Boing Boing 

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.

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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.

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Harry Reid on the Koch Brothers' agenda

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)

Video explainer: why open spectrum matters, and why you're about to lose it

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 (Thanks, Harold!)

Obama whirls the copyright lobbyist/government official revolving door

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.

Full NHS hospital records uploaded to Google servers, "infinitely worse" story to come

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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US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment


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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Mall cops freak out over steampunk meetup, call the real cops


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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Dems appoints RIAA's man in Congress to House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet

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 by 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.

Toxic Avenger's brilliant rant about the importance of Net Neutrality

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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Middle class brands collapse, 1% brands thrive

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)

Not just Environment and Health: Canadian government attacks libraries from 12 ministries

Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has led a brutal attack on government libraries: literally burning the country's environmental records and doing such damage to the Health Canada libraries that scientists have set up clandestine libraries in the basements of their offices. But that was just for starters. In all, the Harper government has demolished the library collections of twelve ministries, including:

The Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration, Employment and Social Development Canada, Environment Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Natural Resources Canada, Parks Canada, the Public Service Commission, Public Works and Government Services, and Transport Canada.

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Writers Guild of America tells US government that copyright shouldn't trump free expression

The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright -- far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.

But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.

Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).

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Candy Quest: a text-adventure in defiance of the stupid Candy Crush trademark

Inspired by the news that King.com -- creators of the game "Candy Crush" -- had received a trademark on the use of the words "candy" and "saga" in connection with video games (and other things) and were using it to censor its competition, Michael Brough's created a fun -- and trenchant -- text-adventure called Candy Quest 3: Edge of Sweetness. It's part of The Candy Jam, an indie game-jam created entirely to troll the butthead corporate overlords at King.com.

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Bletchley Park's new management chucks out long-term volunteers

Here's more bad news from historic computing site Bletchley Park, where a new, slick museum is being put together with enormous corporate and state funding. Last month, it was the fact that McAfee had apparently banned any mention of Edward Snowden in a cybersecurity exhibit.

Now there's this heartrending BBC report on how volunteers who've given decades of service to Bletchley have been summarily dismissed because they don't fit in with the new plan. The museum of Churchill memoribilia that shared the Bletchley site has been evicted.

For people like me who've donated over the years, fundraised for it, and joined the Friends of Bletchley, this is really distressing news. I've always dreamt of Bletchley getting enough funding to do the site and its collection justice, but if it comes at the expense of decency and integrity, they may as well have left it as Churchill did -- abandoned and forgotten.

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.

BBC News Bletchley Park s bitter dispute over its future (via /.)

Why the hyper-rich turn into crybabies when "one percent" is invoked

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a letter by Tom Perkins (the "Perkins" in the venture capital firm "Kleiner Perkins") in which he compared rhetoric about the unjust riches of the "1 percent" to the events of Kristallnacht, the overture to the Holocaust. In a terrific editorial, Josh Marshall explains why the hyper-rich turn into such crybabies when it's pointed out that they've gamed the system so that they grow richer and richer while everyone else gets poorer:

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Word games with the "make your own Coke label" promo


Robbo sez, "Coke has set up a web site where you can design and share your own branded can of Coke. The idea, of course, was to have people slap their own name on the iconic can image and send it flying around the net to further embellish the Coke brand. But many are making use of the web page to insert a myriad of unintended messages. Everything from 'Boycott Coke' to 'Puck Futin' - that one is because the web app doesn't allow you to use the words 'Fuck' or 'Putin'. But the English language is a remarkably wonderful and versatile thing - and it's only a matter of time before Coke realizes they've opened the door very wide for a lot of very angry people to reach their foot in and kick 'em hard in the nads. Enjoy it, and share it, while you can."


Update: Art writes, "Using the word 'gay" in your Coke label results in the following message: 'Oops. Let's pretend you didn't just type that.' The word 'straight' is, however, perfectly okay to use. Americablog has been quite vocal about Coke's hands-off policy when it comes to gay rights and the Sochi Olympics. For example, when security guards wearing Coke logos on their uniforms took down a protester holding a small rainbow flag. Coke's response was essentially 'meh.'"


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Study: French three-strikes law did not deter or reduce piracy

In Graduated Response Policy and the Behavior of Digital Pirates: Evidence from the French Three-Strike (Hadopi) Law a team of business-school researchers from the University of Delaware and Université de Rennes I examine the impact of the French "three-strikes" rule on the behavior of downloaders. Under the three-strikes law, called "Hadopi," people accused of downloading would be sent a series of threatening letters, and culminating with disconnection from the Internet for a period of a year for everyone in the household. Hadopi is the entertainment industry's model for global legislation, and versions of it have been passed in the UK and New Zealand, and it has also been proposed for inclusion in the global Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty.

The researchers carefully surveyed French Internet users to discover what effect, if any, the Hadopi law had had on their behavior -- specifically, whether they were encouraged to download more from legitimate sites and pay more for music as a result of the threat of Hadopi. Their conclusion: [Hadopi] has not deterred individuals from engaging in digital piracy and that it did not reduce the intensity of illegal activity of those who did engage in piracy.

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MPAA and ICE admit they yanked an innocent man out of a movie for wearing Google Glass

Representatives of the MPAA and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency confirmed that they worked together to yank a Google Glass wearer out of a movie theater, detain him in a small room against his will, confiscate and inspect his electronics (including his phone) and coerce an interview out of him with legal threats. They believed, incorrectly, that their victim had been recording the movie with his gadget. The Google Glass set he wore had been fitted with prescription lenses and he was watching the movie through them because they corrected his vision.

The MPAA's and ICE's statements are bland and anodyne (ICE says that the interview was "voluntary," though the man's account contradicts this). Neither of them explain how it is that a movie theater employee can call an MPAA hotline, and how the MPAA can then command ICE law-enforcement officials to drop everything and rush down to a multiplex to roust a potential camcorderer and treat him like a presumptive criminal.

The problem for the MPAA of camcordering is that they would like to stagger the release of their films -- first to the theatrical exhibition channel, then to airplanes and hotel rooms, then to pay-per-view and streaming services and DVD, etc. This makes them more profitable, but only if they can keep each channel discrete. Lots of businesses struggle with their profit-maximization strategies, but only the MPAA gets to command the forces of federal law-enforcement in the service of their business-model, putting the cost of that strategy onto the tax-payer.

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Canadian Recording Industry Association of America demands Internet censorship and control of search-results

Graham Henderson, the chief spokesjerk for Music Canada -- the voice in Canada for the big US labels represented by the RIAA -- wants Parliament to regulate the Internet, creating a regime of censorship and surveillance in the name of protecting Canadian musicians (whose worst enemy, it must be noted, are the labels who pay Henderson's handsome wages, and not the fans he wants to attack). Henderson wants to control search-engine rankings because, he claims, the first seven pages' of results for Canadian musicians are pirate sites. Only one problem: he's lying. (via /.)

Tim Wu on FCC's net neutrality disaster

Tim Wu is the law professor and activist who coined the term "net neutrality" -- the principle that ISPs should get you the data you request, as efficiently as they know how, without deliberately slowing down some sites unless they've paid bribes for "preferred carriage." The FCC had made a halfhearted and legally doomed rule to protect American net neutrality, refusing to use its full regulatory power for fear of offending the powerful telcoms corporations it is meant to regulate.

A recent court decision struck down the FCC's rule, confirming critics' fears about the weakness of the FCC's legal position. Now, in a Washington Post interview, Wu explains what a blunder the FCC made (he calls it "a FEMA-level fail") and sets out the next steps the Commission should take if it is to ameliorate the consequences of its timidity and deference to the telcos:

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Leaked: environmental chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

Most of our coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has focused on its Internet-regulating provisions. But the treaty -- which has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with heavy-handed shoves from the US Trade Representative -- also has disturbing implications for the environment. Today, Wikileaks published a leaked consolidated draft of TPP's environment chapter, which sets out the ways in which corporations will be able to prevent countries from passing environmental laws that interfere with profit making.

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Carl Malamud's testimony on copyrighting the law

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez, "On Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10AM, the House Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings on the Scope of Copyright Protection. I will be testifying on the subject of Edicts of Government, including copyright assertions over state laws and federally-mandated public safety codes. My prepared statement is available and I would like to express my appreciation to the Committee for giving me the opportunity to testify."

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Trans-Pacific Partnership: how the US Trade Rep is hoping to gut Congress with absurd lies

The US Trade Representative is pushing Congress hard for "Trade Promotion Authority," which would give the President's representatives the right to sign treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership without giving Congress any chance to oversee and debate the laws that America is promising to pass. With "Trade Promotion Authority" (also called "fast track"), Congress's only role in treaties would be to say "yes" or "no" to whatever the US Trade Rep negotiated -- so if the USTR papered over a bunch of sweetheart deals for political cronies with a single provision that politicians can't afford to say no to, that'll be that.

Not coincidentally, the TPP is one long sweetheart deal with a couple of political sweeteners that no Congresscritter can afford to kill.

The USTR's push for Trade Promotion Authority contains some of the stupidest, easy-to-debunk lies I've ever read. Either the Obama Administration figures that Congress is thicker than pigshit, or the USTR drafted this to give tame Congresscritters cover for selling out the people they represent to the corporations that fund their campaigns.

Techdirt's Mike Masnick has undertaken the unpleasant chore of documenting and rebutting the Trade Rep's falsehoods point-by-point.

