This week’s Idiot of the Week is James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health.

James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health. He's the one with the giant scissors.  Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

James Reilly, Irish Minister for Health. He’s the one with the giant scissors. Photo: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

There’s one sentence that became very important in Irish politics over the past few decades: “I’ll sort ye out, lads”. It was a sentence that preserved political and financial power for people who already had it and acted as a stepping stone for those who didn’t have it but wanted it. It accompanied shady planning decisions, dodgy financial transfers, nods, winks, conveniently closed eyes, choreographed shuffles and brown cash-packed envelopes handed over with the knowing smile of a guest at a Mafia wedding. By 2011 it was almost-universally seen as synonymous with Fianna Fail, who had been in government since 1997.

The Fine Gael party swept to power in Ireland in 2011, surfing a wave of disgust with a political system rotten to its core and an economy blown apart by years of nod’n’wink political mismanagement under Fianna Fail. While there are some tasks faced by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government that are extremely troublesome, such as growing unemployment, a nightmare-inducing financial sector and government expenditure much higher than taxation income, some tasks are remarkably simple, like avoiding the corruption of their predecessors to a level where even the hint of corruption should be the equivalent of a “Danger” sign hitting them in the face.

Enter James Reilly, appointed as Minister for Health by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March 2011. Reilly was one of Kenny’s core supporters in the challenge to his party leadership in 2010. When the challenge failed, Reilly reaped part of the benefit, being appointed deputy leader of Fine Gael. Without the actions of Reilly and Michael Noonan (now Minister for Finance) in supporting Enda Kenny throughout that challenge to his party leadership, Kenny would now be sitting on the parliamentary back benches, watching someone else lead the country. Irish political careers rely on grace and favour as much as they ever have. James Reilly’s reward was to be appointed as Deputy Leader of Enda Kenny’s party and as Minister for Health when the party came to power after the next general election. There was a debt to be paid for his support and that debt was paid.

The Irish health system is in a mess and has been for some considerable time. It has a budget out of control. Its accounting practices have failed to meet recognised standards. Confidential medical records have not remained secured. Tallaght Hospital is using a bank overdraft to remain open. Some of these problems can be blamed on the previous government led by Fianna Fail. Others are indicative of a system that is behaving like an unbroken stallion, with James Reilly standing at the edge of the paddock, praying that it will calm down.

On its own, all that this would indicate is a lack of ability to have any aspect of control over the Irish health system. The previous Minister, Mary Harney, had little direction to give the unbroken stallion, failing to keep spending to a reasonable level in a government department that had its budget expended year-on-year, even as administrators promised to get spending under control. Mere lack of competence isn’t usually enough to be declared Idiot of the Week.

However, Reilly’s actions go beyond the apparent inability to control a scary monster. For almost a decade, Irish governmental policy on healthcare is to supplement a diminished number of hospitals with primary care facilities, which are intended to house teams of doctors. The more expensive hospitals will then cater exclusively for serious medical cases. Selection of locations for additional primary care centres has been high on James Reilly’s task list since taking office. When the list of selected locations was published in September, the list of thirty locations selected by the HSE had five additional locations included, two of which were in Reilly’s electoral constituency. Based on the selection criteria, Balbriggan was in 44th place and Swords was 130th (both in north Dublin, from an initial list of 200 locations). Between the “final” selection and the release of the list, both locations almost magically jumped the selection order and became part of a new list of 35. While Reilly attempted to explain the change in the rankings as a result of changes to the criteria made by junior Minister Roisin Shortall, the Irish Times demonstrated that the rankings were not affected by her decision. Her later decision to resign as Junior Minister affected much more: it brought the magical ranking changes into public view.

James Reilly added extra primary care sites, including two in his own constituency, without explaining to anyone why these had been added. An explanation still hasn’t been provided, apart from a statement that the criteria had been changed back to earlier requirements. and calling it a “logistical, logarithmic progression” (which in political-speak generally means either “I don’t know” or “I’m not telling”). Changing these requirements had the added convenience of including two care centres in his own electoral area. Defending his decision in Dáil Éireann, he said that the two towns had been selected as important locations for primary care before he became Minister for Health. Education Minister Ruairi Quinn backed Reilly’s position, saying that the site had been selected by the previous Minister, Mary Harney. Unfortunately for Quinn’s statement, it turned out that the previous minister had been looking at a different site. Ruairi Quinn later got angry that he’d misled elected representatives by being fed false information. Reilly admitted that what he’d said wasn’t correct.

The owner of the site, Fine Gael supporter and property developer Seamus Murphy claimed that he knew James Reilly “from the television“. A picture was found and published of the two of them smiling in a picture at a fundraiser. Reilly insisted that he has no business relationship with Murphy. I suppose it depends on the definition of the word “business” – he used Murphy’s premises as an electoral base in at least one election.

James Reilly is now in the position where his actions and reactions can be seen as incompetent at best. To political commentators, they smell of guilt. Worse still, he’s acting as the focal point for the growing belief that when Irish citizens elected the government of which he’s a part, they merely replaced one group of self-serving corrupt incompetents with a similar group brandishing a different logo.

It isn’t even enough to be clean – after the years of corruption under their predecessors in government, they have to be seen to be clean. The current Irish government has failed on both counts. With vague answers, incorrect retorts and a relaxed attitude to misleading his own parliament, he current Minister for Health has failed on both counts. If it is “stroke politics” and “I’ll sort ye out, lads”, it’s precisely what the electorate expressed disdain for at the ballot box. If it isn’t stroke politics, it idiotically looks just like it, walks like it and even quacks like it. Either way, Ireland’s health minister either qualifies as this week’s Idiot of the Week or is, amazingly, overqualified for it and, thus, deserves the award with double oak-leaf clusters. He’s provided a smorgasbord of idiocy. It would be an injustice to give this week’s award to anyone else.

Dishonourable mentions:

 

Barack Obama – worst foot forward

Barack Obama has never been the world’s best debater. His debate win against John McCain in 2008 happened largely because McCain peppered his speeches with bursts of “my friends” as though the watching audience was engaged in a chorus of “Kumbaya”. In this year’s first presidential debate on October 3, Obama forgot to mention the weaknesses in Mitt Romney’s tax policy (specifically the parts that involve borrowing 5 trillion dollars to pay for it), didn’t mention Romney’s career with Bain Capital, ignored Romney’s infamous comments about the 47% and generally allowed the former Massachusetts governor to blow by him like a rogue pilot stealing a fighter jet. Ignoring these obvious points and shuffling his shoes gave Romney a debate win that was so obvious that even Democrats couldn’t argue with it. Gallup polling showed that Romney scored what is probably the biggest debate win in recorded post-debate polling history. Reportedly, Obama thought that he’d won the debate. Er, no, he didn’t. We all have off-days (I spent most of last Sunday sleeping, eating cheese and watching Men In Black 3) and one poor performance in a single debate will not cost Obama the election. However, another two similar performances in the remaining debates probably would.

Twelve hours later and still in Colorado, Barack Obama had the quips and answers that he needed the night before (youtube video: 7 minutes). 70 million people watched the Romney/Obama debate. Far fewer saw Obama’s jokes about Big Bird on C-Span the day after. Zero points for timing. Based on Romney’s ability and attitudes, this election race should have been over weeks ago, rather than warming up now. Somehow, in 42 minutes of talking, Obama made it a contest again. Obama came as Uncle Fluffy rather than Dr Jekyll and allowed Romney’s Mr Hyde to run rings around him. Twelve hours later, Obama effectively emphasised that he’s far better with a teleprompter telling him what to say. While some commentators are desperately pushing the notion that it’s a ploy from the Obama camp, another ploy like that may result in Barack Obama booking a house-mover for January 2013. It’s not quite enough to be Idiot of the Week but it’s first in the runner-up list.

 

Ah, Todd, you’re at it again.

Remember Todd Akin? By now, you may have forgotten his comments about “legitimate rape”. If you, have, never mind – he’s got new things to make him noteworthy. Speaking at a town hall debate on September 28, Akin declared his opposition to equal pay when asked about pay differences between men and women. His comments came a single day after he offered his view that incumbent senator for Missouri Claire McCaskill was “much more ladylike” in 2006. The same day, one of Akin’s consultants compared him to David Koresh… and meant it as a compliment. With friends like that (charging by the hour), who needs enemies or opponents, especially when reporters are choosing, of all people, fellow Missourians Jeff Smith and Rod Jetton to give their views on Akin’s gaffes. Here’s the bit from the town hall:

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “You voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why do you think it is okay for a woman to be paid less for doing the same work as a man?”
AKIN: “Well, first of all, the premise of your question is that I’m making that particular distinction. I believe in free enterprise. I don’t think the government should be telling people what you pay and what you don’t pay. I think it’s about freedom. If someone wants to hire somebody and they agree on a salary, that’s fine, however it wants to work. So, the government sticking its nose into all kinds of things has gotten us into huge trouble.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was a small but significant piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate in January 2009. Arising from the Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), it changed the conditions under which a 180-day statute of limitations on filing an equal pay lawsuit. Akin’s beef isn’t with the Ledbetter Act. He’s got a problem with women being paid the same amount for doing the same work – in other words, his problem is with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While in an ideal world, employers and employees would be able to negotiate freely on pay, that same ideal world wouldn’t have discrimination based on sex, race, religion and so on. When we get the latter, the former may be possible. Akin’s views on the inviolability of freedom appear to extend only to the convenience of paying a woman (or a black person, a legal immigrant, someone of a different religion, take your pick) less than a WASP or preserving his ‘A’ rating with the NRA. It doesn’t apply when someone wants an abortion (yes, I realise that there are some rational people who are anti-abortion but if you’re going to cite “freedom” as a convenient basis for non-interference by government, it’s either all-in or nothing-in) or when he says that his opponent is “aggressive” and not as “ladylike” as last time. In other words, “freedom” is a word that Todd Akin likes to use when it coincides with his own views. When it doesn’t, it might as well be something from the pit of hell. Speaking of which…

 

Evolution, embryology, big bang: lies straight from the pit of hell

Congressman Paul Broun (Republican – Georgia) had some harsh words to say about evolution, embryology and the big bang at a speech in front of supporters at the Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. Specifically, he called them “lies straight from the pit of Hell”. Although his speech was made at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet last month (September 27), the video of the event was made public by talkingpointsmemo this week. Broun said: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Yes, embryology is what you think it is – the scientific study of the development of an embryo between egg fertilisation and fetus stage. Broun will be aware of that because he’s a practising physician and points out several times on his own web page that he’s a doctor.

As a Republican congressman from the great state of Georgia, one would almost expect Broun to have misgivings about evolution, the big bang and the earth being older than a few thousand years. That’s par for the course where the sun rarely shines. Declaring that dinosaur bones are real loses a lot of votes in some places. But calling embryology a lie “straight from the pit of hell”? He’s a doctor, with a degree in chemistry. For a doctor who doesn’t spend his time conjuring rain for his villagers, that’s like denying gravity or heat energy. Somewhere along his life path, someone must have hit him on the head with a big clawhammer. He’s running unopposed for Congress in Georgia’s 10th district. A petition to oust Broun from his position on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee has picked up 40,000 signatures in the past few days. No Democrat would run against him in the election. With an election in a month, that’s the only paper vote that counts. In other words, he’ll be voting on federal legislation for at least another two years. Best of luck with that, folks.

The full video is here but you just want the good bits so here (youtube link: 1min24sec) you go. Just remember – Paul Broun: Congressman, lawmaker, doctor, chemistry degree-holder, embryology denier, running unopposed this November. Residents of Georgia, you built that.

 

 

China: New aircraft carrier! Whoops, no aircraft to land on it.

China has launched an aircraft carrier (purchased from Ukraine and refurbished) to protect Chinese waters and show off Chinese military power. Unfortunately, they don’t have any aircraft capable of landing on the ship and don’t have any pilots trained to land the non-existent fighters, even if they had them (which they don’t). The Chinese Ministry of Defence said that the aircraft carrier will help the country “to effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests”. American Navy officials have previously said that they would encourage China to build its own aircraft carrier as it would be a waste of money. China, you fail at being scary.

 

Hotel “won’t be open to Chinese”

While China fails at being scary, French fashion designer Thierry Gillier might be wary of visiting Beijing any time soon after he declared that a new hotel he’s designing “won’t be open to Chinese tourists“. He made the remarks to Women’s Wear Daily magazine when describing the luxury hotel scheduled to open in Paris in 2014. Mr Gillier reportedly urged the magazine to change his words from “Chinese tourists” to “busloads of tourists”. Chinese weibo users were not impressed.

 

Video Games – also from the PIT OF HELL

Maine Republican Party spokesman David Sorensen is shocked, shocked, horrified! that state senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz spends some of her time playing an Orc in World of Warcraft, stabbing creatures in video games rather than stabbing prostitutes, or other things that I just made up as an assumption of what he’d prefer.

In fairness, Lachowicz probably shouldn’t have typed “I like stabbing things” (not mentioned in this report but it has been in others) as it looks bad from someone running for office. It’s more than balanced by Sorensen talking about her “bizarre double life” though as though she’s some sort of Jame Gumb character. David Sorensen nominated a fake slate of Ron Paul delegates at the Maine GOP convention last May in an attempt to fiddle the results. Maine’s been troublesome for the Romney campaign. He may just have put Colleen Lachowicz in the position of getting some extra votes from people who like to play games, even if they’re not usually Orc-friendly.

 

This is a bomb. Meep Meep! PS: where’s the camera guy?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took his chance at the UN General Assembly to warn the world about Iran’s nuclear programme. To the joy of the world’s political satirists, he demonstrated his worries using a picture of a bomb (youtube link, 3 minutes) that might have been designed by the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. In case no-one knew what he was talking about, he pointed out that it was a bomb, that it had a fuse and that a red line should be drawn on Iran’s nuclear programme. He even drew a red line on the picture, using a thick red felt pen. In case you’re wondering, that red line needs to be drawn near the top, near the fuse and certainly before Iran’s coyote gets his hands on a large elastic band or a sign reading “Oops”.

 

Mahmoud Amhadinejad, president of Iran, had his own little embarrassment following his UN speech (I could include the speech but you already know it condemned the West and Israel for being warmongers so it’d be like watching a re-run of a suspense movie that you’ve already seen). Having brought a delegation of 140 people with him to New York (in fairness, someone has to make the tea, someone has to carry the tea, someone has to buy the unobtainable basics…), his cameraman defected to the US while he was there. Hassan Gol Khanban told fellow delegates that he was nipping out to the drugstore and never came back. The United Nations’ reaction was “meh“.

 

Hey, doesn’t the piping on that blouse look a lot like a…

Online fashion retailer ASOS somehow thought that this would make an excellent addition to their Autumn collection. Yes, it’s a woman’s blouse with a (presumably unintentional) penis design on the front. To be fair, ASOS describes its collection thus: “Directional, exciting and diverse, the ASOS Collection makes and breaks the fashion rules.” Yes, folks, it does. Machine washable.

 

Wanted: Female for Dungeons and Dragons stag night. Topless preferred.

An unidentified chap in Maryland is running a stag night for a few friends and advertised on craigslist for a “woman with Dungeon Master experience in Dungeons and Dragons… preferable that cup size be at least C or greater.” One of them is getting married but has somehow never before seen a woman or known how to talk to her about anything other than trolls or boobs. I suspect that there is no wedding. Don’t all rush at once.

The Also-Rans

 

Fiti Aina and Rocky Tua, two prison officers in Pago Pago (American Samoa) were charged last week with letting prisoners go free, after they sent them on beer runs to a local store. When the prisoners weren’t buying beer for their guards, they were filling coffee and cookie orders. The beer runs were revealed when beer was found in a prison cell.

The Red Flower Chinese Restaurant in Williamsburg, Kentucky, has been forced to close because it got caught bringing road-kill into the kitchen in a garbage can. Customers noticed when workers at the restaurant left a blood trail after the bin they were pushing. Car-killed deer. Yummy. Still, at least it wasn’t a stray cat.

Ke$ha claims to have had sex with a ghost. No, dear, you haven’t. That was your imagination. She didn’t mention whether he looked like Mick Jagger or was kicked to the kerb, which is what the world really needs to know.

Some fans of One Direction are a bit nuts. It should be noted, though, that this is what happens when you repeatedly try to reach out to the, um, kool kids by swearing at them, like “The Voice” (it’s a singing competition on the telly) host Eoghan McDermott does. Eventually, they talk back to you in the same manner and no-one is all that surprised except for journalists who write about twitter.

The Fars News Agency in Iran republished a report that said that rural white Americans would rather vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (president of Iran) than Barack Obama (president of the United States). Unfortunately for the remaining reputation of the agency, it was a verbatim reprint from The Onion. In some parts of the midwest, it may well be true but that’s not the point. Link includes a screenshot.

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