More followup on allowing guests router use, on downstream liability questions

Recently (Jan. 10), I wrote a posting about the possible downstream liability that router owners could experience if they allow guests to use their networks.  This could include persons hosting refugees or asylum seekers for humanitarian reasons or to “give back”. It could also apply to the sharing economy (Airbnb and other home-sharing sites).

After talking to Electronic Frontier Foundation, I was finally guided to a website they had set up called “Open Wireless,” and here is their take on it, at this link.

Here is how I interpret this paper.

First, as I noted, it is generally pretty easy to provide guest accounts, that would separate the log of Internet accesses made by the guest(s) for identification in any civil or criminal action.  It would always be advisable for the owner to do this, and insist on the use of a guest account and separate password  (or else the guest would use her own hotspot, which might not work in all locations).

Furthermore, discussions with others (like at Geek Squad) have suggested that installation of OpenDNS is not necessarily a critical idea for liability protection;  it does not provide perfect protection from a determined criminal compromise.  Indeed, some use of TOR and hidden sites for some foreign guests could be morally legitimate (to avoid detection by autocratic home countries).

There is no law requiring router owners to protect their networks, or establishing downstream liability potential.  There is also no law protecting owners from a injured party’s from the normal “” of negligence on the part of the owner. (States could vary on this, but it doesn’t seem like they have done much about it.)

An owner who could be reasonably suspicious that his router was being used for illegal downloads or to facilitate terror recruitment, sex trafficking, child pornography, cyberbullying, or other similar harms, would seem to be at risk, as I read this.  That could leave open the question of monitoring use.

It would seem that an owner would need to behave in good faith in allowing the use of his router.  Evidence of creditworthiness or reputation of guests might seem to be evidence of good faith, as well as providing a strike page requiring agreement to terms of service (which normally means no illegal use).

With personal guests (including boarders or roommates) it seems that a typical expectation is how well the host knows the guest, and whether the host can reasonably expect the guest to behave responsibly.  In the case of hosting for humanitarian reasons, I think there is something that is troubling here.  It may be like saying that providing foster care for children is risky (because it can be).   In Canada, the legal system recognizes the idea of private sponsorship or refugees and that would seem to provide some presumption of good faith because the host is privately supplying a needed service to others.  In the United States, especially now (under Trump) the legal system and culture seems to emphasize “take care or your own first” and seems to provide no such recognition. Yet asylum seekers, to stay out of detention and homeless shelters, would probably need private sponsors to support them and take responsibility for them.  It’s not yet clear to me that a host in the US might not be viewed as intrinsically negligent during our current political climate toward immigration.  However, background checking (with former employers, etc) or other forms of familiarity (repeated volunteering) might provide more of a presumption of good faith, as I would interpret this.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)

Trump’s immigration crackdown seems off the mark, but I see where it is coming from

How to react to the controversy and disruption following Donald Trump’s immigration executive orders late Friday?  I could be tongue-tied on this one.  I have a lot of separate reactions, and it’s hard to draw a single conclusion.

My focus on all these pages is on how the individual should behave, and what does he or she need to step up to, as was the focus of my DADT-III book.  Yet individuals need to belong to families, groups, countries, and share the outcomes for their supersets.

I’ll go back into my own history and recall that around 1:30 AM CDT on September 11, 2001 I woke up from a dream where a nuclear device had detonated somewhere around the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington.  The dream had been unusually lucid and I remember saying to myself I was glad this was only a dream.  I was living in a Minneapolis apartment at the time.  I would shut off the TV and home computer just before the attacks started, and learn about them about 8:25 AM CDT in my cubicle from a co-worker, and walk downstairs to the computer room and see the Pentagon attack aftermath unfold on the Jumbotron.

I even recall getting an email the previous Labor Day weekend (while in Canada) with a headline warning about “911” and some others had gotten it.  I never opened it.  We thought it was spam, maybe malware for a DDOS.  Then on Sept. 4 Popular Mechanics had run a now-forgotten article on EMP flux devices (non nuclear) and how terrorists could deploy them.

After my “career-ending” layoff at the end of 2001, I gave a sermon on the implications of 9/11 at the Dakota Unitarian Fellowship in Rosemont MN in February 2002 (38 mn), with material that would become Chapter 3 of my DADT-2 book.  I had considered particularly Charles Moskos’s call to bring back the draft and end the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy at the same time.  I had even exchanged emails with Moskos about this in November 2001.

On April 1, 2002, an online draft of what would become that chapter was hacked (on an old Apache server that had been carelessly left open by the hosting company).  The hack started right at a place where I was talking about “suitcase nukes” and seemed to contain bizarre gibberish references to the Lake Lagoda area of Russia.  I sent the hacked file to the FBI, and easily restored the content myself.  I still have it.  In the early fall of 2002 I got a bizarre email that I could interpret as a warning about a possible disco attack in Indonesia.  I shared that.  Then in November 2002 I got a map (I think I opened the attachment at a Kinkos) that appeared to list locations of nuclear waste all over Russia.

In the summer of 2005 (having come back to my mother’s Drogheda in northern Virginia) I got an email claiming to know where Osama bin Laden had traveled in the US in the 1980s, including aviation training.  I called the FBI, and spent 20 minutes on the phone discussing it with an agent in Philadelphia.

In August 2008 I got a bizarre email from a left wing group threatening oil field attacks in Nigeria.  That one I posted.   Tillerson should read that one.

Let me add here, that in every case, I make a decision to open an email based on full awareness of spam and malware.  I usually will use an old or different computer first to determine credibility.

Since then, the “chatter” to my own unclassified world has settled down.  I am not Wikileaks.  But it seems like you don’t need a security clearance to have dangerous information sent to you.  Too bad about all the homophobia of the world I grew up in, because I would have made a good intelligence analyst during the Cold War.

But I have paid particular attention to the possibility of large scale asymmetric threats that really could have existential character, and end our way of life.  These include nuclear detonations, radiation dispersion devices (dirty bombs), and electromagnetic pulse devices, which, over smaller areas, do not need to be nuclear.  Of course, they may include cyberwar, which could be mitigated by keeping the grid and other infrastructure (like pipelines) completely separated from the public Internet the way the military is supposed to be.   I have often blogged about constructive proposals to strengthen infrastructure against these threats (such as some of Taylor Wilson’s ideas); but these ideas need a lot more “science” and both public and private investment (Peter Thiel may have us started on that).    Much of this investment would encourage clean energy and domestic manufacturing jobs, but require skills that those displaced from legacy industries (Trump’s voter base) don’t have.

So we come back to Trump’s controversial immigration order.  Of course, they need to be considered in combination with other orders.  But they seem to be motivated in large part by Trump’s perception (largely correct) that individual American civilians even at home can become targets of an unusual enemy that does not wear a uniform.  Radical Islam has an ideology that conscripts everyone.  But the suddenness of the order (as a weekend started) is supposedly justified by the “threat” that “bad dudes” could slip through — with the president ignoring the fact that existing vetting processes (shown in the film “Salam Neighbor“) take 18 months or more, and even normal visas take some time.

