Time To Hold The Lawyers Accountable


               During the 2000 election campaign, it was said only half in jest about his business ventures, that George W. Bush had been a failure at everything he had put his hand to, but was always bailed out by his father’s friends.  Unfortunately, bailing the United States out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the world out of the current economic crisis is beyond the capability of Papa Bush’s friends.  It is certainly clear, in retrospect, that the lawyers on the Supreme Court, starting with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who overrode the will of the voters by misunderstanding the constitution, should now resign, before they do any more damage.  The constitution is not a compact of the states. The preamble begins, “We the people.”  Garry Wills book Lincoln at Gettysburg is the best book for understanding the constitution and the people’s role in government.


               I have been listening to the podcast of a three day symposium on The Decline and Rise of Public Spaces from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.  http://uc.princeton.edu/main/index.php/component/content/article/28-all-videos/4217-the-decline-and-rise-of-public-spaces


               The destruction of public space is one of the major overlooked reasons for the current economic crisis. All financial systems are based on trust, and trust is engendered in public spaces.  The privatization of public space has had the unintended consequence of destroying public trust.  Check out the symposium for yourself.  Download it to your mp3 player and turn drudge tasks into fascinating activities.


               The most popular movie in the United States is It’s a Wonderful Life.  That is where most Americans learned about economics.  No bank or financial institution can satisfy the demands of all its depositors if they all demand their money simultaneously. The modern financial system can only function if there is trust.  And trust in America has been destroyed by the lawyers.


               Lawyers have become technicians, helping their clients to skirt the law, and have turned the legal process into a luxury only the very wealthy can afford.  The legal opinions justifying torture at Guantanamo are just the latest example.


               Last year, the superintendent of the Keansburg, New Jersey school system, retired with a payout of about $750,000 from bonuses and unused vacation and sick days.  Everyone was outraged (no wonder New Jersey is bankrupt.)  Keansburg is an “Abbott” district, meaning that most of its money comes directly from the state because the community is poor and the students perform badly.  The legislature rushed through new rules hamstringing all the districts in New Jersey with draconian new fiscal restrictions and oversight.


               “Who was the board attorney who advised the board on this contract?” I said to myself, as we drove through Keansburg on the way to the beach, last summer.  State Senator John O. Bennett III, who not only was a sitting legislator, but he was also the board and municipal attorney for several other governmental bodies.  Furthermore, almost his entire family was on the state payroll.  Only in New Jersey do sitting legislators collect paychecks from other governmental bodies.  And with all the other lawyers in the legislature of both parties, has no one noticed the inherent conflict of interest in representing two different branches of the same government?


               The real problem is that we are a capitalist country that has not had any venture capital for the past thirty years.  Instead, the financiers used the capital to create new instruments that resulted in a river of money into which they dipped their buckets for purely personal consumption.  After bailing out these financial institutions, taxpayers want limits on the pay of the executives who created this debacle.  But what about the lawyers who helped them skirt the financial regulations and create these imaginary products?  Shouldn’t they be brought to account, too?


               Meanwhile, the lawyers and legislators have created a legal system where innovation is illegal (especially in copyright law.)  So, the new

businesses and jobs that should have been created over the past few  decades that would then have been ready to hire the workers and take up the slack when the current system collapsed, are nowhere on the horizon.  Improving someone else's widget has always been the engine of progress.  This is now impossible because of the lawyers’ misuse of the copyright, property right and trademark laws.


               The lawyers have used the instrumentalities of the laws to get results opposite to the intent.  The purpose of the copyright law is to encourage creativity and to see that the fruits of that creativity eventually get into the public realm.  Fourteen years protection is the figure mentioned in the constitution.  Now, the congress has increased that number to the life of the author plus 70 years, just because the entertainment industry, a big campaign contributor and lobbyist, wants it.  But 70 years plus life means that the information will never come into the public domain, for all practical purposes.


               The same is true with government statutes.  Teacher certification and curriculum contents standards are touted as guarantors of quality and accountability for taxpayer dollars.  Instead, they have become statutory impediments to innovation.  Everyone knows the schools are failing to educate about one-third of their students, but every attempt to inject new blood into the classroom or new material into the courses is illegal.


               We are in for a long, ugly haul.


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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf