[Plura-list] Witch; Attack Surface on the MMT Podcast; Private equity's profitable murder

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu Oct 1 12:43:27 EDT 2020


Britons! Australians! New Zealanders! Kiwis! Indians! Today is the day
my new novel Attack Surface, becomes available in your country, thanks
to the tender ministries of the lovely folks at Head of Zeus:


Americans and Canadians, your day (Oct 13) is coming:



Today's links

* Witch: Kill Bill meets Thomas Hardy.

* Attack Surface on the MMT Podcast: Imagining the first days of a
better world.

* Private equity's profitable murder: Leonard Green, Prospect Medical
Holdings, and the vast fortunes built on the dead.

* The Years of Repair: A Message From the Future (II).

* Block Google-Fitbit: A merger made in hell.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019

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


🚼 Witch

WITCH is Finbar Hawkins's debut novel, a supernatural YA revenge story
about a pair of 17th century sisters who are orphaned when witchfinders
hunt down and murder their mother before their eyes.


Evey, the older one, is the least magical in the family and she harbors
a terrible jealousy for her happy-go-lucky little sister Dill, to whom
magic comes easily. But with her last breath, Evey's mother charges her
to look after Dill, so they flee together through the woods.

Evey knows that she must avenge her mother, find the witchfinder and his
men and the mysterious crone who abetted them and kill them, or the
world will never balance for her again.

As they make their way to the distant, secret lair of her mother's
sister's coven, they learn of the murderous swathe the witchfinders have
slashed through the land, murdering the witches who helped they and
their Parliament overthrow the old, corrupt King.

And Evey knows that she must leave Dill with their aunt and return to
her mother's lands to kill these witchfinders, not just for her mother,
but for all the women and girls with a witchy way.

So begins a vividly told, beautifully written, blood-soaked revenge
tale, an inversion of the fairy-tale trope of the brave heroes hunting
the wicked witches.

Evey is a marvellous, complex, flawed heroine, and the friends and
enemies she makes on her revenge trail make spring off the page (the
French publisher called it "Kill Bill meets Thomas Hardy.")

Hawkins is a master of raising and re-raisng the stakes, as every person
who helps Evey is drawn into the revenge and also threatened by Evey's
sworn enemies. The tale builds to a climax of incredible, cinematic
imagery and finishes on a beautiful, sweet note.

It's a fantastic first outing and an excellent read for the witchy
youngsters in your own life.


🚼 Attack Surface on the MMT Podcast

I was incredibly happy to appear on the MMT Podcast again this week,
talking about economics, science fiction, interoperability, tech workers
and tech ethics, and my new novel ATTACK SURFACE, which comes out in the
UK tomorrow (Oct 13 US/Canada):


We also delved into my new nonfiction book, HOW TO DESTROY SURVEILLANCE
CAPITALISM, and how it looks at the problem of misinformation, and how
that same point of view is weaponized by Masha, the protagonist and
antihero of Attack Surface.


It's no coincidence that both of these books came out at the same time,
as they both pursue the same questions from different angles:

* What does technology do?

* Who does it do it TO and who does it do it FOR?

* How can we change how technology works?


* Why do people make tools of oppression, and what will it take to make
them stop?

Here's the episode's MP3:


and here's their feed:



🚼 Private equity's profitable murder

Let's meet some job creators! Private equity plute Leonard Green bought
Prospect Medical a decade ago. He and his CEO Sam Lee, spent the years
since buying up hospitals that serve low-income people. It paid off.
Green has extracted $400m in dividends!


Green and Lee have a really cool way to make money on hospitals: they
don't pay their suppliers, they steal their workers' pensions, and they
get government subsidies to keep low-income hospitals open and then
close them. Also, they defraud Medicare.

Oh, and they borrow *fuckloads* of money by issuing junk bonds,
weaseling around with bond-rating agencies that would otherwise issue a
strong stay-the-fuck-away rating on their debt offerings.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "What if I was in danger of
dying and one of Green and Lee's hospital was the closest hospital?"

I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that Green made
$400m from this proposition.

The bad news? His hospitals don't have...anything. Like, gauze. Sponges.
IV fluid. They don't have *gas for the ambulances*.

Why? Because Green and Lee stiffed their suppliers and got on credit
hold with 'em.

