to your fellow man. That reliable old bus at the crossroads may not show up for you some morning or any morning after that. It may not comfort you to know that those behind the loss of your bus will probably give you no thought but if they do, they'll assume you'll just get a cab or hop on a LUAS.

And if all of that doesn't depress you, the Government Shane Ross is working with have it as their goal to get us all OUT of our cars. Councils around the country are being urged to make their areas car-unfriendly and get tough with the motorist. The price of motoring in Ireland is on the expensive side of the EU average even as the alternatives dry up all around us. There has never been joined-up thinking on national transport and with Shane Ross the miserable tradition continues. Like all those useless bluffers who have gone before him, he'll tinker around snipping this and slashing that and when the thing becomes untenable, he'll step sideways into to another ministry, (or pension entitlement), and another unqualified bluffer will take over to make things even worse.

I'd keep the car if I were you!

RHURBARB JAM, (a bitter taste).

You do really have to despair at the thick, ignorant, parochial nature of the echo chamber that is the Irish Government.

"Apple boss Tim Cook has been accused of snubbing the Dáil after refusing to attend hearings on a €13bn tax bill with which the company was hit," reports the Examiner undoubtedly due to a leak from a lackey in the aforementioned echo chamber. The Indo went one better by making it a part of their editorial today with, "Apple at least owes us an explanation, if not €13Bn."

So what then is this local storm in an eggcup? "Mr Cook had been invited to answer questions on the European Commission's State aid probe into the company, but Apple said that, given the investigation and the timing, the company has been advised not to do anything that, "could potentially prejudice future outcomes". To refresh your memory," according to the Indo. "Apple boss Tim Cook has been accused of snubbing the Dáil after refusing to attend hearings on a €13bn tax bill with which the company was hit," was the Examiner's take on this passing puff of wind.

So let's set the stage here. A few small fish in an insignificant pond, (or fishbowl), are demanding the largest whale in the ocean drop everything to attend the fishbowl and make the goldfish look important and interesting in front of their own bottom-feeders, because that's what this is. And when the ever-busy Cook dignifies those inept leeches with a reasonable and respectful reply, they are outraged at the apparent attack on their own self-importance. I despair!

Tim Cook heads up the largest company, (by capitalization) on the planet. A cluster of pompous idiots in Irish Government buildings who are no better than semi-illiterate go-boys and girls, actually believe that a summons from them to attend one of their local self-congratulatory celebrations , ahem, Oireachtas finance committee hearings,  will have this Admiral of Industry drop everything and scurry to their whims. And then the national papers present it all in the breathless tones of an international diplomatic incident, and you can sense the guiding hand of the Government Press Office behind that bullshit.

We truly are laughable! Is there a single brain in the Dail or the Civil Service with a modicum of business sense? What is the fucking point of this manufactured outrage? It certainly does not serve the people of Ireland and it dents the relationship we have with a very important industrial partner here. Insulting and embarrassing such an important person at such a critical time is a recipe for changing the man's mind about engaging with us here. The barely concealed vitriol aimed at Cook stopped short of calling him a shirt-lifter, (because the man is gay). The man in question thought it wiser at this time not to attend, as is his right, and he probably did so under advisement from Apple's legal team. But his own press office will be showing him cuttings from our press today, and if I were him, I'd say, "That's it, Fuck 'em!"

It reminds me of the kind of pointless aimless spat you might hear about between teenagers on Facebook, except Tim Cook, at least, is no teenager. Tim is a highly intelligent, educated, experienced, ruthless and private man and in this instance, it's the private bit that counts. I would bet that the last thing Tim wants is some obscure paper or website in the States to run with a headline, "Tim Cook insults Ireland and the Irish," as a result of our parochial self-indulgence. If that happens then I have no doubt that Apple Inc will make Ireland pay, and pay big in the future. It may involve taking away something we have or denying us something they had planned to give us. Is there anybody in the Dail or a mile radius of that private club who understands how these things really work? Apple is planning to build a huge data centre near Athenry, Co Galway but its planning application has been halted by local objections. This is a multi-million euro investment in a deprived area and brings with it high paying skilled jobs longterm. Tonight in Cupertino Tim could sit down and instruct his team to withdraw the planning due to the objections. It would appear plausible for him to do so and the thing could be up and running is Copenhagen or Bilbao in a couple of months instead.

To further put this in even more context, "Tim Cook's bonus pay is cut as Apple misses sales targets," according to the Guardian. "Cook received a total payout of $8.75m in 2016, including salary and bonuses, which was down 15% from $10.3m in 2015 and also down on 2014’s $9.2m," the paper reports. Tim took a drop in salary of over one and half million dollars year-on-year and you can bet your ass he's got that to the forefront of his mind at this time. He is also in secret negotiations with incoming President Tram, ah! Trump, and I suggest that in the grand scheme of things, this might be slightly more important to the guy than coming over here to discuss yesterday's dinner with a room full of abject morons. 

