Scathing government report contradicts Trump on climate change, but that starts a whole discussion on media responsibility

Friday November 3, 2017 the USGCRP issued a scathing report (“Highlights of the Findings of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report“)  analyzing the runaway train effect of global climate change, and pinning the “blame” on human activities since the industrial revolution.  Of course, this publication goes against everything that Donald Trump has said to mollify his own base.

Vox has a detailed commentary by Umair Irfan, pretty standard for mainstream and progressive media companies.

And this brings me to my next big point. The mainstream media has done a pretty good job of presenting the case that we need to take climate change very seriously, particularly if we take our responsibility to future (unconceived as well as unborn) generations as a moral issue (Point 5 of “DADT IV”)

Trump has played the denial game to his base with shocking effect, most of all when he announced June 1 that he was pulling out of the Paris accords on the day I was looking at the recovery from wildfires in Shenandoah.

The more mainstream conservative media (Fox, OANN) have demurred a bit but still covered the bases.  Yet, we aren’t to the point that there is a bipartisan political will to face the problem with federal action, but there is obviously a lot incentive in private American hands.

On other issues that I view as “hidden in plain sight”, I could say that the major media have covered issues of fiscal sustainability (social security, population demographics, debt ceiling) with some consistency but again without the result of a political will to face the issue squarely, partly because the demographic component (longer life spans, fewer kids) seems so intractable.

So I come to the starkest issues that give me an incentive to “stay in the game” as a blogger.  Notable, it’s hard for me to “join the movement” for an “oppressed group” when I think there are big issues that could blow our entire civilization (and make my whole life’s Akashic record pretty irrelevant and forgettable). And the biggest of these is the stability of the three major US power grids.

Part of the controversy concerns whether there really exist relatively inexpensive fixes (like neutral ground circuits) that (for maybe $10 or so per American, that is, a few billion dollars) make the grid far more resistant to terrorist or enemy attacks (especially E3 level) as well as to big “Carrington” solar storms. I’ve read that utilities in Virginia and Maine in particular have a head start on this issue.

Another part of the controversy really concerns the likelihood that an enemy (most recently in view, North Korea, as well as radical Islam) could credibly carry out an EMP attack (which doesn’t necessarily have to be nuclear) instead of a conventional thermonuclear strike. Again, the mainstream press has demurred on this somewhat.

So part of my own personal mission is to try to encourage the mainstream press, maybe starting with some of the more conservative news companies (Fox, OANN, Sinclair – which has reported on this as reported on this blog already) to give the public an objective assessment on the problem.  Yes, I’m ready to get on planes and go interview people.

There are other problems that need this kind of approach.  One is filial responsibility laws, part of the whole population demographics problem mentioned above.  Another is, of course, the threats to our permissive atmosphere of user generated content on the web – ranging from Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) to fake news and enemy (especially by ISIS) recruitment, as just reported last night on AB 20-20 on a scathing report by Diane Sawyer (“ISIS in America”).

I have a particular take on the whole Russia fake-news and social media trolling thing. I have long been personally concerned that foreign enemies could target individual people (and those connected to these people, like family or business associates), such as what we saw from North Korea at the end of 2014 with the Sony Pictures hack.   What I did not see was that enemies would try to goad “oppressed minorities” (BLM) or reactionaries to these minorities (less educated white males connecting back to white supremacist groups) into forming movements and fighting each other internally.

Diane Sawyer’s report (just mentioned) makes the good point that the asymmetry of the Internet (and user-generated content) makes young men who feel “powerless” or “left behind” individually dangerous in a way we haven’t seen before.  That is part of the old inequality paradox: you need to accept inequality and ego to have innovation that benefits everyone, but then people need to somehow “pay their dues” or you get instability (the “Epilogue” or Chapter 6 of my DADT III book in 2014).

I write all this today by using other funds (some inherited, but mostly my own) to support my own news commentary activities.  At some point, I need to partner up with someone to tackle some of the bigger problems I mentioned here (no, I really want to do better things with my life than scream in demonstrations for mass movements, but even my saying that is provocative). It’s true I am a globalist and somewhat “elitist’ but I call myself conservative (but in the libertarian sense, not Trump-ian). But I wanted to note that billionaire Joe Ricketts just shut down some local news sites he owns because they couldn’t pay their own way.  His own WordPress blog post on unionization is interesting.

(Posted: Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Update: Friday, Nov. 10 (12 noon EST)

I have to note this article in Vox on the effect of “tribal elites” especially on the climate change debate.   Sorry, I really do try to investigate the world’s woes (like the power grid exposure) “hands separately”.  I could say, “tribalism is for losers”, ha ha. And I’d get executed or beheaded quickly and there would be no funeral.

Trump’s threat to media broadcast licenses, while silly and self-contradictory, shows the dangerous paradoxes of his populism

The media is indeed swooning at Trump’s latest supposed outrages, including his veiled threat to broadcast licenses after NBC supposedly reported his plans for increasing US nuclear supremacy.

Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter have a typical summary on CNN.

There’s a potpourri of obvious legal problems if Trump were to try to do this. The biggest is that it is owned stations that have licenses, not the networks.  I remember this from my own days working for NBC as a computer programmer in the 1970s. I was responsible for an accounting ledger for “owned and operated stations”.  I remember networks were allowed to own five. Often, individual stations are owned by one company and affiliated with a network, like WJLA is owned by Sinclair and affiliated with ABC.  Often the stations don’t follow the bidding of owners.  Sinclair is a “conservative” media company that has played up the power grid threats which I have reported here, but WJLA has toned down these reports, even though I’ve encouraged WJLA (which knows me) to take them seriously.

