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The New Prison Labor Force

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Just last week, I profiled the 1978 Ellis Prison strike against their exploitation by the state that forced them to pick cotton on state-owned prison farms for no wages. They won that fight but the exploitation of prisoners for economic gain continues. That includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement, our fascist ethnic cleansing branch of the federal government, who put people in detention to work, exploiting them to the last drop.

How did immigrant jailers become immigrant bosses? Private-prison companies claim to be benevolently keeping detainees busy with “voluntary” service, but detainees and rights advocates see this supposed volunteering as a byproduct of coercion.

According to the Project on Government Oversight’s (POGO) overview of complaints against ICE and its contractors over the past decade, the work imposed on incarcerated immigrants actually exploits a series of loopholes to deny them their entitled wages.

In one lawsuit filed against private-prison contractor the GEO Group, several detainees at an Aurora, Colorado, detention center accused the private security firm of illegally exploiting detainees “to clean, maintain, and operate” the 1,500-bed facility. The detainees sued for wage theft, claiming GEO paid them just $1 per day, and sometimes nothing at all, when they were ordered to clean their own housing “pods.”

Detainee Alejandro Hernandez Torres testified about daily labor at Aurora from 2012 to 2015, when he first did “cleaning work” without pay, and was then promoted to a $1-a-day job cleaning and waxing the floors. Torres recalled, “The guards told us that if anyone didn’t do the work, they’d be put in segregation,” and he saw 10 detainees placed in confinement for failing to “voluntarily” scrub their pods.

A recent class-action lawsuit against a San Diego facility managed by the private contractor CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) described roughly 100 immigrants doing tasks like laundry and managing the commissary shop, for the standard dollar-per-day wage. They also allegedly worked “voluntarily” to clean their own pods without pay, under the threat of “severe mental pain and suffering,” inflicted through “solitary confinement” and “physical restraint.” Lawyers argued that this “voluntary” system violated federal and California human-trafficking laws.

In a 2012 investigation of four ICE detention facilities in Georgia, the ACLU of Georgia described ICE detainees’ being held in unsanitary, inhumane, isolating conditions, and regularly forced to work full-time for about $1 to $3 a day. Because of sparse rations, ACLU reported, “some detainees began to work in the kitchen just so they could eat more…. one detainee lost 68 pounds.” Their “volunteering,” in other words, involved literally working for food.

A quick program we should fight for on this issue:

Step 1: Abolish ICE
Step 2: Require that prisoners, no matter where they are imprisoned or for what reason, are paid the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is highest, for all labor
Step 3: All prisoners must have the right to refuse to labor. Otherwise, they are slaves.

This is one of the many racist injustices in our nation that must end. And it won’t unless we give it more attention.


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2 hours ago
"All prisoners must have the right to refuse to labor. Otherwise, they are slaves."

Why Facebook Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Buy tbh

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There was one line in TechCrunch’s report about Facebook’s purchase of social app tbh [sic] that made me raise my eyebrows (emphasis mine):

Facebook announced it’s acquiring positivity-focused polling startup tbh and will allow it to operate somewhat independently with its own brand.

tbh had scored 5 million downloads and 2.5 million daily active users in the past nine weeks with its app that lets people anonymously answer kind-hearted multiple-choice questions about friends who then receive the poll results as compliments. You see questions like “Best to bring to a party?,” “Their perseverance is admirable?” and “Could see becoming a poet?” with your uploaded contacts on the app as answer choices.

tbh has racked up more than 1 billion poll answers since officially launching in limited states in August, mostly from teens and high school students, and spent weeks topping the free app charts. When we profiled tbh last month in the company’s first big interview, co-creator Nikita Bier told us, “If we’re improving the mental health of millions of teens, that’s a success to us.”

Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but TechCrunch has heard the price paid was less than $100 million and won’t require any regulatory approval. As part of the deal, tbh’s four co-creators — Bier, Erik Hazzard, Kyle Zaragoza and Nicolas Ducdodon — will join Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters while continuing to grow their app with Facebook’s cash, engineering, anti-spam, moderation and localization resources.

This isn’t quite right. I suspect TechCrunch, and whatever source they “heard” from, is referencing the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act. In order to reduce the burden on the Fair Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, an acquirer only needs to report acquisitions (and wait for a specified time period to give time for review) for which the total value is more than a specified threshold; for 2017, that threshold is $80.8 million. To that end, I wouldn’t be surprised if this deal is worth approximately $80.7 million; that would mean Facebook doesn’t have to submit this acquisition for review.

However, just because Facebook doesn’t have to submit this acquisition for review doesn’t mean it can’t be reviewed; indeed, in a closely-watched case from 2014, the FTC successfully sued to undo a $28 million acquisition that had already been consummated. That was only one of many acquisitions the FTC has investigated that didn’t cross the Hart-Scott-Rodino threshold; in most cases the FTC acted in response to complaints from customers or competitors.

Might an analyst complain as well? The FTC can, and should, investigate this acquisition.

The Social-Communications Map

In late 2013, Facebook made their most concerted effort to buy Snapchat (for $3 billion); that was when I made the Social-Communications Map:

The goal of this map was to show that there was no single social app that covered all of humanity’s social needs: there were critical differences in how people perceived1 different social apps, and that no one app could fill every part of this map.

Facebook, for its part, had, for better or worse, transitioned to a public app that not only handled symmetric relationships, but, at least according to perception, asymmetric broadcast as well; that, though, left an opening for an app like Snapchat. Thus Facebook’s acquisition drive: the company had already secured Instagram, giving it a position in asymmetric ephemeral broadcast apps; Snapchat rebuffed advances, so the company soon moved on to WhatsApp.

The importance of these two acquisitions cannot be overstated: Facebook has always been secure in its dominance of permanent social relationships, a position that has given the company a dominant position in digital advertising. However, while everyone may need a permanent place on the Internet (all of those teenagers people say Facebook needs to reach have Facebook accounts), the ultimate currency is attention, and much like real life, it is ephemeral conversation that dominates. Facebook, by virtue of early decisions around privacy and significant bad press about the dangers of revealing too much, was locked out of this sphere, so it bought in.

The FTC’s Failure

Those acquisitions, by the way, were, per the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, submitted to the FTC; in the case of Instagram the agency sent what sure seems like a form letter; I’ll quote it in full:

The Commission has been conducting an investigation to determine whether the proposed acquisition of Instagram, Inc. by Facebook, Inc. may violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act or Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Upon further review of this matter, it now appears that no further action is warranted by the Commission at this time. Accordingly, the investigation has been closed. This action is not to be construed as a determination that a violation may not have occurred, just as the pendency of an investigation should not be construed as a determination that a violation has occurred. The Commission reserves the right to take such further action as the public interest may require.

And so the single most injurious acquisition with regards to competition in not just social networking specifically but digital advertising broadly was approved. Section 7 of the Clayton Act (post its 1950 amendment), states:

No person shall acquire, directly or indirectly, the whole or any part of the stock or other share capital and no person subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission shall acquire the whole or any part of the assets of one or more persons engaged in commerce or in any activity affecting commerce, where in any line of commerce or in any activity affecting commerce in any section of the country, the effect of such acquisition, of such stocks or assets, or of the use of such stock by the voting or granting of proxies or otherwise, may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly.

“Lessen competition” is exactly what happened. Instagram, super-charged both with the Facebook social graph and the Facebook ad machine, is not only dominating its native ephemeral asymmetric broadcasting space but increasingly preventing Snapchat from expanding. WhatsApp, meanwhile, dominates the messaging space across most of the world,2 and is the most prominent arrow in Facebook’s “future growth” quiver.

The consolidation of attention has translated into dominance in digital advertising. Facebook accounted for 77% of revenue growth in digital advertising in the United States in 2016; add in Google and the duopoly’s share of growth was 99%. Even Snapchat, which after rightly rebuffing Facebook’s acquisition offers, IPO’d earlier this year for $24 billion,3 has seen revenue declines, all while Facebook ever more blatantly rips off the product.

The Privacy Red Herring

The FTC’s response to the WhatsApp acquisition is more interesting: there the agency’s focus was privacy, specifically insisting that Facebook not change WhatsApp’s more stringent promises around user data without affirmative consent from users. This followed a few years after Facebook’s consent decree with the FTC that demanded the company not share user data without their permission.

There’s just one problem: whatever limitations this consent decree may have placed upon Facebook, the reality is that the company is a self-contained ecosystem: prohibiting the permissionless sharing of personal information in fact entrenches Facebook’s position. Take, for example, Europe’s vaunted GDPR law: as I explained in the Daily Update, data portability that, for privacy reasons, excludes the social graph (because your friends didn’t give you permission to share their information with other services) makes it that much harder for competition to arise.

So it was with the FTC’s restrictions around the WhatsApp deal: the agency reiterated that Facebook couldn’t violate user’s privacy, and completely ignored that the easiest away around privacy restrictions is to simply own all of a user’s social interactions.

Understanding Social Networks

Perhaps the most fanciful regulatory document of all, though, is not from the FTC, but rather the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading. Its review of the Instagram deal rested on its analysis of Facebook Camera, an app that no longer exists.

There are several relatively strong competitors to Instagram in the supply of camera and photo editing apps, and those competitors appear at present to be a stronger constraint on Instagram than Facebook’s new app. The majority of third parties did not believe that photo apps are attractive to advertisers on a stand-alone basis, but that they are complementary to social networks. The OFT therefore does not believe that the transaction gives rise to a realistic prospect of a substantial lessening of competition in the supply of photo apps.

“The supply of photo apps.” What a stunningly ignorant evaluation of what Instagram already was: not simply a photo filter app but a social network in its own right. The part about revenue generation, though, was even more amazing:

The parties’ revenue models are also very different. While Facebook generates revenue from advertising and users purchasing virtual and digital goods via Facebook, Instagram does not generate any revenue.

This bit, five year on, still leaves me speechless: Instagram didn’t generate advertising revenue because that’s not how social networks work. As Mark Zuckerberg frequently explains, there is a formula for monetization: first grow users, then increase engagement, next attract businesses, and finally sell ads. Just because Instagram, at the time of this acquisition, was still in Stage 1, did not preclude the possibility of Stage 4; the problem is that the Office of Fair Trading simply had no idea how this world worked.

The issue is straightforward: networks are the monopoly makers of the Internet era. To build one is extremely difficult, but, once built, nearly impregnable. The only possible antidote is another network that draws away the one scarce resource: attention. To that end, when it comes to the Internet, the single most effective tool in antitrust regulation is keeping social networks in separate competitive companies. That the FTC and Office of Fair Trading failed to do so in the case of Instagram and WhatsApp is to the detriment of everyone.

Facebook and tbh

This is the context for Facebook’s tbh acquisition. The app, new as it is, is attacking greenspace in the Social-Communication Map:

tbh is hardly the only contender: Secret and Yik Yak were others. Secret failed due to the lack of an organizational mechanic and negativity; Yik Yak fixed the former by utilizing location, but suffered from the same negativity problem. tbh has clearly learned lessons from both: the app leverages both location and your address book as an organizing mechanic, and is engineered from the ground-up to be focused on positivity.

Moreover, it’s easy to see how it could be super-charged by Facebook: the social graph is probably even more powerful than the address book in terms of building a network, and provides multiple outlets for connections established on tbh. Just as importantly, Facebook can in the short term fund tbh and, in the long run, simply graft the service onto its cross-app sales engine. It’s a great move for both parties.

What is much more questionable, though, is whether this is a great deal for society. tbh is, by definition, winning share in the zero sum competition for attention in the ultra-desirable teenage demographic in particular, and that’s good news for any would-be Facebook competitors. Why should it be ok for Facebook to simply swallow up another app, small thought it may currently be? Again, simply looking at narrowly-defined marketshare estimations or non-existent revenue streams is to fundamentally misunderstand how social networks work.

Indeed, I’ve already made my position clear — social networks should not be allowed to acquire other social networks:

Facebook should not be allowed to buy another network-based app; I would go further and make it prima facie anticompetitive for one social network to buy another. Network effects are just too powerful to allow them to be combined. For example, the current environment would look a lot different if Facebook didn’t own Instagram or WhatsApp (and, should Facebook ever lose an antitrust lawsuit, the remedy would almost certainly be spinning off Instagram and WhatsApp).

