I tuned on to CNN early Saturday morning in time to see the confrontations and fights breaking out in Charlottesville near Emancipation Park. I saw coverage of the report that the “Unite the Right” rally would be canceled by police order. I went to see a film Saturday afternoon and did not learn of the vehicle attack, that had happened at about 1:30 PM, until about 5 PM, even after running into friends. So my perception of the gravity of what was going on changed throughout the day. Frankly, I had not been aware that such a large assembly of “white supremacists” could congregate. And, yes, this is domestic terrorism, from a right wing group(s).
I sometimes film demonstrations, without participating In them, which some people consider the “cowardly watcher” syndrome. But not this time. But had I gone, I could have been killed as easily (by chance) as they young paralegal woman who died. Generally, I do not like to be asked to join movements against specific enemy groups by name. (We get into Trump’s “on many sides” exit.)
My first reaction concerned the statute (of Robert E. Lee) itself. I’ve seen it, having visited gay pride celebrations in Charlottesville (most recently in September 2015). I would say, we can’t deny or hide history. We shouldn’t hide the Holocaust, or hide the Civil War. But, of course, no one would support a sculpture of Hitler for the sake of “history”. The Civil War generals fought on the wrong side. Yet, we accept the idea of a Lee mansion park run by the NPS in Arlington Cemetery. We accept the monuments in Richmond (or maybe we don’t). We’ve come to the point (begrudgingly) that states should not fly confederate flags on their properties.
It’s important, however, that we remember history, even if we have to be careful about what we commemorate. Think about how these ideas apply to the Vietnam war. Some people would rather not talk about some aspects of it at all, like the military draft, for fear that it could come back and divert attention from more immediate needs of “identity groups”.
I was not aware at first how connected the Charlottesville “event” had been organized by “white supremacists”, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and then the likes of David Duke and Richard Spencer (with various “alt-right” factions). My first impression of the counter protest that it was likely to be an example of a combative, militant left (“ANTIFA”) against a militant right (as at Milo Yiannopoulos’s events). This doesn’t seem to be true. My understanding that they were mostly non-violent protestors. But I may have gotten my first impression from seeing the fights live on CNN. Some counter protestors apparently did bring weapons. Personally, I ignore “white” identity politics the way I ignore the identity politics and intersectionality on the Left.
Now, there is the question that President Trump did not call out the right-wing groups by name and condemn their existence. Trump, as did his spokespersons, blamed violent behavior on both sides. That’s generally how I feel about something like this. Yet, I would condemn ISIS, as does the President. It seems that the president should publicly condemn the KKK – a different enemy, but one that wants to use force and intimidation. You should condemn groups not of partisan or religious affiliation but because of the tactics they want to use. Consider, however, what the Daily Stormer said (CNN, and NYTimes account), that Trump had given them an out. It’s also relevant that media has reported that many participants from the (alt-right) groups carried pepper spray and tried to use it on counter-demonstraters.
Coercion, from a combative group of any ideology, can become dangerous for almost any individual in a free society, even if by happenstance. Yet, in my mind, there is no honor in being remembered as a victim, something I’ll come back to later. And there is no honor in having one’s live expropriated, possibly because of one’s own questionable karma (regardless of who the enemy is), and being forced into somebody else’s “mass movement”. It seems that sometimes personal neutrality is not good enough.
There are reports on ABC that some people are being fired from jobs today for being identified as participating with the right wing groups.
This is a grave distraction from focus on North Korea.
People say I’m dangerous. I can make right-wing ideas seem reasonable, sensible, justifiable. I can keep someone like Donald Trump (that is “(t)Rump”)on point if I write his speeches for him and design his policies. I’m even called the Elder Milo.
If I were hired to help Donald Trump write his inauguration speech, or State if the Union address, or something composite of the two, here is what I would come up. Let me be the dangerous faggot #2.
Is America Great now? I think it is. Was it Great before? I’m glad that I didn’t make the personal sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, or serve in a segregated Army against a common enemy, or endure the racism suffocating in the 60s. I did catch the “homophobia of resentment”. But if we want America to be Great, here is what we have to keep in mind.
Area 1: We must protect, preserve and sustain our way of life, and build on it: Infrastructure.
That starts with national security. I personally believe what I thought when I was writing the notorious Chapter 4 of my DADT-1 book, that North Korea is our most dangerous enemy. The threats vary, from rogue states of extreme communism – the Cold War is not over – to the asymmetric actors of radical Islam. And some enemies want to treat ordinary citizens as combatants, as if they could target anyone and make an example of him. This sounds like what we associate with ISIS, but it is rhetoric I heard from some sectors of the extreme Left in the early 1970s when I was coming of age myself as a young adult.
In fact, I recognize that there is a significant subculture in our own country today, the prepper community, which believes that no civilization is permanent, and that every person has a responsibility to learn to survive on his own without technology in a decentralized, primitive environment. How these remarks will affect individual people, myself included, I will come back to. But it is clear that our dependence on technology is unprecedented, and it does make us vulnerable to sudden catastrophe. That is no longer a fantasy of the extreme right or alt-right.
But I want to counter with the idea that we can “work smart” We can do a lot more to protect and preserve our technological infrastructure. First, let me mention what we should be doing overseas: we should continue finding and securing all caches of nuclear material that may be lost around the world. We don’t hear much about this. But Sam Nunn and the Nuclear Threat Initiative are right. There are unusual materials that terrorists could get their hands on. We have to do much better at pursuing this. Now let me move to what we should do at home. Our power grids and other infrastructure systems are vulnerable. There is a lot more we need to start doing to protect them.
We need to make sure that our infrastructure grids are kept as separated from the public Internet and hackers as we keep the Pentagon and our own NSA. There simply should no way someone could get to a power station from this computer, period.
But we also have to be smarter about the way we manage power itself. I know this because much of my own family’s investment wealth, some of which I inherited, came from oil and gas and particularly utilities. I get to see oil and utility company materials. Shareholders put pressure on utilities to maximize profits from the ability to share loads quickly. But that capacity also makes us dependent on large transformers, which can be overloaded by deliberate sabotage. And we don’t make enough our own transformers at home. We can’t replace them. We can’t get them from overseas quickly or move them around. So we need both to move much of our infrastructure component manufacturing back home, and we need to build smaller stations and make individual nodes more self-reliant. This can be done with modern natural gas plants and even small underground fission plants, as Taylor Wilson has proposed. But this would take tremendous private and public investment.
The possible threats to the grids are multiple: extreme solar storms (we barely dodged one in 2012), cyberterror, physical attacks, and some kinds of nuclear and even non-nuclear flux detonations.
Note that fixing this problem adds well-paying, high-skilled jobs at home. It also favors cleaner technology. It even encourages people to have their own power sources, including solar panels, at home. This sounds like a win-win.
The dependability of infrastructure and utilities does affect the standard of living and the capability of less fortunate people to lift themselves up.
Area 2: Sustainability and climate change
Most religious heritages believe the people living today have a moral responsibility for future generations, at least what our kids and grandkids, considered collectively, will face as adults. The fact that human activity has added carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere and that ice caps are melting is undeniable.
But what is less clear is how many incidents today are directly the result of climate change. Tornadoes and hurricanes and extreme storms have happened in the distant past. The droughts and wildfires seem to be the most likely results of climate changes, as well as the loss of high latitude communities to warming, which is much more noticeable near polar areas than in temperate zones.
What also is not completely clear is how other forces will play out. While sudden escalations of warming are possible, as with methane release, so is sudden cooling, as with volcanic eruptions, or certain features of the way the Gulf Stream works.
But we must take the science on this problem seriously and not run from it.
Area 3: Sustainability and public health
We do face the possibility of novel pandemics. HIV-AIDS seemed unprecedented in its diabolical nature when it broke out in the 1980s, but we now know that it may have been here long before igniting. Today, however, the biggest threats come from conventionally contagious diseases, not from sexually transmitted ones. These include super-influenzas and respiratory diseases, and possibly exotic tropical blood disease like Ebola, and some of these might be insect-born.
The science tells us that vaccines work. We can be more active in staying ahead of the curve in developing vaccines for “bird flu” for example. We can protect college students from sudden and shocking amputations associated with meningitis with vaccines. We may eventually have a vaccine for HIV.
People continue to question whether they are placing their kids at theoretical risk of autism by giving them vaccines. The science tells us that this risk is extremely miniscule and theoretical if it exists at all. There are herd effects. If there is a risk at all, parents who refuse to “take the risk” are riding on the willingness of others to do so to maintain a population immunity to preventing any possibility of a pandemic breaking out.