Another interesting point is that the president doesn’t have the full legal authority to order the FCC exactly what to do. Furthermore Trump’s appointment, Ajit Pai, has favored loosening and eliminating Obama’s network neutrality rules in a way that would benefit Comcast, which owns NBC.  Even so, loosening of network neutrality rules really hasn’t in big companies like Comcast trying to throttle smaller businesses and individual speakers from having fair treatment in access to self-broadcast on their telecom pipes (something that the “liberals” feared more than the gutting of Section 230 as a threat to user speech).

It’s ironic that, in his propagation of “the people” and populism, Trump really hasn’t gone after individual elites (like standalone bloggers) as much as he had certain big companies (mainstream liberal media) whom he can portray to the “people” as their enemies with fake news.  But, of course, it is the world of user-generated content that the Russians infected with their fake news barrage in order to divide the people further.  But Trump wants the people divided. He believes that it is the strongest tribes that survive, not the strongest individuals.  Yet, in Trump’s individual behavior, it’s obvious that Trump admires strong young adult individuals – look at who he hired on “The Apprentice”.  At a personal level, he probably does admire young scientists, young tech entreprenuers, and even young conservative journalists who would show him up.   More contradictions on the LGBT side: he seems to admire plenty of LGBT individuals, but attacks the intersectional politics of the LGBT activist establishment with all his appointments.

The mainstream media’s reaction to this latest flap over violating the first amendment (the freedom of the press standards apart from the more general freedom of speech in the First Amendment) has sometimes been a bit silly and hyperbolic.  Look at how the Washington Post (“Democracy dies in darkbess”) asks “can he really do that?” by dragging you into listening to an overlong podcast.  By now everybody has forgotten all about “opening up libel laws.” British style (as Kitty Kelly explains in 1997, truth doesn’t always defend against libel, especially if absolute truth no longer exists).

Trump’s latest action on health care (like with immigration) shows he is willing to let “ordinary people” become pawns as he makes his ideological points, which really do have some merit.  Yup, making health young people buy coverage they don’t need sets a bad example for other areas.  Yes, it may really be illegal for the Executive to continue premium and copay support for poor people until Congress does its job, does its math, and can explicitly authorize it (sounds like how he handles DACA).

And, yup, previous administrations may have appeased North Korea too much, and a “domino theory” that tends to enlist ordinary citizens as potential combatants may have some real merit (as I covered particularly in my first DADT book).  But all of this, right now, sets up a very dangerous situation, the most perilous for the safety of ordinary Americans since the Cuban Missile Crisis, even more so than 9/11.  If Trump really wants his zeal for populism to wind up with martial law (as one friend on FB suggests), or a “purification” (as another puts it), he might have his duel in the Sun.

I also wanted to point out Sean Illing’s compendium on Vox, “20 of America’s top political scientists gathered to discuss our democracy. They’re scared”.  One out of six Americans is OK with military rule (like in the Philippines — that’s like saying one out of six movies should be a horror movie).  Our society of individualism requires a talent for individualized abstraction.  That tends to leave out a lot of “average joes”.  But all of us find more meaning in power structures and “station in life” than is healthy for freedom.

(Posted: Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

 

Popular Mechanics discusses the EMP threat that could come from North Korea, with less startling conclusions

The mainstream media, so to speak, is starting to pay more attention to the possible electromagnetic pulse threat that North Korea could try, especially as retaliation for a US strike. Here is the source for an article today by David Hamburg of Popular Mechanics, which was shared by Resilient Societies.

The article gives somewhat different explanations of what the E1 and E3 pulses do.  The E1, it says. Might not harm cell phones or tablets or even laptops not plugged in, but probably many devices actually plugged in would be fired.  There is a real question as to how many transformers could be severely damaged by an E3 pulse. And apparently some states are looking at requiring utilities to install neutral ground blockers, but these are more expensive than some activists claims.

The article maintains that an EMP-intended weapon need not be as accurate as one intended to explode near the target and could be harder to shoot down at high altitude.  But it is not clear whether North Korea really has the ability to carry out this specific threat right now.

The article also links to a 2010 Oak Ridge National Laboratory report on the EMP threat and countermeasures.  I visited the facility in July 2013 and took the tour available at the time and asked some questions about this issue.

Back on September 4, 2001, one week before 9/11, Popular Mechanics had run a story on localized non-nuclear magnetic flux EMP weapons, which have remained relatively little known.

As the YouTube video included above shows, National Geographic had made a video on the EMP threat in 2013, and doesn’t seem to have been taken that seriously.  It may be a little over-hyped.

(Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

Puerto Rico power crisis: could other parts of the U.S. have a similar catastrophe from just “natural causes”?

Given the news about the expectation for very long term power outage in Puerto Rico (following Hurricanes Irma and especially now Maria), the Foundation fr Resilient Societies has circulated its testimony before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from June 17, 2017, as a pdf, link here.  Resilient Societies (or “ResilientGrid”) believes that similar catastrophes can cascade on the US mainland from “natural causes” as well as enemy attack or sabotage, especially with climate change.

There are some relevant stories in the regular and conservative media.  The Chicago Tribune, in a story by Steven Mufson, explains how the major power utility there was already bankrupt. Fox Business quotes the FEMA director as saying restoration will take six months.

The power company was using old technology (burning oil) and reflected the general financial problems for the territory.  It’s worth mentioning that these problems already had the potential to harm some retirees living off accumulated investments, if their portfolios had invested in the territory’s bonds or in other riskier overseas ventures.

