Mary Lou McDonald does a sharp line in scorn. When Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, and other party chiefs said they would not rule with her nationalist Sinn Féin party, she retorted: “These three wise men of failed government and broken promises still believe that they’re going to have things all their own way.”
As it turned out, it was McDonald who got her own way — in a seismic election victory last weekend that took her party, long on the fringes, to the brink of power in Dublin. Sinn Féin was a political pariah for decades because of its support for the IRA’s deadly 30-year campaign to force Britain out of Northern Ireland. Now McDonald has engineered a historic leap forward for the party in the Irish Republic, breaking the duopoly of established parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, that have dominated since the 1920s.
This made her a contender to succeed Varadkar, becoming the first female taoiseach, after winning the popular vote and the second-highest number of seats in the Dáil assembly. She would use a place in government to campaign for a referendum on a united Ireland, the party’s number one objective. “Now is our time,” she told a packed meeting of newly elected MPs on Thursday. It was an echo of the IRA war cry “Tiocfaidh ár lá,” or “Our day will come.”
Yet McDonald, aged 50, presents a different image to the generation of leaders who took the IRA into the peace agreement. Sinn Féin’s many critics recoil at the IRA’s legacy of murder and lawlessness. McDonald insists the war is over. Once she took a television crew on a supermarket shopping trip. The image was far removed from balaclava-wearing paramilitaries. Instead it was of a busy working mother of two checking the price of prawns and seeking out a breakfast cereal. “The Mary Lou factor is huge, especially among a lot of women,” said Aengus Ó Snodaigh, a Sinn Féin MP since 2002.
McDonald grew up in Rathgar, a middle-class suburb of Dublin. She was educated at a private Catholic school before attending Trinity College Dublin, an elite university that was a bastion of British rule for centuries. She first joined Fianna Fáil, long the country’s biggest party. But her friend Nora Comiskey, a veteran Fianna Fáil activist, said her departure was no surprise: “One night she was talking about united Ireland ideas and the way people should be treated by their government, and I said to her casually: ‘You’re in the wrong party, Mary Lou. I don’t think that’s Fianna Fáil at all.’ I missed her greatly.”
Gerry Adams, McDonald’s predecessor, marked her out early as a potential Sinn Féin leader. As a young politician on the rise in 2004, she helped carry the coffin of Joe Cahill, a veteran IRA chief who was a colossus in the republican movement. Her rhetoric can be strident but her down-to-earth manner and personal warmth on the doorsteps cut through with voters and made a stark contrast with the stiff Varadkar.
“She’s a breath of fresh air,” said Jamie Morrissey, a personal trainer from Limerick, one of many young people who turned to Sinn Féin at the ballot box, put off by the stale politics of the established parties. “She is good on the canvass trail and comes across as friendly and good-humoured, and communicates well with the ordinary voter,” said Deaglán de Bréadún, author of a book on Sinn Féin’s rise in mainstream politics. “She can also be tough and formidable.”
McDonald now holds the balance of power in a highly fragmented parliament but lacks allies for a majority. Her efforts to team up with the Greens and other left-wing parties came to nothing on Friday as the party accepted it will need to align with one of its big rivals. Neither Fine Gael’s Varadkar, nor Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, will work with her because of Sinn Féin’s IRA links and its promises to ramp up spending and taxes on the wealthy and business. The established parties claim Sinn Féin’s leftist agenda will put Ireland’s economy, which is highly dependent on foreign direct investment, at risk.
Barely eight months ago, Sinn Féin did not seem like much of a threat. McDonald’s leadership was in trouble after the party sunk to less than 10 per cent in local elections. But they changed tactics. “They were all about shouting from the sidelines and crying crisis, and suddenly they came up with solutions,” said Ipsos pollster Kieran O’Leary.
McDonald’s party stressed its own proposals to improve the health service and address Ireland’s chronic shortage of affordable housing. Her political opponents said these were unrealistic but they struck a chord, especially with the young.
In the years of austerity following Ireland’s 2008 crash, McDonald threw herself into social causes. She backed the repeal of a constitutional ban on abortion, becoming a prominent liberal face in a 2018 referendum that passed by a two-thirds majority. “Sinn Féin captured the mood quite well: that we cannot be prisoners of our past,” says O’Leary.
