Lessig: Democrats' policies are up for auction to highest bidder, too

Writing in The Atlantic, Larry Lessig reminds supporters of the Democratic Party that corruption isn't limited to the Republicans. The Dems, too, have a party where policy is driven by campaign donations rather than principle, evidence or even ideology.

This way of thinking about the "necessities" of modern political life is so obvious to mainstream Democrats that it follows the party whether it is in power or not. The Center for American Progress, for example, is the Democratic Party's most important Washington think tank. Its researchers have produced an incredible range of valuable work, mapping a progressive agenda for the party to follow. There is no better home for left-thinking policy wonks in D.C., and no more than a handful of institutions that have ever produced better left-leaning work.

Or at least, and possibly, depending upon whether it pays. For, as investigative journalists Ken Silverstein and Brooke Williams have documented in a series of recent articles, CAP's agenda is potentially vulnerable to a long list of undisclosed corporate funders. According to Silverstein, CAP staffers are "very clearly instructed to check with the think tank's development team before writing anything that might upset contributors." (CAP disputes Silverstein's portrayal.) In at least one case, CAP has acted as an undisclosed lobbyist for a corporate contributor. (Disclosure: Silverstein and Williams's work on think tanks has been funded in part by a research center I run.)

My point is not that these are bad people pushing bad policy. My point instead is just this: Democrats must recognize that we don't actually get very much from this bargain. Sure, we'll win some elections, including the presidency, and so a regular mix of not-right-leaning souls will have this democratic royalty bestowed upon them. But we won't get much actual policy. Or policy consistent with the principles of this party, if indeed there are any principles not yet auctioned off to big money.

Can Democrats Get a New Party, Too?

Bank of Canada kills editorial cartoon, calls it "counterfeiting"


Canadian Conservative senator Mike Duffy is in disgrace over the news that he submitted fraudulent expense claims totalling $90,000 and secretly borrowed a like sum from the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to pay it (and kill an auditor's investigation into his conduct). So Dan Murphy drew an editorial cartoon depicting a notional Canadian $90,000 bill bearing Senator Duffy's leering face. But the toon only ran briefly, because the Bank of Canada threatened Canadian newspapers with criminal prosecution for counterfeiting if they ran it.

That gets to the crux of the matter. Laws that fight counterfeiting are fine (though really, any forger gifted enough to back-engineer a single-sided cartoon of a $90,000 bill that bears the image of Mike Duffy and a hologram of Nigel Wright deserves a medal, not jail time) but the Bank of Canada has no business playing Thought Police.

Parodies of bank notes are nothing new. In 1819, British cartoonist George Cruikshank, angered after seeing a woman hanged for passing a forged note, drew a Bank of England note that featured 11 men and women dangling from nooses. During the currency panic of 1837, a series of “shin plasters” — typically five- and six-cent bills — poked fun at U.S. economic policy.

Jack Knox: The ($90,000) Duffy buck stops here, Bank of Canada decides [Jack Knox/Times Colonist] (Thanks, Derryl!)

Pendants carved out of old British coinage


London's Thornhill Jewellery takes old British coinage and laser-cuts carves sweet/funny/silly designs into them. You can also get them made to order from the year of your choosing (to celebrate a birthday, for example). I saw several of these in person Sunday at Spitalfields Market and they're just great.

Thornhill Jewellery / coins

Monster money!


Google Translate says that the caption on this image is Japanese for "Bill of surprised frontispiece monster world." I can't really hazard any guesses beyond that, but hey, monster money!

『びっくり口絵 怪物世界のお札』 (via Crazy Abalone)

Forging £1 coins is apparently profitable


Three men have been convicted of forging £1 coins. The London Police Detective Inspector even got all quippy about the sentencing ("These three men are organised criminals who were intent on undermining the UK monetary system. There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars." -- yes, yes, very clever DI South) but what fascinates me about the story is that it can somehow be profitable to forge £1 coins.

I got passed a fake pound shortly after I first moved to the UK, almost ten years go; it was a foil-wrapped plastic slug. Not realizing it was fake, I tried to buy something with it at a corner shop and the cashier pressed it edge-on on his counter and the foil split open, revealing the green plastic disc inside.

