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Lessig On Corruption and Reform 138

Posted by kdawson
from the only-haggling-over-the-price dept.
Brian Stretch sends us to the National Review for an interview with Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig. Lessig talks about money, politics, money in politics, and his decision not to run for an open seat in Congress. From the interview: "Lessig hates corruption. He hates it so much, in fact, that last year he announced he'd be shifting away from his work on copyright and trademark law... to focus on it... 'One of the biggest targets of reform that we should be thinking about is how to blow up the FCC.'"
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Lessig On Corruption and Reform

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  • Explosives (Score:4, Funny)

    by mrbluze (1034940) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @02:57AM (#22691080) Journal

    One of the biggest targets of reform that we should be thinking about is how to blow up the FCC.

    Why stop at blowing up the FCC?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mrbluze (1034940)
      (err.. and before someone arrests me for that comment, I wasn't being LITERAL)
      • (err.. and before someone arrests me for that comment, I wasn't being LITERAL)

        Don't worry -- you were merely asking "why stop" at blowing up the FCC -- you certainly weren't advocating any violence (or indeed, even implying that you personally would act to bring about any such violence).

        I, too, would not advocate violence against the executive branch of our government, however much they theoretically may deserve to be throttled in their sleep, and however enjoyable that imaginary act could be.

        No, we must follow the laws, which exist for very good reason, as any feasible assassinatio

        • An excellent read. I particularly like the part that references today's fictional law enforcement stock characters who can give nice, patriotic, savage beatings these days and still be considered heroic.
    • by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:26AM (#22691150) Homepage Journal
      Yes! Let's also blow up the other letters of the alphabet! After that, we target pictograms and heiroglyphics!
      • Parent should have been modded Insightful.
      • Dogma is a secure refuge for all pseudo-intellectual adelophobics.

        Adelophobia: irrational fear of the unknown. The general unknown, which would include science, technology, culture/race, death, god, self, others .... A biologist afflicted with adelophobia will be functional with in the realm of text book biology and maybe even stem-cells, but espouse the great dangers of nanotechnology.

        Some of the better known highly distinguished USA adelophobics (I think) are GBMcclellan (No Fighting), DAMacArthur (Politi
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by johannesg (664142)
      Why blow up a compiler in the first place? I'm assuming 'FCC' is some sort of relation to 'GCC'... I tried "fcc -v" but didn't get any meaningful results though. Maybe it is just not installed on my system?
      • by ultranova (717540)

        Why blow up a compiler in the first place? I'm assuming 'FCC' is some sort of relation to 'GCC'...

        Because it is a communist compiler used by hackers who haven't paid for the license. And yes, you are right, it spawns new cells every now and then in a process these enemies of freedom call "proejct forking".

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by tepples (727027)

        Why blow up a compiler in the first place? I'm assuming 'FCC' is some sort of relation to 'GCC'... I tried "fcc -v" but didn't get any meaningful results though. Maybe it is just not installed on my system?
        FCC is a special compiler. If you compile the driver for certain wireless networking cards with FCC, it deletes the source code and leaves only a binary behind.
  • by Bartab (233395) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:08AM (#22691100)
    ... in order to vote for Lessig for Congress. Not that it's a big move, mind you, I live in Oakland.

    It's unfortunate he decided not to run.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dido (9125)

      FTA:

      NRO: Why did you decide not to run for Congress?

      Lessig: The race was a special election being held on April 8. It became clear it was going to be impossible to achieve any recognition of the campaign or the issues in 30 days. The fear was that a failure would be an indictment of the reform movement.

      There may be yet another campaign for Lessig in Congress. More power to him then!

  • "Blow up" the FCC? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Hal_Porter (817932)
    Is it just me or isn't he in danger being invited in for a "friendly chat" with the FBI? Remember kids - we live in less innocent times and rhetorical excesses can seriously mess up your day.
  • by SpaceWanderer (1181589) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:10AM (#22691106)
    I thought this was interesting. Found it on Lessig's blog. Basically, FCC employees brown-nose prospective future employers by decreeing public policies that benefits those future employers.

