McCain’s recent comments makes one wonder if he favors resuming the military draft (for women, too?); even more so with Kelly

John McCain, starting a statement that at first would have accused Donald Trump (like Bill Clinton) of draft dodging, seemed to demur as he then criticized a system in the 1960s that allowed rich kids to get doctors to write them medical disqualifications, while poor people went. Dan Merica has a typical story on CNN.  At first glance, it may sound to male millennials or even younger men that different moral standards are applied to men of earlier generations than to them or to women.

Actually, there was a sequence of privileges that I outlined in the footnotes to my DADT-1 book, after 48b, where it says “Chapter 2 additional conclusion” and I supply a table.

For a while, during the Kennedy years, married men with children were protected, and then married men without children were protected until a single-male pool was exhausted.  The marriage and paternity deferments were ended under LBJ in 1965, but the student deferments, which figured so much into the course of my own life, continued until the lottery started in 1969.  In my case, deferemnt meant that I was much less likely to see combat or even go to Vietnam when I went in, in 1968.

It is well to look at statistics of Vietnam War deaths by race, and also by conscription status (War library; world history)

McCain blithely speaks of an obligation to be available to serve your country.  Of course, it sounds a lot more credible from him than Trump. But it’s always seemed like a contradiction to the idea of the “right to life”. For a while, men who did not consummate procreative sexual intercourse with women were more likely to be drafted.

The Supreme Court, in Rostker v. Golberg, had upheld the male-only Selective Service registration iin 1981, but recently there have been bills in Congress to require women to register, as in Israel.

The capacity to share risk and sacrifice was a major part of the moral climate when I was growing up. Cowardice was a real crime. If you evaded your share of the risk, someone else had to pick it up in your place. That certainly complicates the moral compass compared to the more linear idea of personal responsibility and harmlessness in libertarian thought in more recent times. It also complicates the meaning of marriage.

The deepest “meaning” might have had to do with community resilience.  Most men experienced the sense of shared duty to protect women and children, with some degree of fungibility or interchangeability. Some duties in life were very gender-based.  Milo Yiannopoulos said as much, that manhood included willingness to lay down one’s life for others, although I can’t find the best link right now, here’s a related one.  But spouses of men who came back from war maimed and disfigured were to be expected to remain interested in their partners for life – an expectation that my projection of fantasy life in my days at NIH attacked.

There are other ways men take risks – dangerous jobs of the Sebastian Junger viariety help men “pay their dues”.  Yes, women can do them sometimes, maybe most of the time.  But I didn’t see any women as hotshots in “Only the Brave”, about wildfire firefighters. All of this invokes the low-level hum of debate over national service.

McCain’s echo of the obligation to offer oneself to military service needs to be considered in light of his reluctance to support the end of “don’t ask don’t tell” at the end of 2010.  Yet today he seems to support the service of some transgender members, and he opposed Trump’s brusque attempt to re-impose a transgender ban on Twitter.  But I advanced arguments in my first DADT book that the possibility of future conscription (or even the “Stop-Loss” backdoor draft of the Iraq war) added to the moral urgency of ending the gay ban and DADT. Few writers tried to make this argument.  My staying in this way may (online with search engines, letting my content go to “It’s Free”) have helped with the repeal.

There is a way that people today take risks that weren’t expected in the past – that is, in going all out in very personal ways, like organ and bone marrow donations, to save lives.  That’s partly because medicine makes such outreach – using your own body components — possible as a new kind of sacrifice.  This gets personal and intimate in ways that were unknown when I was growing up.

The New York Times has a couple of impressive pieces on this topic. Michael Stewart Foley describes “The Moral Case for Draft Resistance” in the 1960s here.  Even more challenging may have been John Kelly’s ancillary statement about the ignorance of Americans who haven’t served in a NYTimes “editorial notebook” piece by Clyde Haberman, which argues for the return of the draft, or maybe some kind of national service (civilian service could recur into old age).  Remember how Charles Moskos had helped author “don’t ask don’t tell” but decided the whole ban should be lifted after 9/11 when he started arguing for return of the draft.

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017 at 4:45 PM EDT)

Trump’s transgender ban for the military by Twitter confounds Pentagon, compromises America’s credibility in the face of North Korean threats

Two mornings before North Korea fired an apparently successful parabolic missile test of its longest range device to date, President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender service members in the US military by a 3-part tweet, limited by the 140-character limit (until you embed).

Trump didn’t even “bother” to craft an Executive Order, maybe having been burned by the multiple travel bans.  Presumably he can do that, or he can give the Secretary of Defense Mattis direction to implement what he said in the tweet.

In fact, Mattis was apparently blindsided by the tweet, having expected to have until January 2018 to issue a report on the financial and practical issues about accepting transgender people into the military and possibly offering them sexual reassignment care during their military careers.  The Pentagon will take no action without formal action of some kind from the White House.

