31 December 2010

EU Megalomania out of control

An 7000-strong army of EU diplomats and costly building programs are the latest horror stories to hit the pockets of disenfranchised EU taxpayers.

Can we trust any politician?

When a prominent British journalist claims that 'Britain still takes politics seriously' one does not know whether one should laugh or cry. The author somehow seems to think that election promises are more respected in the UK than in other countries and puts the blame for the politician's neglect of election promises on coalitions and consensus government (which are implicitly seen as a bad form of government).
Direct Democracy makes it much less relevant whether or not the citizens can trust politicians. Trust even could become completely irrelevant as all legislative and executive decisions will ultimately be subject to the vote of the electorate.

Britain's MEPs cost £26 million a year

This means that each one of the 72 British MEPs costs approximately £330,000 a year. While this is by no means a negligible figure it raises a more important question: does it really matter that their activities are 'woefully under-scrutinised'? In a system of Direct Democracy any Parliament or Legislative Body in general is more like a consultative body. It is a forum where those citizens most interested in helping to formulate laws can congregate and exchange their views. But it is only a preparatory stage in the legislative process as the citizens themselves have the ultimate say on any decision. It does not really matter if Parliamentarians are lazy (how often does one see near-empty chambers on photos in the media!) or not paid enough or how they are elected in the first place (first-past-the-post or on proportional basis). They could even be elected by drawing lots among those interested in the position of a member of parliament.

30 December 2010

EU: External Action Service to cost £8 billon

And that is only the beginning of this vanity project as budgets - especially in the EU - have a natural tendency to grow. As in most of our half-democracies politicians are able to spend other people's money liberally as they are only subject to the slightest degree of democratic oversight and accountable to no one while in power. This applies also to the international institutions such as the EU, only more so as they executive is not even elected by anyone and therefore even less constrained in its urge to spend and regulate.
To give you a flavor of this 'project' a few numbers may suffice: there will be 137 EU embassies, 500 staff will be at headquarters in Brussels while 39 lucky Eurocrats will while away their time in a political hot-spot such as Mauritius. More than 100 officials will be better paid than the British Foreign Secretary who earns a paltry £134,000 (and is required to pay tax on it).
We leave it to the reader to decide whether this tremendous duplication of diplomatic services would ever have been given the go-ahead if the citizen-taxpayers would have had to give their agreement. Let us not forget, that in the age of the Internet and cheap communication embassies tend to be massively overstaffed in any case.

Wikileaks and the case for Open Government

In the age of the internet there is no reason why not all government communication should be published - ideally in real time. All contact with lobbyists for example would be brought out into the open, as would be internal discussions within or between government departments. The only exception should be items relating to national security or ongoing legal proceedings. Complaints about excessive volume of documentation miss the point - computer memory is very patient, cheap and requires very little maintenance. And no one has to read the files if they are of no interest to him.

When is a Government legitimate?

Only 23.3 % of those eligible to vote supported Chancellor Merkel's party during the last federal election in Germany. Governing parties in the UK often have very low electoral support as well. So one has to doubt the legitimacy of governments that rule without real majority support. In addition, elections basically mean that the citizens at best have a hazy idea of what the governments will actually do during their period in power. Direct Democracy alleviates this problem as all legislation will ultimately have to pass scrutiny by the electorate. This will ensure that the interests of the citizens are much more closely aligned with the decisions of the government - whatever its level of public support. Even governments elected with overwhelming public support often lose popularity later on. Instead of having to wait for the next election before it can be changed the requirement to hold a referendum on all new policy initiatives ensures that the citizens have a say during this period as well.

29 December 2010

UK: Public will be given right to petition for Bills

Not only is this latest proposal made by the establishment parties condescending (who 'gives' the citizens what rightfully is theirs in any case?) but also just another trick to lull the electorate into a false sense of democratic progress. Does it really make any difference if a petition that is supported by 100,000 signatures is 'ensured' time for a Commons debate (likely to be a near-empty chamber)?

UK: Conservatives and Lib-Dems may enter into election pacts

Like coalitions in general an election pact between different parties is making it near-impossible for the citizens of a 'representative' democracy to know what he is voting for when asked to cast his ballot every few years. Direct Democracy prevents backroom deals that exclude the electorate as all political decisions have to be submitted to a referendum.

USA: Political System protects existing parties

We do not always agree with Jeffrey Sachs but when he argues that the political system of the USA is corrupted by the influence of party donors and that only a new political force in the form of a third party offers any chance to improve the situation we can offer him a clear alternative: a political system of comprehensive Direct Democracy as advocated by DIRDEM will not completely eliminate the problem posed by the influence of political donors but it will reduce it to a large extent. No final decisions will be made by corrupted parliamentarians and government ministers that are beholden to special interests as they will have to consider the potential outcome of any referendum. Thus the influence of special influence groups will be diluted and a more rational debate on an issue-by-issue basis will become the norm.

21 December 2010

Masses incapable of democratic participation?

A popular argument against the introduction of comprehensive Direct Democracy is that the average citizen is neither capable nor willing to participate in this form of real democratic decision-making. This may well be the case in the present form of 'box-ticking' half-democracy. But when the citizens are regularly asked to vote in a large number of referendums - and on different levels of government (local, regional, national) - they will quickly develop a much higher interest in the issues. There will always have to be a prolonged period of public discussion and this will give the opportunity as well as the incentive to be much better informed before going to cast one's vote. There will always be a part of the electorate that is unwilling or incapable of participating in the discussion of the issues but it will be sufficient that a large-enough part of the electorate is willing to take part in the formation of a democratic decision.

20 December 2010

Europe has chosen its path

But did anyone really ask 'Europe'? Or should it not be the Europeans who should have been asked? these are the questions that come to mind when reading about the possibility of a closer fiscal and economic Union being forced upon the citizens of Europe.

15 December 2010

Italy: Three votes save Berlusconi

Dirdem argues against leaving the fate of all nations to tiny majorities. Only the vote of three members of parliament prevented Silvio Berlusconi to lose a vote of confidence. The fact that three members of a party refused to follow the official party line may be interpreted as a sign that MP's take their responsibility seriously and defend their independent judgement but it also leaves the electorate at the mercy of individuals that do not owe them any accountability.

14 December 2010

Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Merkel, Blair, Bush, Putin - common thread

The common thread uniting these names is the fact that they have excessive powers in our 'representative' democracies. No single person should have so much power as any of these 'leaders' unites in his hands. A collegiate form of government would avoid a personality cult (who needs first ladies?) and ensure that government affairs of the executive branch are run on a professional basis - like the post office for example. No one cares about who runs that institution - as long as it is managed effectively. A 'President' or 'Speaker' could be nominated or elected on a rotating basis who would be 'primus inter pares' for a period of one year. In addition to this college of officials we would have a comprehensive form of direct government that would be an additional safeguard against the concentration of power in the hands of one individual or party. Extensive public participation in the formulation of new laws would also help to make decision-making more rational and avoid expensive mistakes.

12 December 2010

Berlusconi accused of buying MP's votes

In a system of direct democracy the risk posed by dubious practices in public life will be much reduced as any decision is always subject to public discussion and referendum. This will make it much less attractive to influence votes in parliament or government officials as their decisions will in any case not have binding character.

UK politician paid £25,000 for speech

We do not support the idea of full-time members of parliament but at the same time we insist that they should not profit in any way from their official role. So news that the British MP David Miliband received £25,000 for a speech given in the Middle East leaves a sour taste.

11 December 2010

UK: Is power slipping away from Parliament?

Wrong question Mr. Johnston! The question should be: why has power 'slipped away' from the citizens and how will we be able to wrest it back from political parties and their frontmen?

Politicians favorite excuse for spending our money

'We will save money in the long term' is often said by politicians when they undertake a new spending project. But it usually never is the case.

March of the giant wind turbines

You may be for or against wind turbines but their installation must be subject to tight democratic controls. When whole regions are about to be disfigured by monumental structures that can be seen for tens of miles in some instances the decision about their construction cannot be left in the hands or anonymous bureaucrats and pressure groups that are accountable to no one.

UK: Cameron wants to give us power?

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong - no one should be able to 'give' us power. The citizens have to take government - and especially legislation - back into their own hands. The politicians have to execute our wishes.

UK: Largest cities 'offered' a vote on whether to have an elected mayor

Another proposal introduced on a completely arbitrary basis. Who 'approves' this proposal, why are only the 12 largest cities in Britain 'offered' this option?

Subsidies: how can wasteful spending be controlled?