This all started when John McGuinness, chairman of the Oireachtas finance committee, invited the chief executive of the tech giant to answer questions on the European Commission ruling next month but when Apple formally declined in a mannerly fashion, Mr McGuinness described the rejection as “more than disappointing." What is really “more than disappointing," is the fact that Apple were not quietly sounded out in advance as to the man's willingness and availability for starters. Back-channels might have subtly declined the date and suggested another with no need for anybody to perceive they'd lost face. All high level meetings are arranged this way because they have to be for millions of reasons. And then there is the very idea of Cook having to come to our aspiring Court of Camelot to answer any questions in the first place. Ireland is under the EU microscope, not Apple. Cook has no questions to answer here and in fact it is our Finance Minister Noonan who has us partnered on the same team as Apple against the common EU enemy.

There will be bitter taste left in the mouth of that same Irish partner Stateside today when the story inevitably reaches them. If our Department of Foreign Affairs ran our Embassies the same way, we'd be at war with half the world today!

NO REASON, JUST POLICY

One decision I took early in my management career was to take everything that came to me on a case-by-case basis. This was, in part, because when I was being managed by other people I constantly ran into useless 'company policies' that were used to frustrate me. 

These various policies might have appeared practical in a printed rulebook but life is not black and white and people are not logical. "No reason, just policy," was no way to handle disputes for example when balance and fairness were needed to maintain morale and a positive working environment. 

To make the judgements and decisions necessary for this required a clear mind, human empathy and patience. If bad blood existed between two parties I brought the three of us together and both parties had the opportunity to vent their rage uninterrupted. Then the points raised by both were debated openly by all three and stubborn positions eased gently closer to each other. Compromises were found and nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.

In this context the potentially life-saving cystic fibrosis drug, Orkambi is in the news because the HSE is saying that €160,000 a year is too expensive for sufferers and so, 'Not fit for purpose.' I myself was once told by a pompous bastard that I was not fit for purpose so this one caught my eye. Long suffering patients who have used this Orkambi pill have reported that it was the first year of their lives that they spent outside hospital. That alone must have saved the HSE fortune.

The crux of the matter though is that The National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) has said the drug, at a price of €160,000 per year is not “cost effective”. That depends on who you're talking about surely. The name of this outfit suggest they concern themselves with the economics of medicine so they monitor the price of pharmaceutical products to the State. If they are looking at a spreadsheet that shows the relative prices of various pills on an annualized basis then I have no doubt Orkambi is showing up in red near the top. 

The Journal has the full story herebut reading between the lines, the problem with Orkambi for the pen pushers at the NCPE is that this pill is a potentially life-changing drug, not a life-SAVING drug. Let's call a spade a spade here. The miserable long suffering cystic fibrosis patient in the hospital bed, day in, day out, is unlikely to die unexpectedly where they are. Deaths are the big statistic you see. Cystic fibrosis is a terminal condition and what Orkambi offers is a few short years of comparative quality living. I mean, if you had your choice between a year in hospital or a year at home with your family and a miracle tablet, which would you choose?

Quality of life means different things to different people, depending on their personal circumstances. My guess is that the boys and girls working at the NCPE have a cushy number and a decent quality of life but the CF victim is in hell all of the time as are their families. What then is the price of mercy in a civilized society? "The definition from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) of a QALY is: “A measure of an individual’s length of life that has been adjusted for the health-related quality of life,” the Journal tells us. Essentially, a QALY equates to one year in good health. Lines like that remind me of the policies I remember written in company rulebooks.

Our Constitution states that all citizens will be treated equally but a wealthy man could afford Orkambi for a CF sufferer in their own family while the less well-off could not. And what about the multi-national Pharmaceutical Companies? These are the most profitable and wealthy companies on earth and they actually profess to be 'carers.' How then when they know there are CF sufferers who badly need Orkambi but can't afford it, do they not simply give it to these people on a case-by-case basis?" That would be a demonstration of genuine caring in my book. It wouldn't cost these big boys much except perhaps a single production run and the few chemicals needed to mix the potion. 

While I'm on about the Pharmaceutical Companies, we keep hearing how drugs on sale here cost multiples of what they cost almost anywhere else. Tablets over the counter in Belfast are a third of the price paid in Dublin. Our schoolboy Minister of Health mumbled something about taking on the Pharmas but that story quickly trickled away after the headline. My suspicion is that he prays at their alter each morning and then gets about their work for the day. Fatso Reilly had no appetite for locking horns with Pharmaceutical Companies either and Leo didn't even go there. So there is no reason the Pharma boys couldn't double the price of Orkambi and tell the rest of us to fuck off if we don't like it. 

If I applied my management style to this problem I would sit with someone at the top from the NCPE and the head Druglord responsible for Orkambi. I would ease them kicking and screaming closer to each other's price position over many hours until an affordable solution for Orkambi could be reached that offered a win-win for both parties and no loss of face. Once signed and sealed, I'd kick the two of them out for being thick ignorant bastards.

I'd have no real reason for doing so you understand, just policy!

GIVING US THE PIPS

In its final report on the Apple tax ruling, the EU Commission accused Ireland of illegal State aid and claimed the Government did not have “any justification at all for the selective treatment” the multinational received. The damning report found that the level of tax paid by Apple was “issued on the basis of Irish Revenue’s discretion” as there was “no consistent criteria” relating to the tax system. This meant Apple received a “selective advantage," the commission found, an advantage other companies did not receive, the Irish Examiner has reported.

So to give you the real history of this mess, Apple set up registered offices in each European country back in the day and each of them ran as an independent business unit within its own national territory. Apple France sold in France, paid income taxes, value added taxes and corporate taxes to the French Government and it was the same everywhere else. Then came the internet and the return of Steve Jobs. He spent a fortune setting up the "AppleStore" online, localized for each of those countries instead of a local Apple office. Purchasing then switched to the web.

Of course, the online store doesn't necessarily reside in any one country. However, Apple still paid income taxes on direct employees in their home countries as before and as each country had its own localized online AppleStore, sales taxes were, and still are, paid to that country's Government as before. But as there is no Corporate presence there any longer, corporate tax is no longer paid anywhere in Europe except Ireland where the company's European Headquarters is situated.

They have close to 6,000 employees in Cork and they pay income tax for all of them to Dublin. They pay VAT also on all Irish sales of their products. On top of this, they pay corporate tax based on their Irish sales as well. Irish sales are tiny in the wider EMEA context but it is a grateful addition for our Revenue Commissioners nevertheless. So our Revenue are correct when they assert that Apple have paid everything due to us and are prepared to stand by that with hard figures.

So where, you are asking, did the figure of €13BN quoted by the EU's Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager come from? Well, Tim Cook announced that Apple had €130BN offshore America and the presumption is this money came through Cork over time. To explain how this works, you need to know that, "Intellectual Property Rights," are the true pot of gold for successful companies. They are the actual wealth. For example, Steve Jobs paid a Fortune 500 company to value the Apple Logo and their finding was that it is priceless. Apple has more registered patents than anyone else on earth and each and every one of them are their Intellectual Property. When you buy any Apple product anywhere, you get to use their various technologies and designs and these too are the company's Intellectual Property Rights. Are you still with me?

So Apple, an American Company, routes the proceeds of its sales in various countries back to its Euro headquarters and this breaks no laws anywhere by doing so. The EU is not complaining about this as all big companies in Europe do exactly the same thing. So where's the problem?

In an earlier article I pointed out that Ireland never experienced the original Industrial Revolution but in the late seventies, through hard work and smart thinking, we did manage to attract some Pharma and IT companies to site themselves here. Apple was then in its infancy and they were one of the first to choose Ireland. Neither our Government nor our taxman had any experience of how to deal with such companies and they just had to learn as they went along. It evolved rather than was planned and one time back then our corporate tax rate was actually very high. The move to 12.5% was a gamble because in theory it could have more than halved the income from that source. But it was intended to attract even more foreign direct investment and it did do that. By now, tax rates are no longer the only attraction of this country for Corporate America but it is still one of them.

This is where we get to the nub of it though. Apple in Cork, Ireland has two subsidiaries, Apple Operations Europe (AOE) and Apple Sales International (ASI). Neither of these have any employees and the EU Commission found they were “stateless," with no physical presence. The actual money received was routed first into Apple Operations Europe (AOE), a bank transfer. Then Apple Sales International (ASI) invoiced Apple Operations Europe (AOE) for its Intellectual Property Rights. It is no business of our taxman where this goes but the invoices are both valid and legal and inter-company transactions on Intellectual Property Rights are common in big companies. Our taxman might presume this intellectual money goes back to the USA and Apple Corp. but like I say, that is not their business. The fact that it went to the Cayman Islands is not a decision of anybody but Apple. We got paid what we were due and what Apple does with its other profits is not up to little Ireland. No Irish laws were broken and everything here is above board. Apple Operations Europe (AOE) paid Apple Sales International (ASI) over a period of time and that dough is offshore USA waiting for a permanent home.

Apple Corp. in America has likely a different arrangement because it pays 35% corporate tax to the US Government so all is just as likely to be above board over there as well. America is all one country unlike Europe. You can be sure though that in its stateside accounts the company will deduct the same Intellectual Property Rights money before calculating their corp. tax bill. President Trump though is about to change the playing field yet more. Donald wants all of these companies to move back to America, make their shit over there by employing Americans and pay all of their taxes in the good old USA. He forgets what "Multi-National" and "Globalism" is all about though. But he's a canny businessman and he'd already talking to the big boys directly as reported by the Silicon Valley News. We have also heard that Trump intends to cut the US tax rate from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. The predictable reaction here was that a "Flood of companies’ to quit Ireland under Donald Trump's planned tax regime." This sentiment was echoed hereColm Kelpie at the irish Independent then voiced a more moderate reaction hereElsewhere in the Indo they speculate that, "While there are many unknowns, we know one thing for sure: America under Trump the billionaire, anti-business businessman is a more unpredictable place."

So where does that leave us? So far we only have the EU's Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager making a 'competition' finding against Ireland. What she's saying is that if Ireland have such a deal with Apple then they have to have the same deal with all the other Multinationals here also because otherwise it is unfair, hence anti-competitive. Margrethe calculates that the advantage offered to Apple amounts to €13BN. She is not saying that Ireland under-taxed Apple and in fact, she concedes that Ireland's tax rates are a matter for that sovereign state. So our 12.5 per cent rate is not under attack yet and our Government's argument is that our deal with Apple is not uncompetitive. They say they've been paid what's due to them and they can probably prove this. The court case though may not happen for three to five years.

In the meantime the actual cash in the Cayman Banks may make its way back to the good old USA if Donald gets his way and then there won't be any €13BN to argue over. 

 

 

 

WATER SOLUTION?

The strong suspicion is that Irish Water was set up to sell the utility to a large Corporate for a one-off bonanza of cash. But for any Multi-National to be interested they would need to see an infrastructure already in place, (tick√), trained staff in situ, (tick√), and masses of paying customers signed up and trained to fork out for water, (Aaaagh!).

The Government repeatedly says they don't want to sell Irish Water but stubbornly refuse to enshrine that fact in the Constitution, meaning nobody believes the lying bastards. The people stood up for themselves and by refusing to pay, they have made Irish Water an unattractive proposition for a greedy Multi-National Company.

That is the current stalemate and even sitting Ministers are now admitting that we always paid for water through central taxation. So where do we go from here. I am one of the hundreds of thousands who refused to pay but I am not an unreasonable man. I have given some thought to how we might proceed so if you'll bear with me, you might even be able to add some helpful ideas of your own.

Firstly, fresh water is certainly not a precious commodity in this country. We are drowning in the stuff and it is free. I suspect that per capita we are one of the richest countries on earth when it comes to fresh water. So the product is not the problem but the distribution of it to the businesses and homes around the country is. We have too few collection points with water purification plants and the pipeline structures were laid down in Victorian times. 

To my way of thinking then there are two major construction projects needed and both will incur large one-off capital costs which are not currently covered by the central taxation we all pay for the supply of water. The projects would be on the pipelines and the creation of many new collection points for water including adjacent purification plants. A costing needs to be done to discover what these two projects would come to on a one-off basis and whatever it is forms the bill we will all need to pay to ensure fresh water for the ever expanding population over the next hundred years. 

That is a reasonable if unexpected expense for us all and if this infrastructure development is commissioned and built over a ten year period, our country can borrow the necessary finance to cover it. However, those borrowings would need to be repaid and that is where all of us come in. I can honestly see the need for a temporary tax whether it be on income, an increase in VAT on spending or even a direct monthly invoice to every home in the country but it must only be for the duration of the construction. The day the last one goes live the tax must stop immediately.

In that way, we could modernize our water supply system and then the central taxation we already pay for it can continue without any need for further bills being incurred by home owners. Indeed, we have so much fresh water occurring naturally in Ireland that we could bottle and sell as much as we like overseas. The demand for fresh bottled water has been on the rise worldwide for the last fifty years and if we did it right it could make Irish Water a profitable company for the State. 

To bring the citizens willingly on board for such a project/s the Government would first have to enshrine our fresh water in the constitution as a commodity owned by the people and never to be  sold at any time in the future. I believe such a move would tip the doubters in favour of modernization with all the costs we will incur. It is sensible and after the bank fiasco and the State bailouts, we have already indebted our children and grandchildren and they will be paying our debts far into the future. So let's, at least, do something worthwhile for them now and guarantee their fresh water for a hell of a long time.

I don't know about you but I'd sign up for that.