Pluralistic: 14 Jul 2020

Today's links

Poesy the Monster Slayer (permalink)

Wahoo! Today is the day my first-ever picture book comes out: it's POESY THE MONSTER SLAYER, illustrated by Matt Rockefeller and published by Firstsecond. It's an epic tale of toy-hacking, bedtime-avoidance and monster-slaying.

The book's birthday is attended by a superb and glowing review from Kirkus:

"The lights are out, and the battle begins. She knows the monsters are coming, and she has a plan. First, the werewolf appears. No problem. Poesy knows the tools to get rid of him: silver (her tiara) and light. She wins, of course, but the ruckus causes a 'cross' Daddy to appear at her door, telling her to stop playing with toys and go back to bed. She dutifully lets him tuck her back in. But on the next page, her eyes are open. 'Daddy was scared of monsters. Let DADDY stay in bed.' Poesy keeps fighting the monsters that keep appearing out of the shadows, fearlessly and with all the right tools, to the growing consternation of her parents, a Black-appearing woman and a White-appearing man, who are oblivious to the monsters and clearly fed up and exhausted but used to this routine. Poesy is irresistible with her brave, two-sided personality. Her foes don’t stand a chance (and neither do her parents). Rockefeller’s gently colored cartoon art enhances her bravery with creepily drawn night creatures and lively, expressive faces.

"This nighttime mischief is not for the faint of heart. (Picture book. 5-8)"

Kirkus joins Publishers Weekly in its praise: "Strikes a gently edgy tone, and his blow-by-blow account races to its closing spread: of two tired parents who resemble yet another monster."

Last Sun, my daughter Poesy – the protagonist's namesake – and I went to our local indie Dark Delicacies to sign 100+ pre-orders; there are a few left in inventory, and we're planning on another round in the coming weeks if you'd like a signed copy.

Atlas of Surveillance (permalink)

With the Atlas of Surveillance, EFF aggregates 5300 datapoints about US police forces' use of surveillance technology and maps them, providing an at-a-glance/searchable data on everything from Ring partnerships to shotspotters to fusion centers to drones.

Hundreds of community groups, university labs and other institutions contributed to the database:

If your region is blank, that means no one has done the work to figure out how your local law enforcement is spying on you. You can fill that gap! Here's how:

Catalan politician hacked with NSO Group malware (permalink)

NSO Group is an Israeli cyber-arms dealer owned by Novalpina Capital, a British private equity fund. They claim they sell military-grade hacking tools to help law enforcement catch serious criminals and terrorists.

Actually, they're indiscriminate and sell to brutal despots, corporate lobbyists, and petty, thin-skinned rich sociopaths bent on destroying their critics. Their tools are routinely used against activists, journalists, even schoolchildren.

They were just outed for helping someone – almost certainly the Spanish national government – spy on the the speaker of the Catalan parliament. That is to say, they allowed a government to spy on its legitimate political opposition party.

Speaker Roger Torrent is one of the most senior politicians in Catalonia; he is one of at least three pro-independence figures whose phones were infected with NSO's Pegasus malware (a tool also implicated in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi by Mohammed Bin Salman).

The hacks were traced by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, who were themselves targeted by surveillance contractors working for NSO Group (NSO hires the same ex-Mossad spooks as Harvey Weinstein!).

The Madrid government told El Pais that the activists' phones probably weren't even hacked. Then they added that if the government HAD hacked their phone, they didn't break any laws in doing so.

¿Como se dice 'That's not how glomar works, dumbass'?

NSO Group said Citizen Lab was just making it up and they love terrorists: "Once again speculative comments from CitizenLab only serve to highlight its continued, naive and ulterior agenda which fails to competently address the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies."

Artists vs tax havens (permalink)

Moneylab is an annual Dutch conference; as Regine Debatty summarizes, it "gives the stage to critical thinkers, artists, researchers, activists and tech-enthusiasts in search of other economies and financial discourses for a fair society."

This year's event featured a satellite stage in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where investigative journalist Anuška Delić hosted a collection of artists, researchers, scholars and activists for a stunning, two-hour seminar on tax havens.

Two groups of artists presented. First there was the Demystification Committee, who presented the "Offshore Investigation Vehicle," a project through which they incorporated an UK company owned by a Seychelles company with its banking in Puerto Rico.

OIV showed how farcically easy it was to use multiple financial secrecy jurisdictions to create these corporate structures, abetted by networks of low-priced enablers who went the extra mile to help with obfuscation.

They did almost all the work DIY by following online recipes in forums for tax cheaters, and spent about €2000 in professional services from enablers who enthusiastically helped them violate disclosure laws.

