Trump seems to be bargaining with individual American’s lives when he tweets on North Korea; Senator Kaine’s plan for diplomacy and treaty

Well, here we go again.  President Trump responds to a New Year’s Day message from Kim Jong Un with a tweet about button size (I can think of an analogy, as can we all).  One immediate problem is that Trump is implying an unstable nuclear standoff is acceptable to him because “we” would win the warz’. That means Trump is willing to bargain away the lives (or personal futures) of many individual Americans in more vulnerable areas because we have something to lose, while the average North Korean has nothing at all.  That’s not to mention South Koreans and Japanese. This is deeply offensive in a personal way.  A life that is ruined by the actions of another is still ruined.  It’s time for some objectivism and existentialism.

I could say that Twitter ought to consider suspending Trump’s account as a matter of national security and possibly preventing an unintended war, maybe even with catastrophe to the homeland, as speculated by Jeffrey Lewis of the Washington Post on December 8.  I’d say, “We Were Warned”. (That’s ironically the title of a 2007 film about an earlier fuel crisis)  I’ll balance this with an earlier Huffington piece by Elvibyn Aghayev.   If you connect the dots with the Sony hack over a movie from Sony Pictures in 2014 (“The Interview”), you have to wonder if it is possible for asymmetrically delivered content from private company or even citizen to provoke war.  Although North Korea blocks the world wide Internet to its own people, some of it leaks, and Kim Jong Un obviously has access to everything and seems easily insulted.  Young and personable CNN correspondent Will Ripley (“Secret State: Inside North Korea“) has expressed specific concerns on the insult risk.

Tim Kaine, democratic Senator from Virginia, outlines a broad plan to start some kind of diplomacy after all.  A key concept is whether North Korea and South Korea would accept a formal peace treaty (technically they are still at war) with North Korea’s calming down its missile programs.  Another key problem is whether the United States would have to lower its presence in the region, particularly if North Korea broke the treaty later. This sounds like the old McNamara Domino Theory from the Vietnam days (and from my own summer in the Pentagon while in the Army in 1968, as I outline in Chapter 2 Section 10 of my own DADT-1 book).  Kaine gives a useful reference to an AP article on Bloomberg by Richard Gardner on the authority of Congress to supervise the president on going to war.  Congress needs to be more diligent on this.   Senators like Feinstein, McCain, Graham, and various House Armed Services Committee members need to be actively involved. Congressional supervision needs to be bipartisan.

I’ve written here before about another complication, the EMP wildcard.  The media, seeming noseblind, have not provided reliable reports on whether North Korea is capable of detonating fission (E1) or even thermonuclear (E3) weapons in space from orbit.  For example, instead of a missile launch North Korea could do another satellite launch and claim EMP capabilities, which we don’t seem to be able to deny.  That follows on James Woolsey’s claims last March, and NPR has a spoofy piece on this here.

The idea that the threat of war can affect private citizens has certainly been with us since 9/11 with respect to radical Islam (even more so in Europe recently), but now Communism or post-Communist statism seems to be roaring back.   Russia arguably was able to affect the 2016 election and sow more divides among the American people because Putin correctly senses that “elite” Americans don’t personally care about people in disadvantaged classes or pay attention to how the latter perceives information (even the film “The Florida Project” which I saw yesterday seems to make that point).  Putin managed to turn the asymmetry of Internet debate, which I have leveraged myself, on individual speakers.

I also have experience in my background with the Vietnam era draft, with the student deferments on one side and “McNamara’s Morons” as cannon fodder on the other. (I will soon review Hamilton Gregory’s book “McNamara’s Folly” soon.)  I know what it means for governments to play with individual people’s lives.  I guess when I was a math instructor at the University of Kansas as a grad student before I was drafted myself I was complicit in the process.  What karma.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018, at 11 AM EST)

Update: Friday, January 5 at 3 PM EST

Again, let us reinforce the singularity of the existential threat to our way of life the EMP (especially E-3) could lead to. It hasn’t happened. In a difficult time of my own life, when I was a patient at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my own college expulsion almost a year before, we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I wondered if we “deserved” to live if something happened.

The Washington Times (again, a conservative paper) has an op-ed Jan. 4 by Henry Cooper summarizing how we have slept on this threat, here. Where is is The Washington Post on reporting this?  The article doesn’t distinguish E-1 (a lot more likely in practice) from E-3 but it correctly notes that Kim Jong-Un would not need to demonstrate re-entry survival to use EMP.  It also notes that Russia has in the past delivered “low yield Super EMP technology” to North Korea (it sounds like E-1).   It mentions the threats also to transoceanic cables.

I also note that, despite other recent reports that Trump has become aware of the EMP issue (Dec. 22), the administration apparently shut down the EMP Commission in October (“The Hill” report).