As a practical matter, it sounds, off hand, that the Pentagon could stop allowing people to enlist who say they are transgender, and could refuse to continue to pay for surgery.  But existing transgender personnel probably could stay in only if they did not start new treatment.  Even before Bill Clinton started the whole “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, there had been at least one case where a male-to-female enlisted person in Naval Intelligence had been honorably discharged, had surgery on her own, and (under Bush) been hired back into almost the same position as a civilian with the same security clearances.

There was no immediate talk that the measure indirectly threatened the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for (cis-gender) gay men and lesbians in the military.  In fact, the talk even from most Republican members of Congress now was that LGBT people (cis and trans), including John McCain (who had resisted the repeal at the end of 2010) should continue to serve without discrimination.

Previously Missouri congresswoman Vicki Hartzler had introduced a rider to ban transgender troops, claiming that they cost too much money (KCMO, Politco).  Rand (which had authored a huge volume on gays in the military in 1993 which I had used writing my first DADT book) had estimated the annual cost to be something between $2.4 million and $9 million, very small.  Various pundits referred to earlier writings, even by Mattis, critical of social experimentation in the military. That made me wonder in the back of my mind about the 2011 DADT repeal.

Arguments about military readiness and unit cohesion, and the compromised privacy of servicemembers who don’t have the same opportunity for double lives as civilians, have shifted over time.  Generally the military has been less concerned about it during times of real need, as the Army even quietly dropped asking about sexual orientation at draft exams as earlier as 1966.  “Asking” returned after the draft ended (although Selective Service continues, male-only and based on birth gender, although recent bills to require registration of women complicate the debate).  Then we all know “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Privacy and unit cohesion were touted as big issues in 1993 by Nunn and Moskos, but in actual practice (as the 1991 Persian Gulf War had already reinforced) these seemed to be non-issues for younger soldiers, and the same flexibility has included respect for transgender troops.  While in actual practice distraction of troops by diversity was minimal in an authoritarian command environment, socially conservative pundits have always made these “privacy” arguments, even for civilian fire departments back in the 1970s in response for proposals to end gay employment discrimination.

My own personal take is that one of the biggest reasons why discrimination by the military (outside of clear-cut fitness and medical issues and age) is a moral problem is that the rest of the world sometimes looks at all civilian citizens as potential combatants.  This goes back to my own experience with the military draft in the 1960s, when the ability to field a conventional ground force was possibly a strategic component of deterring nuclear war, part of the domino theory. Today the theory gets reinforced by the idea of asymmetric terrorism, as well as the fact that that Internet (and “online reputation” issues) have made double lives impossible.  But in historical perspective, it’s nothing new.  Consider the Battle of Britain, which followed Dunkirk (where civilians rescued soldiers) by a few weeks.

Transgender plastic surgeon Christine McGinn, who has experience as a Navy doctor, appeared on Smerconish today on CNN.

Did Trump simply play a cheap-shot to his base, which he has not been able to enlarge? In a less elite world, indeed there is a sense that gender conformity is needed to defend against external threats, as “common sense”, the way that phrase was used against me during my own Army Basic.  But in a modern world that can evolve into something new, it is not so simple.  Trump doesn’t want to move into the hypermodern world, and neither do a lot of other people, who would be left behind. Gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos had some harsh comments about trans in the military and women in combat, as quoted in another Washington Post article.

I’ll add as of this writing Trump expressed glee at the idea of “watching” Obamacare implode after the GOP failed to pass the Skinny Repeal.  “Watch.  Deal”.  And there are reports he wants to cut off some subsidies now.

There are also reports that new chief of staff Kelly will try to force Trump to stop using his personal Twitter account altogether.  That raises new questions of how he could wage war on the media.  So far (contradicting my early fears) he hasn’t disturbed the standalone bloggers.

(Posted: Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT)

Bloggers, press credentials, and “legitimacy”

Last week I went to a small demonstration about the lapsing of network neutrality on the Capitol grounds.  After all the speeches, Sen. Markin (D-MA) asked if there were questions, from the press (non-restrictive, I thought). But when I didn’t have a media company employing me (I said I was “independent”) I was “silenced”. Here is my legacy blog account of the incident.

Then, yesterday “it” happened again.  I got an email from a PR company about an opportunity to interview a particular transgender activist, who was going to speak in Washington at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.  I asked if I could just go to the meeting.  Apparently, only if I worked for a media company.  I got the impression the PR person wouldn’t have offered the interview had he realized I work solo.

