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.
The media is indeed swooning at Trump’s latest supposed outrages, including his veiled threat to broadcast licenses after NBC supposedly reported his plans for increasing US nuclear supremacy.
Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter have a typical summary on CNN.
There’s a potpourri of obvious legal problems if Trump were to try to do this. The biggest is that it is owned stations that have licenses, not the networks. I remember this from my own days working for NBC as a computer programmer in the 1970s. I was responsible for an accounting ledger for “owned and operated stations”. I remember networks were allowed to own five. Often, individual stations are owned by one company and affiliated with a network, like WJLA is owned by Sinclair and affiliated with ABC. Often the stations don’t follow the bidding of owners. Sinclair is a “conservative” media company that has played up the power grid threats which I have reported here, but WJLA has toned down these reports, even though I’ve encouraged WJLA (which knows me) to take them seriously.
Another interesting point is that the president doesn’t have the full legal authority to order the FCC exactly what to do. Furthermore Trump’s appointment, Ajit Pai, has favored loosening and eliminating Obama’s network neutrality rules in a way that would benefit Comcast, which owns NBC. Even so, loosening of network neutrality rules really hasn’t in big companies like Comcast trying to throttle smaller businesses and individual speakers from having fair treatment in access to self-broadcast on their telecom pipes (something that the “liberals” feared more than the gutting of Section 230 as a threat to user speech).
It’s ironic that, in his propagation of “the people” and populism, Trump really hasn’t gone after individual elites (like standalone bloggers) as much as he had certain big companies (mainstream liberal media) whom he can portray to the “people” as their enemies with fake news. But, of course, it is the world of user-generated content that the Russians infected with their fake news barrage in order to divide the people further. But Trump wants the people divided. He believes that it is the strongest tribes that survive, not the strongest individuals. Yet, in Trump’s individual behavior, it’s obvious that Trump admires strong young adult individuals – look at who he hired on “The Apprentice”. At a personal level, he probably does admire young scientists, young tech entreprenuers, and even young conservative journalists who would show him up. More contradictions on the LGBT side: he seems to admire plenty of LGBT individuals, but attacks the intersectional politics of the LGBT activist establishment with all his appointments.
The mainstream media’s reaction to this latest flap over violating the first amendment (the freedom of the press standards apart from the more general freedom of speech in the First Amendment) has sometimes been a bit silly and hyperbolic. Look at how the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkbess”) asks “can he really do that?” by dragging you into listening to an overlong podcast. By now everybody has forgotten all about “opening up libel laws.” British style (as Kitty Kelly explains in 1997, truth doesn’t always defend against libel, especially if absolute truth no longer exists).
Trump’s latest action on health care (like with immigration) shows he is willing to let “ordinary people” become pawns as he makes his ideological points, which really do have some merit. Yup, making health young people buy coverage they don’t need sets a bad example for other areas. Yes, it may really be illegal for the Executive to continue premium and copay support for poor people until Congress does its job, does its math, and can explicitly authorize it (sounds like how he handles DACA).
And, yup, previous administrations may have appeased North Korea too much, and a “domino theory” that tends to enlist ordinary citizens as potential combatants may have some real merit (as I covered particularly in my first DADT book). But all of this, right now, sets up a very dangerous situation, the most perilous for the safety of ordinary Americans since the Cuban Missile Crisis, even more so than 9/11. If Trump really wants his zeal for populism to wind up with martial law (as one friend on FB suggests), or a “purification” (as another puts it), he might have his duel in the Sun.
I also wanted to point out Sean Illing’s compendium on Vox, “20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared”. One out of six Americans is OK with military rule (like in the Philippines — that’s like saying one out of six movies should be a horror movie). Our society of individualism requires a talent for individualized abstraction. That tends to leave out a lot of “average joes”. But all of us find more meaning in power structures and “station in life” than is healthy for freedom.
Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.
The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men). The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.
There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany. The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.
By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism. The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style). But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).
You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books. I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation). I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified. In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.
A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back. Sound familiar? Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group? (How about Mike Pence?)
Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology. They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality? I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men) I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”. But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race. Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).
That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion. The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials. All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn. The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).
You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel? Maybe. Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel. But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic). That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.
A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech. That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.
In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.
That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way. I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.
I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s. I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy). I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism. Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat. The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess. I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me. (Short selling?)
But you see where this is heading. In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised. I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship. I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself. I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example. (Do the math first.)
Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”. Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010). My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be. But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here. But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)
I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them. Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”). My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now. They’re my goals; they don’t need to be anyone else’s. I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”. But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.
Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join. Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left). Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about). It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful. Other’s will tell me, get over it. Well, you get over it only if you’re on the “right” (sic) side? I won’t bargain away my own purposes.
To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice. They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all. It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead. And then there is no funeral.
But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged. Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me? Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids). It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.
Last Thursday, September 28, 2017, I attended a day-long event at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, “The Future of the First Amendment”. I could call it aka “the future of free speech” in the U.S.
Cato has a link for the event and has now uploaded all the presentations, which you can view here. The videos include embeds of the slides and of the audience members asking questions as professionally filmed, better than I can do on my own at an event.
The “table of contents” in the link shows the topics covered as well as identifying the credentialing the many invited speakers, and indeed the presentation was segmented and topical and tended to focus on many narrow, separate issues. I’ll come back at the end of this piece as to what I would like to have seen covered more explicitly.
The earliest morning session focuses particularly on partisan political speech related to elections (the “Citizen’s United” problem) and on commercial speech, including whether companies or commercial entities are separate persons. One concept that stuck out was that listeners or receivers of messages are entitled to First Amendment protections. I would wonder how that concept would play out given more recent reports of Russian attempts not only to influence the 2016 elections but also to spur social instability and resentment in American society, based particularly on the idea of relative collective deprivation (which is not the same idea as “systematic oppression”). There are understandable concerns over wanting to regulate paid political ads (especially if supplied by foreign agents), but we should remember back around 2005 when there were concerns based on a particular court interpretation of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act that even free blogs (written without compensation and without ads) could be construed as “political contribution” if they expressed political viewpoints. The discussion of commercial speech recognizes that advertisements sometimes do express points of view going beyond immediate ad content, and that valuable speech, such as well-made studio Hollywood movies about major historical events, made with good faith, can express political viewpoints while being funded through the open securities markets available to publicly traded companies. But one auxiliary idea not explicitly mentioned was something I encounter: that speech available to the public should pay its own way.
The second segment dealt with “religious liberty in the post-Obama era”. Here we have the dubious idea that an employee of a business open to the public is engaging in religiously-connected “speech” when she sells certain products or services to a person of a different faith or who engages in certain intimate personal relationships as now recognized by law (especially same-sex marriage). One speaker in particular (Robin Fretwell Wilson) suggested that states should carve out laws that require public accommodations to serve all customers but allow individual employees (even in government agencies, such as with Kim Davis in Kentucky) to turn over the duties to someone else. While I would support such a solution, if can mean an unequal workplace (such as the catse when some employees observe Sabbath’s explicitly and others cover them without getting any compensation in return, which I have done – an extreme extension of this idea is the “conscientious objector” problem with the past military draft). It’s also true that sometimes “religious speech” can serve as a mask for personal moral ideas that in fact are not really founded in recognized interpretations of scripture, for example, political aversion to working with inherited wealth.
The keynote speaker for the second floor luncheon(well catered with deli sandwiches) was Eugene Volokh, of UCLA Law School and the Volokh conspiracy blog. Volokh gave a spirited presentation on how the Internet has accelerated the application of libel law (well before Donald Trump noticed) because the Internet allows speakers with no deep pockets and little formal publishing law experience to be heard, and also because the “online reputation” damage from defamation, as propagated by search engines, is permanent, as opposed to newspaper defamation in the past. Volokh made the interesting point that sometimes cases are settled with court injunctions that could prohibit a blogger from mentioning a particular person online again anywhere. (That could matter to bloggers who review films or music performances, for example). At 41:07 on this tape, I ask a question about Backpage and Section 230. Volokh’s answer was thorough and more reassuring that it might have been, as he indicated that “knowingly” standard could be included in service provider downstream liability exposures. (He also explained the distinctions among utility transmission, distribution, and publication.) He also got into the question as to whether fake news could be libel. Usually, because it largely involves politicians, in the U.S. it does not. But it might when applied to celebrities and companies.
The afternoon session featured a presentation by Emily Ekins on the 2017 Free Speech National Survey. A number of startling conclusions were presented, showing partisan divides on what is viewed as hate speech, and also a lack of understanding that most hate speech is constitutionally protected. There is a tendency among many voters and especially many college students to view words as weapons, and to view speakers as morally accountable for the actions of the recipients of their speech, even when there is no direct incitement for rioting or lawless action. Many respondents showed a shocking dislike of journalists as “watchers” who don’t have their own skin in the game. A majority seemed to take the pseudo-populist position that a heckler’s veto on speakers was morally OK, and a shocking substantial minority thought that government should heavily sponsor speech to protect special groups. A shocking minority accepted the idea that hate speech should sometimes be met with political violence.
The final session talked about censorship and surveillance. The speakers included Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence” and the cartoon controversy). Rose mentioned, in an answer to an audience question, that in some countries speakers were arrested for “qualification of terrorism” in public statements. All the speakers noted a desire from the EU to force tech companies to export their rules to the US, especially the supposed “right to be forgotten”. Daniel Keats Citron from the University of Maryland Law School mentioned the Section 230 controversy in an answer, as she talked about distinguishing “good Samaritans” from “bad Samaritans”
At the reception afterward, a speaker from Cloudflare noted that Hollywood has been lobbying heavily on Congress to force service providers to prescreen content, as motivated by the Backpage controversy. Hollywood, he said, has been pressuring agents and Wilshire Blvd law firms to join in the effort. He mentioned the DMCA Safe Harbor, which has a similar downstream liability concept but applies to copyright, not to libel or privacy. The tone of his remarks suggested that this goes way beyond piracy; Hollywood does not like dealing with the low cost competition of very independent film that is much less capital intensive, and taking up much larger audience share than in the past.. Even Mark Cuban admitted that to me once in an email. Cloudflare also said that the law, unchanged, would today handle sex trafficking the way it handles child pornography, with a “knowingly” standard, which seems adequate already.
All of this brings me back to what might not have been hit hard enough in the conference, the idea, as I said indicated in the title of my third book, of “a privilege of being listened to” (my 2005 essay), which sounds a little scary to consider and seems to lie beneath authoritarian control of speech.
I insist on managing my own speech, much of which is posted as “free content”. I get pestered that I don’t sell more physical copies of my books than I do and don’t try to be “popular” or manipulative in order to sell. (That helps other people have jobs, I guess.) I get told that my own skin should be in the game. I get sent into further deployments of the subjunctive mood (“could’a, should’a, would’a”), like in high school French class. – I should have children, or special needs dependents, or be in the trenches myself before I get heard from. (This could affect how I handle the estate that I inherited, which can get to be a Milo-Dangerous topic.) Content should pay its own way (which, ironically, might encourage porn.) Individual speakers weaken advocacy groups by competing with them and not participating. Before I get heard from myself, I should join somebody else’s cause against “systematic oppression” and not be above walking and shouting in their demonstrations. I should run fundraisers for other people on my webpage. I should support other publications’ fund raisers who claim (on both the right and left) to be my voice, as if I were incompetent to speak for myself. Or, as if that capacity will be taken away from me by force. Even the world of writers. I get confrontational ideas, that “real writers” get hired to portray other people’s narratives other than their own. (Okay, I might really have had a chance once go “ghost-write” so-to-speak one of the other “don’t ask don’t tell” soldier’s stories.)
One of the most serious underreported controversies is indeed the idea that speakers should be held responsible for what their readers might do, particularly because “you” are the speaker and not someone else. This is related to the notion of “implicit content” (Sept. 10). This concept was behind my own experience in October 2005 when working as a substitute teacher, see July 19, 2016 pingback hyperlink). That certainly comports with the idea that Section 230 should not exist, and that people should not speak out on their own until they have a lot of accountability to a peer group (family or not). This is far from what the First Amendment says but seems to be what a lot of people have been brought up to believe in their own home and community environments. It goes along with ideas of personal right-sizing, fitting in to the group, and a certain truce on social justice. In the past two or three decades (compared to when I was in high school and college), there has been a weakened presentation of the First Amendment (and Bill of Rights in general) in the way it is taught in high schools and to undergraduates. I could even say based on my own substitute teaching experience from 2004-2007 that even public school staff (including administration) is poorly informed on the actual law today, so you would not expect students to be getting the proper learning on these matters.
Individuals have natural rights, just as individuals; but people don’t have to belong to oppressed groups or claim “relative deprivation” to claim their natural rights.
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.
Trump repeatedly went back into entertaining ad-libs justifying his own persona. He would back into silly issues like Hillary Clinton’s being told debate questions in advance, like cheating on a test. He got called down for claiming the greatest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan, even for a GOP president.
Trump repeatedly blamed the media for our relations with Russia, and joked about shooting at the spy ship off the US East Coast. (What if it had an EMP scud?) He joked about nuclear war once (like the last movement of Vaughn Williams’s Sixth Symphony).
At one point he said “We had a smooth rollout of the travel ban, but we had a bad court.” Did he mean “thmooth”? (Remember, Milo likes only real men.)
When asked about the new EO due next week, he sounded like he would need to make few changes to the existing one. He did admit that some of the DACA adult kids were good people and ought to stay.
Trey Yingst of OANN asked a question about pre-election contacts with the Russians (about the middle of the transcript) and Trump retorted with his usual “fake news” mantra.
While all this was going on, I was on Capitol Hill, in the Library of Congress, watching a screening of “Upstairs Inferno”, reviewed today on my “Media Commentary” blog.
But at lunch afterward at the Tortilla Coast, across 1st St SE from the Capitol South Metro, as people filed in from the news conferences, stunned that a president would turn a news conference into a comedy hour. The so-called immigrant general strike today (“day without immigrants protest”) had no effect on this restaurant.
There is plenty of material surfacing, advocating that the GOP intervene and get Trump to resign (Pence is bad for gay rights), as if that had been the GOP plan all along. And the Left is already talking about impeachment (as with Michael Moore’s Facebook demands).
I have covered the issues of concern to those who would like to help refugees and asylum seekers. The latest information suggests that asylum seekers (who have applied properly) have due process rights while in the country. Future EO’s might well tighten the vetting required and perception of what immigration officers should consider credible threats of persecution in home countries. The Asylumist has an important post from November 2015 on that point. One important question would be, if an asylum seeker loses a case, may he or she remain legally for a while?
(Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 11:30 PM EST)
People say I’m dangerous. I can make right-wing ideas seem reasonable, sensible, justifiable. I can keep someone like Donald Trump (that is “(t)Rump”)on point if I write his speeches for him and design his policies. I’m even called the Elder Milo.
If I were hired to help Donald Trump write his inauguration speech, or State if the Union address, or something composite of the two, here is what I would come up. Let me be the dangerous faggot #2.
Is America Great now? I think it is. Was it Great before? I’m glad that I didn’t make the personal sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, or serve in a segregated Army against a common enemy, or endure the racism suffocating in the 60s. I did catch the “homophobia of resentment”. But if we want America to be Great, here is what we have to keep in mind.
Area 1: We must protect, preserve and sustain our way of life, and build on it: Infrastructure.
That starts with national security. I personally believe what I thought when I was writing the notorious Chapter 4 of my DADT-1 book, that North Korea is our most dangerous enemy. The threats vary, from rogue states of extreme communism – the Cold War is not over – to the asymmetric actors of radical Islam. And some enemies want to treat ordinary citizens as combatants, as if they could target anyone and make an example of him. This sounds like what we associate with ISIS, but it is rhetoric I heard from some sectors of the extreme Left in the early 1970s when I was coming of age myself as a young adult.
In fact, I recognize that there is a significant subculture in our own country today, the prepper community, which believes that no civilization is permanent, and that every person has a responsibility to learn to survive on his own without technology in a decentralized, primitive environment. How these remarks will affect individual people, myself included, I will come back to. But it is clear that our dependence on technology is unprecedented, and it does make us vulnerable to sudden catastrophe. That is no longer a fantasy of the extreme right or alt-right.
But I want to counter with the idea that we can “work smart” We can do a lot more to protect and preserve our technological infrastructure. First, let me mention what we should be doing overseas: we should continue finding and securing all caches of nuclear material that may be lost around the world. We don’t hear much about this. But Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative are right. There are unusual materials that terrorists could get their hands on. We have to do much better at pursuing this. Now let me move to what we should do at home. Our power grids and other infrastructure systems are vulnerable. There is a lot more we need to start doing to protect them.
We need to make sure that our infrastructure grids are kept as separated from the public Internet and hackers as we keep the Pentagon and our own NSA. There simply should no way someone could get to a power station from this computer, period.
But we also have to be smarter about the way we manage power itself. I know this because much of my own family’s investment wealth, some of which I inherited, came from oil and gas and particularly utilities. I get to see oil and utility company materials. Shareholders put pressure on utilities to maximize profits from the ability to share loads quickly. But that capacity also makes us dependent on large transformers, which can be overloaded by deliberate sabotage. And we don’t make enough our own transformers at home. We can’t replace them. We can’t get them from overseas quickly or move them around. So we need both to move much of our infrastructure component manufacturing back home, and we need to build smaller stations and make individual nodes more self-reliant. This can be done with modern natural gas plants and even small underground fission plants, as Taylor Wilson has proposed. But this would take tremendous private and public investment.
The possible threats to the grids are multiple: extreme solar storms (we barely dodged one in 2012), cyberterror, physical attacks, and some kinds of nuclear and even non-nuclear flux detonations.
Note that fixing this problem adds well-paying, high-skilled jobs at home. It also favors cleaner technology. It even encourages people to have their own power sources, including solar panels, at home. This sounds like a win-win.
The dependability of infrastructure and utilities does affect the standard of living and the capability of less fortunate people to lift themselves up.
Area 2: Sustainability and climate change
Most religious heritages believe the people living today have a moral responsibility for future generations, at least what our kids and grandkids, considered collectively, will face as adults. The fact that human activity has added carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere and that ice caps are melting is undeniable.
But what is less clear is how many incidents today are directly the result of climate change. Tornadoes and hurricanes and extreme storms have happened in the distant past. The droughts and wildfires seem to be the most likely results of climate changes, as well as the loss of high latitude communities to warming, which is much more noticeable near polar areas than in temperate zones.
What also is not completely clear is how other forces will play out. While sudden escalations of warming are possible, as with methane release, so is sudden cooling, as with volcanic eruptions, or certain features of the way the Gulf Stream works.
But we must take the science on this problem seriously and not run from it.
Area 3: Sustainability and public health
We do face the possibility of novel pandemics. HIV-AIDS seemed unprecedented in its diabolical nature when it broke out in the 1980s, but we now know that it may have been here long before igniting. Today, however, the biggest threats come from conventionally contagious diseases, not from sexually transmitted ones. These include super-influenzas and respiratory diseases, and possibly exotic tropical blood disease like Ebola, and some of these might be insect-born.
The science tells us that vaccines work. We can be more active in staying ahead of the curve in developing vaccines for “bird flu” for example. We can protect college students from sudden and shocking amputations associated with meningitis with vaccines. We may eventually have a vaccine for HIV.
People continue to question whether they are placing their kids at theoretical risk of autism by giving them vaccines. The science tells us that this risk is extremely miniscule and theoretical if it exists at all. There are herd effects. If there is a risk at all, parents who refuse to “take the risk” are riding on the willingness of others to do so to maintain a population immunity to preventing any possibility of a pandemic breaking out.
Area 4: Trade
American consumers should not take advantage of products made with slave-labor overseas. In the long run, America will benefit if more products are made at home. In many circumstances, companies can be convinced to keep jobs here. Innovation is making it profitable to keep jobs at home.
At the same time, the sudden imposition of tariffs would be harmful to the economy. And particularly in Mexico and Central America, the growth of jobs there would tend to reduce the need for emigration to the US
But many of the terms of some proposed agreements, such as TPP, have terms that are potentially harmful to many American businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.
Area 5: Immigration
It is true that uncontrolled immigration presents some security problems for America. It is true that in some areas, the “Wall” or the “Fenway Park Green Monster” needs to be strengthened. But a Wall is not a fix-all for all our problems with jobs. Many studies show that as a whole, immigrants commit fewer crimes than domestics, and that immigrants add to the economy. Many immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want or couldn’t even do.
We have to be extremely careful about admitting people from some parts of the world. That is true. One question, when it comes to Syrian refugees, is why we don’t pressure the wealthy Muslim countries to do more of their parts in providing areas for them to move to. Dubai, Qatar, UAE, even Saudi Arabia, should step up to the plate.
Broad-based bans of certain religions or countries are not likely to be effective. In fact, some domestic attacks have come from people who have been here legally for a long time, or from their second-generation kids.
It is not reasonable to reverse all of the previous president’s policies. In fact, president Obama was aggressive with deportations of those with criminal records or who entered the country illegally and don’t have credible asylum claims. I would continue this policy. I think the adult kids covered under DACA should stay and be given paths to legal residency and citizenship as long as they don’t have criminal records.
Area 6: Health care and services:
An underlying problem with health care and other benefits is “moral hazard”. People will tend to use services that they can get other people to pay for. We can propose benefits and policies, such as paid workplace family leave, but we must consider how we will pay for them.
With health care, whatever one can say about escalating premiums and various breakdowns of Obamacare. It’s clear that to replace it we should solve two big problems: One is handling pre-existing conditions. There is no question that pre-existing condition create a tremendous anti-selection issue for privately run insurance companies. I think we have to admit that pre-existing condition need so be handled largely by public funds. The claims related to pre-existing conditions could be reimbursed through a private-public reinsurance agency. These reinsurance companies could be set up in each state, possibly managed by Blue plans. People will not have premiums jacked up for ordinary care to cover those with pre-existing illnesses. We could have a nasty debate, however, on what counts as pre-existing. Does something related to behavior – drug use, smoking, obesity, or STD, count as pre-existing? How we handle end stage renal disease (with Medicare today) could serve as a philosophical model.
The other (second) part of this health issue is covering people with low incomes, where tax credits aren’t useful. We need to continue Medicaid mechanisms to cover these, and probably do this through block grants to states (which is what the GOP always wants). (Writer’s note: my own work resume includes a lot of experience with Medicaid, Medicare, life insurance, and similar issues.)
When it comes to paid family leave, well, we must pay for it. I like the idea of small payroll deductions, which could be waived for lower income jobs. I like the idea that it is gender neutral: that new fathers get it as well as mothers, and that it covers adoption. That is the policy of most high-tech employers today. But it costs more to expand it beyond maternity leave. The deduction would make childless people stop and think, that they need to become involved in family and raising children at some point if they are going to use it otherwise they are paying for other people’s lives (moral hazard again). It’s pretty clear that responsibility for others doesn’t just stop with deciding to have the act that can produce a child.
Area 7: Identity politics.
I look at people as individuals, not as members of groups who get their rights by consideration of the special issues of their groups from the past. Of course, we have to be careful about monitoring police behavior, but we run the risk that nobody will want to become a police officer. We should use the facts, not mob emotion, in evaluating incidents. Every identity issue has its own special concerns. Most of these don’t have big impact on policy. But we need to have a proper understanding of the history behind all these issues. On LGBTQ rights, I think a lot of people in the past have seen this as (besides religion) a proxy for refusal to participate in procreation and raising another generation, and history has shown this perception to be largely misleading.
Area 8: Second amendment:
European countries have much stronger gun control than the United States, but this, while reducing local crime, may make them even more vulnerable to asymmetric terror cells who circumvent the laws. Gun control is a careful balance. Yes, we need to close the loopholes and tighten the background checks and police procedures with seized weapons. But in some situations, self-defense is a good skill to have.
Area 9: Service:
I did deal with the Vietnam era male-only military draft, serving 1968-1970, and with the socially divisive deferment system I’ve had to deal with the idea of my life as being a fungible bargaining chip for my country’s foreign policy, however well intended. The modern volunteer system sometimes seems like a backdoor draft, with the stop-loss policies during deployments. I think we have a moral issue in that we don’t share the risks of participating in a complex modern society equitably, and many of the risks are not very transparent. All of this figured into how I argued for the end of the military gay ban an “don’t ask don’t tell” over the years 1993-2011.
Talk of reinstating a draft did pop up after 9/11, but today we should ask, if we don’t want one, why do we need a Selective Service System and registration for young men?
Outside of the military armed forces and the Peace Corps, I have some doubts over how effective nationally run service can be, given the bureaucracy. Even the large private volunteer organizations need more transparency as to what people are getting into. But service does help communicate the idea that the playing field can become more level and more meaningful. But then it has to get personal.
Area 10: First Amendment
This gets to be an area that leads us to consider personal values and personal impact.
But first, let me mention one rather straightforward area in the speech area: tort reform. We need to reign in on frivolous lawsuits, which includes those filed by so-called “patent trolls”. For SLAPP suits, we should consider a federal law, and we should give judges the power to order “loser pays” to discourage abusive litigation intended to silence critics.
But a bigger problem, and one that is murky and seems ambiguous, comes from the permissive climate centered on user-generated content on the Internet. And this issue has grown in tandem with our dependence on technology as I mentioned at the outset.
The growth of user-generated content certain helps supplement the flow of news information and interpretation in a way that places all the nuances of current events on the table and forces politicians and leadership to think again before acting. But some material is intentionally deceptive or untruthful, and many people are unwilling or unable to process information that doesn’t already fit into their world views. Furthermore, many people have used the open Internet for harmful purposes. These include cyberbullying, terror recruiting, and even sex trafficking.
The modern Internet would not be possible without laws that limit service provider liability for what users post online, in a way that follows the way utility immunity from liability worked with traditional phone companies and mail. These laws include Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many people point out that service providers and social media companies, and certain online bulletin trading companies, become profitable from illicit and activity of their users, mainly from advertising-driven business models, and that out of general concerns for public safety, companies must take more responsibility for what they seem to be empowering their users to do. It’s also true that while some users and bloggers can make a living online, many more use the services as a form of ego-boost and sense of importance, and participate in a form of communication that shields them from unwelcome contact with people that would have been necessary in the past. In short, the Internet has enabled a kind of vanity self-publishing that eliminates the need to be aware of how one meets the needs of others or sells to others. But this sort of vanity publishing depends on a certain permissiveness that encourages the placing of other people in danger.
The courts have been very supportive of the enhanced free speech on the Internet and web, in litigation involving such laws as the Communications Decency Act, and later the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The courts have enforced Section 230 vigorously. But it is not completely clear that the right to self-distribute one’s speech without supervision or market accountability is as fundamental to the First Amendment as the freedom to keep the government out of meddling with the actual content of the speech itself. Self-distribution was not possible until the 1990s with the Web, and we lived without it before.
Given the seriousness of certain kinds of issues, like terrorism promotion and sex trafficking, the public is certainly going to demand that government look at regulating service providers and even users somewhat. We need to ask questions: how dependent on these downstream liability protections are companies like Google and Facebook in operating as they do now? We need to quantify this. Of course, we know, for example, that some of these services are not allowed at all in some authoritarian countries like China and user behavior is severely curtailed in more moderate countries like Turkey, so we know that this matters. On the other hand, these companies seem to do well in western Europe, where downstream liability protections are less pronounced than in the United States – they have to deal with, for example, “the right to be forgotten.” We need to ask whether some automated filtering tools can be effective. We know, for example, that digital watermarks for some child pornography images can be detected when they are stored or even before they are posted. We need to see whether a narrowly drawn limitation on liability protection is reasonable.
Candidate Trump had talked about living “locally” in an earlier speech, which I discussed here January 2. That seems to fit into the concerns over our dependence on globalization, technology, and loss of local community, too. Trump talks about our working “together“, based on local engagement first. But one needs to have some specifics laid out, or else it sounds like a call for unpredictable sacrifice and coercion.
(Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)
Could there by a subtle undertone to Donald Trump’s apparent playing down of “establishment” science in areas like climate change, clean energy, and maybe even vaccine denial?
On one level, he seems to be pandering to a voter base that is very “tribe” oriented and resents the elitism of “know-it-alls” (like me) who don’t share the real hardships of real people with hardscrabble family responsibility. Indeed, he seems to have leveraged the “politics of resentment”, something that used to be more associated with the left (Marxism and Maoism) but that also inhabits some areas of the far right (the “doomsday prepper” crowd). This is a social concept that has presented many problems for me in my own relations with others in some circumstances, especially when I had to break out of my own world and interact with people who may be needy in some particularly troubling ways.
Indeed, Trump’s behavior when running “The Apprentice” generally seemed “logical” and congruent with modern values, however strident he could sound when saying “You’re fired!” in “The Boardroom”. He was appropriately critical of double standards among subordinates, and of pretenses of self-abnegation that he frankly and appropriately called “life-threatening” in one episode. Were he to stick to the values he espoused in “The Apprentice”, and showed it with his appointments to office (“You’re hired”), a lot of people (myself included) might feel more comfortable. (We can even forgive the self-sacrifice of Troy McClain in Season 1.)
I’ve actually tweeted the “Real Donald Trump” about attending national security briefings (he says he is too “smart” to need to do this every day; leave it to Pence and later Mattis), and particularly about power grid and infrastructure security.
In fact, as I’ve outlined, any infrastructure program to buttress power grid and other infrastructure security will mean moving some manufacturing back home (good for jobs, but not for the same people as the voters who supported him), will mean a lot more tech jobs (especially a new level of cybersecurity in private industry) and will be good for climate change concerns, because it is easier (and much more cost effective for investors in energy and utilities, as I have personally been, as has been both sides of my family) to secure components of a renewable system than power generation and distribution systems based on older fossil fuel technologies.
I can’t believe Trump doesn’t know this. (After all, I told him on Twitter!) But he could have a good reason for not talking about it openly. Not only to mollify his previous voter base. But also to avoid drawing too much attention of our enemies to what we really are going to do. (But, of course, one of our enemies could be the Sun, and it won’t care.) As long as concerns about the power grid are perceived as the province of the extreme right and of doomsday preppers, enemies won’t realize we’re serious. If credible sources (moderately conservative media resources like Sinclair Broadcasting or me, as well as Fox, Breitbart and “Milo”) talk about it more openly, we could draw unwanted attention to our own plans.
So, in the meantime, Trump could provide a diversion by acting like he really believes climate change is a hoax (even after hearing “An Inconvenient Truth” from Gore’s own mouth). It’s a little more disturbing, though, that he acts like he needs to “run up the score” by a superfluous touchdown on his electoral college victory, and that he might indeed remain thin-skinned on personal affronts, even on his supposedly rightful power now to right-size citizens (“only I can do this”).
Indeed this kind of Hitchcock-like strategy seems improbable in the days of open Internet and media. Maybe there is enough fake news to cover up what is really going to happen.
(Posted: Monday, December 26, 2016 at 10:45 PM EST)
So, how do you know what’s right and what’s wrong? Let’s get back to that epistemology of Philosophy 101.
We can propose some ideas. The Golden Rule. Or the libertarian idea of harmlessness. What we run up repeatedly is inequality, not just among groups but among people in any group. Individuals benefit from the sacrifices of others that they didn’t see happen before their eyes. Practically none of us have fully paid our dues, practically all of us have some bad karma, and can have “stuff” taken away from us, and we won’t find claiming victimhood particularly honorable. You can think of some sort of “axiom of choice” that’s self-evident. If you want a better station in life than what seems “assigned”, reach down and offer a hand up to others, with some real personhood from “you”. You may have to accept the idea of belonging to some group, even if that group isn’t right about absolutely everything.
History suggests, though, that you can rationalize almost any ideology. That’s particularly true when you talk about subcultures of your basic political formats: democracy, communism, fascism (including ancient “Spartanism”), theocracy. So it’s natural to turn to religion, and let scripture decide which ideology is right. But then you have to decide, whose scripture, and which interpretation. You often wind up with pronouncements (like homophobia) that sound totally irrational to an individual, but perhaps sensible for the long term survival of a circumscribed, threatened tribal group. Or you may decide this by social affiliation. You belong to a group, whose leadership fights for you. You may belong to more than one group, and the groups could be somewhat at odds. Examples of groups to belong to: natural family (as extended), faith-based, labor, business, or civil-rights oriented (by race, nationality, or gender “tuple”). It’s the task of a progressive democracy to overcome both over-rationalization and fundamentalism, and come up with a culture of what values are acceptable for people to live together and communicate.
So, then, we come to the “value” of my style of ungated speech. That’s coming under fire because of where “fake news” has led (especially with the recent total libel of some local small businesses in Washington DC, in “pizzagate”, and the violence that erupted).
There is a view that “news” should be delivered by professionals, who know how to fact-check, and that their “privilege of being listened to” be regulated by a political structure. That’s how (Putin’s) Russia and China work with their own people now. You can argue that If the leadership reached power legitimately, it’s in the best interest of everyone to know their place (“rightsizing”) and not speak out of turn. Yes, that’s a kind of authoritarianism, hidden under democracy, which can provide the illusion of stability for a long time, but not forever. (Marxist states have not been able to sustain themselves forever.) Authoritarian states argue, with some credibility though, that “average Joe” people are vulnerable to “propaganda” (one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite words, even in justifying the 2013 anti-gay law), and are unable to ferret out “truth” for themselves among a quantum sea of infinite information.
So, then, you deal with my kind of speech. I offer theories now as to how, for example, Section 230 could quickly come apart under Trump. But someone else might want me to shut up, inasmuch as I might be (unwittingly) throwing kerosene on a fire of people who want to implement exactly the policies that I fear, that would end my own second career and my own life’s “second half”. After all, there are some groups (many lower income families with children) whose members might be better off if there were no user-generated content because there was no Section 230. These “average Joes” could be as passionate about something like this with Trump (protecting their kids, when many of us don’t even have them) as they are now about keeping manufacturing jobs within the United States.
A similar thing happened in the pre-Internet 1980s, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when, in Texas, conservative legislators wanted to expand the sodomy laws and ban gay men from most occupations (let alone the military) on a theory that gays would “amplify” a new disease until it threatens civilization as a whole. I actually corresponded with this group (the supposed “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS), looking for some sort of rational refutation. As diabolical as it is HIV never has behaved this way, but it’s easy for a science fiction writer to conjure up a new imaginary virus that does. (Something like that happens in my novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother”, where the “virus” contains short-lived micro black holes).
But what I’m doing is not spreading “news” or claiming that certain events have happened (as was done, for example, in the “Pizzagate” affair). I’m articulating (playing “devil’s advocate”) possible new interpretations of known and reasonably verifiable facts. My doing so makes “identity politics” more difficult, because there is always the possibility that someone will have an inherited enhanced inclination to behave in some negative or (“downsteamly”) harmful way to overcome a disadvantage that society has assigned, over history, to hs or her “group”. I am trying to force everyone to look for the truth in a post-truth world, before they act.
(Posted: Monday, December 5, 2016 at 10:15 PM EST)
Facebook, especially, among social media companies is getting a lot of scrutiny now for the way its news feeds skew reader perception of the news, sometimes with “fake” or “baited” stories, with the latest piece by the New York Times Nov. 12 by Mike Isaac.
I had covered this toward the end of my piece on the possible threat to citizen journalism on Nov. 7, one day before the election. Some commentators say that Facebook’s algorithm for feeding news to users gave Trump an unusual advantage in the election, something comparable to a deep Knight post in a chess game.
The “problem” is that users get feeds based on their previous likes and other behaviors, among “friends” and pages that they “follow”. People tend to follow and befriend others with similar worldviews.
The same people are less likely to get establishment-sourced news from newspapers or television.
We can think about the way people get news all the way back to the 1950s, when most movie theaters started shows with news reels (I especially remember those from the Korean War) which could give the government and large companies a platform for politically loyal propaganda. Then television gradually took over.
Indeed, I remember looking forward to seeing the morning Washington Post on the sidewalk (finding out how the Senators did in a Midwest night road game – the old “A’s Hop on Pascual,, Too. 6-1” thing), and another paper, the Evening Star, before dinner. It was from the Star that I first learned about Sputnik in 1957.
And in 1959-1960 we had a history teacher who gave pop quizzes on current events. We had to read JFK’s “Profiles in Courage” before JFK was elected.
My own Facebook news feed is pretty balanced – a lot of hysteria from both sides. I’m inundated by Survival Mom and the doomsday prepper crowd, because I’ve posted a few links to stories about EMP and solar storms and to possible efforts by Peter Thiel and Taylor Wilson to prepare long term solutions to power grid security problems (I surmise that Donald Trump is interested in this now but hasn’t said so publicly). I also see alarmingly strident posts from normally “upscale” gay white men about Trump’s election. I see a lot of identity politics. I see a lot of everything, because my “following” market basket is indeed pretty balanced. So I do see a lot of valuable “early warning” news stories on Facebook from smaller publications and pressure groups.
One result of social media is that people don’t feel that they need to be “organized” or to get out an organize others. I don’t like to be recruited, or to recruit other converts or to chase people (1998 piece by me in the Minnesota Libertarian ) Conventional political operations as a career field seems threatened. In earlier times, where only “gated” news sources had wide leadership, grass roots political organizing (the kind Barack Obama was good at in Chicago) was much more necessary. But the unintended result in this past election might be that certain minorities (who are much less literate and savvy in their use of social media) simply didn’t feel prompted to get out and vote.
But social media (as I noted in the previous post) also perturbed how the “online reputation” problem, already growing and affecting the workplace by the mid 2000s, could be managed. It would be much harder for governments or employers to silence people online when people had such powerful social media companies behind their backs. (That’s a good thing about the way the “dot com bust” was followed by consolidation of Internet service companies.)
Facebook could do the public a service by offering an “optional” newsfeed, not influenced by personal “Likeonomics”, based on an “opposing viewpoints” concept as I outlined on a legacy blog. Facebook could find 5-10 non-profits to provide peer review of the feed. Maybe Facebook should set it up as a separate site.
Update: Nov. 15
Both Google and Facebook are catching the “fake news” debate. Google can face criticism both over its ad network and its search engine algorithms. There was a snow flurry when apparently search engines showed that Trump had won the popular vote (which is not true).
Google has announced a policy preventing the display of Adsense on deceptive sites, which presumably includes fake news sites, as explained in this Wall Street Journal article Monday. The policy will prohibit the placement of ads on sites that “on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose”. I don’t see the policy yet on the Adsense page (as of Tuesday night at 9 PM EST) but it presumably can appear at any time. It would not seem to be directed at “amateur” sites per se.
Facebook’s stance seems more double-edged and is still evolving. I find different viewpoints online as of right now as to how serious it is about baiting readers with fake stuff.
Edward Snowden has discussed Facebook’s slow response to its click-baiting news feeds here.
Olivia Solon has a story on the Guardian that questions whether Facebook is serious about ending the click-baiting and exaggerations,here. It also presents a “Trust project” to help users flag fake news indicators and suggests companies treat fake news the way they do spam blogs. It’s not the same as defamation, but that’s another discussion. We’ll have to come back to this.