An example for the way the identity between the executive and legislative arms of government permits the waste of taxpayer money is given by the federal state of Upper Austria. The province spends roughly 1.5 billion Euros on subsidies in a year. That means about 1,000 Euros per head of its population, a not insubstantial sum as it means about 3-4,000 Euros per average family. Naturally, this largess is defended with the argument that laws mandate most of that spending but the undemocratic nature of this spending becomes obvious when one reflects that the same government that spends the money is also identical with the legislative majority that created these 'laws' in the first place. Only a mandatory referendum on all spending measures and a separation of the executive and legislative branch of government will be able to stop abuses such as these.

10 December 2010

What are good laws?

Stalin and Hitler during their time in power both had laws passed that fulfilled the requirements of due process but no one would say that they were just laws. Despite a veneer of democratic due process we should also not assume that all laws passed in 'Western' Democracies automatically qualify as just because the ruling party machines pass them - sometimes with tiny majorities and without even the backing of a majority of the electorate. When unjust laws are passed the question becomes relevant: should citizens respect them and what ways to resist them do they have? Protest is one way and as the laws are not democratic in the proper sense of the term one should not be surprised if protests sometimes become violent. The best way to prevent legislation that is not supported by the majority of the electorate is the introduction of direct democracy. The threat of a referendum would prevent extreme measures to be contemplated as the supporters would know that their proposals would have to pass a lengthy process of public debate and a vote that they may have little chance to carry.

7 December 2010

Alternative Energy - Absurd Cross-Subsidies

The costs for subsidising alternative sources of energy are threatening to explode. In Germany they may soon surpass the mark of Euro 13 billion per year, that is close to 500 Euros per child or adult citizen. No one has ever had the chance to vote on this pet project of politicians and lobbies. The situation in other countries is not much better and absurd consequences abound. Why should earners of low incomes subsidise the solar-cells on the roof of a rich dentist?

6 December 2010

Dirdem demands full disclosure of government affairs

Dirdem supports full disclosure of government affairs. The recent releases of US government documents by Wikileaks is only a foretaste of what the electorate should expect in a regime that brings the workings of lobbies and other pressure groups into the open. During the Renaissance, an Italian Republic locked up its ministers during their time in office to prevent illicit dealings and stop pressure groups from influencing legislation and the administering of the state's affairs. Apart from aspects of national security - and even there should be stringent controls - we see no reason why not all government matters should be subject to full disclosure. In a time of powerful and cheap computing resources this should not be too costly and if anyone complains about too much information the answer should be that no one is forced to trawl through all the information available.

1 December 2010

Who governs FIFA?

Recent accusations about corruption have put pressure on FIFA to investigate some members of its executive committee. But the more important question is: who controls and supervises a self-perpetuating oligarchy at the top of organisations such as FIFA or the International Olympic Committee? Both organisations have tremendous power to goad independent nation states to spend billions to finance what is in effect a private hobby (but big business for the insiders involved in it as administrators, promoters or active participants). Both organisations are not much different from a monopoly and as such should be subject to strict supervision. In addition, members on the grass-roots level should determine who runs the organisations and - even more importantly - who supervises and audits their management.

Ordinary citizens to draw up new constitution

That parties and lobbies do not have to have an iron grip on legislation is demonstrated in Iceland where ordinary citizens have been elected to draw up a new constitution. Anyone who had the backing of just 30 adult citizens could stand for election to the commission charged with this task. In the end, 35.95 per cent of  the electorate voted to select 25 out of 522 candidates.

24 October 2010

Earmarks - no problem if subject to referendum

The heated debate in the USA about the merits (or defects) of the use of 'earmarks' in the allocation of spending would be much less of an issue if all government spending would ultimately be subject to a mandatory or facultative referendum.

Soft-Authoritarianism by the backdoor

"Modern authoritarian movements tend to adopt the strategy of avoiding talking about or even hinting at the coercion they will adopt to deal with those opposed to the supreme rule of the all-powerful state apparatus. They deny that they are fascist movements and instead adopt a slew of fanciful euphemisms for the coercive policies they propose to inflict on their brutalized subjects. You silly fool! They are not robbing people — they are just "asking them to pay their fair share." They are not micromanaging people's lives — they are just "looking after their health and welfare." They are not silencing dissent — they are just "ensuring tolerance" and fighting "hate." They are not trespassing against private property — they are just "managing the economy." They are not enslaving people — they are just "encouraging volunteerism." ('Dropping the mask of Ecofascism', Ben O'Neill, Mises Daily, 19 October 2010)

21 October 2010

Courts as Defenders of Freedom? - Don't bet on it!

