Browsing the archives for the Politics tag.

The shooting party

Culture, European culture(s), European Politics, Politics

The Tagesspiegel reports that Hell’s Angels and militant neo-Nazis are fighting out a bloody feud in the northernmost German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

It all apparently started in 2007, when a Nazi stabbed a Hell’s Angel in a fight over debts, and the Hell’s Angel barely survived. The trial about that case was supposed to take place last August, but had to be suspended when dozens of neo-Nazis and Hell’s Angels battled it out in front of the court house. During that fight, Peter Borchert stabbed a leading Hell’s Angel. Borchert is the former chair of the National Democratic Party, which received 2% of the vote in the last elections in the state. He’s already done a stint in jail for illegal arms trade.

Now two unknown, masked men have shot the brother of the Nazi who started it all back in 2007 – and who was supposed to testify in the court case. He was shot on the parking place of a swimming pool.

The Tagesspiegel dryly notes that the Angels are “involved in activities related to tattoo studios, gastronomy, bouncer services, fight sports and online mail ordering” as well as connections with the prostitution sector and, it is suspected, illegal anabolics trade … “to some extent there are overlaps in the above-mentioned commercial sectors with members of the extreme right.”

Right.

So … how wrong is it if, as a normally passionate proponent of the rule of law, you’re not all too bothered when neo-Nazis and Hells Angels start taking each other out?

Bernd the Bread, with friends

Bernd the Bread, with friends

In other news from Germany today, a two-metre high statue of Bernd the Bread, a local children’s show character, was found back in abandoned barracks after protesting squatters kidnapped it from the town square of Erfurt two weeks ago.

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Glad to see Daschle go

Politics, US Politics

Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious echoes the sentiment that the real reason Daschle should be seen as bowing out should be “the revelations that he advised insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands giving speeches to industry groups”, not that he didn’t pay taxes on the free limo.

I’d say both reasons work. I think one of the most damning bits was actually about Daschle apparently having lobbied Obama for his financial patron, the very “old politics” Leo Hindery, to get a plum job in the administration. But TNR’s Eve Fairbanks eloquently made the case for even the limo thing to really count as well.

Meanwhile, though, Neil wonders that it can’t just have been the tax thing in any case, because – hey:

Geithner had tax issues too, and wasn’t a former colleague of lots and lots of Senators, and hadn’t helped Obama out very early on. So you’re going to need another variable to explain why Daschle had to pull out.

Hm – that one seems easy – dumb luck of the draw. Geithner was the first one in.

A new administration can wrestle one controversial appointment through on the argument that, yes, there are practical problems, but the guy’s just too uniquely qualified to pass on. But try to do that two or even three times in a row – when you’ve actively campaigned on clean government and breaking with business as usual – and you’ve got the potential of a backlash on your hands. And Obama’s got more reason than most incoming Presidents to want to hold off on any budding backlash among his own voters.

The luck of the draw part is that they could get away with Geithner; there’s always going to be some embarassing hurdle with some appointee. But then the problems with Daschle right on the heels of that? And even as that story was gaining traction, news breaking on Nancy Killefer’s nanny tax problem? That’s impressions potentially spinning out of control, and needing to be clamped down on.

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

I don’t think it would have been the same if economic times were good, when people, themselves enjoying the boom, would have been more tolerant to rich people’s foibles. Not now. It would also not have been the same if Obama had campaigned as an experienced old hand who knew the inside workings of administration. Then stuff like this would have been taken more as par for the course. But this was getting far too off-message, at the wrong time.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how even passionate fellow Obama supporters have come out against Daschle’s appointment once the scale of his foibles broke, actually. TPM’s Matt Cooper still made the point the other day that “the blogs are not on fire,” no real opinion-makers were coming out harshly against Daschle (yeah – Glenn Greenwald), and so he’d probably still be OK. But that was besides the point, or at least suggests he didn’t read the comments sections. It’s hard to tell from over here, but just going on what appeared online it seems the reaction among regular people, Democratic voters, liberals who aren’t professional pundits, was beginning to congeal into a groundswell of disapproval of sorts. I imagine many phones must have been ringing with constituent calls.

The issue with that is that Obama has made clear that one of his main strategies to push change through, even as he opts for bipartisan civility in DC, will be to mobilise civil society. To mobilise the energy of the campaign and use ‘pressure from below’ as a tool to persuade members of Congress and decision-makers to support the changes he champions. So he needs to avoid, at least for a while still, any impression taking root that he is just business as usual after all, new boss same as the old boss etc. I think he was wise to pull the plug.

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Money raised versus result achieved: The Senate ’08 sweepstakes

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Excel sheet: US Senate candidates 2008 - results and efficiency of financial investment

Chris Bowers last week linked through to a site I hadn’t seen yet, noting that The Green Papers has the final popular vote and fundraising totals for all 2008 U.S. House of Representatives election campaigns. They cover all candidates too, not just those of the main two parties.

Bowers does a good job analysing the numbers, and above all, brings the good news:

The final popular vote percentages were 53.08%-42.55%, giving Democrats a 10.53% victory. This is the largest popular vote percentage victory for either party in either a Presidential or Congressional election since 1984 (the next largest victory was Bill Clinton with 8.51% in 1996). It is the first double-digit victory for any party in a national election in 24 years. That, truly, is a historical butt-whooping.

Turns out the Green Papers site has the same data for the Senate races. Fascinating stuff for political geeks. What caught my attention in particular is how the money the candidates raised compared to the votes they got. In short: how did their investments pay off?

So what I’ve done, in turn, is add a couple of columns to the data table, to calculate how much the candidates raised for every single vote they received, and for every single percentage point they won. The file is up at Google Docs. (It would arguably have been better to use the data for how much money they actually spent, but that would involve making a similar effort to The Green Papers’ and gathering the data for 2-4 candidates in each of 50 races from the FEC site onself).

Time then, to declare some winners!

Most expensive Senate race of 2008

As you’ll have guessed, that was the Minnesota race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. The two men raised $20.5 million and $18.0 million, respectively. That translates to $488 thousand and $430 thousand for each percentage point of the vote they ended up winning – which ranks Al and Norm as #1 and 2 when it comes to raising the most money per percentage point won.

Don’t forget that Minnesota’s a fairly populous state, though. When it comes to how much money they had to raise for each individual vote they won, they rank a more modest #10 and 11. Meaning that they had to raise “only” – ponder this for a second – $17 and $15 for every single vote they won.

Most money spent on each individual vote

You’d think that states with small populations would also cost less to campaign in. This is true – up to a point, apparently. The top of this list is filled with candidates from “small” states, who made Franken and Coleman look practically callous about the individual voter’s worth.

Your vote was worth most up in Alaska. Mark Begich raised a total of $4.4 million – which translates to a royal $29 for every single vote he received. His opponent, Ted “bring home the pork” Stevens, was right up there too and raised a stunning $26 per vote – in vain.

Max Baucus from Montana and the two contenders in the New Hampshire race, John Sununu and Jeanne Shaheen, also ended up raising at least $23 per vote.

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You spin me right round, baby, like a record, baby, right round

Politics, US Politics
Image adapted from / shared by Bradley Allen under CC license

(Adapted from / shared by Bradley Allen / CC license)

Last week, Chris Bowers summarised the Republican strategy on the stimulus bill:

[T]he actual Republican strategy is not to offer an alternative, but to:

  1. Complain about one small aspect of the bill at a time, such as contraception funding, non-existent CBO reports, non-existent earmarks and, now, ACORN.
  2. Demand that, in the name of bi-partisanship, that small aspect of the stimulus be dropped.
  3. Secure meetings with Obama, in order for these complaints and demands to appear relevant to the national media.
  4. Hope that, as Digby notes, Democrats in Congress and / or liberal activists grow publicly angry with President Obama if / when he makes these concessions in order to secure more Republican votes. Thus, Republicans are fulfilling Obama’s vision (even though they oppose the stimulus) while Democrats are thwarting it (even though they are writing and supporting the stimulus).

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Quite.

The news yesterday features the latest ride on the merry-go-round:

Senate GOP leader criticizes auto provision in stimulus bill

The Senate’s top Republican criticized a key provision for automakers in an $819 billion House stimulus bill.

