[Plura-list] Belarus's online/offline uprising; Newsletters' glorious history; Zombie banks; The Trump financial method

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Sep 28 13:02:34 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Belarus's online/offline uprising: The evolution of tactics, from ice
cream to doxing.

* Newsletters' glorious history: An Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily

* Zombie banks: Why everyone loves to help banks hide their losses.

* The Trump financial method: A quick and informative tldr on Trump's

* Attack Surface excerpt: Read chapter one of the third Little Brother book.

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

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


🚧 Belarus's online/offline uprising

"Europe's last dictator," Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, has been a
kind of test-case for the efficacy of various technologically enabled
pro-democracy tactics for decades.

Back in 2006, protesters in Minsk challenged his ban on protests by
announcing that eating ice-cream was a form of protest, then they showed
up and ate ice-cream...and got arrested.


They followed this up by announcing that smiling at each other was a
form of protest and showed up, smiling, in the same square, and were met
with hundreds of riot cops who later rounded up the organizers:


But opposition groups kept organizing, using international online
spaces, even after visiting websites hosted outside of Belarus was
declared a misdemeanor.

And while the country had little technological capacity of its own, it
was able to buy turnkey authoritarian services from the likes of the
Swedish company Teliasonera and Italian arms-dealer Hacking Team.


With new surveillance gear in place, Lukashenko was able to do things
like enumerate the identity at every attendee at a protest via their
mobile phones.


But despite this, protests kept growing. After all, Lukashenko is a
terrible leader.

It wasn't just the blatantly stolen "elections" - it was flexes like
arresting a one-armed man for clapping:


And lavish dingbattery like equipping school uniforms with special
"anti-cancer pockets":


But these paled in comparison to the substantive bad policies, like an
extremely high tax levied exclusively against unemployed people, during
a deep recession, called the "Tax on social parasites."


The current Belarusian uprising was triggered by yet another stolen
election, but it represents decades of grievances and trauma, loved ones
and leader arrested and put to hard labor, torture, privation, and terror.


And the regime seems closer to collapse than at any previous time,
thanks to the protesters perseverance and endless ingenuity. First, riot
cops downed their shields, embraced protesters, and refused to arrest them.

Then, demonstrators started doxing the balaclava-clad, badgeless shock
troops, exposing their identities ahead of major protests, inviting the
men behind those masks to contemplate their fates if the Lukashenko
regime falls.


Most recently, protesters hacked into the state TV channels to broadcast
footage of police violence against peaceful demonstrators.


The protestors' accompanying Telegram post read: "If Belteleradiocompany
does not want to show people the truth, we will show it."



🚧 Newsletters' glorious history

It sure feels like we're living through an unprecedented boom in
newsletters, but while email-based newsletters are experiencing a major
surge, newsletters themselves have a long and honorable history.


In Wired, Michael Waters describes the newsletter boom of the 1930s,
starting with Claud Cockburn's "The Week," launched in 1933 out of
disgust with his employer, The Telegraph, and its right-wing complacency
(Cockburn went on to break the story of Franco's fascist coup).

The rise of cheap mimeographs - coupled with the USPS's subsidy for
printed materials - created a boom in all kinds of niche and political
publications, from sf fanzines to Allen Ginsburg's self-published
chapbooks to The Ladder, a 1950s lesbian newsletter.

Left-populism had a major home in newsletters, providing an alternative
to the pro-big-business/pro-monopoly/anti-labor/anti-New Deal bias of
the newspaper industry.

I hadn't known about In Fact, the newsletter founded by the ex-Chicago
Tribune muckraker George Seldes.

Seldes billed In Fact as "An Antidote for Falsehood in the Daily Press,"
reached 176,000 subscribers, and featured exposes on strike-breakers,
tobacco industry/newspaper conspiracies to cover up smoking-related
health risks, and FBI anti-union spying.

In Fact inspired IF Stone to start his legendary Weekly, a 20-year
newsletter that Stone published to 70,000 subscribers from a
hand-cranked mimeograph machine.

But this golden age of leftist newsletter publishing was crippled by the
Red Scare, and the risks of appearing on a list of subscribers to a
radical publication.

The right's newsletters - paranoid, proto-Bircher publications like
Joseph P Kamp's Headlines, and What's Behind Them ("Are Communists
Infiltrating the YMCA?") morphed into the powerful newsletters published
by Ayn Rand and Phyllis Schlafly, buoyed by the direct mail boom.

