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Now this is just mischievous… Des Fennell Redux. August 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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From a fellow Irish Left Review contributor further thoughts on this topic …I have to admit I like the photograph.

Interesting. Palin selected as McCain’s running mate. August 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized, US Politics.
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As it happens It’s All Politics on NPR ruminated some time back about whether Sarah Palin might be the Republican pick for VP. They thought her an outside chance but one to watch.

Still, why not? Clever choice, albeit one that smacks of a fairly serious level of calculation (don’t they all? Well, yes, but there’s calculation and calculation). I think this might worry the Democrats more than slightly, because the message it sends is that the Republicans have useful polling data which indicates that they can pull a significant chunk of support away from the Democrats which might otherwise a) have gone Hillary Clintons way – yes, many of those but not all being women and that the selection will b) appeal to independents and ‘moderates’. That said that level of calculation may well be problematic. After all, no-one likes to think of themselves as voting fodder. So perhaps a little less inspired than Slate appear to think.

And wow, she’s straight out and making that pitch:

She was effusive in her praise for Hillary Clinton, claiming for herself the groundbreaking role Clinton played during the Democratic primary race. “It turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet,” Palin said. “We can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

One wonders who would have been the VP candidate had Obama picked Clinton?

That said her strong pro-life stance may well be off-putting for some. So it’s swings and roundabouts. More interesting is the follow through. It is a most interesting choice, as noted again on Slate as regards the idea that someone with relatively little experience is suitable for the Presidency. I was looking at Obama’s CV today and it’s pretty damn impressive for a man in his late 40s. So let it be said is Sarah Palin’s, but the choice of her, particularly by a man in his early 70s as one commentator on Slate noted:

…undercuts the idea that Obama, who is three years older and far more experienced than she, is somehow still too green.

And her CV is… well, a little less exalted:

Palin, 44, is Alaska’s first female governor. She was sworn in December 2006, making her one of the least experienced people to run for vice-president in recent memory. Alaska is one of the smallest states in the US, with only 670,000 residents.

Before becoming governor, Palin served two terms as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 9,800 people, and was on the city’s council before that. In the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial race, Palin bested the incumbent Republican governor during the primary election.

And there’s some stuff that may not work out so well lurking in the details of her bio, not least a tricky little dispute where:

The Alaska legislature is investigating whether Palin sacked a public safety commissioner who declined to fire a state trooper that was engaged in a custody battle with Palin’s sister.

So how then does this play out? We’re about to see if African-American and staidish older white guy trumps staidish older white guy and woman or vice versa. The significations of all this are a sight to see, aren’t they? And here’s the thing, both tickets invert while simultaneously utilising identity politics. It just depends to a degree what flavour of identity politics you hold.

So, Obama’s moment of triumph is eclipsed. Permanently? Who knows, but now we can see just why McCain got out his courteous advert yesterday congratulating his rival. And I’ll bet it gets nasty from here on in. Oddly though I don’t feel this will have quite the traction the Republicans expect. Not sure why, it’s just an instinct. No doubt I’m wrong.

And what is it, eight, ten weeks to go? Great stuff.

A good speech. Not a great speech. Obama tackles candidacy issues head on and sort of prevails. August 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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It’s necessary when critiquing an Obama speech to consider two connected but distinct aspects. Firstly there is the power of his rhetoric. His delivery is forceful, assured, almost elemental in its ability to reach out across a stadium or through television to others. It’s quite an ability and not to be dismissed. But, it’s not entirely unproblematic. While it enthuses more than it irritates it can lead to charges of phoniness. Indeed one of the criticisms one will find on the PUMA websites that is most striking is that of the ‘empty suit’. It’s a clever little configuration because it suggests windiness and an absence and in a way links into that great strength of his. And let’s be honest it is a gift Obama has. Whereas his more one on one appearances appear – let’s be generous – a tad wooden (think of the video link up after Michelle Obama’s speech where his youngest child stole the show), he does shine in the specific environment of the public address. This is interesting in itself, and telling in many ways. Obama is arguably the most cerebral candidate we’ve seen in a while and sometimes that comes through a bit too loud and clear in small scale encounters (and allied with that is another trait of the cerebral, an impatient and unnecessary waspishness… ‘…nice enough’ – if ever I heard an academics put down).

The second part is the substance. Here he runs into a little trouble, because he’s not great on the delivery of the detailed as against the visionary. And in fairness, and those of us on the left suffer from this in no small way either, who is? So as we descend into the minutiae of policy his expertise can begin to seem like too short a focus and rather than enthusing it becomes wonkishness. Worse again – and this was very much an aspect of his co-appearance with John McCain last week for a debate about religion – the ability to see both sides of an equation doesn’t necessarily translate into a clarity of viewpoint. Far from it. His quip about determining when life started being ‘a pay grade above his’ was clever but not quite appropriate because it required explanatory sentences around it to appear something other than a glib statement. Of course he couldn’t take the McCain route of simply saying ‘at conception’ because he doesn’t believe that, but because he doesn’t believe it and thinks the matter more complex (and in truth who knows what McCains views are on this matter) it requires further details and explanations. Which is where he begins to lose people.

Anyhow, last nights speech contained elements of both.

A small thought first. Whatever else the Democrats are energised in a way quite different to 2004. John Kerry he ain’t. Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. Joe Klein popped up on Channel 4 News arguing the Democrats were as united as he’d seen them since 1968… which may be of small comfort considering that as he noted in ’68 there were fist fights between delegates on the convention floor. But energy is there and a certain determination. Let’s also consider how all this would have played out had Clinton got the nomination. Then we would have seen the arrival of “Obama supporters for McCain” no doubt and the Republicans would have attempted to put a wedge in the Democratic base by appeals to the ‘disenfranchised’ African-American and Hispanic voters. And think back to how in 2000 and less successfully in 2004 Bush attempted to play that card.

