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Pandemic continues to dominate all areas of politics – RTE.ie

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Tomorrow marks one year since Election 2020 and yet everything has changed.

The pandemic has transformed politics and eclipsed all other Government business with the virus dictating policy.

This time a year ago coronavirus was for most, a faraway problem, with no confirmed cases in the country.

The then administration of Fine Gael and Independents had been monitoring the situation but there was no sign of the virus becoming all-consuming.

The election itself was an earthquake, with a massive swing to Sinn Féin and disappointing results for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Green Party and the Social Democrats also made gains while Labour lost one seat.

The final seat count was: Fianna Fáil 38, Sinn Féin 37, Fine Gael 35, Independents 20, Green Party 12, Labour Party 6, Social Democrats 6, Solidarity-People Before Profit 5 and Aontú 1.

Sinn Féin embarked on a victory lap around the country, making noises about forming a left-leaning government.

But the reality of the numbers dictated that two of the three now mid-sized parties would have to come together.

After some posturing, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael settled into talks and then approached the smaller parties with the Greens taking the plunge after some lengthy internal soul searching.

Looking back at party manifestos, one year on, it’s clear just how much the pandemic has blown everything off course.

Typically a party’s wish list of promises is heavily diluted in any Government and even more so in a three-way coalition. This time around, everything has been submerged by the urgency of the pandemic.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael promised income tax cuts. In the Programme for Government, this became a pledge not to hike taxes although ministers still profess that cuts may be possible in later budgets.

But as government formation talks dragged on, the pandemic transformed the usual business of politics.

While Leo Varadkar stayed on as Taoiseach, the other parties adopted more measured supportive positions as the country grappled with its first lockdown in the face of a new threat.

Normal sparring was suspended as most in the opposition rowed in with the public health advice, which at that stage was being adopted wholesale by Government.

The Dáil sat, at most, only once a week for March and April as TDs followed the same rules as everyone else.

By the end of June, the Government was formed and the redrawing of the Oireachtas was clear with a historic coalition from the old enemies and Sinn Féin leading the opposition.

But judging from a consistent pattern in polls, the arrangement has been better for Fine Gael than Fianna Fáil which seems to channel the blame for the tough restrictions while Fine Gael is still coasting on the memory of decisive early action.

All political observers agree that the next election is a long way off for several reasons. Normal politics remains somewhat suspended during the pandemic and despite early problems, the coalition has held together more firmly in recent months.

Each of the Government parties has had its own internal wrangles. Fianna Fáil had a torrid period early into the administration with the loss of two Cabinet members – Barry Cowen and Dara Calleary.

Fine Gael faced the heat over Leo Varadkar’s leaking of the GP contract and Justice Minister Helen McEntee’s handling of the Supreme Court appointment.

And the Green Party had a tight leadership contest followed by two ministerial wobbles over a Government bill.

But how are the main parties faring one year on?

Fianna Fáil is languishing in the mid-teens in the polls. There has also been some public bickering with one TD admitting: “The incessant cribbing damages the party – they need to put the same effort into supporting the Taoiseach”.

Some also fear being overlooked as Fine Gael and Sinn Féin take pot shots at each other. However, there’s a view that the message has been more cohesive recently with the Taoiseach hitting his stride in media outings.

Fine Gael has gone into Government for a record third time in a row. It had a bad election with lessons to be learnt about why it lost so many seats.

One TD says: “We have to move away from saying two things – that we inherited a broken economy and that we were hampered by confidence and supply”.

The party has clearly stepped up its attacks on Sinn Féin in a cultivated rivalry that ultimately suits both camps.

The Green Party parliamentary party

The Green Party has publicly lost many activists and has also faced accusations of bullying within it. But despite this, there’s a view that with such a massive glut of new members, it was inevitable that some activists would go overboard.

One issue remaining though is outstanding internal arguments over CETA, the trade agreement between the EU and Canada. This is despite several lengthy weekend meetings to trash out the issue.

However, the party is progressing the Climate Action Bill which is at the heart of its policy objectives.

Sinn Féin has returned again and again to health and housing and has been pumping out policy on those areas.

But it too has been embroiled in controversies including the fallout from the Bobby Storey funeral and the comments of Brian Stanley and Martin Browne.

Some Government TDs feel the party started well, capitalising on its electoral success with the rallies.

However, there’s a perception that it has lost its footing recently, by being called out on changing positions on how to tackle the pandemic.

Social Democrats’ co-leaders Róisín Shortall (L) and Catherine Murphy

The Social Democrats’ four new TDs have impressed with high profile Dáil and media contributions.

Several rival party TDs also point to its successful social media operations although another says the party has become adept at virtue signalling.

Labour has a new leader in Alan Kelly who has made an impact in the Dáil although that hasn’t translated into a lift in the polls. And the pandemic is hindering his ability to rebuild the organisation around the country.

Solidarity-PBP’s five TDs have a high profile and Gino Kenny has progressed his own bill on assisted dying.

The party was also an early adopter of the Zero Covid strategy which has latterly gained some other converts.

The next year will inevitably also be dominated by Covid-19 but there’s also the hope in the form of the vaccination programme.

And as normal life resumes, so too will the cut and thrust of normal politics.

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How Giving Up Ableist Insults Can Help Heal Our Politics – Forbes

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The long struggle to unlearn ableism may have an unexpected side benefit. It could help us make today’s politics and public discourse a little less toxic.

American politics were never as friendly as we like to think they once were. But they have felt particularly nasty for quite a few years now – that’s not just our imaginations. Most of us have a vaguely-defined but strong and understandable desire to “go back” to a kinder, less tense and corrosive dialog with our neighbors and fellow citizens – in person, on social media, and especially in politics.

How do we achieve civility when real issues divide us? Our conflicts are more than just rudeness and pointless rivalry, although we have more than enough of those, too. Real grievances need airing, and real injustices cry out for accountability. Does civility mean compromising on our own or other people’s humanity and worth? Should human rights be open to debate? Is bipartisan harmony really better, if we simply agree on who will remain oppressed and precisely how much? When the stakes of political argument are real and life-altering, harmony and bipartisanship for their own sakes seem a little less important.

Still, we aren’t wrong to crave a bit more mutual respect and a more chill atmosphere in politics. The trick is figuring out how to get there without simplistic difference-splitting or unilateral surrender. How do we make our politics more polite and respectful, while still standing firm for our beliefs and working on real solutions to our difficult problems?

One way we might start rebuilding respect without backing down on substance is to give up one specific and popular rhetorical style. We might stop calling our political opponents “stupid” and “crazy.” It seems like a small thing. But we might find that kicking the habit of insulting people based on intelligence and sanity is a remarkably low-cost way to lower the temperature of politics, and turn us away from petty name-calling so we can focus on the conflicts that really matter.

It’s not just about banning two words, “stupid” and “crazy.” It’s about weaning ourselves off the entire approach of criticizing opposing political views by calling those who hold them unintelligent or irrational. It’s taking care to stop calling people “idiots,” “morons,” and “dummies” – or calling them “nuts,” “certifiable,” and “insane.”

It’s what most of us seem to do when we are so frustrated by “the other side” that we can’t even describe exactly what’s wrong. We slap a label of “stupidity” or “insanity” on it, and rely on deeply ingrained, fundamentally ableist contempt and fear to do our arguing for us. We know it’s not the most noble form of debate. But it’s so common and, frankly, often so emotionally satisfying that giving up the practice won’t be easy. We will need good reasons to give up this easy and seductive brand of name-calling.

First of all, it really is ableist. “Stupid,” “crazy,” and their equivalents may or may not insult a particular disabled person in any given situation. But these terms always support the core ableist assumption that intellectual impairments and mental illnesses are inherently bad and invalidating. We use intelligence and rationality this way in political arguments because of the widespread belief, or maybe just a habit of thinking, that intellectually disabled and mentally ill people don’t have ideas worth listening to – that they are worthless and dismissible. If those ableist assumptions really weren’t there, the words wouldn’t have the same power and effect, and we wouldn’t be so in love with using them against our political foes.

But these insults and labels aren’t just offensive to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, or those with mental illness. And they aren’t just harmful in the way they uphold ableist assumptions about people with those disabilities. Labels and insults based on intelligence and mental illness also add more pointless rancor and incivility to our politics and public discourse. These kinds of insults further foul our already hateful political discourse this without any compensating benefit to anyone, including those of us who use them.

They make political conflicts personal, distracting us from real issues and ideas of consequence.

They aren’t in the least persuasive or helpful to better understanding, because they short circuit real discussion of substantive issues.

Instead of helping us explore the outlines and contours of our disagreements, they signal superiority, contempt, and dismissal.

Using mental illness diagnoses for political and ideological purposes also has a dark history, including in Soviet Russia where political dissidents were often branded as “mentally ill” and detained, based partly on the idea that only an “insane” person could disagree with approved doctrines.

Meanwhile, calling actual cruel, bigoted, violent people – and both extreme anarchists and authoritarians too –“insane” or “stupid” lets them off lightly. It also distracts us from more serious and specific problems like racism and other forms of bigotry, and from political violence which brings literal harm and suffering, and threatens the core of democracy itself. It’s much easier to call racists and terrorists “idiots” and “lunatics” than to contend with the deeper things that actually drive their thinking and actions.

Over several decades, intelligence and mental illness insults, both explicit and implied, have also fueled two of the key narratives of our current political divide:

First there is the perceived conflict and unbridgeable cultural gulf between “elite” liberals who think conservatives are ignorant, unintelligent, or mentally ill, and “heartland” Americans who feel disparaged and looked down upon by “costal, liberal elites.” Like all stereotypes, these are often exaggerated. But judging by rhetoric alone, at least some of the Left’s contempt for the Right really does seem based on perceptions of intelligence and sanity.

It’s a theme heard loudly and explicitly in pretty much every speech at a Trump rally, and further illustrated by numerous stories on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. And it’s a narrative heavily reinforced from both Left and Right through whole sectors of popular culture, from music to comic books, and from movies and TV shows to comedy acts and beer commercials.

Then there is a kind of mirror version of this conflict, in which a certain strain of conservative or libertarian believes themselves to be the smart ones, grounded in a more logical, objective, and honest form of intelligence and rationality that overly emotional, hopelessly indoctrinated liberals lack. They don’t believe that they just happen to be smarter and more rational than liberals. A particular type of intelligence and rationality is at the heart of their own perceived political identity, as is the supposed “stupidity” and “irrationality” of their opponents.

This is most notable in the niche popularity of “rational” or “skeptical” communities on social media and especially YouTube, much of which in the last several years has moved to the Right politically and is driven by contempt for “social justice warriors” of the Left. Again, their core argument is that they are smart and rational, while left-wing “Social Justice Warriors” are “dumb” and “illogical.”

In both cases, intelligence and rationality are championed as the ultimate validations, while stupidity and insanity are the ultimate put-downs. Roughly speaking, “both sides” really do seem to do it, though it’s rarely an even match. The point is that there seems to be a broad consensus across the political spectrum that it’s both a fact and a strong argument to call your political opponents “stupid” or “nuts.”

This specific brand of rhetoric is just one of many factors fueling incivility. Giving it up won’t solve everything. But it is a factor, and moving away from it may be one of the easiest ways to foster a better political atmosphere, because it doesn’t involve any real concessions from anyone.

By at least trying to move to less ableist rhetoric, we may find that we are contributing to civility. If we stop insisting that we are smarter, mentally healthier, or fundamentally better people than our opponents, it won’t undo our substantive conflicts. But it could remove part of what makes our natural divisions wider: contempt for the other, and the feeling that the other holds us in contempt.

Unlike other changes and trade offs, this one should be relatively easy, or at least simple. We really can stop calling our political opponents “stupid” or “crazy,” or any words for judging intelligence and sanity. Instead, we can refocus on criticizing ideas, actions, and arguments, with evidence and compelling counter-arguments.

It won’t end ableism, and it won’t create total harmony in politics. But it could reduce the sum total tonnage of both ableism and political rancor in everyday life. It seems worth a try on both counts.

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'It's a Minefield': Biden's Pick For Health Secretary Faces Abortion Politics – NPR

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Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, contended with critics of abortion rights on the first day of his confirmation hearings Tuesday.

