- Billionaire grifters hate her: Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Ida M Tarbell.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017, 2021
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
Billionaire grifters hate her (permalink)
A billionaire's crime spree has come to an end: a federal judge held that Fleetcor was running a fraudulent, predatory business, and found that the company's billionaire owner, Ron Clarke, was personally responsible for the company's offenses. He woulda gotten away with it, but for the reporting of a former nurse turned self-trained muckraker:
The Fleetcor scam wasn't sophisticated. The court found that Clarke's sales reps would call up small businesses and offer them a "discount" gas credit card with "no transaction charges or hidden fees." These cards had lots of transaction charges and hidden fees. That's it. That's the scam.
Fleetcor preyed on small businesses, counting on the fact that these business-owners wouldn't have time to scrutinize their bills in detail and would get suckered into paying its fees. A senior employee says Clarke called these customers "stupid dumbasses" from "shithole southern states":
According to senior staff, he assured them that "They are never going to know about the fees and the tiered rebates. They are not watching their bills."
We owe the downfall of Clarke's Fleetcor racket to one woman: Lisa Epstein, a former oncology nurse who was scammed by a big bank in the post-2008 financial crisis and devoted her life to reporting on finance crime for The Capitol Forum, a news site she founded:
It was her careful, dogged reporting that unraveled Fleetcor's scam and established Clarke's personal culpability in it. She's a hero – and she's part of a glorious American tradition of muckraking women journalists who devoted their lives to bringing down the billionaires who preyed on them and their families.
Reading about Epstein, I was immediately reminded of Ida B. Tarbell, who brought down John D. Rockefeller and triggered the breakup of his juggernaut, the Standard Oil Company. Rockefeller was the most powerful businessman in the world and Standard Oil was the most powerful company in the world, and Tarbell took them on – and won.
It's an amazing story. Tarbell was the daughter of a small-time Pennsylvania oilman who had been crushed by Rockefeller's cartel. She was brilliant – the only woman in her biology program at Allegheny College. Despite her love of science, she devoted herself to activism, campaigning for votes for women and against the business elites who had sewn up American life:
Tarbell was a brilliant orator, a careful researcher, and a quietly scathing writer. In 1902, she began publishing a series of articles in McClure's Magazine that unwound the baroque scams that Rockefeller used to crush competitors and workers. These were wildly popular, and when they were collected in 1904 in the two-volume History of the Standard Oil Company, it galvanized public support for a Standard Oil breakup.
Rockefeller hated Tarbell, called her "Tarbarrel" and dismissed her as an irrelevant fabulist (Clarke dismissed Epstein's reporting as "fake news" and says he'll appeal the judgment). But Tarbell won: Standard Oil was smashed into 34 independent companies in 1911, and Rockefeller lost his grip over the lives of millions of Americans.
Tarbell's History is in the public domain today, and you can get your own copy for free at the Internet Archive:
There's also a fantastic free audiobook edition at Librivox:
Tarbell did not claim to be objective (something to keep in mind when you hear about the evils of a "polarizing" press) and she had no credentials (another important point to recall when someone tells you that our current news crisis will be solved by certifying "real" journalists). She was on a mission, and she accomplished that mission.
In particular, Tarbell attacked the idea that ripping off workers and crushing competitors was "just business," saying that this would lead to "business men weeping on one another’s shoulders over human frailty, while they picked one another’s pockets."
I learned about Epstein from David Dayen's excellent story on the Fleetcor defeat for The American Prospect. Dayen writes that "We have her to thank for exposing FleetCor’s practices, just as she exposed the banking industry’s. The nation has a lot of reasons to thank Lisa Epstein for her work."
Dayen also points out a fly in the ointment: though the court has found that Fleetcor was running a scam, they will not have to pay any fines – for now. In 2021, the Supreme Court found that the FTC can't provide financial relief to the victims of the scams it runs to ground:
In order for the FTC to get justice for the victims of Fleetcor and Clarke, they'll have to conclude an administrative action that's been in limbo since last year, awaiting the resolution of this lawsuit:
They'll also have to separately pursue a permanent injunction against Fleetcor, which they're likely to get, which is why the company's stock is down 25% (40% of Fleetcor's revenue comes from its scammy fuel-cards):
If you want to learn more about Epstein, you can (and should!) subscribe to her Capitol Forum – but you can also read about her in Dayen's 2016 book Chain of Title, which chronicles her journey from oncology nurse to tireless muckraker, when she refused to tolerate the foreclosure scam that cost her her home:
You can learn how, in 2010, "she was instrumental in helping shut down the entire foreclosure system temporarily."
We need a thousand Tarbells, a thousand Epsteins. We should be grateful for the ones we have and nurture and support them. They're fighting for us all.