Whatever one's opinion about smoking, one should let those who enjoy a puff on a cigarette have their pleasure. Intelligent adults are (hopefully) aware of the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke. The vendetta against smoking has taken on the character of a quasi-religious crusade during the past years. Legislation has been passed in many countries that reflects this overzealous attitude. We see no reason why it should not be allowed to smoke in places that are clearly designated as smoking zones. People then have the clear option to live and work in these places - according to their own individual judgement about the risk involved. So one would hope that courts are able to protect the individual citizen's right to make this decision. But the decision of Germany's Constitutional Court is a slap in the face of all independently minded people. Yesterday's judgement reinforces Bavaria's rigid anti-smoking legislation by prohibiting even the use of water-pipes in a Turkish-themed restaurant. Separation of Power is a long way from being a reality when politicians can appoint judges at will and the judiciary is not under the slightest form of democratic control.

EU bureaucrats sue member states

The consequences of the lack of democratic control of the EU institutions come to light in this absurd court case to be decided by the European Court of 'Justice': The EU Commission sued the council of ministers because their salary increases were to be capped at 1.85 per cent versus 3.7 per cent indicated by the 'agreed' method of calculation. One has to wonder how this 'agreement' was reached and who is supposed to supervise the process. Without direct democratic control this sort of backroom deal is anything but democratic.

TV Discussions, Chat Shows, Town Hall Meetings

The media are full with chat shows that focus on political issues. Politicians use them as cheap platforms to promote their policies (and at the same time polish their image in front of a large audience). But do these events really add much to the governance of a country? We think that these media events may well have their (limited) use but without giving the electorate the say on the eventual decisions that are made in a country they are a highly ineffective way of arriving at legislation and at worst give the illusion that the public's opinions are considered by the politicians.

EU wants six new taxes for itself

The importance of direct democratic control in the case of supranational organisations becomes evident in the light of news that the EU bureaucracy wants to have authority to levy six (!) taxes in order to finance its activities. These taxes are: (1) Value Added Tax, (2) Air Flight Tax , (3) Petrol Tax, (4) Corporate Tax, (5) Financial Activities Tax and (6) CO2 Tax. If anyone was still left in any doubt about the need for drastic change in the political system in the EU he should now be convinced otherwise.

18 October 2010

FIFA needs a dose of democracy as well!

Revelations that some members of FIFA'S executive committee may or may not have been caught asking for payment in return for them supporting bids to hold the next Football World Championship are a reminder that large organisations such as FIFA need a dose of democracy. As matters stand, the tiered way of running the organisation gives too much power to those running the organisation as the final members - the grassroots clubs and their membership - have basically hardly a say in the affairs of FIFA. Like Boards of listed companies, the people at the top are a closed shop that effectively appoints its new members and elections are at best a fig-leaf for public consumption. Worst of all, while FIFA keeps all the income from the competition the taxpayers of the country holding the World Cup is saddled with the costs of running the event. A similar problem exists with the International Olympic Committee.

17 October 2010

EU wants higher minimum sentences for sex offences

The cause may well be worth supporting. But this does not belong to the responsibility of the EU and illustrates the misson creep that permeates the EU. This problem is also endemic in many other international organizations. As they serve many masters (member countries) no one is really in charge and the insiders running the institutions are effectively in charge. No wonder that they endeavour to increase their area of responsibility and making themselves (and their well-paid jobs) more indispensable.

16 October 2010

Eco-Electricity costs German citizens Euro 13 billion

News that annual subsidies for eco-electricity will cost German consumers and taxpayers the incredible amount of Euro 13 (!) billion demonstrates to what follies political decision-making leads when it is unconstrained by any reference to the will and interests of the citizen.

How can EU be stopped?

Citizens and Governments of the individual member states are watching helplessly as the unelected (or quasi-elected) Officials and Bureaucrats of the EU arrogate more and more power for themselves. For Dirdem the solution to this problem is the introduction of direct democracy at the EU level. This should not just mean that a simple majority of all EU citizens can decide. There will have to be a number of safeguards to ensure that the regional and national sensitivities are protected. At least half of all eligible voters in the EU will have to participate. A minimum of two thirds will have to support any new legislation and a two thirds majority of all member states will have show a (simple) majority in favor. In addition, there needs to be a clear separation of competencies between the EU and the member states. Arbitration in cases of disputes about which level of government should be in charge cannot be left to the present EU Court of Justice (only those carefully vetted by the vested political interests in the EU and member states need to apply!) and in effect is a prisoner of the bureaucratic mindset ('More central power is presumed to be good'). The court must be restructured so that appointments are not backroom deals negotiated by party machines. Judges must be linked to individual member states and subject to some democratic control.

