- .ORG has been snatched from the grasp of rapacious private equity billionaires: It's not an Ethos (anymore).
- Frontier deliberately denied fiber to millions: The company would have made billions, but that would have taken a decade.
- Amazon and Trump officials neutered worker protection initiative: The SEC let Amazon censor a shareholder motion.
- "Financial literacy" will not make poor people better off: The crisis was caused by the financially "literate"
- San Francisco's legion of billionaires won't shell out of the city's covid fund: Crickets and pocket-moths from 70 out of 75 of them.
- How Big Ag destroyed our food supply's resilience: Farmers:Perdue::Drivers:Uber.
- Americans overwhelmingly support pandemic containment measures: But automated "exposure notification" is no substitute for labor-intensive contact tracing.
- This day in history: 2005, 2015, 2019
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing projects, current reading
.ORG has been snatched from the grasp of rapacious private equity billionaires (permalink)
The Internet Society (ISOC) is a nonprofit that is in the enviable position of receiving tens of millions of dollars every year merely for overseeing work that someone else does.
ISOC has the contract to operate the Public Interest Registry, which contracts for the maintenance of the .ORG top level domain. It gets tens of millions of dollars a year for writing a check to PIR, who, in turn, write a check to the people who do the actual work.
Bizarrely, the board of ISOC decided they didn't like this arrangement (!) and proposed selling PIR to Ethos, a shadowy private equity fund whose known investors are well-connected GOP billionaires like the Perots and the Romneys.
Shortly before the selloff, staffers from ICANN – who gave the .ORG contract to ISOC – decided (without any board approval) to allow .ORG to engage in unlimited price-raises for domains.
Then those same staffers went to work for Ethos.
Ethos, meanwhile, runs another domain registry, Donuts (yeah) that is infamous for selling censorship-as-a-service, charging anyone who doesn't like their customers' websites "processing fees" to investigate and act on claims about infringement, libel, etc.
The arguments for selling .ORG to this censorship-happy, rapacious band of far-right plutes were just awful. Things like, "Well, what if no one wants a .ORG in the future? How will we fund the things we currently fund with the millions we get for writing checks?"
Or, "Ethos will not do anything bad, and if they do, the nonprofits that have maintained .ORG sites can just go somewhere else, and eventually everyone else will update their address books, links and bookmarks."
Or, "Ethos has made a nonbinding commitment not to raise prices too much or too quickly" (keeping in mind that existing costs are almost pure profit), or "Ethos will get nonbinding advice from an as-yet-uncreated community advisory board."
Or, "Why should ISOC let someone else run our public interest registry for free? We could get $1.13B for it" (ISOC is a nonprofit that received a $5m startup grant and the registry in order to run .ORG and is no longer interested in doing so).
ISOC's board demonstrated an unwillingness to listen to the vast number of .ORG registrants who opposed the move (from the Girl Scouts to Farm Aid to the EFF).
ICANN was – initially – unwilling to do anything about it, despite calls from Congress and various state AGs.
But then California AG Xavier Becerra sent a really strongly worded letter to ICANN, reminding them of their duty to be responsible overseers of the world's domain name system.
This triggered fresh waves of interest in the selloff and the tissue-thin, laughable justifications and reassurances attending it, with fresh emphasis on Ethos's plan to load up .ORG with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt.
And despite rumblings that ICANN would approve the selloff anyway, last night, the board announced that they had unanimously voted to block it.
What's more, ICANN's stern rejection hits on many of the concerns many of us have had about the way that the DNS is becoming a political football, with industry groups like the MPAA calling for it to act as a censor to block sites Big Content hates.
It also reaffirms all the objections critics of the selloff pointed to: the secrecy of Ethos, the inadequacy of its plans to safeguard the public interest, the risks of debt-loading, its lack of confidence in Ethos's leadership.
Ethos has incredibly deep pockets. It's literally a front for billionaires. They hired the best crisis communications firms, spent lavishly on deceptive ads that came up whenever you searched for info on the selloff… and they LOST.
They lost because of you, the people who answered the call from orgs like EFF and NTEN, and the huge coalition of nonprofits that came together to fight the selloff.
Frontier deliberately denied fiber to millions (permalink)
The question of data-caps (and other forms of network discrimination, like degrading connections from services that compete with the carrier's own services, or that have not paid for "premium" carriage on the carrier's network), turns on three questions:
- The distinctive nature of broadband
The factual question of whether these practices are necessary for "network management"
If so, whether the network management issue is the result of underinvestment in the network
The distinctive nature of broadband
Broadband isn't a VoD service, nor is it a pornography distribution system, nor is a way to do telemedicine. It's the nervous system of the 21st century.
