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If you're surprised, you're SO not paying attention: From the "DUH!" file

So [Redacted] and his henchweasels installed their tools in the various investigative agencies, and then tasked those tools with gathering dirt on all and sundry: "Enemies" (Democratic pols, donors, leaders, etc.); "Friends" (GOPpie pols, donors, leaders, etc.), and probably even the coffee vendor cart employees outside the Secret Service garage?

And you're surprised by this?

Oh my sweet, naïve friends and fellow-citizens. Just take a moment to think, and answer these questions:

What, in the well-known, copiously-reported history of [Redacted] and his family for three generations, his business practices, his "personal" business practices, etc., would lead you to believe that he would eschew the gathering of dirt for the purpose of achieving and applying leverage?

What, in the well-known, copiously-reported history of the GOP since the time Nixon connived with Anna Chennault to spike the Paris peace conference and subsequently sent "burglars" to gather dirt on Daniel Ellsberg and various other "enemies", would lead you to believe that the GOP would eschew the gathering of dirt for the purposes of grabbing and holding onto power?

What, in the well-known, somewhat-copiously reported history of America's various investigative/intelligence agencies would lead you to believe they would virtuously draw their metaphorical skirts about them and make a principled stand against the gathering of dirt on this, that, or the other for any reason at all?

And finally--

Did you not know that [Redacted] has been a tool of Vladimir Putin since forever, and WHAT is the standard playbook for Vlad and his Kremlin alumni "security" apparatus besides the gathering and application of "kompromat" to control allies and opponents alike?

And you are shocked, shocked! to find out that this has occurred. Probably shocked and grieved. It must be an aberration, right?

What are you asking Santa for this year, a new unicorn?

No, no, my friends. The thing to be learned from recent "revelations" is not that ::gasp:: dirt-gathering was occurring! Horrors!

Take a moment to adjust your hazmat suit, and follow me into the reeking sewer beneath "the halls of power", while I explain the what, of NOT "how dirt is gathered" or even the WHY of same, but more importantly HOW and WHEN gathered dirt is used.

"Surely," you are murmuring, "if dirt-gathering were occurring on such a scale, and anything really shocking was found, we would already know about it, right?"


We DO. Draw nigh, friends... beyond this door slither and writhe the ball of beslimed eels and snakes that serve as the "brain" of your average intel pro. Listen as they slobber and hiss their accumulated wisdom and experience for you:

Dirt has the most power before it hits the disinfecting influence of "the light". Therefore, to maintain maximum leverage you follow this protocol:

1. Hint that you have dirt, whether you have it or not. This makes the guilty nervous and can result in them leading you to payloads of dirt. It can even make the comparatively innocent nervous, since they're probably aware of your ability to manufacture dirt from thin air. If that isn't enough...

2. Hint vaguely at the nature of some particular dirt you have. If that provides insufficient leverage, go to...

3. Provide specific hints as to the nature some particular dirt, without actual evidence - but imply by the nature of the hint that such evidence exists, and you may in fact have it. At this point, your strategy may bifurcate. For those in the "friends/potential friends/allies/tools" category, you follow a protocol that may involve promises of your silence, promises of keeping any actual evidence you have out of unfriendly hands, etc.

For opponents/enemies, there is a different protocol.

No, not "release the kraken" (expose the dirt/supply the evidence/etc.) That were the action of an honest whistleblower/reformer. No, no indeed. You never do that, except perhaps as a Final Threat or a Sampson-in-the-Temple suicide bomb. (I suspect Jeffrey Epstein's untimely death was arranged to prevent just such an event.)

Instead, you use the dirt you have gathered very carefully, to achieve one of a cascade of strategic outcomes. First and most desirable of course, is to turn them. To use some of the same techniques used on "friends/allies" to make cracks in the opposition. You don't ask much. Small things. Little cracks. You can hammer in the wedges later, as needed.

Failing that, you use the Twilight Bark. This is the system of using backstairs gossip, social media, pet media outlets, patsy reporters, etc., to start rumors, and escalate them into unfounded but credible accusations by shadowy sources, building an increasing weight of belief in "something wrong" that will impair the enemy/opponent's effectiveness.

