Archive for February, 2007

Draft Gore

Posted: February 27, 2007 in politics

How about that? He’s become a filmaker, been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, his first movie has won 2 Oscars, and as if that wasn’t enough, Al Gore has also got a sense of humour, playing along with a joke that he was going to announce his candidacy in front of 1 billion people at the Oscars.

Fortunately he’s also got the smarts to know that joking about running is funny, actually announcing a run would have drawn scorn from people who would accuse him of using the sacred Oscars for free media time for his political campaign.

Either he genuinely does not want to run for the Whitehouse in ’08, or he’s playing the game to perfection.

The websites calling for him to run are in full swing. DraftGore.com now has over 45,000 signatures on it’s petition. Jimmy Carter has said he would support Gore. Gore’s wife has said she would support him. Numerous Newpapers, Magazines, and TV pundits, are discussing his chances of winning, “If he runs”.

Everyone it seems, except Al Gore has formed an opinion on whether or not he should run, and whether or not he would win.

I’d like to think we’re seeing a perfectly executed opening gambit. The announcements of intentions by potential candidates started almost immediately after November’s elections. The ’08 election was a full 2 years away.

With both Democrats and Republicans having to find candidates the field of hopefulls has rarely been bigger. The focus has been squarely on the Democrats, boosted by their November success, and the Republicans continuing woes. A Democrat in the Oval Office is being treated as almost a done deal, if the level of coverage is any guide. It helps that the Republican with perhaps the best chance of being his party’s nomination, John McCain is strongly in favour of sending more Troops to Iraq.

As Democrats like Clinton, Obama, and Edwards jostle with each other for primacy, Al Gore has the comfort of sitting in the wings. Showing up to collect Oscars and getting shortlisted for Nobel Prizes sure beats trying to beat out your party collegues to become the party favourite.

The longer Gore stays out of this race the better his chances of winning it. Give the others a few more months of infighting and the public will be sick of listening to them.

Let the grass roots demand for Gore grow, let it seem like he has allowed his name to go forward in response to the incredible outpouring of public support, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a candidate. The public like a winner. If the news coverage of Gore is that he’s so popular that he has to run, then that popularity has a way of becoming self fulfilling.

I genuinely think the Democrats have 4 candidates any combination of any two of them could be a hard ticket for the Republicans to beat.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I believe the Democratic ticket in ’08 won’t contain the names of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Although I think either one of them would be a fine President.

I believe the Ticket will be Gore for President, Edwards for VP. And I believe that ticket will win. It’ll win because America needs it to win. America needs to draw a line under the Bush years. What better way to do that than elect the man who should have been President all along.

If he runs and wins, the Democrats could easily hold the Whitehouse for 4 terms. They’ll need to grow a back bone and tell the American people what they believe in and what they stand for. They’ll need to stop trying to avoid offending some or other demographic and just say what they mean and mean what they say. They’ll need to look America in the eye and say “these are our principles”, and for once not follow that declaration with, “but we’ve got other principles if you don’t like these”.

If they do that, then they might just hold the Whitehouse long enough to actually make a difference so significant that even Republicans will have a hard time screwing it up when they eventually take back the Oval Office.

There is of course one lingering question. Who would want to be the President that follows George W. Bush? Perhaps anyone dumb enough to want the job should be immediately disqualified as too dumb to have it.

What we need is a great candidate, who’s clever enough to know that cleaning up a whole planet is probably easier than cleaning up a Bush run Whitehouse.

Ice Hockey

Posted: February 14, 2007 in sports

Just back from our first ever Ice Hockey game. The Tampa Bay Lightening hosting The Phoenix Coyotees. Fantastic seats, a gift from our Landlady. Directly behind the goal 4 rows from the glass, so pleanty of pucks heading straight for us and stopping at the last second as it cracked against the glass, and we ducked every time.

The only way I can describe Ice Hockey is that it’s like that part of hurling when the ball is lost in the middle of a crowd of players and everyone is pulling on it, and that lasts for an hour.

It’s definitely a great sport to watch, and you have to admire the skill, speed, strength, and guts.

Would I trade hurling for it? No.

This article was mentioned in the Munster Express recently, it was written by Kenneth Wolstenholme who spoke the words “some people are on the pitch, they think its all over, it is now” at the end of the 1966 World Cup Final.

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WHY KEEP THIS GREAT GAME SUCH A BIG SECRET?
Sunday Press 13th. September, 1959.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Irish, but ever since last Sunday I’ve been annoyed by them.
Annoyed with them for keeping this great game of hurling to themselves for so long.
Here is something as Irish as gaelic coffee. Yet you Irish have been shy and bashful about singing its praises to the rest of the World. I wonder why?

I’m still raving to my friends about Sunday’s final between Kilkenny and Waterford and since that excerpt which was shown in Sportsview on B.B.C. television on Wednesday , I’ve had to explain what hurling is more times than Paddy O’Keefe-who was so helpful to us in giving us facilities-has had to explain to disappointed fans why all the tickets are sold for a final.

