What The West Wing taught us about politics.

Forgetting This Election Cycle With President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet | by  Alex Bauer | CineNation | Medium

A Good PA is worth his/her weight in gold.

Sometimes your opponent’s ideals are as noble as yours.

Most problems can be solved by a good long walking conversation.

There’s a Latin quotation for every occasion.

Voters will let you do the vision thing as long as you deliver on the potholes.

Surround yourself with really smart people, especially if they occasionally get up your nose and disagree with you.

Good rousing theme music never hurt anyone.

Power means occasionally having a big block of cheese in your hallway.

You won’t get everything done. Do what you can.

It’s not the scandal that gets you as much as the cover-up.

Some things are more important than getting re-elected.

Decisions are made by those who show up.

Everybody needs a Leo.

Sinn Fein in Government: One Year Later.

The bond markets have responded well to Finance Minister Pearse Doherty’s first budget, with the articulate Sinn Fein Donegal TD handling himself adeptly on a series of US, UK and European business news shows. The fact that new Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition increased welfare spending whilst not touching the taxation of foreign multinationals was remarked upon. Taxes on the incomes of those earning over €100k have increased, as has employers PRSI, but most of those taxes have proven to be symbolic. They have raised a few hundred million out of a nation budget of over €105 billion. The reality is that Doherty has funded most of his substantial welfare increases (the €25 per week dole and pension increases were showstoppers) from borrowing, and whilst the markets have cut Doherty some slack this time, he’s hedging everything on growth funding (with accompanying growth in tax revenue) next year’s splashout. There was much sniggering in Ireland at Doherty’s brandishing of previous Irish government’s refusal to default on sovereign debt as a means of securing his own reputation.

Sinn Fein have continued to be masters of political communication, with the party lodged in the mid-thirties, neck and necking with Paschal Donohoe’s Fine Gael, whilst the Michael McGrath-led coalition partners have seen their poll rating drop into single digits. “Fianna Fail: why?” was an effective FG slogan attacking the government.

The surprise poll winners of recent months have been Aontú, holding at a steady 9% on a platform of immigration control (although not racism) and taunting Sinn Fein for not delivering on its more populist policies. Whilst issues like the Israeli ambassador still being in the country and US planes still landing in Shannon have little traction with voters, they do catch the attention of the media and Sinn Fein’s young urban vote. Aontú also took a leaf from Sinn Fein’s book by employing savvy social media operators who flooded Twitter and TikTok with clips of SF TDs in opposition saying the exact opposite of what they say as ministers. “The Two Faces of Sinn Fein Led by MaryTwo McDonald” was one memorable slogan.

One serious defeat for the government was the failure of the Right to Housing referendum, which was defeated 58/42, under a deluge of attacks that it would allow the government to confiscate private property without compensation, and that it would allow every refugee to claim a house on arrival. The campaign collapsed when housing minister Eoin O’Broin admitted that it was only a symbolic right and could not actually be enforced by a court. His discovery as minister that he faced all the same supply, legal, material and labour problems as his predecessors came as a shock, and he visibly aged more than any other member of the cabinet. He was reduced to driving more private landlords out of the market to prove he was doing something.

One other challenge facing the party has been a spike in public disorder by gangs of youths under the impression that Sinn Fein in government would order the Gardai to leave them alone. Given that a lot of the incidents were occurring in Sinn Fein heartland vote areas it wasn’t long before older SF voters were demanding action, and the minister for justice was ordering a tougher line. This is turn let to accusations of betrayal (with the parties of the left quick to come out with the Fianna Fein slur) by the youths involved and a number of SF TDs offices being torched and having to be protected by shielded Gardai.

The party, heading into the local elections, is stacking a lot of chips on the United Ireland referendum, to be held on the same day as the elections in the hope it will encourage their core vote to turn out. The voters will be asked a simple question: “Do you support the reunification of Ireland?”. Polls say it will pass easily, but polls are moving as those campaigning against point out that it is the Irish version of Brexit, with no detail given as to what is being voted on. The government has refused to rule out that it will use the result as the final say on whatever agreement is arrived at with regards to a future agreement.

What if…we designed a political system based on how the Irish actually think and behave?

