[Plura-list] Walt's grandson calls for Disney execs' bonuses to be canceled; The Lost Cause and MMT; Patent troll sues ventilator makers

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu May 21 12:00:36 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Walt's grandson calls for Disney execs' bonuses to be canceled: Brad
Lund wants the money directed to furloughed workers.

* The Lost Cause and MMT: The climate emergency and centuries of full

* Patent troll sues ventilator makers: Swirlate IP says anyone who uses
LTE is violating its patents.

* Private equity's healthcare playbook is terrifying: Biopsy reveals
metastatic private equity tumors throughout US healthcare's every organ.

* On Madame Leota's side-table: The evolution of a fine Haunted Mansion

* Black Americans' covid mortality is 2.5X white mortality: AKA, "Why
Republicans no longer care about coronavirus."

* Spotify's trying to kill podcasting: Another federated system facing
monopolistic enclosure.

* Monopolies killed corporate R&D;: And that killed productivity growth.

* How spy agencies targeted Snowden journalists: Barton Gellman's Dark

* This day in history: 2010, 2015, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


👿 Walt's grandson calls for Disney execs' bonuses to be canceled

On its face, Disney's announcement that it was furloughing workers and
cutting exec salaries made it seem like execs and workers were in it
together - but as heiress Abigail Disney pointed out, top execs'
compensation is mostly stock based:


Things are looking increasingly dire for the front line Disney workers
who are going without salary.

Now, another Disney family member has raised similar concerns: Walt
Disney's grandson Brad Lund told The Daily Beast that total exec
compensation should be cut further and the sums distributed to
financially insecure workers:


To its credit, Disney has cancelled plans to pay dividends to
shareholders (another source of executive compensation) and has not
ruled out cancelling bonuses at the end of the year.



👿 The Lost Cause and MMT

Last summer, I recorded a two-part interview with the MMT podcast,
discussing how my activism and science fiction intersect with Modern
Monetary Theory, a lens for understanding the role of money in our



I was delighted to be invited back on to talk about the novel I'm
writing, "The Lost Cause," in which MMT has enabled a just climate
transition to a Green New Deal, but without getting rid of reactionary
elements who stood in its way.


The episode is just out and it's awfully fun and funny, and we talk
about a lecture I'm planning to give to a World Economic Forum AI
workshop on why I think technological unemployment is a distraction.


The climate emergency will demand full employment for all of us and our
children and their children for hundreds of years, doing things like
relocating every coastal city in the world several kilometers inland.

That's just for starters.

Keynes once proposed a thought experiment for kickstarting a moribund
economy by paying half of the unemployed workers to dig holes and the
other half to fill them in.

We spent 150 years subsidizing our ancestors to dig up fossil fuels, and
now we have to pay our descendants to spend 200-300 years getting them
back into the ground.

Image: Molly Crabapple/The Intercept


👿 Patent troll sues ventilator makers

What's the lowest, scummiest thing a patent troll could do? How about
suing a bunch of ventilator manufacturers during the coronavirus
pandemic, for violating a bullshit patent that never should have been
granted in the first place?


Swirlate IP is a patent troll (its whose sole product is lawsuits) that
filed suit against five ventilator companies: Resmed, Livongo Health,
Corning Optical Communications, Badger Mete and Continental Automotive,
claiming they infringed on US patents 7,567,622 and 7,154,961.

These are classic bullshit software patents, claiming ownership to most
forms of data-transfer. Panasonic (to its shame) applied for the patent
in 2002, the heyday of bullshit software patents. Now it's owned by
Swirlate (Panasonic has a history of selling patents to trolls).

Swirlate asserts that anyone who uses LTE data-transfer needs to license
its patents.

Swirlate itself has no office except for a Pack and Mail Shoppe mailbox
in a stripmall in Plano, Texas, home to America's most patent-troll
friendly courthouse.

United Patents says Swirlate is a front for IP Edge, a notorious firm of
patent trolls owned by three IP lawyers that controls a vast swathe of
shell companies that engage in this kind of shakedown.



👿 Private equity's healthcare playbook is terrifying

I was really struck by a biting insight on the state of US healthcare in
a recent episode of the excellent Arm and a Leg podcast: America funds
healthcare like a restaurant (dependent on optional "Sunday brunches"
AKA elective procedure)...


But we really need healthcare that's funded like a fire-department (lots
of reserve capacity to cope with rare, but catastrophic problems).

Where did the reserve capacity in US healthcare go? Into the pockets of
private equity, an "investment" system that loads up useful, functioning
real-economy businesses with debt, extracts all their value, and then
leaves them to fail.


The private equity playbook is slippery and hard to get your head around
because it combines out-and-out fraud with incredibly dull financial
minutiae. It's like the Softbank/Uber/Doordash grift.


First, you have to overcome the scheme's stultifying complexity, and
then you find yourself questioning your own comprehension because once
you cut through the performative dullness of the scheme, it seems like a
naked fraud. Could all these billions REALLY just be fraud?


Today's must-read long-read is Heather Perlberg's pitiless biopsy of the
role of private equity in destroying the US health-care system, a
metastatic cancer that has left it weak and unable to cope.


Here's how the con works. The American Medical Association prohibits
non-doctors from profiting from medicine, so PE maintains the pretense
that what it owns is a practice's "nonclinical" assets - administration,
supplies, support staff, etc.

Externally, PE companies swear they're not involved in medical
decisions. But when PE barons like Matt Jameson (BlueMountain Capital)
pitch doctors behind closed doors, they say things like "It’s not going
to be something where clinical is completely not touched."

Here's what that looks like: Doctors are pressured to advise patients to
get more lucrative procedures. They see more patients/day. Patients are
sent home with open wounds and come back the next day for stitches so
they generate two bills.

Doctors are replaced with "physicians' assistants" - the pretence is
that they're under a docs' supervision, even when the doc is in another
city. These non-docs miss deadly skin cancers (when my daughter went to
a PE-owned ER for a broken collarbone, she never saw a doc).

Docs are nickel-and-dimed on both procedures and administration: "A
doctor at Advanced Dermatology says that waiting for corporate approvals
means his office is routinely left without enough gauze, antiseptic
solution, and toilet paper."

PE management is supposed to create economies of scale by merging
mulitple practices and hospitals. In practice, these are actually
diseconomies of scale: every lab, hospital and doctor's office in my
neighborhood is owned by one PE group.

They've merged all the privacy and conset docs. Here's how that works:
when you go to any medical facility, you get a "consent" form that
covers everything any of the practices nationwide do. Getting blood
drawn? You have to give blanket consent to all of it.

Literally. They asked me to consent to being involuntarily sedated, put
in restraint, having surgery performed without my further consent,
having the procedures videoed, and having those videos used "for any

And the privacy policy? You get a mag-strip to sign on.

"What's this?"

"It says you've read the privacy policy."

"Where's the privacy policy?"

Sighs, prints a doc, hands me a sheet. It has one sentence: I HAVE READ

"This is the privacy policy"

The one administrative task PE excels at is negotiating higher rates
with insurers.

But even with those higher rates, the practices lose money. But that's a
feature, not a bug.

The practices lose money because they're heavily indebted, because PE
companies take out huge loans against the practice's future incomes, and
pay their investors giant special dividends out of the debt. When the
practices default, they're sold to other PE companies.

Those companies take out even more debt, leaving the practices even more
desperate, cutting more corners. Advanced Dermatology, a giant,
PE-backed dermatology chain, had a pathological pathologist, Matt
Leavitt, who gobbled meth while misdiagnosing medical conditions.

Dermatologists are hard hit by the crisis. They're prime targets for PE
looting (apart from skin cancer, dermatology is almost all "Sunday
brunch" medicine - elective, inessential, and thus not allowed to
operate during lockdown).

So they're debt-loaded and shuttered, with payments to make. That's why
Dr.Greg Morganroth, CEO of California Skin Institute, gave a webinar
telling docs that they should consider themselves "essential" during the
crisis and keep administering botox to boomers.

Eventually, it's crumble, just like all the other PE success stories,
from Sears to Toys R Us. As U Connecticut prof Dr Jane Grant-Kels said,
"There’s a limit to how much money you can make when you’re sticking
knives into human skin for profit.”

And when it does, the US health system will be where the US restaurant
system is: totally dependent on Sunday brunches that cannot resume for
years to come, and circling the drain waiting for them to come back.


👿 On Madame Leota's side-table

One of the things that makes Disney's Haunted Mansion such a classic of
the form is the wealth of fine details that seem coherent, even though
it's hard to pin down exactly how they all join up.