In fact, I get a lot of emails asking if I would interview someone.  Some, but probably a minority, of them mention the possibility of articles on one of my legacy Blogger sites (like “Bill of GLBT Issues”) which obviously don’t come from a “professional news organization.” Most of these invitations are with persons with very narrowly focused niche issues (sometimes embedded in identity politics), or sometimes very specific products or services to sell (of the “self-help” variety), not of broadband interest, so I usually don’t try to follow up.  But what if I got an invitation to talk to someone involved in an issue I view as critical and underreported by the mainstream press, like power grid security?

One of the best links on this issue seems to come from NPPA, “The Voice of Visual Journalists”, which poses the blunt question “How do I obtain press credentials if I do not work for a newspaper or magazine or I am a freelancer?”

There is a US Press Association which appears to offer cards for a membership fee, and I’m not sure how well recognized it is by the industry.

Some videos suggest that “YouTubers” and Bloggers can get press passes for trade shows (like CES) if they are persistent enough.

But many other sources on the Web (for example, WikiHow) suggest that you need to work for someone, and get paid for what you do, at least with a contractual agreement if not an actual employee.   It would be a good question if you can work for your own company in this sense.  Maybe you would have to register your business with the state you live or work in, or show that it pays its own way with normal accounting.

Of course, it’s obvious that many events have to keep the audience small and limited because of space and security reasons (White House briefings).

On the other hand, many events (such as QA’s for newly released motion pictures at film festivals) are open to the public (buying tickets) and take questions from anyone.  Most of the video I present on my parallel “media reviews” blog (older than this one) come from this setup.

There’s a potential dark cloud down the road regarding the issue of press credentials or legitimacy (v. amateurism).  Imagine a world a few years from now where all network neutrality has been eliminated, and only the websites of “credentialed” organizations can be connected to ISP’s   Sounds like Russia or China, maybe.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has expressed a dislike of mainstream “liberal” media companies (CNN, most of the television broadcast networks, most of the big city newspapers), but respects only outlets like Fox, OANN, and maybe even Breitbart, maybe even Milo.  Maybe he actually respects me.

For the record, let me say that I am interested in working with news outlets on some critical issues.  I can’t give more details right now.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 11 AM)

People in “groups” need to pay heed to the outside world; we can lose it all

It’s important to keep up with the outside world.  Generally, throughout my adult life, I’ve often gotten feedback from some people who say they don’t need to get scary news from the political world from me (unless it’s about their own tiny bubble).

As I’ve noted here before, I don’t necessarily rush to elevate every victim in every marginalized group, including my own.   I have to agree with Peter Thiel, speaking at the DNC, that LGBTQ people have more pressing issues that bathroom bills – although I have to say that North Carolina’s recent HB2 “repeal”, under pressure from the NBA, is a bit of “bait and switch”, even in the language of Barbara Ehrenreich. In fact, major league sports have recently become the :GBTQ community’s ally out of self-interest.  Major League Baseball, for example, though it has very few if any openly gay players right now, knows it eventually will have them.  It is quite credible, for example, to imagine a transgender person as a relief pitcher or “closer” for a pennant winning team.  (And one wonders about big league sports and the rare cis females who happen to able to play.)

Over history, collective security for a country or a group is a big influence on respect for individual rights.  Whatever our internal squabble, a common enemy or peril can force us to come together.  We found that out suddenly after 9/11 (which I do think Al Gore would have prevented).

While Donald Trump has first stated that ISIS is our most dangerous enemy (because of its unusual asymmetry and targeting of civilians).  Trump has gotten a rude awakening (“foreign policy by ‘Whiplash’”, complete with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) from Assad’s chemical attack on his own people this week, and may suddenly realize how dangerous it is to remain bedfellows with Vladimir Putin.

it’s quickly becoming apparent that our most existential threat may indeed come from North Korea (whom we got a rude shock from in cyberspace over the  Seth Rogen and James Franco movie “The Interview”).  This morning, on p. A14 of the Washington Post, Anna Fifled has a frightening and detailed article, “Does North Korea have a missile that can hit the U.S.?  If not, it will”. Online the title is more blunt. “Will North Korea fire a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland?  Probably.”

The article goes into the technical challenges of actually directing a nuclear warhead thousands of miles.  But North Korea is making progress faster than we had thought.

The article does play down the satellite EMP risk discussed here earlier (March 6).  There’s a valid question as to whether NORAD would find and intercept such a missile (My classified computer programming job in 1971-1972 in the Washington Navy Yard was about just such capability. ) Fifield notes that it may be harder for US spy satellites to spot the missiles as they become mobile on the ground.  And a pre-emptive first strike against North Korea would invoke the obvious problem of making South Korea an instant target (as well as Japan).  This is no time for the president of the United States to have an adversarial relationship with his own intelligence services.

It’s also a time to ponder national resilience again, at a personal level.  I am not a member of the doomsday prepper crowd, although I have several Facebook friends who are.  There is something reassuring about being able to take care of yourself (with guns, and your family (with firearms if necessary), and property, in a world suddenly radically changed by “Revolution”. I can see how some people (mostly on the far right, to be sure) see this as a component of personal morality.

There is some debate as to whether DPRK can threaten all of the US (by Great Circle routes) or “only” Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast.  But imagine life with Silicon Valley and Tinseltown gone. (I’m reminded of the second “Red Dawn” film particularly, as well as “Testament“).  After Hurricane Katrina (and just before Sandy) there was some discussion of “radical hospitality”, as to whether ordinary homeowners with some extra space should prepare themselves to house strangers after a catastrophe.  The idea has obviously come up in Europe with the migrant crisis, less so in the US (but somewhat in Canada).  As I’ve noted here before, the idea can be tested with asylum seekers (and it hasn’t gotten very far yet).

I’d mention here that a bill to require women to register for Selective Service has passed he Senate, quietly.  A prepper friend posted this on Facebook.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT

Consider this recent piece in the April 11, 2017 of Time Magazine about loose radiocactive waste in the former USSR and possible terrorist “dirty bombs”.  Victims in an incident could be too “hot” to treat, and then there is real estate whose value goes to zero, a definite attack on the rentier class.  Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (with some recent articles about North Korea including charts and timetables) warned about all this in the 45-minute 2005 film “The Last Best Chance“.

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)

Outright issues press release for International Human Rights Day; Trump, Thiel (and North Carolina) on LGBT-“Q”

I did get a press release from Outright International, “On International Human Rights Day: Global LGBTIQ Activists Urge the Trump Administration to Uphold Human Rights for All”.

” LGBTIQ activists from Iraq, Lebanon, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Sweden, Thailand, and USA gathered at the office of OutRight Action International, formerly the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, in New York City, to discuss the impact of the incoming Trump Administration and urge the President-elect and his administration to maintain US commitment to protecting the human rights of LGBTIQ people globally.

“Under the Obama administration, the United States has shown unprecedented commitment to promoting the human rights of LGBTIQ people internationally, including by issuing a presidential memorandum to advancing LGBT human rights globally, creating the Global Equality Fund to financially support LGBTIQ rights internationally, and by appointing the first-ever Special Envoy for LGBTI Rights.

“Activists commented that support from US Embassies to LGBTIQ groups in countries often hostile towards LGBTIQ rights has been especially important to increasing visibility and understanding of human rights for vulnerable communities.

Amir Ashour, founder of Iraq’s only LGBT+ organization, IraQueer, said,

“In a country like Iraq where the State Department has provided help to LGBTIQ people, there is virtually nowhere else to turn for support. The US must sustain efforts on the international level and at the UN because it is often the only platform to advocate for country level change since it is almost impossible to do any advocacy inside Iraq.”

“Activists also highlighted that safeguarding LGBTIQ rights cannot be seen as an isolated issue and must be understood in broader human rights and democracy contexts.

“Rosanna Flamer-Caldera, of Equal Ground in Sri Lanka, commented,

“‘The leadership of the US in good governance practices and democratic principles has had influence on the political paradigm shift in Sri Lanka. President-elect Trump and his administration must maintain this leadership and safeguard the principles of democracy and human rights, especially for populations that are most vulnerable like LGBTIQ people who still face violence and discrimination everywhere.’

“Apart from improving LGBTIQ rights through bilateral relationships, activists also highlighted that the incoming administration must maintain ground at the international level, namely at the United Nations, where conservative pushback against LGBTIQ issues has also been increasing.

“The US has played a paramount role in shaping positive human rights developments at the UN. We, as a society, cannot afford to backtrack from this, and continued US commitment at the UN is key to sustaining this positive momentum,” commented Paisarn Likhitpreechakul, Board Member of FORSOGI organization, Thailand.

“While the activists voiced their concern about possible negative policies of the incoming administration they also expressed willingness and commitment to engage with the incoming administration, noting that collaboration is key in promoting a global human rights agenda which protects LGBTIQ people everywhere.

“Steve Letsike, Co-Chair of the South African National AIDS Council, said,

“’Working with the incoming US administration will not be any more difficult than what many of us already experience in our own regions. We are open and willing to work with the Trump Administration because there is a greater good and a greater goal in mind and that is to ensure equality and dignity for all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’

“The conversation concluded with a message by Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, who said,

“’I have hope and confidence in the American people to continue elevating and responding to the struggles of people beyond US borders and investing in protecting the lives of activists around the world. There is a framework of international solidarity in place, one that cannot be easily broken. We have stepped up into this brilliant, strong, and resilient global LGBTIQ movement and we will not move backwards.’

“Today, December 10, is International Human Rights Day which commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. OutSummit (www.outsummit.org) is a one-day conference on global LGBTIQ issues taking place in New York City today.

“Every day around the world, LGBTIQ people’s human rights and dignity are abused in ways that shock the conscience. The stories of their struggles and their resilience are astounding, yet remain unknown—or willfully ignored—by those with the power to make change. OutRight Action International, founded in 1990 as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, works alongside LGBTIQ people in the Global South, with offices in six countries, to help identify community-focused solutions to promote policy for lasting change. We vigilantly monitor and document human rights abuses to spur action when they occur. We train partners to expose abuses and advocate for themselves. Headquartered in New York City, OutRight is the only global LGBTIQ-specific organization with a permanent presence at the United Nations in New York that advocates for human rights progress for LGBTIQ people.”

Press contact:   Rashima Kwatra, rkwatra   at  outrightinternational.org, +1 (917) 859-7555

My own reaction:  Trump himself is no social conservative, and has a record of treating LGBT people well in his own companies and on “The Apprentice.”  There is no question that he would have hired an appropriate LGBT person show survived his “boardrooms”. But he has surrounded himself with some politicians who have a history of anti-gay statements, and Pence, back in 2000, actually wanted to divert money from AIDS funding to “conversion therapy”.  Have these people moderated with the times?  The Wall Street business types he appoints I’m not worried about; they’ll be OK.  Trump has also said that the biggest threat LGBT people face is foreign adversaries (especially radical Islam) with terror aimed at civilian “pseudo-combatants” in the U (the Pulse attack – and note the owner does not want to sell, but wants to remodel and re-open).  Peter Thiel, who has been “semi-openly gay” since 2007, had told the Republican convention that the nation face bigger problems that the bathroom bills.

But, Pat McCrory lost his governorship in North Carolina over the transgender issue (Mother Jones story), and, like Trump, is public whining over supposed voter fraud now.

(Posted: Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 9:15 AM EST)

Sharing economy, especially Airbnb, runs into a conundrum about discrimination

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The sharing economy is producing a new mini-conundrum.  While it sounds like a good thing for the planet that people might buy fewer cars and houses and be able to share them more with travelers, and while this may add to more social capital of sorts,  there is still a problem that companies that run these services, like Airbnb for lodging and Uber and Lyft for ride-hailing, are public accommodations.  So these companies can’t discriminate against members of protected classes (by race and religion), and probably, in the mind of modern public values, other “classes” of people who are beginning to enjoy much more  social and legal protection (sexual orientation and now gender identity). But how does “society” handle the prejudices of their intermediaries: individual hosts and drivers?

So now the media reports an incident where a host in Minneapolis (normally a blue city) turned down a lodger after the latter had stated she is transgender. Forbes has a typical story by Shelby Carpenter.minneap1

Curiously, the story did not come up on a Google search in the Minenapolis Star Tribune, but another local paper carried it.    The New York Times reports discrimination by Airbnb hosts    Benjamin Edelman at Harvard has a paper on “racial discrimination in a sharing economy”   and apparently “black-sounding names” can invite discrimination.

Airbnb’s statement about its mission to “bring people together” is interesting. It calls itself a “community”.  It’s all about “trust between real people”.

In normal “private” social arrangements, people have the absolute right to control who can stay in their property or use their vehicles.  They’re responsible for what happens (and I wonder how the auto and homeowner’s insurance companies handle this, probably with extra “business use” coverages and endorsements, but I’ll have to check into that later).  And the companies are providing social media and other profiles of both consumers and hosts to one another, for approval.  People build reputations both as providers and as consumers.

I have to say that this is something I’m not overly thrilled about.  With most people I know, I probably don’t have an arrangement that I am welcome to “stay” when I visit – although I have done this a few times.  I suspect that’s pretty typical of many of us, singles and families.  In those cases, I “know” the person(s) and the reputation from the real world,   I can’t say that I’m thrilled about using social media to mediate my experiences every time I travel.  No, I don’t necessarily “belong there” all the time  Usually, I’d rather have a private, well-serviced (Internet, etc) secure hotel room in a different city.

But, I’m more “fortunate”.  I can afford it.  A lot of people, especially younger adults with student debt, can’t.  So, for someone used to dorm and graduate rooming house culture (as Mark Zuckerberg himself once was), starting and using sharing services makes perfect sense.  So it seems there is a new balance to be struck on the discrimination problem.

Airbnb has a statement on is policy here.   It is quite simply worded, but it seems to place the responsibility for compliance with anti-discrimination on the hosts.

All of this seems counter to libertarian and laissez-faire values, that let property owners remain lords of what happens on their “lands”.  But it’s disturbing precisely because more sharing may have to become the norm of the future out of sustainability concerns.  The “sharing economy” in housing could feed well into helping out with homelessness and even the refugee crises.

Airbnb contracts have clauses not allowing class action suits, as Katie Benner of the New York Times explains.