    The wires are sparking with news of the GAO report (pdf) that FCC insiders routinely tipped lobbyists and corporate insiders about agency agenda decisions before they were made public. This is critical, because under agency "sunshine rules," FCC members can't be lobbied for the week between the public announcement of an agenda and the meeting. Knowing what's going to be announced on the agenda in advance thus gives lobbyists and corporate insiders an opportunity to lobby before the sun[shine rules] rise. From the report: FCC generally followed the rulemaking process in the four case studies of completed rulemakings that GAO reviewed, but several stakeholders had access to nonpublic information. Specifically, each of the four rulemakings included steps as required by law and opportunities for public participation. Within the case studies, most ex parte filings complied with FCC rules. However, in the case studies and in discussions with other stakeholders that regularly participate in FCC rulemakings, multiple stakeholders generally knew when the commission scheduled votes on proposed rules well before FCC notified the public. FCC rules prohibit disclosing this information outside of FCC. Other stakeholders said that they cannot learn when rules are scheduled for a vote until FCC releases the public meeting agenda, at which time FCC rules prohibit stakeholders from lobbying FCC. As a result, stakeholders with advance information about which rules are scheduled for a vote would know when it is most effective to lobby FCC, while stakeholders without this information would not. When I commented upon this to a colleague, his response was typical: "What do you expect? And anyway, so what? What's wrong with giving affected parties a bit more time to make their case?" "What's wrong" first is that the rules say otherwise. "What's wrong" second is that the rules are bent in a completely predictable way. Agency insiders curry favor with precisely the people they'll be getting a job with after they leave the FCC. And "what's wrong" third is just what this indicates about the kinds of bending we might expect goes on inside the FCC. If the agency is willing to bend the rules to favor futures employers, are they willing to put the thumb on the scale in difficult contested policy determinations? But my colleague was right about one thing: "What do [I] expect?" Here's an agency chaired by a former lobbyist. Is it likely to be scrupulous about rules meant to constrain or balance the lobbying process? This example is just one many that is our government. (As I'm learning as I work through the extraordinary reading list compiled by my Read-Write readers at the Lessig Wiki on Corruption. But it needs to become a bigger issue for the candidates in this election. Let's hear a promise by the presidential candidates that they will only appoint FCC commissioners who promise not to work for those they have regulated for at least 5 years after their term is over. That would be real change.
    • by Danse (1026) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:55AM (#22691312)

      Basically, FCC employees brown-nose prospective future employers by decreeing public policies that benefits those future employers.
      So it's just like Congress, or any number of other government agencies.
      • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:18AM (#22692250)
        This only means that your congress and other government agencies are also bad, it doesn't make FCC practice okay and sure as hell doesn't constitute a reason to stop improving things.
        • by Danse (1026)

          This only means that your congress and other government agencies are also bad, it doesn't make FCC practice okay and sure as hell doesn't constitute a reason to stop improving things.
          Didn't mean to imply that at all. Just wondering why the FCC is being focused on rather than another agency. Is there some reason to go after it first? Just wondering if there is some strategy behind this.
          • It might be because Lessig is involved heavily in what the FCC regulates. He starts at the area of his expertise. We'd need more people like him, experts in their field shaping policy.
    • Let's hear a promise by the presidential candidates that they will only appoint FCC commissioners who promise not to work for those they have regulated for at least 5 years after their term is over. That would be real change.

      Promises mean nothing. That kind of behavior is probably already illegal (and if it isn't, it should be made so) with the Feds given to understand that prosecuting those who break those laws are a priority.
  • ...until you get politics out of money.

    More government control of the economy = more corruption. The more opportunity congress has to pick winners and losers, the more money businessmen are willing to spend to rig the outcome. The more powerful and less accountable a bureaucracy is to voters, the less checks their are to curb corruption. This is why the scandals in the previous French government and the UN oil-for-food scandal dwarf anything that's ever gone on in America. And the trend is to makle those bureaucracies even less accountable to votes (think of the EU's centralizing drive, and how the latest UK Labour government decided it didn't need to let its citizens vote on surrendering sovereignty to the EU after all. The more centralized power, the fewer chances for checks and balances to prevent corruption. And of course the communist bureaucracies of the old Soviet Union were the most corrupt of all, with millions killed while the Nomenklatura lived in luxury.

    As Lord Acton noted, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The larger and more centralized government becomes, the more opportunities for corruption.

    • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:35AM (#22691280) Journal
      Lessig doesn't really seem to agree with this. He says he knows government is corrupted by money. The Libertarian answer is to reduce the size of government to reduce the amount of corruption, but Lessig somehow thinks that the amount of corruption can be dramatically reduced without taking that step. But he can't explain concretely how.

      His only plan is to get politicians to promise they won't take lobbyist money, and to "abolish earmarks", and to add more campaign finance restrictions. Sorry Larry, but politicians are professional promise-skirters, and I see no reason to believe that them making yet another promise is going to significantly change how the government works at all levels.

      The "abolish earmarks" thing is especially quixotic; you might as well make them promise to stop gerrymandering while you're at it. They'll find another way to do it, and just call it something else, or outright deny that's what they're doing, playing with the word definitions. As for the lobbyist thing, lobbyists have *plenty* of ways to influence politicians besides outright giving them money, and there's not even a way to enumerate all of them, much less make every politician promise to ignore them, and then enforce that promise.

      I don't see any part of Larry's plan that makes me think it's more sensible than the Libertarian point of view. The problem of government corruption is just too complex to confront head-on, and it's okay to admit that. "Special Interests" are ingenious, well-funded, and determined; thinking that they can be outmaneuvered forever is just hubris. There is a simple solution, and we know what it is: the way to *truly* remove corruption from a part of the government is to eliminate that part of the government.
      • by Danse (1026) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:58AM (#22691324)

        The Libertarian answer is to reduce the size of government to reduce the amount of corruption
        The problem with the Libertarian answer is that it is vague and largely unworkable due to the current level of corruption. You need to come up with ways to reduce the amount of impact the corrupt officials can have by proposing things that are concrete and easier for people to get behind than something like "reducing the size of government".
        • by stinerman (812158)
          Good point.

          The libertarian answer looks good on paper. Neuter the government's power and go from there. The problem is that the politicians will just ignore the new limits on their power, just as they ignore them now. The only people who can hold them accountable, their constituents, won't care enough to throw them out.

          There are a lot of factors working against reform:

          * Politicians gerrymander districts in order to practically guarantee re-election
          * Politicians create arcane ballot access laws and anti-c
        • The Libertarian philosophy is anything but "vague". In fact, Libertarianism is the most well-defined and internally consistent political philosophy I've ever heard, which is probably why I like it, as a computer scientist. It's so clear cut that you can actually apply the core philosophy directly to voting decisions and get an unambiguous answer in many cases, which is not something you can say of conservatism or liberalism.

          As an example, let me run down some of the items on Barack Obama's issue pages (si
          • Libertarianism's answers are often simple, but their justification of these answers very often uses vague a priori logic. For example, libertarians say that we shouldn't regulate against monopoly, because monopolies are actually always caused by government intervention... somehow or other. Or, we should legalize competing currencies, as the US monetary system is going to collapse... any day now.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by swillden (191260)

              Libertarianism's answers are often simple, but their justification of these answers very often uses vague a priori logic.

              That may be the case, but you failed to provide any evidence for the assertion.

              For example, libertarians say that we shouldn't regulate against monopoly, because monopolies are actually always caused by government intervention... somehow or other.

              Did the Libertarian article you were reading on this topic actually fail to say how the monopolies are caused by government intervention? Or did you just stop reading? Taking the example of the monopoly most often discussed on /., Microsoft's business model is entirely dependent upon copyright, patent and trademark law. Without government support, Microsoft wouldn't exist.

              Or, we should legalize competing currencies, as the US monetary system is going to collapse... any day now.

              Libertarians wouldn't say we should legalize comp

              • Taking the example of the monopoly most often discussed on /., Microsoft's business model is entirely dependent upon copyright, patent and trademark law. Without government support, Microsoft wouldn't exist.

