[Plura-list] Homeschool to prison pipeline; Spain has been an NSO customer since 2015; McKinsey waxes fat off coronavirus failures

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Wed Jul 15 15:52:15 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Homeschool to prison pipeline: Michigan judge jails Black teenager
with a learning disability for not doing lockdown homework.

* Spain has been an NSO customer since 2015: Whistleblower leaks the

* McKinsey waxes fat off coronavirus failures: McKinsey got $100m (and
climbing!) for its role in the disastrous US coronavirus response.

* Biden's $2T climate plan: It's at least an order of magnitude shy of
what's needed.

* PE's three kids in a trenchcoat fraud: How private equity bilked PPP
for hundreds of millions.

* Leakypick: Probing smart speakers for covert audio exfiltration.

* Poesy slays: Praise for "Poesy the Monster Slayer."

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


♾ Homeschool to prison pipeline

Hey guess what?

We have a homeschool-to-prison pipeline now.


Grace is a 15-year-old with ADHD and a long history of behavioral
difficulties who ended up on probation after a fight with her mom led to
the confiscation of her phone and her briefly stealing a classmate's phone.

Grace is now in a juvenile facility where her life is at risk from covid
because one of her probation conditions was to do her homework, and when
her school in Oakland County Michigan went online only, she struggled to
complete her distance education homework.

As a result, Judge Mary Ellen Brennan ignored the Michigan governor's
orders to minimize the incarceration of children and ordered Grace
imprisoned...for not doing her homework.

The Propublica story on Grace and her single mother Charisse - written
by Jodi S Cohen - is a heartbreaker and a half. It paints a picture of a
kid whose need for extra educational attention was met by a stern and
uncaring system, from caseworker to judge.

Judge Brennan does not come off well in this story. She ordered Grace to
appear in person in court - the only case of the day with that
requirement - and then refused a continuance when Grace's lawyer said he
would NOT come to court and risk his life to argue her case.

Brennan's sentence was handed down after Grace's caseworker Michelle
Giroux admitted that she did not know the details of Grace's learning
disabilities and had not familiarized herself with the legally mandated
supports for them that Grace had not recieved.

Brennan called Grace a "threat to the community" for missing her
homework, denied Grace's pleas for more time to adjust to homeschooling,
and had her taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

It goes without saying that, like the majority of Michigan teens
sentenced to youth detention in defiance of the governor's orders, Grace
is Black. Black children in Michigan are four times likelier to be
imprisoned than their white peers.

Grace has not been permitted to see her mother, except by
videoconference. Her mother's attempts to bring her clothes and toys
have been rebuffed by the facility, because of petty rules like those
stipulating that underwear must be briefs, or that jeans can't be "too

When Grace is brought out for videoconference status meetings with the
court, the child is handcuffed and put in ankle shackles. She makes
heartbreaking pleas to be returned to her mother. The judge has ordered
her held until at least Sept 8.

For missing her homework.


♾ Spain has been an NSO customer since 2015

Earlier this week, El Pais and The Guardian broke the stunning news that
the Speaker of the Parliament of Catalonia had been infected with NSO
Group malware, a notorious cyberweapon nominally used for catching


The story attributed the hack to the government of Spain, who have
brutalized and harassed Catalonian independence activists in the past.
It cited work from Citizen Lab, who have done the most important
forensic work on targets of NSO weapons, including Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, an ex-NSO Group whistleblower has confirmed to Motherboard's Joseph
Cox that the Spanish government has been a customer of theirs for at
least five years.


"We were actually very proud of them as a customer. Finally a European

The source confirmed that "Spain had access to a 0-click version of
NSO's Pegasus product. Pegasus is the suite of tools that lets customers
remotely break into and surveill phones."


♾ McKinsey waxes fat off coronavirus failures

Consulting giant McKinsey may have gotten a lot of bad PR over the past
year - from its collaboration with the murderous Saudi regime to its
work to expand Riker's Island to its critical role in ICE gulags - but
it's fitting in *great* in the Trump covid response.

All told, McKinsey's made $100m for its role in the blundering,
chundering comedy-of-errors that is the Trump admin's coronavirus
response, much of it in no-bid contracts awarded by former McKinsey
employees who landed senior roles in the Trump admin.