And last night was quite successful on both counts. It’s worth reading the full text, or at least scanning through it. It will intrigue and infuriate in equal measure anyone on the left. Not least for so much that is unstated which should be stated.

It had a shopping list of policies, which merely point up the oddness of some of the charges against him that he’s left wing. He’s not right wing as such, but he’s a pretty moderate centrist. How moderate and centrist?

Well, this moderate and centrist…

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

It’s not quite nationalising the top 100 industrial and commercial enterprises. It’s not even the British road to socialism. It’s a bit like spinning on the spot.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th-century bureaucracy.

And…

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

I can just see David Cameron adopting it line by line.

But that said there were some progressive points he made.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Side note, think of the private companies in this state where sick days, genuine sick days at that, are expected to be taken out of holiday days. That – to my mind – is an absolute disgrace. Who is lobbying to change that, or change management practices that are essentially a form of bullying?

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Good. About time. Long past time in fact. And again something that we could profitably look at more closely. Gender based wage disparities in the commercial sector in Ireland are quite something to behold despite the fact that they’re often concealed.

And so on, including universal healthcare.

Some toughish talking on foreign relations:

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace and who yearn for a better future.

What was interesting was that he eschewed religion, which may be problematic considering that both Channel 4 News and the Guardian reported that large numbers of voters believe him to be a Muslim. Wait for him to tackle that further down the line. Expect it to be a tricky one, how to do it without appearing offensive to Muslims? How to do it full stop?

Patriotism though he tackled head on.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

And allied to that was a lot of talk about American greatness, American promise, American spirit. The man loves his country. We get it.

Is it going to work? I have no idea. The national polls see McCain and him head and head. But polling from states put him in a most comfortable position. Last night won’t have hurt him at all. Nor will this week, with all its essentially media driven tensions and conflicts. Everyone had their moment in the sun (pity Al Gore though, his speech broadly lost in the noise last night).

I can’t help thinking though of Neil Kinnock and the 1992 election. And not just because of Joe Biden’s dabbling in lack of attribution. There was just a hint last night of the populism of the last Kinnock speech of that election in Sheffield. Just a hint mind you, not least of course because the Kinnock rally was essentially an import of US style campaigning. And therein lies an example of attempting to assess political activity a continent away. It’s easy not to catch the tone of an event (and my direct involvement of US politics was utterly limited to local NY stuff in the late 1980s for a brief time – so, not quite the same :) ). But, 80,000 or not, I think that Obama managed to pull it off without appearing hubristic.

Now comes the hard part.

… and for more on Fennell August 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Media and Journalism.
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… look here

Bill Clinton does the business… and meanwhile Desmond Fennell and the white woman’s burden… August 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Society.
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Anyone who writes a blog or posts comments on a website will, from time to time, have experienced that sickening thought, “Jesus, did I go to far that time” or “what was I thinking of” in reference to one thing or another. It might be an over-emphatic criticism, it might be a fear that PUMA supporters will spam the site or it might be something written casually about a subject a little further from the writers comfort zone (for which read actual working knowledge) that might come back to bite them.

It’s a fine art this process of making public thoughts, opinions and processes which in any other age would more than likely have been secret or only shared amongst close friends. And because writing on blog or posting is immediate with no real delay between thought and action the dangers of shooting ones mouth off are very real indeed. I’ve commented here and there on the net and wondered afterwards were my comments crossing a line of implicit tetchiness – or worse again appearing arrogant. I hope not, but I’m not sure – and if I’m not sure then I probably did. And because a blog is a work in process where new information and facts come to light, and others contribute opinions and insights there is an evolutionary aspect to opinion. Look back through the last two years posts on here and you’ll probably find shifts in emphasis if not necessarily in substance.

And let’s note that Bill Clinton last night did what the Gabfest on Slate suggested at the weekend and rose to the occasion. A very interesting piece of theater indeed, with more than a hint of chutzpah, not least when as Slate argues he implicitly suggested:

Vote for Obama – He’s Just Like Me!

But as John Dickerson noted, the dynamic shifted very subtly last night from the Clinton’s to the contenders. Sure, Bill gave it his all, and mighty effective it was too – the media is replete with how he went for unity. And why wouldn’t he? What choice does he have? His reputation took a hammering over the past year in a way which can hardly be to his satisfaction, and I’m betting that for some it was a revelation just how much of a political street fighter he was. So time to reburnish his credentials.

Yet look at Biden and how he was unleashed. First up he assuages doubts about Obama.

After Clinton, there wasn’t much oxygen in the room for Joe Biden. But he didn’t need to deliver the most beautiful speech. That’s not his job. His job is to use his quirky approachability to introduce Obama to voters who have been skeptical about him. A guy named Barack needs a guy named Joe as his running mate. (In political-speak, they call this being the validator.)

Then he goes folksy. Again to assuage doubts about Obama:

Biden’s best pitch came not on the issue of foreign affairs, Biden’s strong suit. It came shortly after he began, when he offered a little collage of kitchen-table conversations about families facing hard times. “Should Mom move in with us now that Dad is gone? Fifty dollars, $60, $70 to fill up the gas tank? How in God’s name, with winter coming, how are we going to heat the home?” Working-class and Catholic voters may identify with a guy who drops the expressions of their faith or tells gritty stories about how Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden taught him how to defend himself. (In case you didn’t notice, she’s Irish.) If they identify with Biden, they might listen to him—and that’s the first step in overcoming their doubts about the man at the top of the ticket.

And then he goes attack dog:

He was all over John McCain Wednesday night—and will be for the rest of the race. He has perfected the senatorial two-step of lathering his victim in friendship first (“John McCain is my friend”) before dismantling him repeatedly. That lends weight to the attacks, and Biden knows his brief when talking about foreign affairs.

It may work.

So, at least Clinton has nothing to regret today, and perhaps quite a bit to be cheerful about. And that holds true for Hillary as well.

