Pluralistic: Iowa's starvation strategy; The Red Team Blues Tour; Red Team Blues Chapter One, part three (19 Apr 2023)

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The Iowa state-house. On the right side of the steps is an engraved drawing of Oliver Twist, holding out his porridge bowl. On the left side is the cook, denying him an extra portion. Peeking out from behind the dome is a business-man in a suit with a dollar-sign-emblazoned money-bag for a head.

Iowa's starvation strategy (permalink)

I don't really buy that "the cruelty is the point." I'm a materialist. Money talks, bullshit walks. When billionaires fund unimaginably cruel policies, I think the cruelty is a tactic, a way to get the turkeys to vote for Christmas. After all, policies that grow the fortune of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us have a natural 99% disapproval rating.

So when some monstrous new law or policy comes down the pike, it's best understood as a way of getting frightened, angry – and often hateful – people to vote for policies that will actively harm them, by claiming that they will harm others – brown and Black people, women, queers, and the "undeserving" poor.

Pro-oligarch policies don't win democratic support – but policies that inflict harm a ginned-up group of enemies might. Oligarchs need frightened, hateful people to vote for policies that will secure and expand the power of the rich. Cruelty is the tactic. Power is the strategy. The point isn't cruelty, it's power:

But that doesn't change the fact that the policies are cruel indeed. Take Iowa, whose billionaire-backed far-right legislature is on a tear, a killing spree that includes active collaboration with rapists, through a law that denies abortion care to survivors of rape and forces them to bear and care for their rapists' babies:

The forced birth movement is part of the wider far-right tactic of standing up for imaginary children (e.g. "the unborn," fictional victims of Hollywood pedo cabals), and utterly abandons real children: poor kids who can't afford school lunches, kids in cages, kids victimized by youth pastors, kids forced into child labor, etc.

So Iowa isn't just a forced birth state, it's a state where children are now to be starved, literally. The state legislature has just authorized an $18m project to kick people off of SNAP (aka food stamps). 270,000 people in Iowa rely on SNAP: elderly people, disabled people, and parents who can't feed their kids.

Writing in the Washington Post, Kyle Swenson profiles some of these Iowans, like an elderly woman who visited Lisa Spitler's food pantry for help and said that state officials had told her that she was only eligible for $23/month in assistance:

That's because Iowa governor KimReynolds signed a bill cutting the additional SNAP aid – federally funded, and free to the state taxpayers of Iowa – that had been made available during the lockdown. Since then, food pantries have been left to paper over the cracks in the system, as Iowans begin to starve.

Before the pandemic, Spitler's food pantry saw 30 new families a month. Now it's 100 – and growing. Many of these families have been kicked off of SNAP because they failed to complete useless and confusing paperwork, or did so but missed the short deadlines now imposed by the state. For example, people with permanent disabilities and elderly people who no longer work must continuously file new paperwork confirming that their income hasn't changed. Their income never changes.

SNAP recipients often work, borrow from relations, and visit food pantries, and still can't make ends meet, like Amy Cunningham, a 31 year old mother of four in Charlton. She works at a Subway, has tapped her relatives for all they can afford, and relies on her $594/month in SNAP to keep her kids from going hungry. She missed her notice of an annual review and was kicked off the program. Getting kicked off took an instant. Getting reinstated took a starving eternity.

Iowa has a budget surplus of $1.91B. This doesn't stop ghouls like Iowa House speaker Pat Grassley (a born-rich nepobaby whose grandpa is Senator Chuck Grassley) from claiming that the cuts were a necessity: "[SNAP is] growing within the budget, and are putting pressure on us being able to fund other priorities."

Grassley's caucus passed legislation on Jan 30 to kick people off of SNAP if their combined assets, including their work vehicle, total to more than $15,000. SNAP recipients will be subject to invasive means-testing and verification, which will raise the cost of administering SNAP from $2.2m to $18m. Anyone who gets flagged by the system has 10 days to respond or they'll be kicked off of SNAP.

The state GOP justifies this by claiming that SNAP has an "error rate" of 11.81%. But that "error rate" includes people who were kicked off SNAP erroneously, a circumstance that is much more common than fraud, which is almost nonexistent in SNAP programs. Iowa's error rate is in line with the national average.

Iowa's pro-starvation law was authored by a conservative dark-money "think tank" based in Florida: the Opportunity Solutions Project, the lobbying arm of Foundation For Government Accountability, run by Tarren Bragdon, a Maine politician with a knack for getting money from the Koch Network and the DeVos family for projects that punish, humiliate and kill marginalized people. The Iowa bill mirrors provisions passed in Kentucky, Kansas, Wisconsin and elsewhere – and goes beyond them.

The law was wildly unpopular, but it passed anyway. It's part of the GOP's push for massive increases in government spending and bureaucracy – but only when those increases go to punishing poor people, policing poor people, jailing poor people, and spying on poor people. It's truly amazing that the "party of small government" would increase bureaucratic spending to administer SNAP by 800% – and do it with a straight face.

In his essay "The Utopia of Rules," David Graeber (Rest in Power) described this pathology: just a couple decades ago, the right told us that our biggest threat was Soviet expansion, which would end the "American way of life" and replace it with a dismal world where you spent endless hours filling in pointless forms, endured hunger and substandard housing, and shopped at identical stores that all carried the same goods:

A society that can't feed, house and educate its residents is a failed state. America's inability to do politics without giving corporations a fat and undeserved share is immiserating an ever-larger share of its people. Federally, SNAP is under huge stress, thanks to the "public-private partnership" at the root of a badly needed "digital overhaul" of the program.

Writing for The American Prospect, Luke Goldstein describes how the USDA changed SNAP rules to let people pay with SNAP for groceries ordered online, as a way to deal with the growing problem of food deserts in poor and rural communities:

It's a good idea – in theory. But it was sabotaged from the start: first, the proposed rule was altered to ban paying for delivery costs with SNAP, meaning that anyone who ordered food online would have to use scarce cash reserves to pay delivery fees. Then, the USDA declined to negotiate discounts on behalf of the 40 million SNAP users. Finally, the SNAP ecommerce rules don't include any privacy protections, which will be a bonanza for shadowy data-brokers, who'll mine SNAP recipients' data to create marketing lists for scammers, predatory lenders, and other bottom-feeder:

The GOP's best weapon in this war is statistical illiteracy. While racist, sexist and queerphobic policies mean that marginalized people are more likely than white people to be poor, America's large population of white people – including elderly white people who are the immovable core of the GOP base – means that policies that target poor people inevitably inflict vast harms on the GOP's most devoted followers.

Getting these turkeys to vote for Christmas is a sound investment for the ultra-rich, who claim a larger share of the American pie every year. The rich may or may not be racist, or sexist, or queerphobic – some of them surely are – but the reason they pour money into campaigns to stoke divisions among working people isn't because they get off on hatred. The hatred is a tactic. The cruelty is a tactic. The strategic goal is wealth and power.

(Image: Iqkotze, CC BY 3.0, modified)

The Red Team Blues tour schedule.

The Red Team Blues tour (permalink)

In just a few days, my next novel, Red Team Blues, will be released in all English territories. It's an "anti-finance finance thriller" – my most commercial novel to date, about a 67-year-old high-tech forensic accountant fighting for his life as he unwinds a cryptocurrency heist:

My publishers are sending me around the world on a tour of the US, Canada, and the UK, with a bonus stop in Berlin! When I do book tours, each stop is a mix of a reading, a little background talk about the book, and then a kind of AMA with the audience. They're incredibly fun and rewarding, and over the decades I've been doing them, I've had some of the most memorable and important interactions of my life. What's more, these tours are a great way to support indie booksellers and get my readers acquainted with the stores who really support my work, creating lifelong relationships between bookstores and the communities they serve.

I hope you'll come out to see me on this trip! What's more: if you don't see your city on the list below, don't despair: I've got three more books coming out in the next 12 months and I'm going on the road with all of them, so there's a good chance I'll see you in the future even if I miss you this time around.

Here's where you can catch me:

  • Los Angeles: I'm speaking at the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend (4/22-23).

Sat at 12, I'm doing a panel called "Covering Silicon Valley" with Douglas Rushkoff, Winddance Twine, moderated by Wendy Lee from the LA Times.

Sun at 11, I'm signing for California Book Club at booth 111.

Sun at 12:30, I'm doing a panel called "The Accidental Detective" with Alex Segura, Margot Douaihy and SJ Rozan.

