Tuesday 19 December 2017

Sorosgeld Sorosgate

In 1930 György Schwartz was born in Budapest. In 1936 the family shed the obviously Jewish sounding Schwartz and changed their name to Soros which means next-in-line or heir apparent in Magyar. They survived the war, not without trials, and in 1947 the boy enrolled in the London School of Economics as George Soros. After a depressing stint as a travelling salesman in seaside trinkets, he started at the bottom of a London merchant bank and really hasn't looked back. HE started the very first Hedge Fund in the 1960s. He has become rich by being lucky ruthless, insightful  and well-funded in his investments. He is now in the Top 20 Rich List, although I'm not sure if that's before or after he offloaded 2/3rds of his wealth to a philanthropic fund called Open Societies Foundation in the management of which he is still active. OSF likes to make a lavish bonfire of its money to shine a light in the darkness of poverty and ignorance:
  • women's rights, LGBQRST rights, sex-workers, Roma
  • Education and democracy especially in Hungary and Eastern Europe
  • criminal justice, palliative care, drugs policy and migration in the USA
  • health esp for the dispossessed - TB & HIV
A while back the OSF donated €137,000 [$150K] to Amnesty Ireland for its My Body My Rights campaign. That could be phrased Your rights end where my uterus begins. Now, I'm all for Down with the Eighth; not least because my daughters tell me that is the correct position. They are the only people close to me who are potentially adversely affected by the currently Constitutional "Eighth Amendment" position. As an old bloke with funds, I have no locus standi on the matter; although I will have a vote in next year's referendum. There are plenty of old white men, starting the the Pope in Rome, who are happy to impose their views of rights and wrongs on young women. But you can bet they won't be in the delivery room when an unwanted pregnancy comes to term because that's what their righteousness insists upon.  Amnesty is on the Repeal side and solicited the OSF grant to push their agenda out in the campaign when it starts to roll in the New Year.
One logo is OSF's the other SIPO's
Trouble is that the Soros intervention is, well, illegal; which makes Amnesty's position, well, ironic. It's all very well taking an illegal donation if you're a hedge-fund millionaire, or a college lecturer [send 'em in, I have low standards] but Amnesty has been standing on the letter of the law since it was new-born. It is illegal because of the Standards in Public Office Act of 2001, as vindicated by Coimisiún um Chaighdeáin in Oifigí Poiblí Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO). This was set up in the aftermath of the planning tribunals, brown envelopes, and other financial dodginess of our leaders all through the 80s and 90s - remember GUBU? that might be a starting point. The Act applies primarily to elected members of parliaments, both Irish and European, but also necessarily applies to candidates for election. If you sail into a seat in the Dáil on €1million worth of election posters bought by your Saudi cousin O'Sama Bin Liner , then you can afford to be squeaky clean afterwards. The Abortion Rights Campaign returned $25,000 from OSF in April of this year after being fingered by SIPO.

The 2001 Act requests-and-requires that politicians disclose their [financial] interests. It also puts limits on the amount of money you can shake from other people to promote your campaign:
  • Anonymous donations < €100
  • Known sources; individual or corporate <€200
    • Unless Body Corporate is registered with SIPO
  • Total annual contribution from one source <€2,500
  • Furriners = nil
    • A political party or any of its sub-units may not accept a donation, of any value, from an individual (other than an Irish citizen) who resides outside the island of Ireland.
    • Errrrm, that would be Mr Schwartz-Soros  even if he changed his name to ui Sraitheach
Well last week Colm O'Gorman, the Chair of Amnesty was digging in his heels and refusing to return the money on a point of political principal. I think he may be claiming the money is for education not politics. This strikes me as a) wrong and b) foolish. It will cost a lot more than €137,000 to fight the case up to the Supreme Court, so there will be fewer leaflets and posters and radio ads put out to sway the electorate about the rights of women. But if the case is not thrown out and foriegn money is deemed acceotable in political debate, then the rising tide will float all boats. Colm O'Gorman must be delusional if he thinks that his side can mobilise more foreign capital than the combined forces of the Iona "Panti Wacker" Institute, the Vatican, sundry Ayatollahs, and Chuck Tubthumper from Baptism, Tennessee. Indeed, David Quinn, the eminence gris of the Iona Institute is all behind Amnesty in taking the case up the legal ladder. Me, I'd wonder what I'd been on last night, if I woke up in bed with David Quinn.

Do we want  the finances of politics to spiral out of control? In the USA, the longest pockets almost always wins elections:
94 percent of biggest House race spenders won
82 percent of biggest Senate race spenders won
Thus the US government is effectively sold to the highest bidder. The US Supreme Court decision in Buckley v Valeo (1976) & Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010) held that blurfing money in campaigns is an example of  [Constitutionally protected] Free Speech. The recent revocation of Title II Net Neutrality Rules by the  Federal Communications Commission  is selling access to the US internet to the highest bidder.

Now me, I am a trained researcher with  a very expensive education, so I would prefer / expect all voters to fully inform themselves about the financial interests, voting record, likelihood of campaign promises being fulfilled, of all candidates. That would require a degree of awareness, patience, research and literacy which might qualify for a bachelor's degree but which is vanishingly rare among the Irish electorate. Most people simplify their choices to a narrow tribalism or the last name they read on an election poster outside the polling station. It is therefore illegal to put up a poster within 100m of a place for voting. But I'd much rather have dullards and reactionaries voting according to their conscience than turn the whole thing over to a money-wins-let's-burn-more-money dystopia. Let's save the planet from 100,000 plastic posters for a start.

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