All that said, the issue of writers/speakers regret came to mind because of a letter by Toby Joyce in yesterday about an article by Des Fennell from last week which I happened to miss. And it’s interesting how little has been made of this article because it’s quite fascinating in its own way. First up I have to admit to being a fan of Fennell’s writings although not his conclusions. I’ve always enjoyed his work and found him perceptive and interesting.

Now that said there’s been something of a shift in his work over the years, from insightful thinker and commentator on the pretensions of the Irish middle classes, and their supposed betters, to something a little more apocalyptic.

Go to his website and see how an undue concern with ‘white heterosexuals’ is part of his schtick where in his second but last book he writes about:

…the stimulation of compassion for a great variety of approved victims; the fomented assault on able-bodied, heterosexual, white-skinned men and the civilisation they created.

Hmmm… That can’t be good.

But really, his latest piece is the sort of thing that would – had I written it – have me slapping my head with my hand and muttering ‘Feck!’.

For under the heading Grim reality of why the West’s white race is now a dying breed [and although this hasn't as far as I can tell been picked up by bloggers it has by Stormfront - oh yeah] he writes:

We will have to change societal rules devised in the 1960s and 1970s if we are to halt the steady decline in the western population

Now let’s stop there and reflect upon how every commentator or writer or blogger seems to have a bugbear. With me it’s fact checking. Just do it, okay? But with more exalted others, I think of Peter Hitchens and his horror of the 1960s, his brother and his adherence to ‘humanitarian’ intervention, Melanie Phillips and her horror of the 1960s, Seamus Milne and the fixed and constant star that is his ability to see the absolute worst in US actions and the absolute best in those of other great powers, Peregrine Worsthorne and his horror of the 1960s – oh yes, and his undying affection for the era of ‘great houses’ which ‘civilised’ the surrounding countryside and inhabitants therein. And so on. And so forth.

And with Fennell there’s more than a little of that ‘horror’ of the 1960s too. I can never decide whether it’s a horror at change itself, or a sense of mortality as time sweeps forward or the old thing of being unable to accept others having a bit of fun if one isn’t oneself. But either way it often seems to affect people in a near-pathological way.

Anyhow Fennell continues:

LAST WEEK the news came from the United States that white people will be in a minority there in 2042, eight years sooner than previously predicted, according to US government projections. The reason for this is that in North America, as in Europe, the white population is not reproducing itself.

Okay.

It is likely that there is a similar reason for the flagging will of white westerners to reproduce their kind. Their historical background is in European or western civilisation which first took shape around a thousand years ago. That its core set of rules made sense is evidenced by its long endurance and by the mighty will to reproduce which it generated. Westerners overflowed from Europe to populate much of the world.

Alright. Not usually an argument one would expect from him. And certainly not one that was regarded as positive. And actually factually wrong.

Then, beginning at the end of the second World War, white westerners, first in the United States, then in America’s post-war European satellites, embarked on a great experiment. For the best of reasons – the pursuit of more justice, wealth and empowerment for all – they replaced many of the rules of European civilisation with new rules. Or rather, their democratic governments did this, employing left-liberals as their ethical guides, and enjoying enthusiastic support from the business corporations. The main rush of rule change took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Most white westerners, especially the younger generations, have made the new rules their own and have been living by them, or trying to.

Is that right? Is that an accurate summation of shift in social policy and society in the 1960s? Really?

The new collection of rules includes some of the old rules. It covers every sphere of behaviour: personal, interpersonal, male and female, parental and juvenile. It comprises, besides dos and don’ts, do-as-you-like rules.

Do they? But do go on.

It is unlikely, even if the explanation I am offering for the flagging fertility of white westerners is accepted as valid, that any serious corrective measures will be undertaken. Our post-European collection of rules is the basis on which our successful consumerist system has been built, and everyone in power wants that to continue.

But if the reality were different, and white westerners could act in their own long-term interest, they would institute an authoritative, critical examination of their prevailing rules system. And that would begin – but only begin – by scrutinising the prevailing, “politically correct” rules that bear on women’s lives, and particularly on motherhood.

There is a problem with this analysis. Actually there are many, but let’s start with one. It is near indistinguishable from one which clogs up Politics.ie and is echoed on numerous right wing blogs, about the inexorable ‘decline’ of the West and the rise of Islam. I find it no more convincing coming from Des Fennell than I do from those other sources. Societies change. They change radically. They may well be changing faster than ever before. And the thing is… there’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s going to continue like that. Forever. But change isn’t decline, it can be evolution. I could go on, but really, why bother?

Secondly it is a disturbingly close to a misogynistic thesis. The idea that there are ‘”politically correct” rules that bear on women’s lives, and particularly on motherhood’ is, at the least, an unpleasant charge and arguably insulting. I’ve always found it somewhat entertaining how men, and it often is men, pontificate about birth rates when they have the luxury of never having to experience the visceral reality of child-birth and all that it entails. This isn’t to in any sense decry child-birth, simply to say that many multiple births are easier said than done and there are reasons, good compelling reasons why a woman, any woman, might feel that a lower rather than a higher number suited her better. And more to the point, it is – to borrow a phrase – her choice, not that of Desmond Fennell and some vague – indeed nebulous – appeal to a ‘greater good’ or more pointedly, to this ‘white race’.

Who precisely is this ‘white race’ we’re talking about Des?

That is – in my opinion – in a piece replete with offensive insinuations the cream of the crop.

White women in western societies are producing on average fewer, sometimes much fewer, than 2.1 children per woman – the number of children required for the maintenance of a population. As things stand, therefore, the white race in the West is a dying breed.

There is no such thing as the ‘white race’. It is not a ‘breed’. This is a point made in the letter in the Irish Times in response to the piece.

If any achievement of Western peoples exists, it resides in cultural and legal norms which are universal. “Race” is an artificial, social-cultural construct. Ideals such as common citizenship, civil rights, gender equality, civil decency and universal humanity are birthrights of all mankind. It is nonsense to suppose that “civilisation” is exclusive to a certain combination of genes, and can be transferred selectively by sexual reproduction

Indeed.

