Lawrence Lessig on Forbin Problems

One of the highlights at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival was this presentation by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. The title of his talk was Will Technology Change Our Life? but that's a bit of a misnomer. His talk really centers on Forbin Problems, a type of problem we face increasingly as we become more dependent on technology and the "experts" who devise complex and often esoteric solutions.

Take financial derivatives for example. David Smick, a global economic policy strategist and financial adviser to the high and mighty, argued in his book, The World Is Curved that the Obama Administration shouldn't attempt to regulate derivatives nor the shadow bank system (i.e. hedge funds) because these instruments were too complex and these institutions too critical to the world economy. His argument was that legislators shouldn't try to regulate what they can't understand. This is a Forbin Problem.

In his talk, Professor Lessig provides examples on how Forbin Problems affect public policy making and takes a critical stance on the pernicious role of lobbying in politics.

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New level of scrutiny reveals more problems with Daschle

When Barack Obama announced plans to nominate Tom Daschle to run the Department of Health and Human Services, I agreed with Ezra Klein that the choice signaled Obama's commitment to get comprehensive health care reform through Congress. I knew that Daschle's wife was a longtime lobbyist, and that Daschle was not nearly as liberal as the right-wingers made him out to be. But we all know that the Senate will be the biggest obstacle to any good health care plan. Daschle knows that body's procedures and the majority of its members extremely well.

The choice isn't looking so good today.

Not paying taxes on the use of someone else's limousine looks bad, but as we saw last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, failure to fully meet one's tax obligations no longer seems to be a barrier to serving in the cabinet. (By the way, Daschle knew about this problem last summer but didn't tell Obama's vetting team.)

Many people might honestly not realize that if they use someone else's car, they need to report the value of that service as taxable income. But what is Daschle's excuse for overstating his tax-deductible charitable gifts and not reporting more than $83,000 in consulting income? If Bill Richardson was asked to step aside because of an investigation that hasn't even proven wrongdoing, then Daschle should not get a pass for not paying his taxes.

As is so often the case in politics, though, what's legal can be even more disturbing. From Politico:

Daschle made nearly $5.3 million in the last two years, records released Friday show, including $220,000 he received for giving speeches, many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.

For instance, the Health Industry Distributors Association plunked down $14,000 to land the former Senate Democratic leader in March 2008. The association, which represents medical products distributors, boasts on its website that Daschle met with it after he was nominated to discuss "the impact an Obama administration will have on the industry."

This week, the group began openly lobbying him, sending him a letter urging him to rescind a rule requiring competitive bidding of Medicare contracts.

Another organization, America's Health Insurance Plans, paid $20,000 for a Daschle speaking appearance in February 2007. It represents health insurance companies, which under Obama's plan would be barred from denying coverage on the basis of health or age.

There was a $12,000 talk to GE Healthcare in August, a $20,000 lecture in January to Premier, Inc., a health care consulting firm, and a pair of $18,000 speeches this year to different hospital systems, among other paid appearances before health care groups.

The speaking fees were detailed in a financial disclosure statement released Friday, which showed that Daschle pulled down a total of more than $500,000 from the speaking circuit in the last two years, and $5.3 million in overall income.

These speaking engagements are legal, but it is an unacceptable conflict of interest for Daschle to have taken that much money from groups with a major financial stake in health care reform.

At Daily Kos nyceve examines one of those paid speeches and tells you why you should care: As UnitedHealth subsidiary Ingenix defrauded Americans, Daschle was its 2008 keynote speaker.

A lot of liberal bloggers are now calling for Obama to withdraw Daschle's nomination and appoint Howard Dean to run HHS instead. As much as I like Dean, I do not think he's the person to shepherd health care reform through Congress. But I agree that Obama needs to find a replacement for Daschle--the sooner, the better.

If Obama stands by Daschle, I suspect the Senate insiders' club would confirm him, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Speaking of stalled confirmations, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming appears to be the Republican who is holding up Hilda Solis's nomination for Secretary of Labor. This is purely ideological, based on Solis' support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Solis has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Will Obama stand behind his choice for this cabinet position? The president expressed support for organized labor on Friday while signing executive orders to boost labor unions.

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McCain Breaks Out Jedi Mind Tricks; Hypnotizes Media

So, I sat down and watched McCain's presser on MSNBC.

He's "disappointed" in the New York Times for running such an explosive story relying only on un-named sources.

Cindy McCain -- whose post-op death mask of a face looks like it will crack if she tries to smile -- was "very disappointed" in the Times.

I didn't count, but it felt like St. John complained about how the Times piece only used anonymous sources about 8 times.

Then the conference ended and MSNBC's team of professional bloviators took over. Joe Scarborough thought that the Times had some 'splainin to do -- how could they have run such a piece with only un-named sources?

