Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Confederate Irish

Bernd Biege mentions that the current exhibit on Irish soldiers at the National Museum in Dublin's Collins Barracks (across the river from the Guinness Brewery) includes a piece on Irish soldiers who fought on the Confederate side in the US Civil War. As he says, they are not as well known as the Irish people who fought on the Union side. And it's appropriate since it's Confederate History Month (not in Massachusetts though, needless to say),

He mentions the Mexican-American War, in which Irish people also fought on both sides. More recently, Irish people fought on both sides in the Spanish Civil War, and it was pointed out that they could have saved on the travel costs by just staying in Ireland and staging a battle somewhere flat like the Curragh in County Kildare.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why aren't there more chocolate Easter Eggs in the US?

"Irish consumers munch through almost 1,000 tonnes of chocolate at Easter and the aluminium foil could be recycled to make 1.3 million drinks cans."

It amazes me that here in the US there is no traditional of large chocolate Easter Eggs (often filled with smaller chocolate eggs). Where could I get the equivalent of a Buttons or Yorkie egg in Boston? Perhaps in an import store like the one in Harvard Square. But in somewhere like CVS I just see things like "Peeps". Because I wasn't in Ireland or the UK this year before Easter, I don't have my usual collection of large chocolate Easter Eggs this year. And Easter does not feel the same without them...

[Image from:]

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Irish Economic - Little shelter from the wind and the rain blowing in

Global economic problems impact Ireland hard, because, like the island itself, there is little shelter when the wind and the rain blows in from across the Atlantic. Ireland gets it weather from across the Atlantic via the Gulf Stream: from the Gulf of Mexico, past Florida, up past New York and New England, and across to the wind-buffeted Irish West Coast. And Ireland's economic weather blows in from the same source. Property collapses in places like Florida, as well as cutbacks be employers like Dell in Texas, blow over the Atlantic to Ireland. Ireland's highly globalized economy takes the good with the bad, and right now it's mostly bad.

So the Irish Govt today released a new budget to deal with the global economic downturn. Interesting to read the details on the Irish Times site (link below). The Irish Govt is cutting back on costs in order to lower government spending, because of reduced tax income due to the decline in property sales and the global economic issues in general.

It is interesting to compare the Irish Govt response (cut back spending) with the US Govt response (increase spending). Of course, the circumstances are different - the US Govt can print money, whereas Ireland is similar in many ways to a US State which must not run a deficit (an EU country can run a deficit within certain bounds, but after that it runs into trouble with the EU).

Most people would naturally consider Ireland a high-tax country. But look at the story below. The Irish Government is considering bringing in property tax. That is something which would chafe with many people (especially in rural Ireland where I come from) as a government levy on private property ownership. But in the supposedly "low tax, small government" US it's taken for granted. Additionally, the Irish Government is cutting back on payments to parents sending their kids to pre-school, but such payments do not exist here in the US. Also, the child benefit payment, something which does not existing in the US, is now going to be means tested. But it still exists.

All in all, the supposedly "brutal" budget is not as brutal as I thought, and made me think about how much the US is actually the "Tax and Spend" country here, and Ireland is the puritan "rein in the costs, keep government small" country. Although, in times to come, Ireland will then benefit from the US economic upturn (as it benefits from good weather blowing in over the Gulf Stream from the US) and the poor US taxpayer (like me!) is left with the costs as the US debt grows and grows.

"Your business is important to us"

Bank of America send me a notice saying that they were raising my credit card interest rate from 12% to over 28%. This, despite the fact that the balance was nowhere near the credit limit. So, I called them to decline the increase and pay off the credit card instead. While on hold for about 20 minutes, I heard about how much of a "valued customer" I am, and then bizarrely, when I told the customer service guy that I was paying off the card and would not use it anymore, he thanked me for "my business since 2004".

Go figure. I've moved to using my Citibank card which is at 9.9%. I guess they value my business.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Massashusetts allows you to not pay for health insurance "because of sincerely-held religious beliefs"

Something I noticed while filling out my Massachusetts tax forms today:

"If you do not get health insurance because of sincerely-held religious beliefs, you can claim a religious exemption on the state tax forms."

I wonder what religious beliefs those would be?

[Background: In Massachusetts, everyone must have health insurance. Consequently, more than 95% of people have health insurance here. But, if you are self-employed or work for an employer who does not provide health insurance, you have to buy health insurance and that can be expensive ($1000 a month or higher for family cover, if you have a reasonable income and don't get subsidized plan). Perhaps this plan will be extended to the entire US. ]

Also, I guess the text above should say "commonwealth tax forms".