Vultures, Eagles & Turkeys

There’s a famous (or should that be infamous) episode of barbarity carried out against the Roman Empire in 88bce, known as the Asiatic Vespers. The people of Asia Minor, fed up of Roman rules, Roman taxes and Roman hegemony, rose up violently. In just one day the Roman population across Asia Minor was slaughtered; it’s estimated between 80,000 – 150,000 people were killed. This was a scrupulously prepared and viciously executed plan.

The fallout of which led to a series of wars that would last decades and pile countless more bodies on to the fire. Nonetheless, the Asiatic Vespers stand as a ruthless warning from history. A government (Rome was still a Republic) that has lost its legitimacy, has lost its mandate to govern.

This week we’ve seen, for the first time in it’s history, the Public Accounts Committee have submitted findings supported by the Majority and not Unanimously. This is a significant break of protocol and not just because the disagreement was over the wording about Michael Noonan and his handling (or alleged mishandling) of the Project Eagle case.

It was significant because it was part of another underlying trend at the hypocritical heart of Irish Politics. A secret 11th Commandment, not included in the Bible; Thou shalt do as we say, but thou shalt not do as we do.

You see, we’ve been lectured for weeks, whether by Pat Kenny calling us thick, or Alan Kelly calling us Populists, or Simon Coveney saying something. I can never remember what Simon says…

Anyway, apparently we have to pay water charges or we risk EU fines. We had to have austerity because we all partied. We have to have accept families in hotels because the banks balance sheets are still vulnerable. So on and so forth.

In the financial world there are rules, lots of them and contrary to popular opinion these rules are overseen by a Regulator. Many of these rules are arbitrary, some are helpful and then there are a handful of ones that are plain old common sense. One such common sense rule relates to Financial Dealings with Politically Exposed Persons, or PEP’s.

In dealing with the EU Anti Money Laundering Directive there are different criteria, based on the individual/entity and the service provided. They roughly fall under three headings: Simplified Due Diligence, Standard Due Diligence and Enhanced Due Diligence. A voucher for a Macari’s Snack Box to the first person who correctly guesses which category Politicians fall into.

Michael Noonan made a bad judgement call in meeting Cerberus the day BEFORE the sale of Project Eagle. This sale has resulted in a loss to the state in the range of €220 million. I’m not going to rake over the coals of this toxic fire sale. You can do that here and here.

I am going to point out that a Department of Finance, that is doing it’s job, might look into the EU Anti Money Laundering Act. I’m going to guess that they’d discover that a meeting with the Minister for Finance is a meeting with a Politically Exposed Person. I’d then be fairly certain that they would see this same meeting is covered under the Enhanced Due Diligence Regulations. Finally, I’d hope they might realise that breaches (if discovered) of these regulations can be punished with sanctions and or fines. The fines can be of “up to €5 million in the case of natural persons, and fines of up to twice the amount of any profits gained or losses avoided.”

I’m a banker, so my sums aren’t great, but I reckon fines of up to twice the loss (as confirmed by the Comptroller & Auditor General) could amount to €440 million. Do I think a Department of Finance that has it’s head buried in the sand is looking into this? Probably not. Do I believe a Government that is busy trying to delegitimise even the wording of a mildly critical report into this debacle, is going to look for our money back? I’m not holding my breath.

It does make me think of the Asiatic Vespers and how fed up people were of hearing “Do as we say, don’t do as we do”. I’m fed up too.

 

Tony Groves

 

 

 

Mea Cúpla Focail…

There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that while preparing for the biggest court case of his nascent career, Cicero spent his time practising only oration and voice projection. When asked if he would not be better off spending his time learning the legal arguments for the case he is said to have replied “Only a bad orator need learn to be a lawyer”.

Now this story is most likely baseless, but I couldn’t help thinking about it while watching the Garda Whistleblower controversy evolve. Thirty Six times Clare Daly, Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace raised concerns to the Dail, but it was only when RTE broadcast the widely known slurs that the “government” deigned to actually address the issue.