On the other hand, there seems to be a “ray of hope” in the diplomacy between North and South Korea before the Winter Olympics (CNN analysis).  But, as we know from the “McNamara Theory”, even this diplomacy has its downstream risks.

“Twitter Purge” renews debate on what is an acceptable “group” and what is “affiliation”

After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).

Conor Friedersdorf expanded on all this with an Aug. 31 piece in The Atlantic, “How to Distinguish Between White Supremacists, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter.”  (Maybe the preposition should be “among”.)

While I follow his reasoning:  historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not.  It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).

Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.

The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.

Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean?  Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking).  Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).

Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes.  But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars.  The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans).  But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced.  I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups.  It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler.  History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).

(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

On social media profiles, who you take your selfies with sends a message about your values

This posting, more than any others, needs art-work with no people in it.  Just plant blossoms, which are indicative enough of subject matter.

Recently, I’ve notice a trend in social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, where an attractive person (in some specific cases, a young adult man) presents himself in selfie photos with a disabled person and then, perhaps, claims the other person is some sort of “best friend”.  This may even happen for a while in a profile photo.

I just wonder how this is to be interpreted.  Does the presenter really value his connection to the person visibly more in need?  Or does the presenter reinforce his own impression of physical superiority. I’m almost reminded of the way animals react to people, as their “superiors” sometimes, but other times as their servants. (Thinks about cats who invite themselves in.)

This is not something I would be comfortable doing myself.  Yes, I can be photographed with almost anyone (like in a bar or social) for a Facebook page or blog, but I wouldn’t make my temporal connection to the person the primary point of what I do.

I remember watching some video at a church youth mission in Central America where a particularly commanding looking white teen boy is shown carrying kids (of color) who look much “smaller”.  The intimacy and connection between youths of different cultures and abilities is said to be a good thing. But how does this come across when shown publicly.

(Posted: Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 2:15 PM EDT)

People abroad sometimes ask (on social media) Americans to help them get visas to come to the U.S.: here is what I found out

Recently I’ve noticed that overseas contacts (from poor countries) on social media, especially “Friends” on Facebook, inquire about assistance coming into the United States. Sometimes the messages seem overly personal, even confrontational, as if well-off Americans have a moral obligation to provide for them out of unearned privilege. This may be particularly true for Americans who have written about the issue and attracted attention, as if they somehow had magical connections to play international superman.  That is an illusion.

I looked up a few links from reputable law firms and references, including USCIS.

Here are some general conclusions. No question, this issue has become more difficult under Trump than it would have been with Hillary Clinton in office.

It appears that foreigners overseas looking to come to the US are responsible for submitting and tracking their own applications. US citizens here cannot submit applications for them.

But there may be occasional situations where a person in the US owns or manages a business that has an unusual need for workers with certain skills, that is not easily filled domestically. And sometimes there are businesses (like agricultural) where there could be a sudden large demand for relatively unskilled and manual labor jobs that Americans don’t want. A particular American on Facebook may own such a business or have close connections to someone that does. But in general, this would be an improbable “long shot” for the typical blogger who gets a request like this from a social media message, to provide this kind of assistance, even if he/she wanted to.

Of course, a solid work opportunity in the US could facilitate getting a green card and lawful permanent residence in the US

It is possible to get visas to visit people, who usually have to be legitimate relatives or known to the person in the real world (not just online). This is harder right now with Trump’s travel restrictions. A critical point is that the visitor must intend to return to the home country in a specified period (not overstay), or at least not announce an intention to stay. This gets to be a legally tricky point that sounds like “don’t ask don’t tell” or “silence is golden” or “I don’t know”.

In some cases the American may have to file an I-864, an “affidavit of support”, especially for longer stays. The U.S., however, does not have a “private sponsorship” program for refugees comparable to Canada’s (libertarian groups like Cato have argued that the U.S. should develop one).

There are many stories on the Internet of people who have tried to bring people here “illegally”. This is not a practice I can have anything to do with.

Understand that “Friendship” on social media is not the same thing as a long term association (familial or not) in the real world, in what it might make the friend want to do.

In some cases, a person overseas is better off still trying to find the best job in “their” home country. That may be particularly true in countries where US companies have outsourced a lot of jobs (consider call centers in India, for example).  Of course, pay is low, and sometimes there is dorm living (like in China).  That is something Donald Trump says he wants to change.  I get the moral issue of American consumers becoming addicted to cheap “slave-like” labor overseas.

Of course, anyone who contemplates emigrating to the U.S. should seek professional legal assistance at home first.  You can’t get reliable legal help on Facebook alone (or from blogs like mine),

Here are some nice links.

Work permits:  onetwo, three

How to apply for work permits

Visit invitations

special relatives

USCIS: I864

USCIS: rules for siblings

Wikipedia: Green cards and permanent US residence 

(Posted: Friday, July 14, 2017 at 8:30 PM EDT;  several important comments below on guest workers and asylum seekers, breaking developments)

If you’ve become a voluntary pundit, don’t expect to delete yourself from the Internet

I’ve imagined a creepy horror film (maybe just a short), where you get called in for the Last Supper of your life, sent up to a hotel room, allowed to make one or two last postings, then denied access, then had your whole online existence removed.  Then the fantasy or catch or your life knocks on your door and gives you one last “peak experience” as you pass into the Afterlife, if it exists, with your karma cleaned up.  Maybe this could be a low budget movie.

Yet maybe a little more than ten years ago, “online reputation” became a trendy topic, even leading a company by that name to be founded.

Before that, I had to deal already had to deal with “what I had done”.  When I couldn’t sell enough hard copy books, I became an online pundit.  I got a reputation that way (as an “older Milo”, and probably more socially acceptable, especially to Donald Trump) but my Pharisee-speech didn’t pay its own way.  In the most extreme circumstances, it might get me or other people connected to me killed.

Earlier, I had entertained the idea that people in positions of authority over others (with direct reports) should not express their opinions in unsupervised manner because that could show prejudice or hostile workplace.  This was my own implementation of the idea of “conflict of interest”.  Again, obviously Donald Trump doesn’t respect it now (and I have only one degree of separation from Donald Trump, despite never paying the fees to go to Mar-a-Lago – maybe I can get invited).

Nevertheless, in the past, I’ve had to entertain the idea that a lot of my own Internet presence would have to be removed if I took certain kinds of jobs, as I outlined here.

But is it feasible anymore for someone to go completely dark?  Not very.  I’d say fifteen years ago it was feasible.  You could take everything down, and ask Google to remove all references to your flat files online (before blogs and social media components became SOP).

The old idea of a double life (especially for LGBTQ) seems to be gone forever.  Really, I sometimes miss the way it was in the 1970s and 1980s, even until about 1996 or so.  You had your home and your possessions, and you developed a reputation.  Arranging gatherings and social events meant more then.  In the gay community in DC, you went on adventures with Adventuring or Chrysalis.  (You still can, but my life has changed so much since the 90s that I really don’t have time).  My parents developed a presence with real world property and things – my father was very dedicated to his own workshop, filled with tools, which was much more common for people in the 1950s than now.  As I get older, I find myself mentally revisiting those years.

Here is Abby Ohlheiser’s take in the Washington Post on what it would take to go completely dark, like a white dwarf star that has completely burned out into a dark cinder.   Part of the strategy is to imitate Kellyanne and create “alternative facts” online first.  Some social media will let you change your birth date a few times.  I could imagine a pro-life change to your conception date.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of companies that offer a public records history and background investigation on anyone, for a membership fee.  Of course, if the subject belonged to the same service, he or she would know you had ordered it.  I really like my fantasies of Maslow peak experience and have no reason to spy on anyone and ruin the faith.

Update: March 23, 2017

Check out Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times March 12, “Resist the Internet“.  Douthat doesn’t want kids under 16 to use social media at all, or to have cell phones too early.  He also mentions a no-tech private school in Silicon Valley, Walforf, that many tech executives send their kids to.  The school has students learning to knit socks, and participating in many group rhetorical exercises with the teacher, who is quite engaged.

Facebook faces litigation for “allowing” anti-Semetic terrorism promotion; serious questions about downstream liability and “gatekeeping” persist

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Facebook has been sued for $1 billion by the son of a 76 year old man from the United States killed (by shooting and stabbing) on a bus in Jerusalem by a Palestinian or Hamas militant(s) on October 13, 2015.

NBC News has a story and video by Paul Goldman here today.

The father was a retired Connecticut school principal, Richard Lakin. The plaintiff and son is Michal Lakin Avni.

The theory seems to be that the US anti-terrorism act would not allow a “free speech” defense or similar downstream liability out like Section 230 for an Internet content platform.  Apparently the law allows liability for acts committed against US citizens overseas if a US company was “involved”.

This would be a good question for the “Legal Guys” on CNN.  At this point, I’m not sure if the plaintiff is simply referring to the Patriot Act.

The plaintiff claims that Facebook should be expected to search its databases for terrorism promotion the way if would search for child pornography.

Generally, social media companies say they take down content that violate their terms of service but need to be notified of infractions by complaints from other users.  There are many examples of objectionable material on social media being taken down after some publicly violent incident happens, but not before.

Social media and content companies also say they could not exist and allow ungated user generated content if they had to prescreen every post for potentially illegal content.  That would throw us into the pre-Internet world where most publication required the help of third parties and “getting published” had to be “earned” somehow.

This seems like a very important case that is getting overshadowed by media coverage or the GOP convention, Turkey, Nice, Dallas, and Baton Rouge.

There are a few videos on the litigation.

Even though the story surfaced today, the litigation seems to have been going on since the beginning of the year, and other Israelis have joined the suit.  PBS explains, with the help of George Washington University law professor Johnathan Turley.

The suit seems to focus on the graphic nature of the “inciting” videos.  On the other hand, Facebook can obviously say it cannot take sides on other peoples’ political conflicts.  Palestinians are enrage not only by religious issues regarding locations in Jersualem, but also by Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and taking land without compensation.

I see that the Washington Post had covered this matter as early as Oct. 30, 2015 in a story by Michael Miller.

This litigation needs to be processed in the context of reports, for the past two years, that ISIS recruits vulnerable young adults on Twitter.  But previously the sites, especially Facebook, had been instrumental with the Arab Spring, which then crashed.  As I noted June 30, abuse of these sites can be perceived as a serious homeland security threat.

(Published: Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)

Are social media sites really for “social connections”, or for ungated news distribution?

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Are social media sites really intended to facilitate social interaction, or are they really intended as channels for personalized news feeds?

The recent launch of Facebook Live provides “case in point.”  When girlfriend Diamond Reynolds streamed the bleeding put of Philando Castile at a traffic stop near St. Paul, MN on July 6, the whole world knew immediately (although some factual questions remain as to whether she really reported everything).  Her broadcast apparently contributed to the mindset of Micah Johnson when he launched an unbelievable commando lone-wolf attack on Dallas Police at a peaceful demonstration the next night.   But for a while during the incident, I wondered if this was an ISIS attack, exploiting the confusion and demonstrations inevitably following a police shooting. It wasn’t, but it could have been. But any kind of terrorism is as bad as any other kind, whatever ideology motivates it.

Today, Newt Gingrich streamed on Facebook live a presentation arguing that we are “at war” (with an enemy without uniforms).

Facebook has indeed delivered the most “pertinent” stories for my own world view.  It saves time checking the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Vox, local television stations, and several friends in movies, music, books and other arts.

This is no surprise.  It’s easier to get reaction and other comments on Facebook pages (or in one’s comments on other people’s pages) than it is on your own blogs – although that fact has developed a lot since about 2009.  I used to get a lot of comments to my own books and sites by direct email, back in the good old days before 9/11, and before so much spam. I could also get comments in forums, like the Independent Gay Forum, or on AOL forums.

Myspace had somewhat less success doing the same thing.  But some people, notably actor Ashton Kutcher, had used Myspace as an effective blogging tool around 2004.

Twitter is less “effective” with news itself because of the high volume and reverse time sequence. I don’t use Instagram a lot, but it seems it can deliver news, too.  I do use Google+, and get surprising amount of comments on music-related postings.

But, originally Facebook was conceived as true “social networking”.  In the movie “The Social Network” the 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) says “I will map all social interactions online”.  It was, at first, limited to college campuses.  It didn’t become really important until about 2008, about the time of the financial crisis.

Now, I do have a couple friends who announce everything they do on Facebook, and try to get others in their “groups” to do the same.  Is this about organization?  About solidarity?  Is it about having friends who will watch your back if you watch theirs?  That does sound like some people’s concept.  It doesn’t seem real to me.  You can only “know” maybe 5-10 people really well, outside of immediate family and romantic partners, well enough to want to know their “movements”.  Indeed, a lot of my contacts in social media (in the “arts”, etc) are important to me personally, but it wouldn’t seem appropriate for me to expect to know the details of their comings and goings.  I couldn’t have “minded other people’s business” in the pre-Internet world.  I don’t think Facebook should change this.

There is indeed a debate about “courtesy” in the social media community.  Some people think it is rude to respond to tweets from people who don’t follow you.  Some people think it is rude to forward tweets to Facebook, as if not everyone wants bad news (“I told you so”) from “me”.  But then, what do people really want from others on social media?  It varies so much.

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The nature of social media, however, is relevant to what I call the “conflict of interest” debate. You can set up your social media profiles (of “friends” or “followers”) so that only known people can see your content.  That would be relevant for people whose professional positions (making judgments on others as part of the job) makes it inappropriate for them to broadcast their personal views without gatekeepers and let others just find them. I’m a little surprised that I don’t hear this point made more often.

I could add a comment about dating sites.  I’ve recently gotten communication from a couple of them.  I can’t see the point of needing a corporate service to “meet the right people.”  Maybe somebody can explain it.

(Published: Friday, July 15, 2016 at 4:15 PM EDT)