Pluralistic: 25 Jul 2020

Today's links

US copyright is a disaster for Mexico (permalink)

When Donald Trump tore up NAFTA and replaced it with the USMCA, Canada took it as an occasion to correct errors in its copyright law – defects that undermined free expression, privacy, cybersecurity and competition.

Mexico could have done the same. Instead, it rushed through a brutal copy-and-paste of the US copyright system (with Hecho en Mexico – but lobbied by US business- additions that make it even worse).

Mexico's new copyright law is a disaster, with DRM rules that are even more onerous than US versions, providing for criminal penalties for bypassing copyright locks even if no copyright violation takes place.

That compromises cybersecurity, repair, adaptation for people with disabilities and competition, putting Mexican people and Mexican businesses at a permanent disadvantage relative to their US and Canadian counterparts.

Just as bad are the copyright takedown rules, which do not allow a service provider to disregard obviously fraudulent claims designed to censor speech. Even LINKS are considered infringement under these rules!

As if that wasn't bad enough, the Mexican law mandates automated filters for Mexico's internet, a move that will subject every online utterance of every Mexican to algorithmic black-box censorship.

These filters cost hundreds of millions of dollars – kiss goodbye any hope of a Mexican competitor to US Big Tech ever emerging – and are catastrophic to free expression.

We have until the end of the month to convince Mexico's National Human Rights Commission to overturn this terrible law. Here's a petition that Mexicans can sign, courtesy of R3D.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars (permalink)

On Aug 4, I'll be joining James Wilt to talk about his new book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk" – it's part of Toronto's annual Word on the Street festival.

Here's the description: "For North American cities built around cars, public transportation was already in crisis. So what happens when a tech giant enters the transit ecosystem? Join us for this wide-ranging discussion about how transportation affects climate change, inequality, accessibility, safety, labour issues, and information privacy. What should public transit look like in a green and equitable city?And what's needed for citizens to exert power over how cities are built and for whom?"

This stuff is basically my jam and Wilt's book (which I got in today's mail) looks amazing.

It's part of a side-stage for Word On the Street calls "The City Imagines," which is chock full of cities, equity and sustainability goodness

Central London property prices tank (permalink)

London's brutal, overheated property market has been in trouble for a long time, dependent on an every-more-desperate series of heroic government interventions to keep it alive.

It was Brexit what done it, really. The first casualty was luxury builds, which were never really intended to be lived in – they were offshore safe deposit boxes in the sky bought merely as easily flipped assets by global looters. Fuck them.

Incredibly, "luxury" builders continued to erect ghost towers whose units had little or no chance of selling – proving that the biggest units were the developers all along.

Then came the great Estate Agent crisis, which destroyed the livelihood of some of London's worst people (which is really saying something, as I am including the guillotinable denizens of the City of London!):

The contagion spread from luxury flats to the whole London market, working its way inwards from the greenbelt, steamrollering towards Zone 1:

And now, Central London is in seriously deep shit.

It was Airbnb what done it.

There's been a mass sell-off of homes that had been converted to illegal unlicensed hotel rooms – even as vast numbers of Londoners left the city altogether, suppressing demand for rentals.

Year-on-year rental availability is up 26% in Central London. Rents are down 7.4% – and still falling – another 4.5% in June alone! Also in June: listings up by 14%, people seeking rentals down by 9%.

If I had a groat for every Londoner who boasted that they were Warren Fucking Buffet because they had the incredible foresight to buy a house because they needed somewhere to live in the 70s and were millionaires by Y2K, I'd have a shiny guinea.

"They're not making any more London," these self-made millionaires would declare. "Safe as houses."

Meanwhile, help-to-buy, massive floods of cheap credit, plutocrat speculators, and rock-bottom interest rates were actually driving gains, and all of these were destined to end someday.

That day has arrived.

401(k)s are a scam (permalink)

In Olden Days, people who worked for an employer got a pension. The pension would pay $X/month (a percentage of your salary), maybe indexed to inflation. That was a pension you could depend on, surety you could use to plan your old age.

Today we call it a "defined benefits" pension but back then, we just called it a "pension."

In the 1970s, these gave way to "market-based" pensions, AKA 401(k)s.

The theory was that instead of knowing how much you'd have to live on when you were retired, you'd take some of your wages and put them into a stock market that you didn't understand and were unqualified to participate in and cross your fingers.

This was always going to end badly, but it was sold with sweeteners that gave it a veneer of plausibility in the 1970s (they were big on veneers in the 70s!).

401(k)s came with massive tax breaks, so every dollar you put into your pension automatically earned 9.2% in annual savings, an incredible ROI.

But over the years, these tax advantages have vanished. Today, the 401(k) tax break is 0.6% – and your fund manager takes 1-2% out of your savings for managing this money, leaving you in the hole before you make your first transaction.

All of this is kind of moot anyway. In reality, almost no one has any excess income to put into a 401(k), because of decades of wage stagnation. Those people who DO have retirement savings are likely to raid them and incur massive tax penalties once the stimulus runs out.

I've low-key suspected that part of the GOP program of coronavirus denial was a tacit desire to head off the political challenges of a massive cohort of retirees with no savings and anemic Social Security.

Those people weren't going to dig holes, climb in and pull the dirt in over them. Nor would they consent to starve quietly on the corner after they got evicted.

They would become a new, grey Bonus Army, successor to Occupy, demanding mass-scale redistribution from the sharks who stole their futures. Old people vote like crazy, after all, and there's a limit to how long you can blame their all-Alpo diet on Jina and racialized people.

Remember in March when Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick said that old people had a patriotic duty to commit suicide so they wouldn't burden the economy?

Talk about saying the quiet part out loud!

(Image: Tom Woodward, CC BY-SA, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Existential D&D; comedy: when characters realize they are trapped in adolescents' imagination

#1yrago Adblocking: How About Nah?

#1yrago #Rickyrenuncia: Bowing to popular pressure, Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rossello has resigned

#1yrago #29leaks: someone leaked 15 years' worth of data from London's most notorious shell-company factory

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

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