Sunday, June 29, 2014

Can Citizens Become a Political Force?

Is there one thing that an average US citizen can do, right now, to help end the current phase of America’s ongoing civil war?

may-day-pac-lessigOnly a few days are left in the crowd-funding campaign for Lawrence Lessig’s citizen-centered Super Pac: MAYDAY-PAC. Aimed at changing the playing field, so that raw money is less of a force in U.S. politics.

Mayday PAC was started by my colleague, Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig (co-founder of Rootstrikers and Creative Commons) — a “super PAC” using the power of kickstarted funds from ordinary citizens to fight the power of big money donors that control America's political system.

You are summoned! To spend one minute – in a minuteman-tradition – to make a difference.  Make a donation  to help reduce the power of influence in politics -- they have five days left to meet their goal.

lesterlandStart with the excellent 2013 TED talk by Professor Lessig called "We the People ...and the Republic We Must Reclaim" -- with over a million views.

Lessig's ideas are further expounded in his ebook, The USA is Lesterland: The Nature of Congressional Corruption -- "a map for a democracy we could reclaim."

USA-lesterland-lessigSummarized by Lessig: "Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.”"

Or view Steve Wozniak's 3-minute video: America's Operating System is Broken.

I am just passing this along for now, for your awareness. I haven’t delved in very far, as yet or done due diligence. But something of this kind is clearly needed.


Leghk said...

Also look at the complementary movements represented by nationwide orgs like and, among many state level organizations who are pressing for a 28th amendment, some via Article 5 convention and others by insisting that congress act,

Tim H. said...

Possibly, average Americans could donate enough, but the oligarchy would have simplicity in their favor. Just thinking, if LBJ & JFK weren't the original sinners in contemporary campaign finance, they had to be pretty close and even then, Republicans disliked them for the wrong reasons.

David Brin said...

I would not want to jinx this, by posting it publicly. But the present situation would seem to offer BHo a perfect opportunity to wring major concessions both from a certain petri-sheik kingdom and from a nearby theocracy. Both should be pretty damned scared, right about now.

The latter could sign a decent nuke deal. The former might offer a $100B trust fund for development - if two 65-year enemies would finalize their peace treaty, ending the bitterest ulcer in the region. Then the US (+Turkey) might go in and flatten some scary fanatics.

Just sayin'

Tony Fisk said...

While the MaydayPAC has reached its first goal ($1Million), it has barely moved on since June 4; currently less than halfway toward $5million. It doesn't look good.

Leghk said...

Note that this $5m goal is independent of the first $1m. Not that the progress is much better viewed with that information, but it does reflect approximately the same rate of fund raising, where the May drive raised the $1m in 13 days.

sociotard said...

Isn't giving money to PACs to counter the power of the PACs kind of like warring for peace or doing something else for virginity?

Chris Heinz said...

I donated, but, I just don't get it. Raise $1-10M, while global warming disinformation has already been funded to the tune of > $1B, and there are several times that in conservative $$$ pouring in other issues. Say $4B? $4B >>> $10M. :-(

Paul451 said...

Or is it like shooting the gunmen to free the hostages?

Alex Tolley said...

I donated, twice, and my wife also fielded emails for them for a month, gratis.

Chris Heinz makes a good point, and it's devastating when you realize how the Koch's alone could swamp even a major success by Mayday PAC. Nevertheless, it is like a terrier biting back and will send a message to congress if legislators committed to change are elected. I've been encouraged that money isn't everything, as Eric Cantor recently discovered, and our own wealthy elites in California discovered when they have tried to run for high office.

Either we try now, or throw our hands up in despair. Or we wait for the pitchforks and burning torches. (or tumbrels for Mme Guillotine as David's preferred metaphor).

David Brin said...

If they get $5M then Lessig might be unleashed to collect enough celebrities to grab the elbow of enough Good Billionaires.. That's where the real money comes from.

locumranch said...

Lawrence Lessig’s citizen-centered Mayday Super Pac is properly named.** It also meets the previously-mentioned progressive criteria:

It mistakes a democratic preference for a fated ideal; it assumes equality and monetary parity when none exists; it ignores conflicting and contradictory data that proves that a Super Pac owned by an impoverished majority (one that controls about 10% of the US monetary supply) cannot compete with a Super Pac run by an oligarchic minority that owns 90% of all available resources; it rests it's hopes on the improbable intervention of either fairies or 'good' billionaires; and it falsely concludes that delusional optimism is the only option other than bleak despair.

In fact, this entire argument (especially the false choice between deluded optimism and despairing hopelessness) is completely irrational, the reasonable conclusion being that such an unequal competition between Super Pacs is effectively unwinnable, that the better option is to choose a more advantageous playing field on which to compete, for it is far better to take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.

In the arena of force, the majority will always win out and the minority must lose, the main problem being that you and I, being minority scientific types, are not members of the majority, nor do we represent them, meaning that you, me and we will be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

** MayDay being the traditional last call when a project goes down in flames.

Alfred Differ said...


You are beginning to sound like those rats that have been trained to surrender by tossing them in a barrel of water from which they cannot climb out. Let them sink and rescue them at the last moment, do it a few times, and they learn to expect rescue, die, but NEVER to to rescue themselves.

Alex Tolley said...

In the arena of force, the majority will always win out and the minority must lose

History is replete with counter examples. Unless you mean in the long run. But then, as Keynes said, we are all dead.

Tony Fisk said...

"Cynicism is obedience."
- Alex Steffen

TheMadLibrarian said...

I'm wondering if this guy is the public face of the 1% who 'get it':


madtom said...

Yes, something of the kind is clearly needed, but . . .

When David took out Goliath, it wasn't by using Goliath's own weapons against the big guy, was it?

We need to bring something qualitatively different to the fight.

Tom Crowl said...

Sooner-or-later it will be realized that a monied "Like" button changes the dynamic in fundamental ways... BOTH in terms of catalyzing more meaningful participation AND securing user identity.... especially if designed and built with mechanisms for privacy where needed or desired... but also with tools for association and organization by the causes making such volume solicitations.

Online causes may attract more clicks than commitments

The Commons is dying because of a lack of technology giving meaningful voice from the bottom. This is not a Left or Right issue. Its a question of allowing a better balance of interests.

Such a network also can become the user's anchor for the development of alternative currencies.

I tried to tell them this back in '08... I should have realized that "Slacktivism" is actually better for a model based on selling user information rather than addressing causes.

And along the same lines:

Why is Washington still protecting the secret political power of corporations?

You know... the Supreme Court is a eensy-teensy bit right about money's relationship to speech.

What they don't seem to understand is you can't give some a megaphone... and put muzzles on the rest.

Simpler methods of transaction... along with low thresholds for participation AND limits CAN lead to a better balance of influence... and play an important role in VRM (in my opinion)

I commend the work of Dr. Lessig. However, as Robert Frost has said:

"The best way out is always through."

The micropayment is the path to the kind of reform he's looking for.

And its important to understand that public funding of all or part of the electoral process is a good idea...

As are technologies for reducing the cost of advocacy generarlly.

BUT the ablity of the individual to advocate and/or support (e.g.) investigative journalism... or matters which may not be comfortable for the powers that be... via monetary contribution must not be completely foreclosed.

Its worth noting that even Lessig has finally realized the importance of funding to get anything done.

Tom Crowl said...

Locumranch RE:

(one that controls about 10% of the US monetary supply) cannot compete with a Super Pac run by an oligarchic minority that owns 90% of all available resources...

I believe this is incorrect on a number of levels.

Not only would the money enabled via a micropayment capability be able to compete...

even if it couldn't (which I argue is false)...

$100,000 from 400,000 constituents WILL outweigh $1,000,000 from a wealth dominated super-pac.

If you don't believe this is true... you don't understand politicians.

The reason they don't react now is they don't hear you screaming at a frequency their ears are sensitive to.

Of course I could be wrong. I propose we test it!

Acacia H. said...

Going on a tangent. Hey, it's my wont. ;)

I recently posted the below on Facebook and realized this crew is far more likely to have an intelligent conversation about this, find holes in my argument, and find other arguments that also work effectively in this. So I thought I'd post it here and see what you guys have to say and suggest. :)


I've noticed one of the big arguments against universal birth control (ie, either having the government pay for birth control methods or requiring businesses to provide insurance that provides it) is "I don't want to pay for women to have sex."

Ignoring for the fact how sexist that is, it's also fallacious. Women are having sex anyway even without birth control. This is one factor behind single motherhood and teen pregnancy. So if we provide birth control for all women, we reduce the number of unplanned and unexpected pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions from unwanted pregnancies, and reduce costs to health insurance companies, medical companies, and government programs.

