Pluralistic: 11 Apr 2020

Today's links

PE companies that looted healthcare want billions in bailouts (permalink)

Remember the private equity funds that bought out hospital doctors' practices so they could opt emergency docs out of insurance and then slam patients with surprise bills, whose looting destroyed pandemic preparation, and who cut med staff wages?

Public shaming did manage to get them to back down, a very small amount, on impoverishing the doctors and nurses who are saving our civilization, but…

…Now they're angling for massive stimulus bailouts, billions and billions in free money from the US government for their investors, AKA the richest people in America.

Some of the people with their hands out: Envision Healthcare (owned by KKR, founded by Henry Kravis [net worth $5.6B] and George Roberts [net worth $5.8b]).

These plutes expected to make a fortune by gambling on fucking us all over by buying doctors' groups. Now that the bet isn't paying off, they want us to make them whole.

Envision would have more capital reserves if they hadn't spent millions running attack ads against modest proposals to limit surprise billing.

The Trump admin has set aside $100b for medical financial stimulus.

Automating arbitration claims (permalink)

"Binding arbitration" is a system for resolving legal disputes without going to court. It was invented to help large corporations of equal bargaining power amicably and quickly resolve their contract problems without spending years and millions on lawsuits.

But the Supreme Court steadily chipped away at the limits on arbitration and companies realized that it was a way to strip their employees, contractors and customers of the right to sue them regardless of how badly they behaved.

I've been asked to enter into binding arbitration "agreements" by a toboganning hill, an emergency room, a daily newspaper, and Lyft (to name just a few).

Why? The golden rule: "Them what has the gold, makes the rules." In other words, if you settle your dispute in front of a private arbitrator in the employ of a business that cheated or maimed you, the private arbitrator will rule in their employer's favor far more often than a judge would.

Even better: if you're the kind of business that profits by cheating lots of people in small ways, binding arbitration makes it impossible for them to get justice through class action — it sets the threshold for fraud at "less than it would cost to go through arbitration."

But it turns out that you can do class action with binding arbitration, if you just automate arbitration claims, as some lawyers have done. They're now able to file thousands of arbitration cases at once against abusive companies.

Now, the companies that used one-sided "agreements' to strip others of their right to sue are refusing to arbitrate, too. They're reneging on their obligation to pay arbitrators. They're slow-walking claims so that some aren't being heard for YEARS.

Companies like Fairshake are massively expanding the industries they bulk-file claims against, paying their customers – people who've been screwed over – an average of $700 each.

And oh, how the companies are whining! They're basically admitting what we knew all along: that the point of arbitration wasn't to streamline justice, it was to DENY justice. Arbitration was supposed to mean that only 30 of AT&T's 300,000,000 customers filed claims per year.

As Karl Bode writes, whatever problems class action suits had they were also engines for good – for example, class actions are why you no longer have to pay giant termination fees if you cancel your cellular contract). Replacing them with kangaroo courts was no improvement.

(Image: Tim Evanson,

Non-secret votes vs e-voting (permalink)

Online secret ballots are a nonstarter. Just stop trying. Vote by mail, sure. Just not by internet. Virtually the only security experts who think it's possible work for companies that want to sell online voting products. It's a fool's errand

But that doesn't mean that legislatures can't conduct NON-SECRET ballots online. That's do-able, if complicated.

(Note: I have muted any comments that contain the word "blockchain" – go look for hammer-compatible nails somewhere else)

"Attacks that compromise the client or server computers can be detected and corrected if everyone’s vote is publicly displayed. Each member of the legislature would transmit their vote then must check the public display to make sure the vote was reported/recorded accurately."

There are attacks on this: officials could cheat by claiming their votes were misregistered; attackers could cheat by compromising officials' devices to show false roll-calls, lobbyists could violate ethics rules by literally sitting at officials' elbows as they vote.

There are also legal considerations:

But all that to say, the problem of non-secret ballots by certified pools of elected officials is a LOT simpler than the problem of holding secret ballots to elect those officials.

RNC plans ex-cop/military voter intimidation squad (permalink)

In 1981, the RNC entered into a consent decree to halt its "Ballot Security Task Force" – a voter-intimidation squad that harassed Black voters by accusing them of "improper voting" and threatening them with arrest and fines.

In 2018, a New Jersey judge declined to renew the consent decree. Now, Republican operators are planning to reinstate the voter harassment service for 2020. They're recruiting ex-military and ex-police supporters to haunt Black and Native tribal polling places.

The plan was shared at a Council for National Policy ("a secretive foundation on the religious right") meeting in Orange County that The Intercept's Lee Fang reports on.

The strategy session included plans to suppress vote-by-mail because Republicans perceive expanded electoral participation as favorable to Democrats.

The group leading the voter suppression charge is True the Vote, whose founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, called for Navy Seals to watch over polls and tell prospective voters, "No, no, this is what it says. This is how we’re going to play this show."

Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs executive director Trent England endorsed the plan, as did Brad Smith (a GW Bush FEC commissioner) and Morton Blackwell (RNC).

Heritage Foundation fellow and ardent opponent of expanded voting rights Hans von Spakovsky spoke alongside Engelbrecht at the session, laying out plans to disqualify voters.

True the Vote relies on a rogues' gallery of evil plutes for funding, including Richard Sackler, the disgraced architect of the opioid epidemic, and Trump heavy donors Eric M. Javits and Lawrence Post.

True the Vote is currently using their money to sue to block universal vote-by-mail in New Mexico, and lobbying against plans for postal voting in other states.

They allege that postal voting opens up the possibility of voter fraud.

There's no evidence of this — with one exception: the far-right North Carolina Republican Mark Harris, whose victory was invalidated when he admitted that he'd won thanks to fraudulent postal votes.

In more candid moments, Republicans admit that the reason they dislike postal ballots is that they increase turnout, and that when everyone gets a vote, Republicans lose elections.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said that increased turnout "will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives."–regional-govt–politics/ralston-says-his-concern-that-mail-vote-hurts-gop-about-fraud/xFLO67sQd34eiFKu1yqWuM/

And, of course, Trump (master of saying the quiet part out loud), said that if you allowed every eligible voter to vote, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

"Job creators" are job annihilators (permalink)

Most of the world's rich countries handled the economic crisis of pandemic by paying workers' wages if employers would keep them on the payroll, so that when the crisis passes they can go back to work. But not in the USA.

In the US, workers get a $1200 check (which may take months to arrive), while businesses get loans that they are supposed to use to keep workers on the payroll. But they don't have to. Many aren't.

The "job creators" are now job annihilators, especially the "small business owners" who actually own large chains and exploit loopholes to get millions, and are lobbying for relaxation of the loan conditions so they can use them to pay their bills.

"Bob has bills. He needs to pay those bills, like the ones from his suppliers. As for all those workers he laid off? Fuck their bills…" -Jim White

"It just never enters Bob’s little mind that he could take these funds, which he wouldn’t have to repay, and use them to pay those workers he laid off, even if they can’t work right now." -Jim White

As I wrote in Walkaway: "A 'job creator' is someone who figures out how to threaten you with starvation unless you do something you don’t want to do."

(Image: badlyricpolice, CC BY-SA)

Snowden warns of permanent pandemic surveillance (permalink)

"Shelter in Place" is a new show on Vice TV. In its inaugural episode, Edward Snowden warns that pandemic is providing cover for governments to create "the architecture of oppression."

Snowden warns that the surveillance and authoritarian controls enacted to control the pandemic will not be temporary, but rather, will endure long after the crisis (just as the Patriot Act's "temporary" measures are still in place decades later).

And that this will exacerbate the world's "slide into a less liberal and less free world." The datasets and measures put in place to control the virus will be used to control people, constituting "the architecture of oppression."

He is skeptical of the idea that authoritarianism has been proven effective in the time of pandemic, noting that China expelled independent western press corps, leaving us to rely on internal Chinese sources for evidence of whether pandemic controls are working in China.

And adds that the advent of a global pandemic is no surprise: it's been a commonplace among epidemiologists that we would face a crisis like this (he says that he's seen intelligence reports on the matter). But our political classes chose to ignore those warnings.

It's worse than that. It wasn't just that officials ignored the need for disaster preparation. They actively worked against it.

The $200m California stockpile of ventilators, masks, emergency beds? Dismantled in 2008 to pay for the financial crisis.

Think of how the Tea Party repeatedly nerfed CDC budgets earmarked for pandemic prep:

(ex-GOP Rep Denny Rehberg: "pandemic was as unforseeable as 9/11.")

Or how the DoJ allowed Covidien to buy up Newport, the company that CDC had tapped to build fleets of low-cost ventilators for stockpiles, which would competed with Covidien's $10K machines (Covidien killed the project).

Officaldom didn't merely ignore the warnings of a looming pandemic: they marginalized, undercut, and destroyed any attempt to heed them.

RIP MAD's Mort Drucker (permalink)

RIP, Mort Drucker, the pioneering MAD Magazine artist, who has died at 91 after developing difficulty walking and breathing (he was not tested for coronavirus). He died at home with Barbara, his wife of 70 years, at his side.

His daughter, Laurie Bachner, told the AP: "I think my father had the best life anyone could hope for. He was married to the only woman he ever loved and got to make a living out of what he loved to do."

Drucker worked at MAD from the mid-50s on, helping to define the magazine's caricature house-style. He also drew a Time cover of Mao and Nixon playing Table Tennis that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

(Image: Gustavo Morales, CC BY-SA)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Humanist transhumanism: Citizen Cyborg

#1yrago Brexit is cratering London house prices

#1yrago Teen Vogue explains capitalism

#1yrago Amazon stores recordings of Alexa interactions and turns them over to internal staff and outside contractors for review

#1yrago Courts and cops don't know what to do with "sovereign citizens," the delusional far-rightists who claim the law doesn't apply to them

#1yrago Someone is targeting "critical infrastructure" safety systems in networked attacks

#1yrago Text-mining journalists find that lawmakers introduced 10,000 bills that were copypasted from lobbyists' "model legislation"

Colophon (permalink)

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

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation

Currently reading: I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley" and Jo Walton's forthcoming novel "Or What You Will."

Latest podcast: The Jubilee: Fill Your Boots

Upcoming appearances:

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 new introduction by Edward Snowden:

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

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