Infamous SF "eviction" lawfirm abuses DMCA to censor video of protest

The offices of Bornstein and Bornstein are notorious for running "boot camps" advising San Francisco landlords on legal loopholes for evicting long-term tenants so they can rent to the high-flying tech sector.

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Trans Pacific Partnership meeting switched from Vancouver to Ottawa, ducking critics


What could make the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership process even less legit?

Moving it at the last minute, under cover of darkness, from Vancouver to Ottawa, in order to avoid critics of the treaty and how it is being negotiated. The TPP is a secretive treaty that allows corporations to sue governments that enact environmental, health and governmental regulations that interfere with their profits. It also calls for vastly expanded Internet spying and censorship in the name of protecting copyright.

Only trade negotiators and corporate lobbyists are allowed to see the drafts of the agreement (though plenty of these drafts have leaked) -- often times, members of Congress and Parliament are denied access to them, even though the agreement will set out legal obligations that these elected officials will be expected to meet.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Best-paid CEOs perform the worst


In Performance for Pay? The Relation Between CEO Incentive Compensation and Future Stock Price Performance , a paper from U of Utah business-school professors, the relationship between executive performance and executive pay is intensively investigated. The authors carefully document that the highest-paid executives in the 1,500 companies with the biggest market cops from 1994-2013 perform the worst, and that the higher a CEO's pay, the more likely it is that he'll perform worse than his low-paid colleagues. The effect was most pronounced in the 150 highest-paid CEOs.

The authors propose that sky-high pay leads CEOs to be overconfident -- after all, if they're getting $37M for a year's work, they must be pretty damned smart, so anyone who disagrees with them is clearly an idiot, after all, look at how little that critic is paid! The longer a CEO is in office, the worse his performance becomes, because he is able to pack the board with friendly cronies who keep hiking his pay and overlooking his underperformance. And CEOs suck at figuring out when to exercise their stock options, generally getting less money than they would by following conventional financial advice.

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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

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Matt Taibbi's The Divide: incandescent indictment of the American justice-gap

Matt Taibbi’s
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
is a scorching, brilliant, incandescent indictment of the widening gap in how American justice treats the rich and the poor. Taibbi’s spectacular financial reporting for Rolling Stone set him out as the best running commentator on the financial crisis and its crimes, and The Divide — beautifully illustrated by Molly Crabapple — shows that at full length, he’s even better. Cory Doctorow reviews The Divide.

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UK Tory MP who helped kill Legal Aid is wiped out by defending himself against sexual assault claim

Alan sez, "At least he's got the sense to own up and say he's sorry. Nigel Evans used to be in Parliament. While there he helped cut legal aid. As a result, people who are charged by the government but found innocent can't recover costs. Mr Evans is now looking at a (UKP) 130,000 legal bill (plus VAT) after defending successfully against an allegation of sexual assault. Of course, were he in the US he'd be in the same or worse shape."

He's been wiped out, and has pledged to try to undo the damage he's done to Legal Aid if he gets reelected. Meanwhile, the real victims of this are poor crime victims, especially women in abusive relationships, who are grappling with a system where only rich people get lawyers.

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How airlines treat the one-percenters

Qantas A380's fully flat Skybed in business class

In the April 21 edition of The New Yorker, David Owen describes the luxuries of premium-class seating and visits the firms that design jet interiors.

Seven years ago, I flew business class on Qantas from Australia to California, a thirteen-hour trip. I hadn’t had much experience outside economy, but I didn’t want to look like a front-of-the-plane rookie, so I stowed my “amenity kit” without ripping it open, declined the first cocktail a flight attendant offered me, and tried to appear engrossed in a book while the passenger nearest me bounced around like a four-year-old at a birthday party. I didn’t begin to play with my own seat until after dinner, when I lowered it into its fully extended position, and stretched out -- not to sleep, which is something I hardly ever manage on airplanes, but to see how the thing worked. The concave back of the seat shell formed a domed enclosure over my head, like a demi-cocoon. Suddenly, I heard people speaking in loud voices and banging things around. I sat up, indignant -- and realized that the noise was the sound of breakfast being served. I’d slept for eight hours straight, something I never do even at home. In a little while, we began our descent into Los Angeles.

Game of Thrones: How airlines woo the one per cent

Study: American policy exclusively reflects desires of the rich; citizens' groups largely irrelevant

In Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens [PDF], a paper forthcoming in Perspectives on Politics by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin Page, the authors analyze 1,779 over the past 20+ years and conclude that policy makers respond exclusively to the needs of people in the 90th wealth percentile to the exclusion of pretty much every one else. Mass-scale intervention from citizens' groups barely registers, while the desires of the richest ten percent of America dictate practically the entire national policy landscape.

In a summary in the Washington Post, Larry Bartels writes,

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HOWTO buy your way out of a California speeding ticket

Pricenomics revisits the perennial scandal of the 11-99 Foundation, which benefits California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Major donors to the foundation receive a license-plate frame that, drivers believe, acts as a license to speed on California highways. The plates were withdrawn in 2006 after a CHP commissioner's investigation seemed to validate the idea that CHP officers would let off drivers with the frames. The frames are back now, thanks to a funding crisis from 11-99, and some posters on cop-message boards say that the frames themselves aren't enough to get you out of a ticket -- because many of them are counterfeits -- but if you have a member's card, too, well, that's another story, wink, nudge.

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Rich, admitted child rapist granted probation because he "would not not fare well" in prison [trigger warning]

Robert H. Richards IV, a wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune, has been spared prison after being convicted of raping his three year old daughter. Delaware Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden sentenced the admitted serial child-rapist to probation on the ground that he "would not fare well" in prison. The case echoes the affluenza scandal in which a judge spared a rich child a prison sentence after he had killed four people on the grounds that he was so rich that he couldn't distinguish right from wrong.

As the long, excellent article in the News Journal notes, it's nice to hear judges focusing on the rehabilitative dimension of the justice system, but it's enraging and offensive to see that this kind of mercy is disproportionately dispensed to the wealthiest members of society, especially as America sinks further into its decades-old scandal of mass-incarceration, becoming one of history's most prolific imprisoners of poor people and people of color.

The prosecutor bears some responsibility here too, having agreed to a plea bargain for a lesser charge without a mandatory minimum sentence -- the kind of prosecutorial discretion that we'd have loved to have seen in the Aaron Swartz case and many other cases involving people who are not trust-fund multi-millionaires.

Richards is a healthy, imposing man in early middle age. Many others who would "not fare well" in prison, including trans* people and people with disabilities are routinely sentenced to long, brutal incarceration. It would be nice to see the American judicial system extend this mercy to them. In particular Judge Jurden has a reputation as a "tough sentencing judge" (except when confronted with child-rapists from one of America's largest family fortunes).

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