Monday, May 27, 1996

Week of 05/27/1996

Tyranny by any other name...
What free speech really means.
- by David Matthews 2

In the recent months, I have noticed a dangerous trend not only in politics, but in society, to limit the amount of free speech and expression entitled to us by the Constitution. From housewives to radio talk show hosts, and from local legislators to Presidential candidates, the wave of anti-freedom sentiment has attracted a wide range of citizens who feel that certain groups have gone just too far.

But perhaps it's time these people realize the true purpose of what the First Amendment means for the country.

Two centuries ago our founding fathers decided to bolster the already revolutionary Constitution of the United States of America with a series of rights that would reflect the new sense of liberty from the old British regime. The one thing the framers of our country did not want was to liberate themselves from the British Empire only to create their own tyrannical government. Thus when they crafted the First Amendment, they established the very things the British monarchy had restricted. These include the freedom to speak out and express oneself without retaliation or restriction; the freedom to practice religion in the manner one chooses instead of what religion the government allows; and the freedom to peacefully assemble without permission from the government. These are important rights, because no other country ever gave the people so much power to defy their own government.

But there have been those in government who have been intolerant to such freedoms, and have often called for rigid conformity to what they consider to be the norm. The most recent period when such rigid conformity reigned in government was in the 1950's, amidst the start of the Cold War when people were terrified of the expansion of communism. Some people could remember Senator Joe McCarthy's crusade against those he thought of as communist spies, but there were also other symbols of government repression during the time.

In 1954, Congress held hearings to determine if a certain type of publication was corrupting children into delinquency and violence. Research was conducted to determine if there was a link between juvenile crimes and comic books- most notably horror series such as "Tales from the Crypt" that were targeted more towards adult readers. Although there was no concrete proof presented, the comic book publishers were intimidated by Congress into passing their own codes of conduct in future publications- known since then as the Comics Code. The alternative was for Congress to enact laws that would have infringed on the First Amendment rights of all writers and members of the print media.

Perhaps people can remember the days of Elvis and the Beatles, but how many people can remember when the call was to stop the growing music trend with the rallying cry "Rock and Roll has got to go?" Or the fact that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover kept constant surveillance on anyone who questioned the status quo in society- including civil rights activists like Dr. Martin Luthor King?

The same arguments being used to promote restrictions on our liberties today are no different from those used forty years ago. Senate majority leader and presidential hopeful Bob Dole no doubt had such nostalgic feelings in mind when he essentially told Time Warner that rock and roll, as well as rap music, certain movies, and anything else that offends him, have got to go. And it's a good guess that Senator James Exon of Nebraska wishes Dr. Fredric Wertham were still alive so he too could rally against adult content on the Internet just as Wertham crusaded against all comic books in the 1950's.

Perhaps the worst of all infringements is the proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning. On the surface, it seems like a good idea. After all, we abhor people who desecrate the symbols of this country, be they in Iran, Iraq, or even on the front steps of our own capitol building. But once you put aside the patriotism and rationally think about what banning such behavior really means, you see it in a totally different light.

The constitutional protections of free speech and the subsequent freedom of expression were founded on the notion that people are allowed to speak in defiance against the government; much as our forefathers did two centuries ago. That included burning or destroying the symbols of that government. But while the flag is a symbol of the government, it also represents the rights and freedoms that made up this country. Ideas that cannot be burned, but can be destroyed when a government believes that they are not as important as the piece of cloth it stands for.

Of course, those who would push for anti-freedom legislation would say that it's for the overall good of the people. That living in a republic means certain sacrifices to individual liberties must be made to maintain order. Such was the argument in Germany when a house painter named Hitler was democratically elected into power and began his persecution of those groups he objected to. Can Dole and Exon say they are any better?

William Shakespeare once said "A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet." I would say that tyranny by any other name is still just as evil and must be opposed. The founding fathers of our country would have wanted no less.

Monday, May 20, 1996

Week of 05/20/1996

Editor's Note: Back in the winter of 95, a young child by the name of Austin Sparks was beaten to death. Although all the facts pointed to either the boy's mother or the live-in baby-sitter, the Georgia state politicians knee-jerked around a response to such a tragic occurrence…

Legislative Abuse
Death Penalty for Child Abusers? Who's abusing whom?
- by David Matthews 2


A child is abused by a parent.


A child dies from that abusive parent.


The parent is arrested. A community is outraged.


Enraged state politicians, flustered by the news and their own impotence on the issue, propose a bill that would make death by child abuse a capitol offense.

Who is abusing whom here?

Georgia's Lieutenant Governor Pierre Howard believes that abusive parents should go to the electric chair. While his support for the safety and welfare of children should be applauded, his methods are no better than the abusive parents he abhors.

Make no mistake, the death penalty is by far the most absolute of punishment, reserved for the most heinous of crimes. But does death from child abuse count as one of those most heinous of offenses?

