Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Problem Isn't The Media, It's The People Who Consume It

If you were to take Donald Trump at his word, the media is completely biased against him, and in the pocket of Hillary Clinton. Conservatives constantly complain that the media is biased against them, and Fox News claims to be "fair and balanced" which we know is a lie.

Then you have the far-right and far-left which are convinced that the media are controlled by the elite and "Zionists" - a thinly veiled reference to a range of anti-Semitic conspiracy ideas. These individuals range from Alex Jones' Infowars and Natural News on the right, and a range of wingnut sites like The Anti-Media on the left.

Unless a website is funded by private or public groups like NPR is, that site's existence depends on traffic and ad revenue. Because of that, both traditional and new media sources tend to produce articles based on what people will click on.

This is why the media runs stories on cute puppy videos lifted from Reddit, or the latest celebrity gossip - because that's what grabs people's attention and boosts their ratings. If ratings or web traffic are low, they can't make as much money.

Most of these media outlets depend on advertising to stay afloat, and in the age of Facebook, anyone can create a website and claim that they're a reputable news source or even a health professional. Many also state that they will tell you the stories and truth the mainstream media won't, but they're selling a snake oil sideshow carnival act for the people who are convinced the main circus act is a scam.
Upworthy or World Star Hip Hop-styled tabloid headlines overwhelm quality content from NPR or the New York Times, and most people tend to gravitate to them, let alone want to pay a subscription for material that other sites will just lift and recycle with sensationalized titles like "Fox News Is SUICIDAL After THIS Happened!"

As much as we may despise that practice of clickbait "journalism," in a time where anyone can pretend to be a media outlet, it's often easy money for individuals who can't or won't work a "real job." It's not hard to sit online scraping content from other places and passing it off as your own, and some individuals will stop at nothing to keep that revenue flow alive.

A common retort I hear from the left is that Fox News is the biggest cable news outlet, but younger people tend to get their information online, not from watching TV. We usually consume what appears on Twitter, Reddit or Facebook, and I can tell you that I really only watch MSNBC for Rachel Maddow.

If you truly want quality media, you have to put your click where your mouth is. Learn what is a reputable news source, what is an opinion site like we are, and who is just trying to profit from your time online. If you find that a site is unreliable or secretly promoting an anti-government agenda like Cop Block, remove them from your news feed and move on. Another example is Occupy Democrats which I have repeatedly spoken out against. Occupy Democrats posted an image that does little else other than slut-shame Melania Trump. 357,000 people have shared this image from their page, plus whatever other pages who have used it or made their own versions of it. That's a horrible example for liberals to make of themselves, and meanwhile, the owners of Occupy Democrats and their friends are laughing all the way to the bank. If you search, there is not one single donation made to any political campaign by either owner of the website, or the Occupy Democrats organization which advertises itself as a political cause. Yes, this is nothing more than a for-profit organization trying to make a fortune off politics.

Contribute money to your local NPR station or patronize local businesses that support them. Read websites that don't constantly fail Politifact scrutiny, and always, always be sure to fact check for yourself.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Farewell To The Louisiana IceGators: A Eulogy On Losing A Hockey Team

I moved to Louisiana in 2010. Prior to that, I had never been to a hockey game and shrugged off TV games as boring. I was a baseball fan first, and football fan second.

To me, hockey was a boring sport like soccer that I just could not find to be exciting in any way. Hockey in the South is a very niche market. It is something that you don't grow up with in a culture that worships football, and even baseball comes a distant second to football-obsessed Dixie.

The popular kids in school often were members of the football team. Hockey was barely spoken of, and understandably so. Ice is not easy to find, especially in the Deep South where you may encounter an occasional ice storm, but never a consistent playing surface. Saturdays in the fall were college football on TV, and Sundays would have the Cowboys or Washington on every screen in every home or bar you might visit. "Hockey? That's a Yankee sport!" people would mutter between sips of Budweiser.

Basketball was usually looked down on as a game for black people, because there were hardly any African-Americans where I grew up in staunchly white, Protestant Virginia.

Shortly after moving to Louisiana, I began dating again after a couple of failed relationships. On a first date with someone I had only talked to online, we decided to go to a hockey game at the Cajun Dome - because there was really nothing else going on that January night. I remember the date well, it was January 15th, 2011 and the IceGators were playing the Augusta RiverHawks if I recall correctly. The game was electric. Suddenly, hockey didn't seem so boring after all. Despite not knowing much about the rules of the game, we both fell in love with hockey that night.

5 years later, Shannon and I are still together - and both of us still love the sound of the horn when a goal is scored. Over the last 3 seasons, I did not miss a single home game. Sometimes I would arrive late from work, but never actually missed the whole contest in a streak that lasted close to 100 games.

While Shannon wasn't always able to go, she would be sure to urge me to go because the loudest section in the Cajun Dome needed my antics which included heckling the opposing team mercilessly. During that time, we spent thousands of dollars on concessions, raffles, merchandise and even paid $300 for the uniform of the only Orthodox Jew playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).

We loved and lost different players due to trades, injuries and retirement. Through it all, we were devoted fans of an anomaly, a professional hockey franchise in Louisiana of all places. In Louisiana, hockey isn't the most popular sport by any stretch of the imagination even though hockey once packed the approximately 10,000 seat Cajun Dome back in the 1990s.

Back then, hockey teams popped up all over the place, only to fold a few years later. Louisiana loves the Saints and LSU, and not much else when it comes to sports. When the IceGators resurfaced for the 2009-2010 season, their games were held in Blackham Coliseum, a ancient venue used primarily for rodeos and livestock shows. One of their first goalies went on to play for a number of other professional minor league teams before winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago BlackHawks last year. His name is Scott Darling.

In 2010-2011, the IceGators started playing in the Cajun Dome. From the very beginning, they had to schedule their games around the venue's music and sports events which made for long absences during college basketball season. Sometimes you would have to go as long as 6 weeks without a hockey game as the hardwood floor for basketball replaced hockey's ice sheet. Yet, the team's management made it work despite brutal road trips that put tens of thousands of miles on a bus which liked to break down on the trips to Knoxville or Peoria.

Through good seasons and bad, a couple thousand people would turn out for IceGators hockey. Except in the worst weather, Saturdays would often find dozens of devoted fans gathered in the parking lot hours before the game to party. We would drink, grill and have a good old time hanging out. Sometimes fans of opposing teams would wander in and they would be greeted with some smack talk before being handed a plate of food and a beer. This was a gathering of people that transcended racial, political and cultural boundaries - and I loved every damn drunken moment of it.

When I walked out of the last home game when the IceGators lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Mississippi River Kings, I breathed in that cool, humid air that every hockey fan knows about. Somehow, I had the feeling that I would never see that again in the Cajun Dome.

The news came last Monday. Standing in a funeral home where I was saying goodbye to a friend, the news came that the IceGators were suspending operations for the 2016-2017 season due to renovations at the arena. Upon speaking with other people in the know, it turns out that IceGator hockey was likely done for good due to the local economy and mediocre attendance.

Our 9 year old kid doesn't know yet the IceGators aren't coming back next season. We don't have the heart to tell him just yet that he won't be able to pose for pictures with Gaston, the alligator mascot this fall. IceGator hockey was probably the only place in the world where you could catch a shrimp poboy shot out of a t-shirt gun, watch a game and a few fights, and party with some of the craziest fans you'll ever meet.

Whether or not the IceGators return for the 2017-2018 season, I will always be grateful to the owners, the staff, the players and the fans who helped me to experience a game I am now madly in love with.

Thank you for the pucks, the fights, and the thrills. Thank you for giving me something to look forward to on cold winter nights. Thank you for putting smiles on the faces of thousands of fans. And most importantly, thank you for the memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

P.S, Due to the overwhelming response to this article, I am hoping that the hockey gods will step in and save our team. Maybe a rain dance in my yard will do the trick.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why I Left Forward Progressives

Over three years ago when I was writing solely on this blog and had just a few hundred followers, I was approached by the editor and web manager for what is now Forward Progressives. I was asked if I would like to be a "co-founder" of a website that would be the answer to the clickbait bullshit from sites like Addicting Info and others.