Thus for a small investment in a cost-saving measure, we have long-term savings with money that can go to other programs that are equally needed but underfunded. Oh, and the results would be seen sooner rather than later because within five years there would be immediate and visible cost savings.

Can you honestly say "I don't want to pay for women to have sex" can stand up to the long-term savings, debt reduction, and economic benefits of providing free birth control for all women?

Rob H.

Tom Crowl said...


RE Dr. Lessig's $5 million dollar campaign for electoral reform:

With a broadly available one-click micropayment capability his goal would have been long since reached.

Maybe he should design an avatar outfit to go with his solicitation and try to raise money by selling it on X-box!

...which is about the only alternative until people wake up to the potential.

Alex Tolley said...

@Robert . I think: "I don't want to pay for women to have sex" is code for "I don't want women having sex unless I am in control of reproduction".

Note in the HL case, SCOTUS allowed bat-shit ideas to trump actual facts. This is going to have huge unintended consequences despite the majority's claim that this is a very narrow decision. (They made the same narrowness claim about the Aereo case, but within hours it was being used to bolster a much wider suit). Theoretically, a small business owned by Jehovah's Witnesses could demand only supplying H/C coverage that did not involve blood transfusions. One could even make up a religion, claim strict adherence requires no H/C support and that would be sufficient to escape paying altogether.

Paradoxically, I think this is a good decision in the long run. While the GOP are hoping this will be a wedge to break ACA, the Democrats can use it as a lever to push for a public option and ultimately universal H/C.

LarryHart said...


Can you honestly say "I don't want to pay for women to have sex" can stand up to the long-term savings, debt reduction, and economic benefits of providing free birth control for all women?

Let me go off on several tangents.

First, I always thought it was silly for the ACA to mandate free contraception. I also think it's a bad idea for the ACA to include an employer mandate. So there are two things wrong with the ACA which led to this sort of USSC decision. It could have been avoided with a better ACA. That is, if a better ACA was politically possible to implement, which it probably wasn't.

Second, in all fairness, even as a man who is getting older and likes sex, I don't see why health insurance should cover Viagara. To me, that's the sort of thing that men who want it will (gladly) pay for, and the free market can handle that. The "need" for viagara doesn't (to me) rise to the level of something that has to be provided by the community.

But all that is "what if". I'd have had some sympathy for the argument if an insurance company wanted the ACA changed because free contraceptive coverage wasn't economically viable. But that's not what's going on, so that's also "what if".

What is going on is that the USSC ruled that a corporation can claim religious belief, and that the corporation's freedom to impose its will on its subordinates trumps the liberty of those subordinates. This is more fallout on the trajectory begun by "Citizens United" and it's getting to the point where it would be hilarious if it wasn't such a dangerous doctrine.

Dig it (as our host is wont to say): Corporations are (by design) sociopathic entities which are not allowed to act on human characteristics such as good citizenship, mercy, sympathy, leaving a better world than one entered, etc, etc. They must act only on profit motive. And these--monsters--are now presumed to possess all of the legal standing and rights accorded to human beings? That's beyond crazy, it's suicidal in a Frankensteinian manner.

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

Paradoxically, I think this is a good decision in the long run. While the GOP are hoping this will be a wedge to break ACA, the Democrats can use it as a lever to push for a public option and ultimately universal H/C.

It will force the ACA to break the link between employers and health care, which it should have done all along.

If Hobby Lobby or the Catholic Church don't want to provide birth control, so be it. But that shouldn't mean their employers are denied the benefit--it should just come straight from "Medicare Part E" and have nothing to do with an employer at all.

LarryHart said...

What I don't get is why so many companies seem to think this is a good bandwagon to jump on.

I would think that contraception costs much less than medical bills for pregnancy and pediatrics. Not to mention that if a company values its female employees, it might not want to outright disrespect them.

David Brin said...

Drove up the Califonia coast to help my son move. The trip coinceided with the attampted launch of JPL's Orbiting Carbon Observatiory -- OCO-2 -- which will nail down Earth's CO2 cycle and is part of a constellation of five earth-sensing satellites bring launched just this year. (The first OCO failed, weirdly, and others were canceled, back during the Bush Administration and it took a while to re-start the program.)

Alas! The first night -- when my son and I were near the pad as NASA guests, someone forgot to turn on the water sprayers near the rocket nozzles and the launch was scrubbed. (This keeps happening to me!) Could have gone back the next morning at 3am but we were already wiped... Still -- OCO went up! And civilization ekes another small step forward, against the screaming resistance of ankle draggers.