August 21, 2003  ·  Lessig

So a bunch of people in San Francisco (with Brewster Kahle, who’s behind all great ideas behind it) are building a free wireless network for the city, called sflan. My wife’s and my house is to be sflan16, and last weekend the team came to the house to install the antenna.

Our house has just undergone major renovations (a 9 month project which is 6 months late; the other 9 month project is humming along just fine with eta 2 weeks), and we included in those renovations a conduit from the roof to a server room in the basement.

But when we tried to run the Ethernet cable from the roof to the basement, we discovered that the conduit makes 3 90-degree turns and one 45-degree turn, and it was not at all clear how one pushes a cable through such a maze.

So of course we turned first to the internet. I typed in a totally natural language question into Google (which I find these days is increasingly the best method): something like “how do you thread a cable through a long conduit with 90 degree angles.” The first post that came up was a thread from some list titled Threading fiber through a long conduit. This thread reported no good luck, but it had the kernel of an idea: a vacuum cleaner.

So we took a bit of foam, tied it to the end of a roll of kite string, and connected a small Shop-Vac at the other end of the conduit (which is at least 50 feet long). Bingo. The key, it seems, is to have a big but light obstruction, and google at hand.

August 21, 2003  ·  Lessig

Lawrence Solum on “Copynorms“, the “informal social attitudes about the rightness or wrongness of
duplicating material that is copyrighted.” Is there a convincing account of the source of these norms?

August 19, 2003  ·  Lessig

I’ve been talking to a bunch of people about blogs and their effect for a book I’m supposed to be finishing this week. This is an interview with Governor Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi. Feel free to use it as the Creative Commons Attribution license permits. And corrections appreciated.


L: Did blogs come to Dean, or did Dean come to blogs?

T: That’s an interesting question.

For almost 2 I’ve been an avid reader of blogs � commenting occasionally, but mostly a lurker. About 18 months ago I was reading a blog, and there was some comments that this guy Howard Dean might be running for President. I made a comment or two and I came back a couple days later and then began reading the blog pretty constantly. When I came on as campaign manager, I knew we wanted to do a blog, but I didn’t have a big sense of urgency about it. I had a bunch of other things to worry about, but then two things happened that I think are interesting.

The first was I was reading the blog one day, and saw this interesting thing called that some of the Dean people from around the country were trying to use to meet up about Howard Dean. That caused me to check the site. Within a few weeks, we’d made the decision that we were going to encourage people to do That idea came straight from a blog �

The second was another little twist of fate, or maybe destiny. A guy named Matt Gross came wandering into my office one day. He told me he had just driven from Utah because he cared so much about Howard Dean. He had decided to drive to Burlington without calling first, looking for a job. He managed to maneuver past the receptionist’s desk and stuck his head in long enough to scream out, “I wrote for the myDD”! I immediately said, “You’re hired!” And I think about 48 hours later he had this really ugly blog up that was on Blogspot. He was going to run back to Utah and get all his belongings and come back, but I said he had a job on the condition that he got a blog up before he left. And so in 3 or 4 hours, he created what was then the “Call to Action” blog. It was cute and ugly at the same time, but I think it was the first blog of a presidential campaign.

L: What kind of pushback did you get about the idea?

T: Well, I think first on even things like, it was “why would we put an icon for on our site?” and that was from the IT department. And I’d have to explain it and it would take a week to get things like on the site.

About the blog, there really wasn’t any resistance. But in the early days, there were many things that we had to get going. To get the blog going needed somebody like Matt. It needed somebody who was going to be able to care for it every day and make sure it happened while people like me and the governor were running around Iowa. Until Matt showed up, we just didn’t have that person.

We’re now onto our second blog. We had to retire the “Call to Action” blog. It was really a sentimental thing. We knew it was cute (and ugly), but it didn’t have a comment section. We wanted to have a blog where people could comment � where there was interaction, and where we were building a community and a narrative of the campaign. So the day finally came when we had to retire the “Call to Action” blog. It was exciting to come out with a spanking new “Blog for America.”

It was an interesting emotion retiring that little baby that got it all going � retiring it for this much cooler blog with a comments section, but still.

The response we are getting and the ideas that come off of it are just amazing. The comments section is just such an amazing thing. Little things you never would have thought of: Zephyr [Teachout] came up with the idea of having a poster that was downloadable and printable for each state, with a goal of getting a million of these posters put up � for example, “New Hampshire for Dean” � as a way to get visibility going. We put that up with the links of all fifty states and immediately afterwards, one of the first comments was, “I’m registered to vote, I’m working overseas in London, there’s a lot of American expats here, and you know, you really, I’d love to have an Americans Abroad for Dean poster that I can put up and that my friends overseas can put.” Two minutes later another post comment was, “I’m in Spain, and you guys shouldn’t forget about us, you should do Americans abroad.”

This is my 7th presidential campaign, but in every other campaign, the campaign never would have known that it had screwed up by not just creating the fifty-first sign. It’s a small thing, but within ten minutes we had an “Americans Abroad” poster up with the rest, blogged about it, said, “hey, you’re right, you caught that.” And then right after that, someone posted, “Hey, you know, Puerto Rico’s not a state, but it votes for President of the United States � votes for the nominee � and there’s a lot of us down here, could you make a Puerto Rico for Dean sign?” All this is happening in the space of an hour.

