On All Saints Day, I ponder, who has the right to claim group rights from systematic oppression?

Today, “All Saints Day”, for men whose bodies survive Halloween parties and drag makeup, I have a potpourri of items, and some of it is serious.

The Cato institute sent me an email reminding us of the statistical improbability that immigrants become terrorists like Sayfullo Saipov in NYC yesterday.  But the email names three Uzbek nationals as of March 2017 who had been convicted of terror offenses (Kodirov, Kurbanov, and Juraboev).  At least one was radicalized on the Internet (like Saipov), one had been a refugee, and one had won a green card lottery (similar to Saipov).

Two are awaiting charges, including one who had overstayed a visa and applied for asylum.

Off hand, President Trump’s reinforcing the idea of “merit-based” immigration sounds more reasonable, even if the numbers are low.  But again, to take care of our own, we seem to follow into the grade school tactic of giving detention to everyone for the sins of a few.

Uzbekistan is not one of the countries Trump has singled out; but it’s interesting that some parts of Russia (Chechnya) and former Soviet republics are capable of vehemence against the US, reinforcing the idea of a red scare that carried on underground in the 1980s even if not talked about a lot.  Back then, newspapers (at least in Dallas) carried stories of “academies” in rural areas to train “civilian defense reservists” against what at the time was thought to be a threat of individualized red subversion, still. . In pre-web days, not talked about a lot.

Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Karoun Dimarjin have a detailed story on the far reach of Russia’s social media disinformation “fake news” campaign, that reached over 100 million Americans.  NBC News offers a piece by Sarah Kindzior showing how Russia’s “divide by tribe” propaganda had been going on, hiding camouflaged in plain sight  at least since 2014.

I certainly saw some of these (crooked Hillary, etc)i in my Facebook feed and generally ignored them.  There’s something about the tone of my own writing, that may seem elitist and “preaching to the choir”, as of the average-Joe masses didn’t matter to me personally. The Russians probably know that people like me won’t pay attention to how easily led people vulnerable to “mass movements” become because “we” tend to think less of them personally.  I notice a sudden drop of about 15 Facebook friends and wonder if these were fake Russian accounts now closed.

I think we’re also in a bizarre funk where we’re deciding who has a right to form a movement or belong to one.  The neo-Nazi and KKK issues are settled and viewed as direct threats to vulnerable group. But the far Left (even Antifa) is not.   Communism is somehow more acceptable than fascism because of history.  It’s as if some people think you can pick Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot (or Kim Jong Un) over Hitler.

I’ll also cite an article in Vox by Ella Nilsen on John Kelly’s remarks on the cause of the Civil War, here.

I want to add an Oct. 30 article by David Bier at the Cato Institute on how green card waits really work (they are very unpredictable) and the role of sponsors (employment, family or personal).  This article may explain some interaction I had this spring with a Facebook “friend” who seemed to be trying to get me to sponsor him.

(Posted: November 1, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

Who “gets to be recognized” as a legitimate “journalist”?

So, who gets to call the self a journalist?

The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back.  Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016.  And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.

The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut.  More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN.  Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet.  Perhaps I am in the same space;  Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.

I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.

The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”.  Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members.  They have to go to bat for others.  They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”.  Journalists can do this only through double lives.

I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game.  (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)

But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs.  Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.

That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.

Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them.  Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg.  With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter).  I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).

I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group.  What I want to do is encourage real problem solving.  Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc).  But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters).  These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.

My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination.  I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas.  So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse).  I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue).  But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either.  We should solve these problems.

A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them.  Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me.  I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility.  I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.

In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from.  I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me.  Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.

My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way.  I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue).  That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example.  I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news?  That could support a family.  (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.”  I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them?  Some people obviously do.)   No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.)  Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.

The other aspect is that of subsumed risk.  I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”.  I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published.   Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump.  But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.

(Posted: Monday, August 7, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

We need to be prepared, as a nation, to house people quickly after catastrophes

I can remember, even living in Arlington having returned to look after Mother, the shock in that late August morning of 2005 learning when I got up that Hurricane Katrina had been much worse than expected.

I would volunteer some time at the Red Cross in nearby Falls Church (mixing the shifts with substitute teaching at the time) finding with many callers there was very little we could do but tell them to wait hours on the line for FEMA.

Over time, a few hundred people settled temporarily in the DC area.  Many more settled in Texas, and I believe that in some cases families, or especially individuals, were housed in private homes.  I at least wondered if we could be asked to do this.  I’ve entertained this kind of emergency before (May 18, 2016).

The Sunday before Hurricane Sandy (which came inland on a Monday night in late October 2012) the pastor at an Arlington VA church gave a sermon on “radical hospitality”. Fortunately, there was little damage in this area from the storm.

I’ve also documented on this blog some of the issues with hosting asylum seekers, which I have suspended as I consider moving (no more details right now).