The FTC dropped the ball with Instagram and WhatsApp; absent a time machine, the best time to do the right thing is right now.

Or, perhaps, Facebook should be allowed to proceed — but with conditions. My second demand is about the social graph:

All social networks should be required to enable social graph portability — the ability to export your lists of friends from one network to another. Again Instagram is the perfect example: the one-time photo-filtering app launched its network off the back of Twitter by enabling the wholesale import of your Twitter social graph. And, after it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram has only accelerated its growth by continually importing your Facebook network. Today all social networks have long since made this impossible, making it that much more difficult for competitors to arise.

Requiring Facebook to offer its social graph to any would-be competitor as a condition of acquiring tbh would be a good outcome; unfortunately, it is perhaps the most unlikely, given the FTC’s commitment to unfettered privacy (without a consideration of the impact on competition).

What shouldn’t be allowed is what Facebook clearly hopes — and suggests — will happen: no regulatory review at all. The FTC has the power, and it’s time to use it.

  1. Perceived is a critical point: Twitter and Instagram, for example, are permanent, but are perceived by most as being ephemeral (arguably Twitter’s has shifted in the public conscious as being something that is more permanent)
  2. The most noteworthy exceptions being the United States (mixed), China (WeChat), South Korea (Kakao), Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan (LINE)
  3. As an aside, for all of Snapchat’s troubles to justify its $24 billion IPO, keep in mind that the vast majority of the commentariat insisted Spiegel was irrational to turn down $3 billion; it’s a reminder that few understand exponential growth curves
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Report: House Republicans planning to begin impeachment once first Trump-Russia indictment lands

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Everyone involved knows indictments are inevitable, if not imminent, in Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is planning to indict and prosecute Trump’s underlings in order to pressure them into flipping on Trump. It’s been far less clear how the scandal will play out in parallel on the political side once the prosecutorial side reaches the indictment stage. But now one House insider has provided what may be a big piece to the puzzle.

Political insider Scott Dworkin is the co-founder of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, and he’s also periodically a guest commentator on MSNBC. This morning he revealed that a senior staff member for a Republican Congressman told him, “We’re bracing for an indictment, when first one hits we will impeach.” (link). With the current dysfunction in the GOP, it’s not a given that they’d all be on the same page with this. But it does offer a glimpse into how the GOP could try to preemptively oust Donald Trump ahead of the midterms, in the hope of avoiding getting wiped out themselves.

If Trump’s own Republican Party begins impeachment hearings against him, it would leave him without any remaining meaningful support in the federal government. It would also send a signal to average Republicans among the American public that it’s time to give up on Trump, which would send his approval rating hurtling even lower than it is now. The ongoing impeachment hearings and his collapsing support could leave him in a position where he’d have little choice but to resign.

The Republican Party would then try to quickly regroup behind President Mike Pence heading into the midterms, under the premise that they “fixed” the problem in their own house by ousting Donald Trump. But the Democrats would still be in a strong position to win a majority in the House and Senate. If Robert Mueller then unearths proof of Pence’s complicity in the Trump-Russia scandal or coverup, the Democrats could move forward with Pence impeachment hearings after the midterms.

The post Report: House Republicans planning to begin impeachment once first Trump-Russia indictment lands appeared first on Palmer Report.

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10 hours ago
Duh. This will give the Koch Bros the ~puppet~ president they wanted.

Important Munitions Lawyering

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@mjg59 If a smart weapon running Linux fails to explode is the target entitled to the GPLed source code?
"What is your one purpose in life?"

