Election 2018 Postmortum: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Well, that was exciting, huh? It’s been two days since the most consequential midterm elections of the new millennium, but we’ve hardly been given a moment’s rest since. Still, with time comes perspective, and enough has passed now that we can start to see the size of the impact crater voters just left in the American political landscape. There’s good news and bad, so let’s start with the good.

The Good

The most obvious good news is the Democrats retook the House. With votes still being counted and a dozen contests still undecided, Dems have already picked up 35 seats, and could still pick up as many as 40, far exceeding the 23 seat swing they needed to retake the lower chamber. This in spite of widespread GOP gerrymandering, voter suppression, and multiple suspicious election day failures in places like Georgia where someone conveniently forgot to bring power cords for the electronic voting machines in a predominantly black precinct leading to wait times of three hours or more, or Texas where voting machines were conveniently switching voters’ ballots for Senate from Beto to Cruz.

Regaining the House with a comfortable margin is strategically important to the Dems for a number of reasons. First, it means Trump and the GOP’s legislative agenda, already stalled since passing last year’s Felate the Rich and Explode the Deficit Act (FREDA), is effectively dead for the remainder of Trump’s term in office, however long that lasts. Speaking of how much longer Trump lasts, it also means control of critically important House committees changes hands. And if you don’t think the idea of Maxine Waters heading the Finance committee, or Adam Schiff leading the House Intelligence committee isn’t giving Trump heartburn and sleepless nights, you haven’t been paying attention. But and overlooked benefit of the larger than needed margin is now more than a dozen vulnerable red state Dems can afford to tactically vote against the rest of their party on important legislation to avoid angering their constituents, without giving up the majority needed for it to pass. This kind of flexibility will be incredibly useful in two years during the Presidential when all of those newly-won seats will need to be defended to maintain or expand their grip on the House.

Other less-celebrated good news for the Dems came out of Tuesday night’s elections, too. Democratic candidates nabbed seven governorships, more than three hundred seats in state legislatures, six “trifectas” where they now hold all three branches of state government, and most interestingly, a majority of state Attorney Generals. In one fell swoop, the Democrats took back more than a third of the state-level seats and offices lost to the GOP during Obama’s two terms in office. Ahead of the census and congressional redistricting coming in 2020, this newfound power will go a long way towards combating the voter suppression and gerrymandering plaguing states across the country and breaking up the illegitimate, anti-democracy tricks the GOP has been using to remain a relevant political party for twenty years. It also gives the Democrats a much deeper bench of young talent they can draw candidates from in future national elections. People who have won elections, have established bases of local support, and gained experience in office. This has been an overlooked advantage the GOP has exploited masterfully for a decade. Now it the Dems’ turn.

But for my money, the most important overlooked news to come out of Tuesday, night came from my second home of Florida. While it’s true that Dems appear to have lost the Governorship and Senate races in nail-biters that both threaten to trigger recounts, it was the passage of Amendment 4 that should be sending shockwaves through the GOP. In one fell-swoop, 1.4 million Floridians who had previously been disenfranchised due to felony convictions had their voting rights restored. These men and women, being disproportionately people of color, are also disproportionately predisposed to vote for Democrats. It is no exaggeration to say if this block of people had been allowed to vote in 2000, we would have had President Gore. If they’d been able to vote in 2016, it would have swung the state for Clinton and almost entirely erased Trump’s advantage in the Electoral College. And if they’d been able to vote on Tuesday, the state would have a new Democratic Governor and Senator, not even a contest. What Amendment 4 did, along with the influx of a quarter million or more Puerto Rican refugees of Maria who’ve moved to the Sunshine State, was to take a perennial swing state that factored into many unlikely GOP victories over recent history, and moved it solidly into the Blue column. It is highly unlikely any GOP candidate for President will be getting Florida’s 29 electoral votes for at least a generation, and that makes retaining or retaking the White House nearly impossible.

This all happened because, bucking the long-term trends of democrats and the youth vote skipping midterms, voter turnout was simply massive. Early voting shattered records, millennials and 18-24 year-olds showed up en masse for once. First time voters exploded expectations. This kind of engagement and enthusiasm in a midterm bodes well for 2020, when democratic turnout is expected to be higher still.

All things considered, Tuesday night was a simply crushing victory for the Democratic party and the future of the progressive movement in America.

The Bad

Okay, that’s the good news, and there was a lot of it. Now, deep breath, let’s dive into the bad. Dems not only failed to retake the Senate, but actually lost three seats, widening the gap even after narrowing it in 2016 and in special elections since. This was not entirely unexpected. Winning the Senate was always a longshot, as Dems simply had far more seats to defend this time around, many of which were in states that went for Trump. The map this cycle was brutal.

With a larger majority in the Senate for the next six years, the GOP has bought itself three important advantages. First, there is basically no chance of blocking any of Trump’s appointments, not for Attorney General (more on that later) or for Supreme Court. One or two Republican Senators won’t have the opportunity to grow spines and stop this madman from appointing whomever he wants to insulate himself from the consequences of his crimes. Although in the wake of the Kavanaugh spectacle, it’s unclear if there was ever any circumstances that would convince even a single Republican to do the right thing and vote against the party line. This question took on even greater significance today as 85 yr-old Justice Ginsburg was hospitalized after falling in her office, fracturing three ribs.

Secondly, they’ve made the hill Democrats have to climb to retake the Senate just that much steeper. While the 2020 Senate map is more favorable to Dems than this year, most of the GOP incumbents who will be up for reelection are in solidly red states and will be very difficult if not impossible to shake loose. And if they do hold the Senate in 2020, that means…

Thirdly, the GOP will be positioned to thwart the legislative agenda of any potential Democratic presidential candidate who wins in two years for their entire first term.

That. Sucks.

