Monday, June 30, 1997

Week of 06/30/1997

Free Speech on the Internet
We got it! Now what?
- by David Matthews 2

On Thursday, June 26th 1997, the US Supreme Court gave the Internet the fullest possible protection of free speech against government censorship. In its support of a combined lawsuit against the Communication Decency Act, the justices rejected arguments from the Clinton Administration that the Internet was similar to television or radio. Instead, they said that the Internet was a public forum for the exchange of ideas and information that deserved as much First Amendment protection as print media, if not more.

As one of those who have been fighting the CDA since the moment retired Senator James Exxon introduced it back in 1994, I am ecstatic in knowing that even the highest court in America found it to be the wrong approach, and to do so with a decisive 7-2 majority.

So the CDA is dead. It’s stuffed in a coffin and buried. The government was spanked for violating the First Amendment. It’s done. Gone. History.

So what now?

Let’s be brutally honest here. The CDA may be dead, but the battle for free speech is just beginning. The focus now needs to be on the alternatives to legislation. We have the software, but all the programs in the world won’t stop legislators on a censorship tear. Sen. Rick Wyden in Oregon has been the biggest supporter of getting legislators aware on how the Internet works and getting them online. He believes that information will ensure legislators don’t come up with another CDA. I agree with his efforts in the Cyber Caucus, but it’s more than just making them aware on how the Internet works.

The CDA didn’t just pop out of the mind of the dishonorable former senator of Nebraska and come to life on it’s own. It got help from religious activists such as the Christian Coalition and "Enough is Enough" spokeswoman/lobbyist Donna Rice-Hughes. Not only do these folks know how the Internet works, but frankly THEY DON’T CARE! They don’t give a rat’s ass about your rights or if their standards will disrupt the Internet. They’d much rather see you in prison or in hell (or both in the case of the Christian Coalition). Worse yet, they have both money and connections in Washington. There is no doubt that after a "cooling off" period they’ll come up with CDA version 2.0 that will be just as bad as the original CDA if not worse because now they have an idea of what the justices consider to be a greater issue.

In addition, there are also more struggles yet to come. The US government may have been told "hands off" but there are still plenty of states that have passed laws similar to the CDA. And while some of them have already been successfully challenged in the courts, it’s uncertain how the Justices will respond to this challenge as well.

The news media, another enemy of the Internet, has already put their negative spin on the decision. According to the major news agencies this wasn’t a victory for cyberspace rights, but rather a defeat of the government in "protecting kids from pornography." They have bought into the spin of the moralists hook, line, and sinker. You couldn’t find better PR for the moralists if you PAID them! They forget that "indecency" and "patently offensive material" - which was how the unconstitutional law was WRITTEN - can include much more than just what some call "smut." This means discussions of homosexual issues, sexually-transmitted diseases, and breast cancer would also have been on the censorship chopping block. Anyone with a site that discussed those issues were also facing a felony conviction! Gee, I wonder why they didn’t mention that little tidbit? (If you’ve read my earlier articles, you know better than to answer that question.)

The way the media painted the CDA battle, they made it appear that it was "the ACLU and the porn industry" vs. the federal government. HARDLY! Here’s the short list of major players who went to bat against the CDA:

  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Voter Telecommunication Watch
  • Microsoft
  • America Online
  • Prodigy
  • CompuServe
  • Netscape
  • Netcom
  • SurfWatch
  • Libertarian Party
  • Wired Magazine
  • American Library Association

In addition there were dozens of smaller businesses as well as the 50,000 plus individual members of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition (including myself, one of the earlier members) who were also on the list of plaintiffs. In all three lawsuits were filed, two were merged and the third was heard separately in New York - which matched the Philadelphia decision almost word for word. This was essentially the whole Internet community versus the federal government! And much to the disappointment of the moralists and the media, WE KICKED ASS!

Remember, the news media REVEL in being able to trash the Internet. They are deftly afraid of ANY kind of medium that can compete with them that isn’t burdened as they are by regulators. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court gave the Internet FULL First Amendment protection - something that television has never been able to enjoy since it’s inception!

Now let’s go back to those programs for a minute. President Clinton, in responding to the CDA decision, said that now he’ll encourage software companies to develop filtering programs. Excuse me Bubba, but you apparently haven’t been keeping track of the Internet you claim to love! There have been numerous filtering programs available from SurfWatch to Cyber-Sitter to Net Nanny to Cyber Patrol. They’ve been around since 1994, when this whole issue first started! There is even a ratings system already in place! And even more precise forms of filtering software are in the works.

