Category Archives: Blogs

One Republican in a Sea of Democrats

Although the Just Vote No Blog is non-partisan, it is definitely political, and definitely liberty-leaning!

Thus the reason for this post on John Dennis, a Republican who is running for City Supervisor in a town without one single Republican elected official. The only Republican to hold elected office in San Francisco in the recent past was James Fang, who was unseated from his Bay Area Rapid Transit Board seat by Nick Josefowitz, a Democrat whose campaign made a point of suggesting that a Republican had no place in San Francisco.  Now Josefowitz is also running for Supervisor in the same district as John Dennis.

The Uncharacteristic Candidate

A peculiarity of this Supervisorial campaign is that John Dennis is a peculiar Republican. One would not discern that from his current campaign website, since the office of San Francisco City Supervisor (what other towns might call council member) is non-partisan and nowadays pretty much focused of homelessness, the housing shortage, and dirty streets.

However, Dennis conducted three most lively campaigns, against totally entrenched Democrat Representative of Congressional District 12, Nancy Pelosi (2010, 2012, 2014). In those campaigns Dennis made news as an uncharacteristic Republican. As sample, here are excerpt from a 2014 Los Angeles Times article.

He differs with social conservatives on same-sex marriage, believing such wedlock is none of the federal government’s business, and also on legalized abortion, saying he is “not comfortable using the force of the state” to outlaw the procedure. He breaks with the chest-thumpers in the GOP who offer American exceptionalism as a rationale for an expansive and assertive foreign policy.

The L.A. Times article mentions U.S. Congressman, now retired, Ron Paul, the uncompromising supporter of individual liberty (readers can safely ignore the article’s reference to Paul’s “neo-isolationism,” since there is a difference between isolationism and imperialism). Paul ran for President three times, 1988, 2008, and 2012.

Paul, of course, came nowhere close to winning the GOP presidential nomination, due in no small part to his provocative neo-isolationism. He did, though, build a national following of like-minded Ayn Rand acolytes who shared his fiercely anti-Washington, small-government, keep-your-mitts-off-me-and-my-property philosophy. Dennis, 51, was one of them.

Could this Republican Win?

Does this Republican have a chance to win the Supervisor’s race in San Francisco’s District 2, when the town is solid Democrat?  He could!  The San Francisco Examiner carried a recent article stating that a random survey “placed Dennis second behind the incumbent, Supervisor Catherine Stefani.”  One might add the survey placed Dennis ahead of Nick Josephowitz, the aforementioned BART Board director, and Schuyler Hudak, a media startup founder also in the race.

Speaking of Ron Paul

Finally, speaking of Ron Paul, here is an old picture of Ron Paul and John Dennis that a lot of liberty-leaning folks still like to post.

RonPaulandJohnDennis

In Defense of Chaos

Ohio Governor and former presidential candidate John Kasich’s interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on September 5th should make one wonder whether he is apprehensive about Donald Trump’s governing style, or he is a sore loser.  Perhaps the Governor’s droning on about the chaos in the White House that, in the Governor’s view, is preventing things from “getting done” might be an indication of the latter – how could Trump, of reality TV, win the presidency over an established long-time politician?

One could point that maybe some in the electorate are seeing through established long-time politicians, and one could point to the uncontrollably agitated behavior of the anti-Trump resistance as an indication that a lot is getting done – none of which desired by The Establishment.  Also, one could point that the challenges not being solved that the Governor ascribes to Trump’s chaotic style have been around for decades, unsolved by previous Presidents.

By the way, never mind Governor Kasich’s statement in the Cuomo interview that Senator John McCain was “put to death,” since we have no idea what he meant by that.

Trump 2Now for the Subject at Hand:  Chaos

Governor Kasich and many other Establishment folk excoriate Trump’s chaotic governing style.  Do such critics understand the nature of the word “chaos?”  Here are two examples of this complex and interesting word as it could relate to President Donald Trump’s governing style.