Area 4: Trade
American consumers should not take advantage of products made with slave-labor overseas. In the long run, America will benefit if more products are made at home. In many circumstances, companies can be convinced to keep jobs here. Innovation is making it profitable to keep jobs at home.
At the same time, the sudden imposition of tariffs would be harmful to the economy. And particularly in Mexico and Central America, the growth of jobs there would tend to reduce the need for emigration to the US
But many of the terms of some proposed agreements, such as TPP, have terms that are potentially harmful to many American businesses, workers and entrepreneurs.
Area 5: Immigration
It is true that uncontrolled immigration presents some security problems for America. It is true that in some areas, the “Wall” or the “Fenway Park Green Monster” needs to be strengthened. But a Wall is not a fix-all for all our problems with jobs. Many studies show that as a whole, immigrants commit fewer crimes than domestics, and that immigrants add to the economy. Many immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want or couldn’t even do.
We have to be extremely careful about admitting people from some parts of the world. That is true. One question, when it comes to Syrian refugees, is why we don’t pressure the wealthy Muslim countries to do more of their parts in providing areas for them to move to. Dubai, Qatar, UAE, even Saudi Arabia, should step up to the plate.
Broad-based bans of certain religions or countries are not likely to be effective. In fact, some domestic attacks have come from people who have been here legally for a long time, or from their second-generation kids.
It is not reasonable to reverse all of the previous president’s policies. In fact, president Obama was aggressive with deportations of those with criminal records or who entered the country illegally and don’t have credible asylum claims. I would continue this policy. I think the adult kids covered under DACA should stay and be given paths to legal residency and citizenship as long as they don’t have criminal records.
Area 6: Health care and services:
An underlying problem with health care and other benefits is “moral hazard”. People will tend to use services that they can get other people to pay for. We can propose benefits and policies, such as paid workplace family leave, but we must consider how we will pay for them.
With health care, whatever one can say about escalating premiums and various breakdowns of Obamacare. It’s clear that to replace it we should solve two big problems: One is handling pre-existing conditions. There is no question that pre-existing condition create a tremendous anti-selection issue for privately run insurance companies. I think we have to admit that pre-existing condition need so be handled largely by public funds. The claims related to pre-existing conditions could be reimbursed through a private-public reinsurance agency. These reinsurance companies could be set up in each state, possibly managed by Blue plans. People will not have premiums jacked up for ordinary care to cover those with pre-existing illnesses. We could have a nasty debate, however, on what counts as pre-existing. Does something related to behavior – drug use, smoking, obesity, or STD, count as pre-existing? How we handle end stage renal disease (with Medicare today) could serve as a philosophical model.
The other (second) part of this health issue is covering people with low incomes, where tax credits aren’t useful. We need to continue Medicaid mechanisms to cover these, and probably do this through block grants to states (which is what the GOP always wants). (Writer’s note: my own work resume includes a lot of experience with Medicaid, Medicare, life insurance, and similar issues.)
When it comes to paid family leave, well, we must pay for it. I like the idea of small payroll deductions, which could be waived for lower income jobs. I like the idea that it is gender neutral: that new fathers get it as well as mothers, and that it covers adoption. That is the policy of most high-tech employers today. But it costs more to expand it beyond maternity leave. The deduction would make childless people stop and think, that they need to become involved in family and raising children at some point if they are going to use it otherwise they are paying for other people’s lives (moral hazard again). It’s pretty clear that responsibility for others doesn’t just stop with deciding to have the act that can produce a child.
Area 7: Identity politics.
I look at people as individuals, not as members of groups who get their rights by consideration of the special issues of their groups from the past. Of course, we have to be careful about monitoring police behavior, but we run the risk that nobody will want to become a police officer. We should use the facts, not mob emotion, in evaluating incidents. Every identity issue has its own special concerns. Most of these don’t have big impact on policy. But we need to have a proper understanding of the history behind all these issues. On LGBTQ rights, I think a lot of people in the past have seen this as (besides religion) a proxy for refusal to participate in procreation and raising another generation, and history has shown this perception to be largely misleading.
Area 8: Second amendment:
European countries have much stronger gun control than the United States, but this, while reducing local crime, may make them even more vulnerable to asymmetric terror cells who circumvent the laws. Gun control is a careful balance. Yes, we need to close the loopholes and tighten the background checks and police procedures with seized weapons. But in some situations, self-defense is a good skill to have.
Area 9: Service:
I did deal with the Vietnam era male-only military draft, serving 1968-1970, and with the socially divisive deferment system I’ve had to deal with the idea of my life as being a fungible bargaining chip for my country’s foreign policy, however well intended. The modern volunteer system sometimes seems like a backdoor draft, with the stop-loss policies during deployments. I think we have a moral issue in that we don’t share the risks of participating in a complex modern society equitably, and many of the risks are not very transparent. All of this figured into how I argued for the end of the military gay ban an “don’t ask don’t tell” over the years 1993-2011.
Talk of reinstating a draft did pop up after 9/11, but today we should ask, if we don’t want one, why do we need a Selective Service System and registration for young men?
Outside of the military armed forces and the Peace Corps, I have some doubts over how effective nationally run service can be, given the bureaucracy. Even the large private volunteer organizations need more transparency as to what people are getting into. But service does help communicate the idea that the playing field can become more level and more meaningful. But then it has to get personal.
Area 10: First Amendment
This gets to be an area that leads us to consider personal values and personal impact.
But first, let me mention one rather straightforward area in the speech area: tort reform. We need to reign in on frivolous lawsuits, which includes those filed by so-called “patent trolls”. For SLAPP suits, we should consider a federal law, and we should give judges the power to order “loser pays” to discourage abusive litigation intended to silence critics.
But a bigger problem, and one that is murky and seems ambiguous, comes from the permissive climate centered on user-generated content on the Internet. And this issue has grown in tandem with our dependence on technology as I mentioned at the outset.
The growth of user-generated content certain helps supplement the flow of news information and interpretation in a way that places all the nuances of current events on the table and forces politicians and leadership to think again before acting. But some material is intentionally deceptive or untruthful, and many people are unwilling or unable to process information that doesn’t already fit into their world views. Furthermore, many people have used the open Internet for harmful purposes. These include cyberbullying, terror recruiting, and even sex trafficking.
The modern Internet would not be possible without laws that limit service provider liability for what users post online, in a way that follows the way utility immunity from liability worked with traditional phone companies and mail. These laws include Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many people point out that service providers and social media companies, and certain online bulletin trading companies, become profitable from illicit and activity of their users, mainly from advertising-driven business models, and that out of general concerns for public safety, companies must take more responsibility for what they seem to be empowering their users to do. It’s also true that while some users and bloggers can make a living online, many more use the services as a form of ego-boost and sense of importance, and participate in a form of communication that shields them from unwelcome contact with people that would have been necessary in the past. In short, the Internet has enabled a kind of vanity self-publishing that eliminates the need to be aware of how one meets the needs of others or sells to others. But this sort of vanity publishing depends on a certain permissiveness that encourages the placing of other people in danger.
The courts have been very supportive of the enhanced free speech on the Internet and web, in litigation involving such laws as the Communications Decency Act, and later the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The courts have enforced Section 230 vigorously. But it is not completely clear that the right to self-distribute one’s speech without supervision or market accountability is as fundamental to the First Amendment as the freedom to keep the government out of meddling with the actual content of the speech itself. Self-distribution was not possible until the 1990s with the Web, and we lived without it before.
Given the seriousness of certain kinds of issues, like terrorism promotion and sex trafficking, the public is certainly going to demand that government look at regulating service providers and even users somewhat. We need to ask questions: how dependent on these downstream liability protections are companies like Google and Facebook in operating as they do now? We need to quantify this. Of course, we know, for example, that some of these services are not allowed at all in some authoritarian countries like China and user behavior is severely curtailed in more moderate countries like Turkey, so we know that this matters. On the other hand, these companies seem to do well in western Europe, where downstream liability protections are less pronounced than in the United States – they have to deal with, for example, “the right to be forgotten.” We need to ask whether some automated filtering tools can be effective. We know, for example, that digital watermarks for some child pornography images can be detected when they are stored or even before they are posted. We need to see whether a narrowly drawn limitation on liability protection is reasonable.
Candidate Trump had talked about living “locally” in an earlier speech, which I discussed here January 2. That seems to fit into the concerns over our dependence on globalization, technology, and loss of local community, too. Trump talks about our working “together“, based on local engagement first. But one needs to have some specifics laid out, or else it sounds like a call for unpredictable sacrifice and coercion.
(Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)