Anybody got Microsoft’s Internet Explorer? Do you know there’s filtering software ALREADY INSTALLED there? Click on "Options" in the menu to see what I’m talking about. And like Microsoft’s browser, you can get some of the filtering software FREE OF CHARGE depending on your Internet Service Provider. So Bubba, the technology has BEEN there. Even the Supreme Court - whom USA Today considered to be the most techno-phobic branch of government - recognized that. Where have YOU been?

Ironically, there has been some good to come out of the CDA battle. For starters, the Internet community banded together for the first time to counter essentially an outside threat: the federal government. This was actually the first time online rivals Netscape and Microsoft worked together! They were also forced to confront the serious issue of keeping kids out of adult sites. Alternatives to legislation, the filter programs, were introduced and developed. Judges were given a real education as to how the Internet works, even being given full access to the Internet so they can try it out themselves before making their decision. We have a witness for the Justice Department admit UNDER OATH that the filtering software works! And we have the highest court in the land granting the Internet the full protection of the First Amendment!

In short, the struggle for free speech is not a one-time affair. Even when we have First Amendment protection, we aren’t completely safe from censorship and those who are masters of censorship. We have the means, and for now we even have the courts on our side, but this can change at a drop of a hat. But we need to make sure that government doesn’t repeat these mistakes either through ignorance or for more tyrannical purposes. We need to say to ourselves and out loud the two words the Jewish people have been saying since the end of World War II : NEVER AGAIN!

Monday, June 23, 1997

Week of 06/23/1997

D-I-S-N-E-Y S-U-C-K-S?
If you’re a Southern Baptist, that question holds MANY implications!
- by David Matthews 2

This past Wednesday, the Southern Baptists Convention voted overwhelmingly to boycott Walt Disney and everything owned by Disney. They have determined that Disney is "anti-family" and thus no longer deserve the patronage of their 15 million members.

Before I rip the Baptists a new one, I’d like to point out that this decision is non-binding to their members. There is no special "God Squad" that checks to see the religious denomination of people who show up at Disney World. They aren’t calling for picket lines at all Disney stores and theme parks. Besides, those resources are badly needed to picket abortion clinics. And they aren’t screaming like little babies at their legislators for action. All they’re doing as asking their members to stay away from all things Disney.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. Do you REALLY think the Baptists will hurt Disney? And do they REALLY know what it means to boycott all things Disney?

Disney is a conglomerate business. The Mighty Mickey owns everything from network broadcasts to sports stadiums. Their broadcast facilities produce everything from "Live with Regis and Kathy Lee" to Paul Harvey’s daily radio shows, to even - *GASP* - the Rush Limbaugh show. Now I wonder how many of those Baptists will be willing to turn off their icon?

But the scope goes even further than that. Disney currently has a new movie out in theaters called "Hercules." Obviously this boycott will mean all "true" Baptists will have to avoid this movie, but does it also means boycotting anything having to DO with that movie? McDonald’s currently has a whole line of Hercules-related stuff out. Does that mean all Baptists now have to stop doing business with the fast-food chain? Does that mean Baptists will now have to boycott stores that have Disney merchandise such as Wal-Mart or K-Mart? With some cable companies and satellite services the Disney Channel is part of the basic package. Does that mean unsubscribing to cable or DirecTV if they can’t get the Disney Channel removed from their selection?

In all likelihood, this won’t be a big thing to folks. It certainly won’t to Disney. How many devout Baptists will actually shut themselves out of Disney? No doubt some, but not the huge masses the SBC delegates dream of participating.

That brings me to the next bit of contention - the charge of Disney being "anti-family." The Baptists claim that Disney promotes homosexuality because of the regular "Gay Day" events at their theme parks, the company providing full benefits to domestic partners of their employees be they gay or straight, and for ABC’s "Ellen" show where the character admits she’s a lesbian. Disney has no control over "Gay Day" since they neither organize nor promote it. That simply is when gays and lesbians show up at the theme parks. If Disney had hundreds of bible-thumpers show up and have a "Bible Day" I’m sure they’d be accused of promoting a certain religious sect as well. As for providing benefits to domestic partners, Disney isn’t breaking any ground on this. IBM and several other major corporations provide similar benefits. Will the Baptists want to boycott them as well? As for "Ellen," there wouldn’t have BEEN all the hoopla if the bible-thumpers didn’t go off the deep end when the first heard of it in the first place! They got played for suckers by ABC for some free publicity and it will always stick in their craw for that!

