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'The Laws Are Written By Lobbyists,' Says Google's Schmidt 484

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from The Atlantic: "'The average American doesn't realize how much of the laws are written by lobbyists' to protect incumbent interests, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told Atlantic editor James Bennet at the Washington Ideas Forum. 'It's shocking how the system actually works.' In a wide-ranging interview that spanned human nature, the future of machines, and how Google could have helped the stimulus, Schmidt said technology could 'completely change the way government works.' 'Washington is an incumbent protection machine,' Schmidt said. 'Technology is fundamentally disruptive.' Mobile phones and personal technology, for example, could be used to record the bills that members of Congress actually read and then determine what stimulus funds were successfully spent." We discussed a specific example of this from the cable industry back in August.
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'The Laws Are Written By Lobbyists,' Says Google's Schmidt

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  • Re:In other news (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 02, 2010 @05:39PM (#33772426)

    You complete oaf. The phrase is used to indicate to the listener (who is explicitly compared to Sherlock Holmes) that there was little bullshitting taking place, i.e. there was little attempt to hide some facts of the matter and the implicit claim on the part of the listener that some kind of shrewd deduction or observation had been achieved was an insult to the intelligence of the audience.

  • Re:Yes, and? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sayfawa ( 1099071 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @05:56PM (#33772528)
    The long game doesn't have to be so long. See Canada's bill C-24, enacted in 2003. Corporations can't donate over $1000 to a party, people can't donate over $5000.

    The gritty details []
  • by fluffy99 ( 870997 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @06:55PM (#33772876)

    You're forgetting that the major reason for building some of these dams such as the Grand Coulee dam, was to control flooding. The cheap power generation and source of controlled irrigation waters were secondary benefits.

    Of course none of this has much impact on our growing energy demands. The cost of energy doesn't seem to have much effect on that. As an example the tripling of gas prices in recent years had a very minor effect on miles driven.

  • Re:Yes, and? (Score:5, Informative)

    by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @07:05PM (#33772928) Journal

    Point 4 is exactly where Lawrence Lessig started 'Change Congress' to try to fix the underlying root of our corrupt congress. Lessig says you can't fix anything else until you fix this first. Anything else, like for example fixing the problems in our Healthcare, will be subverted by corporate lobbyists to just make more profit for the incumbent corporations. []

  • Re:I agree (Score:5, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday October 02, 2010 @07:55PM (#33773250) Journal

    We should hire lobbyist to represent us to our represemtatives... but that would be redundant ,right?

    If they're not lobbyists when they get elected, they certainly become lobbyists after they leave office.

    Even lowly congressional staffers are on the gravy train. The average starting salary for congressional staffers who go into lobbying after one term as a staffer is over $700,000.00 per year.

    It's an indication of just how much money gets thrown at our congress people.

  • Re:NO.. really? (Score:4, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Saturday October 02, 2010 @08:02PM (#33773302) Journal

    Does anyone not know this already?

    I don't know how many people know that most laws are written by lobbyists, but I wonder how many people know that the recently released Republican Pledge to America was written by a lobbyist for AIG, Pfizer, Comcast and others.

    To quote "Pissed on Politics":

    the Republican’s new “Pledge To America” was written by a heavy hitting lobbyist named Brian Wild. He’s lobbied on the behalf of major corporations like AIG, Comcast, Exxon Mobil, and Andarko Petroleum on top of working for Dick Cheney from 2004 to 2005 as a legislative affairs advisor. This guy Wild worked for the Nickels Group, a lobby firm set up by Oklahoma’s former Republican Senator Don Nickles.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

    Bad-assed blogger Sam Stein expands:

    Until early this year, Wild was a fairly active lobbyist on behalf of the firm the Nickles Group, the lobbying shop set up by the former Republican Senator from Oklahoma, Don Nickles. During his five years at the firm, Wild, among others, was paid $740,000 in lobbying contracts from AIG, the former insurance company at the heart of the financial collapse; $800,000 from energy giant Andarko Petroleum; more than $1.1 million from Comcast, more than $1.3 million from Exxon Mobil; and $625,000 from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.

  • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @08:50PM (#33773558) Homepage Journal
    Ok, I'm quoting the original points here for reference. By the way, I find it somewhat 'ironic' that the UK parliament is used as an example of a 'modern' democratic system when the US system was based upon the UK parliament.

