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Uber and Civil Rights

[ 52 ] August 1, 2015 |


Uber executives love to compare themselves to civil rights leaders. Because there’s nothing closer to being Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King than being a millionaire CEO. But despite this, one might argue that said Uber executives actually are analogous to figures in the civil rights movement–for instance Orval Faubus and George Wallace:

But there is a better analogy from the US civil rights era for law-flouting firms of the on-demand economy. It’s just not the one corporate leaders claim. They are engaged in what we call “corporate nullification”, following in the footsteps of Southern governors and legislatures in the United States who declared themselves free to “nullify” federal law on the basis of strained and opportunistic constitutional interpretation.

Nullification is a wilful flouting of regulation, based on some nebulous idea of a higher good only scofflaws can deliver. It can be an invitation to escalate a conflict, of course, as Arkansas governor Orville Faubus did in 1957 when he refused to desegregate public schools and president Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the law. But when companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Google engage in a nullification effort, it’s a libertarian-inspired attempt to establish their services as popular well before regulators can get around to confronting them. Then, when officials push back, they can appeal to their consumer-following to push regulators to surrender.

This happened just last week in New York City, when mayor Bill de Blasio moved to limit the number of Uber cars choking city streets during the heaviest hours of congestion. Uber pushed out advertisements voiced by celebrities including model Kate Upton and urged its wealthy users to write to city hall in protest. Mayor de Blasio stood down. Consistently, these nullifying companies claim they are striking a blow against regulations they consider “out-of-date” or “anti-innovation”. Their major innovation, however, is strategic and manipulative, and it’s meant to undermine local needs and effective governance.

Consider what it would mean for such a universalising approach to prevail. The business model of Uber would become that of law-flouting bosses generally. Reincorporate as a “platform”, intermediate customer requests and work demands with an app, and voila!, far fewer laws to comply with. Worse, this rebel attitude signals to the larger culture that laws and regulations are quaint and archaic, and therefore hindrances to progress. That could undermine faith in republican government itself.

In the 1950s and 60s, Southern governors thought they’d found a similar tactic to avoid the civil rights laws that they most despised. Though the strategy failed, the idea still animates reactionaries. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, now running for president, has even suggested that the US supreme court’s recent gay marriage decision should effectively be nullified by sovereign states.

Of course, a republic can’t run without authorities who follow the rule of law. Civil disobedience by citizens can be an important challenge to corrupt or immoral politicians, but when corporate leaders themselves start breaking the law in their own narrow interests, societal order breaks down. Polishing their left-libertarian veneer, the on-demand economy firms now flouting basic employment and anti-discrimination laws would like us to believe that they follow in the footsteps of Gandhi’s passive resistance, rather than segregationists’ massive resistance. But their wealthy, powerful, nearly-all-white-and-male cast of chief executives come far closer to embodying, rather than fighting, “the man”.

As Silicon Valley guru Peter Thiel has demonstrated, the goal of tech firms is not to compete – it is to so monopolise a sector that they basically become synonymous with it. Uber’s and Airbnb’s self-reinforcing conquests of markets attract more venture capital (VC) investment, which in turn enables more conquests, which in turn attracts more VC money. As that concentration of economic power continues apace, it’s more vital than ever to dispute Silicon Valley oligarchs’ self-aggrandising assertions that they follow in the footsteps of civil rights heroes.

One might complain the argument is a bit overwrought, but hardly more so than the outlandish claims of Silicon Valley executives themselves.

New Problems for the Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 0 ] August 1, 2015 |


After the overwrought celebrations over “defeating” the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress a few months ago that immediately fell apart the next week when Congress passed fast track, we should be extremely skeptical of putting any hopes into defeating the TPP. But it is good news that it is delayed because the ministers of various countries are fighting each other over protecting specific industries. The reason that’s good is news is that any delay, particularly with some talk of not revisiting it until after the upcoming Canadian elections, means that it becomes more unlikely to pass Congress during a U.S. election year and therefore can be part of the debate in 2016. Forcing it into the public debate during an election is the best strategy we have for killing it. It probably won’t work either, especially given that despite whatever distancing Hillary Clinton has done toward the TPP, there’s no good reason to expect she wouldn’t sign it–unless she fears outraging the base that just elected her. Yeah I know, I’m not counting on that either. But still, in a fight like this, you work with the best odds you have.

A Preview of 2016

[ 159 ] August 1, 2015 |

Hillary Clinton Addresses National Urban League Conference

Couple of thoughts from Hillary Clinton savaging Jeb Bush at the Urban League forum yesterday.