That total is still climbing, too. Ian MacDougall's Propublica
investigation into McKinsey's coronavirus engagements finds their
tentacles sunk into the VA, the Defense Health Agency, the USAF, the
Cuomo regime, and the state governments of CA, IL, MA, NK, TN and VA.

McKinsey's also raking it in from cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Los
Angeles, New Orleans and St Louis. Where these contracts are for
important work, McKinsey routinely fails to deliver. Much of the work
McKinsey won for itself is largely cosmetic, though.

In both cases, they bill top dollar (naturally).

It's a lucky break for the company, which has been hamstrung by its own
failures - for example, its bankruptcy division can't win much work
after a series of conflict of interest scandals.

It's also been targeted by the General Services Agency for years of
brutal price-gouging, and the company was caught using its influence to
sideline the GSA investigators in a bid to prevent bad news about its
corrupt practices from coming to light.

This cost the company much of its pre-coronavirus public sector work,
making the new round of fat contracts a godsend. And much of that work
was steered McKinsey's way by former McKinsey staffers - or current
staffers who have been contracted to oversee government contracts.

MacDougall tracks the many ways that McKinsey underperformed in these
contracts, at the expense of American lives and safety.

He also tracks the company's 70-year campaign to replace government
functions with private contractors, an ideology it spread around the world.

"Over decades, McKinsey’s approach became self-reinforcing. As
administrations chipped away at the civil service politicians who
advocate small government got the dysfunctional bureaucracy they had
complained about all along, which helped them justify dismantling it

One of McKinsey's most lucrative lines of work is selling "data it
obtains from one government project to other agencies," becoming the
clearinghouse - and rentier - of public data, generated at public
expense, for use by public agencies.

Those data repositories were cited as the reason that McKinsey needed to
be hired to run so much of the government coronavirus response.

The company cites the "pro bono" work its employees have done during the
crisis, but the government officials whom this work was supposed to
benefit say that it was useless - prettying up spreadsheets and making
slide decks.

McKinsey's own description of what it can offer to government clients is
a meaningless word-salad of consulting jargon: "analysis, best
practices, perspectives, decision support." Seriously GPT-3 would
produce more convincing pitches.

As Miami-Dade deputy mayor Jennifer Moon dryly observed after getting
one of these McKinsey pitches: "Apparently, it takes 5 people with staff
support to do what I’ve been doing myself." The bill for those people?

Normally, McKinsey swears its clients to secrecy about their contracting
with the firm and refuses to disclose its client list, but during the
pandemic, McKinsey changed its terms to let it cite its clients to drum
up new work - while still gagging those clients.

This one-sided confidentiality lets the company boast of its work in
places like Miami-Dade, while gagging the officials who found the work
substandard and actively harmful, at a cost of more than $500k.


♾ Biden's $2T climate plan

Biden's unbroken track record of promoting corporate interests and
austerity is especially worrisome given the enormous challenge presented
by the climate emergency, which can only be met if these ideologies are
rejected. Our species' survival requires it.

So it's cheering to see some real dollars in his new proposal to address
climate change: $2T between now and 2035 for clean energy, housing-stock
retrofits, a Civilian Conservation Corps, EV charge stations,
cash-for-clunkers and high-speed rail.


Especially buoying is that Biden's plan *doesn't* include Pelosi's
beloved "payfors" - the idea that every dollar spent by the government
needs to be offset with a tax raise or a cut to services - as though the
government stockpiled our tax dollars and used them for programs.

This just isn't how money works. The government spends money into
existence and then taxes it out of existence. It is a currency issuer,
not a currency user. Government deficits aren't "debts" in the sense
that your credit-card spending is a debt.


You can run out of dollars. The US government can't. The If the US
government tries to buy the same things the private sector is trying to
purchase, it can create inflationary bidding wars, but that's a
*resource* constraint, not a *monetary* constraint.

So as I say, it's heartening to see Biden apparently repudiating the
toxic austerity worship of the Dem establishment in favor of something
approaching Modern Monetary Theory, but there's a big *but* in this good

That is that Biden is off by an order of magnitude. Compare it with
Bernie Sanders's plan, which had $16T earmarked to address the climate



♾ PE's three kids in a trenchcoat fraud

Remember when the Small Business Administration rolled out the Payroll
Protection Plan and it was drained of trillions almost instantly by
giant companies pretending to be small businesses and we shamed Shake
Shack into giving the money back?

Just the tip of the iceberg.

Writing for Propublica, Paul Kiel and Jack Gillum use the PPP data to
reveal private-equity backed companies that applied for PPP dozens of
times each, claiming to be multiple companies all headquartered at the
same address and using the same bank.


Vibra Healthcare, a PE-backed chain of hospitals, was eligible for $10m
in free PPP money. The $1b/year company got around $97 million, by
claiming to be 26 separate entities.

Petersen Health Care made 52 different PPP claims - up to $52m - by
claiming to be 52 different companies.

Mariner Health Care - owned by National Senior Care - pretended to be 19
different companies, netting up to $31m.

Hedge-fund-owned Maverick Gaming, a casino owner valued at $1b, got more
than $46m through the same pretense.

Some of these companies got to triple-dip: Vibra didn't just get 26
different payouts from PPP; it also got $13m in health care grants and
$41m in loans as advance on Medicare payments.

Vibra does not deserve ANY public money. It is a repeat-offender
fraudster that paid $33m to settle its Medicare fraud in 2016 and $6m in
2019 for another round of Medicare fraud.


♾ Leakypick

Leakypick is a <$40 Raspberry Pi-based tool to check if your
smart-speaker is transmitting your speech to third parties without your

A German-French-US team of computer scientists presented it this month
at Cryptography and Security.


The devices play audio samples in rooms containing IoT devices, then
monitor network flows and perform statistical analysis to determine
whether the device intercepted and transmitted the audio signal.

Its test data is derived from a phoneme dictionary that created a large
number of soundalike terms for devices' wake-words. They discovered -
for example - 89 different words that would reliably activate an Alexa

They also validated their ability to determine whether a device was
sending audio without having to decrypt network traffic; together, these
methods point  serve as a starting point for future work to test
mic-equipped devices.


♾ Poesy slays

Yesterday saw the publication of my first-ever picture book, Poesy the
Monster Slayer, along with glowing reviews from the trade press like
Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.


Even more delightful than those reviews, though, has been the praise
from book-bloggers, independent reviewers, and parents who've already
read PTMS to their own little monsters!

I really liked Biblionaut Expeditions' review, how they stressed that
the monsters are recognizably the monsters I grew up loving, praising
Matt Rockefeller for his "great job balancing the traditional designs
while acknowledging  this is a children’s book."


And who could argue with this? "If you’ve got a kiddo who loves
monsters, Poesy the Monster Slayer might be a great bedtime choice. It’s
also a good book for kids interested in comics as there are a handful of
word bubbles and the occasional panel structure."

Here's how to get the book:


And I'm headed back to my local indie, Dark Delicacies, to sign more
copies this week, if you want to get one signed and/or personalized:



♾ This day in history

#15yrsago Gateways: Tribute to Fred Pohl with stories by Bear, Benford,
Brin, Bova, Gaiman, Harrison, Haldeman and me!

#10yrsago Why aren't ethicists better people?

#1yrago Putting a price on our data won't make the platforms stop
abusing our privacy

#1yrago 5G won't fix America's terrible broadband

#1yrago Ex-Fox & Friends host, accused of a Ponzi scheme that turned
Indianapolis real-estate investors into slumlords, moves to Portugal

#1yrago Podcast: Occupy Gotham

#1yrago How To: play Vlad Taltos in an RPG

#1yrago The new £50 notes will feature Alan Turing (whilst HMG proposes
bans on Turing complete computers AND working crypto)

#1yrago Heirs' property: how southern states allow white land developers
to steal reconstruction-era land from Black families


♾ Colophon

Today's top sources: David Preston
(https://twitter.com/prestonlearning), Angry UK Staffer
(https://twitter.com/AngryUKStaffer), Naked Capitalism
(https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Four Short Links

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Today's progress: 546 words (38182 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Full Employment:

Upcoming appearances:

"Working as Intended: Surveillance Capitalism is not a Rogue
Capitalism," Jul 21,

Latest book:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

Upcoming books:

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters,
bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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