    1 get rid of a lot the states powers,
    2 the parties need to get party discipline and throw out the "nutters".
    3 have strict uk style election campaign limits
    4 replace the vast expenditure on tv campaigning with uk model of party political broadcasts.
    5 have more equal constituency sizes (which will stop small agricultural states leaching of the bigger ones)
    6 force all organizations (Unions and Company) to run a political fund for any lobbying and have it confirmed by vote every 7 years with opt out allowed)

    (1) would require an amendment to the US constitution. The powers of the Federal Government are spelled out and those not explicitly spelled out are supposed to be reserved to the states. A general way to think about the US is 50 different countries, each with their own president government and constitution, with a common limited government superior to them to make sure they get along. To take more power away from the states and give it to the Federal Government, you'd have to amend the constitution.

    (2) Easily done, but seems to misinterpret US elections. The parties could get rid of the 'nutters' (although who are the nuts depends on who you are) but that doesn't prevent the nutters from getting elected. The US doesn't vote for parties, it explicitly votes for individuals. One party or another can back an individual, but it's not required and on election day you're voting for a person, not a party.

    (3) Probably some issues with our 1st amendment and prevention of individuals from running campaign adds. The US has a very broad definition of Freedom of Speech that is basically unheard of anywhere else in the world.

    (4) See (2), basically the same reason of voting for an individual instead of a party.

    (5) We would have to change how elector's districts are divided up and this would require an amendment of Article 1 Section 2. The electors are apportioned among the states, but no state can receive less than one. In order to have 'more equal' distribution, you would have to have one person representing people in multiple states. Also, I'm not necessarily sure of the point behind it. The parent pokes at "small agricultural states" receiving a disproportionate share of Federal Dollars. Well, see here. [] The agricultural states are (usually) the ones getting less back in dollars than they pay in taxes. The smallest one is Wyoming and it gets 84 cents back out of every dollar it pays in taxes. It looks like we do not have this as a problem.

    (6) May actually be possible, but I'd like to know why "every 7 years" was chosen instead of something more often or less often.

    I'm still genuinely curious. Is your constitution based on voting for individuals, not political principles? Don't regard this as an attack, but I'd appreciate a short explanation :)

    I answered this above without realizing you had asked this at the end of your post. I don't take it as an attack. The answer is yes and I realize the US is very much in the minority when it comes to this. Although, I wonder if you mean "political parties" instead of "political principles". The only time I know of when we don't vote for an individual, we are voting for a pair of individuals (President and Vice President). The President and Vice President are elected as a pair, one running for President and the other for Vice President. On no ballot I know of will you find Party X or Party Y except as a subheading under an individual who we are voting for. We also vote for a lot of things all the way down to Dog Catcher in some areas (no joke).

  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @09:13PM (#33773654)

    There's lots of talk and theorizing, but little research on the effect and influence of lobbyists. Thankfully, there is a large ten year study of lobbying, Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why [] (available at your favorite bookstore). There's a pretty good review of it at Miller-McCune []. An excerpt:

    The real outcome of most lobbying -- in fact, its greatest success -- is the achievement of nothing, the maintenance of the status quo. "Sixty percent of the time, nothing happens," says Frank Baumgartner, one author of the book and a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "What we see is gridlock and successful stalemating of proposals, with occasional breakthroughs. We see a pattern of no change, no change and no change -- and then some huge reform."

    But those large reforms -- such as health care for 32 million uninsured Americans under President Barack Obama, the scheduled phase-out of the estate tax under President George W. Bush, and the normalization of trade relations with China under President Bill Clinton -- are far more often linked to a change in who inhabits the White House than to campaign contributions or K Street hires.

    The weak link between money and policy change is counterintuitive but understandable, the authors say. The balance of power in Washington already hugely favors the rich. The status quo reflects the considerable advantages the wealthy have managed to secure in the law, down through the generations.

  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @09:33PM (#33773738) Homepage

    I'm genuinely curious (I'm a foreigner), why would that be? I don't know enough about the US constitution to say anything about points 5-6, but 1-4 doesn't seem to be against it? Educate me :)


    On #1, the states, not the nation, are the basic political unit of the United States. The Federal Government's powers were all explicitly delegated to the Federal Government by the states; all powers not delegated to the Federal Government were retained by the states. And the list of powers given to the Federal Government were pretty few, even if over time they've been construed ever more broadly.

    On #2, there are no parties able to exert discipline to throw out the "nutters". The Republican Party of Texas, the Republican National Committee, the Senate Republican Caucus, and the House Republican Caucus are all separate organizations in their legal existences and in their leadership. And it's the Republican Party of Texas that decides who is listed as a Republican on ballots in the state of Texas. If the Republicans in Texas decide they don't like the national Republican candidate for President, they can list someone else on the ballot. The national Republican candidate would then have to go through the usual procedure for independent candidates to get on the ballot in Texas, and would not be listed as a Republican on that ballot.