The Cato Institute has noted that there have been no Americans killed by terrorists from the seven banned countries.  (I compare this statistic to counting chest hairs in a soap opera.)   Fareed Zakaria mentioned this analysis on his “Global Public Square” broadcast on Sunday. Jan. 29.   But the Trump White House claims that the seven countries, because of civil war and very poor governance (“failed states”) are more likely now that larger states (except Iran and Iraq) to breed hidden, undetectable Trojan Horse terrorists, and that Obama had already singled out this list of countries. . The Trump administration claims that this is not a faith-based ban because large Muslim countries are not included.  It also claims that religious exceptions are made only for religious minorities in target countries with which the US has poor diplomatic relations.  They don’t have to be Christian (like Yazidis).  There are some legitimate questions about Trump business interest (and therefore conflict of interest) in some larger, more stable Muslim countries.

It seems that a longer view of history is applicable.  In October 2001, the Sunday that President Bush announced the start of a war in Afghanistan, networks aired a video screed from Osama bin Laden telling individual Americans at home that they had no right to feel safe.  This came from the “established” Al Qaeda, well before the rise of ISIS.  History shows that aggressors (state-based or not) often target civilians, with Nazi Germany as only maybe the most notorious example of all.

Many of the high-profile terror attacks in the US have come from “second generation” adult kids of immigrants whose families turned out to be dysfunctional.  The attacks generally have not come from “saboteurs” who came into the country in the style of an Alfred Hitchcock film.  A number of the 9/11 hijackers were still in the country in legal non-immigrant status.

Some commentators view the overstated visa issue as more problematic for security than the actual physical access of undocumented immigrants at the border.  The number of people here in the US illegally is quite large, and statistics show that undocumented immigrants as a whole commit fewer crimes than the general population, and are more likely to be gainfully employed and in stable marriages when possible.  Even so, the crimes committed by some immigrants, legal and illegal, have sometimes been quite spectacular (like the Washington DC Mansion Murders in 2015), and fuel the impression that some of our immigration is dangerous – bringing up the subject of The Wall..  Furthermore, from anecdotal stories (even told to me), the “illegal” problem in some areas along the southern border is quite serious for residents and ranchers in the area.   But no one has seriously entertained the idea that American consumers should foot a 20% tariff on some goods to pay for a Green Monster.  The tariff could destroy many farmers and small businesses.

American civilians, even given lower crime rates overall, rightfully feel fearful of becoming targets in spectacular or bizarre criminal activities – the kind that wind up as Dateline specials – than in the past.  People are not as insulated by neighborhood or self-segregation as in the past.  Social media, and the possibility of recruiting for terror or even framing people (or making people into targets by happenstance association), comes into the picture.  The threat is more one of “quality” than of “quantity”.  National security policies need to be crafted around the real threats that are likely. It stands to reason that the easy available of guns complicated the issue.  But in Europe, by comparison, gun control may, while lowering crime overall, may make it harder for civilians to defend themselves when caught on the sites of unconventional attacks.

One issue left out by the media this weekend is asylum seekers.  It’s unclear if president Trump’s Executive Order could hold up the processing of asylum requests.  But, as covered here before, asylum seekers, by definition (by not being allowed benefits and to work for some extended time) need private help to stay in the country. US law (even before Trump) does not provide a framework for private citizens to assist asylum seekers without some unknown risk, compared to Canada, which supports full private sponsorship of refugees.

Along the lines of an individual’s deciding what is dutiful, Trump’s “America First” idea comes to mind.  It seems that the marching orders are to “take care of your own” first before “the others”, even if that sounds counter-faith.  We are willing to house refugees, but not our own homeless.  Yet, “America First” sounds like a mantra in a declining world, in a zero sum game, an idea that placates a particular voter base that feels left behind and snubbed by a sophist elite.  There are genuine security reasons to bring back manufacturing to the US and many constructive things that can be done, but they don’t lead to motivating a crowd in a mass movement.   To my view, “Black Lives Matter” and “rural whites” are both playing identity politics in ways that attract authoritarian politicians but that don’t help the country prosper and make itself really safer. .

I want to close this impromptu posting again noting that the idea of “stepping up” (as in my DADT III book, Chapter 6) does sometimes put individuals in the path of “other people’s bullets”.  It brings up ideas about not just courage but avoiding cowardice (as in a recent piece by David Brooks).  It tests the balance between individual autonomy and belonging to the group.

In the Washington Post Sunday, Outlook. Andres Miguel Rondon wrote “Venzuela showed us now not to fight a populist president. “What makes you the enemy?  It’s very simple to a populist.  If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit”.  I have that in my own experience with the far Left.  Opposing this mentality seems to be the point of all of Milo Yioannopolous ‘s writings.

The in the Epoch Times recently, Joshua Philipp writes about “The Danger of Political Labels”. where the need to generate ideology externally and divide people into opposing camps comes right from Marxism.

(Posted: Monday, January 30, 2017 at 3:30 PM EST)

More references:

Reference:  Cato Institute, Alex Nowrasteh and Dave Bier: “Terrorism and Immigration: A Rosk Analysis

Pew: “Unauthorized immigrant population trends for states, birth countries, and regions


Trump starts executive orders on immigration, and those involving refugees seem to stop most humanitarian immigration for now

While starting the action on the Wall, Donald Trump today apparently deferred signing executive orders on limiting refugees during the next months.

There are several accounts at news organizations online as to what is likely.

One of these is at Vox by Dara Lind and Matthew Yglesias.  It discusses four more possible executive orders.  It appears that all refugee immigration may stop for a while, or there may only be complete stoppage from up to seven countries considered associated with radical Islamic terrorism.  Complete stoppage from some countries would range from one to four months, during which vetting procedures would be tightened.  It appears likely that asylum applications for these countries would not be approved during this period.  The Vox link is here.   One of the XO’s would apparently not allow DACA adult children to remain after their work visas expire (latest in 2019).  Presumably (especially in LGBTQ cases) we could see asylum requests, but then there are rules that those requests have to have been submitted within one year of arrival.  It is very unclear as to what could happen.

The Washington Post has a narrower account by Karen DeYoung and Anigail Hauslohmer here.   The Post also embeds a PDF to a copy of one of the orders, and it mentions vetting of immigrants for democratic values, including negative religious attitudes about “sexual orientation”.  It least it’s good to see a conservative administration willing to mention the words of the group that it knows can be targeted (as with Pulse).

It’s likely details will be released early next week.

CNN has details on the orders issued today, which deal with detention centers and sanctuary cities   as well as building The Wall.

Randi Kaye gave a report on CNN (AC360) about a Syrian family that had been in Rutland VT for one week.  Kaye thinks it is unlikely that already arrived Syrian families would be deported, but says that Trump had once threatened to do so in 2015.    The AP has another story on Poststar about refugee placement in Rutland (which has a labor shortage) by Lisa Rathke here.

In the meantime, I am talking to EFF about the issue of letting guests use one’s router (January 10).  I may be placed in contact with an attorney with more specific information which can be shared with organizations.  It is still unclear.  There would be no risk if a guest used his own hotspot (which could be on a smartphone) for a connection.

(Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 12:30 AM EST)

Update: (10:20 AM EST)

The latest interpretation seems to be as follows:  All refugee applications from everywhere would stop for about 120 days.  Entry from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya would be stopped until further notice.  “Extreme vetting” would be put in place before refugee processing resumed. The total number of refugees allowed would be cut from 100000 a year to about 50000.  It is still unclear who asylum processing for those already in the U.S. legally under an existing asylum, application would be affected.  Trump also says he will support expanding safe areas for better equipped and livable relocation centers in Middle East, especially in some areas of Syria or Jordan (maybe other rich Gulf states) and would help with military assistance for security for the people.  He implies that some rich and stable Muslim countries can do much more for their own people.

In an interview with David Muir on ABC, Trump claimed “I have a big heart” and said that, despite the reports about DACA, people gainfully employed and not in trouble with the law would have nothing to worry about.

A recent personal conversation with a young man from Germany painted a somewhat more positive picture on refugees in Germany than I have heard personally before.  He did say there was a lot of volunteerism and that sme refugees did live in people’s homes, but most stayed in gyms or large public facilities.  He did not agree there had been a widespread issue with silenced refugee crime.

Donald Kerwin and Edward Alden argue in the Washington Post that Trump’s extreme vetting will actually undermine cooperation with other allies and some law enforcement intelligence activities and actually weaken protection of the public from terror attacks.  One reason is that many attacks have come from people already here a long time, including second generation adult kids (Tsarnaev) or other long-term legal residents (San Bernadino, Orlando), sometimes even citizens.

I’ll try to report “facts” as they come up. But “changing facts” are not “alternative facts.”

Update: Jan 27

Trump is due to sign an Executive Order at the Pentagon late Friday, probably similar to the Post document.

The Washington Post has an annotated copy of the Executive order late Friday evening.

Vox has an interesting interpretation by Dara Lind.

Vox has some further detailed legal analysis, compared to other existing law, later Jan. 28, by David A. Martin, here.


Replacing “Obamacare” could be simpler than expected if we’re serious about covering pre-existing conditions completely

There is a lot of discussion in the media about the consternation in health insurance markets from President Donald Trump’s Executive Order Friday.

The New York Times, in a piece by Margot Sanger-Katz on Saturday Jan. 21 seems to say, no big deal in the short run.  But Juliet Eilperin and Sean Sullivan cried Chicken Little on January 22, “With executive order, Trump tosses a ‘bomb’ into fragile insurance markets”, here.

One of the biggest concerns is that healthy people will stop paying insurance premiums, if they think they can avoid the fines.  But they would still, for the here and now, have to apply for the hardship exemption.

But let’s look into what it takes to “replace” the Affordable Care Act, or ACA (or “Obamacare”).  Although there are a lot of procedural complexities in Congress dealing with budgets, the basic problems seem to be just two:  (1) How do you deal with pre-existing conditions? (2) How do you provide useful insurance for poor people?  All of this discussion, for the moment, presumes that Medicare stays the way it is.

Some of the proposals for pre-existing conditions talk about states getting grants to set up high-risk pools, comparable to auto insurance.

I will almost go with Bernie Sanders on this one.  I think it is simpler and cheaper for everybody, including the US budget (and even debt ceiling fights in the future) to admit that we need to pay the extra medical costs associated with pre-existing conditions with public funds.  I think a private-public approach is “good business” even in Trump-land.  What I would do is set up a public reinsurance company to pay the excess claims.

The “company” would be funded partly or largely publicly, and also by member insurance company dues.  Sanders wants to tax highest earners and windfall profits to pay for indigent health care.  I think it’s the easiest way.  The GOP doesn’t like this.  The GOP would want to “block grant” to states, and let each state figure this out on its own.  Some states would be a lot more generous than others.  But one of the biggest advantages will be downloading to states the most sensitive question:  what “counts” as a covered pre-existing condition?

The simplest example of a “legitimate” pre-existing condition is a (putatively) genetic condition like Type 1 Diabetes.  A practical example is a history of heart disease or cancer.  A more sensitive question obviously occurs when a situation is behaviorally related, such as lung cancer (if caused by cigarette smoking), Type 2 diabetes or obesity (if caused by overeating), or HIV infection (if an STD, including now the issue of PrEP).  I can certainly imagine the right wing rhetoric in the more conservative states (where “moral hazard” is perceived as being about “morality”).  Other debates, like occupational diseases, would occur.

But without coverage, a typical insured would be left with most of the cost of many of these situations after an insurance company (in some sort of guaranteed issue system) had paid an amount reflecting “normal” health.   No question, a lot of bankruptcies would still happen, and prices for everybody else would tend to rise to cover unpaid bills, just as was the case before Obamacare.

It’s probably a lot easier on everybody if we really do cover everything and stop the “moralizing”.

One useful model could be how End Stage Renal Disease is handled now, by Medicare, as an exceptionally compelling pre-existing condition.  I had some tangential contact with this issue in 1978.  Theoretically, ESRD could be handled by this new reinsurance mechanism.

It’s also true that the presence of inexpensive diagnostic tests (like Jack Andraka’s proposed new early pancreatic cancer detection) could lead to refining the policy definition of pre-existing condition.

But with the current Affordable Care Act, ordinary “healthy” young adults (after age 26, at least, who these days often have a lot of student loan debt) are saddled with higher premiums to pay for “other people’s illnesses” that have to be paid out essentially from anti-selection.

But no question, if a teenager steps on a landmine in Central Park, I want his care to be 100% covered. (So does Donald Trump.)  An unpredictable cancer (like testicular, or Hodgkin’s lymphoma) can likewise happen to anyone.  And normal pregnancy is something we can expect.  (But the childless people will pay for other people’s childbirth.)

This comes down to a matter of logic.  You have to pay for pre-existing conditions somehow, and you know how the anti-selection would work.  You can pay for them with public funds (which the GOP doesn’t like but probably will admit it has to).  You can let other “normal” people pay higher premiums.  (Actually, there are some interval controls on how these higher premiums work in Obamacare, as well as subsidies.)  You can let the care go unpaid (which means hospitals and doctors charge everybody else more to make up the loss.)  Or, you can try to depend on private generosity.

The last idea is one that conservatives like.  The Santorum crowd wants families to take care of their own.  We all know that isn’t realistic for poor and middle income families.  So them you go to church and community. Or you go to the Internet with GoFundMe.

On the last idea, personal appeals for funding for recovery from what should be insurable losses and injuries, I have a certain aversion.  It wasn’t done publicly when I was growing up.  I don’t like to field emotional appeals from people I don’t know.  I may sound like Scrooge, but this sounds so self-indulgent.  Having things insured through a partially public system makes things a lot easier personally

(By the way, I see this a lot with personal losses after storms – the flood insurance issue.)

On the issue of insuring people who really can’t afford normal premiums, typical GOP language about tax credits, health savings accounts, and shopping across state lines (which I would support, but that contradicts GOP ideas of state control) seems to ring hollow – unless you allow negative taxes – that is, cash grants to poor people to buy insurance, probably through the states.  But this gets back to other progressive ideas, like universal guaranteed income, which is beyond the scope of health care reform for now (but maybe not forever).

Any replacement plan would have to be modeled.   That is, analysts have to work out all the equations (actuarial math is mostly probability and statistics, calculus, and infinite series) and then the simulations would have to be coded (probably in SAS, a statistical modeling software provided by a well known group ).  I worked for a company that did health care operating margin modelling from 1988-1989, which started out as the “Consolidated Consulting Group” owned by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia, and was sold to Lewin-ICF, and is now the Lewin Group off US 50 near Falls Church, VA.  In one of the confirmation hearings, the term “bundles”, a well-known health care concept, came up.  From 1979-1981 I worked in Dallas for a “Consolidated A and B Medicare Consortium” of six Blue Cross plans, but their system never got off the ground.  I also spent 1990-2001 in the life insurance industry.    Any system the results would require a great deal of old-fashioned “mainframe” systems development and implementation, probably in every state (with contracting companies managed by state social services departments).  Mainframe employment declined after Y2K and then 9/11, and many older professionals (including me) left “the business” for good.  One reason why Obamacare had so many implementation problems was that consulting companies had trouble finding the right kind of more mature people with the right skill-set for huge mainframe business systems.  That problem is still there.  “TrumpCare” will create a huge number of new IT jobs.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

Update: February 26

Vox has a detailed article on the GOP plan by Sarah Kiff, here, Feb. 24, 2017.  On CNN this morning, Rick Santorum explained a ruse where some people pay only the first nine months of a year’s coverage. Again, I think there is something wrong with making people buy an object (insurance coverage) on a private marketplace that benefits other people but that cannot benefit the purchaser.  That makes an argument for covering pre-existing conditions publicly.  By comparison, everyone will get old if they live long enough (to use Medicare and Social Security), so there is an ethical (conservative)  argument for gradual privatization.

Guest Post: “How to Avoid Becoming a Financial Burden on your Kids”

Americans are living longer than ever, which means retirement could last 20 to 30 years for some people – maybe even longer.

That’s great for those who remain in reasonably good health and retire with plenty of financial stability.

But lengthy life spans also increase the odds that many seniors will deplete their savings, face debilitating health problems and need to turn to their children for financial help or caregiving.

That’s a far cry from the kind of retirement they dreamt of over the years.

“I’ve done focus groups where one of the chief concerns that comes up is people don’t want to become a burden on their kids,” says Jeannette Bajalia, a retirement-income planner, president of Woman’s Worth® ( and author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women.

It’s really too late to do much, though, when you’re 80 and your life starts unraveling.

That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to get your finances and health in the best shape possible, she says. Among some of the points worth thinking about:

• Unanticipated health care costs. It’s estimated that the average married couple will need to pay up to $250,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare during their retirement, beyond what Medicare and most Medicare Supplements will pay. “We’re beginning to see a lot of cost shifting out of both Medicare programs and private health plans, which means more out-of-pocket healthcare costs,” Bajalia says. “It’s entirely possible that the savings you thought would allow you to travel or to at least pay all the bills could be gobbled up by medical expenses. As you plan for retirement, you should make it a priority to discuss this concern with your adviser so the two of you can look at what options you might have to try to keep that from happening.”

• Long-term care planning. When it comes to aging, consider the possibility you might have to receive home healthcare or live in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. The costs of such care can be daunting. For example, studies have shown that home healthcare can cost $50,000 or more per year, and nursing home care can run as high as 90,000 per year. “You don’t want your kids to have to pay for that,” Bajalia says. There are ways to prepare, such as buying a long-term care insurance policy or checking with a financial professional to help you develop a strategy for protecting your assets from nursing-home claims, she says.

• Self-care. Not every financial professional may do this, but Bajalia says she believes it’s important to integrate health education and a lot of self-care into a retirement plan. Spending money on preventive health routines to take care of yourself now can help you avoid significant health problems that lead to even costlier expenses later on, she says.  Research is now telling us that longevity is over 70 percent lifestyle.

“I know it’s important to older people that they be able to remain independent as long as possible and not have to turn to their children to help,” Bajalia says. “They just need to remember that careful planning is the route to accomplishing that.”

And one of the planning tools would be to help fund long term care insurance for your aging parents to keep assets in their estates, she says, so long term care is not simply for yourself but for your aging parents.

About Jeannette Bajalia

Jeannette Bajalia, author of Retirement Done Right and Wi$e Up Women, is president and principal advisor of Petros Estate & Retirement Planning, where she has designed and implemented innovate estate-planning solutions for clients and their families. She also is founder and president of Woman’s Worth® , which specializes in the unique needs facing women as they plan for their retirement.

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(Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 at 6:45 PM EST)

Right-sizing: free speech, individualism, pitted against mass movements; and “what if? ….”

In early April 2005, I drove down (dodging a tornado on I-95) to Richmond (from Arlington) for an Equality Virginia dinner,  My mother, who was still quite intact at 91, warned, “don’t let yourself show up on television.”

I had returned from Minnesota in late 2003, and was “living at home” again. She had read my first book and somewhat vaguely understood my long term involvement with the issue of gays in the military, and the gradual effort to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell”.  That phrase seems to map what this post is about as a meta-moniker.  Mother had sometimes said I should never mention “William and Mary” (my 1961 expulsion for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean, as I cover in my books and other posts), as if it would only become a source of tension and discomfort for others (not so much the political controversy itself).  I can understand her practical concerns, as I was working as a substitute teacher already, and I’ve already covered how that could blow up. (see July 19 piece).

At one point in conversation surrounding this Richmond trip, she asked, why people should get bad news about national issues from me?  I’ve gotten that sentiment before on social media, from people who says they want Facebook now to be a “politics free zone” and they don’t need to learn of the latest danger they face from international enemies from someone like me.

Ironically, my mother did not fully understand what I was doing in her own basement on my Dell computer on that little aluminum table.  That is, making lots of posts to my legacy “doaskdotell” site (essentially blogging) and being found passively by search engines, needing no employees and needing no capital to keep publishing.  Google took care of everything. “It’s free.”

What have I “accomplished”?  I started this process, in modern times, on the way I argued the issue of gays in the military.  But other issues concerning hyperindividualism (the necessity and dangers of ego) circulated around this one kernel until I was opining on almost everything.  It was a superstorm Sandy of argumentation, an accretion disk.  I attracted visitors for what I was saying, with very simple technology, only getting around to make it look better (on blogging platforms) around 2006. My arguments became known and I think influenced debate (especially on DADT, even helping lead to the 2010 repeal act) even if my name did not (which might have been a good thing).  I tended to focus on moral arguments centered on personal karma, and obstructed more traditional thinking based on victimization and identity politics.