  • San Diego: I'll be at Mysterious Galaxy with Sarah Gailey on 4/25:

  • Burbank: I'll be at Dark Delicacies on 4/26:

  • San Francisco: I'll be at the San Francisco Public Library with Annalee Newitz on 4/30:

  • PDX: I'll be at the Powell's in Cedar Hills with Andy Baio on 5/2:

  • Mountain View: I'll be at Books, Inc with Mitch Kapor on 5/5:

  • Berkeley: I'll be at the Bay Area Bookfest with Glynn Washington on 5/6:

  • Vancouver: On 5/10 I'm doing an afternoon keynote for Open Source Summit:

And that evening I'll be at Massy Arts with Sean Cranbury:

  • Calgary: I'll be at Wordfest with Peter Hemminger on 5/11:

  • Gaithersburg: I'll be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on 5/20:

  • DC: I'm keynoting Public Knowledge's Emerging Tech conference on 5/22:

  • Toronto: I'll be on stage with Ron Deibert, Dave Bidini and Nancy Olivieri for WEPFest on 5/23:

  • Hay: I'm speaking at the HowTheLightGetsIn festival on 28-29/5:

On May 28, I'm on a panel called "The AI Enigma" with Joshua Bach and Mazviita Chirimuuta:

On May 29, I'm on a panel called "The Danger and Desire of the Frontier" with Nolen Gertz and Esther Dyson:

  • Oxford: I'll be at Blackwell with Tim Harford on 29/5:

  • Nottingham: I'll be at Waterstones with Christian Reilly on 30/5:

  • Manchester: I'll be at Waterstones with Ian Forrester on 31/5:

  • London: I'm delivering the Peter Kirstein Lecture for UCL on 1/6:

  • Edinburgh: I'm speaking at Cymera with Ian McDonald and Nina Allan on 3/6:

  • London: I'm speaking at the British Library with Baroness Martha Lane Fox on 5/6:

  • Berlin: I'm keynoting Re:publica on 7/6:

A squared-off version of Will Staehle's cover for the Macmillan edition of 'Red Team Blues.'

Red Team Blues Chapter One, part three (permalink)

With just days to the publication of my next novel, Red Team Blues, I'm taking the chance to serialize the first chapter of this anti-finance finance thriller, and introduce you to Marty Hench, a 67-year-old forensic accountant who specializes in Silicon Valley finance scams.

Marty is ready to retire, but there's just one more job he has to do – recover a billion dollars' worth of cryptographic keys that are claimed by money-launderers, narcos, and shady US three letter agencies.

Here's the previous installments:

Part one:

Part two:

Here's where US readers can pre-order the book:

Here's pre-orders for Canadians:

And for readers in the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth:

And now, here's today's serial installment:

I grunted noncommittally. Danny had been around since crypto meant “cryptography,” and I hadn’t figured him to become one of these blockchain hustlers. They’re the kind of smart people who outsmart themselves, especially when it comes to shenanigans, forgetting that their public ledger is public and all their transactions are visible to the whole world forever. Forensic accounting never had a better friend than crypto, with its mix of public ledgers, deluded masters of the universe, and suckers pumping billions into the system. It was full employment for me and my competitors until cryptocurrency’s carbon footprint rendered the earth uninhabitable.

“There are certain technical differences between Trustless and other coins. Will you allow me to explain them to you? I promise it’s germane and I’m not trying to sell you anything.” “Aw, hell, Danny, you can tell me anything. I just get sick of being hustled.”

“Me, too, pal. Okay, if you mentioned distributed sudoku puzzles, you know something about proof of work: the way blockchain maintains the integrity of its ledger is by having everyone in the system repeatedly do compute work that reaffirms all the entries in the ledger. So long as the value of all the assets in the ledger is less than the electricity bill for taking over the majority of the compute work, they’re safe.”

“That means that the more valuable all this blockchain stuff becomes, the more coal they have to burn to keep it all from being stolen,” I said. It was something I’d almost said to the bros at dinner the night before, but I didn’t want an argument to distract from the otherwise lovely time I’d been having with my entirely lovely companion.

“That’s fair,” he said. “That’s what every greenie who hasn’t received a couple of mil in donations from surprised crypto-millionaires will tell you. But, Marty, that’s a problem with proof of work, not with distributed ledgers. If you could build a blockchain that had a negligible carbon budget, you could do a lot with it.”

“Launder money. Badly.”

“That,” he said. “Lot of Chinese entrepreneurs and officials are anxious to beat currency controls. But it’s not just money, it’s anything you want to have universally available, unfalsifiable, and cryptographically secured.”

“Laundered money.”

He made a face. “Cynic. Not laundered money. Genocide-­proof ID. Cryptographically secured, write-­only manifests of a person’s identifiers, including nationality, vitals, and ethnic group, but each one has its own key, held by the Blue Helmets. You get to a border and you present your biometrics, and the UN tells the border guards your nationality but not your ethnicity.”


