US trade rep demands end to other nations' healthcare, privacy rules, food labelling...


Public Citizen analyzes the new Obama 2014 National Trade Estimate Report, in which the US Trade Rep demands that: Japan abolish its privacy rules and its requirement that food be labelled with its ingredients; Canada abolish its rules limited pharmaceutical patents; Malaysia get rid of its tariffs on pork and booze; Mexico nuke its junk food taxes, and more. It's great reading, and leaves little room for doubt about the neoliberal future, in which anything that's bad for corporate profits -- even if it's good for society or reflects national values -- is killed in the name of free trade.

Read the rest

Bletchley Park Trust erects "Berlin Wall" to cut off on-site computer history museum


The Bletchley Park trust have erected a fence, nicknamed "The Berlin Wall," between their well-funded museum and its poorer on-site neighbour, the UK National Museum of Computing, which houses the hand-built replica of the codebreaking Colossus computer. The trust received an £8m lottery-funded grant and set about shitcanning long-serving volunteers (see below), cutting off the computer history museum, and generally behaving like greedy jerks, systematically alienating long-term supporters. Oh, and there was that Snowden business.

I've left the Friends of Bletchley Park, and have stopped recommending that friends visit the site.

Update: Bletchley Trust has clarified to me that while this volunteer was dismissed from guiding tours because he refused to conduct the tour to the new spec, he still volunteers with the Trust in its educational department.

Read the rest

McDonald's Hot Coffee lawsuit: deliberate, corporatist urban legend

Remember the old lady who sued McDonald's for millions because she burned herself by spilling hot coffee in her lap? It never happened. What actually happened was much more sordid, and the deliberate distortion of the story -- which is ultimately about a company that caused repeated, horrific and preventable injury to its customers -- is a tidy story about how corporations have convinced us that they are victims of out-of-control tort lawyers.

Read the rest

Congressmen ask ad companies to pretend SOPA is law, break anti-trust

A murder of Congresscritters and Senators have told Internet ad-brokers that they expect them to behave as though SOPA passed into law (instead of suffering hideous, total defeat); they want the companies to establish a secret, unaccountable blacklist of "pirate" sites. The group comprises Congressmen Bob Goodlatte and Adam Schiff, and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Orrin Hatch. This isn't just a terrible idea, it's also an obviously illegal antitrust violation, as Mitch Stoltz from the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out:

Read the rest

Fast food workers around the world to strike on May 15


Fast-food workers in 33 countries are planning a walkout on May 15, demanding better pay and better working conditions. The action, coordinated by Fast Food Forward, will target McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC. McDonald's -- which settled a $1B class-action suit over wage-theft from its American workforce in March -- has issued a shareholder warning about the possibility of having to pay a living wage to its workers. Women, especially single mothers, are disproportionately likely to work in sub-living-wage jobs in the fast food industry.

Read the rest

Vi Hart explains Net Neutrality

Fast-talking mathematician Vi Hart weighed in on the Net Neutrality debate with a great video explaining the telcoms' extortion plan with an excellent metaphor about postal delivery. (Thanks, Alan!)

Barack Obama will take a backseat to no one when it comes to (promising) Network Neutrality

Back before Barack Obama appointed a Net Neutrality-destroying cable lobbyist to run the FCC, he was clear: "I will take a backseat to no one when it comes to Network Neutrality."

President Obama and Big Telcoms: delivering high-speed fiber to the campaign promise every election cycle!

Gutting Net Neutrality also guts innovation, fairness and democracy


My latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, explains what's at stake now that the FCC is prepared to let ISPs charge services for "premium" access to its subscribers. It's pretty much the worst Internet policy imaginable, an anti-innovation, anti-democratic, anti-justice hand-grenade lobbed by telcos who shout "free market" while they are the beneficiaries of the most extreme industrial government handouts imaginable.

Read the rest

Obama official responsible for copyright chapters of TPP & ACTA gets a job at MPAA; his replacement is another copyright lobbyist


Stan McCoy is the assistant US Trade Representative who oversaw the creation of the disastrous, far-reaching copyright provisions in ACTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership. He's left the Obama administration for a high-paid job at the MPAA, which represents companies that stood to reap massive profits and permanent control over Internet governance and innovation thanks to his efforts while in government. Now, the Obama administration has headhunted a software industry lobbyist (who supported SOPA) to take over his job. McCoy is one of more than a dozen USTR officials who've left the government to work for copyright lobbying bodies, including former Obama copyright czar Victoria Espinel, who now gets her paycheck from the Business Software Alliance.

Timothy Lee has an excellent piece on the revolving-door relationship between the USTR and the entertainment industry and other copyright lobbyists. When Obama was campaigning for office, he vowed that "lobbyists won't work in my White House."

Read the rest

Private equity, an infection that is eating the world


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.

Read the rest

The Internet should be treated as a utility: Susan Crawford


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.

Read the rest

Sen Lamar Alexander: if shills have to tell Congress who's paying them, it will "chill speech"

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. Cory 23

Game developers as brutalized industrial attention-farmers: a look back from tomorrow


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."

Read the rest

AT&T to Netflix: if you don't bribe us to do our job, you're asking for a "free lunch"

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.

Read the rest

Tech companies to Senate Finance Committee chair Wyden: no Fast Track for TPP!

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.

Read the rest