But, one asks, who was I, of all people, to be in a position to influence others, when I did not have my own “skin in the game”?  I did not have children.  I had arguably some subtle disability as a boy but I, compared to other people, had been sheltered somewhat by the relative prosperity and stability of my generation (even as it was threatened by issues by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and Vietnam war).  I come back at you, and say, you need to know the history.  You need to know the dangers ahead by looking at what happened in the past, from a very personal, street level which my narrative provide.  An unusually important part of this history has to do with conscription and sharing of mandatory risk taking, and the social and personal resilience needed with it.

So, in the books and blog postings, I did accumulate a treasure trove of history that is often overlooked, that today’s and future generations really need to get.

This could be called “amateur speech” or “gratuitous speech”.  But continuing it became my “second career”, as it had started in the mid 1990s with my developing my first book, and then took over after my (post 9/11) “layoff” at the end of 2001.

It became difficult to pursue anything else while I was “living at home” again.  My “best” job was substitute teacher, but there were potential conflicts (link ).  The jobs available could be menial and regimented, and perhaps dangerous (convenience store clerks are exposed to crime), invoking questions about cowardice (as the idea used to be understood), or they could involve hucksterism.  Most of the better paying jobs involved “marketeering”, aggressively trolling other people to go get them to buy things (whether life insurance, or tax preparation).  Suddenly, having become the “alien observer” and cataloger – something more honorable than just “spectator” or “watcher” – traditional selling was no longer acceptable.  (This fits into the material in the book “Men Without Work” by Nicholas Eberstadt, which I will review soon.)

Now, we have a president elect Trump, taking office January 20, who seems hostile to dependence on individualized communications technology, to exactly the kind of thing I did.  I’ve covered this before in various posts, but I would add that Trump could reasonably ask, does this kind of activity support families or put people to work?  Does it carry it’s own weight?   Could it be underwritten for liability insurance? (I have to add another complaint I get from unwanted solicitations:  something like, “How dare you give your stuff away for free and not try to sell your books aggressively, and help people in bookstores keep their jobs?”)  Because use of such an open communications infrastructure does open the world up to dangers from abusers, ranging from cyberbullies to sex traffickers to terror (ISIS) recruiting. And American civilians, he could argue, have become targets of foreign enemies as a result.  (Pulse-Orlando is the most egregious example.)  So this kind of activity could be dialed down or shut down, based on some idea that we are “at war” when domestic civilians can become targets. It’s unclear how First Amendment arguments would apply once it got into court.

So I do think the future poses real “threats” to the curtailment of Internet expression as we have become used to it.  The ways this could happen are numerous, each one of them like a screenplay script.  A lot of it has to do with Section 230, which works in different ways for different providers (telecom companies, publication service providers, social networks, forums, and shared web hosting companies, and even shared economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, and even advertising bulletin boards like Craigslist and Backpage).  But a lot of it has to do, more indirectly (even with issues like ending net neutrality), with the business models of major publicly held telecom and Internet companies today.  Many of these models are based on end-users clicking on and buying products online from ads.  Because of security concerns, many users are much less willing to do this than a decade ago, myself included.  I do notice ads sometimes on sites but rarely click on them;  if I’m interested, I go to the original site of the company.  I tend to buy a lot from Amazon and use physical stores much less than I did.  So my own behavior is an example of the “business model” problem.  I don’t play ball, with or through “groups” that I naturally should belong to.

So, it’s fair to ask, “What if?….”  I know that was a phrase du jour during the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  But what if the right to post online or self-publish “without gatekeepers” was indeed taken away? (even out of emergency concerns over national security, as after a major terror incident).

What else have I got?  I’ve got an engaging novel project, screenplay based on the three DADT books  and music composition . But in this older world of needing third parties, I would need to raise real money.  Maybe Kickstarter or Indiegogo could go somewhere, but I don’t have the material that’s obviously “popular”, even with minorities, at the get-go.  As it stands now, I need the visibility of unsupervised self-publishing to make my work known.  I still think that’s reasonably effective.  One little bit of feedback I’ve discovered in the music area: established composers (of which I am not) have to make a living off of commissions.  Conceivably my activity could disrupt that expectation, although that seems a little far-fetched.

So then there would be the constructive idea of working for or with a legitimate news outlet.  One immediate problem is that Trump seems to dislike conventional media companies (except Fox and Breitbart and probably OAN) even more than amateurs who criticize.  In fact, it’s even imaginable that he would “protect” amateurs (like me or even “Milo”) out of his dislike of traditional media.  So it’s very hard to predict what the environment could be like for smaller media companies after a shakeout.  But I can definitely imagine working with a company like Vox or OAN (ranging from progressive and somewhat liberal to somewhat conservative).  As I look at Breitbart right now, I don’t find it objectionable. Most of the stuff I see there looks like it needs to be reported and said, and it looks credible (now – I can’t speak for the past).

Recently, Bill Moyers, of PBS, listed “10 Investigative Reporting Outlets to Follow”, including BuzzFeed.  Yes, I would be glad to look at any of these.  Let me add that I worked for NBC (on the general ledger system as a computer programmer at 30 Rock from 1974-1977) and I would work there again.  I know some folks at NBCWashington and at WJLA-7 (ABC).

So then, we ask, what about my old career as an individual contributor in information technology. That somewhat died with disuse after 2001.  The IT career resume is here.  One observation that seems relevant is that the exit from the job markets of older IT professionals from established pre-Internet mainframe “culture” (systems development life cycle) denied contracting companies hiring to design and implement “Obamacare” the talent it needed.  That’s one reasons for there being so many problems.  Maybe the GOP plans could actually cover everyone and be simpler to run.  But it is entirely conceivable that I could come back to work and help “you” build a system that actually works.

But now I’ve got to get back to my concern over personal “right-sizing”. I want to share how I personally process the reactions I get from people.  A couple of earlier posts (especially Jan. 4 and Nov. 1)  explain how people reacted to the perceived endpoint of my homosexuality.  I think I can work through what others think of my “self-broadcast” model in a similar well.

One point at the outset is that a lot of time, personal life plans are flawed but seem right (even for decades at a stretch) until some external pressure makes one reassess.  Sometimes actual coercion and force, as objectionable as it seems to libertarians, is a good thing.  Sometimes authoritarians do us a favor by making us face things.  But we may not be able to make others face things in turn. But “revolutionary thought” or “purification” does have its points.  It’s also true that we can think that we our captains of our own ships for a long time, following the narrower individualistic ideas of “personal responsibility” —  and find out how horrible it feels when we have made combative enemies determined to shut us down.

The most noticeable reaction from others during the 2003-2010 period, and even since, has been that others try to get me to sell things.  I want to see myself as “above” having to do that, troll people to contact them.  But others can say, that is exactly the problem.  Salesmanship, for its own sake, has gotten a bad rap because too many people like me have been artificially sheltered from having to do it.  My own father was a salesman, but worked “only” as a wholesaler (manufacturer’s representative) with bricks-and-mortar retail outlets, in a world that Trump misses.  All of his income (which was substantial) came from commissions.  Many of my parents’ social friends worked in this circle, for example, as life insurance agents.  My father believed in salesmanship for its own sake and exuded some authoritarian values.  Because I said it, I can make it true.

