Sort out the NFL protests on the flag and racism: libertarian views win out

OK, let’s lay things out in the whole problem of the player protests in the NFL and NBA over racism during the playing of the National Anthem at games.

First, I can’t imagine how kneeling (or locking arms) is disrespectful of the flag, or offensive.  At least personally.

The best information suggests that NFL and NBA owners seem so support the protests, and are not doing so out of fear of player “rebellion”.

Players do have a First Amendment right to protest when a national symbol is displayed as far as the government is concerned (including president Trump) but their employers have a legal right to constrain what they say on the job, and sometimes off the job in public mode if the speech can cause disruption to legitimate business interests (essentially “conflict of interest” in speech).

The NFL and its associated professional sports franchises are private businesses.  Same with MLB, NBA, NHL, soccer, etc.  They can regulate what players say on the job, or what they do on social media if behavior affects business.  But they don’t have to.  If the leagues and the owners want to single out the issue behind the protests (especially police racial profiling and BLM) they are free to do so.

Apparently, yesterday, the support for the protests in the NFL was overwhelming, including at the Washington Redskins’ game  (a 27-10 win)Sunday night (and this is ironic given the controversy over the team name and trademark as a potential slur against Native Americans).

In the past, however, the owners were not as supportive.  Consider the history if Colin Kaepernick.  This morning, Bob Costa said on CNN that Colin has said before that voting was useless because of the current power structure (reportedly he said that before the 2016 election).

I do have problems with a couple of areas.  One is if another group (BLM or anyone else) decides that its issue must be implemented in such a way that anyone else (like me, as an individual speaker an author) must somehow pay them homage to have a voice at all.  There are many examples of oppression, and I can’t say that one is always more demanding than another (Charlottesville and Trump’s “both sides” notwithstanding).    Along these lines, Juana Summers piece on CNN “It’s impossible for black athletes to leave politics off the field”.

Another is that I had my own issue back in the 1990s, where I had a potential “conflict of interest” over my planned speech on gays in the military when I was working for a company that served members of the military as a fraternal provider. I wound up transferring to Minneapolis (and having some of the best years of my own life).  There was a time when a family medical emergency (Mother’s surgery in 1999) might have forced me to come back, conceivably costing me my job as a result.  I did not have the right to “hide” behind “systematic oppression” as an out.  Fortunately, this worked out OK on its own.

President Trump was certainly out of line Saturday night in Huntsville AL when he “demanded” that NFL owners “fire” players for protesting.  The President doesn’t have the right to tell private businesses what protests to support or allow on the job.

Major league sports have come a long way in dealing with discrimination, particularly MLB with its various statements including sexual orientation.

But the NFL may have problems with its own treatment of players regarding head injuries (the recent revelations about Aaron Hernandez are among the worst).  Trump wanted to deny even football brain injuries (WSJ editorial).

I want to mention Margaret Sullivan’s Washington Post (Style section) article today about new state laws restricting protests that disrupt traffic or businesses.  She says that the kinds of protests that ended the Vietnam War (and the draft) might be illegal in many states (well, remember Kent State in 1970). We’ll have to come back to this.

I also want to mention Villasenor’s study for Brookings on attitudes toward free speech on campus.  Younger adults, without the same grounding in civics classes that my generation had, seem to gravitate to a more authoritarian concept of how speech works in society.  That is, the intended effect and likely actions on the listener or watcher matter (“implicit content”), as does the idea that words can be weaponized (even if by Russia on Facebook).

(Posted: Monday, September 25, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

After the Equifax breach, we need a policy solution for identity theft

While CNN Money has a pretty mainstream article of advice on the Equifax hack here, a supplementary article by David Goldman lays it on the line, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

The absolute worst might be being framed for a crime, like sex trafficking or child pornography.  In most circumstances that a novelist can imagine, it would still be pretty easy to prove that physically the culprit couldn’t have been “you”.  There are a variety of other outcomes, including job loss or denial or a mortage or lease. For millennials, the risk can extend for decades.  For seniors, it’s probably very minimal.

One comment that gets made by social conservatives particularly (and some libertarians) is that you are ultimately responsible for your own reputation, no matter what, because you live in a society that offers you the benefits of civilization.  I can remember an employer warning us about this in the late 1980s when we suddenly had to pass credit checks to keep our jobs.   I can remember that ten years ago there were prosecutors who looked at finding child pornography on a personal computer as an “strict  liability offense”, although since they they have accepted the idea that malware can put it there. This seems to be a very disturbing philosophy that transcends the plain meaning idea of the law normally, and that most of us cannot live with (especially those on the margins).

Maybe maintaining credit freezes would protect everyone, but it sounds pretty impractical in the long run.

So I think that in the identity theft idea, we need a new policy solution.  I had outlined an idea back in 2006 using “National Change of Address” at USPS, which I had worked on in Minneapolis on my own career back in 1998.

Now I would say, the credit reporting companies should develop the idea of a secondary social security number verifier, which a user can add to her file, and which could not have been hacked yet because it does not yet exist.   I would not be so comfortable with letting the Social Security administration run it. Get some security companies (not Kaspersky, in Russia) to help develop it.  It could be put into two-step verification required to pull a credit report, although it so it would need to be tied to sim cards and not just to phone numbers, which can also be stolen.

(Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 9:15 AM)

Firing of Google engineer for internal “manifesto” highlights problems with speech and the workplace, vs. “identity politics”

The recent “free speech” meltdown on the Google campus has a few angles to it that deserve exploring, and compare to some of my own past.

David Brooks, the moderate-to-conservative “moralizer” on how we can be good as individuals, called for the resignation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, after the dismissal of Google software engineer James Damore, 28, who distributed an internal “manifesto”   I enjoy reading Brooks, who for the most part is about where John McCain would be on a lot of issues and on how elected officials should behave.

Brooks points out that it is reasonable to discuss statistical genetic differences between identifiable groups of people (by gender, race, geographic origin, maybe sexual orientation) while maintaining that in employment (including the military) and public accommodations people should always be treated equally as individuals.  Well, practically always.  I don’t think a female could hit home runs the way Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge can.  But I do think that some day that Major League Baseball will have to deal with the controversy over having a (female-to-male)  transgender relief pitcher.  (And, by the way, professional sports leagues have to be totally with it on the idea that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity are all very different things.)

Before moving on from all this, I’ll add that my own youth (born 1943) created a world where conformity to binary gender roles was seen as essential to fitting into the group and carrying one’s own share of the common risks.  Later, individualism took over my life, and discrimination became less urgent personally. But when external coercion happens, it gets important to belong to the “larger group”, so smaller groups (even “intersectionality”) start to matter.

Yet, Pichai and the identity politics crowd apparently would hear none of Damore’s pedantic provocations, which made him seem aloof to the real world.  Somehow, even bringing up biological statistics invited enemies of various marginalized people in these groups.  We’re all the way back to the demonstrations against Milo Yioannopoulos and the whole ridiculous Leslie Jones fiasco.

Damore’s 10-page memo has been called an anti-diversity “screed”.  The language may seem tedious to some, analytical for others, or maybe a joke (I remember the Pentagon’s “123 words”  — “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” etc. by comparison, indeed the “mouthful of words” that Randy Shilts had so much fun with in “Conduct Unbecoming”).  His comment on empathy is interesting – people really do need emotion for “Staying Alive” (like John Travolta).  It’s also important to remember that biology relates to the likelihood of having kids and family responsibility, which Google has wisely tried to defuse by offering paid parental leave, regardless of gender. Vox published a “Big Idea” page that “ladysplain’s” the issue of sexism in the technology workplace.

It’s important to remember that this was an internal memo;  it was published online only after it became controversial.  I once got into some minor trouble at work in 1992 for sending a SYSM (a mainframe email program within a data center installation) criticizing others for copying software disks, possibly illegally (in the days with the Software Publishers Association was starting to audit companies for possible copyright and software license infringement). Indeed, some of the security and legal controversies today had their predecessors of the pre-Internet old mainframe world of the 70s through the 90s. Let me add that from 1972-1974 I worked for Sperry Univac (Unisys) which for its time was one of the most progressive companies in hiring female engineers.

What can be more troubling is when someone posts controversial material online on his own dime with his own social media account, blog, or hosted domain, and others find it through search engines.  I’ve already discussed how this played out with a fictitious screenplay I had posted when I was substitute teaching (July 19, 2016).   There was a situation in my IT career where I transferred to another location because of the possibility of a perceived public conflict over publishing my book involving gays in the military (May 30, 2016 link).

In the early 2000’s we saw human resources people write articles on proposed “blogging policies” at their companies.  I think when someone has direct reports or underwriting responsibilities, there is a real risk that if someone finds opinionated material online even written at home, a hostile workplace issue can come up.  I had written an article explaining this back in March 2000 as Google was starting to make me “famous”.

Here’s a story about a writing conference in Minneapolis canceled because of the “lack of diversity” of the presenters.   I lived there 1997-2003 and went to some events sponsored by the local National Writers Union.  I didn’t run into this then. Ditto for a screenwriting group.

The recent reports that Google canceled an employee town hall over external threats and targeting, are disturbing again and remind me of the unrest over campus appearances by Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray.

(Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 6 PM

James Damore has his own explanation in the Wall Street Journal of his firing here.

The New York Times has a detailed story today about how the internal memo gradually became more public involving internal tools called Memegen and Dory.  The “leak” appeared partly through Breitbart, which reports that WikiLeaks has offered Damore a job.

The Washington Post has an op-ed in Outlook Aug. 13 by Fredrik deBoer, “Corporations are cracking down on what employees say, even outside of work“.  He cites examples, like a stadium worker for criticizing the Philadelphia Eagles on Facebook, or a military contractor fired for publicly supporting Barack Obama. Digital technology has made second lives impossible.  This may have helped overturn “don’t ask don’t tell” but it can gradually erode the “right” of people to speak for themselves and send them running to organizations and lobbyists begging to be paid to speak for them.

The electronics “travel ban” (from a few overseas airports for now) begs big future questions about staying connected “on the road”, especially for small businesses

In late March, the United States and then the UK instituted a ban on most electronics (larger than a smart phone) in the cabins of direct flights from a number of airports in the Middle East and Africa, largely Muslim countries.  The UK list is slightly smaller than the US list.  So far, other western countries have not yet followed suit.

NBC News produced a story by Harriet Baskas March 22 on how travelers were irked here.  Obviously there could be issues about cancellations and trying to change to connecting flights in Europe.  I’ll come back to that.

Firday, March 31,  CNN produced (in a story by Evan Perez, Jodi Enda, and CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr) what it calls an exclusive story on the intelligence behind the travel ban.  The claim is that associates of Al Qaeda, largely in enclaves in Yemen, have developed ways to hide plastic explosives inside laptops, possibly in a DVD bay, in such a way that laptops would still start if travelers are challenged at airports.  There is concern that terrorists might have acquired prototype screening machines to test their devices.  Presumably these devices can be detonated only manually.  But theoretically, devices could be improvised that could be detonated by cell phones even if stored in cargo bays, if close enough to other similar devices.

DHS would obviously be concerned that terrorists could communicate in different parts of the world and spread this “expertise”.  Through the dark web, such information might become available to disaffected “lone wolf” or small cell groups in the U.S.,

Confounding the logic of the ban is the recent concern over the safety of lithium batteries in cargo. A few older laptops from the middle 2000s have caught fire, at least when charging, as happened with some teens in California recently.   But the concern for safely of lithium batteries in laptops is much less than for other devices, including some Samsung smart phones (some makes may not be brought onto planes) and hoverboards, which have caught fire in apartments and private homes while charging.

Also countermanding this picture are recent reports of research (as at Stanford) showing that aluminum based batteries may be safer than lithium and could be engineered to be acceptable replacements for many devices.

AC360, Anderson Cooper’s news analysis program, interviewed some experts on May 31,  Saturday, April 1, 2017. CNN interviewed Mary Schiavo, former Inspector General for the US Department of Transportation.  Later Robert Baer was interviewed.  Most of these guests expressed the obvious view that the Mideast cabin laptop ban begs the question as to whether it will be expanded, and could eventually become routine, even on domestic US flights.

DHS says that it has multiple layers of security, which includes the latest screening machines.  DHS apparently believed that airports in the affected countries did not have the same level of security.

Some observers have even claimed that the laptop bans were instituted out of Trump-style “protectionism”.

Business travelers generally need to carry their electronics with them and work on planes.  Owners of small businesses also would need to, as would “professional” journalists.

The worst case scenario would be sudden bans of all electronics on flights, even though in the West hundreds of millions of people fly with no intention of harming others.  This sounds like the “trojan horse” argument in the immigration debate, which Donald Trump has leveraged.

Tech companies could envisions solutions.  Until now, the TSA has always told air travelers not to check laptops and tablets, possibly because of the lithium issue, but largely because the devices are likely to be damaged.  It is possible to imagine sturdy (and explosion-proof) containers in which they could be packed, with the cases sold on Amazon or by stores like Best Buy.  It is possible to imagine expedited services to ship electronics for longer trips by UPS or FedEx to airport stores to be picked up on arrival, for use  after arriving.  There have been issues with bringing conventional photo film home on planes in the past, and I have mailed it home (just USPS)  before to get around the issue.

Frida Ghitis wrote on CNN about her experience with having to pack her laptop and other devices suddenly. CNBC reports that at least two Mideast airlines loaned passengers corporate laptops for inflight use, which works for passengers who have saved their data on memory sticks or in the Cloud.

Its also possible to envision a ground rental industry comparable to car rentals (maybe rented with cars).  But security for the devices would be a huge issue requiring innovation.  Right now the travel industry is not prepared to offer these services, because it has always assumed (since the late 1990s at least) that most travelers want to carry their own electronics.

Hotels do have business centers, which are generally inadequate with only one or two not very secure computers.  I use these only to print boarding passes before returning.

Back in the period between 1997 and up to 2006, after I had established my online sites (doaskdotell.com and the prior hppub.com) I sometimes traveled without electronics.  At the time, it was common for airports to require laptop startup (not always).  More recently, laptops in TSA-approved bags have not had to be started.  But in the early 2000’s there were more facilities in hotels or nearby Kinkos’ stores for checking email.  At that time, I often checked my sites to make sure they were up but did not try to update them online.  I did use my AOL email online.  I did this one on week-long trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas from Minnesota in 2000, probably checking email four times.  One hotel had Kinkos next door.  In Europe, in both 1999 and 2001, I carried a primitive cell phone, but no computers.  A hotel in Bilbao, Spain had a really large business center with very good response time and plenty of terminals.  I was able to find well run Internet cafes in London.  But I don’t know if I could find this level or service today.

Since taking up blogging at the start of 2006, I feel it is important to be able to update Blogger every day (almost), and WordPress blogs like this one somewhat less frequently.  Were I to receive a “complaint”, I need to be able to fix a problem when “on the road”.  (I don’t get the last at-bat, by analogy to baseball.)

My understanding that only “mobile” blogs on Blogger can be updated by phones (this may have changed, typical link). Mobile blogging on WordPress is possible (link).  I am not sure now whether these techniques could work with my setup now.  A small keyboard would help.  The last time I tried, Blogger could not be updated from an iPad without third party apps.  All of this I would need to check into later.

All of this could preview an environment where eventually web hosting companies could require third party contacts to update content in case of complaints and the owner could not be reached.  I’ve never heard this idea mentioned, but it sounds plausible.  (This would lead to discussion of the digital executor issue, which I’ve covered on my main legacy blog on Blogger).

Conventional social media (Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram) are much more easily used in a mobile-only environment without access to computing resources.   But these don’t serve the same self-publishing interests that true web hosting (including embedded Blogging) services.  I can also become relevant whether one is posting on a “free blog” or whether it is hosted (which right now, to my understanding, happens only with WordPress).

