AB5 is about to pass the California legislature: it forces companies like Lyft and Uber to comply with the longstanding Dynamex decision and treat their employees as employees.
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Ronald Reagan may be sainted by the right, but 2018 was the year conservatives broke with his slavish, simpleminded adherence to the Chicago School antitrust theory that says that governments should only regulate monopolies when they give rise to higher consumer prices -- it's also the year the right realized that extreme market concentration in the tech sector could lead to a future in which conspiracy theorists, Nazis, "white identity enthusiasts," and crank misogynists might find themselves with nowhere to talk and be heard by others.
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From the Open Markets Institute's Mat Stoller and Austin Frederick, who analyzed the FTC's panel, "The Current Economic Understanding of Multi-Sided Platforms," in which economic experts told the regulator that Big Tech's monopoly power just isn't a problem: "every single economist testifying on the issue of corporate concentration derived income, directly or indirectly, from large corporations. Beyond that, the hearing itself was held at the Antonin Scalia Law School, which is financed by Google and Amazon."
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Amazon announced today it has agreed to buy the Whole Foods grocery chain for $13.4 billion, as the internet retailer eyes a broader expansion of services. Read the rest
The Federal Reserve Board, charged with maximizing employment in America, sets interest rates and takes other measures to achieve this goal; because of public records laws, we get to look in on their deliberations five years after the fact. A recently released transcript, dating from the depths of America's unemployment crisis in 2011, reveals that Board members selected by American business (as opposed to those members appointed by the President) mocking unemployed Americans as being uneducated, addicted to drugs, and having a poor "work ethic." Read the rest
If you are outraged by American spies getting a free pass from their political masters (and you really should be), remember that this is an age-old tradition. Matt Stoller revisits the 1975 Congressional hearings in which radical Congresswoman Bella Abzug grilled CIA director William Colby over the CIA's records of the membership rolls of peaceful, domestic protest groups, only to have Arizona Congressman Sam Steiger suck up to the spook-in-chief, expressing concern that anti-American terrorists could destroy the CIA by sending it too many Freedom of Information Act requests. Read the rest
The Washington Post today published several big scoops related to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. The paper's investigations were triggered by documents leaked to them "earlier this summer" by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. He has sought political asylum from a number of nations, and is currently in Moscow. The U.S. wants to charge him with espionage for his revelations.
Barton Gellman writes about an internal NSA audit document which shows that since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, it has broken privacy rules thousands of times per year--and sometimes because of typos.
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"Striking it Richer," a paper by Emmanuel Saez (an economist at UC Berkeley) looks at the way that the dividends of the slow US "economic recovery" have been distributed. Saez finds that 121% of the economic gains since 2009 have been captured by the richest 1% of Americans -- in other words, despite economic growth, the poorest 99% of Americans actually got poorer through the "recovery."
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This confirms a pattern that Matt Stoller highlighted: that income inequality increased more under Obama than under Bush. And the new Saez paper also describes how it came about. In short form, income to the top 1% is significantly influenced by capital gains. Remember, the tax reporting is not clean here: rising equity and bond markets help all those private equity and hedge fund professionals, who are able to get capital gains treatment for what ought to be labor income. But the paper also stresses that the lower orders were hit hard in the aftermath of the global financial crisis than in the dot-bomb era, which also saw a big drop in capital gains. That isn’t as hard to understand. The collapse of the dot-com mania didn’t impair the real economy overmuch because it was not fueled in a meaningful way by borrowings. By contrast, the housing bubble, and more important (in terms of damage to the financial system) the much housing exposure created synthetically by CDOs that consisted entirely or mainly of credit default swaps was highly geared, hence when it collapsed, it took credit providers down with it.
In a guest editorial on Naked Capitalism, Matt Stoller reminds us that Aaron Swartz's politics weren't just about digital freedom: he saw free software and open networks as instrumental to eliminating corruption and corporatism in wider society.
