[Plura-list] My talks with Edward Snowden and William Gibson; Complicity, incompetence, leadership and Capitol Police; How Republicans froze Texas solid; Uber loses court battle, steals wages, censors whistleblower

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Fri Feb 19 13:06:40 EST 2021


On Feb 22, I'm delivering a keynote address for the NISO Plus
conference, "The day of the comet: what trustbusting means for digital



Today's links

* My talks with Edward Snowden and William Gibson: Two wonderful books
for your TBR.

* Complicity, incompetence, leadership and Capitol Police: A deep
postmortem and legal repercussions.

* How Republicans froze Texas solid: Market Lysenkoists.

* Uber loses court battle, steals wages, censors whistleblower: Big
bezzle energy.

* This day in history: 2016, 2020

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


🤯 My talks with Edward Snowden and William Gibson

Earlier this month, I hosted two extraordinary book-launch events: one
for the paperback edition of William Gibson's novel AGENCY, the other
for the young readers' edition of Ed Snowden's memoir, PERMANENT RECORD.

Both events were incredibly exciting. Gibson spoke at length about the
relationship of politics to the way he creates futuristic parables
(Agency was delayed for a rewrite after the 2016 election) and Snowden,
about the way that young people relate to surveillance tech.

Now, both are online, courtesy of the booksellers that hosted them.
Copperfields Books posted the Snowden video yesterday:


And here's my review of the Young Readers' Edition of Permanent Record:


Not to be outdone, yesterday also marked The Strand's release of the
Gibson video:


and here's my review of AGENCY:



🤯 Complicity, incompetence, leadership and Capitol Police

In the aftermath of the Jan 6 Trumpist putsch at the Capitol, the world
reeled - not just at the spectacle of the Capitol building overrun by
deranged armed insurrectionists, but also at the manifest incompetence
of the Capitol Police.


The Capitol Police command $460m/year, 10% of Congress's total budget.
They had ample warning that murderous, anti-democratic revolutionaries
were converging on the Capitol. They had a long track-record of
over-responding to protests with overwhelming shows of force.

Given the track-record, the budget and the warnings, could we truly
attribute the failure to contain the insurrectionists to incompetence?
Did the shots of police officers taking selfies with members of a lynch
mob mean that the force was complicit with the traitors?

Now, six officers have been suspended and 29 more are under
investigation for collaborating with the rioters. They join the
nationwide active-duty military and police officers who have faced
consequences for their role in the mob violence.


Last week, Propublica published a chilling, brilliant investigation by
Joaquin Sapien and Joshua Kaplan sourced from 19 current and former
Capitol Police officers who are furious and bewildered at the failure of
their command.


They describe scenes of absolute carnage and chaos, of rioters who were
so aggressive and violent that officers suspected that they were high on
meth, of protesters fumbling their own firearms and trying to grab
pistols off officers' hips.

They describe leaders who were given actionable intelligence about the
coup attempt, but directed their focus to paranoid fantasies about
antifa counter-demonstrators, and who broke with the procedures used
against BLM protests, standing down officers who could have helped.

They describe officers who were told to leave behind weapons and armor,
who then feared for their lives as they were overrun, who were denied
access to riot helmets and sustained serious head-injuries.

The anemic response by Capitol Police to surges and incursions almost
didn't happen at all, it seems: officers who joined the lines and fought
the rioters did so in defiance of their orders to sit pat - orders that
were not rescinded because their commanders were MIA.

The officers' account reveals an organization always up for beating
paralyzed wheelchair users seeking better health care, or to gas and
brutalize Black Lives Matter protesters, but were unprepared (and whose
leaders were unwilling) to respond to right-wing terror groups.

The last word in the Propublica report goes to officers who describe the
collapse of their confidence in their leadership: "I don’t trust the
people above me to make decisions to bring me home safe."

"Many are looking for new jobs."


🤯 How Republicans froze Texas solid

The collapse of Texas's power grid during a lethal cold snap has put
Texas politics under a spotlight. There's no better place to start than
the Deconstructed podcast, where Ryan Grim delivers a historically
informed, timely series of interviews.


Grim reminds us that the roots of Texas's woes are in the 2002 midterms,
when the GOP took the Texas House for the first time in a generation,
then engaged in brutal gerrymandering to keep it, and embarked on a
string of ideology-driven deregulation adventures.

The GOP ideology holds that businesses are "efficient" because every
penny they squeeze out of their costs is converted to profit. There's a
kernel of truth to this - indeed, the most prominent early theorist of
this was Karl Marx!

In an unregulated market, capitalists increase profits by reducing labor
and input costs, and/or by raising prices. Competition is supposed to
prevent prices from going up, so when market proponents talk about
"efficiency" they really mean reducing labor and input costs.

Markets do squeeze input costs. The "dematerialization" of goods and
buildings has been a steady march for more than a century - from the
steel in your car to the concrete in your home to the energy consumed by
your TV, the world uses less stuff and energy to make more.

But material and energy efficiencies require innovation. Reducing labor
costs, on the other hand, merely requires *power*. Capitalists whose
workers are denied collective bargaining and a social safety net can
squeeze wages far more easily than energy or materials.

And of course, not all material and energy savings are created equal.
It's one thing for Ikea to figure out how to shave material inputs from
composite shelves by inventing better glue - it's another for a company
to reduce material costs by dumping toxic waste.

Again, the difference is between innovation and power. Making stronger,
cheaper, more efficient materials requires investment in R&D. Saving by
externalizing your costs - by imposing harms on others - merely requires
the power to get away with it.

The GOP experiment involves granting unlimited power to corporations,
through "deregulation" - stripping worker protections, environmental
protections, and operating standards. And, as our right wing friends
like to remind us, "incentives matter."

Relieved of the need to negotiate with workers, compensate the public
for harms, or provide high-quality services, "the market" responds by
slashing wages, harming the public, and tightening the slack in the
system that allows it to cope gracefully with abnormal conditions.

Hence "we are experiencing unexpected call volumes, please hold." That's
"efficiency" - squeezing down staff levels to levels that barely cope
with median load, so any bobble results in long lines. Hence aviation
breakdowns when a single hub airport (like DFW) is snowed in.

Hence a power-grid that is fully isolated from neighboring states. Hence
generation facilities that were not weatherized despite multiple
historical events that proved they'd be needed, someday, one as recent
as 2011.

There are windmills in northern Canada. In Norway. At the *Antarctic
research stations*. If Texas's windmills shut down during the storm,
it's not because we don't know how to make cold-weather windmills - it's
because allowing windmills to fail in cold weather was profitable.

Lysenkoism was the Soviet Union's disastrous foray into politicized
science. For ideological reasons, Stalin bought into the beliefs of
Lysenko, who said that the traits a parent acquired in their life could
be genetically passed onto their children.

Stalin insisted on applying Lysenkoism to wheat cultivation, to prove
that his ideology would work. The result was the famine of 1932-3, which
killed tens of millions of people. So many people that there weren't
enough survivors to count the dead.

The Republican insistence that selfishness is optimal, that companies
should only care about maximizing shareholder returns, that deregulation
produces efficiencies, that states cannot perform - this is American

American Lysenkoism is why Red States like Texas refused to lock down
and have told each county to design its own vaccination and public
health program. It's also why those states refuse climate science.


American Lysenkoism kills. It's why the pandemic has killed 500k
Americans. It's why so many Texans are in danger of freezing to death
now. It's also why Republicans - the "party of life" - are
performatively refusing to care about these deaths.

You can't be an American Lysenkoist unless you deny that we have a
shared destiny. That's why climate, pandemic, energy, education and
health are so confounding to conservatives. These are systems that
require collective responses.

Energy is a collective enterprise (Lenin: "Communism is soviet power
plus electrification of the whole country"). It requires failover to
nearby grids. It requires "overinvestment" in peak capacity. It requires
cooperation and coordination to smooth out discontinuities.

Maybe a market could accomplish this, but so far it hasn't. Instead,
deregulated power systems strip out safety margins, undermaintain
facilities, underinvest in improvements, and price-gouge.

As James K Galbraith writes for the Institute for New Economic Thinking:
"Demand for electricity is what economists call inelastic: it doesn’t
respond much to price, but it does respond to changes in the weather,
and at such times, of heat or cold, the demand becomes even more

And "Supply has to exactly equal demand every single minute of every
single day. If it doesn’t, the entire system can fail."

Only a Lysenkoist could see these truths and still opt for deregulating


Now Texas is in the grips of a double-whammy. The covid-overloaded
hospitals are treating exposure and CO-poisoning cases. Potentially
infectious families are doubling up in the few heated homes.

As Kelsey McKinney writes for Defector, Texas epitomizes America's
failed love-affair with Lysenkoism, battered by climate (hurricanes,
floods, freezes), pandemic without public health, and a dematerialized
energy grid, destined to fail.


