Should we fill some public offices by lottery?

In the really excellent French political drama “Baron Noir”, which I recently finished watching on Amazon Prime, one candidate for the French presidency advocates a policy of sortition, that is, the filling of public offices not by direct election but by lottery.

It’s not a totally new idea: Athens did something similar back in ye olde day, but on the face of it, it sounds loopy. God knows what we would get into office. Indeed, the biggest opponents to it tend to be convinced that extremes will end up in office, horrible old bigots or commies. It also threatens to leave you with a public body that voters look at and ask “who are those people supposed to represent? Not me!”

Certainly, when I first heard of the idea I thought it was nuts.

I’m not so sure there’s isn’t a role for it now.

Someone recently told me of an industry event they attended where a politician spoke at it, and was so ignorant of the subject in question that some of the attendants started laughing in the middle of the politician’s address. Just to be clear: they weren’t laughing in disagreement: they were laughing because the politician was so badly informed.

I’m not sure it was the politician’s fault: he has a reputation for being a very astute constituency operator. Politican goes Where the Voters Are! Shock Horror!

But it does raise the issue as to whether the skills and indeed personality needed to get elected are actually the same to govern the country reasonably well? Indeed, as a country we are disturbingly comfortable at handing over executive day to day decision-making power to appointed officials from NPHET to City & County Managers to judges.

On top of that, why would you run for office anyway? We’ve seen the abuse people get for running for election. Running for election is very very hard in Ireland. It can be expensive, and incredibly time consuming. Want to improve the quality of live in Dublin City? Don’t run for the council: join it and work your way up. You’ll have more power than most cllrs within five years. A democracy where candidates for political office become a sort of caste apart is not a healthy democracy. We need ordinary people to take part in public decision making.

Now, let’s not go mad. I’m not proposing we replace elections with lotteries. But consider an alternative.

Supposing if every half-term we appointed, say, a fifth of the county council at random by lottery. For a fixed two and a half year term. We’d gender balance it, and any eligible citizen could register, knowing that if they were picked they’d have two and a half years to make arrangements, and would be paid whatever their current salary was. If we applied it to Dublin City Council, it would mean 13 new cllrs appointed every 2.5 years. If it applied to Seanad Eireann, it would mean 12 new senators arriving fresh. Of course, there’d have to be some training, but after that let them at it.

I suggested this once to a party political activist and he actually got red-faced angry at the idea that people were “jumping the queue”. As if the political system was owned primarily by politicians.

But we could get crazy people! Yes, almost certainly. We’d get the odd racist, but also the odd transgender person. We could get some headtheball roaring and shouting about immigration and Travellers. We could also get our first black former asylum seeker citizen looking nervously at her family in the public gallery as she takes her seat in Seanad Eireann. Indeed, one thing we would get more than anything else would be people who never thought they’d ever hold public office in the republic. People who weren’t political insiders. Perhaps an awkward squad who asked awkward questions and made the professional politicians shift awkwardly. All to the good, I say.

But you could end up with some extremist holding the balance of power! Why? They’ll only do that if the other parties don’t cooperate.

They’d serve their two and a half years, and be on their way. Some will milk it, some will be corrupt, and some will be able to speak on legislation because it is what they do in real life. Some may find that the really liked being a senator or county councillor, and run for real. But you would almost certainly have families suddenly finding a senator or councillor in the home where as before it was a different world to them.

It would certainly be interesting to try it on a pilot scheme level, just to measure the public interest. Maybe nobody would register? But bear in mind one thing: it’s not that unusual. After all, we let randomly selected juries have the power to deprive their fellow citizens of their freedom, something more powerful than anything a member of the county council or Seanad Eireann currently does.

FF/FG keep thinking SF are playing by the same old rules.

Erdogan: The Democratic Dictator.

Every now and again you see some FF or FG activist nonchalantly wave away the idea of SF in govt with a “Wait until they have to make decisions”, as if a dose in government for Sinn Fein will reset the political landscape.

FF, FG and Labour all approach government in the same way: say absolutely anything that gets you in the door, and don’t worry if you can’t deliver afterwards. Being in government is the end in itself. Maybe not Labour as much, but definitely the other two.

It’s a lazy assumption because it is based on the idea that SF are just another party like FF and FG, with their fair share of people in politics purely because the rations are good and they’re good with people.

It’s simply not true. Oh sure, there are On The Make Merchants in SF too, fellas who recognised the way the wind was blowing and got onboard early, changing their names to Irish and throwing in the odd cúpla focal. But broadly SF remains a political project with actual goals, primarily the achievement of a United Ireland. FF and FG simply don’t have a goal like that.

Don’t rely on the Venezuela assumption either. SF are not anywhere as left wing as they pretend. Indeed, unlike every other party in Irish politics, they’re the only party going the other way: pretending to be on the economic extreme when in reality their base requires a more balanced approach. Have a read-through of their Wealth Tax proposal, with its bright red cover. It’s not aimed at scaring the propertied classes in Ireland in those avenues of generous foliage. It’s a double feint to convince THEIR OWN BASE that they are far less establishment than they actually are.

Sure, Eoin O’Broin is a genuine leftwinger. But he’s almost for show, the Kate Midleton of SF to show their young air-fist-punchers that they’re being listened to. But not necessarily heeded. SF in the north are not radical Maduroistas. They’re landlords and property developers and small businesspeople and more middle class than in the south. Many would have been in FF. But that doesn’t mean they are as complacent.

President Erdogan of Turkey is the model most likely to be what you get with SF in government. People forget, Erdogan was a reformer and breath of fresh air when he first got in as prime minister. Indeed, he was a model for the west, an Islamic democrat. That didn’t last long, as he went from enemy of the establishment to creating a new establishment based on pro-Erdogan businessmen and Islamic traditionalists. He built a (popular) electoral coalition on true believers (Devout Islamists) and those simply wanting a better standard of living.

SF is building something similar: the Brit-haters along with people who simply want to buy either a house or pay rent that doesn’t feel like they have to sell a kidney to afford it.

Some years a go, a British journalist asked a man in rural Anatolia how he could vote for Erdogan given that he was appointing his cronies to office, replacing judges with party loyalists and shutting down critical media. The man shrugged, and pointed to the new school his daughter went to, and the new clinic his mother got cared for in every week. Both built by Erdogan. What did he care about some liberal secularist mucky-muck in Istanbul getting arrested?

Sinn Fein will be like that: focused on delivery to their base in a way FF/FG simply can’t grasp having spent decades pandering to everyone and never satisfying anyone. Erdogan is hated by 40% of the country, who regard him as a tyrant. SF may well be hated by 40% of the country as they carefully deliver tangible change and benefits to their base. And here’s the scary bit: they will struggle to build any more homes than FF/FG.

But the voters who get those new homes will be left clearly with the impression that it was SF who got them, for them. I wouldn’t be surprised if SF in govt arranges for SF cllrs and TDs to deliver the keys, as FF and FG go ballistic about how outrageous it all is, which will actually harden SF support.

“See,” they’ll say. “Look how angry the old gang get at you getting a new home. They never got that angry at you not having one.”

A tale of two Americas, 2032*

Michelle Obama Visits DC High School To Discuss Importance Of Education

From our correspondent in Montreal, Canada.

*Actually written in October 2016 before President Trump was elected…

President Michelle Obama of the United States of America and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada have expressed disappointment at President Ted Cruz of the Constitutional States of America’s decision to quit talks between the CSA and the North American Union. The summit in Montreal had hoped to finally resolve the cross-border trade, taxation and customs disputes following the amicable breakup of the United States in 2026, with the North East, Great Lakes and West Coast states remaining in the USA as the remainder left to form the CSA.

Since the formation of the CSA, two very distinct cultures have developed, with the USA returning to the moderate religious and economic values of the 1950s coupled with social tolerance for religious and lifestyle differences, whilst the CSA has seen the rampant dismantling of former federal laws and agencies in its territories and the effective adoption of Judeo-Christianity as a de facto state religion in a loose confederation of mutually cooperating states with a weak central government.

Under the terms of the Paul Act of 2022, US citizens had been given 36 months to decide which state they wished to become a citizen of, which led to mass migration as minority groups moved to the USA, and social and religious conservatives moved to the CSA.

