Pluralistic: 12 Aug 2020

Today's links

Grace is cleared (permalink)

On Aug 1, Grace, a 15 year old, Black, learning disabled Michigander was released from prison; she'd been jailed for months for a parole violation – her parole required her to complete her homework, something she struggled with during lockdown.

Grace was locked up by Judge Mary Ellen Brennan – an elected judge who ran unopposed and is up for re-election this year – who insisted that her hearing be in-person (the only in-person case on the day's docket), which meant Grace's lawyer couldn't be present.

Though Grace's parole was for stealing – then returning – a classmate's phone, the judge leaned heavily on some spats Grace had with her mother. Grace's mother insisted that these problems were minor, dealt with and not serious enough to rate incarceration.

Moreover, Grace's teacher, the school board and principal, the prosecutor, and large numbers of Michigan lawmakers, students, pedagogists, human rights activists and others insisted that Grace should not be locked away.

While locked up, Grace's education consisted of completing photocopied handouts; her counselling amounted to a few minutes videoconference a week, sometimes with her mother, sometimes alone.

The judge insisted that Grace was a danger to the community and that this constituted the help she needed.

Grace's plight became a culture-war issue, with far-right groups spreading the lie that Grace had been jailed for "repeated violent assaults."

On Aug 1, the appeals court ruled that Grace should await a further determination of her case from home, while wearing a GPS cuff.

Today, the Judge Brennan closed Grace's case and terminated her probation, clearing her name.

Brennan did not apologize for locking a learning-disabled child up for failing to do homework during an unprecedented pandemic. Rather, she doubled down on the fantasy that Grace's interests had been served through incarceration.

"Going forward, the court is hopeful that [Grace] has the tools and does make different choices in her home and at school..I wish this family well." – Michigan Family Court Judge Mary Ellen Brennan

Earlier in the hearing, Brennan denied a motion from Grace's lawyer that she recuse herself, based on Brennan's "callous conduct" toward Grace, including when Brennan "publicly lambasted" Grace from the bench.

Again, Brennan is a garbage person who is up for re-election this year.

Mexico's terrible copyright is in trouble (permalink)

In early July, Mexican people and the global digital rights community awoke to a waking nightmare. Without real consultation or debate, the Mexican Congress had rammed through a catastrophic new copyright law, to comply with Trump's new #USMCA treaty.

The new law mandated copyright filters, created a takedown system with no checks and balances, allowed anyone to dox their critics by claiming copyright infringement, and had sweeping DRM protections with implications for Right to Repair, med-tech, and agriculture.

Thankfully, Mexico has one of the world's most comprehensive suite of protections for human rights, including a constitution that flatly bans this kind of law and a Human Rights Commission that is empowered to refer bad laws directly to the Supreme Court for review.

But the Commission only has 30 days to act. That meant that we had to get their attention by July 31. Mexican NGOs like R3D and Derechos Digitales worked around the clock, joined by international orgs like EFF and thousands of Mexican people to put the pressure on.

All that hard work paid off. At the 11th hour, the Commission referred the law to the Supreme Court for "possible violations of the rights to freedom of expression, property, freedom of commerce or work and cultural rights, among others.”

That's the good news (and it's VERY good news!). The bad news is that it could take years for the Supreme Court to evaluate the new law.

In the meantime, it will wreak havoc for Mexican people and Mexican businesses, with consequences for national sovereignty, the rights of people with disabilities, and beyond.

It needn't, though. The Mexican Supreme Court has it in its power to suspend the law pending its ruling, and this is something it must do. Watch this space for more as campaigners put pressure on the court to bottle up this badly thought through, overreaching law.

Failed State (permalink)

Christopher Brown is a mild-mannered, hard-fighting Austin environmental lawyer who writes taut, intense, post-cyberpunk novels about deep green resistance movements fighting guerilla wars against American fascism.

His first book, 2017's Tropic of Kansas, tells the story of a semi-feral boy whose parents have been murdered by a hyperauthoritarian US government, as he is transformed into a guerilla hero.

The second book, 2019's "Rule of Capture," is a paranoid, claustrophobic, gripping legal thriller about Donny Kimoe, an ex-prosecutor whose conscience demands he become the defense attorney for captured rebels who face being rendered to black sites.

Now, with Failed State, a standalone novel, we return to Donny Kimoe, eking on a living as a contingency lawyer on the periphery of a post-revolutionary shattered America, with little by way of government or justice system.

Kimoe is persona non grata among the rebels, thanks to his decision to defend the deposed former President for his war crimes, determined to live his principles and his belief in justice for all.

But the establishment doesn't like him any better, probably because his major project is finding loopholes in the amnesty agreements that let him sue the plutes whose companies ran the extermination and slave labor camps for the former government.

It's one of these cases that sends Donny to the rebel stronghold of New Orleans, a city he's been barred from returning to on pain of death, where the rebels have invented a new form of environmental justice.

In their courts, major shareholders of world-raping industries are tried and found guilty of extracting wealth by murdering the world's plants and animals, and they (or their descendants) are ordered to make good for their crimes.

The novel is as tense and thrilling as any of Brown's work, and as full of rage and hope. It's a novel that truly reckons with the enormity of both our climate emergency and the system that produced it – with human imperfection and redemption.

It may be easier to imagine the end of the human race than it is to imagine the end of capitalism, but Brown makes a pretty good case that they may yet annihilate one another.

I'm appearing with Brown Aug 12 in a (virtual) book launch at Austin's Book People:

He's a hell of a conversationalist, too – this is worth dialing in for!

Marvel's $0.10 mini-comics (permalink)

In 1966, Marvel published a line of mini-comic books that were smaller than postage stamps: 5/8" by 7/8". They were sold for a dime in grocery-store vending machines, and endured into the 1970s – I remember getting them in the Loblaw's in Toronto in the late 1970s.

They ran to 50 pages (!) each, and there were six in all, featuring Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Nick Fury, and Millie the Model. They were intended to be disposable and few survive to this day.

But now you can own them again in a new, boxed-set facsimile edition from Abrams Comic Arts, who've blown them up to 4.25" x 7.25", and packaged them with what Mark Frauenfelder calls "Mark Evanier’s delightful “mini-history” of these mini-books."

Frauenfelder also expresses disappointment that you can't get original-sized facsimiles, and while I'm sympathetic to that position, I'm also keenly aware that I spend at least an hour a day grumbling about my inability to read small and low-contrast type as I age.

I assume that this worsening visual deficit is karma's way of punishing me for airily dismissing older people who complained that the Mondo 2000 magazines I sold them as a bookseller in the early 90s were unreadable due the editors' penchant for tiny, silver-on-purple type.

Sorting machines snatched from post offices (permalink)

After decades of a grinding bipartisan war of attrition waged by Congress against the US Postal Service, the US mail is now under direct assault from Trump and his crony, the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy.

Destroying the post won't just take down America's linchpin for the elections, which must be held by postal vote lest they spark raging pandemic outbreaks – it also destroys the linchpin of the US's emergency plans for dealing with such outbreaks.

The assault on the postal service is brazen. On NPR's Morning Edition, Noel King spoke with Iowa Postal Workers Union president Kimberly Karol, who reported that the mail-sorting equipment at her post office has been removed.

Karol describes how the postmaster general is circumventing his legal obligations to seek public comment on substantive changes to this self-funding, taxpayer-owned, centuries old service.

I hold out hope that this may be his undoing. The MO of trumpland grifters is running across the river on the backs of alligators and assuming that if they move quickly enough, they won't lose a leg.

But the administrative branch is bound by procedures: notice, comment, rule publication, explaining your reasoning. Obama understood this – his abuses of authority survived judicial review because he knew how to paper them over.

Trump, by contrast, is a rich blowhard who's used to firing anyone who tells him he can't have his way, and he's packed his cabinet with would-be mob bosses who take the same approach.

And even plute-friendly judges that Trump – and other war criminals, like GWB – appointed actually care about this i-dotting and t-crossing proceduralism, and they actually get a little zetz of civic virtue dopamine when they knock back trumpland's crayon-scrawl plots.

You can read it in their decisions, like, "Look at me, I am a textualist! That means I care about punctuation! Just like Thomas Jefferson!"

(Image: Tim1965, CC BY-SA, modified)

Payday lenders are CFPB's pandemic aid (permalink)

After the 2008 financial crisis, the Obama administration and Elizabeth Warren created the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, a watchdog charged with rooting out and punishing predatory financial practices.

They understood that future administrations could neuter the Bureau, so they cooked up a future-proofing plan: the Bureau's head would be appointed for five years, and could not be fired by subsequent administrations.

In her memoir, Warren recounts how she chose not to run the Bureau herself, which led to Obama appointing Richard Cordray to run it. That was a huge mistake.

Once Trump assumed office, Cordray resigned from his post to make an unsuccessful bid for governor of Ohio.

This allowed Trump to fill the post with a succession of finance predators and sociopaths, each worse than the last: men and women who declined to prosecute Equifax for doxxing the entire country, and dropped enforcement against payday lenders.

Seriously: fuck that guy. Sideways. With a brick.


That director is Kathy Kraninger, who has taken the position that she has too much independence and that her agency should be subordinated to the whims of the executive. But that was just for openers.

Kraninger's signature initiative is the protection and promotion of payday lenders, whose 400+% APR "two week" loans are designed to take an average of five months to repay.

Those are the GOOD loans. The bad ones, like car-title loans, have a 90% reborrow rate and result in repossession 20% of the time.

The primary customers for these loans are poor people, which, in America, means brown and Black people.

Kraninger is key to Trump's covid response: her agency responded to the emergency by tearing the heart out of the remaining protections against predatory lenders, allowing them to make loans without assessing whether the borrower can repay them.

As Terri Friedline explains in her excellent piece for The Intercept, the rule change comes just as the eviction moratoriums and expanded unemployment payments are expiring – leaving Americans desperate for cash to avoid homelessness in the midst of a pandemic.

These Black and brown people are ideal fodder for the overwhelmingly white, wealthy predatory lenders who will strip them of every remaining asset before discarding them.

(Image: Paul Sableman, CC BY, modified)

Trump's Solicitor General says bribery is legal (permalink)

Federal Rule 48a states that when a federal prosecutor moves to dismiss a case, the judge has to dismiss it. This rule is now hotly contested, because AG Bill Barr has directed that the charges against Michael Flynn be dropped.

Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a retired judge to investigate whether the rule applies here. That judge found "clear evidence of a gross abuse of prosecutorial power." The DoJ responded by announcing that gross abuses don't invalidate Rule 48a.

Which led to a hearing in which Trump's DoJ made a jaw-dropping statement: that Rule 48a would be enforceable even if the judge sees the defendant hand the prosecutor a cash bribe immediately beforehand.

Judge Sullivan: "[On] the first day of trial, in the presence of the court, the defendant’s attorney hands the prosecutor a briefcase overflowing with $20s. It is handed to the prosecutor who is the U.S. Attorney and the Attorney General is standing right there next to her. And the government, upon receipt of that briefcase, submits … a Rule 48 motion to dismiss…your position … is that the district court has no choice but to grant that motion to dismiss."

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall: "Yes."

RSS WTF (permalink)

RSS is one of the last truly open standards on the web, a system designed for decentralization and federation. Matt Webb has been musing for months about how it can be used to redecentralize our web. Here he is on using it to replace Goodreads:

Webb has identified a key problem with RSS: "If you don’t know what RSS is, it’s really hard to start using it. This is because, unlike a social media platform, nobody owns it. It’s nobody’s job to explain it."

So Webb created Aboutfeeds, a single-serving, one-page website that explains RSS to people unfamiliar with the idea, ready to be linked to from your own site to get your readers up to speed.

It's got three sections, each a couple of paras long:

I. What is a feed?

II. How do I get a newsreader app?

III. How do I use my new newsreader app to subscribe to a feed?

[[chef's kiss glyph]]

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago Income inequality turns "neglected tropic diseases" into American diseases of "the poor living among the wealthy"

#5yrsago Rightscorp teams up with lawyers to mass-sue people who ignore blackmail letters

#5yrsago Lenovo preloaded laptops with reformat-resistant perpetual crapware

#1yrago Rule of Capture: Inside the martial law tribunals that will come when climate deniers become climate looters and start rendering environmentalists for offshore torture

#1yrago All flights in and out of Hong Kong canceled as protesters flood the airport

#1yrago Your phone is a crimewave in your pocket, and it's all the fault of greedy carriers and complicit regulators

#1yrago The real meaning of plantation tours: American Downton Abbey vs American Horror Story

#1yrago New York City raised minimum wage to $15, and its restaurants outperformed the nation

#1yrago Prior to Amazon acquisition, Ring offered "swag" to customers who snitched on their neighbors

#1yrago WordPress is buying Tumblr

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: The Magnet (, Reddit (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 512 words (48238 total).

Currently reading: The Deficit Myth, Stephanie Kelton

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 12),

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