This was all *before* the pandemic. It only got worse after the plague
struck: Green and Lee's hospitals saw nurses wearing plastic shopping
bags on their feet because there were no booties. Nurses who brought in
their own N95s were threatened with termination

All of this is recounted in eye-watering, blood-boiling detail in
Propublica	's "Investors Extracted $400 Million From a Hospital Chain
That Sometimes Couldn’t Pay for Medical Supplies or Gas for Ambulances,"
by Peter Elkind with Doris Burke.

Much of their reporting relies on the legion of Prospect executives that
were hired by Leonard and Lee, who then cheated them out of their
compensation, bonuses and severance, abusing them and firing them, then
forcing them into arbitration instead of a court.

Now, here's the thing. Leonard and Lee are *pioneers*. Back in the late
90s, healthcare was poison for private equity - too regulated! These
job-creators gambled that they could apply the traditional PE
business-model to hospitals.

As a reminder, here's that business model: Buy a bunch of companies,
mostly financed with debt. Screw suppliers. Slash staff. Screw
suppliers. Lower product quality. Raise prices. Borrow *like crazy* on
the assets. Pay yourself HUGE dividends and consulting fees.

Then, unload the debt-saddled, crippled, disgraced, demoralized husks
onto someone else (often another PE vulture who repeats the process!),
fill your bathtub with krugerrands, and literally wallow in your money.

Lee and Leonard bet that they could make this work in health-care, but
they were only partly right. As it turns out, no one wants to buy their
death-trap morgues-masquerading-as-hospitals. Leonard keeps trying to
unload 'em, but no one is buying.

(Don't worry: the unlimited fed backstop of junk bonds let him issue
even more debt and declare yet another dividend to himself, even as the
doctors and nurses in his hospitals were putting shopping bags on their

Other PE job-creators have learned an important lesson from Lee and
Leonard's partial victory: rather than buying and looting whole
hospitals, they're sticking to Emergency Rooms:


It's a great bet. Lee and Leonard correctly assumed that if they
murdered poor people through medical negligence that no one would hold
them to account; the ER looters' assumption is that if they steal from
unconscious people, they won't be able to complain.

And Prospect is instructive in another regard: if you want a preview of
the future of emergency care in America, just look at Prospect, with its
closures, the empty ambulance gas tanks, the bare medical-supply shelves.


🚼 The Years of Repair

The surest recipe for despair is to fall prey to the fallacy of
Capitalist Realism: the idea that "it is easier to imagine an end to the
world than an end to capitalism."

When the world is on fire, sickened, flooding, and on the brink of
out-of-control violence and you literally can't imagine any of that
changing, it feels like you should just give up.

This is the point of capitalist realism: to make us believe, as Margaret
Thatcher liked to say, that "there is no alternative." It's not just a
counsel of despair - it's also a statement in opposition to science
fiction's core tenet, that alternatives can always be imagined.

Back in 2019, Naomi Klein, Molly Crabapple and AOC collaborated on a
stellar short video set in the years *after*	 a successful GND
transition: "A Message From the Future," narrating back to how we got to
a place where we no longer feared the future.


Today, Klein has dropped part two in the series: The Years of Repair,
once again featuring Crabapple's stop-motion watercolor animations,
cocreated with BLM cofounder Opal Tometi and Avi Lewis.


Years of Repair gets closer to our own timeline, describing the
transition from our current capitalist crises of disease, incarceration
and climate emergencies to a more just world, one devoted to healing and
building rather than looting and extracting.

It's hard to overstate what a tonic this is: breaking free of Capitalist
Realism and letting your imagination visit a place where, as a species,
we recover the best of our practices, the mutual aid and stewardship
that built the world in spite of greed and oppression.

Since Dec 4, I've been writing my own post-GND novel, "The Lost Cause,"
about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias funded by
offshore plutes, and visiting that world every day has kept me sane
through the plague months.


The idea that we might someday have a generation - the first in more
than a century! - that does not fear the future is dizzying to contemplate.

You can read the prologue here, btw:


For years, Kim Stanley Robinson has written a series of audacious novels
about a post-climate-emergency humanity, starting with 2012's "2312,"
set 300 years in the future. Since then, he's come closer and closer to
the present day.


