Thursday, January 19, 2012

Extreme Legislation Threatens Individual Freedoms

This week has been one of great uncertainty with 3 new bills looming which would significantly limit some of the freedoms US citizens have enjoyed for a long time.

In the misguided knee-jerk attempt to prevent the perceived peril to human life and liberty these 3 bills actually cause or worsen that which they seek to prevent.

The first two are SOPA; the Stop Online Piracy Act (House Bill 326) introduced on October 26, 2011 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and PIPA; Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (Senate Bill 968) introduced on May 12, 2011 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), proposed to address internet piracy and intellectual property violations, the driving force coming from the film industry, led by 20th Century Fox's Rupert Murdoch, The Motion Picture Association of America and NBC Universal. Edward Sheperd, a guest writer for points out that the intended target of these was originally overseas sites making a profit from US copyrighted merchandise, but that the impications could even impact bloggers in that it could require them to adhere to impossible requirements.

Unfortunately the nebulous wording of the bill draws in alot more than just those committing true internet piracy and copyright infringement. It could block customer access to selling sites such as Etsy, Ebay, and others if the government even suspects anything of that sort is going on, and umbrella sites which house alot of small businesses could be unfairly targetted without due process or recourse. The effect on the small business/microbusiness owner such as an artist could be catastrophic if he or she relys on that income for a necessary part of their income with which to make ends meet.

Such websites should be doing everything they can on their end to get rid of those businesses from their website who are infringing on intellectual property, but on a large umbrella site it is virtually impossible to clean that up completely, and it wouldn't be fair to the rest of us honest proprietors creating original works for the government to come in and restrict customer traffic to us via a large umbrella site like Etsy because of the rogue actions of a few.

What is particulary concerning here aside from the obvious risk of lost future income is that although public protest may have slowed these bills down, it seems the proponants have not given up, that they come armed with bigger bazookas than all of the big internet players combined and that they are more united in their beliefs than are those on the side of internet commerce.

Microsoft for instance may have competing interests although it does tend to fall into the same category with Google and the rest of those who generally oppose these bills. It is just this lack of unified voice which is often the fatal flaw in any movement.

Says David Tere Schchuk of the Huffington Press "The digitally-based newcomers can no longer be seen as strangers to the lobbying game, especially not now with Facebook's most recent hires, Joel Kaplan and Myriah Jordan, both previously in George W. Bush's White House. And Facebook is joined by Google, Yahoo and Amazon in a representative grouping called NetCoalition, which has dug itself in well, now moving from North Capitol Street to the heart of lobbyville, K Street. Google itself is spending $6 million a year, now to be rocketing higher, we can be sure, on D.C. lobbying efforts in its own interests.

But all this pales compared with the amassed forces and sheer weight of dollar numbers brought into play when Hollywood, network television and the recoding industry all join forces, as they have over this issue.

Among the bills' industry supporters there's greater unity (and even richer lobbying clout) born out of having an overriding common interest -- i.e. profits -- to defend."

According to Adam Dachis of Lifehacker, President Obama has apparently tabled SOPA indefinitely, but January 24th is the date PIPA comes up for a Senate vote and so appears for at least the forseeable future to be the bigger imminent threat.

The internet blicking clauses were removed from both of the bills because a number of sites have workarounds to render such blocks useless, but "The other, still-active measure present in the SOPA and PIPA bills would allow rights holders to cut of the source of funding of any potentially infringing web site. This means any other companies doing business with this site would have to stop. Whether that means advertising, links in search engines, or any other listings would have to be removed."

According to Mercurious blog this funding clause would include restricting payment processing systems such as Paypal to any site the deem as being in violation (a vital service many artists rely on to recieve most online payments through as well as purchases made online).

That would in effect render any business (and and businesses it houses) defunct at least as far as their internet presences are concerned. Even though many artists also earn income from shows and brick and mortar stores, finding enough stores/galleries to replace the internet profitshare is not always feasible and shows' entry fees can be prohibitive for alot of artists.

One could theoretically start one's own website, but again, the cost of creating one and its ongoing maintenance is not always a realistic option for many artists.

