Pluralistic: 14 Oct 2022 Medieval Times invents a modern union-busting tactic; Billionaire dilletantes vs good Democrats

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Striking workers in front of a factory, being fired on by teargas. Between them and the factory are a pair of jousting knights in the style of a medieval tapestry. Behind the factory looms a giant, ogrish boss in a top-hat, chomping a cigar. He is pulling on a lever made from a stylized dollar sign. In one gloved hand, he holds aloft a medieval night, who is bent over in supplication.

Medieval Times invents a modern union-busting tactic (permalink)

In the summer of 2020, I committed a minor heresy: I published a column that argued that – contrary to the orthodoxy of free culture and free software advocates – the term "IP" has a very crisp meaning: "IP" is any law or rule that can be used to control one's critics, competitors or customers:

In free culture/free software circles, the term "IP" is viewed as a smokescreen, one that indiscriminately blended a basket of unrelated regulations and laws (copyright, trademark, patent, trade secrets, anticircumvention, noncompetes, nondisclosure, etc) and then declared them to be "property" and thus sacred to the neoliberal religious doctrine.

In my column, I argued that the policies grouped under "IP" were not an incoherent mess – rather, they all shared this one trait that made them useful to those who had, advocated for, or tried to expand "IP": they were tools that would allow you to reach beyond your own business's walls and exert control over the conduct of others – specifically, competitors, critics and customers.

Take trademark: Apple engraves miniature logos onto the parts inside your iPhone, which you will likely never see. But these logos allow Apple to argue that when someone breaks up a dead iPhone for parts sells and them to independent repair shops that compete with Apple's repair monopoly, they are violating Apple's trademarks:

Or take DRM: DRM is useless for preventing copyright infringement (if you want to break the DRM on, say, an audiobook, you need only do a quick search). But because breaking DRM is illegal, Amazon's Audible – the monopolist that controls the audiobook market – can prevent a rival like from offering you a way to switch from Audible to its platform and move your audiobooks to them:

Anyone performing a security audit of a modern digital product most likely violates some IP – either terms of service, or DRM, or both, or some other right. When these security researchers criticize manufacturers for their insecure products, the manufacturer can silence them with IP threats:

IP rights also prevent you from using the things you own in the way you want – they can control customers. For example, IP rights allow your printer to refuse to print with ink of your choosing – it's not that your printer can't use that ink, rather, it won't:

Ever since I published that piece, I've noticed lots of examples of IP that fit within this box, and today, I found a particularly egregious one. Medieval Times has sued its workers' union, Medieval Times Performers United, under trademark law:

Medieval Times argues that its workers can't call themselves "Medieval Times Performers United" because this will fool people into thinking that the company endorses the union, and that is a source of "consumer confusion," and thus a trademark violation.

This is, of course, bullshit. Trademark contains a broad "nominative use" exception: trademark doesn't let Coca-Cola stop Pepsi from claiming, "Our drink tastes better than Coke." It doesn't let HP prevent companies from advertising "HP-compatible ink cartridges." It doesn't let Apple prevent shops from saying "We fix iPhones."

The union is contemplating mounting a defense at the National Labor Relations Board – not in a courtroom – "arguing that the lawsuit itself violates workers’ rights."

It's part of a broad union-busting campaign from Medieval Times, including anti-union "consultants" who bill $3,200/day. The performers are unionizing over pay, respect and workplace safety issues caused by inadequate staffing, especially staff who police the audience to prevent them from spooking the horses during jousting tournaments. Some of these performers have been attacked by drunken audience members.

An altered image of a 1968 George Wallace campaign rally at Madison Square Gardens, in which Wallace is speaking from a bunting-draped podium with a crowd behind him. Wallace has been replaced with a Gilded Age editorial campaign illustration depicting a portly millionaire with a money-bag for a head, limned by a blue 'supernova' effect. Stage left is a Democratic 'kicking donkey' image.

Billionaire dilettantes vs good Democrats (permalink)

Andrea Salinas should be a shoe-in to win the midterm election to represent Oregon's 6th District; the Democratic candidate is facing an extraordinarily weak Republican challenger: the millionaire perennial also-ran, philanderer, drunk driver and oxy trafficker Mike Erickson:

Erickson claims to be tough on crime and anti-abortion, but when he pled guilty to a DUI, he managed to wriggle out of charges for the unprescribed Oxy the cops found (his defense boils down to "I wasn't charged with possession so shut up about it or I'll sue"):

Erickson also gave his girlfriend $300 and drove her to a "doctor's office" that was actually an abortion clinic (his defense is that he didn't know what kind of doctor he took his girlfriend to, that he was "dating" her but she wasn't his "girlfriend," and he didn't know she was pregnant) (she contradicts this account):

Erickson has a long history of running unsuccessfully for office. As the "Herschel Walker of Oregon," he should be trailing substantially, despite his lavish spending. But he and Salinas are neck-and-neck:

That's not because Andrea Salinas is a bad candidate! Far from it. She's a veteran of the staff of the beloved Senator Harry Reid, a strong pro-union candidate who has been incredibly effective as an Oregon state legislator. She has lots of grassroots support, too – she defeated her primary challenger by 20 points.

So what's holding Salinas back? Well, beating that primary challenger: Carrick Flynn, a first-time candidate who was propelled by $10m in attack-ads against Salinas, with all that money coming from crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried's super PAC, Protect Our Future.

SBF also gave $6m to the House Majority PAC in return for the party's endorsement of Flynn, despite the weakness of Flynn's candidacy, and the PAC then laundered $1m of that money into Flynn's campaign. Another "pop up" super PAC, Justice Unites Us, came into existence to funnel $50k more from Protect Our Future into Flynn's candidacy, then went dormant.

Justice Unites Us co-opted social justice language, claiming to be an "AAPI-led and run organization" with the mission of "mobiliz[ing] the United States’ most rapidly growing voter bloc and help create progressive change across the country" – high-minded rhetoric that disguised the group's role as a cutout for more billionaire dark-money. NBC fell for the scam and published a glowing account of Justice Unites Us, after they had ceased activity:

Now, Salinas – who drubbed Flynn and his "effective altruism" campaign – is fighting Erickson with a huge disadvantage. Her grassroots, small-dollar donor supporters already spent themselves dry fending off a billionaire's plaything, and now she faces a corrupt, hypocritical millionaire who is flooding the field with his own fortune.

Despite Salinas's victory, many voters believe that the race is between Flynn and Erickson, because all of those millions spent on Flynn ads gave him name recognition, as The American Prospect's Austin Ahlman discovered when he visited the district.

The problem of wealthy dilettantes draining the coffers of good Democratic candidates is not unique to the Oregon's 6th race. Across the country and up and down the ticket, the popular, progressive candidates who won their primaries are going into the general having drained their supporters' discretionary savings in fending off unpopular rich cranks who decided to buy themselves elected office:

I just sent Salinas's campaign $50. If you can afford to give, I hope you will, too. Salinas is a great candidate, an experienced lawmaker, and has a great platform. Her opponent, Erickson isn't just a MAGA hypocrite – he's a danger to the nation. If he gets into office, we will all be worse off.

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Irish bureaucrats raided personal info database for blackmail, burglary, and curiosity

#10yrsago Accused of infringement? AT&T will take away YouTube and Facebook and send you to Copyright Reeducation Gulag

Colophon (permalink)

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