Monday, August 26, 1996

Week of 08/26/1996

Send out the Clowns!
You want real reform? You’d better choose another party!
- by David Matthews 2

A few weeks ago I wrote an article in the Gainesville Times concerning the various political parties and candidates that were running for President of the United States, besides the obvious choices of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. Two weeks after that article was published, a letter was published that suggested the only real alternative to "politics as usual" rested in three words- campaign finance reform; specifically the campaign finance reform bill that was stalled in Congress. A month later, that same bill dies in Congress from one of the deadliest weapons of "politics as usual"- the filibuster.

Should we be surprised by this news? Not really. The only part I am surprised about it is that it was killed in the midst of an election year- especially at a time when people have a worse expectation of their politicians than they do garbage collectors.

I have often considered both parties to be nothing more than political junkies- heavily addicted to their special interest groups, their campaign money, and the power of their position. Few can find fault with such an analogy. Yet we continue to think they can clean themselves up.

But perhaps the fault doesn’t lie with the politicians as much as it lies with us. For years we have cried, begged, pleased, and even screamed "No more politics as usual!" And the politicians have either feigned deafness, ignorance, or flat-out ignored us. Yet come election time we still turn to either the Democrats or Republicans to listen to us.

We need to first realize that after screaming and shouting and begging and pleading, if our elected officials are either unable or unwilling to end the practice of "politics as usual" we need to VOTE THEM OUT! And yes, that includes looking towards other political parties like the Reform Party or the Libertarians to help break "politics as usual."

One of the biggest things we can do is actually get out there and VOTE. But there are other suggestions that perhaps we need to look into as well.

For starters, how about a non-binding "None Of The Above" (or NOTA) option on the election ballots? This gives the people who are unhappy with the current selection a real reason to get out and vote; especially in local elections when the incumbent sometimes runs for re-election unopposed. Here would be a true chance to measure that person’s political approval. Think of the political consequences if an unopposed incumbent "lost" to NOTA!

As voters we need to open ourselves up to the option of a third or independent party, but it doesn’t help matters much if those options are shut out from the media and the debates. Those organizations who host political debates should keep in mind that there ARE more than just two political parties out there, and they should be willing to open the debate up to include ALL political parties, not just the two dominant (and domineering) parties. And the media should consider providing free air time for ALL political parties involved in the campaign process, not just for the Democrats and Republicans; who could easily afford to purchase as much air time as they would ever want or need.

These suggestions, if enacted, could do much more than what simple campaign finance reform could ever provide. It would further open up the political arena and could very well bring more change than just how the two biggest political parties handle their finances. And isn’t that what we are looking for?

Monday, August 19, 1996

Week of 08/19/1996

Political Prostitutes..
Do you sell out your vote come election day?
- by David Matthews 2

Shocking title, isn’t it?

No doubt when folks see it there will be a lot of people who will be upset by it. Maybe you’re one of them.

Now before you start barraging me with E-mail, bear with me for a minute and read what I have to say.

There are basically two kinds of political prostitutes. The first kind is the kind you’ve heard about in Washington. They’re the folks you and I elect to represent us. The ones who supposedly have solid "values." But on key bills they’ll start to get a little greedy. You’ve probably heard of times when the President would meet with members of Congress over a bill they really want to get passed. But the key thing is those meetings aren’t about getting the bill passed as much as it’s about negotiating for passage of that bill. Essentially our representatives say "What will you give me in order for you to have my vote?" And what they get usually is some legislative pork, which you and I all consider to be bad… except somehow when it involves your own district.

Then there’s another form of political prostitution that goes on during every election year. And unfortunately the ones usually selling out are the voters.

Let’s take this year’s Presidential election for example. How many of you who plan to vote for the Republican ticket actually support everything the GOP’s platform? How many of you disagree with a lot of what the platform has to say, but plan to vote for Bob Dole anyways? If so, you’ve essentially sold out your views just to help the Republicans win.

Not so, you say? OK, ask yourself WHY you vote. Do you choose a candidate on how they match your viewpoints and your opinions? Do you choose a candidate based on who you feel would best handle that office? Or do you choose a candidate just because you don’t want someone else to win the election? If you chose the latter, then it means your views are subject to negotiation, and thus up for sale.

The subject of abortion has been a thorny issue for Republicans on both sides. The pro-life side currently has a controlling vote on the hierarchy of the GOP. Pro-choice supporters, knowing they didn’t have the support in that hierarchy to change the party’s platform, tried to have some mention of "tolerance" in the platform. They lost decisively. They threatened to stage a "floor fight," but instead struck a deal that would make mention of their dissent at the appendix of the platform. Essentially they were looking for a statement, and ended up with a footnote. And for this, the pro-choice Republicans said they somehow won. In the end, however, they sold themselves out to the pro-life crowd and the GOP hierarchy so that they will get Bob Dole elected and Bill Clinton out of office.

In comparison, however, the pro-life members of the GOP have never wavered from their stance. They were even threatening to leave the GOP and form an independent party of their own if things did not go their way. In the end, they didn’t sell themselves out, and they won their struggle to have the party reflect their views.

Now that’s not to say that the GOP is the only political party plagued with such a dilemma of selling out the opinions of the voters. The Democrats have the same problems as well, especially when many special interest groups who supported Bill Clinton in 92 now feel betrayed by him. Electronic users felt Bill Clinton understood them, but he sold them out by signing the Communications Decency Act. Same with pro-choice supporters, who were also betrayed by the CDA, since it imposes a "gag-order" on any mention of abortion on the Internet. Gays and lesbians thought they had the President’s support, until he announced his intention to sign a "Defense of Marriage Act" that would allow states to not recognize homosexual marriages.

The question is, then, will those people who feel betrayed by both political parties still continue to support and vote for those parties? If so, they have essentially sold out their viewpoints to the politicians.

So what then, you ask? Who ELSE can we vote for? Well there’s plenty of other groups people can support- if they know where they are. The non-partisan Project Vote-Smart has at one point listed nine different political parties with candidates running for President alone. And many of those political groups have been working hard to get their views recognized and to get their candidates included in debates. But all their work would be for naught if the voters continue to prostitute their support to the two major parties.

So the question you really need to ask yourself is this- Why do you vote? And are your opinions really up for negotiation? Is it more important to vote from your heart and support a candidate you feel would best reflect your views, or would you rather vote with someone you know doesn’t reflect your views but rather has a better chance of winning?

Think about it. But don’t think too long. November is fast approaching…

Monday, August 12, 1996

Week of 08/12/1996

Free Speech… at $180 for six months
How Congress thinks free speech on the Internet should be- for profit.
- by David Matthews 2

There are a few pet peeves I have about this electronic realm we call the Internet. One of them has to do with the very foundation of the Internet- information without borders or barriers. The very concept of free speech we as Americans have always yearned to achieve.

But now it seems to really practice free speech on the Internet, the electronic epitome of the First Amendment, must come at a cost.

Speech on the Internet is being restricted, not just by the politicians in Washington- who apparently believe content stronger than a Mickey Mouse cartoon should be a capitol felony and a crime against humanity- but also by the Internet service providers themselves. And this has led to a new and growing kind of Internet sites- the Subscription Site.

Simply put, a Subscription Site is a site on the Internet that you pay for with a regular influx of your money, in addition to all the other costs you have to pay just to stay on the Internet. These sites usually require you to enter a user name and a password before being allowed access to the rest of that site.

Politicians tolerate such sites because they foolishly believe that only adults would be willing to pay extra to access certain sites, and thus would exclude children from accessing those areas where they shouldn’t be in the first place. Internet Service Providers, on the other hand, prefer such sites because it limits the amount of people that access that particular site, and thus saves a strain on their servers.

