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)

House Judiciary committee holds hearing on refugees and asylum seekers

On Wednesday Oct. 26, 2017 the House Judiciary on Oversight of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (basic link).

The 96 minute hearing was chaired by Mr. Labrador.

The featured witnesses from the Trump administration were Simon Hershaw, L. Francis Cissna, Scott Lloyd, and Rebecca Gambler, with titles listed on the link.

The overall takeaway from the hearing is that the U.S, should try to be more generous with admitting refugees than the current administration has been willing to, but that security and screening needs to be very nuanced and thought out.

The Trump administration has ended the ban on refugee processing but announced heightened screening for arrivals from eleven countries in the Middle East and Africa (and North Korea).

Some of the general concerns of the committee at the outset were that overly strict refugee policy stirs resentment in some parts of the world and reinforces the ISIS narrative, and that Trump’s antics have damaged security partnerships with allies.  Australia in particular was mentioned at the outset.

There was note at the outset that immigration per se has not added to terrorism risk in the US (paper by Cato Institute).  There was also note that immigrants have been hard workers and have generally shown more entrepreneurial talent and risk taking than most native Americans, particularly in running retail and franchise businesses.

On the other hand, Goodlatte reminded us that two of the 911 hijackers had been admitted legally as refugees.

There was discussion of repatriation, of the possibility of settling refugees in militarily supervised safe spaces closer to home, and of the general expectation that refugees become largely self-sufficient within 90 days of admission.

Henshaw stumbled at 57:00 discussing the RFC program and fraud that has occurred at “the RFC level”.

The discussion then moved to asylum seekers, with great concern that the load and backlog have become untenable.  There was considerable concern that the notions of credible fear and membership in a particular social group would be tightened because of the backlog.  This could have significance for people hosting asylum seekers, who might be less likely than in the past to win their cases and be able to remain here legally.

There was discussion of whether immigrants (especially women and girls, who could face sexual assaults during crossing into the U.S,) are guaranteed the same constitutional rights as citizens.  Jackson Lee and Ms. Jayapal were particularly emphatic on this matter. There was particular concern over recent abortion denial in case where a judge’s order was ignored by the administration

I didn’t hear any discussion of the sponsorship issue per se, where Canada is much more pro-active with getting citizens to support it than the U.S.

(Posted: Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 at 8 AM EDT)

On immigration and health care, Trump seems all too willing to play with individuals’ lives as political bargaining chips

Dave Bier of the Cato Institute has a new detailed analysis of all the flaws in Trump’s Faustian demands (call it a “wish list“) on Congress before he’ll go along with letting most of the DACA “Dreamers” stay after six months, as in this link.

The most conspicuous demand was overbuilding “that Wall”, much of which might be ineffective or relatively unnecessary.

But another demand is practically requiring asylum seekers to prove their cases on entry.  This would sound like it could shut down most LGBTQ asylum seeking.

Furthermore, overstayed visas would be treated much more harshly.

At the same time, there is a lot of attention to the “new” (?) travel ban. Jason Dzubow, normally very cautious in his blog posts, takes a cheerier approach on the affect on asylum seekers (in his most recent post), which in many cases, he feels, won’t be important.  People who have already applied and getting some sort of legal and perhaps housing assistance in the US will not fare worse than before.

My own reaction would be to imagine myself in the shoes of a “dreamer” (maybe Jose Vargas in the 2014 film “Documented”).  I would feel that, while the president has claimed a big heart and that somehow things will turn out OK personally, my own life had been made into someone else’s political bargaining chip. It’s easy to imagine that if I were a member of a racial minority in a poorer community subject to police profiling. As a white gay man with some of the typical troubles in the distant past, it is not so clear cut.  I did not perceive myself, when younger, as a member of an oppressed “group”, but rather as someone who individually had difficulty conforming to some of the gender-related expectations made of me which were more understandable in the Cold War world in which I grew up.

Likewise, I’m disturbed that Trump sounds willing to play with the existing health insurance of disadvantaged Americans to claim he is keeping a promise to some people in his base.

AOL has a discussion of the Supreme Court’s actions today allowing one of Trump’s travel bans to stand; likewise Politico.  It’s hard to give much reaction because the sands keep shifting. Here’s the June 2017 opinion for Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

Update: Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 

Jason Dzubow has a 9-part piece “DACA Reform and it’s Hostages (i.e., Asylum Seekers)” which seems to be a change in tone and alarm level. I would particularly wonder if the application of concepts like “membership in a social group” or “political opinion” would be tightened in a way to affect LGBT asylum seekers already in the U.S. (possibly some in detention seeking parole), especially from non-Islamic countries, including Russia (Chechnya) and Central America.

Sessions says he will ask Congress to tighten the rules on asylum seekers, claiming asylum fraud is widespread, Washington Post story by Sari Horwitz, link. The Center for Immigration Studies had made claims like this in a session reported here May 10 (q.v.)

 

State Department tightens rules in a way to affect asylees; USCIS will likely follow suit

Attorney Jason Dzubow has advised everyone about a new State Department rule that would tighten scrutiny of people who apply for non-immigrant visas, especially at consulates.  His post is “New Rule Spells Trouble for Asylees”.  The rule would penalize persons who “engage in conduct inconsistent with non-immigrant status” within 90 days of arrival.

The column then anticipates that USCIS would apply a similar rule as part of Trump’s “extreme vetting”. That presumably could mean that if someone applied for asylum after having entered the country as “non-immigrant”, that the asylum request would be more likely to be denied.  In practice, Dzubow argues that real deportations would be unlikely.  But the situation could provide more problems for those who would assist or host asylum seekers, who probably would not be allowed to work on their own.

Again, the lack of a formal system of sponsorship (outside of the I864 mechanism for relatives for example) in the US makes it very difficult for those who assist asylum seekers to know their responsibilities.  It throws the whole thing into an under-the-table operation of grass-roots resistance, very much predicated on local social capital.

This development may become particularly troubling for LGBT asylum seekers, especially from countries besides the Middle East (like Russia and Chechnya).

(Posted: Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 at 12:15 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)

HR 391 could make asylum application approvals much more difficult; what about LGBTQ?

The House of Representatives is considering an Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act, H.R. 391.  This bill would appear to strengthen the legal requirement that asylum seekers establish their claims “by a preponderance of the evidence” when arriving at a border (or in an airport, for example) rather than by the current “credible fear” standard.

Authors of the bill claim that it is necessary because if a surge of asylum seekers, but this seems not to be born out by facts.

Dave Bier, of the Cato Institute, submitted the following “Statement for the Record” to the House Committee of the Judiciary.

In the past, most asylum claims have been “affirmative”, rather than done “defensively” when the government is attempting to deport someone or keep the person in detention.

I would be concerned as to how this measure could affect LGBTQ asylum seekers.  It would sound very unlikely that a credible claim could be made at entry under the new law.  It is not as clear if this law would affect asylum applications already filed, for seekers already in the country for some time, who may need support and still be ineligible to support themselves with work or obtain other immigration benefits.   There are some concerns, as Jason Dzubow has pointed out, that recent Trump appointments could make some asylum applications unlikely to be approved.   This development could conceivably create legal complications for US citizens trying to assist or even house them.  But the concerns don’t seem to be focused particularly on LGBT applicants or related to the idea that in some foreign countries LGBTQ becomes a “particular social group” or invokes the idea of political opinion.

This is a developing story.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 5 PM EDT)

Breaking down hyper-partisanship and polarization: it gets personal

I have traveled around in rural areas some after Donald Trump’s election and presidency, and often I have found people not too concerned about Trump’s (to the media) rather glaring leadership integrity problems, with allowing criticism. Perhaps some people buy the idea that a leader needs to have the confidence of his base that the leader can withstand criticisms and challenges and “protect” his own people. I’m personally not wired that way. My attitude is, do the math and solve the problem (or, “solve the dump” as they used to say at work with production abends in overnight computer data center cycles).

I didn’t find that people really bought the “fake news” stuff – the birtherism, or the rumors of sex rings (the Comet Ping Pong fiasco). The one issue that got mentioned sometimes was health care . Some younger adults with heavy dent – student loans – simply cannot afford mandatory coverages and Obamacare premiums. Yes, if I was in office, I would to the math and solve the problems and fix it. But I don’t know how to ask for money to run for office, because I don’t personally walk in other people’s shoes. I watch, observer, and journal, but I don’t always play. Oh, yes, I ought to play rated chess more often, maybe get better at winning again (holding those endgame leads like a bullpen closer) and maybe offer to direct tournaments for underprivileged kids. Maybe get the Washington Nationals to have a chess event. It would be good for the players.

On July 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a big article by Amanda Ripley, “America, Meet America, Getting Past our Toxic Partnerships”. The writer starts with the extreme hyper partisanship (augmented by gerrymandering) in our culture today – it’s getting downright dangerous when you get to issues like the debt ceiling (which, by the way, absolutely must be raised by October). She claims that the partisanship is personal. It’s a kind of xenophobia that turns, ironically, into oikophobia, rather like rain on the snow.

The article expands on foreign student exchanges with an account of domestic experiments where people in rural areas or red states go to spend summers with families in blue states or cities, or vice versa.

I have two gut reactions. One is that mainstream churches are still focuses on overseas outreach. Sometimes this challenges the law, as with some efforts to shelter undocumented immigrants in border states run by some faith-based groups. Often, this consists of youth programs in Central America and sometimes Africa. I noted in the previous post how this came come across. Church groups have often sent youth to volunteer domestically after floods (ranging from Katrina to West Virginia deluges) and found being of real help harder than it seems – sometimes the people that live in these areas (especially the mountains), with their prepper lifestyles, are more self-sufficient than we give them credit for.

The other is that, closer to home, we really don’t walk in others’ shoes very much. Look at what I ran into when I started looking into whether I could personally host asylum seekers – an effort put on hold now as I consider possible relocation myself (I’ve “announced” this on Facebook). There was a great dependence on social capital, belonging to a group of people with some degree of personal fungibility, which is foreign to me. Because of the legal environment and lack of certain structures (compared to how refugees are handled) there is more persona risk for the people who would assist unless they are already bound into a social group. Really, a lot of early activism in most areas (race and later gay rights) sometimes worked this way, even though I never wanted to deal with it on a group level. The irony is that belonging to a group (especially a “resistance”) means connecting to people with different kinds of cognition in novel ways, something Paul Rosenfels had called “creativity” at the Ninth Street Center back in the 1970s.

I think a recent column by “do good” David Brooks “Getting Radical about Inequality,” where he talks about the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, seems to apply here. As David says elsewhere, we have to live with the fact that right now the free world is led by a child. And, no, blind loyalty to a “leader” does not come across as an essential moral value to me.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 11 AM 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)

How an article on the workplace and automation leads us back to network neutrality and other potential issues for Internet user-generated content

A guest post by 30-year-old Australian blogging (and physical fitness) guru Ramsay Taplin (aka “Blogtyrant“), in “Goins, Writer” about how to deal with the invasion of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace (when these innovations threaten to replace you) rather accidentally re-ignites the debate over the future of the Internet and ordinary speech on it in the United States.  (Before I go further, I’ve love to meet the huge cat on Ramsay’s Twitter page.)

Ramsay’s post seems to be a bit in the tradition of libertarian George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen’s book “Average Is Over,” outlining how middling people need to deal with the changing modern workplace.  At a crucial point in his essay, Ramsay, after suggesting that employed people consider starting small businesses on their own time, recommends most business owners (as well as professionals like lawyers, financial planners, agents, and even book authors) stake out their property in “modern real estate” with a professionally hosted blog site.  But then he dismissively adds the caveat, “unless the Internet changes dramatically through removing net neutrality…”

Later, he writes “make sure everything you do on the Internet helps someone,” a very important base concept that I’ll come back to. He gives a link to a compelling essay on personal and workplace ethics in a site called “Dear Design Student”, about how you can’t lead a double life and be believed forever.  You can see my conversation with him in the comments.

Whoa, there.  OK, Ramsay works (“from his couch”) in Australia, part of the British Commonwealth, and, like most western-style democratic countries, the Aussie World maintains statutory network neutrality regulations on its own turf (I presume).  But, as we know, under the new Trump administration and new FCC chair Ajit Pai, the Obama era’s network neutrality protections, largely set in place (in 2015) by maintaining that self-declared “neutral conduit” telecommunications companies are common carriers, will almost certainly be disbanded late this summer in the U.S. after the formal comment period is over.  Pro-neutrality advocates (including most tech companies) plan a “Day of Action” July 12, which Breitbart characterized in rather hyperbolic farce.

That situation puts American companies at odds with the rest of the capitalist democratic world (definitely not including Russia and China).  There are plenty of political advocacy pressure groups with “Chicken Little” “Sky Is Falling” warnings (along with aggressive popups for donations) about how exposed small companies and individual speakers online may be intentionally silenced (as I had outlined here on May 11).  Right away, I rebut by noting that not only is there to be (according to Pai) “voluntary compliance”, but also every major general-purpose telecom company in the US seems to say it has no intention to throttle ordinary sites.  In fact, most consumers, when they sign up for Internet, want full access to everything out there on the indexed web, so doing so would make no business sense.

Even so, some comparison of the world now to what it was a few decades ago, when I came of age, is in order.  Telephone companies were monopolistic but were regulated, so they couldn’t refuse service to consumers they didn’t like.  None of this changed as ATT break-up into the Bell’s happened (something I watched in the 80s-job market for I.T.)  But until the WWW came along in the mid-90s, the regulations only protected consumers getting content (phone calls), not wanting to upload it with no gatekeepers for pre-approval.  Back then, in a somewhat regulated environment, companies did make technological innovations for big paying customers (like DOD).  Pai would seem to be wrong in asserting that all regulation will stop innovation.

It’s also noteworthy that the FCC regulated broadcast networks, especially the number of television stations they could own (I remember this while working for NBC in the 1970s).  Likewise, movie studios were not allowed to own theater chains (that has somewhat changed more recently).

But by analogy, it doesn’t seem logical that reasonable rules preventing ordinary content throttling would stymie innovation where there are real benefits to consumers (like higher speeds for high definition movies, or for emergency medical services, and the like), or, for that matter, better service in rural areas.

There are also claims that new telecom technologies could enter the market, and that Obama-like net neutrality rules would stifle newcomer telecom companies.  Maybe this could bear on super-high-speed FIOS, for example, that Google has tried in a few cities.

Then, some of the punditry get speculative.  For example, a faith-based ISP might want to set up a very restricted service for religious families. It sounds rather improbable, but maybe that needs to be OK.  Or maybe a Comcast or Verizon wants to offer a low-end Internet service that doesn’t offer all websites, just an approved whitelist.  Maybe that appeals to locally socialized families with little interest in “globalism”.  That sounds a little more serious in its possible impact on other small businesses trying to reach them.

Another idea that cannot be dismissed out of hand, is that telecom companies could be prodded to deny connection access to illegal content, such as terror promotion or child pornography, or even sex trafficking (as with the Backpage controversy).

If we did have an environment where websites had to pay every telecom company to be hooked up to them, it’s likely that hosting companies like Bluehost would have to build this into their fees to take care of it.  I actually have four separate hosted WordPress blog domains.  It’s significant that Bluehost (and probably other companies) allow a user just one hosting account with a primary domain name.  Add-on domains are internally made subdomains of the primary and converted internally.  So, the user would probably only he “charged” for one hookup, regardless of the number of blogs.  (It’s also possible to put separate blogs in separate installations of WordPress in separate directories, I believe, but I see no reason now to try it.)   But one mystery to me is, that if Bluehost does have a “primary domain” concept with subdomains, why can’t it make the entire network https (SSL) instead of just one “real” domain?  I expect this will change.  SSL is still pretty expensive for small businesses to offer (they can generally outsource their credit card operations and consumer security, but there is more pressure, from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, to implement “https everywhere” for all content).

It’s also worthy of note that “free blogs” on services like Blogger and WordPress use a subdomain concept, so there is only one domain name hookup per user to any ISP.  That’s why Blogger can offer https to its own hosted blogs but not to blogs that default to user-owned domain names.

We can note that search engines like Google and Bing aren’t held to a “neutrality” policy and in fact often change their algorithms to prevent unfair (“link farming”) practices by some sites.

So, here we are, having examined net neutrality and its supposed importance to small site owners (nobody really worried about this until around 2008 it seems).  But there are a lot of other issues that could threaten the Internet as we know it.  Many of the proposals revolve around the issue of “downstream liability”:  web hosting companies and social media companies don’t have to review user posts before self-publication for legal problems;  if they had to, users simply could not be allowed to self-publish.  (That’s how things were until the mid 1990s.)  But, as I’ve noted, there are proposals to water down “Section 230” provisions in the US because of issues like terrorism recruiting (especially by ISIS), cyberbulling, revenge porn, and especially sex trafficking (the Backpage scandal).  Hosts and social media companies do have to remove (and report) child pornography now when they find it or when it is flagged by users, but even that content cannot be screened before the fact.  And Facebook and Twitter are getting better at detecting terror recruiting, gratuitous violence, fake news, and trafficking.  But widescale abuse by combative and relatively less educated users starts to raise the ethical question about whether user-generated content needs to pay its own way, rather than become a gratuitous privilege for those who really don’t like to interact with others whom they want to criticize.

In Europe and British Commonwealth countries there is apparently less protection from downstream liability allowed service providers than in the U.S., which would be the reverse of the legal climate when compared to the network neutrality issue.  And Europe has a “right to be forgotten” concept. Yet, user-generated content still seems to flourish in western countries besides the U.S.

I mentioned earlier the idea that a small business or even personal website should help the reader in a real-world sense.  Now Ramsay’s ideas on Blogtyrant seem most applicable to niche marketing.  That is, a business meeting a narrow and specific consumer need will tend to attract followers (hence Blogtyrant’s recommendations for e-mail lists that go beyond the fear of spam and malware).  It’s noteworthy that most niche markets probably would require only one blog site (despite my discussion above of how hosting and service providers handle multiple blogs from one user.) It’s pretty easy to imagine what niche blogs would be like:  those of lawyers (advising clients), financial planners, real estate agents, insurance agents, tax preparers, beauty products, fashion, and games and sports (especially chess).  It would seem that gaming would create its own niche areas.  And there are the famous mommy blogs (“dooce” by Heather Armstrong, who added a new verb to English – note her site has https –, although many later “mommy” imitations have not done nearly so well).  I can imagine how a well-selling fiction author could set up a niche blog, to discuss fiction writing (but not give away her own novels).

Another area would be political activism, where my own sense of ethics makes some of this problematical, although Ii won’t get into that here.

In fact, my whole history has been the opposite, to play “Devil’s advocate” and provide “objective commentary” and “connect the dots” among almost everything, although how I got into this is a topic for another day (it had started with gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell” in the US in the 1990s, and everything else grew around it).   One could say that my entering the debate this way meant I could never become anyone else’s mouth piece for “professional activism” or conventional salesmanship (“Always Be Closing”).  I guess that at age 54 I traded queens into my own (chess) endgame early, and am getting to the king-and-pawn stage, looking for “the opposition”.

There’s a good question about what “helps people”.  “The Asylumist” is a good example; it is written by an immigration lawyer Jason Dzubow specifically to help asylum seekers.  Jason doesn’t debate the wisdom of immigration policy as an intellectual exercise, although he has a practical problem of communicating what asylum seekers can expect during the age of Trump – and some of it is unpredictable. On this (my) blog, I’ve tried to explore what other civilians who consider helping asylum seekers (especially housing them personally) could expect.  Is that “helping people” when what I publish is so analytical, tracing the paths of speculation?  I certainly have warned a lot of people about things that could get people into trouble, for example, allowing someone else (even an Airbnb renter!) to use your home Internet router connection, for which you could be personally liable (sorry, no personalized Section 230).  Is the end result (of my own blog postings) to make people hesitant to offer a helping hand to immigrants out of social capital (and play into Donald Trump’s hands)?  I think I’m making certain problems a matter of record so policy makers consider them, and I have some ample evidence that they do.  But does that “help people” the way a normal small business does?

Getting back to how a blog helps a small business, the underlying concept (which does not work with my operation) is that the business pays for itself, by meeting real needs that consumers pay for (let’s hope they’re legitimate, not porn).  Legitimate business use of the Internet should come from “liking people.”  If blogging were undermined by a combination of policy changes in the US under Trump, it might not affect people everywhere else (although Theresa May wants it to), and it would be especially bad for me with my free-content model based on wealth accumulated elsewhere (some of it inherited but by no means all of it); but legitimate for-profit businesses will always have some basic way to reach their customers.

There has been talk of threats to blogging before.  One of the most serious perils occurred around 2005, in connection with campaign finance reform in the U.S., which I had explained here.

(Posted: Monday, June 12, 2017 at 12 noon EDT USA)