WHAT AM I ?

It is a question we could all ask ourselves. But it suggests the existence of an absolute definition and to some extent, there could be truth in it. So, I am a man and the only way I can see that ever changing is if I wanted a sex change, and I don't.

I am a man who enjoys a beer and in some quarters, that makes me a "drinker." But there was a time that I didn't touch alcohol and who knows, maybe that time will return. I hope not. I also smoke between five and fifteen cigarettes every day too and am often accused of being a "Smoker." The term smoker, is often spat out rather than spoken and is there to denote some kind of social leprosy that I am blighted with which makes it necessary to shun me at every opportunity.

At an average of ten cigarettes a day at four minutes spent smoking each one, I'm a smoker for 40 out of the 1,440 minutes in every day. So for 2.8% of everyday, I am a smoker or to put it another way, for 97.2% of everyday, I am a non-smoker. But I am a Father 100% of the time.

I only drink on the weekends and even then, not for 24 hours a day. But I concede that I spend longer than 40 minutes on Saturday alone drinking beer. That would make me more of a drinker than a smoker then. But, I work 40 hours a week and that would make me more of a worker than a drinker. And I spend far more time writing each week so maybe I'm a writer and not a worker after all.

Come to think of it, I used to travel a minimum of 1,000 miles a week in the car, but as that took only about 25 hours a week behind the wheel, I was more of a worker than a driver. I know a Mother of two very young children who tells me she spends twenty hours a day minding them. Does that make her a babysitter?

And what about toilet habits? I 'pee' four times a day, every single day, but I would not describe myself as a pisser, or something even worse. I do a lot of talking as well, both at work and at home and even sometimes in the pub at weekends. In terms of time spent, I am probably more of a talker than anything else. I even talk in my sleep, or so I've been told.

But in the current unenlightened climate it is the smoker moniker that is the one most used. "Johnny smokes," is a term I have overheard so many times as a description of who and what I am. If I had a medical degree, I'm sure they would say, "John is a Doctor," probably denoting the direct opposite to a smoker too. Having said that, my GP was a smoker some of the time as well?

Anyway, for the purposes of clarity, should you be asked if this  author and spokesperson for Forest Eireann is a smoker, remember that I am not smoker 97.2% of the time. Instead, you could, as my family like to do and simply say, "He's a langer."

WHAT IS OUR PLAN B?

The Apple tax issue has thrown up a far more interesting question. The ruling was a "Competition Ruling," not a tax ruling and it is vital to understand the difference between the two.

What the recent ruling is not saying is that our rate of corporation tax is too low because that would be a tax ruling and in the EU, it is up to every country to set their own rates of taxation. What that ruling is really saying though, is that Apple paid a lower rate than all of the other resident multi-nationals here and this special treatment of one company, according to them, amounted to unfair state aid. 

In effect, they are saying that if we choose to offer Apple a zero-rate or tax-free status then that's fine as long as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and all of the rest of them are offered the same tax free status. Margrethe Vestager said as much in her announcement. Competition rulings seek to give multi-nationals a level playing field in theory, thus ensuring that one does not have a false unfair advantage over another. 

That's okay in theory and if properly applied, the supermarket chains would have no advantage over the corner shop. But we know that whenever the big supermarket moves in, the corner shops begin to close down. The theory and the practice become substantially at variance with each other. You see, the bigger guy has the money and buys in volume so he has more clout. The supermarket chain tells the supplier what it will pay for their produce, not the other way around, and if the supplier doesn't play ball with that, they too are out of business. It's the economies of scale in action.

So we know and understand that the bigger pockets always get the better deal because that reality lies at the core of economics. They buy in large quantities and pay lower unit prices in return. As a result, we now have farmers associations complaining that the supermarkets are dictating what they produce and what price they'll get for it. In economics it is called the, "Power in the chain," meaning the supply chain. The middleman supermarket has the power in the produce/buyer equation.

The bigger guy therefore will always secure the preferential deal and while I do not know the details, I have no doubt that the big global names who have settled their European headquarters in Ireland will all have made the best deal they can for themselves, Apple included. So this competition ruling is a moral one rather than a legal or business one. It is the expressed ideal that in a utopia of fairness and equitability, everyone will pay and get an equal share. That is a fine ideal as long as you also admit it will never happen. 

But what is true for supermarkets and corner shops is also true for big countries in relation to small countries. Don't tell me that Ireland is on a level playing pitch with Germany or France because we are not. We are surrounded by ocean, have unfavorable weather, a poor business and social infrastructure, low population and we suffer because of our remoteness from the marketplace. As we learned from the banking (rip-off) crisis, being a member of the EU changes none of that. Far from being bailed out by them we were shackled with crippling debt for generations to come. Europe's big boys simply got together and picked Ireland as the fall guy to protect their own interests. The only interest Ireland received was the massive interest from debts imposed on us. German banks gambled away their money and lost with the result that the Irish taxpayer was told to bail them out. That is what really took place after the dust had settled.

And now those same European faces are back accusing us of being unfair for trying to stimulate economic growth, against the odds, in order for us to raise the necessary funds to meet that debt imposed on us by those same European faces. Our then Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, was ordered by the EU to accept the ahem, bail-out. He was ordered to bail out our banks so that they in turn could bail-out so many European banks. These same guys are now lecturing us now on fairness!!

