Corporate Responsibility and Black Lives Matter: Put Money Where Your Hashtags Are

Over the past week I’ve seen a lot of blacked out squares with some semblance of corporate PR speak about honoring diversity and supporting #BlackLivesMatter. Leaders have sent out emails within their organizations explaining how the organization supports the movement and in many cases, this has actually come with some financial donation, like $1,000,000 to NAACP and/or ACLU. These are fantastic gestures. However, they often feel empty. This twitter video really highlights why.

Another reason these gestures feel less than sincere is that the businesses that are coming out and saying these things, often have significant contracts with law enforcement, the Border Patrol, FBI, or national intelligence organizations. For example, Amazon has put out comments around supporting BLM. However, their Ring subsidiary has contracts with at least 400 police organizations nationwide. In fact, they were talking about increasing this and adding facial recognition to the recordings as recently as January.

Furthermore, many companies provide discounts and negotiated rates with local government employees. This, of course, includes police forces. Apple is an example that has Federal, State, and Local Government discounts. We shouldn’t find this surprising, as these organizations have massive buying power together. Companies like Intel also get discounts from the Apple store. However, if Apple is serious about more than just Diversity and Inclusion, Apple should drop discounts for cities and states with high numbers of police brutality cases.

For organizations that really want to make a difference where Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag to jump on to show “solidarity,” the ultimate expression of this is through divestment of support for the police. Hold police organizations accountable by removing special treatment. Hold police accountable by cancelling contracts for cloud storage. Hold police accountable by eliminated contracts for facial recognition. Hold police accountable by cancelling IT modernization projects. Hold police accountable by cancelling consulting contracts.

Collectively, define the requirements for restarting engagement. These demands include reduction of police brutalities (ideally as close to zero as possible), elimination of Qualified Immunity (or significant reduction), prosecution of police officers for excessive force, including murder, restructuring of police union contracts to prevent bad cops from being rehired, reintroduction of community policing efforts, introduction of civilian management boards.

These are some ideas provided by the BLM community. I’m ultimately not the right person to be dictating these requirements. Companies that are claiming solidarity should work with Black community leaders to identify the criteria for working with police departments again. Any other than true solidarity through divestment is just more words. Words that may be true, but without action, those words are meaningless. Without forcing the police departments to make change through dropping support, nothing will change. By enabling infrastructure, you’re enabling police brutality.

Below are some more ideas from Killer Mike:

Depression, Trust, and Therapy

When you have depression, it’s hard to talk about. It’s hard to open up to people and explain to them what depression is, what it’s like to live with, and what the causes of your depression are. So, when you find someone that you can trust and feel like you can open up to, it’s a revelation. You feel like there’s someone in the world that you can truly be yourself around. Often this is a friend. Of course, you have to be careful not to over due the depressive talk, because you could bring them down and eventually push them away.

It’s understandable, when shits bad and all you talk about is your problems, it can eventually come across as whiney, especially if the other person is in a similar situation. If they have depression, they will get it, if they don’t have depression, they will be as support as they can for as long as they can, but eventually, they’ll say something like “get over it.”

So, if you’re lucky enough to have a good health plan (in the US) and a good salary, you might be one of the lucky people that can afford therapy from a licensed professional that will never say “get over it” to you. They will help you work through your problems and do so in a safe place. You can tell the right professional anything and they will help you deal with that. In the cases that they cannot help you, something’s outside their expertise (like gender dysphoria) they might refer you to a specialist in that field.

The important thing about all this, which helps to build trust with the therapist, is that everything about these visits is safe and secure. No one need know that you are visiting your therapist, but the people that you tell. However, if you cannot afford that sort of help, then there are apps that are supposed to help you. One such app is Better Help. However, if I was using it, I’d immediately stop. They share “anonymous” data with third parties, according to a Jezebel report.

One of the companies they share this data with is Facebook. Which is a huge red flag for me. Facebook, if you have an account (and to some extent even if you don’t) has a huge amount of data about you. It uses super cookies to continually track you even when you aren’t on the website, it buys data about people to build profiles, and it uses sophisticated tools to build shadow profiles for people that are not on their service.

I had Facebook for years, basically from the day it came to The University of Pittsburgh, up through 2016 election, so basically around 10-12 years worth of ever decreasing data. Even deleted, they probably kept something about my profile. Since they know that I don’t have a Facebook account, they are able to build a profile about me from data they acquire from other sources. It’s likely they scrape websites, like Good Reads (where I review most of my books) and loyalty rewards (I don’t have any at stores like Target) to build a profile of things that I’d want to buy. They sell ads, so they use this information to understand what someone my age might want to buy and to sell better targeted ads.