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Chronology of Canadian Tories' war on science libraries

As I've written, the Canadian Harper government's purge of environmental and scientific libraries has been a horrific shambles, as priceless and irreplaceable books and documents going back centuries were thrown away or even burned. Science librarian John Dupuis has assembled a comprehensive timeline of the disaster, with links to news stories and first-hand accounts that should have warned us something was amiss.

City of London Police told they can't just take away domains because Hollywood doesn't like them


The City of London is a curiosity; it's the financial district within London proper, and it has its own local government, which is elected by the banks and other corporations within the district. This (literally) corporate-run government then operates its own police force, separate from the Metropolitan Police, with sweeping powers.

The City of London Police recently gave themselves the power to seize domains that they believed were implicated in copyright violation, and started sending officious letters to domain registrars demanding that the domains be shut down. This was a purely extrajudicial, ad-hoc procedure -- in other words, the City of London Police were just making it up. The letters they sent had no force in law, cited no evidence from a court, and were unenforceable.

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Victorian Transport Department calls cops on 16 year old for reporting bug that exposed customers' personal data

Last month, around Christmas, a sixteen-year-old Australian named Joshua Rogers living in Victoria told the Transport Department that its Metlink website was exposing the sensitive details of over 600,000 transit users, including "full names, addresses, home and mobile phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and a nine-digit extract of credit card numbers."

He waited two weeks, but after he had not heard from Metlink -- and as the data exposure was ongoing -- he went to the national newspaper The Age, who called the Transport Department for comment. Whereupon the Transport Department called the police, who arrested the teenager.

It may be that the mistake that exposed all this sensitive data was an "honest" one -- after all, there's no experimental methodology for verifying security apart from telling people what you're doing and asking them to poke holes in it. Security is a process, not a product.

But that means that anyone who keeps sensitive public information on hand has a duty to take bug reports about vulnerabilities seriously, and to act on them quickly. Killing (or arresting) the messenger is absolutely unforgivable, not merely because of the injustice to this one person, but because it creates a chilling effect on all future bug-reporters, and not just for your service, but for all of them.

The Transport Department hasn't only unjustly punished an innocent person; it hasn't only weakened its own security; it hasn't only failed in its duty to its customers -- it has struck a blow against the very idea of security itself, and harmed us all.

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Feds spend more subsidizing undergrads than undergrads pay in tuition


Here's an analysis of the New America Foundation's Federal Education Budget Project, a wide-ranging and thorough look at the way the government spends on education. It shows that the total take from American universities in tuition for undergraduate programs is $62.6B, while the Federal government is spending $69 billion on grants, aid loans, tax breaks and other funding.

The implication is that it would be cheaper to give away university education than to charge for it, but that's not quite right (federal education funding pays for more than tuition -- it also includes housing, food and other expenses, and the feds are already subsidizing colleges out of their $69B spend). But it does suggest that the education system is really screwed up, an expensive boondoggle that is optimized for paying bondholders who own student debt, rather than turning out an educated, resilient and adaptable nation.

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Meet Educational Credit Management Corporation, the arm-breakers of the student debt racket


A private contractor to student debt-holders has a special legal department that goes to bankruptcy court to argue that student loans shouldn't be discharged in bankruptcy, ever. The Educational Credit Management Corporation contracts to the Department of Education, on whose behalf it argues (for example) that debtors who go bankrupt fighting pancreatic cancer should still have to pay back their student loans in full, because "Survival rates for younger patients tend to be higher."

Student debt is the most pernicious kind of debt. It's debt that you take on when you're a teenager, and it's the only debt that can be taken out of your Social Security check. But as bad as the student debt racket is (and it's bad -- no, I mean really bad), I hadn't quite clocked how depraved its bagmen and enforcers could be.

They've been censured by courts for their strongarm tactics, bills have been introduced to make them behave, but they seem unstoppable. Why not? The precarious job-market has convinced Americans to go into $1 trillion worth of student debt, and when that collapses, it'll make subprime look like small change. So, realistically, who's ever going to stop thug bill-collectors from torturing people with terrible illness, or caring for severely disabled loved ones, or facing other unimaginable hardship, in order to bleed whatever they can for the debt-holders who're depending on that trillion bucks being repaid?

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Lies of the Daily Mail

Yesterday's New Statesman published a long, nuanced profile of Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the despicable Daily Mail. Dacre's a remarkable and contradictory character, profiled with some sympathy but no white-washing by Peter Wilby, but the most striking moment of the piece comes in the first third, when Wilby lays out all the admitted falsehoods and libels published by the Daily Mail -- a list that is incomplete because it only consists of those where retractions, legal action, or other visible signals of falsehood were raised. There's a much longer list of smears and lies about people who couldn't afford to defend themselves from the paper (or couldn't bear to). Still, it's a hell of a list:

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