Look, I’m sure Walt Disney wouldn’t recognize his company today. Would Ray Crock recognize McDonald’s today? Or Henry Ford? The truth of the matter is that these corporations have to expand and adapt to a changing customer base. It’s the goal of ANY business to try to reach as many customers as possible, and to simply shut out one group because a pious religious organization decides to pass judgment on them not only is unrealistic but also impractical.

I won’t sit in judgment of the Southern Baptists for their decision to discriminate against homosexuals. That’s not mine to give. (Besides, it makes for a much better topic at a later date.) But I will give some words from the same bible that apparently these folks need to remember: Judge not lest you be judged.

Monday, June 16, 1997

Week of 06/16/1997

Affairs of the (Political) Heart - Part 2
- by David Matthews 2

Last week, you read how Georgia conservatives were all in a tizzy about the admittance that former state Attorney General Mike Bowers had a long-term affair while publicly defending Georgia’s antiquated sex laws. Many people were upset that now they might have to choose between voting for their morals and voting for the Republican Party.

Now Bowers has decided to remain in the race. He feels he can recoup his losses and still win the nomination. It’s understandable, since Bowers is a career politician who is currently without a political position to fall back on. (He had no choice when he resigned to run for governor. Georgia law forbids a state official to retain their job while searching for a higher one.) Yet many are now speculating that Bowers has dug a political ditch do deep that he can’t recover from it all. I agree. Bowers has admitted to violating Georgia law. Adultery is illegal in Georgia as well as a few other states. He essentially admitted to committing a crime. He is … and say it with me now… a CRIMINAL!

Bowers’ support is slowly evaporating. Some of his earlier supporters in the state legislature are now reconsidering their choice and are looking towards other possible candidates. But as long as no one else is throwing their hat in the ring, Bowers seems to be their only choice.

Fortunately, some good news may be in the works. Two members of the Georgia legislature, one in each branch, have introduced legislation that would repeal the old laws concerning sex between consenting adults. Fornication, sodomy (both oral and anal) and adultery would all be made legal, while the provisions pertaining to force (such as sodomy in the commission of a crime) would remain in effect.

Let’s be brutally honest here. I think this legislation is long overdue. Government has absolutely no business whatsoever in telling consentual adults what to do in the bedroom. Period! These laws were written by moralists who were absolutely paranoid that someone might actually enjoy a modicum of pleasure from an act they have reduced to simply being a "marital responsibility." And the real pathetic part about it is there are still people today who are supporting these laws and actually want them to be enforced!

The Christian Coalition and their supporters in the Georgia legislature have vowed to defeat any attempt to repeal these laws. These people belong in the Jeopardy category "People who have absolutely no concept whatsoever of the real world!" They scream that there’s nothing wrong with the laws - they just need to be enforced.

OK. Fine. You want them enforced? Here’s my challenge to you - there’s an admitted CRIMINAL by the name of Mike Bowers. If you really think these laws should be enforced, then you go the Attorney General’s office and DEMAND he be prosecuted! You bring charges against him for committing adultery! Don’t spare him one whit of your self-righteous judgment just because he’s one of your own!

The message to these modern-day Pharisees is simple: Get off the pulpit! If you want to enforce your puritanical laws, then get off your high-horse and do it! If not, then shut up and join your buddy Bowers in wearing the scarlet letter of hypocrisy because you two really deserve each other!

Monday, June 9, 1997

Week of 06/09/1997

Affairs of the (Political) Heart
- by David Matthews 2

George Bernard Shaw once asked a woman on the street if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She said she would. When asked if she would do it for ten dollars, she said "What do you think I am, a whore?"

"We’ve already established that," he replied. "I’m just negotiating the price."

That little joke came to mind this week as I listened with glee to all the back-peddling and crow-eating from Georgia conservatives.

This past Thursday (6/5), former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers publicly announced that he once had a ten-year affair while serving as AG. Now I know a lot of you are saying "So what?" Here’s the "so what" - First, Bowers was known for actively defending Georgia’s antiquated sex laws. This includes the prohibition of oral and anal sex, even between married, consenting, heterosexual adults! He even took this to the US Supreme Court, and the justices - in a blatantly stupid move - affirmed it in 1988!