Lysenkoism demands a hard heart. To survive watching your neighbors die
for your ideology, you must somehow shift the blame to them. Small
wonder that Ted Cruz feels empowered to take his germ-ridden family to a
Cancun resort, abandoning his constituents.

Tim Boyd, the Texas mayor who had to resign after telling his residents
that their city owed them nothing, that the strong would survive and the
weak would perish? He was just being a good Lysenkoist.


You can't embrace an ideology that kills your neighbors and still look
yourself in the mirror unless you can find a way to make it all your
neighbors' fault. Lysenko is a monstrous ideology, and it makes monsters
of its adherents.


🤯 Uber loses court battle, steals wages, censors whistleblower

Uber is a money-hemmorhaging bezzle ("the magic interval when a
confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the
victim does not yet understand that he has lost it"). It's $6.8b losses
in 2020 are not an aberration.


Uber will never be profitable.

Like all scams, Uber depends on fresh suckers coming in and buying out
the last round of suckers. To do this, the company has to keep running,
even as it loses money.

In fact, the longer Uber stays in business while losing money, the more
suckers flock to it. The thinking goes, "All these investors who piled
into a money-losing company must know something I don't about how it
will become profitable someday."

This is also known as the "a pile of shit this big must have a pony
under it somewhere."

Key to the pile-of-shit illusion is the ongoing ability to misclassify
its workers as independent contractors and so deny them a living wage
and minimum benefits.

That's why Uber heavily underwrote the $200b cash-flood that resulted in
the passage of California's Prop 22, which legalizes worker
misclassification, and why it's agitating for comparable rules in the EU:


But the thing is, Uber drivers are obviously employees. Uber decides how
much they'll be paid. It doesn't let them choose which passengers
they'll pick up. It closely monitors, disciplines and fires drivers at
will. Uber is a driver's boss, not their client.

The UK Supreme Court just agreed, ruling in favor of two drivers. The
ruling entitles Uber drivers to normal workplace protections and wages.
Of course, Uber says it only applies to a handful of workers and says it
won't comply with the ruling.


But even if Uber is forced to end the charade of worker
misclassification, it has other ways to slow down the rate at which it
bleeds money until the current suckers can unload their stock on bigger
suckers. Chief among these is wage-theft.

Long before Amazon started stealing its drivers' tips, Uber was raking
40% of the "tips" that passengers registered through their apps.


Uber formally ended its tip-theft, and then invented other ways to steal
from drivers. Primary among these is miscalculating mileage for fares:
though the process is opaque and shrouded in mystery, it appears that
they are using straight-line, crow-flies measurements.

That resulting in drivers getting paid for a 6-minute drive that takes
50 minutes. That's why Armin Samii, an Ubereats deliverator, created
Ubercheats, an app that helped drivers detect and document wage-theft.

Uber used a false trademark claim to get Ubercheats blocked from the
Chrome store (trademark claims are valid when they involve "confusion"
about the "origin of goods and services" - not "nominative uses" that
use a product's marks descriptively).


Samii told Motherboard that he wouldn't rename his app. He's in the
right, and he won't back down. Good for him.


The free culture/free software movement has waged a decades-long,
unsuccessful war on the term "IP" on the grounds that it is deceptive
and incoherent - trademark, copyright, patent and other regulations have
unrelated goals and mechanisms, and they're not "property".

But I think that was misguided. "IP" has a crisp meaning when used by
industry: it means, "Any rule or regulation that allows me to control
the conduct of my critics, customers or competitors."


Uber's trademark claim was pure IP. There's no chance someone will
mistake Samii's app for a ride-hailing tool. But by (ab)using trademark
law, Uber got to shut down a critic who documented its illegal conduct.
Is it any wonder the corporate world fights so hard for "IP"?


🤯 This day in history

#5yrsago Tipping screws poor people, women, brown people, restaurateurs,
local economies and…you

#5yrsago Health insurance must pay for exoskeletons

#5yrsago “Citizens” who speak at town meetings are hired, scripted

#5yrsago Leaked memos suggest Volkswagen’s CEO knew about diesel
cheating in 2014

#1yrago Rental car immobilizes itself when driven out of cellular range

#1yrago Rethinking "de-growth" and material culture

#1yrago The Woman Who Loved Giraffes


🤯 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism
(https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 535 words (112462 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 256 words (6209 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1) Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)

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
(print edition:

* "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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