Search Results

Keyword: ‘lessig’

David Stockman and Larry Lessig suggest a Left/Right reform platform

April 26th, 2014 No comments

[Facebook cross-post]

Larry Lessig said earlier this week:

D.C. Needs a Grassroots Fix That Will Come When Left and Right Find Common Ground
Citizens on the left and right agree that the government is in dire need of reform. So why are the political parties, including the Tea Party, of so little help when it comes to working for legitimate reform?

Lessig refers to a talk/workshop by David Stockman, in which Stockman suggested the following Left/Right reform platform (I quote):

1. For Peace: “Empire America,” as Stockman calls it, must end. No longer can we serve as the world’s policeman. And to staunch our Superman urges, we must radically reduce our military budget so that any urge to intervene takes affirmative action by Congress.

2. For Compassion: The government’s number one job, Stockman believes, is an “appropriate defense.” Number two is to care for those who can’t care for themselves. Yet only a tiny fraction of the transfer payments within our government today actually benefit the poor or needy. Whether or not we can afford entitlements for the middle-class or rich, in Stockman’s view, we must at least guarantee proper support for those who need our help.

3. For Liberty: Both the Big Brother and Nanny State must go. Prohibition (aka, the “war on drugs”) is an illiberal failure. We should declare peace, and call our troops home. And the perpetual surveillance of us by our government is not the America of our Founders. If the police want to invade our privacy, let them get a warrant.

4. Against Corruption—of the Democracy: Congress, Stockman believes, is a failed state. The economy of campaign fundraising has driven the institution to the brink of collapse. Nothing serious will get done so long as this system survives. And no reform, whether from the Left or Right, will get passed so long as the number one job of members is raising money from the especially interested to get reelected. The only way to fix this corruption is to radically change the economy of fundraising. Stockman therefore supports full and exclusive public funding of public elections, term limits and the end to any revolving door to K St.

5. Against Corruption—of the Economy: Our government has been seduced (this former Wall Street executive tells us) by the Wall Street economy. It needs to refocus on the Main Street economy. Government policy systematically tilts towards Wall Street growth. In the process, it tilts against Main Street growth. Stockman would enact a super-Glass-Steagall, separating banks from investment banks, and breaking up the big banks. He would level the taxes between capital and labor (no more special capital gains tax), and put an end to the “Greenspan put”. (Suffice it: Wall Street wouldn’t like the policies of its former executive.)

Lessig concludes:

“[W]hat is striking is just how much there is to agree upon, and yet how little of this agreement is even utterable by lame-stream politicians (to remix that slogan just a bit). Exactly why is it that 25 years after the end of the Cold War, our defense budget is larger (PDF) than it was then? Even if Social Security should be expanded (a view the Left holds but not the Stockman Right), why isn’t our first priority to make sure the poor and the helpless have the support that any decent society would give? Who really is for the NSA-state? Or the war on drugs? Whatever a “financialized economy” means, is there any non-campaign-fundraising-related reason why Democrats and Republicans continue to fall over themselves to keep Wall Street happy? And with 96 percent of Americans believing it “important” to “reduce the influence of money in politics,” why is this even a question to debate?

“The striking fact about American politics today is the gap between America and its politics. If this were a market, entrepreneurs would quickly fill that gap. If this were a democracy, a new generation of leaders would claim it.

“We’ll soon see just what we are—and who the real “reformers” are.”

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Note to Larry Lessig: Shall we amend the Constitution, but ignore possible reforms to limited liability corporation laws in the fifty states?

April 22nd, 2013 No comments

[Note: Cross-posted from my HLS blog.]

When Larry Lessig launched his “Anti-Corruption Pledge” last year, I commented on the Wiki page he set up for it, and left a copy in an earlier blog post.

Larry responded the next day. I copy here both his reply and my counter-comment:

But even if Limited Liability is a more fundamental problem, which I’m not convinced it is, but if: You still need the means to address it, which you don’t have till you address the money problem first. Lessig 10:44, 5 March 2012 (EST)
Larry, thanks for your comment, but I’m not sure I follow you. I think it is a fundamental mistake to ignore that corporations are created in states, despite their tendency to accept if not push for the federalization of corporate law.
Sure, we can try to address money in campaigns at a federal level, but that’s no reason to turn our back on the leverage that we have in fighting for more responsible corporations – and corporate owners. It’s alot easier to win at least one small victory when you’re also fighting in 50 smaller fora rather than just one big one. TokyoTom 14:44, 17 March 2012 (EDT)
Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Note to Larry Lessig on his "Anti-Corruption Pledge": Limited liability corporations are the taproot of both growing government and anonymous rent-seeking.