One of those faces is in our newspapers this morning. The Frenchman, Pierre Moscovici, is having a good old laugh at our expense as you can see. But he is also upping the stakes. Now that the moral position has been taken by a competition ruling, old Pierre Moscovici wants a, "Tax Ruling," to match it. He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice and then he intends to shaft us again. This  European commissioner for tax affairs has spotted an opportunity for his native France and he promises to establish a, “European black list of tax havens,” to tackle tax evasion within their borders. Doubtless the lad is hoping that all the big Yankee boys here will up stumps and re-locate to France where a secretive Renault-style tax deal can be done with them one-by-one, depending on their planned level of investment over there of course. Apart from the obvious acclaim the French might drench him in, why would the lad do such a thing to us?

Well, for one thing, why not? The unelected bastard knows he can do it and get away with it, Ireland collapses and our few remaining assets go up for sale to the lowest foreign bidder via NAMA and, who knows, perhaps he sees sufficient civil strife in the wake of all that to warrant French soldiers marching down Ireland's streets. Who'd stop him? We certainly couldn't do a damn thing about it and if he had EU backing, we needn't expect any help from our so-called partners. You may think this a fanciful scenario just now but if I'd told you in the nineties that the US was going to tear the Middle-East wide open, you would not have believed that either. We need to get real. We are a mere four and a half million inconsequential people on a small remote island off Europe's shores. A few centuries back they let us starve in a famine. The Irish were considered as pure cannon fodder in times of war and I suggest that in times of peace we are not considered at all.

That, my friends, is why we have learned to box cleverly. David McWilliams put it succinctly this week when he said that 90 per cent of all of our exports come from the multi-nationals here. Any country's viability depends on the relationship between their imports and exports. The more of the latter you have the better off you are. Take away 90 per cent of our exports and Ireland as an entity is not viable. Apple led the way into Ireland in 1980 and could just as easily lead the way out in 2017. Henry Kissinger famously said, "If I want to talk to Europe, who do I call?" Boardrooms in the States look at Europe and then at the biggest of their own breed, Apple. If Ireland is good enough for Apple, they say to themselves, then it's good enough for us too.

Before the last election, officials here hinted that any tampering with the relationship we have with our multi-national guests would be a red-letter issue in short order. In plain-speak that means, we would pull out of the EU rather than risk our guests pulling out of here. The proposed CCCTB or common consolidated corporate tax base for Europe is a case of the big countries bullying the small ones in the interests of the former. 

In an earlier article, I pointed out that we Irish never had an industrial revolution but when we began to attract the big Pharmas and IT giants, we suddenly had an industrial revolution, albeit a couple of centuries late. How would France or Germany have reacted had their industrial revolution been halted all those years ago? If it had happened, then theses countries today would be poor, uneducated agricultural wastelands and may not even have successfully unified. 

So it is ironic, given our fawning and unwavering support for the EU, that they should now go for the jugular so soon after mercilessly beating us senseless with their so-called bail-out. I am only glad that finally, an Irish Government has the balls to stand up to them on our behalf. So far, Michael Noonan has only kicked for touch by opting for a session in the European Court of Justice. It ties up the Apple issue for five years and I bet he's hoping for the breathing room necessary to defuse things before they really blow up and we're given no choice. 

However, in the light of current utterances from the continent, BREXIT is beginning to make more sense. It would not surprise me one bit to hear that Dublin is considering its own exit strategy should all hell break loose. There will have to be a plan B after all.

 

MOTHERS MOTORING

I think it is fair to say that the average female is more law-abiding than the male. For example, a male is more likely to exceed the speed limit than his female counterpart. This is not to say that men are lawless. Rather, they tend to be more ah, flexible when it comes to the letter of the law.

I could speculate that women, as the physically weaker sex, may be more inclined to view the law and the forces of law and order as their protectors. In this regard, the sentiments of a Mother may be even more pronounced. While Dad may protect the home and property, Mom will always see to the children first. 

If the above is true, then it may seem peculiar that is by and large it is men who make and enforce the laws, including the rules of the road. Perhaps in time this will change but I suggest the beginning of such a change is well under way, albeit from an unusual angle.

Under the heading, "Mother hits out at delay in reforming drink-drive laws," the Examiner yet again, features a crusading Mother who lost her 24-year-old son in a car accident. For the last seven years, Christina Donnelly has campaigned relentlessly to have drivers held accountable for their actions, especially in the case of drink or drug drivers. Her proposal, called after her son, Brendan's Law, demands that drink drivers convicted of causing death be put off the road until they appear before the courts, for a minimum six- to nine-year jail sentence upon conviction, with no early release for good behaviour. Christina wants to lock 'em up and throw away the key. And before you say it is only a grieving Mother venting her frustration, she has already made Ends Kenny agree to introduce "Brendan's Law," and she's meeting Minister for Transport, Shane Ross next week.

In a similar vein, another grieving Mother is on the warpath having lost her daughter Amanda in a crash near Cobh, Co Cork, in 2012. It emerged at her inquest that gardaí later identified serious defects in her 4×4’s rear suspension which made it not roadworthy. In Paula Murphy's case, she maintains that the standard of the NCT must be severely increased to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. Both women profess a deep caring for every other road user and are only on their respective hobbyhorses for the common good. 

The point though is, I do not agree with either of them, however unpopular it may be to say so. In criminal law there is a clear distinction between murder and manslaughter with appropriate punishments for both. Appropriate is the operative word here. Manslaughter is an accidental incident, one that is not pre-meditated. There is an implication that the drunk driver not only caused Brendan to die but planned to do so in advance. Similarly in the case of Amanda, there is an implication that some NCT tester wanted her dead and I do not believe either to be the case. 

We have a problem with accepting risk in our modern society and this is particularly true of accidents. Each year in the USA, an average of 450 people fall out of bed to their deaths. While this may at first appear confusing to you dear reader, it is nevertheless the statistic. Is the bed-maker at fault for this? Should beds be banned in favour of sleeping on the floor? Perhaps laws should be introduced to determine the height of all beds and the flooring material used beside them to break a potential fall? If so, the stairway in the home must become a thing of the past surely? But those 450 people did not wake with an urge to commit suicide? 

