Pluralistic: 05 Jan 2021

Today's links

My Fellow Americans (permalink)

My Fellow Americans is Yuvraj Sing's open licensed (CC0) /name your price book tracing the histories of US presidential inaugural addresses; it reproduces each address along with a scholarly essay exploring its context.

The book has a companion podcast in which various people read each address aloud:

I was VERY pleased to get the chance to read FDR's first address:—03041933—Read-by-Cory-Doctorow-emvtge

That's the "nothing to fear but fear itself" address. It's a barn-burner.

Digital manorialism vs neofeudalism (permalink)

My latest Locus Magazine column is up: "Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor" describes Schneier's "Feudal Security" model, where computer users are unable to defend themselves, and instead ally themselves with a powerful warlord and move into their castle.

These warlords – Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft – all have the best cybermercenaries money can buy stationed at their gates and on their parapets, and they will defend you against anyone the warlord declares to be your enemy.

But there's a tradeoff: if the warlord turns on you – if Google spies on you, if Apple blocks the app you want, if Facebook won't let Ad Observatory monitor its ads for paid political disinformation – the cybermercenaries turn on you and ensure the warlord gets their way.

This is actually worse than it seems at first blush. Once a company arrogates to itself the right to decide what you see and what you don't, what you can do and what you can't, then powerful governments will demand that the warlords use that power to serve their ends.

Google gathers massive dossiers on where you go and what you search for, and, right on schedule, local law enforcement shows up demanding to know where you've been and what you're searching for.

Apple secures the right to block which apps you can install, and the Chinese government comes along and demands that Apple use that power to block working privacy tools that subvert its national surveillance powers.

These were utterly foreseeable outcomes of the feudal business model – but they were still hypothetical until well-publicized moments like the Snowden revelations and China's annihilation of mobile privacy tools. Now, they aren't just foreseeable, they're undeniable.

And yet, the tech companies continue to enact this neofeudalism – and worse, to bar the gates so that you can't escape their walled gardens, pretending that this does not guarantee that they will be deputiized to serve as agents of state oppression.

This is a rare instance in which tech companies could soften the impact of their greed and indifference: by allowing interoperability, sideloading, and algorithm/ad monitoring, tech companies would seriously reduce the likelihood that they'll be asked to harm their users.

If a government tells a mobile company "remove all your privacy tools," they could gently remind the state's representatives that users can simply sideload those privacy tools.

Perhaps the state will demand they go ahead with enforcement – but if so, users can sideload apps and defend themselves. The harms of feudal security could be substantially reduced – if the companies were willing to countenance a trifling reduction in their profits.

But they will not and do not.

Perhaps the clue is in the misnomer of "feudal security." This isn't feudalism at all, really – its manorialism, the idea that wealthy merchants (not princes) own everything and we are mere tenants in their fields.

That ambition requires a muscular state that will defend the manors, and closely allies the richest landlords with the crown.

South Carolina GOP moots modest improvements to "magistrate judges" (permalink)

In 2019, Propublica and The Post and Courier ran blockbuster investigations into SC's magistrate judges: inexperienced political appointees with no training who held South Carolinians' lives in their hands – and who use the bench to extract bribes, deal in overt racism and worse.

The first revealed that SC's magistrates got less training than its barbers, and their appointments, though subject to reapproval, were practically speaking lifelong and irrevocable, regardless of misconduct, bumbling, or actual criminal behavior.

The qualifications process is bizarre. SC magistrates need to pass a one-hour exam, but they can (and do) re-take it many times without penalty. That test includes questions like "Which of the following numbers is larger?" And magistrates fail that test. Repeatedly.

Magistrates are so ill-qualified that the rare, decent appointee can end up repeatedly breaking the law without knowing it, as construction worker (and local GOP chairman) Arthur Bryngelson did, leading to him resigning in horror and reporting himself for breaches.

Not all of the unqualified magistrates have Bryngelson's moral fiber: BBQ chef/magistrate Clemon Stocker got his relative Willie Earl Reese released on bail after he pistol-whipped a man. Reese murdered his wife five days later.

But the qualified magistrates are, if anything, even worse. Typical of the lawyers who get appointed to the post is George K Lyall, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts of stealing from his clients.

Days later, Joseph Cranney followed up his piece with a profile of magistrate Mike Pitts, a former GOP state rep, an overt racist pig who called Cory Booker a crackhead, advocated expelling Muslims, and derided trans people.

Pitts had advocated SC's secession from the USA, argued against removing the Confederate flag after the Emanuel AME Church mass-murder, and worse. His record in the state house was so abysmal that after he lost an election, no one would give him a job.