The ability to stay connected on the road is potentially very critical to the way I conduct my own business.  I will stay abreast of it and report.

(Posted: Saturday, April 1, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)

Update: Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 12 noon EDT

CNN has a report that more airports and countries may be added to the electronics ban, but expansion of the ban is not necessarily eminent.

Updated: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT

CBS reports that the TSA and DHS are considering adding all or most European and UK airports to the electronics ban.  The policy would seemingly affect only flights to the U.S.  It is not clear if it makes sense to put a lot of lithium batteries in checked luggage, and the policy would contradict previous TSA guidance that laptops are likely to be damaged in checked luggage.  Can proper containers be designed and sold?  Could users instead just ship laptops back home by FedEx, UPS (or ordinary mail)?  I used to do that with photographic film because it could not survive carry-on security machines.  Do we need to build an adequate computer rental (like car rental) business for travelers. at least for international?

 

Blogging: niche or general, sales-oriented or amateur; under Trump it seems to be thriving better than I had expected

I’ve become somewhat a fan of “BlogTyrant” (Ramsay Taplan, in Australia) even if I can hardly follow his advice.  My own online presence evolved over time, starting back in 1996, before I self-published my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book, so I’ve used the blogs and platforms to support my content rather than as an income-generating tool per se.  What started with a focus on one issue (gays in the U.S. military back in the 1990s and “don’t ask don’t tell”) enlarged concentrically to covering most public issues from a libertarian perspective.

One of his more interesting posts recently was “One Multi-Topic Blog vs. Multiple Blogs (each) with a Single Topic” (link).

I have twenty blogs right now, sixteen on Blogger and four on WordPress (chart).  I won’t go into detail right here over how these evolved (the first of these was set up in January 2006) from flat sites, but they are “journalistic” in intent — commentary, but not “sales oriented”.  I can say from a practical viewpoint, it’s easier to get some focus on a critical issue if the blog it is on is smaller and gets updated maybe about twice a week with new posts (that seems about right for getting immediate hits).

What I do agree with Ramsay on is that most “small business” or “individual” or “amateur” blogs that actually make money are single-topic or niche-oriented. (His own original niche was physical fitness.)

It would sound hard to make a living just blogging alone – although, judging from the Adsense and Blogger support forums, many people say that they do (especially overseas).  In fact, one problem that would happen on Blogger in the past (especially around 2008) would that people’s blogs would suddenly get removed as spam blogs (wrongfully).  This sounds less likely for blogs that are equated to purchased domain names (although you can’t get https yet on custom Blogger domains, largely because of the way SSL technology is tied to domain names).

It’s well to note also that Blogger and WordPress work differently in one main area.  With WordPress, you can purchase a shared hosting plan from one of many provides (Utah-based Bluehost in particularly “specialized” in working with Automattic, which owns WordPress), where copies of WordPress and various plugins are installed on your site.  That isn’t possible with Blogger (or other packages like Tumblr) as far as I know.  WordPress is a “higher end” product with more capabilities and tends to load slower and sometimes have some security vulnerabilities and instabilities (which are being worked on vigorously in recent releases).   Blogger is “simpler” and faster to use, but has less support (only the forums) – but it has been amazingly stable over the years, with only one day-long outage in May 2011. I say simpler – the dreaded “bx” codes aren’t very transparent (but in practice a lot of them just result from bad Internet connections).

WordPress hosts are working on providing “https everywhere.”  The general idea is that all accounts need to be subdomains of one account.

Let’s move back to the subject – niche blogging.  It works best for someone who already has a business that would be successful in the “real world” (of Shark Tank, so to speak).  Most successful small businesses (outside of branded retail franchises) meet relatively specific and narrow needs and interests, so Ramsay’s ideas of email lists will work (and will get around consumer squeamishness about spam and malware).  These are businesses and supporting blogs that are “for” some base of consumers or clients or stakeholders with narrow, specific needs or concerns.  In a sense, they are “partisan”, and they may need to admit to some hucksterism, or at least overt salesmanship.

I can think of a good niche not far from me.  I do play in USCF-rated chess tournaments.  If I were better at it, let’s say, playing at the International Master level (by FIDE) I could easily envision setting up a blog with opening analysis and endgames.  It would draw a large hits and make advertising money  easily. World Champion  Magnus Carlsen has a news site (here) and is quite likeable, but I don’t see an openings analysis blog.  (Actually, his playing style is to use unbooked openings like an early d3 in the Ruy Lopez and simply outplay his opponent – I guess if he had an openings blog, he could give away his competitive plans for future battles!  But he could still do a blog on endgames.)

But I can imagine, for example, a blog where the chess player refutes a line in a published opening book (which is static).  Here’s an example of what such a post could be like.

Of course, artists and authors can have their own blogs (that is, like I have 20, and “give too much away).  Libertarian author Mary Ruwart (the “Healing Our World” series) has a nice blog here.  But generally authors need to build up some reputation just for “selling books” (at least on Kindle, and preferably in the physical world) before their blogs are likely to have a lot of visitors.

But one area that musicians and authors can explore is education – bringing music and literature into the classroom for underprivileged kids.  Music education goes along well with improving mathematics skills.

