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Pandemic Tech Bros are the New Wartime Swindlers

Yesterday’s textile bros are today’s tech bros, passing off shoddy testing instead of shoddy uniforms, easily finding willing dupes in incompetent governors’ offices.

header image of Domo CEO
Domo CEO Josh James; shoddy.

As the Civil War broke out in 1861, the state of New York was desperate to supply uniforms to its troops. Material was hard to come by–the North was at war with the cotton-growing region of the country. In stepped Brooks Brothers, already a well-known men’s clothing company. Brooks Brothers assured New York that they could supply the uniforms using their superior business connections. The state government, no stranger to corrupt backroom deals, handed Brooks Brothers a contract to make 12,000 uniforms, and soon ratcheted this up to 36,000.

Turned out Brooks Brothers, like everyone else, had no way to reliably source uniform materials. So what did they do? They took scraps and waste from mills and rags of just about anything, mixed it with glue, pressed it into fabric form–a material called “shoddy”–and made something resembling uniforms out of it. The uniforms fell apart in the rain as the troops marched. The state of New York had to spend over ten million in today’s dollars to replace them.

Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, 1861: “The Albany contractors who have “influence” at Washington, and their victim.” The caption reads: “The blankets served from the State of New York were small in size, bad in texture, and almost rotten, so that you could poke your finger through them. They were not one third the width and size of the army blanket. The same sort of swindling was apparent in tents, blankets, clothes, shoes, etc. Some of the colonels had been seen riding about on horseback, in dressing gown and slippers. They had seen men mount guard without pantaloons, walking about on duty in that condition.” Extract from Surgical Report on the Condition of the Army.

The Brooks Brothers are only one example of the countless crisis swindlers who have made fortunes on false promises and trash products in times of acute need. There is nothing new under the sun. Yesterday’s textile bros are today’s tech bros, passing off shoddy testing instead of shoddy uniforms, easily finding willing dupes in incompetent governors’ offices.

At Seeing Red Nebraska we have been sounding the alarm about the scam of Test Nebraska for weeks. See our previous coverage of these unqualified tech bros and their history of pseudoscientific tech products and grifter motivation.

Pete Ricketts introducing the tech bro crisis swindlers behind Test Nebraska on April 21. At this press conference he said that in five weeks–that will be May 26–the tech bros will be testing 3,000 Nebraskans per day. As of May 12th, Test Nebraska has tested 2,358 Nebraskans in total.

Now we are watching this $27 million fleecing play out. In Grand Island, one of the nation’s hottest hot spots, health officials cannot access basic public health information, including the fundamental question of how many people in their county have tested positive in the last two weeks. Two weeks! Why? Because these grifter tech bros–promising state-of-the-art data management and testing services–have failed to collect even basic information about the people they are testing. Health officials in Grand Island say this includes not compiling or providing data on where positive cases live. That’s right–Test Nebraska’s Utahan tech bros are not telling public health officials how many of the positive cases live in their area. What officials do know is that the percentage of people testing positive in the hands of some overly confident mediocre tech dudes with no health credentials has suddenly dropped from 18% to 3%. Whether you attribute that to superior, vast new testing availability or to incompetence depends on whether you ask Pete Ricketts or your brain.

And let’s say you are interested in knowing basic information, such as how many people have symptoms but tested negative, or how many people don’t have symptoms but tested positive, or how many people prioritized for tests have been unable to get them. Well, sorry. New York’s soldiers wanted buttonholes for their buttons and they didn’t get those either. Surely you don’t expect a data analytics company paid $27 million in public funds to usefully analyze the data.