Fourthly, and implicitly for he does not articulate it clearly but it is there nonetheless, is the implication that the supposed ‘white race’ must for some specific reason maintain its numbers. And that can only be in relation to others. Who could they be? He does not say. He will not tell us.

But I think we can guess. For if there are ‘white’ races, then clearly there must be ‘non-white’ races. And why must we ‘maintain our numbers’? What existential urge pushes us to procreate?

Ooops. Whatever way one interprets it that can’t be good either.

And as the letter writer notes:

His views are straightforward 19th-century Social Darwinism. He believes, apparently, in a “struggle for existence” among races which will be won by the race with superior fertility and virility.

Granted Fennell doesn’t use the phrase ‘struggle for existence’ but the language trips unpleasantly close to it. And for him to be making this argument is near-astounding. What happened to the man who talked about the local, about political structures which reflected all that was good about sustainability community and eschewed over-arching nationalisms, that sought a Europe (and if memory serves correct he had a nifty hand drawn diagram) and a world of communities?

But there’s also a contradiction at the heart of the thesis. Falling populations will actually assist in rising sustainability. They can in tandem with that result in a diminuition of consumer culture – a consumer culture that in part is fed by the residual memories of when times were bad. I’m not a population controller, at least not by instinct. But I can see the utility of overall global populations stabilising. And here’s the thing, that is more than likely as societies around the planet reach certain developmental stages, just as it happened here in Ireland and in a remarkably short period of time (in my class in national school and later in community school it was far from unusual for there to be people with multiple siblings – today, very much the exception than the rule. That’s under forty years). And what’s this I read also this week, that Ireland’s population in 2060 will reach 6.7 million? And the UK, France and Germany are also expected to have strong population growth. The picture in other countries is more mixed, and the trend is indeed for a certain degree of population decline:

Overall, the population of the EU is projected to increase to a high of around 520 million in 2035 before dropping to around 506 million by 2060.

Is this a disaster? Is this catastrophe? Or is it the ebb and flow of populations? Same as it ever was.

But that this should fuel fears about the ‘white race’… and that Des Fennell should trot out this reactionary screed is remarkable (although note how he and the IPR have become close to the point that his last book was published by Athol), but as noted it’s not the first time he’s expressed such thoughts. Then I wonder is he merely following Cruise O’Brien down the long travelled path of hyperbole to the temples of over-heated near-apocalyptic (or actually apocalyptic) nonsense. After all, not that far back CC O’B was telling all who would listen that Islam and Roman Catholicism would combine in an orgy of reaction. Problem was it was difficult to tell did he approve or disapprove. This isn’t that different. It really isn’t. Which leads to the glum conclusion that you can take the middle class lad out of Belvedere, but you can’t take Belvedere or residual middle class fears of otherness, out of the lad.

That the Irish Times should not tap him gently on the shoulder and say “Ahem… Desmond, think again would you?” is telling. That he himself does not see this for himself more than a pity.

I hope, but doubt, that he’s engaged in a lengthy bout of head-slapping. He should be.

More than worth reading… August 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’m not a big fan of linking just for the craic to others posts, but for a read which is ‘funny’, ‘poignant’ and a little bit ‘angry’, can I recommend this post which starts out as a review of Mark Steel’s latest book but finishes up a lot more than that.

This isn’t politics… it’s personal: The Hillary ‘supporters’ who, when all is said and done, support themselves. August 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
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Okay, that might well have done it. Clinton is regarded as giving a ‘powerful plea for party unity, and an ‘unequivocal endorsement‘ of Barack Obama, and here she’s given not merely a powerful plea, but an ‘emphatic’ one, no less. Still, I’m intrigued by this and these analyses which may point to continuing issues (John Dickerson notes that she didn’t make any show of support for Obama’s foreign policy credentials – that said perhapsshe felt that in the absence of the initials HRC on the ticket and the arrival of a certain J. Biden that was a bridge too far). For those as do want them, as the saying goes.

Still, in fairness she came out did the deal and tonight… well, it’s Clinton redux. It’s like a never-ending time tunnel that opens onto 1993. Very strange.

Another interesting piece by John Dickerson in Slate about the continuing disconnect between a significant, albeit small, portion of Clinton’s base and the Democratic Party.

As he notes:

In the two and a half months since Barack Obama won the nomination, he’s been trying to convince Hillary’s supporters—but his standing with them has gotten only worse. Roughly 30 percent of Clinton voters say they won’t vote for him, and this is not a one-poll anomaly. The number is the same in the Pew, ABC, and CNN polls. That’s as bad as it was during the heat of the Democratic primary.

And it’s not improving despite Clinton throwing at least a fair portion of her political strength behind Obama. Indeed every protestation of loyalty Clinton makes paradoxically raises the ire of her supposed supporters.

This is exemplified by the following from the PUMA (“Party Unity My Ass”) [or as they prefer: People United Means Action] site.

As a very avid Hillary supporter, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned with her stance especially after viewing the tape of her speaking to the New York delegates. During the campaign, she said a lot of things and made a lot of promises. I really think that she is putting her career before her constituents and all of us who supported her. If she truly is the fighter that we thought she was, she would not cave into this party. It really breaks my heart.

….

I unfortunately am wondering the same thing about Hillary. She DID make promises to us. I still support her.

But if she does not fight for the nomination, then I have to wonder – just what on earth is going on. This is no typical election. This is what makes it so very easy for me to switch to McCain should that time come – and with NO reservations. I believe we are fighting for our country this time – there is no doubt of that in my mind.

….

That is exactly why I’m here, and why I’ll be marching for Hillary in Denver tomorrow. I’m an independent conservative, and I’ll be voting McCain. But I have more admiration for Hillary than I can express, and more absolute disgust and fury than I can express for what they did to her in May, and since. It truly is about the validity of the political process, and about the rights of women to equal respect in politics.

….

