Friday, June 23, 2017

Apparently It's Working

It's an interesting dilemma.

On the one hand, I'm glad that my stuff is getting out there and people are seeing it. It's nice to see my stuff in print and published.On the other hand, though, it does me absolutely no good if it is stolen and credit for my work is assumed by another.

This is what has happened to me in the past day or two. I received an email from Google AdWords saying that advertising to my site, www.blowhardpundit.com, had been suspended for a "lack of original content" ... which immediately raised flags in my mind, because it is nothing BUT original content. When I got them on the horn it turned out that the offending article was "Polygamy? Not As Crazy As It Sounds" which was originally published in June of 2014 in Yahoo Voices (which was hacked), and again on my original blog www.on-the-other-hand.net (no longer active). I recently re-published this article simply because a) it was an easy way to generate content, and 2) -- well, there really is no other reason.

One of the effects of this was that the date/time stamp of the blog post is reset to the current date and time. Bear this in mind; it's crucial later.

So I was speaking to the AdWords rep, a very nice lady whose name I can't remember at the moment, and I was told that they have an algorithm that performs searches based on the blog post title, and this particular one came up as being posted on June 26, 2014 (the day after it was originally posted) on a site called yakmax.com (please do NOT go to this site, as they are content thieves). The post was identical in every way to mine, with the exception of the fact that my name was not attached to it. The reason it was flagged as being not original is because, due to the addition of a single sentence at the beginning, the date/time stamp was updated to the current date and time ... which put the stolen article first, and the original second.

The course of action I was given?
  1. Track down every site where my blog posts have been published.
  2. If they are not legit, submit a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) complaint for each offending post to the web site owner (assuming I can find who it is).
  3. Take down my post that has been stolen, because the timestamps lead Google to believe that it's my content that is the stolen content.
  4. Follow up each DMCA complaint, initiating any further legal action if necessary.

I get it. Procedures have to be followed, and all that, and there's really nothing about me that inherently identifies me as the original author. But when you have my posts showing up on multiple sites, under multiple authors, when these posts all contain similar elements (tagline at the end, for example), and when these elements also exists in posts that have not been stolen, it is a reasonable assumption to make that I wrote the crap and other people are attempting to make money from it.

The six web sites I found (so far) that have my content all have the same look and feel (typography, layout, etc.) and are all registered in Pomona, NJ. I can only assume they are all registered to the same registrant; the registration info has been masked.

Ironically, the web sites in question all have the following notice posted in the "Terms" section:
The Website contains material that is protected by state, national and international copyright, trademark and other intellectual property laws. You may not modify, copy, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit or distribute in any way any material, including code and software, from the Website. You may download material from the Website and may use the Website for your personal use only, provided you keep intact all copyright and other proprietary notices.

Apparently this means that they can steal my stuff, but I can't steal it back, or something.

Anyway, I'm sure these aren't the only sites who have been guilty of this, but in the interest of maybe someone knowing something about them, here they are:

bogbit.com
itchyfish.com
mudmosh.com
treepony.com
wetbin.com
yakmax.com

I urge everyone reading this to wreak as much havoc on these sites as possible. Flood their email contact form. If you know who the person or people are, pull a Noriega and set up a bank of incredibly large and ugly amplifiers outside their house blasting Van Halen's "Panama" on a continuous loop at ear splitting levels. If you know what kind of car they drive, get in front of them in traffic and drive r-e-a-l  s-l-o-w.

I am not going to suggest that someone proficient in web coding create a program to simulate a denial-of-service attack on these sites, nor am I going to suggest finding where this person lives and leaving flaming bags of dog crap on their front step, nor would I tell people to find out where the domain is being hosted and shut off the power. That would be unethical.

I am going to ask a small favor, though. Anyone who sees my material published elsewhere -- as in not on my blog, or not in the Facebook groups and pages I frequent -- please contact mew directly so I can deal with it appropriately. Nine times ut of ten I'll bet it's just fine ... it's that last one that'll get me every time.

I gotta lie down.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Good Guys, Bad Guys, and the NRA

Screen grab from the dashcam video that shows the moment Philando Castile was shot
This truly was the shot (or shots) heard round the world. Almost a year ago, Philando Castile was shot and killed for a broken taillight and for reaching for his wallet. Prior to this, nobody had any idea that these were capital crimes.

