Pluralistic: 04 Aug 2021

Today's links

The keyboard of an old-time cash-register; all but one of the keys are capped with a white-on-blue capital H for hospital; the summing up key is capped with a covid molecule.

Vaccine refusal and health insurance (permalink)

At the start of the pandemic, the otherwise irredeemable American health insurance industry experienced a momentary lapse in shittiness and agreed to waive copayments and deductibles for covid hospitalizations.

Now, that's ending.

This is bad news for anyone who gets hospitalized with covid, because hospitals have become merciless price-gouging machines owned by private equity ghouls, so even if you're insured, you can get hit with thousands of dollars in bills:

But getting hospitalized with covid is a very different prospect today than it was in March 2020: today, more than 97% of the people hospitalized for covid are unvaccinated – part of the 40% of Americans who won't get a free shot.

Insurers have a long history of refusing to cover "high-risk," as Elisabeth Rosenthal and Glenn Kramon point out for KHN. Get injured while scuba-diving or rock climbing and you might be out of pocket – even the ACA allows for a 50% surcharge for smokers.

But as the authors also point out, insurers do cover some results of risky conduct – for example, addiction rehab and cancer treatment for smokers.

You may feel a jolt of visceral satisfaction at the thought of a vaccine refuser being stuck with a giant surprise hospital bill, but I think it's counterproductive. For one thing, health insurance profiteering is never good.

More importantly, if someone refuses a vaccine because they don't trust the system – maybe because they watched the Sacklers lie their way into a $10+b windfall when regulators accepted their claims about opioid safety, kicking off 800k+ overdose deaths – this won't help.

I am double-vaxed and would get a booster if it was offered. But the amazing news about vaccines does not make me forget that Pfizer, J&J, Astrazeneca, Moderna and other pharma companies are murderous profiteers who'd kill us all for an extra nickel if they could get away with it.

Nor does it make me forget the collusion between regulators and pharma in the opioid epidemic and other atrocities. Nor that the health insurers make their decisions based on profit, not human health, and have made America a world leader in high costs and bad health.

The fact that so many people won't get vaccinated literally makes me feel sick – but I don't think we can solve their distrust by deputizing the corrupt health-care industry to empty their wallets (or, worse, the wallets of the survivors they leave behind).

(Image: David Trawin, CC BY-SA)

Northeast Portland homeless camp tents.

Congress has allocated enough money to end the eviction crisis (permalink)

Bad news: Americans owe $21.3b in total rent debt.

Good news: Congress made $46.5b in rent assistance available in the relief bills.

Bad news: Just $3.25b of that money has been handed out, with 94% unspent.

Fucking terrible news: The eviction moratorium just expired.

As David Dayen writes in The American Prospect, the eviction tragicomedy was blamed on unforced errors – CDC promises not to extend the moratorium, Kavanaugh's judicial cruelty, Biden's month of inaction, Congress's failure to act – but none of that would matter if relief got to renters.

Now, as the CDC moves to partially restore the eviction moratorium, we should focus on preventing evictions once it expires (again): let's get the $43.25b that Congress says renters are eligible for into their hands.

To do that, we need to understand the backlog. The first problem is that the money was given to the states and cities to disburse to renters, and the states don't have renter relief agencies sitting around waiting to spring into action once Congress writes a check.

Quite the contrary: the states have been starved for decades, thanks to Republicans' and Democrats' race to show who is more "fiscally responsible" by performatively cutting "bureaucracy," without stopping to ask what all that administrative capacity and buffers are for.

All that is exacerbated by Congress's insistence on larding the relief with onerous conditions in order to demonstrate eligibility, and a condition that the money be given to renters before being passed onto landlords or utility companies.

The goal is to prevent fraud, which is laudable, but adding administrative burdens to overburdened local administrations was obviously going to result in stalls. The states are really bad at fighting fraud, as evidenced by the billions scammed in UI:

Dayen points out that federalizing the program might actually get money into renters' hands before they end up homeless – and it would do an end-run around Republican-dominated southern states that love evictions.

Dayen: "We have a serious problem with government functioning, punctuated by an obsession with means testing and state experimentation that turned everyone needing relief into an unpaid government bureaucrat, having their free time taxed with paperwork and endless hassles."