Nevertheless, ResilientGrid (based in New Hampshire) believes that the dire forecast for the territory warns what could happen to a populated region of the continental United States, especially the Northeast, if a major failure were to occur.

While extreme solar storms or enemy E3-level EMP are mentioned as risks, especially on some conservative websites (given the current crisis over North Korea), the ResilientGold paper shows that more ordinary breakdowns could lead to self-reinforcing and cascading failures.  Once a failure has lasted more than a couple days, backup systems start to fail.  The paper mentions perverse incentives in some utility companies to cut corners on resilience.

The paper particularly emphasizes a failure 14 years ago, in August 2003, related to an incorrectly configured loop in Ohio.

I recall a day line power failure in New York City in July 1977, in lower Manhattan, when I lived on 11th St.  I worked on the 17th floor of a building om Wall Street at the time.  Elevators did not run, but I actually climbed the stairs once that day.  I was in good shape then.

Power in many areas of lower Manhattan, below 34th Street, were without power for a week after Hurricane Sandy because of a poorly located transformer, not high enough off water.

I also recall having no phone service for six weeks in 1975 in lower Manhattan after a telephone company building fire in lower Manhattan.

The devastation of Puerto Rico raises the question of my post Aug. 2, whether people hundreds of miles away should be prepared to host families if a whole area of the nation becomes uninhabitable for a while or even permanently.  This fortunately has not happened on a large scale with Harvey or Irma.  It did with Katrina.  In the future, how would the financial system handle real estate that suddenly has zero value?

Picture of power outage in Manhattan from Sandy, wiki.

(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 at 3:30 PM EDT)

Why are mainstream media outlets reluctant to discuss power grid security threats? (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell II”?)

Since 9/11, some national security observers, generally on conservative blogs and publications, have intermittently warned Americans that they could face catastrophic destruction of the power grid and of technological civilization though either extreme solar storms with the accompanying coronal mass ejections, or electromagnetic pulse’s generated by terrorists or rogue states, usually from high altitude nuclear detonations or certain other (non nuclear) magnetic flux weapons used by the US military now in deployments. In retrospect, it’s interesting to recall at Popular Mechanics story on the threat published one week before 9/11 in 2001.

Occasionally, conservative politicians and engineers have testified to Congress on the issue, most notably Newt Gingrich, who spoke about this in March, as I recall.  He also wrote a foreword to the 2009 novel “One Second After” by William Forstschen. Around 2012, the National Academy of Sciences and Oak Ridge National Laboratory both published sobering studies on these issues (my reviews). I actually visited ORNL in 2013.  It has also been reported that Earth had a narrow miss from a huge coronal mass ejection in July 2012.  PBS Frontline apparently covered these threats to the grids (in the US, there are three major power grids) with three brief reports.

The major media has not shown any consistency in willingness to report on this problem.  However, very recently a Fox station in Chicago reported bluntly on North Korea’s apparent threat to use an EMP weapon as a “gift” to the United States, shortly after DPRK had tested what some believe was a thermonuclear weapon (fusion hydrogen bomb), right while the US is dealing with major hurricanes.  As I look through the literature, I see sporadic reports in the past, including one piece in 2015 in the Wall Street Journal that seems to have anticipated North Korea’s progress with its missiles.  Another environmentally oriented article makes the interesting point that the use of solar energy would help decentralize power distribution and make the grid harder to attack.

The most emphatic statement on the problem may be Ted Koppel’s late 2015 book “Lights Out”, but Koppel, after exploring EMP, focuses most of his attention on cyberthreats.

Sinclair broadcasting in Baltimore created a couple of interviews on the problem in August 2016 and, along with Fox, sponsored a forum from a Green Bay WI studio; but owned-station WJLA, while advertising it, did not air it (on its own News Channel 8).  I covered that on this blog before.

Why has the media waffled in talking about this problem?  Is there some kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” policy to protect the stock market?  I can imagine the conspiracy theories.  But a couple points stand out.

One point is the fact that the most obvious threat, a high altitude H-bomb, has never been carried out, even though all reputable science supports the idea that the threat is real. (There were major problems in Hawaii in 1962 after an early H-bomb test.)  Such an event has been viewed as unthinkable, although North Korea’s recent bad behavior sounds very menacing indeed.  No one has said if it is technologically easier for an enemy to explode a nuclear device at high altitude than to aim it at a city and have it survive re-entry.

Another reason is that the media has been more focused on cyber threats, such as one carried out against Ukraine in 2014.  Now, the Pentagon’s core systems are unreachable to external hackers, so it’s fair to ask, should not the same thing hold for an electric utility?  Of course, an inside job saboteur is possible.  But I fear that there probably does exist a topologically connected Internet path from my computer to the grid, even though there should not be. (Yes, I studied topology in graduate school in the 1960s, before getting drafted.)

A more subtle reason for media reticence is that the threats to the gird from EMP and solar storms need to be understood as a threat to suddenly and increasingly technology-dependent civilization, perils which can actually be decomposed into separate components and individual threats (including cyber) which individually may be more likely.

The main components are E1, E2, and E3.  The E3 is the prolonged magnetic pulse which can overload and destroy transformers.  It occurs (in slightly different forms) with both extreme solar storms and thermonuclear fusion weapons.  Major utilities don’t talk about this very much (even to their shareholders), but recently some of them have made vague statements that they are working on installing technologies that would enable transformers to survive the overloads.  The Foundation for Resilient Societies has tweeted that the necessary changes would cost about $5 per American, or about $2 billion, which would sound affordable.

