Cato Institute holds forum on North Korea and escalation of tensions while Trump visits

On Monday, November 6, 2017 the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a three-part, three hour forum (9AM -noon), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea?”

I did not have time yesterday to get to it, so I watched the live feed.  It’s pretty effective, although the volume is low and sometimes the sound is out of sync with the lips.  Here is the basic link for all of the video.   The link gives the syllabus and identifies all the speakers.

But what was said is critical.

In the first session “Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy”, the last speaker Joe Cirincione from the Ploughshares Fund was quite blunt.  He said that the U.S. probably does not have the capability to stop all incoming missiles over the U.S. once North Korea masters the ability to send them with thermonuclear weapons.  There was some mention of the probabilities of war (some as high as 50%), literally like at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind“.  Earlier Joshua Pollack (“The Nonproliferation Review”) said that North Korea had only to master “old technology” well known from the Soviets and from China. Suzanne DiMaggio, of New America, spoke also (her NYTimes piece, “How Trump Should Talk to North Korea“, followed).

The last session, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem”, saw Michael Austin (Hoover Foundation) in particular raising questions as to whether being South Korea’s protector indefinitely could remain a sustainable best interest of the United States. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute seemed to echo a similar concern. While some speakers today agree with the theory that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on having nuclear weapons is simply his strategy for surviving (given what happened to Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi) there was also some skeptoicism, that, once he has the ability to hit the U.S., Un might start demanding that the U.S. halt all exercises near South Korea or even withdraw completely, or lift sanctions. That sounds like the “domino theory” that led to the escalation in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, where I wound up getting drafted myself in early 1968 (setting up, ironically, my own subsequent involvement in repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” decades later).  Bandow, particularly, talked about how the Soviet Union and particularly Communist China (as during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) were seen as an existential “political” threat to the American way of life that North Korea cannot be, as repulsive as the regime may be now. But the speakers also noted the apparently docility and gullibility of the people, who will sacrifice and “eat grass” for their fat little leader (“fat little Rocket Man”, to quote Donald Trump with a little seasoning from Milo Yiannopoulos, although not during Trump’s current Asia trip).

Will Ripley had reported on North Korean people on CNN recently (the notorious “no chest hair” line) and now reports on CNN on Trump’s trip. Trump wants to put the DPRK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and indeed there is concern that Iran or terror groups in Muslim world will get nuclear technology underground from North Korea.

No one on the panel or in the audience mentioned the possible EMP threats from North Korean missiles.  I did tweet a question about it but it was not read.

Wikipedia link on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a link with the text of Trump’s speech in South Korea later Tuesday (Wed AM there).

UBS (n September) created a link for its investors with discussion of North Korea, with a link to a 37-minute podcast to a retired admiral.  The audio says that US atmospheric defenses are much more advanced than deep space systems, which have slowed down on the theory that the Soviets could have overwhelmed anything Reagan had wanted to do with his “Star Wars”. There is also a whimsical note that people watch the Pentagon parking lot and Metro for increased activity.  There really hasn’t been much lately. I make mental note on Uber or cab rides home from the bars late weekends.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 9:30 AM)

On All Saints Day, I ponder, who has the right to claim group rights from systematic oppression?

Today, “All Saints Day”, for men whose bodies survive Halloween parties and drag makeup, I have a potpourri of items, and some of it is serious.

The Cato institute sent me an email reminding us of the statistical improbability that immigrants become terrorists like Sayfullo Saipov in NYC yesterday.  But the email names three Uzbek nationals as of March 2017 who had been convicted of terror offenses (Kodirov, Kurbanov, and Juraboev).  At least one was radicalized on the Internet (like Saipov), one had been a refugee, and one had won a green card lottery (similar to Saipov).

Two are awaiting charges, including one who had overstayed a visa and applied for asylum.

Off hand, President Trump’s reinforcing the idea of “merit-based” immigration sounds more reasonable, even if the numbers are low.  But again, to take care of our own, we seem to follow into the grade school tactic of giving detention to everyone for the sins of a few.

Uzbekistan is not one of the countries Trump has singled out; but it’s interesting that some parts of Russia (Chechnya) and former Soviet republics are capable of vehemence against the US, reinforcing the idea of a red scare that carried on underground in the 1980s even if not talked about a lot.  Back then, newspapers (at least in Dallas) carried stories of “academies” in rural areas to train “civilian defense reservists” against what at the time was thought to be a threat of individualized red subversion, still. . In pre-web days, not talked about a lot.

Craig Timberg, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Karoun Dimarjin have a detailed story on the far reach of Russia’s social media disinformation “fake news” campaign, that reached over 100 million Americans.  NBC News offers a piece by Sarah Kindzior showing how Russia’s “divide by tribe” propaganda had been going on, hiding camouflaged in plain sight  at least since 2014.

I certainly saw some of these (crooked Hillary, etc)i in my Facebook feed and generally ignored them.  There’s something about the tone of my own writing, that may seem elitist and “preaching to the choir”, as of the average-Joe masses didn’t matter to me personally. The Russians probably know that people like me won’t pay attention to how easily led people vulnerable to “mass movements” become because “we” tend to think less of them personally.  I notice a sudden drop of about 15 Facebook friends and wonder if these were fake Russian accounts now closed.

I think we’re also in a bizarre funk where we’re deciding who has a right to form a movement or belong to one.  The neo-Nazi and KKK issues are settled and viewed as direct threats to vulnerable group. But the far Left (even Antifa) is not.   Communism is somehow more acceptable than fascism because of history.  It’s as if some people think you can pick Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot (or Kim Jong Un) over Hitler.

I’ll also cite an article in Vox by Ella Nilsen on John Kelly’s remarks on the cause of the Civil War, here.

I want to add an Oct. 30 article by David Bier at the Cato Institute on how green card waits really work (they are very unpredictable) and the role of sponsors (employment, family or personal).  This article may explain some interaction I had this spring with a Facebook “friend” who seemed to be trying to get me to sponsor him.

(Posted: November 1, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

Trump’s travel ban 3.0 falls flat in court; why “lawless government” argument doesn’t work

Trump’s latest travel bans were struck down again last week.  In Hawaii, the decision was reported Oct. 17 with this copy of the opinion from the ACLU.  Ditto recently in Maryland.

The Hawaii judge actually cited a post by Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh noting that there have been no fatalities in the US from immigrants or travelers from those countries.  Cato had also provided an Amicus brief to Hawaii.

David Bier has contributed a major op-ed to the Washington Post, “Why bother?” to the Washington Post, here.   I think his most important argument is that visitors from countries with weak governments or weak security still bear the burden of proof when trying to enter that their purposes for a visit are legitimate.  In individual cases, some people may be able to prove legitimacy.  The overall statistical chances are that many will not.  In many cases, legitimacy would have to do with known family connections in the U.S.

There are good examples of this reasoning.  For example, in the Minneapolis area, there is a well established Somali community, which was never controversial, even after 9/11 (although there have been a few cases of attempted youth recruitment in more recent years in that area).

I’ll note that in my own information technology career, which started in 1971, I often encountered people from India and Pakistan, who dressed and behaved like ordinary Americans and simply never got into issues of religion at work (this was particularly true in the 1980s in Dallas). A major software bridge for an insurance company in Minneapolis that I worked for through Y2K and into the 9/11 period was coded entirely by a C++ (object oriented) and server technology guru from Pakistan who ran his own contracting company of advanced internals coding projects for corporate infrastructure.  He often hosted social events for other techies and no one ever thought anything of his religion.

(Posted: Monday, October 23, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

Cato Institute covers many First Amendment topics in day long forum; what about downstream liability concerns?

Last Thursday, September 28, 2017, I attended a day-long event at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, “The Future of the First Amendment”.  I could call it aka “the future of free speech” in the U.S.

Cato has a link for the event and has now uploaded all the presentations, which you can view here. The videos include embeds of the slides and of the audience members asking questions as professionally filmed, better than I can do on my own at an event.

The “table of contents” in the link shows the topics covered as well as identifying the credentialing the many invited speakers, and indeed the presentation was segmented and topical and tended to focus on many narrow, separate issues.  I’ll come back at the end of this piece as to what I would like to have seen covered more explicitly.

The earliest morning session focuses particularly on partisan political speech related to elections (the “Citizen’s United” problem) and on commercial speech, including whether companies or commercial entities are separate persons.  One concept that stuck out was that listeners or receivers of messages are entitled to First Amendment protections. I would wonder how that concept would play out given more recent reports of Russian attempts not only to influence the 2016 elections but also to spur social instability and resentment in American society, based particularly on the idea of relative collective deprivation (which is not the same idea as “systematic oppression”).  There are understandable concerns over wanting to regulate paid political ads (especially if supplied by foreign agents), but we should remember back around 2005 when there were concerns based on a particular court interpretation of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act that even free blogs (written without compensation and without ads) could be construed as “political contribution” if they expressed political viewpoints.  The discussion of commercial speech recognizes that advertisements sometimes do express points of view going beyond immediate ad content, and that valuable speech, such as well-made studio Hollywood movies about major historical events, made with good faith, can express political viewpoints while being funded through the open securities markets available to publicly traded companies.  But one auxiliary idea not explicitly mentioned was something I encounter: that speech available to the public should pay its own way.

The second segment dealt with “religious liberty in the post-Obama era”.  Here we have the dubious idea that an employee of a business open to the public is engaging in religiously-connected “speech” when she sells certain products or services to a person of a different faith or who engages in certain intimate personal relationships as now recognized by law (especially same-sex marriage).  One speaker in particular (Robin Fretwell Wilson) suggested that states should carve out laws that require public accommodations to serve all customers but allow individual employees (even in government agencies, such as with Kim Davis in Kentucky) to turn over the duties to someone else.  While I would support such a solution, if can mean an unequal workplace (such as the catse when some employees observe Sabbath’s explicitly and others cover them without getting any compensation in return, which I have done – an extreme extension of this idea is the “conscientious objector” problem with the past military draft).  It’s also true that sometimes “religious speech” can serve as a mask for personal moral ideas that in fact are not really founded in recognized interpretations of scripture, for example, political aversion to working with inherited wealth.

The keynote speaker for the second floor luncheon(well catered with deli sandwiches) was Eugene Volokh, of UCLA Law School and the Volokh conspiracy blog.  Volokh gave a spirited presentation on how the Internet has accelerated the application of libel law (well before Donald Trump noticed) because the Internet allows speakers with no deep pockets and little formal publishing law experience to be heard, and also because the “online reputation” damage from defamation, as propagated by search engines, is permanent, as opposed to newspaper defamation in the past.  Volokh made the interesting point that sometimes cases are settled with court injunctions that could prohibit a blogger from mentioning a particular person online again anywhere.  (That could matter to bloggers who review films or music performances, for example). At 41:07 on this tape, I ask a question about Backpage and Section 230. Volokh’s answer was thorough and more reassuring that it might have been, as he indicated that “knowingly” standard could be included in service provider downstream liability exposures. (He also explained the distinctions among utility transmission, distribution, and publication.) He also got into the question as to whether fake news could be libel.  Usually, because it largely involves politicians, in the U.S. it does not. But it might when applied to celebrities and companies.

The afternoon session featured a presentation by Emily Ekins on the 2017 Free Speech National Survey. A number of startling conclusions were presented, showing partisan divides on what is viewed as hate speech, and also a lack of understanding that most hate speech is constitutionally protected. There is a tendency among many voters and especially many college students to view words as weapons, and to view speakers as morally accountable for the actions of the recipients of their speech, even when there is no direct incitement for rioting or lawless action. Many respondents showed a shocking dislike of journalists as “watchers” who don’t have their own skin in the game.  A majority seemed to take the pseudo-populist position that a heckler’s veto on speakers was morally OK, and a shocking substantial minority thought that government should heavily sponsor speech to protect special groups.  A shocking minority accepted the idea that hate speech should sometimes be met with political violence.

The final session talked about censorship and surveillance.  The speakers included Flemming Rose (“The Tyranny of Silence” and the cartoon controversy).  Rose mentioned, in an answer to an audience question, that in some countries speakers were arrested for “qualification of terrorism” in public statements.  All the speakers noted a desire from the EU to force tech companies to export their rules to the US, especially the supposed “right to be forgotten”.  Daniel Keats Citron from the University of Maryland Law School mentioned the Section 230 controversy in an answer, as she talked about  distinguishing “good Samaritans” from “bad Samaritans”

At the reception afterward, a speaker from Cloudflare noted that Hollywood has been lobbying heavily on Congress to force service providers to prescreen content, as motivated by the Backpage controversy. Hollywood, he said, has been pressuring agents and Wilshire Blvd law firms to join in the effort. He mentioned the DMCA Safe Harbor, which has a similar downstream liability concept but applies to copyright, not to libel or privacy.  The tone of his remarks suggested that this goes way beyond piracy;  Hollywood does not like dealing with the low cost competition of very independent film that is much less capital intensive, and taking up much larger audience share than in the past..  Even Mark Cuban admitted that to me once in an email.  Cloudflare also said that the law, unchanged, would today handle sex trafficking the way it handles child pornography, with a “knowingly” standard, which seems adequate already.

All of this brings me back to what might not have been hit hard enough in the conference, the idea, as I said indicated in the title of my third book, of “a privilege of being listened to” (my 2005 essay), which sounds a little scary to consider and seems to lie beneath authoritarian control of speech.

I insist on managing my own speech, much of which is posted as “free content”.  I get pestered that I don’t sell more physical copies of my books than I do and don’t try to be “popular” or manipulative in order to sell. (That helps other people have jobs,  I guess.)   I get told that my own skin should be in the game.  I get sent into further deployments of the subjunctive mood (“could’a, should’a, would’a”), like in high school French class. – I should have children, or special needs dependents, or be in the trenches myself before I get heard from.  (This could affect how I handle the estate that I inherited, which can get to be a Milo-Dangerous topic.)   Content should pay its own way (which, ironically, might encourage porn.)  Individual speakers weaken advocacy groups by competing with them and not participating.  Before I get heard from myself, I should join somebody else’s cause against “systematic oppression” and not be above walking and shouting in their demonstrations. I should run fundraisers for other people on my webpage. I should support other publications’ fund raisers who claim (on both the right and left) to be my voice, as if I were incompetent to speak for myself.  Or, as if that capacity will be taken away from me by force.  Even the world of writers. I get confrontational ideas, that “real writers” get hired to portray other people’s narratives other than their own. (Okay, I might really have had a chance once go “ghost-write” so-to-speak one of the other “don’t ask don’t tell” soldier’s stories.)

One of the most serious underreported controversies is indeed the idea that speakers should be held responsible for what their readers might do, particularly because “you” are the speaker and not someone else.  This is related to the notion of “implicit content” (Sept. 10). This concept was behind my own experience in October 2005 when working as a substitute teacher, see July 19, 2016 pingback hyperlink).  That certainly comports with the idea that Section 230 should not exist, and that people should not speak out on their own until they have a lot of accountability to a peer group (family or not).  This is far from what the First Amendment says but seems to be what a lot of people have been brought up to believe in their own home and community environments. It goes along with ideas of personal right-sizing, fitting in to the group, and a certain truce on social justice.  In the past two or three decades (compared to when I was in high school and college), there has been a weakened presentation of the First Amendment (and Bill of Rights in general) in the way it is taught in high schools and to undergraduates.  I could even say based on my own substitute teaching experience from 2004-2007 that even public school staff (including administration) is poorly informed on the actual law today, so you would not expect students to be getting the proper learning on these matters.

Individuals have natural rights, just as individuals;  but people don’t have to belong to oppressed groups or claim “relative deprivation” to claim their natural rights.

(Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 at 12 noon)

Lawsuit threatened by Texas and other red states could mean DACA ends with a whimper; also, marriage and undocumented people

There has been concern and speculation of what might happen in Donald Trump gradually ends DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as implemented by the Obama Administration in June 2012.

David Bier of the Cato Institute has a detailed prospective analysis here, what he calls a “Timeline for Expiration”. The three components are (1) deferred priorities for removal, (2) deferred actual removal and (3) some protections of employment authorizations.

Bier quickly mentions Trump’s decision in January to continue DACA, but then presents the serious challenge implied by a letter to Jeff Sessions from the attorneys general of several red states (Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and West Virginia) to sue if Trump does not terminate DACA by Labor Day.

Bier’s analysis is detailed, with many charts. I want to focus a moment on the employment authorization issue. Bier tends to suggest that (in various combinations of possibilities) for most DACA “children”, there won’t be changes, and that employers will have to accept employment authorization documents pretty much as they do today, well, probably. But the very idea of such a “threat” could matter to some communities. In the LGBTQ community, for example, that could lead to more calls for hosting and financial support, either through organizations or more focused kinds of sponsorships. This would compare to the current situation for asylum seekers, already discussed on this blog extensively.

I wanted to mention another possible controversy. Can undocumented immigrants get green cards by marrying American citizens or permanent legal residents? The answer seems to be, sometimes (Alllaw link1, link2). There was a change in 2017 involving a 601A Waiver that may help sometimes (link). There are problems with some legal sites on these matters because their articles don’t always carry dates.

A question like this has the potential to become important if people were pressured in their peer groups to consider marrying immigrants to help them. Yes, it is possible to imagine abuse of same-sex marriage in this regard, but I have not heard that this has really happened much.

(Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Cato Institute analyzes Trump’s RAISE Act and debunks “myths”; National Review looks at the ironies of “legality”

The Cato Institute has shared with me two links about the RAISE Act today.  And (another) conservative periodical, National Review, wrote about the irony of wanting to reduce “legal” immigration.

As Cato explains, the RAISE Act is a bill introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would reduce legal immigration by 50 percent. Its authors maintain that it would return immigration to “historical norms” but, Cato maintains, in a post by Dave Bier  with some charts and tables, this is inaccurate. Cato maintains that the immigration rate—which controls for the size of the U.S. population—was already 28 percent below the historical average. The RAISE Act would reduce the immigration rate to one-third of the historic average over time and about one-eleventh of the historic highs.

Alex Nowrasteh has a post in which he explains (with a large volume of charts and tables) why the senators’ various other arguments are dubious. The Senators (as does President Trump) claim it would create a “skills-based immigration system,” but the bill doesn’t actually increase employment-based immigration at all. The United States already ranks low among developed nations in terms of total per-capita immigration and skills-based immigration. Alex’s article walks Congress and other readers the through numerical research and studies on the economics of immigration restriction and shows that decreasing the flow of immigrants does not actually increase wages for native-born workers.

Nowrasteh has also posted a higher-level discussion of how to meet alt-right anti-immigration arguments here.

Dave Bier has a column in the New York Times (Aug. 4) “Ignorant Immigration Reform” here.

My basic reaction is this: My first impression is that skills-based immigration is separate from the asylum and refugee issue.  The whole idea of private sponsorship and the potential legal responsibilities of sponsors needs systematic attention.  I think the I864 is just a little piece of this when a family member wants a visa.

Tech companies (including Facebook with explicit statements by Mark Zuckerberg) have, in the past, encouraged the increase in visas for those with very specific job skills.  Throughout my own IT career, I often worked with immigrants from India and Pakistan especially and never thought anything of it.

Charles Cooke has a piece in National Review today, in a piece called “the Corner”, “But I thought you were only against illegal immigration.” Cooke makes a comparison to the Canada system.

I have an earlier post today on a legacy blog, on the “cosmopolitan bias” argument at the White House press conference, here.  It seems especially noteworthy to me that Trump’s “point-based” competitive system for a strictly limited number of green cards would probably exclude older workers with skills.

Other commentators have noticed that economic growth in the US cannot take place without maintaining the current level of immigration of people ready to work.  Immigration also helps maintain the birth rate and population replacement at a stable level, since well-off people born here tend to have fewer children.

It really does seem that Trump’s idea of economic growth slides toward autarky.  The debate will continue.

(Posted: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Assessments on what Trump and GOP will do about immigration, other issues seem to calm down a bit

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I’ve done some analysis of the likely results of Trump’s “upset” win in the 2016 Presidential Election on legacy blogs, especially for LGBTQ concerns and for free speech (see previous post).  There is so much to process that in a post tonight I’ll touch mainly just on immigration for right now; health care, anti-lobbying reforms, and foreign policy later.

The Cato Institute’s Dave Bier has published an article explaining the in general Republican House members and Senators don’t share president-elect Donald Trump’s previous draconian positions on immigration.  For example, here is his latest paper .  Most Republicans see little to gain in terms of national security from deporting children brought here “illegally” by parents (Obama’s Deferred Action program ).

DC Center Global offered a link on Facebook with some analysis of how Trump’s presidency will affect asylum seekers and refugees on “The Asylumist” , by Jason Dzubow.

Trump probably can stop the approval of refugees from some countries (like Syria) which could disrupt programs already underway with large non-profits and many faith-based groups (Christian churches are very willing to help settle Muslim refugees).  I hope that Trump will realize that the large charities supervising the process with DHS approval are providing very thorough supervision indeed.

Processing of asylum seekers, and getting approval in time (during which asylum seekers cannot work and may dependent on others), could slow down, and the range of situations that are viewed as legitimate could narrow.  This might affect how LGBTQ asylum seekers are perceived, especially from some countries (like Russia) where Trump wants better relations.

On the other hand, if Trump really tries to deport “dreamers” by revoking Obama’s XO, some of them could file for asylum.  An asylum seeker can remain here legally with temporary paperwork while the slow asylum process works.  Generally the asylee cannot work or draw public benefits and needs to find other persons (or charities) to support and house him or her privately.

David Lauter offers a valuable primer on what Trump “can and can’t do” in the Los Angeles Times.  He can’t undo same-sex marriage (conceivably he could re-impose the military gay ban but no one now seems to think he will) and he can’t declare some speech libel on his own, although, as I said in my previous post, he might have emergency powers to deal with national security threats on the Internet.

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My own impression about the election results is that several factors increased the vote for Trump in battleground states. In fact, the whole concept of the Electoral College makes voters in smaller swing states more powerful than those in larger states (same as for Senatorial representation), as ABC’s Dan Abrams explains.   But as for the factors that affected voters in Rust-Belt and southeastern states: One was hidden resentment of “elitism” and a desire of many white working people to be “left alone”;  one was the effect of Comey’s bringing up the email issue again (twice), as some female voters noted as seeming more serious than Trump’s lockerroom talk; another was that African-American voters didn’t show up as much as expected (vote times are too long in some black neighborhoods). I’m a little unnerved by hearing Trump complain already about “professional protestors” in the streets.  Am I a “professional” journalist disguised as an amateur blogger?

(Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 11 PM EST)

Update: Nov. 15

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There is a lot of talk about “sanctuary cities” (Washington DC will remain one), and whether Trump’s INS really will round up some million adult kids brought here by undocumented workers (“illegals” is a bad word).  I don’t think it will happen because it’s a total waste of enforcement resources in fighting real threats.  It’s not very feasible in practice.  However, it could prompt some LGBT children of undocumented parents from hostile countries to seek asylum, creating additional challenges for those who might host of assist them, even in assessing the credibility of the claims. Although, many applications probably could not be accepted if more than a year had passed since original arrival — so this could be an unpredictable risk.