Contrary to those aggravated crimes that the person knowingly and willingly commit, parents who abuse their child do not intend to kill that child. Ask any abusive parent, they will tell you they love their child and never ever intended that child to die from their abuse. Much like the drunk driver behind the wheel of a car, a child abuser loses control of themselves and injure their victims needlessly and recklessly. Will we say then that people who kill others while driving under the influence should be executed as well?

Parents who abuse their child do not consider what happens if their abuse ends up killing the child. They only think about stopping the child from crying, or acting out, or misbehaving, or doing whatever is upsetting the parent. They don't think about killing the child, never mind if that abuse ends up with them being sentenced to die. I'm sure some of those abusive parents who did end up killing their children would look forward to being executed themselves just so they could be reunited with their children in the afterlife. So much for using the death penalty as a deterrent to crime.

The Lt. Governor would do more good by focusing that righteous anger towards the state's Department of Family and Child Services; the agency designed to protect the very children who are being lost to abusive parents. Instead of focusing on punishing the parents after the tragedy occurs, the legislators could instead focusing on fixing the flaws with DFACS to make sure there are no more children like Austin Sparks are needlessly killed. Not only would this be more realistic in combating child abuse, but it would also be just as politically popular.

Child abuse is reprehensible and needless. But so is the legal abuse by the politicians who must treat the criminal justice system like a parent would a child.

Perhaps the best advice the lieutenant governor and other politicians who strike blindly without thinking should heed the advice all parents are given before disciplining a child: Step back, count to ten, and THINK!

Monday, May 13, 1996

Week of 05/13/1996

Helpers and Saviors
- by David Matthews 2

Used to be, people knew what side the politicians stood for. If a politician was liberal or conservative, the people knew. But lately those stances have changed. The parties that stood for individual liberties now are supporting more restrictions on those liberties. And those who stood more for restrictions are starting to embrace the concept of individual liberties. It's getting to be where no one knows anymore what the major political parties stand for.

Perhaps it's by design. After all, politics has traditionally been a game played by invitation only and understood only by those inside the parties. Most people only knew what a politician stood for by their speeches and public stances. But in the age of C-SPAN and grass-roots organizations, the game has become even more complex, and the players are finding it harder to hide their agenda.

Or perhaps it's time to redefine those agendas.

Consider if you will your country being influenced by two groups of politicians. The first group tells the people "Come, let us run your country. We're here to help you." These Helpers would explain how they know the people have been hurt by the greed and indifference of the wealthy, and that they would like to help you. They would help those who lost their jobs by "evil" corporations, help those hurt by the "evil economic system" that denied them a decent standard of living, provide medical care for those shut out by the "greedy insurance companies and medical agencies," and control the practices of the "evil corporations" to prevent them from harming those innocent citizens. And they'll even tell you that whole sections of society are being particularly victimized and exploited just because they are DIFFERENT from those who are "running the system."

To that end, these Helpers would set up a vast array of government programs, regulating every aspect of business and social activities possible. Dozens of financial benefits would be available for the people who need them. Expensive services would be paid for by the government for those who couldn't afford them. Volumes of business and commercial regulations would be written and enforced by different agencies to protect the people from exploitation. In short, to ensure that there isn't a period if your life that isn't covered by some form of government program, because they know you couldn't continue to go on without their help. And all of these programs paid for primarily by the group commonly known as "the rich."

And who are "the rich?" Simply put, they're the folks who can afford not to be on some form of government program. So if you're struggling along without the benefit of welfare or unemployment benefits, welcome to "the rich."

Then there's the other political party that tells the people "C'mon, give us a chance. We're not here to help you." They explain that they've always known you don't need any help to get through life, and certainly not from the government. So they tell you to go ahead to make as much money as possible. After all, they're not here to help you.

They won't help you because they'll be too busy trying to save you.

They will tell you there's an evil in the world. They know it exists, and that it's corrupting the very heart and soul of society. They've got volumes of proof to back up their word- and if you cannot see it yourself then you're probably too corrupted by the evil to recognize it.

So it's up to these Saviors to rescue you from this evil. To that end they'll enact laws designed to outlaw the signs of this evil so that you won't be corrupted by it. They'll create special agencies designed to track down and arrest those corrupted before they can spread their evil to others. They'll tell you what to do in your homes and in your bedrooms to make sure you aren't corrupted by this evil. They'll go into your schools and tell your kids what to learn and how to learn so that this evil won't infest them. They'll even monitor the media to make sure the evil isn't trying to spread it's propaganda.

These Saviors will even tell you that you won't like what they're doing, but that in the end you will thank them for freeing you from this corruption.

And what is this corruption? Why, it's this sin has many names such as "rugged individualism" or "hedonism," but it's often simply free and independent thought.

Bit confusing, huh?

So where does that leave the rest of us? Being forced to choose between two divergent, yet equally destructive trains of thought. We cling to either one side or the other, just long enough to get whatever priority we have in order, then we jump to the other side once that particular political group becomes a burden to us. And those whom we've elected to run the government have also learned to jump from one group to the next. So it should be no surprise to us that yesterday's Helper is today's Savior, and vice-versa.