March 4th, 2012 2 comments

I refer to the very recently-launched “Anti-Corruption Pledgehere, which is the latest project by prolific Larry Lessig, now a Harvard Law prof and head of a corporate reform center there (and whom I have introduced and discussed in a number of preceding posts).

Larry further describes the purpose and motivation of the Pledge at his blog. (I note that I’m strongly in favor of pledges, as I noted in this blog post discussing the Kochs.)

I left the following comment on the discussion page of the wiki that Lessig created for The Anti-Corruption Pledge:

Larry, you aren’t really attacking the chief problem, which the role that STATE-Created limited liability corporations play in centralization and aggrandizement of power in Washington, which then further attracts rent-seeking by increasingly anonymous (who owns and runs these corporations, anyway?) organizations that wish to use a bloated government to receive favorable inside deals and to raise barriers to entry in their respective markets.

Corporations drive the growth of government because their LIMITED LIABILITY aspect means government protects shareholders from liability in the event of tort damage to workers/others/society. Citizens tired of holding the bag then must continually push legislatures and courts for “reform” that perversely helps to entrench the largest firms against newcomers.

Corporations are not simply the “Health of the State”, but they’re created in STATES, which accordingly MUST be a main venue to seek to rein them in. States can stop creating limited liability companies, can deregulate for non-limited liability firms (where owners retain a large tail of risk), etc.

Anonymity is not per se bad – the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers were written anonymously – it’s the anonymity afford to those whom have already received important government privileges (viz., limited liability) that renders them and their agents unaccountable that is the problem.

Thus I don’t see that public funding or limiting and requiring transparency of your broadly worded “political expenditures” (contributions? campaign ads?) really address the root problem.

Fortunately, there are 50 states in which to start campaigning for responsibility owned businesses whose owners are NOT protected by governments from the communities in which they operate.

Large, entrenched public companies are already seeing across-the-board declines in profitability and market capitalization (ask Robert Monks); they can be brought down by Schumpeter’s process of “Creative Destruction”.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

A movement to amend the Constitution is ALREADY underway. See Harvard Law School's Larry Lessig on why we need to call for a Constitutional Convention

December 18th, 2011 No comments

HLS Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered his “Keynote from the Left” at the Conference on the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 24-26, 2011. The conference was co-sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots.

Lessig presented his speech again at Google on November 16, 2011; this is the speech/presentation posted below.

Lessig is the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He co-founded RootStrikers (originally Change Congress (2008) and Fix Congress First!), which aims to reduce the influence of private money in American politics. Lessig is very well known for his work on maintaining an open Internet, but since joining Harvard several years ago has focussed on corruption and politics.

Lessig has joined with a new organization that just launched called United Republic. It is another coalition of people from the right, center, and left tackling the problems of money in politics. 

Lessig is the author of a new book, REPUBLIC, LOST;  How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It. The NYT reiew of his book is here; here is another review at Bloomberg

Lessig’s collection of his speeches is here. His blog is here.

More on the movement to call for an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution is here.

For more, see “How to sober up Washington”—an essay by Lessig and Mark McKinnon on corruption in Washington, voters’ disillusionment, and the need for an Article V convention.


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Larry Lessig sounds Libertarian; says it's time to "strike at the root" of evil of a corporate-funded "marionette government"

January 5th, 2011 2 comments

I’ve discussed previously other pieces of commentary by Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig (now director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard; formerly internet guru at Stanford Law School). Lessig is now focussed on how corporate influence is skewing our reporesentative democracy. 

This time I note his October 16, 2010 presentation at TEDxSan Antonio, which was recently posted on YouTube; I recommend it to readers:


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Lessig waffles in the lion's den: the architecture of copyright stifles creativity, but abolition of copyright is "wrong"

November 12th, 2010 No comments

On November 4, copyright expert Lawrence Lessig gave the keynote talk at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s meeting in Geneva meeting on “Facilitating Access to Culture in the Digital Age”. Lessig points out how modern copyright clashes with creativity, and pushes for WIPO to launch a “blue skies” commission “to frame a sensible framework for copyright in the digital age”. I have posted his talk below; I note that Lessig welcomes comments at [email protected].

Who is Lessig? The WIPO’s bio for Lessig notes:

Lawrence Lessig is the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Prior to returning to Harvard, he was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. For much of his career, Professor Lessig focused his work on law and technology, especially as it affects copyright. His current work addresses “institutional corruption” relationships which are legal, even currently ethical, but which weaken public trust in an institution. He has won numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation’s Freedom Award, and was named one of Scientific American’s Top 50 Visionaries. He is the author of Remix (2008), Code v2 (2007), Free Culture (2004),The Future of Ideas (2001) and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999). He is on the board of Creative Commons, MAPLight, Brave New Film Foundation, Change Congress, The American Academy, Berlin, Freedom House and, and the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation.

Lessig gave a similar talk at a TED conference in November 2007 (Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity; TED describes Lessig as “one of our foremost authorities on copyright issues, with a vision for reconciling creative freedom with marketplace competition” (emphasis in original):

No expert has brought as much fresh thinking to the field of contemporary copyright law as has Lawrence Lessig. A Harvard professor and founder of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, this fiery believer foresaw the response a threatened content industry would have to digital technology — and he came to the aid of the citizenry.

As corporate interests have sought to rein in the forces of Napster and YouTube, Lessig has fought back with argument — take his recent appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court, fighting the extension of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years — and with solutions: He chairs Creative Commons, a nuanced, free licensing scheme for individual creators.

Lessig possesses a rare combination of lawerly exactitude and impassioned love of the creative impulse. Applying both with equal dedication, he has become a true hero to artists, authors, scientists, coders and opiners everywhere.

“Lessig has built a reputation as the king of Internet law and as the most important next-wave thinker on intellectual property.”

New York Magazine

Here’s his WIPO talk:


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Liberal Lessig attacks corporate rent-seeking, praises Tea Party candidates' call for a moratorium on earmarks

November 12th, 2010 No comments

Law professor Lawrence Lessig (once Stanford, now Harvard), the internet’s most famous lawyer and founder of the Creative Commons open licensing endeavor, has turned to issues of open and clean government (as I have previously noted), in part in his role as director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard.

In this concern, he remains refreshingly nonpartisan. Here are excerpts of what Lessig wrote on November 11 at Huffington Post:

Many of my friends have been puzzled that I have not been a strong critic of the Tea Party. Indeed, quite the opposite, I stand as a critical admirer. That means that while I don’t share most of the substantive ends of many in that movement, and I strongly object to the extremism of some, I am a genuine admirer of the urge to reform that is at the heart of the grassroots part of this, perhaps the most important political movement in the current political context.

My admiration for this movement grew yesterday, as at least the Patriots flavor of the Tea Party movement announced its first fight with (at least some) Republicans. The Tea Party Patriots have called for a GOP moratorium on “earmarks.” Key Republican Leaders (including Senator Jim DeMint and Congressman John Boehner) intend to introduce a resolution to support such a moratorium in their caucus. But many Republicans in both the House and Senate have opposed a moratorium. Earmarks, they insist, are only a small part of the federal budget. Abolishing them would be symbolic at best.

This disagreement has thus set up the first major fight of principle for the Tea Party. As leaders in the Tea Party Patriots described in an email to supporters,

For two years we have told the media and the rest of the country that we are nonpartisan and that we intend to hold all lawmakers to a higher standard.

This, they insist, is their first chance for that stand with the new Republican Congress. And the Tea Party Patriots have now mobilized their list to pressure Republicans to support this first and critical reform in the new Congress. …

Earmarks are not bribes. But they are an essential element in the corruption that is Congress today. As Washington Post reporter Robert Kaiser describes in his fantastic book, So Damn Much Money, they have become the key to an incredible economy of influence that effectively enables lobbyists to auction too many policy decisions to the highest special interest bidder. That economy won’t change simply by eliminating earmarks. But eliminating earmarks is an essential first step to starving this Republic-destroying beast.

A government in which access can be bought, and influence paid for is not the Republic our Framers intended. They wanted a Congress “dependent,” as Federalist #52 puts it, “upon the People alone.” But through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Congress has evolved to become “dependent” not upon “the People,” but upon “the Funders.” Earmarks are a critical element in that dependency. And if we’re going to end government captured by an elite, we have to end that dependency.

This fight is just the first in a series that this more principled wing of the Tea Party movement can expect. For the truth is that not everyone on the Right shares their passion for ending the corruption that now rules Congress. During the rise of the GOP in the 1990s, some of the rights suggested that it was just “socialist” to question the power of the rich to buy influence over our government. The ideals of the free market, these GOP leaders insisted, should include a free market to buy government policy.

That idea is heresy to anyone standing in the tradition of Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan. (Friedman, for example, insisted on a free market within the rules set by the government; he didn’t believe in a free market for those rules.) Yet that idea governs too much of both the Republican and Democratic parties of the past 20 years. It is an important and valuable development for the Republic that a powerful and passionate political movement on the Right makes ending this free market in government influence a core plank in its platform.

But if the Tea Party is really to be “nonpartisan,” then it needs to stop limiting itself to speaking to Republicans alone. Important Democrats share at least some of their reform ideals, including otherwise liberal Democrats, such as Congresswoman Jackie Spear (D-CA). The movement should rally Members from both the Right and the Left for any reform that is right (as in correct). The Tea Party Patriots’ reform to abolish earmarks is plainly that.

Now, of course, I have no illusion that my admiration for the Tea Party can be returned. A movement against “elites” is not likely to listen to a Yale educated Harvard Professor. But if that movement is to be as central to the restoration of the American Republic as its most passionate supporters believe, then it needs to recognize that while we don’t share common ends, we do face a common enemy. Special-interest-government is anathema to both the true Right and the limping Left. Progress would be to work together to end it.




Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Are libertarians interested in Lessig's call for cross-partisan action (campaign reform and Constitutional amendment) to clean up Congress?

October 9th, 2010 No comments

As I have previously noted, renowed Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig is also seriously concerned about political corrpution and the Citizens United decision.

I recommend to readers his recent Washington Post op-ed, his related WaPo interview by Fred Hiatt and his August talk to TED Boston (which can be found here, though Lessig has yanked it because of an apparently spurious Lincoln quote about corporations).

In addition, as I think there is a role for libertarians to play in informing the discusssion, I copy here his September call for a non-partisan effort to reform Congress at Fix Congress First! (emphasis added): 

Where We Are, Where We’re Going

September 22, 2010

By: Lawrence Lessig

On Thursday, the House Committee on Administration will take a vote on the Fair Elections Now Act — the bill that we, along with many others, have been pushing for the past two years. The Committee will pass the bill. With a bit of luck, and a lot more pressure, the managers of the bill believe it could have the votes to pass the House as well. If they’re right, and if the Speaker allows the bill to come to the floor, then for the first time in a generation, the House will have ratified fundamental and effective campaign finance reform.

This optimism will surprise many of you. As I’ve travelled to talk about this issue, the overwhelming attitude of people who want better from our government is that our government is incapable of giving us better. The House ratifying Fair Elections would be the first, and best evidence, this skepticism might be wrong. It would also be a testament to the extraordinary work of organizations like Public Campaign and Common Cause (especially the campaign director, David Donnelly), as well as many others, including MoveOn, the Coffee Party, You Street (as in “not K Street”) and many of you. This victory would give American voters an idea worth fighting for. It would be a critical victory, at least if we can gather the final few votes needed in the House. (You can help in that by using our Whip Tool).

But we should recognize that this victory would also be just a first step. I don’t believe the Senate will pass this bill this session, which means the fight must begin again in January. So as we’ve been at this now for almost two years, I wanted to give you a sense of where we are and where we’re going. I also want to begin to share with you my own sense of how to get there.

This isn’t a short letter. But I hope you’ll take the time to read it. (Here’s a PDF if you want to print it). We all need to understand the kind of fight this will be. And after many sleepless nights thinking it through, I believe I have a sense of what victory will require.

Reform Movements, Past

The fight to win in the House has been a traditional legislative battle waged effectively and well. I joined this fight late, and I’ve been happy to help however I can. But the kudos here goes to those I’ve already mentioned. Fingers crossed, they will have done what the experts thought was impossible.

But as I’ve said many times before, we cannot rely upon this inside the beltway fight alone. The change that the Fair Elections Now Act would effect would change Washington fundamentally. There are too many inside DC who depend upon the system as it is — for their own wealth, and future. They are not about to permit this fundamental change, and they have not yet even begun the fight against it.

