Pluralistic: 16 Apr 2020

Today's links

Plutocrats firehose money on primary challenger to AOC (permalink)

Dozens of the richest bankers and private equity plutes on Wall Street are funding a primary challenge to AOC: their candidate is Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former registered Republican who wants to kill Medicare and Social Security (which she calls "pyramid schemes").

Her major donors include Glenn Hutchins, billionaire cofounder of Silver Lake Partners, the notorious vulture capitalist who engineered the impending collapse of AMC (even in PE circles, Silver Lake is notorious for debt-loading businesses to death).

Also: James Passin of Firebird Capital; Bruce Schnitzer of Wand Partners; Jeffrey Rosen of Lazard; and Bradley Seaman, managing partner of Parallel49 Equity.

Virtu Financial CEO Doug Cifu says he donated to Caruso-Cabrera because she "understands financial markets" while AOC "does not."

Caruso-Cabrera's other donors include Vantis Capital CEO Steve Holzman (a major Mitt Romney donor) and former Dick Cheney aide Ron Christie.

Caruso-Cabrera has not articulated a single official policy she supports. In her 2010 book "You Know I’m Right: More Prosperity, Less Government," she lionizes Ronald Reagan and calls for eliminating the Department of Labor.

She also viciously attacks efforts to bring transparency to offshore tax-havens, writing "Freedom and democracy are best secured when banking secrecy and tax havens exist."

As to AOC's understanding of the finance industry, it has been on fine display throughout her tenure in Congress. Like that time she grilled pharma exec about why the HIV-prevention drug Prep costs $8 in Australia costs $1,780 in the USA:

Or her cosponsorship of an anti-loansharking bill:

Her spectacular evisceration of the Equifax execs who doxed America:

Her notorious and brilliant "Lightning Round" game about corruption in American lawmaking:

Her wildly popular plan to impose a 70% income tax on the country's highest earners:

Oh, and those Twitter threads mocking bank lobbyists that terrified the industry so much they were afraid to even try to meet with her:

And who can forget her debut Congressional speech, which is still the most popular CSPAN clip of 2019.

So yeah, the plutes are afraid of her and they should be, because she has their number.

I just gave $200 to AOC's re-election campaign.

FCC will spend $9B to improve broadband…without an accurate broadband map (permalink)

The FCC is about to dole out $9B in subsidies to bring broadband to underserved communities.

Also, the FCC has no accurate maps to tell them which communities are underserved.

Also, the process is dominated by the monopoly carriers, who sabotaged broadband maps for years.

The FCC knows this. Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, knows it. That's why he refused to release 2019's Broadband Deployment Report, burying a 1-page summary in a Friday press release (and then later retracting it due to gross errors).

The GOP has been the party of shitty broadband since forever. The GOP FCC Commissioners sought to solve the problem of terrible rural broadband by redefining "terrible" as "great." No, really.

26 GOP states banned cities from deploying broadband, despite the popularity of muni fiber (the excuse: "It violates the 1st Amendment" – this, despite the fact that 1A would force municipal providers to be MUCH more permissive than private carriers).

This is the GOP serving its donors, rather than its base. The 750 US municipalities with muni broadband are primarily rural and conservative. They're also virtually the only places where people are satisfied with their ISPs.

To be fair to the right, reality does have a consistent and entirely unfair left-wing bias, which is why things that measure reality – say, studies of gun-related mortality, or accurate broadband maps, or data on chloroquine and covid – are bad for the Conservative agenda.

Back to the FCC and its $9B to "improve broadband." The Competitive Carriers Assoc (representing the marginalized, tiny non-monopolist telcoms sector) have pointed out that the FCC has no idea where to put this money to do the most (or any) good.

Yes, the newly passed Broadband Data Act finally makes it illegal for carriers to lie to the FCC about their coverage (yes, this wasn't already banned…), and relies on external, independent data-sources, rather than taking the carriers' word for it.

As Karl Bode wrote in Techdirt: "Bad maps not only help hide a lack of competition and high prices (two subjects the current FCC can't even acknowledge, much less fix). But they help obscure the billions we've thrown at carriers to build sometimes duplicative network assets that often don't fix the problems the money was assigned for."