Today, the legacy of the direct mail boom is a clutch of wealthy,
ruthless grifters making enormous bank by terrorizing elderly Fox
viewers into making donations they can't afford.


But lefty, anti-monopoly newsletter publishing is also alive and well,
as tech startups like Substack promise both revenue streams *and* access
to the last truly federated distribution system: email.

I really enjoy many of these new newsletters, though I worry that, on
the one hand, they include a lot of invasive tracking, and on the other,
that consolidation in email providers makes them incredibly dependent on
Big Tech's forbearance.


I have my own (totally independent, tracker-free, zero analytics,
ad-free) newsletter, the Plura-List.


I've discovered that if a bunch of my subscribers on, say, Apple Mail,
don't open their daily newsletters, Apple's analytics classes the
publication as spam for *all* subscribers on its platform.

The consolidated nature of email is also very apparent in the software I
use for the Plura-list, the venerable Mailman tool, a creaking dinosaur
that looks terrible and is difficult for both publishers and subscribers
to use.

And yet, it's the best option if you want to host your own mailing lists
(rather than exposing your subscribers to potential data-mining, etc).

Meanwhile, if this history of mailing lists has you intrigued, I
strongly urge you to check out the anthologies of IF Stone's Weekly.


I discovered these in the early 90s when I was working at Toronto's
College Books, where the owner, Michael Jackel, had ordered them for our
politics section. These anthologies absolutely blew my mind and
transformed the way I thought about personal political writing.

Decades later, they still resonate.


🚧 Zombie banks

It's an open secret that many of America's largest banks are "zombies" -
institutions that are able to carry on despite having a negative net
worth, thanks to "a combination of implicit and explicit government
credit support."

"Masters of Illusion: Bank and Regulatory Accounting for Losses in
Distressed Banks," is a new Institute for New Economic Thinking paper by
Boston College finance prof Edward J Kane that reveals the collusion
between bank accountants and financial regulators to conceal losses.


Bank accountants want to help their employers stay solvent, while
regulators don't want the public to spook and stampede, which would
cause a run on the bank. All this is laid out in a layperson-friendly
article accompanying the paper


Taken together, accountants and regulators have a "disposition toward
supervisory informational deception and regulatory forbearance" and
during crises, this comes to the fore, allowing zombie banks to borrow
even more money under the expectation that they will be bailed out.

The degree to which banks are guaranteed to be solvent regardless of
recklessness and deception means that any time you see an insider
running away from a bank, you should assume that things are *really* bad.

Kane: "The processes through which bankers extract benefits from the
safety net  closely resemble those of embezzlement and the rewards
bankers garner  usually rise to the level of grand larceny. The
difference between  street crime and safety-net abuse lies mainly in the
class and clout of  the criminal and the subtlety of the crime."

And as ever, a chart tells quite a story: the Big Four accounting  firms
failed 808 audits between 2009-17, and faced only 53 enforcement actions.


🚧 The Trump financial method

If you read the NY Times' blockbuster report on Trump's taxes, you've
likely come away with the (correct) impression that Trump is:

a) broke, and

b) dirty.


But you're also likely fuzzy on the details, not because they were
missing from the report, but because there were SO MANY of them.

Finance grifts deploy what Dana Simpson calls "The shield of
boringness," a layer of performatively dull accounting provisions that
obscure an otherwise simple and banal con.


So while the details are important in a "we brought receipts" sense, the
actual shape of the scam can be expressed in a very few words, as David
Fickling's thread demonstrates:


Here it is in a nutshell: Donald Trump is VERY bad at business. Every
business he starts spends a lot more than it makes, and he loses a lot
of money from them. But Donald Trump has lucked into stakes in various
profitable businesses that smarter people ran.

Whether it's his father's fortune, or The Apprentice, or Manhattan's Far
West Side (businesses with competent mangers other than Trump), Trump
brings two things to the table:

I. Losses; and

II. Fraud.

Profits are taxable, so profitable businesses generate tax liabilities.
But if you're Trump and you've got a profitable business (The
Apprentice) in one hand, and a bunch of money-pits (his clubs) in the
other, you can use the losses to offset the profits and pay no tax.

