In an amazing and terrifying essay called How to get beyond the parasite economy, Eric Garland describes how private equity infects industry after industry, sucking all productive capacity out of it through complex and fraudulent financial engineering, and abandoning the drained husk as it moves onto its next meal. Garland uses the case of Guitar Center as his example of this process in action, describing how Bain Capital bought and gutted Guitar Center, turning it into a financially complex, debt-riddled zombie that exists to float high-risk junk bonds to fill out the portfolios of the hyper-rich, without any connection to the real world of guitars, amplifiers and musicians.
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Susan Crawford (previously) is America's best commentator on network policy and network neutrality. In this interview with Ezra Klein, she makes the case for treating Internet access as a utility -- not necessarily a right, but something that markets do a bad job of supplying on their own. She describes how regulatory failures have made America into a global Internet laggard, with enormous damage to the nation's competitiveness and potential, and provides a compelling argument for locating the market for service in who gets to light up your fiber, not who gets to own it. Drawing on parallels to the national highway system and the electrification project, Crawford describes a way forward for America where the Internet is finally viewed as "an input into absolutely everything we do," and not merely as a glorified video-on-demand service.
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Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of many Republican legislators who've objected to a new policy at OSHA
that requires experts to disclose when they have been funded by parties with an interest in the outcome of regulatory proceedings. According to Alexander, he and his colleagues are "very concerned about OSHA's attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers," because "the chilling effect the financial disclosure could have seems counter to the idea of robust inclusion of a diverse set of ideas and views to inform the rule-making." The current proceeding is about whether silica in cement poses a health hazard, and OSHA wants to know if the experts it's hearing from have been paid to have an opinion one way or another.
Writing to us from the distant future, Ian "Cow Clicker" Bogost describes our modern games industry and the role it will play in the coming downfall of civilization: "Working long before sustenance powders, developers were easily seduced by appeals to their physical urges. Overseers plied them with sugars and salts during the day and forced them to engorge on extravagant meals at night. Shifts extended for days at a time."
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AT&T Senior Executive Vice President of Legislative Affairs James Cicconi has written a monumentally stupid attack on Reed Hasting's call for Net Neutrality. Cicconi says, "there is no free lunch, and there’s also no cost-free delivery of streaming movies. Someone has to pay that cost. Mr. Hastings’ arrogant proposition is that everyone else should pay but Netflix."
What Cicconi ignores is that Netflix is paying its ISPs to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T's customers are paying to be connected to the Internet. And AT&T's customers are asking to have the service they are paying for to be connected to the service Netflix is paying for. AT&T is then demanding that Netflix pay it a bribe in order to carry out the service that its customers are paying for.
If you're an AT&T customer paying for a 4MB/s DSL line, you have entered into a commercial arrangement whereby AT&T delivers you the bytes you ask for as quickly and efficiently as it can. You're not entering into an arrangement whereby AT&T can, if it notices that many of its customers really like a service, charge that service for the privilege of giving AT&T customers what they're already paying for.
Imagine if AT&T was a city-bus with an exclusive contract to serve your town, and it noticed that a lot of passengers were getting off at a certain stop every day to visit a restaurant. What AT&T is doing is saying "We will no longer stop near that restaurant unless it pays us a bribe," (and they're hinting, "We will stop at a competing restaurant if they do pay a bribe"). When the restaurant objects, AT&T says, "Hey, there's no such thing as a free lunch."
This isn't "just business" -- it's extortion.
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More than 25 tech companies -- including Happy Mutants, LLC, Boing Boing's parent company -- have signed onto a letter asking Senator Ron Wyden (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) to oppose "Fast Track" for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a secretly negotiated trade agreement that allows for big corporations to trump national law, suing governments that pass regulations that limit their profits; it contains a notoriously harsh chapter on Internet regulation that will allow entertainment companies unprecedented power to surveil, censor, and control the Internet.
The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have demanded that Congress give "Fast Track" status to the TPP, meaning that they would not be allowed to debate the individual clauses of the bill, and would only be able to vote it up or down. The treaty is likely to have lots of sweeteners that will make it hard for key lawmakers to reject it entirely, a manipulative maneuver that, combined with Fast Track, means that the treaty has a substantial chance of passing, even though it means Congress will be surrendering its power to make laws that impact on massive corporations.
Other signatories to the letter include Reddit, Techdirt, Imgur, Duckduckgo, Ifixit, Cheezburger, Automattic (WordPress), and many others.
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Senate majority leader Harry Reid gave a hell of a speech in Congress about the agenda of the billionaire Koch brothers, carbon barons who are the prime beneficiaries of Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that ruled that corporate persons had the free speech right to engage in unlimited campaign finance spending.