As an amateur writer, I was excited about this new opportunity, especially after running into a dead end and very brief unpaid stint at Politicususa, which told me they were dumping all revenue into further building their site. At that time, my contact "Thomas Barr" and his business partners were running a number of pages like One Million Strong Against Mitt Romney in 2012, or unofficial fan pages for Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and others which they apparently used to post links for Politicususa for kickbacks.

This opportunity seemed like the great break I was hoping for. I was honestly honored that sources I naively bought into considered me to be qualified to graduate from a lowly blog site about punk rock, politics, fraud and whiskey to what I thought was the big time in liberal journalism.

One of the factors that I believe made me a candidate for their website was my utter distaste for Addicting Info and Being Liberal - as their owners and I had repeatedly clashed over reuse of my content without proper attribution. My friend John Henry was also offered a position writing for Forward Progressives, but only if he wrote under a pseudonym so as not draw unwanted attention to our website, which he declined to do.

At first, things went fairly smoothly and I was awestruck at the amount of traffic my articles were attracting. Before long, we had amassed a respectable squad of potential writers, and things were looking great. There were articles that went viral, our pages were booming, and we reached the front page of Reddit once. When I received my paycheck after the first month of writing that was enough to buy a new laptop, I really thought that this was amazing venture I could finally believe in.

Things started changing when we appeared on the radar of political blogging. While the website had a very large reach, priority was only given to "Allen Clifton" - and some of my articles while our other writers were put on the back burner, often for days. Even when their stories were finally published by "Thomas Barr," they were given little promotion and one by one, nearly every one of those writers quit in disgust.

Eventually, almost nobody wanted to write for us, and the few people I managed to recruit didn't last long. This venture was supposed to be a collaboration of writers that were the progressive answer to the clickbait headlines that littered Facebook, but we rapidly became everything that I hated. There was almost zero collaboration or discussion among writers, and "Allen Clifton" did very little to promote others on our team, myself included. Only Arik Bjorn and his delightfully esoteric Sunday column remained, much to the ire of "Allen Clifton" who had asked me to help him force Arik (and others) out.

Within the first couple of months of Forward Progressives, I had also been informed by the website manager, "Thomas Barr" that the site had come under attack from individuals he believed to be connected to our alleged competition, Addicting Info, among others. I was asked to do what I could to take them down, which I was more than happy to do.

At his instruction, I employed a number of techniques that he suggested, including reporting their racier articles to Google AdSense for any violation we could find. A couple of years ago, Addicting Info went silent for a couple of days with no new material as their founder flew from Santa Rosa, California to Chicago to apparently meet with a buyer.

I can only conclude that we reported the Addicting Info organization so hard that they lost all of their advertising revenue sources due to the complaints, and were bought out by a guy calling himself Icarus Verum, who has the real name of Daniel Gouldman. Daniel seems to also hold partial or complete control of a number of liberal websites like If You Only News, Winning Democrats, Reverb Press, Groopspeak and others.

After almost 3 years of battling this juggernaut and letting me take most of the heat, "Thomas Barr" claimed he didn't want to fight this battle anymore. While I was the one who had been relentlessly cyberstalked and reported into 30 day Facebook bans, he told me that people from the Addicting Info cabal had supposedly gotten too close to finding out things about him and his family in Minnesota - and that it was time to shut up.

Before my relationship with Forward Progressives ended with a group chat in January, the website had descended into clickbait stories, far away from the original mission I had signed up for. Articles I had written fell on the back burner, priority was given to Allen Clifton's latest recap of Sarah Palin's pleas for attention, and nobody else wanted to work with us.

What I found strange through this entire experience is that I was almost always the focus of the attacks by the Addicting Info army of trolls, and not Thomas Barr, Allen Clifton, or the site's owner, Logan. Things like my occasional donations to people in need were made the focus of Facebook pages like The Adventures of Beefaroni Tits or Whiskey Dick & The Most Ethical Blog.

Imagine having a group of Facebook pages devoted to harassing you and your friends, or even making fun of your dog? Thomas Clay Jr who commented on that picture was one of the people that worked with Addicting Info and others to relentlessly bully or even attempt to extort individuals into cooperating with them. He is currently the owner of the website American News X, an organization that includes a former admin of my page, Steve Ahearn who was booted after continually begging for money and harassing people.

