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The powers of the President of the USA

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 9th, 2020 at 02:16:28 PM EST

Fintan O'Toole has his usual eloquent take (subscriber only) on the limitations of Joe Biden's Presidential victory. However in one respect, Fintan's take is as delusional as the President-elect he criticises. Fintan appears to believe that Joe Biden has the power to change the system if he merely highlights its most notable defects. That is, sadly, far beyond the President's powers, and is not going to change much any time soon. The minority's power and privilege depends on there being no significant change and to imagine they will give that up without a fight is delusional.

What follows is a draft letter to the Editor which I very much doubt will be published, so I submit it here for your edification and elucidation...

Read more... (125 comments, 678 words in story)

Georgia on my mind

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 5th, 2020 at 01:40:11 PM EST

With the vote count slowing to a trickle, it is looking increasingly likely that Biden will win Arizona and Nevada, and probably even Pennsylvania and Georgia when all the early mail in votes are tabulated, although he doesn't have to win the latter two to win election.

This is in sharp contrast to Democrats most likely failing to win the Senate, and actually losing seats in the House. With Republicans controlling the SCOTUS and the Senate, it seems unlikely any Biden administration could achieve much of their centrist agenda, never mind progressive legislation.

With the two Georgia Senate elections likely proceeding to a run-off on January 5th., Democrats may get a second bite at that cherry. Trump's reaction to his defeat could still have ramifications for the shape of the next administration. Who would have thought that Georgia would represent the Democrats' best hopes of winning the election?

Read more... (139 comments, 544 words in story)

US Elections Live Blog

by Frank Schnittger Tue Nov 3rd, 2020 at 01:44:19 AM EST

Election day is finally upon us and soon we will know the result - by this evening, if President Trump has his way! 98 Million people have already cast an early ballot - 71% of the total 2016 turnout - and a record turnout is expected. Michael McDonald, a Professor at the University of Florida is predicting a total turnout of about 160 Million - up 16% from 138 Million in 2016.

This is despite increasingly desperate attempts by the Republican party to suppress the vote - culminating in yesterdays court proceedings to invalidate 127,000 votes  in Texas because they were cast at temporary drive in centres housed in tents, rather than in a building "structure". President Trump has also said he will send in the lawyers to stop the counting this evening if he is ahead at that stage - as if there is some constitutional requirement to count only as many votes as can be counted within a few hours of polls closing.

It is difficult to envisage a more desperate and defeatist message to send to the electorate than seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters who have cast their ballots in good faith. Democracy be damned. But it also sends a clear message to an electorate which may be less than fully enthused to vote for Joe Biden. A vote now represents an act of defiance against those who would seek to deprive you of that right. It's democracy or fascism, your choice.

Read more... (215 comments, 836 words in story)

The gathering storm

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 29th, 2020 at 09:29:21 PM EST

For a variety of reasons, I have been internet free for the past couple of days, so today has been about playing catchup in an attempt to discover what, if anything, has changed in the US election. As always, there is a danger that you get caught up in a bubble of partisan thinking, and simply don't understand some of the many changes under way.

Certainly there have been some negatives in the data from a European point of view. Biden is said to be doing less well with Latino/Hispanic voters than Clinton did. The addition of Harris to the ticket hasn't made some black voters feel any less taken for granted. Texas still feels slightly out of reach, not helped by Biden's comments about transitioning away from oil in the second Presidential debate.

But the reality is you have to dig pretty hard to find negative data about the prospects of the Democratic party and its candidates at all levels of the election. More and more Senate seats seem to be in play and polls at Congressional district level have been outpacing the national polls for quite some time. Biden's lead has stayed remarkably steady and solid in the 7-11% range for the past few months, and even "lean Republican" states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio seem to be trending his way.

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Trump looked like a loser

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 23rd, 2020 at 04:09:09 AM EST

The second and final presidential debate was a more "normal" debate with much less interruption and incivility. Republican supporters will breath a sigh of relief that Trump didn't implode again. However the longer the debate went on the more frustrated he became, and started to look more surly, bitter, divisive and angry, especially when Biden was speaking.

Even when invited to say how he would bring people together in his inaugural address he engaged in bitter recrimination, while Biden gave his usual bringing people together speech. When challenged about the 500 children separated from their parents - Trump just said "good".