Yet remember I am a self confessed soccer maniac. I still think soccer is the finest game in the World but now hurling is pretty strong around second place.

Like everyone who has ever seen the game I had a wrong impression of hurling. I thought it was just another excuse for a “fight”. Many think the same. I have spend hours since Sunday explaining to people in England that there are rules and that the onfield discipline is strict and the game is anything but a brawl.

My main lasting impression will always be of the excitement I felt at Croke Park. I’ve seen sporting events in many parts of Europe and America (both North & South) but I have yet to see a game which keeps the excitement at such a constant fever pitch as hurling.

Every other game I’ve seen has its dull moments yet on Sunday there was none at all and I came away wondering how 30 amateurs to whom the rule book says “full time training is inconsistent with amateurism” could keep it up so long.

It is now generally accepted that to get to the top and stay there in any World-class sport you have got to train full time, but your players of the fastest and most exciting game of the lot shattered that belief for me in one unforgettable hour last Sunday.

When we filmed the final only one of the B.B.C. crew had ever seen a hurling game and our main difficulty was keeping up with the tremendous movement. It didn’t take me long to realise that hurling is even faster than ice-hockey which has always been regarded as the fastest of all sports.

Happily enough hurling seems to sacrifice nothing of its skill on the alter of speed. I shall never forget some of the incredible forwards I and 74,000 others saw on Sunday and one man stands in my memory Tom Cheasty. That time in the second-half when he caught the ball swerved around an opponent, tipped the ball onto his hurley, started to run, dropped the ball, but regained it, then burst between two men and shot a point which will forever remain as one of my finest sporting memories.

As far as television is concerned the danger about hurling is it could be too fast for the camera to follow. I think Sunday proved that the danger can be overcome. Our cameraman followed it very well for a man that had never seen the game before, and in a live outside broadcast there would be three television cameras instead of one film camera, so the coverage would be easier.

So there is no reason why-the G.A.A. permitting-hurling should not be one of the big attractions on your screens when Irish television starts. Eamonn Andrews is a great personal and professional friend of mine, and I have left him in no doubt as to what I think of hurling as television entertainment-although let us always remember that at best television is only a substitute for actually being in the stadium yourself.

Whether the B.B.C. will cover hurling again I frankly don’t know. It is not my job to decide which events are covered but I do know that in any case I am coming to Dublin for the football final just to see whether football can provide the thrills and excitement hurling did. And if I get half a chance I shall be at Croke Park again for the Kilkenny-Waterford replay.

In the last two years Wembley Stadium in London has staged a Gaelic day at Whit suntide with both Hurling & Gaelic football. They can already put me down as a subscriber for 1960, and I am convinced that if two of the top Irish teams gave an exhibition match to the English people hurling would be as popular on my side of the Channel as it is on yours.

For make no mistake about it Hurling is a great game-and when you bring it to England don’t forget to bring along the architect of the new stand at Croke Park as well. I’d love to see him get to work on some of our prehistoric football grounds.

I’m reluctant to accuse someone flat out of lying. For one thing all I have to go on is their own words. I have no way of knowing whether they intend to mislead me, or whether they are doing so unintentionally. So I’ll give the protagonist in this post the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s either lying, or he’s really stupid and actually believes what he’s saying.

You can make up your own mind. Based on the fact that he holds a senior position in a bank I’m guessing he understands what he’s saying just fine. Whatever you think of his motives, read on and see how to avoid spending over €800 that you don’t need to spend.

I’ve just read the most misleading piece of financial advice I’ve personally ever come across, courtesty of Stephen Dargan of Bank of Scotland (Ireland), via Donal Buckley in the Irish Independant.

As the SSIA’s start to mature the banks face the very real possibility that people may actually spend their savings and continue saving into the future, greatly reducing the need for loans. If you read my Addicted to Debt post then think of this as the equivalent of a great national methadone scheme for debt addiction.

This is not good news for lenders. Yes, there are still pleanty of addicts out there, and even some of the SSIA holders will fall off the wagon and back into the clutches of debt. But the banks can’t take any chances, so Donal Buckley’s piece served as essentially an advertisement for borrowing, even when you have savings.

First some facts. It almost never makes financial sense to have any short to medium term high interest debt while also holding savings. The reason for this is that debt costs more in interest than savings earn.

If you can find a debt that’s cheaper than the return you’ll get on saving or investing, then by all means borrow as much as you can and earn a profit on the deal. Such deals can be hard to find. A simple savings account as suggested by Stephen Dargan isn’t one of those deals.

