Pluralistic: 01 Aug 2020

Today's links

Grace is going home (permalink)

A Black Michigan teen with ADHD who was imprisoned for not doing her homework during the lockdown has been ordered released to her mother, after months of incarceration.

Grace was on parole for briefly stealing a classmate's phone; Mary Ellen Brennan (a judge facing reelection this year) decided missing homework constituted a serious enough parole violation that it warranted a long term custodial sentence.

Grace was imprisoned after an in-person hearing that her defense counsel deemed too dangerous to attend in person. Brennan held the hearing anyway, then, after public outcry, held a second hearing at which she affirmed her decision to imprison Grace.

Brennan's rationale for Grace's imprisonment was that the juvenile facility would help her get the education she was missing at home and also help resolve her friction with her mother.

Brennan maintained this despite testimony from Grace's teachers and school board officials, and despite the factual record: Grace's prison education consisted of filling in photocopied worksheets; her counseling amounted to a few minutes per week of videoconferencing.

Many Michigan members of Congress and other elected officials urged Brennan to reconsider, as did the local prosecutor. Hundreds of local students marched in support of Grace.

Today, the appeals court ordered Grace released into her mother's custody "pending appeal or further order of this court." She will be confined to home and tethered to a GPS cuff.

Brennan is up for re-election in a few months. She ran unopposed in her last election.

She is a garbage person.

A deep dive into Mexico's new copyright law (permalink)

For the past ten days, I've written extensively about Mexico's new copyright law, a law that copy-pastes the US copyright system, enacted with no consultation or debate, nominally to satisfy requirements under Donald Trump's USMCA agreement.

The law is a disaster for human rights, undermining free speech, the rights of disabled people, cybersecurity, national sovereignty, the Right to Repair, and other fundamental rights – it puts Mexico at a permanent, structural disadvantage relative to Canada and the US.

Like the US law it copies, the new law has numerous, seemingly reasonable exemptions that, superficially at least, appear to resolve these human rights issues. However, these are tissue-thin pretenses, unusably larded with conditions no one could satisfy.

We know this, because the US law they're copied from has been in place for 22 years, and in that time, no one has been able to invoke these exemptions successfully. They are needles designed to be unthreadable, even by the most innocent and blameless of defendants.

My colleague, EFF Senior Attorney April Walsh, knows more about US copyright law and digital rights than almost anyone else in the world, and she has published a very detailed analysis of the new Mexican law, drawing on her vast knowledge.

This deep dive represents not just the first public translation of the law into English, but also the best, closest analysis of the law to date (her analysis is currently in translation and will be published soon, likely today).

Today is the final day for Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights to take action on the law, and if you are Mexican or in Mexico, you can petition them to take it up:

But even if the Commission fails to act, the fight isn't over. As the people and businesses of Mexico have awakened to the hidden dangers of this law, pressure is growing for Congress to revisit it, and court cases are being planned.

If there was ever any doubt that digital rights were inseparable from human rights, surely the pandemic – which relegated our whole lives to the digital realm – has erased it. Organizations like R3D and Derechos Digital are leading the fight in Mexico.

Mexico's lawmakers have a duty to put their people's human rights ahead of the greed and venality of US-based multinationals. This issue will not go away.

The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries (permalink)

Shel Silverstein was a hell of a writer. I mean, I thought so even before George RR Martin told me about "Uncle Shelby's ABZs" – a fantastically rude and incredible hilarious parody of a kid's book.

One of the marks of a great writer is that they can sell terrible things so well that you don't even notice that you're buying them. Take "The Giving Tree," a Silverstein book that should be a cautionary tale but is generally read as a suggestion.

In "The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries," Topher Payne rewrites the ending of "Giving Tree" to unpick the expert, Silversteinien knot of shitty ideas tied so well that you can easily miss them.

Not only is this hilarious stuff, it's also incredibly, viscerally satisfying, as the tree tells off the boy for being such a colossal asshole.

And Payne brings it in for a hell of a landing!

This isn't just a masterclass in self-care and boundary setting.

It's also as strong an argument as you could ask for in favor of fair use, and the presumption that critical remix is – and always should be – fair use. Thankfully, this is a principle that the US Supreme Court has upheld.

Payne's work is a fundraiser for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund Story Time. If you enjoy it and you're able, please consider a donation to them in support of Atlanta's artists in crisis.

Populism is good for your health (permalink)

Back in 2016, Thomas Frank_'s "Listen, Liberal!" forcefully explained that "liberals" are not leftists, and that while we on the left might sometimes ally with liberals, we are not on the same side.

This is something that most of the world outside of the USA knows, but the USA has largely forgotten. I'll never forget my first day of university in the US, when a classmate told me I had "liberal" views; having grown up in Canada's NDP, I knew the difference!