When I say address it, I mean speak around it, throw shapes of indignation and then search for a vehicle to park it in, while they can get back to the business of making announcements and issuing plans that hope to lead to future announcements of updated plans. There has arguably never been a more inefficient government, nor have we ever had a more unambitious opposition.

All of which leads me to the vehicle of a public inquiry and back to Cicero.

Up and down the country Lawyers, Barristers and Public Relations Gurus are practising their oration and vocal projection. Headline writers can today file their copy for the upcoming Charleton Inquiry. Words like Defiant, Refute and Rebut will be thrown around like mea culpa’s at a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting.

Phrases like “unaware of”, “not privy to”, “had no knowledge of” and “in the strongest possible terms” will be deemed acceptable answers to the most important questions.

All the while we will be placated with fluff pieces that assure the public that the Judge has the “power to compel” and “ask the hard questions” that will “bring closure”. Those responsible will point at the next person up in a vicious blame circle. Sincere expressions of sincere regret will be made that would make the Banking Inquiry blush.

There will be individual embarrassing moments and several more mea culpa’s before we arrive at a consensus that a good man was done down by a system and that because the system is to blame, nobody is to blame. Sure we all partied, on his good name.

Cicero won his case, he rose in esteem by defeating his rival orator (Hortensius)and climbed the rungs of power. The guilty party (Gaius Verres, Governor of Sicily) was sentenced to exile and was given the traditional nine days to squirrel away as much plunder to feather his retirement nest.

Our guilty parties will also be “exiled” and in the words of Oliver Callan subject to the full rigours of a massive pension. Cicero said we must “let the welfare of the people be the ultimate law”. Ultimately, I predict the conspirators and and participants in this sinister plot will fare out very well. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

tribunal

Tony Groves February 2016

Disgustingly Decent

Disgusting. It’s disgusting that a man can have his life ruined over Penalty Points. It’s disgusting that our Senior Police Force can seem to orchestrate these things and only ever be held to account in an inquiry with limited frames of reference and no real powers of enforcement.

It’s disgusting to watch our Political Leaders scurry away from microphones like cockroaches when the light is tuned on. It’s disgusting to hear Politicians, who are paid exorbitant salaries, are unaware of things widely known (and sadly believed) throughout the country.

It’s disgusting to be governed by RTE’s Prime Time. It’s disgusting to have to wait for a Television Programme to force a Do Nothing Dail into limp-wristed, hand-wringing action. It’s disgusting to see Ministers then get a platform to say they weren’t aware of anything and then express their own disgust and upset.

It’s disgusting to be preached at by the same Commentariat who propagated the lies about the best way to proceed now. It’s disgusting to listen to much of the Media bemoan the stink of Fake News on Social Media, while expecting us to hold our noses while they peddle their own brand of Horse Shit.

It’s disgusting to know (deep down we know) that after the storm has dissipated and the next crisis arises, nothing will have gotten reformed, those responsible will shuffle away to large severance deals and chunky pensions. It’s disgusting to realise that this is the inevitable outcome.

It’s disgusting to think how much money has already been spent, and will continue to be wasted, in helping us not to get to the bottom of this entire disgusting episode. It’s disgusting to hear of a criminally underfunded Garda Force, while aware we are burning money in propping up the injustice at the centre of the blight.

Martin Callinan called the Whistleblowers disgusting. The Chumocracy went along for the disgusting ride. The public tut tutted in disgust. An innocent man was ruined. I am disgusted at my Health Service, my Government, my Police Force and myself.

Maurice McCabe is the opposite of disgusting, he is thoroughly decent. And we could all do with a little more decency in our lives.

 

Tony Groves February 2017 simon

image courtesy of the very decent @feckthelottom

Grand Centrist Station

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Centrists, the lads who say they are without ideology and the journalists who say they are “fair and balanced”. I heard Stephen Donnelly, he of the reverse Damascene Conversion, repeat the oft trotted out bastardised W.B Yeats, line that “the centre must hold” and I nearly spat my coffee on the screen.

The line is actually “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The anarchy the poet was writing of was “The Second Coming“.  Sadly, I don’t think any saviour is coming to save us.