@BootlegGirl Yes, but if it's LGPL they can make the bomb itself proprietary. Ethical warmongers release weapons as CC0
@tveastman A missile is technically a deployment, and not just a distribution, so I guess the rules will be interesting for the AGPL too.
@dmarti The weapon must include a written offer to distribute the corresponding source. It doesn't matter if a recipient actually runs the software.
But what if the target is under trade embargo, and the sender can't actually fulfill the offer of source code? Do they still have a license?
@giladby I worked as a consultant on the Iron Done missile defence system It shoots Linux running missiles designed to intercept incoming missiles.
We debated many questions. If you target another missile, who you are distributing TO? Would incl. src code on missile enough to satisfy GPL
@geofft if they target civilians is it a "User Product" under GPLv3? "(2) anything designed or sold for incorporation into a dwelling"
@fanf I am reminded of the guidance computer that leaked memory about as fast as the rocket used fuel
@mk270 and those jokes about loops in Ada having "detonation" as a termination condition. Sends the Haskellers mental
@fanf C++ calls this kind of loop undefined behaviour
@vathpela Depends - would it be legal trade in the first place? (Pretty sure if the target is a State Sponsor of Terror, you can't have a contract...)
@the_lazyknight yes, but reasonable costs for the media may be be levied. So include the source on the warhead, then charge for the bomb.
@danhedron Yes, but there is no guarantee they can install their own unsigned version.
@elgarak Does this count as malware?
@schumaml Generalized, it becomes "If any device is used on you, do you become a user of the device?"
@uriy Yes, but to avoid breaking crypto/munitions export laws you should only use it against a friendly target.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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11 hours ago
Dark Star!!!

Does Religious Liberty Apply to All Religions?


Recently Attorney General Sessions released a memo on the subject of “Federal Law Protections of Religious Liberty” in which he outlined twenty principles of religious liberty.  The people who attended the Values Voter Summit last weekend hailed this as a major achievement, while many other expressed concern that it was nothing more than a license to discriminate, particularly against LGBT Americans.

What struck me are the assumptions that everyone made about this memo. That is because the words, “religious liberty” have come to mean something very specific in our current political climate. The truth is that, when people use that term, they most often don’t mean religious liberty, but the liberty of white evangelical Christians to both practice their religion and impose it on others. For example, Sessions should consider distinctions such as this:

But the most troubling thing that everyone has assumed is that religious liberty only applies to white evangelical Christians. I just googled a question about how many religions are practiced in this country. The top response tells me that its over 310. So do these principles of religious liberty apply to all of them? Or only to white evangelical Christians?

Take a minute to think about how AG Sessions would handle questions about whether or not these principles he enumerated apply to Muslims, or businesses owned by Muslims (much less the 140,000 Wiccan believers in this country).

The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.

Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.

RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.

RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties.

Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.

This is why it is possible that AG Sessions just opened up a whole bag of worms with this memo. Nowhere in the document is the word “religion” defined. As a matter of fact, in the appendix, this document seems to reach a lot farther than simply protecting religious practices.

The Free Exercise Clause protects beliefs rooted in religion, even if such beliefs are not mandated by a particular religious organization or shared among adherents of a particular religious tradition…

Importantly, the protection of the Free Exercise Clause also extends to acts undertaken in accordance with such sincerely-held beliefs.

So anyone who has a “sincerely-held belief,” even if it has no connection to a particular religious tradition, could make a claim of religious liberty. For example: “I have a sincerely-held belief that Republicans are idiots. Therefore, I will not hire them.” There is a part of me that hopes a lot of people outside of white evangelical Christians will joyfully lay claim to all the ways this document can be challenged.

But seriously, I never want to hear someone who applauds this memo complain about accommodations that are made for Muslims to practice their faith. If AG Sessions wants to write a memo outlining all the ways that he thinks white evangelical Christians have special rights in this country he should do so. Otherwise, I don’t think this memo about “religious liberty” means what a lot of people think it does.

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1 hour ago
Greater Bostonia
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The bloody rise and frightful fall of Fangoria

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With no new print issues since 2015, most readers and contributors have concluded that classic horror movie magazine Fangoria will be an internet-only phenomenon going forward. EW delves into how Fangoria got to where it was, and what went wrong.

If you'd like to see what the fuss was, or want to revisit old memories, you might be interested in the Internet Archive's enormous collection of Fangoria back issues. I believe that it's a complete run, though I haven't gone through and verified it.
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11 hours ago
Fangoria was my first “real” magazine subscription, when I was 10.
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