                Some people view copyrights as analogous to real estate: both copyright and real estate involve a bundle of state-enforced rights subject to easements. Copyrights are just taxed less. Would libertarians eliminate both, keep both, or somehow justify one and not the other?

                • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                  by Spy Hunter (317220)
                  Copyright is an interesting case. Copyright definitely is an issue on which Libertarians might disagree. I'll give you my take on it.

                  Libertarians are definitely *for* property rights and free markets, so private property ownership stays for sure. Copyright, on its face, appears to create a market for information, and Libertarians like markets. However, Libertarians also like individual liberty. Property rights restrict individual liberty, but a market in private property is required (one might say it'
                • by swillden (191260)

                  Some people view copyrights as analogous to real estate: both copyright and real estate involve a bundle of state-enforced rights subject to easements.

                  Such people don't understand copyright. Since ideas and expressions are infinitely reproducible (unlike real estate), there's a good argument that they naturally belong to all of mankind. The theory underlying copyright is that it's a right that is created solely for the benefit of society, not the creator or copyright owner, and any value that accrues to them is merely incidental. Society chooses to artificially restrain its own natural right to use the creations of its individual members in any way a

          • Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Spending. Bigger government. No.
            Would libertarians give non-subscribers the right to prohibit providers of last-mile telecommunications from stringing wires under or over their land?
          • by amplt1337 (707922)
            [T]he Libertarian viewpoint is very well-defined, and not at all vague. As for whether it's "unworkable" or whether people can "get behind" it, well, that's debatable.

            There's the crux. Libertarianism is a straightforward, clear-cut political philosophy that often serves the interests of vastly powerful non-governmental collectives that would (and increasingly do) limit individual freedoms far more effectively than do governments, without even the flimsy protection offered by voting rights.

            Nihilism is also
        • No, the problem with the Libertarian answers are that, in general, they won't work. As long as the FCC has been mentioned, let's consider the electromagnetic spectrum. In the absence of regulation, everybody will use it as they can, which means that nobody can get good use out of it, due to interference. The reason I can listen to radio stations, for example, is that the FCC hands out licenses, and prevents other people from broadcasting on the same frequency in the same area. The alternative is for rad

      • Lessig acknowledges that the goal is to get to a smaller government; it's even in the article. He pointed out, quite correctly, that the current structure won't get you to a smaller government, and is trying to change the structure.

        As for your "simple solution" - how exactly do you plan to "eliminate that part of the government"? Which seat are you running for again?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sgt_doom (655561)
        You post is quite excellent, Good Citizen Spy Hunter, but I must take exception with you when you state:

        The problem of government corruption is just too complex to confront head-on, and it's okay to admit that.

        In 1978 two pivotal bills were passed by a heavily "purchased" US Congress. First, the bill allowing corporations, via lobbyists and other methods, to buy off Congress, whereas previously they hadn't been allowed to contribute to political campaigns due to legislation created and successfully l

      • you might as well make them promise to stop gerrymandering while you're at it.

        I can think of an objective way to make gerrymandering more difficult. Measure the land area and perimeter of each electoral district. From the perimeter, compute the "ideal area" as the area of a square with the same perimeter, that is, the square of one-fourth the perimeter. Then for each district, compute the land area as a fraction of the ideal area, and require each district to have at least a specified fraction.

        After I typed that out, I looked up gerrymandering on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], and I found that som

      • by RobBebop (947356)

        Sorry Larry, but politicians are professional promise-skirters, and I see no reason to believe that them making yet another promise is going to significantly change how the government works at all levels.

        You might as well say "Americans are notorious morons, and I see no reason why they wouldn't start voting for principled and uncorrupted politicians." If a Senator takes the Change Congress pledge and then turns his back on it, Larry is introduced a level of accountability for the American public to say "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice. Umm. You can't fool me again." If the Change Congress movement gains critical mass such that only uncorrupted politicians can get elected and the elected po

    • More government control of the economy = more corruption.