Like the wee side-table in Madame Leota's seance room.


Long Forgotten has a (characteristically) excellent history of this tiny
detail and how it changed through the years. It was likely a projector
housing for a version of the show where Leota's face was on the other
side of the crystal ball (this was scrapped prior to opening).

But it's also a great atmospheric piece, a version of the "Moroccan side
table" (AKA a "Moorish," "Turkish," "Ottoman," "Syrian," "Anglo Indian"
and "Arabesque" table) - a Victorian ubiquity that beautifully conjures
up the era.

The tables are worked with the Star of Solomon, a bit of mysticism that
also fits beautifully.

Disneyland's side table eventually proliferated to other Haunted
Mansions around the world, subtle transformed for each environment.

Florida's version of the table was added in 2007: "According to
production designer Neil Engel, who installed it, they found the table
at a swap meet."

Alas, Florida's Mansion has since lost the beloved table/lamp/chair
tableau from its load area.



👿 Black Americans' covid mortality is 2.5X white mortality

Black Americans are dying of coronavirus at 2.5 times the rate of white
Americans, according to APM's Color of Coronavirus report. In Kansas,
Black people are dying at 7 times the rate of white people.


"Senior Trump administration officials have blamed the disparities on
the high incidence among black people of underlying health conditions
such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity."


The CDC has dragged its feet on releasing race-based coronavirus stats,
which is why APM has released its own report.

Coronavirus is an accelerant, making the slow process of systemic bias
so fast that it can't be denied.

As Alissa Walker wrote, the disparity in NYC's and SF's death tolls can
be explained by San Francisco's ethnic cleansing: "people who were most
at risk from dying from covid [were pushed] to its surrounding counties
long before the pandemic arrived."


Any discussion of how to redesign our living spaces after the pandemic
that doesn't explicitly address racial disparities is totally non-credible.


👿 Spotify's trying to kill podcasting

Joe Rogan is getting $100m in exchange for putting his podcast behind
Spotify's paywall.


Spotify has been on an extraordinary, acquisition- and
exclusivity-driven spending spree, buying 15 companies, and doing deals
like this one with Rogan. Wall Street loves this, and the Rogan deal
sent Spotify's share price soaring.

Why does Wall Street like this? Because acquisition-driven growth is a
great way to establish a monopoly in which rents are extracted from
suppliers and customers to the benefit of shareholders.

That's why traditional, pre-Reagan antitrust banned "mergers to
monopoly" and acquisitions of nascent competitors. Growth through
acquisition means that companies succeed by having more money, not by
having better products or prices. It's a winner-take-all death spiral

As Matt Stoller points out, even Rogan admits there are no consumer
benefits from this deal: "It will be the exact same show. I am not going
to be an employee of Spotify. We’re going to be working with the same
crew doing the exact same show.”

In other words, the only difference is enclosure: taking something from
the federated, open, competitive web and sticking it inside a walled
garden. It's the App Store strategy, the Facebook strategy, the AOL
strategy, the MSN strategy.

The internet is running out of open, federated platforms. There's the
web (those parts of it that Facebook hasn't swallowed), email (same, but
Gmail), RSS, and some Fediverse tools like Mastodon.

They're like national parks, tiny preserves for the open spaces that
once dominated the landscape. And like national parks, every time they
are discovered to have something good, a plute comes along to enclose
them and charge admission.


👿 Monopolies killed corporate R&D;

Corporate R&D; was once an engine of American progress and competition.
Because antitrust rules banned growth through buying competitors,
companies had to invest in bold R&D; in order to grow.


As antitrust enforcement waned, so did R&D.; Research moved into
universities, while companies specialized in "Development" - but tech
transfer offices and other efforts to turn academic research into
businesses were far less effective than in-house R&D.;


In-house labs had a dual role: they researched general purpose
technologies, while solving practical problems. They had deep pockets
and interdisciplinary teams - and often the research they did rippled
out through the rest of industry (Xerox PARC and the GUI, AT&T; and Unix).

But as antitrust scrutiny was relaxed, companies could capture the same
growth without the (society-benefiting) inefficiencies of in-house
research. Rather than growing by doing stuff, they grew by buying stuff.



👿 How spy agencies targeted Snowden journalists

As explosive as the Snowden leaks were in their original reportage, some
of their most fascinating and enduring legacies were the longer-form,
analytical stories and memoirs of the events.

They started with Glenn Greenwald's excellent 2014 book "No Place to
Hide," which focused on the case for privacy and the technical
ins-and-outs of the revelations, describing both how the spying worked
and how it eroded our democracy.


Then came Laura Poitras's stunning, Academy-Award-winning doc
Citizenfour, which manages to be a technothriller, a portrait of
Snowden, and a political call to arms, all at once.


Last year, Snowden published Permanent Record, his own memoir, which
uses the incredible tradecraft details as an engine to drive a political
manifesto that emerges from his autobiography.


There are oddities like Snowden's Box, which uses the tale of how
Snowden got a hard drive from his home in Hawaii to Laura Poitras. It's
a gorgeous little book, like a Ninety Nine Percent Invisible episode
about privacy and surveillance, told by examining a single object.


The latest addition to the canon is Barton Gellman's Dark Mirror, which
is excerpted at length in The Atlantic:


Gellman was already a multiple Pulitzer winner when Snowden contacted
him, but (IMO) he did his best work after that moment.

So it's fascinating to read just this short excerpt - which has that
awesome technothriller business going on, as Gellman discovers his
devices are getting systematically hacked by (multiple?) spy agencies.

Gellman tries to protect himself, going to ever-greater lengths, though,
as Schneier says, the Snowden journalists for all their trying were
vastly outmatched:


For me, this excerpt demonstrates the adage that security favors
attackers over defenders. There's a scene in the third Little Brother
book, Attack Surface (which comes out on Oct 12), where a former
surveillance contractor explains this to a protest group:

"I can show you how their spy shit works, and I can show you how to do
spy shit of your own, but you’re going to lose. They get paid a lot of
money to spy on you and they use that money to pay people like me to pay
very, very close attention to you. If you keep them from spying on you,
they don’t get paid. But neither do you. Not getting spied on is a
serious job, a second job or maybe a third job, and it’s unpaid work,
and you’re not very good at it.

"They need to use the money they get to find one tiny mistake you’ve
made and then they get to crack your life wide open. You need to make
zero mistakes in your unpaid second job. Third job. You are going to
lose. And it’s a team sport. When you get compromised, the bad guys
don’t just get to spy on you, they get to spy on everyone who
communicates with you, everyone who trusts you."

For me, this is the central question of the Snowden revelations: is the
reality of computers that they will always be easier to use as tools of
oppression, or can they be used as tools of liberation, too?

Snowden was kind enough to write an intro for the omnibus reissue of
Little Brother and Homeland that comes out this July where he digs into
this issue.


Attack Surface - Little Brother III - is also available for pre-order,
and pre-orderers get a free Marcus Yallow story as an ebook and
audiobook when it comes out:



👿 This day in history

#10yrsago Google offers encrypted search

#10yrsago Google and Viacom blend high-profile copyright suits with
extreme profanity, as nature intended

#10yrsago Scientology raid uncovers dossiers on local "enemies": sexual
habits, health info, political opinions

#10yrsago Secrets of a suitcase-packing ninja

#10yrsago The Boneshaker: magic, latter-day Bradburian novel for young
adults https://boingboing.net/2010/05/21/the-boneshaker-magic.html

#5yrsago NSA wanted to hack the Android store

#5yrsago GM says you don't own your car, you just license it

#5yrsago Paper on changing peoples' minds about marriage equality

#1yrago Facebook's Dutch Head of Policy lied to the Dutch parliament
about election interference

#1yrago The empirical impact of Lyft and Uber on cities: congestion
(especially downtown, especially during "surges"), overworked drivers

#1yrago The government of Baltimore has been taken hostage by ransomware
and may remain shut down for weeks

#1yrago Massive, careful study finds that social media use is generally
neutral for kids' happiness, and sometimes positive


👿 Colophon

Today's top sources: Tiest Vilee, Naked Capitalism
(https://nakedcapitalism.com/), Bruce Schneier (https://schneier.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 532 words (17919

Currently reading: The Case for a Job Guarantee, Pavlina Tcherneva

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 03)

.Upcoming appearances: Controlled Digital Lending: Getting Books to
Students During the Pandemic & Beyond, Friday May 22

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

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

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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