Pluralistic: 16 May 2020

Today's links

Rep Steve Cohen wants to clawback billionaires' bailout (permalink)

Here's video of a barn-burning speech by Rep Steve Cohen [D-TN] during the House debate on the third bailout bill, excoriating McConnell and Trump for sneaking $100B of tax breaks for millionaires into the bill.

Cohen says he added a clause to the new bailout bill clawing back that socialism-for-the-rich and asked his GOP House colleagues to sign into it; not one of them did.

I'm really glad to see Congressional Dems taking on this disgusting bit of pork, but I'd much rather they'd have given the original bill sufficient scrutiny before voting it in, winkling out this sneak attack and heading it off before it succeeded.

I know things were chaotic and urgent then, but that's exactly when we need Congress to provide scrutiny to lawmaking – it's our only defense against the Shock Doctrine tactics of the GOP and their donors.

Democratize workplaces now (permalink)

"Democratize the workplace to clean up the planet" is a manifesto published in 38 national newspapers around the planet, calling for a "decommodification of work" and a recognition of workers as "labor investors"; the (French) original is in Le Monde:

It's a stirring call for workplace democracy as a consequence of the pandemic and what it has proven about workers – that they are not "human resources," another "resource" like bricks or machines. Without "labor investors," all production halts.

A bedrock of capitalism is that "investors" get a say in the running of companies; the investment of labor by workers is the most irreplaceable investment in the firm, so workers should get seats on the board alongside those whose sole contribution is mere money.

"Essential workers" keep the world functioning, while workers who work from home are getting up, clocking in, and doing the job – without a supervisor looming over their shoulders. Work continues "without surveillance or external discipline."

There have been many parallels drawn between the pandemic crisis and world wars, but here's another, and it's important: After the wars, the role of women in production led to female sufferage – how could you deny the vote to the workers who filled those crucial jobs?

The pandemic demands a strengthening of the "Workers Councils" that have existed in Europe since WWII, making them a separate, co-equal chamber in corporate governance, with "double majorities" required for major corporate changes.

"A personal investment of labor; that is, of one’s mind and body, one’s health – one’s very life – ought to come with the collective right to validate or veto these decisions."

Beyond this, the manifesto calls for a "decommodification" of health and other essentials, removing them from market forces: "The rising body count across the globe is a terrible reminder that some things must never be treated as commodities."

The manifesto calls for a jobs guarantee, in line with A23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights's Article 23, the Right to a Job: "Guaranteed employment would allow governments to provide dignified work [for] the immense effort of fighting environmental collapse."

The connection of a Jobs Guarantee – "a counter-cyclic automatic stabilizer" in econo-jargon – with climate resilience is an exciting new trend. We're only a few weeks away from the publication of Pavlina Tcherneva's landmark book on the subject:

The manifesto notes that the massive public aid to both small and large businesses should come with strings attached: "In addition to hewing to strict environmental standards, firms must be required to fulfil certain conditions of democratic internal government"

The letter is signed by "more than 3000 professors, scholars and scientists" – and it echoes some of the critical documents of this crisis, like Rebecca Solnit's beautiful essay on the idea of a crossroads between recovery and death:

NYC teens fight period poverty (permalink)

Nicole Soret and Mya Abdelwahab are highschoolers at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria in Queens, New York.

They created a campaign called "Femstrate" to convince the Department of Ed to distribute period products at school food-distribution sites that hungry kids and their families rely on during the crisis.

After a month of fighting and stalling, the teens prevailed: today, school meal hubs are also distributing period products. Check here to find a distribution site near you:

The campaign was an extension of an in-school project to address period poverty. They've also created a Gofundme to raise money for period supplies:

(Image: Nicole Soret and Mya Abdelwahab)

No sides (permalink)

Nick Sousanis got a doctorate in education from Columbia for Unflattening, a dissertation in comics form that was published by Harvard University Press and went on to critical and commercial success.

Sousanis has since made a career out of creating comics that bring complex and abstract concepts to life, like entropy:

While also dabbling in longform, concrete pieces, like a biography of pioneering comics librarian Karen Green:

His latest is "No Sides," a stark, abstract and moving one-page meditation on our inescapable shared destiny, in which biology transcends ideology.

Google faces antitrust blitz (permalink)

The DoJ and a coalition of states' attorneys general are said to be on the verge of bringing at least two antitrust actions against Google: the actions will probe Google's use of search, Android and ad-tech to establish and maintain monopolies.

It's not clear whether the AGs and DoJ will file separate or joint complaints (the DoJ's antitrust malpractice in permitting the idiotic Sprint/T-Mobile merger has soured AGs on its antitrust division).

An antitrust action against a company as well-heeled as Google is an expensive marathon, likely to take a decade or more to resolve itself. Nevertheless, I support such an action, for two important reasons.

First (and most of all): they deserve it. Google cheats. Companies should grow by creating and improving products people love, not by buying and killing nascent competitors, merging with major competitors, or creating vertical monopolies.

Google isn't an "inventing things" company, it's a "buying things" company. The in-house product success tally is approximately 1.5 (one great search engine and a pretty good Hotmail clone). The other successes were acquisitions.

They buy dozens – even hundreds – of companies per year. The in-house products they produce (G+, Sidewalk Labs, etc) flop. They're using access to capital to dominate the market, not technical excellence.

Then there's the second reason to favor antitrust action: it will discipline both Google and the entirety of Big Tech by showing exactly how awful being dragged up and down 1000 miles of interstate by antitrust lawyers for 10 years can be.

The way that antitrust alters the dynamics of a boardroom is hard to overstate. I've seen it in person.

More importantly, I've heard detailed accounts from ex-Microsofties who say that after the DoJ's (ultimately unsuccessful!) antitrust action, anyone who mooted doing stuff that would attract more scrutiny was shouted down by everyone else.

Don't take my word for it. Bill Gates flat-out admitted it last year when he told the Dealbook conference that Microsoft missed acquiring Android because it was "distracted" by antitrust action – except that Android happened SEVEN YEARS later.

I don't think he misspoke. I think he was telling the literal truth: seven years after the DoJ walked away from the action, the company's vicious streak was still contained by fear of antitrust enforcement.

Indeed, it was that same fear of the antitrust enforcer's scrutiny that is widely credited with staying Microsoft's hand when Google was still small and fragile, sparing it Netscape's fate.

Which means that a protracted, expensive fight with Google over antitrust is a feature, not a bug. A brutal, extended round of antimonopoly trench warfare will terrify the sociopaths of Silicon Valley's boardrooms.

And while that terror is a poor substitute for empathy and decency, it's as close as we're likely to get in that cohort, and I'll take it if I can get it.

Zuck wants Giphy (permalink)

The old saw that "if you're not paying for the product, you're the product" is flat out wrong. A more correct version is, "If a company doesn't have legal or competitive barriers to selling you, they will."

Google sells you by spying on you, monetizing your sensitive info. Apple sells you by locking you in, picking your pocket. Google doesn't need to lock you in because they spy on you wherever you are. Apple doesn't need to spy on you because their lockin is so comprehensive.

Facebook is the worst. They spy on you wherever you are and they try to lock you in.

Which is why it's so alarming that Facebook is going to buy Giphy for $400m.

Giphy isn't just a repository for cute gifs. They're the service that inserts cute gifs when you use Twitter, Tinder, Slack and Imessage. That means that an acquisition of Giphy is a means for Facebook to spy on you while you use all those rival products.

Thankfully, we're headed into a new age of reinvigorated antitrust enforcement, and this is exactly the kind of thing that was commonplace last year and this year is Exhibit A for why these companies can't be trusted.

Elizabeth Warren has already signalled that she'll take steps to block this acquisition, and Amy Klobuchar's onboard, too.

This day in history (permalink)

#1yrago Grifty "information security" companies promised they could decrypt ransomware-locked computers, but they were just quietly paying the ransoms

#1yrago Despite the hype, the CBD molecule is actually pretty amazeballs

#1yrago Luna: Moon Rising, in which Ian McDonald brings the trilogy to an astounding, intricate, exciting and satisfying climax

#1yrago Watch: Tim Wu debates trustbusting with Tyler Cowen, who just wrote "a love letter" to Big Business

#1yrago Lent: Jo Walton's new novel is Dante's Groundhog Day

#1yrago EPA Inspector General Report finds massive waste from Trump's Pruitt flying business class, staying in swanky hotels

#1yrago Under Trump, immigrants who serve in the armed forces are finding it harder to attain citizenship than those who do not serve

#1yrago California set to legalize eating roadkill

#1yrago Florida Governor says the FBI told him how the Russians hacked Florida voting machines, but swore him to secrecy

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 515 words (16339 total).

Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.

Latest podcast: Rules for Writers (

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

"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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