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky., criticized a provision to give the federal government $600 million to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, calling it “wasteful spending.”

He told CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that the provision shouldn’t be in the stimulus bill, and ridiculed it as “$600 million to buy new cars for government workers.”

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The coup that wasn’t?

Politics, US Politics

It seemed like such a genius move: tempt a Republican Senator who was facing less than pleasant electoral prospects into accepting a Cabinet job, and in one blow gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. No wonder Republicans freaked when the name of New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg was first floated for the Commerce Secretary job.

Amid liberal dissatisfaction about recent moves by Obama on the stimulus bill and Geithner’s and Daschle’s appointments, this was suddenly a move Democrats could applaud in incredulous glee. What a coup!

But now what? The Republican Senate leadership has reversed from “mounting a full-court press to keep [Gregg] in the Senate” to openly embracing his appointment. Mitch McConnell says there’s a deal, and that New Hampshire’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, will appoint a Republican in Gregg’s place. (Actually, he phrases it somewhat more cautiously as someone who “would caucus with Senate Republicans”.)

So what will the upshot be? Gregg is no Jim Jeffords, or even an Olympia Snowe. He’s a Republican for real. Check Congressional Quarterly’s comprehensive analysis of roll call voting patterns. According to its Presidential Support ranking, Gregg voted according to Bush’s preference 82% of the time in 2008 (only eight Republicans voted with Bush more often). Its Party Unity ranking shows that when a majority of Democrats faced off against a majority of Republicans, Gregg voted with the Republican majority 95% of the time. Sam Brownback was more of a dissident than Gregg. As a sour Democrat told the HuPo, Gregg is “a fiscal conservative, would likely oppose the president’s stimulus package, and has cast a “fair amount of gotcha votes” while in office.”

So at the end of this manoeuvre, will Obama have appointed a true conservative in exchange for – well, pretty much no strategical gains? Yes, I suppose a freshman Republican Senator who will have been appointed in Gregg’s place will be easier to beat in ’10 than Gregg would have been. But Gregg was himself already strongly at risk of defeat, so that’s a marginal advantage. Maybe you could argue that at least Lynch might appoint a somewhat more explicitly moderate Republican in Gregg’s place – but that seems an odd rationale for appointing the conservative guy to a Cabinet position.

Maybe, as Jason Zengerle suggests, Lynch wants to run for Senate himself in ’10, and is therefore happy to appoint a Republican ‘placeholder’, so he won’t face an incumbent in ’10. But there again the strategic plus for the Dems is marginal – US Rep. Hodes would stand a good chance too, in either case, and is more of a committed Democrat than Lynch at that. So what’s the deal?

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Will the grapes of the House GOP’s wrath turn out to be sweet for the Democrats?

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Economy, US Politics

I already noted that the significant dilution of the stimulus bill, when it was only going to be rejected unanimously by the House GOP anyway, drove some people up the wall. “Now that [Obama has] offered concrete concessions to the GOP only to have them publicly throw them back in his face, there simply isn’t any super-secret strategy that can [..] make it all make sense,” wrote Stephen Suh angrily at Cogitamus. Why bother even striving for compromise?

This question will get more acute by the day, as a recent post by Kevin Drum illustrates. He reports on the Obama administration’s push to extend the February 17 deadline for TV stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions. Not exactly a hotly partisan issue, right? The Senate promptly arrived at a bipartisan bill – which it passed unanimously. Every Republican agreed. But then the bill went to the House.

Only 22 House Republicans voted in favour. 155 voted against it. Drum: “100% of Senate Republicans voted in favor but 90% of House Republicans voted against. Shazam! Apparently the House GOP caucus really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.” He posits: “This is even more of a wakeup call than the vote on the stimulus bill.”

Right. The House GOP leadership is startlingly open about its intentions too, observes Dan at Bleakonomy. It will block and obstruct whatever comes its way, so Republicans can freely blame the Democrats for everything when the economy hasn’t recovered yet in six months. Yes, six months – if things haven’t improved in six months, the Republicans intend to say that it’s all the Dems’ fault and that the stimulus “didn’t work” because they “didn’t have the input in this”.

