Pluralistic: 05 Feb 2021

Today's links

The Open Courts Act isn't open enough (permalink)

One of the quiet, grotesque, longrunning scandals of the US legal system is PACER, the paywall that separates the people of America from their court records. It's a hard drive of non-searchable PDFs, and it costs Americans $150m+/year to run.

After decades of fights – including the stunt that put Aaron Swartz in the FBI's crosshairs – Congress is finally moving on the Open Courts Act, which makes substantial reforms to the PACER system.

But as Carl Malamud – who has been a leader in the fight to free PACER – writes in an open letter to the bill's Congressional and Senate advocates, the Act doesn't go nearly far enough.

The law is free as in speech – in the public domain, owned by no one. PACER should be a system for distributing whole copies of all US law to anyone who wants to host them (and it should be free for anyone who wants to confirm a copy's veracity).

As Malamud points out, distributing copies of the PACER corpus takes some of the pressure off revisions to PACER itself. PACER is total flaming garbage and needs a complete overhaul. In recognition of this, the bill contemplates five years before major changes are due.

But distributing copies of PACER – a mere 1b documents, peanuts compared to other open access projects – would enable public interest orgs to immediately build their own PACER mirrors to serve different audiences and use-cases.

The letter has an impressive roster of signatories, from EFF legal director Corynne McSherry to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle to former CTOs of the USA, a former Chief Data Scientist of the USA, and more.

AT&T customer complains…via WSJ ad (permalink)

Aaron Epstein is a 90 year old who lives a couple miles from me in North Hollywood. He's been an AT&T customer since 1960 and holy shit, is he ever done with their shit.

Epstein gets 3mbps (nominal)/1.5 mbps (actual) from AT&T, in the heart of the entertainment industry's company town, where the studios are serviced by a 100gb fiber loop built at public expense (it passes under my house's foundation slab).

Like all of us in this part of LA, Epstein is not able to access this publicly funded fiber, because his city has given monopoly franchises to AT&T and Charter, two of the most despicable monopoly companies in America.

AT&T and Charter have absorbed billions – billions – in public subsidy to build out fast networks, and instead, they've gone on shopping sprees, buying up companies and running them into the ground, showering execs with money, and screwing over their workers.

Epstein took out quarter-page ads in the Manhattan and Dallas editions of the WSJ excoriating AT&T CEO John Stankey (salary: $22.5m) for his failure to do literally the only thing anyone wants his company to do: provide fast broadband.

In Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin speaks with Epstein, who sounds like a really excellent fellow, about the many frustrations he faces in his home and business with broadband from the cable/DSL duopoly.

"Epstein said he pays AT&T about $100 a month at home for two phone lines and Internet service and $49 a month to Charter for cable Internet. Epstein also pays AT&T for phone and Internet service at a business he owns in Sherman Oaks."

And Brodkin found a spokesweasel from AT&T to comment on Epstein's letter. The anonymous spox provided the following drivel for publication: "We continually enhance and invest in our wireless and wireline networks."

It turns out that Mr Epstein is a goddamned legend and hero. He's from an impressive lineage, part of the "Pickwick Books" Epsteins, a legendary Hollywood bookstore founded by Russian immigrant Louis Epstein in 1938:

But Mr Epstein isn't just descended from greatness – he attained greatness in his own right. In 1999, he won a critical lawsuit that ended the corrupt practice of running Business Improvement Districts through "Property Owner Associations" not subject to sunshine laws.

The risible pretense that these were not local government bodies allowed BIDs to operate unaccountably, making significant changes to municipal policy under cover of darkness.

Epstein sued the City of LA all the way to the Appellate Division, where the court actual mocked the City lawyers for their idiotic arguments, calling them the "The 'We Said We Didn’t "Create" the POA, So You Can’t Decide We Did'" gambit.

As Michael Kohlhaas wrote of the lawsuit, "Without Epstein’s pioneering work, BIDs wouldn’t have been known to be subject to the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act."

Amazon's brutal warehouse "megacycle" (permalink)

Amazon's Chicago DCH1 warehouse workers are pioneers of Amazon labor organizing. They met brutal treatment with walkouts, petitions and protests that wrung real concessions from Amazon, a company that pioneered worker brutality.

But now DCH1 is being made to suffer. The company has demanded that these workers knuckle under to a new scheduling system called "Megacycles," which is corporatespeak for a ten-hour shift that runs from 1:20AM to 11:50AM.

Workers that refuse the new schedule – because there is no transit option to get them to their job at that hour, because they are caring for elderly relatives, because they have kids in distance ed – will lose their jobs.

And while this schedule would be a burden to any worker, it's an especially vicious way to treat women workers, who are far more likely to be in caregiving roles at home, and who face extra safety risks associated with midnight travel to their shift.

Amazon claims the benefit of "megacycles" is efficiency – and if "efficiency" means "paying fewer workers to do more work for less money," then they're obviously right.

"Jen Crowcroft, a spokesperson for Amazon, told Motherboard that the transition to megacycle provides a longer window for customers to place orders and an improved station experience, and makes it easier for different delivery stations to work together."

Yeah, sure. And also, it means that workers have to abandon their kids and parents and the company of non-nocturnal humans and work 10 hours straight in the middle of the night.

A petition from DCH1 Amazonians United calls for all Amazon workers to receive a $2/h wage premium for working "megacycles," accommodations for caretakers to allow them to work fractional shifts, and free Lyft rides to and from work.

"The National Employment Law Project found in a 2020 report on workplaces injuries in Amazon warehouses is twice that of the national average for the warehouse industry. " -Lauren Kaori Gurley, Motherboard.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago PC built into whisky bottle

#15yrsago UK nurses want to supply clean blades and cutting advice to self-harmers,,2087-2025748,00.html

#10yrsago Antifeatures: deliberate, expensive product features that no customer wants

#5yrsago Toronto City Council defies mayor, demands open, neutral municipal broadband

#5yrsago Error 53: Apple remotely bricks phones to punish customers for getting independent repairs

#5yrsago Maryland’s Attorney General: you consent to surveillance by turning on your phone

#5yrsago There’s a secret “black site” in New York where terrorism suspects are tortured for years at a time

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Esotouric (, Michael Kohlhaas (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 514 words (107253 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 263 words (3446 total).

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