I wouldn’t want to be in Hillary’s shoes right now. She has two choices: either she caves in to the DNC and gives Obama the nomination or she stands up for her supporters and fights for it. Either way, her career will probably be destroyed. If she goes with the DNC she risks alienating her supporters. If she fights and doesn’t win the DNC will destroy her. I have very mixed feelings about it. I don’t know if I will be able to support her in 2012 if she doesn’t take a stand for all of us now. Also, there’s the possibility that when Obama loses in Nov., she will be blamed and the DNC will destroy her career anyway. Like I said, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.

….

The sad thing is she is doing this to keep her standing in the party; but if they treat her this way now, just what does she think they will do in the future? I don’t even think the DNC will be a credible or viable party after this fiasco. Why should she worry about how they will treat her for standing up for her supporters?

They’re all aware that no matter who does what, we’ll never support Obama.

Here the dynamic is entirely inverted. The ‘supporters’ are key, not the candidate who is meant to represent their viewpoint and definitely not the political programme.

There is a problem though. If one goes through the comments at length, or even better the comments on Slate’s “The Fray” on the original Dickerson article one will see a most unlikely frequency of the words socialist and communist in reference to the DNC. At least unlikely in the context of supposed Democrat supporters/members. So, is all this being exaggerated by a disinformation campaign perhaps emanating closer to the Republican base? Certainly some seem to think so. And it’s hard not to put some credence in that theory. The idea that Obama is, as some of his critics make out, a ‘socialist’ and an extreme leftwinger make a mockery of the analysis which was made of his and Clinton’s individual political positions over the past year or so when she was, on a number of issues (and health-care most obviously) the candidate further to the left. Indeed that’s something that I found myself in greater agreement with her candidacy than Obama’s.

But that said, and putting PUMA and all its works to one side, it is clear there is at least a constituency which believes that Clinton was the superior candidate and that Obama ‘stole’ the nomination. Whether these are ‘moderates’ who would always have found McCain a congenial candidate this year (and in previous ones) is not quite a moot point.

I’m not even sure if this is personality politics although we are seeing chickens coming home to roost as regards the over emphasis on ‘candidate’ politics as against party programmes. It seems to me to be something else again, “personal politics”, the over-identification of self with candidate to the point that when the candidate disrupts that identification (or political circumstance, as with Obama’s victory in the nomination process) the only direction left is to tack towards the antithesis of what the candidate believes in and vote for their actual political opponent (and in the pieces above from the PUMA site I’ve avoided quoting those who will vote for McCain in November).

This is perhaps more a factor of the US political context, but it is not unknown in either Ireland or the UK. Indeed I’ve always been a little bit entertained at those who placed their trust in a political figure only to see it dashed. Well, them’s the breaks. It may sound cynical, but everyone in politics will let one down sooner or later. Only those who do relatively little manage to evade that fate. But it is an argument for programmes, or at least ideology. And there is a certain irony in the way that some Clinton supporters appear now to see in McCain a less existential threat to their own self-regard than Obama. Another telling indictment of the ‘moderate’ centrism of US politics.

And is this campaign latching onto a real but not quite as exaggerated political dynamic. Those are no doubt the sort of questions that keep Obama and his advisors awake at night, and if she has any sense I’d imagine that the same thoughts might exercise Clinton. Because while Dickerson makes the fair point that:

Whatever role these PUMAs ultimately play, we are learning that Barack Obama’s ability to persuade is limited. This has obvious implications for the coalition he needs to build to win, but it also raises questions about the way he intends to govern. He’s promised he can rally the nation to change, but it may be that he can rally only a certain constituency (and boy can he rally them) rather than being able to sway opinions and emotions across several constituencies.

The same holds true of Clinton. Her ability to retain her nominal supporters is perhaps less than she might imagine. And this has very real implications for any effort she might make in 2012 should Obama falter.

Whatever else, though, it is it is not progressive and I fear that there will be much time to repent at leisure if the admittedly watery moderation of an Obama Democratic Presidency is beaten by McCain to the White House.

Meanwhile… in Pyongyang August 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
15 comments

Oh dear. The ripples spread further. It’s hard not to see today’s news that North Korea to stop disabling its nuclear facilities as anything other than the upshot of the Georgian/Russian conflict. And for those of us who were leery about the Kosovo process it would appear that our unease has been confirmed.

And what of Russia’s unseemly haste to ‘recognise’ independence of the two formerly autonomous regions in Georgia. I think it’s wrong, I think it will generate more problems for Russia than it will solve, but Medvedev was, on BBC News this afternoon, masterful in his use of the Bush play book.

Anyhow, if the stakes continue to rise there back on the Korean peninsula it’s all getting a little warm.

North Korea said today it has decided to suspend disabling its nuclear facilities and will consider restoring the Yongbyon nuclear reactor because the United States had violated a six-party disarmament deal.

In fairness to the North Koreans (an unusual phrase and one to enjoy in its own way) they are responding to the fact that:

The United States has put off taking the North off its list of state sponsors of terrorism until there is agreement on verification.

And they argue that:

“We have decided to immediately suspend disabling our nuclear facilities,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying.

Regional powers have been pressing North Korea to accept a tough verification mechanism to check Pyongyang’s declaration of its nuclear programme made in July.

Opportunism and adventurism would now appear to be the order of the day. And why shouldn’t Pyongyang play this game too. A bit more dangerous one might argue than Georgia. Actually, a lot more dangerous. But, see them pull the tigers tail. What have they got to lose? The reality is that they’re simply delaying the process at a point where Washington seems less sure footed – for better or for worse – than it has in quite some time.

None of this is catastrophe. At least not yet. But it does indicate just how easily the house of cards that we call ‘international stability’ has been tipped over this decade and perhaps how fragile it always was.

The Democratic Convention opens. Meanwhile, what of the North of Ireland? August 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, US Politics.
2 comments

Okay, so it’s Democratic Convention time. And so far so good. Michelle Obama gave an effective speech. Not least when as reported in today’s Guardian…

One of the biggest cheers of the night came when she offered an olive branch to the Clinton camp, praising her for her success in advancing the women’s movement. Clinton had “put those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling so that our daughters and sons can dream a little bigger and aim a little higher”.

A bit of a cleft stick there I suppose. Particularly when Clinton (or her more vociferous supporters) might believe that the reason she didn’t manage to shatter that ceiling was the man Michelle Obama is married to. But then in a way perhaps the latter saying what she did will bring home to people that this wasn’t simple gender politics that stymied Clinton’s rise, but a much more complicated brew. And perhaps one or two of those supporters might note that race operates (as perhaps we’re seeing now in the national polls) in a way not dissimilar to gender and that the two fights are inextricably linked (which incidentally, like, loathe or whatever the Democrats is why this contest has progressive ramifications above and beyond the policy/party political – and isn’t just a spectator sport akin to the Olympics).

Anyhow, it seems to be going well, and I’m particularly impressed – in terms of convention management/presentation – by how the much trumpeted video from Ted Kennedy was upstaged by the man himself. Expect more along those lines.

Mind you, while we’re talking about seemingly intractable conflicts reading the July/August issue of Fortnight there is a piece by former editor Robin Wilson entitled Can Northern Ireland become normal?

Wilson argues that opinion polling in Northern Ireland has tended to produce ‘positive messages’ that however divided the population there was an appetite for power-sharing. Still, in a gloomy analysis, the central argument is that the brevity of power-sharing in practice ‘suggests its foundations remain fragile’.

Wilson continues:

‘… this is borne out by the continuing lack of consensus on what, precisely, was wrong about the ‘troubles’: Unionist portray the period as a ‘terrorist’ assault, and by implication only significantly a republican assault, on the the rule of law; nationalists, meanwhile present it as the product of the denial of human rights by first unionists and later the British states, often operating in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

The ‘peace process’ delicately skirted these questions of political morality, like unexploded ordnance, in pursuit of the Realpolitik of a deal. ‘Inclusiveness’, it was argue, required that every political and paramilitary faction be kept ‘on board’ and the message from May’s celbratory conference at Queen’s University, 10 years on from the GFA, was that this was a model to export around the world.

Hmmm. Not quite ‘every’ paramilitary faction. Indeed arguably only one paramilitary faction was of any great importance. And for self-evident reasons. The bonus that there were faint stirrings of progressive thinking in some small fractions of the Loyalist paramilitaries was – just that, a bonus. It allowed for a certain political cover for Trimble come 1998.

That no country has imported it, in the intervening period, tells, however, its own story – and a markedly different international approach to ‘terrorist’ was adopted at the Club of Madrid conference in 2005… there the consensus – albeit in the absence of the British and the Americans – was that sub-state political violence was best dealt with by upholding human rights and the rule of law, rather than by creating an atmosphere of moral hazard, whether this be by declaring a military ‘war on terror’ or by encouraging paramilitaries to anticipate political rewards if they turn violence into a bargaining chip.

Of course that works both ways, doesn’t it? How many of the conflicts addressed in 2005 have been resolved even partially? Or what of an alternative view, and one I’d share, is that there is no single road to conflict resolution and attempting to determine absolutes, particularly those that involve terms such as ‘moral hazard’, is unlikely to be helpful. After all, consider the template that Wilson implicitly supports, ‘upholding human rights and the rule of law’. Already we see in the current phase of the so-called War on Terror that both of those elements are subject to considerable pressure, not least – it must be admitted – from general populations. Indeed it is this latter pressure in the localised context of the North which was arguably key to the lack of progress. Not that people wanted to prolong the conflict, but that public pressure and perception on one side was that the state functioned essentially to support their viewpoint. Now this was a varnished view with many different strands to it, but at root it served to functionally act as a barrier to any sort of reconciliation – or indeed discourse. And then there is the issue of the guarantor (or more often sponsor) of a population in the conflict being neither neutral nor disinterested resulting in the establishment and continuation of bonds of loyalty (and consider how even now that dynamic can be seen within the Conservative party) which can also assist in prolonging the situation. And the obvious corollary of this is a rule of law which is fundamentally deformed or distorted through its application by a partisan to the conflict.

I could continue, but this is all obvious stuff, which is why Wilson’s apparent implicit support of such an approach is unusual. And it’s not as if Wilson is entirely immune to that analysis. Because the article notes that:

The unprecedented longevity of the NI ‘struggle’, by international standards, was a failure to regret, not a success to trumpet – and a failure which arguably arose because of the inconsistent oscillation of the British state over the years between repression of Catholic working-class communities and the appeasement of paramilitaries of various hues.

But the problem remains, the British state was not an indifferent or disinterested party. It had a direct role within the conflict, one that directly led to inconsistency. The inconsistency therefore was symptom, as much – if not more so, than cause. And therefore the next statement is built on shaky foundations.

These inconsistent signals have left a disturbing legacy in the public mind. It is evident in the answers, now available, from the 2007 Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, to questions about politically motivated violence and civil liberties.

Let’s consider the survey.

“when asked ‘do you have sympathy with the reasons for violence from loyalist/republican groups even if you don’t condone the violence itself?’, 29% expressed some sympathy vis-a-vis loyalist violence and 30% with regard to its republic counterpart.

Now I regard that as a not surprising answer to the question. And my reasons for that I’ll develop further on, but Wilson is not so sanguine.

Only small minorities expressed ‘a lot of sympathy’ (3% and 5% respectively) and there was that qualifying clause in the question. it is still remarkable, though – given that violence has been so generally (and effectively) stigmatised in western Europe since the horrors of Nazism – that such large proportions of the population would be prepared to volunteer ‘sympathy with the reasons for violence’, a question focused essentially on is perceived legitimacy.

I think that it’s a serious misreading of the situation to consider that the near-equivalent figures within both community represent some sort of near-fascistic attachment to violence. Firstly the question is ambiguous. To have sympathy for the ‘reasons for violence’ is an odd sort of a phrase. Is one being asked does one support the violence? No. This seems closer to being asked whether one ‘understands’ the motivations that might lead a person to use violence, and that – surely – is vastly less contentious. For example, I can entirely understand why Republicans or Loyalists might use violence. There are a myriad of reasons. A relative or close friend murdered by an opposing grouping, machismo, a particularly brutal encounter with state forces. I can even, perhaps slightly, in the first instance have ‘sympathy’ with someone caught up in that process. But that doesn’t mean that I necessarily ‘condone’ the use of violence. And neither do those asked the question in the survey.

And to then point to violence in Europe since 1933 seems a little exaggerated. Few conflicts, in the abstract, are going to appear meaningful in that context. Yet in the local context every conflict is going to seem more significant on a day to day basis. And particularly, and this is something Wilson addresses not at all, in Northern Ireland where this is not something that arrived fully formed, as it were, in 1968, but in an historical sense was an expression of much older socio-political tensions and on occasion conflict.

And this, I feel, leads to further misinterpretations.

Particularly noticeable is that 11% of Catholics expressed ‘a lot of sympathy’ when it comes to republican violence. The ‘constructive ambiguity’ of the ‘peace process’ has had its consequences – including the capacity of republican ministers in the devolved administration to criticise those seeking to kill Catholic police officer only in terms of their lack of ‘strategy’.

Well, yes. But to criticise on that level is to ignore the sea change in approach by those same Republican Ministers to the overall context and to ignore the political space open to them and their perception of that space. Moreover it is to ignore that that ‘strategy’ has been central to Republicans interpretation of the events of the past decade. So it works as both explanation and as justification. There are many counter-critiques of this as explanation and justification – obviously – as to its effectivity, sincerity and validity, but that’s largely irrelevant to the way in which it operates in the context of Republicanism.

Wilson considers the pernicious effects of internment on the situation in the North, and notes that:

The Life and Times question on this issue, however, found a clear majority of 58% in Northern Ireland sympathetic to the notion that ‘the authorities’ should definitely or probably be allowed to detain people for as long as they wanted. This was mainly due to the support of 66% of Protestant respondents (only 40% of Catholics concurred) – even though the question offered no limitation whatsoever to the period of potential detention or indeed any restriction to ‘terrorist’ offences.

And this plays out in practical terms…

Even the modest quesiton as to whether protest marches – such as characterised the early civil-rights movement – should be allowed attracted striking differences. This is a fundamental human right in a democratic society, yet one third of respondents, rising to 36% among Protestants, said such demonstrations should probably or definitely not be permitted. No wonder the DUP has expressed such hostility – baffling to many Catholics – to the proposed Northern Ireland bill of rights.

Yet even here one wonders. Since the nature and function of marches is so strikingly different and distinct dependent upon who is marching it is hardly odd that these should manifest in ‘striking differences’ as regards the perception of ‘protest marches’ in such a question. Validations and legitimations of state power, and their converse are unlikely to lead to a similar perception. And the sense that one or other community might gain some sort of ‘upper hand’ is more than likely at the root of these perceptions too.

Underpinning all these responses is a significantly embedded culture of intolerance – hardly surprising, after so many have been so traumatised… the lack of a broader consensus on the fundamental norms of a civic society does not, however, bode well for the stability of power-sharing, now that the two governments have removed the political equivalent of a baby harness…

Hmmm, well, I guess if one were more cynical than me it is possible to argue that there is actually no reason why the first proposition, that a culture of intolerance exists, should per definition lead to the second, a lack of stability of power-sharing. No reason at all. Indeed one might suggest that regrettable or not the existence of such a culture might curiously lead to more stability, particularly in the context of the current dispensation.

But again, one might reasonably ask, why ignore the roots of conflict and trauma that long pre-dated the most recent conflict. What about the role of the Stormont governments post 1920 in this? What too of the British government whose inconsistencies as regards its approach to Nationalists merely echoed their inconsistency towards Unionism in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. An inconsistency which eventually expressed itself in a blithe ignorance and aversion to the realities of Northern Ireland post-partition.

And that this should result in a prolonged ‘hot’ war is not so unusual, although the length of that war is. That the nature of that war can be questioned with considerable justification – as it now is from a variety of quarters, some quite unusual – doesn’t detract from a basic aspect of it. This was a dynamic embedded within broader processes that long predated the late 1960s. And it is curious that Wilson eschews engaging with that in favour of a very short-term view of the conflict and a limited analysis of motivations which seeks to criticise people for emotional responses that appear linked to the short term but which are more clearly a further expression of the long term process and history.

Barack Obama, Joe Biden… and the Irish Americans… and the Irish too… August 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
35 comments

Reading in the Irish Times on Monday last the following fairly irascible piece by Niall O’Dowd one might have reasonably been wondering just what Obama was playing at.

For O’Dowd came to critique, not praise. He made some fair points such as:

…questions are being asked about whether he is quite the racing certainty he appeared after the Democratic race drew to a close in June.

After an impressive victory over Hillary Clinton (whom I supported) the Illinois senator set forth with a wet sail for the White House. Media excitement reached its zenith on the night of his final primary victory and Republicans referred caustically to the “anointed one”.

Since then, however, his campaign has seemed becalmed at times. He remains only three to five points ahead of Senator John McCain in major national polls, while generic Democrats lead Republicans by up to 15 points when the question is asked which party voters will support.

Right across the leadership of the Democratic Party there is an increasing unease that they might somehow blow their best chance at the White House in a generation. An unpopular president, a disastrous war and ailing economy should make this a landslide Democratic year. But yet the polls stubbornly have McCain in a virtual dead heat with Obama.

And that unwelcome name appears again.

Part of Obama’s problem relates to his difficulty in expanding his winning coalition over Hillary Clinton.