Then you use tiny bits of peripheral evidence to boost the potential credibility of such accusations, and draw in non-complicit media outlets, reporters, other sources, etc. You dangle the possibility of access to actual relevant evidence in front of them like a carrot, leading them further and further in the direction of "established fact" that your enemy/opponent is dirty AF.

Eventually this may produce leverage to take you back to "turning" them, by promising that no confirmatory evidence will ever see the light of day. Or perhaps not. It makes a nice shiv to keep in your back pocket and keeps them off balance and makes them less effective.

Blechhhh... you may step into the decontam unit now. We will leave that "brain" behind for now. But don't forget that it exists - not in the singular, either. In the myriad, in actual intel agencies, contractors, etc., in consiglieres and 'fixers', in corporate security offices, in the back rooms of gang hangouts, oh, all over this sad, sad world.

I hope you've learned a few things from our brief and unsavory foray, including:

The fact that there is no evidence currently visible/accessible neither confirms nor denies the existence of same.

The fact that no one is talking about it neither confirms nor denies that the dirt has been dug.

The fact that a possible target is not admitting to that leverage being used in any way against them does not mean they are not in fact a target.

There is, in essence, only one really reliable (but alas, unverifiable by actual evidence in the vast majority of cases) way to determine whether a particular individual has been a target of dirt gathering, by whom, and whether leverage has been applied to them:


Here endeth the lesson.


The GOP has a fig leaf problem.

Just about everything they do is motivated by fear.

Fear of people "different" than the terrified whiteboiz and their enablers: Racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.

Fear of their own inadequacy and inability to cope without structural privileges: Greed, violence, etc.

Of course, they can't admit to those fears.

So each self-justification involves a fig leaf of "patriotism" or "law and order" or "protecting the unborn" or whatever.

And every time their hypocrisy is exposed for what it is, the fig leaf gets a little smaller, and a little thinner.

Which... isn't good, for them. Eventually, there will be no fig leaf left, and what that exposes, won't be pretty.

Pretty small, but not pretty.


I would like to see each insurrectionist in the justice system required to answer this question:

Ask this question quite seriously, and give them the option of replying on video, or in writing, but require them to answer it in detail. In fact, train questioners to ask the question and any followup question needed to elicit adequate detail in the response.

"Why did you think what you were doing was okay?" (Have the questioner add details from the defendant's indictment, such as "Why did you think spraying a capitol police officer with bear spray was okay?" or "Why did you think smashing a window was okay?" or "Why did you think putting your feet on the Speaker's desk was okay?" )

And when they advance the initial reason (such as "the election was stolen" or "because tyranny" or "Q told me to" or whatever dorkshit justification they cite) the followup has to be, "But why is (thing they did) the okay thing to do in that situation? Why THAT thing?"

Ask non-judgmentally, there are no right/wrong answers here. The purpose is to understand the kind of mental processes that allow an individual to engage in these activities, and provide data - lots of data - for researchers, people in the justice system, sentencing judges, potential drafters of regulations/laws, law enforcement analysts, etc.

It would be valuable, if (I imagine) depressing information.


"American Fascism": Towards a militantly democratic Democratic Party

Today one of my favorite bloggers, John Scalzi, published this post:

Reader Request Week 2021 #5: American Fascism

It is not a terribly long read but it is long-format blogging. And very worth a read, and worth following all the various links as he draws a stark case for America's current wave of apple-pie fascism. Snippets:

In a larger sense, the history of the United States is a history of Will to Power, competing neck-to-neck with what we prefer to see as our more noble and democratic Power to the People. What is “Manifest Destiny” if not Deus Vult in mid-18th century dress? Did the US not essentially pick fights with Mexico and Spain for land and political influence? Did it not ignore whatever treaties it made with the Native Americans whenever it felt like it? Did it not rise to prominence on the labor and pain of African slaves, and tear itself apart because the South decided it was better to gamble on a quick war to keep those slaves, than to imagine them as people? And then, having freed those slaves, did the US then not engage in a century-long effort to keep those slaves and their descendants as legally close to a slave state as possible? Did the US not likewise demonize and restrict the rights of Chinese and other Asians? In the end, who benefited from the United States, who still benefits from it, and how was it managed that only they received the vastly largest share of the benefit?

If you know the answers to these questions, and yet still wonder how the United States might not be immune to fascism, the likely problem is that you’re hung up on the word “fascism” rather than the conceptual, social and political elements that allow for fascism. “Fascism” is a brand. Authoritarianism is the substance inside the can. The United States has had all of the ingredients for authoritarianism as long as it’s existed, and we make a fresh batch of it whenever we feel like it.


Creeping fascism has been the goal of the US Republican Party for a while now, what with its policy of steadily eroding and ignoring democratic norms, and its strategy of creating economic and informational insecurity to scare poor and working class whites, with the goal of inflaming their systemically-inculcated bias toward racism, for the benefit of the wealthiest of its party members, and to retain power even (especially) as the majority of US citizens have left it and its political interests behind.

And it certainly got a boost in that from Donald Trump! If someone like Mitch McConnell is the GOP’s ego, Trump is its id, a loud, proudly ignorant racist and buffoon who doesn’t give a shit about democracy, admires dictators, was enraged he wasn’t treated as a king, and who ended his presidency with an attempted putsch against his democratically chosen successor. Trump may not have come into the White House as a fascist, but he certainly left as one. His party — with some notable exceptions — gave him aid and comfort in his transformation and in his attempt to overthrow democracy in the United States. Moreover, it is now actively, unapologetically and with full fervor attempting to curtail the ability of United States citizens to participate in the democratic process, in a manner we haven’t seen so openly since the time when the Nazis were looking for a legal model for the persecution of the Jews and everyone else they found inconvenient. That is in fact actual fascism. You could say fascism has captured the GOP, but that ignores that fascism (and specifically, white christianist fascism) was always the plan, from at least Newt Gingrich onward. The Republicans meant to get here. And now they are here.

I was already well on the way to "fully awake" in this perception, but reading it booted me the rest of the way. America is in grave and immediate peril of becoming a fascist state.

And then I looked at the Democratic Party.

As Scalzi pointed out, we have our own history of proto-fascism, we are not Angels of Light unalloyed. Leaving history aside, though, are we even equipped to fight this fight?

Two tendencies concern me:

1. "Stay firmly in the middle to attract and keep a majority of voters." This is actually relatively sound doctrine in normal times when an imminent, existential threat doesn't menace the structure of our democracy. People are generally leery of change and a substantial centrist block of people are okay with SOME change, in baby steps, carefully tested a little at a time (I won't debate the silliness of this POV here, it's real and it's a biggish part of the electorate, though.) But not with, you know "radical" change, all at once, with potentially-unknown outcomes, etc. And

2. "A truly progressive agenda is our Only Hope." This is also, essentially, sound doctrine in the sense that the existential threats are not limited to political ones... climate change and all its sequelae including recurring pandemics, economic disruption, population migration, etc. are sure to kill us if we don't deal with them intelligently and vigorously. BUT...

We cannot do the second without having the political power to do so. And the first is no longer an effective way to get, and keep for long enough to enact real, life-saving change, the necessary political will and its mandate to power. No, it's not.

But I don't believe we can use the second as a rallying cry to get that mandate, in part because the fascists have done a thorough job of spiking those guns with propaganda, fear-mongering, water-muddying, etc.

Instead, I think we need to militarize the Democratic Party in the direction of the actual threat that prevents progressive action: Fascism itself, and the Fascist Party of America, otherwise known as the GOP.

There is no shortage of evidence. There is no shortage of cautionary illustrative examples of what happens to the people when fascism wins. We can no longer afford "moderation" or even "compromise" with a Fascist opponent.

It has to be about Democracy, and saving Democracy in America.


The thought of them nailing Gaetz with the Mann Act makes me delirious with delight.

The Long, Colorful History of the Mann Act

The Mann Act, perhaps more than most laws, was clearly a product of its time. At the turn of the last century, the Industrial Revolution had taken hold and the old order of rural, largely male-dominated America began to fade. New technologies, such as the typewriter, allowed many women to support themselves financially for the first time, and many flocked to the cities. The modern notion of dating was born.

With these changes came concerns about the country's moral underpinnings. By 1907, a full-fledged moral panic set in. There were rumors, taken as truth, that women were being forced into prostitution and shuttled around the country by vast networks controlled by immigrants, who were arriving in the U.S. by the millions. The plague of "white slavery" was on everyone's minds. Muckraking journalists fueled the hysteria with sensationalized stories of innocent girls kidnapped off the streets by foreigners, drugged, smuggled across the country and forced to work in brothels.

It was into this charged environment that the Mann Act was born. Signed into law by President Taft in 1910, the Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." It was that last clause "for any other immoral purpose" — that would prove the most problematic and give rise to concerns that the law enabled the government to legislate morality.
(emphasis mine)

The Mann Act has a long, ugly history of being used as a tool of racists. Thinking about it being used to take out a racist tool is like... cosmic justice.


Finding my Way to Definition: Racism versus White Supremacy

I'm always very leery of sharing my thoughts, as a white person, on things that are visceral lived experience for non-white people. YET... I am a participant in that lived experience, too. A contributor to it, and I have a responsibility to think and learn and change.

Is there a difference (from a white person's standpoint, and please take that qualification as read for this entire post), between racism and white supremacy? I think so. Short version, "racism" is a somewhat non-voluntary cultural implant. "White supremacy" is an embraced, fear-based ideology.

I grew up and learned everything I know in a racist culture. Racism was baked into EVERYTHING I learned. Every book I read, every television show I watched, every subject I studied in school (math and science, yep, them too - maybe not in the base processes but in the understanding of who does it, who's good at it, how it's done, what it's used for... yep, racist as hell. Misogynist, too, but that's another post...)

Racism was baked into the attitudes and beliefs of everyone I knew, everyone I loved, everyone I learned from. Even my older relatives who supported the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in my childhood, and explained to me the injustice of racism and the evils of Jim Crow... were racist. My mother's mother voted Democratic and thought Rev. King was "a great man and a great leader for the Negros" but when we drove through her old neighborhood with her in the car it was perfectly natural to her to say "Look at all the (epithet)s who've moved in here, now!"

I don't think I could possibly have avoided being racist. The best I can do is try to unlearn it as much as possible, check my own attitudes, question my own motives, and keep trying to change and be as anti-racist as possible. This is a challenge, but compared to what those who live the experience of racism as its targets must deal with, it's pretty easy. I have the privilege of slacking off. People with brown skin do not.

Racism is unambiguously toxic, vile, and destructive. This is not an apology in any way for racism. Nor is it a plea to "don't blame me, I was raised racist" which is bullshit. Unless I'm trying ALL the time to NOT be racist, I'm part of the problem. Being part of problems is a human condition, we are all part of one or more problems in some way. It's not an excuse and it's not justified, but it IS human, and our common humanity, even in our differing flaws, can be a door to change and understanding.

White supremacy, though.

Now that's something else. That's the EMBRACE of racism as the foundation of a fearful, hate-filled ideology motivating active perpetuation and expansion of institutionalized dehumanization of non-white people. No matter how they try to dress it up as "appreciating Western Civilization" (!) and the achievements of white culture (so many of which were appropriated from or based on the achievements of other cultures, but they'll never admit that!) it advances a hierarchy of human value in which everyone not-white has less value.

And that is a consciously-embraced, voluntary evil.

Is there a gray zone, a territory between not examining and rejecting your own racism, and actively embracing hate? The people who just don't want to be bothered, and get all defensive and negative when asked to change, and retreat into blaming those who are demanding the change?

I think so. I think that in that gray zone lie some choices... and those choices can be influenced. Defensiveness is a natural reaction to being confronted with our own flaws. Many things influence whether we choose to harden that defensiveness into rejection, and end up embracing an evil, or allow ourselves to be drawn into awareness of our flaws, examination of their cost to ourselves as well as others, and consideration of change.

Of those influential factors, fear is almost certainly the most powerful.

It isn't the responsibility of those demanding change to make it palatable, or not-fear-provoking. It wouldn't be possible, either, because what provokes fear varies from person to person. But an awareness of the process of hardening racism into white supremacy may be helpful in understanding how to structure responses and communications.

This is a long haul. Can I do anything in a short lifetime, to contribute to change?

Only if I don't give up. Only if I keep examining, keep learning, keep trying.


What we worry about.

Democrats worry about mass shootings.

Republicans worry about mass voting.


No. You can't have this.

"Keep guns away from people with mental health issues."

Yeah, right. That'll solve the problem and we won't have to take the guns away from all those law-abiding, responsible people without mental health issues.

That was sarcasm, by the way.

Please read this post.

Short synopsis:

1. There is no definition of "mentally ill" that can usefully be employed to prevent mass shootings.

2. Focusing on the "mentally ill" issue is a GREAT way to increase the discrimination against, and suffering of, the nearly one in five Americans who at some point live with mental illness.

You want mass shootings to stop?

Enact a comprehensive firearms control program. Provide the funding to implement it.

Yes, we're going to keep having this conversation. Because we're going to keep having mass shootings until we do it.

I am tired of mass shootings. I am tired of having this conversation. But I will never stop having it until we deal with it effectively.


Adjusting to Non-Binaryness

I remember the first time I heard someone describe their gender identity as "non-binary."

It was unfamiliar. I had to think about it. But it made sense.

As a species we seem to be hard-wired to do binary.

An action is either right, or it's wrong.

Until, of course, circumstances arise that make what we labeled a "right" action, a very wrong thing to do. Or vice versa.

A person is either good, or they're bad.

Except, of course, good people have done some very bad things. And bad people may also do good things.

Humans are not comfortable with these anomalies. They are speed-bumps in our thinking about just about everything.

Coping with non-binary-ness may, however, be the key to success in a whole lot of important things.

Andrew Cuomo may, or may not, have done any/all of the bad things of which he is accused.

The GOP may, or may not, have manufactured any/all of the charges against Cuomo as a political machination.

The most likely reality is that BOTH are true.

Cuomo did some of the skeevy shit of which he is accused.

The GOP is pulling dirty tricks from a fat and well-used bag.

If we had a binary choice, as in:

"EITHER Cuomo is a serial harasser/assaulter of women abusing his position of power and perpetuating the long pattern of injustice to and dehumanization of women in the workplace;

OR the GOP is deliberately magnifying trivia and manufacturing more damaging charges against him to throw the NY Democratic Party into disarray, damage their credibility with "woke voters" and loosen their grip on power in state government";

it would be easy.

Pick one, deal with it quickly/decisively, and move on.

But it's non-binary.

The odds are that a male politician of Cuomo's age, background, and experience is a situational sexist pig even while he may support legal and structural change that will address systemic inequities affecting women.

The odds are that the GOP has certainly perceived an opportunity and is stirring the shit as hard as they can, up to and including magnifying and even outright manufacturing an ongoing cascade of increasingly damaging accusations.

There are no easy, fast solutions.

Individuals, voters in NY, journalists and media outlets, the NY Democratic Party, and the national Democratic Party all must examine a complicated set of circumstances surrounding a complex and important person whose actions include great good and disgusting bad. The scale of "how bad is worse" will look different to different people. We will have to negotiate, understand, compromise, and accept that there is no perfect response/solution that will make everything right or better.

And we can only do that from a standpoint of the greatest possible knowledge of FACTs, analysis and understanding of unknowable lacunae in the narratives, and careful examination and assessment of the quality of evidence.

Which brings me to our other dysfunctional bias: We incline most naturally toward the quickest possible resolution of uncomfortable situations.

Intolerance for ambiguity, the bullet-train of our modern news cycle, and certainly GOP pressure, will push toward "dealing with it fast is a better choice than letting it drag on while investigations are conducted, more accusations surface, the noise level escalates, etc."

I just hope we've learned from past experience the costs of that choice.

Remember the definition of insanity.

If we want real change, we need to be part of the change.

This time, let's tolerate the ambiguity. Let's investigate everything. Let's discuss with as little assumption of binary right/wrong as possible. Let's go ahead and do nuance. Let's accept an imperfect solution. Let's accept that the resolution of this situation is not "the bad ones (whichever they are) getting complete comeuppance, and the good ones (whichever they are) getting a satisfying happy ending of truth, justice, and the American Way."

Because it won't happen that way, no matter how we choose to deal with this situation. But we do have an opportunity to make positive change, not necessarily in THIS situation, but in our capacity to deal with it and to address similar situations as they arise in the future.

So what does that mean, in practical terms?

Reserve judgment.

Be aware of your own biases.

Keep as open a mind as possible.

Don't feed the trolls.

Don't add noise.

Ask for evidence.

Review the quality of the evidence, including the quality of the source of the evidence.

Don't apply binary screens to the principal parties in the situation. Accusers can be providing facts but not all of them. Accusers can have good motives or bad ones but most often they will have a mix of motives and their own biases. That does not make them bad or good, right or wrong or any other binary full-stop conclusion. The accused is a human being and as such is both bad and good. Motives change, short-term versus long-term motivations com into play.

Don't generalize from your own experience to a situation you are not part of. I'm a sexual assault survivor, I try to be aware of my biases and set them aside. Because I experienced this, this way, does not mean that's what necessarily is going on in the Cuomo situation.

Tolerate the ambiguity.

Don't give in to the push for a quick resolution.

Maybe something good can come out of the mess, if we learn to deal with messes more effectively, including a better adjustment to non-binary-ness.


The Power of Half Loaves and Baby Steps

Truism: We never get everything we want right when we want it.

Sometimes we get nice surprises. But the American legislative and executive branches are set up NOT to give any group of "us" everything we want right when we want it.

You can debate the wisdom of that all you want, but winner-take-all is a two edged sword that can cut our throats, too.

Am I disappointed that the Stimulus bill will not deliver the level of help promised to everyone immediately?


Am I angry that the machinations of power-hungry greedheads are going to result in some of the most vulnerable people and those with the most pressing needs being left out, made to wait, ignored.... AGAIN?

Oh, fuck yeah.

But I know how to turn this around, and so do many (if not most) of our Democratic leaders:


Take the half loaf.

Settle (now) for the baby step.


If we cannot gain a meter, take the ten centimeters. Hang onto them like glue.

And bake another loaf, take another baby step IN THE SAME DIRECTION.

In the long run, we will get there if we do not forget. If we do not stop trying. If we say "we'll take that for now" rather than "that's enough," and keep right on going.

And we can do this.

A hundred baby steps will, in the end, take us a lot further than three or four giant steps.

So, we can do this.

But we have to keep empowering the voices of those who got left out - again. And handing as much agency and power to those disempowered as we can. And working within our own party to unify, help each other, and keep focusing on the needs of those who need it most and keep getting shut out, marginalized, and refused.

No, we may not be able to bring about total equity for every type of person who has been denied it, all at once. But every single damn' day we should make SOME kind of baby step for one of those groups, and not always the same one.

And rather than "keeping score" based on how much closer any one group has gotten to real equity, change, and progress, keep score on how well we manage to make a little progress for each/all of those who have been locked out of the American Dream by racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, classism, and ALL forms of bigotry as well as sheer indifference.

Giant steps provoke giant backlashes.

Incrementalism is painful, it seems to prolong the agony needlessly, but in the end, it can produce more solid, more lasting gains for all of us.

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep trying to take the giant steps, no, not that at all. We have to keep starting with those. Getting as much as we can from them. Not letting the perfect be the enemy of the possible, and chalking up any gains at all, even the partial ones, on the credit side of the ledger. And making MOMENTUM out of those small gains from the big steps that appear to "fail".

NOT getting discouraged. NOT saying "well, this doesn't work", NOT blaming ourselves or the leaders who are making the attempts, or even the "friendly fire" that slows up the process.

Instead, saying, "Okay, we got THIS, we still need THAT, let's try again by a different route."

The GOP has had enormous success with the "flood the room" tactic of introducing dozens and hundreds of pieces of legislation to dismantle government, make it fail, concentrate power and escalate authoritarian/minority control.

They know damn' well that a large percentage of them will fail. And when they do, they repackage whatever it was, and load it up again, hoping that in the hail of bullets, it will find a target and do the damage intended.

We can learn a lot from them.

Yes, getting some big, public successes can be a victory for morale and a real momentum-generator. But getting 1/2 of 1% of what we want in each of 1000 baby steps that have an 80% failure rate will get us there, too.

I am seeing every sign of our current Administration being well aware of this. They have plans, backup plans, backup plans for the backup plans, and each layer of those various plans and backup plans has some particular strength. We won't get them all at once. But we will make plenty of solid, meaningful gains if we don't let go, don't get bogged down in internal conflict, don't let ourselves get distracted by the flak grenades of America's Enemies Within.

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