Buddhist monk covers western pop songs (permalink)

Kossan1108 is a Japanese Buddhist monk and musician who likes to cover western pop music on Japanese instruments (Kottke calls them "delightfully earnest").

Here he is covering Queen's "We Will Rock You."

The Ramones' Teenage Lobotomy:

And Yellow Submarine.

Apple hunters recover ten "lost" varieties from forgotten farms (permalink)

The Lost Apple Project is a nonprofit that scours rural woodlands that were once farms, looking for apple trees whose varieties were thought to be extinct. They just had their best year, ever.

They confirmed 10 pioneer-era varieties, previously believed to be lost. Lost Apple's founders relied on "old maps, county fair records, newspaper clippings and nursery sales ledgers" to locate them. Many of the trees they harvested from were dying – they were just in time!

Oregon's Temperate Orchard Conservatory did analyzes the cuttings that Lost Apple discovered last October and November "from 140-year-old orchards tucked into small canyons or hidden in forests that have since grown up around them in rural ID and WA."

Overall, the group has recovered 23 varieties. This year's batch includes the ancient Turkish Sary Sinap, the Streaked Pippin (possibly from NY state, 1744) and the PA Butter Sweet (earliest known origin 1901).

Temperance Orchard relies on old USDA watercolor illustrations and old botany textbooks to make their identifications.

Alas, Lost Apple is threatened by the closure of the fairs where they sell lost varieties to fund their shoestring operation.

If you want to support them, they're accepting checks payable to WCHS (Whitman County Historical Society)

Attn Lost Apple Project, PO Box 67, Colfax, WA 99111

Finding the Money (permalink)

Finding The Money is a new documentary about Modern Monetary Theory, a heterodox, exciting, and fascinating way to think about where money comes from and what it means for governments to run "deficits."

It features the work of Stephanie Kelton, a brilliant economist whose lectures illuminate the subject of money as a public utility that can be used to address existential crises like the climate emergency and (as we're seeing), the pandemic.

(Kelton also has a new book about this, "The Deficit Myth": "Deficits can enrich a small segment of the population, driving inequality to new heights, while leaving millions behind. Or they can be used to sustain life and build a more just economy.")

The pandemic is validating MMT's core hypothesis: that governments don't build capacity by saving money (governments create money by typing numbers into spreadsheets).

They build capacity by spending money.

No amount of government cash reserves can make more ventilators available for sale.

But if we hadn't cut the budget that maintained California's stockpile of ventilators, masks, and entire transportable hospitals in 2008, we'd have them today.

As Kelton says in the documentary: finding money is the easiest part.

"Instead of asking ‘how will you pay for it?’ we should ask ‘how will you resource it?’ This debate can change everything about policy from the health of our pocketbooks to the health of the planet."

The trailer makes this look like an amazing project. The trick of the finance sector has been to surround its work with performatively dull, shitty math and jargon to exclude the public from the debate. This kind of debullshittification is crucial.

Meren Poitras, the director, is seeking donations to finish the film:

(I gave).

Evangelical pastor denied quarantine, now he wants your stimulus check (permalink)

Tony Spell is an evangelical death-cult leader who defied shelter-in-place orders and held packed Easter services

Now, he's ordering members of his death cult to donate their $1200 coronavirus stimulus checks to churches that deny the science of coronavirus.

Zombie movies teach us all the wrong lessons for pandemic (permalink)

Anthropology prof Clare Sammells teaches a class on the social subtext of zombie movies; in a beautifully wrought and extremely timely thread, she explains how zombie movies teach the wrong lessons for the pandemic crisis.

It's not merely that zombie plagues would be very easy to contain: "you would immediately know who was infected. There would be no moral ambiguity about how to handle the situation…There is no asymptomatic incubation period."

It's "the assumption that if institutions such as the police, prison system, federal government, and military fall away, that people would turn into the worst versions of themselves. E.g., the Walking Dead motto: 'Kill the Dead, Fear the Living.'"

Anthropologically speaking, it's nonsense: "societies without centralized governments, etc (what in anthropology we call 'acephalous' societies) actually have less conflict than we do…there are mechanisms for how to resolve problems in ways that actively curtail violence."