Broadband is never a private enterprise. The only way to create and maintain broadband networks is to use public rights of way that cannot be purchased on the market at a price that would make the business viable: buying the right to wire up every building in NYC – or the right to run a long-haul wire from NYC to LA – would exhaust all possible profits for Verizon or Comcast for a century or more.
Instead, broadband carriers always, always rely on an incalculably valuable public subsidy. The subsidy is given to the carriers with the expectation that they will create and maintain a high-quality network that is sufficiently provisioned to perform the duties of a digital nervous system to the public providing that subsidy.
- The factual question of whether these practices are necessary for "network management"
Leaks from the carriers have revealed that this was always a pretense, not a reflection of any technical reality.
If there was any doubt, it's been settled by the lifting of the caps, which was not attended by "congestion" or the other horribles the carriers warned us of. IOW: who
are you going to believe: the telco lobbyists, or the evidence of your own lying broadband connection?
- If so, whether the network management issue is the result of underinvestment in the network
But US broadband speeds — with and without caps — are the worst, and most expensive, in the rich world, and also trail many poorer nations for price and performance. The telcoms sector's capex has fallen off a cliff since the Trump election, which nerfed the FCC's willingness to do ANYTHING to hold the companies it regulates to account, and also emboldened the FCC to ignore reality in favor of spin (for example, ignoring independent audits of broadband penetration and quality in favor of the industry's rosy, fact-free self-assessments).
Most recently the Frontier bankruptcy filings has revealed what we all already knew:
- The company viewed maintaining monopolies (by lobbying against the provision of competing, publicly owned fiber networks) as a preferable, cheaper alternative to investing in infrastructure, literally booking its monopoly carriage for 1mm rural US households as an asset on the basis that it could charge these households more for worse speeds, and noting that lobbying their state reps was cheaper than upgrading the networks to compete with public alternatives
The company's execs – whose compensation was largely stock based – refused to do anything that would lower stock price, and this meant that they would not take on ANY investment with an amortization schedule of more than 5 years, because telcoms stock analysts would downrate any carrier that reduced its dividends to invest in >5 year infrastructure projects. Frontier's own internal calculus predicted that a 10 year investment in 100gb fiber – literally thousands of times faster than the 20th century DSL it specializes in – would net it $1.9B over ten years on a $1B investment, but concluded that this investment was not practical because execs didn't want to see their takehome pay slashed by short-sellers who were allergic to long-term investment.
Frontier left millions – millions – of American households on slow DSL rather than blazing fast fiber, not because it wouldn't be profitable to connect them, nor because it wouldn't be profitable enough to connect them, but because it wouldn't be profitable enough over less than five years to connect them.
Those are the households trying to get their educations, do their jobs, seek medical care, stay connected to their families, tend to their finances, and engage in civics and politics over copper infrastructure that dates to the previous century.
tldr: this is why we can't have nice things:
- Carriers act as though they are running private enterprises when really they receive trillions in subsidies to run public utilities
Regulators, especially under the current admin, do less than nothing to discipline firms that fail to act in the public interest, bending over backwards to let them cheat and lie
Decisionmakers at the carriers explicitly view their job as improving share prices, rather than quality of service, or better pricing, and it's much cheaper to suborn legislatures so that you can maintain a low-quality/high-price monopoly than it is to compete in the market.
Amazon and Trump officials neutered worker protection initiative (permalink)
Low-waged "essential workers" from Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, and FedEx are striking today for Mayday, demanding access to a safe workplace and adequate compensation reflecting the daily risk they're taking to keep us all alive:
But the question of workplace safety isn't a new one for these workers. In the case of Amazon, there has been more than a decade of scandals about conditions its warehouse workers endure.
This came to a head with a shareholder motion calling on the company to adopt policies “ensuring safe and healthy workplaces; prohibiting discrimination and retaliation (and) affirming the right of workers to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively.”
But rather than do this, the company got the SEC to allow it to hide this motion from its shareholders in its proxy statement prior to its AGM later this year:
The Trump appointees that run the agency blessed the move, and Amazon's shareholders – its owners – will not get to see or vote on the motion:
You might think that this motion came from labor organizers or activists. It didn't. It came from a coalition of large – rapacious – institutional investors, including BMO Asset Management, Providence Trust and the Folksam Group.
Three days after Trump officials allowed Amazon to bury the motion, the company fired Christian Smalls, a NYC warehouse winner who organized a worker walkout over unsafe working conditions in its Staten Island facility.
"Financial literacy" will not make poor people better off (permalink)
The 2008 crisis was created by the finance sector, the most "financially literate" people in the world, who believed that they could spin out exotic derivatives of mortgages that inflated the market by orders of magnitude without risk.
After the crisis, the finance sector started to go through the stages of grieving, but got stuck on "denial." They weren't ready to admit that they didn't know what they were doing and they'd destroyed the world through hubris.
Instead, they insisted that the answer was MOAR FINANCIAL LITERACY, and promoted curriculum across the US to teach us all to "be better with money." 45 states now have this curriculum. Numerous studies of the curriculum shows that it doesn't work.
Why not? Well, maybe it's because "financial literacy" curriculum has as much to do with understanding how finance works as "scientific creationism" has to do with understanding the origins of life.
In her analysis of 43 "financial literacy" curriculum frameworks, the education scholar Agata Soroko found some glaring omissions, including no mention of "capitalism," "decent working conditions," "unemployment insurance," "paid leave," "a living wage"…
Also: "inequality," "income volatility," "unaffordable housing.
Where student debt is mentioned, it's "presented as a problem of financial smarts, not skyrocketing college tuition."
As Soroko sums up: "a financial literacy narrative endures which maintains that people are in debt because they spend their money on luxuries like lattes and avocado toast. "
"Students are expected to make the 'right' financial decisions and behave responsibly while the curriculum is mum about the misbehavior of the rich and powerful. There's nothing about moneyed interests rigging the system with lobbying, political action committees…"
Why is this relevant now? Because in lieu of a people's bailout, plutes and bootlickers are already advocating for "financial literacy" as the answer to the economic devastation that ordinary workers are facing:
Why do most Americans lack even $400 in savings? To read this editorial in The Hill, it's because of Americans' "financial irresponsibility."
But these are the workers who have faced decades of wage stagnation in the face of skyrocketinging housing, health and education costs.
Finally, David Byrne's question, "Who took the money away?" has an easy answer. The 1% took the money. That's how they became the 1%.
How'd they do it? Look at the airline industry. 96% of its free cashflow went to stock buybacks. Its entire rainyday fund was incinerated to make its shareholders – wealthy people – richer. When the collapse hit, they got billions in bailouts.
24 hours after being guaranteed $25B in public money, United announced layoffs.
The entire stimulus is oriented around increasing the wealth of the wealthy. 80% of the tax break will go to the 43,000 richest people in the country.
And 94.5% of the $394B "small business" Paycheck Protection Program fund went to large corporations.
Seen in that light, it's not surprising that the kind of vapid plute-boosting "financial literacy" programs that Soroko studied are being pushed as a post-pandemic measure.
If you need to convince Americans to tolerate gross inequality as the most just system we can hope for, that grinding poverty is the fault of the poor, and that billionaires are not policy failures, then "financial literacy" is the perfect tool for the job.
San Francisco's legion of billionaires won't shell out of the city's covid fund (permalink)
San Francisco has one of the highest densities of billionaires of any city in the world – 75 of them – and these billionaires have spent lavishly to fight antipoverty initiatives and taxes to help the city's homeless epidemic, and to secure tax breaks for their offices.
One thing they haven't spent on: San Francisco's official coronavirus relief fund.
SF Mayor London Breed created the Give2SF fund and asked the city's billionaires to contribute to it. Out of 75, nearly 70 put in $0.00.
The fund was supposed to raise hundreds of millions. It's sitting at $10.5m.
Some billionaires, like Jack Dorsey, moved money into a charitable LLC (a favored vehicle for dark-money lobbying and investment). These LLCs also didn't give to the city's fund.
Dorsey donated $175,000 to fight the city's Prop C, which would have levied a 0.69% tax on companies with more than $50,000,000 in revenue to deal with the city's homelessness crisis. That's $175,000 more than he's donated to the city to help the homeless during this crisis.
Other SF companies that have yet to give a dime to the fund: Levi Strauss, the San Francisco Giants, Charles Schwab, Instacart, and the Chamber of Commerce (the C of C DID spend $345,000 to fight Prop C, though!).
Bank of America and Wells Fargo have given, but the $350,000 they gave is far less effective than mortgage relief for struggling San Francisco residents would have been.
How Big Ag destroyed our food supply's resilience (permalink)
The reason that farmers are euthanizing livestock and throwing away produce while grocery stores are unable to get shelf-stock is monopoly. Out-of-control concentration in the supply chain has made it terribly, fatally brittle.
This concentration began with the "Confined Animal Feeding Operations" (CAFOs) of the 1970s, which moved animals from pastures into dark, overcrowded barns that were only profitable due to public subsidies for feed and relaxed rules on antibiotic use.
The meat monopolists that resulted have spent 40 years socializing their costs and privatizing their gains. The profits reaped by Tyson, Smithfield, and Perdue let them buy up or force under the regional, family-owned businesses that predated CAFO.
Today, these firms own everything EXCEPT the farms where the animals are raised. But they DO own the animals the farmers are raising. The farmers raise the animals on contract.
Contract farmers are like Uber drivers who are responsible for the buying and maintaining cars, but only earn at the whim of a giant multinational, and then only the bare minimum to keep them from going under.
That's why the farmers are killing and disposing of their livestock. It's not theirs to begin with. Their hyperspecialized facilities can only handle growing – not grown – animals, and the multinational monopolists that own those grown animals have ordered them destroyed.
The few remaining independent small producers, processors, and wholesalers are stepping up and maintaining our food supply.
By contrast, monopolists like Tyson are spending their money on full-page ads begging Trump for a bailout and for a legal get-out-of-jail-free card if their inadequate PPE kills their workers — or their customers.
Americans overwhelmingly support pandemic containment measures (permalink)
In spite of the impression given by the lavish coverage of the Flu Klux Klan "I Need a Haircut" rallies, Americans are incredibly supportive of the lockdown, according to multiple polls.
80% said shelter-in-place orders were "worth it" (Kaiser Family Foundation poll); 83% of Americans think "current restrictions are appropriate" or "not restrictive enough" (Washington Post/U Maryland poll).
19% of Americans support reopening restaurants; 14% support re-opening schools, 8% support reopening large sports events (PBS/NPR poll)
16% of Americans favor opening in the next two weeks (Yougov poll).
Two thirds of Americans are willing to install "contact tracing apps." The measure has bipartisan support, and support levels are higher among high-risk people, young people, and tech-savvy people.
But "contact tracing" apps don't actually do contact tracing. Real contact tracing, of the sort that has been used to fight previous grave infectious disease outbreaks, is a labor-intensive, hard-to-automate process.
The apps that will be developed atop Google and Apple's joint API will be "exposure notification" apps, not contact tracing apps. These can be complementary to contact tracing, but do not substitute for the army of human tracers we need to fight the pandemic.
Early US efforts at either contact tracing or exposure notification have been awful, dominated by proprietary, patchwork, incompatible tools that vary by state or even within states. The least-prepared states also have the worst apps.
Utah's using "Healthy Together," a repurposed app originally designed to find friends to party with to do contact tracing. Utah also has only 40 human contact tracers on its payroll. It needs at least 1,000.
Apple and Google's joint API does lots of clever things, but it's not clear whether the apps will do much good without the shoe-leather tracing that every country that has successfully contained the spread of coronavirus has used.
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago Doonesbury on DRM https://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2005/05/01
#5yrsago Algorithmic guilt: using secret algorithms to kick people off welfare https://slate.com/technology/2015/04/the-dangers-of-letting-algorithms-enforce-policy.html
#5yrsago Encryption backdoors are like TSA luggage-locks for the Internet https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/01/encryption-wont-work-if-it-has-a-back-door-only-the-good-guys-have-keys-to-
#1yrago Assessing Occupy's legacy https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/4/23/18284303/occupy-wall-street-bernie-sanders-dsa-socialism
#1yrago Gmail's automated spam-filtering is making it much harder to run an independent mail-server https://www.tablix.org/~avian/blog/archives/2019/04/google_is_eating_our_mail/
#1yrago When Steve Bannon & co spent $1,000 on booze at Mar-a-Lago, taxpayers picked up the tab https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-inc-podcast-taxpayers-covered-liquor-bill-for-trump-staffers-and-more-mar-a-lago
#1yrago UK cops are secretly harvesting all data from the phones and cloud accounts of suspects, victims and witnesses and insecurely storing it forever https://privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2018-03/Digital%20Stop%20and%20Search%20Report.pdf
#1yrago Notre Dame's new spire might be copyrighted and blocked by EU filters https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20190425/09282042084/why-your-holiday-photos-videos-restored-notre-dame-cathedral-could-be-blocked-eus-upload-filters.shtml
#1yrago Ahead of California's criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration, prosecutors are locking in plea deals forcing defendants to give up the rights they're about to get https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/courts/story/2019-04-17/after-waves-of-criminal-justice-reforms-prosecutors-now-want-to-lock-in-pleas-ask-defendants-to-give-up-future-rights
#1yrago Ghost warrants: US cops routinely arrest people for warrants that were canceled long ago, and lock them up for months before discovering the error https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/04/29/they-re-haunted-by-ghost-warrants-years-after-their-arrests
#1yrago Avengers: Endgame made $1.2B last weekend and Bernie Sanders wants Disney to spend it on raises that will give all their employees a middle-class wage https://twitter.com/SenSanders/status/1122950001657827328
Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 566 words (10292 total).
Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.
Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 01) https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/04/27/someone-comes-to-town-someone-leaves-town-part-01/
Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250757531
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583
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