These self-proclaimed Centrists are in denial about the world we currently occupy. Their motivations for self-delusion vary. Some, aware that Right Wing evil is on the march, claim to be newly Centrist in order to distance themselves from their more radical brethren.

I’m thinking of the “Tory Boy” formerly known as Leo Varadkar (or have I got that the wrong way around?). He of the Far Right Centre “proposal of offering only three months dole to migrant workers as an incentive to leave” and of “privatising up to 20 Dublin Bus routes”. Leo the Centrist is Leo the Liar. He’s the leader of a core of Right Wing Fine Gael, that is soon to inherit the party.

Enda Kenny, while a lot of things (and many of those Right Wing led) is not like Leo. His ideology can be summed up as Power for Powers sake.

Which also got me thinking. So many of the new Centrists are declaring their (recently discovered) Social Democratic roots that RTE might consider doing a political version of: Who Do You Think You Are?  They could call it: Who Do You Think The Public Should Think You Are?

Imagine it, we could have Alan Kelly retelling his “spay them with sewage” story and say the sewage was a metaphor for the dirty world of Centrist Politics. I’d post a link to his despicable actions, but Alan (classless man that he is) has had them removed from Google Searches.

We could have Fianna Fail do a retrofitted retrospective half hour about their “populist” roots, saying that populist is actually the Irish word for Centrist. Us plebeians would be none the wiser. Sure if it was on RTE, we’d say, it must be true.

Finally, we could have the alphabet soup AAA/PBP tell us they’re opposed. “To what exactly are you opposed?” the narrator could ask. “We don’t have to engage with you, you’re part of the machine” they could yell back. At least you know where they stand. Full Marx, indeed.

Despite what you hear so often, the so called Hard Left are not the biggest threat to Irish Politics. At least not in the sense of a threat to a progressive Irish Politics. No, that distinction lies firmly with the Centrists. They are the advocates for nothing. They are the Minister for Health Simon Harris, getting genuinely upset that nobody is doing anything about 50,000 people hidden from Hospital Waiting Lists.

The Centrists are Simon Coveney asking what more can NGOs like Focus Ireland and the Simon Community do, to enable him to do less. Centrists do not exist. Those who have no political ideology have no business being in politics. Those who bleat that the “centre must hold”, are saying their hold on the levers of power must remain.

Nothing will improve under this Centrism. In fact, I can think of only one man who was a true Centrist. In 1967 Muhammad Ali was stripped of his world title over refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.

His lawyer, Hayden C. Covington when asked why he was risking his career “by getting in the middle” of this case said “I want to be at the centre of this, because only by getting to the centre of it can I bring about change.” Our current Centrist Cohort only want to sit in one place, of no use to those who elected them.

I remember Tolstoy telling Chekhov that his centrist writing needed a world view; a perspective in order to inspire people.

I remember Lord Acton’s warning about Centrist’s. “Political atheism: End justifies the means. This is the most widespread of all the opinions hostile to liberty.”

And I’ll let Muhammad Ali himself have the last word. When under pressure to join the herd and stay in the Centrist Flock he replied “I don’t have to be what you want me to be”.

 

Tony Groves February 2017 Muhammad Ali Vietnam

 

 

Brexit Wounds

I might be in the minority here, but I’m not sure this Brexit thing is going to be all that bad for Ireland. You only have to listen to “The New Iron Lady”, Theresa May’s speech to hear the opportunities for us.

Even casual observers can see a border wall (just on the edge of the horizon) as a boon for struggling developers. If Irish planning efficiency has taught us anything, it’s that we can get at least fifteen construction tenders, twenty obscenely expensive architectural designs and a decade or more out of the planning process?

We could have petrol stations running kids colouring competitions; draw your own border checkpoint. The winning entry could be brought to life by Dermot Bannon, in a cacophony of crayon and concrete; the entire block tastefully rimmed with barbed wire. I’m sure some minor celebrity could cut the ribbon in exchange for dual citizenship?

Theresa May has laid out her plan, which is a plan to look at all available plans. She wants to explore all the options available while probably availing of none. Well slap me in the face with a retired judge, this is a job for Ireland Inc.