There’s this interaction going on between the campaign and every hole that we haven’t plugged, or thought about. They’re plugging it for us and saying, “Hey, you forgot this, you need one of those,” and we’re building them on the spot and putting them up for everybody to download.

I used to work for a little while for Progeny Linux Systems. I always wondered how could you take that same collaboration that occurs in Linux and open source and apply it here. What would happen if there were a way to do that and engage everybody in a in a presidential campaign?

L: So is this an open-source presidential campaign?

T: Yes. That moment when that was all going on made me think, “That’s sort of what we’re building here.” I guess it’s about as open as you can do it in modern-day politics.

L: From the perspective of a campaign manager, your objective is to motivate people to help spread the word and to build excitement around the campaign. How does the blog help you do that, different from what other campaigns have been able to do before?

T: Well, there’s a real connectivity being created. There is no way you would be able to get these ideas. So many of the ideas that we’re building the campaign around are coming from people who there would be no real way for us to communicate with directly.

All blogs are important because of the point of view of the world or insight that you get if you become a regular reader on an issue that you care about. I think that many of them do that, and I think it’s really important to have one place where people can go constantly, and understand what this campaign is about, what our thinking is on things, and where we can have that feedback.

And we know immediately when we do something wrong. I had an appearance on CNBC last night, on the Capital Report, and as soon as I walked off the set, I just turned to everybody and said, “That was the worst television appearance I’ve ever, that I’ve had in this campaign.” Well, I didn’t even have to go look at the box to find out. You know when you mess-up; you know when you’re hitting it right. You know when there’s something you’ve got to think about that you haven’t thought about because they make � the people make � you think.

L: So let’s say I’m a campaign manager of a different presidential campaign, and I say to you, look, I’ve got an email list that is ten times the size of your blog list, and I accept feedback, people can send me email back telling me where I screwed up. Why is what you’re doing better than what I’m doing, if my list is ten times bigger than yours?

T: One, it’s faster � sometimes almost in real-time, if you sit there and read the comments while you’re doing it. You can really talk-out the ideas.

But I think more importantly, there’s a sense of community that forms around the blog. That’s really what the Net is about. It’s about building a community. There may be zillions of communities within the Net, but you know, your own community builds around that blog.

L: So it’s a community because people are both reading and writing at the same time about these ideas?

T: I think they’re both reading and writing the ideas, but the other thing is that there is a sense of community. There’s a sense of, “We’re part of each other, and we’re trying to find our way.” No matter whether it’s an issue of importance to the campaign or the nation, we’re all exchanging these ideas in common cause � except for the trolls, of course.

L: Let’s talk a bit about the trolls. If I’m a traditional campaign manager, the first thing I’d say is, “My God, you’re giving up control here, and look what you’re going to face: you’re going to face a world of trolls and how are you ever going to get over that?” How do you answer the trolls?

T: Well, actually, they came up with that ingenious thing over at the blog. They actually created a Dean Team. We have a team-raiser thing where you can contribute money, and they created a “troll team-raiser,” Dean-raiser, so that any time a troll comes on, everybody automatically goes and contributes to the troll Dean-raiser account. It’s actually been pretty effective. Thousands of dollars have been raised because of the trolls. And this is no joke. It’s not one of those things where they go, “Oh, a troll, everybody go pay the troll Dean-raiser.” They actually go do it. So if you come on our blog and trash Dean, what you’ve done is help him raise $500 that half hour. So that’s done some job in discouraging them.

But in terms of the control thing: that’s one of the reasons I don’t think the other campaigns are having any success on the Internet. This is my 7th presidential campaign. In all of them, everything I ever learned was that you’re supposed to have strong community control � military command over everything in the organization. You give commands to your state directors who give it to the county directors who order the precinct captains around.

I’ve worked with enough tech involving the Net to know that you will absolutely suffocate anything that you’re trying to do on the Internet by trying to command and control it. It’s hard to let go, but you know, we’ve decided that’s what we were going to do. I don’t think the other campaigns can do that.

There are a number of reasons this thing’s working for Howard Dean. First, Howard Dean is who he is. He’s different than these other guys. He’s open, makes decisions based on facts, and really does believe that this is about engaging people in their democracy again.

Second, the campaign says, “Okay, we’re willing to put the bat in people’s hands, or put the blog in people’s hands, and let them help us get there.”

And third, regardless of where you are in healthcare, regardless of where you are on copyright or any of the issues that we’ve got out there, unless people stop complaining about them and actually get engaged in the democracy � unless this campaign can get them to participate in it � almost regardless of what our position is, there’s no way those issues are ever really going to get addressed and solved. Because right now, in the end, it’s all about the money.

This campaign is trying to say, “Look, you can do this differently. It doesn’t have to be about the 33 lobbyists for every member of Congress in Washington. People actually have the power to engage and make a difference.”