They have developed a profile about me, from anonymous data. This means, they have sophisticated tools to de-anonymize data. Given that, according to the article, they know when people are depressed and upset, they already have a set of users that they’ve flagged as candidates for mental health support. They have the tools to associate data from Better Help with an actual person. I don’t know about you, but I do not want Facebook to know anything about my mental healthcare.

This, to me, represents a vital break in trust between patient and mental health provider. I trust that the only people that know about my care are those I tell, my doctor, and my health insurer. I trust this, because it is the law. The law helps me feel safe and allows me to have better trust in both my insurer and my doctor. The law, HIPPA, requires YOU to consent to any data transfer and asks for it before it can even occur, every time. So, you might consent to share the minimum amount of data, but that data is more than sufficient to do harm, in the long term.

People seeking help are vulnerable. They can be preyed upon. Even a good therapist who doesn’t like dealing with a specific health insurer can make you feel preyed upon. A company as unscrupulous as Facebook will target you and take advantage of you. It’s dangerous and must stop. If you use Better Help, look for an alternative. If you use Facebook and you can stop, you should stop.

An Alternative To Just Resisting

One of the problems with simply resisting is that it seems passive. That there’s nothing else there. The Democrats need to take another play book from the Republicans now that they have some momentum on Healthcare reform. We all know that the ACA (aka Obamacare) is an imperfect law, as any law is, so there’s plenty of room for improvement there. Why not take advantage of that, but do so using their own requirements against.

One of the main arguments against ACA is that it’s expensive. According to Bernie Sander’s pushing Medicare to all would save individuals somewhere between just under $4,000 and just over $5,500 per year. That’s a lot of money for most people, in some cases over 10% of their income. One study is putting the savings for the overall economy at an absurd half TRILLION dollar saving. In one year. Let’s say that we’re less optimistic and say it’s 20% of that, so a cool $100 billion dollars. That’s 1/7 the amount of TARP, which was used to bailout the banks. When we injected $700 billion into the economy it saved it from the worst banking crisis we’d seen since the ’30s, injecting that much extra money into the economy at the individual level would have a huge multiplicative impact on the economy, much more than just pushing that money into a single location.

So my proposal, which is more modest than Medicare for all, would be to propose Medicare to everyone that makes less than < $30,000 year or maybe 20% above the minimum living wage in a city/region. Regardless, this would help the people that are protesting most loudly, the rural red states. The rest of Obamacare could stay the same, it would just really help the bottom of the population. We could even extend it to small business owners so their employees get a perk of Medicare and all those benefits without that employer needing to worry about their employee’s healthcare. The other benefit is that companies like Hobby Lobby wouldn’t be able politicize healthcare and would allow individuals to make decisions about things like birth control for themselves.

Immigration

ICE has been brutally cracking down on immigration the past few days. Democrats should introduce a comprehensive immigration reform that protects the country and aliens. I think that this is something that red states and red parts of blue states are going to be filling the pinch on. Apparently, farmers that supported Trump in California are now worried about losing most of their work force. This is a pretty valid concern. In Austin Texas, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted raids of illegal aliens by targeting their children. There are reports of their cars following school buses waiting for children to get off the bus to ask the parents for immigration paperwork.

While Arizona was enforcing their paper’s pleas law the state lost between $300 million – $1 billion in agricultural output, while losing out in another $147 million in cancelled conferences in the state. Arizona isn’t known as a agricultural powerhouse, if something similar happens in California, the entire country is going to feel the impact with massively increased food prices. Arizona’s Ag output is about $7.3 billion while California’s is estimated closer to $50 billion, if we lose 1/7 of California’s ag output that’s losing as much as all of Arizona (Az lost about 1/7 of theirs due to papers please). That’s a huge hit to that economy, ripple that out across the entire country and we’re potentially looking at a recession with food prices skyrocketing. Furthermore, many of these illegal aliens are actually paying taxes, of the estimated 11 million about 6.1 million pay taxes which equates to billions in federal and state revenue.