      And yet, those Nordic countries were the state has great control over the economy are also marked by some of the lowest government corruption in the world.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lastninja (237588)
        We have other types of corruption, nepotism for example is rampant here in Sweden. Also it should be remembered that the laws that our government passes seldom affects business decisions, they are mostly to control the people. So there is rather small reason to try and bribe anyone. unlike France where the people are relativly free from government control but where business is heavyly regulated.
      • by DesScorp (410532)

        "And yet, those Nordic countries were the state has great control over the economy are also marked by some of the lowest government corruption in the world."

        By what standard? What are your references? Links? Something? Or are you just going to pull assertions out of your ass and hope no one checks? If you're going to advocate a government takeover of the economy, at the very least take the time to back up your assertions of why this is such a good idea with proof.
        • by RattFink (93631)

          By what standard? What are your references? Links? Something? Or are you just going to pull assertions out of your ass and hope no one checks? If you're going to advocate a government takeover of the economy, at the very least take the time to back up your assertions of why this is such a good idea with proof.

          To my knowledge there really is only one group out there doing comparative research of this and their research seems to back him up: CPI Ranking [wikipedia.org].

      • by Kohath (38547)
        Everyone's heard it all before. The Nordic countries are a paradise. We know.

        Please consider just moving to one of those countries and spare the rest of us the one-sided, rose-colored analysis of why the US needs to give up everything unique about ourselves and our culture and our lifestyle and change to be exactly like Sweden and Norway. Thanks.

        Aside from that, what's your point? That there's a counter-example to the argument? So what? It's true except in the Nordic countries then. Since the US isn'
    • by jsebrech (525647) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:30AM (#22691432)
      Your assumption seems to be that it is possible to reduce the size of government. I disagree with this notion. If you reduce the size of democratic government a non-democratic government will arise to replace it. Your example of communist russia is an excellent one. After the collapse of the communist government private enterprise filled up the power vacuum that was left, and focused more on profit than on people. The end result was that people actually overall had it noticeably worse under the weak government model that came after than under the all-encompassing communist model of old.

      I might also mention that no country in the EU has abandoned sovereignty because countries can leave the EU at any time without approval from the other EU member states. The EU is a treaty, not a country. This makes the EU very fragile. If it became a harm to its member countries instead of a benefit, it would dissolve rapidly.

      And by the way, the EU has been very good for my country. Without the EU we would have more pollution, unhealthier food, higher unemployment, severe trade and budget deficits, a devalued coin, higher unemployment, and software patents.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kohath (38547)
        If you reduce the size of democratic government a non-democratic government will arise to replace it.

        Therefore, all governments have always been exactly the same size.
    • by jmv (93421) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:30AM (#22691434) Homepage
      More government control of the economy = more corruption.

      Sorry, I have to disagree on that one. Some of the least corrupt governments in the world happen to be the scandinavian countries, which also happen to be very much on the socialist side. You can also find plenty of the opposite case, i.e. banana republics where the government doesn't control the economy and is very corrupt. I wouldn't go as far as saying that more govt control means less corruption, but I definitely disagree on your simple "more control = more corruption" statement.

      This is why the scandals in the previous French government and the UN oil-for-food scandal dwarf anything that's ever gone on in America.

      I disagree on that one to. All the oil-for-food scandals around the world (not just French, there was AU and probably others) are just dwarfed by the US corruption involved in the Iraq invasion. Starting from Halliburton's ex-CEO supporting the was a vice-president, making up false "evidence" (and screwing up the career of the wife of the guy who exposed that in the process), turning a blind eye on over-billing (Halliburton and others), and all the stuff we haven't heard of yet.

      As Lord Acton noted, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

      True, but there are ways to reduce the power of *individuals* while making sure the govt has control on the economy. Just because the US screwed up at that, doesn't mean you have to deregulate everything. What needs to be done is that the power must be distributed. That's the idea behind the US "checks and balance" principles. The only problem is that there's currently an individual who managed to mostly seize most of the powers. That's where the problem is.
      • by lastninja (237588)

        More government control of the economy = more corruption.