I think our blog helps do that. People get involved. They’re actually participating in the campaign. And to the extent we keep building this community, then even people with positions different from the Governor understand that we’re building this together. So that when we get into the White House, you know you’re going have a fair hearing, and that we’re actually going to have a discussion about some of these issues.

[Governor-on-the-phone break]

T: You know, there are all these issues that just never get solved, including a lot of the issues that that I’ve read you on � copyright and public domain. Part of the reason is that there’s no one who can listen. When you have a system where there are 33 lobbyists for every member of Congress, and where it’s all about raising tons of money to buy TV ads, the participation of the people doesn’t really count. There’s no one really encouraging them in the process. Then there’s no way for people to have an impact on the debate.

That’s one of the things this campaign really is about: the Governor believes strongly, and we believe strongly, that there’s a responsibility for citizens to be involved in their democracy. You can’t have self-government without it. That what’s been missing for a good 2-3 decades now. It isn’t something George Bush made happen. He’s just put a magnifying glass on what we’ve lost.

What we need to do is to get people to participate in their democracy again. If people did that, and if thousands of them take small actions � a few hours of their time, a few dollars out of their wallet � there’s a real chance that when a candidacy like ours wins the White House, the people will actually own their government again. And we’ll actually have an honest discussion about all the issues that always get ground-down by the powers that don’t want them to be raised.

We’re trying to do a campaign that’s on a different level than your standard presidential campaign � that’s more than two people screaming at each other about who has employer mandates in their healthcare plan or not.

L: So when the Democratic Leadership Council attacks your campaign, are they attacking your campaign because they’re not comfortable with this form of democracy?

T: Yes. I really think that’s a good part of it. I think the one reason we have so much opposition � even within our own party � is because they like being in charge. They like it the way it is, or at least, too many of them do. And they’re actually afraid of what would happen if people actually gave a damn again and started becoming involved and actually demanded that issues like healthcare got addressed without special interests whacking it down.

So yes, I have come to believe that a large part of why the DLC attacks Howard Dean so vehemently has a lot more to do with the power of what they’re saying this campaign is about. They’re not real thrilled with it.

L: One of the most surprising things that’s happened in the last six months through the Internet � other than your campaign � was the extraordinary response to the FCC’s decision about media concentration. One very salient feature of that response was that it cut across party lines. There was a real groundswell of support, both Democrat and Republican. Is that the sort of thing that you’re hoping to build inside the Dean campaign, too?

T: Yes. Exactly. Because a lot of the problems are not ideological, even though broadcast politics makes them seem ideological. Broadcast politics has made the vocabulary of politics meaningless. Everything’s quick and easy: “he’s McGovern, he’s a liberal.” It’s just two-word things. But the world’s a little bit more complex than that. People are more complex than that. Howard Dean is definitely more complex than that. And the issues certainly are.

Many of these issues have broad support across the spectrum of our political discourse. The FCC decision is a good example of that. But they still don’t get addressed. With the FCC decision: they were still trying to sneak that one by, but what was amazing was the response. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in this presidential campaign: harness that desire for people to actually have a voice again. Our campaign is a platform for them.

If we do that, we will have made a huge change in the political process. A huge change in how campaigns are funded. A huge change in how people are participating again. And we’ll have a participatory democracy again, in which the people demand that these issues are addressed, and they will be.

Our biggest hurdle is getting people over their disbelief that they can make a difference. And the one place where I think people are starting to get over that disbelief is on the Internet: because of the sense of a community they’re getting when they go onto a blog, or when they participate in something like responding to the FCC, more and more people every day are starting to realize, “Hey, wait a minute, we do have the power to do something here.” They saw it with the FCC, and how Congress reacted. I think people are seeing it in our campaign too.

It isn’t just each person giving $25. The act of one person giving $25 alone isn’t that much. But that so many people believe that by doing something, just a small amount, they could really rock and shake the Democratic race for President, meant that they did it. I mean, that was totally that same sense of “We do have the power to make change in the system.”

The other part of that, though, is that it’s harder when you’re a candidate. There is some natural cynicism about whether he really does mean it. Is he really for real? Or is he just one of those other guys?

Our campaign strives every day to make clear that that’s not the case. But that’s the other thing the blog does. Every day, day-in and day-out, you go over there, you can check what’s going on, and you get that human feeling for the people who make up this campaign. For who and what they are. And somewhere along the line you hope that when you have that kind of connection, the people will begin to realize, “You know what? Maybe they really are different. Maybe this campaign really is different.”

How you would get that over on a sort of flat, wallpapered website, I don’t know. But on a blog, there can actually be that depth of a connection with people, as they communicate and exchange ideas together over months and months.

At least, I hope so, anyway.

L: So you believe the actual architecture of the blog is something that is enabling a deeper engagement with these issues than the television or the standard way?

T: Yes, absolutely. I really believe that there’s a deeper connection on the blog for the exchange of ideas than I think you get over television or just a flat website.

L: One more question. Let’s talk about the money issue. Just what are the numbers now? What are the averages that you are seeing? Has the success been a surprise, or did you expect it? And talk about the Cheney lunch.