The NRA, usually a reliable source of batshit crazy quotes from Wayne LaPierre, has been conspicuously silent on this case, apparently because the 2nd Amendment rights they are so fond of "defending" don't apply to black people, or something.

It comes down to a simple point: your right to have a gun does not supercede anyone else's right to not have it used against them.

What follows is a republish of an article I wrote about a year ago, shortly before this event took place.

July, 2012: a man walked into a theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire after setting off tear gas grenades, killing 12 people. One of the weapons used was an AR-15 assault rifle.

December 2012: 20 students and six teachers were executed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The weapon of choice? An AR-15.

June, 2013: Five killed and four wounded at Santa Monica Community College by an AR-15.

October, 2015: At Umpqua Community College in Oregon, nine people were killed by an AR-15.

December, 2015: An AR-15 was used to kill 14 people in San Bernardino.

June 2016: an AR-15 was used to kill 50 people (so far) and leave 53 more wounded in the largest single mass shooting event in United States history.

Omar Mateen purchased the gun used in the Orlando nightclub shooting legally. American-born al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a video that encouraged followers of al-Qaeda to take advantage of the lax gun laws in the United States, "You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?"

If I want to get on a plane, I have to make sure my bottle of mouthwash is less than three ounces, and I have to submit to a full-body scan at the airport, and remove my shoes, and if there is anything more complicated than a toothbrush in my carry-on bag I might be hauled off to a back room somewhere to be interrogated about who I know, how long I've known them, what's my religion, why am I going where I'm going and what am I going to do when I get there and when am I coming back, and if I start to get annoyed because all of this nonsense is causing me to miss my flight this only serves to cast more suspicion and I could end up in a CIA black site.

If I want to buy an assault rifle, though, all I have to do is show up at a gun show, and the only question I will have to answer is "debit or credit?"

This is all because the National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, and dedicated to serving the lobbying needs of the gun manufacturing industry, has somehow transformed the Second Amendment from ensuring the functionality of a "well-regulated militia" to protecting the (non-existent) right of every man, woman, child, dog, cat, gerbil, and some species of invasive plants to own whatever type of gun they want, and to carry them openly in places like Chipotle, Target ... but, ironically, not at the national convention of the National Rifle Association, where firearms are banned from the inside of the building in which it is being held.

The thing is, the right to own firearms is not Constitutionally protected, and this has been reinforced by none other than Antonin "Fuck the Public, They Don't Know Shit" Scalia in Heller v. District of Columbia (2008). Scalia expounded for pages about the precise definitions of the words "keep" and "bear" as they applied to the Second Amendment, and at no time during this exposition did he mention ownership. His opinion holds that the average citizen has a Constitutionally protected right to "keep" arms (that is, to have them in his or her possession), and to "bear" arms (that is, to put them to use), but never to own them.

This is like saying my neighbor has a Constitutionally protected right to "keep" and "bear" my lawn tractor. Under Scalia's definition, my neighbor has the right to keep it in his garage, and to use it whenever he wants to, but it's still my goddam tractor. To extend this analogy, and to apply Scalia's reasoning to the question of firearms, I have a right to keep a gun in my home, and I have a right to use it for self-defense, hunting, etc., but at no point is my right to actually own the thing -- to claim title to it -- Constitutionally protected.

Of course, in light of the horror in Orlando, this is all Monday-morning quarterbacking. Because of our lax gun regulations (thank you, National Rifle Association!), Omar Mateen was able to legally purchase a military-style assault rifle, and then use it to kill 50 people and injure over 50 more. And even as I write this, there are those on the right who are trying to shift the spotlight away from gun regulations and shift it toward their favorite target of ire:

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, in his weekly bible verse tweet, posted Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." This was later deleted, and the PR firm hired by Patrick after the shitstorm provoked by his tweet claimed that "the tweet was pre-scheduled."

Donald Drumpf, ever the master of thoughtful, informed commentary, tweeted "What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough"

Drumpf also tweeted "Appreciate the congrats for being right on Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!" Still waiting for him on that last one ...