The Facts About The Koch Brothers
(via Hacker News)
Harold Feld from Public Knowledge writes, "One of the hardest problems I face advocating for more open, shared 'unlicensed' spectrum is trying to explain exactly what 'spectrum' is and why decisions about it made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matter. My organization, Public Knowledge, now has a two minute video animation 'Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It' that explains for those new to these issues.
The video ties in to our effort to save the newest unlicensed spectrum, 'TV white spaces,' from being auctioned away to the biggest wireless companies. If you agree after watching the video that we need to protect and promote open spectrum as well as get more licensed spectrum to AT&T and Verizon, please click through to our petition."
Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It
The Obama administration has a new negotiator in its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a secretly negotiated treaty that includes broad powers to censor and surveil the Internet: Robert Holleyman
, one of the chief SOPA lobbyists. Holleyman just retired from serving as head of the Business Software Alliance. His successor is Victoria Espinel, who just quit the Obama administration, where she served as "IP Czar." Obama promised to shut down the revolving door between lobbyists and government, but it's spinning quicker than ever. — Cory
PA Consulting, a management consulting firm, obtained the entire English and Welsh hospital episode statistics database and uploaded it to Google's Bigquery service. The stats filled 27 DVDs and took "a couple of weeks" to transfer to Google's service, which is hosted in non-EU data centres. This is spectacularly illegal. The NHS dataset includes each patient's NHS number, post code, address, date of birth and gender, as well as all their inpatient, outpatient and emergency hospital records. Google's Bigquery service allows for full data-set sharing with one click.
The news of the breach comes after the collapse of a scheme under which the NHS would sell patient records to pharma companies, insurers and others (there was no easy way to opt out of the scheme, until members of the public created the independent Fax Your GP service).
According to researcher and epidemiologist Ben Goldacre, this story is just the beginning: there's an "infinitely worse" story that is coming shortly.
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The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.
The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.
So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."
When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that."
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A group of steampunk cosplayers arranged to meet up at Westfield Plaza Camino Real near San Diego to ride the mall's Victorian carousel. But Westfield's mall cops were terrified of the cosplayers and evicted them all, escorting them to the door, calling the cops, and making them wait until the police arrived (the police basically shrugged and said, "Look, it's stupid, but it's their mall").
The mall cops -- and their corporate overlords -- cited a variety of dumb policies in support of the action, including a ban on wearing costumes that obscured the wearer's face (which didn't describe the cosplayers' outfits), a ban on gathering in groups larger than three (ORLY), a ban on photography without the subjects' permission (the steampunks, having gathered to have their photos taken, can be presumed to have consented to the pictures). Basically, it's a case of mall cop authoritarianism followed by the usual bland corporate doubling-down.
Of course, kids -- especially kids who happen to be brown -- already know that malls are capricious and fraught replacements for the public square. Mall cops basically hate anything that doesn't accord with their view of what a shopper should be and relentlessly discriminate against anyone they don't like. Back when I was in high school, more than half of my school had been banned from College Park, the mall in Toronto that was across the street from the school, by sneering jerks from Intercon security, who had the full backing of their management and the mall management.
The irony of ejecting people for wearing steampunk clothes in rich: malls are full of steampunk-inflected clothing, as the commodification mills of the fashion industry relentlessly mine subculture for new looks to put under glass. And here, too, is another parallel to the much more widespread discrimination against brown kids, who are often ejected on the pretense of wearing "gang" clothes -- clothes whose styles have been snaffled up, denatured, and repackaged for sale in the stores whose rent keeps the mall in business.
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One of the RIAA's best friends in congress, Jerry Nadler, has been appointed to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet
Obama Congressional Democrats
. The history of this committee is nothing short of grotesque: every time it looks like a copyright moderate/friend of the Internet might get appointed to it, it is declared redundant and shut down. Then, once the danger has passed and there's another loony, Internet-hating, censorship-happy copyright maximialist in place to fill a vacant seat, the committee once again becomes relevant and is resurrected.
Lloyd Kaufman, cofounder of Troma Entertainment (the people who brought us such films as the Toxic Avenger) has a brilliant, profane, and stirring editorial in support of Net Neutrality on Techdirt. Kaufman explains how an open Internet is the only competitve hedge against the communications giants that own "cinemas, newspapers, T.V. stations, radio and even Broadway 'legitimate' theaters." Thanks to the failure of the FCC to give Net Neutrality their full protection, and the court ruling that gutted the FCC's weak protections, Net Neutrality is in real trouble. Kaufman's editorial a great arguments for its preservation.
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Evidence of the widening wealth gap: Across America, brands that serve middle class customers are shutting down, while businesses that serve the rich are thriving
. Good bye $16.50 dinners at Olive Garden, hello $71 checks at Capital Grille. (via Mitch Wagner