[Plura-list] Podcasting "I Quit"; New York to revolutionize antitrust; New York to revolutionize voting; Competition tames ISPs

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Jun 7 14:00:30 EDT 2021


Tonight, I'm helping Terry Miles launch his debut novel RABBITS:



Today's links

* Podcasting "I Quit": My essay on smoking cessation, doubt, denial, and
the worst corporations on Earth.

* New York to revolutionize antitrust: "Consumer Welfare" is bad for
your welfare.

* New York to revolutionize voting: The SAFE Act and PAVE Act ride again!

* Competition tames ISPs: How living on the wrong side of the street can
cost you thousands of dollars.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016

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


🏂🏼 Podcasting "I Quit"

This week on my podcast, I read "I Quit," a column I wrote for Medium
that connects the dots between smoking cessation, tobacco denial,
climate inaction, and anti-maskers.


Specifically, it's about how the cancer denial playbook has been
iterated and sharpened by successive generation of corporate murderers
and their enablers in the Paltrow-Industrial Complex.

The goal of science deniers isn't necessarily to convince you that covid
isn't real, or that vaccines are bad for you, or that privacy is
overrated, or that there isn't a climate emergency - their goal is to
convince you that these things just *can't be known* for sure.

It's a form of weaponized skepticism and it has deep roots, going all
the way back (at least) to Darrell Huff's famous HOW TO LIE WITH
STATISTICS a book I held in high esteem...

Until I read Tim Harford's brilliant THE DATA DETECTIVE and learned that
Huff was a paid shill for Big Tobacco and his major motive wasn't to
debunk bad stats, it was to obscure the link between tobacco use and cancer.


When I quit smoking 17 years ago, a wise doctor counselled me that if I
was going to resist cravings, I needed a more immediate reason than "I
won't get cancer in 40 years." My answer: "I spend two laptops per year
on a product whose makers want to murder me and my friends."

More importantly: "These companies invented the science denial
techniques that are on track to render my species extinct."

I wrote this column at the urging of my friend Matthew Rimmer, in honor
of #worldnotobaccoday2021.

It's never too late to quit smoking. See your doctor. And if you want a
catchy, profane anthem to see you through the hard times, check out
Allen Ginsburg's incredible "Put Down Your Cigarette Rag (Don't Smoke)."


Here's the podcast episode:


and here's a direct link to the MP3 (hosting courtesy of the Internet
Archive; they'll host your stuff for free, forever):


and here's my podcast feed:



🏂🏼 New York to revolutionize antitrust

The New York legislature is about to take up SB933, an historically
significant antitrust bill that is poised to reverse decades of
monopolism by repudiating the destructive, corporate-power enhancing,
deceptively named "consumer welfare" principle.


40 years ago, Ronald Reagan adopted the "consumer welfare" standard, a
fringe idea pushed by Nixon's crooked solicitor general Robert Bork in
an influential book called "The Antitrust Paradox" (Reagan's successors,
Republican and Democrat, have *all* bolstered Borkism).

Prior to "consumer welfare," the US government prosecuted monopolies
because they created unaccountable concentrations of power, allowing a
few ultra-wealthy executives to decide how we worked and lived,
corrupting politicians and breaking laws with impunity.

Bork insisted that "your business is too powerful" was too squishy and
subjective a basis for law-enforcement, and insisted that we should make
trustbusters empirically prove a) that harm had occurred; and b) that it
was due to monopoly power.

This may sound reasonable, but it was a stalking horse for ending
antitrust enforcement altogether. Bork's "empiricism" meant that
trustbusters would need to demonstrate "consumer harm" (in the form of
higher prices) *and* prove that the harms were due to monopoly.

This effectively ended antitrust enforcement. The standard for proving a
merger would result in higher prices, (or post-merger price-hikes were
the result of monopoly) was to build and interpret a complex, esoteric
mathematical model than only Bork and his cronies understood.

Unsurprisingly, the models always affirmed that a merger would be
efficient, not harmful - and that post-merger harms were not the fault
of the merger. Big business loved Bork, and spent lavishly to promote
his theories.

40% of federal judges attended the Manne Seminars - swanky junkets that
"educated" the judiciary on Bork's theories.

Borkism's elevation of "consumer welfare" didn't just end antitrust
enforcement - it shifted our societal priorities.

When monopolies were about corporate power, it meant that everyone who
suffered from excessive corporate power had a legitimate stake in
antitrust policy: people poisoned by pollution or hurt by corrupt laws
won by the lobbying power of concentrated industries.