I have to wonder, though, if it is worth reducing the concept of Free Speech on the Internet to either the level of the children, or put it up for sale? Consider the following arguments when making up your own mind:

First, subscription sites are NOT a deterrent for children. The politicians who believe it to be so are as naive as they are ignorant. The only limitation of a subscription site is who is willing to pay. Most of the subscription sites offer payment via credit card. How hard, then, would it be for a child to get their parents’ credit card number? How many parents have given copies of their credit cards to their children? And how many parents have co-signed credit card applications with their minor children? A person’s credit card information does not include that person’s age, so what is to stop a child from LYING about their age to a computer program that cannot differentiate between a child and an adult?

Second, there are some organizations that cannot turn their Internet sites into subscription sites because they are NON-PROFIT organizations. By definition they cannot make a profit, or even give the appearance of making a profit, without risking losing it’s tax-exempt status. So, for instance, the American Cancer Society could not have a website up that talks about things like breast cancer on the fear that some 12 year-old "Bevis and Butt-head" wannabe could access it just as easily as a 15 year-old girl who would have some serious questions about the lump in her breast before she saw a doctor.

Of course, the politicians would then suggest an "adult verification" service, and there are a handful of such services available on the Internet. But again, the argument would still stand that such "adult verification" services would not be able to differentiate between an adult and a minor. So what would be the alternative, then? The only alternative would be to shut up and stay off the Internet.

So what WOULD be the alternative? How would free speech be measured? Would it be measured by how much people would be willing to pay for that speech? Or would it be measured by concepts that transcend finances and instead embraces ideas? Freedom does indeed come with a price, but that price is responsibility, not a blind subscription only to those who can afford it.

I, for one, would certainly not be willing to embrace a concept of free speech if one must pay for it at $180 for six months.

Monday, August 5, 1996

Week of 08/05/1996

Media Bloodhounds
Is the media really helping to catch the culprit?
- by David Matthews 2

The bomb that exploded in Atlanta’s Olympic Centennial Park shocked a city as well as a nation to the renewed threat of terrorism. People cried out "WHY?" And then soon later they cried out "WHO?" Speculation as to who would be behind such a heinous and cowardly act was rampant. Everything from foreign terrorists groups to home-grown militias sects were blamed.

Suddenly a name is given - Richard Jewell, the guard who first spotted the bomb - as someone who
COULD be suspect. And at once the eyes of the world focused on his life.

This isn’t the first time the media has dogged federal authorities until they found a suspect. The media did the same thing with the Oklahoma City bombing, and again in the hunt for the Unabomber. But this time it’s somewhat different. This time the media is taking a more active investigation alongside, and even perhaps in spite of the federal investigators concerning Jewell. When the FBI wanted to search Jewell’s apartment the media was already there waiting for them. And despite the fact that the FBI now considers Jewell to be
LESS likely of a suspect than previously imagined, the press still hounds him.

There is another all-important difference that needs to be pointed out. Unlike the Oklahoma City bombing and unlike the Unabomber,
there is currently NOT ONE SHRED OF EVIDENCE that links Jewell to the Centennial Park bomb. Nor has Mister Jewell been charged with any crime yet. And yet the media and even ordinary people on the Internet are willing to consider him to be guilty until proven innocent.. or at least until someone else can be suspected.

This is indeed a dangerous gamble for the media. If by any chance the man is charged with the bombing, then it would be a gamble that paid off. But if the man isn’t charged, what then? Or worse yet, what happens if it turns out the man isn’t involved at all and the authorities find the person or persons who DID manufacture and plant the bomb?

What then?

Will the members of the media just say "
Oops!" and then move on to the next story? Will they apologize for dragging this man’s whole life through their uncaring lenses like cheese through a grater by publishing a retraction on the back page, or perhaps in an editorial?

One of the Atlanta TV stations that got caught up in this blood hunt for a bombing suspect prides itself on being "
first, fast, and accurate." They along with the other sources of the media were certainly first and fast. It stands to show, however, if they will be accurate as well.

I say this to the members of the Atlanta Journal, CNN, and the others who started the ball rolling: If you’re right, pat yourself on the back. If you’re not, congratulations.
You will have ruined a man’s life-- FOR NOTHING! I hope you can live with yourself because the public certainly won’t!