The Ugly

Listen, we all know who the ugly is here. Donald Trump is not taking losing the House well. Yesterday saw a rapid-fire bonus round of crazy from Sippy Cup Caligula. In a combative and histrionically unhinged press conference, he went even further off the rails than the train at the end of Back to the Future III.

In 90 minutes, Trump forgot who Lil Jon was (He was on The Apprentice), said the “Obama Regime” annexed Crimea (It was Putin, who also still holds parts of Georgia taken during Bush II’s term), spoke in a whisper about how no one could’ve done what he did in North Korea (Trump ended joint exercises with South Korea while North Korea expanded their nuclear enrichment program), and sent a female intern to physically assault Jim Acosta, only so ol’ Smokey Eyes Huckabee Sanders could air doctored footage from a conspiracy website banned from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and iTunes as an excuse for revoking Acosta’s White House hard pass press access in a blatant escalation of Trump’s war on the media and the 1st Amendment.

This is banana republic shit, folks, but it only got worse later in the day when Trump fired his hand-picked Attorney General, the KKKebbler Elf himself, Jeff Sessions, for not being enough of a spineless supplicant willing to subvert the rule of law to protect Piss Play Pol Pot from the legal reckoning bearing down on him like the train at the end of Back to the Future III (we comedians refer to that as a callback).

In the aftermath, Trump appointed Session’s Chief of Staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting Attorney General. Whittaker, a lawyer whose only national exposure came from an op-ed last year demanding Special Counsel Mueller’s Trump/Russia investigation be curtailed and defunded, is widely regarded as a Trump sycophant whose only qualification for the office is his willingness to deflect any attempts to hold Trump accountable. Brett Kavanaugh, anyone?

Here’s the trouble with that cunning plan. Whitaker is not, in reality, the acting Attorney General. Department of Justice statutes defining the order of succession preclude him from the office, even temporarily. He can pretend to be the acting AG all he likes, but by law, he cannot serve as Jeff Session’s interim replacement. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is the acting Attorney General, again, by law. Trump’s appointment is illegal.

What this means is, whether he chooses to recuse or not, the second Whitaker gives Special Counsel Mueller an order Mueller doesn’t like, he’s exposed himself to charges of Obstruction of Justice. Mueller knows Whitaker’s appointment is illegal, and so does Rosenstein. They both know Whitaker has no authority to interfere in the Russia investigation, and any attempt to do so will expose him to the risk of becoming the next target of the investigation.

The question is, does Whitaker know this? It’s hard to say. Whitaker is an idiot. He was already a board member of an invention patent company that was shut down for being a fraudulent scam (Trump University, anyone?) so despite being a lawyer, his history of being able to recognize when he’s exposed to legal jeopardy is already suspect. But regardless, if Whitaker tries to muzzle Mueller’s investigations, it will backfire spectacularly. Indeed, it may have already, as Rod Rosenstein’s lawyer was spotted heading into court today for reasons we can only speculate on at this point, but which I believe was the opening salvo in the legal challenge to Whitaker’s appointment.

At best, Whitaker can only delay the inevitable while the question of the illegality of his appointment goes through the courts. If he has any sense at all, Matthew will kneel before Mueller and give him whatever the fuck he wants and hope it’s enough to just stay the hell out of the way.

All that was just yesterday, kids. That’s like, all of the Constitutional crises we’ve faced in the last hundred years packed into a two-minute movie trailer. Nixon and Watergate had nothing on these treasonous troglodytes. But, we’re still standing, and real congressional investigations and oversight are coming right after the New Year.

That’s something every true American can be grateful for this holiday season.

 

As usual, if you like what I’m doing here, subscribe to my email list for updates at the top of the page. If you really like what I’m doing, go back to my home page and buy a book. Or preorder STARSHIP REPO, that would be awesome.

Votes for Half Off Books!

 

The Ark by Sci-Fi Author Patrick S. Tomlinson

Hey gang! Have you voted yet today? I hope so, because it’s kinda the fate of the republic and perhaps all of western civilization hanging in the balance. But if you still need to be persuaded, I’ve got a deal for you.

Angry Robot Books is running an election day special on their entire catalogue of eBooks. Today only, you can get any ARB title for half off the cover price. Go to their website, place your order, and apply the promo code VOTESUCCESS50 at checkout. Couldn’t be easier. If you’re one of the lucky folks who got THE ARK for free a couple weeks ago, now you can get TRIDENT’S FORGE and CHILDRENOF THE DIVIDE at two for the price of one to finish out the trilogy. Or branch out and explore dozens of other titles from ARB’s amazing bullpen of authors. Not a bad little perk for doing your civic duty.

And don’t forget to preorder STARSHIP REPO. It’s delightfully weird. You’re going to love it. Coming in May from Tor Books.

Yes, Virginia, Trump Really is Hitler.


 

In the last week, we’ve seen an almost comically unbelievable series of events, the sum total of which confirms once and for all that, yes, Donald J. Trump really is a fascist supervillain.

Let’s start with Monday. At a campaign rally in Houston for Tex Cruz’s fading Senate bid, Trump proudly and publicly outed himself as a Nationalist, which, everyone had already figured out long ago, but it’s still not something you come out and say. Even Trump himself acknowledged the toxicity when he said “We’re not supposed to use that word.” Yeah, no shit, Sippy Cup Caligula. Because it’s closely tied to leaders and political movements responsible for the most egregious atrocities of the 20th century. It was the nationalism of the Nazis, Mussolini, the Imperial Japanese, Stalinists, and Mao that killed upwards of a hundred million people. The word kinda has a funk around it for a reason.

But naturally, the capacity crowd of his fawning sycophants ate it up, then took it one step further, returning to the 2016 campaign trail chant of “Lock Her Up!” demanding the extrajudicial arrest and imprisonment of Secretary Clinton, a woman who has been investigated countless times by both her congressional colleagues and the FBI without a single charge ever being brought against her. For his part, Trump egged them on, just the latest example in his long history of normalizing violence against his political opponents.

The very next day, his hard work paid off. A package arrived at the home of Democratic mega-donor and frequent target of Trump’s attacks, George Soros. Inside the plain manila envelope was a crudely-made, yet potentially lethal homemade IED. It proved to be only the first of many. Over the next three days, bombs sent C/O Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz either showed up at, or were intercepted en route to the homes and offices of a dozen prominent Democrats, media institutions, and Trump critics, including the Clintons and Obamas, Vice President Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former head of the CIA John Brennan, Representative Maxine Waters, NY Gov Anthony Cuomo, Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, actor Robert Di Nero, and CNN’s studio in NYC.

Every single one of these people or organizations have, at one time or many, been singled out by Trump either on Twitter or in public addresses for attack. Trump’s rhetoric has been pushing people towards violent action from the moment he launched his fraudulent bid for the White House, threatening to punch people, rough them up, and even pay the legal fees of anyone who beat up protestors. And increasingly, his supporters have been taking him at his word. The Charlottesville rally that columnated in the death of Heather Heyer was only the first incident to capture national attention. The brownshirt gang known as the Proud Boys has been caught physically assaulting counter-protestors in recent weeks as their leader Gavin McGuiness calls for more violence. An affiliated group went so far as to place armed snipers on rooftops during protests in Portland.

The attempted serial bombings of basically the entire Democratic leadership, therefore, cannot be viewed in isolation. It is a continuation and escalation of a trend that has been ongoing for over a year now. It also just happens to represent the largest political mass assassination attempt in our nation’s history, no matter how ineptly implemented.

In the midst of the crisis, as bombs were still being discovered and targets identified, while the identity of the bomber remained unknown, Trump took to Twitter to deliver a bomb of his own.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. This tweet isn’t just Trump’s usual gaslighting and victim-blaming. That’s almost passé at this point. This tweet is something far more sinister. First, it again repeats Trump’s Fake News canard, which is just a dumbed-down version of Hitler’s frequently uttered “lugenpresse” (lying press) slur, a connection not lost on his far right and neo-Nazi followers, who brought lugenpresse back into the popular lexicon during the 2016 campaign.

Secondly, and more importantly, this can only be read as a threat. It is Trump saying, explicitly and unequivocally, that if the press doesn’t stop publishing negative (ie true) stories about him, his followers will continue their attempts to kill them. It is an attempt to use a national crisis to silence his critics through intimidation.

Today, the suspected bomber was arrested, and surprising absolutely no one with more than six braincells to rub together, it turns out he’s an enormous Trump supporter. His van is festooned with so many pro-Trump and anti-Dem stickers that it looks like a racist ice cream truck.

Many people in the media and government have taken to calling these attempted bombings domestic terrorism, but that’s not quite right. Terrorism is a form of asymmetrical warfare the weak use against a superior force. That’s not what we’re seeing here. When supporters of the political party in power use violence to silence or intimidate the minority, that’s not terrorism. It’s fascism.

A point Trump was only too happy to confirm today when speaking to a group of young Republicans in the White House.  Days after declaring himself a Nationalist, Trump came out swinging against ‘Globalists,’ which as anyone who’s been following along with the alt-right for the last few years knows is simply a stand-in for Jewish. Trump knows this, and so did his audience, which immediately started chanting “Soros!” the Jewish philanthropist and Dem donor who had been targeted for death by one of Trump’s own supporters only three days prior. We’re long past dog-whistles, here. No one on team Trump is even trying to hide their fascist tendencies anymore.

Yes, Virginia, Trump really is Hitler, circa 1935. Nov 6th may be our last chance to stop him from going full “45.”

 

Update, 10/27/18: Gods, I hate being right all the time, but literally one day after Trump’s transparent attack on Jews, seven people were shot dead by a gunman at their synagogue in Pittsburg. Yes, Trump knows what he’s saying, and yes, so do his brownshirts. They are receiving and carrying out orders.

As always, if you appreciated this post and like what I’m doing here, subscribe to my email newsletter in the box at the top of the page.

Khashoggi and the Assassination of American Moral Authority

(Photo by Johnny Green – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

As most of you know by now, a bomb went off between US and Saudi relations in the last week over the death of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

Mr. Khashoggi was a voice for change in Saudi Arabia, having founded a progressive newspaper to push against the conservative religious orthodoxy. As a reporter for the Washington Post, he was a frequent and fierce critic of the House of Saud and the Kingdom’s abysmal record of human rights abuses.

Khashoggi is alleged to have been lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw by a squad of at least fifteen Saudi nationals traveling on diplomatic passports, including Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, the Kingdom’s preeminent forensic autopsy expert. I’ll save you the more sensational details of the murder, but let’s just say it was some Saw franchise level stuff.

The House of Saud has issued any number of conflicting accounts of what actually happened to Khashoggi, from blankets denials, to asserting that his death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. Although personally, I can’t imaging bringing a bone saw and autopsy expert to an “interrogation” I expected the subject to survive.

International pressure is mounting on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud to provide an explanation for the disappearance and probable assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, from everyone except notably the regime currently controlling the United States.

In numerous public statements, *President Trump has defended his friends (read financial backers) in Riyadh with ever more paper-thin excuses and conspiracy theories, from repeating Prince MBS’s “strong denials,” to proposing “rogue killers” who just happened to have more than a dozen diplomatic passports and unrestricted access to a Saudi foreign consulate where the rest of the staff was told to go home early on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance.

To say this strains credibility is to torture language itself. Especially since it’s been reported from multiple outlets that the NSA had intelligence saying Khashoggi was in danger from Saudi authorities prior to his disappearance. Intel trump would be aware of if he ever read his morning briefings. So why is Trump toeing the Saudi line?

Well, there’s a number of factors at play here. Trump has said that it’s not our concern because Khashoggi was not a US citizen. This is technically true, Khashoggi was Saudi Arabian, and despite his sparring with the royal family and agitation for basic human rights, he never renounced his citizenship and was viewed as a patriot by most everyone who knew him.

However, he was also a legal permanent resident of the United States. He worked for the Washington Post, one of America’s most prestigious newspapers. And his children are American citizens. To pretend that America has no stake in this man, or visa versa, is obscene.

But then, so is Trump. He has made a public spectacle of his loathing for reporters critical of his administration, and the Washington Post in particular, going so far as to repeatedly call for the United States Postal Service to increase shipping rates for Amazon.com, which just happens to have been founded by WaPo owner Jeff Bezos. Trump is openly fawning of brutal dictators with a history of murdering uppity journalists, such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, and of others who have openly attacked freedom of the press in their countries, such as Philippine President Duterte.

It’s not hard to imagine, given his intense bromances with authoritarian strongmen, that Trump himself covets the power to silence his media critics, even if it means their murder. Remember, he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and not lose any voters. He frequently refers to the press as the “Enemy of the People” both online and at his propaganda, sorry, campaign rallies, and his base eats it up. He has been trying to normalize the idea of violence against the press almost since the moment he launched his 2016 election bid. Covering for Saudi Arabia’s violence against their own press is a natural expansion of that effort.

It doesn’t end there, though. Let’s circle back for a moment to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Last year, he took bold action to consolidate his position by arresting more than five-hundred prominent Saudi royals, businessmen, and clerics in what was touted as an “anti-corruption” campaign, but which both domestic and international observers called a political purge. But the most interesting thing about the move from an American standpoint is where he got the names to move against from.

Enter Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, son in law to Donald Trump, and Macy’s menswear department mannequin animated by a cursed amulet. See, ol’ Jughead, excuse me, Jared, cropped up in this story after Prince Mohammad Bin Salman bragged about Kushner providing him with a classified list of “disloyal” Saudis gleaned from CIA and NSA intel. The prince then used this information to go after his own domestic rivals, not all of whom survived. At least one person on the list died in a mysterious helicopter crash.

Remember, at the time, Kushner was operating on a temporary security clearance due in no small part to the fact he lied hundreds of times on his SF-86 disclosure forms. That amounts to hundreds of felonies, for the curious.

But wait, there’s more! Trump himself has taken to Twitter to proclaim that he has no financial ties to the Saudis, just as he did in response to accusations of his conspiracy with Russia to steal his office. And just like then, this claim is transparently, hilariously false. In reality, Trump’s finances are positively swimming in Saudi money. Don’t take my word for it, Trump has bragged before about how much money the Saudis have dumped into his properties, which, by the way, are almost certainly being used as money laundering fronts for international organized crime. Or you could look to the flurry of companies Trump registered in Saudi Arabia ahead of his installation, sorry, there I go again, inauguration.

So in review, not only is Trump ideologically aligned with journalist-slaughtering autocrats, he’s also deeply in bed with them financially, giving not only him reason to support their goals, but giving them leverage over his behavior, which is kinda why the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution is a thing in the first place. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm to avoid any appearance of impropriety, for God’s sake.

Oh, incidentally, freak helicopter crashes aren’t the only dangers of living in Saudi Arabia if you find yourself inconvenient for the Crown Prince, as one of the fifteen Saudis IDed by the Turkish government as being part of the hit squad to murder Khashoggi wound up dead in a car accident. Rotten luck, there.

“But Patrick!” you cry, “You write sci-fi. Why do you care? And why should we care that you care?” Excellent question. While most of you reading this know me as a novelist, fewer of you know me as a political pundit. I’ve had screeds like the above published by platforms such as The Hill, and even the New York Times. I’m not a journalist and have never claimed to be, but I’ve played in their sandboxes. Until recently, I was a strident and public voice against the Trump regime on Twitter, which only came to an end for reasons you can explore in detail here. And above all that, I’m a patriot. I’ve read the Constitution, the original, in person, in the National Archives in DC. There’s a reason unequivocal protections for the press were enshrined in the First Amendment, no matter how much I love the Second.

Which is why I feel compelled, in my own small way on this backwater blog followed by dozens of people, to sound the alarm. An attack on one US-based journalist is an attack on all of them, no matter where it happened or who was responsible. We cannot pretend to respect freedom of the press at home if we don’t also fight for it abroad, especially amongst nations we present as our allies. And any *President who doesn’t believe that, and won’t stand against assaults on the 1st at home or abroad, no matter the reason, deserves to be ripped from office as quickly as possible.

 

If you liked that word salad, subscribe to my email list in the box at the top. If you REALLY liked it, consider pre-ordering my next book, STARSHIP REPO, coming from Tor books in May. Or, you know, buy the other four I already have out. Check my homepage for the links.

Marvel Bows to Hydra, Again

 

It’s happening again.

Just a few hours ago, Star Wars author Chuck Wendig was fired by Marvel comics from their upcoming Shadows of Vader five issue series after he’d already written the first three. The reason given, according to Chuck’s twitter thread about it, was the “negativity and vulgarity” his social media presence brings out, particularly his twitter.

Notice what’s missing there. Not that anything Chuck has said was negative or vulgar, but that it brings out vulgarity. So now, it’s Marvel’s official position that if you’re on the receiving end of vulgar troll attacks, you’re unemployable.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, abject cowardice on Marvel’s part.

For those of you who don’t know Chuck and his history, he’s been writing for Lucasfilm and Star Wars since 2016’s Star Wars: Aftermath, and has since gone on to complete that trilogy, as well as write the comic adaptations of The Last Jedi, and Hyperion for Marvel’s Star Wars line. In Aftermath, Chuck took the bold step of incorporating the fist canonical gay character in the Star Wars universe. This made a lot of rightwing homophobes very angry, and we were off to the races.

Literally minutes after the midnight release of Aftermath, Chuck became the target of exactly the sort of targeted online harassment organized by alt-right trolls who’ve been hounding me for the last month. They conspired to flood the book’s Amazon page with faked 1 Star reviews to tank its rating and sabotage its sales potential. They mobbed him on Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube with homophobic slurs, doxxing, death threats, everything out of the incel troll playbook that I’ve experienced, except in his case it’s gone on for years and at a much higher volume to match his larger public profile.

And like me, they’ve targeted Chuck for false mass reporting attacks trying to get his 150k follower verified Twitter account permanently suspended by lying about his tweets and their intentions. And they weren’t entirely without success there, either, as Chuck was suspended for five hours this week without Twitter even explaining why they were doing it.

I seriously don’t know how Chuck keeps on top of the amount of bullshit that’s shoveled onto him, but he’s been managing it for more than two and a half years now without sacrificing the quality or volume of his creative output. Which is why it’s so utterly depressing to see Marvel, yet again, caving to pressure from the rightwing manufactured-outrage machine, just as they did three months ago when they fired James Gunn from directing Guardians of the Galaxy III after jackboot-licking, Waffen SS washout Mike Cernovich lead a bad-faith campaign to dig up ten-year-old pedo jokes which Gunn had already apologized for long before he directed the first damned Guardians movie, not because he wanted to protect children, but just to troll and get a “win” against progressives in Hollywood. An egregious mistake they still have not corrected.

And yes, I know Marvel Studios is a separate entity from the Marvel comics imprint, but they’re all under the same umbrella and what one division does impacts the public image of the other. For many years now, Marvel both on screen and in print has been trying to position itself publicly as the place for inclusivity in comics, both in the characters shown, and in the people writing them. Beloved characters like Thor being taken over by Jane Foster, Falcon taking up Captain America’s shield, or Iceman coming out as gay have all told readers that diversity is the word of the day at Marvel.

But on multiple occasions now, when presented with real-world examples of heroes standing up to the forces of intolerance, bigotry, and fascism, Marvel has blinked and capitulated to the very people their storylines have been telling readers to oppose since the earliest days of the X-Men.

And what’s worse, especially in the case of Star Wars “fandom,” is now we know objectively that much if not most of the baying of the rightwing noise factory over the recent direction of Star Wars IS COMPLETELY FAKE. Yes, really, recent investigations into the negative backlash over The Last Jedi have concluded that half or more of the social media accounts posting and tweeting vitriol and hate for Episode VIII were in fact Russian bots or paid trolls working to further divide American society along right vs left fault-lines in their quest to sew discord and influence our elections. And if you think that sounds far-fetched, you haven’t been paying attention and really need to read this piece by Molly McKew about the straight line connection between GamerGate and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight.

And believe me, that effort didn’t start with TLJ. It was there in the boycotts against The Force Awakens, and it was present in the 34% of 1 Star reviews against Chuck’s SW book, Aftermath, and all of the little jackholes who have been polluting his platform ever since, culminating in his firing today.

I should say, for full disclosure, I have no personal reasons to defend Chuck Wendig. He and I are not friends per se. I’ve met him briefly maybe three times at various conventions, and I think I said something boneheaded to him at San Antonio WorldCon because I was a newbie author trying to be too familiar with a bigshot. Politically, there are a lot of things Chuck and I disagree on, in some cases pretty strongly.

But we agree 100% on trolls and Nazis. And for not the first time, Marvel done him dirty to placate exactly the wrong kinds of people. People toxifying social media and working in secret with a nebulous and hostile foreign organization to poison our culture and usurp our democracy.

Sounds an awful lot like Hydra, right?

How to Find Me Now That Twitter’s Gone to the Dark Side


Hello friends, fans, and followers. As many of you know, a tenacious band of alt-right, shitmitten, cyberstalkers has been doing everything they can to crawl up my ass for the last month, because they’re pathetic nobodies with no purpose or direction in life. However, they have succeeded in tricking Twitter’s pig-ignorant reporting algorithms into banning first my original @stealthygeek account, and today my replacement @patrickstomlin1 account.

It’s annoying, I’ll admit, but it’s a temporary setback I’ve been anticipating for a while now and have taken steps to mitigate. You’re probably wondering where to get your fix of my peculiar blend of political commentary, snark, and brutal takedowns, and fear not, I have you covered.

First of all, and most importantly, you can subscribe to my email list in the box right above you. I’ll only be using this list to send out pertinent updates when a new blog post goes up, or when I have big news about a new book, promotion, con appearance, etc. No boner pills, I promise. So stick your email up in my box and I’ll fill up yours. Fair? Fair.

For a couple months now, I’ve been boosting my YouTube Channel with original content, including political commentary, stand-up sets, and random nerdy shit. Hit me up, watch a vid or two, and subscribe. I’ll try to be good about updating it at least weekly.

I also run an Author page on Facebook, where I cut out the politics and stick to just the skinny on my publishing career. Throw it a like, if you like.

I bit the bullet and got on Instagram a while back. I still don’t understand the ecosystem, but I’m doing my best. Follow me there @pstomlinson.

If you’re a particularly bookish type as I am, you probably already have a Goodreads account. Miraculously, so do I! You can friend or follow me at my Goodreads Author Profile to see what I have coming out, what I’m reading, and reviews of whatever I actually manage to finish.

Finally, and maybe most usefully, Amazon actually lets you follow your favorite authors and will email you updates whenever they have a new release coming out. Never get caught off guard and miss a surprise sequel again. My Amazon page is here. Follow me, and while you’re there, it wouldn’t kill you to preorder STARSHIP REPO, coming from Tor Books in May. Trust me, it’s going to kick ass.

Anyway, that’s enough shameless self-promo for one day. Tomorrow I promise to put up a blog post half as self-serving, at a minimum. Thanks for swinging by, and don’t forget to spread the word on the socials.

 

 

How Trolls Hack Twitter to Silence the Rest of Us

Hello, my name is Patrick S. Tomlinson (formerly @stealthygeek and @patricktomlin1, both of which are now suspended). Some of you know me as a science-fiction author. More of you probably know me as that one guy who wrote the abortion thought experiment that went viral last October.

In today’s social media environment, being politically outspoken and possessing any measure of reach and influence paints a target on anyone’s back. Media figures, celebrities, and creatives are all too familiar with the firehose of targeted harassment and trolling that comes with the territory of daring to voice an opinion, especially women.

Over the years, I’ve received innumerable suicide demands, several dozen death threats, had my private information doxxed five times, a DDoS attack on my website, and on one memorable occasion, a white supremacist came to my door hoping to intimidate me, only to be educated in my enthusiasm for firearms. Don’t judge a book, guys.

I’m hardly alone.

Trolls on the Loose

Trolling and online harassment is nothing new, but in the years since GamerGate, it’s taken on a more organized and frightening tone. Threats of physical and sexual violence have grown beyond cyberspace and entered the “real world.”. The practice of “Swatting,” wherein online trolls use a person’s doxxed address to make a false report of a hostage situation or other deadly threat to local police has already resulted in the death of an innocent man in Wichita, Kansas over a Call of Duty game session.

Many celebrities have been forced from various platforms by the vitriol of toxic fandoms, perhaps most famously Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, and Kelly Marie Tran of the rekindled Star Wars series bowing out of Twitter because mouth-breathing, waifu pillow-hugging, straight white man children couldn’t cope with a female Jedi, a black hero, and an Asian female character who wasn’t deliberately sexualized to appeal to their adolescent fantasies.

Other high-profile individuals have weathered these storms and come out all the stronger. People like Brianna Wu, one of the first women targeted by the GamerGate brigade pushed through the death threats and people literally live-streaming driving to her house. Today, she has eighty-thousand Twitter followers and is gearing up for her second campaign to join the House of Representatives in 2020 on a platform that rightly emphasizes her experience in tech and how it relates to security and privacy in the Digital Age (although, Brianna, if you’re reading this, gun insurance is still a dumb idea).

In response to these online terror campaigns, almost all social media platforms have either adopted or drastically expanded their reporting systems with the hopes that their vast communities would be able to police themselves and remove bad actors before another crisis occurred.

The problem is, while their intentions were laudable, the sheer, insurmountable volume of traffic on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram meant these reporting systems are largely on-your-honor arrangements on the user side of things, and almost entirely automated on the in-house side. It’s up to users to report tweets or posts that may or may not violate an arbitrary standard set by the platform’s Terms of Service, which range from the wild west to draconian. Once reported, it’s no longer eyeballs, but algorithms viewing the posts and making the call on what is and is not appropriate.

And while these algorithms are quite good at identifying offending key words or phrases, they’re severely limited when it comes to understanding context, allowing the cleverer trolls and harassers loopholes you could drive a windowless panel van through. For all its promise, AI today is about as bright as a jar of pig knuckles.

But, more worryingly still, is the opportunity for abuse of the reporting system itself. Trolls use the very weakness of the algorithms’ limited reasoning to launch coordinated mass false reporting attacks against their critics and targets, often organized in secret on another platform. These attacks work similarly to a DDoS attack on a website, swarming the software with a multitude of false reports, often generated by multiple sock-puppet accounts, in order to present the illusion of public outrage or offense over a tweet or post where none exists, triggering an automated punitive response by the platform’s enforcement algorithms.

This weaponization of the reporting system by bad faith actors contributes to harassment and increases the toxicity of online communities by forcing out the trolls’ most effective critics, making these platforms even more dangerous for genuine users, not less.

The Worst Sort of Attention

Recently, exactly this situation happened to me. On Friday the 14th, I was informed my verified twitter account with more than thirty-eight thousand followers had been suspended, permanently, for “targeted harassment,” consisting of a single tweet directed at a pro-Trump troll account spreading victim-blaming and propaganda in the wake of Trump’s conspiracy theory regarding the three-thousand Americans who died in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Now, I freely admit that my response was crass and provocative. It was typed in genuine anger at someone trying to legitimize Trump’s pathetic attempt to shift the blame for his disastrously incompetent response to what became the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history onto his victims. Yes, his victims, as the vast majority of the people lost to Maria died weeks or months later due to completely preventable causes related to the absence of electricity, clean water, food, and medicine. All things that a competently run relief effort would have provided in time. Maria killed dozens. Trump killed thousands.

But while my response was obviously tactless, it was just as obviously hyperbolic and metaphorical. It doesn’t violate the ToS in any meaningful way. So what happened? For that answer, we have to go back to more than a week before the suspension to a random reddit thread.

Fair warning, in the screenshots and tweets to come, there will be a prodigious amount of homophobic language used, because much like the grunts of more primitive primates, anti-gay slurs seem to be the only way these troglodytes can communicate with each other. Anyway…

…as stupid as this is going to sound, the whole issue came about because people on an Opie and Anthony subreddit thread were mad I said I’ve never personally found Norm Macdonald funny. Random, I know, but here we are. From then on, my account was deliberately targeted for harassment and mass reporting attacks, including at least four fake accounts all run by the user on the above thread who bragged about being “on my sixth account.”

https://twitter.com/roe_dead
https://twitter.com/DeadRoe
https://twitter.com/dead_roe
https://twitter.com/CumiaRoe

The “Dead Roe” theme, incidentally, relates to another Twitter user, Joe Cumia, who had his account suspended for a variety of reasons. This particular troll reveled in attacking him, and started these accounts with their corpse themes to mock Cumia’s mother who passed away earlier this year. Yes, you read that right, someone started multiple twitter accounts to taunt another human over his mother’s death. That’s the level of depravity we’re dealing with here.

Which relates to the next “tweet” that was sent via my website.


This tweet is a fake, turns out it never existed. It was photoshopped and sent to me and several others by the same trolls who got my account suspended in the hopes I would falsely attribute it to Mr. Cumia and go on the attack against him. And while a quick perusal of Mr. Cumia’s public statements and behavior prove he and I are already natural enemies, he is innocent of this. It was just another component of the troll’s targeted harassment campaign. A campaign they celebrated publicly only moments after their false attack succeeded in suspending my twitter account.

As you can see, it is hardly credible to believe these fine gentlemen were concerned with making the platform safer for other users. Instead, their purpose was to silence one of their ideological opponents so their white supremacy and homophobia could spread unimpeded. And Twitter’s reporting algorithms rewarded their efforts. But it doesn’t end there. Cyberbullying of this nature is all-encompassing. Trolls dedicate hours of research to find their targets on every platform and swarm them from every flank, hoping to throw people off balance and intimidate them into overreaction or withdrawal.

For my part, this group of cyberbullies continued to press their attack on my YouTube channel…

…on Twitter itself with an impersonation account that stole vacation pictures from my Instagram in order to falsely accuse me of pedophilia…

 

…and with fake 1 Star ratings on my most recent book’s Amazon reviews.


 

And before anyone accuses me of sour grapes over bad reviews, just stop and look at the 1 Stars. They all came in two waves of 48 hours, which just happened to coincide with me calling out white supremacists on social media. None of them are verified purchases, and none of them contain any details that would indicate they’d actually read the book. If you want to see what an average distribution of unmolested reviews looks like, just look at ratings of the same book on Goodreads and Audible.com.

Amazon is only the most visible and popular of the various rating systems, so it’s the trolls’ most obvious target for this sort of attack. Amazon knows fake reviews are a problem, but outside of high-profile examples like Secretary Clinton’s most recent book WHAT HAPPENED, they’ve done virtually nothing to defend the integrity of arguably the world’s most influential literary ratings system, again relying on pig-ignorant algorithms to do the heavy lifting of deciding which reviews are genuine.

And yes, I realize I’ve opened my Goodreads and Audible ratings up to attack from the same people who went after my Amazon ratings, because this post will certainly get shared around among them. They have nothing else to do with themselves. But when they go after my books on those platforms, it will only prove the point. These people are not brilliant tacticians. They continue to believe Reddit threads are somehow invisible to the public, for example.

In review, my Twitter account was suspended because a computer program was tricked into believing I was trying to silence someone’s voice by a pack of abusive, homophobic trolls whose transparent and admitted goal was to silence my voice. If they did it to me, they can do it to anyone. And remember, as bad as all this was, it’s not half as awful as things said and done to women on social media who dare to speak out. By now, many of you are probably wondering what you can do to protect yourselves from this sort of overwhelming, organized attack from deliberately malicious and dishonest people. I have some suggestions.

Armoring Up

First off, don’t put all your eggs in one social media basket. In retrospect, this was my biggest mistake. Twitter was far and away my most successful platform, so that’s where I focused the majority of my time and attention growing my audience. But that left my social media presence exposed to a single point of failure. In recent months, I’ve started trying to diversify my web presence beyond Twitter into other forms and media, such as Instagram and launching a YouTube channel with original content.

But these efforts turned out to be a beat too late, and now I’m starting over basically from scratch. My best advice, especially for aspiring creatives, is to use your social media presence to drive your audience to a platform you alone control. In my case, it’s my author website, blog, and an email subscription list that should be going live alongside this article (Subscribe!). That should be the home base for everything you do. With it, you will build up a core group of fans and supporters that can’t be taken away by any troll or algorithm.

As far as what Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc can do, I’ve got suggestions there, too. First, appeals should be heard before punitive actions are taken, not after. Twitter’s system of offering either a 12-hour lock or an appeal process that can take days incentivizes users to just take the lock instead of fighting back, even when in many cases the reported tweet is utter nonsense. I fell for it on a couple of occasions when I knew my tweet was in the clear, but didn’t want to be cut off from the service for an unknowable number of days while my appeal worked its way through the system. Twitter’s been my primary source of news and networking for many years now. It was just easier to delete the ‘offending’ tweet and log off for half a day than to fight back. That shortsightedness came back to bite me, as each of those locks counted against my account in the most recent suspension.

Secondly, when it comes to permanent suspensions, that’s not something that should be done without direct human involvement. Automated systems just aren’t capable of weighing all of the various inputs and context in this dynamic, multi-platform social media environment and rendering a fair decision that takes not only the words, but the intentions and motivations of all the various players into account.

Only human beings can accomplish that, ideally several of them in committee to account for the natural biases and passions of their compatriots. Without such measures, you leave yourselves and your tens of millions of users beholden to the tyranny of a loud, unscrupulous minority of trolls who use your well-intentioned rules as a cudgel to beat the decent majority into silence or submission.

And Jack, I hate to say it, but do you want Nazis? Because that’s how you get Nazis.

As for the obsessive cyberstalkers who just combed through all 2300 words of that looking for some new angle to attack me, well…


 

UPDATE, 10/10/18:

Well, they’ve struck again. This time they got Chuck Wendig locked up for five hours. Also, my new Twitter account, @patrickstomlin1, has been permanently suspended as well for evading a ban, which I knew was coming eventually, but I had hoped to hold out just a little longer. Really, Twitter is an amazing platform run by either morons or people desperate to avoid any sort of accountability for what they’ve created. Not mutually exclusive, I suppose. Anyway, it’s more important than ever for you to subscribe to my email list in the box above. I promise a minimum of Viagra promotions.

STARSHIP REPO Cover Reveal!

Hey gang, sorry it’s been so long between posts on the blog here. I’ve been a little preoccupied with… things. But, I’m making an effort to change that. Got a big post coming up soon.