I honestly thought Pat Buchanan's head was going to explode on live TV, or at least that he was about to burst a blood vessel. 'How dare they run this tripe based on nothing more than anonymous -- and no doubt "disgruntled" -- former staffers!' he shouted (I'm paraphrasing).

Chris Mathews, who was defending the Times, said that Pat had a good point. 'We'll find out more about why this story was released when it was and in the way it was,' he said. Damn their anonymous sourcing!

Throughout much of this gab-fest, the network ran Chyrons along the bottom of the screen that read something like, 'Explosive NY Times story relied on anonymous sources.'

Here's an excerpt from the Times story:

Separately, a top McCain aide met with Ms. Iseman at Union Station in Washington to ask her to stay away from the senator. John Weaver, a former top strategist and now an informal campaign adviser, said in an e-mail message that he arranged the meeting after "a discussion among the campaign leadership" about her.

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The "Same-as-Me" Defense of the Clintons

Due to a spectacular flame-out of my adapter cord, my post from a borrowed computer will have to be brief.  So I'll give merely an observation.  A number of commentators noted again today the peculiar way the Clintons have criticized rivals this campaign cycle.  Instead of defending their weaknesses, they either claim amnesia (on the Telecommunications Act at YearlyKos, on those funny charts of Perot's on NAFTA, etc) or, more often and more tellingly, the case made is that 'they're just like us.'  

Hillary Clinton, for example, has responded to charges that she was taking substantial donations from lobbyists mostly by claiming that her rivals were as well, just less conspicuously.  (We'll get back to that in a minute.)  Chris Bowers called it "the Blurring" here back in May.

Her recent attacks fit this mold.  Clinton's questions about fundraisers sounded particularly ironic to NBC's First Read:

It's also a bit ironic, too, given that the Clintons have had many more problematic donors than Obama (Hsu, Gupta, Chung, Denise Rich, those donations to the Clinton Library).

The tactic is, of course, clear: to try to prove that Obama is just like them.  

The spectacularcrassness of the Clintons' recent fundraising schemes among Washington lobbyists would be hard to imitate: Her "Rural Americans for Hillary" fundraiser at the lobbying headquarters of Monsanto, or her selling defense contractors access to chairmen of the House Defense subcommittees would be two favorite examples.

Clinton's response?  Not to change her behavior, but to find any sort of kink in Obama's shut-out of lobbyists from his campaign --- highlighting a state-registered lobbyist in New Hampshire, for example, one who, obviously, isn't covered by either Obama's or Edwards' ethics policies because they're not, say, Washington defense contractors trying to buy favors with those who hold the purse strings.  I'll leave you to ponder for a couple seconds whether those things are commensurate.

She has taken to mocking ethics reform efforts using lobbyist talking points:

So, to hear Senator Clinton tell the story, the most comprehensive lobbying reform in more than thirty years -- and one of the major accomplishments of the Democrats controlling Congress -- was a joke...

To hear Senator Clinton spin the tale, the law was a meaningless effort because lobbyists can still serve cheese platters and mini-weenies on a toothpick at a stand-up gathering, when just a few months ago they could feed targeted elected officials and their staffs at the finest restaurants in DC and elsewhere. This is an argument against corruption reform straight out of GOP backrooms and the gilded offices of K Street.

Leaving aside that that ethics reform act, championed by Russ Feingold as well as Barack Obama, also drove Trent Lott into early retirement so as to skirt the reinforced provisions that would have prevented him from taking up a plush lobbying position, we're to believe that it had no impact in Washington.  

Her position that you're not really against the war if you have ever voted to fund the troops is almost funny --- funny because it says what exactly about her own work in the Senate and her years of approving funding after approving the war resolution that brought this country into Iraq?  (It's worth noting on the side that a number of the two dozen Senate Democrats who opposed the Iraq war resolution later voted for funding resolutions once troops were deployed, Dick Durbin for example.)  This is apparently a "clever" way of derailing criticism of her own staunch support of the war by deflecting attention away from it.

Forgive if I take the candidate who from the start in 2002 argued against"the cynical attempt by Richard Perles and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." (Yes, that's a quote.)  Only one of these two candidates stood up at the beginning and expressed their outrage, didn't they?  

The blurring goes on and on...

Update [2008-1-23 16:13:46 by psericks]: Her amnesia over previous telecommunications legislation doesn't of course prevent her from pushing industry-written plans to sell out the progressive goal of expanding broadband access.

[UPDATE] Someone: Clue in Obama! His Campaign Chair is a Lobbyist.

Update [2008-1-6 17:16:21 by susanhu]:
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"Obama campaign repeatedly declines Sunday to explain Obama's debate denial." - The Page

ORIGINAL: And I thought he was the candidate for change? Mr. "No More Special Interests"? We already have a President who is completely clueless. Why does Senator Obama want to emulate W? Poor Obama is completely out of the loop and doesn't realize that his New Hampshire campaign chairman is a lobbyist. A big-time lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry at that.


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BELOW, the rest of the story:

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