Pluralistic: 15 Sep 2020

Today's links

A new Little Brother short story collection (permalink)

When I launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund pre-orders for the audiobook of Attack Surface (the third Little Brother book), I threw in a couple of really big-ticket rewards, more or less on a lark.

For $10K, you could commission a Little Brother story: I'd write a story based on an mutually agreed-upon prompt and try to sell it, and make sure your name was mentioned in any eventual sale.

I set up two of these thinking they'd never sell.

They sold in three days.

As I blocked out time in my diary to write two more Little Brother stories – hardly an unpleasant chore! – I realized between these stories and the two uncollected Little Brother stories (Lawful Interception and the forthcoming Force Multiplier), I nearly had another book.

So I emailed my agent and said, "Hey, look, if three more people commission stories and I write 'em and sell 'em to magazines and whatnot, do you think someone would publish the whole thing as a collection?"

And he was like: "duh."

So here we are! I've just made three more commissions available on the Kickstarter. If you've got $10K and want to help birth another Little Brother book – a short story collection, title to be determined, this is your chance!

And if you don't want to spend $10K (which, you know, fair enough), your $15 pre-order of the Attack Surface audiobook and/or $14 ebook (or $25 bundle) will make a gigantic difference, not just to me, but to competition and authorship:

Also, if you're already a backer, I've got some errata for you: last night I told how to get the free audiobook and ebook of Force Multiplier, but I screwed up.

Here's the correct info:

If you're in the UK, Aud, NZ, SA India or another English-speaking country (but NOT US or Canada) here's the form for the bonus story:

And if you're in any non-English-speaking country, email your receipt to:


EFF's 2020 Pioneer Awards (permalink)

Each year, EFF gives out its Pioneer Award, "recognizing leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology." I was enormously privileged to receive one in 2007 and it is one of my most treasured honors.

This year's award winners are standouts (as always)!

  • Joy Buolamwini, Dr Timnit Gebru, Deborah Raji:

Their trailblazing research on race/gender bias in facial analysis laid the groundwork for a national movement banning law enforcement’s use of face surveillance.

  • Danielle Blunt

Co-founder of Hacking//Hustling, a collective of sex workers and accomplices working at the intersection of tech and social justice to interrupt state surveillance and violence facilitated by technology.

  • The Open Technology Fund Community

OTF has fostered a global community and provided support—both monetary and in-kind—to more than 400 projects that seek to combat censorship and repressive surveillance.

This year's Pioneers are livestreaming on Twitch (simulcast on Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube Live) on Oct 15, 5:30-7:30PM Pacific. It's free to attend, with a requested, optional, $10 donation.;=1

Tax havens and monopolies (permalink)

Last November, writing for the Tax Justice Network, Nick Shaxon published an important (and new-to-me) analysis of the relationship between monopolies and tax-evasion.

Start with the basics. Companies form monopolies and evade taxation for the same reason: to increase their profits. That much is obvious. But Shaxon's work draws careful lines between these two activities, showing how being a monopolist makes it easier to be a tax-dodger.

Shaxon observes that the notional EU corporate headquarters of the world's worst monopolists are also the EU's most notorious tax-havens:

  • Luxembourg ("a criminal enterprise with a country attached")

  • Malta ("an especially unsavory tax haven where dissidents against the offshore establishment get blown up with car bombs")

  • Ireland ("another gigantic corporate tax haven")

  • The Netherlands ("ranked fourth in the Corporate Tax Haven Index")

Locating their flags of convenience in these tax havens allows companies to engage in regulatory arbitrage, because countries who compete to lure monopolists with favorable tax treatment also lure them with other favorable regulations.

These countries have the worst privacy laws, the farthest-reaching IP enforcement, and other regulatory gifts to giant companies.

And you have to be a giant company to take advantage of this.

Only global companies can engage in the shell game of realizing profits in one country, owning IP in another company, enforcing rights in a third, and locating its workforce in a fourth, shopping for the best deals around the globe.

Small competitors don't just have to contend with "monopoly power" – they also have to compete on a tilted playing field where they face stricter regulation, pay higher wages and taxes, and can be sued or punished by governments.

The rise of global monopolies isn't just bad news for competition, it's bad news for democracy. Monopolies are able to starve the world's poorest countries of tax revenues.

These countries are monetarily constrained because they owe debts in US dollars, so they can't just create money to finance their debt the way the US, Canada, Japan, Australia and the UK can.

But even in wealthy countries, monopolies are correlated with a collapse in confidence in the state, thanks to their corrupting influence on policy. There's a wealth of literature linking the rise of fascism to the presence of abusive monopolies.

Once a company has a monopoly, it no longer competes for workers by offering better jobs, nor does it compete for customers by offering better products. It competes with the public interest, diverting its excess profits to favorable treatment by the state.

(Think of Facebook's current VP for Global Relations, a former UK deputy PM, earning millions every year to smooth over Facebook's regulatory woes)

Tax havens and monopolies are mutually reinforcing: the poorer states become the weaker they are, and the harder it is for them to enforce anti-monopoly laws.

Shaxon: "These global strategies the lead firms obtain both escape – the tax haven thing – but they also accumulate and concentrate power in global markets (the monopolies thing.) The power enables them to intimidate and cheat tax authorities and politicians, and workers."

These phenomena are supercharged by the rise of "IP," which enables firms to profit-shift. Companies like Ikea, Cartier and Rolex insist that their "IP" is owned by obscure companies in offshore tax-havens.

The companies we buy things from pay a "license fee" to these IP holders equal to 100% of their profits, so they own no tax in our countries. But the company that receives these license fees ALSO pays no taxes, because it is based in a tiny offshore haven.

The global nature of monopolies allows them to have their cake and eat it to. They wield power as a single entity, but national laws treat each country subsidiary as a separate company.

So the US division of a monopolist can "sell" something to the Luxembourg division of the same monopolist and it's treated as a real market transaction, and not simply a paper-chase fiction.

All of this is made possible by the Big Four accounting firms – PwC, Deloitte, EY or KPMG – who serve as both architects of these policies AND as auditors of the companies, charged with making sure they don't violate tax law.

To call this a mere "conflict of interest" is to do great linguistic violence to an unsuspecting and innocent phrase.

But as Shaxon points out, ALL of us suffer from monopolism, in a myriad of ways.

Which means that there is a nearly infinite number of people who will fight against it, once they understand that they have common cause.

Obscure Texas election could change the world (permalink)

Things are very dire. The world is aflame. Our political will is in tatters. But despite all this, there are leverage points, where a small intervention can have gigantic consequences.

One of these is an obscure political race in Texas.

It's been 26 years since a Democrat was elected to the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the state oil and gas industry, whose practices are lethally dirty, even by the industry's own homicidal standards.

Particularly egregious is Texas's world-killing flaring process – burning off usable gas and creating massive amounts of CO2 for no useful purpose, merely because it is inconvenient to capture it – in 2018, West Texas flared enough gas to power the whole state for the year.

For the first time in a generation, one of the three seats on the board that oversaw a transition from responsible capture to toxic, reckless flaring might go to a Dem.

The Democratic candidate is Chrysta Castañeda, the superlawyer who got T Boone Pickens $145m from the partners who ripped him off.

Her GOP opponent is bizarre: Jim Wright, who primaried the GOP incumbent. Wright's company paid a $181k fine for violating commission rules.

Wright – who, recall, is running for a seat on the commission – owns DeWitt Recyclable Products, a company that "toxic waste to pile up and leak into the soil."

It's also been repeatedly sued by oilfield operators for fraud.

Wright is a staunch proponent of flaring, insisting in print that "If you do away with flaring today with no other technology, that would shut our oil business down." (This is not true)

The Railroad Commission is a century-old, extremely powerful bulwark against pollution, and it can only grant licenses to flare if all three commissioners agree. A single commissioner COULD END ALL TEXAS FLARING.

Castañeda is a long-time opponent of flaring. Her work led to ex-commissioner Ryan Sitton publishing a report that called out the worst flarers, and the oil industry promptly raised a war-chest to mount a primary challenge against him, creating this competitive race.

"Wright, who won the primary with barely $12k on hand compared with Sitton’s $2m, now has more than $400k in his campaign bank, much of it from employees of the sectors he intends to regulate. (Castañeda has slightly more than $120k)" -Judith Lewis Mernit/Capital and Main

Here's Castañeda's campaign site. I just made a donation – these leverage points are few and far between, and we can't waste 'em.

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

Motorcycle-part animals (permalink)

I'm an enormous fan of Jud Turner, a sculptor in Eugene, OR, where many of his pieces – welded from scrap motorcycle parts – are on display, like this triceratops at the Ninkasi Brewing Company.

(the heart of the triceratops – AKA "The Tricerahops" – is filled with the ashes of Turner's sorely missed studio cat Maggert)

Just as impressive is Dakuwaqa, a "9 foot long chrome megalodon, also made from recycled motorcycle parts."

As wildfires have ripped through the Pacific Northwest, some of Turner's sculptures have been lost in flames, like his manic Cheshire Cat, lost along with its owners home in Blue River last week.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago WIPO wants to give webcasters the right to steal from public domain, Creative Commons and GPL

#10yrsago Astronauts' fingernails fall off

#10yrsago UK government hands ÂŁ500M copyright enforcement and censorship tab to nation's Internet users

#10yrsago Big Corn wants to change "High Fructose Corn Syrup" to "Corn Sugars"

#5yrsgo Step Aside, Pops: a new Hark! A Vagrant! collection that delights and dazzles

#5yrsago Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland and Ellen Page's vision for a better Canada

#5yrsago Interactive map of the swathes of England owned by offshore tax-dodgers

#5yrsago Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future

#1yrago Piketty on the "Brahmin left" and the "merchant right"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Michelle Meagher (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesteday's progress: 511 words (61039 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP

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