He put together African Americans, liberal whites and moderate independents, but never cracked the DNA of the white working class who remain the single biggest voting bloc up for grabs, especially in key states.

Perhaps. We shall see.

Mind you, there are one or two other statements that are – interesting.

We will soon find of if Barack Obama was merely a creation of a powerful left-wing caucus in the Democratic Party who was never going to win a general election, or a leader for the ages who confounds contemporary political wisdom and wins the White House in truly historic fashion.

Obama the creation of a ‘powerful left-wing caucus’? The man who throughout his bid for the nomination played to centrist tropes (even in his handling of the Iraq War issue, which to his credit he voted against). Surely O’Dowd protests too much. Particularly in light of his own analysis of of the coalition that Obama has put together thus far. But then as a piece at the foot of the article notes O’Dowd was not merely a ‘supporter’ but ‘…for a time an active member of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign team’.

And what of:

Meanwhile, in the Irish Echo newspaper last week, Prof John McCarthy, a conservative Catholic commentator, also took issue with Obama’s lack of outreach.

Commenting on his “failure to visit Ireland” on his recent overseas trip, McCarthy stated: “One cannot imagine Hillary Clinton avoiding such a trip . . . surely an aspiring world leader would want to acquaint himself in greater detail with an apparent success story in the resolution of conflict.”

McCarthy went on: “A more likely explanation might well be the unimportance his campaign strategists attach to the Irish vote in America.”

That’s right. They are really really uninterested. And John McCarthy is a disinterested observer of such matters.

Indeed O’Dowd continues:

That could certainly be the case; repeated attempts to have Obama address an Irish presidential forum have failed while it now seems very likely that John McCain will take the opportunity in the near future.

The frustration is mirrored in other ethnic communities I have spoken with and even among old labour supporters. Some of the labour leaders apparently expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of outreach in no uncertain terms in a recent meeting.

Imagine that. It’s quite a charge. Obama indifferent to his roots, and more than that, effectively snubbing them. Political dynamite for an Irish American journalist to be making this close to an election.

What a pity though that he didn’t trouble himself to talk to – say – some Irish people, or indeed the Obama campaign. For curiously the very next day in the Irish Times in a report by Denis Staunton one reads that:

MINISTERS MARY Hanafin and Noel Dempsey and opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore are among the Irish political figures expected to join counterparts from Kenya next week to celebrate Barack Obama’s roots in both countries at a lunch during the Democratic convention in Denver.

That’s right too. Obama, bizarrely looked to both sides of his family…

Mr Obama’s father came to the United States from Kenya but his mother’s family traces its ancestry to Moneygall, Co Offaly.

And far from the gloomy prognosis that O’Dowd relates we read:

Stella O’Leary, president of Irish-American Democrats, who is hosting the lunch, said Mr Obama’s shared ancestry in Ireland and Kenya was part of the “great American story” his candidacy represents.

And better still:

“It’s a great, interesting story and his Irish ancestry is not widely known in America. This is a chance to tell that story to Irish-Americans and to highlight the close bonds between Ireland and Africa,” she said.

But in a further slight to the Irish, and Irish Americans, Obama has selected, not Hillary Clinton, I mean of course… er… hold on. He’s selected another figure entirely.

Step forward, for it is he… Joe Biden. I’d sort of pegged Biden as a bit of a lightweight, not merely for his unusual hair colouring during the campaign for the nomination, but also due to his rather crass (albeit on the fly) comment about Obama which I won’t bother relating here. I caught him on the Daily Show soon after and he handled his appearance fairly deftly and with a degree of self-deprecation that was probably necessary. But his experience on foreign affairs is sterling being a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. One might even term him – for better and for worse – an original ‘liberal interventionist’ for his stance on the Balkans. And he wasn’t shy about supporting the Iraq venture. That said, mitigating that, once the war was in train he did pull back and became a vociferous critic. Regardless, there are many who will wonder about just what sort of person is going to be second in command should Obama make it to the Oval Office. And perhaps with good reason.

On the other hand in political terms he’s a much safer bet than some of the names that were thrown around earlier in the Vice Presidential candidate selection process. How he shores up the ticket is difficult to know. His policy experience presumably is no harm. His old white maleness likewise.

But a lot depends on the Convention this week. I’d draw peoples attention to four key events above and beyond Obama’s words on Thursday. Firstly the input by both Clinton’s. Slate’s Political Gabfest had an interesting take on it suggesting that Bill (Wednesday) might be unable to pass up the opportunity to shine in front of the crowd and, more than likely, would be very positive. The feeling was that Hillary (Tuesday) might be the one to not quite emphatically enough support Obama. I don’t know. Hillary Clinton will presumably want to keep her options open for 2012 should Obama fail… Either way, worth watching. Then there is Ted Kennedy’s pre-recorded video address (not sure what day, probably today) to the Convention. That should be worth checking out, if only because he positioned himself in the Obama camp relatively swiftly. And then we have Michelle Obama’s piece today where probably we can expect to see no hint of her earlier spikiness. Which is a pity, but tells us all we need to know about the nature of contemporary politics. The Slate piece also made the interesting point that whatever about Bill Clinton the guest speaker with real ‘rock star’ appeal was… Al Gore.

Meanwhile spare a thought for the fact that Biden’s 1988 Presidential bid collapsed in part – almost surreally – over his plagiarising a Neil Kinnock speech (which is in a way the equivalent of – say – David Cameron pilfering Mary Harney’s undying prose… shudder). I can’t quite work out is a good thing that Biden was savvy enough to think of a Kinnock speech as worth quoting (which he apparently attributed correctly most of the time), or not so good in that he would take that as his role model. Dangerous reformism. Obviously. ;) I’ll leave that for others to decide.

But on the Irish issue Biden is iron-clad.

Not merely Irish (and what a contest this is all shaping up to be, with Scots-Irish McCain) but a Finnegan on his mothers side. And… Catholic. Roman Catholic!

Neil O’Dowd, read it and veep. Read it and veep. Ahem.

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