These unfortunate incidents are accidents and nothing else. I do not agree with drunk driving nor do I know the detailed background of the accident that Brendan was involved in. But what I do know is, if a Garda smells alcohol at the scene of a car accident, then whoever has consumed it is assumed to be the party at fault. The other driver may have been speeding down the wrong side of the road but that is considered immaterial. One pint of beer puts you over the legal limit but does not make you actually drunk. 

In the same vein, the 4X4 at the centre of the other accident had passed the NCT just seven months before. The Mother's case in this instance is, that the leaking suspension fluid pipe that may have had a bearing on the accident, should have been spotted during the annual car test. From experience of the NCT, if they discover a leak anywhere underneath you car, they will force you to replace all of those pipes. As well as that, faults can develop between NCT's and unless we are forced to do an NCT every day, (at €50 a pop), then shit happens. An experienced driver can instantly sense a problem or something different when the car is not as it used to be and they take the appropriate action to remedy the situation. After all, none of us set out to be killed behind the wheel.

Outside of perhaps Dublin, you simply must have a car to function in Ireland. Most of the country drive to and from work, take the kids to school, do the grocery shopping in centers outside of town and generally get from 'A' to 'B' in a semi-efficient manner every day. A motor car is not a luxury but a necessity and a damned expensive one at that. With taxes for everything, an unusually high road tax, expensive petrol, a rip-off insurance scam in full flight and the cost of the things in the first place, the ordinary motorist is hard-pressed as it is. On any day, motoring on public roads is about give and take. There are good and bad drivers as well as good and bad roads. The weather can be perfect for driving or positively dangerous and everything in between. Night driving is a different animal than daytime driving before you even explore the peculiar circumstances of any individual accident. A crying child behind you can be an even bigger distraction than a mobile phone is when you alone in the car. The variables are endless and it is impossible to cater for everyone and every situation.

But a grieving Mother with a strong sense of self-righteousness and a well-developed blame culture can skew the law to put others off the road or behind bars for nine years. Neither interference will bring their loved ones back no matter how much compassion we heap on them. As well, neither interference from them can ever be proved to save a single life either. We debate how to make the roads safer and one sure method would be to ban all vehicles off the road. That would surely get rid of crashes of any kind. However, anyone struggling now to keep their old banger on the road and keep their precious job so they do not drown in a sea of debt, could find the NCT un-passable if one woman gets her way. And the other woman would see a family member jailed for nine years for being involved in an unintentional accident in the first place. 

I am not without compassion for both of these woman and I do sympathize with their misfortune. But we all live in a society and the misfortune of the one should never govern how all of the rest of us must live our lives. Perhaps fate was the guiding hand in both incidents but whatever it was, the idea that all of the rest of us innocents must be punished some way for doing nothing wrong, is itself wrong.

Two wrongs do not make a right!

TRUMPING THE WOLF

"Donald Trump's foreign policy is risky and disturbing," says the man who planned the Iraq War. Paul Wolfowitz was a co-author of "Project for the New American  Century." 

This new bible of the aggressive Neo-Cons advocated unilateral military action by US forces across the globe, ignoring International Laws, breaking treaties already signed by their own country and shafting the UN and world opinion. Wolfowitz recommended de-stabalising the Middle East, surrounding Russia with hostile forces, hemming the Chinese into their own territories and positioning American bases in every country on earth. Much of this work is already done while other parts of it are  in train.

The "Project for the new American Century," was composed in 1999 and all of what took place since including Libya, Iraq and Syria were predicted and planned. Central to that blueprint was the proviso that nothing could be achieved, "Saving a catalyzing  event such as another Pearl Harbour." This was duly delivered in 2001 when four hi-jacked planes drove public opinion in America to demand revenge. Cynics cite 9/11, the justification for the New American Century, as just too damned convenient. 

I have written quite a bit about 9/11:
here,
here,
here also,
here again,
and here.

So you will guess that I'm quite unconvinced by the official explanation concerning what actually took place on that fateful day and I have no doubt the world has not heard the end of it. 

But to hear the likes of Paul Wolfowitz today refer to Donald Trump as 'risky and disturbing,' is, for me just laughable. Indeed, if my suspicions about Wolfowitz and his side-kicks have even a grain of truth to them, then Trump is a pussycat by comparison with what went before. The dark hand of Wolfowitz is all over 9/11 and its aftermath. He is a delusional war-monger whose ambitions as a Republican, now appear to favour the Democratic Hilary, another who'd like to see America in even more wars. 

The pity of this election over there is the poor choice of candidate available to the great American public but if the likes of Wolfowitz was on either ticket, I would begin work on a nuclear fallout shelter in my back garden right now. 

That man Wolfowitz redefines "risky and disturbing."

THE REAL APPLE ISSUE

Overseas readers might be wondering what all the fuss is about regarding Apple and that tax bill the EU claims they owe to Ireland. Surely, you might think, it is a straightforward numbers issue and either they do owe that sum or they don't. After all, this was worked out between officials of the Irish Government and representatives of the company and agreement was reached between the two parties. Apple is forthcoming and upfront year-on-year about the sums involved and our lads can calculate what's due from what was agreed upon in the first place.