This is what I continually dealt with since confronting the owners of Addicting Info and Being Liberal back in 2012, although I have enjoyed a brief respite since ending my relationship with Forward Progressives. While "Matthew Desmond" has repeatedly told me that neither he, nor any of his associates have had anything to do with the harassment, the evidence I've seen shows that isn't true.

Anyhow, back to Forward Progressives. Despite the fact that we were supposed to be politically "objective," Allen Clifton insisted on writing one condescending article about Bernie Sanders after another. At the same time, he also created Facebook pages like "Being Progressive" which were intended as an outlet for other links that appeared to be supportive of Bernie. I was instructed, after Thomas Barr gained access to a large pro-Bernie Facebook page run by Annabel Park, to write links specifically tailored for that audience.

This is when I knew that Forward Progressives had jumped the shark. Despite being told I was joining a site that was going to be the answer to the clickbait bullshit that I hated, we had become just like the rest. Logan and the others even claimed that FP was based in San Francisco, CA despite being a registered LLC in Ohio.

When that day in January came that I began writing for my new website and the first article was published, I received a Facebook message from the others that I was being let go. In exchange, I would not talk about the operations of Forward Progressives, and I would continue to receive payments for the traffic that led to my articles, and the site overall.

Those promises were broken, and the sites I helped to build were taken away from me. I have repeatedly tried to rectify these issues, only to be ignored. So now I am releasing this story, and I have recorded all of the conversations with these individuals in case they want to state this story is false.

Let the chips fall where they may.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Love/Hate Relationship With Louisiana

I moved to Louisiana in the fall of 2010. I arrived here on a Greyhound bus in October, with just a few coins in my pocket, and no job prospects. At that point, I was at probably the lowest point in my life, and thankfully, I had family that would make sure I didn't starve, and that I had a place to sleep.

Within a month, I had a job waiting tables at a local restaurant. It took me another 5 months to save up the money to buy a used car, and it was nearly a year before I could find a job in my field. It was an unexpected journey from having nothing, to having a steady paycheck, a woman who loved me, and the peace of mind I had been seeking for years.

Louisiana is not where I ever saw myself ending up. A couple of years prior, I had visited with an ex-girlfriend to attend my sister's wedding, and I remarked that while I liked parts of Louisiana and its culture, it was a place that I could never see myself living in.

Yet, just a couple of years later, that's where I found myself. In time, I began to adjust and find my own niche in a culture that has a distrust of outsiders and a preference for their own ways, even those ways are decades behind the rest of the country.

What I love about Louisiana, at least the southern part of the state, is how friendly people can be. They want to know who you are, who you are related to, and many will buy you a beer during that conversation. You might even be invited to a crawfish boil where you don't know anyone else, and at the end of the night, you've made a bunch of new friends - if you don't talk about political or religious issues that might offend some folks.

For the most part, most Cajuns I've met have embraced me to some degree. After 5 1/2 years, I know people of all political and religious persuasions who I can spend time with, and we get together over our love of food, sports and beer. This isn't the place I saw myself ending up in, but I've learned to make it work.

The political ignorance and individuals fighting against their own self-interests does drive me crazy - as does the racial hatred which lingers just below the surface not only in Louisiana, but across the Southern states in which I have spent all of my life.
One of these days, I may move back to Florida, or even the state where I was born, Virginia. Louisiana has so much promise if only it would turn its government around and elect officials who have the best interests of every citizen in mind, rather than the corporate interests who have run Louisiana into fiscal crisis.

I would like to see Louisiana rise out of the bigotry and ignorance of the Bible Belt and join the rest of the United States in the 21st century sometime in the near future. But if they cannot do that, I will have to regrettably move on, Cajun recipe books in tow.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Free Thought Project Is An Anti-Government Group Supporting The Bundy Militia

Oregon militia free thought project cop block bundyLast week, I revealed to readers how the organization Cop Block was defending the Bundy militia members who have taken over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. Many liberals regularly read and follow Cop Block, along with other groups like The Free Thought Project which pose as advocacy groups, but are not-so-secretly anti-government activists.