Democrats should instead offer reform that allows non violent illegal aliens a path towards citizenship or some sort of migratory work visa that is designed and so that the workers that want to use that program can go home when they are finished with the year’s work. This should guarantee access to the US for a number of years in such a way that people feel they are safe to go back and forth across the boarder. Partner with Mexico to vet the candidates for these types of visas to ensure that they were upstanding citizens in Mexico and that there are no gang connections. Furthermore, work to protect these migrants so that there’s no need for them to ever mule drugs across the boarders. Require that these workers get car insurance, licenses, and health insurance while they are here (or at least pay taxes for them to cover their portion of Medicare if the above passes). As for those that are already here, stay the course with Obama’s practices, which were more aggressive than past administrations, but still more human than what Trump is doing. Provide a path for citizenship for those that are here. Even toss in a requirement to learn English if you want to mollify the far right.

That still leaves the question of refugees and the Muslim ban. First, I think we need to make sure that the people we train here with PhD’s should be enabled to stay easily. This shouldn’t even be a question, we should in fact require it for any one that is trained in the US or require them to pay back the entire cost of their education immediately. This is what the Netherlands does – or at least Eindhoven University of Technology does. Additionally, if we’re concerned about too many foreigners taking these positions we need to incentivize American students to pursue higher levels of education so there are few spots for immigrants. I personally think that for the best result science and business needs diversity, so I’m for getting more people more degrees.

Beyond this though, I don’t really know what remedies to offer, someone with greater immigration reform experience should weigh in here, but generally, we need to accept refugees for crises we created.

Reigning in the Cloak and Dagger

It’s time we ended cover operations like the one in Yemen. They create resentment towards the US and since they are covert we don’t know what’s being done in our name. We need to end drone strikes and use diplomatic channels to address these concerns. Democrats should introduce bills that require increased oversight of these operations and reduce the executive power to conduct military operations without Congressional approval and/or a formal declaration of war. It is very unlikely that this will pass at all, but there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that believe there needs to be more constraints on what the President is able to do without approval or oversight. We have now been conducting these raids for 15 years and there has been no increased safety in the US due to them.

The other area where the same operatives are heavily engaged is mass surveillance in the US. Democrats need to introduce a bill that stops. Simple as that. It’s been shown not to work as with any large data set it’s possible to create find correlations that really don’t exist. It’s possible create sinister reasons for why a person is doing completely innocuous things.

I think if Democrats repeatedly introduce bills to attack these areas, they will get more and more support as the Trump administration continues to crack down. These sorts of initiatives will show they have a backbone and that they really are actually striving to make things better. Without at least these three changes, there’s no way that Democrats can mount a serious “resistance” to Trump. We’ve seen how loud and upset people are with Obamacare, the next step is to figure out how to do the same with the other two.

I was an immigrant, let’s have some empathy

You probably don’t even think of it that way, but I was an immigrant to a foreign country under a student visa/residence permit with the expectation that I would stay in that foreign country for at least 3 years. Things didn’t go as planned, but I was an immigrant. I’ve written some here in the past about those experiences, since I started blogging on this site over 5 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands.

While I was in Europe I grew up a lot and I experienced things that I would have never experienced in the US. However, before I get into any of this I must preface this post. My experience abroad was easier than most study abroad programs. My courses were in English. I’m an American Citizen. Nearly all government documents along with University documents had English translations. Nearly all Dutch are fluent in English and all my friends spoke English. This made these extremely easy. So easy at times it was easy to forget I was an immigrant.

While living abroad I lived with a group of people I jokingly referred to as a model UN. There were two Colombians, two Pakistanis, a Turk, an Iranian, and a Chinese woman. Everyone had a story to tell me about my homeland that cause them direct personal pain. My Colombian friends told me what it was like growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the FARC threatening things while the US was running missions in their country. My Pakistani roommates told me about what my country was doing to their country at that time. My Iranian roommate was initially terrified to meet me because I was an American. He assumed that I would hate him because of where he was from.

Learning about the impact of the US political system on every person that I met while living abroad was truly sobering. As an American living in the US we simply do not understand the impact and the weight of the US to the rest of the world. Furthermore, we simply take it as a given fact that this is how the world is and always will be. However, that’s not true. When I first arrived in the Netherlands it was clear there was still ill will towards America for George W. Bush, that was tempered a great deal by Obama, but not all of his policies pleased Europeans, specifically many of the bombings we were doing. I believe that we’re losing even more respect with trump as our President now.

I got the idea for this post because a friend of mine shared a link about a Syrian student at CMU was thinking of transferring outside of the US for his PhD. This hit really close to home because, while I was studying in the Netherlands, my wife was finishing up her PhD and my Grandfather passed away. If I had been unable to go home and return for my studies in the Netherlands because of a ban of travel between the US and the Netherlands I would have seriously reconsidered my decision to even study there. Being away from my wife for the first year and a half of my marriage was incredibly difficult, losing my Grandfather was heart wrenching, the mere thought of not being able to go home for his funeral is completely unimaginable. As it was, my family pulled together and got me back to the States for his funeral, which was extremely touching.

Beyond just the though of never seeing my wife or missing my Grandfather’s funeral, it brings up the moral question of “do I want to live in a society that bans people from my country?” For me, as an immigrant to that country, it’s a clear no. I do not want to live in a society that bans people from my country or any other country for the reasons that trump has outlined. These policies affect people, people that don’t have a true say in that country’s government. If there is a problem with the government it should be treated in an international body rather than attacking the people of the nation. Here’s one example of a person negatively impacted by the ban. He is completely devastated.

As I said in my post yesterday we, America, need to be the shining light on the hill. It is the reason why immigrants chose to come here. I would not come here as an immigrant from any country right now because I would never know when that ban would arbitrarily descend on my country, so that I could never go home to see my loved ones or could never have my loved ones join me.

I’ve been an immigrant, I was lucky that I was able to control when and why I became an immigrant. Not everyone is lucky like me.

Gawker v Hogan is it really a first Amendment Issue?

Gawker just lost a wopper of a case today. They have lost their case related to reporting on the Hulk Hogan sex tape. It’s unclear how the sex tape was leaked to Gawker, or if there was any money exchanged, according to Wikipedia. Before we can determine if this massive damages of $115 million and potentially more as punitive damages.

Let’s take a step back and figure out what lines were crossed here. First, the Hulkster was not in his house. He as having sex with someone of his own volition. He was having sex with a married woman whose husband was known for filming his wife with other men. These all indicate that his privacy is going to be somewhat compromised, especially if the woman he was sleeping with had no idea if there were cameras running or in the bedroom at that time. So his privacy was already somewhat diminished because there was a likelihood of a camera in the house.

Gawker didn’t film this themselves. They did not set up Hulk Hogan to have sex and be filmed. There was no intent to create a situation where Hulk Hogan would be duped into having sex on camera for Gawker. The person violating Hulk’s privacy was the husband who’s bed he was having sex in.

Let’s take a step back and figure out where the boundary for privacy is in many of these cases. First we know that, due to the Streisand Effect, that suing over pictures of a celebrity’s house isn’t grounds for invasion of privacy. We also know that embarrassing images like Beyonce’s can’t be removed because people are talking about them and have moved into public discourse.

As much as media consumers have a love/hate relationship with the paparazzi, there’s some pretty clear lines for what’s an invasion of privacy and what is not – breaking into a home and taking the pictures themselves. If someone is in public they can be photographed. This may not be fair or really ethical in the manner they strive to get their pictures. But in public our expectation of privacy is greatly diminished.

So what about reporting on other sex tapes? Kim Kardashian sued several years ago over her sex tape that someone actually bought, rather than being leaked to them in the way Gawker had their tape leaked to them. Rather than following through with the law suit, she actually turned it into a business deal and likely made close to $4.5million, which really was the smart thing to do. She didn’t sue any of the many new sites that reported on this deal and the site she sued likely didn’t have the first amendment protections of a new outlet since it was a porn website. Tommy and Pamela Lee did win some money when suing over their sex tape, but that was over copyright infringement, because it was a porn company they sued, not a news site. So, most of the people that have won money in sex suits cases have been due to copy right infringement and, in fact, the women that were victimized during the so called “Fappening” threatened to sue Google using this approach.

In all these cases news sites reported on this and showed, in many cases doctored, images of the people that were involved in these cases. Kardashian’s sex tape was everywhere and snippets were shown on sites like Gawker. The argument here is that these are topics people care about and are news worthy. Which is why the paparazzi get away with the things they do, because people eat it up. The issue at hand is ultimately if this is actually newsworthy or in the topic of conversation. Which it was first talked about on Howard Stern and then stayed somewhat in public discourse afterwards. Ironically, similar to the Streisand Effect, the topic probably became even more interesting to the public as a result of the law suit. If Hogan had done nothing people wouldn’t have cared and I would never have written an article about this.

The goal here was to prevent other new agencies from distributing similar material, according to Hulk Hogan’s attorney. The goal is specifically to chill media activities in regard to celebrities. Which will be unsuccessful in the long run. History is on Gawker’s side and the president indicates that this will likely be overturned in appeal.

So, to answer the question, it’s likely a first amendment issue and because of the personality, it’s “news worthy.” The goal of the suit is to chill discussion and that’s unacceptable.