Dear fellow zillionaires: they're coming for us with pitchforks


Nick Hanauer, a hereditary millionaire who increased the family fortune with some shrewd early dotcom inventions has written an open letter to his fellow "zillionaires" warning that their corruption of the US political system has given rise to an unstable situation of wealth inequality that has turned their potential customers into impoverished pitchfork-wielding revolutionaries who are coming for their heads.

Read the rest

Larry Lessig explains how Mayday.US can win the fight on corruption


Slashdot recorded a must-watch video with Lawrence Lessig about the Mayday.US anti-PAC that is raising money to elect politicians who'll enact meaningful campaign finance reform.

Read the rest

British Airways' "Happiness Blanket" sensor detects the totally obvious


British Airways is trialling an in-flight sensor blanket called the "Happiness Blanket" to determine what makes first class passengers happy.

Read the rest

Rich get richer, faster

A research report from business school professors at Imperial College, Columbia and U of Maryland found that wealthy investors get returns on bonds and stocks that are "up to 70 per cent times greater returns on their investments than those with modest wealth." This is a point that Piketty makes strongly, backing it up by analyzing data from the Harvard endowment, which gets 10% returns on its ~$80B nest-egg, while the rest of us barely clear inflation with our savings.

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is a bestselling economics tome whose combination of deep, careful presentation of centuries’ worth of data, along with an equally careful analysis of where capitalism is headed has ignited a global conversation about inequality, tax, and policy. Cory Doctorow summarizes the conversation without making you read 696 pages (though you should).

Read the rest

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants YOU to support Mayday.US and fight Congressional corruption

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has recorded this video message endorsing the Mayday.US super PAC, through which Lawrence Lessig and supporters are raising $5 million in small-money donations to elect lawmakers who will promise meaningful reforms of campaign finance law to curtail the undue influence of money on politics. The cynics say that lawmakers like getting bribes in exchange for bad policy, but the reality is that lawmakers are locked in an awful, brutal arms-race to raise funds for the next election cycle, and devote most of their days in office to sucking up to plutocrats to raise money that they don't get to keep, but will have to blow on ever-more-lavish political campaigns. Limits on campaign spending will force politicians to focus on winning votes by introducing popular, sound policies, not by being puppets of the American plutocracy.

I'm not entitled to contribute to Mayday.US (I'm a foreigner), but if you are, I would consider it a personal favor if you'd kick in a couple extra bucks for those of us who worry about American politics but don't get a direct say.

(via Lessig)

50,000 march against austerity in London, BBC doesn't notice

Joly writes, "It seems the BBC are capable of tracking down a single Scot in Brazil who cheered a goal against England but fail to notice 50,000 demonstrating on their doorstep." The Guardian noticed. There's much bigger stuff -- likely too big for the Beeb to ignore -- coming in October.

Read the rest

Steve Wozniak wants you to support Mayday.US and get money out of politics

Apple co-founder, nerd legend, and all-round Good Guy Steve Wozniak has recorded an excellent video explaining why he's supporting Larry Lessig's Mayday.US super PAC, which is raising $5M to elect lawmakers who'll promise to vote to abolish super PACs and effect major campaign finance reform.

Wozniak draws the connection between big money in politics and the overall corruption that gave us SOPA, NSA surveillance, cable company fuckery, and other horribles that arise when the only way to get elected is by sucking up to a tiny elite of the zottarich.

I am not a US citizen and I can't contribute to Mayday. If you are, I hope you will consider giving to the campaign, and throw in a couple extra bucks for me.

Mayday.US

Riot control drone that fires paintballs, pepper-spray and rubber bullets at protesters

The Skunk, a drone from South African company Desert Wolf, is billed as the first riot-control drone -- it fires dye-balls, pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters, blinds them with strobes, broadcasts control messages to them, and records them. Its first customers are South African mine-owners wishing to target striking workers.