Instead, the battle to pass this reform will require something that none of us have seen in our lifetime — a broad based, cross-partisan, citizens movement that demands fundamental change in how our government works.

This movement must take aim at the core corruption that is our government. Not the corruption of bribery, or improper (as in illegal) influence. Instead, it must attack the in plain sight corruption of the current system of campaign finance. Our Congress has become dependent upon their Funders. Their attention is devoted to their Funders. And like a 5 year old watching his dad on his BlackBerry, we get that we’re no longer the most important souls in their lives. In a very precise sense of the term, this Congress has been corrupted by this competing dependency. We must change this.

The last best example of this sort of change is a movement that is as misunderstood as any in American history — the Progressive Movement. Most of us today think the “progressives” were liberals. No doubt many were. But as I described in a piece for the Huffington Post, Progressivism was actually a multiparty movement. It was a Republican, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette, who took up the Progressive cause for the Right, by challenging a sitting Republican President, William Howard Taft. La Follette lost, but he inspired Republican Teddy Roosevelt to return from the wilderness to wage a third-party campaign against Taft. In that election of 1912, America had an extraordinarily broad range of ideologies to choose among: Eugene Debs ran as a Socialist, Taft ran as a “standpat” Republican, and two Progressives ran between these two extremes: TR, a former Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a new kind of Democrat. Almost 70% of Americans voted for these two leading Progressives, with Wilson — the more conservative, small government, pro-liberty Progressive — beating Roosevelt by almost 15 points.

Of course, the Liberal Progressives of 1912 wanted different things of government from the Conservative Progressives. But despite these differences, they shared a common recogniti All Progressives believed that government had become corrupted. That with its appointed Senate, and enormously powerful corporate funding of elections, our democracy, they all believed, was no longer a democracy. The government had become dependent not, as Federalist No. 52 puts it, “upon the People alone.” Instead, it was the People who were left alone, as the government did what ever it could to curry favor with the richest and most powerful in society.

Progressives of all stripes wanted to restore that democracy — again, not because they all agreed upon a single platform for government action, but because they all believed that the platform of democracy had to be restored if we were to be true to the best ideals of the founders.

Cross-partisanship was thus the first feature of that Progressive Movement. Headlessness was a second. Though there were many important Progressive leaders, the Progressives had no single leader. Every Progressive group did their own work in their own field. None tried (for long at least) to claim the authority of the movement as a whole. Everyone recognized a common need to reform a corrupted government, and worked with astonishing public commitment to achieve that reform in addition to the particular policy objectives that their wing of the Movement wanted to push.

Finally, there was one more critical element to the Movement’s success: citizens. This was not ultimately a movement controlled by politicians. Of course, we remember the movement for its politicians. TR, and Wilson, and perhaps now that I’ve mentioned him, La Follette. But politicians were not the lifeblood of that movement. Citizens were. There were thousands of leaders in hundreds of fields, from women’s suffrage to the temperance movement, to labor reform, to judicial and electoral accountability. These citizens were the giants. Yet the overwhelming majority of these people never dreamed of running for office. They had been awoken from a slumber by the repeated and grotesque excesses of a corrupted government. And they worked hard to end that corruption, not to become famous senators, or president. But so that they could go back to their private life, and do the private things they wanted to do.

It was this cross-partisan, headless, citizens movement of passion that changed the American government at the turn of the last century. Not in perfect ways. In some cases, not even in smart ways. But the point to remember is that this change happened in the only way real change ever does: From the many, putting aside key differences, to focus the swarm upon the key problem in government: corruption.

Reform Movements, Today

As hard as this might be to believe — given the way most of us are oriented by party leaders who want to keep us loyal to the way things are now — each of these elements of the old Progressive movement is returning to American politics.

Start with passionate citizens: We have not in our lifetimes seen as angry and frustrated a citizenry as we now have. That anger sometimes expresses itself poorly, but we need to get beyond this critique. From the Tea Party to the Coffee Party to the millions of Americans who call themselves “Independents,” America is filled with citizens who are desperate to end the corruption that is our government. Many of these citizens thought they had their reform leader in 2008. All of them are now looking for the leaders who can deliver the reform that 2008 didn’t.