T: On the numbers: We’re up to 224,000 signing up to support Howard Dean.

On the Cheney lunch: the Vice President had something like 125 people who gave him $2000 each, for a total of $250,000. We had 9700 people, giving roughly $53 on average, totaling $508,000.

But there were a couple things that surprised us. We really didn’t have much doubt that our supporters would respond to that and meet the 250,000. But we never thought it would happen as fast as it did. We weren’t even sure that half the people would open their email, and even know that we were doing it. We thought a lot of people would go away for the weekend, get back, and not even know the thing happened, because of how late we sent the email out on Friday. So we were surprised by that.

On the other hand, yes, I think we knew the whole time that we’d been building this not for the money. That was the interesting thing. We’ve really been building this from Day One because we believed it wasn’t enough to organize something on the Net. We wanted people to organize, to use the online community, to organize in their offline community. And we’ve seen amazing, absolutely amazing, things there.

We had, for example, an email list of 481 people in Austin and we emailed them and said “We’re coming.” We get to the event, and there are 3200 people there. The reason there are 3200 people there is that those 481 people went out, downloaded flyers, leafleted the Latino community, leafleted polling places for a city election that was occurring, made phone calls, and did all those kind of things on their own.

This happens all the time. In Seattle, we showed-up and there were 1200 people, half of whom have never been involved in politics before, all organized by small groups of people who had come to the blog, or somehow used our organizing tools, but are all part of this Dean community that we’re building.

So that’s why we were building it. You know, obviously it was not lost on us that if we built that, contributions would follow. But yes, we were absolutely stunned at the size. We knew the contributions would follow, but never did I think it would be 83,000 contributions by June 30th, totaling, millions of dollars.

So to have the Cheney Challenge, with Howard Dean sitting ready to blog with his $3 turkey sandwich versus Cheney sitting down at his $2000 a plate lunch � that really does juxtapose the point that we’re trying to make in this campaign. If we can keep that going, and get even more people to understand it, then that will be the difference here. If these guys are going to depend upon corporate soft-money and thousands of dollars from PACs, and it becomes a campaign of $2000 donors versus a campaign that gets $25 and $100 from thousand and thousands of people, and that adds up to be competitive with George Bush, then that’s the way we will beat him. Then he is running against the American people, and the American people are running against a system that isn’t listening to them. And then they are willing to get involved to fix it.

And then you can really get down to some of these critical issues that really do matter but that no one is going to do � if the FCC could have gotten away with it, they would have. And frankly, if 750,000 people hadn’t rattled Washington, probably the President and his folks would’ve been able to push it through.

So that’s what this campaign’s trying to do.

We’re still learning every day. When the Governor first got here, he didn’t know what a blog was. But he’s gone from “what’s a blog?” to “Hey, how come the White House doesn’t have a blog?” The whole thing has been a learning process for him, and I think it’s been great. And it’s great for both communities. It’s great for him that he’s learning more and more about this. And it’s great for folks who use the Net to understand some of the core issues that are facing us. And that there’s a guy running for President that at least has got an interest, and is at least trying to experience it. Some of it for the first time, sometimes not up to people’s expectations, but I think it’s kind of cool watching him. He’s discovering things we knew three years ago, but it’s cool to see a candidate for President discovering the same thing you discovered. It’s pretty cool.

So watching that happen and watching him learn is fun. I was one of the early people on the Net, when the Net was something most people didn’t know. I’ve gone through all that. And so it’s kind of cool to watch. I’ve worked for guys who had no curiosity about stuff at all. It’s just the way people are.

And we’re learning too. I’m learning. I’m still trying to figure out what’s working and what isn’t working. And we’ve still got a lot of learning to do.

But the blog has been amazing. We just learn so much and get so many good ideas about how to move forward. Even with the Cheney thing: We were sitting there with $250,000 raised on Sunday. Half of them were saying to us, “I’m not giving till Monday. I refuse. Don’t set this down because I’m waiting till Monday, I’m going wait till Dick Cheney is sitting there and then I’m giving my money.” And the other half was saying, “We’ve made it.” And we really didn’t know what to do. And then all of a sudden, we started reading the comment sections, and it all became suddenly really obvious what we should do. And it worked. Everybody was happy. Everybody had collaborated, in nearly real-time. And we had a huge success.

Who can argue with $508,000 coming in over a $3 turkey sandwich?

August 17, 2003  ·  Lessig

So the legislative fight against spam is going no where. There will probably be a bill, but it has been designed simply to make sure that large traditional companies are still free to send unsolicited commercial email. Senator McCain has added a nice innovation that will make it easier to hold people responsible for UCE. But the concerted effort to avoid labeling will mean in the end, the legislation does not work.

Which has led me to a bit of code which I had intended to resist: challenge-response. My mail now goes through (which annoyingly has a pop-up to warn people away from any browser except Microsoft’s, and which even more annoyingly is enforcing patent protection against other challenge response systems) but so far, it has worked.

“Worked.” “Worked” means I don’t have literally hundreds of emails in my inbox each morning that are junk. “Worked” means I don’t therefore have to delete 95% of the emails in my inbox because they are junk. “Worked” means I therefore don’t erase emails which were not junk but which one inevitably will when so much is junk.

But “worked” also means that the first time you (humans out there, not bots) send me email, you’ve got to go through a web-based ritual to authenticate that you’re human. Of all the mandated authentication our society requires these days, this seems about the most harmless. Indeed, it might even help.

August 17, 2003  ·  Lessig

When I was growing up, Dennis Kucinich was something of a political hero. I was in high school when he was elected mayor of Cleveland — the youngest mayor of a major city ever. I was also very involved politically. I say “something” of a hero, though, because then I was then a right-wing loon (chairman of the Pennsylvania Teen-Age Republicans, youngest member of a delegation at the 1980 GOP convention). I admired his drive and strength of character; I had little patience for his politics.

I’ve grown-up a bit in the last 25 years. I’m now, well, not a right-wing loon, and now not at all involved politically. But I am still an admirer of Dennis Kucinich — indeed, now more than ever. I don’t (yet?) buy the anti-free trade stuff. But his is a powerful and right voice in this amazing election.

I am of course a bit biased by his embrace of Creative Commons — which has been a part of his blog from the start. But the test for me is always character, and the measure of character for me is whether someone can say what’s right, regardless of consequence, just because he believes it is right.

This is Edwards defending affirmative action in North Carolina; this is Dean opposing he war. This is Kucinich, here and elsewhere, articulating views that he believes right, whether or not they are views that will win him favor.

The post about Gilmore was the example here. I have been astonished by the debate around that event. It made me realize how that there are two sorts of people out there when it comes to civil rights. The question that divides us is not whether we believe in civil rights — obviously, everyone (interesting) does. The question is how we believe in civil rights. (1) One sort believes that when someone else acts — either intentionally or carelessly — to infringe a right, it is right (or even maybe a duty) of the person whose rights have been wronged to defend the right regardless of consequence. (2) Another sort believes that when someone else acts — at least carelessly — to infringe a right, the right thing to do is to decide whether, all things considered, it makes sense to defend the right.

Type two sorts are the majority of us. We’re the “reasonable” ones. Apple doesn’t make commercials about us. We do what everyone would. I’m sure in the right context, I would have to fight all of my instincts to resist being a type two sort. There have been a couple times in my life when I have succeeded, but just a few.

Gilmore is type one — in this context, and many others. (He once, for example, scolded my wife for inviting him to a party with an Evite because it was wrong, he believed, to demand he give up his privacy just to respond to an invitation.) And while I don’t agree with the underlying values that he sometimes pushes (for example, I not only thought it wrong for him to scold my wife, I think Evite is great), I do admire the ability to be type one in a world of type two’s — especially when I agree with the underlying value (as I do w/r/t the British Airways incident).

Thus, I agree with Kucinich, Gilmore is a patriot. At a time when reasonableness by those in power must be taught, his was a patriot’s act (unlike the other Patriot Act). And I admire Kucinich’s willingness to say that here — in a space where some of the most well reasoned contributors (and some others as well) have strongly taken the other view. This is the (only) part of Reagan I continue to admire; it is the part of Kucinich I increasingly admire; it is the part in these candidates we should all respect: the willingness to say what’s right, regardless of consequence.

Thank you, Congressman, for taking time in this space. And thank you for the character of your campaign.

August 17, 2003  ·  admin

With and estimated 50 million Americans and Canadians left without power and in some cases water, common sense requires us to reflect on the absurdity of deregulation of public utilities. In the first case, the right of utility franchise is vested in the people. We give utilities permission to operate, and enable them to set up a profit making business in exchange for the promise of affordable and reliable service. In 1992, investor owned utilities pushed the Democratic House to pass HR776 which granted electric utilities broad powers. The bill was supposed to restructure the electric utility industry to spur competition.

Utilities used deregulation to effect a series of mergers limiting competition. In order to accelerate profits, cost cutting ensued, involving the layoff of thousands of utility company employees, including some who were responsible for maintenance of generation, transmission, and distribution systems. A number of investor-owned utilities stopped investing in the maintenance and repair of their own equipment, and, instead, cut costs to enhance the value of their stock rather than spending money to enhance the value of their service.

A prime case in point is FirstEnergy Corp, late of Ohio. FirstEnergy formed through a merger of utility companies which owned nuclear power plants which often were neither used nor useful, and as a result incurred huge debt. FirstEnergy’s predecessor, The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) in the 1950s and 60s was a high performing blue chip stock until they invested in nuclear power. FirstEnergy has tried without success to keep online a very troublesome nuclear power facility at Port Clinton, Ohio, the Davis-Besse plant. Davis-Besse is currently shut down and has been for some time. FirstEnergy and federal regulators failed to properly monitor the operations of the plant, resulting in conditions where the plant’s reactor vessel was threatened with a breach when boric acid ate into the head of the reactor.

Millions of people in the Midwest and the water supply of our entire Great Lakes region were at risk because of First Energy’s negligence, improper maintenance, and actual cover-up of the degradation of the reactor. Furthermore, federal regulators determined that notwithstanding the peril which was presented to one of the largest populated areas of the United States, FirstEnergy’s financial condition necessitated the continued operation of the flawed reactor. The regulators put profit ahead of public interest.

If there was ever an example of an unholy alliance between government and industry, this is it. If there was ever an example of the failure of necessary regulation by the government of an investor-owned utility, it is found in the government’s failure to regulate FirstEnergy, because now, according to published reports by the Associated Press, CNN, and ABC News, the blackout which affected an estimated 50 million people began in the FirstEnergy system.

I’ve been familiar with First Energy and the challenge of utility monopolies for over 30 years. Early in my career, in the 1970s, I watched FirstEnergy’s predecessor, CEI, as they were hard at work trying to undermine the ability of the City of Cleveland to operate its own municipal electric system. CEI conducted a tireless crusade to attempt to put the city’s publicly owned system, Muny Light, out of business. Muny Light competed against CEI in a third of the city and provided municipal power customers with savings on their electric bill of 20-30 percent. It also provided cheaper electricity for 76 city facilities and thousands of Cleveland street lights, saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year. In the 1970s, CEI applied for a license to operate a nuclear power plant. The license application triggered an antitrust review. The antitrust review revealed that CEI had committed numerous violations of federal antitrust law in its attempt to put Muny Light out of business. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in an extensive investigation, determined that CEI blocked Muny Light from making repairs to its generator by lobbying the Cleveland City Council to place special conditions on Muny Light Bonds which made the bonds more difficult to sell, thereby depriving the city of revenue it needed to repair its generators in order to provide its own power. The delay in repairs to the generators caused Muny Light to have to purchase power. CEI then worked behind the scenes to block Muny Light from purchasing power from other power companies. CEI became the only power company Muny Light could buy from. At that point, CEI sharply increased and sometimes tripled the cost of purchase power to Muny Light. And, as a result, Muny Light began to lose money. CEI used Muny Light’s weakened operational and financial condition (which they created) as evidence of the public system’s lack of viability and as proof that the only way the people of Cleveland could have reliable power was for the city to sell its electric system to CEI. The antitrust review cited one incident when during a period of inclement weather, Muny Light asked CEI for a special transfer of emergency power. The transfer of power was conducted in such a way so as to cause an outage on the Muny Light system. CEI used the incident as further proof of the city’s inability to operate a municipal electric system. Throughout this period, the Cleveland media, which received substantial advertising revenues from CEI, crusaded against the city’s ownership of a municipal electric system. When the federal government came to review CEI’s practices, CEI executives appeared at a city council committee meeting to declare that they had no interest in the acquisition of Muny Light even as they worked behind the scenes to put Muny Light out of business.

In 1976, after years of work to undermine Muny Light, CEI finally succeeded in getting the mayor and the council of Cleveland to agree to sell Muny Light, giving CEI a monopoly on electric power in the Cleveland area and enabling CEI to greatly expand its rate base to get more revenue to pay for its rapidly mounting expenses associated with building nuclear power plants. At that time, I was clerk of the Cleveland Municipal Court, a citywide elected office. I organized a civic campaign to save Muny Light. People gathered signatures in freezing rain to block the sale. I ran for mayor of Cleveland on a promise that if elected, my first act would be to cancel the sale of Muny Light. I won the election. I cancelled the sale. CEI immediately went to court to demand that the city pay 15 million dollars for power which it had purchased while CEI was running up charges to the city. The previous mayor had intended to pay that light bill by selling the light system and simultaneously disposing of a 325 million dollar antitrust damage suit. My election not only stopped the sale, but kept the lawsuit alive. CEI went to federal court to get an order attaching city equipment as a means of trying to destabilize city services as still another desperate effort to try to try to create a political climate to force the sale. I moved quickly to pay the bill by cutting city spending. The Muny Light issue came to a head on December 15, 1978, when Ohio’s largest bank, Cleveland Trust, the 33rd largest bank in America at that time, told me that they would not renew the city’s credit on 15 million dollars worth of loans taken out by the previous administration unless I would agree to sell Cleveland’s municipally owned utility to CEI.

On that day, by that time, the sale of Muny Light was being promoted by both Cleveland newspapers, virtually all of the radio and TV stations in town, the entire business community, all the banks, both political parties, and several unions, as well as a majority of the Cleveland City Council. All I had to do was to sign my name to legislation and the system would have sold and the city credit “protected.” The chairman of Cleveland Trust even offered 50 million dollars of new credit if I would agree to sell Muny Light.

Where I come from it matters how much people pay for electricity. I grew up in the inner city of Cleveland. The oldest of 7 children. My parents never owned a home, they lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars. I remember when there were 5 children and my parents living in a 3 room upstairs apartment on Cleveland’s east side. My parents would sometimes sit in the kitchen at one of those old white enamel top tables, which, when the surface was chipped, was black underneath. When they counted their pennies, I could hear them clicking on the enamel top table. Click, Click, Click.