There have been multiple calls for increased vigilance -- against mental illness. Granted, anyone who would do something like this is a sick fuck, but when the plague has already been unleashed you focus on eradication first and prevention second.

Over on redstate.com, Jay Caruso pens a column in which he maintains that "If the shooter were a Christian? All we'd have heard all morning was how Christianity spurred the shooter to commit acts of violence against gay people. But the shooter was part of a radicalized form of Islam that THROWS GAY PEOPLE OFF ROOFTOPS TO THEIR DEATH. So the left instead chooses to blame the NRA. Typical." Actually, Mr. Caruso, it's not that it's typical of the left, it's of people who follow the rules of logical thought ... something with which, apparently, you only have a cursory acquaintance.

The left-wing blogosphere is all astir over the fact that the National Rifle Association hasn't commented on this story ... not at all surprising, if you think about it. Say what you will about the NRA -- they're evil, soul-sucking scum; Wayne LaPierre is the illegitimate love child of a diseased possum and Mr. Hyde from the Bugs Bunny cartoons (actually, there is a disturbing resemblance there) ...
Wayne LaPierre
NOT Wayne LaPierre. Or so he says.
 ... and so on -- they ain't stupid. Anyone with the common sense of gravel, when they are fronting an organization such as the NRA, knows that the best course of action in a situation like this is to sit tight, shut up, and wait until the President says something that can be twisted around so that you can blame him for everything.

None of this, however, addresses the real problem, which is that access to guns is simply too easy. I'm not saying, as some idiot parrot at the Right Wing Shriek Factory will be quick to claim, that we should confiscate firearms. First, the public would never stand still for it; second, it is but the first step to a police state; and third, the logistics are just unworkable.

What I am saying, however, is that we need to do the following things:

Repeal the Second Amendment.
Amendments can be repealed; we've done it before (the Twenty-First Amendment is an explicit repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition). This doesn't criminalize guns. It simply removes this near-mythic status of Things Protected By The Constitution that preents anything of substance from being done to regulate them.

Regulate guns.
I can't buy a beer without being able to prove that I am twenty-one years of age (depressingly, nobody has asked in decades). Yet guns are being marketed to children ... cute little pink rifles for girls that fire actual bullets. For some reason, a fizzy beverage with 5% alcohol is deemed to be more of a threat than a machine that is designed expressly for the purpose of hurling chunks of hot lead at high speeds into other living things so that they aren't living things any more. This is patently absurd. Not only do we need full background checks for all gun sales, including the cute little pink ones, we also need to require that anyone purchasing a gun be properly licensed and insured. Which brings me to ...

Require gun owners to be licensed, and require guns to be registered.
Libertarian types as well as NRA shills will immediately squawk that this is the first step toward confiscation. Of course, that's like saying that, because my house faces northwest, a step out of my front door is the first step to Toronto. Requiring gun owners to have a license, which would serve as proof of training and expertise, is not unreasonable.

And actually, I am going to use right-wing "logic" here. A few years ago Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law, and a conservative friend of mine tried to make the argument that I shouldn't be upset about it because I already had the ID, so what's the problem? Using that same logic, the vast majority of people who would be subject to this licensure requirement would be able to get said license with no issues, so what's the problem?

As far as registering weapons, it has nothing to do with confiscation, or the paranoid ravings of right-wing nuts who think that Obama is comin' to take yer guns. All it has to do with is identifying the weapon and the owner in the case that it is used in the commission of a crime. Again, if you never use your guns illegally, and you always know their whereabouts (for example, a gun safe in your home), then what's the problem?

Require gun owners to carry liability insurance.
Sure, in cases like the Orlando shooter (who was killed by police), he probably wouldn't have had insurance anyway. However, contrary to what the NRA and their ilk would have you believe, just because something doesn't work all the time doesn't mean we shouldn't even bother trying. Using that logic, David Ortiz would never get up to bat because he strikes out occasionally, and if he can't spank it out of the park every fucking time then what's the use?

With that being said, requiring gun owners to carry insurance gives them an economic incentive to ensure that they are not used for nefarious purposes. In addition, it's a free-market solution ... and I thought conservatives loved it when the market is the solution, rather than government.