But the problem goes way deeper than that and to understand it, you need to know a little of Irish history and how our National psyche was developed. The Industrial Revolution, which took place from the 18th to 19th centuries, was a period during which predominantly agrarian, rural societies in Europe and America became industrial and urban. Industrialization marked a shift to powered, special-purpose machinery, factories and mass production. The iron and textile industries, along with the development of the steam engine, played central roles. It also saw improved systems of transportation, communication and banking

While the Industrial Revolution began in the UK, it quickly spread all over Europe, everywhere that is except Ireland. We never experienced that industrial revolution here and instead we remained poor and backward. In fact, we got the Irish famine, a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland which occurred between 1845 and 1852. So while the rest of the developed world made great strides forward, Ireland was devastated. Some estimates suggest that the population on the island stood at eight million before the famine but fell to as little as one and a half million seven years later. Millions managed to emigrate to the US, Canada, Australia and the UK but millions died back home also. The origins of the famine are complex and I won't go into that here, but while everyone else was taking a bold step forward, Ireland was forced to take a hundred steps back. 

This country wandered into the twentieth century, poor, uneducated, under-developed and occupied by a foreign army. We fought a war of independence against the greatest power on earth at the time before gaining that independence and turning on each other in a bitter civil war. When the dust settled, most of that twentieth century was lived on the breadline by our parents and grandparents and the only depressing hope for the average Irishman was still emigration. Then in 1979, a young American lad called Steve Jobs came over to Cork and bought some land for a factory. He had a vision for a whole new industrial age based on emerging technology and unhampered by the spoils of an existing industrial base, the Irish jumped on his dream. 

Today, people look at Europe and wonder why little Ireland hosts the European Headquarters of all the really big global names like Apple, Google, Intel, EMC, HP, Facebook and so many others. The answer is, this is our industrial revolution. We have wandered into the twenty-first century wired to the world. We worked hard to get educated, we have plenty to eat and spend, we are adaptable and flexible and critically, we were in the right place at the right time. Every one of those big names sat down with our people here and thrashed out a plan to settle here. Each would have had their own terms and conditions and somehow we were able to accommodate them all. You'd have to believe we did something right to make that happen.

The EU ruling in this light, threatens to de-rail our one and only industrial revolution. We have little in the way of natural resources over here that could yield jobs and a way of life for our citizens. At the same time, the leaders of all of the big companies here are watching the Apple tax issue develop and they must be thinking of alternatives for themselves should things go against the jewel in the crown for Ireland. As our noted economist David McWilliams writes this morning, "Let’s not forget, without multinational investment, Ireland would be Albania with brutal weather. The multinationals have completely transformed the capital base of the country, totally upgraded the type of careers that are available to people here and plugged Ireland into the global economy in a way that is impossible to quantify. In short, they — not the EU — are the key to Ireland’s economic modernity. The future is the smartphone, the technology and the Silicon Valley way of looking at the world"

It would be catastrophic blinkered thinking to demand the €13 – €19 billion from Apple at this point because some unelected Commissioner in Brussels says so. The tax arrangement reached by Apple on which this sum is based, has been changed for the last two years and is no longer in force. But whatever the arrangements were reached in 1991 and again in 2007 between the Apple and Ireland were agreed upon and formed a contract between both them and us. We signed up for it and are legally bound by it. It is not a moral issue but a legal one. Tim Cook has made the point that the tax figure being bandied about has been derived by respectively changing the original contracts to reflect 2016. The EU even acknowledge that neither Apple nor Ireland broke any laws. In fact, the kernel of their argument is that if such a deal was done with Apple, then it should have been offered to all the other multi-nationals based here. Remember, this is a non-competitive ruling, not a tax ruling. In essence, the EU position is that, if Apple can pay less than one per cent corporation tax in Ireland, then Google, Intel, EMC, HP, Facebook and all of the others must be offered that too, or else Apple have to cough up.

That makes it very complicated because each of the other large companies will have made their own deals with Ireland to cite themselves here. This morning, the CEO's of each of them will be considering the implications of what happens next in their own spheres of influence. Should Apple de-camp, they will be leading a charge of others in their wake and we Paddies will helplessly look on as our industrial revolution is taken from us to be replaced once again by isolation and poverty. 

The McWilliams article today is not the first time he's suggested our future lies with the North Atlantic english speaking world of the UK, US and Canada while at the same time, our Government is hinting at a possible red letter day where this country must decide where its future lies. A core attraction of Ireland is our EU membership and access to the EU market and this must be borne in mind. But if that attraction should have the effect of devastating our economic infrastructure, then the price for remaining in the Union is too high. But from the EU perspective post-BREXIT, they have to consider the ripple effect of Ireland going to the polls to decide on its continued membership. Even worse, is the issue of US-EU relations on trade and the future of the world economy. 

As things stand this morning, little Ireland is in the middle of a global shit-storm. The EU has positioned itself against us in one corner while Apple and the US is on our side. That is the real state of play and thirteen billion or whatever it really is, is a sideshow. On the table is our precious industrial revolution with America wanting us to continue and progress it and Europe wanting to take it away.

It's that serious!

APPLE PIE?

My last piece on Apple touched on their old business model and and how it was run along independent national and geographic lines. This continued for a short time with the sale of the "i" products through the traditional local dealer sales channels with iMacs etc, until the iStore was set up. I clearly remember Steve telling the world, "Now you can buy a Mac twenty-four hours a day anywhere in the world." The whole sales operation, the big earner for the company, moved online and Apple were the first to do so. 

That was a hell of a gamble because in 2002, you had to already own a computer and have an internet connection to order a Mac directly from Apple. Today, everything is done online but in those early days of internet business, Apple was way ahead of its time in this regard. But the critical issue in all of this is that, "Apple went virtual." They became independent of country or region and became instead a virtual operation, everywhere in Europe except Cork in fact. In Cork they had thousands of direct employees, land and buildings with plant and machinery and critically, they were registered here with the companies office. They had a sort of  European presence in their otherwise self-created virtual world. Though it cost me my job and career at the time, I understand what was happening in hindsight. 

In the real world of big digital  businesses today, you buy in a virtual world of virtual shopfronts represented by websites. My old company, registered in Dublin, Ireland, ceased to be. It was like any other company that had simply shut down. It was no longer operative or liable for anything. The virtual operation made its products in China and Eestern Europe, among other places, the products were shifted to third-party warehouses for distribution and delivery in the various territories around the globe based on the rule of allocations. Today, as such, Apple Belgium for example, is a website possibly hosted on a server farm almost anywhere whose orders are processed in Cork. Orders and payments are accepted there after which instructions for delivery are issued to the region the order was received from. This is common practice now but it begs the question, where do the actual tax liabilities reside?

The Apple Belgium store is most likely not anywhere near Belgium but it works if you live there. This though blows the whole argument from Brussels apart unless Belgium decides to ban sales over the internet there. I have no doubt that Apple applies Belgian taxes to their sales there but I have no idea which Apple office pays that bill. But you can be absolutely positive that Apple honours all sales taxes due to the countries of origin. The issue today is not about that though, it is about corporate tax and where the actual real company is resident. The answer to that has to be "the cloud." 

Apple has its own version of that called, guess what?-the iCloud. Perhaps that's where the iStore lives, who knows? Under EU law, their registration and actual presence in Ireland permits them to trade with all of the EU member states but from a remote location that could be anywhere on the planet. But if they do not have registered offices in an EU country then they cannot be liable for corporate tax in that country. Mercedes sells cars in Ireland but pays its corporate tax in Germany. Certainly in Ireland where Apple are registered, they pay corporate taxes on their business within the island. What they don't do is declare their profits on repatriated overseas sales to the Irish Revenue and you'd have to say, why would they? 

In this cloud frame of mind, our Revenue people agreed to a scheme whereby profits from sales outside Ireland could, sort of land here temporarily, be shifted to an imaginary place back in the cloud and then once cleansed, it could legally come back into Ireland to be shifted to a tax free haven elsewhere. All of it was a paper exercise, (or taps on a keyboard actually), and the money was never due to Ireland in the first place nor was it any of our business. That at least is our official response. We were always just happy with thousands of jobs and €50M or so every year in corporate taxes for Apple products sold in this country. 

So this one is going to be a real can of worms. A ".co.uk" web address does not necessarily make you liable for UK corporate tax. You'd have to be registered as a UK company trading there. I'm not saying that the Irish authorities are absolutely right in this particular bun fight but technically, they didn't do anything wrong and neither did Apple. It begs the wider question, how do you tax the cloud, a virtual world of ones and zeros. This conundrum seems to have dawned on the dullards in Brussels. Steve must have considered this when he made the bold move first but his company has complied with tax law in the geographies and international law also. A case may be made that the Paddies were damned creative when they shook hands on this one but I doubt it was of their own creation. 

Finally, the figure of €13 billion is a nominal figure conjured up by EU bureaucrats and the announcement even suggested that loads of others may be entitled to a bite of the action here also. From the Irish perspective however, Apple have paid us everything that is really due to us and the Revenue boys here know that. The only thing this can possibly achieve is to make Apple reconsider their continuing presence in Ireland and it will almost certainly rattle the cage of all of the other big boys resident here as well. 
That is why, surprisingly, I am right behind our Government on this particular issue. The Irish are just being realistic and accepting the changing world we live in while the european bureaucrats are still living in the last century. The poor bastards just haven't a clue how these things are done today in the modern world and they wouldn't listen to us if we told them. 

APPLE SAUCE?

At this time of publishing, it is not known yet how much the EU has decided that Apple owe the Irish Exchequer in ahem, "avoided" taxation over several years. J.P.Morgan in New York estimate the figure to be upwards of €19 billon

There are several aspects to this wrangle, not least the question as to why the EU has stuck its oar in. Every European country has its sweetheart deals with big employers in their own regions. Spain made special arrangements with Santander and don't tell me the French have no wink and elbow arrangement with Renault. A flat rate of corporation tax is not set in stone and even the rate itself is subject to change as needs must. We all know that the big guy always gets looked after and Apple is the biggest company in the world by market capitalization. This would be the case too if they were cited in Germany or anywhere else for that matter but in Ireland, the Apple influence on our Government bean counters is understandably enormous because our economy is so small.

When I began work with Apple Computer Sales Ltd in Dublin, there was a model in place  to do business. Effectively, our job was to supply Macs that were ordered and bought by our office and supplied to the 26 counties of Ireland. We were what's known as a "Cost Centre," meaning we ran our office as a stand-alone going concern. We ordered and purchased the equipment from a notional Apple Central at a price of X per unit and sold these on at Y per unit in our own territory. The difference between X and Y was gross profit and from that was deducted our overheads and  cost of doing business. then after local taxes were paid the remaining amount was profit for Apple Inc. This was known as the "contribution," and was paid to head office in the US as the return from the 'Irish' sales cost centre. But as I was not the one to actually write that year-end cheque, I have no idea where it was posted to, as it were. 

It was one way to do business but for a global multinational, it was certainly not the most efficient way. Our competitors like Hewlett Packard, Compaq and Dell had much more streamlined and profitable operations and at Apple, we only had five per cent of the personal computer market. In fact, strong rumours persisted in technology circles at the time that Apple was going bust. I can only speculate at this point but I do know that Steve Jobs returned to the helm around this time and big changes began to happen. He was not just a brilliant technological visionary, he was a damned sharp business operator as well. It seems reasonable now to believe that the great man took a look at the business model the company used and saw that, in Europe for example, each country ran its own cost centre. I reckon Steve decided to gather all of his chips in one place, but why Ireland?