The debate won't do much to change the trajectory of the campaign, but that must count as a defeat for Trump. He needed Biden to implode, and yet Biden probably gave his strongest performance to date, and was willing to say he would phase out the oil industry over time despite his reliance on winning Pennsylvania.

Read more... (92 comments, 576 words in story)

It's not over yet

by Frank Schnittger Mon Oct 19th, 2020 at 01:46:22 PM EST

It's been almost a fortnight since our last round-up on the US Elections and not a huge amount has changed. Biden got a 3% uplift from +7% to +10% in the opinion polls after the first debate and Trumps subsequent Covid-19 diagnosis, with many Americans disapproving of Trump's performance in the debate and his failure to take adequate precautions against the disease. Post debate bumps in the polls often don't last, but the continued prevalence of the pandemic has kept Trump's performance on the pandemic front and centre of the political stage.

Read more... (123 comments, 1103 words in story)

The 2021-2026 EU UK Trade war

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 11th, 2020 at 02:57:07 PM EST

The 2021-2026 EU UK Trade war was an unprecedented event in post WWII European relations although it did have some minor antecedents in European economic wars prior to that - such as the 1932-38 Anglo-Irish economic war. It ended only after the near collapse of the UK economy and led ultimately to Scottish Independence and Irish reunification.

Relations between the UK and EU had been deteriorating ever since the 2016 Brexit referendum culminating in the breakdown of relations in early 2021 following the UK adoption of legislation which explicitly broke the "oven ready" EU UK Withdrawal Treaty which had been ratified in January 2020 following a general election fought and won on endorsing its terms.

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Harris wins Vice Presidential Debate

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 8th, 2020 at 04:16:35 AM EST

The Vice Presidential debate ended with a slight win for Kamala Harris but is unlikely to change voting intentions to any significant degree. The moderator allowed Pence to constantly over-run his speaking time and interrupt Kamala Harris on hers, and made no attempt to ensure the candidates actually answered the question asked.

Read more... (129 comments, 346 words in story)

Electoral Tide swings towards Democrats.

by Frank Schnittger Tue Oct 6th, 2020 at 09:28:04 PM EST

It's been a month since ARGeezer's diary on the US elections, so what has changed? Firstly, some significant events have taken place:

  1. The untimely death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  2. Threats by Trump to refuse a peaceful transition of power
  3. The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg
  4. NYT release of information on Trump's tax returns
  5. The first presidential debate
  6. Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis
  7. Trumps hospitalization and release
  8. A cluster of other cases at the White House and among Republican senators who attended the White house ceremony to nominate Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Read more... (167 comments, 735 words in story)

Respecting the Law

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 1st, 2020 at 12:26:54 PM EST

Two things puzzle me: Firstly, how can the UK government presume to rely on the benefits of WTO membership when it is itself in flagrant breach of international law in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement which was ratified only this year following a general election won on recommending its terms?

And secondly, why is the EU's only response to date been to threaten legal action against the UK before the ECJ when one of the stated aims of Brexit is to break free of the jurisdiction of the ECJ. Why would the UK respect the judgement of a court it has explicitly sought to delegitimize?

Allowing states to flout the law has real consequences for real people, as the people of Northern Ireland can testify only too vividly. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the wilful gunning down of 26 unarmed civilians, 14 of whom died, in Derry in 1972. Now the Northern Ireland Prosecution Service has announced that only one soldier, named soldier"F" at the enquiry, is to be prosecuted, almost 50 years after the fact. Hence my draft letter to the editor below:

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The reality of Brexit strikes home

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 18th, 2020 at 12:07:00 AM EST

Newton Emerson, a unionist commentator, has an article up in the Irish Times echoing Boris Johnson's complaint that the EU is threatening to blockade N. Ireland's food supplies. This is part of Johnson's justification for breaking international law even though discussions at the joint implementation body on the N. Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement had been, by all accounts, making good progress in resolving outstanding issues.

