Monday, September 29, 1997

Week of 09/29/1997

Thrown to the Wolves
Weld’s failure a failure for moderates and a win for Clinton
- by David Matthews 2

This past week (9/15), former Massachusetts governor William Weld withdrew his nomination to be US ambassador to Mexico. The man who resigned from a secure position as governor just so he could work on being an ambassador suddenly gave up on the fight.

Unfortunately, Weld never stood a chance. To secure the nomination, Weld had to get past the Senate Foreign Relations committee, run by the #2 geriatric Republican, Jesse Helms. (The #1 geriatric, of course, being Strom Thurmond, the only person still alive who can actually remember a world without Helms.) And Helms made it clear from day one he was going to do everything he could to sabotage that nomination. As chairman of the committee, he did just that.

On the onset, this appeared to be yet another case of Republicans stonewalling the efforts of a Democratic president. Nothing new, right? Almost. For you see, the former governor is not a Democrat, nor a liberal, but rather a moderate Republican. That makes the conflict even more significant, since it wasn’t simply the case of Democrat versus Republican, but rather moderate versus conservative.

Now let’s be brutally honest here. President Clinton knew in advance that this was going to happen. Helms and Weld have long been at odds with each other over ideology and the direction of the GOP. Weld had said he would not support Helms if the governor was elected to the Senate in ‘96. Weld lost that election, some would say, because he could not nail that diehard conservative support. Clinton simply fed the governor to the conservative wolves, knowing they’d kill their own and pretend that it was Bubba they were shredding. That’s why Clinton didn’t publicly back Weld in his nomination campaign either, even though many of his Democratic friends in the Senate did. That way Clinton can point to the GOP and say they are run by "radical extremists."

But the problem goes deeper than that. We’re talking about a conflict with ideology that the conservatives will always win unless it is addressed by the moderates. There are many things you can say about conservatives - you can call them out of touch, outdated, unrealistic, self-righteous, delusional, unemotional, pious, arrogant… But the one thing I have to credit conservatives for is that they are firm on their beliefs and are willing to defend them to the bitter end. You cannot make that claim, however, with moderates, and more in particular to moderate republicans.

When Rush Limbaugh blasts moderates, I will admit it irks me somewhat. In the traditional and outdated one-dimensional political spectrum, my libertarian beliefs would firmly place me in the realm of moderates. Yet I also know that for all his bluster, there is a ring of truth in Limbaugh’s disdain for moderates. Moderates don’t fight for their beliefs, they negotiate and compromise and consider that to be progress. Conservatives, on the other hand, will fight tooth and nail for what they believe in, rarely negotiating, and never from a position of weakness. Conservatives will treat moderates worse than they do liberals, simply because even liberals will fight for their beliefs no matter how clueless they really are.

The 1996 GOP primary race was the best example of how conservatives and moderates act. The moderate candidates like Pete Wilson and Arlin Specter were the first to fold. The more conservative, however, the longer they stayed. Pat Buchannan, the definition of diehard conservative, stayed in the race all the way to the convention, even though it was clear he would never get the nomination. Even in the GOP convention, it was clear that moderates have a problem defending their position. On the issue of abortion, pro-choice moderates were in a clear minority to the pro-life conservatives that attended. Yet they threatened to take the issue to the convention floor if a statement of tolerance wasn’t put into the party’s platform. But when push came to shove, the moderates negotiated for a footnote blurb of their opposition. A worthless position, but the moderates deluded themselves into thinking it was progress.

Moderates need to be willing to fight hard for what they believe in. That’s the only way they can be an effective counter for die-hard conservatives. Forget trying to avoid stepping on toes! Sure your position will make hard conservatives cringe. So what? Who cares? Conservatives certainly don’t care one whit about whether or not their position makes moderates cringe! They continue to move at full speed knowing full well that moderates will simply cave in.

Believe me, if moderates made a stand, they may not be accepted by conservatives, but at least they’ll be respected for defending what they believe in. Sometimes that will make all the difference in party politics.