Of course, the current crisis is turning out to be the worst in almost three decades and is guaranteed to have an impact lasting (much) longer than six months, so … GOP profit!

Yet still there are valid reasons not to come down on Stephen’s side of the argument … yet. (I mean, apart from the stimulus bill not actually being all that bad.) The obvious one is the enormous contrast between House and Senate Republicans on the TV bill. If the Senate GOP shows any remotely similar divergence from the House Republicans’ obstruction course on the stimulus as well, Obama’s strategy may still come to “make sense”.

Then there’s the question of strategy. I already linked to Josh Marshall’s argument that offering the Republicans significant compromises, only for them to reject everything anyway, will help to brand them as the party of ‘no’. Which will marginalise them even further in 2010 so the Dems can go the long haul. Kevin Drum links to more evidence on that count too: a poll conducted by Democracy Corps on January 14-19.

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Janus face

Politics, US Politics
(Image shared under CC-license by Judith Green)

(Image shared under CC-license by Judith Green)

How odd that the election of the new chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) should end in a dead heat between a Southern, “true” conservative who had to admit only just having left a whites-only country club, and a black Republican from Maryland who stood accused of being too moderate.

Kudos to the Republicans for recognizing just in time which way political suicide laid, and turning the other way at the last moment. All the sordid details about Michael Steele’s narrow victory over Katon Dawson and the terminally slow drop-outs of all the other candidates in a surprisingly enjoyable Twitter feed from the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza.

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What liberal media?

Media / journalism, Politics, US Politics

During the Bush administration, Think Progress noted yesterday:

the media consistently allowed conservatives to dominate their shows, booking them as guests far more often than progressives. The rationale was that Republicans were “in power.”

Well, now they no longer are. Same difference, TP notes, after turfing how many Republican and Democratic lawmakers were hosted on the five cable news networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC) to discuss the economic stimulus plan during the days ahead of the House vote.

Particularly striking: CNN, that supposedly liberal bulwark, gave the mike to exactly one Democratic lawmaker (Sen. Sherrod Brown) and seven Republicans, which included such well-known figureheads as Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Tom Price and such mainstream voices of reason as Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Coburn.

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Questions and answers

Culture, European Politics, Media / journalism, Politics, US culture, US Politics

First things first

Foremost (h/t The Plank): The question to guide your day-to-day life in this new era.

Rush Limbaugh, conservative giant

Also via The Plank: Who is Rush Limbaugh? According to Republican Congressman Phil Gingrey, yesterday, “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don’t have to try to do what’s best for your people and your party. You know you’re just on these talk shows and you’re living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of that thing.”

But he had that all wrong, he realised today, after some constituents helpfully called in to remind him. In reality, he corrected himself in a statement titled “Gingrey comments on Rush misunderstanding,” Rush Limbaugh is not just a “voice [..] of the conservative movement’s conscience”, but … a “conservative giant”.

Who are the hottest professors?

In love with your prof? If so, he/she is likely to lecture languages. There is “Real Social Scientific Data” (mind your footnotes) on the relative hotness of the different disciplines, which comes via Prof. Henry Farrell (Political Science, ranked fifth) at the Monkey Cage.

Law and criminal justice take a prominent second and fourth place (out of 36) in the ranking, which might please fellow blogger Joefromchicago. Unsurprisingly, engineering, computer science and chemistry rank at the bottom, so pity the poor professors in those duller disciplines — after all, tenure without temptation is like aspersions without alliteration.

Economists, however (ranked 30th) have reason to harbour hope, judging on Shivaji’s observation that they’re up next to be fetishized by pop culture:

After the phenomenal success of books such as Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Armchair Economist [..], every economist is under pressure to come up with some innovative approach to explain mundane things in life. Forget earlier topics like “Why aid doesn’t work in Africa” or “Implications of direct cash grants on Philips curve” that used to keep economists intrigued; the best talent in business are now looking for more relevant topics. And even though some of the most pressing issues facing mankind such as “Overpricing of the hotel mini-bar” (Tim Harford) and “socioeconomic patterns of naming children” (Steven Levitt) have already been worked upon, there still remain some fundamental questions that remain unanswered. For example, “How many love songs are written for every break-up song and why” or “why do men wash underwear less frequently than women”, or “Why does Ronald McDonald not get fat”? 

