Because I consider myself a peer progressive who believes in some role for government and the existence of market failures, I usually don’t agree with Senator Rand Paul. But I strongly support the basis of his filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination: highlighting the excessive powers available to and sought by the President with regard to killing American citizens without due process. I have long felt that President Obama is completely on the wrong side of the drone program which is an example of the military-industrial-security complex at its most pernicious.
We have been headed in the wrong direction on civil liberties and constitutional protections ever since 9/11. One of the original promises of Obama during the 2008 campaign was to reverse course on that. Since taking office if anything we have been going deeper into the rabbit hole (a metaphor also used by Rand Paul). Whether it is warrantless wiretapping or the militarization of the police or the use of drones domestically, across the board things have become ever more out of control and unbalanced by legislative and judicial oversight.
If any of these are based on an extraordinary clear and present danger then the executive should release the evidence for that either broadly or at least to a large enough group of elected officials to make its case. Without that it is high time to re-institute civil liberties and assure our constitutional guarantees. I applaud Senator Paul for taking a stand here and was thrilled to see Senator Wyden also speak out against the drone program.
Yesterday saw the beginning of a massive effort across a large number of Internet companies to help stop PIPA/SOPA legislation. While that is an important fight it is worth asking - can we afford to fight bad bills one at a time? Why do we even wind up with terrible bills like this in the first place? In his new book “Republic, Lost” Larry Lessig accumulates an impressive amount of evidence pointing to the corrupting influence of money on politics. Everyone who cares about the future — whether Democrat or Republican — should absolutely buy and read this book! This is not a partisan work. Lessig goes out of his way to show how special interest lobbying and campaign funding is undermining all agendas and has fundamentally shifted the dependency of congress away from the people and towards the money.
A quick word of warning to the prospective reader: the book has a bit of a structural problem in that Lessig starts with a detailed investigation of the influence of money that is laboring hard to distinguish quid-pro-quo corruption (I give you money to pass this specific bill) from the corruption of lobbying and campaign finance that is pervasive but much more diffuse and hence harder to detect and fight. In these early chapters Lessig sometimes piles on too many facts and “sells past the close.” Don’t give up and make sure you get to the chapters that speak to how this corruption affects both the left and the right and more importantly what to do about it. There Lessig shifts into a powerfully emotional passage about why we should not give up the fight for a republic in the spirit of the framers, i.e. a republic where government depends on the people and not on those with money. It would have been great to have some of that energy at the beginning of the book to carry readers through the early chapters.
Republic, Lost doesn’t just dwell on the problems though it proposes a solution based on limiting the size of contributions and making it possible for everyone to contribute. More importantly though, Lessig also proposes three complementary strategies for how to get Congress to adopt such far reaching campaign reform, when doing so is not in the interest of the majority of politicians and virtually all lobbyists. I am especially intrigued by the strategy of a constitutional convention because I believe it could garner very broad support that would encompass Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.
The possibility of a Constitutional Convention is not the only reason that I came away feeling energized after reading Republic, Lost. The other is that Larry Lessig has a strong track record of not just writing about things but making them better. Thanks to Lessig we have the now widely used Creative Commons license framework. And he is already at it again with not just a book but also efforts such as CallAConvention, Rootstrikers, and UnitedRepublic. I especially like the name of the latter as we will only overcome this fundamental obstacle if we can build a united effort that is singularly focused.
P.S. I just saw that Lessig wrote an OpEd piece in the NY Times today. If you need more motivation for buying and reading Republic, Lost - read the OpEd first which sets out the campaign finance reform proposal!
We live in a time of amazing transformation. Nowhere has this been more apparent recently than in Tunisia and Egypt where people are fighting against entrenched regimes and for democracy. In both places the Internet has played a critical role as an organizing, information and documentation tool. So it is not surprising that authorities in Egypt have taken steps to cut off the people there from all modern forms of communication and especially the Internet.
It couldn’t be any clearer that the Internet is what citizens need to keep their governments in check or (if necessary) overthrow them — not guns! That is why we need a new amendment that protects our freedom to access the Internet, publish on it and communicate through it. That is also why the “Internet Kill Switch” type legislation and anything else that does away with due process (e.g., COICA) is such a terrible idea.
I know that constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in both houses and that we seem further away from that then ever. On the other hand this fundamental issue of supporting the individual’s right to bear witness and to communicate should in theory be something that can be supported by everyone, even the Tea Party.