The politics of “Yellowstone”.


Yellowstone: 5 things you didn't know about the hit Kevin Costner drama | HELLO!

If you haven’t been watching “Yellowstone” on Paramount Plus, which enters its fifth season, you’ve been missing a treat. A cross between “Sons of Anarchy” and “Falcon Crest”, the show features Kevin Costner (He of tongue in bottom lip fame) as John Dutton III, the patriarch of the vast 50,000 acre Yellowstone ranch in Montana his family founded and own since the 1880s. Created by Taylor Sheridan, the show has been labelled by some as a conservative or red state show, and superfically it could bear that label. The value of “keeping what’s ours” is one repeated by many characters throughout the series, and coupled with the constant resort to frontier justice, you can easily see why a certain type of conservative would like the show.

And yet, the politics of the show is much more blended with grey and subtlety.

Dutton is obviously a wealthy and politically powerful man in the state, practically handpicking certain state offices that matter to his business interests, including appointing himself state livestock commissioner, which allows him to have a de facto private police force. He uses a helicopter to both travel to the state capital but also to ranch. In one scene, whilst remonstrating with a Chinese tourist who complains about one man owning so much land, Dutton declares “This is America: we don’t share land.”

And yet, he’s not without money worries. It becomes apparent that whilst his land might be worth nearly half a billion dollars, his personal wealth is probably closer to $40m and he fears local development could sharply increase his property tax liabilities beyond his ability to pay.

Nor is he greedy: when he’s offered huge wealth in return for abandoning his family legacy he simply refuses, even though he knows he is fighting a losing battle against change. For him, legacy and family is everything, a value many Americans can see and respect very easily. He’s not without compassion either: intervening to help a widow deprive a bank of assets he feels her family needs more.

His various nemesis also have a political dimension: his ranch is bordered by a Native American reservation led by business savvy politician Thomas Rainwater (Gil Bermingham) who wants to retake the Yellowstone ranch because “for thousands of years our people hunted, fished and lived on that land: then John Dutton’s great grandfather built a house.” Rainwater supports development because it brings his tribe more revenue for public services. Yet he also shares, with Dutton, a desire for conservation and preserving as much of the valley they both share.

The show is also full of contradictions. Dutton sees the irony, in his family claiming the land in the 1880s from Native Americans, then having to face off against even more well-resourced developers who make the same point the Chinese tourist did, and marvel at the arrogance of one family blocking the creation of thousands of (low paying) jobs. Indeed, one developer, Dan Jenkins (Danny Houston) is genuinely outraged at Dutton’s belief that outsiders have no right to share in the beauty he owns except on his terms.

One other aspect of the show is the disparity in wealth on display: Dutton, Rainwater and the developers all live in relative opulence, whilst their employees and voters live in a world of precarious employment, threats of banks foreclosing, and the powerful pretty much deciding which candidates will be permitted even contest elections. Most of his employees live in a dormitory on the ranch. Many Europeans will look at Dutton paying for an employee’s medical expenses not as a sign of generosity but an indictment where vital medical treatment is only available on the whim of a wealthy employer. The occasional gun battle, normally led by Dutton’s ex-special forces (On USTV, there are no ex-military cooks or plumbers, only special forces) son Kayce in his guise as a Livestock Agent, tend to be against hired goons from developers muscling in on Dutton, or petty criminals trying to make a living in the hard scrabble society of modern-day America. And yet few complain: so inbred is that  “Keeping what’s ours” mentality that far fewer people in the show question the morality of a single man owning a vast part of a state than applaud his son and shake his hand for machine gunning a petty cattle rustler and leaving his daughter an orphan.

If it has a political bias, Yellowstone is culturally liberal (recognizing the great crimes committed against Native Americans) whilst just shrugging its shoulders at economic disparity as if it is some form of natural phenomenon, like a tornado. That’s probably a mainstream view in America today.

A Great Movie (and book): The Day of The Jackal.


jackal bookFrederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel “The Day of the Jackal” has already secured its place in novel history. The concept, about right-wing French fanatics hiring a professional assassin to murder President de Gaulle in 1963 is daring for two reasons. The first is that it reads pretty much as a cold heavily detailed step by step almost journalistic expose of the plot rather than a thriller. The second is that we all know the outcome: President de Gaulle survived a number of assassination attempts, but died peacefully in an armchair in his home. In short, not as much a Who-Did-It as How-They-Did-It.

It shouldn’t work, yet it does, and brilliantly. So brilliantly in fact, that one finds oneself reading it again despite knowing the outcome and pretty much every twist in the story. Forsyth’s great success is his ability (honed as a foreign correspondent) to communicate great detail in a absolutely readable and enjoyable manner. For years later many believed it was a true story.

The book (and even more Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 masterpiece movie) also conveys nicely the Europe and France of its day. The shadow of the war still there, yet a continent on the verge of huge integration.

The movie is a stylish joy to watch. Cold and methodical, with minimal use of music, Edward Fox as the Jackal and Michel Lonsdale as the French police chief pursuing him steal the movie. A wealth of British TV stars of the 1970s fill the background.

Both the book and the movie are an absolute treat.

Great books you should read: Boss by Mike Royko.

Three cheers for the greatest Mayor in the world!Mike Royko’s Boss is the definitive book on understanding Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago and how a man modern times sees as a thug and a racist won the genuine affections of thousands.

If you only read the opening chapter, Royko (Who was as much a character himself as Mayor Daley, and straight out of central casting as the hardbitten big city newsman.) paints a picture of a day in the life of Daley, and it is fascinating. Royko blamed Daley, by the way, for the 1968 debacle at the Democratic convention and Nixon’s narrow victory over Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election later that year.

Daley was the classic Democratic Big City Boss in a one party city where, in some elections, the Democratic machine handpicked the Republican opponent. Yet there is also the machine where political careers and places on the party slate are won or lost because someone happens to go for a piss at the wrong time.

You also get to see the city leader who knows that he has to deliver to the little guy (As long as he’s the right colour and ethnic background, of course.) and has guys on the city payroll manning automatic elevators. Why? Because as Mayor Daley said, elevators don’t vote.

A slim volume and an absolute classic, and not just a history of a time but a lesson in how raw politics works.

Great movies you should see: The Last Hurrah (1958)

Fianna Fail, Boston Cumann.

Yet another must for the Political Junkie’s DVD library, The Last Hurrah   has Spencer Tracy ( Now there’s an actor) at his finest as a charismatic old school Irish American mayor seeking re-election one last time.

If you want to know how the old Democratic machines locked up the cities, and indeed how Fianna Fail used to do it, this is textbook stuff. The party is everything, with loyalty, decency and just the faintest whiff of corruption keeping the whole thing together. Very watchable, especially the ensemble of yes men the mayor surrounds himself with.

Sadly, only available on Region 1 DVD, but really, isn’t it time you invested in a multi region DVD player. It’s not like they’re dear anymore.

Pay close attention for a reference to a certain Fianna Fail politician, by the way.

Great books you should read: Politics Lost

ImaPolitics for Grown Ups. gine a gang of  uppity, beer-swilling, womanizing early thirtysomething yahoos decided to get a political unknown elected President of the United States. They did.

Joe Klein is more famous for the Clintonist Roman a clef  “Primary Colours”, (He was Anonymous.) but he is primarily a US political reporter, and Politics Lost  (2006)  is a book covering his experiences, and more importantly, his disenchantment with the moronisation of modern US politics.

We slate the Americans on this side of the Atlantic, but Politics Lost is a fine example of what the Americans do best. Go into a bookstore in New York, and you’ll be swamped by short, entertaining books of both the right and left discussing politics and the way things should be. When was the last time an Irish politician dared actually tied himself to any but vacuous guff?

The book starts with a heartrending description of  Bobby Kennedy telling a crowd of black voters in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King Jnr.  had been shot and killed. Kennedy, whom the police chief refused to provide protection for, insisted on speaking in a black area, and gives an shocking unpolitically saavy but heartfelt speech to the crowd, and Klein points out that such a politician could not get elected today, as the media would crucify him for his unsanitized real feelings being voiced.

Klein then gives a fascinating picture of Patrick Cadell (Who later became a consultant on The West Wing.) who, along with Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, all in their late twenties/early thirties, got Jimmy Carter, an unknown one-term Georgia governor, elected President. Klein focusses on Cadell, very much the High Priest of modern in-depth political polling, and how his skills were able to help Carter et al completely sidestep the Democratic establishment and get an outsider elected.

Klein takes us right through to Clinton era to the 2004 election, deftly demonstrating how the perfecting of the election winning process is strangling the ability to actually run the country afterwards.

One of those books that’ll have political junkies reaching for the highlighter.

Great books you should read: Company

Read this, for God's sake!
I’m often accused by friends of forcing books onto them because I liked them, and therefore buy copies of them as unwanted gifts for said friends in other to encourage the writer in my own tiny way to write more stuff that I like. It’s true.
I can’t understand why Max Barry is not huge. In fact it seems that whilst he is published in his native Australia and indeed in the US, he’s only relatively recently been published in Britain or Ireland, which I regard as bizarre given his style of humour.
Company tells a story of Zephyr Holdings, an enormous company that no one quite seems to know what it actually does. A new employee starts poking around and discovers the truth, along the way giving a funny take on how large companies function. Or don’t.

I won’t ruin the book by revealing the plot or the funnier incidents in it, just to point you towards it as an entertaining and thoughtful take on corporate culture.


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…