E2 is more like a lightning strike and is more easily defended.  But E1 is what fries modern consumer electronics and many newer car ignitions.  It appears that an E1 is possible from a very small fission nuclear device, or from some kinds of magnetic flux guns possessed by the US Army for grand war (like for disabling IUD’s).  E1 events might be created locally by a saboteur and have effect only in a small area.  The concerns expressed by James Woolsey about North Korea’s Shining Star satellite probably relate to an E1 device without E3.

I visited a Best Buy store today an asked a clerk about this. He admitted he had heard this question from other walk-in customers before, and recommended a DVD-R optical storage pack (about $25) and writer drive (about $25).  This is now recommended for personal storage (for example, documents, music if one composes, etc).  Modern USB thumb drives and solid state “hard drives’ are supposed to be able to resist ordinary magnets (and hopefully nearby electric transmission towers which would induce magnetic fields), but they would not survive actual E1 pulses.   I immediately made an optical backup of my most critical files when I got home, after installing the Cyberlink software from a DVD.

Cloud companies are supposed to maintain multiple copies of backups in different data centers around the U.S. for redundancy, which would provide reasonable protection against regional attacks. (A lot of these backup servers are in the North Carolina Piedmont, it seems.) But it’s a good question whether data centers could construct Faraday-like protections for the consumer data in their care.

Since 9/11, there has been a lot of attention to the possibility of terrorist or saboteur-introduced or built small nuclear weapons (as opposed to the rifle, car, and pressure cooker devices that have been used), or radioactivity dispersion devices (“dirty bombs”), which could destroy and make inhabitable a lot of real estate even if they didn’t kill people. These have not been used.  But it is well to remember that during the 1980s, there was some (not widely discussed) fear that rogue communist elements could carry out attacks, which contributed to the idea of developing a “civilian reservist force” which was sometimes discussed in Sunday newspapers (pre-Internet), at least in Texas. Communism was responsible for personalized terrorism in the 1970s (Patty Hearst), but radical Islam has caught the focus of such attention since 9/11.  Recently, we’ve had to recognize the “progress” of North Korea with its WMD’s, which seems shocking now but which older articles show had been expected.  Nevertheless, the Trump administration must seek the best intelligence and wisdom from it military and civilian sources and Congressional leadership in dealing with the challenges of what sounds like an unpredictable, combative and antagonistic regime in North Korea, which may quickly be able to wreak more havoc with American civilians than we would have believed even a few months ago. So the mainstream media needs to really do the extensive fact-checking on this issue and not behave as if it were “fake news”.  I’m willing to go to work on this myself.

This topic sounds like it deserves a presidential address to the nation, but it’s hard for me to imagine Donald Trump’s addressing this one publicly.  Maybe he’ll surprise us, and not just on Twitter, before it’s too late.

(Posted: Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)

Update: Friday, Sept. 8, 10 AM EDT

I found two very alarming opinions in the Washington Post this morning.  One is an editorial warning of cyberattack on the power grid, here. The piece discusses Dragonfly malware and spearfishing.

Another is an op-ed by a former (2002, Bush era) acting CIA director that North Korea can launch nuclear weapons on the United States now, here.  The piece seems aimed at discouraging Trump from initiating a pre-emptive strike now in response to more underground or missile tests.  But what it North Korea detonates a device over the Pacific and demands that the US withdraw completely from protecting South Korea?  The Domino Theory from my own days dealing with the draft in the Vietnam era suggests this can happen.  The most cynical interpretations of this idea could mean that China could want DPRK to attack (E3) so that China can walk in and take over the US!  Incidentally, it is well to remember that DPRK has every incentive to fire a missile test while the U.S. is preoccupied with its own natural disasters (like this weekend).

In all these discussions, the confidence in NORAD and “Star Wars” defense becomes very important as part of the deterrent.

Oddly, neither of these pieces talks about EMP.  It may be easier for an enemy to detonate a missile at high altitude than make it survive re-entry.  Has anyone looked at this idea?

The Boston Herald now has an article similar to Fox’s.

Related is the video review of mine.

“Stability” really matters, for people who already have capital (earned or inherited)

OK, I am “retired”, and I “depend” on past accumulated wealth, much earned but some inherited, to keep these blogs going because they don’t pay for themselves.  They don’t require much money (or Piketty-style capital) to run in the grand scheme of things, but they depend on stable infrastructure, security, and stable economic and personal circumstances for me.

Yes, stability.  And judging from the “outside world” events of recent weeks, it doesn’t sound like something I can count on as much as I have.

For most of my adult working life, I was very much in command of the possibility for my own mistakes to undo me and possibly end my stable I.T. career (as with bad elevations into production).

But early in my life I was forced to be much more aware of eternal demands by the community I was brought in.  Gender conformity had to do with that.  Then came the military draft and Vietnam.  There was an expectation of eventually having a family even if running a gauntlet that could expose me to some personal fair share of community hazards.  This had much more to do with my own “mental health” problems in the age 19-21 range than I probably realized (including a brush with nihilism in 1964).

It is true, of course, that my employment could be affected by outside business events like mergers and takeovers, but in my case these actually worked out in my favor.  And earlier in my work life I was concerned about staying near a large city (New York) where it would be easier for me to “come out”;  the energy crisis was actually a threat to my mobility, as was potentially NYC’s “drop dead” financial meltdown when I was (finally) living there.