        Sorry, I have to disagree on that one. Some of the least corrupt governments in the world happen to be the scandinavian countries, which also happen to be very much on the socialist side. You can also find plenty of the opposite case, i.e. banana republics where the government doesn't control the economy and is very corrupt. I wouldn't go as far as saying that more govt control means less corruption, but I definitely disagree on your simple "more control = more corruption" statement.

        The Nordic countries have relatively little control over the business side of the economy, for example the telecom industry in Sweden and Finland is the most libertarian in the world(last time I checked Nokia was basically the entire Finnish stock exchange). The government do however have large say over working peoples wallets. Since people have relatively small amounts of money bribing officials are out of the question. Getting permits to build a house can take years, but will go much faster if the offici

    • >This is why the scandals in the previous French government and the UN oil-for-food scandal dwarf anything that's ever gone on in America.

      Ever hear of The Gulf of Tonkin?
    • Petitioning your government for redress is a right under the First Amendment. All of you "kill the lobbyists!" types apparently are only concerned about your rights online, not those of others! Put dirty politicians in jail. But don't tell the CEO of the company I own stock in that he doesn't have a right to represent my interests versus the government.

      And no, this isn't a troll just because I had the temerity to disagree with your worldview.

  • If he is in with Obama, and Obama becomes president, perhaps Lessig can win an appointment as Chairman of the FCC.
    • Re:Why not run it? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Bartab (233395) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:16AM (#22691118)
      Are you under some delusion that the Democrats don't like the FCC?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by HaeMaker (221642)
        Obama sought out Lessig for his technology policy! If Lessig gives him a reasonable road map to implement the FCC-related portions of the technology plan, he can easily get an appointment, and there is NOW WAY the democratic congress is going to reject his appointment...unless his nanny is an illegal immigrant.
      • by oldhack (1037484)
        Is that a rhetorical question?
    • First look I read the title as 'Why not ruin it' :)
    • by FudRucker (866063)
      it does not matter who gets to be president, the US federal government is going to continue doing what it does best = fleecing america for all they can get out of it...

      it is the nature of government & people in power to usurp more power at the expense of the freedoms & liberties of its nation's citizens...
    • Obama of all people is supposed to save us from pay-for-play?

      Look who's #2 on TV/Movie/Music donations list [opensecrets.org]. Yeah, I'm sure it's because Obama has promised to pass the Digital Consumer Rights Act.

      Get a clue Lessig, Obama has his out out just like all the rest of them.
  • by rsax (603351) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @04:55AM (#22691308)
    What a coincidence, I just watched Pirate Radio USA [bside.com], a documentary which contains all these fun facts about the FCC and big business.
  • by eclectro (227083) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:00AM (#22691328)
    Many a nerd who happens to read your blog got their ham license through the FCC and talked with the world *before* there was an internet. Or even computers. Many of us built computers from schematics that showed up in the early magazines and interfaced them to radios. We were making phone calls with radios *before* there was cell phones. Countless hams worked in the electronics industry, and worked in companies that brought forth many of the innovations we use today. A ham radio license, which was hard-eanred (most of us automatically decode all that mosrse code when it shows up on TV :D), is and continues to be a cherished part of many peoples lives. And was the beginning of many careers in technology and science.

    While the FCC has many flaws, be careful to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. While I mention ham licenses, they do have a place in technical matters as well.
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      While the FCC has many flaws, be careful to not throw out the baby with the bathwater. While I mention ham licenses, they do have a place in technical matters as well.

      I'm a ham myself, and I tend to think the baby is not much better than the bath water. All the "technical matters" I've had assistance with came from other technophiles. The fact that a few of them were affiliated with the FCC was secondary. They were associated with the FCC because they were hams, not the other way around.

      • by eclectro (227083)
        I'm not saying that they are perfect, and that they could do better in many areas. But the fact is that we can't have everybody jamming the airwaves with their own transmitters and equipment. If there wasn't a minimum of compliance, you would have interference all over the place. People recognized this problem 80 years ago, and why there was the communications act of 1934. As a ham, you should recognize this.
  • Please could someone explain what Lessig means by an 'earmark' in the article?

