[Plura-list] Ferris wheel fine dining; Monopolies Suck; The president's extraordinary powers; Comcast v Comcast

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Oct 27 12:14:13 EDT 2020


I'm giving a talk at Privacyweek Austria today!



Today's links

* Ferris wheel fine dining: First the Budapest Eye, next, the world!

* Monopolies Suck: There is nothing harder to kill than an idea whose
time has come to pass.

* The president's extraordinary powers: Congress handed the president
emergency powers for centuries and never took them back (uh-oh).

* Comcast v Comcast: Which is weird, because Universal owns Comcast.

* Surveillance startup protected sexual harassers: Willingness to
surveil is correlated with sociopathy.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

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


☔️ Ferris wheel fine dining

I LOVE a ferris wheel and I am here to say that the ferris wheel's
moment has arrived.

Two weeks ago, I cheered as Japan's Yomiuriland theme park started
renting its ferris wheels as socially distanced work-pods:


And now I'm delighted to see that the Budapest Eye, a monumental ferris
wheel with astounding views was turned into a pop-up one-night dining
room by a fancy Hungarian restaurant:


Costes, a Michelin starred restaurant, set out a four-course prix fixe
meal for diners and, judging from this video, served a different course
with each revolution of the wheel:


This is the novelty dining movement I've been waiting for all my life. I
can't wait until every ferris wheel in the world has been converted to a
dining room.


☔️ Monopolies Suck

MONOPOLIES SUCK is a title I wish I'd thought of - talk about "does what
it says on the tin!"

It's by Sally Hubbard, Director of Enforcement Strategy at Open Markets
and retired antitrust enforcer for the NY Attorney General.

It's great.


Hubbard's got deep experience, and she brings the same kind of verve to
this book that Zephyr Teachout delivered in her (also excellent) (and
also brilliantly titled) BREAK 'EM UP:


But Hubbard's got another thing going for her: institutional support.
The Open Markets Institute operates a range of advocacy programs for
angry members of the public (e.g. you), and each of Hubbard's chapters
ends on ways you can engage in the policy questions she raises.

Each of the seven chapter tackles a different way in which market
concentration is fucking you over, personally: from Big Tech to Big
Pharma, monopolies in labor markets and monopolies distorting elections
and policy - including policy to soften the blazing climate emergency.

Hubbard has done the important work of relating monopolism to your daily
life - the ways in which you, personally, are made worse off, every day,
by unchecked corporate concentration and power.

This is an outstanding and important read, and the kind of book you can
give to a furious, puzzled friend to help them put the picture together
- and to launch them on a lifetime of advocacy for better, more
pluralistic world.

(also: that title!)


☔️ The president's extraordinary powers

When a new president is sworn in, they gets told a lot of secret stuff -
launch codes, backup plans, etc. But one of the best-kept presidential
secrets is the "Enemies Briefcase," a collection of "presidential
emergency action documents" (PEADs).


These aren't just revelations about the fallback plans for things like a
nuclear strike - they are a meticulously maintained collection of
emergency authorities that the administrative branch claims it is
entitled to.

These authorities are analyzed in legal memos that give the president to
unilaterally declare an emergency "imposing martial law, suspending
habeas corpus, seizing control of the internet, imposing censorship, and
incarcerating so-called subversives."

The PEADs were incredibly well-kept secrets, known only through
fragmentary redaction failures, appropriaions and
declassifications...Until Trump starting bragging on 'em:

"I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know
about." -Donald J Trump

PEADs are particularly ominous given how many non-secret emergency
powers the president has - more than 100 powers granted by Congress and
never rescinded, dating back to the Civil War, from freezing bank
accounts to deploying troops domestically.

Presidents through history have loved these. FDR invoked emergency
powers granted to Wilson. Johnson relied on Truman's Korean War powers.
LBJ invoked a Civil War measure (on horse forage!) to bypass Congress
and fund the Vietnam War.

All the great monsters of America have reveled in these powers, from
Kissinger to Cheney ("It is an act of insanity and national humiliation
to have a law prohibiting the president from ordering an assassination"
-Dick Cheney, 1975).

Even when Congress has expressed alarm at this power, it has never gone
beyond cosmetic gestures. As Andrew Cockburn writes in Harpers, the
Church Committee hearings were followed by 1977's "International
Emergency Economic Powers Act."

The act allows the president to declare an emergency "to deal with any
unusual and extraordinary threat [with] its source in whole or
substantial part outside the United States." So, basically, when the
president says it's an emergency...it's an emergency.

Every president since Nixon has relied on - and expanded - these
"emergency" powers: Reagan used them to launder cocaine money for arms
to Iran. G Bush I used them to invade Panama (backstopped with a memo
penned by Bill Barr).

Clinton used them to bomb Serbia. GW Bush used them to invade Iraq and
enact domestic mass surveillance. Obama used them to drone-assassinate
US citizens far from any battlefield.

Trump's access to known and secret emergency powers is a cause for real
alarm. When (or if?) Trump leaves power, job one has to be dismantling
these authorities and restoring the balance of power.


☔️ Comcast v Comcast

One of the arguments for  permitting monopolies is that they are
"efficient." That's the logic under which Universal was allowed to
acquire Comcast and NBC - the "vertical integration" would make all
three companies better and we'd all reap the benefit.

It turns out that there are *dis*economies of scale, what Brandeis
called "the curse of bigness" and really, the Universal-NBC-Comcast
octopus is a poster child for that curse.


