Numlock News: December 10, 2020 • Venice, Dialysis, Restaurants

By Walt Hickey

Fast Food

Paycheck Protection Program loans were designed for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, and $660 billion were disbursed of which $30 billion went to 255,050 restaurants. However, lots of those restaurants weren’t the independent ones you have in mind, but rather franchisees of popular chains — in some cases with hundreds of locations, in other cases through subsidiaries — that nevertheless qualified for the program. An examination of 378 PPP loans over $3 million in the fast food and fast casual sector turned up Taco Bells, Wendy’s, Pizza Huts, McDonald’s and more, with franchisees of large, well-capitalized chains getting over $1 billion of the money. Indeed, of those 255,050 restaurants that participated, 1 percent of the recipients got 24.5 percent of the money.

H. Claire Brown and Jessica Fu, The Counter

A quick plug for a friend: I don't try to cover the big day-to-day U.S. politics in Numlock, but my friend Judd Legum has a wonderful newsletter called Popular Information that does. Check it out at Popular.info.

Blood From A Stone

In the past four years, the dialysis industry has spent $233 million on political campaigns in California alone in an attempt to protect their enormous profits in the state. For my non-American readers, it may be shocking to hear that dialysis is an industry, but as a matter of fact, it’s an enormously lucrative one. There were two union-backed ballot measures in California over the past two cycles that would have regulated the business and capped their profit. There are about 600 dialysis clinics in California serving 80,000 patients a month. Medicare pays $239.33 base rate for each treatment, and that adds up: DaVita and Fresenius are the two largest providers in the country with about 80 percent of the market, and last year, DaVita made $811 million in net income on $11.4 billion in revenue, while Fresenius pocketed $2 billion on revenues of $13.6 billion. The pair of these each spent a fortune fighting the ballot initiatives, one of which would have capped their profits, and the other which would have required an on-site physician.

Samantha Young, The Los Angeles Times

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TikTok-esque

India banned TikTok about four months ago, and in the time since lots of local clones of the app have sprung up in the vacuum that ensued. TikTok held 90 percent of the market for short video in India in June, when Indians spent 165 billion minutes on the apps. As of October, following the splintering across many apps, that was down to 80 billion minutes, though the local apps had a 67 percent market share. Right now, the most popular app to replace TikTok in India is Josh, followed by MX TakaTak, and then Roposo. In the United States, as we all know, the most popular app to replace TikTok is ripped TikToks posted on Twitter without attribution.

Prathamesh Mulye, Quartz

Antitrust

Your two favorite snoops are going to war, as the United States government and Facebook are going to the mattresses for an anti-trust fight. Attorneys general from 48 states and territories — South Carolina, South Dakota, Georgia and Alabama decided to sit this one out, but other than that the gang’s all here — have filed an anti-trust case against the company, and the FTC has voted to initiate a case. They allege that Facebook has used anti-competitive practices to orchestrate a monopoly over social network traffic, and they’re asking the courts to force Facebook to spin off WhatsApp and Instagram. Facebook has acquired 86 companies since its founding, their properties account for 75 percent of time spent on social networks, and they control 50 percent of display ad space online.

Pat Garofalo, Boondoggle

Pumps

As of 2016, 87 percent of new mothers in the United States breastfed for at least a little bit of time, up from 22 percent in 1972. In many ways, part of that rise is attributable to breast pumps, devices which enabled working mothers to continue feeding their kids despite time apart, and particularly the company Medela, which for years defined the market segment. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act began to require private healthcare plans to cover the costs of breastfeeding supplies, which provided a massive boost to the market. Medela saw sales jump 34 percent initially, but the rush of available funds drew interested competitors to the once-quiet space, and since then newer brands like Willow, Elvie and Spectra — the first two venture-funded, the latter Korean — have dislodged Medela from the pole position.

Esmé E Deprez, Bloomberg

Illness

Over 585 people in Andhra Pradesh, India have been hospitalized with a strange illness that includes symptoms from nausea to loss of consciousness with no apparent link between those affected. They’ve all been tested for not just coronavirus but also dengue, chikungunya and herpes, with none coming up positive. Initially, contaminated water was considered, though testing came up clear. Tuesday night, the state government announced that traces of nickel and lead have been found in the blood of several patients, with more toxicology reports incoming.

The Associated Press

Venice

Two months ago, Venice rolled out a spiffy new system installed in their waterways designed to hold back high tides that have flooded the city for over a thousand years. The MOSE barrier system has worked successfully five times in the past two months under varying conditions, but naturally everyone’s a bit ticked off because on Tuesday the entire city flooded, whoops. The Byzantine Basilica of St Mark suffered serious damage, and St Mark’s Square was thigh deep in water. It’s not the kind of thing you really want to see after lots of nice news stories about the incredibly expensive barrier system. In its current phase, the barriers are only being activated when the tide is forecasted to break 130 centimeters above average, but when the system exits the testing phase, it’ll be raised when the tide is at 110 centimeters above average. The problem Tuesday came not from MOSE but from a botched weather forecast, which predicted a tide of 125 centimeters that instead came in at 138 centimeters. The system will get a chance at redemption Thursday when the tide is projected to hit 135 centimeters and Friday again when it’s projected to hit 140 centimeters.

Julia Buckley, CNN

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