So maybe it's no wonder why a lot of us aren't happy with either train of thought. We'd like to tell both sides "Thanks, but we don't need your help, and we certainly don't need to be saved!" But in a political world governed by Helpers and Saviors, it doesn't seem possible.

Perhaps it is time to leave them both and start anew. Maybe with a different party that doesn't want to burden "the rich" or try to save you from some imaginary evil that only a select group can see. Perhaps a group of people that understands something about individual freedoms and treats them all one and the same.. Perhaps then we won't even need to be helped, or to be saved.

Monday, May 6, 1996

Week of 05/06/1996

Hard Choices…
Job layoffs may be fiscally sound, but at what cost?
-by David Matthews 2

Just before last Thanksgiving, my father returned home earlier than usual with a car full of boxes. Boxes that held almost everything that was in his office. I only had to ask him "Is this what I think this is?" He nodded. He didn't have to say anything more.

My father was laid off from his job. Again.

He was the victim of a corporate merger between rival companies and was given what his employer considered a "generous" severance package- full pay up until the end of the year, which was only six weeks, plus expenses. It was on the belief he would be gainfully employed by that time. Problem was, few businesses hire people during the holiday season. And, of course, he would get a glowing job reference- which along with three quarters might get him a cup of coffee.

Worse yet, this was the fourth job layoff in the last six years. It is a dangerous trend in the workplace that sees no ending.

All across America, jobs are being terminated. People who, through no fault of their own, are being laid off through corporate downsizing and corporate mergers. The companies say they must cut jobs to stay competitive. Yet many companies are laying off people just to increase their profit margins. They are already competitive, now they are being greedy at the expense of those who gave them their profit.

But something else is also being cut as well. A sense of confidence in the workplace is slowly being eroded. It used to be the higher up you went on the corporate ladder, the more insulated you were from job layoffs. But in the 1990's, more middle and upper-class managers were laid off than at any other time since the Industrial Age began. Indeed, the only position truly insulated from today's layoffs is that of the owner.

The Department of Labor estimates the average American will change jobs at least six or seven times in their life. That news should have alarmed banks, real estate agencies, home builders, and auto makers. Why? Because with the end of job security not too many people will have enough faith in their current job to even consider any long-term investments like mortgages for houses or loans for new cars. Why risk a five-year investment on a new car if there's no assurances that person will still have a job to keep paying the loan? Better to settle with the one they have. Never mind paying a fifteen or thirty year mortgage for a new house. A person will be going through three or four jobs before such a mortgage is paid off. Assuming, of course, that person gets a new job immediately following the old one, which is impossible since the average time between jobs is now three months.

Those losing their jobs are also getting older and older. My father is in his fifties, as are many who are being laid off. Men and women who have decades of solid work experience, who now must compete for the same jobs being sought after by college graduates with a tenth of the experience and for a fraction of their previous pay. This too should be alarming news to the Baby Boomer generation as they turn fifty, and as they too begin to fall prey to corporate America's unmerciful cuts.

But something else is also building that perhaps the workforce should fear even more- job backlash. There was an unwritten agreement between employer and employee that told the employee "work hard, sacrifice everything for the company, and you will be rewarded." To that end, employees worked long hours and sacrificed everything, sometimes at the expense of their families. And traditionally, companies rewarded those individuals through overtime, promotions, raises, and job security. But today companies no longer simply ask for their employees to sacrifice everything for the good of the company- they expect it, with nothing in return. And now they expect it with no guarantee the employees will even keep their jobs.

Such an action by the employers does not happen in a vacuum. Indeed, with the fall of job security, concepts such as job loyalty- which companies rely on to keep employees from revealing their secrets to their competition- could also fall by the wayside. Workers would no longer have a desire to sacrifice everything for an ungrateful employer. Job quality is already seriously diminishing as workers begin to ask themselves "Why should I give it my best when I could lose my job no matter what I do?"

Investors traditionally cringed at the news of layoffs. Not any more. Investors now cheer when companies announce layoffs. Stock in AT&T soared when they announced they will lay off over 40,000 employees. Wall Street has become willing accomplices to the declining job market.

And the unemployment statistics released by the Department of Labor can hardly determine the true number of victims in this costly game of mergers and corporate downsizing, since they only record the number of people who sign up for unemployment. They do not record the number of former employees who have expended their unemployment checks but not yet found jobs. These people simply cease to exist in the eyes of the DOL.

While politicians like Bob Dole and Phil Gramm talk about bringing a "new sense of morality" in homes and schools, they are questionably silent when it comes to morality in the workplace. They talk little about bringing morality to those who are sacrificing long-term employment for short-term profits. If they are indeed acting for the future of America, then they should be just as concerned about the companies who are working to deprive hard-working Americans of their economic future.

Meanwhile, my father is still searching for work. He has long expended his severance pay just to pay the bills, and must tap into savings to pay next month's bills. My mother works long hours at her job, which now is the only thing bringing food to the table, while they worry about paying next month's bills. At an age when they should be looking forward to retirement, they can only look forward to more bills and an uncertainty to being able to pay them.