Mr Dargan suggests keeping €18000 in a savings account, while at the same time borrowing €18000 to buy a car. What he tries to claim is that it makes financial sense to leave yourself out of pocket. I.e. it makes sense to pay your bank interest on a loan you don’t need, while earning less interest on savings you could have used instead. The amount he says you’ll pay in unneccesary interest is “only” €821.25.

You read that right. Stephen Dargan of Bank of Scotland is effectively advising you to write a cheque to his bank for €821.25 and stick it in the post, no questions asked, no strings attached, and expect nothing in return. And that word “only” suggests you’re getting a bargain.

I’ll admit it here, I once broke the law by setting fire to a €5 note (yes I do regret not giving it to someone who would have appreciated it, no comments please). But even I would bawk at flushing €800 down the loo, although I’d prefer to flush it down the loo than give it to Stephen Dargan and Bank of Scotland (Ireland). At least the toilet isn’t telling me It’s a good thing to do.

Here’s how Mr Dargan claims it works. You have €18000 of an SSIA sitting in a savings account. And you want a car that costs €18000.

Say the person borrows €18,000 over 36 months at an APR (annual percentage rate) of 8.5pc. With monthly payments of €565.60 this will mean €65.60 per month in interest payable across the full term of the agreement. In addition, a documentation fee of €75 is payable with an initial direct debit.

So, instead of paying for the car out of cash that you have, you borrow from Mr Dargan, and commit to €565.50 a month for 3 years. He cleverly shortens the term here from the usual 4 or 5 years to 3. This reduces the amount of interest you pay, but still comes nowhere near to having this swindle make sense.

Incidently €565.50 is more than twice the maximum contribution to an SSIA, so Mr Dargan’s scheme leaves you with larger out of pocket expense per month. If he was being honest he’d have used an 8 year loan in his example, or at least the more usual 5 year loan. But if he did that the interest paid would have been so much that everyone would have seen through the enormous hole in his scheme. Aparently an €821 hole is small enough to catch people. What’s €821 in a booming economy like Ireland?

Anyhow, back to his scheme. While you are paying 8.5% on this loan, your €18000 savings is earning you 3.5%, dropping to 3.25% in the third year.

Mr Dargan’s premise seems to be that if you spend your SSIA on a Car you won’t keep up the discipline of saving. That may be the case, but that’s your choice. It still doesn’t make his scheme work.

Now let’s look at the alternative reality. The one where people are not taken in by what amounts to at best gross stupidity, at worse a deliberate attempt to misead people about how to manage their finances.

Let’s pretend you get your SSIA, and spend it on the CAR. Benefit number one, you have not just committed to €565.50 a month for the next 3 years in loan repayments. If you had that kind of money to spend on a loan, you can now direct it to savings, pay down your mortgage, or spend it on bubblegum, you have that choice, you have that freedom.

Benefit number two, If you don’t put €565.50 into savings in a particular month because the kids need school uniforms, or because you need dental work done, then it won’t show up as a missed loan payment on your credit report. You are in control.

Benefit number three, you’ll be earning interest on the €565.50 a month savings, without paying it all and more back in interest on a loan you don’t need.

Benefit number four, you’ll have gotten ahead of the debt rat race. In 3 years time you’ll have saved enough to buy another car, or take a holiday, or whatever, without needing to resort to borrowing at ever increasing interest rates. If you hold off getting a car for 5 or 6 years you’ll have enough to get a car and have lots of cash still in savings.

Paying interest on loans while you have cash sitting in savings is like calling a cab every morning, paying him to drive to your office on his own, while you jump in your car and drive there yourself. It makes no sense.

Here’s the final piece of Stephan Dargan’s swindle. The position you’ll be in at the end of the 3 years:

the saver will still have their €18,000 lump sum plus their car worth approx €9,000 depending on the make/condition/depreciation etc.

Dargan concludes: “In contrast, if you use your SSIA to buy the same car you may only be left with the car worth about €9,000.”

He is conveniently forgetting the fact that the person over the 3 years paid a fortune in loan repayments which could have been put aside into savings, or even if you’re not disciplined, given you a hell of a good time for 3 years.

You will not be left with only the car worth about €9,000. That’s a deliberate attempt to mislead you. Don’t let him away with it. If he want’s to assume you aren’t disciplined enough to continue saving, then he should also assume that you aren’t disciplined enough to keep the €18000 in the bank under his scheme.

As for Donal Buckley. Shame on you for allowing this advise to make it’s way into a national newspaper under your name. Shame on you. The only redeeming aspect of the column is that it briefly mentions the possibility of putting the SSIA money into a pension.

Doing that, might make sense even if you borrow for a new car, because the tax savings and the return you’ll earn from the money in the pension might be worth more than the interest you’ll pay.

Update:
Donal Buckley has kindly replied to an email I sent him about this, which is more than can be said for Bank of Scotland. I don’t know if we’ll hear any more about it from Donal in future columns, but I appreciate his reply.

There’s definitely a story here about the banker who can’t add. Now that I’d like to read.