    (By the way, calling back to #1, most election laws are written by the states, not the Federal Government.)

    On #3, the Supreme Court has just thrown much milder restrictions out as unconstitutional. Imposing strict ones would require amending the Constitution. That, by the way, requires approval of a 2/3rds majority of each House of Congress and majority approval by both houses of the legislature in three quarters of the states, which is the same procedure you'd have to go through to accomplish #1. (There are some alternative procedures, but that's the basic one that's been used for 26 of the 27 amendments.)

    On #4, well, see #2 and #3.

    On #5, the Senate is strictly apportioned by the Constitution as 2 Senators per state (going back to the states as basic units, Senators were originally appointed by the states themselves, not elected). To make the Senate more equally apportioned by population, you'd have to convince 2/3rds the Senate and 3/4ths the states to approve amending the Constitution to do that. The House is first apportioned among states by population (minimum 1 per state), then divided into equal-population districts within each state.

    On #6, see #3.

  • by Gertlex ( 722812 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @11:41PM (#33774326)
    I find two faults with your observations. The first (isn't really yours as it's so common) is equating the 5% of energy use as foreign oil with "only". Seems to me that combining the energy used to generate electricity and that used to transportation (and industrial/other "energy uses") is flawed in that it's too general of a statement. Pulling that 17% of our fuel out of our transportation infrastructure would be a plenty big problem without stockpiles/rapidly increased production.

    And at the same time (still the first fault), you even downplay nuclear's contribution, since it's purely for electricity currently (ignoring a few cases where the heat does get used in other ways). Nuclear is 19-20% of the total electricity [] we use in the US.

    Additionally, you seem to maybe be a bit behind on the nuclear news front (but I approve of your sources... so maybe we just interpret stuff we've both seen differently). Recent polls of Americans have shown increases in favorable views of nuclear power (especially the last 5 years), and that rating's over half* **. Additionally we're kind of on track to build new reactors. There are at least a dozen [] currently in the approval process (expensive and tedious in the US, alas), with construction starting sometime in the next 5 years (probably sooner, but NRC is slooowww).

    *(my source is a non-free nuclear industry mag "Nuclear News", alas)
    **Fears are more evident when discussing the more general "radioactive stuff" subject, e.g. more negative poll responses..
  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @03:00AM (#33775018) Homepage

    Oh, another bit about the US not having parties like Europe understands them, and thus not being able to throw out the nuts--the US has primaries. For example, in Texas, the Democratic and Republican nominees for the Governor of Texas, US House, US Senate, Texas House, Texas Senate, and may other positions are chosen in primary elections.

    How this works is:

    1) Anybody who can manage to gather enough petition signatures to appear on the ballot can run for the nomination of the party.
    2) Any voter in the state who wants to can vote in either party's primary (but not both at the same time).
    3) The winner of the primary is the party nominee. Period.

    So, the organized Texas Democratic Party? Can't keep people off the list of potential Democratic nominees, and doesn't control who gets to vote for the nominees. So how would you expel anybody? There's no party official who has the authority to say, "No, this candidate is a nut, so we're not going to let him run." As long as he can win the primary, he's the party nominee.

    The party can, of course, refuse to fund his campaign. But he still shows up as the Republican on the ballot. And under the current Constitution, he can then get other people to finance his campaign, or fund it out of his own pocket.

  • by Undead Waffle ( 1447615 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @04:54AM (#33775300)

    2) Any voter in the state who wants to can vote in either party's primary (but not both at the same time).

    Just to clarify, some of the rules surrounding voting in primaries varies by state. Here in California the Republican party did not allow "decline to state" (registered to vote but not registered as any specific party) to vote in their 2008 presidential primary. So only when the parties choose to allow it you can select which party's primary to vote in.

  • by JWW ( 79176 ) on Sunday October 03, 2010 @09:18AM (#33776068)

    Item 1 - get rid of states powers is severely at odds with the constitution. The constitution grants limited explicit powers to the federal government. Over the last 200 some years one item, the "commerce clause" that allows the regulation of interstate commerce has been made into a hole big enough to drive any big government program through. The states are supposed to have most of the power in the federal system, but their power has been continually eroded.

    In my opinion, the GP post is very wrong in some of its points, the first item being the biggest. The second one being another big one. Enforcing party loyalty to keep the "nutters" out. Yeah, loyalty to party as the big measure, that worked out soooooo well before in other countries.

    Basically if the GP poster really wants to fight for those things, then fine, but I am completely against the desires spelled out in points 1 and 2 and would staunchly fight against them.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming