Thursday, May 17, 2007

Republican Politics Irish Style

Republican Politics, Irish Style
Published May 17th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my first very first column for Metro Eireann, I said that while I was here in Dublin “I hope to familiarise myself with the political landscape of Ireland.” Having lived here in Dublin, Ireland since last September, now that it is Election Day in the Republic of Ireland I guess it’s time for me to share an American Republican’s perspective on Irish politics.
But before I discuss Ireland’s political parties and my views about their electoral prospects, I want to weigh in with some opinions on the mechanics of the voting process itself. For starters, I think it is much more difficult to exercise your right to vote here in Ireland than it is back in the States.
What gives with this Irish voting procedure that only gives you 2 days to cast absentee ballots? US citizens, within and outside the US can cast absentee ballots by mail for 30 days prior to Election Day, which for all national elections every 2 years is on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November.
For reasons of both convenience and cost, the vast majority of state elections are also held that same day in conjunction with the national elections for Congress and (every four years) for the US Presidency. Furthermore, many states (including my home state of Texas) allow voters to visit designated polling places and cast their votes in person during that same 30 day window prior to Election Day.
One of the main reasons for allowing these early voting dates (including Saturdays) and absentee ballot procedures is to encourage more citizens to vote in local, state and national elections. Many states refer to them as “no excuses” voting measures in recognition of US citizens’ explanations for why they don’t vote more often, if at all.
In spite of these as well as other steps to make voter registration easier, in the last national election only 55% of eligible Americans bothered to vote. As dismal as this number is, the percentage drops to around 40-45 % in state and local elections if there isn’t a national election being held simultaneously. Worse yet, local elections for Mayor or city councils may draw as few as 20% of eligible voters to the polls.
The reason I am dwelling on this issue is because I see Ireland following this same path as the US, in terms of declining voter turnout over the last 30 years, from almost 78% in 1970 to under 63% in 2002. What I don’t see are steps by the government to address this issue. Calling for a national election on the Thursday before a bank holiday doesn’t strike me as a tactic designed to encourage voter turnout. In fact if I may be so bold as to make a prediction, I think participation in this year’s national election will probably drop below 60%.
On the other hand, I do like the fact that Ireland allows non-Irish citizens the right to vote in local elections. On this point, the US still has a long way to go, since only US citizens can vote in any local, state or national elections. Many US states go even further and do not allow US citizens who have been convicted of a felony to vote either. I find it shameful that while Ireland may one day allow its non-Irish residents the right to also vote in Dail and national elections, the US still won’t allow all of its own citizens this same privilege
I am also aware that Thursdays are the traditional election days here in Ireland much like the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is back in the states. But I find it ironic that this same government justified its decision to schedule Ireland’s first ever nation-wide Saturday election in 2002 in order to facilitate voting by students and younger workers in Dublin in a second vote on an EU treaty.
The government said it wanted to give them time to travel to their homes outside of Dublin and vote on a EU treaty. It must have worked since voter turnout was 50% higher in the second election, but apparently Bertie doesn’t feel as strongly about them voting in Ireland’s first national election in 5 years. I wonder why?
Could it be that the government was aware that those students and workers living in Dublin were more likely to vote in favour of this EU Treaty, (which the government was backing), than other voters in rural and western Ireland who had not experienced the same benefits of EU membership? Hmmm, I think it could be.
Is it possible that this same government is also aware that those students and young workers in Dublin do not remember the bad economic times, which makes them more sympathetic to charges that the current government has been wasteful and slow in improving health services and thus more likely to vote in favour of changing the governing coalition? Hmmm, this appears to be quite plausible to me as well.
What I can tell you with a high degree of certainty, is that my own Republican Party in the US, is very wary of high voter turnout in urban areas. Why? Because students and younger workers in urban areas tend to vote for the opposing Democratic Party in addition to the Democrat’s historic constituency of organized labour, lower income minorities and the urban poor.
Up until the 1970’s Democrats also received a majority of the lower to middle income working class votes as well. But that traditional Democratic constituency started to vote Republican in the southern and western parts of the US when Nixon was elected and has been solidly Republican ever since Regan was elected in 1980.
Republicans currently rely on older, middle and upper income constituents who live in suburban and rural areas as well as the working class voters in the western and southern states for most of their voting support. Since a higher percentage of older voters tend to go to the polls than younger and or minority voters, a low voter turnout also gives the Republicans and their constituents an edge in close elections.
Next week I will discuss my perspective on Ireland’s political parties and coalitions in what looks to be a very close and tightly contested national election.

US Ambassador Foley discusses Bush's climate change policies

Republican Politics, American Style
Published May 10th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

US Ambassador Thomas Foley began his talk at Dublin City University (DCU) by telling the audience what he hoped to accomplish with this appearance. He started out by trying to frame the issue in terms of where the US stood relative to other countries in Europe as regards energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions as suggested in the Kyoto Protocol.
The Ambassador was on pretty firm ground here and some of the facts he referenced may have come as a surprise to some audience members. He got the bad news out of the way early by acknowledging that the US was indeed the world’s biggest polluter in terms of generating green house gases. He duly noted statistics which for example show that on a per person basis, the US generated more than 2 times as much carbon based wastes as the average German, 3 times more than the French and 40% more than the average Irish resident. From this point on, the Ambassador moved into a defensive justification or attack mode.
He said that while the US was the largest polluter in terms of total carbon wastes generated by a single country, it would be overtaken this year by China. While I think this comment was a bit of a stretch since this won’t actually happen until 2009, I will nonetheless concede this point. But the Ambassador also failed to mention that China has over one billion more citizens than the US, which means the Chinese will still only be generating 25% of the carbon wastes that are generated by the average American once it does become the world’s biggest polluting nation.
Ambassador Foley then went on to defend the US decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol because it assigned mandatory emission limits for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to each signatory nation. He said that the 30% cuts in carbon emissions demanded of the US would have caused serious economic problems had the US agreed to these limitations. Mr. Foley then noted that Australia, which like the US relies on coal to generate much of its electricity, had also declined to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Ambassador Foley went on to say that the US wanted to ensure that carbon gas emission limits were also applied to countries such as China, which is not required to cut emissions under the current treaty. I must agree with him on this issue.
The Ambassador then pointed out that even though the US had not agreed to the limits, it had nonetheless done a better job of cutting the rate of growth in its carbon gas emissions than the EU countries which had signed the Kyoto Protocol. It may have come as a bit of a surprise to some in the audience that the US had cut this rate of growth to a level that was 40% less than the the EU average. But he also failed to mention that it is much easier to cut one’s rate of growth when you are already generating wastes at a much higher level than nations you are comparing yourself to.
President Bush’s strategy to tackle global warming basically relies on scientific developments and voluntary measures, rather than curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions.As part of his sales pitch to pesuade the audience that the Bush administration is seriously doing something to address the problem of global warming, Ambassador Foley outlined three methods being used to cut US green house gas emissions followed by an assessment of each method’s impact
First he mentioned greater energy efficiency being derived from the use of low wattage flourescent light bulbs and better home insulation. He then noted that even if this method was broadly utilized it would, at best, result in a 20-30% increase in energy efficiency which would be equivalent to the growth of energy consumption.
Secondly, he referred to the use of alternative sources of energy such as wind, hydro, solar and nuclear. He mentioned France as a country which emits less green house gases per person, largely because it derives 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy. The Ambassador then stated that while the US obtains about 18% of its electricity from such sources currently, their contribution was likely to drop in the near future due to the long lead times involved in bringing these types of power generation on line. In fact it has been almost thirty years since the US ordered its last nuclear plant, due to the US public’s fears about nuclear accidents after the near meltdown at Three Mile Island and the subsequent release of the anti-nuclear plant movie “The China Syndrome”.
Finally, the Ambassador alluded to the recapture of carbon emissions and sequestration of green house gases through the use of rapid reforestration, which involves planting new forests of trees on land which is no longer being used for agriculture. The impact of this program is hard to quantify, but suffice to say it is not going to result in major reductions in green house gas emissions.
By outlining all of the available “voluntary” measures for reducing green house gas emissions, Ambassador Foley had thus set the stage for what President Bush touts as the ultimate solution, new technologies. The Ambassador cited the need for technological breakthroughs in the development of fuel cells and nuclear fusion as sources of clean energy which could then be used to replace carbon based energy sources. But to realize this goal entails continuing to grow economically so that money can be generated to invest in these new technology solutions.
Noticeably absent from Ambassador Foley’s discussion of President Bush’s proposals to reduce green house gases are federal government regulations to increase automobile fuel economy standards and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The Ambassador noted that individual states like California had always led the way in this area and that the US government would follow once a consensus had emerged at the state level. However, as I mentioned in my previous column, the US Supreme Court recently chastized Bush appointees at the EPA for refusing to regulate automobile emissions of green house gases as mandated by existing federal laws.
Nor was any mention made of a separate and unanimous Supreme Court ruling which said that the EPA also had authority over factories and power plants that add generating capacity or make renovations that increase emissions of air pollutants. One must therefore conclude that the Bush administration’s refusal to uphold existing federal laws governing green house gas emissions by automobiles and power plants is seriously at odds with the Ambassador’s contention that President Bush is very concerned about this problem and is actively working to address it.
While I believe the US Ambassador was being sincere and honest in discussing what he believes the Bush administration is doing to address climate change, the actions of the Bush administration thus far speak much louder than Ambassador Foley’s words.