Read the rest

Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate


A brilliant, enraging op-ed in the Washington Post from analysts from the New America Foundation and the American Antitrust Institute shows how the Reagan-era policy of encouraging monopolistic corporate behavior has made America unequal and uncompetitive, creating a horror Gilded Age where the Congressional consensus is that laws cannot possibly put a check on bad corporate actors.

It's another look at the problems set out in Matt Taibbi's brilliant book The Divide, tracing the policies that created both the private prison industry and banks so big that even the most depraved criminality can't be punished lest the bank tremble and collapse on wider society.

Particularly galling and illuminating is a quote from a Goldman Sachs report that advises investors to seek out "oligopolistic market structure[s]" where there's "lower competitive intensity, greater stickiness and pricing power with customers due to reduced choice" as the ideal way to maximize your return on capital.

Read the rest

How Hayek bred a race of elite monsters

Though he's been dead for more than 20 years, Friedrich Hayek is the darling of the free market, practically a saint. But as Bill Black explains, Hayek's predictions -- used to justify and glorify unlimited enrichment of the ruling class -- never came true, and the states that followed his prescriptions most closely ended up the barbaric situation that he warned about in re-distributive democracies.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, as the proportion of GDP that goes to "guard labor" in our militarized police forces and our bulging private prisons, as the most corrupt captains of industry grow richer while the rest of us are faced with an old age in poverty -- and a working life dominated by caring for our own sick and elderly relations -- it's worth reviewing Hayek's record, and the greedy, selfish, corrupt world it produced.

Read the rest

Thai shrimp industry runs on brutal slavery and murder


A blockbuster investigative report in The Guardian reveals that the Thai shrimp/prawn fishing industry is powered by a brutal system of slavery through which trafficked workers are bought and sold by captains who starve, beat and murder them in sadistic displays intended to inspire fear in the remaining workforce. The major companies who import Thai prawns, like CP Foods, and their customers, which includes most major grocery stores, admit that there is a problem, but they do not conduct audits that go "all the way to the end of the supply chain." An anonymous Thai government spokesman claims that the problem could be easily dealt with, but there is no political will to do so.

Read the rest

Piketty's inherited-wealth dystopia: private capital millionaires multiply


Thomas Piketty's much-discussed economics bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century prophesies a future where inherited wealth dominates the world, because the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth in the economy, meaning the money your ancestors earned will always outstrip what you could earn. A new Boston Consulting Group report confirms Piketty's hypothesis, concluding that the share of wealth due to capital increased by 14% last year

Read the rest

Inherent biases warp Big Data


The theory of Big Data is that the numbers have an objective property that makes their revealed truth especially valuable; but as Kate Crawford points out, Big Data has inherent, lurking bias, because the datasets are the creation of fallible, biased humans. For example, the data-points on how people reacted to Hurricane Sandy mostly emanate from Manhattan, because that's where the highest concentration of people wealthy enough to own tweeting, data-emanating smartphones are. But more severely affected locations -- Breezy Point, Coney Island and Rockaway -- produced almost no data because they had fewer smartphones per capita, and the ones they had didn't work because their power and cellular networks failed first.

I wrote about this in 2012, when Google switched strategies for describing the way it arrived at its search-ranking. Prior to that, the company had described its ranking process as a mathematical one and told people who didn't like how they got ranked that the problem was their own, because the numbers didn't lie. After governments took this argument to heart and started ordering Google to change its search results -- on the grounds that there's no free speech question if you're just ordering post-processing on the outcome of an equation -- Google started commissioning law review articles explaining that the algorithms that determined search-rank were the outcome of an expressive, human, editorial process that deserved free speech protection.

Read the rest

Network neutrality for self-driving cars


David Weinberger's Would a Google car sacrifice you for the sake of the many? explores many philosophical conundra regarding self-driving cars, including the possibility that the rich and powerful might literally buy their way into the fast-lane. This is the premise of my 2005 story "Human Readable," which appears in my collection With a Little Help (there's also a spectacular audio edition, read by Spider Robinson).

Read the rest