One persistent criticism is that McDonald is not fully in control of a party that is still in thrall to people with IRA links. Peadar Tóibín, who left Sinn Féin over its support for abortion, said its discipline was a strength but also a weakness. “There’s no room for dissent . . . she’s a cog in the system rather than the driver of the vehicle. She doesn’t have the same political gravity that Gerry Adams had, in the sense that not all wings of the party would really warm to her,” he said. “That could cause her problems in the future.”
© The Financial Times Limited 2020. All Rights Reserved. Not to be redistributed, copied or modified in anyway.
Two Religion Reporters Cover Where Faith and Politics Meet – The New York Times
Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.
The discourse surrounding the background of the Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the support of white evangelicals for President Trump has deepened political divisions in the country, and the conversations are two examples of why it’s important to understand conservative Christians and their impact. For our religion reporters, Ruth Graham and Elizabeth Dias, covering more political stories as the election draws nearer has become inevitable. We asked them a few questions about digging into the facts on the faith beat.
What challenges do you face covering religion in the United States?
RUTH GRAHAM One challenge in this particular moment is that the pandemic has made reporting so much harder. That’s true on every beat, of course, but religious observance in particular has so many sensory elements that really have to be experienced in person: music, prayers, food, décor, incense, emotion. Calling people up on the phone and asking direct questions about their beliefs will never capture it all.
ELIZABETH DIAS The polarized political climate has made reporters’ jobs harder all around. I’ve found conservatives are increasingly wary of talking with us no matter what the story is, from sexual abuse in evangelical churches to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. That means these important stories often take longer to do because access to accurate information is harder to get.
Religion and politics seem inseparable these days. Has that always been the case, or has something shifted?
GRAHAM I think they seem inseparable partly because it’s election season, and as journalists we tend to view things through that lens ourselves. For ordinary believers, the connection is not always so clear. Some people clearly draw a connection between their faith and their views on national politics; others definitely don’t. I try to keep that in mind as a reporter and not force every story into a political frame.
DIAS Religion and politics both reflect shared, larger questions. They are both about power. They are both about people. They are both about how people structure life together. For centuries religion was politics, and it still is today in many parts of the world — the Vatican is a city state. Each generation works out its own relationship to these bigger questions and to history, and the election is just one way we are seeing that play out now in the United States.
How is covering religion during the 2020 election different than in 2016?
DIAS So much was revealed in 2016: the political influence of prosperity gospel preachers, who connect faith with financial wealth; the complete marriage of white evangelicals to President Trump; the depth of the racial divides within Christianity. Four years later these themes are all present, but that does not necessarily mean the election outcome will be the same. When the votes are tallied we will learn how the president’s religious coalition has and hasn’t changed after four years.
Would QAnon ever cross into your beat? What would that look like?
GRAHAM Yes, I’m actually starting to work on a Q-adjacent story right now. It’s a movement that has really taken off among Christian conservatives, and some have argued that QAnon itself is best understood as a homegrown religious movement. So there’s a lot of natural overlap on the religion beat.
What considerations do you take when reporting on religious groups that feel distrust toward the media?
GRAHAM The rising distrust of the media among a lot of conservative religious people is a major challenge, and one that is not going away. My starting assumption these days is always that I will have to work to convince conservative believers to talk with me. I do my best to acknowledge their wariness and explain why I want to include their voice in the story. All I can do is try to build trust by continuing to produce work that takes religion and faith seriously.
DIAS Trust grows over time, so I try to build long-term relationships with people I interview and to think of the body of work I’m building, versus only one specific story. Deep listening happens slowly, and requires appropriate empathy. I also spend a lot of time talking with people off the record, even though it means I may need to do more interviews, because I want to learn from them however I can.
To Do Politics or Not Do Politics? Tech Start-Ups Are Divided – The New York Times
Rob Rhinehart, a co-founder of nutritional drink start-up Soylent, declared in a blog post last week that he was supporting Kanye West for president.
“I am so sick of politics,” Mr. Rhinehart wrote. “Politics are suddenly everywhere. I cannot avoid them.”
David Barrett, the chief executive of Expensify, a business software start-up, went in another direction. In an email to his company’s 10 million customers last week, he implored them to embrace politics by choosing the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy,” Mr. Barrett proclaimed.
With days to go before the election on Tuesday, Mr. Rhinehart and Mr. Barrett represent the twin poles of a start-up culture war that has openly erupted in Silicon Valley. Start-ups such as the cryptocurrency company Coinbase and the audio app Clubhouse have become embroiled in a debate over how much politics should be part of the workplace. And venture capitalists and other tech executives have weighed in on social media with their own views.
“I have never seen another instance like this in my career,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political consultant. “There’s no real separation anymore, in the current political climate, between politics and everything else. It has permeated absolutely everything.”
Silicon Valley tech workers have long been regarded as liberal but not politically overactive. After President Trump’s victory in 2016, however, workers at large tech companies such as Google and Amazon began agitating more on issues like the ethics of artificial intelligence, immigration and climate change.
Now many start-up workers, who have been sold on a mission of changing the world, expect their employers to support their social and political causes, entrepreneurs and investors said. This summer’s protests against police violence prompted many tech companies to re-examine their own issues with race. And the pressure to make political moves before the election has only intensified.
The shift has grown partly out of a realization that no tech platform is completely neutral, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, who invests in start-ups through her venture capital firm, Moxxie Ventures. Founders who build companies with millions of users “really have an obligation to have a point of view and make sure their products are being used for good,” Ms. Stanton said.
“It’s disingenuous and it’s also the luxury of the privileged to say, ‘We don’t have a point of view,’” she added.
But others said they feared becoming a lightning rod or inflaming tensions at a hypersensitive moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Some worried that their companies could be sued by employees who might say they were discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Others said any move could be attacked by those who found the actions inauthentic or not enough.
Those tensions exploded in public last month when Brian Armstrong, the chief executive of Coinbase, penned a 2,000-word blog post to “clarify” his company’s culture. Mr. Armstrong wrote that he wanted Coinbase to generally avoid engaging with broader social issues and workplace conversations about politics. He said it was a way to minimize distraction and focus on the start-up’s mission of creating “an open financial system for the world.”
Two months earlier, dozens of Coinbase employees had staged a walkout after executives were slow to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters and minority employees, several workers said. In his post, Mr. Armstrong said employees who disagreed with his “no politics” stance could leave.
His position immediately created waves across Silicon Valley. Some praised the move, with one Coinbase investor comparing Mr. Armstrong to Michael “Jordan in his prime.” Others said opting out of politics was itself a political statement.
Dick Costolo, a former chief executive of Twitter, tweeted that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business” would be shot in “the revolution.” He deleted the post after, he said, it set off violent threats and harassment.
In an interview, Mr. Costolo said it was impossible for companies to separate their mission from their impact on the world. “If you try to separate the social contract from the economic contract, don’t be surprised when there’s an uprising, because they’re linked,” he said.
Some Coinbase workers disagreed with Mr. Armstrong. “I’m just so mystified by the apparent lack of awareness in the blog post,” Ryan King, a Coinbase engineer, wrote on the company’s internal Slack messaging system. The message was reviewed by The New York Times. “A declaration that we’re not going to touch ‘broader societal issues’ fails to acknowledge that we’re a part of society,”
About 60 Coinbase employees, or 5 percent of the work force, have resigned, the company said. A spokeswoman declined further comment.
Fred Wilson, an investor at Union Square Ventures and a Coinbase board member, said in an interview that there were no easy answers for start-up leaders. “Many, many C.E.O.s have told me privately that they would like to have done what Brian did but don’t want to take the heat that he has taken,” he said.
On Monday, Mr. Wilson wrote a blog post about removing start-up chief executives who have “failed to manage numerous important challenges.” The post prompted speculation that he was referring to Mr. Armstrong, but Mr. Wilson said it was a metaphor for President Trump.
The political debates among Silicon Valley start-ups have ramped up since the Coinbase episode. Last week, Soylent’s Mr. Rhinehart published his post supporting Mr. West’s presidential bid. Mr. Rhinehart, who is on the board but not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, also attacked the political system and the media, writing that “politics has always been based on jokes.”
Demir Vangelov, Soylent’s chief executive, said Mr. Rhinehart’s post did not represent the company. Soylent’s focus is on bringing “the best complete nutrition to everyone,” he said, and it does not take political stances.
At Expensify, based in Portland, Ore., Mr. Barrett took a different position. After spending more than a decade in Silicon Valley, where he found a “uniform view” that politics was not good for business, he moved to Portland four years ago. Now, he said, “choosing not to participate is also a choice — it’s a choice to defend the status quo.”
So when Expensify employees drafted an email to tell customers to vote for Mr. Biden, after concluding in an internal discussion that re-electing Mr. Trump would be a threat to democracy, Mr. Barrett favored sending it out. While roughly a third of Expensify’s top management opposed sending the email because it could alienate customers, the majority ruled, Mr. Barrett said.
Last Thursday, Expensify blasted its message to its 10 million users. “Not many expense reports get filed during a civil war,” Mr. Barrett wrote.
The email instantly drew criticism and praise on social media. Job applications, web traffic and customer sign-ups have since spiked, Mr. Barrett said. But he also received death threats, prompting him to hire private security. No customers have quit, potentially because Expensify’s system takes months to switch out of, he said.
Tayo Oviosu, chief executive of Paga, a payments start-up in Lagos, Nigeria, said Expensify’s email had crossed a line. Mr. Oviosu isn’t opposed to companies’ speaking up on social justice issues, “but that is very different than leveraging the fact that you used my personal information to tell me I have to vote in a certain way,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Mr. Oviosu, who was using a trial version of Expensify and was considering adopting the paid version, said he now planned to look at alternatives. “I think they lost me completely on this,” he said.
The start-up culture wars are also evident on Clubhouse, where people join rooms and chat with one another. The app has been a popular place for investors such as Marc Andreessen and other techies to hang out in the pandemic. (Mr. Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Clubhouse, Coinbase and Soylent.)
On Oct. 6, Mr. Andreessen started a Clubhouse room called “Holding Space for Karens,” which describes having empathy for “Karens,” a slang term for a pushy privileged woman. Another group, “Holding Space for Marc Andreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessen,” soon popped up. There, people discussed their disappointment with the Karen discussion and other instances when, they said, Clubhouse was hostile to people of color.
Mr. Andreessen and others later started a Clubhouse room called “Silence,” where no one spoke. Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment.
At a “town hall” inside the app on Sunday, Clubhouse’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, were asked about Coinbase’s and Expensify’s political statements and where Clubhouse stood. They said the company was still deciding how Clubhouse would publicly back social causes and felt the platform should allow for multiple points of view, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.
Yet even those wishing to stay out of politics are finding it hard to avoid. On Saturday, Mr. Armstrong shared Mr. Rhinehart’s blog post endorsing Mr. West on Twitter. “Epic,” tweeted Mr. Armstrong.
Several users pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Armstrong’s sharing something political after telling employees to abstain. One of his employees, Jesse Pollak, wrote that Mr. Armstrong had shared something with “a large number of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and misplaced assumptions.”
Soon after, Mr. Pollak and Mr. Armstrong deleted their tweets.
SMITH: Removing big money from politics – Toronto Sun
Article content continued
While I disagreed with many things about Canada’s Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, I have to concede that his legislation to put limits on election spending was possibly one of the best things ever done for our nation.
I’ve run local campaigns for federal candidates in Canada; we get to spend roughly $1 per voter during the writ period. You need to be wildly creative and heavily volunteer-dependent to run a campaign on $90,000 – especially given the fact that we have at least one riding the size of Germany (that would be Kenora).
The money spent on U.S. elections is appalling – some reports say Hillary Clinton spent $1 billion on her 2016 campaign. The American Super PAC system is insane; it appears that it was designed to help cheaters cheat. It has spawned a massive election industry with a voracious appetite for uncontrolled spending. It has become a self-perpetuating machine of manipulation and, I think, corruption.
In America, elections professionals can earn an excellent living selling their services in an endless loop of voting cycles with virtually no limit on spending. Candidates are allowed to raise millions of dollars which they can then spend on friends, family members and loved ones for elections activities which are questionable at best.
Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar has reportedly funneled $2.7 million to her husband’s company, 70% of her campaign spending in this cycle. That’s a nice living, and then some, for both of them.
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