    • An earmark is this crazy system the Americans have for tacking supplementary pieces of legislation in. For example - let's say there's this important piece of legislation for, say, feeding starving babies. It's bound to get through - no question. So some congresscritter from Alaska says "I'll vote for this, but I'm adding this clause where we also give $500million to build a bridge in Florida". If the bill passes, so does the addition - the earmark.

      It's a tad more complicated than that, but that's the gener
      • The US came up with such a wacky system because it works to the benefit of the people who make the system. It makes it much easier for a congresscritter to funnel money into his or her district.

        The necessary and sufficient condition to stop this is for the US people to change priorities slightly. If a senator running on a platform of cutting $50 billion of waste from the budget can beat one running on a platform of bringing $1 billion extra into the state by any means necessary, the earmarks will mostl

        • Well, it's not just for funnelling money into the congresscritter's own district. The really bad cases are like the one I hinted at - Representative Don Young of Alaska [wikipedia.org] who allocated $10 million to a bridge in Florida, which was opposed by the representative for the district, and was inserted after the bill was approved by the House and Senate, but before it got signed by President Bush.

          The language within the earmark was changed during a process called "bill enrollment," when technical corrections such as

  • by OakLEE (91103) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @09:47AM (#22692138)
    I've worked, studied, and basically lived in current political system for nearly 6 years, and in my opinion, its FUBAR, or close enough at any rate.

    The biggest problem is that our current system was not built to handle vast government bureaucracy that has cropped up since WWII. Now look, before any liberals get pissy, I'm not a Paul-tard, and I'm not saying that government should only build roads, delivery mail, and fund a military.

    That said, fundamentally, the U.S. form of representative democracy was built to do just that. It was meant to keep politics as the local and state level, while the current political discourse in this country has increasingly grown more national. Take the legislative bodies in the states and Congress for example. All of them are based on the idea of direct representation. A state legislator or House Member's role is to keep his or her constituents happy. If not, he gets the boot. And at the state senate and US Senate level (the latter especially after the 17th Amendment), the scope expands to a broader constituency, but the goal stays the same.

    This structure creates an incentive and drive to keep the locals happy regardless of what the greater national interest might suggest. Now, that drive worked perfectly fine as long as the government had very little cash to dole out. Back in the 19th Century, the most a legislator could do was maybe bring some funding back for a new post office, roads, or at most a military installation. Government, especially at the federal level, did little else. Even education was rarely handled at the state level. There was very little money in government, and thus very little to try to corrupt. And when corruption did occur, it was on a much smaller (monetary) scale. (Hell even the land scandals with the railroad companies, while extremely bad, didn't really cost the government any money.)

    Now, fast forward to the current situation where federal spending over the last 50 years has been at least 20% [cbo.gov] of the GDP, and where it is now accepted and expected that government's role is to dole that money out to someone, whether it be corporations through subsidies and contracts, the poor through welfare, students through college grants and loans, schools through grants and funds, the elderly through social security, the sick through medicare, deficit-inducing tax-cuts for taxpayers, and on and on.

    With the current system, legislatures' are lured to keep the local folks happy by offering them a greater and greater share of the pie. They try to squeeze a nickel here, a dime there and before you know it, they've nickel and dimed their way into a quarter-trillion (or whatever it is now) dollar budget deficit. Look at Iraq, look at Social Security, look at the prescription drug benefit, look at no child left behind. All of these are just short term rackets run to please voters without any regard for any long-term damage they might be causing (i.e., inflation, debt, higher tax rates).

    It's the reason why the Democrats spent their way into deficits while they were in power in the 60s. It's the reason why Republicans did the exact same when they took power in the 00s. It's the exact same reason why we'll still be running a deficit 4 years from now regardless of who wins this next election. (In case you can't tell, my pet peeve is deficits.) It's the culture of pork-barreled politics, and the principle behind it ("bringing home the bacon") leads our governments--state, local, and federal--to writing checks that our society cannot cash.

    You know, it's not even really corruption per se. It's just the way the system was set up, and its probably functioning the way the Founding Fathers intended it. They just probably didn't intend for it to go beyond post offices, roads, and the military. All politics is local. Perhaps that is a maxim we (the U.S.) as a country need to rethink.
    • Well said. Anyone who tries to challenge the pork barrel tendencies gets run out of town eventually. Gingrich did. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who takes fighting earmark abuse seriously, got snubbed for an open seat on the House Appropriations Committee by the Republican leadership despite tremendous grassroots support.