Although taxes were markedly higher in the USA to fund its universal healthcare programme and infrastructure programme, the CSA found itself in serious fiscal difficulties as CSA senior citizens demanded that social security and medicare entitlements be carried over from the USA, farmers and agribusiness demanded subsidies be continued, and states insisted on funds no longer flowing from Washington for local projects be replaced.

The attempt by President Paul to create the CSA as a tax haven for the world’s rich ran into huge difficulties when the USA and European Union agreed a common tax treaty which taxed profits and earnings shipped out of their joint jurisdiction. That, coupled with his plan to build a vast manned wall between the CSA and the United Mexican States, resulting in a National Security Tax, led to his impeachment.

Paul’s successor, former Texas US Senator Ted Cruz, had hoped to conclude a joint defence pact with the US to allow for savings in defence spending, but President Obama had vetoed the deal “as long as gay and non-Christians cannot serve their country in the CSA defence forces.” The president had been reacting to comments from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff about US soldiers being uncomfortable about serving alongside “segregated” forces.

The Bishop of Houston has announced that he shall be endorsing former Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his choice for nominee of the American Party to succeed President Cruz.  The endorsement is seen as vital for Palin’s hopes in the primaries.

Governor Palin welcomed the news whilst attending the first school in Texas to implement the “Kidz Rights!” law requiring all children over the age of seven to be armed in case of a terrorist attack on their school.

In the Congress of the CSA, meeting in Tallahassee, a bill requiring non-Judeo-Christians to register with local law enforcement agencies has passed the Senate, and will now go to the House of Representatives. A bill barring non-Judeo-Christians from holding public office passed the Congress and is now before President Cruz. A spokesperson has said that the bill will be given serious consideration. The board of Mercedes Benz has said that if either bill becomes law in the CSA, the company will have to reconsider its investments in Alabama. President Cruz recently vetoed a bill to strip women of the right to vote, the so-called “Clinton-Obama law”, which had passed the CSA Congress. His veto is expected to be challenged.

Other news: the English Prime Minister, Mr Farage, admitted that the his party could not assemble a majority in the House of Commons to agree a common market with the CSA because of the CSA refusal to grant travel visas to English citizens of the Muslim faith. He looked forward, however, to negotiating only a modest fee increase with European Union President Sturgeon for English access to the European Economic Area.

The former presidential candidate Donald J. Trump continues to fight the court order stripping him of US citizenship, and has argued that being forced to live in one of the states that voted for him in 2016 as “cruel and unusual”.

Politicians across North America have been united in wishing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani well with his condition.

Traditional Neutrality doesn’t work when you’re fighting Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

blofeldPreviously published in The Times Ireland Edition (2017). 

I was speaking this week to the managing director of a small Irish software company who was just back from the states. He was telling me that he had been attending a technology conference where one speaker had announced that the Third World War was currently being waged. What had struck him, the Irish businessman told me, was that there was a murmur of agreement about the statement. That this was not a shocker to the delegates. It wasn’t even news.

Every day, across the world there are battles going on, between hackers, private companies, state players, criminals and terrorists, with the battlefield being the online systems that run modern life.

You say this to people of a certain vintage and there’s eye-rolling and some remark about watching too much James Bond. But consider that only last month NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre held a gathering in Talinn, Estonia, of nearly 600 experts in the field to discuss the securing of vital infrastructure from cyberattack. If NATO, the world’s preeminent defence organisation is taking the issue seriously, then it needs to be taken seriously by us too.

There’s still a feeling amongst many ordinary people that the threat is somehow otherworldly, something that doesn’t affect real life or if it does is of nuisance value more than anything else.  But consider someone accessing air traffic control, or the national electricity grid, or wiping electronically stored medical files, or the ATM system. Picture having no food in the house for your children, and having no cash and your cards not working, things that seem minor until suddenly you can’t get diesel for your car or feed a hungry child.

What’s more worrying is the source of the threat. James Comey, the former director of the FBI, told the United States Congress last week that Russia did interfere by a variety of methods in the 2016 US presidential election. That’s one level. An active attempt to shut down, for example, our nation’s electrical grid would paralyse the country and possibly cost lives.

