Pluralistic: 02 Jun 2020

Today's links

Image Scrubber (permalink)

Posting images from protests to social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can hold violent, powerful, corrupt people to account for violence committed under color of law. On the other hand, it can expose their victims (and the photographer) to retaliation.

Hence Image Scrubber, a free, in-browser tool for anonymizing pix. It's a lightweight, powerful browser-based image editor (enabling you to blur/mask identifying elements, including faces) that also deletes the EXIF metadata your camera left behind.

And because it runs entirely in your browser, you can download it to your phone, put the device in airplane mode, and edit images without connecting to the internet. If your phone is seized, the photos you've edited will not be useful for targeting your subjects.

You can download the HTML files to your laptop and run them locally as well. It's a "trust-no-one" model of image scrubbing that lets you practice good opsec without taking it on faith that some random website is deleting the images you send it.

Bravo, Everest Pipkin!

Trump's bailout guy is making millions for his family (permalink)

If Trump and his cadre of mustache-twirling villains have a saving grace, it's that they lack administrative competence. A con-artist succeeds by running across the river on the backs of alligators, moving so quick that none of them can take a leg.

A competent villain plays the long game, gets into the minutiae, buries the con in the fine-print. Their superpower isn't their fast-thinking gab, it's their ability to both endure and inflict boredom while they make out like bandits.

But while trumpites like Steven Mnuchin are just gabby muggers, others, like his protege Justin Muzinich, are champions in the dull, detail oriented mass ripoffs.

Which is why Muzinich is in charge of trillions in bailout money, and why that money has made him and his family of plutes incalculably richer.

Muzinich is a second-generation plute, the son of a junk-bond king whose family firm, Muzinich & Co, has been a massive beneficiary of the bailout, because, for the first time ever, at Muzinich's insistence, the Fed has used its bailout money to buy up junk bonds.

What's more, Muzinich never divested himself of $60m+ worth of shares in the family business. Instead, he parked them with Daddy, in a legal fiction that maintains the pretence of divestiture but still allows Muzinich to get the share back the day he leaves the Trump admin.

This isn't Muzinich's first rodeo: he was the point person on the Trump tax bill, where it was his job to reject the commonsense advice of the Treasury's tax expert and then perform surprise when their predictions came true.

For example, when government experts warned Muzinich that creating massive tax-loopholes for C corporations would induce large firms to restructure as C corps, he pooh-poohed the prediction as absurd.

Today, the largest private equity funds in America – Ares, Blackstone and KKR – have restructured as C corps, avoiding billions in taxes.

Despite all this, Muzinich is beloved of both establishment Democrats and Republicans, because he talks like them. He is attuned to fine details, capable of discussing nuance without drifting off in bored reverie. He's not a clown.

But "seriousness" is not a substitute for virtue. Indeed, long after the gator-dashing short con experts in the White House have had a leg gnawed off, people like Muzinich will be luxuriating in their bunkers, bathing in the money they stole.

Thank goodness for the forensic, explanatory skills of Propublica's Justin Elliot, Lydia Depillis and Robert Faturechi – their service in tracking down and laying out the long con is the first step on the long road to banishing these sociopaths to society's outer reaches.

Fix the police (permalink)

Data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe is the cofounder of the police reform group Campaign Zero. In a spectacular thread from Oct 2019, he lays out the evidence for which interventions improve policing, and which ones are a waste of time/money.

What doesn't work? Better training, implicit bias workshops, bodycams. These programs are uneven and the evidence doesn't support the idea that they reduce police violence.

Thankfully, there is evidence to support a list of low-cost, practical interventions that DO work.

30 years' worth of research supports the idea that use-of-force policies reduce police violence.

Demilitarizing the police – stripping them of the weapons and armor that they get as cheap surplus from the US military – works. Obama ended this practice. Trump renewed it. Military contractors – who make bank from it – lobby for it constantly.

Fix police union contracts. The contracts that police unions sign with cities are bad jokes: "Purging misconduct records, reinstating fired officers, dept funding."

Use data to do "predictive policing" – not predicting crime, but predicting abusive cops.

Invest in orgs that support poor and marginalized people, and establish police alternatives – for example, divert 911 calls related to mental health to mental health professionals, not cops (likewise, divert calls about homelessness to social workers, etc).

