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First POST: Lessig of Two Evils

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, September 15 2014

Lessig of Two Evils

  • Saturday, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig sent a long email to his MayDay PAC list titled "Optimism" and seeking to explain to its 60,000+ donors why, despite its modest impact on the just concluded New Hampshire Republican Senate primary, they should still take heart. The email raises more questions than it answers. (Since I can't find it online, I've posted the text here.)

  • On the plus side, Lessig argues that the money MayDay spent in New Hampshire backing longshot Jim Rubens against frontrunner Scott Brown (which Slate reported at a whopping $1.6 million and Re/Code put at a still substantial $600K) had an impact in raising attention to the issue of money in politics. He writes that 37% of primary voters surveyed said "reducing the corrupting influence of politics [sic] was a major or deciding factor in their vote for Senate." (I think Lessig means reducing the influence of private money in politics, but does no one proofread his emails for him?) That said, a large chunk of that group apparently gave their votes to Brown (or, as Lessig put it "among that 37%, our candidate beat the Republican nominee by 18 points!") which shows just how hard it is to impact voters' opinions in a meaningful way.

  • But Lessig's email left me with two unanswered questions. First, given his willingness to spend heavily on a last-minute longshot, why didn't MayDay get more deeply involved in the Teachout-Wu campaign, beyond sending out one fundraising email? Lessig wrote a blog post praising them for losing "beautifully"--but considering that they had no money for TV ads or mailers and still managed to get a third of the vote--in part running on MayDay's signature issue--those 60,000+ donors (full disclosure, I am one of them) could have be far better served in NY than NH.

  • Lessig's email also buries the lede. The troubling news, which he admits deep in the text, is that MayDay isn't fully funded. That is, after promising the grassroots donors who he asked to pull together a $5 million kitty on top of the group's first million that their money would generate a $5 million match from unspecified heavy hitters, Lessig writes, "I've not yet secured that match." Here, in a IRC chat indexed by Google and posted on DailyKos by MayDay critic DocDawg, you can read MayDay CTO Aaron Lifshin explaining, on September 5th, to other staff and volunteers how to explain that to the public, saying "It was never implied that it was guaranteed. there is just no good way to say: "people have not given us $5 Million yet" the safe line is the line I have given you."

  • In Salon, Thomas Frank blasts Ezra Klein's "discovery" that political science is suddenly the rage in Washington, arguing that the capitol has been entranced by so-called "experts" for decades.

  • Visiting New Zealand at the invitation of Kim Dotcom, the internet entrepreneur-turned-political activist, the Intercept's Glenn Greenwald says he will soon produce proof that the country's prime minister, John Key, has been deceiving the public about its relationship with the NSA, reports Toby Manhire. Prime Minister Key is calling Greenwald "Dotcom's little henchman" and denies that there has ever been mass surveillance of his country's citizens. Greenwald responds with this story, co-authored by Ryan Gallagher.

  • Writing for the Intercept, Edward Snowden says, "If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched."

  • Networks belonging to Germany's Deutsche Telekom have been breached by the NSA and Britain's GCHQ, Andy Muller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Michael Sontheimer report for Spiegel. A company spokesperson said such accessing "of our network by foreign intelligence agencies would be completely unacceptable."

  • Social media are driving a "virtual revolution" in Saudi Arabia, reports the Economist. Reportedly, Saudis watch an average of seven YouTube videos a day and one quarter of the country's 31 million people are on Facebook.

  • Forty-three members of Unit 8200, an elite and secret section of Israel's army in charge of signals intelligence and vaunted for its role in developing the country's disproportionate "start-up nation" impact, have signed an open letter refusing to do their reserve duty in "activities against Palestinians," 972's Dahlia Scheindlin reports.

  • Mailpile, a new web-mail client that is promising user-friendly encryption and top-of-the-line privacy, is out in beta.

  • Uber has given into at least one of a group of striking NYC drivers' demands, reports Johana Bhulyan for Buizzfeed. Drivers of premium cars are now being allowed to opt out of having to take less lucrative UberX requests.

  • Net neutrality supporters are rallying today in New York City outside City Hall and in Philadelphia outside Comcast headquarters during the lunch hour.