Monday, February 24, 1997

Week of 02/24/1997

Hypothetical History
The "Unreality" In Politics
- by David Matthews 2

What if..

What if you could go back in time and kill Adolph Hitler before he came to power in Germany?

What if you could save President Kennedy from being shot in Dallas?

What if you could save President Reagan from being shot in 1981?

What if you could change the course of an election so that George Bush got re-elected president in 1992?

What if you could go back in time and change the course of history?

Welcome to the world of hypothetical history - where you can change the course of time at a whim.

Hypothetical history has been a tool of writers for decades. Great writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells came up with futuristic stories based on events that had not occurred at the time. Many episodes of "Star Trek" were written with a hypothetical history to it - anyone remember Khan Noonian Singh? According to the world of Star Trek, we should be in the middle of the Eugenics War now. Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in his first stab as a fiction writer, used hypothetical history as the basis for his book "1945."

Well now there’s a new use for hypothetical history - to bash growing political movements.

The first target of this new kind of political attack is libertarianism. This has already been seen in political newsgroups under many names - such as the infamous "In a Libertarian world…" header. Quite often the argument is if this was a libertarian society, X would not exist, or Y number of people would die - because there would supposedly be no government to do all those things.


For starters there would STILL be a government in this magical, mythical hypothetical world that exists only in the minds of would-be pundits. Most libertarians - not all, but most - support limited government, not the complete abolition of it. But that is only the start of the neo-political hallucinations, the opening scene of a tale of woe and inadequacies that would make Oliver Twist feel like the King of England in comparison. Let’s go over a few of the classic ones, shall we?

"There would be no Internet." True, the US government did play a major role in the creation and development of the Internet, but can anyone say they were on it when it was mostly a government creation - before the World Wide Web existed? I can - back in 1986 - and let me tell you that it SUCKED! It had extremely limited potential at the time; good to convey text information and little else. It was only after the development of the WWW by PRIVATE interests did the Internet take off the way it did.

So who is to say that without the government infrastructure already present that the Internet wouldn’t have existed at all? Who is to say that the online services, in their attempt to get more customers and expand their scope of operation don’t enter into cooperative agreements with the smaller online services, such as what Prodigy did with Access Atlanta, or perhaps even into the bulletin boards? In short, there WOULD be an Internet - it just wouldn’t have happened as quickly or as broadly as it did.

"There would be no roads." Hmm.. no roads? Well according to these hypothetical historians, the federal government wouldn’t have the authority to create roads if it was limited only to the US Constitution. Guess they forgot about Section I giving Congress the power to regulate the creation and maintenance of roads… Or perhaps they assume that there would be NO government since they believe that this mythical libertarian society is somehow filled with anarchists…

"The poor will starve to death." Love this one. It assumes that the world will be filled with Scrooge-like people who will demand that the poor be exiled to work-houses and debtors prisons or that they die and - to quote from Charles Dickens - "decrease the surplus population." They seem to forget the wonderful works of private charities such as "Food For The Poor" and churches. Poverty is not a new condition - it has existed since the dawn of civilization, and government - for all it’s bluster and pork programs - hasn’t been able to eliminate it.

I myself have little use for this kind of thinking outside of the fiction shelf. Much like LSD, this kind of political hallucination is only subject to the individual on the acid trip. They’re the only ones who see the green-eyed monster when everyone else sees a sofa, and no matter how many times you reassure them otherwise they’ll still point at the sofa and rant away that it’s trying to eat their dog and take away their credit cards.

Then again, two can play the hypothetical history game as well. I’ve always wondered what America would have been like if the Puritans stayed in England. Or if Queen Victoria kept her snooty, pompous, upper-crust, British nose out of everyone’s lives instead of starting the wave of moralism that ended with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933? How about what would have happened if the Equal Rights Amendment became part of the Constitution ten years ago? Would it have stemmed off the shift of feminists to their extreme ends? Or what if people had the sense to realize that the so-called "red scare" in the fifties was a post-World War II propaganda ploy to push for the Cold War, and told Joe McCarthy and his ilk to just shut the hell up and get laid like everyone else?

Let’s get back to dealing with REALITY here. And the reality is that the government DID help invent the Internet. The welfare state DID happen. The Republicans DID run roughshod in the White House in the 80’s and in Congress in the late 90’s. These things DID happen. The question now becomes how to move on from there.

Then again it’s funny that this kind of attack is only targeted at libertarianism. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh don’t spin fanciful takes about a magical, mythical liberal world. They’re too busy complaining about the encroachment of liberalism in the here and now. And liberals don’t tell horror stories about how the world would still be in the stone age if this was some hypothetical conservative society. They leave that kind of dreaming to Hollywood producers and screenwriters. So WHY then do conservatives and liberals both spin fantastic tales about what life would be like if ruled solely by libertarians?

Maybe it’s because they can’t use any solid arguments. After all, libertarianism embraces concepts that both liberals and conservatives partially use for their own causes. Or maybe they’re so desperate to bash libertarianism that they have to rely on flights of fantasy, because to attack based on reality would make them sound like tyrants lording over incompetent children. And then these people have the unmitigated gall to call libertarians dreamers? Who’s living in the fantasy world here?

Either way, this barrage of political unreality is pointless. Let’s deal with REALITY, not with flights of fancy best left to the fiction shelves.

Monday, February 17, 1997

Week of 02/17/1997

Let’s make a (political) Deal!
The new game show for America
- by David Matthews 2

Welcome back to our game.

Now you all know our contestant and reigning champion, John Q. Public. John here has chose Party #1 from one of three party curtains and ended up with the political addict. Now John, you’ve been playing this game long enough to know that if you choose either Party #1 or Party #2 that you’ll end up with the political addict.. BUT you’ve got tenacity, and we can’t fault you for that.

Now we’re into round #2. Your addict.. OOPS! I mean politician… has one of three choices he can take. There’s term limits behind door #1. There’s campaign finance reform behind door #2. And there’s more congressional pork behind door #3. So which do you think he’ll choose?

OH, I’m sorry, but he picked door #3. Pat, tell John what he just won!

Well David, John Q. Public has won a few more years of business as usual in Washington DC! Included with that package are more federal moneys spent on pork barrel projects, an increase in taxes to cover those projects, and more partisan bickering on issues that are as consequential as a 20/20 special on bat guano. And all of it paid through the nose by John Q. Public. Back to you David…

OK folks, all attempts of satire aside here, we all should have seen it coming. Congress claims they want term limits, so they unveil 11 constitutional amendments, and by some fluke that happens only in politics and professional wrestling, NONE of those amendments pass. We hear talk about our politicians wanting to curb campaign costs and perceived inappropriate - and possibly illegal - contributions from foreign interests, yet all the Republican-controlled Congress seem to do is focus their attention at how the Democrats raise funds.

Anybody else besides me see the old bait-and-switch tactics here? There’s a reason why Congress unveiled 11 different constitutional amendments for term limits - that way ALL the members can go back home and say they at least voted for ONE of them without having to worry about ANY of them actually getting passed. "Gee," they’ll tell us, "we tried, but the other side just wasn’t willing to work with us."

Now the focus will turn to campaign finance reform, which everyone will want and our gratefully elected politicians seem to be all-too-eager to enact now that they’ve kept their jobs. I don’t know about anybody else, but to hear politicians talk about campaign finance reform now is sounding awfully like the alcoholic talking about going sober only after consuming the whole wine cellar.

It’s easy for them to talk about reform now that they aren’t running for re-election. What ever happened to that talk last year when the same measures were up for discussion? Then would have been a better time to get the matter settled - at a time when every politician is hungry for the last buck. But no, it died in committee last year.

Let’s face it folks, we can’t turn to our two tried-and-true political parties to enact real campaign finance reform. One party is crippled by it and the other is so self-deluded they can’t even admit they have the same problem never mind come up with an honest solution. And while some of you might expect me to pull out some reference about third parties, I believe the solution can be found not in the parties, but in the players.

In a Massachusetts senatorial race that got minimal press attention, two politicians - both millionaires - sat down at the start of their campaigns and decided how much both sides would be willing to spend. They set down a financial limit, and when the final vote was cast it turned out both sides actually spent LESS than their maximum amount.

Perhaps that is where we really need to start - not in political parties, but rather by the politicians who will be willing to not only do something about campaign reform after elections, but also in the heat of the campaign season when they’re really hurting for cash. Republicans claim to be people of ethics - here’s the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is. Democrats will shortly claim to be nothing like the party of old - here’s the perfect opportunity for them to prove it.

Let’s start with having politicians sign an agreement that says they won’t spend over X amount of money in their next campaign, and if they do they’ll voluntarily drop out of the race. Let’s hold each member of Congress responsible - one by one - for setting such limits, and vowing to elect only those members who agree to do so - irregardless of which party they represent.

Only when we have members of Congress who are not only willing to enact campaign reform but are already PRACTICING what they preach will REAL campaign finance reform be enacted - and by then it won’t be really needed.

Monday, February 10, 1997

Week of 02/10/1997

The Simpson Circus - Part 2
The civil court circus is ending - but not before insulting us again!
- by David Matthews 2

As I put fingers to keyboard, the second coming of the OJ Simpson trial is winding down. The jury in this civil case has declared Simpson responsible for the death of Ron Goldman and the abuse of Nicole Simpson, and have already set compensatory damages at $8.4 million. All that’s left will be the determination of punitive damages, and the trial - for all intents and purposes - will be over. The jury will be dismissed and the case will be closed.

And I for one will be pleased to see this circus finally wind down.

Not that the trial was anything like the criminal version. This time the media had to leave their cameras at the courthouse door - something Judge Lance Ito should have done the first time around. We were spared the daily ritual of sacrificing our favorite shows just for a bunch of lawyers to rant and rave. The principals in this case were also restrained from talking to the media - again sparing us the ranting and ravings of both sides. Also, the presiding judge made it clear that this case was The Goldman and Brown families versus OJ Simpson, not OJ Simpson versus the Los Angeles Police Department - thus much of the speculation about "evidence tampering" was diffused before the trial could even begin.

And if anyone has to be blamed for Simpson’s loss in this battle - it’s the defendant himself who caused the most damage. Simpson first destroyed what little credibility he had in the trial by denying completely any and all abuse of his late wife Nicole. Never mind that he pleaded no contest to assault when they were married. Never mind the pictures taken of her by police with her face beaten and swollen. Never mind the phone calls to 911 by Nicole telling the police that it was OJ once again harassing her. Never happened, OJ said.

Simpson made this situation even worse when he denied owning a pair of Bruno Malli shoes - which police believed were the shoes worn by the killer of Nicole and Ronald. When confronted with a photograph of him wearing what appeared to be such shoes, the defense countered that the photo was a fake. And when the plaintiff presented THIRTY-ONE similar pictures from different angles, the defense countered those were all fakes as well.

Then again consider the whole defense strategy - which has been to convince a jury that their client was a victim of an elaborate and highly detailed frame-up by the LAPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At the same time, the defense wanted to prove that these agencies were the most incompetent agencies since the Keystone Cops. Think about it for a second - an elaborate and highly detailed frame-up committed by completely incompetent agencies with an ulterior agenda. It’s a conspiracy theory that even the John Birch Society would balk at. What’s wrong with this picture outside of the absence of the Marx Brothers?

But members of the media couldn’t rest - they wanted another Simpson sensation and hated not being able to capitalize on it like they could before. So whenever possible they hounded us with what little snippets they can. They dragged out anyone and everyone involved in the case who wasn’t under the gag order.

And then there was the jury verdict for this case. The announcement of the jury’s decision couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the re-elected Clinton Administration - thirty minutes before President Clinton’s fifth State of the Union address. The media scrapped any and all plans for Clinton’s speech and hauled out their OJ "experts" to talk about the jury’s possible verdict. They had progress reports via helicopter about the principal players and their progress back to the courthouse.

It was clear that the media was oblivious to anything else going on. What? You mean President Clinton, the highest elected official and most powerful man in the free world, is about to address the nation? Well let him wait! THE OJ JURY IS IN! Oh, they’re not ready yet? Well OK, if you really HAVE to see Clinton speak…

Clinton couldn’t even get to finish his address - which I understand was the shortest he’s ever made - when the media cut away to Los Angeles to report on the verdict. The Republicans couldn’t even get their own highly partisan rebuttal televised because of the OJ fervor. They had been snubbed by the media drowning in their own self-indulgent hype.

Then came the aftermath of the verdict. With the media tailing all the principle players around by helicopter, the journalists then turned to the ugly issue that contaminated the first trial - racism. Once again they pointed out the racial difference in the perspectives on this trial, and now there were people screaming "double jeopardy" because this verdict was different than from the first trial.

Ignoring the obvious ignorance between civil and criminal cases, I wonder where all these "double jeopardy" people were when the civil trial was starting? Why did they wait until after the verdict to cry foul? And would these people have done so if the verdict was any different? I think it’s even money that these people would’ve held their collective tongues if Simpson won in civil court.

Of course, it’s foolish to believe that the whole sordid mess with Simpson will be completely over. Simpson will no doubt drain every last dollar he has in appeals to make sure that neither the Brown or Goldman family will get even one red cent. But appeals are always much drier than jury cases. There are no witnesses, no new testimony, just legal arguments and bland references to legal precedents that most air-fluffed and clueless media personalities wouldn’t be able to tell from the ingredients of corn flakes. It is here that the public Simpson trial will hopefully and finally die out - because no judge in their right mind would want to order a new trial given the media circus that would result.

So it appears that aside from those formalities, the OJ trial will soon be over. Maybe now people will get over this and move on to more important things in life.. like the rest of their own lives. This trial has been a farce, but how the media has been hyping this since day one has made it into an even bigger farce. And it really shows how despicable the media is to our society when it decides that the trial of a former football star and grade-B movie actor takes precedence over our government. I can only hope that when we look back at this whole mess we can do so with a vow to never make the same mistake again.

Click here to read what I first said about the OJ criminal trial - which was printed in the Gainesville Times the week of 10/3/95.

Monday, February 3, 1997

Week of 02/03/1997

Can’t Go Online? Call My Lawyer!
Suing AOL for poor service not practical.
- by David Matthews 2


Hear that? That’s the sound of a busy signal.

If you’re a subscriber of America Online, you’ve probably heard that sound a lot! When AOL changed it’s subscription prices from a strictly hourly to a flat monthly fee, you heard that sound often when you tried to sign on to the service. The reason being that since people could stay on AOL as long as they want and still pay $19.95 a month, they have. That meant an increase in capacity, which AOL wasn’t ready for. It’s ironic that only a few weeks ago AOL was talking about getting membership to 10 million and yet when they said that they lacked the hardware to allow the 8 million subscribers they already have to get online.

Of course, the news of crowded servers and a chorus of busy signals wasn’t unexpected. Those who monitor online progress warned of this impending electronic traffic jam to start the day the unlimited access rate was put in. But did we listen? No.

Thousands of users complained to AOL for their inability to get online or to stay online. But even their customer service line couldn’t handle the influx of complaints, annoying those customers ever more.

And America Online’s official response? Chairman Steve Case asked users to decrease their online time. After advertising unlimited access and urging people to sign up for that unlimited access?

It is no wonder, then, that lawsuits were filed against America Online and that the attorney generals of many states threatened to file legal action. The AG of New York even sent a letter to AOL stating that intent. (The joke being they couldn’t E-mail it to AOL because they kept on getting a busy signal.)

But one has to ask if lawsuits and possible criminal prosecutions are even needed in such a situation?

Sure, users are steamed about AOL and their apparent indifference to handling the situation that they themselves created. AOL needed to switch over to an unlimited flat rate just to stay competitive with Internet providers and even I have said in a previous article that it would be welcomed. Yet at the same time AOL wasn’t ready to handle the surge of users. That doesn’t constitute fraud - simply poor planing on their part.

Could AOL have made the situation easier? Sure they could have. They could have postponed their ongoing campaign to boost the number of subscribers so they could catch up on the hardware. Or they could have delayed going to the unlimited access for the few months that would be needed to add that additional hardware. But they didn’t.

And let’s think about the futility of lawsuits in dealing with such a situation. Do the people who are filing these suits want AOL to expand the way they should have, or do they just want to hurt the service? Either the money to expand is used or it goes to defend AOL in court. They can’t have it both ways. And even if these people win, what will they have won? The only thing they would have won would be some sense of satisfaction, because their lawyers would take whatever money they’d win.

There has been another solution all along: switch to another service! Let’s face it, AOL may be the biggest online service around, but it certainly isn’t the only service on the market. Besides the local and national Internet providers, there are three online services waiting in the wings for those dissatisfied users - Prodigy, CompuServe and The Microsoft Network. How do you think AOL got to be so successful in the first place? They did so by siphoning off the dissatisfied users from Prodigy and CompuServe! And in the business world, nothing hastens progress more than when your clients leave you to switch to your competition!

America Online hasn’t made that easier, however. Leaving their service requires contacting that same busy customer service line. And AOL certainly doesn’t want to have to deal with the influx of customers who leave them. But I say to you that’s all the more reason to switch if you’re dissatisfied with the service.

The operators at America Online may not want to hear it’s subscribers urge people to quit, but I think they’d much rather have to deal with those calls now than calls from lawyers who get rich off frivolous lawsuits and district attorneys who act as though they have way too much time on their hands. Lawyers did not make America Online the most popular online service in the world - people did. And the only way AOL will truly change to suit it’s customer base will not come from lawyers or petty legal suits, but from the very people who subscribe to them.