Where are Americans moving to? And from?

Talking about comparative hotness – which states of the US are hemorrhaging homes, and which ones are rapidly reeling in the residents? Earlier this month, Patrick Ottenhoff dug into the demographics on domestic migration between 2000 and 2008, and put up a map on The Electoral Map. It’s not as simple as cities versus flyover country, he emphasises: loser states cover a contiguous chunk of territory from Massachusetts to Nebraska, while most of the states strongly gaining ground are clustered together in the West and on the Atlantic seaboard from Virginia to Florida.

What’s the real reason Putin handpicked Medvedev for President?

Of course, or so the cheekier of conventional wisdoms go: term-limited out of the Presidential office, Putin needed someone to keep his seat warm while he played Prime Minister for a few years, so he could return to the Presidency soon enough. But why Medvedev?

Why, his luxurious head of hair of course. It’s the only way the steely-eyed leader could deal with the longstanding law of succession when it comes to ruling Russia. Lenin – bald; Stalin – hairy; Khrushchev – bald; Brezhnev – hairy; well, you get the idea. Gorbachev was bald, Yeltsin hairy, and well – let’s be honest, Putin isn’t particularly blessed in this regard.

By choosing Dmitry last year, Putin bent the Bald-Hairy Theory of Russian Leaders to his will to power – and the two can rule till death do them part.

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Bernie Sanders’ beef with Geithner

Economy, Politics, US Politics, World Economy

Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont, was one of the members of the Democratic caucus who voted against the confirmation of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. He has his statement about why he did so up now. It’s short, and has nothing to do with Geithner’s tax problems; Bernie’s criticism is more systemic:

Massive deregulation of the financial services industry has led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  We need a treasury secretary who will support strong and robust regulation of the financial services sector.  

“Mr. Geithner was at the Fed and the Treasury Department when the deregulatory fervor that got us into this mess ran rampant. He was part of the problem.  I hope he becomes part of the solution, but I could not support his nomination at this time.

Meanwhile, I dug up this link from 1998 that may provide a bit of backstory hinting at the larger ideological disagreements at play. Back then, Bernie was still in the House, and Geithner was Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at Clinton’s Treasury Department. Geithner came to the House to testify in a review of the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Later on, of course, Geithner would himself move to the IMF. 

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Bernie Sanders (Image shared under CC license by the Udall Legacy Bus Tour)

Sanders was (and I assume still is) a harsh critic of the IMF, as his introduction in the review illustrates, and had a rather contentious exchange with Geithner, in which he accused him of disobeying the law. Why, for one – he asked citing the State Department’s human rights reports on Indonesia – did the US not vote against IMF loans to General Suharto’s Indonesia? Why did it not oppose IMF loans to authoritarian governments that violate human rights and jail labor leaders?

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Why did Sanders, Feingold, Harkin and Byrd vote against Geithner?

Economy, Politics, US Economy, US Politics

The Senate yesterday voted to confirm Tim Geithner as Obama’s new Treasury Secretary – but the vote was narrower than expected, at 60-34. Apparently, it was the slimmest margin of confirmation for a Treasury Secretary since WWII.

Among those who voted nay were the Democrats Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin and Robert Byrd, as well as Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist from Vermont who was elected as independent but caucuses with the Democrats. I’m generally a fan of Feingold and especially Sanders, and lukewarm about Geithner (not so much about the tax issue as rather because he’s too cautious and too involved in the current failings of the financial system). So I’m curious why they went all out and voted against him.

I tried searching for any statements from them on the matter, but there’s nothing on any of their Senate homepages. For Byrd, all I found (in three zillion copies of a news agency report) is that he commented after the vote, “Had he not been nominated for treasury secretary, it’s doubtful that he would have ever paid these taxes.” But Firedoglake has the statement from Feingold. For him, too, it was the tax issue that did it:

“I voted against the nomination of Timothy Geithner to be the next Secretary of the Treasury with some reluctance. President Obama, like any other President, is entitled to have the Cabinet he wants, barring  serious disqualifying issue, and Mr. Geithner is a very able nominee in many ways. And while I am troubled by Mr. Geithner’s track record on some of the issues that have contributed to the credit market crisis, I do not base my vote on what is, to a certain extent, a matter of policy disagreement.