It’s well to note how successful some mommy blogs have been — most of all, Heather Armstrong’s, which she launched in 2002 after she was “dooced” (fired) for what she had said online about her job. (Heather has trademarked her wordmark, for what has become an accepted English language verb.  Subsequent “imitation” mommy blogs by others have come under criticism for being “made up” to please readers and get easier ad revenue.)  In the 2000-2006 period, you heard a lot about the potential of employers needing “blogging policies”, which morphed into a whole industry protecting online reputation.  One subtle problem was that in the early days, search engines tended to index simpler sites (like mine), meaning that someone like me could develop a reputation as dangerous to be associated with, because he could talk about you later out of “journalistic” (or “alien anthropologist” motives) — hence we get to an evolution of the idea of “no spectators” (like in the film “Rebirth“).  Everyone must belong somewhere.

I wanted to note well my previous concern for “citizen journalism” under Donald Trump (Nov. 7). Donald Trump, as we know, continues his Twitter storms (his latest tweet was about noon Monday, today), quite inconsistent with his threats in December 2015 to “shut down” frivolous parts of the Internet.  He seems to trust amateur bloggers (or the “Fifth Estate”), including me, much more than he accepts the established press.  This is not the same as what happens in Russia and China, where “amateur” dissidents are pursued as if by chemotherapy.

(Posted: Monday, March 13, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

Trump may go mainstream on paid family leave debate and make it gender-neutral

There are a couple of wrinkles in the debate over workplace benefits, not only health insurance but paid sick leave and now paid family leave.  And many people are finding that their jobs, as independent contractors, offer no such benefits.

Lydia DePillis has a typical story in the Washington Post back in 2015. “She thought she was entitled to maternity leave.  After asking for it, she lost her job.” Many jobs in information technology are filled by staffing companies, where the employee is paid a “salary” with benefits from the staffing company.

Often there is some overtime (there is an hourly formula) and often there are per diems for travel.  But clients (very often state and local governments as well as the federal government) need the work to be done.  It’s much harder to make a practical case for paid family leave in this environment.  This is the job market I became familiar with throughout the 2000’s after my “layoff” at the end of 2001.

Today the Washington Post also has a story by Danielle Paqeutte reporting that Donald Trump may be considering the idea that parental leave should be gender neutral after all.  Previously, he had wanted to make only maternity leave mandatory, up to six weeks, paid for by unemployment benefits.  Now his advisers are more sensitive to gender discrimination and want to offer it to fathers, and conceivably to adoptive parents.  Paying for it may be more difficult.

I’m left personally with pondering the way that parenthood and having children became an “afterthought” in my own thinking.  That meant, for example, I was totally unprepared for the eldercare episode that would happen in my own life.  It’s really an important life activity, but the way we go about it, from a moral perspective, is disconnected from everything else.  Parenthood is a good way to become connected to meeting the “real needs of other people” in a more continuous manner.

(Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 10 AM)

Firing of transgender journalist over his personal posting about “objectivity” raises questions about personal online reputation in the media

Media columnist Margaret Sullivan reports a disturbing story in the Style Section of the Washington Post today, “How one reporter’s rejection of objectivity got him fired.”

The journalist is 32-year-old female-to-male transgender Lewis Wallace, who was fired ten days into the Trump presidency from Marketplace in Los Angeles.

Wallace was fired after a personal blog post “Objectivity is dead and I’m okay with it.”  He gives a further follow-up on his firing here.   The posts are on a site called “Medium”.  But a similar result would have happened were the platform WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or even a Facebook page.

Poytner (which offers courses in media and law and has worked with the media perils insurance issue in the past) weighs in on the larger problem with “Should journalists protest in Trump’s America?”  Poytner comes up with some scenarios, like a Muslim journalist is separated from his family by Trump’s sudden ban.  It’s pretty obvious how this can come up with LGBTQ people, as Wallace points out.

Sullivan, in her article, notes that “mainstream” media organizations generally forbid their employees from marching or carrying signs in demonstrations.  Some media companies, like the gay media (like the Washington Blade) would adjust their policies for their targeted readership and advertisers.

Now my own circumstances bear comment, and it’s best to work this problem inside out.  I am “retired”, and run my own media operations myself.  So, in a way, I can “do what I want.”  But I certain face criticism from many parties, as I have covered here before.  Some people wonder why my book and movie reviews aren’t more partial to their own struggles or previous hardships, and people do say that my tone is usually surprisingly “neutral”, even pedantic, as if I had no personal stake in their issues, when obviously (given my own past narrative) I do have such exposure.   So, people say, I actually should offer to keep my own “skin in the game” for being flayed or burned, as part of solidarity.  Sometimes this can degenerate into expecting people to take each other’s bullets.  One can say, my activity doesn’t carry its own weight.  It could be undermined in the future by Trump’s security concerns about social media in general, or if Section 230 is gutted or appealed.   I get criticized that I don’t help other people get and keep their jobs as much as I would have to if I really had to “sell”.  Then I could not afford the “pretense” of objectivity and would have to please a specific audience, and “help” real people.

For those who don’t know me, I consider myself tending toward the libertarian side of conservatism, supporting equality on social issues. but careful look at why people have the attitudes they do, strong on defense (pretty much a McCain-like Republican), and sensibly conservative on fiscal issues (like, the US must pay its bills and keep its promises). While I understand what is behind much of the anti-immigrant sentiment, were I in charge I would be much more cautious about consequences than the current president about how my policies actually would work out.