Bowers also withdrew a job offer to a female attorney who was planning to "marry" to her lesbian lover. And what was his rationality behind it? He couldn’t have someone working in his office who knowingly engaged in a violation of the law! Apparently he has a very selective knowledge of the law, since adultery is also against the law in Georgia.

So recently Bowers resigned from the AG position to run for governor. And here’s the kicker - he’s claiming to run his campaign on "family values!" The bible-thumpers, moralists, and conservatives had him pegged as THE Republican candidate, as well as the next governor… that is, until Thursday when he dropped the "Fat Man" of bombs to these self-righteous crusaders.

So all day Thursday, conservatives and moralists acted as though someone died. People were angry. They were sad. They were in shock.

Me? I’ll be brutally honest - I laughed! I laughed all day! I find it absolutely hilarious to see the self-righteous fall! If there is any group that truly deserves a reality check, it’s these folks! Here is "Mr. Family Values" having to go in front of the local media and actually admit to being a hypocrite! "The hypocrisy is clear," Bowers told WSB TV. And I agree!

But the best call I heard on the radio talk show stations was from an elderly gentleman who was absolutely livid that now he has to choose between voting his morals and voting for his political party. And he was even angrier because he decided the Republicans needed his vote more than his morals!

I think we’ve just established the price, Madam!

Yes, by Friday the bulk of moralists and conservatives were bitter. Their anger was replaced with a sense of resignation that they HAVE to swallow their morals and support Bowers. To them, having a Republican governor was more important than their moral standards. Worse yet, their anger was directed entirely towards even the conservative members of the media for continuing to mention "the issue." Their spin on it was "he admitted it, he said he was sorry, we forgive him, end of discussion!" Yup, like the spoiled brats they are, they act as though THEY are in control of this issue now.

I would suspect that Bowers had no choice but to publicly admit his affair. Let’s face it, no politician in their right mind would be willing to start off a campaign by sabotaging it! He didn’t wake up Thursday morning and decide to air out dirty laundry out of the blue! Someone, possibly even a rival in his own party, wanted to embarrass him. This was a no-win situation where he had to pick between submitting for public criticism or having it thrust upon him. He chose the former.

Then the moralists try to spin on the fact that he’s not like Bill Clinton. True. Clinton perfected the art of deception and doublespeak. He wouldn’t know how to be truthful to save his life. But the fact that Bowers admitted to the act doesn’t absolve him of it. For ten years he lied to his wife, his family, to the voters of Georgia, to the law, and finally to himself. And all the while pretending to be "Mr. Family Values." All the while pandering to the moralists and the conservatives for their support, just like any other politician. We all knew who Bill Clinton was - otherwise he wouldn’t have been elected, never mind re-elected. But apparently the bulk of conservatives and moralists didn’t know Mike Bowers was a liar and a hypocrite. This little fact was known only to party higher-ups. Bowers wasn’t the only one who wasn't honest and straightforward with the people.

The final spin, the one I really get a kick out of, is that this talk about "the issue" is irrelevant, and we should "examine Bowers’ years of experience serving our state." Oh I see! We should "ignore" the ten years of lying and deliberate deception of his own illegal activities and concentrate on the "good things he’s done." Not too long ago this was the same crowd that was ready to lock Kelly Flynn up for nine years, or at least drum her out of the Air Force in disgrace for having an affair. We should ignore her years of experience and brand her a slut, while forgiving an admitted hypocrite like Mike Bowers. Is that it? By the way, Bowers also resigned his officer’s commission with the Georgia Air National Guard when he made the announcement. So he was also a military officer when he had this affair.

Republicans love to claim they have morals, and that to vote for their party is to vote for those morals. Now Republicans in Georgia might have to choose between those morals and their party. And if they think putting a Republican in the Governor’s house is more important than whether or not he was a liar and a hypocrite, then they will be no different than the Democrats they claim to hate. They will be, to use their own terminology, morally bankrupt.

Benjamin Franklin once said that "he who is of the opinion that money will do anything, can often be suspected of doing anything for money." As we have learned, the same is also true for politics and morality.

