Pluralist, your daily link-dose: 22 Feb 2020

Today's links

  1. Tax Justice Network publishes a new global Financial Secrecy Index: US and UK, neck-and-neck
  2. What Marc Davis lifted from the Addams Family while designing the Haunted Mansion: Amateurs plagiarize, artists steal
  3. ICANN should demand to see the secret financial docs in the .ORG selloff: at least it's an Ethos
  4. Wells Fargo will pay $3b for 2 million acts of fraud: they shoulda got the corporate death penalty
  5. This day in history: 2019, 2015, 2010
  6. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Tax Justice Network publishes a new global Financial Secrecy Index (permalink)

The Tax Justice Network just published its latest Financial Secrecy Index, the leading empirical index of global financial secrecy policies. The US continues to make a dismal showing, as does the UK (factoring in overseas territories).

Both Holland and Switzerland backslid this year.

Important to remember that "bad governance" scandals in poor countries (like the multibillion-dollar Angolaleaks scandal) involve rich financial secrecy havens as laundries for looted national treasure.

As Tax Justice breaks it down: "The secrecy world creates a criminogenic hothouse for multiple evils including fraud, tax cheating, escape from financial regulations, embezzlement, insider dealing, bribery, money laundering, and plenty more. It provides multiple ways for insiders to extract wealth at the expense of societies, creating political impunity and undermining the healthy 'no taxation without representation' bargain that has underpinned the growth of accountable modern nation states. Many poorer countries, deprived of tax and haemorrhaging capital into secrecy jurisdictions, rely on foreign aid handouts."

Talk about getting you coming and going! First we make bank helping your corrupt leaders rob you blind, then we loan you money so you can keep the lights on and get fat on the interest (and force you to sell off your looted, ailing state industries as "economic reforms").

The Taxcast, which is the Network's podcast, has a great special edition in which the index's key researchers explain their work. It's always a good day when a new Taxcast drops.

What Marc Davis lifted from the Addams Family while designing the Haunted Mansion (permalink)

It's always a good day — a GREAT day — when the Long Forgotten Haunted Mansion blog does a new post, but today's post, on the influence of the Addams Family TV show on Mansion co-designer Mark Davis? ::Chef's Kiss::

It's clear that Davis was using Addams's comics as reference, but, as Long Forgotten shows, the Davis sketches and concepts are straight up lifted from the TV show: "Amateurs plagiarize, artists steal."

Some of these lifts are indisputable.

"Finally, it's possible that Davis took a further cue from the insanely long sweater Morticia is knitting in 'Fester's Punctured Romance' (Oct 2, 1964), but in this case I wouldn't insist upon it."

Likewise, from the TV show, "Bruno" the white bear rug that periodically bites people was obviously the inspiration for this Davis sketch for the Mansion. Long Forgotten is less certain about "Ophelia," but I think it's pretty clear where Davis was getting his ideas from here.

Davis was an unabashed plunderer and we are all better for it! "We've seen many other examples of Marc Davis taking ideas from here, there, and anywhere he could find them, but not many other examples of multiple inspiration from a single source."

ICANN should demand to see the secret financial docs in the .ORG selloff (permalink)

ISOC — the nonprofit set up to oversee the .ORG registry — decided to sell off this asset (which they were given for free, along with $5M to cover setup expenses) to a mysterious private equity fund called Ethos Capital.

Some of Ethos's backers are known (Republican billionaire families like the Romneys and the Perots) but much of its financing remains in the shadows. We do know that ICANN employees who help tee up the sale now work for Ethos, in a corrupt bit of self-dealing.

The deal was quietly announced and looked like a lock, but then public interest groups rose up to demand an explanation. Not only could Ethos expose nonprofits to unlimited rate-hikes (thanks to ICANN's changes to its rules), they could do much, much worse.

If a .ORG registrant dropped its domain, Ethos could sell access to misdirected emails and domain lookups – so if you watchdog private equity funds and get destroyed by vexation litigation, Ethos could sell your bouncing email to the billionaires who crushed you.

More simply, Ethos could sell the kind of censorship-as-a-service it currently sells through its other registry, Donuts, which charges "processing fees" to corrupt governments and bullying corporations who want to censor the web by claiming libel or copyright infringement.

Ethos offered ISOC $1.135b for the sale, but $360m of that will come from a loan that .ORG will have to pay back, a millstone around its neck, dragging it down. Debt-loading healthy business as a means of bleeding them dry is a tried-and-true PE tactic – it's what did in Toys R Us, Sears, and many other firms. The PE barons get a fortune, everyone else gets screwed.

The interest on .ORG's loan will suck up $24m/year — TWO THIRDS of the free money that .ORG generates. .ORG is a crazily profitable nonprofit – it charges dollars to provide a service that costs fractional pennies, after all. In response to getting slapped around by some Members of Congress, the Pennsylvania AG, and millions of netizens, Ethos has made a promise to limit prices increases…for a while. And they say that they'll be kept honest by the nonbinding recommendations of an "advisory council" whose members Ethos will appoint and who will serve at Ethos's pleasure.

In a letter to ICANN, EFF and Americans for Financial Reform have called for transparency on the financing behind the sale: "hidden costs, loan servicing fees, and inducements to insiders."

Wells Fargo will pay $3b for 2 million acts of fraud (permalink)

Wells Fargo stole from at least two million of its customers, pressuring its low-level employees to open fake accounts in their names, firing employees who refused (refuseniks were also added to industry-wide blacklists created to track crooked bankers). These fake accounts ran up fees for bank customers, including penalties, etc. In some cases, the damage to the victims' credit ratings was so severe that they were turned down for jobs, unable to get house loans or leases, etc.

The execs who oversaw these frauds had plenty of red flags, including their own board members asking why the fuck their spouses had been sent mysterious Wells Fargo credit cards they'd never signed up for. Though these execs paid fines, they got to keep MILLIONS from this fraud (which was only one of dozens of grifts Wells Fargo engaged in this century, including stealing from small businesses, homeowners, military personnel, car borrowers, etc). Some of them may never work in banking again, but they're all millionaires for life.

Now, Wells Fargo has settled with the DoJ for $3b, admitting wrongdoing and submitting to several years of oversight. That's a good start, but it's a bad finish.

The largest bank in America was, for DECADES, a criminal enterprise, preying on Americans of every description. It should no longer exist. It should be broken into constituent pieces, under new management. There would be enormous collateral damage from this (just as the family of a murderer suffers when he is made to face the consequences of his crimes). But what about the collateral damage to everyone who is savaged by a similarly criminal bank in the future, emboldened by Wells Fargo's impunity?

Wells Fargo is paying a fine, but will have NO criminal charges filed against it.

If you or I stole from TWO MILLION people, we would not be permitted to pay a fine and walk away.

"I'll believe corporations are people when the government gives one the death penalty."

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago: Kottke goes full-time

#15yrsago: New Zealand's regulator publishes occupational safety guide for sex workers:

#10yrsago: Principal who spied on child through webcam mistook a Mike n Ike candy for drugs:

#10yrsago: School where principal spied on students through their webcams had mandatory laptop policies, treated jailbreaking as an expellable offense

#10yrsago: Parents file lawsuit against principal who spied on students through webcams:

#1yrago: Cybermercenary firm with ties to the UAE want the capability to break Firefox encryption

#1yrago: Fraudulent anti-Net Neutrality comments to the FCC traced back to elite DC lobbying firm

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I just finished a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel now, though the timing is going to depend on another pending commission (I've been solicited by an NGO) to write a short story set in the world's prehistory.

Currently reading: I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs" this week; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: Persuasion, Adaptation, and the Arms Race for Your Attention:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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