I do go to demonstrations and photograph them and film them.  But I generally don’t carry signs (although I did earlier in my life, in the 1970s, after “coming out”; I remember many late June gay pride marches).  Particularly from the radical Left, I am vulnerable to the flak, “What makes you too good to march with us?”  It’s very dangerous to pretend you are better than other people and don’t have to walk in their shoes sometimes (maybe permanently).

So, I can understand why some people (like Trump and Bannon) don’t like journalists.  Remember the little Netflix movie “Rebirth”?  We are the spectators, the kibitzers, who don’t play, who can criticize others but who don’t have to live with the consequences.  We are the Monday morning quarterbacks.  (But then, again, because we can’t pitch no-hitters, we don’t have hundred-million dollar contracts.)   We even may be the slightly Asperger-like or Spock-like “alien anthropologists” who set up social networking sites and do news aggregation to rule the world and claim this third planet from the Sun for ourselves.  (Is Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful man in the world anyway?)

To be fair, there is pure journalism (on-site news reporting) and there is commentary.  Usually they’re not supposed to mix too much, but on stations like CNN they do, where news analysts opine all the time.  The mainstream and liberal networks properly question the current president’s recklessness (which might be deliberate strategy to see what he can get away with), whereas Fox I guess is supportive.  But original reporting does have to pay heed to objectivity.  Remember how journalists like Brian Williams have gotten into trouble.

I actually would be interested in working with organizations ranging from Vox to OAN, but I would have to separate my coverage from my own personal narrative, which works because right now I control my own operation myself.

In a posting, here May 20, 2016, I had already linked to a long narrative of my own issue with “conflict of interest”, as is covered in Chapter 3 of my own DADT-III book, sections 2 and 3 here (PDF).   In the early 1990s, I was working for a life insurance company that specialized in sales to military officers.  Given my personal history and the political climate at the time (over Bill Clinton’s settling into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) I felt that my plans to write a book on the military ban and bring in a personal narrative could present its own kind of “conflict of interest”.  That became a major theme in my life in the 1990s, which continued in the 2000s when I worked as a substitute teacher, leading to another incident in 2005 documented in section 06 of the book excerpt.

I do believe that there are facts.  There can be alternative interpretation of fact, but “alternative fact” is an oxymoron.  Journalists do need to report all the facts (as the Cato Institute showed up with the statistics on crime committed by refugees in the U.S)

I think the problem comes in the slant or interpretation of facts.  Do we report on others as if they were free-standing individuals, or as if they were members of groups and inherit all kinds of advantages and disadvantages (including marginalization) based on their belonging to these groups?  And how do we deal with people in our own lives?  It does get personal.

(Posted: Thursday, February 2, 2017 at 5:15 PM EST)

“Moral Hazard”: some of us ask others to pay for our risks

“Moral hazard”, as an economic concept, really has little to do with everyday notions of “moral compass” or “deservedness”.  Rather, it refers to a situation where one party (often an individual person) uses more of a particular resource than he/she/it normally would because another party will pay for part of the cost, without that paying party’s direct knowledge or consent.

At the outset, however, the term seems related to our ideas about personal morality in the context of wealth and/or income inequality, because people often benefit from the unseen sacrifices (unelected costs) born by others.  Politically, the issue does get mixed into Marxist-related ideas about “to each according to his needs”, but also “from each according to his ability” must somehow be compelled.  It gets to be anti-libertarian.

The most obvious area where moral hazard will come up is in health insurance.  Some people will use more health care resources than others because they are inclined to be sicker.  Over a lifetime, age is less of an issue because we will all eventually die and all face increased risk of illness as we get older, so a “morally” appropriate strategy to deal with this problem can be imagined (whether Medicare achieves this is another debate).

Employer-based health insurance, as became common after WWII, tended to use moral hazard because some people in a company used it more than others.  The same is true when you try to regulate the individual market, and especially when you try to compel purchase of insurance, as with the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”).

As an economic principle, when someone with a pre-existing condition uses medical services covered by insurance (without any surcharges) then that person is leveraging moral hazard, whether or not the condition is strictly inherited (genetic), or whether it involves the person’s behavioral “choices”.  As a “moral” (in the other sense) matter, probably most Americans think that genetic pre-existing conditions (like Type 1 diabetes or many childhood cancers) should be covered by the public in some way.  I have suggested that any health care rewrite under a Trump presidency would envision setting un a reinsurance company (public and private) to pay the additional health care expenses attributable to pre-existing conditions, so this issue doesn’t affect ordinary peoples’ premiums (and help lead to the escalation reported in the news shortly before the 2016 presidential election, which may be a bigger reason for Hillary Clinton’s electoral college loss than “the Russians”, fake news, or Comey and email-gate).  But it most be noted that right now, that even with the premium increases, it seems that insurance companies are getting stiffed by the federal government on the pre-existing condition issue (story).

But it is likely that there would be political (and culture-based) disputes on how to cover illness or injury related to behaviors.  The list is long:  cigarette smoking, drug-use, obesity (to the extent that it is perceived as overeating), for openers.  The last two of these behaviors (at least) probably have genetic influences as well as personal choices (the “thrifty gene” in native peoples and obesity and Type II diabetes).  You could add sexual behaviors, such as the “chain-letter” problem in the male homosexual community and HIV.  That aspect is today Themuch less than it was in the 1980s and early 90s, but still, modern successful clinical management of HIV can with protease inhibitors can cost about $60000 a year, or maybe $3 million in the lifetime of a young adult male.  You can also add sporting behaviors that have general social approval, like playing football and concussion risks.

Then, there is gender.  In purely economic terms, gender is the ultimate pre-existing condition.  Women have childbirth expenses and men, literally do not.  Women live longer than men, and their eldercare is likely to cost more (although today custodial care in old age is not normally covered by Medicare but may be covered by long term care insurance, which women are more likely to “use” than men).  Within families, generally husband and wife regard pregnancy as a joint experience and cost.  But in a total insurance pool, childless people would contribute premiums to pay for “other people’s children” (“OPC”).

The next place where “moral hazard” comes into play is workplace benefits, especially the push for paid family leave.  I’ve noted before that it is more “egalitarian” to offer parental leave to both parents than only maternity leave (which is all Trump wants to offer).  Most tech companies offer parental.  It is even more “egalitarian” to include adoption leave, and eldercare leave for caring for parents.  All of this costs a lot (I like charging another insurance premium deduction and making it at least contributory, so workers have to understand what it going on – rather than making employers (or “shareholders”) foot the entire bill out of anti-capitalist sentiment).  A benefit that most workers would eventually use becomes less a “moral hazard” situation.  But part of the paid leave problem is that when someone is out, other workers often do their jobs (even being on call for production problems in the I.T. world) without any more pay, often incurring personal sacrifices and expenses themselves.  Obama has been trying to fix this with new rules about overtime pay for salaried workers, but Trump is likely to roll that back.  But in the worst situation, a single or childless person bears personally some of the cost for a married co-worker’s sexual passion (as in “the Song of Solomon”).

There are other examples of moral hazard, as in finance, with the “securitization” of so many financial instruments (like mortgages), leading to the hiding of downstream risks and unsustainabilities, contributing to the subprime mortgage meltdown and then the financial crisis in 2008.  The bailouts amounted to the processing of moral hazard.

Although not usually viewed in an economic sense, we can relate other issues, like past military conscription (and the deferment history) as “real” moral hazard.  Like it or not, one’s own life (and assets) become behind-the-back bargaining chips for politicians to play.  Likewise, calls for volunteer work often involve a spontaneity that resists examination of the serious risks one is called upon to take to benefit others, and this brings us around from traditional economics to social capital.

“Always Be Closing”: Sales culture is becoming a runaway train wreck for decent job creation

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Recently, I unplugged my telephone line from my digital voice router.  So right now, old landline robocalls get an answering machine, and I read the Xfinity log occasionally for messages.  About once a week, there’s an IRS scam message, among others.

I think the robocall epidemic is like a Runaway Train (like the 1985 movie, or the more recent “Unstoppable”).  Like email spam (and even some Twitter) it’s an end-stage symptom of sales culture imploding.

After recessions, we’ve had the mistaken impression that we can create jobs, especially for older workers (like me, after my career-ending layoff in December 2001 at 58) by having them sell stuff, especially leisure lifestyles, financial planning, life insurance, subprime mortgages, and so on.

One thing attractive for employers is, of course, is that most of the compensation can be commission, that is, production-related.

I was somewhat in favor of some of these ideas in the 1990s.  Sometimes, companies would pay associates for “piece work” instead of outright layoffs (an example was the Ohio company Lincoln Electric in the early 90s, during the post-Persian-Gulf-War mini recession that helped Bill Clinton get elected).  It’s true that the most successful artists or authors can earn their living this way, but it’s a winner-take-all (relative to niche) world.   Sometimes bloggers did the same, in specific areas, like Mommy blogger Heather Armstrong, starting in 2002, after she got fired by an employer who didn’t like what he saw on her personal blog.   A site that gives advice that may work for some bloggers is (Australia’s) Ramsay Taplin’s “Blogtyrant” (he started out as a physical fitness coach). But, again, this is all about niches, aggressive selling, in combination with content that actually helps relatively specific people.

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In 2002, an overwhelming portion of the “job opportunities” that came up quickly in Minneapolis (where I remained living until 2003) were sales-related.  One of the most striking was PrimeVest, which was predicated on contacting people with whole life policies to convert them to term.  That may be good advice for some people, but I doubt this is a $40 trillion market, as claimed.  I listened to the presentation, and wound up interviewing the interviewer myself, who became very defensive (he had set up a husband-wife team to run this little quasi-franchise as if it were Amway-like).  I could do that because I had a lot of knowledge of life insurance with my 12 years at ING (ReliaStar/Uslico). I wound up playing Donald Trump.   (By the way, when I happened to be home mid-afternoon for personal business 2 days after 9/11, which still at ING, I got my first unsolicited call from PrimeVest).

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In the good old days, life insurance agents sometimes had a nice world, with their convention qualifications.  But even then, it was an “aggressive business”, much more so than I had realized.  Agents had to keep after new business, setting up kiosks in shopping malls, for example.

I was approached by two life insurance companies, rather aggressively, to become an agent in 2005.  I went through some motions, but “declined”.  It seems that the ‘fast start” and “getting business” now has a lot to do with trailing consumer behavior online through tracking tools (for those who don’t use “do not track” correctly) and cold calling them.  No, this is not promising for me.

I would even be approached to sell subprime mortgages (in early 2007, just before the bust started), and to supervise “at risk youths” roaming shopping malls raising money for “charities” (in 2009).

My own father was a “salesman”, a manufacturer’s representative, for Imperial Glass, until 1971.  He claimed he could sell anything, but really he had a very stable business and worked only selling wholesale to department stores in the mid-Atlantic.  That sort of living isn’t possible today.  Mother helped him do the books by hand.  He did orders with a hand adding machine.

There is a snarky belief among “content creators” (including most “computer programmers”) that sales people aren’t “smart enough” to make it in really technical areas.   Of course, as any team from IBM or Univac in the 1970s (or from H Ross Perot’s old EDS, with its prudish dress codes) that’s rather condescending (although EDS used to send out memos to employees saying that dress codes were necessary to impress customers who didn’t really understand technology).  This maps to the old style conflict over “family values” and spills over into old divisions over race and “faith”.

True, there’s only so much room for 50-billion-dollar internet companies created in dorm rooms by Ivy League undergraduates (yes, Mark, you’re more convincing on SNL than Jessie Eisenberg playing you).  There’s more room for young scientists (who create “content”), like Jack Andraka or Taylor Wilson, but as for job creation that goes only so far.  I would rather have a self-concept derived from content creation than from “hucksterism”.  Yes, I have a couple of piano sonatas  I’d like performed and a sci-fi novel that I would like to groom so it can really sell.  I can admire the accomplishment of a composer Timo Andres, who at age 23 had composed the world’s largest (of “all time”) two-piano composition (“Shy and Mighty”), but indeed “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer” – and it takes commission money for income.

So, we come back to the world of weekend self-help promos (ranging from “feeling good about yourself” to something practical like “cash flow management’). We hear presentations on how to set up distributorships for telephone cards – for low income people who don’t have efficient Internet access – it sounds so predatory.

Donald Trump hasn’t gotten into any of this at all.  Hillary Clinton is more likely to talk about this problem this fall, I hope.

Remember the 2002 comedy film “100 Mile Rule” by Brent Huff, where salesmen were told to “Always Be Closing”, as the mantra.  I think of Trump University and the reports that sales people were pushed to get potential students to go into debt to attend, so they could learn “How to Get Rich”.  But to me, being a “salesman” sounds like a shameful identity,

Is this something to be gotten over?  Most of the calls and emails today are about “deals.  I’ve already mapped out my plans.  I don’t have time to listen to someone’s elevator pitch for a “deal”.  So I don’t respond to the calls, or emails (which could be spam and lead to malware or ransomware infections anyway).   Most SEO is probably no good – Google and other engines change their algorithms all the time to defeat it.  You can’t clean up your old Windows computer with a third-party product downloaded from a YouTube ad or from a thumb drive ordered from an 800 number.  Most of these sales pitches seem to come from sheer desperation, from people who have become unemployable and want Donald Trump to save them

So I don’t take these calls at all or open emails.  (Yup, I can tell when a headline mentions a warranty on a car I no longer own.)  Yet, I worked as a “telemarketer”, part time, for the Minnesota Orchestra in 2002-2003 for fourteen months, and that gave me some stability at the time.  I actually got pretty decent at raising money for music.  But then, after moving to DC, I tried selling subscriptions for the NSO, and that experience fell apart completely (details for another time).  But I found out that people who had majored in music (even like the character Shane Lyons in “Judas Kiss”, played with the charisma of Timo Descamps – the Other Timo) have to become salesmen and sell subscriptions to mass-market events (familiar classical or pop family events, never mind the esoteric modern stuff) to make ends meet and start careers more.  In that classic gay sci-fi film, “Danny” (Richard Harmon, “the greatest of all time”) is the only real and promising content creator among the major characters.

Does this mean we have to become more willing to answer the phone again?

(Published: Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 5 PM EDT)

 

Retail chains have policies forbidding employees to resist crime: is this a good idea?

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Many retail chains have employment policies requiring clerks to abstain from resisting robbery attempts at their premises.  Most will terminate employees who do so.  The policies have a lot to do with liability lawyers and insurance companies, who point out that a clerk who resists could put customers in jeopardy and other employees.

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There was an incident recently in Frederick, MD where a clerk was fired after successfully disarming a violent intruder, but then, because of popular support, reinstated.  Jeremy Arias has a story in a local newspaper (paywall).

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It’s a good question, too, how consumers should behave if encountering such a situation.  There was a spectacular incident in De Soto, TX, south of Dallas, where a consumer shot an armed robber (story by Tom Steele).  The government has generally refrained from issuing specific advice.  Maybe that’s a good thing, because of a consumer’s behavior is unpredictable (if he is a “good guy with a gun”) that might help act as a deterrent.  That’s also true about policies for employees.  There is a community, herd effect beyond a franchise owner’s understandable desire to avoid liability exposure. If some clerks are armed and able to protect the premises and unpredictably so, some criminals might be deferred from trying.  I think Ben Carson made that point in one of the early Republican debates.

Many minimum wage or low paying jobs expose workers to danger from crime.  Think about it.  What would it be like to deliver newspapers by car in the wee hours of the morning in bad neighborhoods.

I have my own  short fuse on this sort of thing.  One time I quit a “telemarketing” job in late 2003 after someone I called after 9 PM threatened to sue me personally – zero tolerance.  I have said that if I am caught in public in a hostage situation, my own life, as an individual cannot be bargained for against someone else’s (policy ).  But even that, if widespread, could open a door to some kinds of attacks.

I write this returning home from a mountain day trip, as Donald Trump finishes his dark-toned speech about law and order.

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(Published: Thursday, July 21, 2016, 11:55 PM EDT)