Monday, September 22, 1997

Week of 09/22/1997

MAD Politics?
Cold War tactics to head off campaign finance reform
- by David Matthews 2

In the finger-pointing game now known as the Campaign Finance Investigation hearings going on in the Senate, there have been a ton of accusations hurled at both Democrats and Republicans alike. Charges that illegal contributions were solicited and accepted. Allegations that certain think-tanks were getting contributions that were legal but "ethically questionable."

Now let’s be brutally honest here. In Washington DC, there is NO such thing as "ethically questionable" when it comes to politics and money. Ten years ago we had members of the US House that were bouncing their own checks in a way that would earn felony convictions if practiced by their own constituents. Certainly "ethically questionable," and yet practiced by both Democrats and Republicans alike! Sure the bank that allowed it has been closed (it was run by the House!) but we’re still paying the piper for it. This past year there was heavy lobbying by special interest groups, using tactics that would otherwise be illegal, except that those laws were quietly removed for the duration of their respective political conventions. Didn’t hear about it? The media certainly gave it plenty of attention!

In the past, the two parties have played this game of tête-à-tête over issues and bills. But now things are different. Now the focus is on how their respective parties raise money - their bread and butter! It’s the one thing that keeps the two parties going. Forget "family values," political posturing, special interest polls, and power ties. You want inside the beltway? You gotta have the green!

So now the focus is on how much money is being raised, and by who, and for what reason. Republicans want to use it to finally nail the Clinton Administration and the Democratic Party. Payback, some would say, for the Watergate hearings that crippled the Republicans for almost a decade. To prevent that from happening, Democrats have been showing how the Republicans are just as guilty as they are when it comes to campaign contributions.

In other words, the Democrats are practicing MAD tactics. MAD, as in Mutual Assured Destruction.

For those of you not familiar with the Cold War, Mutual Assured Destruction was the nuclear policy set forth by the United States and the then Soviet Union. It meant that if either side launched nuclear weapons, the other side will retaliate massively, thus ensuring the destruction of both countries and the rest of the world. Since neither side wants that, they will refrain from using nuclear weapons.

A similar MAD tactic exist in politics. Certain political issues are great to talk about come election time, but not on the legislative floor. Campaign finance is one such issue. Both sides know how dirty they really are, and both sides will talk the talk when it comes to their opposition, but only as long as they don’t have to walk the walk. Now the Senate has turned the talk into a full-fledged investigation. This is essentially having the GOP launching a political first strike. The Democrats knew they had no choice but to launch their own counter-strike.

The goal of this kind of tactic is simple: prevent the next stage of attack, namely serious campaign finance reform legislation that would hamper finances for the forthcoming congressional elections. To the Democrats it would mean not having the money needed to regain control of Congress, or funding a candidate that would allow them to retain control of the White House for another term. So in order for them to prevent that, they will show that the GOP is just as corrupt as they are, and thus deserve to be just as hampered by the same laws.

Political history tells us that money alone does not mean victory in the ballot box. If it were, the ‘96 presidential election would have been between Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican Steve Forbes and President H. Ross Perot. But money does provide access. That’s the oldest political secret around. You’ve heard about the $2000-per-plate "rubber chicken" dinners, right? Why do you think they’re so popular as a fund-raiser? Certainly not for the food!

Let’s start having the Republicans putting their money where their mouths are. They think certain contributions are illegal? Start indictment hearings! If these guys are so eager to finally nail Bill Clinton on something, here’s their chance! Let’s have 100% accountability for campaign contributions, right down to the last nickel and dime in soft money from the political parties. Let’s find out how much candidates get from certain political groups via their party. And right now is the perfect time to do that, because the ‘98 Congressional races are about to start and by all accounts the incumbents have already given themselves a huge financial lead. If those in Washington really care about you or I in the real world, this would be the right time to prove it.

Another idea that the people can think about is switching to a third party. Right now both Democrats and Republicans are squabbling like the spoiled brats they are over the size of each other’s ice cream and who has more sprinkles, while at the same time passing laws and changing election rules to make sure nobody else gets a cone. It’s understandable.. after all, if they make sure there is no competition, they can act as spoiled rotten as they want to be. Both parties can scream and shout and wail about who is greedier and which is more insensitive if they’re the only choices the public thinks are available. And don’t think for a minute that your elected official can do no wrong either. That kind of thinking has allowed the politicians to continue as is! Every member of Congress has dirty hands, because they’re getting their money the same way as Bill Clinton does.

It’s time to put up or shut up for both parties!

Monday, September 15, 1997

Week of 09/15/1997

On Hating Hate
You’ll fall into the abyss
- by David Matthews 2

OK folks, this is an issue I think needs to be addressed. America is a nation that’s right now in the midst of severe growing pains, with dozens of different cultures, hundreds of different religions, and literally thousands of different philosophies. And it’s those differences that have been causing some major friction between various factions.

And it all boils down to one word: Hate.

Believe it or not, hate is an intellectual feeling. Much like love, you can hate something without any physical stimulus present. We can hate something without really knowing why. And here’s something rather important: people can be TRAINED to hate! It’s been done before - when conflicts break out, the first thing we do is we demonize our enemy, to make them something we CAN hate! Look at what we did in both World War I and II, and again in the early years of the Cold War. We demonized our opponents by calling them names like "Krauts" or "Japs" or "Commies." We played on our own natural prejudices against anything different from us. We’re even seeing that now with corporations and "the rich." Ever listen to the rhetoric of today’s social crusaders? Everything is now an "evil industry" made to profit "the rich" because "they’re not like us."

Of course, the solution to hate has been love. Those who are of heavy religious persuasions have talked reams about "hate the sin but love the sinner." Unfortunately it’s not that simple to separate the hate from the hate-filled, or the sin from the sinner. Hate requires a symbol in order for it to continue to exist. Bigots need their token racial and ethnic symbols, socialists need industry, militias need government, religious crusaders need gambling and sex and alcohol, and Macintosh fans need Bill Gates. If it can’t be personified and demonstrated to exist, it looses it’s hold on people. So it’s nearly impossible to separate the hate from the object of hatred. It needs that object to thrive.

Then there’s the message to hate the hate. Consider the logic in hating hatred. Much like staring into Nietzsche’s abyss, you become one with it. This can best be seen by those who were once zealous about one cause, only to later convert and become equally zealous about it’s opposite. Even the Bible tells of St. Paul, who once was Saul, a zealous persecutor of those who followed the words of Jesus. Then he was converted to one who followed Jesus. However, if you examine his words and the various books of letters, you’ll find that Paul was as much of a zealot as he was before his conversion. Only now his venom was made legitimate because he was "blessed" by the Holy Sprit. Same stances, different religion and name. And you can see it in those who follow his words to the last letter.

Hate involves denying something’s basic right to exist. It’s not SUPPOSED to exist, therefore we will deny it’s right to exist. Therefore when you hate hatred, you are essentially saying hatred is not supposed to exist, therefore you will deny it’s right to exist. You essentially become that which you so rally against.

The opposite of hate is love. Funny thing about love is that it’s about ACCEPTANCE, with all of it’s flaws and imperfections. That should be the real message - love the hate, accept it’s existence. That doesn’t mean you have to condone it, but rather accept the fact that it exists.

You know today’s moralists and censorship-happy crowd just haven’t gotten the point yet. Their continued hatred of things they dislike doesn’t end hatred, it simply feeds off it and gets stronger. The message should be simple: accept that hatred exists. Deal with it, and don’t fall into it’s trap by hating it back. It’s not idealistic, but rather simply part of the brutally honest world of reality.

Monday, September 8, 1997

Week of 09/08/1997

Tabloid Media: Not On My Conscience!
Is this the case of the tail wagging the public dog?
- by David Matthews 2

Let’s talk about the tabloids for a minute. You know, no matter what kind of crisis that goes on in the world, the tabloids seem to have an ever-ready list of headlines designed to get the attention of the public. If OJ Simpson doesn’t get headlines, then Demi Moore, or Liz Taylor, or Michael Jackson will appear in 72-point print with some latest rumor from a supposed friend of the family. The latest poster child of the tabloids happens to involve a young girl by the name of JonBenet Ramsey, who was reported missing, then found dead in their home just after Christmas. The police still haven’t come up with an arrest yet, so the rumor mills are rampant about who could have killed this young star of the child beauty pageants.

Let me ask you this question - who really cares about this case anymore? The only people pointing fingers at anyone are the rumor mills in the media. There is no news on the case, no arrests made, and plenty of questions asked. Just about everything concerning the murder of this girl have been made available to the public except the crime scene photos. But the media can’t seem to get enough of this case! Now the rumors from other publications are making headlines.

This stuff makes me yearn for the old days of the tabloids, when the headlines came from the Twilight Zone. You know.. "My Two-Headed Alien Baby Is Love Child Of Elvis Presley" and "Family Pet Gets Elected To Congress." But then I remember that the weird headlines are now found in the news section of the "legitimate" newspapers. Consider some of the more recent ones: "Wife Leaves Husband For Internet Lover" or "Child Dies While Mother Plays Video Poker."

I realize there are people out there who look at all this stuff going on and, like me, are scratching their heads and wondering if we really need to know what’s going on in the personal lives of the rich and famous. I don’t give a rat’s ass about what Michael Jackson is doing with his life, only as long as he isn’t "doing it" with someone underage. And Liz Taylor looking like Susan Powder’s mother? Hey, it’s her life. She wants to do that, fine. Demi Moore dirty dancing with someone besides Bruce Willis? Their affair, not mine! I only care when their actions have an impact on the public, such as the conduct of politicians who act contrary to their reported political beliefs.

At the same time, I understand the need of other people to relish at the misery of those who are seemingly more successful than they ever could be. We all have a perverse streak of schadenfreud that exists in the recesses of our psyche, myself included. We all need that sense of satisfaction that deep down beneath all that wealth and gold, those who are rich, famous, and powerful are not gods, but humans like the rest of us. Well, with the obvious exception to the list of supposed aliens in the movie "Men In Black." I’ve always wondered about Newt Gingrich.. (Just kidding!)

And with the tabloids come the Paparazzi, the obsessive, unethical, media hounds who spend their time getting their "exclusive" picture of celebrities being human beings. Lately the Paparazzi have come under fire for their conduct in the death of one of their long-time celebrity targets, and the backlash is being felt all over the world by the legitimate media. When Islamic extremists detonated three suicide bombs in Jerusalem that same week, the Israelis shouted "Paparazzi Go Home!" to even to the seasoned network reporters who were filming the carnage.

Perhaps the journalists themselves weren’t deserving the harsh treatment by the public, but those who did were not as accessible. We’re talking about the producers and editors of that so-called legitimate media that make the conscious decision to go from reporting the news to sensationalizing the news. This apparent lack of journalistic integrity doesn’t have to concern the rich and famous, but also can involve serious issues. Time Magazine lost credibility when they featured their "Cyberporn" story based on a report that was neither credible nor accurate.

Then there are journalists and news anchors who can’t help but add an editorial in their reporting of news. I’ll be brutally honest here -- As someone who was in his time both a columnist and a reporter, I know there is a forum for opinions, and it’s not when you’re reporting the news.

The media, both tabloid and otherwise, claim that what they are doing is feeding the appetite of the public monster, essentially saying "Not On My Conscience" like a homeowner would shout "Not In My Back Yard!" Perhaps there is a hint of truth in that. People may rail about the Paparazzi, and yet they still want to watch "Hard Copy," and "Entertainment Tonight." We still want our schadenfreud. But in the case of JonBenet, is this really the case of the media feeding the public monster?

One can only look at the evolution of the talk shows to see where this is headed. Once upon a time Phil Donahue started a show that really appealed to the public. Then that idea changed, as did the number of similar shows. Sweeps weeks meant more strippers and ad-hoc beauty contests and makeovers. Arguments, screaming matches, and actual down-and-dirty brawls began to become the norm. Then there were claims that issues were being fabricated by guests eager to be on the air and producers eager to put them on the air. It was supposedly these actions that resulted in the murder of one talk show guest by another. The talk shows, and the stations that sponsored them, were forced to rethink their situation and determine at what cost was entertaining the public worth.

I personally think that the media should rethink it’s situation. Is the goal of the news media to inform the public or to entertain them? There is a difference between informing the public and entertaining them, and if the members of the news media from the executives to the reporters cannot determine what that difference is then they have no business whatsoever being associated with journalism.

Monday, September 1, 1997

Week of 09/01/1997

Media Hounds
- by David Matthews 2

I went to bed last night after a lengthy time on the Internet to hear the news that Princess Diana of Wales had died. It struck me as odd, especially since the last news report I got from America Online was that she was injured in a car crash, but no further details were known. Then, at six in the morning, the details were starting to get clearer, and to me they were shocking.

By current accounts, Princess Diana was being pursued by members of the Paparazzi - essentially picture-happy media hounds who tail celebrities endlessly. All she wanted was some time to herself, and the hounds wanted to get pictures of her and her boyfriend. The pursuit went on into a Paris tunnel, where the car was wrecked. Her boyfriend, millionaire Dodi Al Fayed, was killed on the scene, as was the driver of the car.

Now we’re not talking about your average Chicken Little reporter looking for a story to blow out of proportion. Those folks will find a story, exploit it, milk it for all it’s worth, and move on. The Paparazzi are a rather notorious breed of media hound. These are the folks who will stalk out celebrities at their homes, their hotel rooms, in their cars, in restaurants. It doesn’t matter if there’s a story - the very existence of these people MAKE it a story for the Paparazzi. When celebrities get married, unless it’s a full-blown media event, the Paparazzi will make it one. They’ve been known to storm wedding ceremonies in helicopters like Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now," the only thing missing being the music from Wagner to complete the scene.

Now I know some of you might expect some crack about the "freedom of the press" or something like that. Sorry. Not this time. This was not a case of the freedom of the press here. This was a clear-cut case of the media acting not only irresponsibly, but also with apparent reckless disregard.

Worse yet, the Paparazzi who were pursuing the Princess took pictures of her as she lay in the car, bleeding, and apparently dying. These pictures are already on the market and no doubt SOME publication will purchase and use them in their "exclusive" story. The good news is at least ONE tabloid company has openly refused to purchase them, and is strongly encouraging the others to do the same. This was a brutal scene that didn’t have to happen and could have been prevented if the Paparazzi weren’t actively stalking the couple. The fact that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were together was not news, nor is the fact that they went to a restaurant. What, are they expected to live their lives in a fortress with razor wire and armed guards with orders to shoot to kill?

If justice was at all poetic, the French officials would release the names, home addresses, and pictures of each and every member of the Paparazzi involved in the death of Princess Diana. Let the media hound them for a while. Let’s see how they like it if they like having photographers take pictures of them in their homes, at their workplace, in their cars, in restaurants. After all, THEY’RE now the news.

The press pass is not a license to stalk and harass. The camera is not physical permission to strip away a person’s private life and leave them naked for the world to see. In any other circumstance, the actions of the Paparazzi would lead to prison. Perhaps it’s time to remind them that like all other freedoms, even the freedom of the press is not absolute.

Meanwhile, the world will mourn the loss of a dedicated and beloved member of the English nobility. Her care and concern for those who were suffering almost rivaled those of Mother Theresa. Her causes were noble, much like her life. The way she left the world, however, was undeserving.