And while this fits a technical definition of a "sophisticated tax fraud," OIV showed just how stupid and unsophisticated each layer of the rotten onion is. Tax-dodging corps, plutes and crims aren't masterminds – this is kid's stuff.

Next was RYBN, whose "Great Offshore" project is an "open source situationist" map of notorious tax havens, an app that lets visitors to London or Zurich go straight to the sites of criminals identified in giant leaks like the Panama Papers.

They also maintain an encylopedia of "the singular manifestation of offshore banking. Its folklore, narratives, figures, companies, icons, etc."

Other aspects of the project: rebranded cryptocurrency ("Virtual Financial Assets"), seasteading, freeports, golden passports, and all the guillotine-ready trappings of our current moment.

Both RYBN and the OIV highlight how ubiquitous, how stupid, and how near-to-hand the world of financial secrecy its – and how banal its workings, aesthetics and practitioners are.

The Q&A; was especially fascinating as Delić – who has unpicked so many webs of criminal financial secrecy as a journalist – marveled at how idiotic and crayon-scrawled it all was from the other side.

Debatty's summary is very good – she takes great notes and annotated them with lots of links; the video itself is also worth watching.

Free "extended preview" of my next book (permalink)

In October, the third Little Brother novel, ATTACK SURFACE, drops. It's, uh, weirdly timely. It's a standalone novel for adults.

It's about Masha, the ex-DHS security contractor from the beginning and end of the first two books, grappling with her conscience after a career spent supplying cyberweapons to despots.

She moves from an ex-Soviet failed state back to Oakland, where her best friend is a BLM leader who's been targeted by the same malware she developed for use on Iraqi militias and Eastern European color democracy activists.

It's a book about predictive policing, surveillance through IoT and mobile devices, and the projection of white supremacy through farcically profitable tech contractors. It's a book about political change and what role tech has to play in it.

It's a book about confronting the compromises you've made on the way to adulthood, and reorienting your life towards a better future.

The book comes out in Oct, but on August 4, my publisher Tor ooks is publishing a free "sneak peek" DRM-free ebook that you can pre-order now.

I hope you'll snag a copy. This book means a lot to me.

Target workers strike over chickenization (permalink)

Target's app-driven delivery service is the notorious Shipt, a company with a history of exploitative labor practices, including retaliation against those who dare to complain.

Shipt's workers have announced a strike on Jul 15, over a new "algorithmic pay model" that uses a black-box calculation to determine how much workers will receive for their labor, cutting their pay by 30-50%.

Previously, Shipt workers got a flat $5 plus 7.5% of the order total; under the new algorithmic system, workers' pay will be determined by a secret mix of "variables including high store traffic times, street traffic, and estimated store-to-door travel time."

This was nonconsensually trialled on Shipt workers in several cities who saw their pay fall by 30-50% (Target blamed some of this wage-theft on a "glitch"). Shipt workers literally risk their lives in the pandemic to keep our goods moving.

There were 100k Shipt workers before the pandemic; now there are at least 110k.

There's a name for the labor practices here: it's called chickenization.

The name comes from what happened to the poultry industry, which is larger and more profitable than at any time in US history, but which is also dominated by 3 giant monopolists who have placed poultry farmers in dire, lethal economic straits.

Chickenized workers don't get to determine how they work; they are not told how much they'll get paid; they don't know how much the people whom they serve pay for their work; they have no job security and no benefits.

Chicken farmers are required to buy feed, medicine, and chicks from the monopolist. They are required to build their chicken coops to monopolists' specs, taking out $1mm+ mortgages to do so. The monopolists control the lighting, scheduling, and all other aspects of the work.

The monopolists are the only entities that the farmers can sell their birds to. When that day comes, monopolists get to name a price and farmers have to take it, even if it means they lose money in the bargain.

Any complaint results in being shut out of the monopolist's system, which means you lose your farm and livelihood, and go bankrupt. Suicides among chicken farmers are sky-high. It's a much more lethally dangerous job than, say, being a cop.

Farmers who've complained to regulators or lawmakers faced even worse retaliation – one went into the chicken-coop-maintenance business and the monopolist barred any farmer from hiring him, depriving him of any chance of making a living.

Chickenization is the essence of the gig economy: an app tells you precisely what to do; you have to supply the capital to do the app company's business, you don't know what you'll earn, you don't know what your customer pays. You can be fired at any time, for no reason.

People who complain (like Uber drivers who call the cops to report assaults) get fired and barred for life, stuck with expensive capital investments that they can't make payments on.

I learned the term "chickenization" last night when reading an advance copy of Zephyr Teachout's forthcoming and excellent "Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money.

As Teachout describes, chickenization is coming to every sector of the economy, and the "innovation" behind app-based gig work is not technological, it's figuring out how to chickenize another sector of workers.