Novels like Aurora:


and New York 2140:


act as a kind of future-history rangefinding.

Robinson is landing an ever-closer series of volleys that start in the
the unknowably distant future, then walk back to the present day,
reverse-engineering a path from Capitalist Realism to a utopian leap.

Klein's Messages from the Future are taking a similar path, and the
closer they get to our dark moment, the realer (and hence, brighter) the
future they paint becomes.



🚼 Block Google-Fitbit

Google is buying Fitbit and it's likely they'll succeed, despite the
fact that this is an obviously bad idea: allowing one of the world's
most data-hungry companies to acquire the assets and customers of a
rival whose pitch was, "We don't give your sensitive data to Google."

To say nothing of the fact that many Fitbit users were nonconsensually
opted into wearing a 24/7 tracking cuff by their employers, who reduced
their health coverage and/or charged more for it if employees refused.


So why is this merger likely to sail through competition scrutiny,
despite its obvious defects and despite the renewed interest in
competition in the tech sector?

Under this standard, mergers are allowed to proceed unless someone can
prove that they'll make prices go up immediately.tered competition

Under this standard, mergers are allowed to proceed unless someone can
prove that they'll make prices go up immediately.

That is, even if you can show that a merger will reduce choice, cost
jobs, and cement a dominant player's spot at the top of the pyramid,
under "consumer harm," the merger can proceed.

This has led to ever-more-absurd and toxic marketplaces, with scholars
desperately trying to fit the obvious problems with monopolistic mergers
and acquisitions into a consumer harm framework.

A very good example of this weird genre is Vox EU's "Google/Fitbit will
monetise health data and harm consumers" which takes 6,000 words to
state the obvious: it's a bad idea to let dominant companies buy their
smaller competitors.


The reason it takes so much verbiage to accomplish this is that the
authors have to fit all the obvious harms of Google buying the company
you've been tracking your sex-life, alcohol consumption and menstrual
cycles into a "consumer harm" framework.

It's pretty convincing, but mostly because they make the case that the
groteque marketplace distortions - the anti-competitive effects of this
merger - will, at the margins, also make some prices go up.

The most convincing part of the paper, then, isn't the argument for
consumer harms per se, but rather the stark demonstration that there's
lots of bad stuff that doesn't fit in the frame.


🚼 This day in history

#15yrsago Pi joke https://xkcd.com/10/

#10yrsago Stuttgart police use overwhelming force against peaceful
protestors concerned about new train station

#5yrsago Judge John Hodgman is back in the NYT

#5yrsago Nuanced profile of the Oklahoma county where “no one believes
in climate change”

#5yrsago Tube-map labelled with one-bedroom flat rental rates

#5yrsago France’s plan to legalize mass surveillance will give it the
power to spy on the world

#1yrago Europe’s Right to Repair rules have passed, and will take effect
in 2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49884827

#1yrago Stock buybacks: how Wall Street has created “profits without
prosperity” https://www.worth.com/stock-buybacks-threaten-economic-growth/

#1yrago Global shipping companies comply with anti-air-pollution rules
by dumping pollution into the sea, instead

#1yrago Surveillance camera hallucinates face in the snow, won’t shut up
about it https://twitter.com/kcimc/status/1099934485301276673

#1yrago “The Tragedy of the Commons”: how ecofascism was smuggled into
mainstream thought

#1yrago Consent in Gaming: a guide for GMs and players to difficult
subjects for amazing games

#1yrago Zuckerberg: President Warren would “suck” for Facebook


🚼 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naomi Klein (https://twitter.com/NaomiAKlein),
Naked Capitalism (https://nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 523 words (67566

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 16)

Upcoming appearances:

* Writing into an Uncertain Future, Afterwords Festival, Oct 1,

* Library Leaders Forum, Oct 6

* 3 Big Ideas To Fix the Internet, Oct 7,

* Wired Nextfest Italia, Oct 10,

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

Recent appearances:

* Digital Rights, Surveillance Capitalism & Interoperable Socks (MMT

* If Big Tech Is Toxic, How Do We Build Something Better? (panel)

* On ‘Attack Surface’ and WiFi Fridges (What a Hell of a Way to Die

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

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

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

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

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

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