“Mr. Geithner’s tax liability is a different matter, however. I am deeply troubled by his failure to pay the payroll taxes he owed, despite repeated alerts from his employer at the time, the International Monetary Fund, that he was responsible for paying those taxes. Moreover, his earlier interactions with the Internal Revenue service over his failure to pay sufficient payroll taxes for his household employees make Mr. Geithner’s explanations of his failure to pay his own payroll taxes even less satisfactory. The failure to comply with our nation’s tax laws would be problematic for any Cabinet nominee, but it is especially disturbing when it involves the individual who will be charged with overseeing the enforcement of our tax laws.

“With the condition the economy is in, and the state of our country’s financial institutions, the stakes could not be greater for the next Treasury Secretary. While I could not support his nomination, I respect Mr. Geithner’s abilities and I look forward to working with him to address the serious problems facing our country.”

Meanwhile, the Radio Iowa blog has the statement from Tom Harkin. For him, the tax issue and Geithner’s co-responsibility for the current crisis as chief regulator of the financial institutions weighed equally in his decision:

“I strongly believe that, save in extraordinary circumstances, the President should have the right to select his own team.  President Obama believes that Mr. Geithner is the best person for this job, and it pains me to go against the President’s wishes on this matter.

“I believe that Mr. Geithner is a person of obvious talent and experience, and I bear no ill will toward him whatsoever.  However, after careful deliberation, I simply could not overcome my very serious reservations about this nominee for two reasons. Mr. Geithner made serious errors of judgment in failing to pay his taxes, and he made serious errors in his job as chief regulator of the financial institutions at the heart of the current financial crisis.

“Nothing would make me happier than for Mr. Geithner to prove me wrong by serving with distinction. I wish him every success as Treasury Secretary – we will all be rooting for his success.”

If anyone sees the statement by Bernie Sanders, do leave a link in the comments. UPDATE: Sanders’ statement is in the next blog post.

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The bright side of Northern Ireland’s strange politics

European Politics, Politics

Chekov at Three Thousand Versts of Loneliness highlights the extent to which the most unusual of political alliances has entrenched itself in Northern Ireland. For a little over two years now, the government is made up of Sinn Fein – the long-time political arm of the IRA – and the DUP, the hardline Unionist party that was led for close to fourty years by the rabblerousing Rev. Paisley.

An odd couple indeed, but one that’s digging its heels in – and in turn has the opposition unifying across religious lines. When the Catholic SDLP and the Ulster Unionists joined up last week with the non-sectarian Alliance in an attempt to block government legislation, First Minister Robinson (DUP) called theirs an “unholy” alliance, which understandably has the Ulster Unionists in a tizzy:

Yesterday, in an ill-tempered display, First Minister Robinson hit out at the UUP, Alliance and SDLP for co-operating on the Financial Assistance Bill. He had the cheek to describe the three parties as an ‘unholy alliance’ – on the same day as he and his party trooped into the voting lobbies 6 times with their friends in Sinn Fein.

3 democratic political parties co-operating to hold the First Minister and deputy First Minister to account is positive, democratic politics – Messers Robinson and McGuinness clubbing together in a power-grab is truly ‘unholy’. [..]

[T]he closeness of the DUP-Sinn Fein alliance is now obvious for all to see. Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing, but united by their arrogant contempt for those parties who dare to hold them up to scrutiny in the Assembly. Mr. Robinson was entirely right that an unholy alliance exists – the problem is that it is an alliance of his party and his colleagues in Sinn Fein.

Eloquent – I love the “Two parties, conceived in sectarianism and bound together by a mutual loathing” bit. And yet, there’s something reassuring about seeing a cross-sectarian opposition arguing against a cross-sectarian government and making the kind of accusations (bulldozering through legislation and the like) that could feature in any country.

An opposition primarily identifying itself, not along religious or nationalist lines, but as a “positive, democratic” alliance whose first priority is enforcing accountability and good governance – even if it’s all situational, that’s a long way from Northern Ireland’s not all too distant past.

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