Sure isn’t Ireland Inc. the best country in the world for making world class plans, to be world class in something or other, by some far off future date? We have panels of experts, who’s entire expertise is in delivering plans on the best way to hold a press conference, where plans are unveiled to deliver new plans by 2020.  Fail to plan, plan to fail, plan for your plans to fail, blame Brexit. Come on Ireland, we can do this!

There’s so much more positives to this Hard Brexit outcome. I mean, due to machinations of Banking, a financial passport is required to carry out complex financial schemes, such as Rate Fixing or Insider Trading. Luckily our Central Bank are very experienced in looking the other way while consumers are gouged. Aren’t we still paying twice the European average in our Mortgage Rates? I hardly think the Big British Banks need fear any constraints on rampant profiteering from Ireland Inc. IDA Ireland could use the tagline (once I get my royalty fee):

Ireland: Come for the Hard Brexit. Stay for the Soft Regulation

Besides, even if the banks and financial arms of the Multinational Companies don’t want to move here physically, we have brave volunteers across the country willing to allow them set up shop for little more than the price of a Brass Plate. Sure isn’t there a house in Glasnevin, Dublin 9 that has 124 “companies” operating from it. 124 companies in a small 3 bed house. We are screaming blue murder about a housing crisis, yet one small suburban house accommodates 124 companies. Airbnb must be dying to get a look inside those doors.

Yes folks, Hard Brexit is going to be okey-dokey. With a little bit of creative thinking, we won’t have to do any more thinking. With a little bit of forward planning, we won’t have to make any more plans. Because this is Ireland Inc. An open economy, and if Britain is getting into the business of becoming a closed economy, then Ireland Inc. is open to that as well.

 

Tony Groves January 2017

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Trumps Animal Farm

I’ve been asked three times this week “Why don’t you write about Trump?” and I never really had a good enough response. The truth is that my hot take on the Golden Shower scandal is as lukewarm as a week old urine sample.

The other fact is that I don’t really care all that much what the (soon to be) President did or did not get up to, his proclivities are his business. But I do care about, as should we all, his Business and Businesses. We should care deeply.

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a Business,man.” – Jay Z

Watching the world go into collective hysterics over Trumps unintentionally(or intentionally) hysterical “Press Conference“, I wasn’t sure how to react. Luckily my kids were there to put things in context. Out of the mouths of babes…

I’ve been reading Animal Farm to the kids and they drew my attention to a Napoleon (the dictatorial pig) and Donald Trump (the wannabe dictatorial pig) parallel. If you’re not familiar with the story, Animal Farm is basically a tale of how downtrodden animals revolt against the oppression of human beings, only to find themselves under the oppression of their fellow Comrades, the pigs. A salutary tale, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

What my kids observed was this: Trump and his gang shouting down the attempts of a CNN journalist to ask a question was exactly the same as when having given orders contrary to the Animals Commandments, Napoleon has the sheep start bleating “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad”, thus drowning out any opposition.

After such a “meeting” Squealer – Napoleon’s Press Secretary –  would trot around the farm to placate the animals and assure them that Leader Napoleon was only making these changes for their own good. Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer fills this role in the real world version. But Spicer doesn’t seem to have Squealers persuasive skills, relying instead on bullying and threats and yet…

Yet none of this Non Fake News, Fake News circus matters when put into context of Trumps cabinet picks. I read this morning that former Irish Health Minister, James Reilly is in trouble for accepting a donation of €1,000. The donation amount is not in breach of the Standards In Public Office (SIPO) regulations, it is the fact that he took it in cash that’s put him on the wrong side of the law. A minor breach, but a breach nonetheless.

Now let’s look at the Trump cabinet, not the individuals, but at their candidacy. Rather, let’s not look at their candidacy, as many of his picks have not completed the required Ethics Review or submitted the required SIPO paperwork. The fact that these checks are required has not stopped the candidates undergoing their Confirmation Hearings.

These hearings are designed to allow Senators, who have access to the Ethics Reviews reports on the candidate, an opportunity to question candidates as to their suitability for their potential role. So what we have now is a group of trumps picks, without proper vetting, being questioned by Senators who have none of the information required to ask pertinent questions.

