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Archive for December 20th, 2020

“The Young Visiters,” a wonderful novel by Daisy Ashford, 9 years old at the time

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I have just begun reading The Young Visiters. You can buy it from the Amazon bookstore for $5.85 for a Kindle version, but I preferred to download it from the Gutenberg Project for free, but note that what they call “Kindle format” is MOBI. That was once the format Kindle used, but quite some time ago Kindle switched to AZW3. No problem, though. I used Calibre (free) to convert it from MOBI to AZW3 (and also get a better cover by editing the metadata), and then used Calibre to load it onto my Kindle.

The book was published in 1919, so it seems appropriate to read it in 2020. think. The opening seems full of verve, dash, and charm:

Mr Salteena was an elderly man of 42 and was fond of asking peaple to stay with him. He had quite a young girl staying with him of 17 named Ethel Monticue. Mr Salteena had dark short hair and mustache and wiskers which were very black and twisty. He was middle sized and he had very pale blue eyes. He had a pale brown suit but on Sundays he had a black one and he had a topper every day as he thorght it more becoming. Ethel Monticue had fair hair done on the top and blue eyes. She had a blue velvit frock which had grown rarther short in the sleeves. She had a black straw hat and kid gloves.

One morning Mr Salteena came down to brekfast and found Ethel had come down first which was strange. Is the tea made Ethel he said rubbing his hands. Yes said Ethel and such a quear shaped parcel has come for you Yes indeed it was a quear shape parcel it was a hat box tied down very tight and a letter stuffed between the string. Well well said Mr Salteena parcels do turn quear I will read the letter first and so saying he tore open the letter and this is what it said

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2020 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

Crime Shouldn’t Pay: Why Big Tech Executives Should Face Jail

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Matt Stoller reports in BIG:

The Antitrust Bonanza Against Google and Facebook

It’s hard not to be excited about the multiple antitrust suits filed this week against Google. This past Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with 10 other state AGs, accused Google of monopolizing online advertising, arguing it used coercive tactics to seize control of the plumbing that underpins all ad-financed internet content, and illegally divided up the online ad market with Facebook. The next day, Colorado’s Phil Weiser and Nebraska’s Doug Peterson led 38 states in accusing Google of manipulating its search results to disfavor specialized competitors like Yelp, as well as blocking competitors who seek to enter new search markets like those of voice assistants or internet-enabled cars.

The suits themselves are stunning.

The Texas case reveals new details about how online advertising markets function, drawing from Dina Srinivasan’s critical research on how advertising sales has been transformed into a complex financial market run by Google. While the complaint alleges that Google has engaged in monopolization, it also alleges a different violation, that Facebook and Google are in a cartel to violate user privacy and fix prices in advertising markets. The complaint reveals that after Facebook bought WhatsApp, which pledged to its users (and the FTC) strict privacy controls, “Facebook signed an exclusive agreement with Google, granting Google access to millions of Americans’ end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp messages, photos, videos, and audio files.” If true, that’s a remarkable set of illegal acts, by both Google and Facebook, as well as a betrayal of their users.

The complaint also asserts Google divided the ad market with Facebook, offering Facebook advantages in buying and selling ads through Google services if Facebook withdrew from head-to-head competition in other markets. This collusion is meaningful from a legal perspective. The Sherman Act has two parts. Section Two prohibits monopolization, but monopolization cases are very hard to bring and quite expensive, and require elaborate models. Section One prohibits cartels and price-fixing as conspiracies. Cartel cases are much easier – just show an agreement to collaborate on fixing prices, and you’re done. In fact cartels are so much easier to prosecute that price-fixing is the only area that enforcers actually bring criminal charges. And worrisome for Google, Texas is alleging cartel behavior.

The Colorado-led suit, while not unearthing anything earth-shattering, is also quite useful. Enforcers there are addressing not just today’s search markets on desktop and mobile platforms, but where search is heading in the future, platforms like internet-enabled cars and voice assistants. It’s a smart way to ensure that antitrust enforcement blocks monopolization at the creation of new markets, which is when it’s easiest to generate competition.

Since October, enforcers have brought four strong suits against Google and Facebook, two of the largest corporations in the world. And the demanded remedies for these civil violations are tough. Enforcers are asking for injunctive relief to stop the bad behavior, break-ups of these companies to end the structural conflicts, as well as monetary damages and civil fines.These few months represent perhaps the toughest spate of antitrust action since the post-World War II era, when Harry Truman restarted antitrust cases after their suspension during the war.

It’s not just these suits; Apple is facing a major attack from Epic Games and a broad coalition who seeks to destroy its app store monopoly, and Congress is gearing up to smash monopolies through legislative efforts. As Steven Perlstein noted in the Washington Post, this effort is more than just an attack on Google and Facebook, but a “legal shot across the bow of dominant firms in other highly concentrated industries — pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, financial services — who are now on notice that their nonstop acquisitions and hardball business practices could invite similar challenge.”

Even Europeans are getting more aggressive, with European member of Parliament Paul Tang winning a vote to ban personalized advertising in the EU, as well as offering increasing criticism of EU Competition enforcer Margarethe Vestager for lagging behind the tougher approach in the United States.

It’s hard not to see the sharp turn in competition policy without a recognition that something has gone very very right in policy circles on the question of monopoly.

And yet, there’s a fly in the ointment, as we move from the theoretical idea of antitrust against dominant corporations to the actual implementation. And that is, the suits are going to take a very long time.