Fund the DoJ and direct it to investigate police departments: "Departments that receive federal intervention have 25-30% fewer police shootings than those that do not."

This stuff works. Adopting just some of these proposals in Oakland reduced the number of people shot by cops from 8/year to 0/year.

To learn more about Campaign Zero's research, watch this video of them presenting all of it to Portland City Council.

While some of the specifics of this were surprising to me, the overall message is just commonsense. Tell cops they're not allowed to use violence. Don't outfit them like an army.. Punish and fire cops who break the rules.

Don't use cops as social workers, mental health counsellors or addiction therapists.

When you put it that way, it's clear that the only reason we're living through an epidemic of lethal police violence is that we chose not to do something about it.

After Jim Crow, broken windows (permalink)

US policing has been racist from the start. The first US police forces were vigilante "Slave Patrols" charged with returning liberated Africans to the monsters who'd enslaved them.

So any discussion of the anti-Black violence of US policing must begin with this fact.

But it shouldn't end there.

Over the years, the character and intensity of US police racism has changed, and there are identifiable, proximate causes for those changes. Undoing those changes will not eliminate racism from policing, but it will dampen the danger it poses.

In 2017, Matt Taibbi wrote a furious book about the NYPD's daylight murder of Eric Garner, called "I Can't Breathe."

In it, Taibbi examines the role that "broken windows" policing and data-driven police quotas played.

"Broken Windows" came from a 1982 article in The Atlantic by the academic corrections official George Kelling, who claimed that people "feel safer" when the streets are swept of panhandling, litter, graffiti, etc.

The Broken Windows theory was endorsed and spread by the famed Stanford psych researcher Philip "Obedience Experiment" Zimbardo, who wrote, "If a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, all of the rest of the windows will soon be broken."

The promise of an easy answer to crime was incredibly tempting for mayors and police chiefs, who imposed quotes on rank-and-file officers, demanding that they stop, search and ticket a minimum number of people for low-level offenses every day.

But there's a problem with that. If you stop-and-frisk wealthy, influential, connected people, they will sue you for human rights violations, go to the newspapers, and make your life hell.

To meet quotas, cops had to find people who weren't entitled to complain when their rights were violated.

Black people.

This is the origin of the modern, data-driven epidemic of overpolicing. In 2004, the city of Baltimore saw 100,000 petty crime arrests that met and exceeded Mayor Martin O'Malley's targets. By 2014, Chicago PD had stopped 250,000 people in a single year.

The culture of "goal setting" and "deliverables" existed in irreconcilable tension with the inability of the police to visit stop-and-frisk and constant traffic stops on the white majority. Something had to give. That something was Black lives.

America became the great incarcerator, as Clinton's Crime Bill gave rise to long sentences for the people busted by cops looking to hit their targets.

As Taibbi writes today, "We have two systems of enforcement in America, a minimalist one for people with political clout, and an intrusive one for everyone else."

This is why NYC had to pay $33,000,000 in restitution for one hundred thousand strip-searches performed on people facing misdemeanor charges. These searches don't merely reflect sadism – they're also a way of creating new charges, like "resisting arrest." It's a twofer.

It's why cops – correctly – came to understand that the people they were policing hated them and saw them as an occupying army.

Lucky for them, that was around the time military contractors successfully lobbied for a program of low-cost "surplus" sales of military equipment to local law.

That's when we started to see cops dressing up like infantry on patrol in Mosul. "Dress for the job you want."

Broken windows was a fraud, and "community policing" (the euphemism for stop-and-frisk) never worked. But it lumbers on as a zombie "fact" whose research was long discredited, claiming Black lives in its wake.

"In upscale white America drug use is effectively decriminalized, and Terry stops, strip searches, and 'quality of life' arrests are unknowns. The country isnโ€™t going to heal as long as everyone else gets a knee in the neck."

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Newspaper breaking a strike by publishing online

#15yrsago Deep Throat's FBI-defeating security measures

#10yrsago Fordlandia: novelistic history of Henry Ford's doomed midwestern town in the Amazon jungle

#10yrsago Russia's troll factory

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Four Short Links (, Naked Capitalism (, Kottke (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 514 words (22079 total).

Currently reading: Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, Daniel Pinkwater

Latest podcast: How Big Tech Monopolies Distort Our Public Discourse

Upcoming appearances: Discussion with Nnedi Okorafor, Torcon, June 14

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