He travelled to Ireland at the invitation of the Industrial Development Authority, (IDA), in the late seventies and by the early eighties, Apple had bought a large industrial site at the edge of Cork City. Choosing to buy this huge acreage is important to the story because most multi-nationals lease property and buildings, reflecting their flexible attitude to re-location. Then Apple designed and built a custom facility with the expressed purpose of making the full range of Apple equipment for the European, Middle Eastern and Asian markets. It was their first facility outside the US. An IDA grant sweetened the deal but the real attraction was a willing and english-speaking workforce, open access to markets via the Irish EEC membership and a high standard of education locally. Good quality of life in Cork was also a factor. On the downside, there were no direct flights from the US to Cork, meaning executives had to either fly to Shannon, 70 miles away, or London, another flight away. Then all manufactured products from Cork had to go by sea to the European mainland, an added logistical cost. 

Through the eighties and nineties, Apple was a steady if unspectacular employer in Cork and because of their decision to cite their European headquarters in Ireland, Microsoft, IBM, HP, Dell, Epson, Compaq and many more copied the move and did likewise. However, all of these chose Dublin, except Dell, who  went to Limerick. EMC however chose to be beside Apple in Cork. In the nineties, Jobs "left" the company to set up Pixar and Next Computer taking a lot of the best techies with him. At one point in the late nineties I heard a rumor that Apple Inc had a mere €300m left in bank and we could all be out of a job before the summer. Then the great man was invited to return to lead the company that he had founded. Within a short time, you could sense the drastic changes without knowing specifically what was going on. It may be strange now to reflect that while I worked in the Dublin office, my home and family were in Cork and I returned every weekend. But during the working week, I never had ANY dealings with Apple in Cork. I knew some of the lads there of course because Cork is small but I didn't have a need at any time to visit or even pick up the phone to them. 

With Steve back, first came the five colours of iMac, those zany colorful all-in-one boxes and the PC publications instantly pronounced them the final nail in the coffin for Apple because they had no floppy drive. Imagine that! But the big news was the addition of the letter "i" as a prefix and this was largely overlooked at the beginning. It stood for internet or 'internet ready' and denoted that Steve saw the future of the whole industry online. Traditional Apple sales offices around the world were under notice of closure because the selling process was going to the AppleStore online, and when our office in Dublin went, I was transferred to the plant in Cork. By this time there was a new and discernible buzz around the place and iPod, quickly followed by iTunes came into existence. But the business model changed too and it quickly became apparent that Apple finances outside the States were routing through Cork. Local cost centers were replaced by a global internet view of the world and with it, a smarter way to handle the profits. That would have been the point that the company big-hitters may have sat down with the Irish Revenue Commissioners and outlined what they intended to do and what they needed from the Irish to do it. There is nothing illegal or underhanded about it though and neither party at those negotiations did anything wrong. The same scenario probably takes place everyday somewhere in the world with different Governments and different companies. 

I can say, hand on heart, that Apple were always extremely ethical, frustratingly so at times when I wanted to try a clever sales gimmick myself but was refused permission. The company went to extreme lengths to do things correctly in all of its dealings. I do not believe that they broke the law in their negotiations with Ireland Inc but I do know that they would have got the best possible deal they could get for themselves without crossing the legal or ethical boundaries. When they started the plant in the eighties, they did so with twenty employees. Today there are 5,000 with another 1,000 coming on stream when the new building is complete. A whopping 64 per cent of all Apple profits flow through the Cork operation but very little of it is generated in Ireland. Looking today at the EU case against Apple you can deduce that they do not believe the company has broken any European laws by repatriating profits from EU countries to Cork and I would surprised if they had. Instead, the EU is accusing the Irish Government of making a deal locally with Apple as to what happens that (corporate profit) money once it got to Cork. 

Reading between the lines, our Government is publicly saying they did nothing wrong while privately telling the EU to fuck right off. Anything which threatens the huge corporate presence in Ireland would be a cause for this country to pull out of the EU, it's as simple as that. When the expected ruling from the EU is delivered this afternoon we will promptly take a case to the ECJ to drag out this saga for at least three more years. This is a real hot potato though because to the ordinary Irish man and woman, we are in the frame for a possible €19 billion windfall and our Government appear to be doing anything they can to avoid receiving that money. It would be similar to the UK turning down £200 unexpected billions.

UPDATE!!!!  The EU ruling is in and the unelected ones have demanded that the Irish Revenue Commissioners must immediately collect thirteen billion euros from Apple in unpaid taxes for the last ten years. "Jesus H"

For several years now member states of the EU have been bitching on the fringes about the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent. It now appears that the big boys in Europe have got together to shatter the Irish experiment with large multinational employers and really destroy our economy. As a result of this ruling today, Apple begins to consider re-location elsewhere, you can bet your ass the French and Germans will be rolling out big enticing red carpets for them. Other European headquartered corporates here will naturally follow suit and our Finance Minister Michael Noonan knows that too. So you can expect that this formal ruling from Brussels today is the beginning rather than the end of the matter.

 

 

RESEARCH CONTRIBUTES TO IGNORANCE

Whenever the average Joe Soap thinks about researchers as a breed, he likely visualizes serious faced blokes in white coats milling reverently around a laboratory of gleaming steel and glass, clipboard in hand. In the mind's eye, it must take years of tedious and painstaking hard work but important life-changing discoveries are made sometimes. In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth.

Today's researchers have a PC at home instead of a laboratory and use statistics instead of microscopes and chemicals. Real world conditions and scenarios are dumped and computer statistical models are used instead. It is the study of populations or Public Health, as it is better known. The new science is called epidemiology and I had a go at that in an earlier article.