“Cynic! Yeah, fine, no one’s doing it yet, but we could. All that blockchain for good shit that the hucksters talked up to make it sound like proof of work wasn’t a crime against humanity. Trust­lesscoin lets you do them because it doesn’t need the sudoku.”

I dredged up memories of half-­digested podcasts I’d listened to on the road. “Is it a proof-­of-stake thing?”

He snorted. “Don’t try to sound smart, Marty, you’ll sprain something. No, it’s secure enclaves. That crypto-­sub-­processor in your iPhone that Apple uses to keep you from switching to another app store? It can run code. What’s more, it can sign the output. So we can send you a program and check to see whether it ran as intended, because we know that the owner of a phone can’t override the secure enclave. Far as Apple’s concerned, iPhone owners are the enemy, and their threat model treats the device owner as an adversary—­as someone who might get apps someplace that doesn’t kick a fifteen to thirty percent vigorish up to Apple for every transaction, depriving its shareholders of their rake.

“Any device with a secure enclave or other trusted computing module is a device that treats its owner as the enemy. That’s a device we need, because when you’re in the Trustlesscoin network, that device will defend me from you, and you from me. I don’t have to trust you, I just have to trust that you can’t break into your own phone, which is to say that I have to trust that Apple’s engineers did their job correctly, and well, you know, they’ve got a pretty good track record, Marty.”


He finished his lemonade and scowled at the reusable straw.

“Yeah, except. Look, Trustlesscoin is on track to become the standard public ledger for the world. I know, I know, every founder talks that ‘make a dent in the universe’ crap, but I mean it. You want to know how serious I am about this? I took in outside capital.”

He let me sit with that a moment. Danny Lazer, the man who ate ramen in a twenty-­year-­old, bent-­axle RV for decades with the love of his life so he’d never have to take a nickel from any of those bloodsuckers on Sand Hill Road, and he took in outside capital. Danny Lazer, a man who’d owned 75 percent of a unicorn, which is to say, seven-­point-­five-­times-­ten-­to-­the-­eight U.S. American Greenback Simoleon Dollars, and he took in outside capital.

“Why? And also, what for?”

He laughed. “Watching you work out a problem is like watching a bulldog chew a wasp, brother. You’ve got a hell of a poker face, but when you start overclocking the old CPU, it just melts. I’ll tell you why and what for.

“First of all, I wanted to create something for Sethu. She’s never had the chance to live up to her potential. She’s smart, Marty, smart like Galit was, but she’s also technical, and managerial, and just born to run things. I’ve never met a better candidate for a CEO than she is. And I’m not young, you know that, and there’s going to be a long time after I’m dead when she’ll still be in her prime, and I wanted to make something she could grow into and grow around her.

“I’d been playing with the idea behind Trustless since the early 2000s, when Microsoft released its first Trusted Computing papers, all the way back in the Palladium days! So Sethu and I hung up a whiteboard in the guest room and started spending a couple of hours a day in there. I didn’t want to bring in anyone else at first, first because it seemed like a hobby and not a business, and hell, every cryptographer I know is working seventy-hour weeks as it is.

“Then I didn’t want to bring in anyone else because I got a sense of how big this damned thing is. I mean, there’s about two trillion in assets in the blockchain today, and that’s with all the stupid friction of proof-­of-­work. When we lift the shackles off of it, whoosh, we’re talking about a ledger that will encompass more assets than the total balance sheets of twenty or thirty of the smallest UN members . . . ​combined.

“You know me, Marty. I don’t believe in much, but when I do believe in something, I’m all in. All. In. And so I brought some people in.”

“What for, though? Danny, how much of your Keypairs jackpot did you manage to blow? How much money could you possibly need, and for what? Are you building your own chip foundry? Buying a country?”

“We actually thought of doing both of those things, you know, but decided we didn’t need the headaches. The Keypairs money’s only grown since I cashed out, thanks to the bull runs. I can’t spend it all, won’t be able to. It would sicken me to try, because I’d have to be so wasteful to even make a dent in it.

“The reason I went for outside capital wasn’t money, it was connections.”

I groaned. Every grifter in private equity and VC-­land claimed that they had “connections” that represented value add for their portfolio companies. The social butterfly market was implausible on its face, and in practice, it was just a way of turning cocktail parties into a business expense. “Come on, Danny, you know people already.”

“Not these people.” And he did the thing. He looked from side to side, up and down. He turned off his phone and held his hand out for mine and carried them both to the little step next to the water feature and set them down on it so they’d be in the white-noise zone. He came back, looked around again. “I got signing keys for four of the most commonly deployed secure enclaves.” He looked around again.