No one, that is, except for his crony, state senator Danny Verdin, who got him a job for life dealing out justice in the state's courtrooms.

Verdin isn't exceptionally racist by SC magistrate standards.

His colleague James Gosnell used racial slurs to refer to defendants. And a former SC magistrate, Peter Lamb, was forced to resign after calling crack "a Black man's disease" (Lamb quit in exchange for not being prosecuted for illegal discrimination from the bench).

Next, a report on the reaction to the earlier pieces, in which state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle proposed reforms to the magistrate system, with some state senators withdrawing their historic opposition to such a move.

The commonsense, modest reforms are mostly remarkable for what they reveal about the system: judges could no longer be appointed on the say-so of a single senator and judges can't claim "holdover" status to serve indefinitely after their terms are up.

More: judges would be required to get some modest additional training. Senators would be banned from appointing relatives or former colleagues from the state house, and anyone convicted by a magistrate without a law license would get an automatic appeal before a real judge.

One more proposal from last year: prospective judges would be legally required to disclose their prior disciplinary offenses – at the time, state senators like Marlon Kimpson vigorously opposed this, because it was a "bureaucratic process."

None of that came to pass in 2019. Now it's been more than a year, and finally there's some progress on reforming SC's idiotic Klown Kar of a justice system. The legislature is about to reconvene, and magistrate reform is top of their agenda.

GOP state senator Tom Davis is spearheading the effort, with several bills that track the 2019 reform proposal. He'll have an uphill battle, though, with colleagues like state rep Murrell Smith stating "A law degree is not a prerequisite to being a good judge."

Pavilions replacing union workers with "gig workers" (permalink)

Prop 22 was the most expensive ballot initiative in history: "gig economy" companies firehosed $200m over voters, outspending 48/50 state legislative races on a single question.

That question: can employers misclassify workers as contractors and escape legal obligations?

That's a high-stakes question. US workers spent more than a century fighting for basic rights: the right not the maimed, raped or killed on the job; the right to a living wage; the right to a weekend; the right not to be discriminated against based on race or sex or religion.

Above all: the right to form a union and bargain collectively with employers who otherwise hold all the negotiating leverage – to pool their resources in the same way that gig economy companies did to fund Prop 22.

Workers died for those rights. Bosses fought labor reforms with terror and rape, with blackmail and dirty tricks, with jails and blackballing.

Prop 22 can only be repealed if 7/8th of the California legislature votes to do so. It is, effectively, a permanent fixture.

$200m to pass Prop 22 is a bargain. Every right for workers shifts money from bosses' side of the balance sheets to the workers' side. Prop 22 erased all those rights in a single stroke.

After Prop 22 passed, Shawn Carolan, a prominent VC (and Uber investor), published an op-ed declaring Prop 22 would come for workers "from all sorts of industries…nursing, executive assistance, tutoring, programming, restaurant work and design."

He was right. Prop 22 is the future. Most jobs can be gig-ified, provided there is a large pool of desperate workers who are willing to take sub-survival wages and give up on basic protections. Securing such a pool merely requires the withdrawal of basic social safety nets.

It's been fewer than 9 weeks since Prop 22 passed, and California's major employers are already reaping dividends.

The private-equity-backed grocery titan Albertsons (Vons, Pavilions) will fire its unionized delivery drivers ("essential workers") by month's end and replace them with gig workers.

Like their unionized predecessors, these workers will risk fatal covid to keep us from starving. Unlike unionized workers, they will not be entitled to adequate PPE, sick leave, disability benefits, or enough take-home wages to feed their families – even as they feed ours.

Major costs for Albertson's – vehicles, fuel, insurance – will now be borne by their workforce.

This is the start. It only took nine weeks.

This is coming for your job. Every major employer in California is figuring out how to do an Albertson's on its employees.

And the gig companies – overflowing with investor cash and desperate to turn a profit – are working with Chambers of Commerce, the GOP, and corporatist Dems, to introduce versions of Prop 22 in every state in the union.

They'll have friends in the White House. Kamala Harris's brother-in-law Tony West is Uber's head lawyer. If he isn't the sole architect of Prop 22, he was certainly part of the design team. He's been put forward as a potential Biden Attorney General.

If you want to tell Albertsons what you think of their labor practices, here's the number: 877–723–3929.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Study: Best place to advertise to teens is in-game

#15yrsago Hollywood’s Canadian Member of Parliament

#5yrsago Thomas Piketty on Thomas Piketty

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Super Punch (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 531 words (95218 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 26)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla