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!

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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

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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.

Writing Fiction in a Time of Genuine Crisis

Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women's March. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

 

A funny thing happened to me eighteen months ago. A random tweet throwing shade at the typical rightwing response to police brutality put me in touch with an editor for The Hill. As a result, I added paid political commentator to my other job titles of sci-fi author and stand-up comic. Many, many articles followed, and I’ve added bylines in other venues such as The New York Times, US News, and an interview in Salon.

Which has given me a unique perspective on how to keep writing about spaceships and ray guns while Rome seemingly burns around us.

First of all, Don’t Panic. We are facing a crisis of a kind our nation has not seen since 1861 at the dawn of the Civil War, but no one person is doing all the work. If the Women’s March taught us anything, it’s that the resistance is massive, unprecedented, organized, and furious. There are plenty of ants and worker bees to carry the load. We can all afford to take our eyes away from Twitter and the networks for a few hours a day and create our stories, guilt free. The fight will be there when we’re finished. You have permission to create and care for yourself. You are not required to burn yourself at both ends.

Secondly, remember that our stories matter. The stories humans tell each other form the basis of our societies. They weave the tapestry of who we are, and who we aspire to be. Storytellers have the power, privilege, and responsibility of shaping and guiding the narrative. There’s a reason we were among the first to be attacked in the Hugo fiasco a couple years ago. The trolls, puppies, and alt-right jackboots recognize who sets the pace, and it’s not them. Which is why they’re stuck reacting to the work we’re doing. They are insects, drawn to the light you create.

My own work took a serious turn in the aftermath of last year’s campaign. A series that had started as a fun little murder mystery and continued with an action-adventure tale suddenly tackled much weightier issues in its third volume as a direct result of the bullshit I was witnessing on a daily basis. So I decided to talk about gentrification and ghettos, policing in diverse communities, wealth inequality, xenophobia, and gender identity. Things I as a straight white male wasn’t entirely comfortable talking about out of fear I wasn’t doing them justice.

I’m still not sure I wrote about those issues right, or that I was the right person to write about them, but I do know in this environment, the last thing I wanted to contribute was another ‘safe’ book. Not that such a thing even exists anymore. Recently, I found a review of my second book online that dismissed the entire work for the cardinal sin of using gender-neutral pronouns in relation to an alien race. The point of which was not to be political, but simply to distinguish them from the humans and to recognize their distinct, triple gendered reproductive strategy.

Your work will be politicized by extremists whether you intend or desire it or not. But here’s the thing to remember: Assassins mean you’re winning. So write that completely bonkers trans mermaid/interracial centaur Cold War spy romance mashup novel. Fuck it. Sharknado got made like seven times.

Never let anyone tell you writing your novel is a distraction, or isn’t part of the fight. Books, movies, music, art, comedy, they all steer the future and shape perceptions. It’s why authoritarians ban and burn them. They understand the magic of a story and the power it can have to inspire minds and motivate resistance. We, YOU, are what they fear the most. Diverse, creative people confidently injecting their stories into the world without fear. Because they know we’re building a future that doesn’t include them.

Build, my pretties. Create universes you want to live it, and you might just get the chance. Every word remakes our world in your image, one snowflake at a time, until the avalanche breaks.

GATE CRASHERS goes live for preorders

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Hey gang, GATE CRASHERS comes out next June, but preorders are already up and running at Amazon. If you didn’t know, preorder numbers are an important metric for any book launch, as it helps the publisher gauge interest and make decisions on things like how much promotional budget to give it, how big an initial print run, etc.

So, no pressure, but if you’re at all interested in buying a book, preordering it is one of the more helpful things you can do for the author.

That said, you can preorder GATE CRASHERS here.

And you Goodreaders, it’s also up and ready to be put on your “want to read” shelf to give you a reminder as we get closer to June. Goodreads also has a nice little plot summary. Check it out.

That’s all for right now. I’ve got some other great news still in the hopper waiting for permission to share. Keep an eye out for updates.

GATE CRASHERS Cover Reveal!

If you’ve hung around me at all for the last six or seven years, you’ve heard me bang on about the first book I ever wrote. Back then, it was called A HOLE IN THE FENCE. It was a plucky little space opera/slapstick comedy that sat on the bench while the Children of a Dead Earth books made the varsity team.

Six rewrites and a signed contract with Tor Books later, it goes by a new name. GATE CRASHERS comes out on June 18th, and I can finally reveal its amazing cover art.

GateCrashers

Barnes & Noble’s blog has a nice little write-up with an introduction to the book and a peek at the plot here, check it out.  And make sure to remember to preorder. So many preorders…

The AHCA’s Unimaginable Cruelty

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It’s been two months since Paul Ryan rammed the AHCA through the House without a CBO score, without public hearings, and with less than an hour of floor debate. Since then, we’ve dealt with the new-normal of Trump embarrassments, scandals, incompetence, and Russia revelations seemingly hourly. In such an environment, it’s easy to lose focus on the stories that aren’t right in front of our faces.

Now, the Senate’s secret-squirrel bill is finally revealed, and it’s somehow even worse. So distractions aside, it’s time to return attention to the GOP crusade to attack Americans’ wallets and even lives. We’ve all heard the numbers by now, and they are so startling as to defy belief. According to the CBO’s score, the AHCA will cost twenty-three million Americans their healthcare coverage within the next ten years. That’s actually more people than gained coverage under the ACA, as the GOP plan is so damaging and corrosive that even people on employer group plans are not safe. A Harvard study from prior to the implementation of the ACA demonstrated as many as forty-five thousand people died as a direct result of a lack of adequate healthcare coverage annually. That’s the equivalent of filling a major league baseball stadium with people and bombing it to rubble. Every. Year.

These numbers are almost too big to comprehend. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to shrink the conversation down and introduce you to someone very special.

Meet Caitlin Thomas. Caitlin is fourteen years old. She enjoys Buffy the Vampire Slayer and traveling the country with her parents, Michael Damian and Lynne. Caitlin also suffers from Aicardi Syndrome, a severe neurological condition of the brain that affects only around two-thousand girls worldwide. I say “girls,” because few people with this disease have lived to see adulthood. Among other symptoms, Caitlin struggles with brain cysts, epilepsy, degraded vision, problems communicating, is wheelchair bound, and has to be fed through a stomach tube.

Forty years ago, Caitlin’s life would have been short and bleak, whisked away from her family to an institution of incalculable inhumanity, where her life-expectancy would be measured in a few years at most. Little more than a cold, uncaring waiting room for death’s arrival. But that changed with the introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a bipartisan bill widely supported by men and women on both sides of the isle and signed by President George HW Bush.

Thanks in part to these measures, and to Medicaid programs for severely disabled children available through their state of residence, Caitlin has been able to live her life at home with her family. She is thriving and happy. But it hasn’t been easy. In 2014, Caitlin underwent back surgery to correct a worsening spine curvature. Her medical costs for that year alone totaled a million dollars, the price of five decent homes in their neck of the woods. But even that pales in comparison to her ongoing costs. A single specialized anti-seizure medication for Caitlin costs seventeen thousand dollars per month. But without it, she would have no quality of life at all.

Aicardi syndrome is, it goes without saying, a preexisting condition. It wasn’t due to any decisions Caitlin made, or her lifestyle choices. It can’t be tracked back to anything her parents did or failed to do. Like so many conditions, it just happened. Without access to good health insurance and preexisting condition guarantees, her parents would not only be broke, but very likely unemployable by anything but a large corporation whose group plan could absorb the hit of Caitlin’s medications and care. The damage she would do to a small company group plan would be immense.

Fortunately, Lynne works for the Library System and has state employee benefits which can take the strain. Because of this, not only is Caitlin alive and happily at home with her family, but Michael Damian acts as a stay-at-home father and care-giver, while still carving out time for the family business.

The Thomas’s jointly own and edit Uncanny Magazine, a speculative fiction market for short stories, novelettes, and articles dealing with the sci-fi and fantasy community. And when did their business launch? 2014, the same year Caitlin’s medical bills topped one million dollars. In just a few short years, Uncanny Magazine has catapulted to prominence within the nerdy literary community with many significant, award-nominated pieces published. They pay their authors pro rates in an industry that has struggled in recent years. They’ve hired on editorial staff. Last year in Kansas City, they won the highest honor among their peers when they took home the Hugo Award from best semiprozine. A novelette they published, “Folding Beijing,” was covered by the New York Times, has been read by over a hundred thousand people, and has recently secured a film deal.

All instead of going bankrupt trying to save their daughter from death. That’s the power of healthcare coverage and the ACA’s market reforms, the ability to continue living, creating, and contributing to our larger society and culture instead of fighting for life.

This is what the AHCA, Trump’s budget, and even the Senate draft proposal wants to take away. Collectively, the proposals cut over a trillion dollars from Medicaid starting in 2020, gutting the grants children like Caitlin depend on for their very survival. Medicaid reimbursement rates are already so low, and their repayment times so long (18 months in IL!) that many providers simply can’t afford to accept patients from the program. Slashing its funding to the bone won’t save money in the long run, it will only exacerbate the problem and drive more families past the breaking point.

What families like the Thomas’s want is not dependence on the government, but freedom to make their own way and forge their own futures. Futures that benefit and enrich us all in the end. If we can only find the political will and basic human decency to let them, we all win.

Hillary Clinton is in Bed With China

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with employees at a Velcro Companies facility Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with employees at a Velcro Companies facility Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

 

Let’s run a thought experiment. It’s July, 2016. For the first time in months, Hillary Clinton has announced a press conference. During the Q&A portion, she comes out swinging and, to the shock of everyone, pleads with China to hack into her opponent, Donald Trump’s email system and release that information to the world.

People on the right correctly point out that a Presidential candidate publicly soliciting the assistance of a rival foreign government to pursue a campaign of cyber espionage against an American citizen and political rival is, you know, treasonous, but Clinton’s party and supporters shrug it off as “a joke,” and the campaign grinds on as if nothing happened.

Meanwhile, agencies from the CIA, NSA, DHS, and FBI have all covertly begun investigations into “alarmingly frequent” communications between high-level Clinton campaign staffers and officials within Chinese Intelligence. Chelsey Clinton makes statements about her family’s vast business interests in China, and that money is “flowing in” from Chinese sources. John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, is suddenly forced to resign when it comes to light that he broke multiple lobbying and ethics rules by working in close conjunction with the Guomindang, the pro-unification political party in Taiwan.

In August, a dossier compiled by a respected former MI5 agent who had originally been hired by a pro-democrat Super-PAC to conduct opposition research is forwarded to the FBI. Within it are accusations that Chinese Intelligence has spent the last five years attempting to cultivate Sec Clinton as a state asset, offering her sweetheart business deals and collecting blackmail material on her, including phone call recordings and several salacious videos of a sexual nature captured while the Secretary stayed in Beijing hotels.

Then, a report comes out that all seventeen of our domestic intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, have come to the consensus that China has been engaging in state-sponsored cyber-attacks against the RNC and the Trump campaign with the intention of casting doubt on the integrity of the U.S. elections and perhaps aiding Clinton’s chances.

For her part, Sec Clinton responds to this by claiming that nobody knows who’s behind the attacks, that it could be China, or Russia, or some four-hundred-pound guy in a New Jersey basement, that her grandchild is “Really good with the cyber” and calling into question the competence and integrity of the entire U.S. intelligence community. When cornered in a live debate on her position and accused of collusion with the Chinese, she just mindlessly repeats, “You’re the puppet. You’re the puppet.”

Throughout this increasingly bizarre campaign season, Clinton repeatedly and publicly heaps praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping for his hardnosed style of leadership, including his active suppressions of the free press and jailing/assassination of political rivals. She manages to convince the DNC to change the party’s official geopolitical platform to include allowing China to absorb Taiwan and support their territorial claims on any number of contested island chains throughout the South China Sea, islands and sea lanes claimed by U.S. allies such as Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. She further threatens to those same allies that the U.S. might choose not to honor our numerous mutual-defense pacts should violence erupt between them and mainland China unless they agree to significantly increase their defense spending.

Jump ahead to nine days before the election. The democratic director of the FBI violates department policy and quite possibly the Hatch Act to send an explosive letter to his allies in Congress claiming without a scrap of evidence that a completely tangential investigation has rekindled a legal case against Donald Trump that had been settled months earlier, while conveniently neglecting to mention the open investigation into coordination between the Clinton campaign and Chinese Intelligence.

Trump is wounded in the polls with very little time left to rebut the false charges. Days later, the same democrat FBI director comes forward to say nothing was found and the investigation remains dormant, but the damage is done. On election day, Trump wins the popular vote by almost three million votes, but falls in the electoral college total by a margin of less than eighty-thousand total votes in only three states, at least one of which is suffering from recently-passed democratic election measures than makes it significantly more difficult for rural and suburban voters to cast their ballots.

Clinton spends weeks jet-setting around the country on a “victory” tour of only those states that voted for her, crowing incessantly about her “historic landslide” when in reality her EC margin is in the bottom ten percent of Presidential contests and her two-point-eight-million ballot loss in the popular vote is “unpresidented” in American history.

She immediately starts picking a cabinet and White House staff that reeks of corruption and deeply-troubling business and personal ties back to China, including a Secretary of State nominee who had previously been involved in a multi-billion dollar business deal with the Chinese government that fell through due to Clinton’s Republican predecessor in the White House, and who was awarded a medal from President Jinping himself for being such a great pal to China.

Then, less than a month after her inauguration, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, who had previously been fired from his position as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency for his abuse of subordinates and love of anti-republican conspiracy theories, is revealed to have had secret conversations with the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. in which he instructed China to ignore sanctions Clinton’s predecessor had put in place as punishment for their interference in the election. Conversations which broke all sorts of diplomatic and ethics protocols, as well as federal law. Clinton’s National Security Advisor lied to not only the public about the nature of these conversations, but to VP Tim Kaine, and investigators for the FBI as well, which is itself a felony.

Amazingly, the same day those illegal conversations took place, China announces that it will take no action at all in response to the new sanction, a move which President elect Clinton responds to by praising President Jinping for be “smart” in the first tweet she’d ever pinned to the top of her personal account.

At nearly the same time, it’s revealed that the CIA and NSA have independently confirmed many of the aspects of the forgotten dossier that alleged Clinton of being compromised by blackmail, that the Intelligence Community is withholding vital intel from Clinton’s White House because they’re afraid of it falling into the hands of the Chinese government, and that Clinton had known for weeks before public revelations that her National Security advisor had been lying about his involvement with the Chinese ambassador.

That brings our thought experiment to now.

Does anyone, anywhere, wish to argue with me that, given the above, the GOP wouldn’t have already shut down DC, demanding the impeachment of Clinton, Kaine, the invalidation of the results of the electoral college, and the immediate installation of Donald Trump as the rightful President, Constitutional crisis be damned?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

To members of the Democratic party, any patriotic Republicans that remain, the press, the Supreme Court, our intelligence community, and the three-quarters of the American electorate who did not vote for this:

You know what to do.

9 Reasons to Fear Putin’s New America

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Photo courtesy of Adam Rakunas

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly that aired before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Donald Trump made yet another spirited defense of his political ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

When pressed by the Fox News host over his year-long bromance with Putin the “killer,” Trump pushed back, insisting that there were killers in America as well and that our country was hardly innocent. This rather spectacularly disingenuous bit of false-equivalence overlooks the fact that we try not to reward our killers with high office. Retired General Barry McCaffrey went so far as to say the flippant equivocation was “[T]he most anti-American statement ever made by a president.” Nor was he alone, as Republican lawmakers rushed to distance themselves from Putin’s apologist throughout the rest of the day.

But the overriding question that remains is why the President of the United States is so steadfast and immovable in his support of an illegitimately elected, autocratic… okay, fine so the answer is obvious. But what’s less obvious to people only now tuning in is why this relationship is so troubling. To understand that, you have to know more about the personal and political history of Russia’s newest tyrant.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born into the Cold War in 1952. He speaks fluent German and from 1975 to 1991 served as a KGB intelligence officer. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he resigned from the KGB and joined the Boris Yeltsin administration in 1996. Only three short years later, Putin became acting President when Yeltsin resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations. At the time, Putin was criticized for shielding his mentor from any investigations or consequences for his graft.

Since then, Putin has alternated between the roles of President and Prime Minister. In 2012, he recaptured the presidency with seventy percent of the vote in an election widely criticized by the international community as undemocratic, including a stinging rebuke from former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, which was widely reported to be a driving motivation behind Putin’s cyber-campaign against the DNC.

While in power, Putin has been embroiled in multiple scandals and by nearly constant accusations of corruption, human rights violations, and politically-motivated assassinations.

1. In 2004, Ukrainian Presidential candidate and leader of the anti-Russian opposition party, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned during the campaign to unseat Putin’s ally, Viktor Yanukovych in the famous “Orange Revolution.” Yushchenko was visibly disfigured by the poisoning attempt, which tests latter concluded was due to highly-refined TCDD, a truly terrible dioxin. Despite the attempt on his life, Yushchenko recovered and went on to defeat Yanukovych and become Ukraine’s President from 2005 to 2010. He was not shy about accusing Putin’s FSB of being behind the assassination attempt.

2. In 2006, former KGB and FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with polonium-210, a highly radioactive substance that is also incredibly rare. Indeed, Litvinenko remains the only case of polonium poisoning known to medical science. At the time, he was living in England, which had granted him asylum after he fled legal persecution in Russia. On his deathbed, he made international news with information regarding abuses committed by the FSB and the accusation that Putin was personally behind the covert operation to poison him. A claim which British intelligence found credible.

3. In 2012, three members of feminist punk band Pussy Riot were arrested after a performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in protest of leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church support for Putin in that year’s tainted election. They were subsequently tried, convicted, and imprisoned on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Two of the members served over a year in prison before pressure from Amnesty International and other human rights groups pushed the Putin government to reduce their sentences.

4. In July 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, flying over eastern Ukraine, was shot down by pro-Russian rebel forces using a Russian-built Buk Anti-Aircraft missile launched from a mobile system that Dutch authorities later concluded had been driven in from Russia the day before, and driven back into Russia after the crash. All two-hundred and ninety-eight people aboard died in the attack. Considering the sophistication of the equipment and training involved in its operation, it is highly likely that Russian soldiers were at the controls when the missile was fired, believing they were firing instead on a Ukrainian military transport plane.

5. In March, 2015, prominent Russian opposition leader and frequent Putin critic, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered in broad daylight near the Kremlin building while walking with his girlfriend. Despite multiple witnesses to the brazen shooting, the case remains unsolved after one suspect confessed only to later recant, and another blew himself up rather than be taken into custody.

6. In late 2016, during the campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which all seventeen of our intelligence services concluded Putin intervened in with the purpose of helping to elect Trump, Christopher Steele, a former agent of British Intelligence originally hired by a Republican-allied Super-Pac to collect opposition research on Trump assembled an explosive dossier that claimed, among other things, that Putin’s FSB had been attempting to groom Donald Trump as an asset for the previous five years. Not only had Russian intelligence attempted to bribe Trump with sweetheart business deals, but had collected kompromat (compromising material) on Donald over the course of several visits to Moscow, including the now-infamous sex-tapes featuring Russian prostitutes and certain bodily functions that are best left undescribed.

7. After the election, former FSB general Oleg Erovinkin, who was widely believed to be one of Steele’s sources for the dossier, was found dead in his Lexus in Moscow on December 26th. Investigations are ongoing, but even Russian state media has called the death a probable homicide.

Erovinkin was a senior aide to Igor Sechin, formerly Prime Minister and currently serving as the head of Rosneft, a state-owned oil company that had been named in the dossier. Steele reported that his contacts in Russian had claimed Putin, through intermediaries, had personally promised Donald Trump a 19% share of Rosneft should he win the election and push U.S. foreign policy towards a more pro-Russian disposition. Rosneft sold off a 19.5% stake through a series of shell companies not long before Erovinkin was found dead. Russia claims the sale was a 50/50 split between Swiss commodities-trader Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, but questions remain.

8. Additionally, since Trump “won” the election, there’s been a concentrated sweep of suspected CIA informants from within the Russian intelligence community. At least four agents have been arrested and charged with treason for providing information to the United States. Whether these individuals were also associated with the Steele dossier is unclear. Whether the Trump administration had anything to do with the release of their identities to the FSB is unclear.

9. Finally, and most recently, fierce Putin critic and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza is currently hospitalized in a medically-induced coma following acute organ failure. This comes on the heels of a similar incident in 2015, which doctors concluded was caused by a poisonous substance. His wife has since come forward at great risk to herself to publicly accuse the government of once more poisoning her husband.

In all these cases, Putin denies any involvement, despite multiple converging lines of evidence that all point to him as not only the perpetrator, but the primary political beneficiary of the outcomes.

Now, how does this factor into his chummy relationship with Donald Trump? Well, simply put, we have no idea. Several investigations into links and coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin are ongoing, including probes by the FBI and CIA and promised investigations by the Senate and House, but no conclusions have been made as yet.

Nor do we have any useful window into the potential involvements and conflicts of interest Trump’s vast business empire might have within Putin’s sphere of influence, because the President has neither followed through on a campaign promise to release his tax returns after the election, or indeed provided any useful accounting of his business holdings. And as reported by the New York Times over the weekend, we now know that Trump’s promises to divest from those interests were just as empty as the folders full of legal paperwork at his last press conference.

Instead of placing his holdings into a blind trust as a bipartisan panel of ethics experts testified is necessary to avoid violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, we now know Trump’s business interests have been placed in a revocable trust to which he is the sole beneficiary, retains the authority to revoke it at any time, and which is being administered by his eldest son. None of which addresses the underlying constitutional issues presented by his holdings, nor does anything to add any transparency to questions of potential conflicts of interest.

However, what we can note is not only Trump’s absolute, steadfast refusal to say anything even remotely critical of Putin or his methods, but the effects their relationship has had on not only Trump’s policy proposals, but Republican legislation.

First of all, in the run-up to the Republican National Convention, Trump’s camp successfully managed to lobby for including the lifting of sanctions related to Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine and recognize Russia’s claim on the territory into the official Republican party platform.

Trump has made numerous mentions of drawing closer to Russia militarily and using them as a key strategic ally in the fight against ISIS, despite the fact U.S. military analysts have repeatedly warned the Russian military’s involvement in Syria has been entirely focused on propping up the fortunes of their ally in the Assad regime and have contributed virtually nothing to the battle against the Islamic State.

Trump has refused to acquiesce to the consensus findings of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russian involvement in the election, going so far as to compare them to Nazis when referencing leaks to the media.

For their part, Republicans in congress have taken several unusual steps in recent days that do nothing to alleviate this narrative of collusion and cover-up. Last week, a bill was passed which strips Securities Exchange Commission requirement for oil, gas, and mining companies to report payments to foreign governments or corporations. This coming on the heels of the suspicious Rosneft sale which so closely mirrored what had been promised to Trump should he win. Seriously, who’s that for?

At nearly the same time, Trump’s Treasury Department announced it was rolling back sections of the sanctions Obama instituted in response to Russia’s election interference in order to make it easier for American companies to do business with the FSB.

What does all this mean? It means there’s a very real possibility our president, the leader of the largest economy and most powerful military in the history of mankind, is compromised by a proto-fascist dictator. A man who has proven he’s willing to jail artists, murder journalists and opposition leaders, and even cross national boundaries to directly attack foreign heads of state. A man without scruples or fear, who not only helped to install our President, but holds damaging blackmail material over him, and is using that leverage and fear to bend American domestic and foreign policy to benefit his kleptocracy over our democracy.

Is this true? I have no idea. The real answers will have to be unearthed by journalists with vastly better resources and connections than I possess. But if the old axiom “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” holds true, then there’s more smoke here than Vesuvius before the eruption, and we’re all in danger of getting burned alive in the coming calamity.

We must act swiftly to uncover the truth.