It is anybody's guess how all this will turn out once details are reviewed and adjusted or thrown out, but it is not something to assume others will handle. Every voice counts. I contacted my Representative at the Federal level yesterday in opposition of these bills and hope every one of you will do the same. (I'll leave a link at the end of this post so that you can easily contact the powers that be).

As this these two assaults on our personal freedom aren't enough, now there is a snake ban; a re-make of (Senate Bill 373) originally sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). It has failed to be passed for the past 3 years but has now been re-worked and presented again, much to the dismay of many who love these species. If you would like to tell him how you feel on this issue here is where you can call.

Phone: 202-224-5274

Fax: 202-228-2183

(Source; Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society ) regarding the banning several types of Pythons from crossing state lines (those of you who have kept informed on all the breed specific legislations levied against Pit Bulls will be painfully familiar with this sort of thing already).

The current version is HR2811 is referred to as the Lacey Act, and the Committee on the Judiciary, The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security claim they have "research" proving that these 9 constrictors; pythons, boas, and anacondas pose a danger to humans and to the ecosystem.

Posted on the above herpetological forum is a letter written by several experts disputing the legitimacy of the research on which the act is based. Apparently the study was not peer reviewed and departs from a number of best practices required in good sound research. They make some very good points that should really make people think twice about whether this is such a good move!

I am primarily a dog person but have always had a special place in my heart for reptiles and have in recent months been gaining an increasing interest in snakes. I would like to get a pair of Ball Pythons and have been liesurely looking around planning to take my time and really do my homework in choosing just the right ones, but this bill is disturbing in that its introducers appear to be starting with just a few species as a means to gain a foothold in order to ban more and more species in the future. I may have to get my Ball Pythons alot sooner (while I still can), as I do not know of any breeders in the Atlanta area or even anywhere in Georgia.

I don't like the precedent this bill is setting because its stated purpose (to address the growing problem of non-native species loose in the everglades) is not the only affect it would have and there looks to be deeper hidden agendas inherent in its inception that will only hurt related industry jobs and the enjoyment of these beautiful animals. I can't help but think that some of these hidden agendas are connected to the panic about outsourcing and money leaving the US (because Pythons generally originate from other countries) because the wording prohibits interstate transfer, breeding, and "importing" but not "exporting". It could be that some in Congress feel that American snake breeders are draining American money by purchasing breeding stock from these originating countries. Even so, such worries are probably unfounded because these species have been here in captivity long enough that there are plenty of US sources now from which breeders can obtain their breeding stock.

Apparently Interior Secretary Ken Salizar achieved this ban in sort of a backdoor way bypassing the need for the usual due legislative process;

"By enacting a rule and declaring the snakes “injurious,” Salazar bypassed the need for congressional approval of a ban. It goes into effect in 60 days and does not affect current snake owners.

Read more:

CNN U.S Kim Segal reports that the species currently covered by the ban are the following species;

Burmese Python
Northern Python
Southern Python
Yellow Anaconda

While some Parks and Wildlife people are in favor of this ban, I think they fail to see that it misses the mark and is based on alot of faulty assumptions.

A much better approach to the problems in the Everglades would be for everyone to work together to solve those specific issues (in Florida). Breeders and snake enthusiasts should not be left out of the decision-making process. This is not a Federal problem and should not be treated as such, yet since those who have introduced this ban have now "gone there" it has pulled the rest of the country into it and made it our business.

The focus should be on capturing the loose snakes in the Everglades and/or possibly spaying/neutering them to prevent them from reproducing out of control. That would be a much better solution than resorting to this buckshot approach of an overall ban on those species, because the problem is not with the ones in captivity.

As a pet owner I see the far reaching ramifications of this type of extreme legislation. It is like using a sledgehammer when a scalpel would do and it causes way too much collateral damage.

Even if you don't like snakes or are disinterested in them people should have the right to keep them responsibly just as they would other animals. We cannot allow fear to dictate laws in this country. If we do then we run the risk that any of our favorite pets might one day be deemed illegal and that would be a tragic day in America.

To write your Representative in Congress about either or both of these issues go here;

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