“Leaders,” not “leader.” The key here is the plural. We are used to movements in the style of Mussolini: charismatic leaders, like FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, who unite millions to a cause. But that’s not what’s happening here. No doubt there are leaders, but none who can pretend to speak for the full breadth of this movement. Indeed, my heroes are people like Mark Meckler, and Jenny  Beth Martin, who however much I disagree with them on policy substance, conceive of the movement they are trying to build (the Tea Party Movement) as a swarm, not an army; as headless, not the borg. This is the model of real reform. It is the model that our reform too must make successful.

And finally, cross-partisanship: The Tea Party Movement has been framed as right wing. Its most successful candidates are on the far right of the Republican Party (localized at least: Scott Brown is no Rand Paul, but he is the Right of Massachusetts). But the most significant and important part of the Tea Party Movement is the demand for fundamental change, not just a change in parties. And in this respect, they are no different from many of us on the Left. No doubt, we don’t have common ends. But we do have a common enemy. And we need to find a way to push a common movement that defeats this common enemy, through the peaceful mode of revolution given to us by our framers: Democracy.

In the next two years, I want Change Congress to help this Neo-Progressive movement. That may well not be the right name, given how misunderstood the term “progressive” now is, but it is the right idea. We need to build a community of citizens, each taking the initiative to teach a message to Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike: that regardless of your party, regardless of what you want government to do (or not do), the current system is the enemy. And regardless of what you want government to do (or not do), you won’t make progress to your ends until this system fundamentally changes.

This lesson won’t come from lectures by law professors. It won’t be taught by senators, or candidates for president. We will only spread it if we can get at first thousands, and then millions, to carry the word friend by friend. In house parties, over dinner, in Rotary Clubs, and in small meetings. We need to provide the tools, and build a platform to help spread the message. But the message here is not Read-Only. It is Read-Write. We must give citizens the resources to enter into this debate, and then encourage them to spread the message as broadly as they can.

This will make our work somewhat different from others in this movement. The standard form of digital advocacy today is clicktivism — finding ways to get people to react to messages, to push support (and of course, raise dollars) to one group and then another. The strategy is simple: Build a list of people who agree with you, and push their buttons so they click yours in return, and send you cash, and support.

We want to do something different. We want to build a conversation that engages a wider and wider community, focused on the single objective of fundamental reform. We want that community to spread the message. Not just our message, or my message, but their message, or at least a message remixed, hand-made, by them.

Here’s how are are going to do this.

We’re first going to build out more explicitly the cross-partisan character of Change Congress [now Fix Congress First]. Already our board has an extraordinary mix of talent. In the next 6 months, we will expand that mix more. All of these leaders are leaders in their own field. None of them intend to be leaders in government. Indeed, as I think about who to recruit to this list, the single question I ask myself is this: Can this person inspire others without others believing the inspiration is just the first step to their own political campaign?

Second, while we continue to build the board, we will also strengthen the communities that it supports. Today, many of you associate the work of Change Congress with me. If we are successful, next year, the vast majority of Change Congress followers will not even recognize me among the many who are pushing this message. None of us, me especially, will try to claim control of this movement. All of us, and me especially, believe there is only a movement when there are many cells of strength each pushing in its own way. Remember: A swarm, not an army; headless, not the borg.

Third, as we multiply the parties, and multiply the leaders, we will push to spread tools that anyone can use to learn, spread, and teach the message. Through SlideShare, we will make available the assets anyone needs to craft this story in the shape that makes most sense to them. Through our video channels on Vimeo, YouTube, and, we will make available as many of the telling of these stories as possible, for you to use however you can to do the same with your friends. The mission here is shared. The responsibility is all of ours. And through the work of all of us, we will build a recognition of the kind of change that is needed here.

Justice Louis Brandeis, perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most misunderstood, Progressive of the last century, warned “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people,” and demanded “that public discussion is a political duty.” When I first read that quote, it sent a chill down my spine. For of course: We, as a People, have become “inert.” We have not lived up to our “political duty.” We have instead allowed the professionals to take over our politics.