*  Mythology

Chaos was – most Greek cosmologies tell us – the very first of all, the origin of everything, the empty, unfathomable space at the beginning of time … Chaos was the primal feature of the universe, a shadowy realm of mass and energy from which much of what is powerful (and mostly negative and dark) in the world would stem forth in later genealogies.  Chaos, Greek Mythology

The scenario in 2016 featured a $19.57 trillion national debt, a moribund manufacturing sector that wiped out the earnings potential of a vast portion of U.S. workers, 21.3% of the U.S. population in some form of public assistance, and a gargantuan bureaucracy supported by more taxes than taxpayers would like.

To fix such scenario, one would need a clean slate, dismantling much of the entrenched status quo.  What better way to accomplish such an objective than through chaos – the origin of everything, negative and dark to any opposing force.

*  Business Structures

Organizations are focused on structure and design. Charts are drawn to illustrate who is accountable to whom or who plays what role and when … They build models of organizational practice and policy with hope that this atomizing yields better information on how to improve the organization’s functioning. However, chaos theory implies that this is unnecessary, even harmful.

As the global economy and technology continue to change the way business is conducted on a daily basis, evidence of chaos is clearly visible. While businesses could once succeed as “non-adaptive,” controlling institutions with permanently-installed hierarchical structures, modern corporations must be able to restructure as markets expand and technology evolves.  Chaos Theory

In other words, the order and structure cherished by today’s Establishment is useless in today’s chaotic world, unless the uselessness is beneficial in perpetration of The Establishment.

Results

The bottom line of any undertaking are results.  Are policies promised during Trump’s campaign being accomplished?  Most unbiased observers — as well as CNN interviewer Chris Cuomo, who spoke with Governor Kasich — would say “yes.”  Unfortunately, such results are most worrisome to the Trump opposition. And thus, the misinterpretation of the word “chaos.”

Chaos is the non-linear way to restructure the status quo, available to any political persuasion.  Remember, for example, the chaos generated by anti Vietnam War demonstrators, or by civil rights workers?  Chaos was the most effective way of making their vision of the world a reality.

Bloggers Beware Part II – 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet

Mark Warner 2 - Copy
Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner appears to be on a mission to “nationalize” the Internet, the result of which no doubt will be restriction of content, stifling of innovation, and scarce improvements in data protection or consumer privacy. The gentleman from Virginia has published a white paper called Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms.

Liberty-leaning folks will not even need to read the 23 pages of proposals; they will only need to read the word “regulation” on the title of a paper dealing with platforms on which people express their thoughts, political leanings, religious beliefs, or business strategies.

Were Senator Warner’s white paper an isolated case of regulating free expression, there would be less cause for concern that is warranted in the wake of other legislation curbing the actions of websites, social media, bloggers, and others who express themselves on-line. This Just Vote No Blog recently wrote about California Senate Bill 1424 which aims to establish a Social Media Advisory Group “to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem.” Will your blog or post be declared “false information” because the powers that be did not like what you said?

The words “regulation” and “Internet” should not even be in the same sentence, since proposals such as these can only bring unfortunate consequences to our freedoms, as well as to our economic well being.

Find a Crisis and Exploit It

Kaiser Industries built a lot of roads and homes in California. Its pink cement-mixing trucks painted with the slogan “Find a Need and Fill It” were part of the state’s lore. Those were the 1950s, when industrialist/innovator Henry Kaiser found a need for homes, roads and factories, and filled that need by building them – with government’s blessings.

Today, it seems the dominant slogan is not the entrepreneurs’ find a need and fill it, but government’s find a crisis and exploit it. Instead of letting industrialists and innovators like Henry Kaiser produce the goods and services consumers want, government focuses on finding crises (or manufacturing them) and using these crises to tie the hands of producers and expand its reach.

Senator Warner’s 20 proposals to regulate the Internet serve as examples. Here is an excerpt from his white paper:

In the course of investigating Russia’s unprecedented interference in the 2016 election, the extent to which many technologies have been exploited – and their providers caught repeatedly flat-footed – has been unmistakable. More than illuminating the capacity of these technologies to be exploited by bad actors, the revelations of the last year have revealed the dark underbelly of the entire ecosystem. The speed with which these products have grown and come to dominated nearly every aspect of our social, political and economic lives has in many ways obscured the shortcomings of their creators in anticipating the harmful effects of their use. Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse.

Before we even examine the 20 proposals, we might note the arrogance contained in the paragraph above:

* “Unprecedented interference in the 2016 election?” Hardly. Interference in the form of influence, spying and other strategies has happened several times in the past. A famous example of interference is Britain’s campaign to discredit Charles Lindbergh, leader of the “America First” movement of the 1940s, in an attempt to obtain military help from the U.S. in WWII.

* “Dark underbelly?” Perhaps Senator Warner could consider focusing on draining some swamps in Washington DC, rather than worry about Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook having a dark underbelly.

* “Anticipating harmful effects?” How good has been government in anticipating the harmful effects of its policies? How is the good old War on Drugs working for you and your family, especially if you happen to live in a poor neighborhood?

* “Government has failed to adapt” is always Newspeak for not yet passing more and more laws.

As noted in Senator Warner’s introduction to his proposals quoted above, the proposals purport to protect consumers and defend “our Democratic Institutions.” However, all “protection,” whether from government, the Mafia, or from zealous family members comes at a price. The price consumers must pay if they accept the “security” offered by proposals such as that of Senator Warner is loss of liberty. To protect one’s liberty one must make the effort to remain informed and exercise critical thinking. We must understand the products and services we use, and choose them wisely. We must not depend on “protectors” who most likely have their own agenda. This Just Vote No Blog wrote about that on our post Smart Cities – Your Life in a Fish Bowl.

Highlights of the 20 Proposals

These are what this Just Vote No Blog considers highlights of the 20 Proposals:

* Determine origins of posts and/or accounts to prevent bad actors from assuming false identities and influencing political debate.

* Identify inauthentic accounts to prevent spread of disinformation that pose a threat to our democratic process and undermine the integrity of digital markets.

* Make platforms liable for state-law torts (defamation, false light, public disclosure of private facts) for failure to take down deep fake or other manipulated audio/video content.

* Propose legislation that guarantees that platforms above a certain size provide independent, public interest researchers with access to anonymized activity data in order to measure and audit social trends on platforms that could help inform action by regulators in Congress.

* Require disclosures for online political advertisements in order to prevent targeted political ads sponsored by foreign advertisers. Require that platforms make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political ads.

* Establish a Public Initiative for Media Literacy funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions.  Building media literacy from an early age would help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.

* Deem as information fiduciaries certain types of online service providers – including search engines, social networks, ISPs, and cloud computing providers – because of the extent of user dependence on them, as well as the extent to which they are entrusted with sensitive information.

* Endow the FTC with privacy rule making authority, so as to enable it to respond to changes in technology and business practices, as well as increase its funding.

* Adopt GDPR-like legislation. One major tenant of the GDPR (that the US could or could not adopt) is the potential of high penalties for non-compliance in which a company or organization can be fined.

* Determine that dark patters — user interfaces that have been intentionally designed to sway users towards taking actions they would otherwise not take under effective, informed consent — are unfair and deceptive trade practices. To address this, FTC could be given rule-making authority to ensure that the law keeps pace with business practices.

* Set mandatory federal standards for platform algorithms to be auditable, so that outputs of algorithms are evaluated for efficacy/fairness and potential hidden bias.

* Pass a bill requiring data transparency, such that free platforms provide users with an annual estimate of what their data was worth to the platform, which would provide significant price transparency, educate consumers on the true value of their data, and potentially attracting new competitors.  Data transparency would also assist antitrust enforcement agencies like the FTC and DOJ.

* Pass legislation that could define thresholds such as user base size, market share, or level of dependence of wider ecosystems, beyond which certain core functions/platforms/apps would constitute essential facilities, requiring a platform to provide third party access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and prevent platforms from engaging in self-dealing or preferential conduct.

Does Anyone Actually Read Terms of Use?

Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals to Regulate the Internet might bring to mind prescription drug ads and their interminable laundry list of side effects. Have all the regulations imposed on drug companies prompted patients to consume less drugs or become more aware of side effects such as addictions? Have all the regulations lowered drug prices? Senator Warner’s 20 Proposals would most likely have the same result as the required listing of side effects.

However, more serious than ineffectiveness are the consequences. The proposals listed above lean towards the following outcomes:

* On-line social media platforms that host content, such as Facebook or Google Plus, will become liable for what is posted. This liability will transform social media’s function, increase the costs of operating a platform, discourage new entrants due to high costs and the threat of liability, subject platforms to the whims of powers that be bent on surpresing opposition, and is open ended. Will liability apply to content management systems such as WordPress or Joomla? Will e-mail clients such as Thunderbird or Apple Mail be liable for the content of e-newsletters, meeting announcements, or communication between group members?

* One of the proposals is the establishment of a Public Initiative for Media Literacy, funded by the federal government and primarily administered by state and local educational institutions, to build media literacy from an early age that would “help build long-term resilience to foreign manipulation of our democracy.” Perhaps the real concern here should be the manipulation of our children’s minds? How about just teaching our kids to think critically instead?

* Mandatory standards for auditable platform algorithms sounds more like killing the golden goose of innovative proprietary code than protecting consumers or defending our Democratic institutions. How far will “auditable” go? How can proprietary code be proprietary when it in essence becomes open source?

* One of the 20 Proposals is to declare the Internet an essential facility. We as a People need to decide what we want the Internet to be: 1) a host for information of all types, ideas, random thoughts, beliefs, as well as a leveler of playing fields where a user with little financial wherewithal can start a future multi-billion dollar company from his/her dorm room; or 2) do we want the Internet to be just another regulated utility.

* Lastly, Senator Warner seems to think his 20 Proposals will improve competition by tying the hands of the big social media companies and supposedly facilitating new entrants. Here are three points to consider:

Successful people make it big by aspiring to be big. They do not enter a market that highly regulates bigness just because they are little, since they do not intend to remain little.

Successful people do not need government legislation, rather they avail themselves of government policies. For example, when government (because of its gargantuan national debt) keeps interest rates ridiculously low, smart people borrow loads of money, offer stockholders of competitors good prices, and sail into near-monopoly positions.

Remember WordPerfect and Quatro Pro, or MySpace? These guys dominated the word processing, spreadsheet, and social media markets respectively. But then came Word Office Suite and Facebook. So, big companies can be replaced by smarter and nimbler ones.

As the Wall Street Journal says in its article Warner’s Plan to Ruin the Internet,
“Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away.”  We concur.

Laws, Policies and Consequences

The law of unintended consequences is as merciless as the law of gravity. This article lists three instances where the law of unintended consequences caused supposedly well-intentioned laws to turn into nightmares, especially for those of modest income.

Unintended consequences

The Fast Food Franchise Bright Idea

Chin Jou’s book Supersizing Urban America: How Inner Cities Got Fast Food With Government Help, published in 2017, should become a classic on the subject of unintended consequences.

The book recounts the story about the federal Small Business Administration setting up a program to help residents of inner cities become entrepreneurs. The SBA would guarantee loans to start business franchises. Dunkin’ Donuts stepped right up to help promote the program, followed by McDonald’s and Burger King. Once fast food companies realized inner cities had become a gold mine, they leveraged their prospects with advertising, and inner cities residents became faithful consumers of fast foods.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is unhealthy obesity.