What's more, the focus on "consumer harm" denied our power and duty as
*citizens*. A "consumer" is an ambulatory wallet who "votes" by buying
things (the fatter the wallet, the more votes you get!). A citizen is
someone who has a stake in their society.

Delcaring antitrust's stakeholders to be "consumers" and "businesses"
excluded a key constituency: *workers*, who are particularly vulnerable
because labor markets are far more sensitive to "buyer power" (fewer
employers) than consumers are to "seller power" (fewer retailers).

"Monopsony" (market control arising from few buyers) occurs far sooner
than "monopoly" (control from few sellers). We see this around us right
now, with Amazon's slave-labor conditions for delivery drivers pushing
down wages and worsening work conditions across the sector.

Every "consumer" is also a "worker" (with the notable exception of
"investors" - the tiny minority that makes it living by owning things,
rather than doing things), which means that any consideration of
"consumer welfare" that ignores workers' rights is bad for consumers.

Which is why "consumer welfare" created a world of spiralling labor
precarity, environmental devastation, political corruption, and
pervasive cynicism about politics and the ability of democracies to
craft and enforce good policy.

Enter New York's SB933, introduced in the wake of the Amazon HQ2 fiasco,
where the company tried to shake down cities and states for massive
subsidies and exemptions from labor and other regulation.

Amazon pulled out of NYC when activists and politicians dared to
question the wisdom of giving this wildly profitable monopolist a
massive subsidy that would lead to the destruction of local businesses
and skyrocketing housing prices.

Today in his BIG newsletter, Matt Stoller interviews NY's Senator Mike
Gianaris, who introduced SB933, which explicitly broadens the basis for
antitrust enforcement to include curbing unaccountable corporate power
and protecting workers.


As Stoller and Gianaris point out, there's nothing radical about
considering a broader range of harms when enforcing against monopolies:
"harmful dominance" was the longstanding American legal tradition,
spread to Europe after WWII.

Borkism was a radical break with tradition, and SB933 restores antitrust
to the muscular suite of protections we enjoyed before Reagan.

"Harmful dominance" means that monopolists will no longer get to set the
terms for their own regulation. For example, it sidelines the often
farcical debate over "market definition" ("which market is the
monopolist accused of dominating?") which is incredibly easy to game.

For example, when Facebook bought Instagram, it claimed that the
acquisition wasn't about buying up a nascent social media competitor to
whom Facebook was losing millions of users - rather, it claimed that
Insta was a *camera* app.

And since every phone comes with a camera app, FB's merger with Insta
would give it an unmeasurably tiny share of the camera app market.

This sophistry isn't unusual in antitrust debates. To see it in action,
check out this debate between Tim Wu and Tyler Cowan:


Wu claims that Facebook has a social media monopoly - meaning that it
dominates, sets prices and terms for social media. Cowan counters that
the relevant market isn't "social media" but rather *every* way that
people socialize: SMSes, phone calls, dating apps, etc.

And, of course, by that measure, FB controls very little of "social"
(Amazon makes the same argument when it defines its market as "every
retail transaction"). "Consumer welfare" invites this kind of absurdity
- while "harmful dominance" sweeps it aside.

If you are a New Yorker, you can and should contact your state rep to
support SB933. State lawmakers are *very* sensitive to constituent
emails! You can look up your lawmaker here:



🏂🏼 New York to revolutionize voting

Back in Feb, I published a Washington Post op-ed about the disgraceful
legal threats and smears ES&S - the voting machine monopolist - had
thrown at SMART, NY activists who lobby for election security and
against unaccountable voting machines.


For years, orgs like SMART argued that the defect-riddled machines from
the likes of ES&S were a threat to US election integrity, not just
because they were hackable, but because this made it easy for scoundrels
to push a bad-faith narrative of a stolen election.


Of course, this is exactly what happened, with Trump and his cult taking
up a baseless narrative that Dominion Systems' (terrible) voting
machines had been used to steal the election. Far from being chastened
by this democracy-destabilizing moment, ES&S seized upon it.

ES&S lumped SMART's accurate, measured warnings about its flagship
Expressvote XL machines in with Trump's unhinged claims about Dominon's
machines, hoping that the general public wouldn't know enough about the
specifics to tell the difference.


That is, ES&S was tacitly colluding with Trump to making voting machines
a culture war bullshit topic, turning the years of selfless,
well-informed, highly technical scholarship on the dangers of voting
machines into a marker of unhinged conspiratorialism.

Despite legal threats from a vicious monopolist, SMART didn't give up.
Their bravery is paying off. The NY Senate will take up SB309A, a voting
machine bill to ban "hybrid" machines that mark and count ballots, among
other election integrity measures.


The bill also prohibits counting non-human-readable ballot marks like QR
codes and bar codes insisting that any automated ballot tally count up
the same marks that a human recount would rely upon.

SB309A mirrors the language of federal laws like the SAFE Act and PAVE
Act, which were struck down after massive, coordinated lobbying
campaigns by the voting machine industry.

And SB309A has the support of the nation's foremost election security
experts, led by Princeton's Andrew Appel.


Despite what Trump and voting machine profiteers would have you believe,
election integrity is not conspiratorial culture war bullshit. Between
Bush v Gore and 2020, we ignored the warnings of security researchers -
and now we're paying the price.

Passing SB309A would mark a turning point for sound, evidence-based
election security, and make New York State the leader in sound elections.


🏂🏼 Competition tames ISPs

Broadband policy isn't the most important policy question we face, but
it is in many ways the most *foundational* one. The lockdown showed us
that good broadband is key to civics, politics, education, health,
family life, romance, and employment.

Unfortunately for America, governments have treated broadband as a
glorified video-on-demand service (at best) and a pornography
distribution system (at worst).

American lawmakers sat idly by as cable and phone companies divided up
the nation into non-competing territories, leaving Americans with some
of the slowest broadband at the highest prices in the country.

To the extent that they treated this as a problem, the "solutions" they
offered were all predicated on the idea that monopoly telecom profits
should take precedence over fast, reasonably priced, universal access to

Rather than breakups, or merger scrutiny, or municipal fiber, US
lawmakers and regulators offered industry subsidies, tax breaks,
deregulation - and state bans on cities offering municipal broadband,
even in places that the monopoly carriers refused to serve.

Implicit - and often *explicit* - in this failure was the theory that
the cable and phone companies were terrible because the industry was
Just Hard and America Is Different, and that the terrible state of
affairs had nothing to do with monopoly.

A post by Stop the Cap reveals the hollowness of this proposition,
showing that people who live on opposite sides of the street can see
$40/month difference in their broadband bills, based on whether Spectrum
has to compete for their business.


Beyond monthly rates, the post breaks down a whole string of ripoffs
that Charter visits upon its monopoly customers, like $200 installation
fees - while someone a block away pays only $50.

When Ars Technica called Charter on this, the company responded that its
pricing is "affected by several factors, including 'location.'" Uh, yeah
- because people in some locations have options, while others don't.


Obviously, this is no surprise. When Frontier went bankrupt in 2020, its
mandated disclosures confirmed that the company's internal accounting
treated the 1m people who had no alternative as an "asset" because
they'd pay more and settle for less.


As Karl Bode writes on Techdirt, the cable operators' use of "contract
length, promotional rates, and fees" obfuscates some of the ways that
monopoly gets exploited, the truth isn't that hard to see.


But maybe the lockdown will reverse American complacency on broadband
monopoly. Biden's FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has issued a public call
for your horror stories about your experience with broadband.


And in California, Gavin Newsom has proposed a well-funded,
comprehensive, universal fiber rollout that deserves your support:



🏂🏼 This day in history

#15yrsago Recording industry: Search-by-artist is “too interactive”

#15yrsago Private Infringer: fanfic based on Captain Copyright

#10yrsago Macedonia erupts after young man beaten to death by special
police in public square

#5yrsago Samantha Bee interviews Frank Schaeffer, who helped create the
religious right https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhLY0JqXP-s

#5yrsago Uber loves competition, when it’s the one doing the competing

#5yrsago You are not a wallet: complaining considered helpful


🏂🏼 Colophon

Today's top sources: Lulu Friesdat (https://twitter.com/LuluFriesdat),
Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/), Matthew Rimmer

Currently writing:

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Friday's
progress: 259 words (4191 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation.  PLANNING

* A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written
with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown."  FINAL EDITS

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: How To Destroy Surveillance Capitalism (Part 06)

Upcoming appearances:

* In conversation with David Dayen (Second Life Book Club), Jun 4,

* Book launch for Terry Miles's Rabbits (Book Soup), Jun 7,

Recent appearances:

* Get Your News On With Ron/Ron Placone:

* Seize the Means of Computation, Consensus 2021

* How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism:

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:
(signed copies:

* "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:

* The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics,
Beacon Press 2022

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