"What we are actually seeing in the COVID-19 pandemic is not a collapse of society, but its strengthening from the group up. People are creating neighborhood networks. They are reaching out to friends to offer help. They are showing care and concern for each other. "

"That desire to reach out and help people during a crisis is often missing in zombie films, which tend to assume that we will all descend into Aggressively Individualistic Survival Mode unless forced to do otherwise. But that’s not really how people are, most of the time."

It's a lesson borne out by history, as is so beautifully illustrated in Rebecca Solnit's "Paradise Built in Hell," and elaborated in her must-read commentary on the crossroads of our pandemic:

It inspired my 2017 novel "Walkaway" and its theme of "covered dish people" – people who, during a crisis, visit their neighbors with a covered dish rather than a shotgun, thus increasing their neighbors' likelihood of doing the same.

Building a "web of books" (permalink)

Last September, Tom Critchlow proposed a federated, decentralized "web of books" as an alternative to Goodreads, the monopoly platform of booklists owned by the monopoly platform of bookselling.

Now, he's elaborated on the idea in a post with a lot more technical detail about how to build an extensible system for allowing friends, fans, and strangers to exchange booklists, reviews, and recommendations.

Critchlow wants an "RSS-like" mechanism to tie it all together. But Matt webb makes a convincing case that RSS can do it all:

I love this stuff.

Also: Goodreads was a perfectly cromulent standalone service that was gobbled up by Amazon as part of its acquisitions strategy of establishing massive vertical monopolies, and that this was only legal because we've been nerfing antitrust for 40 years.

Big Tech critics often indulge in the same tech exceptionalism that they (rightfully) condemn tech leaders for, insisting that Big Tech got big because of "network effects" and "first mover advantage" (which, ofc, is why we all search Altavista with our Crays all day long).

When you look closely, you see tech's growth strategy is the utterly unexceptional playbook that dates back to Rockefeller, Carnegie and Mellon: buying (and killing) nascent competitors, merging with major competitors, and using vertical monopolies to control prices.

By the same token, tech leaders aren't 100-foot-tall supergeniuses. They are completely ordinary mediocrities, no better than you or me, with howling voids where their consciences should be.

The Facebook Political Ad Collector (permalink)

The Facebook Political Ad Collector is a collaboration between Quartz and Propublica: it's a browser plugin that scrapes all the Facebook pages you view and harvests political ads for inclusion in an open database.

The most pernicious part of tech exceptionalism is the bit where we unquestioningly accept Big Tech's sales literature, in which they claim that Big Data and machine learning can be fashioned into a mind control ray that can convince anyone of anything.

I don't think it's true. I think, rather, that Big Tech's nonconsensual dossiers on our interests and social context allows for targeting that allows advertisers to say things in private that they aren't allowed to say in public.

For example, they can locate racists, and then show them ads that promise that Trump will be super-racist in his governance, without having to publicly announce this in ways that would alienate moderate Republicans.

And they can lie, saying things that would violate consumer protection and election laws, and since the lies are only shown to a targeted audience, they stand a better chance of getting away with it.

This isn't mind-control, it's fraud and conspiracy.

Plugins like the Political Ad Collector are important because they erode the secrecy that allow fraud and conspiracy to thrive.

I'm a zuckervegan and have no Facebook, Whatsapp or Instagram accounts, and I think the world would be better if you didn't, either. But if you're going to use the services, running this plugin is an important service to society.

Here's Propublica's open repository of political ads that have been retrieved to date.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago WIPO's $50 million bribery scandal

#10yrsago Sign for the US Border: unprovoked beatings ahead

#10yrsago This means war: Big Content's war on democracy

#10yrsago UK LibDems pledge to repeal the Digital Economy Bill

#5yrsago $17 radio amp lets thieves steal Priuses

#5yrsago Arcology: cutaways of the future city-hives that never were

#1yrago Your kid's "smart watch" lets anyone in the world trace their location. Again.

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Kottke (, Naked Capitalism (, Cynthia Seelhammer (, MMT Podcast (, Mister Jayem (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: Podcast swap: Wil Wheaton on Little Brother

Upcoming appearances:

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 new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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