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UK to break international law

by Frank Schnittger Tue Sep 8th, 2020 at 03:10:05 PM EST

The UK is to unveil internal market legislation tomorrow (9/9/20) which will break international law albeit in what they describe as a limited way. Specifically it will abrogate sections of the Withdrawal Agreement which require the UK to implement customs controls at the N. Ireland Great Britain sea border thus providing back-door access to the Single Market for British goods - whatever any trade agreement might say.

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Mairead McGuinness to be next Commissioner

by Frank Schnittger Fri Sep 4th, 2020 at 03:48:42 PM EST

Andrew McDowell and Mairead McGuinness candidates for European Commission role

The Cabinet has proposed Mairead McGuinness and Andrew McDowell as candidates to replace Phil Hogan at the European Commission.


Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will not be one of the Government's nominees for the role of European Commissioner.

Andrew McDowell is a former Fine Gael advisor and until recently vice-president of the European Investment Bank .


Andrew McDowell is a former backroom Fine Gael Economic advisor and a political non-entity. No one seriously believes he will get the job. But Commission President Ursula Van Der Leyen had made it clear she wanted "both a women and a man, not a man and a women nominees," in the words of Leo Varadkar. Basically no man need apply, and in the end no one of substance did. Why put your present job at risk by applying for another, when you know you won't get the job?

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Who will replace Commissioner Hogan?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Aug 30th, 2020 at 09:36:51 PM EST

Commission President, Ursula Van Der Leyen has asked the Irish government to submit both male and female candidates to replace Phil Hogan as European Commissioner while EU sources are stating that any replacement is unlikely to retain the important Trade portfolio.

This creates a number of problems for the Irish Government. Firstly, it could be argued that asking the government to submit a shortlist from which she will make the final selection is an impertinence, as it is for the Irish government, and the Irish government alone, to determine who the next Commissioner from Ireland should be (subject to EU Council and Parliament approval).

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Trump's re-election prospects

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 17th, 2020 at 12:35:54 PM EST

Irish Times Columnist Jennifer O'Connell has an article up basically saying that Trump, like all bullies, is afraid of all those who are not afraid of him, and seeks to patronise strong women because he is afraid of them. He is afraid of Kamala Harris because he knows she can beat him. This has provoked two letters to the editor in response from Jim O'Sullivan and myself:

Read more... (28 comments, 1305 words in story)

The political effects of electoral voting systems

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 13th, 2020 at 05:18:05 PM EST

Electoral system has served us well

Sir, – Brendan O’Donnell writes that an electoral commission should consider replacing our single transferable vote, multi-seat, proportional representation system on the grounds that it produces vagarious results, is a legacy of colonialism, and is shared only with Malta (Letters, August 12th).

On the contrary, I would argue it produces results broadly in line with the electorate’s preferences, in sharp contrast to the winner takes all system of first past the post operated in the UK which makes voting pointless in many “safe” constituencies and can award an overall majority to a party gaining less than 40 per cent of the vote.

It is also preferable to the archaic US “electoral college” system which has twice, in recent times, awarded the presidency to the candidate who lost the popular vote.

In addition, the US and UK systems generate an adversarial two-party system and political culture which fails to reflect the diversity of the electorate and which polarises debate between these two parties. As a consequence, they promote conflict rather than cooperation, and division rather than consensus building.

A case could perhaps be made for a European-style party list system which prioritises internal party back-room wheeling and dealing, but I think it preferable that the electorate can directly choose whom they wish to represent them.

If the diversity facilitated by our system, very occasionally, results in a delay in forming a government, that only reflects the diversity of views within the electorate, which can be slow to come to a consensus on some issues.

Ireland has, almost uniquely, avoided the extreme political polarisation seen in our neighbouring states, and our electoral system and the culture of collaboration and compromise it encourages must take some of the credit for that.

To be successful in Irish politics, you have to be able to attract not only first preferences, but lower preferences from other parties and candidates, and that puts a premium on being able to work with others rather than antagonising them. Divisive and polarising demagogues tend to do less well in such a system.

For all its complexities and faults , which includes a tendency towards clientelism and producing TDs better at articulating grievances than implementing solutions, I think our electoral system has served us well.

We tinker with it at our peril! – Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Read more... (6 comments, 1390 words in story)

The Set Up?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 24th, 2020 at 09:46:56 AM EST

In Ireland we are used to insulting, malevolent, and utterly ignorant commentaries on our affairs in the British tabloids in particular, but also in "respectable" broadsheets like the Telegraph, and supposedly sophisticated magazines like the Spectator.