Then consider the culprits. The Russians? Of course? Terrorists? Possibly. But even more so, even, yes, private criminal enterprises with the power not just to commit identity theft or online banking fraud. But using ransomware on major corporate or national systems goes from being a heist to an attack on national infrastructure. Sounds far-fetched, but we’re not talking some guy sitting in an underground lair stroking a cat. We’re talking exceptionally bright hackers in an apartment somewhere, in Moscow, in Lisbon, in Bristol, in Oranmore with the power to inflict damage on vital systems as disruptive as if they’d bombed it.

In recent weeks we’ve talked about the possible need for an Irish intelligence service. It has been raised in the light of the Manchester and London attacks, but the threat spectrum is so much wider, and we need to consider do we have the capacity and the expertise to deal with threats to our national security and economic stability from Islamists to Russian aggression to freelance operators.

Our traditional response, that sure aren’t we grand lads altogether and sure why would anyone have a beef with us is complacent and ends the day a half dozen bodies lie bleeding in the street outside a US multinational, or a commercial drone bought for a grand explodes a homemade IED with ball bearings over Croke Park during the All-Ireland. We are goalkeepers, and they are strikers. We have to be lucky always, they only have to be lucky once.

The old Irish neutrality works on the basis that all players are rational nation states, and no one would be interested in us. That’s no longer true. A future referendum in Ireland on an EU treaty would be of huge interest to the Putin regime who regard weakening the EU as a policy objective. Of course they’d interfere in our campaign. Putting the Putin regime aside, as with so many things in the age of globalisation, even terrorism has been outsourced and made cheaper and accessible to all. The fear of losing all your laptop files is terrorism, albeit at a nuisance level. Shutting down the approach lights to Dublin Airport is a different scale. The difference is that the latter no longer needs a nation state’s resources to carry out. Look at the recent terror attacks: they’re more the act of a terrorist franchise than part of a wide and coordinated conspiracy.

If you believe that traditional neutrality will keep us safe from those attacks, you are mistaken, because many of these attacks may not even be ideological but pure and simple criminal extortion: give us X or Y happens.

We have a fetish in Ireland about military neutrality, and it seems to come in two forms. The first is the sheer terror that we’ll be conscripted to fight in someone else’s reckless foreign adventure, something which doesn’t just happen unless the national political system wants it to happen. The French and Germans, key members of NATO, refused to send troops to engage in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and guess what? Nothing happened to them. Bottom line is that the only people who decide where Irish troops go are the Irish.

The second fetish is about spending money on military equipment. This is by far the more surreal view, mixed in with a weird analysis that we would never apply to any other item of public expenditure. Ask the Irish to spend taxes on an MRI machine, they’ll have no problem, even if we don’t need it. It could sit unused for weeks at a time in the corner of a regional hospital, a hulking totem to what a compassionate people we are. But spend money on tanks or God forbid armed aircraft and it’s the foreign policy equivalent of saying “Candyman” five times into a mirror.

Having said that, spending money on national security, from terrorism to infrastructure security from  cyber-attack is something an Irish government could justify. Of course, we would have to go through the usual carry-on such as finding an Irish name for the agency that nobody will remember, a huge debate over the terms, conditions and pensions of its employees, another row over where the first director should be a guard or some ex FBI guy, and then finally the Healy-Raes will kick up blue bloody murder unless it’s based in Kerry.

Yes, we’ll go through all that rigmarole, but here’s the big deal. Such is the task of monitoring and acting quickly on intelligence against threats that we’re going to need help from whomever is the best at this, and that means the Americans, the Brits, the French, the Germans, NATO, basically all the people we say we have nothing to do with because we’re neutral. We need the National Security Agency and GCHQ to be listening in to our phones and reading our messages and teaching us how to do it. We’ll need our own well-staffed and equipped GCHQ.

See, that’s the issue. There is no neutrality anymore, at least, not as we know it.  We are under attack now. The HSE was attacked two weeks ago. We are a target rich environment as an EU member, the backdoor to the UK and a major recipient of US investment.

It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when. We need to start spending the money.

If we succeed the public will probably never know. But if we fail it’s all we will ever talk about.

House of Cards meets the Élysée: Baron Noir

If you’re not watching or haven’t watched French political drama “Baron Noir”, you can’t call yourself a political junkie. Whereas “The West Wing” did liberal political fantasy, and “Borgen” did liberal compromise, and “House of Cards” did cynical winning for winning sake, “Baron Noir” does political street-fighting with just a hint of morality.