And I’ve noted the somewhat informal private hosting website “Emergency BNB”. And the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb, many people, especially younger adults, may be used to the idea of keeping their homes ready to be shared, which is not something that would have been very practical for me during most of my own adult life. Younger adults may be less interested in collecting possessions that could be put at risk from a security perspective. Music and film could be stored in the Cloud.

Younger adults living in “earthy” neighborhoods (like New York City’s East Village) or in certain rural areas, even in collectives or intentional communities, and used to social interdependence, may be more willing to share their spaces with less attention to personal, material or legal liability risks.  Many do not have an economically realistic choice, beyond building on common social capital, as Rick Santorum or Charles Murray would describe the idea.

Along these lines, then, I wonder again about emergency housing in the context of disaster or catastrophe preparedness.  I see I took this up Sept. 22, 2016 (before the Trump election) in conjunction with preparedness month.

A few of my friends on Facebook do indeed come from the doomsday prepper crowd, and it rather alarms me how much they are into it.  A sizable number of people do not believe you can count of civilization to last forever.  They see personal self-reliance in a rural home as a moral prerequisite to participating in a world that goes beyond the immediate surroundings. Indeed, ever since 9/11, we have been warned that at some point, whole generations of people may have to rebuild the world from scratch, as in NBC’s series “Revolution” which predicates a bizarre kind of EMP event.  I say I would have nothing to offer such a world at 74,

We could indeed face a grave threat to personal security in the homeland even in 2018.  War with North Korea might be impossible to avoid, and at least a couple small nuclear strikes on the US homeland might be impossible to prevent.  As a matter of policy, what happens to the people who survive but lose everything?  Insurance doesn’t cover war (whether it covers terrorism is controversial).  Will the government indemnify them?  (It more or less did a lot of this after 9/11.)  Or will we depend on the volunteerism of “GoFundMe”? which to me has sounded self-indulgent and tacky sometimes.

It does seem that we need some kind of “national discussion” or town-hall on this.  Would seniors aging alone in oversized homes be able to take people in?  Would we expect that?  Well, we really don’t do that now with our own homeless.

Any North Korean domestic nuclear strike would probably involve a small low-yield nuclear weapon. If you look at charts like this one, you see that the number of casualties and total property damage in a city might be less than one expects.  The radiation damage is another matter.  But one can imagine calls for people in distant states to house and take in the “victims” as they may never have an uncontaminated habitable home neighborhood to return to (even with Katrina that did not hold).  It is appropriate to consider how effective the manufactured housing industry can be (with Katrina the result was not that good).

Again, another issue is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse, which would damage all electronics in a very wide region.  Have Silicon Valley companies protected their infrastructure from this sort of thing?  One day we could find most of the Internet (and “GoFundMe”) gone forever if they haven’t.  There is very little written about this.

Nobody likes talk like this to be “thinkable”.  But the preppers have a moral point.  Resilient and prepared people are less inviting targets for an otherwise determined enemy.  Maybe that’s what “America first” means.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:15 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: 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)

Should states be allowed to sponsor immigrants? Cato holds a forum on Capitol Hill

Today, the Cato Institute sponsored a one hour lunch event “State-Based Visas: A Federalist Option to the Immigration Impasse” (link; complete live-stream video link). It was moderated by Cato fellows Alex Nowrasteh, David Bier and Peter Russo, and took place in the House Rayburn Office Building.  This did not complicate the event;  cell phones and cameras were allowed (they aren’t in some parts of the Capitol itself).

Speaking for the proposal, and about a bill in Congress soon to get a Thomas number, was Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senate Homeland Security Chairman, and Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO, 4th District).

The bill would allow states to sponsor a specific number of temporary work or student visas, with a number related to population, following security standards under DHS already in place under federal law. States could enter compacts with one another, allowing some immigrants to work in different states.  Immigrants would have to follow certain registration guidelines within their sponsoring states.

Senator Johnson discussed the inability of some manufacturing employers to fill positions.  This concern is well known in some areas, like migrant farm workers, where in 2016 filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (“Inside Man” on CNN) showed what it was like to work piecework picking oranges in Florida. But the labor concern is particularly acute in some trades, like electricians and plumbing, and machinists, probably much of it related to construction.  He mentioned a company in Oshkosh WI as an example.  I have some personal familiarity with the area from my six years of living in nearby Minneapolis (1997-2003),

Johnson gave a rundown on the employment of illegal or undocumented immigrants. The US has 324 million people, of which 42.5 million are immigrant, and of which 11.3 million are illegal. 6.6 million of these are in six states:  CA, TX, FL, NY, NJ, IL.  Of the undocumented population, 1.8 million are considered highly skilled and 5.9 million are low-skilled, but often fill positions “Americans don’t want” or can’t even do physically.

Johnson also commented on the collapse of work, especially among American males, in the 21st Century, as covered before in a Cato book forum. He linked it to welfare and the over-medicating of people on government-paid programs, as contributing to the opioid epidemic. He also noted that many of the Fortune 500 companies were started by first or second generation immigrants.

Ken Buck followed and more or less reinforced the same remarks (I found myself wondering if he would mention the problems of baseball pitching at his Coors Field in Denver, given last week’s Nationals series).  He did acknowledge that there was a need to reinforce the southern border wall in some areas, and that “trojan horse” smuggling of drug cartel members or even radical Islamic terrorists was a genuine security concern, which justified Americans’ feeling cautious in their desire to help undocumented people or asylum seekers.  But he also hinted that politicians had sometimes overplayed the fear card.

Bier, however, has a piece critical of Wall proposals, and somewhat supportive of Trump’s “hire American” where he does get into H-1B and H-1A visas.  The Wall Street Journal has an article, passed out for the meeting, by Jason L. Riley.

I suppose someone could criticize me, with my business model, for not needing to hire anyone at all, and for not “playing ball”.  That fits into a discussion of Tyler Cowen’s book “The Complacent Class” which I will review soon.

(Posted: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)



Weekend event for asylum seekers, and a field trip: revisiting the idea of hosting

I want to update earlier comments on what ordinary US citizen can do to help asylum seekers, LGBT or not.  This area would particularly focus on the possible opportunities to host asylum, seekers in private homes.

I did a little field trip today (April 30), 150 miles to the SW (of Arlington VA) to Farmville, VA, where I looked at the grounds of the detention center.  It is on a side road a half mile north of US 460 heading east into Town.  The land is sloped so that you can barely see the corrugated buildings from eye level.  There were some buses with opaque windows.  After snapping a couple pictures I saw the “no trespassing” and (especially) “no photography” signs so I drove away quietly, but I was on a public street.  This facility, run by Immigration Centers of America, was said to be one of the more comfortable and dorm-like facilities at the DC Center Global meeting April 1, 2017.  At that meeting, an attorney from Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition spoke.  The possibility of developing a program to support release of some detainees on “parole” with contributions and housing was discussed (previous summary by me).

Saturday (April 29) I had visited  a fundraiser event in Bethesda, MD for the Asylum Seeker Assistance Project.  Right now, the Eventbrite link has the best list of the way donations may help asylum seekers.

I had conversations with two attorneys and others at the event.  Some details are sensitive, so I’ll summarize the gist of what I found out a high level.  This is not legal advice, but more a marker for what potential hosts might expect and for how immigration policy (especially for asylum issues) might be debated.

Let’s backtrack to revisiting the differences between supporting refugees and supporting asylum seekers.  Today, refugees vetted overseas in detail before they are allowed to migrate to the US (this is getting even stricter under Trump and refugee processing seems suspended right now).  Volunteer efforts are supervised by social services agencies (often faith-based) licensed with DHS and can also monitor the use of DHS funds. These agencies work with local groups, often congregations (synagogues, mosques) which in turn supervise groups of 20 or more people who help a refugee family, which is usually placed in a commercially managed apartment.  In Canada, by comparison, the volunteer groups are smaller (like about 5) and volunteers accept specific legally driven financial responsibilities for refugees that resembles foster parenting.  This is called “private sponsorship”, which the United States does not have.  To my mind, Canada gets a lot of things right;  the Hollywood world with which I am familiar has outstanding young adults raised in Ontario, especially.

Asylum seekers are already here and by definition usually would not have been vetted before they arrive.  If they arrive illegally and ask for asylum and can establish credible fear, they are likely to wind up in detention. As noted already, some activist groups want to raise funds to help release asylum seekers from detention.  But a significant number of asylum seekers arrived here legally with visas for work or school, and then overstayed them.  Usually, to remain here legally the asylum seeker needs to have asked for asylum within one year of original arrival.  If the “credible fear” is established, then the asylum seeker’s presence in the United States remains lawful until a hearing of some kind.  If the request is turned down, there is often a right to appeal.  But eventually, it is possible for this process to run out, after which the asylum seeker’s presence would become illegal and he or she would be subject to deportation.

Typically, there is a period of six months or longer (apparently starting when the seeker’s presence would otherwise be illegal) cannot get federal benefits and is not allowed to work.  An asylum seeker not allowed benefits or to work would need financial assistance, and especially housing (and possibly medical).  There is no formal DHS-driven system of social service supervision for which funds are available.  Therefore, the onus would fall upon private individuals and grassroots-style organizations to provide for them, especially if they become homeless.  (Homeless persons normally would not be put back into detention and could not return home on their own unless they had funds, which could then mean the return home to the expected persecution.)  This would be more challenging personally than normal “volunteering” in a structure refugee assistance situation.  Off hand, it would sound like it might be easier to assist a wide number of asylees in private homes than by purchasing or renting building for them.  Nevertheless, right now, based on what I was told Saturday, right now the greatest interest is in raising funds to purchase or rent buildings as shelter.  It’s worth noting here that, while the US does not recognize the idea of private sponsorship of refugees, it does allow private “sponsorship” of migrants apply for visas under I864 documentation from hosts willing to guarantee support (usually family), and the work “sponsor” has sometimes been used loosely in connection with parole from detention.  There does not seem to exist a legal concept of a “custody” relationship between the host and asylum seeker, so it seems unlikely that host could be held responsible for a seeker’s medical bulls (even if he or she could pay them), although I can imagine right-wing attempts to impose such a liability

So it would sound as if live-on housing provision could sometimes be risky for the host.  One of the points of the 6-month wait for benefits is apparently to discourage ‘frivolous” asylum application, often right after illegal entry.  The government (even pre-Trump) reasons that a person would normally be sheltered only by someone who knows the person well, usually a relative.  If someone has personal contacts with a personal interest in assisting the person, then that person represents less of a “burden” or risk for the public.  So assistance organizations are put in the position of building the social capital that would simulate that of relatives or close friends.   From a security viewpoint, the lack of vetting overseas has to be replaced by having people who know the person already.  That would sound easier with someone who already had been here legally with a work or student visa.

The risks are well worth enumerating.  Life cannot be made risk free, but one should understand risks and try to minimize them, and organizations asking others to step into such risk help to assess the risks. For example,  if asylum is denied while the person is hosted and the appeals are denied, the host could eventually be put in the position of harboring an undocumented alien.  While the practical risk of prosecution is low (even under Trump), it can’t be ruled out completely.  How a host should behave in a situation like this needs to be thought out in advance.  This is indeed the “seeing around corners” problem that Dr  Phil talks about that activist groups often ignore. (It is not clear to me whether a host is responsible for seeing the asylum seeker’s paperwork proving legal presence in the country, when the asylum seeker moves in.)

Along those lines, hosts could be concerned with the strength of an asylum claim and whether it is likely to prevail, as well as the length of time of the seeker’s need.  This has to do with notions like belonging to a “particular social group” or with expressed political opinion.  One wonders whether the current administration, under AG Sessions, could try to gut the idea that LGBT no longer meets a PSG standard.  I am told there is no actual indication that the Trump administration is trying to do this, and the inclusion of LGBT in the PSG rubric is established now by court precedent.

Of course, giving a key (or security code) to your home to a “stranger” crosses a line for most people (including me), and on the face it could put neighbors at risk, too, creating another moral dilemma. (“Emergency BNB” was discussed here Dec. 16, and Airbnb is lucrative, after all.)  This is much less of a concern to people who have “less to lose” (the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”) and particularly people who live in strong systems of social capital (the “Lotssa Helping Hands” model in many faith-based groups)  Politically, libertarian groups like Cato Institute and writers like Charles Murray have been making these observations more often, in the past five years or so.  With social capital, the idea then is that the overall risk (including to others) is marginal, rather comparable to taking on a foster child or employing a live-in caregiver.  (And here, it is well to note that it is possible to provide foster care to minors in detention in some unusual circumstances, but these efforts are closely monitored by state social services)

There are some other issues.  Allowing someone to use your Internet router can bring certain risks, which have been discussed here already (Jan. 31). Part of the solution is to set up separate guest accounts.

I don’t deny that there can be many benefits to hosting. At 73, in a larger than necessary home, it could facilitate future medical appointments and provide another responsible person here in case of an accident.

In some areas of the country, especially southern California, some (largely church) groups are making a point to shelter undocumented immigrants, outside of the law.  Some say that their faith compels them to do this.  I do respect the need for resistance (and I do respect the legal arguments, based on the 10th Amendment, made by sanctuary cities recently), but I think that sometimes we need to learn to distinguish among the ideas of resistance, activism, and service.  They are not always the same.  Likewise, social capital and solidarity are related but not identical concepts.

I linked to the two Washington Blade stories asking for hosts, on July 21, 2016 (sixth comment for an August story), and Oct. 15, 2016, but here they are again (August, October).  DC Center Global most recently referred to this request on November 11, 2016 (after Donald Trump’s election).

Here is an earlier personal statement on what I can do myself with hosting.

It is worth remembering that massive calls for hosts went out for the Cuban refugee (really asylum seeker) Mariel Boatlift in 1980, as at Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, where I lived at the time.  It was not well thought out and few people did it.

Readers should also be familiar with the case Lozano v. Hazleton (PA), 2007.  I’ve added the ACLU link. But as far as I know, the law is unlikely to regard a host as a “landlord” anyway (unless the asylee actually pays rent); but you wonder what the “alt right” could cook up.

(Posted: Monday, May 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Update: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dzubow has an important piece  or blog post on when asylum seekers could reasonably fear detention or arrest today.   I was not aware that anyone with any conviction of a serious offense could even be considered for asylum.  But there is also an issue concerning arrests without convictions.  But Dara Lind also writes today on Vox, that Donald Trump’s non-policy on immigration has been a “success” for white and native-born people, by making non-white immigrants more fearful of asking for help when they need it, and for making settled and insulated Americans more reluctant to have much to do with them personally — a concern I have heard expressed at churches and at Center Global.

I even feel that Hillary Clinton’s remarks about how she lost the election in the last 12 days to Comey, the FBI, Russia, and fake news is relevant.  Had she won, it is likely I would be hosting someone now. I’ve never said that before, but I think it is time to say it now. Putin (whose name was not to be mentioned) has literally reached into the US and made it harder to help LGBT people who fled his country.  International issues and government corruption can indeed affect us very personally and very suddenly.

Duty, risk-taking, helping others, and self-promotion

It’s a vague and general principle in the insurance business that some activities are more readily underwritten when there is outside, third-party supervision of the endeavors.

That gets to be testy when the aim is to help others.

I wrote my three books and developed my websites and blogs without supervision. The lack of peer supervision was actually an issue back in the Summer of 2001 when I was turned down for a renewal of a “media perils” individual policy that National Writers Union was selling as an intermediary.

Yes, I took some risks, and I probably knew what I was doing better than a lot of amateur writers, with regard to areas like copyright and defamation. I did become infatuated with the implications of my own narrative, which are considerable.  I did look forward to the fame, or at least notoriety. But was I helping anyone?

Well, the central topic of the first book was “gays in the military,” and in fact I knew a number of the servicemembers fighting the ban (and the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy) well, at least by correspondence.  I would not have desired a romantic relationship with any or many of them, but I did feel legitimately connected in some personal way. I think I helped, although indirectly.  My staying in the debate for so many years in the search engines did help make the final repeal in 2010-2011 more likely.

But I also had made some unusual arguments.  They were based in part on accepting the idea of duty, of the necessity for shared sacrifice and resilience.  Specifically, I talked about the Vietnam era military draft and my own experience with it, and about the idea that it was still possible to reinstate it.  I recalled all too well the controversy over student deferments, implied cowardice, and the connection between risk and vulnerability.

I’ve thought about the “duty” concept in connection to the need for refugees and asylum seekers for assistance, sometimes very personalized.  One idea that comes through in discussions, especially with lawyers, that anyone offering hosting or major support should have some third-party supervision.  That usually would come from a social services agency, or possibly a faith-based group, as well sometimes local or state agencies.  Of course, the capacity of individuals to offer this has become muddled by Donald Trump and all his flailing and failing travel bans.  The desirable supervision is much better established in Canada (and some European countries) where sponsorship comes with some legally-driven responsibilities comparable, say, to foster care.  In the United States, given the political climate, the volume of people assisted is lower, and the risk or cost, whatever that is, gets spread out among more people.  The situation is even murkier for asylum seekers than for refugees, since their access to benefits and work permission is less, as has been explained here before.

I don’t yet know how this will turn out for me, but I agree that any adherence to “duty” would require some supervision.  So, I am fussier with this than I was with the risk management for my own writing.  But what about the people?  True, I don’t feel personally as connected to the people in this situation as I was with the military issue.  I have to admit that I have led a somewhat sheltered life.  For most of my adult life, the “system” has actually worked for me, and I have been associated with others who more or less play by the rules and benefit from doing so.  Since retiring, I’ve seen that the interpersonal aspects of need do bring on a certain culture shock. The system simply does not work for a lot of poorer people, who sometimes find that they have no reason to play by the same rules, but who do tie into social capital.  The system also fails “different” people, some not as well off as “Smallville‘s” teen Clark Kent. I can understand duty (accompanying “privilege”), but the meaning expected to be attached to helping others in a much more personal way is rather alien to me.

The whole question of housing refugees and asylum seekers (and I’ll even limit the scope of this remark to assuming “legal” presence in the U.S.) fits into a bigger idea about social resilience and radical hospitality, most of all for those (like me) with “accidentally” inherited property.  I do recall that after Hurricane Katrina there was a call for helping to house people in other states (sometimes in homes, sometimes with relatives).  Even though most people want to be near their homes to rebuild after disaster, this sort of need (a kind of “emergency bnb” lower-case) could come back again after earthquakes or major terror strikes or even a hostile attack (North Korea is starting to look really dangerous).  In the worst cases, the nation’s survival could depend on it.

(Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

On “Solutions Sunday”: “Step outside of your own comfort zone”: Does that capacity really start with families?

This Sunday morning, CNN referred today as a “Solutions Sunday”, where people were encouraged to have Sunday dinner in a home with people of another race besides your own.  Republican Senator James Lankford on Oklahoma was one of the hosts.  Lankford said “Step outside your comfort zone and invite someone into your circle”.  Maybe your inner sanctum.

Despite living in an “inherited” trust house, I really haven’t been in the “business” of having guests at home, because I’m so busy with personal projects.  Events these days are nearly always in facilities.  So there’s nothing unusual about great diversity in public spaces, but I have to admit that at home it sounds a bit novel.

When I lived in New York City, and sometimes before in New Jersey, I did sometimes have house parties or events, and I have had a few house guests over the years, mostly related in the past to college, chess clubs, or people in the LGBT community (not just “tricks”, although that happened a little in the 1970s).  I’ve stayed with people , but very little since probably the 1970s. The largest event I ever held in my own space was an “Understanding” meeting (I think it was Wednesday, May 19) with about 25 people crowded into my own little studio apartment in the Cast Iron Building on E 11th St.

But it is very hard to help people without openness to letting it be personal if it need be (countering the “mind your own business” society), and for older adults, that’s often frankly easier when “you” have had and raised “your” own kids first.

I get a lot of pressure from others these days to become more open to “gratuitous” socializing and even dating, in my own home court, partly so that I don’t (at 73) remain “an accident waiting to happen” (to quote Jonathan Rauch in his mid 1990s book “Gay Marriage”).  Yes, I prefer to remain individually productive and get recognized for my content (but not just with hyperbolic phrases like “esteemed author”).  But it seems people see a continuum bridging fixing inequality in an economic or politic sense, and the way people actually make social and intimate “choices”.

Maybe nowhere is that idea so stark as in the issue of assisting refugees and asylum seekers, all over the world, but most of all in Europe, and then Canada, with the most comprehensive private sponsorship program in the world.

The New York Times has a booklet-length story today by Jodi Kantor and Katrin Eimhorn, “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year;  Then Came Month 13”.  Refugee families were supposed to be cut loose from dependence on the private groups (usually of 5 people or 5 families, associated with various faith-based and sometimes secular groups) for rent and many other expenses.  (In the US, where there is no private sponsorship as such, refugee families get some benefits, but generally depend on congregational offerings for some of the rent, almost always in commercially run apartments;  in the US you have about 20 families in a congregation assisting one refugee family instead of just five as in Canada).  What’s interesting about the story is that in Canada, many of the refugees did not speak English and had few job skills, and needed intensive personal attention from sponsors.  In the US, generally, most of the refugees allowed in have male providers with considerable job skills and can speak English.  “Blame Canada”, as in “Southpark“?  The country seems to produce outstanding citizens.  Look how well they do in Hollywood.

The New York Times missive bares some comparison to how the Mariel boatlift was handled in 1980, where churches asked people to put up refugees (often LGBT) in their own homes, very suddenly, mainly in southern cities.  But it turned out that many refugees would need constant attention as many did not speak English and had no skills.  Very few found “sponsors” on the spur of the moment.

Asylum seekers, as I have covered here, face a different situation, as they (usually) have already been in the country legally because of school or job skills.  (That doesn’t include those put in detention and the border, and are generally released only if there are relatives who know them.)  Canada’s reputation of relative generosity (especially relative to Trump) has led to some US asylum seekers crossing into Canada, especially Manitoba.

I’ve covered more details on my own situation on another blog, here.

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2017 at 12:15 AM EDT)

More followup on allowing guests router use, on downstream liability questions

Recently (Jan. 10), I wrote a posting about the possible downstream liability that router owners could experience if they allow guests to use their networks.  This could include persons hosting refugees or asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons or to “give back”. It could also apply to the sharing economy (Airbnb and other home-sharing sites).

After talking to Electronic Frontier Foundation, I was finally guided to a website they had set up called “Open Wireless,” and here is their take on it, at this link.

Here is how I interpret this paper.

First, as I noted, it is generally pretty easy to provide guest accounts, that would separate the log of Internet accesses made by the guest(s) for identification in any civil or criminal action.  It would always be advisable for the owner to do this, and insist on the use of a guest account and separate password  (or else the guest would use her own hotspot, which might not work in all locations).

Furthermore, discussions with others (like at Geek Squad) have suggested that installation of OpenDNS is not necessarily a critical idea for liability protection;  it does not provide perfect protection from a determined criminal compromise.  Indeed, some use of TOR and hidden sites for some foreign guests could be morally legitimate (to avoid detection by autocratic home countries).

There is no law requiring router owners to protect their networks, or establishing downstream liability potential.  There is also no law protecting owners from a injured party’s from the normal “” of negligence on the part of the owner. (States could vary on this, but it doesn’t seem like they have done much about it.)

An owner who could be reasonably suspicious that his router was being used for illegal downloads or to facilitate terror recruitment, sex trafficking, child pornography, cyberbullying, or other similar harms, would seem to be at risk, as I read this.  That could leave open the question of monitoring use.

It would seem that an owner would need to behave in good faith in allowing the use of his router.  Evidence of creditworthiness or reputation of guests might seem to be evidence of good faith, as well as providing a strike page requiring agreement to terms of service (which normally means no illegal use).

With personal guests (including boarders or roommates) it seems that a typical expectation is how well the host knows the guest, and whether the host can reasonably expect the guest to behave responsibly.  In the case of hosting for humanitarian reasons, I think there is something that is troubling here.  It may be like saying that providing foster care for children is risky (because it can be).   In Canada, the legal system recognizes the idea of private sponsorship or refugees and that would seem to provide some presumption of good faith because the host is privately supplying a needed service to others.  In the United States, especially now (under Trump) the legal system and culture seems to emphasize “take care or your own first” and seems to provide no such recognition. Yet asylum seekers, to stay out of detention and homeless shelters, would probably need private sponsors to support them and take responsibility for them.  It’s not yet clear to me that a host in the US might not be viewed as intrinsically negligent during our current political climate toward immigration.  However, background checking (with former employers, etc) or other forms of familiarity (repeated volunteering) might provide more of a presumption of good faith, as I would interpret this.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)

Trump’s immigration crackdown seems off the mark, but I see where it is coming from

How to react to the controversy and disruption following Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders late Friday?  I could be tongue-tied on this one.  I have a lot of separate reactions, and it’s hard to draw a single conclusion.

My focus on all these pages is on how the individual should behave, and what does he or she need to step up to, as was the focus of my DADT-III book.  Yet individuals need to belong to families, groups, countries, and share the outcomes for their supersets.

I’ll go back into my own history and recall that around 1:30 AM CDT on September 11, 2001 I woke up from a dream where a nuclear device had detonated somewhere around the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington.  The dream had been unusually lucid and I remember saying to myself I was glad this was only a dream.  I was living in a Minneapolis apartment at the time.  I would shut off the TV and home computer just before the attacks started, and learn about them about 8:25 AM CDT in my cubicle from a co-worker, and walk downstairs to the computer room and see the Pentagon attack aftermath unfold on the Jumbotron.

I even recall getting an email the previous Labor Day weekend (while in Canada) with a headline warning about “911” and some others had gotten it.  I never opened it.  We thought it was spam, maybe malware for a DDOS.  Then on Sept. 4 Popular Mechanics had run a now-forgotten article on EMP flux devices (non nuclear) and how terrorists could deploy them.

After my “career-ending” layoff at the end of 2001, I gave a sermon on the implications of 9/11 at the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemont MN in February 2002 (38 mn), with material that would become Chapter 3 of my DADT-2 book.  I had considered particularly Charles Moskos’s call to bring back the draft and end the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy at the same time.  I had even exchanged emails with Moskos about this in November 2001.

On April 1, 2002, an online draft of what would become that chapter was hacked (on an old Apache server that had been carelessly left open by the hosting company).  The hack started right at a place where I was talking about “suitcase nukes” and seemed to contain bizarre gibberish references to the Lake Lagoda area of Russia.  I sent the hacked file to the FBI, and easily restored the content myself.  I still have it.  In the early fall of 2002 I got a bizarre email that I could interpret as a warning about a possible disco attack in Indonesia.  I shared that.  Then in November 2002 I got a map (I think I opened the attachment at a Kinkos) that appeared to list locations of nuclear waste all over Russia.

In the summer of 2005 (having come back to my mother’s Drogheda in northern Virginia) I got an email claiming to know where Osama bin Laden had traveled in the US in the 1980s, including aviation training.  I called the FBI, and spent 20 minutes on the phone discussing it with an agent in Philadelphia.

In August 2008 I got a bizarre email from a left wing group threatening oil field attacks in Nigeria.  That one I posted.   Tillerson should read that one.

Let me add here, that in every case, I make a decision to open an email based on full awareness of spam and malware.  I usually will use an old or different computer first to determine credibility.

Since then, the “chatter” to my own unclassified world has settled down.  I am not Wikileaks.  But it seems like you don’t need a security clearance to have dangerous information sent to you.  Too bad about all the homophobia of the world I grew up in, because I would have made a good intelligence analyst during the Cold War.

But I have paid particular attention to the possibility of large scale asymmetric threats that really could have existential character, and end our way of life.  These include nuclear detonations, radiation dispersion devices (dirty bombs), and electromagnetic pulse devices, which, over smaller areas, do not need to be nuclear.  Of course, they may include cyberwar, which could be mitigated by keeping the grid and other infrastructure (like pipelines) completely separated from the public Internet the way the military is supposed to be.   I have often blogged about constructive proposals to strengthen infrastructure against these threats (such as some of Taylor Wilson’s ideas); but these ideas need a lot more “science” and both public and private investment (Peter Thiel may have us started on that).    Much of this investment would encourage clean energy and domestic manufacturing jobs, but require skills that those displaced from legacy industries (Trump’s voter base) don’t have.

So we come back to Trump’s controversial immigration order.  Of course, they need to be considered in combination with other orders.  But they seem to be motivated in large part by Trump’s perception (largely correct) that individual American civilians even at home can become targets of an unusual enemy that does not wear a uniform.  Radical Islam has an ideology that conscripts everyone.  But the suddenness of the order (as a weekend started) is supposedly justified by the “threat” that “bad dudes” could slip through — with the president ignoring the fact that existing vetting processes (shown in the film “Salam Neighbor“) take 18 months or more, and even normal visas take some time.

The Cato Institute has noted that there have been no Americans killed by terrorists from the seven banned countries.  (I compare this statistic to counting chest hairs in a soap opera.)   Fareed Zakaria mentioned this analysis on his “Global Public Square” broadcast on Sunday. Jan. 29.   But the Trump White House claims that the seven countries, because of civil war and very poor governance (“failed states”) are more likely now that larger states (except Iran and Iraq) to breed hidden, undetectable Trojan Horse terrorists, and that Obama had already singled out this list of countries. . The Trump administration claims that this is not a faith-based ban because large Muslim countries are not included.  It also claims that religious exceptions are made only for religious minorities in target countries with which the US has poor diplomatic relations.  They don’t have to be Christian (like Yazidis).  There are some legitimate questions about Trump business interest (and therefore conflict of interest) in some larger, more stable Muslim countries.

It seems that a longer view of history is applicable.  In October 2001, the Sunday that President Bush announced the start of a war in Afghanistan, networks aired a video screed from Osama bin Laden telling individual Americans at home that they had no right to feel safe.  This came from the “established” Al Qaeda, well before the rise of ISIS.  History shows that aggressors (state-based or not) often target civilians, with Nazi Germany as only maybe the most notorious example of all.

Many of the high-profile terror attacks in the US have come from “second generation” adult kids of immigrants whose families turned out to be dysfunctional.  The attacks generally have not come from “saboteurs” who came into the country in the style of an Alfred Hitchcock film.  A number of the 9/11 hijackers were still in the country in legal non-immigrant status.

Some commentators view the overstated visa issue as more problematic for security than the actual physical access of undocumented immigrants at the border.  The number of people here in the US illegally is quite large, and statistics show that undocumented immigrants as a whole commit fewer crimes than the general population, and are more likely to be gainfully employed and in stable marriages when possible.  Even so, the crimes committed by some immigrants, legal and illegal, have sometimes been quite spectacular (like the Washington DC Mansion Murders in 2015), and fuel the impression that some of our immigration is dangerous – bringing up the subject of The Wall..  Furthermore, from anecdotal stories (even told to me), the “illegal” problem in some areas along the southern border is quite serious for residents and ranchers in the area.   But no one has seriously entertained the idea that American consumers should foot a 20% tariff on some goods to pay for a Green Monster.  The tariff could destroy many farmers and small businesses.

American civilians, even given lower crime rates overall, rightfully feel fearful of becoming targets in spectacular or bizarre criminal activities – the kind that wind up as Dateline specials – than in the past.  People are not as insulated by neighborhood or self-segregation as in the past.  Social media, and the possibility of recruiting for terror or even framing people (or making people into targets by happenstance association), comes into the picture.  The threat is more one of “quality” than of “quantity”.  National security policies need to be crafted around the real threats that are likely. It stands to reason that the easy available of guns complicated the issue.  But in Europe, by comparison, gun control may, while lowering crime overall, may make it harder for civilians to defend themselves when caught on the sites of unconventional attacks.

One issue left out by the media this weekend is asylum seekers.  It’s unclear if president Trump’s Executive Order could hold up the processing of asylum requests.  But, as covered here before, asylum seekers, by definition (by not being allowed benefits and to work for some extended time) need private help to stay in the country. US law (even before Trump) does not provide a framework for private citizens to assist asylum seekers without some unknown risk, compared to Canada, which supports full private sponsorship of refugees.

Along the lines of an individual’s deciding what is dutiful, Trump’s “America First” idea comes to mind.  It seems that the marching orders are to “take care of your own” first before “the others”, even if that sounds counter-faith.  We are willing to house refugees, but not our own homeless.  Yet, “America First” sounds like a mantra in a declining world, in a zero sum game, an idea that placates a particular voter base that feels left behind and snubbed by a sophist elite.  There are genuine security reasons to bring back manufacturing to the US and many constructive things that can be done, but they don’t lead to motivating a crowd in a mass movement.   To my view, “Black Lives Matter” and “rural whites” are both playing identity politics in ways that attract authoritarian politicians but that don’t help the country prosper and make itself really safer. .

I want to close this impromptu posting again noting that the idea of “stepping up” (as in my DADT III book, Chapter 6) does sometimes put individuals in the path of “other people’s bullets”.  It brings up ideas about not just courage but avoiding cowardice (as in a recent piece by David Brooks).  It tests the balance between individual autonomy and belonging to the group.

In the Washington Post Sunday, Outlook. Andres Miguel Rondon wrote “Venzuela showed us now not to fight a populist president. “What makes you the enemy?  It’s very simple to a populist.  If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit”.  I have that in my own experience with the far Left.  Opposing this mentality seems to be the point of all of Milo Yioannopolous ‘s writings.

The in the Epoch Times recently, Joshua Philipp writes about “The Danger of Political Labels”. where the need to generate ideology externally and divide people into opposing camps comes right from Marxism.

(Posted: Monday, January 30, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)

More references:

Reference:  Cato Institute, Alex Nowrasteh and Dave Bier: “Terrorism and Immigration: A Rosk Analysis

Pew: “Unauthorized immigrant population trends for states, birth countries, and regions