But we have a chance to do something here. It will take an enormous effort to teach and then persuade. We don’t have easy anger to tap into here. But as I’ve found as I’ve given more than a hundred talks over the past few years, there is real anger and real commitment to this issue once the issue is understood. Our role in this must be this ground campaign — building a large and powerful base that recognizes the peculiar corruption of this Congress, and how it must change.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Visit Don’t simply sign up for the mailing list. Instead, read about the Fair Elections Now Act. Skim the blog to get a sense of the current conversations happening around election reform. Convince a friend, online or off, about the need for fair elections. If we can get one million people each to have a real conversation about corruption and campaign finance, we will have succeeded.
  2. Do join the Fix Congress First mailing list if you’d like to stay informed. Better yet, tell us if you’d like to volunteer, and we’ll let you know when opportunities arise.
  3. Visit the Fix Congress First whip tool to see which members of Congress haven’t yet supported the Fair Elections Now Act. Call your representative if he/she is not a supporter, or send your thanks if she/he is.
  4. Use your networks. Spread the word. Take things into your own hands. Tell us how we can help you and how we can do better.
Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Historic Times: A libertarian view on what liberal Larry Lessig has missed regarding our broken, corrupt government

February 10th, 2010 No comments

I won’t reprise the essay referred to in my preceding post, by which Lawrence Lessig presents his view of our current problems (much of which I agree with, including his conclusion that the “conservative” Roberts Supreme Court five-Justice bloc has acted with considerable activism in overturning centuries of law-making, in a manner that cannot be seen as consistent with any “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution, and that fruits and prospects of such activism are likely to frustrate further legislative attempts at fixes).

While I agree with Lessig’s call for a movement for the Several States to convene a Constitutional Convention, let me note that his analysis certainly has some serious short-comings and blind spots. In my view:

(1) Lessig completely
misses the real root of corruption, which is the grant by states to corporation owners of legal entity status in which owners had no liability for acts of the corporation (unless they specifically directed such acts), which grant was initially jealously guarded and carefully
The trickle from this hole in the dike became a flood,
as wealthy investors – eager to fund risky businesses that might give
them great profits while shifting risks to unconsenting third parties –
pressured state lawmakers for a snowballing liberalization – which saw the removal of limits on corporate purposes, corporate life, and corporate ability to own other corporations. As I have discussed repeatedly, the result of the multiplication of
activities, power and negative impacts of limited liability corporations (including their
successful pressuring of courts to eliminate common law tort doctrines that once strongly
protected the rights of property owners, in favor of a social utility balancing) has been a corresponding rise
in demands by citizens that law-makers act to constrain corporate activities, which in turn has produced a steadily escalation in the fight over the wheel of government.

(2) As a
result of this oversight, Lessig fails to consider (i) whether the
states can provide any check on corporate influence via their power to
condition the grant of incorporation/foreign corporation status
of a Constitutional Amendment eliminating corporate “personhood” for
civi rights purposes), instead suggesting that Congress might insist
that corporations engaged in interstate commerce be federally
incorporated and limited and (ii) whether states and federal
governments might regulate BETTER by easing the regulation of
partnerships, similar associations and corporation that have unlimited
, and whose owners have direct incentives to make sure
their executives do not engage the business in activities that generate
a significant risk of liaibilty to others

Lessig ignores that the reason corporations and labor pour money into buying
favor in Washington is because the federal government is too busy
selling favors
, and such investments pay off – particularly where a
single party gains monopoly control over the pork spigots. Lessig seems blind to considerations of federalism and limited
government, in favor of the premise that anything the people in Congress assembled want to do is okay
, as long wealthy corporations aren’t able to spend money on swaying the election of Congresscritters or buying votes, and if retired Congresscritters are not allowed to pasture too close to Congress..

(4)  As a result, Lessig
fails whether rent-seeking can be checked in part by restoring the once vital
check and balance provided by a vibrant role of states under the
originally envisioned federal system
. For the purposes of restoring power to states, various conservatives have recently been suggesting (i) a reinvigoration of the moribund Tenth Amendment,
which states that non-delegated powers are reserved to the states and
the people (the Supreme Court assisted the federal government in
killing this part of the Bill of Rights via expansive interpretations
of the authority of Congress under the general welfare clause, the
Commerce Clause and the 14th Amendment) and (ii) repeal the requirement of direct elections of Senators under the 17th Amendment, which is argued to have better enabled election pandering and influence by corporations and by national parties.

(5) Finally, Lessig misses that the real reason why the conservative block on the
Roberts Court struck down limits on direct corporate spending
political campaigns
(speech is wide open; direct donations to campaigns remain limited, but
will eventually fall on the corporations=persons doctrine) is that the Supreme Court had gradually allowed a two-part corporate speech structure to grow, with speech by “media” corporations being unlimited
(“freedom of the press” getting a separate mention in the First
Amendment), but political speech by other corporations being heavily
by Congress.

This very imbalanced structure was long resented
by the right, due to the perception that the dull, corporate,
conglomerate”MSM” had been “captured” by ideological enemies on the
left. Resentments began to run the other way with the establishment of
FOX and various corporate-funded “thinktank” groups by the right (which seems heavily invested in the idea #CorpSpeak without, apparently, making any examination of the premises that inanimate legal fictions much different from other human associations have rights to speak and influence to government), but the Roberts court felt that the influence of the “liberal” corporate media was still too strong, and decided simply to do its best to bring down the entire edifice of “media speech” versus #CorpSpeak distinctions.
The Roberts Court appears to have been too timid or incurious to
address the fundamental problems relating to speech by inanimate
institutions with far greater power and far less community check than
individuals, and so blinked at that opportunity, instead opting for
the far lesser but still extremely activist step of taking a demolition
ball to legal restrictions on competition in the flow of ideas from corporations

For the curious reader, I note again my preceding posts on  corporate “free speech”.

Those who want to get further stirred up might want to give another
listen to the new music video Anthem of what our Founding Fathers said
to King George:  It’s Too Late to Apologize.

Historic Times: Larry Lessig calls for Constitutional Convention to fix our corrupt, broken government

February 10th, 2010 No comments

Lessig doesn’ expressly say it, but we also need to rein in the “self-evident”, “unalienable rights” of all corporations

Actually, the last quip in the title are my words, not Lessig’s.

Last week, I noted Harvard law prof Lawrence Lessig’s earlier rebuttal to Glenn Greenwald regarding the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United to overthrow centuries of American law and jurisprudence on the rights of corporations and to enshrine corporations – legal fictions created by states and with powers very severely restricted at the time the Constitution was negotiated and ratified by Americans who had recently rebelled against British company-structured colonies and monopolies – as entitled to “speech” under the Bill of Rights on the same basis as men, and made the following observation:

As an aside, other, non-corporation forms of property that had real human bodies – such as slaves – were clearly NOT afforded Constitutional rights of any sort at the time of the Revolution/Bill of Rights; freed slaves as they became citizens and non-citizen Chinese coolies received Constitutional protection ONLY when the Fourteenth Amendment was expressly adopted to extend “privileges and immunities” to citizens and “due process” and “equal protection” to “persons”.

It was this reference to “persons” that smart/prevaricating lawyers for extremely influential railroad corporations were able to persuade a sympathetic Supreme Court – in unargued dicta by a Justice and recorded in headnotes by a Court’s Reporter who were both former railroad lawyers – to the effect that either (i) the 14th Amendment-adopting states had all intended to mean that it would be the federal government, and not the states creating corporations or giving them permission to do business in-state, who would determine whether domestic or out-of-state corporations received “equal” protection of state laws as did citizens or (ii) that such was the hidden purpose of some railroad-friendly drafters of the Amendment, and that such hidden purpose should govern in interpreting the Amendment.

Is there any surprise that most of the subsequent 14th amendment case law is about how monied corporations vigorously pursued and advanced their interests, while blacks and foreign residents continued to get short shrift (“separate but equal”) from unconcerned federal judges?

Now, the thoughtful and highly regarded  Lawrence Lessig has written a must-read article in The Nation; “How to Get Our Democracy Back; If You Want Change, You Have to Change Congress” (February 3; February 22 print edition).

I won’t reprise the essay here — I have a few comments on what I see as serious shortcomings and blind spots in Lessig’s analysis, but the draft of these grows long (like my aside above) – rent-seeking; corporations; religion; limited liability; Constitution, speech, states, federalism – so I will post them separately.

Lessig’s article is a key starting point and long enough, though I will advise/remind the curious reader of my preceding posts on  corporate “free speech”..

In calling for amendments to the Constitution, Lessig joins others that have come to the same conclusion years ago, such as “whacko”, snivelling local communities/enviro-commie fascists (snark!) seeking to control the impacts of large multinational corporations on local communities and resources, and some state-righters seeking to breathe some meaning back into the Tenth Amendment and the moribound body of federalism. More on this later.

Those who want to get further stirred up might want to give another listen to the new music video Anthem of what our Founding Fathers said to King George:  It’s Too Late to Apologize.