One of the great missed opportunities of modern Irish history was our decision in 1922, and again in 1937, to effectively copy the British parliamentary system. It’s hardly surprising that we did, given it was the system we were most familiar with, and indeed needed a robust system of government immediately.
The problem is that the parliamentary system does not reflect how we operate as a culture. We are not given to frank and open discussion of public issues. We are prone to being obsessed with our social standing in the eyes of our peers, with “What will the neighbors think?” being arguably the most powerful ideology in the country. A consensus is the arrived at that permits face saving as a new idea is introduced and eventually meets a threshold of social respectability. It’s how we went from a country that banned condoms and The Life of Brian to being the first country on Earth to legalize same sex marriage in a popular national plebiscite.
What if we designed a political system with a specific purpose to confront those aspects of the Irish psyche, and to force results? Below is a set of principles and institutions, whilst not exhaustive, would be a beginning of a debate. 

1. There shall be a Dail Eireann of no more than 60 members, elected by a single closed party list system published three weeks before polling. The list shall be selected in an open and transparent way by vote of the party members in a manner prescribed by law. A party must get at least 5% of the national vote to win seats. Surplus seats shall be distributed proportionally among the parties that pass the threshold. The assembly shall have a fixed term of seven years. Vacancies shall be filled from the party list in the order submitted. 

Individual members of the Dail may introduce a private members bill anonymously with an explanatory note. The house shall debate and vote on all such bills.

Individual members may introduce an individual spending bill allocating new funding for a specific purpose. The bill must include a specific revenue mechanism to provide new funding for the bill, and the new funding mechanism must begin to collect funding for 18 months before the funds in the bill may be spent. Only funds raised by the mechanism in the bill may be spent. Any new taxation created by the bill shall be named after the bill’s primary proposer. 

The Dail may amend the constitution by a two thirds majority, a simple majority in the Seanad and the consent of the president. The president may refer the proposed change to a referendum. The signatures of a majority of chieftains may also refer the proposed changes to a referendum.

2. Dail Eireann shall elect a Taoiseach to a single non-renewable seven year term. The Taoiseach shall appoint a cabinet. Any citizen over the age of 18 shall be eligible to be a member of the cabinet. Members of the cabinet may not hold any other public office. The entire cabinet must be approved by the Dail. 

3. There shall be an office in each county of Chieftain. The Chieftain shall be directly elected by the single transferable vote for a five year term, and shall act as the political leader of the county council and also as a local ombudsman. The chieftain shall set any local taxes created by the Dail, and also draft the budget of the council, but must balance revenue and expenditure. All taxes and spending shall come with the signature of the chieftain. A full time county council shall hold the chieftain to account, and may remove the chieftain by two thirds vote. This will trigger a new election of both the council and the chieftain. The council shall be elected by STV and party list in a single county wide constituency. The chieftain may not seek another elected office whilst in office. 

4. There shall be a senate of 50 members elected on vocational lines, with all citizens over 18 eligible to vote. An additional ten members shall be chosen at random from the population to serve two year non-renewable terms as senators. Vacancies shall be filled in a matter prescribed by law. Chieftains shall have a right to sit and speak in the Seanad, but not vote. 

5. The president shall be elected to a seven year term which shall begin half way through the Dail’s seven year term. The president may dissolve the Dail without the consent of the Taoiseach once per presidential term. 

 

It’s time to introduce party list voting for local elections.

One thing that many people not involved in politics have never grasped is that seriously running for election, even for the county council, is the commitment equivalent of taking on a full-time job that YOU pay to do. As a result, it’s not surprising that parties are struggling to get high-quality candidates to run. For many people, the huge effort simply isn’t worth the result: ending up on a council with most other cllrs happy to just thread water and rubber stamp the actual decisions of the Chief Executive.

One possible solution would be that we elect a proportion of the county council by a county-wide party list system. We can do this by legislation (PRSTV is only constitutionally required for national offices) and it would allow parties to recruit people who are not professional candidates but would bring new skills to the council.

Secondly, it would allow the voters to vote for county-wide platforms and manifestos as opposed to the current hyper-local “pothole outside my door” issues that prevent county-wide issues being addressed. Take the drive in Dublin city to reduce car access: support it or not, it was not debated as an issue in the last local elections.

Dun Laoghaire has 40 elected cllrs. Imagine if 20 were elected as now, and 20 elected in county-wide closed lists. I genuinely believe it would attract a wider selection of people to run as the party vote would elect them as opposed to massive ward grafting.