Monday, June 2, 1997

Week of 06/02/1997

Technology, not Legislation
- by David Matthews 2

Pop quiz boys and girls: You’re driving down the highway when you get a flat tire. You pull over and after walking a quarter of a mile you come across a pay phone. Who do you call to get your car fixed, a mechanic or an accountant? Common sense will tell you a mechanic. After all, the mechanic will be able to fix the problem. What will the accountant do other than make sure you have enough money, and maybe call the mechanic?

How about this: You come home and find that your pipes have blown and there’s water filling up the house. Who do you call to fix the water pipes, a plumber, or a pizza delivery boy? Well again common sense will tell you to call the plumber first.. even though you’d probably have to call out for pizza while you’re waiting for your house to get bailed out.

Third question: There’s a problem with the Internet. You’re getting spam e-mail that you can’t even begin to stop. Who would you turn to fix it - the computer programmers who created browsers for Netscape and Microsoft, or your local politician? Well common sense would once again tell you to call the programmers…

Unfortunately common sense is thrown out the window when politicians are involved.

Case in point - E-mail spam. Congress has recently introduced legislation designed to "reign in" the companies such as Cyber Promotions and other bulk E-mail services from harassing computer users with spam E-mail.

Nice thought, but do you REALLY think legislation will stop spammers?

Make no mistake, Spam is an electronic nightmare that I wish never happened. Between spam E-mail and spam newsgroup postings these companies have polluted Internet communications to the point where almost ANYTHING that will hurt them will seem tempting. But to trust the same mentalities that gave us the Communication Decency Act to be able to do something about spam? I would hope we’re not THAT desperate!

Think about this for a minute - one of the major products being spammed now is for bulk E-mail software! And many spam messages have bogus E-mail addresses, making it hard to track back to the spammer. Do you think that legislation alone will stop these people? No it won’t! The ONLY way such legislation will work is if the US government takes the road of China and heavily regulates the Internet!

So what’s the answer? Well if the problem lies in technology, then the solution also lies in technology.

Most spam E-mail messages have only one address - the remailer address, such as "" They won’t have your address posted anywhere in the message. This is how they are able to get to you. This is also their Achilles heel. How hard would it be for Microsoft or Netscape to develop a filter that would exclude certain E-mail messages that don’t have your E-mail address on them? Believe me, the bulk of cyber-geeks and net-addicts will lap this up faster then free nude pics of Jenny McCarthy! A way to get rid of spammers will beat any other program hands down! This is THE plug-in to develop!

Of course there are legitimate uses of remailer programs, such as news releases from political organizations and notices when companies have updated their web site. But all too often these notices are being downed out by spam. Whoever develops the "spam-killer" filter should probably also add a way to also save those remailer addresses you want to have brought in.

And how will the spammers handle this? Well once they realize that the vast majority of their messages won’t even make it to the mailbox, never mind be read, the fun will be taken out of spamming. The remailer programs will be useless, and spammers will go out of business! Technology created the spammers, and only technology will stop the spammers.

Of course this is all just a symptom of a much larger trend of relying on government to solving all of our problems. We have gotten so used to having the government come in and solve our problems that politicians are now offended that we could actually do something without them knowing about it. These are the same clods who made running into debt a national pastime. They make the Japanese look bad for only having 17 ways to say "no" that sound like saying "yes." They are the reason why 51% of all registered voters stayed home during the 1996 presidential elections. When you look in the dictionary for the word "hypocrisy" you find "see Politician." And we still turn to them to get stuff done.

Let’s get brutally honest here. We need to stop turning to government and actually think about some SOLUTIONS to problems that don’t involve politicians. When you bring a solution to government it no longer becomes YOUR solution. It becomes the solution of the POLITICIAN. Then it becomes the solution of the legislative committee that oversees that area. Then it becomes the solution of the legislative body. And by that time whatever simple solution you have to offer is lost in red tape and legal double-talk and pork-laden amendments that have absolutely nothing whatsoever with the issue at hand. (Somewhere in that provision Sen. Robert Byrd gets yet another federal building built in his home district, although nobody has been able to find out how.) And we’re not even talking about the regulatory agency that will be assigned to oversee the implementation of this solution, the regulations written, and the courts that will eventually mold it through their decisions.

Look, when it comes to finding sound and effective solutions to problems, be they technological or otherwise, you won’t find them in a government subcommittee. You will find them in the hearts and minds of people who are looking to SOLVE problems, not find a new tool to exploit for re-election or use for another pork project.