I don’t really care about what did or did not happen in a Moscow hotel room. I care deeply about a Cabinet of people taking office, who potentially have more ethical flaws and conflicts of interests than any other Cabinet since the birth of democracy.

Trumps presidency has already had more scandal than in the entire eight years of the Obama administration. While everyone was on a Buzzfeed Buzz, Trumps pick were busily being rush through their Confirmation Hearings. While the world was going mad over whether Trump is compromised by a Russian dossier, he was busy compromising an already fragile democracy. That is the Real News.

So forgive me for not getting swept up in the Golden Shower-Gate, but “a donkey lives a long time“.

Tony Groves January 2017

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Ctrl + Alt + Right + Delete

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Chekhov is my favourite writer. His descriptive brevity has opened my mind in more ways than any metaphor laden prose has ever done. His short story, The Huntsman, is a continual source of inspiration. Capturing the beauty in the bleakness of life is no mean feat. No one does it like Chekhov. Chekhov was a Centrist.

Tolstoy, on the other hand, is anything but. He writes with a goal. He writes with an ambition. When he wrote War & Peace, he wasn’t neutral. His voice was in the characters, the journey was turned in directions of his ideological choosing. He is a participant in his work. Tolstoy was a Protagonist.

A little known fact, Chekhov and Tolstoy were great friends. Tolstoy often critiqued his friends writing by saying he could improve it greatly if he’d only offer the reader “a point of view”.  Chekhov, for his part, hated Tolstoy’s moralising and pontificating. They’d argue and malign each other often, but remained true friends until Chekhov’s untimely death, aged only 44. It was the ultimate irony that Chekhov, the Doctor, worried terribly about Tolstoy’s health.

Get to the point Tony!

The point is simple really. 2016 saw a shutting down of hard won advances in human rights. Trump, Brexit and victories for Far Right political parties have promised to curb the rise of “snowflake” liberalism. Liberals, so sure of the rightness of their arguments, have failed to explain themselves. Choosing to wring their hands and mourn, rather than take direct action. Liberals and true Social Democrats have (mostly) seceded the floor to the Right.

The Irish Times gave a platform to a man who threatened refugee children, to explain and normalise the rise of the “Alt Right”

The Irish Political Right, so embarrassed by the actions of their fellow ideologists, have re-branded themselves as Centrists. Paschal Donohoe, recently described himself as “a liberal centrist”. The daftness of this statement went unchallenged. Paschal represents a Right Wing Free Market Ideology that has failed people since inception and most spectacularly since the 2007 global financial crisis.

Fine Gael (and to a lesser degree Fianna Fail) wanting to distance themselves from this have decided to say they are Centrists. Michael Noonan even went so far as to quote W.B Yeats:

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Centrist sounds great, it sounds sensible; because if it was good enough for Chekhov, it’s good enough for us, right? Wrong.

To be Centrist in the modern political landscape is to play it safe. It’s to obfuscate decisions. It’s to kick the can down the road when faced with difficult choices. to be a Centrist is to be set, to be set is to be stuck, to be stuck is to be unable to move or change. Centrists then, by definition, merely protect the status quo and are blockers to change. Give me the much derided Populist Dreamer over the Feet of Concrete Centrist any day.

When you hear a Fine Gael Minister or spokesperson say Centrist, remember it means Right Wing. Say to yourself that the fulcrum of the Global Right has shifted to far to the so called Alt Right that the old fashioned Right Wing Free Market Merchants are scared. So scared and afraid to challenge it that they want to pretend they’re not associated with it.

Enda Kenny even went so far as to warn against the rise of the Far Right. Having spent his entire time in government sowing the Right Wing seeds, he’s now complaining about the crop he helped cultivate. You couldn’t make it up.

So in  2017 it is the duty of Social Democrats and Snowflake Liberals to yell “Bullshit”. Whenever we see a wolf in sheep clothing, we must signal the alarm. Yes, I prefer Chekhov’s Centrist literature. But I’d rather have a pint and discuss Tolstoy’s Societal Ambition, than sit and sulk over Chekhov’s Centrist staidness.

 

Tony Groves January 2017