The series centres on Phillipe Rickwaert, Socialist MP and Mayor of Dunkirk and chief crony of the Socialist candidate for President of France, starting on the eve of the first round. I won’t give anything else away other than the show is about the grubby compromises of politics. And yet… most of the characters, especially Rickwaert played by a brooding but charismatic Kad Merad have a moral centre. Politics matters to them. Nearly all are idealists (some lapsed) and all actually care about what it means to be in public office.

Rickwaert is an intriguing character, at home with the parish pump politics of his local fiefdom as with the battles over what it means to be a socialist in 21st century Europe. Genuine political issues from Marxism to Europe to secularism are debated throughout the show in a way unimaginable in a modern English-language political drama. It shows just how big the gap between Anglo-Saxon and continental politics is: unions still matter, and characters barely bat an eyelid when a prime minister openly advocates a United States of Europe.

There was a time when eyes were rolled at European TV drama in terms of accessibility and production values. No more. This is as good if not better than any political drama on US/UK TV.

All three seasons (it seems there won’t be a fourth) are on Amazon Prime.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Politics: The salary scandal.

A bank employee counts Euro notes at Kasikornbank in Bangkok

1. An individual in a public/NGO organisation is discovered to be on a Lotto style pay package.

2. Organisation initially tries to deem this a “private matter”. Is shouted down by public, stampeding backbench TDs and grassroots members.

3. Organisation admits truth. Suggests that no one in organisation can explain how salary came about. Suggestion that it was made by someone conveniently dead is a popular favourite.

4. Basic investigative techniques like inquiring from the bank who authorised the payments, and working backwards, are deemed “inappropriate”, which is one of the great Irish words.

5. The public get cranky over the idea that anyone can earn over €100k, on the basis that “if you pay peanuts you get monkeys rule” obviously does not apply in Ireland. (See Irish financial regulation, 1997-2011)

6. The story goes around and round in circles with the actual answer, who authorised this, never emerging. Public hearings seem to involve more windy grandstanding than actual specific questions.

7. Someone resigns on a Lotto style severance package.

8. The phrase “for legal reasons” (the other great Irish phrase) is bandied about to blur the situation. In a shock outcome, Learned Colleagues make a nice little earner on whole affair.

9. The organisation promises a new “robust” structure for salary/remuneration.

10. Rinse and repeat.

7 things every real liberal should know.

1. You, and everybody else, has a right to offend and be offended. Too much freedom of speech always trumps too little.

2. Everybody has the right to keep their money as much as you have the right to keep yours.

3. Before demanding someone have more power over someone else, imagine giving that power to your worst enemy, and see if you’re comfortable with that.

4. The validity of an argument is not increased by how strongly you feel about it.

5. It is possible to disagree with someone’s politics but like them personally.

6. Everybody minding their own business is the solution to far more problems than you think.

7. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a compassionate welfare system. There is something wrong with thinking that basic maths has nothing to do with it. Every euro spent has to be taken or borrowed off someone else.

 

Line of Duty: Questions about Buckells.

DSU Ian Buckells played by Nigel Boyce

*Spoiler alert about the season finale of Season 6 of Line of Duty. You’ve been warned.*

I wasn’t that surprised that DSU Buckells was revealed to be H. I can’t claim to be any great detective genius, and he wasn’t my lead suspect (that would be ACC Andrea Wyse). But those of us brought up on modern TV drama and Keyser Soze (The Usual Suspects) know that the criminal has to be an onscreen character (although not a major one) and the idea that he was just pretending to be incompetent, to the point of even framing himself by putting files in his own car is credible.

Indeed, the excellent performance of Nigel Boyce playing the out-of-his-league mediocre middle-rank boss made it all the more believable.

Yet something just doesn’t sit right with me. When his cover is blown, he doesn’t reveal a hidden criminal genius. Indeed, his description of the OCG as a loose coalition of criminal gangs for whom he acted, as the last surviving member of the network of four corrupt officers (Hilton, Cotton, Hargreaves), as a sort of clearing house for just doesn’t ring true.