1. Republicans really struggle to talk to anyone but their own base of aging white conservatives and plutocrats. Hillary able to call him out directly and totally outclass him, leaving him utterly unable to respond, is something that he will be more prepared for in the future, but also shows just how many terrible things all these clowns running for the Republican nomination have done and the difficulty of walking back that record to appeal to broad electorate.

2. Bernie Sanders is very bad at talking to people who are not white liberals. I thought he was a skilled enough politician to show the needed dexterity to talk to a variety of people in their own spaces that would combine his own particular focus on income inequality with other issues that mattered to his audience. It’s becoming clear that he’s really not that good of a politician.

“I will profane your fucking remains, Lannister”

[ 35 ] August 1, 2015 |

Well this is some damn fine news.

Ian McShane will appear on the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones,” Variety has confirmed.

Details on McShane’s role are being kept under wraps, but he will play a key role in the season’s plot with a small amount of screen time, reports EW.

If I had to pick one character from the HBO oeuvre who could not only survive, but indeed thrive, in Westeros, it would be Al Swearengen.

Quick Salon labor update

[ 6 ] August 1, 2015 |


More information here. Yes, someone at Salon should actually cover this, but we’re all exhausted beyond the telling, so it’s going to have to wait.

Also, in terms of the clickbait-to-content ratio at Salon that Other Scott’s complaining about, it’s worth juxtaposing the sudden reappearance of Paglia with the current labor dispute and wondering if there isn’t some sort of connection between the two, as was alluded to in the previous IBT article.

More Words Next to Each Other From America’s Worst Public Intellectual

[ 102 ] August 1, 2015 |


A couple of days ago Paul linked to a particularly witless and rambling interview in Salon with a person who for reasons nobody has ever explained or would want to explain was briefly famous in the 90s.  He did spare you from one horror:  this interview was a three part series, because said person would never say in three words what she could say in 400.  Let us gaze at the…not thoughts, I dunno, spew of the latest installment.  (No link because I wouldn’t bring another incentive for clickbait into this world! This post is an abortion, David! It is utter crap David!  Crap! And I had it killed because this must all end!)

First of all, when we look at the abundance of candidates who have put themselves forward on the GOP side, compared to the complete paralysis of the Democratic party by the Clinton machine, I think you have to be worried about the future of the Democratic party. Young feminists are asking why there hasn’t been a woman president and automatically blaming it on male sexism.  But there are plenty of women Democratic politicians who are too scared to put themselves forward as candidates because of the Clinton machine. There’s something seriously wrong here with Democratic thinking. You either believe in the country, you believe in your party, or you don’t!

Given the problems facing the nation, this passive waiting for your turn is simply unacceptable.  The Democrats have plenty of solid, capable women politicians who are just too timid to challenge the party establishment.  Well, excuse me, that proves they don’t deserve to be president!  You sure won’t be able to deal with ISIS if you can’t deal with Debbie Wasserman Schultz!  The paucity of declared Democratic presidential candidates is a major embarrassment to the party.  Look at that herd of eager-beaver competitive guys on the Republican side–overflowing with energy and ambition. There’s even a woman, Carly Fiorina, who has no political experience and therefore no chance of winning, but she is bravely putting herself forward and speaking out.  And she has impressively informed herself about international politics, which is a No. 1 requirement for any woman presidential candidate. I said in a recent op-ed for Time that women must take responsibility for mastering more than the usual social welfare issues. Women politicians have to develop themselves beyond the caretaking side of the spectrum. All this talk about the lack of women engineers and how that’s somehow evidence of sexism–oh, really?  It’s mostly a self-selecting process, as proved by the way that the overwhelming majority of women politicians around the world actually behave. What do they instantly gravitate towards?  Social welfare, caretaking, the environment.  They ignore military history and strategic geopolitics.

So, to summarize: 1)It is a disaster for the Democrats that Hillary Clinton is a prohibitive frontrunner because 2)Democrats can’t let real talent like Carly Forina shine and 3)this all shows that women don’t care about “military history and strategic geopolitics” because 4)in an ideal world we might get a woman who was, say, been Secretary of State for 4 years, but it’s hard to see how that could happen now. I find your thoughts fascinating and would like to subscribe to your usenet group. (Note: any attempt to summarize America’s Worst Public Intellectual makes her spew sound much more coherent than it actually is.)

So what is this great talent that Hillary Clinton is oppressing?

I have constantly said that Senator Dianne Feinstein should have been the leading woman presidential candidate for the Democratic party long ago.

Jesus Christ, I know that personal narratives confessing embarrassing behavior has become of online clickfarms, but really some embarrassing personal facts should remain in the closet.

But I bet her analysis of the Republican Party is better!

I thought that Mitt Romney was an excellent choice by the GOP four years ago, even though he was opposed by the Tea Party. He was an old-style Rockefeller Republican, a type that doesn’t exist anymore. Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York when I was in college in the 1960s, and he was flooding the state university system with tons of money in an attempt to make it equivalent to the University of California. I was very grateful for what he did, because I had a superb education at Binghamton, with wonderful new facilities and funding of programs like the film society. Rockefeller collected abstract art.

Mitt Romney was the new Nelson Rockefeller, because his plan to savagely cut public spending to fund upper-class tax cuts is just like how Rockefeller flooded the New York educational system with money back in the day. Also, kindly old Nelson had that great art collection stored below his North Korean plaza, awesome! Mitt Romney wouldn’t have done that, which is central to my point. Also, where’s the discussion of abstract art today? THANKS OBAMA!

Look, I know it’s hard out there for an online media publisher. But there has to be a more dignified way of getting traffic than this — maybe have an intern write 20 stories a day headlined “How America Learned To Love Looking At Lesbian Pictures Of Nude Kim Kardashian Naked Anal” or something.

IP in the TPP

[ 30 ] July 31, 2015 |

J-31 fighter prototype at the Zhuhai airshow. By 天剣2 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at some of the logics for why the US is pursuing a hard line on IP in the TPP:

One of the biggest ongoing arguments in the TPP negotiations (as far as we know, anyway) remains the question of how far the United States can push the other signatories to adopt its views on intellectual property law. The contentious points revolve around the ability to undertake criminal legal action against IP violators. “The U.S. wants the standards for damages to be very high, and to go beyond TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) obligations for injunctions and the destruction of infringing goods,” according to James Love of Knowledge Economy International. The United States has also pushed for increasing the ability of government to undertake criminal legal procedures against intellectual property infringers.

What’s at stake? The criminalization of IP infringement in a multilateral agreement would give the United States legal teeth for enforcing its preferred system of intellectual property protection across the world.

Deflategate prediction

[ 54 ] July 31, 2015 |


Stephanie Stradley has a good summary of the current state of the legal issues in the deflategate matter (Btw was there a handy suffix for scandal neologisms prior to Watergate? And will we ever come up with another one? I suppose the persistence of the -gate formulation is another tribute to the power of baby boom demographics).

TL;DR: The NFL’s case is pretty shaky from the perspective of labor and employment law, physics, and economic common sense.

That may help explain why Tom Brady has decided not to pursue an injunction, which could have put his quarter-season suspension into limbo for the life of the litigation, which, given the number of lawyers involved and their billing rates, could well have lasted until Brady was kicking it on a beach somewhere permanently with Giselle. (Miss Flite, in re Jarndyce v. Jarndyce: “I expect a judgment. Shortly. On the day of judgment.”)

Reckless prediction: The parties will settle on a one-game suspension, after somebody finally convinces Roger Goodell that he isn’t paid $44 million per year to shoot himself and The League in their collective feet.

GOP War On Women Update

[ 89 ] July 31, 2015 |

B6d2HiVCAAIskn7.jpg large

  1. Mike Huckabee wants to send abortion back to the states…with federal troops!  You know, I’m almost beginning to consider the possibility that the Republican desire to overrule Roe v. Wade may not be motivated by a principled commitment to federalism. 
  2. Meanwhile, in our glorious laboratories of democracy, some forced childbirth for you.
  3. Jeb! Bush didn’t get the memo that Planned Parenthood is new Klan in a timely manner.
  4. Erick Erickson is not a crank. 

The Importance of Fetal Tissue Research

[ 123 ] July 31, 2015 |

MItch McConnellAbove: America’s Most Radical Feminist

I can’t say I was persuaded by arguments that I should stop supporting abortion rights because of the NEW VIDEO EVIDENCE that abortion clinics perform abortions. Is it wrong to collect fetal tissue for research? Of course not:

For five years, I watched my best friend die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a terrible disease that causes one’s muscles to waste away. First he struggled to walk, then to speak, then to breathe. One tube pushed air into his lungs; another pushed nutrients into his stomach. Toward the end, he could only move his eyes. ALS does not affect the brain; through it all, he remained perfectly aware of his slow-motion torture. After years of suffering, he died of respiratory failure, his body skeletal and ravaged, his mind alert to his suffocation until the last moments of life.

There is currently no cure for ALS. There will be some day. And that cure may very well be derived from stem cells taken from aborted fetuses.

I can’t help but remember that fact when I watch the videos, taken by undercover anti-abortion activists, of Planned Parenthood technicians discussing how to preserve fetal tissue to be donated for research. The graphic images of aborted fetuses are meant to disgust me, to convince me that abortion is a barbaric act of killing. But I don’t see death in these videos. I see hope.

OK, but it’s still true that only the most hardcore Trotskyist would support a policy as radical as fetal tissue research:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fast-tracked a bill to defund Planned Parenthood on Friday because of an undercover video of a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing the donation of fetal tissue after abortions. But McConnell was one of many Republicans who voted to lift a ban on fetal tissue donations after abortions in 1993 — the very move that legalized Planned Parenthood’s actions.

Support Salon Unionizing

[ 54 ] July 31, 2015 |


Salon’s writers are forming a union. Salon won’t recognize said union to this point. There is an internet campaign to publicize this. If you are on Twitter, please send messages to @Salon with the hashtag #SalonUnion to support this effort.


[ 234 ] July 31, 2015 |

1961+Topps+Whitey+FordAbove: CHEATER!  Smash Hall of Fame Plaque! Vacate World Series Championships Immediately!

Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriter Bill Plashcke, everyone:

It turns out, Tom Brady’s cellphone wasn’t the only thing that was destroyed.

So, too, was any remaining shard of belief in his competitive integrity, every last piece blown to smithereens with 10,000 text messages and one giant lie.

Does anybody still believe the NFL’s most celebrated player didn’t purposely deflate footballs in an attempt to gain an advantage during last season’s NFL playoffs?

Does anybody still think his legacy should not include the word “cheater”?

Brady was actually lucky Tuesday when the NFL upheld his four-game suspension. In the wake of the league’s accompanying revelation that Brady ordered the destruction of a cellphone that was one of the centerpieces of the investigation, he is fortunate Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t double the penalty to eight games. Or more.


Let us return to the Wells Report, for this rather crucial point:

It’s possible that the actual numbers suggest no tampering at all. Which could be the biggest problem with the 243-page report.

Here’s where we try (key word: try) to take something that’s pretty complicated and make it somewhat understandable.

First, the officials had two pressure gauges available — and those pressure gauges generated very different measurements.

One gauge had a Wilson logo on the back. The other didn’t. One had an obviously crooked needle. The other didn’t.

The gauge with the Wilson logo and the longer, crooked needle typically generated higher readings, in the range of 0.3 to 0.45 PSI.

The measurements taken at halftime of the AFC title game by the two available gauges demonstrated this reality. Here’s the gap in PSI for each of the 11 Patriots footballs, based on the two gauges: (1) 0.3 PSI; (2) 0.35 PSI; (3) 0.35 PSI; (4) 0.3 PSI; (5) 0.35 PSI; (6) 0.35 PSI; (7) 0.45 PSI; (8) 0.45 PSI; (9) 0.4 PSI; (10) 0.4 PSI; and (11) 0.45 PSI.

Second, referee Walt Anderson doesn’t recall which gauge he used to measure PSI at the start of the game.

The absence of a documentation regarding the air pressure in the Patriots footballs prior to kickoff can be justified by Anderson’s clear recollection that he ensured each ball was set to 12.5 PSI. However, Anderson doesn’t clearly recall whether he used the gauge that generates the higher measurement or the one that generates the lower measurement.

This is important, of course, because the evidence that the Patriots were using underinflated balls is rather underwhelming. And second, it makes clear that everyone considered the rulebook inflation levels a trivial issue before an organization tired of repeatedly getting the crap beaten out of it by a much better team decided to whine about it. (Although, in fairness, the time they spent whining about the inflation levels of footballs in a game they lost 385-7 was time they weren’t spending trading first-round picks for sub-replacement-level running backs, so perhaps it reflects a determination to do something to improve the team that doesn’t involve falling ass-backwards into Andrew Luck.) The refs can’t even be bothered to measure the levels of the footballs correctly, and we’re going to pretend that this is an offense serious enough to warrant a 4-game suspension and forfeited first round draft picks, rather than the fine the rules actually mandate? And Brady should get an extra four games because he wouldn’t allow the league to go on a fishing expedition through his cell phone because it didn’t have the goods to prove that he even committed the offense for which he was given a vastly disproportionate punishment? Please.

Would I be surprised to find out that Brady sought an edge by using footballs inflated to under the legal limit? Of course not. And also, offensive linemen who try to get away with marginal holds are worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot put together and should have CHEATER branded on their foreheads. Can I have my LA Times column now please?


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