Think, then, about the aggressive attitude from my own cooperative book publishers since early 2012.  I get pestered about why I don’t sell hardcopy books and try to go on tours and do hotel seminars.  My reaction is, I’m a journalist, I’m not trying to fix your “f—ing”  life or make you all right.  (Well, Milo Yiannopoulos says that.)

Then I get critiques that I don’t really support anybody or my “brothers and sisters”.  I don’t attack people (or any group), but I do attack identity politics and pimping victimization. (I’m more civil than Milo.)

One way to make media sell is to promote causes that are popular, or to personally support people that seem to have “need”.  It’s unclear in some cases (in the minds of others) whether people are to be supported because they belong to a group (“people of color”, “people with disabilities”, etc) or because of their own narrative circumstances.

This is a sensitive issue with me.  I am not comfortable with promoting someone (with whom I otherwise had not personal connection) with an impairment of any kind just to show that I can do it.  I could even call it “disability porn”.  But it has become not only socially acceptable, it is becoming expected in some areas of social media, and it is viewed as a way to “sell”.  This is indeed a culture shift from how things were when I was growing up.

Yet, my saying this betrays a certain underlying character issue.  I view people from the lens of “you are what you are.”  “Que sera, sera”.  My father once said, in December 1961 after “therapy” had started after the William and Mary fiasco (pre-NIH) that the psychiatrist had said “You don’t see people as people” but as symbols or “foils” (especially the character Tovina in one of my scripts, according one friend.)  It’s as if people got “grades” in life (or “life points”, or transcendence of an otherwise “assigned station in life”) that uniquely raked them in specific position with respect to everyone else – harking to a day when school grades were legal tender.  In a sense, this is just a mathematical idea (called “well-ordered sets” ) and sounds like the individualistic idea of meritocracy, a notion coming under criticism from leftish professors in recent years (as with several book reviews, here ).

I think I would have to face a curious loop of logic, that all this means that “meritocracy” relates to my own desire to experience pleasure and desire in an intimate relationship with someone.  It (equating merit to “virtue”) adds “meaning”.  This certainly common with the “upward affiliation”   in the gay male world, but it really happens a lot in the mainstream straight world, too.

Likewise, my gut reaction to the notion of becoming “victimized” by either enemy (terrorist) or criminal aggression or by some very hostile policy change from the new administration (especially inasmuch as the election results are viewed as the results of the wrongdoing or “sins” of others), is one of revulsion and disgust.   I cringe when I see leftist websites beg for money, and claim that I need them to speak for me, as if I were too much of a “loser” to be able to speak for myself.  I hate the idea of supporting someone else who I otherwise would disapprove of, in order to get “protection” myself.  But I have no right to claim that I am above that.  Having spoken out with self-broadcast, I find people come knocking, and when I don’t respond, they see what I call neutrality as actual broad personal contempt or even hatred.

There is, as I said in my DADT-III book, Chapter 6, a moral question about “stepping up” to meet the needs of others when one is able to do so out of more inherited privilege, and a failure to do so when challenged adds to instability.  Lately I have been blogging a lot about issues centered on not just refugees, but particularly asylum seekers, particularly in some cases LGBTQ.  Because I inherited a house with some room and some capital with it, it seems to me I would have a duty to act on the need for housing if possible.  I’m also finding, so far, that assessing the risk involved is difficult because of lack of transparency on the issue, in the legal and social services system.  The U.S. does not have a system (compared to Canada, for example) that would encourage individuals to step up to this challenge without possibly existential personal risk, and yet such risks have existed in many other areas (like the draft in the past).

One has to consider how life goes on if he plays “Good Samaritan”, so to speak, and something goes bad.  He – or I – winds up paying for the sins of others, but that could be coming to me because of my own karma.  Whatever happens, at an individual level, “it Is what it is”, the supreme tautology (Nov. 6 posting).  I am told that a “person of faith” can always deal with this (the idea of taking someone else’s bullet, as if in the Secret Service). But one can emulate the “Rich Young Ruler” by simply having too much to lose. What others see as excess becomes part of the self.  At the same time, the self does not see intrinsic emotional value if lifting others up, possibly because of spoilage and lack of down-to-earth common sense and skills (or “street smarts”), or perhaps of schizoid emotional aloofness, all tied in to the “upward affiliation” already mentioned.  If I were confronted with the possibility of a personal relationship with someone “in need” by external circumstances (that is, not through creating a child in the conventional family), would it “mean” enough to me? “All lives matter”, indeed.

There is a lot of sentiment out there that preoccupation with “being good” (as a David Brooks or a a Malcolm Gladwell would see it) is simply a way to maintain a belief that you are “better” than the people you “help”.  That’s particularly expressed in a recent book “No More Heroes” by Jordan Flaherty (see meritocracy link above). The desired moral paradigm is to belong, particularly to a cause beyond oneself (as in Martin Clay Fowler’s book “A Philosophy of Belonging”) and accept that the group is part of you.  That extends to belonging to mass movements, as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”.  Other animals experience distributed consciousness (such as dolphins and especially orcas ). Maybe the killer whale really gets right-sizing.

(Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 4 PM EST)

Authoritarianism and combativeness threaten free speech (mine at least)

Two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, I have to pause for a moment and think about two behaviors that can become existential threats to me:  authoritarianism, and combativeness.

I’m particularly concerned with behavior that is intolerant of the expression of views or beliefs that contradicts those of one’s own tribe (religious or national), or that is somehow critical or somehow mocks authority figures, whether political or religious.

One of the most notorious examples of combative behavior (with respect to speech) was the Jyllands Posten Muhammad Cartoon Controversy, well documented in this wiki  and covered by Flemming Rose in his “Tyranny of Silence” .  This led to a violent incident in Paris and killing of Charlie Hebdo and other journalists in January 2015.

Young adults, especially young men (and fewer but still substantial numbers of women) join radical mass movements often out of a need for “brotherhood” and meaning, when the circumstances of the upbringing don’t afford the capacity of engineering their own lives as individuals the way “Western values” (or “democratic capitalism”, a term the Washington Times uses, but which the Left sees as an oxymoron) now expects.  Religion and faith may be a unifying factor (sometimes with apocalyptic, end-of-days theology), but so can be collective secular political ideology, as with some violent elements of the radical Left (the Symbionese Liberation Army, for example) in the 1970s.

But such persons, when recruited, often feel that tolerating any question of their beliefs is itself giving in to some kind of oppression, often with inter-generational  inherited roots.

Resistance and protest groups often develop their own internal political structures which become authoritarian in a manner psychologically similar to the authoritarian tendencies of national political leaders, even men like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, as well as China’s leadership.

Authoritarian leaders believe that the people they “rule” must face a hostile world with many threats, and that people must remain somewhat cohesive and free from distraction as for certain beliefs.  Authoritarianism fears that the individual who is “different” will view that “difference” as making him or her “special” and will drain the resources from the overall safety of the group without contributing their fair share of the risk-taking.   And leadership also fears that criticism will reduce its credibility with the people, and leadership rationalizes the idea that loss of leadership authority actually attracts enemies.

It is true that in various circumstances, authoritarian and even combative attitudes can give an illusion of prosperity and stability.  This often means persecuting the “others”.  But it is often a long time before the main population understands what is really happening than things start to unravel.  To many Gentile Germans, Nazi Germany seemed stable and prosperous in the late 1930s and it was not to last.  But even the rest of the world was fooled.

This whole area of authoritarianism and combativeness, often relabeled as “activism” and “solidarity”, makes my speech quite troubling for some people.  In several episodes in my life, I have questioned over-simplified, group-think ideas about policy needs, with arguments that potentially can undermine the group’s achieving its goals if the arguments are heard by enough people. Call it playing “devil’s advocate” or deploying “I told you so.”   Back in the 1980s, even before there was an effective public internet, I was a thorn in the side of some activists, who wanted to present people with AIDS simply as “victims” based on being in a disliked group.  I’ve covered this in my books and other posts (like here ).  Regarding gays in the military, I voiced unusual arguments involving shared risk-taking going back to the practices of the Vietnam era draft, and conceded that in the past people were more easily distracted by “cohesion” concerns (like in college dorms) than young adults would be today.  That argument (far afield from the usually politically correct arguments about disliked groups)  seemed to stick and stay in circulation and may have helped contribute to the DADT Repeal in 2010-2011.  In more recent times, with respect to Internet speech issues (COPA for example) I’ve admitted that we could have come up with automated pre-screening tools for some security issues (including child pornography, sex trafficking, and especially terrorist recruitment or cell-plotting) or we could lose out on the right to continue “user generated speech” altogether.  That’s especially true now that we have a president somewhat hostile to globalism, automation, and who will ask if Internet behavior is paying its own way, when compared to the risks of allowing it (even as that president uses Twitter to reach his own audience in an asymmetric way, but he won’t need it for long).

I certainly have attracted criticism from others for putting my stuff out for free (mostly), allowing others to find it, not insisting that it make money on its own (or help other people get and keep their jobs).  Have your skin in the game, they say, before you speak out.  That quickly translates to, have your own family first.  Otherwise, you could endanger others and attract harm to others connected to you, from real enemies.

But I also get flak for not “belonging” to the group, and sometimes for respecting the leadership of the group.  I play “devil’s advocate”, bracing to say “I told you so” later.  Group leadership will think this gives credibility to “enemy” arguments (that otherwise get overlooked) and keeps things from getting done to benefit most of the people in the group (or even country).  Trump is not the first person I’ve encountered to react to having his authority questioned.  My own father could react that way.  And in some job interviews in the past, people would ask why I’m not more assertive and authoritative myself.

I do have a tendency to regard almost any engagement with others (in a relatively private or personal group) as having potential public significance, which can become troubling to others even without names being mentioned.  Any group needs boundaries about what affects the outside world and tends to need people to enforce those borders.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2017, at 2 PM EST)

Here’s my own combo speech — Inauguration and State of the Union — where I pretend I won the election (hint for Donald Trump)

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)

California case from early 2016 on “right of publicity” could endanger practical use of Section 230 with user generated content; so can Backpage

There is a dangerous controversy brewing in a case, Jason Cross aka Mikel Knight v. Facebook, complaint. (Jason Cross is the stage name for Mikel Knight.)

Cross filed what seems to be a SLAPP suit against Facebook, after a variety users made criticisms of the rap singer’s operations on Facebook.  A trial court in California state court dismissed most of the claims (rather like “tortious interference” in Michael Mann’s 1999 film  “The Insider” about the tobacco industry) in May 2016 under Section 230 and California SLAPP, but allowed a claim that Facebook may have violated Cross’s “right of publicity” to stand (May 2016 ruling )  outside of Section 230 intermediary safeguards.  The actual trial has not yet taken place, and Facebook has appealed the case to a California court of appeals.

The application of right of publicity in this context seems bizarre.  The complaint is not against the user, but against Facebook itself for placing ads, which might be chosen in a manner related to the user’s content, on the page (or mobile display) next to the postings.  The theory is that the advertiser somehow benefits from the fame of the artist.

A much more common use of the right of publicity tort has to do with using the likeness of a famous person directly for commercial purposes, as in your own ad.  There would seem to some theoretical scenarios where some user content (as on a blog or hosted site) from an “amateur” draws more attention because the likeness of the public figure is on the page.  This would be more problematic if the blogger somehow implied that the public figure had endorsed the use of the public figure in the user’s content.  An amateur user, who had not “competed” or “paid his dues” in the usual sense, could leverage his own chance for become better known for his own work by first drawing on the famous person as someone to be compared to.  Possibly, providing multiple reviews of the work of the famous person could get viewed this way.  On the other hand, generally amateurs have a “right” to review all the works of any particular celebrity or better known person separately.

On it’s face, however, this very posting, because it shows the real person in the explanatory YouTube video below next to an ad, could be viewed as a “right of publicity” violation of that person, it taken very literally.  Theoretically, I sift off some undeserved ad revenue from that person’s being more deserving of fame than me.  I think even Milo (Breitbart) would think this is a ridiculous argument.

The biggest concern in the legal community is that the lower court’s preliminary ruling seems to gut the use of Section 230, allowing litigation (at least in California) whenever the substantial mention of a real-life celebrity (or conceivably any living person or even estate) in physical proximity to ads (for example, as served by Google Adsense) could prove tortious, even if the ads were not directly related to the user content.  There are multiple discussions of this case,  one by Paul Alan Levy from June 2016 here and a more detailed one today by Daniel Nazer at Electronic Frontier Foundation, “EFF to Court: Don’t Let the Right of Publicity Eat the Internet” with the amicus brief here.

It will take a long time for this case to work its way up.  Note that Facebook users are not named as defendants.  EFF makes arguments about whether “right of publicity” is really about intellectual property or about (ironically) “privacy” (or perhaps unwanted attention), or even false advertising.

Donald Trump seems hostile to amateur content, even though he uses Twitter himself.  He acts like the thinks that the winners have to keep the losers or “the Proles” in line.

Update: January 12, 2017

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a sobering article about Backpage today. One of the points is that Section 230 protects service providers as long as they don’t create or modify the illegal content (which Backpage may be doing, get back to that in a moment). Cope had already discussed the SAVE Act in January 2015 (article). Nicholas Kristof touched on sex-trafficking, Backpage (and ad modification) in an op-ed in the New York Times January 12.

Backpage closed down its adult section (reportedly) under pressure of Senate hearings very recently (Techdirt story with “censored” graphic). It looks like they took the 5th in Senate hearings (USA  Today story). I wrote a “Twitter storm” about this early 1/13 (and also a big Facebook post). ABC Nightline aired a scathing report early 1/13 here.  The Los Angeles Times offers an instructive comparison to how Backpage and Airbnb invoke Section 230 here.  According to news sources, Section 230 was also used to drop criminal charges against the CEO after an arrest (story).  Daily Beast has a (libertarian) perspective on why “banning Backpage” would actually endanger more women.

We have a new president who is not sympathetic (“no computer is safe”) to the spontaneity of they way many users express themselves with UGC (user-generate content), not only in social media but blogs and personal sites;  he sees these as not “local” or not “real life” or evasive of competing like adults with real responsibilities for dependent families. That’s one reason why the coincidence of two problems (publicity and trafficking) occurring at the same time in the media (on the same blog post by me, at least)  seems really ready to push Section 230 down a slippery slope, and with it the whole business model for much of today’s Internet (most of all social media). And it’s only one week until the inauguration as I write this.

However, it should be possible to question whether ads could be handled differently by the law than non-commercial user posts.  It would also seen that the reported behavior of modifying ads could nullify Section 230 protection even as current law stands.

I note on YouTube that since credit card companies have voluntarily given Backpage official shunning, users are fleeing to bitcoin to use the site.

I do agree with Ashton Kutcher (“A+K”) that “real men don’t buy girls” (or boys).  I wish Kutcher were president right now instead of Trump.

(Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2017, at 11 PM EST)

Downstream liability concerns for allowing others to use your business or home WiFi connection, and how to mitigate

A rather obscure problem of liability exposure, both civil and possibly criminal, can occur to landlords, businesses, hotels, or homeowners (especially shared economy users) who allow others to use their WiFi hubs “free” as a way to attract business.

Literature on the problem so far, even from very responsible sources, seems a bit contradictory.  The legal landscape is evolving, and it’s clear the legal system has not been prepared to deal with this kind of problem, just as is the case with many other Internet issues.

Most hotels and other venues offering free WiFi take the guest to a strike page when she enters a browser; the guest has to enter a user-id, password, and agree to terms and conditions to continue.  This interception can normally be provided with router programming, with routers properly equipped.  The terms and conditions typically say that the user will not engage in any illegal behavior (especially illegal downloads, or possibly downloading child pornography or planning terror attacks).  The terms may include a legal agreement to indemnify the landlord for any litigation, which in practice has been very uncommon so far in the hotel business.  The router may be programmed to disallow peer-to-peer.

There is some controversy in the literature as to whether Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act would hold hotels and businesses harmless.  But my understanding that Section 230 has more to do with a content service provider (like a discussion forum host or a blogging service provide) being held harmless for content posted by users, usually for claims of libel or privacy invasion.  A similarly spirited provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, called Safe Harbor, would protect service providers for copyright infringement by users.  Even so, some providers, like Google with its YouTube platform, have instituted some automated tools to flag some kinds of infringing content before posting, probably to protect their long-term business model viability. Whether Section 230 would protect a WiFi host sounds less certain, to me at least.  A similar question might be posed for web hosting companies, although it sounds as though generally they are protected.  Web hosting companies, however, all say that they are required to report child pornography should they happen to find it, in their AUP’s. You can make a case for saying that a telecommunications company is like a phone company, an utility, so a hotel or business is just extending a public utility. (That idea also mediates the network neutrality debate, which is likely to become more uncertain under a president Trump.)

Here’s a typical reference on this problem for hotels and businesses.

A more uncertain environment would exist for the sharing economy, especially home sharing services like Airbnb.  Most travelers probably carry their own laptops or tablets and hotspots (since most modern smart phones can work as hotspots) so they may not need to offer it, unless wireless reception is weak in their homes.  Nevertheless, some homeowners have asked about this.  These sorts of problems may even be more problematic for families, where parents are not savvy enough to understand the legal problems their teen kids can cause, or they could occur in private homes where roommates share telecommunications accounts, or where a landlord-homeowner takes in a boarder, or possibly even a live-in caregiver for an elderly relative.  The problem may also occur when hosting asylum seekers (which is likely to occur in private homes or apartments), and less often with refugees (who more often are housed in their own separate apartment units).

It’s also worth noting that even individual homeowners have had problems when their routers aren’t properly secured, and others are able to pick up the signal (which for some routers can carry a few hundred feet) and abuse it.  In a few cases (at least in Florida and New York State) homeowners were arrested for possession of child pornography and computers seized, and it took some time for homeowners to clear themselves by showing that an outside source had hijacked the connection.

Comcast, among other providers, is terminating some accounts with repeated complaints of illegal downloads through a home router.  In some countries, it is possible for a homeowner to lose the right to any Internet connection forever if this happens several times, even If others caused the problem.

Here are a couple of good articles on the problem at How-to-Geek and Huffington, talking about the Copyright Alerts System.  Some of this mechanism came out of the defeated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), whose well-deserved death was engineering in part by Aaron Swartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy”, who tragically committed suicide in early 2013 after enormous legal threats from the Obama DOJ himself.

Along these lines, it’s well to understand that automated law enforcement and litigation scanning tools to look for violations are becoming more common on the Internet.  It is now possible to scan cloud backups for digital watermarks of known child pornography images, and it may become more common in the future to look for some kinds of copyright infringement or legal downloads this way (although content owners are good enough detecting the downloading themselves when it is done through P2P).

Generally, the best advice seems to be to have a router with guest-router options, and to set up the guest account to block P2P and also to set up OpenDNS.  An Airbnb community forum has a useful entry here.  Curiously, Airbnb itself provides a much more cursory advisory here, including ideas like locking the router in a closet (pun).

I have a relatively new router and modem combo from Comcast myself.  I don’t see any directions as to how to do this in what came with it.  I will have to call them soon and check into this.  But here is a typical forum source on guest accounts on Xfinity routers.  One reverse concern, if hosting an asylum seeker, could be that the guest needs to use TOR to communicate secretly with others in his or her home country.

It’s important to note that this kind of problem has come some way in the past fifteen years or so.  It used to be that families often had only one “family computer” and the main concerns could be illegal content that could be found on a hard drive.  Now, the concern migrates to abuse of the WiFi itself, since guests are likely to have their own laptops or tablets and storage devices.  There has also been some evolution on the concept of the nature of liability.  Up until about 2007 or so, it was common to read that child pornography possession was a “strict liability offense”, which holds the computer owner responsible regardless of a hacker or other user put it there (or if malware did).  In more recent years, police and prosecutors have indeed sounded willing to look at the usual “mens rea” standard.  One of my legacy blogs has a trace of the history of this notion here; note the posts on Feb. 3 and Feb. 25 2007 about a particularly horrible case in Arizona.  Still, in the worst situations, an “innocent” landlord could find himself banned from Internet accounts himself.  The legal climate still has to parse this idea of downstream liability (which Section 230 and Safe Harbor accomplish to some extent, but evoking considerable public criticism about the common good), with a position on how much affirmative action it wants those who benefit from technology to remain proactive to protect those who do not.

(Posted: Monday, January 9, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

Update: Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017, about 5 PM EST

Check out this Computerworld article (Michael Horowitz, “Just say No” [like Nancy Reagan] June 27, 2015) on how your “private hotspot” Xfinitywifi works.  There’s more stuff below in the comments I posted .  To me, the legal situation looks ambiguous (I’ve sent a question about this to Electronic Frontier Foundation; see pdf link in comment Jan. 24).  If you leave your router enabled, someone could sign onto it (it looks if they have your Xfinity account password, or other password if you changed it).  Comcast seems to think this is “usually” OK because any abuse can be separated to the culprit.