In the US, this manifests as excessive credit for Donald Trump – AKA excessive blame for Donald Trump – as though he was bright enough and had enough executive function to be a cause, rather than an effect.

If you're impressed by the Lincoln Project – a collection of war criminals and grifters from the Reagan and GWB administration and former Romney campaign backers – you're probably a liberal.

If you think that those guys should be dragged in front of an American Nuremberg Trial for their role in dirty wars and Forever Wars; mass incarceration, mass deportation and mass surveillance; financial fraud, torture and worse, you're probably a leftist.

The Lincoln Project doesn't object to Trump's most substantive policies – they just want them executed in ways that don't say the quiet part out loud – they don't care if the rich shit on the rest of us, they just abhor gold-plated toilets as unforgivably gauche.

Writing in Le Monde (and, tellingly, not in a US publication), Frank describes the role that America's dysfunctional, profiteering, world-trailing health care system played in the pandemic (recall that the DNC just voted against Medicare For All).

Liberals didn't turn pandemic into a culture war with mask-refusal and astroturf "reopen" protests, but they legitimized it when they overweighted the role that the recklessness of GOP science-refusal played in the pandemic's spread —

— and underweighted the role the broken health-care system played. My hometown of LA is not a hotbed of plague because of mask-refusal; the major spread events are in unsafe businesses where precarious workers can't afford health care and can't risk narcing on their boss.

Meanwhile, anti-science mask-refusers AND pro-universal-health-care activists (who are following the undeniable scientific conclusion that universal care is cheaper and better) are both lumped together as "populists" and dismissed by liberal and conservative establishments.

As Frank describes, the origins of American populism are in a decidedly pro-science movement: "Populists produced homages to technology and scholarship and education that were so earnest and ornate that they are embarrassing to read today."

These pops fought the establishment, who leaned on pseudoscience to declare the status quo as ordained by the inevitable forces of "scientific economics," which decreed that only the "best" people could hope for a decent life.

By the 1930s, health care was a flashpoint for populism. Frank tells the story of the medical co-op of Elk City, OK, "in which farm families would pay a modest sum each year for guaranteed access to doctors, dentists and a modern regional hospital."

Elk Point was fought tooth-and-nail by the AMA, which declared war on the co-op's doctor, the socialist Lebanese immigrant Michael Shadid, who called himself a "Doctor for the People" and believed that health care part of America's bulwark against dictatorship.

The AMA tried to revoke Shadid's license, excluded him from AMA membership (and thus malpractice insurance) and warned other doctors that they'd be blackballed if they went to work with him.

As Frank says, this was not a "popular war on science" – it was "science's war on populism." That is, the ruling class, having cloaked itself in "scientific economics" declared those who upheld more durable (and urgent) scientific truths public enemies and waged war on them.

The AMA – whose wealthy members were certainly part of the ruling class – boycotted orgs that researched "medical economics," threatened reprisals against doctors who tried to repeat the Elk Point experiment, and denounced any Congressional investigations of these tactics.

When a federal inquiry into the AMA's anti-co-op activity convened in 1938, AMA's president rejected it: "That is not scientific medicine and that is not scientific economics."

As Frank says, the AMA's position was that government oversight was "a perversion of the social hierarchy, with the laity demanding some quack remedy and bawling that the experts must prescribe it to him."

And when Truman won in 1948 on a promise of universal healthcare, the AMA called such care the "discredited system of decadent nations" and raised a special warchest from its wealthy members to pay the pioneering Campaigns, Inc to run a propaganda campaign against it.

When Canada's CCF – precursor to the NDP – created the first medicare system in Saskatchewan in 62, doctors walked off the job en masse, and SK doctors raised their own warchest to fight universal access to care.

They were backed by a suspicious, far-right org called "Keep Our Doctors" that appeared out of nowhere and fought medicare "by means of public demonstrations, red-baiting, and racist innuendo."

Thomas holds this up as an example of a "democracy scare": "in which society’s high-status groups come to believe that their privileges have been placed in mortal danger by the actions of the vast, seething multitude."

Democracy scares have popped up whenever left populism arose in America, from William Jennings Bryan to FDR. What was at stake wasn't science, it was privilege: the conversion of health-care from an industry that enriched its backers to a human right.

Opponents of Saskatechewan's medical system called it "a battle for the professional men in this era of mobocracy," and warned that we were moving from a world where everyone knew their place to a world who's motto was "I'm as good as you are."

Populism was leftist. As Steven Brust explained to me, all you need to ask to cleave left from right is: "What's more important: human rights or property rights?" Anyone who says, "property rights are human rights" is not on the left (I used this in Walkaway).

Or as Corey Robin says in The Reactionary Mind, the unifier of all rightwing schools of thought – from eugenics to dominionism to imperialism to libertarianism – is the belief that some people are innately better than others, and they should rule.

Democrats are not a leftists. Frank: they're "the bought-and-paid-for vehicle of affluent and highly educated professionals. It dutifully bails out the geniuses on Wall Street. It responsibly obeys the economists who tell us about the wonders of ‘free trade.’"

"And when our modern Democrats propose healthcare reform, they do it from the top down, by convening experts from every affected field and asking them to redraw the system amongst themselves — and then are astonished when the public erupts in outrage."

Today, private-equity backed, highly concentrated hospital chains and pharma companies have taken over the AMA's role in fighting universal healthcare, and the Dem establishment dismisses M4A advocates as "populists" and lumps them in with Trump-addled mask-deniers.

This ideology locates the world's problems in the unruliness of The People: "Democracy is a problem, they tell us, because democracy allows the common people to ignore the authority of expertise. Disobedient democracy is to blame for Trump."

"Disobedient democracy is why we can do nothing about global warming. Disobedient democracy is the reason we can’t beat the Covid pandemic. And all of it is the fault of We the People."

But The People aren't the reason that we don't have universal testing, that we haven't hired an army of contact tracers, that workers fear reprisals if they reveal their unsafe working conditions, which breed and spread pandemic.

We The People aren't why we don't have universal healthcare, they're not why we aren't paying people to stay home or stemming the tide of evictions. The policies that created the pandemic disaster aren't Trumpist aberrations, they're mainstream Republicanism.

They're the Republicanism of the Lincoln Project, which supported consolidation in pharma and healthcare, erosion of workers' rights and health and safety regulation.

And they're the policies of the mainstream of the Democrats, too: the brutal austerity of Pelosi's Paygo and Brooker's votes against taming the pharma industry.

Trump's criminal, lethal mismanagement of the pandemic would have slaughtered Americans by the tens of thousands regardless of this, of course – but hundreds of thousands more would have been spared infection, eviction and death if it wasn't for the system he presides over.

He didn't make that system, and the professionalized, elite-worshipping DNC won't unmake it. As Frank says, "In our awful current situation, a dose of authentic populism would be a remarkable tonic."

Congrats to the 2020 Hugo winners (permalink)

Last night, Conzealand hosted the first-ever all-virtual Huge Awards! Congrats to all the winners, a collection of outstanding works that I commend to your attention:

Best Novel: A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Best Novella: This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Best Novelette: Emergency Skin, NK Jemisin

Best Short Story: “As the Last I May Know”, by S.L. Huang

Best Series: The Expanse, by James SA Corey

Best Related Work: “2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech”, by Jeannette Ng

Best Graphic Story: LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor

Best Long-Form Drama: Good Omens, written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Douglas Mackinnon

Best Short-Form Drama: The Good Place: “The Answer”, written by Daniel Schofield, directed by Valeria Migliassi Collins

Best Editor, Short Form: Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form: Navah Wolfe

Best Pro Artist: John Picacio

Best Semiprozine: Uncanny

Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers

Best Fancast: Our Opinions Are Correct by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

Best Fan Writer: Bogi Takács

Best Fan Artist: Elise Matthesen

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book: Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer

Astounding Award for the Best New SF Writer: RF Kuang

If you're a Worldcon attendee, you can catch later today, (tomorrow if you're in NZ!) doing my first-ever reading from ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little Brother book:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago German Harry Potter fan-translation in 45 hours

#5yrsago Re-recording the 1969 "Story and Song of the Haunted Mansion"

#1yrago Clown Car 2.0: Matt Taibbi on the Democratic nomination race

#1yrago Teenaged girl becomes a resistance symbol for her peaceful reading of the Russian constitution to a Putin goon-squad (they beat her up later)

#1yrago Your massive surprise hospital bills are making bank for private equity

#1yrago Amazon's secret deals with cops gave corporate PR a veto over everything the cops said about their products

#1yrago Data-mining reveals that 80% of books published 1924-63 never had their copyrights renewed and are now in the public domain

#1yrago Triple Chaser: a short documentary that uses machine learning to document tear gas use against civilians, calling out "philanthropist" Warren Kanders for his company's war-crimes

#1yrago Cisco's failure to heed whistleblower's warning about security defects in video surveillance software costs the company $8.6m in fines*/

#1yrago Man donates mother's body to science, discovers it was sold to the military for "blast testing"

#1yrago Paul Di Filippo on Radicalized: "Upton-Sinclairish muckraking, and Dickensian-Hugonian ashcan realism"

Colophon (permalink)

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

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 541 words (44450 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

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