"Lttle Leo" was portrayed as the EU's Lapdog doing their bidding at the behest of Macron or whoever was the EU bully-du-jour. He was running scared of Sinn Féin and adopting their policies. He was regularly told to shut up and stop interfering as Great Britain went about its Great Brexit business.

In the past week two articles in the British media have offered a startlingly different perspective. The Editorial in the Guardian "an enviable beauty is born", was the less surprising. The Guardian is often more sympathetic to Irish (and Remainer) views, and even features Irish Times columnist, Fintan O'Toole, on occasion to offer an Irish perspective.

But if anything, it was the Economist which was the more gushing this week:

Read more... (7 comments, 1485 words in story)

Poor Spectator Sports

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jul 23rd, 2020 at 08:27:55 AM EST

For a prestigious UK magazine, the Spectator does print some rubbishy articles, easily debunked. Unfortunately this one by Matthew Lynn, Europe's coronavirus rescue fund is dead on arrival," has now disappeared behind a paywall on the Spectator's main site but is still available in their US Edition (linked to above).

This is my riposte published in the Irish Times (second letter down). It begins by praising an Irish Times article, as this is the best way to get a letter published!

Read more... (17 comments, 965 words in story)

The new demographics

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 18th, 2020 at 12:46:55 PM EST

The new demographics

Sir, - The finding of a study published in the Lancet medical journal that shows that the world's population is likely to peak in 2064 at about 9.7 billion, and then decline to about 8.8 billion by 2100 - two billion lower than some previous estimates - is to be welcomed. (World, July 15th).

It challenges the Malthusian view that human populations will always grow to consume the resources available and decline only through war, poverty, and plagues, arguing that improved education and access to contraceptives for women are the main cause of the reduction.

However, continued population and economic growth in a planet of finite and depleting resources is at the core of many of our problems - causing urban congestion, deforestation, pollution, environmental degradation, mass species extinction, pandemics, famines, droughts, storms, wars, forced migration and climate change.

Sharing the available wealth between fewer people will enable a better quality of life and standard of living for all, always assuming there is no further increase in inequality.

Concerns that a rising elderly population combined with a reduced working age population will place an unbearable strain on the young are overdone. Improved healthcare will improve not only life expectancies but the ability to work until a greater age.

Robotics, artificial intelligence, the knowledge economy, and other technological changes will continue to improve productivity and make wealth creation less dependent on workforce size.

Critical to achieving these desirable outcomes will be continued improvements in women's rights to determine their family size, availability of contraception, and the improvement of health and social care systems for the elderly, so that families are not over-sized to ensure that high child mortality rates do not result in their being insufficient children to look after their parents in old age.

The greatest danger is that demagogues and nationalist leaders will see any decline in their nation's population as a threat to their power and will seek to promote greater indigenous population growth to maintain ethnic "purity" and cultural dominance.

Small can be beautiful and less can be more.

Let us ensure a sustainable and safe future by keeping our overall population under control. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Population control can be a controversial topic. It's not that long ago when even contraception was a controversial subject in Ireland. Others argue that the problem is gross and growing inequality, and that there is no reason the Earth can't sustain a greater population if we all curtail our resource consumption.

Read more... (4 comments, 617 words in story)

Winning Diplomacy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 10th, 2020 at 09:00:11 AM EST


Ireland has scored a few significant diplomatic victories in recent times in getting the EU, and ultimately Boris Johnson, to accept its position on the N. Ireland border and winning a seat on the UN Security Council against strong opposition from Canada.

Paschal Donohoe's election as President of the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers yesterday may not seem like much of a coup to casual observers, but it was gained against strong opposition from Spain's Finance Minster Nadia Calvino, who had been favoured by France, Germany and some Mediterranean countries as an economist with experience working within the EU institutions who would make the argument for a generous response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Read more... (22 comments, 1102 words in story)
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News and Views

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Your take on this month's news

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COVID vaccination on the march throughout Europe (OK, maybe limping...)

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Cliff edge, COVID vaccination, what else to expect next year?

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