Internet death sentence

AT&T disconnects whole families from the internet because someone in their house is accused of copyright infringement

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

The customers who are being disconnected have never been able to face their accusers or have a day in court. The people they live with are not accused of any wrongdoing. The internet they are losing is likely the only option they have for broadband — or one of two options, with the other one likely being a cable company like Comcast who may now join AT&T in a race to the bottom.

The internet is not a video-on-demand service, it’s the nervous system of the 21st century. Terminating someone from the internet terminates their access to family, education, employment, civic and political engagement, health care information, and virtually everything else we use to measure whether a society is functioning well for its citizens.

Elizabeth Warren just gave the most sneakily important speech of 2016

Warren calls for a return to strict antitrust enforcement. In other words, government needs to go after big banks, big tech companies — the big companies that dominate every single industry in the US today.

The speech is short, informative, and plain English that anyone can understand — worth reading. The full text, along with a bit of analysis, is here:

Elizabeth Warren’s Consolidation Speech Could Change the Election [Washington Monthly/Paul Glastris]

Warren says every single industry in the US today is dominated by about three titanic corporations, which have the power to stifle competition. She cites banking, airlines, and the tech industry.

By way of background, Warren explains that for most of the first century of antitrust regulation, government forbade monopolies. Since the 1970s or so we’ve had a more lenient standard, permitting monopolies unless they were demonstrably harmful to consumers. Warren calls for a return to the more strict standard — not as an anti-market maneuver, but so that the market can be permitted to operate.

Warren is absolutely right here, with one damn big reservation. In the one industry I’m closely familiar with — the tech industry, of course — the examples she cites make me say, “Yes, but…. ” As in: Yes, but can Google REALLY be considered a monopoly? The barrier to competition is so low here — as the cliche in the tech industry goes, the competition is only a click away. Google’s search results are just plain better than most of the companies seeking antimonopoly protection. Most of the companies seeking antimonopoly protection against Google are, to put it plainly, spammers.

Still, as blogger/author John Robb has pointed out several times, our current economy is dangerously centralized. The US has effectively replicated the command-and-control economies of the USSR and Maoist China. In those countries, government bureaucrats ran the economy; in the US it’s government bureaucrats partnering with Wall Street, but the effect will be the same.

I love this speech by Warren. It raises what should be the central issue of the Presidential campaign, which is an issue that we’ve been struggling with the entire history of the country: What, if anything, should be the role of government in the US economy? We’ve held up “hands off” as the ideal twice in American history, and both times it’s proven wrong. I like Warren’s ideal: Government should be a referee, ensuring competition. The referee doesn’t choose the winner of a boxing match, but he breaks up clinches and penalizes hitting below the belt.

Ironically, Trump is more likely to be friendly to this message than Clinton. But Trump literally changes his views on on a monthly basis, so he can’t be trusted on this or any other issue.

Critics are predictably labeling Uber and Lyft pulling out of Austin as a defeat of progress at the hands of meddlesome government.

But if fingerprinting is a good idea for cabbies, it should be mandatory for rideshare drivers too. They’re just another variety of cabbies.

I don’t use Uber often, but I love it when I do. However, lately I’ve become concerned about what kind of legal liability and physical danger I might be exposing myself to when I use ridesharing.

Similarly for Airbnb – I’ve only used that service once, and it was fantastic, but I’m concerned how the safety and legal liability compares with a regular hotel.

I’m on my way to Austin now, so this is on my mind.

How Austin Beat Uber – Richard Parker, The New York Times

Berlin bans Airbnb from renting apartments to tourists in move to protect affordable housing

Berliners want clear and simple rules for home sharing, so they can continue to share their own home with guests,” an Airbnb spokesman tells Matt Payton at The Independent.

Looks pretty “clear and simple” to me: You can rent out rooms, but not whole apartments and houses. Sounds reasonable.

Marijuana legalization hits bumps

Legalized marijuana in Colorado is leading to problems for beginners who take too much, too quickly, and freak out. Including The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd:

The caramel-chocolate flavored candy bar looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.

Sitting in my hotel room in Denver, I nibbled off the end and then, when nothing happened, nibbled some more. I figured if I was reporting on the social revolution rocking Colorado in January, the giddy culmination of pot Prohibition, I should try a taste of legal, edible pot from a local shop.

What could go wrong with a bite or two?

Everything, as it turned out.

Not at first. For an hour, I felt nothing. I figured I’d order dinner from room service and return to my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.

But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.

Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude – NYTimes.com.

Dowd goes on to describe pot-users who murdered family members under the influence. Maybe Reefer Madness wasn’t crazy.

The marijuana industry needs to put in place sensible programs for education and labeling. And if the industry doesn’t do it, government needs to step in.

Marijuana should be legal everywhere, but let’s remember that the alcohol and  gambling industries have not exactly proven unalloyed benefits for society.