Fight to Repair Daily: Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A long-ignored Federal Law could tame giants like Amazon, Walmart

The American Economic Liberties Project released a new report arguing for the resurrection and expansion of the Robinson-Patman Act, legislation that was once widely known as the “Magna Carta of small business” but has not been enforced for decades.

“The power buyers of today—like Walmart, Amazon, major grocers, and PBMs—pose the same threats as Standard Oil and A&P did 100 years ago. They weaponize their power to disadvantage rivals and harm suppliers and consumers,”  said Katherine Van Dyke, Senior Legal Counsel at the American Economic Liberties Project.  “Their tactics are illegal, and enforcers should use Robinson-Patman Act to protect small businesses, as Congress intended when it passed the law over 90 years ago.”

The Robinson-Patman Act prohibits price discrimination, which is the charging of different prices to different buyers for the same product. It also prohibits buyers from knowingly inducing or receiving discriminatory prices. Originally called the Wholesale Grocer’s Protection Act, it was passed in 1936 to protect smaller grocers from the increasingly dominant chain store A&P. Indeed, the Robinson-Patman Act was, per the Supreme Court in 1960, designed to “to curb and prohibit all devices by which large buyers gained discriminatory preferences over smaller ones by virtue of their greater purchasing power.” Yet this is exactly what we see today. (Economic Liberties Project)

Fight to Repair is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Framework Builds an Upgradeable, Repairable, Customizable Chromebook

Framework Computer is releasing the the Framework Laptop Chromebook Edition, a ChromeOS version of the company’s first Framework Laptop with a fully upgradeable, repairable and customizable design. The Chromebook Edition, like the original, addresses one of the biggest drawbacks in modern laptops as part of the right-to-repair movement

The Chromebook uses the same design as the Windows model, built around a 13.5-inch 2,256×1,504-pixel display with a 3:2 aspect ratio tucked inside a milled aluminum housing. The base configuration has an Intel Core i5-1240P processor, 8GB of DDR4 memory and a 256GB NVMe PCIe SSD for storage. Those components are upgradeable with up to 64GB of memory and 1TB of storage. (CNET.com)

New OEM group, NAEDA, fires up the repair disinformation

A newly created group, the North American Equipment Dealer Association (NAEDA), which claims to represent about 4,000 farm machinery and other industry dealerships in Canada and the United States, is gearing up to go to war with right to repair advocates and talking up their alternative to folks having the right to repair their own property. Eric Wareham, NAEDA vice-president of government affairs, told Grain News that everyone has it all wrong… manufacturers and dealers actually encourage farmers to do their own maintenance and repairs. (Just ignore all those “call your authorized dealer!” entreaties in the manuals, everyone.)

NAEDA’s secret weapon – the same old OEM saw we’ve been hearing for years: you have a right to repair but not to “modify” your product. What does that mean, exactly? It’s unclear – but there is lots of hand waving about violating environmental laws (even though the Clean Air Act states clearly that equipment owners – not OEMs – are responsible for engine maintenance. There’s also this little “whattabout” (mind the flailing!) “Suppose some modification is made that a dealer is not aware of and the piece of equipment is later traded in and sold to a new owner who is also not aware of the modification. And then there is some breakdown due to the modification,” says Wareham. “So, then there is the question about who is liable for those repair costs?

Wait…what??! Dang, these guys are getting desperate. (Grainnews.ca)

NIST Awards Funding for Programs on a Circular Economy to Reduce Plastic Waste

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded $500,000 to each of five universities to develop new curricula for students who are interested in helping to solve the growing problem of plastic waste. The new curricula will focus on chemistry, economics, business management, entrepreneurship and related topics.

The Training for Improving Plastics Circularity (TIPC) Grant Program aims to develop the future workforce needed to grow a circular economy for plastics. A circular economy is one in which materials retain their value through repeated reuse, repair and recycling, and are finally discarded only as a last resort. (NIST.gov)

The Dark Side of Frictionless Technology

Last week, while taking the week off, I read one of those books: Matthew B. Crawford’s 2009 best seller, Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford—a Ph.D think-tank dropout turned motorcycle mechanic—offers a passionate case for the value and dignity of manual work and elaborates at great length on what I like to call the art of slow progress.

Crawford has a compelling argument about the misconceptions around how people unlock creativity. He suggests that the common view of creativity (what he dubs a “kindergarten idea”) is that it happens almost only when we have enough freedom from conventional constraints, and that our creativity is some special force inside us that we can unleash. Crawford thinks this is bullshit and that creativity is actually “a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice.”

His claim is part of a bigger argument about most technology, which he laments has become aggressively convenient. He’s frustrated that analog car components and parts have been replaced—or obscured—by digital parts and interfaces. As a result, they’ve become more intuitive for the operator, but much more complicated and expensive to repair. Crawford also argues that, worse yet, we’re losing something essential as a result of all this intuitive technology.

Crawford gets a little heady here. He’s saying that frictionless experiences with technology mean that we notice less about the tools we’re using and what it is they actually do. This, he thinks, promotes a kind of self-absorption. We don’t see ourselves as being in conversation with our tools or the physical world; instead, we see ourselves as masters of our environment, with the expectation that every tool and service ought to perfectly attend to our needs. And, because we don’t know how our tools work, we can’t repair them when they break. (The Atlantic)

Energy crisis prompts ‘moral’ dilemma over repair

At times it is not “morally right” to repair old appliances which cost more to run, experts on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) said at the RWM & Letsrecycle Live trade shows on 15 September. Robert Sant, managing director of AO Recycling, suggested it was not “morally right” to repair some older domestic appliances because they cost a lot of money to run.

AO Recycling is one of the UK’s biggest recyclers of fridges and other large domestic appliances. During his talk, Mr Sant questioned the morality of repairing older large domestic appliances which require a lot of electricity to run at a time when people are struggling with energy costs. This, he said, provided a barrier to increasing the rate at which large domestic appliances are reused. “It seems pretty clear that older appliances do cost more to run,” he said. “Is it morally right to repair an old appliance if it costs a lot of money to run? “Typically, these appliances are going to people who have the lowest disposable income and then we are going to give them the burden of running a very old appliance for a long time.”

Mr Sant said AO Recycling’s exacting standards mean the company only repairs less than 5% of the appliances it collects. This equates to 50,000 appliances a year. (Letsrecycle.com)

As John Deere Digitizes, some worry about cyber risk

Beyond security concerns, Deere’s digitization has put a new strain on a pre-existing issue: longstanding frustration that the company has limited the ability for farmers to fix their own equipment.

Hartmann said via email that in May the company made its diagnostic service tool available to customers and independent repair shops, and that in 2023 it plans to introduce an “enhanced customer solution that includes a mobile device interface and the ability to download secure software updates directly to embedded controllers on select John Deere equipment with 4G connections.”

The diagnostic software starts at $1,200 and is a limited version of what Deere technicians themselves have.

“John Deere has diagnostic software on laptops that their technicians have that they will not provide to the farmers,” Wiens said. “So the computer in the tractor will see, ‘Hey, this sensor reading is out of calibration.’ And the tractor just won’t start up.” (Emerging Tech Brew)

Fight to Repair is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.