Funnily enough, I could see Sinn Fein bringing in such a system…

What if a Right-Wing Government was elected in Ireland (Part 3)

One of the questions political pundits asked as the results of the Irish general election of 2034 came in was how no one had predicted it. One older pundit pointed out that the new generation of political correspondents simply were not paying attention to the technical details of the voting system changes the government had made, more concerned with running vox pops and high-emotion stories, but there was a more significant factor at play. The outgoing government had quietly amended the terms of reference of the constituency boundary commission to push their constitutional limit, and restrict all constituencies to a maximum of three seats. Sinn Fein, as the main opposition party, had made a perfunctory objection but then had gone quiet for the exact same reason the NDP supported it. Because under the Irish Single Transferable Vote system, a small number of seat per constituency makes the quota of votes needed to be elected higher, and generally that allows larger party candidates to stay in the count longer, picking up additional preferences as the smaller parties’ candidates get eliminated. It makes a two party system more likely, especially with polls showing both the NDP and Sinn Fein neck and necking in the late 30s.

The Progressive Alliance (PA) of Fianna Fail, Labour, the Social Democrats and the Greens had, much to the surprise of the media, managed to agree a pact, running joint PA candidates, and between them had polled into the early teens right up until the final week before polling day, and the TV debate between the party leaders. Both Sinn Fein and the NDP had insisted that all party leaders be invited, not just the charismatic senator PJ Okono of Fianna Fail, the de facto alliance leader. Despite his pleading, the other three ineffectual party leaders insisted upon attending. Okono, who was probably the finest political orator of his generation, was reduced in time to fit in the others, and failed to have the impact he could have had in the debate, just as Sinn Fein and the NDP planned.

The count revealed its secrets quickly. The NDP vote had dropped slightly, and the alliance parties had all seen an increase in their votes, but the three seat carve-up (“The EveMander”, a few wags called it) delivered exactly as expected. PA candidates were doing respectably but narrowly losing the third seats to either NDP or SF candidates. As the final results came in on Sunday morning, it was clear that the NDP had scraped a slightly increased majority, and that the country was now a Two Party With Scraps system, the only real benefit being Okono topping the poll in Mayo and other PA candidates acting as sweepers for Fianna Fail. Fine Gael barely registered in the election, its voters and members effectively decamped to the NDP or Fianna Fail.

 

Irish general election 2034
% Seats
New Dems 43 86
SF 43 72
FG 2 0
FF 5 8
Labour 2 0
Green 2 0
Soc Dems 1 0
Alphabet left 1 0
Independents 1 0
100 170 Majority 85

The newly-elected government moved quickly on its success. The referendum on polling day to allow the government to limit the number of asylum seekers passed by 62%, and despite various objections from the European Commission and the European Parliament the reality was there were enough governments of comparable bent sitting on the European Council to allow the government to “do an Orban” and ignore Brussels on this matter. Work began immediately on building state of the art refugee processing centres modelled more on Centre Parcs than the dire Direct Provision facilities. The far-right mounted protests outside NDP TDs offices that the government was building “resorts for foriegners”.

The new budget finally delivered on the national security commitments promised for decades by various governments. The government would meet the 2% NATO defence spending obligation (despite not being in NATO), and would soon take delivery of a dozen second-hand Rafale fighters from France, as well as four brand new Naval vessels specifically equipped for patrolling Ireland’s undersea infrastructure and acting against unauthorised vessels sub-surface. There would also be considerable investment in existing and new Defence Forces facilities acros sthe country. However, the minister for defence told the house that given the controversial nature of additional security spending, extra funding to specific counties would only go ahead with the written consent of local TDs. If local TDs objected, the extra funding would go to other counties. The opposition were in uproar for forty minutes.

The government also decided to focus on the question of a United Ireland. The previous Sinn Fein government had set up a citizen’s assembly which had produced a report with much aspiration and little detail, and so the government decided to move forward, commissioning an expert legal panel to draft a new constitution for a United Ireland to act as a debate opening document.

The Taoiseach also raised the age-old question of funding the new entity. Speaking at the commissioning of the new naval ship LE Fiontar, she announced that a country that was serious about reunification should start planning for it, and so the government intended to introduce a modest Unity Tax on income, pensions and social welfare payments, the revenue which would go into a “lockbox” to fund the gap in spending if needed when a United Ireland eventually came about. She stressed that pretty much every adult in the country would pay it, as she had no doubt that every Irish patriot would be happy to make a contribution to such an enterprise. Finally, however, she said that given it was such a long-term plan, saving money for possibly years or decades, she would put the proposal to a referendum and that the Irish people would finally be able to firmly put their foot down in favour of a United Ireland, but also show they world they were just talking about it but putting their money where their mouths where.

As if that weren’t enough, she also announced that the government intended to seek approval in a referendum to proceed with the building of a number of nuclear power plants around the country, along side a number of fast-tracked massive wind and solar farms, both on and offshore. She stressed that no community would be forced to take either without prior approval in a local plebiscite. However, she also proposed that given we were asking local communities to carry the burden of national energy infrastructure, those same communities would also be designated, if they voted accordingly, income tax free zones up to a very generous threshold, the idea being that such a threshold would protect house prices as it would transfer with the home.

We will, she said, abide by the will of the people.

A draft treaty on the reunification of Ireland.

Written as part of a fiction project. 

  1. A unified federal state to be known as the Federal Union of Ireland, shall be created consisting of the area of Ireland/Eire as recognised by international treaty (“The South”) and the part of Ireland designated Northern Ireland and formerly part of the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (“The North” “Northern Ireland”).

  2. The area comprising Antrim, Down and Armagh shall be designated a region to be known as “East Ulster”. East Ulster shall be governed by a parliament sitting in Stormont and elected from within the region. The East Ulster Parliament may not pass any laws in contravention of the Federal Constitution of Ireland. The East Ulster Parliament may nominate a Governor General to act as a ceremonial figurehead of East Ulster. The Governor General shall be recognised as the second citizen after the President of the Federal Union of Ireland.  

  3. The flag of the new state shall be agreed by a commission agreed by two-thirds majority of both the Oireachtas/Federal Parliament and East Ulster Parliament. Any proposed flag shall require similar approval. Until a flag is agreed, all state buildings on both sides of the border shall fly the tricolour and Ulster flag. The national anthem shall be chosen by a similar method. 

  4. English and Irish shall be equal languages on the island. No one resident in Northern Ireland shall be compelled to learn the Irish nor Ulster-Scots language, nor shall it be a requirement to hold a job in the federal or any devolved government. Every student shall have the right to be taught Irish and Ulster-Scots in any school on the island. 

  5. All communications by the federal state shall be bi-lingual based on the Canadian model.

  6. There shall be a federal parliament comprising a lower house, Dail Eireann/Federal House of Representatives of Ireland and an upper house, Seanad Eireann/Federal Senate of Ireland.

  7. The lower house shall be elected by PR-STV with no constituency smaller than six seats. The North shall be guaranteed its proportional share of seats in the lower house but that share shall not be less than 20% of all seats in the house.

  8. The upper house shall be composed of equal members from the North and South. They shall be elected by party list PR from two separate constituencies. A non-money bill shall require the votes of 55% of the members of the upper house to pass.   

  9. There shall be an office of Taoiseach/Federal Prime Minister and Tanaiste/Federal Deputy Prime Minister elected as a group by the votes of a majority of the lower house and a majority of the upper house.    

  10. The candidates nominated to federal ministers of Justice, Defence or any security related portfolio including the heads of An Garda Siochana or the Police Service of Northern Ireland or their successors may be vetoed by a vote of one quarter of the Federal Senate.

  11. There shall be a new constitution agreed by a majority in the south and a majority not less than 62% in the north.

  12. The new constitution shall explicitly recognise the existence and entitlement to mutual respect of a minority of the population who regard themselves as culturally British. It shall also recognise “the special position of the British monarch as the guardian of the culture professed by a significant minority of citizens.” 

  13. The East Ulster Parliament may nominate an individual as Governor General to represent the British monarch in a purely ceremonial capacity in Northern Ireland.

  14. There shall be a constitutional guarantee that the current level of public funding subsidy in Northern Ireland provided by the British Exchequer shall be maintained and increased every year by a sum of not less than 1.5% in addition to the prevailing rate of inflation at that time. At no time shall the East Ulster Parliament be required to increase taxation or introduce new forms of taxation to fund that spending formula. Additional funds for Northern Ireland may be funded by additional or new taxation in the south or by the south appealing to other nations to fund it. 

  15. The British armed forces shall have the right to maintain a recruiting facility in Northern Ireland.

  16. The Federal Government shall honour all pension liabilities pertaining to residents of Northern Ireland or those born there agreed by His Majesty’s Government before reunification. 

  17. The Federal Government shall also honour all legacy and victims compensation agreements made by His Majesty’s Government and its predecessors.

  18. Titles of nobility and other honours granted by the British Government to residents of Northern Ireland before or after the reunification shall be permissible and respected by the state. The state itself shall not issue titles of nobility.  