      Another problem with overcentralized government: it makes expanding the nation difficult. Annexing Mexico would be a neat way of solving much of America's illegal immigration problem (about 1/3rd
    • by sgt_doom (655561)
      Thank the gods, Good Citizen OakLEE, finally someone who has read and understood Thomas Jefferson.....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Ummmm, yes and no.

      Yes, the US govt has grown immensely since WW2.

      However, the deficits have bloomed out of control due to inadequate taxation on the rich, which began during the Reagan Administration. Presently, the highest incomes actually pay less (percentage wise) than middle income earners. Bush's tax reductions on the rich only exacerbated the problem, and that is why the USA is staring at 1/3 to 1/2 trillion dollar deficits forever.

      What we have seen over the past 100 years is the development of

      • by Kohath (38547)
        ...that is why the USA is staring at 1/3 to 1/2 trillion dollar deficits forever.

        Forever apparently doesn't include 2006 when the deficit was $0.248 trillion.
    • Back in the 19th Century, the most a legislator could do was maybe bring some funding back for a new post office, roads, or at most a military installation. Government, especially at the federal level, did little else.

      You have just described a government that is wholly absorbed in building a national infrastructure.

      If your constituents lived on the Atlantic or Gulf coasts, the Great Lakes, they wanted a lighthouse, a customs station, a ship canal. "Internal improvements" as they called it in those days.

      T

    • Your analysis of deficits is overly simplistic. Under Clinton, the size of the federal government declined slightly, and the budget was far more in balance. (Some sort of force majeure preventing the Feds from using smoke and mirrors to balance the budget would be nice, of course.) When I was younger, the Democrats were the big-spending party. Since 1980, it's been the Republicans. There's always been some group pushing for smaller government and more nearly balanced budgets.

    • by Kohath (38547)
      (In case you can't tell, my pet peeve is deficits.)

      Why? You never said what was wrong with deficits.

      Deficits at a small percentage of GDP are no particular problem. See the graphs on the whitehouse budget page [whitehouse.gov].

      If the total debt as a percentage of GDP is flat, then it isn't a problem for the future -- no more than it is a problem for the present, at least.

      Deficits are a problem, but they aren't a bigger problem than taxes or spending. The deficit as a "ticking time bomb" is yet another false scare. Folks
  • The American system of candidates doing their own fund-raising does give plenty of opportunity for corruption in strong or weaker forms. But it also gives the legislators considerable independence from their parties and better able to represent their constituents (and contributors).

    AFAIK, The US and Japan (India?) are the only major countries with independant legislators. Each vote on each issue must be won, one-by-one. All others are entirely behelden to their parties and eminently whippable. Especial

  • Allocate so many money to each viable candidate.

    Each candidate can choose government financing or private financing.

    Private financing can come from any source, but must be disclosed.

    If a privately financed candidate goes over the limit, matching money will be allocated to government financed candidates.

    Advantages: No candidate can outspend another. No one has their free speech or their spending on free speech restricted (except by voluntarily accepting government financing).

    Disadvantages: It
  • by hackingbear (988354) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @03:28PM (#22693990)

    I'm a citizen of the USA and after I lived in China for a few year between 2003-06, I made this observation:

    In China, corruption is widespread but mostly illegal (and people complaint about it rather loudly.)

    In the US, corruption is not as widely spread but it is mostly legal because it has morphed into "political contribution" and "job opportunity" (and few people complaint about it -- hey, we vote this government -- we are democratic -- how can corruption happen in a democratic system.)

  • America has the best politicians money can buy, and that's why there is never, ever any problem.

    There's just simply no way that, say, oil cartels would push the government into invading other countries, or Banana companies would organise assassinations or anything remotely like that.

    America is the best country, in the world, and the politicians, not the people are what made it that way!

Entropy requires no maintenance. -- Markoff Chaney

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