7 October 2010

Michelle Obama 'most powerful woman' - shall one laugh or cry?

The sorry, even ridiculous state, of present-day politics is demonstrated by the American 'First Lady' being elected the 'most powerful' woman by Forbes Magazine. And not only of the USA but the whole world at that! One has to wonder what mysterious powers she must possess - and what she achieves with it. If there is even a shred of actual power in her hands it would mean that the actual will of the citizens is not worth a lot. The episode also puts the media into a bad light as it is only too willing to endow personalities with more prominence than they deserve thus creating the celebrity cult in order to stimulate sales.

30 September 2010

US picks off EU member states

News that Austria has given in to a deadline imposed by the United States illustrates the impotence of the EU. Despite widespread opposition to US demands to get access to police records in other countries the EU is not able to form a unified front against these demands. In a system of democratic decision making EU voters would be asked to give their opinion about the US demands. This would also avoid that individual countries get blackmailed individually - or that the governments cave in to US demands against the wishes of their citizens. US threats to introduce a visa requirement for the citizens of 'uncooperative' countries wishing to visit the United States could easily be countered by introducing a similar requirement for US citizens visiting the European Union.

29 September 2010

Christian Wulff, Ed Milliband - what do they have in common?

At first glance one would think that the newly-elected President of Germany and the new leader of the British Labour party do not have much in common. But closer inspection shows that in both cases these two 'career' politicians have no (Wulff) or very little experience outside politics. Unfortunately the current system of 'democracy' as practised in most countries gives undue influence to political parties and a subsidised political class that effectively guarantees that people such as these increasingly dominate the political landscape.

14 June 2010

How to deal with threats to Media

Silvio Berlusconi succeeded in pushing a law through the Italian Senate that restricts the use of wire-taps by investigating magistrates. As the magistrates will now have to prove that a serious offence has been committed before they use this surveillance method they will be much less likely to unearth corruption among the political class in Italy. Investigators will be in a catch-22 situation.
Another recent example for politicians abusing their excessive discretionary powers is the interference of French President Sarkozy in the negotiations about a sale of the French newspaper 'Le Monde'.
These cases demonstrate the undemocratic symbiosis between the executive and legislative arms of government that is common in our pseudo-democracies. The so-called 'Parliamentary System of Government' is further corrupted by the ability of governments to control the appointment of judges - in effect selecting the referee in the political game.
Under a system of direct democracy the shenanigans attributed to the two politicians are unlikely to win the approval in a public referendum or under a constitution which places more emphasis on the separation of powers.

11 June 2010

Totalitarian Logic: pay for TV and Radio even if you have no receiver

It is a well-known fact that more and more controls are necessary once a society has started on the slippery road towards state control of every aspect of the citizen's lives. The nation who has 'given' Karl Marx to the world is testimony to the inevitability of this 'road to serfdom' (F.A. Hayek). The hapless legislators of Germany have just decided that as their police apparatus is unable or unwilling to guarantee an efficient administration of the license fee for TV and Radio, the only solution is to make it mandatory for everyone to pay the fee - even if the citizen has no means or willingness to watch (the mostly state-sponsored) TV and Radio programmes.

13 May 2010

Britain tries out Coalition

Every country has the media it deserves. This expression comes to mind when one listens and reads what the media pundits have to say about the fresh experiment with coalition government in the UK. One gets the impression that journalists would love nothing better than a bust-up between the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats when they conduct their interviews.
We also would like to caution against expecting too much a transition to coalition government. There is nothing magic about either a single-party or coalition government. Both create problems with respect to democratic legitimacy and in our view only a transition to a full version of direct democracy can insure that the wish of the majority of the electorate is followed in all policy measures.

To raise taxes or cut services

This is the dilemma facing political decision makers in most industrialised countries at the moment. Under a system of direct democracy the solution to the fiscal problems would be much more transparent as citizens would have the ability to vote on each spending measure item by item. This would avoid the commingled decision-making that dominates the political landscape at the moment where citizens may agree to measure A but not to measure B but have no way of making a differentiated contribution at the ballot box.