From Postmates' chickenization of the entire restaurant sector to Monsanto's chickenization of the grain market to Shipt's chickenization of Target's 110,000-person army of delivery people.

Big Oil can have you locked up (permalink)

In 2011, activist Steven Donziger worked with Ecuadoran indigenous people to secure a $9.5B judgment against Chevron (then Texaco) for Amazon rainforest pollution. Chevron didn't pay that judgment.

Instead, it embarked upon a campaign of legal-system terrorism that's seen Donziger under house arrest for a year. The story is incredible, and it illustrates how US courts have been corrupted to serve corporations rather than hold them to account.

Here's how Chevron converted the US judiciary into a system of literal private law: first, they countersued Donziger in the court of the SNDY's Lewis A Kaplan, a judge with a long history of corporate-friendly activity, who had a sizable investment in Chevron through a fund.

Kaplan suggested the Chevron swear out a racketeering complaint against Donziger, which they did. But prosectors refused to take up the case. Then Kaplan invoked an obscure rule that allowed him to appoint a private firm to serve as public, criminal prosecutors.

The firm Kaplan hired to prosecute Donziger is Seward & Kissel, who were Chevron's lawyers as recently as 2018, and represents many companies in Chevron's supply chain.

These white-shoe prosecutors claim that Donziger paid a judge in Ecuador to write the judgment against Chevron, even though that same judge (who's been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Chevron) later recanted key elements of his testimony at a World Bank hearing.

Kaplan ordered Donziger to surrender his phone and laptop to the court. Donziger refused, citing the confidentiality of his clients' private communications. Kaplan hit him with a $3.4m sanction – the largest in the history of New York's courts.

Donziger has been under house arrest for a year. He's seeking to have Chevron's (former) lawyers removed as special prosecutors in his case, and has been backed by an open letter signed by 29 Nobel laureates and a coalition of human rights activists.

California goes antitrust on Google (permalink)

(Nearly) every US state is currently investigating Google for antitrust violations, with two exceptions: Alabama and California.

Now it's just Alabama.

California AG Xavier Becerra has announced his own antitrust probe, separate from all the other states' joint action.

Becerra was last seen intervening in the sale of the .ORG domain to a rapacious, secretive cabal of private equity looters:

Google, of course, is a California company, which made both California's prior absence from the antitrust action, and its entry into the fray, highly significant.

California's state antitrust standards are much more robust than the neutered federal rules, which have been gutted by every president since Reagan.

As James Arkin writes for Politico: "Unlike federal antitrust law, California’s laws do allow government enforcers to seek restitution or civil penalties for violations…

"The state also has a history of aggressively pursuing antitrust cases and has among the largest staffs of any attorneys general devoted to antitrust and competition issues."

2019's highest-paid execs (permalink)

One thing about the pandemic…we're all in it together. Rich or poor, they're just no escaping its impact.


Here is how much America's top-paid execs made in 2019.

  • Elon Musk, Tesla: $595.3m

  • Tim Cook, Apple: $133.7m

  • Tom Rutledge, Charter: $116.9m

  • Joseph Ianniello, CBS: $116.6m

  • Sumit Singh, Chewy: $108.1m

  • Jonathan Gray, Blackstone: $107.6

  • Robert Swan, Intel: $99m

  • Sundar Pichai, Alphabet: $86.1m

  • Satya Nadella, Microsoft: $77.2m

  • Douglas Ingram, Sarepta: $70.2m

"Wages as a share of the U.S. economy are near their lowest level since the Federal Reserve began collecting such data in the 1940s….CEO compensation has grown more than 900% over the past four decades, compared with just 12% for the typical worker." -Bloomberg

Also: the highest paid women make a lot less than the highest-paid men:

  • Lisa Su, AMD: $55.8m

  • Safra Catz, Oracle: $43.4m

  • Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed: $32.8m

  • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook: $31.9m

But men or women, $595m or $55.8m, I think we can all agree they've earned every penny.

(Image: Kumar Appaiah, CC BY-SA, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago White Wolf kills its pay-for-play policy


#10yrsago Warhammer 40K Potato Head

#10yrsago ACTA leaks — again

#10yrsago Mountains of putrid fat scraped off the sewer-walls beneath Leicester Square

#5yrsago Laura Poitras sues the US Government to find out why she was repeatedly detained in airports

#5yrsago Database: Old newspaper ads searching for loved ones lost to slavery

#1yrago Florida DMV makes millions selling Floridians' data…for pennies (and you can't opt out)

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Today's progress: 529 words (37636 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Full Employment:

Upcoming appearances:

"Working as Intended: Surveillance Capitalism is not a Rogue Capitalism," Jul 21,

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

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