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Oh, you like Leonard Cohen? Name 3 of his songs that have been securitized as collateral against Blackstone debt https://twitter.com/fxmatt4/status/1569686074871398401 (h/t Naked Capitalism)
The Quality and Efficiency of Public and Private Firms: Evidence from Ambulance Services https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/137/4/2213/6536944 (h/t Fipi Lele)
GEICO Tells Workers They Have ‘Right to Contact Police’ If Union Organizers Visit Their House https://www.vice.com/amp/en/article/g5vd8j/worker-led-geico-union-files-unfair-labor-practice-charges-against-company-for-coercion-threats (h/t Naked Capitalism)
This day in history (permalink)
#20yrsago Janis Ian interviewed on Slashdot https://news.slashdot.org/story/02/09/23/133228/janis-ian-on-life-in-the-music-business
#20yrsago Warchalking FAQ by Aaron Swartz https://web.archive.org/web/20020925025514/http://www.warchalking.org/story/2002/9/22/223831/236
#20yrsago Roman chariots responsible for Space Shuttle design constraints https://web.archive.org/web/20021004033340/https://benhammersley.com/archives/001404.html
#20yrsago Science fiction writers help the CIA https://www.wired.com/2002/10/i-fought-the-future-for-the-cia/
#15yrsago Police can retroactively bug your phone for your breadcrumb trail https://www.wired.com/2007/09/is-that-big-brother-in-your-pocket-or-are-you-just-happy-to-see-me/
#15yrsago Debate: Pixel-Stained Technopeasants Versus Webscabs https://trashotron.com/agony/news/2007/09–24–07.htm#092407
#15yrsago My column on fixing cellphones by killing the carriers https://web.archive.org/web/20071011073150/http://informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=201808215
#15yrsago Ha'penny, haunting thriller about an alternate British Reich https://memex.craphound.com/2007/09/24/hapenny-haunting-thriller-about-an-alternate-british-reich/
#15yrsago Cory Doctorow cosplayers at the XKCD picnic https://flickr.com/photos/miserlou/1429796475/
#10yrsago A report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-12-480r
#10yrsago How DRM screws people with visual disabilities: a report from the front lines https://www.zdnet.com/article/going-blind-drm-will-dim-your-world/
#10yrsago Pharmaceutical companies deliberately mislead doctors into prescribing useless and even harmful meds https://web.archive.org/web/20130730162446/https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/21/drugs-industry-scandal-ben-goldacre
#10yrsago Copyright lobbyists secretly engineering clawback of Canadian user rights https://web.archive.org/web/20121028192128/https://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6642/135/
#10yrsago Time-Warner Cable pisses off two Starship Enterprise Captains on two coasts https://twitter.com/amerbob/status/248684687227232256
#10yrsago Molly Crabapple describes and illustrates her Occupy arrest https://www.cnn.com/2012/09/22/opinion/crabapple-occupy-wall-street/index.html
#5yrsago Saudi history textbook features photo of King Faisal chilling with Yoda https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/22/saudi-arabia-accidentally-prints-textbook-showing-yoda-sitting/
#5yrsago The Spider Network, a novelistic account of the mediocre rich men who robbed the world with Libor https://memex.craphound.com/2017/09/24/the-spider-network-a-novelistic-account-of-the-mediocre-rich-men-who-robbed-the-world-with-libor/
#1yrago Demonopolizing the internet with interoperability: My op-ed in the Communications of the ACM https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/24/comcom-acm/#cacm
#1yrago The music monopolists: Thinking outside the antitrust box https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/23/remedies-beyond-antitrust/#face-the-music
#1yrago The Halloween Moon: A YA novel from Nightvale creator Joseph Fink https://pluralistic.net/2021/09/23/remedies-beyond-antitrust/#creepypasta
- The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. Yesterday's progress: 517 words (43073 words total)
The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation, a nonfiction book about interoperability for Verso. Yesterday's progress: 504 words (39451 words total)
Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. (92849 words total) – ON PAUSE
A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE
A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED
A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Sound Money https://craphound.com/news/2022/09/11/sound-money/
- Chokepoint Capitalism event, SFPL (San Francisco), Sept 25
Chokepoint Capitalism event, Book Soup (LA), Sept 27
Chokepoint Capitalism event, Alta Live (Zoom), Sept 28
Discussing "Adventure Capitalism" with Raymond Craib, Skylight Books (LA), Sept 29
Regulating the Online Public Sphere: From Decentralized Networks to Public Regulation, Oct 3
Chokepoint Capitalism event, Books and Books (Miami), Oct 12
Library Journal Day of Dialog (Zoom), Oct 20
World Ethical Data Forum, Oct 26-28
Arthur C Clarke Award (DC), Nov 16
- Cultural Capture by Chokepoint Capitalism (This Machine Kills)
Billionaires As Policy Failure Factories (Macro N Cheese)
Where’s My Privacy? (Where's My Jetpack)
- "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022
Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023
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