Pluralistic: 12 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. TSA boss doubles down on taking away health care from part-time screeners: They're touching your junk with diseased hands.
  2. Akil Augustine on Radicalized: My book's Canada Reads champion lays out the case for Radicalized.
  3. A former top Cigna exec rebuts Joe Biden's healthcare FUD: Wendell Potter is the prodigal corporate villain.
  4. Ars Technica's Covid-19 explainer is the best resource on the pandemic: Beth Mole has outdone herself.
  5. Boeing is even worse at financial engineering than they are at aircraft engineering: The $43B they incinerated through stock buybacks would sure come in handy about now.
  6. Senate Republicans kill emergency sick leave during pandemic: Sick leave is cheaper than pandemics, but pandemics generate cost-plus contracts for the donor class.
  7. The EU's new Right to Repair rules finally come for electronics: Snoods cocked at Apple and other US Big Tech monopolists.
  8. How to run a virtual classroom: Masterclass from the 14-year-old Stanford Online High School.
  9. This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019
  10. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

TSA boss doubles down on taking away health care from part-time screeners (permalink)

TSA agents handles the personal belongings and touch the bodies of millions of fliers. Part time agents don't get health-insurance. If they think they might have Covid-19, they might not be able to afford to seek care.

TSA chief David Pekoske told Congress that the Trump administration's decision to take away health-care from part time TSA employees was a good one: "I have no intention of restoring health care coverage for part-time workers. I think that was a good decision."

About 100 TSA agents have been sent home after it was believed they came into contact with Covid-19. The TSA will not try to track down passengers who also might have come into contact with sick people.

Akil Augustine on Radicalized (permalink)

My book Radicalized is a finalist for the Canada Reads national book prize. Each of the five finalists is defended by a Canadian celeb: my champion is the amazing and articulate Akil Augustine.

Akil just appeared on the @CBC's Canada Reads podcast to give us a preview of his defense, which he will field during several nights of nationally televised debates next week.

He did an OUTSTANDING job! Here's the MP3:

A former top Cigna exec rebuts Joe Biden's healthcare FUD (permalink)

In a recent and important essay, Maria Farrell wrote about the road-to-Damascus conversions that ex-techies are having in which they recant the damaging product design work they did and begin to campaign against their former employers.

Farrell noted that these techies had missed an important step in their transformation from venal attention mercenaries to noble attention freedom-fighters: they had yet to hit bottom, to truly repent their earlier sins.

They skipped like stones over the waters of privilege, and never sank, unlike so many of their victims.

Contrast those journeys with that of Wendell Potter, the former Cigna exec turned whistleblower, who has devoted decades of his life to revealing dirty tricks and lies. Potter campaigns tirelessly – and shrewdly – for Medicare for All, and is always at pains to point out that the anti-M4A talking points his adversaries parrots were all developed by him, when he was on the wrong side of history.

Take this thread, rebutting Joe Biden's FUD about M4A, delivered in the midst of a pandemic that has been worsened by the 77 million un- and underinsured people who can't get care or screening and disproportionately work in food-service and cleaning.

As Potter points out, Biden's assertion that M4A costs $35T is just a lie. Once you factor in the savings of not paying for private healthcare, M4A SAVES at least $450B/year.

Biden's plan to cap premiums on a public option at 8.5% of your income is more than double what M4A would cost you. The corporate plans Biden lionizes shackle good workers to bad employers, and put millions at risk of having their care arbitrarily withdrawn or limited. And, of course, private care doesn't cover much. Surprise bills, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-pockets… Our plan – a blue-chip employer's top-of-the-line Cigna plan – costs us $24K/year.

We're rationing our family's health care because in addition to the $20K/year we're paying out of pocket, Cigna refused to cover a pain procedure that my doc – the most-cited pain doc working in California, who runs a major university pain clinic – says I would benefit from. That procedure might let me get a good night's sleep for the first time in 15 years and allow me to live a more normal, pain-free life. But because Cigna won't cover it, it would cost $55K, which we do not have. So I'm foregoing it.

Ars Technica's Covid-19 explainer is the best resource on the pandemic (permalink)

I've been reading Beth Mole's outstanding science journalism for many years and I've always admired it, but even by the high standards of a Beth Mole explainer, this soup-to-nuts Covid-19 explainer is just spectacularly good work.

Mole's calm and comprehensive coverage relies on the most reliable sources and turns the results of our best evidence-based studies into a coherent narrative, from the disease's origins to its spread to its symptoms to its resolution.

Just this symptom-by-symptom breakdown was enormously informative and filled in a huge gap that I had previously mentally signposted as "flu-like".

According to data from nearly 56,000 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients in China, the rundown of common symptoms went as follows:

  • 88 percent had a fever
  • 68 percent had a dry cough
  • 38 percent had fatigue
  • 33 percent coughed up phlegm
  • 19 percent had shortness of breath
  • 15 percent had joint or muscle pain
  • 14 percent had a sore throat
  • 14 percent headache
  • 11 percent had chills
  • 5 percent had nausea or vomiting
  • 5 percent had nasal congestion
  • 4 percent had diarrhea
  • Less than one percent coughed up blood or blood-stained mucus
  • Less than one percent had watery eyes

The sections on transmission, self-protection, and care during a social distancing lockdown or quarantine are likewise levelheaded, clear and informative.

This is a tab you should just keep open in your browser, IOW. Mole's updating frequently, too.

Boeing is even worse at financial engineering than they are at aircraft engineering (permalink)

Boeing is experiencing a potentially terminal slump. Between losses due to its 737 Max scandal (a self-inflicted injury), and the dropoff in travel during the pandemic, it has had to draw down its entire line of credit and institute a hiring freeze.

Obviously, Boeing can't be blamed for the pandemic.

But you know what is absolutely the company's fault? Its financial engineering.

Since 2013, Boeing squandered $43 billion on stock buybacks, whose sole purpose was to goose its share-price.

As Wolf Richter writes, Boeing, this "master of financial engineering – instead of aircraft engineering – blew, wasted, and incinerated $43.4 billion on buying back its own shares."

The company just had to borrow $13.825B. Its shares are down 46% since March 2019.

The entire company – a jewel of American industry – might not survive, because it focused on short-term enrichment of shareholders, rather than safe aircraft or financial prudence.

Reality has a well-known anti-capitalist bias, part MMMLVII.

Senate Republicans kill emergency sick leave during pandemic (permalink)

Senate Republicans have killed emergency sick leave legislation, a move that will force millions of low-waged cleaning and food-service workers to choose between homelessness and potentially spreading Covid-19.

The GOP says that paid sick leave will endanger the fragile bottom lines of employers and also that the feds have no money to pay for such a thing – despite finding it easy to blow $2.3 trillion on tax-cuts for the super-rich.

They also found $20 BILLION in the senate's sofa cushions to give to the Pentagon, an agency whose auditor found more than a trillion dollars in off-the-books transactions in its financial records.

Refusing to help poor Americans stay fed and sheltered isn't just cruel, it's lethally reckless, and it demonstrates the moral hazard of oligarchic capitalism. Subsidizing sick-leave would merely afford survival to millions of Americans, after all.

Whereas the crisis that this will produce – a pandemic that is made worse and longer – will cost billions more, but that money will go to the donor-class, the Beltway Bandits whose cost-plus, no-bid contracts will transfer even more money from the poor to the wealthy.

It's disaster capitalism at its worst. The Senate GOP is dooming you and everyone you love to the risk of disease and death because preventing that risk would help millions of poor people, whereas creating the risk helps a handful of ultrarich people.

The EU's new Right to Repair rules finally come for electronics (permalink)

The EU Commission's latest "Circular Economy Action Plan" has enormous significance for Right to Repair and electronics.

In addition to a host of eminently sensible, long overdue measures (bans on single use items and the destruction of unsold goods), there's a renewed emphasis on electronics, through the "Circular Electronics Initiative".

The initiative mandates that components be reusable, repairable, and upgradable, and requires long-term software support to keep IoT devices useful for longer. These mandates – also long overdue – show that the EU is finally willing to ignore the priorities of Apple and other US Big Tech companies in favour of Europeans' rights to the long-term enjoyment of their property and the right not to drown in e-waste).

How to run a virtual classroom (permalink)

For 14 years, Stanford Online High School has been running fully virtual classrooms, with continuous, ongoing improvements in their tech and methods. They've just published a new guide to "the essential steps for preparing to teach online in a short period of time." They're also conducting a series of webinars on the subject.

(I just realized that I've got a decade-old mail rule that autodeletes anything containing the word "webinar" that I probably need to turn off now that the term is being used by people other than hustling spammy grifters)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Leaked UK record industry memo sets out plans for breaking copyright

#5yrsago Portland cops charge homeless woman with theft for charging her phone

#5yrsago How Harper's "anti-terror" bill ends privacy in Canada

#5yrsago RIP, Terry Pratchett

#1yrago Security researcher reveals grotesque vulnerabilities in "Yelp-for-MAGA" app and its snowflake owner calls in the FBI

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Naked Capitalism (

Hugo nominators! My story "Unauthorized Bread" is eligible in the Novella category and you can read it free on Ars Technica:

Upcoming appearances:

Currently writing: I'm rewriting a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I'm also working on "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel afterwards.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: A Lever Without a Fulcrum Is Just a Stick

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a very special, s00per s33kr1t intro.

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