Pluralistic: 06 Jun 2020

Today's links

White House street renamed "Black Lives Matter Plaza" (permalink)

Murial Bowser, the Mayor of DC, has renamed the stretch of 16th St NW in front of the White House "Black Lives Matter Plaza" (which abbreviates to "Black Lives Matter Plz") (!).

Mayor Bowser also ordered a giant BLACK LIVES MATTER mural painted down the center of 16th St on the approach to the White House.

However, @DMVBlackLives, a DC chapter of Black Lives Matter, has decried Bowser's actions as window-dressing, sharing a video enumerating ways in which Bowser's administration has failed Black people in DC.

The video lays out the case for DC's Metro PD being riddled with violent white supremacists who operate with impunity, harassing, hurting, and murdering Black people, while the Mayor looks on.

Little Green Men (permalink)

The Russian soldiers who invaded Crimea wore no insignia and posed as local citizens who'd taken up arms for regional independence from the central government. Ukrainians called them "little green men" – invaders from outer space.

The streets of DC have their own little green men, armed riot cops in military gear who refuse to identify themselves or which branch of the US government they represent.

They are members of the myriad, ramified network of fed cops whose ranks have swollen by about 2,500 cops/year – creating a federal police force that now outnumbers the entire headcount for the ATF. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center trains inductees into 80 forces.

These agencies are only cursorily overseen and are generally unaccountable. They're a shitshow.

Take the CBP, who serve as a kind of praetorian guard for Trump. Remember, during the Muslim Ban, the CBP supervisor who hung up on Members of Congress who oversee the agency?

The Reps asked the CBP chief who he reported to, and he said "Donald J Trump" and hung up the phone?

The CBP is a shitshow's shitshow. On average, a CBP officer is arrested for corruption every single day.

For a decade.

The FBI once declared CBP corruption to be the greatest threat to US border security.

It's not just CBP – Federal policing agencies from the Bureau of Prisons to the US Marshals are routinely rocked by ghastly scandals.

Trump's cabinet doesn't care. They don't want the rule of law, they want armed stooges. That's why Scott Pruitt used his 20-person security detail to buy him moisturizer; why Mike Pompeo uses Diplomatic Security Service to pick up Chinese food.

Few of these agencies even have permanent chiefs; they're filled by a now-you-see-em-now-you-don't rogues' gallery of cronies appointed as interim heads, a job they inevitably lose when they fuck up in some predictable way.

All this is from an outstanding Politoc piece by Garrett M Graff, who goes on to note that the ATF hasn't had a constant oversight by a Senate-approved chief since 2002, because the NRA rejects EVERY SINGLE qualified person as too soft on gun control.

Most recently, Chuck Canterbury's application for the job was withdrawn after NRA-enthralled Senators made it clear they wouldn't approve him. Who is this gun-grabber, Chuck Canterbury?

He's the former head of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the Jobs Guarantee (permalink)

There's a terrible paradox at work in the mass unemployment created by the pandemic. We know that there is more than enough work for every human alive today and for the next 2-300 years, addressing the climate emergency.

That was true before the pandemic. What's changed is that tens of millions of workers in the USA and hundreds of millions worldwide have lost their jobs, and there is no demand from the private sector for their labor.

Our system relies on markets to create jobs, on the grounds that this is the most efficient way to employ people.

Today, millions of people face long-term unemployment (with the physical and mental-health tolls that come with it).

And we desperately need their work to save our planet and our species.

How is it "efficient" to leave them idle while the planet burns?

It's a subject I've been contemplating in fiction for a long time. It's at the center of the novel I'm writing.

But don't listen to an sf writer – listen to an economist, like Pavlina Tcherneva, whose forthcoming book "The Case for a Jobs Guarantee," lays out a clear and plausible case for giving a job to every person who wants one, doing the care and rehabilitation we so desperately need.

I'm not the only sf writer who's been inspired by Tcherneva's vision. My colleague Kim Stanley Robinson's latest Bloomberg column lays out the case for a jobs guarantee with the poesy for which he is justly famed.

Robinson rightly sees the threat of automation-driven unemployment as hacky science fiction masquerading as economic analysis: "Most jobs require a flexibility and creativity that only humans can bring to the task."

"And even if some of the jobs offered by government were make-work, such as the Works Progress Administration when it was building hiking trails and post offices in the 1930s, so what?"

Robinson connects the Jobs Guarantee to Modern Monetary Theory and the premise that deficit spending doesn't create inflation – what creates inflation is too much money chasing the same goods and services.

"If [economists] think the [economy's] goal is other than prosperous people living in balance with a healthy biosphere, they need to make that case—or think again."

Governments presiding over 25-40% unemployment don't last. They are so unstable that they collapse, sometimes taking the nation with them. When the pandemic is over, we're going to do something, or we're going to dissolve into chaos.

The right wing version of this is workfare, AKA forced labor.

The progressive version is the Jobs Guarantee: care and remediation jobs created in consultation with local communities, paying a living wage and good benefits.

The Fight For 15 is important, but the idea that this would set the minimum wage at $15/h is wrong. In the absence of a Jobs Guarantee, the true minimum wage is $0/hour. That's how much you earn if no one wants to buy your labor.

A living minimum wage puts some pressure on the worst employers to improve their workers' lives, but at the end of the day, those employers have a counteroffer for their workers: how about $0/hour?

A Jobs Guarantee – like the other guarantees the federal government offers, backing loans, guaranteeing profits to contractors, buying surplus agricultural product – would put a real floor on the living conditions of workers.

If we're willing to guarantee a minimum price for cheese, why not human labor?

There's a bright side (permalink)

I don't think every cloud has a silver lining, but I DO think that when life gives you SARS, you need to make sarsaparilla (h/t Joey DeVilla).

Is it possible that there's SOME bright side to ::gestures vaguely:: all this?

How's this: the uprisings and the brutal police retaliation has sent unprecedented floods of people to register to vote, with record funds and volunteer turnout for Democrat-linked causes.

There've been surges of young, racialized voters – the kinds of voters who back real progressives in downticket races, which is where all the action is (the White House is important, but so is the Mayor, the county commissioners, and your state reps).

In case you doubt that voter registration can make a difference when the Democrats are so committed to business as usual, consider Janeese Lewis George, a Democratic Socialist who clobbered her establishment incumbent opponent in a local race in DC's Ward 4.

George ran on a unapologetic progressive platform whose centerpiece was defunding the police. Her opponent smeared her on this, calling her a radical. But she kicked his ass.

#DefundPolice is gaining steam across America. If you want to sign onto a letter in your city, check this master list:

Toxic familial surveillance (permalink)

Stalkerware is a grotesque dumpster-fire, a perfect example of how shortsighted product designers' mistakes can be leveraged by unscrupulous profiteers to destroy peoples' lives.

It's through these tools that we see teens with abusive parents, women with abusive partners, and people with abusive "friends" subjected to the kinds of surveillance that powerful, repressive governments use on their opposition movement leaders

Unsurprisingly, these tools are marketed by absolute sociopaths.

And equally unsurprisingly, they're not very good at their jobs – the company that lets you spy on your teen is apt to be dumping all that surveillance data online where anyone can get it.

Even worse: these companies are a bargain-basement alternative to the equally creepy world of police spyware, so cops often use stalkerware instead, and expose their suspects' data to the same leaks.

All of this is abetted by a tame "security" industry that, until recently, refused to even class stalkerware as malware, so their tools wouldn't warn you if it was on your device.

(Thank EFF's Eva Galperin for making them change course)

"Privacy threats in intimate relationships," a new Journal of Cybersecurity paper by Karen Levy and Bruce Schnieier, is the best resource I've yet seen on understanding the risks presented by these tools and what to do about them.

Starting with the observation that we often hear about the design weaknesses that enable stalkerware in a positive light, such when the Governor of Alabama was outed for having an affair because his cheating SMSes were synced to his wife's Ipad.

"From a privacy-protective perspective, we ought to be agnostic as to the nature of the behavior or content detected, and be fundamentally concerned with how technology may facilitate involuntary information-sharing."

And they introduce contexts in which people might have a legitimate reason to surveil their loved ones, and likewise contexts in which society might expect them to (or even punish them for not spying on them).

Think of mothers who face legal and social sanctions for leaving their kids alone while they shop or look for jobs, and who receive messages of inadequate parenting for failing to supervise their kids 24/7.

Or parents who are told they have to put ankle-bracelets on their "high-risk" teens by counsellors or authority figures.

Or the (ugh) "granny-cams" that adult children of older people use to monitor their home conditions, compliance with complex medication requirements, and the conduct of caregivers, both in and out of long-term care facilities.

But note how easily these can shade over into abuse, especially when firms pick up on the (real and imaginary) anxieties that fuel consumption of these tools. That's how you get companies like Bark, which sells stalkerware for parents to force on their kids.

Bark advertises that it will alert you if your teen's texting or social media use contains "profanity, sexting, or indicators of depression."

For parents of younger kids, there's Hello Barbie, which secretly records children's interactions with their toys and relays them to parents.

One of the cardinal rules of security is that there is no such thing as abstract "security" – there is only security from some threat. The assumptions in many tools' security design assume that threats are external – a distant hacker, griefer, state or thief.

But when the call is coming from inside of the house, all bets are off. For example, what if the attacker is legally allowed to give consent on behalf of their victim (parents, some spouses, adult children of older adults)? "Consent" for data-gathering is meaningless here.

What happens when 2FA challenges send an SMS to a phone that the attacker can access and read incoming messages from, right on the lock-screen?

Or when the attacker can look at an array of photos and reliably pick out the people who are known to their victims and describe their relations?

These emotionally motivated attacks also disrupt the "security economics" that underpins security models – a bank vault that protects $1m doesn't need to be impregnable – it just has to cost more than $1m to break into, so "rational actors" won't bother.

But jealousy, paranoia, misogyny, revenge, and the other emotional factors behind this kind of factors are hard to set a price on – Schneier describes how, as a kid, he spent days cracking a 10,000-code padlock by trying combos in succession.

("Never underestimate the determination of a kid who is time-rich and cash-poor" -Little Brother, to which Schneier contributed an excellent afterword)

And, crucially, "While many of the threats we have described here are technically unsophisticated, we should not misread this as an indication that they are easy to solve."

Though the authors take a stab at it, recommending Eva Galperin's work, and this superb Citizen Lab report:

To which I would add the power of mockery to de-normalize surveillance, as when a grassroots movement of teens to dunk on the parental spyware app Life360 went viral on Tiktok.

Consumer Reports joins the revolution (permalink)

You might think that Consumer Reports' mission – objectively reviewing products and services – is a politically neutral activity, but reality has a left-wing bias, so anyone who tells the truth is intrinsically political.

That's why Consumers Union – publishers of Consumer Reports – was on the House Un-American Activities Committee's list of subversive organizations.

Objectively reporting on the activities of corporations IS a subversive activity.

In recent years, CU/CR have become more explicitly political, doing deep and groundbreaking work on privacy and other issues of moment in the digital era:

But the magazine grows more radical by the day. This week, they published an excellent guide to staying safe at protests:

While there's nothing in here that you wouldn't find many places elsewhere, the fact that it comes with CR's imprimatur of objective technical excellence, and that its inclusion in CR automatically makes protesting police violence into a consumer issue, is amazing.

Beyond that, CR also wants to explain to you how to safely record video at protests:

CR's audience skews older and more conservative – both because of its origins as a print magazine and because thriftiness and fixed incomes go together. I don't claim to know the editorial calculus behind this move, but the outcome is incredibly heartening.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Wal-Mart won't print digital photos that look "professional"

#1yrago People who document evidence of violent extremism are being shut down in Youtube's crackdown on violent extremism

#1yrago A mysterious nonprofit made millions suing companies to put California cancer warnings on coffee

#1yrago Australia's raids on journalists signal an authoritarian turning point

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Super Punch (, Christian Reilly (, Geoffrey MacDougall (, Naked Capitalism (

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

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:; personalized/signed copies here:

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

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