  19. A pardon shall be issued by the state to all loyalist and nationalist combatants as certified by themselves for any criminal actions taken from the result of the border poll until the ceasefire called by the CLMC at the beginning of this process. However, all those claiming a pardon must declare fully all the details of the crime for which they are seeking a pardon, and no further pardons may be sought 12 months after the adoption of this agreement. 

  

 

Review: “Cheers” on Paramount Plus.

I’ve recently been rewatching the sitcom “Cheers” on Paramount+, where the entire series is currently available. It’s easy for people under the age of 45 to not be aware of the show or how huge it was when it originally aired. Running from 1982-1993 for 275 episodes, and then occasionally resurfacing in spinoff “Frasier” crossovers which ran another 11 seasons, when the show finished in 1993 it was watched by over 90 million people in the US.

The show centred around Sam Malone (Ted Danson), a charming, womanizing, recovering alcoholic ex-professional baseball player who owned the bar, a below street lower middle class bar frequented by regular customers which provided a home from home for them. Whilst the initial seasons focussed on Sam’s relationship with haughty waitress Diane Chambers (played brilliantly by Shelley Long) the real source of the show’s eventual “Friends” like domination of the ratings was the ensemble cast, from kind but dim Coach and Woody, sharp-tongued waitress Carla, know-it-all postman Cliff and failed accountant Norm. When Long left after five years she was replaced by Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe, Sam’s neurotic boss (he’d sold the bar) whom he constantly tried to bed.

Cheers is both genuinely funny but also charming, with a cast that regular viewers came to love as an extended family, all flawed but all lovable. Looking through today’s eyes Sam Malone would be a sex pest who would be either swamped with legal bills or long dismissed by his employer for inappropriate behaviour, but it’s fascinating to watch as a snapshot of the time, before mobile phones and social media, with plots based on misinterpreted phone messages and Cliff’s barside pontifications not being open to challenge (“You know Sammy, it’s a well known fact that…”)

One particularly interesting feature of the show is how female characters deal with Sam’s constant sexual advances. This was the post-1970s, where the “Women’s Lib” movement was petering out against the New Conservatism of Reagan’s America (Reagan was only 20 months in office when the show first aired) and the female characters tend to fend off his passes through sarcasm. Having said that, many of his lovers are as equally sexually aggressive and promiscuous as he is. You can’t help grimacing at his wandering hands, all the same. He’s never grabby, but can be overly touchy.

File under cosy stress-free nostalgic viewing, and keep an eye out for the many guest stars who went on to be much bigger, although none will be as big as Kate Mulgrew’s hair.      JanetEldridge - Twitter Search / Twitter

What if…the west armed the women of Afghanistan?

 

It had been the scene of a young Afghan woman being publicly beaten by a tribal elder for talking to a boy on her mobile phone that had done it. There had been those in the administration in DC who had already crafted plans, but the media response to the incident had finally convinced the president, a decent man and father of daughters, to support the plan. 

The military had already selected the site in rural Afghanistan. Effectively a mountaintop fortress, accessible by air, but otherwise protected by sheer cliffs on nearly all sides, and with a ground access that could be transformed into a bloody killzone if needed. It had its own water source, grounds for crops and cattle, good solar power frontage and, the military reckoned, it could house up to 30,000 people if planned properly. 

Its approach was constantly surveyed by drones and its own designated NSA satellite. Female NSA operatives volunteered their own free time to guard over the site.  

It was called Operation Themyscira, after the fictional home of Wonder Woman. The name would become more and more appropriate as time moved on. 

The US president was clear in his address. The US had left Afghanistan. But it was not abandoning the women of Afghanistan. There would be a refuge for them, defended firstly by the United States, where women could flee to, run by women, for women. 

What if…President Trump was convicted and jailed?

President Donald J. Trump

It had been the selection of a jury that had taken so much time. Trying to find twelve jurors plus substitutes who did not have a strong opinion on the former President of the United States took months, because even those who claimed little interest in politics were found to have made some political comment on social media at one time or another. The Trump legal team, funded at huge expense by the Republican National Committee, had even objected to the idea of registered Democrats being on the jury, and the federal prosecutor was not enamored with registered Republicans serving either. The judge, on the point of desperation, proposed a compromise: Each side could submit 20 names, and he would pick, at random, 20 names from a hat. Both sides objected, but he ruled, and told them that if either side refused to submit their 20 names from the available jury pool he would pick names at random to fill that side’s quota. Both sides informed the judge that they would be appealing his decision, which he told them was their right, and set a date for the trial.

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