The War on Terror and the Rise of Terrorism

9/11 was a tragedy where we experienced in real time, in U.S. soil, the death of almost 3,000 civilians. Therefore, the hurt and anger that resulted in the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, could be understood. George Bush sent troops to Afghanistan to clean out terrorist camps, and to Iraq to eradicate supposed weapons of mass destruction.

The unfortunate unintended consequence is well described by this paragraph,

What the US tends to forget, or intentionally ignores, is that armed reactionary groups like ISIS are born out of the destabilization created by Western military intervention … [H]ostile anti-American resistance groups gain momentum, sympathy and legitimacy from the actions carried out by Western forces.  Foreign Policy Journal, 2015

Fighting Climate Change

Everybody wants clean air, clean water, and the absence of extreme climate. Therefore, to ensure these graces, legislators have done what legislators tend to do – pass laws. The laws of preference favor transit-oriented development (TOD) intended to reduce automobile miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.

TOD policies set strict urban-growth boundaries, establish vast conservation areas where development is not allowed, and encourage development only along transit corridors. Under such plans, density is promoted as desirable not only as means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also as an engine of growth and, therefore, tax generation.

The unsurprising unintended consequence of transit-oriented policies is unaffordability of real estate. As places to build shrink and neighborhoods resist high density, supply of housing decreases and prices for renting or buying a roof over one’s head go up.

California, a state that boasts its leadership in controlling climate change and forcefully promotes transit-oriented policies has chased away its working poor and its middle class, who cannot afford astronomically housing costs.

The problem is that high-density housing–that is, mid-rise and high-rise housing–costs 50 to 68 percent more, per square foot, to build than low-density housing. If California really wants to build housing that is affordable to low-income people, it needs to build more low-density housing. To build that, it needs to open up land that has been off-limits to development because it is outside of urban-growth boundaries.  Will Density Make Housing Affordable? New Geography, March 2018.

Examples Abound

Government policies apparently implemented in good faith can easily turn sour and result in unanticipated harm. Who can forget the mass displacement of residents in the 1950s -1960s in the name of urban development? Who can ignore the cost of health insurance after the Affordable Care Act? How many families have been torn apart and how many children have been caught in the cross fire of the war on drugs?  But these are all subject for future articles on the Just Vote No Blog.

Therefore, regardless of your party affiliation or political leanings, proceed with caution in supporting sweeping legislation, regulation, or executive orders at all levels of government.

We Live in a Humpty Dumpty World

Humpty Dumpty -When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.‘  Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

We All Do It

We all manipulate words to explain, to persuade, to deceive, to modify the behavior of others. When a Mommy says “Yummmm….carrots” to her baby, she is doing all of the above. It is unlikely that she believes unseasoned mushed carrots are yummy, but she manipulates words and changes behavior in order that her child will eat. Mommy’s success is aided by her child’s innocence and gullibility.

The same principle holds true for politicians, be they benevolent or tyrant, wishing to perpetrate an agenda upon a gullible populace.

…the story is told from the perspective of the common animals as a whole. Gullible, loyal, and hardworking, these animals give Orwell a chance to sketch how situations of oppression arise not only from the motives and tactics of the oppressors but also from the naïveté of the oppressed, who are not necessarily in a position to be better educated or informed.  Animal Farm by George Orwell

So true, except for the part about the gullible not being in a position to be better educated or informed. Some of our nation’s most willing receivers and spreaders of manipulated speech reside in our universities.

The university is a vast public utility which turns out future workers in today’s vineyard, the military-industrial complex. They’ve got to be processed in the most efficient way to see to it that they have the fewest dissenting opinions, that they have just those characteristics which are wholly incompatible with being an intellectual. Mario Savio, founder of the Free Speech Movement at U.C. Berkeley.

Besides politicians and our supposed intellectual elite, special interests ranging from the nation’s war industry to compassionate advocates of all sorts are also receivers and spreaders of manipulated speech.  The manipulated speech becomes part of mainstream vocabulary.

* “Racist” has become a catch-all description of anyone who disagrees with any prevailing agenda. Don’t want to spend taxpayer money on removing statues from parks? You are a “racist.” Want your children’s school to focus on reading, writing and computing? You are a “racist.”

Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, argued in a fiery speech Thursday to 1,400 union members that school-choice programs such as vouchers and tuition tax credits are rooted in segregation and racism. The Washington Times, July 21, 2017.

* “Immigrant” now describes those who arrived in the U.S. via formal immigration or refugee channels and those who simply crossed borders.

Between May 7 and June 20, the Trump administration instructed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to place any adult immigrants who crossed the border illegally in federal custody.  Merriam-Webster, word example.

Fundraising efforts are going on around the country to support organizations that are working to protect immigrants and bring families back together.  Merriam-Webster, word example.

* “Abortion” has disappeared from public discourse, and has been replaced by the cryptic codes “A woman’s right to choose,” or “reproductive control.”

The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control.Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

(Perhaps the emphasis should be on the fact that men cannot develop preeclampsia or hemorrhage during pregnancy or childbirth.)

* “Liberal” has been replaced by “progressive.” Democrats no longer call themselves “liberal.” Maybe because the new focus is on changing the structure of society rather than on making what we have better.

It seems to me that traditional ‘liberals’ in our current parlance are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society. A ‘progressive’ are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.  David Sirota, Political Commentator

From Manipulating Words to Manipulating Events

It is only a short hop between manipulating words and manipulating events in order to achieve a desired outcome. California is particularly good at speaking eloquently of a multitude of crises that demand intervention, compassion, fortitude, resistance, and/or money. Climate change and sanctuary, along with housing and homelessness, are at the top of the state’s crisis list.

* California Greening

California takes pride in its draconian efforts to lower green house gas emissions by declaring vast areas of the state protected land where no development is allowed, passing legislation that requires cities and counties to build their “fair-share” of dense housing, and discouraging the use of private automobiles. California also has a “cap and trade” program, under which companies pay penalties if they exceed pollution limits, but can trade for pollution credits with companies that emit less pollutants.

Whether California’s Herculean efforts to reduce emissions arise primarily from environmental or economic concerns remains a secret locked in legislators’ minds. The fact remains that dense populations, where businesses and housing are clustered into tight spaces drive economic growth, and cap-and-trade-produces revenue for the state.

As an aside, California’s greening comes with costs that event manipulators don’t like to talk about. Density has caused construction and housing costs to skyrocket, the middle class to flee the state, and legislators to embark on a constant quest for funds to build subsidized housing. Cap and trade, touted as a way to help poorer communities disproportionately affected by pollution, has instead given the more polluting industries located in such communities the ability to pollute even more.

* Prisons and Private Profit

In a video op-ed that appeared on MSN.com on June 25, 2018, U.C. Berkeley Professor Robert Reich spoke, eloquently as always, of private contractors that run detention centers “profiting from family separation.” In the video, Reich condemns the “money, influence and cruelty” behind Donald Trump’s border policy that enriches these private contractors.

Nowhere in the video does Robert Reich mention that private contractors have been part of the U.S.’s detention system since the 1980s, profiting substantially from the U.S.’s vast native and immigrant prison population.

In response to the broader prison overcrowding that accompanied the rise of mass incarceration during the 1980s and 1990s, several states entered arrangements with private companies for their ability to build prisons quickly—and without the need for voter approval … The private prison industry has long considered immigration detention an opportunity for gain. In 1984, CoreCivic established its first privately owned detention facility in Houston to hold immigration detainees.  Migrationpolicy.org

The Imaginative Progressive Mind

Although manipulation of words and events is done by just about everyone, those who hold today’s progressive ideas of what government and society should look like seem to be infinitely more imaginative than conservatives.

The laundry list of words progressives have succeeded in embedding into the public conscience is impressive: equity, social justice, sustainable/unsustainable, capitalist greed, global warming/climate change, diversity, child-free, entitlements, renter’s rights, food security, body shaming, living Constitution, fair share, regional governments.

Along with words come world views of how things should be!

Bloggers Beware of California SB 1424

Rita Hayworth in the Enquirer

California Senator Richard Pan introduced in February 2018 Senate Bill 1424 Social Media Advisory Group, presently in committee process. The bill would,

… require the Attorney General, not later than April 1, 2019, to establish an advisory group consisting of at least one member of the Department of Justice, as well as Internet-based social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars to study the problem of the spread of false information through Internet-based social media platforms, and draft a model strategic plan for Internet-based social media platforms to use to mitigate this problem.

The bill in its present form, after amendments, mentions only “Internet-based social media platforms,” bringing to mind Internet giants such as Facebook and Google. However, an earlier version of the bill reveals what Senator Pan may have had in mind,

As used in this section, “social media” means an electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, email, online services or accounts, or Internet Web site profiles or locations.

The bill as amended simply requires a study. However, earlier versions of the bill specify requirements via legislation, giving a hint of what might eventually arise from the proposed “advisory group.” Here are a few requirements of the bill prior to amendments:  How, and on what basis, the social media Internet website determines what content to display to the user; whether the social media Internet website enables other parties to influence, through payment or the use of automated accounts, what content is displayed to a user; whether the social media Internet website utilizes factcheckers.

Small businesses, startups, as well as bloggers of every type with a presence on the Internet should consider themselves in the crosshairs of Senate Bill 1424. Senator Pan seems to be seizing an opportunity offered by a crisis du jour, fake news, to regulate what is said on the Internet.

Businesses

Small businesses and startups often depend on an Internet presence to acquaint the public with their products or services. What they say about their products or services is already covered by several rules to prevent false claims. The Federal Trade Commission summarizes responsibilities of businesses as follows: “Under the law, claims in advertisements must be truthful, cannot be deceptive or unfair, and must be evidence-based. For some specialized products or services, additional rules may apply.” Additional rules include claims that target children, involve endorsements, pertain to environmental or health products, indicate a product was made in the U.S.A., entail telemarketing or online advertising.

Assuming that fake news is described by the proposed “advisory group” as not evidence-based (although who knows what the group might come up with by way of description), what would be the purpose of Senator Pan’s idea of adding to what is already in the FTC’s books?

Ideas

While for the most part businesses offer products or services for a price or a fee, non-profits, columnists, bloggers, activists, candidates running for office, political observers offer arguments and ideas. Determining whether such arguments and ideas are patently false, i.e. whether they are fake news, seems to be skating on thin ice. At what point Senator Pan’s proposal crosses the line from attempting to keep untruths from spreading to regulating arguments and ideas. At what point does Senator Pan’s proposal become a violation of the U.S. Constitution First Amendment?

Invent a Crisis Then Milk It

Never let a crisis go to waste seems to be in every legislator’s catechism. We have lived with all types of snake oil since the beginning of time. Caveat emptor – buyer beware – used to be the rule of the marketplace. However, little by little, consumers of products, ideas, and news have been increasingly deemed incapable of determining what is snake oil and what is not. Some rules can be beneficial, such as requiring evidence-based label information on products. But what is an evidence-based idea?

When our Declaration of Independence stated that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, would Senator Pan object to this phrase as fake news, since all men at that time were not being really deemed to be created equally? Would Senator Pan understand the magnitude of that phrase as a new idea upon which the Founding Fathers intended to build a new nation? Or would Senator Pan try to pass a law preventing the spread of those words?

Soft Tyranny

Alexis de Tocqueville, of Democracy in America fame, offered the following image,

… the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Are we experiencing such pall draping our nation, or have we even gone beyond it?

Crisis at the Border – Fake Tears and No Solutions

As legislators, aided by the media looking for easy “news,” keep the political pots boiling by jumping from one national hysteria to another, the country keeps unraveling. Each national despair enjoys its 15 minutes of fame and then disappears, either leaving no trace or generating a wake of greater problems.

Today’s national tragedy is children being separated from their parents at U.S. borders. Obviously, the practice is inhumane. But what do we get instead of a serious all-partisan effort to hammer out immigration reform and a permanent solution to children, accompanied and not, pouring over our borders? We get photo-op tears and hurling of invectives.

The challenge of people crossing borders without permission is much wider than children being separated from parents. The economic and political repercussions are endless, and the stakeholders benefitting are numerous.

Macro Considerations

We are talking about the good people crossing the U.S. border without permission from the U.S. government to flee from violence or lack of economic opportunity in their own countries.  We are not talking about the criminal elements in gangs or drug cartels.

These folks are not coming in flying first class.  They are trekking deserts and wading rivers, more often than not with little else but the clothes on their back. What would be the economic impact to the U.S. of opening the borders to welcome all? In the days when land was plentiful for settlement and jobs that required only a willingness to work were abundant, the economic impact would be beneficial. Today, the U.S. is struggling with its own native born who lack opportunity, skills, and jobs.

Micro Considerations

* Economies go through demographic transitions. At present, lower-income countries have high birth rates, while higher-income countries like the U.S. have an aging work force. Controlled immigration that focuses on workforce needs would be helpful. Undocumented immigration is not controlled.

* U.S. techies have been issuing this warning for several years: Except for very high-skilled work, robots will do everything, and governments will need to establish “universal income” to support the rest of us. The majority of undocumented immigrants are not highly skilled.

* Undocumented immigrants do work, and do pay taxes. Given their relatively low-wage status, they also receive refunds and child credits.

Stakeholders might not want solutions

* Immigrants, both legal and undocumented, identify with Democrats more than they do with Republicans. Might a constant turmoil surrounding immigration, with Democrats posing on the immigrants’ side help the party’s cause? Immigrants who have obtained U.S. citizenship vote, as do undocumented immigrants in a handful of local elections, such as school board.

* Undocumented immigrants, adults and children, apprehended at border crossings need to be housed. Some housing is provided by the U.S. government. However, most is provided by non-profit organizations and by private contractors. If we dismiss the idea that housing the undocumented is a lucrative business, we are being naïve.

BCFS, a global network of nonprofit groups, has received at least $179 million in federal contracts since 2015 under the government’s so-called unaccompanied alien children program, designed to handle migrant youths who arrive in the country without a parent or other family member.  The New York Times 06/21/18

But several large defense contractors and security firms are also building a presence in the system, including General Dynamics, the global aerospace and defense company, and MVM Inc., which until 2008 contracted with the government to supply guards in Iraq.  The New York Times, 06/21/18

So What to Do

The first step might be for legislators to get back to earning their pay taking care of the county’s commerce, infrastructure, security and tranquility.

The next step might be for the general public to acknowledge who the stakeholders are, and how the stakeholders aim to keep their powerful and lucrative positions by discouraging solutions to challenges.

Then, laboring under their new found focus and under the sharpened eyes of their constituents, legislators are likely to find give and take, compromises, and solutions.

It Takes Good People to Find Solutions

An iconic figure of our times is Cesar Chavez, who dedicated most of his life to improving the working conditions of migrant field workers.  Google “Quotes by Cesar Chavez” and a lot of good advice comes up.  Legislators could use a good dose of Cesar Chavez’ non-violent and persistent focus on working things out until solutions are achieved.

Cesar Chavez 2

 

Born March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona, in a Mexican-American family.  Died April 23, 1993.

It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth.  Cesar Chavez