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In 2009, I was working in Rep. Alan Grayson’s office as a policy advisor. We were engaged in fights around the health care bill that eventually became Obamacare, as well as a much narrower but significant fight on auditing the Federal Reserve that eventually became a provision in Dodd-Frank. Aaron came into our office to intern for a few weeks to learn about Congress and how bills were put together. He worked with me on organizing the campaign within the Financial Services Committee to pass the amendment sponsored by Ron Paul and Alan Grayson on transparency at the Fed. He helped with the website NamesOfTheDead.com, a site dedicated to publicizing the 44,000 Americans that die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Aaron learned about Congress by just spending time there, which seems like an obvious thing to do. Many activists prefer to keep their distance from policymakers, because they are afraid of the complexity of the system and believe that it is inherently corrupting. Aaron, as with much of his endeavors, simply let his curiosity, which he saw as synonymous with brilliance, drive him.
Aaron also spent a lot of time learning how advocacy and electoral politics works from outside of Congress. He helped found the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that sought to replace existing political consulting machinery in the Democratic Party.
An essay by Matt Stoller called "Profit-Driven Surveillance and the Spectrum of Freedom" on Naked Capitalism looks at the way that analytics, real-time tracking, and the for-profit prison and debt industry combine to produce a dystopia: "In fact, whether you are tracked because you get a discount on your auto insurance or whether you have broken some arbitrary rule or fit in a non-mainstream class of person, innovation in technology and autocratic organizational forms means that there will be a whole new category of constraints on freedom."
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There are innovations in injustice that could accompany these products. Traditional illicit corporate profit-taking has been about denying certain products to segmented groups of people – segregation in housing, lower quality of medical care for ethnic and gender groups, predatory lending etc. But technology has now opened up a new model of profit-taking – if a company knows where you go, who you talk to, what you buy and eat, and your medical history, then it can charge you premium pricing by denying you exactly what *you* want. It can bypass your ethnographic group, and focus on tolling off component parts of what you as an individual want.
Imagine a new financial product targeted at people who have defaulted on debt and have a history of avoiding debt collectors. It’s a new kind of credit card, by a bank, which offers a reasonable rate of interest. You don’t have to put up cash or collateral. You don’t have to pay on time. The catch is that the financial institution requires that you wear a small tracking device on your ankle, so that their debt collection department knows where you are at all times.
People fortunate enough to reside in Nebraska get to enjoy these hot beef sundaes. They'd go great with one of these Austin funnel cakes.
UPDATE: Photo taken by Matt Stoller at OpenLeft.
Fast Food Frankensteins : The Dessert Edition Read the rest
An extremely diverse group of online activists ranging from the ACLU to Ron Paul supporters have come together to create The Strange Bedfellows, a campaign dedicated to preventing Congress from offering immunity to the telephone companies that participated in the President's illegal warrantless wiretapping program. They raised $170,000 in 48h to buy ads to get the word out.
The ACLU is joining with activists from the Ron Paul campaign, represented by Break the Matrix, Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman, and civil liberties writer Glenn Greenwald of Salon, and leading liberal bloggers including, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake, Matt Stoller of Open Left, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Howie Klein of Down with Tyranny, Digby, Josh Nelson of The Seminal and activist Josh Koster to tell Congress that we will not let them ignore the Constitution or give immunity to telecoms which deliberately broke our laws for years.
This group of Strange Bedfellows is mobilizing a broad-based left-right coalition of office holders and candidates, public interest groups and individuals who are devoted to preserving basic constitutional liberties to join in the fight. The goal is to work together to impede the corrupt FISA/telecom amnesty deal.
Glenn Greenwald said, "The Beltway establishment has made clear that they support the Bush administration's assault on our basic constitutional protections and the rule of law. Constitutional rights and the rule of law are not liberal or conservative principles. They're American principles, and this broad-based alliance is devoted to defending them from the bipartisan political class that wants to trample upon them."
(Thanks, Raisedbywolves! Read the rest