Sarah Silbiger/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Sarah Silbiger/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

As President Joe Biden works to overhaul U.S. health care policy, few challenges will loom larger for his health secretary than restoring access to family planning while parrying legal challenges to abortion proliferating across the country.

Physicians, clinics and women’s health advocates are looking to Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, to help swiftly unwind Trump-era funding cuts and rules that have decimated the nation’s network of reproductive health providers over the past four years.

But Becerra’s in the middle of confirmation hearings this week. And though he fought the Trump administration’s family planning restrictions as California’s attorney general, he will, if confirmed by the Senate, face a U.S. Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, plus other increasingly conservative federal courts that have backed efforts to restrict reproductive health services.

The leader of Biden’s Health and Human Services team will also have to contend with an energized anti-abortion movement — a movement eager to leverage political power in red state legislatures to finally achieve its decades-long quest to ban abortion outright.

Any Biden administration efforts to preserve the right to an abortion and other family planning services could set up new legal battles between the federal government and states.

“It’s a minefield,” says Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who has written extensively about the history of the nation’s abortion debate.

“Expectations on both sides are extremely high,” she says. “And the Supreme Court may force the issue to the top of the agenda if it does something aggressive to restrict abortion.”

The outlines of the brewing showdown came further into focus Tuesday as Becerra faced opposition from a number of Republicans on the Senate health committee on the first of two days of confirmation hearings.

“For many of us, your record has been … very extreme,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told Becerra at the hearing, accusing him of being “against pro-life.” More than three dozen groups opposed to abortion rights have urged the Senate to reject Becerra, who has been a longtime advocate for abortion rights and federal support for contraceptives.

By contrast, Becerra has drawn strong support from abortion rights groups, which have applauded his efforts challenging Trump restrictions on family planning services. “He will be a great partner,” says Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Becerra, whose wife, Dr. Carolina Reyes, is an obstetrician, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, after which his nomination is expected to move to the floor of the Senate next week for consideration by the whole body.

Successive presidential administrations since the 1980s have restricted or expanded federal support for family planning, depending on which party controlled the White House.

But tensions between the two sides intensified under President Donald Trump, making the task before Biden and Becerra that much more delicate.

Trump, who relied heavily on political backing from religious conservatives, moved more aggressively than his GOP predecessors to curtail access to abortion and clamp down on federal funding for clinics that provide reproductive care.

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood that long received federal money through the half-century-old Title X program were forced out of it when the Trump administration effectively barred recipients of federal aid from providing abortions or counseling women about the procedure.

That move, in turn, led to widespread staffing cutbacks at clinics across the country and huge drops in the number of people able to get family planning services, according to health care providers.

“We’re seeing so many fewer clients,” says Brenda Thomas, chief executive of Arizona Family Health Partnership, which coordinates the state’s Title X program. Thomas said the number of patients in Arizona’s program dropped 24% in 2019 after the Trump administration issued the new rules; it then declined an additional 40% in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic further hampered services.

In Missouri, a provider operating three family planning clinics left the program, leading to a 14% decrease in patients getting services through Title X, according to the Missouri Family Health Council.

And in California, the Title X restrictions led to a 40% reduction in patients in 2019, says Lisa Matsubara, general counsel at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.

Like many other family planning advocates, Matsubara says Biden needs to do more than just reverse the cuts. “We don’t want to just, like, go back to what it was before the Trump administration,” she says. “We’re really looking and hoping that the administration really takes the necessary steps to expand access.”

Biden has pledged to rewrite the family planning regulations so clinics providing reproductive health services can return to the program.

Within days of taking office, Biden issued an executive order to reverse other family planning restrictions imposed by the last administration, including rescinding what’s come to be called the global gag rule that prevented international aid groups that receive U.S. funding from counseling pregnant patients about abortion.

Rolling back some federal policies, like the restrictions on international aid, are relatively simple. Biden and Becerra likely also could quickly reverse Trump-era restrictions on mifepristone, a pill used to induce abortion early in a pregnancy.

But rewriting rules on funding for family planning or reissuing other complex regulations could be considerably more fraught, experts say.

“Both sides have really learned how to maximize use of courts,” says Alina Salganicoff, who directs women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy nonprofit. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

“If anyone understands the legal challenges, it’s Becerra,” Salganicoff says. “But these are thorny issues. There are questions about how the Biden administration can move forward and how fast. And there’s no question they are going to be sued.”

After taking office, Biden said his administration would review the Title X restrictions, which are also under review by the Supreme Court.

As California attorney general, Becerra sued to stop the Trump administration rules. The case was rejected by lower federal courts, though a separate lawsuit in Maryland challenging the rules was successful, setting up the case for the Supreme Court.

Last month, the court issued its first abortion-related decision since Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, upholding a Trump-era rule that blocked mail delivery of mifepristone.

Many legal experts see more substantial court fights on the horizon as conservative-leaning states pass increasingly restrictive abortion laws.

Just last week, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed a bill barring abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected with ultrasound, or about five or six weeks after a pregnancy begins.

The South Carolina law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit.

The Supreme Court has never upheld a law as restrictive as South Carolina’s. But the high court is the most conservative it has been in decades, raising the prospect that justices may reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized the right to an abortion.

That could force Biden — and potentially Becerra — to step much more directly into efforts in Congress to safeguard abortion rights, says Ziegler, the Florida law professor.

“There will be huge pressure on the Biden administration to do big, bold things,” Ziegler says.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Is Political Discrimination In The Workplace Legal? – Forbes

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A picture has been making the rounds on social media, showing a sheet of paper, presumably posted at a place of business, which states the following:

“Job Applicants Please Note:

We do not hire LIBERALS. (emphasis original)

This is not because we disagree with their political views.

It is because working here requires superior reasoning, logic and reading comprehension skills, and in our experience, Liberals are deficient in those areas.

We have found that they make decisions based on their emotions, not logic. This would be very detrimental to our business.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause.”

It looks like this first made its appearance on social media a few years ago, but seems to have resurfaced recently.

It’s unclear if this was really posted by an employer or if it’s just a political meme placed online to cause some trouble. Either way, it presents two interesting questions about employment discrimination law.

We’re on the heels of one of the most partisan eras of politics in our country’s history. So when it comes to the workplace, can an employer go so far as refusing to hire someone just because they’re a “liberal?”

Workplace Discrimination Based on Political Views

To a large extent, private employers may discriminate against their employees and job applicants based on political beliefs and some political activities. This is because political behaviors and beliefs are not protected classes under the major employment anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, First Amendment protections do not apply in the private employment setting.

And because most employees are employed at-will, their employers can fire them for any reason at any time, without notice. Two major exceptions to at-will firings are when they are illegal or against public policy.

Public employees have a few more rights in regards to political activity protections, as the First Amendment comes into play. However, these rights are not absolute and government employers can still fire or discipline employees for their political behavior in some situations.

Many states and local jurisdictions have enacted anti-discrimination laws that provide varying degrees of political protections in the employment setting. California’s laws are among the most robust, prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on their political activities or affiliations. 

In contrast, a few other states have laws that don’t directly offer political protections. North Dakota prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on their lawful, off-duty activities that occur away from the employer’s premises.

One thing to note is that while most states have some sort of law that provides employees or job applicants some degree of protection against politics-based discrimination, they are usually very specific in their application. For instance, they may not apply to political beliefs or views, but instead, a limited range of political activities like making a political campaign contribution or running for office.

Yet a select few jurisdictions may apply their politics-based anti-discrimination laws more broadly. Examples include Seattle, Washington, where discrimination based on “political ideology” is prohibited and New Mexico, where discrimination based on political beliefs or views is unlawful.

Therefore, in most states, an employer can legally refuse to hire someone because they are a “liberal.” But one of the risks for employers is that discriminating against someone because they are a liberal could be a pretext for illegal discrimination.

An employer who wishes to only hire men may believe that liberals are more likely to include women. So instead of discriminating against women, they just say they have a hiring policy against liberals. If this is what’s really happening, then a “no liberals need apply” hiring policy would likely be an example of an unlawful pretext.

The Bottom Line

While it may be true that employers have a fair degree of flexibility to hire or fire their employees based on political disagreements, there exist some contextual protections for employees against this behavior depending on where they live; moreover, companies who exercise this right too readily may find themselves in legal hot water for other types of discrimination in turn.

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