On Wednesday, the fire chief of Harney County where the militia takeover has occurred resigned, claiming he didn't like the government's response to the occupation. The website Free Thought Project covered the story with the headline "Oregon Fire Chief Catches FBI Agents Posing as Militia – Quits His Job in Protest" - and claims that the FBI is trying to provoke an armed showdown with the militia members.
Many activists and militia members are now suspecting that the undercover agents were planning to act as agent provocateurs and create trouble in order to frame the protesters for things that they did not do. This theory is supported by the fact these undercover agents were reportedly bothering locals and acting in a threatening manner.

However, mainstream media has reported that militia members were harassing locals, but now that version of events is being brought into question considering the fact that undercover agents were posing as militia. The looming threat of agent provocateurs may be one of the reasons why the refuge occupiers are turning away help from outside militias who have attempted to join the occupation. (Source)
What The Free Thought Project blogger John Vibes conveniently leaves out is that fire chief Chris Briles was sympathetic to the militia in the first place, and that he announced his resignation at a press conference where Ammon Bundy stood with him. This isn't an accidental oversight while blogging from hundreds or thousands of miles away from where the story is happening, it is a deliberate omission of key facts to promote an agenda supportive of the Bundys, and other anti-government groups like them.

Chris Briles is hardly an impartial government official who uncovered some shocking plot against protesters, but a Bundy sympathizer who is promoting conspiracy stories to give credence to the claim that the Bundy militia is simply a group of peaceful occupiers fighting against government tyranny and overreach.

Here's what the local TV station KATU had to say about Chris Briles:
Briels is a member of the Community Committee for Public Safety, which is a local group that's expressed interest in taking over for the Bundy protesters to work to reclaim local rancher's land rights when and if they leave. (Source)
So why would The Free Thought Project leave out these important facts about Chris Briles and the Bundy Militia? If you dig around on their website, you'll find that they promote the same gun confiscation stories that the NRA and gun fanatics regularly repeat, along with false articles about vaccines and other debunked conspiracy stories.

As I've said before, underneath their smoke screen of being police accountability advocates, they're little more than anti-government activists that use well-meaning liberals to spread their message.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Q&A Session December 2015

Here are the results of my Q&A session.

Michael Pettersen: Corned Beef or Pastrami on a Ruben?

Pastrami. I love both but pastrami is where it's at.

Maryse Bonniwell: Is there, really and honestly, a chance Bernie could win. He doesn't get the coverage the others do, he doesn't have the same machine behind him. I know many of us feel like he should, but, in the real world, the one we live in, with apathy as ramped as it is, and racism gaining ground every day with the help of you know who, does he really stand a chance?

Bernie Sanders can win, but I don't know that liberals are ready for him.

Crystal Minarik: What brought you to Louisiana?

A series of unfortunate events. A bad economy in Florida during the housing crisis and a nasty divorce. I lost everything, then eventually became more successful here in my career than I was there.

Lance Burson: What would have to happen for the American south (I live in suburban Atlanta) to become a stronghold for the Democrats?

For people to wake up and realize the GOP is not their friend.

Pam Philpot:
Do you see a relationship between party affiliation and sharing of Facebook hoaxes?

People are dumb on both sides of the aisle.

Patti Casey: Who does Peanut really love most---you or your wife?

Me. He tolerates her but loves me, except when there is food involved.

Donna Schoetker Dunn: What do you enjoy doing when you have some down time?

Fishing or playing poker.

Mack Kirk: Growing up in the south was your political ideology different at one point? Ask for myself having gone through a Libertarian phase into my mid 20s.

I was once a conservative Republican. That has obviously changed. I have some beliefs that are mildly conservative or libertarian now, but I base those on facts instead of popular ideology on the left.

Dan Whitaker: Do you actually believe that if my neighbor plants his fields with GMO corn, and because of prevailing winds his crop cross pollinates my crop, Monsanto can sue me?

No. They have been very careful on that issue.

Leonard Gerber:
What is your real name and why pick such a ludicrous alias?

I don't disclose my name to most people because of the fact that there are both liberals and conservatives who would love nothing more than to torment me and my family. The alias was given to me by a fellow Jewish coworker years ago, and I decided to start writing under this pseudonym as a joke, but now everyone knows by the name Manny Schewitz.

David Matheny: Do you suck the heads on Crawfish?

Of course. That is where all the fat is and it is delicious.

That's it for this Q&A session, I'll do it again soon.