When I was in the board room with the Chairman of Cleveland Trust Bank, I was thinking about my parents counting their pennies and I could hear those pennies hitting the enamel top table. So, I said no to the sale of Muny Light to CEI. At Midnight, Cleveland Trust put the City of Cleveland into default. Later, it was revealed, that Cleveland Trust and CEI had four interlocking directors. Cleveland Trust was CEI’s bank. Together with another bank, Cleveland Trust owned a substantial share of CEI stock and had numerous other mutual interests. Public power was saved in Cleveland. I lost the election in 1979 with default as the major issue. Cleveland Trust changed it name to AmeriTrust. The new mayor changed the name of Muny Light to Cleveland Public Power.

In 1993, the City of Cleveland announced that it was expanding Muny Light. It was the largest expansion of any municipal electric system in America. I had been long gone from major elected office. In fact, after the default, most political analysts considered my career over. I had been asked many times by other politicians why I just didn’t make the deal and sell the light system, especially when my career was on the line. I believe that there are, in fact, some things more important than the next election.

When a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer reached me to tell me about the expansion, I was on a beach in Malibu watching the dolphins play. Cleveland was the farthest thing from my mind. After I left City Hall, I couldn’t get a job in Cleveland, I almost lost my home, and my marriage fell apart. But I had no real complaints, because, according to a US Senate Subcommittee studying organized crime in the Mid-Atlantic states, I had survived, through sheer luck, an assassination plot. There was something comforting looking out on the Pacific and watching the waves glisten in the sun.

So when a reporter told me that people were saying that the expansion could not have happened without my making a decision to save the system, I thought “that’s nice.” People in Cleveland began to say that I was right not to sell Muny Light and they asked me to come back. So I did. I ran for State Senate in 1994 on a slogan “because he was right” with little rays of yellow light shining behind my name on my campaign signs. I was one of the few Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent that year in a state election.

Two years later, I was one of the few Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent to gain election to Congress. My campaign signs had a light bulb behind my name with the words “Light up Congress.” Today, I’m running for President of the United States and I want to light up America, and a good place to start will be to shed light on a deregulation process that has abandoned the public interest.

Dennis J. Kucinich
On the road to Davenport, Iowa

This entry and my personal blog are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

August 14, 2003  ·  admin

I thought it would be appropriate in Lessig’s blog to discuss what led to my adoption of the Creative Commons License and the GNU General Public License for our work on the Kucinich presidential campaign.

As a good friend of many artists and engineers, I understand and support their need to make a living. As a father, I don’t believe our government has any business locking up kids for sharing files on the Internet. As a Congressman, I have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, which states very clearly in Article 1, Section 8, that “The Congress shall have Power: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

“Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom?” — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams

The framers knew the importance of the progress of science and useful arts. Their intention was clear. Unfortunately, corporate interests have intruded on our process of government. The overwhelming influence of political money from corporate interests has corrupted the ability of Congress to protect science and the arts. Today, much of our science and useful arts is coming forth from sources independent of monopolies, thanks to people like you. Yet Congress continues to try to limit certain activities of inventors and artists in order to preserve corporate power and domination. We must, once again, move to reclaim the promise inherent in Article 1, Section 8.

In my case, I have chosen the free content and free software licenses because I believe they will promote these important goals better than more restrictive “proprietary” licenses. On my presidential campaign, we are currently developing a policy requesting that our supporters license their works to us and others under free license as well. This is valuable because it will provide a body of work to be used by grassroots activists to create their own tools to promote individual and community based expressions of democracy. For example, anyone will be able to take photos, video, audio, or software and reuse it to create their own materials — without hiring an attorney to negotiate rights (sorry Larry). In this spirit, feel free to rip, mix, and burn my work here.

This is what the American Revolution was all about!

Dennis J. Kucinich
Des Moines, Iowa

This entry and my personal blog are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

August 13, 2003  ·  admin

I was reading Gilmore’s reply to Lessig’s earlier post and the conversation it stirred, and it moved me to share some of my own experiences with our fellow bloggers.

I have to admit to a feeling of resentment at the extent of the security searches every time I travel by air. The armed guards, the x-ray machines, the metal detectors, the pat downs, the search of luggage and personal effects, the removal of shoes, and for some, I suppose, the explanation of prosthetics, pacemakers, and appurtenances, constitutes a massive invasion of privacy. We have just come to accept this as a natural state of things because, like Gilmore, we’re all suspected terrorists. I find myself having to explain to people why I, as a Presidential candidate, am repeatedly shuttled off to that special line of selectees identified by the SSSS stamped on my ticket. The transportation security agents inform me that a computer has made this decision. I want to know who programs the computer. Is it John Ashcroft?

Even though I don’t feel as though I’m getting special treatment or that I’m entitled to special treatment, it makes me wonder how much of a threat I must be since I really do intend to replace the entire government. So when people occasionally recognize me getting the magic metal detector wanding and dutifully submitting to searches of my person, extending my arms and my legs spread-eagle, I explain with a smile, “I’m running against George Bush.”