(Image: Graywalls, CC BY-SA)

A looming, giant, old-fashioned robot with a glowing 'good/evil' meter set into its chest; a young girl, perched on the robot's outstretched hand, gestures towards the dial.

Utilities governed like empires (permalink)

Tech companies' "mission statements" are easy to dismiss as BS, but they're deadly serious and surprisingly successful in their aspirations to dominate the digital world.

That's how we've ended up in a situation where a single company might control your email archives, family photos, business's cloud drives, home security system, mobile devices and media collections.

But these companies don't act like they've deliberately coiled their tendrils around every aspect of your digital life; they act like you're just a customer whom they can kick off the platform the way a bartender would 86 you after last call.

That's a phenomenon I explore in my latest piece of EFF's Deeplinks blog, "Utilities Governed Like Empires." It's a piece about how policies governing competition, tech, and contract led inexorably to this situation.

Anyone who's ever had content removed or their accounts suspended or terminated by a Big Tech firm knows that Kafka was an optimist – The Trial's got nothin' on the endless customer-support email loops where robots ask questions you've already answered.

The stakes are high – losing your email might cost you the last email from a beloved, dead friend; losing your media account can lock you out of thousands in games, movies, ebooks and audiobooks; losing your home automation account might brick your thermostat and door locks.

What's more, all these accounts – home automation, email, cloud, media – might be just one account. A single nebulous terms-of-service violation or false credit-card fraud alert at just one company can cost you everything.

DRM laws like DMCA 1201 mean that you can't jailbreak the media you bought, even if the company won't let you access it anymore. Terms of service mean that you sign away any right to seek redress if that happens.

Lax anti-monopoly enforcement means that companies can hoover up small competitors, so that your health-monitoring wearable, audiobook collection, family photos, and other digital services all end up under one company's umbrella.

Youtubers and other creative workers warned us about this – when a content removal or account termination process go wrong for them, they lose their livelihood. Despite the high stakes, the platforms maintain their right to enforce "house rules" – no matter how arbitrary.

This ghastly situation will require multiple remedies to fix. For example, we must abolish rules that ban removing DRM, even for legal reasons (EFF has a lawsuit to do just this):

We must restore muscular antitrust enforcement, banning monopolistic mergers and unwinding the mergers that created monopolization:

We should pass the ACCESS Act, which will require big platforms to interoperate with smaller startups, co-ops and nonprofits, so you can leave the big companies behind without walking away from your friends, communities and customers:

We should make rules for companies that hold our data, requiring them to act with care and reasonableness when it comes to that information:

Digital rights are human rights. The fact that our lives are lived online and governed by high-handed terms of service and opaque corporate processes rather than by the rule of law and universal rights was not inevitable – and it's not too late to change it.

"We have the right to a better digital future – a future where the ambitions of would-be monopolists and their shareholders take a back-seat to fairness, equity, and your right to self-determination."

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Collectible AOL CDs,1284,45585,00.html

#15yrsago Gonzales: Gitmo prisoners can be held indefinitely;_ylt=ArCXT.Xe_B8LAor3b3yYsYCs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MjBwMWtkBHNlYwM3MTg-

#10yrsago Getting digital copyright right: pay artists, but don’t break the Internet

#10yrsago Google Plus’s “Real Name” policy is abusive; Facebook is not a “Real Name” success story

#5yrsago After repeated budget cuts, Missouri’s underfunded Public Defender drafts the Governor to work for him

#5yrsago Copyright Office to FCC: Hollywood should be able to killswitch your TV

#5yrago Residents of Silicon Valley homeless camp clear 48,000 Lbs of garbage from creek, ask for housing

#5yrsago Spoofing GPS is surprisingly easy; detecting it is surprisingly hard

#5yrsago IOC bans GIFs

#1yrago Jack Dorsey's interop plan

#1yrago Google acquires major stake in ADT

Colophon (permalink)

Currently writing:

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. Friday's progress: 250 words (12919 words total)

  • A Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. PLANNING

  • A nonfiction book about excessive buyer-power in the arts, co-written with Rebecca Giblin, "The Shakedown." FINAL EDITS

  • A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause." FINISHED

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Are We Having Fun Yet?
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest book:

Upcoming books:

  • The Shakedown, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press 2022

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