One of yesterday's headlines read, "School dinners contribute to obesity." The latest buzzword in research is obesity as it tends to draw research funding like pins to a magnet. The lead researcher from the obesity project was on the radio yesterday morning and she was in her element. Hers, was the voice of concern and caring as she skimmed over the methodology of her work in favour of words like, risk, danger, fatal disease and estimates. All this wishy washy drivel was facilitated by a fawning presenter trying  frantically for some scary soundbite that, "You heard here first folks." Like most of her ilk, she was peddling fear as a tool of profit.

Inconsequential findings such as yesterday's nonsense should never see air-time because they are pure speculative crap spewed out of a computer, as pre-arranged results before the research ever begins. It's a case of, "Here's the answer, now how did we get it?" Epidemiology is plagued with all sorts of failings not least of which are 'confounding factors,' and 'bias.' Psychology teaches us that any question can be carefully manipulated to illicit the preferred response for the questioner and this is vital to know when epidemiology is based on the answers given by a selected group to a selected set of questions. A bias in one direction or another can shape the questions to get the desired answers. A pre-disposal to personally believe a conclusion you have not yet proved, but have to prove, can lead to tinkering with the imputed information until the statistical model gives you the right overall answer. Not only can this be done but it is done routinely these days. 

But the biggest bias in all epidemiological research is known as "The funding bias." Real science poses a question and then sets about getting a viable answer to it. If it works in one condition then it is tested in multiple other conditions for validity. After exhaustive testing by the scientist in question, his new theory is made available to his peer group with the expressed wish that any of them can disprove it. If the theory stands this most rigorous examination then it can be called a discovery or a new breakthrough of some kind. Even then, the possibility always exists that years down the road, the theory may be disproved. This is honest, open, real science that makes a difference. Epidemiology though is so flexible and open to manipulation, that it attracts funding like bees to honey. In plain english, epidemiology can prove whatever you'd like it to prove for the right fee. 

So back to the lady on the radio yesterday and how I would have handled the interview if I were the presenter. My first question would have been, "Who funded the project?" I would have pursued this line of questioning for quite a while until the full picture emerged. It is vital to ask how much was paid, over what period of time and to who. Then  there is the question as to whether this lady had funding coming in before she was tasked with exploring obesity. Was the awarding of this contract a God-send for her and her team? Indeed, is there anything further on the horizon for them now that they've completed this one. If I sensed any reticence in answering any of those questions then I'd persist by  demanding that the listeners had a right to know. The slimming industry is big business and they would have a vested interest in shaming the obese into buying their products, would they not? An official sounding report on some university's letterhead would represent valuable sales literature for such companies and university researchers are just crying out for money.

I would ask intensely about how the research project was presented to them, (by the funders), and what objectives they were given before they began. How were the questions to the participants phrased and how were the participants chosen in the first place. How many were there, (how large and representative was the research), and over what period of time? What confounding factors were taken into account and which ones were discarded and why? Then I'd get really sticky and ask if we are looking at cause or merely some speculative relationship that may or may not be true like correlation. I would want to know a hell of a lot more about the statistical computer model used like who wrote it, in what computer language, what is it called and how much did it cost for the software? Computers don't think for themselves they just calculate figures faster than you do. I would ask if she might have got a different answer is she'd also asked the participants about their levels of stress or earning potential. Were they home owners or renters. gay or straight, christian or atheist, young or old, male or female, fit or lazy, intelligent or stupid and a whole myriad of other possible confounders. Indeed did the lady take her base mark from the now maligned body mass index? There are hundreds of questions that should have been asked before her findings are even mentioned.

I would consider it my job to tear the story her shreds and rubbish her findings because that is precisely what they do in real science. If I couldn't then the listener would know that the woman and her team might be on to something. But yesterday's interview didn't do any of that and they never do. The woman had the carte blanche of fawning respect hurled at her by the presenter and accredited an almost God-like status for the duration. She could have been lying through her teeth to make a comfortable living and we'll never know. But the worst part of it is that our legislation is deeply informed by such junk science and the airwaves are the open platform to soften up the public for an attack on the overweight population in order to increase taxation. It's not science, but it is coercsion by means of propaganda. 

It disgusts me!

PEACE, PROSPERITY, FREEDOM AND THE EU

"The leaders of Italy, France and Germany have insisted that Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union (EU) will not kill the bloc," according to the journal this morning. The EU “is the answer” to Europe’s problems, for it cemented “peace, prosperity and freedom,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

So, there you have it. The reason we in Ireland are so peaceful, so prosperous and free is because we're in the EU. I think that bears closer scrutiny. The warring factions in our country were never approached by anyone from the European Continent. To my certain memory, Britain was told to sort it out and the Irish officials were told to shag off. Peace came about through the tenuous and painstaking work of people on the ground in Northern Ireland, the British and Irish Prime Ministers and the Yanks were dragged into it finally to get it over the line. The EU had nothing to do with peace in Ireland.

From 1973, when we joined the EU to about 1996, we had high unemployment, joblessness and emigration as an almost accepted fact of life here. Farmers were proportionally better off but that's about it. The Celtic Tiger of the 'noughties' was a home grown phenomenon based on a 60-hour weeks as almost standard and a huge influx of American capital through the multinationals citing themselves on the island. EU projects such as roadbuilding were co-financed by the EU and our local gombeens. It was during this time too that we became net contributors to the EU. Our biggest trading partners remained as the UK and the USA though we did buy big German cars in the good times.

And as for freedom, I have lost count now of the number of times our Government Ministers have stood up sheepishly to announce some unpopular law or tax only to throw up their arms in mild apology before explaining it was an EU directive. Far from freeing the Irish, the EU began to look like enslavement by a thousand cuts. When the worldwide meltdown came in 2008, the paddies were picked as the stooges. Under EU insistence, the Irish Nation of 4.5m people was saddled with 46 per cent of all the bank debt across the EU while 60m Germans were given a mere 12 per cent of it. That alone took away our personal freedom overnight.

I've said it before here, the EU itself never had anything to do with peace and security on the continent. NATO on one side was counter-balanced by Russia on the other and this alone kept ambitions in check. As before, the individual countries of the EU protected their own citizens their own way. What the EU is good at it though is meddling in our personal lives and chipping away at those freedoms we hold dear. They are good at stealing money from our pockets while paying themselves huge salaries and benefits. The EU is expert at waste and bureaucracy. The unease of the British public leading up to BREXIT was totally mis-handled by the EU and the aftermath of it is also being fucked up by the unelected Brussels brigade. They sent Cameron home empty-handed when he needed their help and now they appear to believe that sneering at the British for opting out is the best coarse of action.

So the Italian Prime Minister has it wrong on all three counts. To re-phrase his speech, the EU is out to take away our freedoms one by one, it is happy to sit back and let the Yanks bank-roll world peace, such as it is, and prosperity is an illusion as long as we are paying back the extraordinary bank debts accrued around Europe. Our grandchildren will still be struggling with that one when I'm long gone.

An hour after writing this I read a new article on the same topic by Ian O'Doherty in the Irish Independent. He fills in a lot of my blanks for me.

"EU's big boys look out for themselves – without a thought for the rest of us."

 

 

BRAZILIAN SHIT HITS THE IRISH FAN

It would be hilarious were it not for the genuine efforts of so many amateur Olympic athletes here.

In a country of 4.5 million souls with a strong pub culture and a laid back attitude to life, there is low expectations when it comes to international sporting events. We went ape-shit when we were dumped out of the Euros several years ago and went off out rockers when our quest for World Cup stardom ended after that. We paddies are up for a good time and a laugh and both competitions provided both for weeks at a time.

Put simply, we are just grateful to see the green shirt with the shamrock, even getting to the world stage. So when it comes to the Olympics, we are not really betting on gold in any competition. Indeed our recent history at these events is mired in controversy. The ghastly specter of drugs raised its ugly head when one of our show-jumpers was fucked out over it several years ago now. Subsequently there was great craic here when the official report of that incident showed that it was, in fact, the horse who was bouncing around with the aid of something, ah! illicit. 

Then to our consternation and absolute glee, a bird we'd never heard of before, showed up poolside wearing a fetching green swimsuit and won three golds and a silver. It was license to go on the piss for a month at the time. Who knew we had a superhuman in our ranks? Of course poor old Michelle was rumbled for some illicit carry-on before diving in and had the medals promptly stripped. A national hangover was called for with the inevitable hair of the dog to go with it. Gas-lads here speculated that she must have been so high on the good stuff, the only wonder was that when she dived into the water, she didn't dissolve. We're a good-natured lot over here, aren't we?

Anyway, this time around, we first had a medal hope in boxing discovered to have been at the good stuff too and duly sent home. The pallor of cheats hung over the green section of the village as a result of the lad. Then just as a couple of likely lads from West Cork were restoring our faith in Olympic sport in a rowing boat, up pops a guy called Kevin Mallon, (no relation), and our Kev has event tickets for sale on the black market, six hundred and fifty of the fucking things actually. He was duly nabbed by the Brazilian Gestapo with the smoking gun and the latest is that he's, "Helping them with their enquiries," – 'ahem.' 

Cue our squeaky-clean new Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, as he rented his garments on live radio about the absolute scandal of it all. The pompous bastard flapped around almost lost for words as he assured the fearful Irish Nation that'd he'd be hot-foot onto the Government jet for a jolly, I mean a serious of come-to-Jesus meeting with the Irish Olympic Council down Rio way pronto. Shane was on a mission to get to the bottom of it but the President of the IOC gave him the cold shoulder when he showed up. We did not hear whether he told Ross to 'fuck-off,' but from the expressed outrage of the Minister afterwards, it wasn't too far off that. We Irish love the circus of it all and the place was abuzz with the humour of it. Effectively, our Minister for Sport met an even bigger pompous ego than his own and was staggered there was even such a thing.

Overseas readers should know that the sitting Minister for Sport signs off on the public funding for the IOC annually so arrogant President Pat Hickey was on shaky ground to say the least. The smart money is on the theory that the lad is in his seventies now, has seen several of these empty wind-bag Ministers come and go in his time and with retirement merely yards away, he just didn't give a shit. What the old smoothie didn't think of though was he wasn't at home where a Garda wouldn't risk his career arresting such a stately figure as the IOC President.

The Brazilian Gestapo though had no such qualms. They raided his hotel room last night and although his wife plainly lied and said he was out, they nabbed the lad a few doors down in his son's room. He was led away in his dressing gown to the clink but he pleaded a heart condition in the, ahem, taxi and they stopped off at the hospital instead. Ever with an eye on favorable PR, the bold Pat knew that images of him in his night attire but with chains on, would not play well at home. A cute old whore then.

In his absence however, the local uniforms called a press conference during which they displayed his travel details, outlined the correct protocol for ticket distribution and topped the whole thing off with charging him on three counts. Apparently, they found some phones, an iPad and some tickets in the rooms they raided and are satisfied that "El Presidente," had a case to answer based on his e-mail exchanges. The politico's here are in crisis while the rest of us laugh our holes off at it all.

After all, we're sport-mad in Ireland and this is what we call real sport!