Crime Pays

Judge Amit Mehta, who is hearing the case filed in October, said that the DOJ and Google will likely go to trial in late 2023. That’s nearly three years from now. The reason for the delay makes sense; both sides must gather documents, do research, file and debate procedural motions, interview executives and stakeholders, and build complex economic models for the trial. Still, three years is three years, and that’s a minimum. The trial itself could stretch out, with a remedy phase, and then there will be appeals. When all is said and done, it could be five years before there’s a remedy, or even longer.

One problem with such a lengthy period is that the longer monopolistic behavior goes on, the more damage, in this case to publishers whose ad revenue is being stolen, and small and medium size businesses whose property is being appropriated. We can quantify the additional damages, somewhat. Google has $170B in revenue this year, and is growing on average at 10-20% a year. If we take the lower end of 10%, Google will add another $100 billion to its revenue by 2025. That’s a lot of money. Facebook is at $80 billion of revenue this year, but it is growing faster, so the net increase of revenue is a roughly similar amount. In other words, if the claims of the government are credible, then the lengthy case, while perhaps necessary, is also enabling these monopolists to steal an additional $100 billion apiece.

Monopolization isn’t just illegal, it is in fact a crime, an appropriation of the rights and property of others by a dominant actor. The lengthy trial is essentially akin to saying that bank robbers getting to keep robbing banks until they are convicted, and can probably keep the additional loot. There are ways of a judge issuing preliminary orders to stop bad behavior in the interim, so it’s not inevitable that these corporations get to continue what they are doing. However, judges don’t tend to like issuing such orders, though hopefully enforcers will ask for them and Mehta will make an exception.

But the monetary cost is not the most dangerous part of the delay. What’s more frightening is the political corruption that Google and Facebook are enabling. Thousands of newspapers have fallen apart over the past ten years, and over the next three, thousands more will collapse. Aside from killing pro-social institutions like newspapers, these platforms have been inducing significant harms society-wide, from enabling ethnic cleansing abroad and divisiveness in Western democracies, to undermining our economy writ large. The end state is frightening. Indeed, here’s what the Texas complaint alleges is Google’s long-term goal.

Google’s current dominance is merely a preview of its future plans. Google has an appetite for total dominance, and its latest ambition is to transform the free and open architecture of the internet. Google’s plan is to create a walled garden around the internet in which it controls websites and mobile applications. Google calls its emerging venture the [redacted], a world in which publisher content is operated by Google…

Google’s documented plan is to capture online publishers on the open internet and transform them into content creators generating revenue for Google on a completely closed platform—like YouTube content creators.

Google has total power over YouTube creators, the ability to demonetize them, to censor them, promote them or not. And that’s Google’s goal for all speakers and businesses online, to turn us all into serfs working – and speaking – at Google’s pleasure. It’s hard to argue that waiting five years for a remedy is sufficient to address this incredible threat to our wallets and more importantly our liberties.

Now, this is not to say these cases won’t have an effect until they are concluded. I’ve pointed out that the DOJ suit is already having an effect, in that Google is now facing potential competition and changing its behavior to stop the most egregious exclusionary behavior. As scandal after scandal emerges around Google and Facebook, the political need for these companies to mitigate their behavior will increase.

Legal scholar Tim Wu calls such a phenomenon the Policeman at the Elbow theory of antitrust enforcement, and there’s a lot of precedent. In the 1990s and early 2000s, during and after the antitrust case against Microsoft, Microsoft executives became far more cautious in product development, seeking legal advice to ensure they were not behaving in anti-competitive ways. Bill Gates recently noted that the reason people use iPhones and Android phones is because Microsoft was distracted by the case and so lost out on making Windows Mobile the standard. There’s a similar story with IBM, which unbundled software in the 1960s as a result of an antitrust case, thus enabling the creation of the modern software industry.

Because of the policeman at the elbow watching their every move, Google and Facebook are going to have to incorporate legal advice into their product development patterns, and doing so is likely to increase opportunities for competitors.

Still, there’s a difference between 2020 and earlier periods. Bill Gates, as hard as it is to believe, was more law-abiding than Zuckerberg and Pichai, because the rule of law was much stronger decades ago. Given legal uncertainty around the point of antitrust laws, as well as the political defiance of these leaders, it’s likely that Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai are going to work extremely hard to corrupt antitrust enforcement. They will do everything they can to *not* change their bad behavior, whether that’s ensuring products continue to exclude others, continuing a merger spree with more acquisitions (as Facebook just did), or even attempting to use their platforms to manipulate elections (as Uber and Lyft did with Prop 22 in California). We are in an era of elite lawlessness, so the normal effects of antitrust may not work until powerful leaders start to be afraid of getting caught breaking the law.

And that’s what brings me to why we need to start talking about crime and punishment.

The Problem of Elite Lawlessness

In the late 1930s, we had a similar period of elite lawlessness, a battle over the very legitimacy of the public’s right to vote for political change in the form of the New Deal. In the election of 1936, the banks, newspapers, and big business leaders combined through a variety of well-funded interest groups in an attempt to thwart FDR’s reelection. They lost. Two years later, in the midst of a recession, these leaders sought again to roll back New Deal rules as an unconstitutional seizures of power.

Enter Thurman Arnold, the greatest antitrust enforcer in American history. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link and no paywall.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2020 at 9:49 am

Up Here, in Canada

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2020 at 7:54 am

Posted in Music, Video

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