Comcast has just informed its subscribers that they are at risk of
losing access to "Bravo, CNBC, E!, Golf Channel, MSNBC, Olympic Channel,
Oxygen, Syfy, Telemundo, Universal Kids, NBC Universo, USA Network and
NBC Sports Network."


That is, Comcast has warned its customers that Comcast might not license
its channels to Comcast anymore.

This is a "carriage dispute" - a dispute over how much the cable
operator will pay the broadcaster. It's a common dispute to have.

But in this case, Comcast's dispute is over the accounting fiction of
how much one division of a vertical monopolist will nominally charge
another to access its products.

Comcast's notice was triggered by a statutory duty to inform subscribers
when a deal is set to expire with no new deal in place, and obviously
Comcast can strike that deal with itself at the stroke of a pen.

But it's not clear why it hasn't done so already, sparing the company
the baffling humiliation of sending out these notices. Perhaps it's
because the contours of the deal may affect its licensing rates to
rivals like ATT-Time Warner.

In other words, permitting Universal to buy both a cable operator and a
zillion cable channels has put it in the position where to benefit one
division, it may have to do serious harm to another.

Tell me again how monopolies are efficient?


☔️ Surveillance startup protected sexual harassers

Surveillance companies assure us that they employ safeguards to ensure
that their customers aren't abusing their products to engage in unlawful
or unethical surveillance. And yet, inevitably, these companies abuse
their tools *themselves*.

It's almost as though being the kind of person who dreams of achieving
incredible wealthy by spying on people makes you kind of an asshole.

Like the people at Verkada, "a fast-growing Silicon Valley surveillance
startup" whose male employees used its own products to sexually harass
their female colleagues and received the barest wrist-slaps for it.


Male Verkada employees maintained a private Slack channel where
executives posted photos of female employees - captured with the
company's own surveillance tools - and made sexually explicit remarks
about them.

When this came to light, the company's founder and CEO Filip Kaliszan
called an all-hands meeting, expressed disappointment in the harassers,
and told them that they could either quit...or lose some stock options.
They chose the latter and remain employed there to this day.

The company is valued at $1.6b and employees 400 people, selling
"machine vision security cameras with cloud-software, including dome
cameras, fisheye lenses, and footage viewing stations."

The only guarantee we have that this ballooning surveillance arm-dealer
isn't supplying dictators and gangsters is its forbearance - the ethical
sensibilities of its senior execs.

(Oh well).

Verkada isn't alone in being a creepy company run by creeps. Recall
Facemash, Mark Zuckerberg's prototype for Facebook, was created to
nonconsensually rate the suitability of his female Harvard classmates
for sexual congress.


And remember LOVEINT, the NSA's cutesy codeword for the illegal use of
its mass-surveillance tools by male spies to stalk women using the
awesome power of the US intelligence apparatus.


I met my wife at a Nokia conference in Helsinki over midsummer in 2003.
The organizers quartered us all at the Hotel Torni, a building notorious
for having served as KGB headquarters during the "Agreement of
Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance" with the USSR.

The Torni had a plaque on the ground floor commemorating the building's
history, noting that when the 12-story building was renovated after the
KGB left, they found 20km of wiretapping wires in the walls.

Because while each KGB agent was nominally charged with surveilling the
Finns and other potential threats to Soviet hegemony, their primary
targets were each other.

There is no honor among creeps.


☔️ This day in history

#15yrsago Counting Heads: exciting, major new sf novel

#15yrsago Build a gingerbread Phantom Manor from Disneyland Paris

#10yrsago HOWTO explain the Internet to a Dickensian street urchin

#5yrsago Librarian of Congress grants limited DRM-breaking rights for
cars, games, phones, tablets, and remixers

#5yrsago Ministry of Irony: Orwell estate tries to censor mentions of
the number 1984

#5yrsago Elite “wealth managers”: Renfields to the one percent

#1yrago Navy Yard worker outed by Unicorn Riot is indicted for lying to
the FBI about his white nationalist group memberships

#1yrago Indigenous elder on Sidewalk Labs’s Toronto consultation: “like
being given blankets and gun powder and whisky to trade for our


☔️ Colophon

Today's top sources: Dan Howland (https://twitter.com/ridetheory/),
Super Punch (https://www.superpunch.net/), Naked Capitalism

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 660 words (77275

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 20)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, Privacyweek, Oct 27

* How to Fix the Internet/Reboot 2020, Nov 9,

* Cyberterrorists, Post-Apocalyptic Landscapes, and
Were-Pomeranians/Texas Book Festival, Nov 12,

* Let's Talk About Influence/Designthinkers, Nov 16,

* Shaping the Digital Future Summit/Kaspersky, Nov 17, details TBD

* Misinformation and Disinformation in Science Fiction and Fantasy/LITA,
Nov 17, details TBD

* Keynote, Data Natives, Nov 18, https://datanatives.io/tickets/

* Keynote, Cologne Futures, Nov 20, details TBD

* Keynote, Cybersummit 2020, Nov 26 https://www.cybera.ca/cyber-summit-2020/

* Beaverbrook Lecture: How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism, Nov 30,

Recent appearances:

* Attack Surface: A Reckoning

* TWiT: The J to J Protocol

* Writing Excuses: Researching the FCK out of Things

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies
* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

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

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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Cory Doctorow
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