And then, if you're willing to commit fraud, you can increase these tax
offsets and actually turn them into tax REBATES, so the government ends
up paying YOU millions and millions of dollars.

The frauds are really simple. He just declares everything a
business-expense and deducts it from his taxes. Tens of thousands of
dollars for his hairdresser. Lavish vacations. Etc, etc.

And he pays his family members to "consult" for his businesses,
spreading income around among them, gaining access to new fraud vehicles.

It's welfare fraud: claiming fake expenses for dependents in order to
get more money out of the system.

However, if you are a low-impulse-control dum-dum who can't stop
building losing businesses, eventually your losses will outstrip the
profits from the businesses run by smart people and you'll go broke.

Which is why Trump has gone bankrupt so many times, and why he owes
$300m for loans that he personally guaranteed, which come due in four years.

Also: Trump is bad at fraud. Like, if you're going to claim that your
daughter is a "consultant" to your company in order to funnel millions
to her to generate bogus tax rebates, it helps if you don't make videos
where she declares herself to be an executive in that company.

Which is why the IRS is about to clobber him for $72m in tax fraud,
which will come out to about $100m with penalties and interest.

So, tldr: he's bad at business, he's bad at fraud, he makes money only
when he's not able to wrest control of a subsidiary from smart people,
and now he owes about $400m.

And he's broke.

The end.


🚧 Attack Surface excerpt

In just two weeks, Tor Books publishes ATTACK SURFACE, the third Little
Brother book! To celebrate, they're serializing Chapter 1 on the web at


Attack Surface is a standalone novel intended for adults and set in the
world of Little Brother. It's the tale of Masha Maximow, a surveillance
contractor who's far better at computers than Marcus Yallow, hero of
Little Brother and Homeland, and who works for the other side.

Here's how Tor put it:

> Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side.

> In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational
cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes
to spy on dissidents and track their every move. The perks were
fantastic, the pay was obscene.

> Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her
mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection. It was a
dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And

> When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy
to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape,
and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits
she’s devised are directed at her friends and family—including boy
wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of
naïve idealists—Masha realizes she has to choose.

> And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.

If you like the sound of that and pre-order the book before the release
date, you also get Force Multiplier, a free Little Brother ebook and


Tor's publishing in Canada and the US; if you're in the UK or another
English-speaking country, you can get the Head of Zeus edition, which
comes out on Oct 1, giving you just days to request a copy of Force


If you'd prefer to listen to Chapter 1, you can check out the special
3-hour edition of my podcast, in which I include an excerpt of Amber
Benson's reading from the audiobook:


And speaking of the audiobook, you have a mere NINE DAYS to pre-order it
for $15 via Kickstarter, after which it will set you back $25:


I'm doing a whole lecture series with many special guests do discuss the
themes of the book, the "Attack Surface Lectures," each of which comes
with a signed copy of the book (or a bookplate and a copy of the book)
included in the ticket price:



🚧 This day in history

#15yrsago My DRM talk to HP research https://craphound.com/hpdrm.txt

#10yrsago HOWTO make a meat-head

#10yrsago Legal blackmail: comprehensive look at tactics of copyright

#10yrsago What Internet activism looks like

#5yrsago Distinguished scientists call for RICO prosecution of climate

#5yrsago AP will use “climate doubters” instead of “climate skeptics”

#5yrsago Righstcorp’s terrifying extortion script is breathtaking in its

#5yrsago Carly Fiorina boasts: I sold the NSA its mass-surveillance

#1yrago Every word Ajit Pai says about Net Neutrality is a lie,
including “and” and “the”


🚧 Colophon

Today's top sources: Niina Into (https://twitter.com/NiinaInto), Noémi
Fábry (https://twitter.com/icureiosity), Naked Capitalism

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 504 words (65940 total).

Currently reading: Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: IP https://craphound.com/podcast/2020/09/14/ip/

Upcoming appearances:

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

* 3 Big Ideas To Fix the Internet, Oct 7,

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

Recent appearances:

* If Big Tech Is Toxic, How Do We Build Something Better? (panel)

* On ‘Attack Surface’ and WiFi Fridges (What a Hell of a Way to Die

* Little Brother vs. Big Audiobook (Techdirt podcast):

Latest book:

* "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:

Upcoming books:

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

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


🚧 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


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

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20200928/e887370f/attachment.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list