Repeal the Second Amendment.
Yeah, I already said it. I know. It's that important.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is archaic. It no longer fits the needs of our society. It is a low-technology 18th century edict that is not at all appropriate in our high-tech 21st century world. It may have served a purpose when governmental tyranny was a real concern, and the weapons used by governmental forces and the weapon owned by a plantation owner in Virginia were equivalent. That is no longer the case. Joe Six Pack with an AR-15 going up against the United States Army is roughly the same as trying to control a tornado with a flyswatter.

The long and short of it is, we need to make it extremely difficult for people like Omar Mateen -- or Adam Lanza, or James Holmes, or Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, or Christopher Harper Mercer, or John Zawahiri -- to get guns. These are all people who were known, for one reason or another, to be a risk to those around them, either through mental illness (Lanza, Holmes) or religious fanaticism (Farook, Malik), yet they were still able to purchase, legally, enough firepower to slaughter 116 people collectively and injure another 149 people.

That's 265 people. Two hundred sixty five dead or injured because Congress allows itself to be bullied by the NRA.

Repeal the Second Amendment. Regulate guns. Granted, we won't be able to stop them all, but each life saved by these measures will more than justify them.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Whither The Two Party System

Much of today's political toxicity supposedly comes from the ideological differences between the two parties, and the fact that neither side seems to be willing to accept the idea that the other side might have some valid points on any given issue. At least, that's the conventional wisdom.

The problem is, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

It's not that the two parties are separated by ideological differences. It's that they are too much alike, and many of these "differences in ideology" are actually manufactured to keep the two parties at each other's throats in the minds of the populace. Much of the uproar of late has little to do with partisan philosophy, in fact, and everything to do with the Distractor in Chief and the fact that the wheels seem to be on the verge of coming off his bus on a daily basis.

In actuality there just isn't a whole lot of daylight between the two parties, and this is a testament to how effective the Republicans have been at defining the conversation over the past forty years or so. Ever since the Summer of Reagan in 1980, the Republicans have been steadily moving to the right, dragging the rest of the country along for the ride whether we wanted to go or not. Each election cycle the GOP finds something on which to hang their ideological hat, then they demand to know why the Democrats aren't keeping up. From "family values" and demonizing Murphy Brown in 1992 to illegal immigration and demonizing Mexicans in 2016, the Democrats have constantly been trying to keep pace with the GOP, allowing the Republicans to frame the argument each time.

Somehow the GOP managed to implant the notion in the popular consciousness that conservatism is somehow more patriotic than liberalism. The result of this is that each time the GOP lurches to the right, the Democrats scramble to keep up, and the entire conversation is shifted toward the conservative end of the spectrum.

The end result of all this? There is little to no liberal representation in government any longer. Ronald Reagan would be dismissed as a wacko lefty were he to run today. Ted Kennedy would have only gotten elected to the Senate because of the status of New England as the supposed "liberal homeland." Bill Clinton was pilloried as another liberal Democrat even though he is basically a slightly right-of-center Blue Dog Democrat -- and once Newt Gingrich found something else to squawk about, the "liberal" epithet fell into disuse.

Liberals have been portrayed by Republicans as being soft on crime, fiscally irresponsible, disrespectful to the religious, soft on immigration, weak in foreign affairs, and each time one of these charges is made there is a whole pack of Democrats lining up to deny it ... and yet, no once has one of them stood up and defended liberalism. Each time, the Dems lunge a little bit further to the right, causing the GOP to move the goalposts again, and the cycle continues.

This despite polls that show Americans as a whole tend to favor liberal causes. For example, let's look at some Pew Research Center polls conducted over the past couple of years:
  • 67% of Americans surveyed believe that employers who have a religious objection to birth control should be required to include it as part of health coverage for their employees (4,500 people surveyed in September of 2016). The GOP pushed hard against this, even making it as far as the Supreme Court with the Hobby Lobby case.
  • 63% of Americans felt that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 51% in 2006.
  • In 2001, 57% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, opposed to 35% in favor. By 2016, 55% supported it while 37% opposed.

Add to these data things like interracial marriage (prior to Loving v. Virginia in 1967, 17 states -- Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Caroline, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware -- had anti-miscegenation laws on the books. All other states, with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Minnesota, had had these laws previously, but they had all been repealed prior to the Loving decision), equal access to credit for women (a provision of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act inserted by Rep. Marie Corinne Morrison Claiborne "Lindy" Boggs (D-LA) during markup by the Banking Committee in 1974), and other issues, and it becomes clear that the conservative movement is actually quite a bit out of step with the population as a whole.

Therein lies the problem. Liberals no longer have adequate representation. The Democratic Party is simply a slightly less conservative option for those who don't want to be affiliated with the GOP ... but for true liberals, those who espouse leftist thinking and philosophy, there is really no home for them.

I am not talking about the fringe elements, either. Granted, there are extremes at both ends of the political spectrum that are better left to their own devices -- far left activists calling for what amounts to anarchy; far right folks who feel that acknowledging that the Earth is round, or older than 6,000 years, is just a bridge too far. But for mainstream liberals, finding a political home is proving to be more difficult with each passing day.

Taking trump out of the equation (let's face it, the man is a political anomaly), the 2016 election was purely about personality, since Hillary actually had more in common with the Republican Party that with liberal Democrats of yore like FDR, JFK ... or even Barack Obama. She was decidedly hawkish in her foreign policy, a sentiment shared with the GOP. Her economic policies favored the wealthy and the donor class. Liberals of all stripes were faced with a sort of Hobson's choice on election day 2016 -- either vote for Hillary as "the lesser of two evils" (which she wasn't, not by a long shot -- but that is for another day), vote for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson even though neither one had a snowball's chance in hell, or sit the election out. We all know how that turned out ...

The way I see it, one of two things has to happen to keep liberals from being completely marginalized.
  1. The Democratic Party has to come out of the closet and embrace liberalism (one could argue that this is also an option for the Republicans, but given the close times with fundamentalist Christianity and the decades building their brand as one-stop conservative shopping, this is far less likely). "Liberal" doesn't have to be a dirty word. What the Dems need is someone who can articulate a new vision of the Party as a liberal haven, promoting policies that find favor with the left and present a clear alternative to conservative politics.
  2. A new third party has to establish itself as opposition to the conservative status quo. Since Democrats are basically "Republican Lite" these days, a third party will give liberals the opportunity to be heard and make their presence felt in Washington.
I had hoped that, after this election debacle, the Democrats would find their way and work toward reflecting the positions important to the average American. It is becoming more and more clear that this is not the case, that the Democrats are stuck in the same political mindset they have been for decades, trying to stay in the middle of the road while the country as a whole migrates to the edges. Meanwhile, the Republicans are not at all shy about courting those on both the near and the far right, stealing market share away from Dems. The people flocking to trump were the very same people with whom the Democratic message of equality of opportunity and forward thinking -- think things like renewable energy, immigration reform, and so on -- would have been very attractive if only it had actually been presented to them.

My thinking is that the Democratic Party has become too entrenched as a party of centrists, too comfortable playing the middle, to be able to give an effective voice to those on the left. This is why the only viable option remains a third party, one whose members aren't afraid to resort to some of the same bare-knuckle tactics used by the GOP, who are proud to wear the label "liberal," who are willing to demonstrate why liberals are good for all Americans, and who will make it a priority to show that patriotism -- true patriotism -- is not confined to the Republican Party.

Liberals need to give voice to the following issues, among others:
  • The idea that someone working a full 40 hours per week deserves to be able to support themselves without having to resort to public assistance (minimum wage).
  • Highlighting how strong unions give rise to better conditions for all workers, and that "Right To Work" laws are really about the right of employers to screw over their employees.
  • Getting the United States out of the business of waging war and into the business of waging peace. We can use our power throughout the world to bring conflicts to a close and bring warring parties to the negotiation table, and to broker peaceful solutions to decades-old conflicts.
  • Getting government out of the personal lives of Americans -- marriage, bathrooms, and all the other nontroversies manufactured by the right -- and allowing people to live their lives as they see fit, provided it does not bring harm to others.
It is only once these issues, and many in a similar vein, are articulated that liberals will be able to make any progress in restoring the balance of our electoral politics.

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A Path Forward

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and I am already seeing purity tests of various stripes filtering across the intertubes. Bernie ...