So it is, in retirement.  If you have accumulated wealth, you want the world to be stable so you don’t have to watch your back, and face sudden expropriation because of political deterioration (maybe combined with a natural catastrophe).  You want to believe if you pay your bills, make good choices, and play by the “rules” you will be OK.  And you find people knocking for attention your life, and you have to deal with the knowledge that they didn’t have the situational stability that “you” did.

It’s possible to find one’s life suddenly becomes a political bargaining chip. For example, Congress could try to means-test Social Security recipients (even current one) as part of its debt (and debt ceiling) issue.

I have to say I do have a gut reaction from “extremists”, whether associated with Communism (North Korea) or radical Islam, who make threats that sound personal, as if they saw someone like me as a personal enemy.  I do understand the racial contact, that some people will take statements (hate speech) made on the alt-right that way, also. But combativeness has become a problem that I had not anticipated throughout most of my working life.

It is true, also, that the most extreme scenarios from foreign enemies could reduce me personally to nothing.  The conservative Weekly Standard, after 9/11, liked to use the term, being “brought low” because of the resentment of others.  In the North Korean threat, there are many nuances.  The right wing talks about EMP, and the major media refuses to mention it.  It could become a real threat, but my own probing of the utility world suggests it is making some progress in making transformers less vulnerable (to “E3” threats, also posed by extreme solar storms).  (The power companies won’t say exactly what they are doing, for good security reasons.)  Personal electronics, cars, and data can face threats from a different mechanism (“E1”) which actually might be easier for an enemy (including retaliation by the DPRK) to pull off.  This is a developing topic that the major media just doesn’t want to cover yet (outside of cyberwar, which is better known, as with the psychological warfare implications of the Sony hack).

I have to say, too, that for one’s life to come to an end out of political expropriation or violence is particularly ugly.  I was privileged enough to avoid Vietnam combat, and I was “safe” enough not to get HIV, which previously could have been the most dangerous threats I faced.  I was economically stable for my entire work career, which sometime after 9/11.  I did have some family cushion.

The basic reaction from most people is to “belong” to something bigger than the self.  I think all this relates to “the afterlife” and I won’t get into that further right here. In retirement, I’ve had to deal with constant reminders of how narrow my capacity for personal intimacy can be, even if it can be intense in the right circumstances.  Yes, now I have to throw the “psychological defenses” (Rosenfels) to maintain my personal independence and stop being dragged into the causes as others.  Solidarity alone seems rather alien to me, even if I can’t count on affording that kind of attitude forever.

Again, as to the “belonging” idea, throughout history, individuals have suffered because of the actions of their leadership.  In Biblical times, it was considered morally appropriate that all members of a tribe be punished together for “disobedience” (to “Jehovah”).  In modern times, it’s the “everybody gets detention for the sins of one in middle school” problem,

I want to reemphasize my intention so see all my own media initiatives through.  That includes getting a novel out in early 2018, trying to market a screenplay, getting some of my music (written over 50 years, some of it embedded in two big sonatas) performed.  The best chance to make some of this pay for itself would be to get some (perhaps conservative) news outlets interested in some of my blog content, especially in undercovered areas (power grid security, filial responsibility laws, downstream liability protections in online speech scenarios including copyright, defamation, and implicit content (which can include criminal misuse like trafficking).  The intention is to help solve problems in non-partisan manners away from the bundled demands common with “identity politics”.

I tend not to respond to demands for mass “solidarity” with so many other causes, and I usually am not willing to “pimp” someone else’s causes as my own.  But I realize I could be riding on partially unearned privilege, which can become dangerous.  Indeed, having inherited wealth subsumes a responsibility to address needs as they arise;  to ignore them would be tantamount to stealing. I tend to think that helping others is easier if you are in a relationship or have had kids (that became an issue when I was working as a substitute teacher).  I think there can be situations where one has to be prepared to accept others as dependents and “play family” (and this often happens in estate and inheritance situations anyway, although it did not specifically in my own situation). We saw this idea in films like “Raising Helen” and in the TV series “Summerland”.

I’ll mention that it looks like I’m selling the estate house and moving out in October. That would remove the hosting opportunities for now; but, after downsizing, it could make other volunteering much easier and even open up the possibility of volunteer travel (although I need to stay “connected” at all times when traveling as it is now).

I have to add that taking on dependents grates against complacency. It means more willingness to sell other people’s messages rather than on sticking to your own.  Our culture has developed a certain split personality: resistance to sales people or middlemen and to being contacted by cold calls (the robocall and cold call problem), yet an expectation of voluntary personal generosity and inclusivity online.

The sudden announcement of the intended termination of DACA is a good example of how instability affects those less fortunate. Although I really believe Congress will fix it in the required six months, today “dreamers” would have to deal with employers or schools who are uncertain as to what their legal status might be in less than a year.

(Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017, at 7 PM EDT)

Who “gets to be recognized” as a legitimate “journalist”?

So, who gets to call the self a journalist?

The recent queasiness in Congress and the FCC about matters like Section 230 and network neutrality bring this question back.  Yes, I’ve talked about the controversies over “citizen journalism” before, like the day before the Election on November 8, 2016.  And recently (July 19) I encountered a little dispute about access requiring “press credentials”.

The nausea that President Donald Trump says the “media” gives him seems to be directed at mainstream, larger news organizations with center-liberal bias – that is, most big city newspapers, and most broadcast networks, and especially CNN – he calls them all purveyors of “fake news” as if that were smut.  More acceptable are the “conservative” Fox and OANN.  Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos (with his own new site) seem to be in the perpetual twilight of a tidally locked planet.  Perhaps I am in the same space;  Trump doesn’t seem to have the same antipathy (or hostility) to “independent” or “citizen” journalists (which I had feared he would when he said he didn’t trust computers), but a lot of other people do.

I digress for a moment. Coincidentally has set up his “Trump News Channel” on Facebook (Washington Post story) but the URL for it reverts to “Dropcatch”, with Twitter won’t even allow as a link as supposed spam.

The basic bone politicians and some business people pick with journalists is that “they” spectate, speculate and criticize, but don’t have to play, like right out of the script of the Netflix thriller “Rebirth”.  Politicians, hucksters, sales professionals, and perhaps many legitimate business professionals, and heads of families – all of them have accountabilities to real people, whether customers or family members.  They have to go to bat for others.  They have to manipulate others and concern themselves with the size of their “basis”.  Journalists can do this only through double lives.

I could make the analogy to kibitzing a chess game, rather than committing yourself to 5 hours of concentration in rated game.  (Yes, in the position below, Black’s sacrifice hasn’t worked.)

But, of course, we know that renowned journalists have paid their dues, most of all in conflict journalism. Sebastian Junger broke his leg working as an arborist before writing “The Perfect Storm”. Bob Woodruff has a plate in his skull but recovered completely after being wounded in Iraq. Military services actually have their own journalists and public affairs.  Young American University journalism graduate Trey Yingst helped found News2share before becoming a White House correspondent, but had done assignments in Ukraine, Gaza, Rwanda, Uganda, Ferguson, and was actually pinned down at night during the Baltimore riots in April 2015.

That brings us back to the work of small-fry, like me, where “blogger journalism” has become the second career, pretty much zoning out other possible opportunities which would have required direct salesmanship of “somebody else’s ideas” (“We give you the words”), or much more ability to provide for specific people (maybe students) in directly interpersonal ways.

Besides supporting my books, what I generally do with these blogs is re-report what seem like critical general-interest news stories in order to “connect the dots” among them.  Sometimes, I add my own footage and observations when possible, as with a recent visit to fire-damaged Gatlinburg.  With demonstrations (against Trump, about climate change, for LGBT) I tend to walk for a while with some of them but mainly film and report (especially when the issue is narrower, such as with Black Lives Matter).  I generally don’t venture into dangerous areas (I visited Baltimore Sandtown in 2015 in the day time).

I generally don’t respond to very narrow petitions for emergency opposition to bills that hurt some narrow interest group.  What I want to do is encourage real problem solving.  Rather than join in “solidarity” to keep Congress from “repealing” Obamacare by itself, I want to focus on the solutions (subsidies, reinsurance, the proper perspective on federalism, etc).  But I also want to focus attention on bigger problems, many of them having to do with “shared responsibility” or “herd immunity” concepts, that don’t get very consistent attention from mainstream media (although conservative sites do more on these matters).  These include filial responsibility, the tricky business of reducing downstream liability issue on the Web (the Section230 issue, on the previous post, where I said Backpage can make us all stay for detention), risks taken by those offering hosting to immigrants (refugees and asylum seekers), and particularly national security issues like the shifting of risk from asymmetric terror back to rogue states (North Korea), and most of all, infrastructure security, especially our three major electric power grids.

My interest in book self-publication and citizen journalism had started in the 1990s with “gays in the military”, linking back to my own narrative, and then expanded gradually to other issues about “shared risks” as well as more traditional ideas about discrimination.  I had come into this “second career” gradually from a more circumscribed world as an individual contributor in mainframe information technology. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” had suddenly become a particularly rich issue in what it could lead to in other areas.  So, yes, I personally feel that, even as an older gay man, the LGBTQ world has more to worry about than bathroom bills (Pulse).  I think the world we have gotten used to could indeed be dialed back by indignation-born “purification” (as a friend calls it) if we don’t get our act together on some things (like the power grid issue).  But I don’t believe we should have to all become doomsday preppers either.  We should solve these problems.

A critical component of journalism is objectivity and presentation of Truth, as best Truth can be determined. Call it impartiality. You often hear Trump supporters say that, whatever Trump’s crudeness and ethical problems, what Trump promotes helps them and particularly family members who depend on them.  Of course many journalists have families without compromising their work. But this observation seems particularly relevant to me.  I don’t have my own children largely because I didn’t engage in the desires or the behaviors than result in having that responsibility.  I can “afford” to remain somewhat emotionally aloof from a lot of immediate needs.

In fact, I’ve sometimes had to field the retort from some people that, while some of the news out there may be dire, I don’t need to be the person they hear it from.  I could be putting a target on my own back and on others around me.  Indeed, some people act as if they believe that everything happens within a context of social hierarchy and coercion.

My own “model” for entering the news world has two aspects that seem to make it vulnerable to future policy choices (like those involving 230 or maybe net neutrality). One of them is that it doesn’t pay its own way.  I use money from other sources, both what I earned and invested and somewhat what I inherited (which arguably could be deployed as someone else’s safety net, or which could support dependents, maybe asylum seekers if we had a system more like Canada’s for dealing with that issue).  That means, it cannot be underwritten if it had to be insured, for example.  I can rebut this argument, or course, by saying, well, what did you want me to do, get paid to write fake news?  That could support a family.  (No, I really never believed the Comet Ping Pong stuff, but the gunman who did believe it an attack it claimed he was an “independent journalist.”  I do wonder how supermarket tabloids have avoided defamation claims even in all the years before the Internet – because nobody believed them?  Some people obviously do.)   No, they say. we want you to use the background that supported you as a computer programmer for decades and pimp our insurance products. (“We give you the words,” again.)  Indeed, my withdrawal from the traditional world where people do things through sales middlemen makes it harder for those who have to sell for a living.

The other aspect is that of subsumed risk.  I can take advantage of a permissive climate toward self-distribution of content, which many Internet speakers and small businesses take for granted, but which can be seriously and suddenly undermined by policy, for the “common good” under the ideology of “shared responsibility”.  I won’t reiterate here the way someone could try to bargain with me over this personally – that could make an interesting short film experiment. Yes, there can be court challenges, but the issues litigated with CDA and COPA don’t reliably predict how the First Amendment applies when talking about distribution of speech rather than its content, especially with a new literalist like Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

A lot of “Trader Joe” type people would say, there should be some external validation of news before it is published.   Of course, that idea feeds the purposes of authoritarian rules, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, or perhaps Donald Trump.  But we could see that kind of environment someday if we don’t watch out.

(Posted: Monday, August 7, 2017 at 4 PM EDT)

We need to be prepared, as a nation, to house people quickly after catastrophes

I can remember, even living in Arlington having returned to look after Mother, the shock in that late August morning of 2005 learning when I got up that Hurricane Katrina had been much worse than expected.

I would volunteer some time at the Red Cross in nearby Falls Church (mixing the shifts with substitute teaching at the time) finding with many callers there was very little we could do but tell them to wait hours on the line for FEMA.

Over time, a few hundred people settled temporarily in the DC area.  Many more settled in Texas, and I believe that in some cases families, or especially individuals, were housed in private homes.  I at least wondered if we could be asked to do this.  I’ve entertained this kind of emergency before (May 18, 2016).

The Sunday before Hurricane Sandy (which came inland on a Monday night in late October 2012) the pastor at an Arlington VA church gave a sermon on “radical hospitality”. Fortunately, there was little damage in this area from the storm.

I’ve also documented on this blog some of the issues with hosting asylum seekers, which I have suspended as I consider moving (no more details right now).

And I’ve noted the somewhat informal private hosting website “Emergency BNB”. And the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb, many people, especially younger adults, may be used to the idea of keeping their homes ready to be shared, which is not something that would have been very practical for me during most of my own adult life. Younger adults may be less interested in collecting possessions that could be put at risk from a security perspective. Music and film could be stored in the Cloud.

Younger adults living in “earthy” neighborhoods (like New York City’s East Village) or in certain rural areas, even in collectives or intentional communities, and used to social interdependence, may be more willing to share their spaces with less attention to personal, material or legal liability risks.  Many do not have an economically realistic choice, beyond building on common social capital, as Rick Santorum or Charles Murray would describe the idea.

Along these lines, then, I wonder again about emergency housing in the context of disaster or catastrophe preparedness.  I see I took this up Sept. 22, 2016 (before the Trump election) in conjunction with preparedness month.

A few of my friends on Facebook do indeed come from the doomsday prepper crowd, and it rather alarms me how much they are into it.  A sizable number of people do not believe you can count of civilization to last forever.  They see personal self-reliance in a rural home as a moral prerequisite to participating in a world that goes beyond the immediate surroundings. Indeed, ever since 9/11, we have been warned that at some point, whole generations of people may have to rebuild the world from scratch, as in NBC’s series “Revolution” which predicates a bizarre kind of EMP event.  I say I would have nothing to offer such a world at 74,

We could indeed face a grave threat to personal security in the homeland even in 2018.  War with North Korea might be impossible to avoid, and at least a couple small nuclear strikes on the US homeland might be impossible to prevent.  As a matter of policy, what happens to the people who survive but lose everything?  Insurance doesn’t cover war (whether it covers terrorism is controversial).  Will the government indemnify them?  (It more or less did a lot of this after 9/11.)  Or will we depend on the volunteerism of “GoFundMe”? which to me has sounded self-indulgent and tacky sometimes.

It does seem that we need some kind of “national discussion” or town-hall on this.  Would seniors aging alone in oversized homes be able to take people in?  Would we expect that?  Well, we really don’t do that now with our own homeless.

Any North Korean domestic nuclear strike would probably involve a small low-yield nuclear weapon. If you look at charts like this one, you see that the number of casualties and total property damage in a city might be less than one expects.  The radiation damage is another matter.  But one can imagine calls for people in distant states to house and take in the “victims” as they may never have an uncontaminated habitable home neighborhood to return to (even with Katrina that did not hold).  It is appropriate to consider how effective the manufactured housing industry can be (with Katrina the result was not that good).

Again, another issue is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse, which would damage all electronics in a very wide region.  Have Silicon Valley companies protected their infrastructure from this sort of thing?  One day we could find most of the Internet (and “GoFundMe”) gone forever if they haven’t.  There is very little written about this.

Nobody likes talk like this to be “thinkable”.  But the preppers have a moral point.  Resilient and prepared people are less inviting targets for an otherwise determined enemy.  Maybe that’s what “America first” means.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

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)

North Korea is changing the state of play

My own perception of the greatest external threats to “my world” seems fickle and to change over time, sometimes suddenly.

When I was writing and editing my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book in the mid 1990s (July 11, 2011 will be the 20th anniversary of publication) and building my arguments about how to lift the ban on gays in the military, I perceived another war in Korea as the most likely threat.  At the time, I was not really aware of the potentially grave threat to the homeland that radical Islam (then in the form of Al Qaeda) could pose, as 9/11 was still several years out.  I had been aware of the economic consequences of oil embargos since the 1970s, but that threat had receded with the oil gluts of the late 80s (with a real estate recession in Texas, where I had been living).

Indeed, until 9/11, I still believed Communism, or post-Communism (which North Korea exemplifies, although with a bizarre royal history) the biggest threat.  And, indeed, where the biggest threat within Communism lay had changed with time.  I remember a day at the Reception Station in US Army Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson SC in early 1968 where soldiers were saying it was much safer to go to Korea than to Vietnam.  At that time, it was.  It would not be now, as Korea is a flash point (with the whole of South Korea held hostage), whereas Vietnam is a more or less acceptable country. (I wouldn’t move there, but Anthony Bourdain had a good time there on his “Parts Unknown”.)  And although the Vietnam War got discredited with time, in the middle 1960s the “Domino Theory” to which President Johnson subscribed (and which Nixon had to solve by a fractured “peace with honor”) seemed credible enough to many of us, leading to the 1965 documentary “The War Game”.  Much of the argumentation in my first book regarding the military gay ban (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) referred back to earlier controversies over the male-only military draft and the possibility of “getting out of things” (as my own mother’s moral language put it) with student deferments.  It turned out, over time, that this unusual argument would be more effective than many people (who had forgotten the draft) expected  Discussions of resuming the draft (partly at the instigation of Charles Moskos) ignited again after 9/11.  They still go on, with a recent proposal to include women in Selective Service registration.

How serious is the threat to “average Americans”?  I’ve put together a few links in mainstream sources that analyze the risks and policy choices.

A few general observations are in order. One is that there is still some residual controversy over whether the July 4 test represented a true ICBM or an intermediate range device. But the best intelligence suggests that the missile comprised two stages, with the upper stage a new design.  ICBM’s have two to four stages.  Another observation is that North Korea is making much faster progress with missile technology than had been expected even a yea ago.  Still, DPRK would face tremendous challenges guiding a missile all the way to the continental US (as Tom Foreman has explained on CNN). And the DPRK does have nuclear weapons, but miniaturizing them to fit on ICBM’s will still be a major feat.  Still, the acceleration of DPRK’s progress is alarming.  It sounds conceivable that an ICBM nuclear threat to the US west coast could exist as early as 2019.  It’s not clear from media reports (and from classification of information) just how effective NORAD would be at stopping a missile, although there have been successful defensive tests recently.

In the meantime, North Korea can hold civilians in South Korea and even Japan hostage with its current weaponry.

North Korea’s motive is said to provide a deterrent from American attempts to upend the regime of Kim Song Un, who (like his father) is well aware of what happened to Qadaffi and Saddam Hussein.  Fox News may well call North Korea a mob state (“mobocracy”) that will do anything to survive as a mob family. But Un seems particularly sensitive to personal insults (as is Donald Trump, ironically).  There is evidence of the DPRK’s engagement of computer hackers (sending its own prime to school for this) even to punish western private companies like Sony Pictures (“The Interview”).  Could this extend to western private citizens?  Could he throw a tantrum and release a missile over an insult, despite his desire to “survive” obvious retaliation?

There is still another disturbing wrinkle.  Wednesday night, July 5, former CIA director James Woolsey appeared on Don Lemon’s show on CNN at 10 PM EDT and reiterated his claim that North Korea can launch an EMP attack against the US now from a satellite and has been able to do so since 2013.  Woolsey said that Trump is naïve about the real threat at that the ICBM issue really is superfluous.   I had covered this grim possibility in a posting here March 7.  Many other authorities consider this claim largely discredited, however.

Anthony Cordesman, however, this morning suggested on CNN that Trump could consider a limited military strike including an EMP attack on North Korea (which does not require nuclear weapons for more local effects).  But if North Korea has EMP attack capabilities from a satellite now, wouldn’t that invite an EMP attack on the U.S., as catastrophic retaliation (“One Second After”).  DPRK could even retaliate this way to a private insult (the Warmbier tragedy is indeed a dire warning).  I have no idea whether NORAD can disable or remove a hostile foreign satellite.

Of course, all of this brings up the question of civilian disaster preparedness and even “radical hospitality”.  I see a lot of material from doomsday preppers on Facebook all the time, on topics ranging from “bug-out” locations to sewing skills (especially from “Survival Mom”).  I’m personally an existentialist when it comes to these matters, and I won’t get further into the personal moralizing today.  I do think an issue like this calls into question a kind of “rich young ruler problem”, about putting all of one’s own life into orderly civilization and depending on it.

But another question comes up, why does an amateur blogger like me even dare to touch a subject like this.  Blogs are supposed to help people with specifics, so says Blogtyrant.  A lot of people see this kind of posting as rude, because most people believe they can’t do anything about external global catastrophes anyway (although they will march in climate change demonstrations, before returning to their identity politics).  My own life as an individual, however, has always been on the precipice of being affected by major events.  True, it may be related to my aversion to unwelcome personal interdependence.  More about that later.

I do think there are a few issues where the media has totally missed the boat, and not out of desire to spread fake news or support political correctness.  Power grid security is one of the biggest of the issues, and the conservative media companies (like Sinclair Broadcasting) seem closer to covering it right.

New York Times:  Surgical strike; Tough action; Five blunt truths

CNN

Vox:  Missile test explainedFive ways to spin out of control; North Korea history

CSIS Cordesman

(There are more links on March 7 posting and comments.)

(Posted: Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)