From the sound of this article, these fakes were solid metal, which, I think, would make them more expensive than the fake I got. When you add the costs of the materials, the wages for the manufacturing process, warehousing, the discount for counterfeit cash, etc, it's hard to believe that this was worth anyone's while.

On the other hand, it's probably easier to go on counterfeiting when you're passing very small denominations as most people (me included) won't bother going to the cops over a mere pound; and it's much harder to remember where a given pound coin came from than a £20 note.

The court heard Fisher, of Rags Lane in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, Sullivan, of Bancroft Chase in Hornchurch, east London, and Abbott were arrested during an undercover police operation in Essex last May.

Police found a storage container with 1.6 million metal discs inside and fake coins equivalent to £20,000.

Fake coins equivalent to a further £30,000 were found in a nearby car.

Three men jailed over 'largest' fake £1 coin plot [BBC]

(Image: Yet another forged pound coin, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pahudson's photostream)

Infographic: how money corrupts Congress, and what to do about it


Money wins Elections is an excellent, scrolling infographic that illustrates how money corrupts the American legislative process, showing that time and again, Congress has voted the way that the big money told it to, against the prevailing popular opinion. It's all in support of the American Anti-corruption Act, and it was created by Tony Chu for part of his MFA thesis project.

Money wins Elections

New Canadian $5 celebrates the space programme


I'm pretty fond of the design of the new Canadian plastic $5 note, which is much improved if you draw Spock ears, eyebrows and hairline on old Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The new Canadian $5 bill has just destroyed every single other piece of currency in the world (IMO) (farm9.staticflickr.com)

New US$100 bill in circulation 10/8

NewImage

The new US$100 bill will go into circulation on October 8, 2013. New security features include a "3-D Security Ribbon" woven into the paper. The image changes from bells to 100s with the viewing angle, and "color-shifting" bell graphic that changes from copper to green, "an effect which makes the bell seem to appear and disappear within the (copper-colored) inkwell." "The Redesigned $100 Note"

Big pictures of small change

Pesoooo

Artist Martin John Callanan and the Advanced Engineered Materials Group at the UK's National Physical Laboratory used an infinite 3D optical microscope to capture 400 million pixel images of the lowest denomination coin from many currencies. "The Fundamental Units"

Lessig's TED talk on fighting corruption in politics with campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig presented at TED his new project, an effort to curb the corrupting influence of money in American politics with a reform to campaign finance, so that the government depends on the people alone. It's a wonderful talk:

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

Why can't we prevent asteroid strikes?

Asteroids: Yet more evidence that (as a society) we aren't very good at prioritizing preventative measures against long-term risks.

When US money was nice to look at


US currency was beautiful, once upon a time, when it sported images of animals and symbolic statuary, rather than deifying its citizen-rulers by putting presidents on the money as though they were kings. This 1901 $10 note (available on Wikimedia Commons in a 33.34MB, 6,454 × 5,784 JPEG!) is a case in point.

United States $10 Banknote, Legal Tender, Series of 1901 (Fr. Ref#114), depicting Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The central portrait is a depiction of an American bison. Part of the National Numismatic Collection, NMAH, Smithsonian Institution. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Game theory and bad behavior on Wall Street

An opinion piece by Chris Arnade on the asymmetry in pay (money for profits, flat for losses), which he describes "the engine behind many of Wall Street’s mistakes" That asymmetry "rewards short-term gains without regard to long-term consequences," Chris writes in a new guest blog at Scientific American. "The results? The over-reliance on excessive leverage, banks that are loaded with opaque financial products, and trading models that are flawed." [Scientific American Blog Network]

Database documenting payouts to UK slave-owners to be launched for public use

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate 3,000 slave-owning families for the loss of their "property" when slave ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. At the time, that sum amounted to 40% of the UK's annual spending budget; today, one could calculate the total value of the 19th-century payouts to be around £16.5 billion (=USD $25 billion; the actual sum can vary, depending on how you calculate).

In The Independent, an article digging in to the data, which will be released this week in the form of a publicly accessible database.

Read the rest

Great moments in pedantry: Canada puts the wrong maple leaf on its $20 bill

Hey, that's not a Canadian sugar maple leaf! That is very clearly the leaf of the invasive Norway maple.