CNN Money has an article by Heather Kelly explaining how Airbnb and similar operations can affect a local rental market adversely, while the companies say they help homeowners with their cash flow to pay steep mortgages and other debts. Sharing is a two-sided sword, another example of herd effects.

(Published: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 at 1:45 PM)

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Update: July 8

There is a lot of debate in the media about whether Airbnb lowers affordable housing stock, or whether homeowners need it to help pay mortgages (sometimes upsidedown).  New York, San Francisco, Austin, and many other cities have tried to regulate it.  Here is a National Review article by “Kevinnr” on June 26, 2016 about the situation in Austin.

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Update: Oct. 31

A group called the “Social Justice Law Collective” (in Florida?) has started suing homeowners in Washington DC and Florida (at least) for violating housing discrimination laws merely for suggesting (even with flexibility language) in ads that their homes might not be suitable for families with children because of possible safety hazards, as in this NBCWashington story today (aired Oct. 31 on the 11 PM news) by Tosha Thompson, Rick Yarborough, Jeff Piper and Steve Jones. The suits could be initiated even by “testers”, people who had never stayed in the homes, on a theory of “insult” that rather reminds me of campus speech codes.  This sounds like “trolling” and a gross abuse of the law and common sense. To a libertarian, that is.  NBC4 warns that when a homeowner puts out the home for rent, it becomes a public accommodation and he or she no longer “owns” the home.  I wondered, what if renting just a room (as I did one time in a widow’s house when on the road in 1970, when starting working.) And then there is a reverse argument.

Indeed, one can argue, a hotel has to rent to everyone and has to make its rooms safe enough for children, so should homeowners who offer rentals have to abide by the same standard?  Theoretically, if even “amateur” rentiers were not held to the standard, society would get even more hostile to families with children (in comparison to the childless), further driving down fertility.

Changing the subject a bit. I would wonder about any possible downstream liability for homeowners for renter misconduct, such as misuse of a cable broadband Internet connection for illegal purposes while renting.  Could someone rent just for that purpose?

The Fair Housing Act text is here and would seem to apply to all states as well as D.C.

These problems could apply to both Airbnb and Homeaway and any other such “sharing economy” companies (Homeaway link).

I would wonder about free “charitable” services like “Emergency BNB” for “housing refugees.”

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I do remember that when I moved from NYC to Dallas at the beginning of 1979, many garden apartment complexes in Dallas were for “adult living” and families with children often had a hard time finding affordable rentals, giving them more incentive to mortgage themselves into homes.  It’s easy to imagine potentially perverse housing market affects (even bubbles like 2007).  Maybe the lack of these laws in past decades helped encourage exurban spread and drove companies to suburbs.

Changing the subject a bit. I would wonder about any possible downstream liability for homeowners for renter misconduct, such as misuse of a cable broadband Internet connection for illegal purposes while renting.  Could someone rent just for that purpose?  Airbnb has insurance coverage for hosts (link) but it’s hard to say if something like this could be covered. NBC4 has a story on the issue here.

The idea of holding small home-based businesses to the same “public accommodation” standard expected of large (heavily franchised) companies could have ramifications in other areas.  Imagine if I, as a self-publisher, had to make copies of my books available in Braille or large-print.

Update: April 27, 2017 at 11 AM EDT (also, see comments)

Aaron C. Davis of the Washington Post reports in Washington D.C. Metro section about Washington D.C. housing regulations: “Proposal for Airbnb regulations debated“.  Of course, the claim is that when people buy condos or homes mainly to turn them into short term rentals, that drives up the cost of housing for everyone and reduces affordable housing for rent. I still say, it this is true, there is something else wrong with the way the housing market works.  Property owners alone are not responsible for the lack of affordable housing (or is this “rent seeking” behavior?) Some people depend on Airbnb to help pay the mortgage. I don’t use it myself.

Why “gays in the military” was and still can remain an “iceberg” of an issue

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“Gays in the military”, as an issue through most of the 1990s and 00’s, has receded largely from public attention, replaced by marriage equality and transgender issues.  There are practical reasons why specifics in human rights debates changes over time, and why pressure groups like “catch words”. But this was the issue that pivoted me into a second career as an author and then “just” a blogger.

Of course, everyone equates the issue with the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, whose repeal finally was made official in September 2011 (I was in the line at SLDN’s party on K Street) but that public equivalence is a bit misleading.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice had outlawed sodomy, Article 125, for decades (back to WWI, at least) and it’s technically still on the books (NBC article from 2013).  The individual services all had rules requiring discharges of servicemembers found to commit homosexual acts, even consensually off base with adult civilians, either by their own statements or credible evidence.  The services had asked about homosexuality upon entry as a “character and social adjustment” question. But during the Vietnam war, the Army started backing away from enforcement, not wanting homosexuality to become a way to get out of the draft. By 1966, the Army had stopped “asking” draftees about sexual orientation during physicals, so an unofficial DADT was practiced.  Just before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the Pentagon promulgated its notorious “Old Ban”, the 123 words starting with “homosexuality is incompatible with military service” (GAO link  ).  There was a sugar coating that discharges could normally be honorable, but could contain secret “SPN” codes.  Sometime in 1992, Dick Cheney, then Secretary of Defense, admitted that the policy had become an “old chestnut” based on myths and collective comfort.

Because the draft ended under Nixon in 1973, the gay community tended to remain largely indifferent to the ban.  For one thing, AIDS as a major preoccupation in the 1980s.  In the days before “equality”, the gay community tended to live a “separate but almost equal” existence in urban exile, tending to become focused on the internals of its own world as homosexuality gradually became more acceptable to the public.  A few cases, like that of UASF Tech Sergaent Leonard Matlovich, sometimes got public attention.  (Note: mandatory Selective Service registration for young men did not end, and that plays into the debate today on “slavery” for women, too.)

The scene changed abruptly in the early 1990s, after the spectacular Persian Gulf War pushed back Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and threat to the oil business in Saudi Arabia (which would become a controversial country regarding 9/11, but that’s another discussion).  In 1992, a few high profile servicemembers “came out”, including Petty Officer Keith Meinhold on ABC in 1992, and soon Navy flier Tracy Thorne.  Joseph Steffan’s book “Honor Bound”, detailing his ouster from the Naval Academy for “telling” just before he would have graduated third in his class from the Naval Academy in 1987, attracted attention (especially mine, after a major book-signing party at Lambda Rising).  In the 1990s, major anti-gay measures, such as a mean one in Oregon in 1992 and later Colorado’s Amendment 2, would fail; the tide was truly changing.  In this climate, candidate Bill Clinton promised to life the ban if elected.

On his second full day in office, the Clinton brought the topic up, and soon there was a vitriolic debate in Congress.  Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, a conservative Democrat (and very valuable for his contributions in controlling nuclear waste of the former Soviet Union) and Northwestern University Professor Charles Moskos, repeatedly brought up the fight over “privacy” in the barracks.  “They don’t go home at night like you and I do,” Nunn had said in a television interview just before the inauguration.

Never before had a topic quite this sensitive (in terms of forced intimacy) been debated in public before.  (Maybe that’s not quite 100% true.  In the 1970s, the New York Daily News objected to a gay anti-discrimination ordinance on the idea that in fire departments, men live together in firehouses, even the old one on 99 Wooster that was the HQ of GAANY!) The concept of “privacy” became comingled with a more subtle idea, “unit cohesion”, which I began to see was a proxy for a lot dynamics in civilian society, that is, socialization, which could explain why homosexuality had previously been a public taboo in civilian life as much as in uniform.  A significant part of the picture was the belief that the mere “presence” in an intimate environment of people (normally men) known to be gay could provide an indirect distraction for others. The issue would be debated repeatedly on major media, especially Ted Koppel’s “Nightline”, where Thorne (now a judge in Virginia) was invited to speak several times.  Keith Meinhold would lead a rally in Washington, and I would later sit near him at an HRC event at RFK Stadium (pre-Nationals) in April 2000.

My attention to the topic was drawn by a curious and ironic parallel with my own life.  I had been thrown out of William and Mary as a freshman in November 1961, partly out of concerns over “privacy: in dorm life that seemed to anticipate the debate that Nunn and Moskos had staged.  That concept overlapped into “cohesion”:  my “presence”, even with no overt behavior other than a little “scoping” (to borrow a term from “Smallville”)  could make heterosexual young men less secure about themselves later when it came to dating and marriage and even procreation, so it seemed (that seems to be Vladimir Putin’s idea in Russia today).  My reputation sundered, I would take the draft physical three times, moving from 4-F through 1-Y to 1-A, and finally get “drafted” after finishing graduate school in 1968. Many specific moments from my Basic Combat Training color my memory today and influence my writing, and they are in my books.  I may be the only person (besides J. D. Salinger) who went through this specific sequence of repeated physicals to finally get drafted.

My history with security clearance investigations for civilian jobs also figured into my concern.  I abandoned “defense” in 1972 when I left the Navy Department and went to Univac, to make this a non-issue.

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Bill Clinton would “compromise” with his famous July 19, 1993 speech at Fort McNair, where he would announce the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue” policy (and unfortunately, “don’t pursue” would get overlooked in the following years)  and speech text ).  Congress would codify the policy into law with the Defense Authorization Act in November 1993, which would begrudgingly admit that the services should not “ask” sexual orientation at entry.  The law reinforced a disturbing concept of “propensity” to commit homosexual acts when there was no evidence to prove they had taken place. The Pentagon would implement the policy in its own words with a policy document in February 1994, with a document softer in tone  as to what is “credible evidence” (“going to a gay bar is not a crime”).

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I’ve detailed my own entry into the debate, with my three books, and job transfer to avoid “conflict of interest”, a narrative filled with ironies and twists like any movie plot (hence my screenplay drafts). It would turn out that the day I attended a rally for the introduction of the bill that would repeal DADT, Dec. 10, 2010, would be the day my own mother went into hospice to pass away four days later.  She had lived long enough (97) to see me accomplish my mission.

I think of “don’t ask don’t tell”, or, more properly, the entire subject of the military ban, as an “iceberg” issue.  It directly affected relatively few people (but look at the discharges chart on the Wikipedia article)  but the issue considered matters normally very sensitive and personal (forced intimacy) in a way that seemed unprecedented, and connects to many other problems that affects to civilian life.  A few of these issues include conscription (where bills requiring women to register for the non-existent draft float in Congress ) , security clearances for civilians, and the past withdrawal of Pentagon funding for universities who denied access to military recruiters on campus over their own non-discrimination policies (Solomon Amendment).  Also was the idea that gays discharged from ROTC programs could be sued for recoupment.  The military had, in practice, become a major employment opportunity for lower income people (as well as a source for college and even medical school scholarships), a major force toward equality of opportunity otherwise.

The conscription issue had intersected with my own narrative.  I believed that if you told someone he or she was unfit to take part in defending the country or his community in time of dire need, you had an excuse to consider the person less than equal.  Sharing common risks had been a major idea in my own moral upbringing, and physical cowardice from men had been considered heinous (in a way that is largely forgotten today).

So had the security clearance problem become important.  Jimmy Carter had supposedly promised to work in the issue in a second term that he never won.  In practice, the security clearance problem gradually got better on its own, and particularly so during the first Bush presidency (during the Persian Gulf War), until Clinton signed an executive order in 1995 which official allowed open gays to serve anywhere in intelligence and defense as civilians (as we now have an openly gay Secretary of the Army). In my first screenplay, “Make the A-List”, I had envisioned a subplot where an closeted gay man in the Army has a relationship with an openly gay CIA analyst, leading to security compromise. At least I got to air this possibility before a screenwriting group in Minneapolis back in 2002.

I even wonder if the positions of Elena Kagan (CNN story), now a Supreme Court Justice, but a dean at Harvard in the fall of 2003, regarding military recruiters, could have entered the mind of Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore there, in the months before he came up with and launched Facebook (in early 2004).

It’s natural to ask if there is an analogy to the transgender issue today.  The Pentagon is very slowly making progress in figuring out how to accommodate transgender troops, who in a few individual cases seem capable of extraordinary achievement, especially in intelligence services.  (Chelsea Manning is the sad exception.) Consider “Lady Valor”.  The political climate associated with the “bathroom bills” does not help.  My own feeling is that it isn’t unreasonable to expect a transgender person to register her/his change on an official document as to how she/he lives.  But again, there is an iceberg effect, that a lot of discrimination exists underneath. And there is still a nagging question, is to just what society should expect of those who are “different” as they assimilate, when the problems are “real”.  In the case of the military ban, the problems of “privacy” and “unit cohesion” have not turned out, in practice, to be as pressing, with a younger generation, as Colin Powell or John McCain had expected.  Avianne Tan discusses the “iceberg” effect of transgender issues for ABC here.

I do have a concern that Donald Trump could reverse the gains in the military, on the theory that when dealing with enemies (like ISIS) we can’t afford the “distraction”, which would then imply that non-gender-role conformity does burden society if circumstances are serious enough.  Hopefully the influence of tech financier Peter Thiel, as a major Trump delegate but otherwise libertarian himself, would reverse this possibility.

Back in early 1993, Scott Peck, gay son of a Marine Corps general who had testified for keeping the ban, had a radio show on Sunday nights.  I sometimes called in.  Frank Kameny discussed the state of security clearances for civilians, which had been rapidly improving even under Bush (but it was not a “do it yourself” challenge).  And Peck interviewed a transgender former Naval NCO who had resigned the service before a sex change to female, but still had almost the same job as a civilian in Naval Intelligence, and was living as a “lesbian” rather than a heterosexual man.

A reading list would include Randy Shilts “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S, Military” (1993, 1994, St. Martins).

A viewing list would include HBO’s “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by Bailey and Barbato and Marc Wolf’s “Another American: Asking and Telling” based on his monologue stage play

(Published: Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)

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Update: July 25

Donald Trump’s idea that you could just “ask” if an immigrant passing the border practices Islam, says something about the whole idea of “don’t ask don’t tell” for anything.