What I’ve been able to determine from an informed intelligence source (oxymoron) is that I tend to get selected because I buy one-way tickets. This poses a dilemma. Should I change my campaign and do round trips say in a continuous loop from Seattle, Washington to Washington, DC in order to avoid greater suspicion or do I plan a practical itinerary from Seattle to San Francisco to Austin to Oklahoma City to Des Moines to Cleveland to Manchester and gain near public enemy status? The real reason that people who travel point to point instead of round trip are more likely to be subjected to a search is because, I’m told, that the hijackers bought one-way tickets. This is an interesting type of profiling that goes on. One which seldom invites an iota of self-reflection about America’s role in the world or about the basis for the murderous grievances which misguided individuals may have against us. It would be useful to have a national dialogue about our democracy and the manner in which it has been undermined since 9/11. The alternative is to proceed, robot like, and submit to metal detectors, x-ray machines, magic wands, pat downs, and the shuttling of point to point travelers to a point by point inspection.

It seems to me that the Bush Administration, with its moral obtuseness, its inconscience on matters of civil liberties, and its craven attempts to demolish the Bill of Rights has prepared for the American people a one-way ticket of sorts. When it comes to the quality of our democracy we are traveling on a road to nowhere.

Airline security is, as we have learned, a deadly serious business. The traveling public deserves assurances that they and their loved ones will be safe in the air. But when does security in a democracy morph into something profoundly anti-democratic. This is a discussion we need to have. And the answer, as Gilmore knows, cannot be simply “search me?”!

Dennis J. Kucinich
On the road to Des Moines

This entry and my personal blog are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

August 12, 2003  ·  admin

Yesterday, Rob asked several questions:
1) It is almost certain that you will be working with a Republican-controlled Congress at least initially during your tenure. Given that, do you believe it likely that you will be able to get the Congress to pass bills authorizing programs for national health care, withdrawal from NAFTA and WTO, reversal of the Bush tax cuts (which will probably be permanent by then), and dealing with other hot-button issues that the Republicans have been so steadfastly against. You can’t just declare these things by executive order; and I don’t see how you can get such “radical liberal” programs passed. That makes many of your 10 key issues non-starters.

My nomination will set the stage for a Democratic Congress. In 1932, when president Franklin Roosevelt was nominated, he ran on a platform of broad economic reform, which excited people to come out in vote in their own enlightened self-interest. As a result, FDR led a Democratic sweep, which resulted in a pickup of 90 House seats and 13 Senate seats. This was accomplished because he represented profound change. He represented jobs, he represented rebuilding America, he represented a hope for popular control over predatory corporations. My nomination will reverse the results of the 1994 election when the Democrats were unable to regain the House and lost the Senate principally because the parties’ ties to corporate interests muted the differences between the parties and discouraged the Democratic base. My nomination will excite the Democratic base, will broaden the reach of the party, and will engage third party activists to join us in a mighty effort to reclaim our government.

2) You state that one of your first acts as President will be to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from NAFTA and the WTO and institute a regime of “fair trade agreements.” Do you believe that our global trade partners will be receptive to such a regime, given that almost by definition those agreements will be fairer to us than to them? Or will we instead see a return to the bad old days of preferential tariffs and trade wars, which the WTO was created to try to prevent? Or even worse, would withdrawal merely accelerate the migration of trade from our country to other countries with more open trade practices? Would we not then be hoist by our own petard?

We are now being hoisted on the petard of NAFTA and the WTO. America’s trade policies have been dictated by powerful multinational corporations whose flag is not red white and blue, but green with a dollar sign. Our nation is approaching a $500 billion trade deficit, which represents a genuine threat, not only to our economy, but to our Democracy. Global corporations have used the United States to help create a multinational trading arrangement which denies both American workers and workers of other nations the protections of basic labor law. NAFTA and the WTO were written specifically to preclude the enforcement of rights to organize, collective bargaining, strike, rights to safe work place, and right to a secure retirement. This enabled corporations to move jobs out of America to places where workers have no protections. NAFTA and the WTO have facilitated a race to the bottom in terms of wages and workers rights generally. The WTO essentially locked in the NAFTA trading regime by making any attempts to modify the basis of trade WTO-illegal.

The question is not whether or not America trades with the world, the questions are what are the rules of the game. And America is claimed by rules which are rigged against us. I have said that I will cancel NAFTA and the WTO in order to return to bilateral trade, conditioned on workers rights, human rights, and environmental quality principles being written into our trade agreements with other nations. The is the only way that we can stop corporations from coercing wage concessions or breaking United States unions. This is the only way that we can re-empower the hopes of people of all nations for a better standard of living and for control of the institutions of their own governments.

This issue reflects not mere differences of opinion within our party but a great divide. On one side of the divide stands global corporations and their political supporters. On the other side stands workers and their supporters. I stand resolutely with America’s workers and with those peoples of the world who are also striving for human dignity. I will continue to challenge all other Democratic candidates on this issue to see whose side they stand on so that the American people can clearly see whose side they’re on. It’s not enough to say you’re going to fix NAFTA and the WTO, the only way to fix it to exercise the withdrawal provisions of both laws and return to bilateral trade, conditioned on workers rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.

Dennis J. Kucinich
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This entry and my personal blog are licensed under a Creative Commons License.