“I think I know what that means, Danny, but maybe you could spell it out? I’m just a dumb old accountant, not a cryptographic legend like yourself. And for God’s sake, stop looking around. I’ll let you know if I see anyone sneaking up on us.”

“Sorry, sorry. Okay. The secure enclave gets a program, runs it, and signs the output. The secure enclave’s little toy operating system says that it does this reliably and without exception. You see a signature on a program’s output, you know the program produced it. That toy OS, it’s simple. Stupid. Brutal. Does about six things, very well, and nothing else. You can’t change that program. Secure enclaves are designed to be non-­serviceable. Even taking them off the mainboard wrecks them. You get them into a lab and decap them and hit them with an electron-­tunneling microscope, you still won’t be able to recover the signing keys or force a false sig.

“But if you have the signing keys? You can just simulate a secure enclave on any computer. Then you can run any operating system you want on it, including one that will forge signatures. You do that, and you can falsify the ledger. You can move unlimited sums from any part of the balance sheet to your part of the balance sheet. You can jackpot the whole fucking thing.”

I blew out air. “Well, that seems like a defect in the system, all right.”

“It can’t be helped. We call it Trustless, but there’s always some trust in a system like this. You’re not trusting the other users of the system or the company that made the software. You’re trusting that a couple of leading manufacturers of cryptographic coprocessors and sub-­processors, companies with decades of experience, will maintain operational security and not lose control of the keys that their entire business—­and the entire business of all their customers and their customers’ customers—­are dependent upon. You’re not trusting the other users, but you’re trusting them.”

“And yet,” I said, looking over at Sethu, who was painting away and performing an excellent simulation of someone who wasn’t eavesdropping, “you found someone willing to sell you some of those keys.”

“Yes,” he said and gave me a calm, no-­bullshit, eye-­to-­eye stare. “I did. It’s useful to have those, especially when you’re first kicking a new cryptocurrency around. You make a smart contract with a bad line of code in it, you create a bug bounty with an unlimited payout. So in the early days, when you’re figuring this stuff out, you do a little ledger rewriting.”

“You do rewriting on a read-­only ledger that no one is ever supposed to rewrite.”

He rolled his eyes. “Ethereum did it early on, moved fifty mil in stolen payout from a bad smart contract out of the crook’s account and back into the mark’s account. No one made too much of a fuss. I mean, the immutable ledger sounds like a great idea until someone no stupider than you gets taken for fifty mil, and then rewriting the ledger is just sound fiscal policy in service to fundamental justice.”

“But Ethereum told everyone they were doing it. Sounds like you did it all on the down low?”

“We were early. No one was even paying attention. All we wanted was a ledger whose early entries weren’t an eternal monument to my stupid mistakes as I climbed the learning curve.”

“Fine. Vain, but fine. Still, getting those keys meant a lot of power for a little reputation laundering.”

He sighed and looked away. “Yeah. The thing is, I’m not the only one who makes mistakes. We are aiming for trillions secured on our chain. Trillions, Marty. Ten to the twelve. It’s an unforgiving medium, and the stakes are high. The Ethereum lesson was clear: a couple of divide-­by-­zeros or fence post errors, a single badly typed variable or buffer overrun, and the whole thing could sink. I needed an eraser. Not on day zero but well before I attained liftoff.”

“Every hacker builds in a back door, huh?”

“Don’t call it that. Call it an Undo button.”

“Okay, then. An Undo button in a system whose cryptography is supposed to prevent undo at all costs. But not a back door.”

“You, my friend, are too smart. I miss the days when forensic accountancy and security engineering were distinct fields. ” “Me, too, pal. So what happened? Your keys took a walk?”

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Robbins Barstow’s spectacular amateur films barstow

#10yrsago Viacom gets its ass handed to it again by a court in its YouTube lawsuit

#10yrsago What happened to Waxy was terrible, but fair use works better than he thinks it does

#10yrsago Intergalactic jewel thief Makiedoll mod

#5yrsago Pepsico launches a K-Cup for juice

#5yrsago All of Puerto Rico loses power

#5yrsago Tesla pulls a Trump, smears critical press outlet as “extremists”

#5yrsago Facebook vs regulation: we exist nowhere and everywhere, all at once

#5yrsago The upside of big tech is Russia vs Telegram, but the downside is Cloudflare vs SESTA

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Super Punch (

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EDITORIAL REVIEW

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  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. ON SUBMISSION

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  • Red Team Blues: "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books, April 2023

  • The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech, Verso, September 2023

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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