Today however, we’ve got something very exciting. Tor Books has released the cover art for my next book, STARSHIP REPO! And here it is!

 

 

Isn’t it fantastic? I love it. STARSHIP REPO is a follow up to June’s GATE CRASHERS and is set in the same universe and timeline, but unlike a traditional sequel, it’s almost entirely stand alone and introduces an entirely new cast of characters. Think how Discworld jumped around from the Nightwatch, to the wizards, to the witches, to Death, etc and you’ll get a good idea of what we’re trying to build for the long haul here.

Set five years after and hundreds of light years away from the events of GATE CRASHERS, this story follows around a teenage runaway Firstname Lastname (it’s a data entry error, they’ll fix it any day now) as she runs cons and street hustles, trying to survive in the margins as the only human on an immense alien trade station known as Junktion.

That is, until she falls in with a company of repossession agents. Except they don’t mess around with cars. They steal back entire starships.

STARSHIP REPO is the best thing I’ve ever written. I pounded it out in less than four months, giggling madly the entire time. There’s a brain in a jar, a communal organism, a transgender crab alien, and a hentai tentacle monster that lives in the sewers and has strong opinions about music piracy. I still can’t believe Tor gave me money for this nonsense.

I unabashedly love it, and I think you will, too. It’s scheduled to publish on May 21st, 2019. Preorders are live now, so reserve yourself a copy here on Amazon.

GATE CRASHERS Advanced Reader Copies!

DU-ei3FXUAEO_vd

Hey friends, fans, and followers.  Are you a book reviewer? Want an ARC of my first book from Tor? It’s got competent women doing cool things, a gay black space marine kicking ass, a silverback gorilla press liaison, sentient nuclear missiles, and a drug-dependent alien going cold turkey, all set to a tune of First Contact and the Apocalypse.

If that sounds like your thing, drop me an email at patrickstomlinson AT gmail DOT com with ARC in the subject line and I’ll send the request up the line to my editor.

For the rest of you, you can preorder GATE CRASHERS at this link. Preordering a book you know you’re going to want anyway is one of the best things you can do for your favorite authors as it helps build buzz and set buy-in sizes from bookstores, shelf placement, etc.

Out in late June, GATE CRASHERS is the first of a new series set in something we’re calling The Breach. Next up in the series, STARSHIP REPO! Which I should really finish writing…

Sci-Fi Has Always Been Political

review_dune_poster

There’s a curious case of revisionism surrounding the history of the future making the rounds in fandom. Certain groups, most notably of the depressed juvenile canine persuasion, but hardly limited to them, are making waves about what they claim is a recent phenomenon among the ranks of science fiction authors, their editors, and their publishers to inject distracting, even oppressive amounts of social and political commentary into the novels and short stories they choose to produce.

These earnestly concerned aficionados of the genre pine for the Golden Age when science fiction was awash in rayguns and replicants, alien ass-kicking, monoliths and megastructures, before this new wave of social justice bards inserted themselves into the conversation and ruined their good fun.

There’s just one small, niggling problem with this assessment; Sci-fi has always, even primarily, been political. It was just never questioning their politics before. It was never challenging their preconceptions, or calling out their cultural biases. As they say, you never forget your first time.

Instead of embracing the call to turn their attentions inward for a little self-reflection, many among the community of sci-fi fandom instead looked backwards to an age when all the voices sounded suspiciously like their own. But in the process, they’ve conveniently forgotten the point of the seminal work of some of the genre’s most influential authors.

Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune, as an opening example, dives deep into questions of colonialism, treatment of indigenous people, the roles and relationship between religion and government, all wrapped within a powerful allegory for the rising power of the Islamic petrostates in the middle east and the clash of cultures over scarce resources. To say that Dune wasn’t political is simply absurd.

Between 1984 and Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote two of the most memorable novels lampooning government control and overreach from both sides of the political spectrum. Philip K. Dick dealt with fascism and slavery in The Man in the High Castle, as did Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Orson Scott Card wrote one of the most persuasive and beautiful arguments found in literature in favor of religious tolerance, diversity, inclusiveness, and against heteronormativity in his celebrated Speaker for the Dead, not that he meant to, it just sort of happened. Robert Heinlein spent an entire career writing political allegories about war, government, and what it means to be a citizen, evolving from one end of the political spectrum to the other and back again in a decades-long conversation with himself.

Jumping media, there are no end of examples of beloved sci-fi movies and television tackling themes of racism, sexism, and unequal treatment of ‘the other,’ Star Trek and Dr. Who chief among them in all their various incarnations.

The only critical difference is today, the people telling these stories aren’t imagining them. They’re writing from their own lived experiences of inequality and discrimination, persecution and violence. As a result, their stories bring the kind of raw-nerve sharpness that comes with authenticity. New wave authors like Ann Leckie, Charlie Jane Anders, and Liu Cixin make a certain type of reader uncomfortable, because the underlying truth of what they’re writing is so much closer to the surface on an emotional level, and therefore harder to ignore.

Sci-Fi is currently bookended by two remarkable women. From its very first work in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, straight through to last year’s Hugo winner, N.K. Jemisin’s Obelisk Gate, Sci-Fi has returned to one question more often than any other; “What makes us human?” Shelley asked who qualifies. Almost two-hundred years later, Jemisin argues no one is qualified to answer. The conversation will continue for centuries more, and new voices will be invited to join, from ever more diverse backgrounds, adding their own color and patterns to the tapestry generations of storytellers have woven.

Eventually, even authors of Artificial Intelligence, the ultimate children of sci-fi, may have to fight for a seat at the table to tell their stories. I’d like to think that, if I’m still breathing, I won’t have grown so ossified that I’m shaking an auto-walker in their direction, complaining about how they’re ruining sci-fi for ‘organic’ humans.