Monday, March 29, 1999

Week of 03/29/1999

Pandering To Extremists
The dirty little secret of winning primaries

- by David Matthews 2

So you want to get into politics, huh?

Think you can get in there, shake up the world, and make things right? Or maybe you think you’re some illegitimate Blues Brother on "a mission from God" to right the wrongs of the world? Or maybe you’re just in it for the perks and the lifetime pension program. Hey, don’t be ashamed if you are, you wouldn’t be the first one! Just look where it got Bill Clinton!

Well, you know that first you have to get elected. It’s not going to be easy, especially if there’s some no-good, greedy, self-centered, politician that already has that position. But before you even run against him or her, you’ll have to take care of any other candidates who would want your job.

So how do you do it? Simple - you pander to the extremists.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. If you have ever wondered if both the Democrats and Republicans have been gravitating more towards extremes, it’s not a figment of your imagination. This is one of the dirty little secrets of politics - if you want to win the primaries in these two parties, you have to suck up to the special interest groups, no matter how extreme they are.

Why? Simple - THEY VOTE! They have an interest in getting their agenda passed, so they’re making sure their supporters get off their duffs and into a voting booth!

But do you know what? If they’re the only ones getting to the voting booth, it’s pretty easy for the politicians to assume that their voices are the only ones that matter. Do you think that the Gods of Mount Morality are going to care what the average Joe and Jane Six-pack thinks when they complain about how high their taxes are getting, but they’re not angry enough to get off their duffs come election time? Don’t hold your breath to see if they care, folks.

But, on the other hand, if the "Concerned Moralists For A Theocratic America" came to your elected official’s office and told them they can guarantee a certain percentage of active voters at the ballot box to whomever would support their agenda, you can bet your last dollar that these politicians would be listening attentively to what this group would have to say. They may not like what the "Concerned Moralists" advocate, but they know that that group will be at the ballot box on election day, and if they want to get the win, they have to make sure that voting segment votes for them.

Case in point is Steve Forbes. The son of billionaire Malcom Forbes and publisher of "Forbes" magazine ran for president in 1996 on a simple flat tax platform. It was a simple, easy to understand tax system that would appeal to every American who felt they were paying too much in taxes. And yet, he only won in two primaries.

Why, you ask? Because that was the only issue he ran on! He didn’t want to talk about the Christian Coalition, or the other moralist groups who wanted their social agendas legislated. Pat Buchanan would talk himself to death on morality and social issues. Bob Dole would go on and on about family values and protecting children at the expense of everything America stands for. They got the votes, Forbes did not.

So now it is time for the 2000 election season to start, and when Forbes announced his intentions, he made it a point to talk about social issues and throwing in the flat tax on top of it. And it should be no surprise that Forbes made those issues mirror the most conservative of groups. He knows that the moralists will show up at the ballot box because they still have an agenda to see legislated.

What about the rest of the voters? Well, a good bulk of voters just plain don’t vote! And why should they? After all, they look at the candidates and see just how extreme their positions are and they decide it’s really not worth the effort. Five to eight candidates all talking the same, trying to appeal to the same core group of moralists, using the same buzzwords, and flinging mud at each other. Who wouldn’t be disinterested by it all?

The special interest groups live for the non-vote. They count on the general public staying home and not voting at the primaries. If anything, they know there is truth in the old political saying that "If you don’t vote, my vote counts twice!"

And in many ways, it is that general apathy towards the primaries that keeps the candidates constantly leaning towards the polar extremes. For the past three presidential campaigns, Pat Buchannan was considered to be the most extreme of conservatives. But with the 2000 elections coming, he’ll have to share that category with Forbes, with theocrats like Gary Bauer, and with Mister Blunder himself, former Vice President Dan Quayle. If voter apathy continues, one can only wonder how far to the extremes the candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties will go in the early 21st century.

But the shift towards political extremism by these two behemoth parties is also an asset to the smaller political parties. The further to extremes the candidates will go, those who used to support them will become disinterested and look for other parties that reflect their own beliefs. Every candidate that supports the theocratic Christian Coalition means another group of moderate Americans will start looking at political groups like the Libertarian Party and Ross Perot’s Reform Party. One only has to look at how a former actor and wrestler by the name of Jesse Ventura managed to beat out two established political parties to become governor of the state of Minnesota for proof.

However, the key to breaking the candidates’ downward spiral towards extremism lies not in voter apathy, but in more voter participation not just in the major elections, but also in the primaries. Don’t buy into the zero-sum mentality that says that if you don’t vote for the most popular candidate you shouldn’t even bother voting. Don’t get turned off when all the candidates start talking like fundamentalist ministers on a crusade, get pissed off and vow that you will go to the voting booth just to make sure these con artists don’t get any further to positions of political power! That is the only way that we can have a political body that is more representative of its citizens, instead of a body politic that whores itself out to the select few who have their own agenda.

Monday, March 22, 1999

Week of 03/22/1999

In Search Of The Human (Jack)Ass
- by David Matthews 2

In a civil court case in Minnesota, two little words may cost a company $30,000,000.00. The words were uttered by a sales manager about an associate whose picture in a company picnic was on the company’s web site. The words were uttered quietly, and supposedly to himself, but it cost him his job, and it may cost the company millions in alleged personal damages.

The two little words? "Nice bazongas."

Bill Clinton was accused of making an indecent proposition to Paula Jones. She gets her name dragged through the mud, accused of being trailer park trash, vilified by the press, and all she’ll get is $200,000.00 minus attorneys fees.

The words "nice bazongas," uttered quietly by a sales manager in his own office, has supposedly cost this woman "serious depression, anorexia, and sleeplessness," and her lawyers demand $30,000,000.00? Who’s insulting whom?

You know, it wasn’t too long ago that we would have looked at this sales manager and said "this guy is an ass." That’s it. No lawyers, no shrinks, no lawsuits. Just spread the word that the guy is an ass and just leave it at that.

Listen, if the guy walked through the workplace loudly saying "Hey, did you see those pictures of the picnic? Nice bazongas on that associate, huh?" THAT would have been worth $30,000,000.00. Maybe.

What ever happened to simply letting people be an ass? Huh? Has settlement greed on behalf of attorneys driven society to the point where every social faux pas is now grounds for a new game of Johnny Cochrane Lotto?

Perhaps a more noteworthy target of scorn has to be Atlanta’s own "Mouth Of The South," Ted Turner. Not too long ago, the Tedster said that Pope John Paul II should bring the Catholic Church into the 20th Century and drop the adultery part of the Ten Commandments. When asked what he would ask the pontiff should they ever meet, Turner stuck out his foot and said "Have you ever seen a Polish mine detector?"

Now Turner is having to apologize to Catholics, to Pope JP2, and to the Polish people, and even that isn’t enough according to one theocratic group. They want Bud Sielig, the commissioner of the professional baseball, to suspend Turner from owning the Atlanta Braves for one year.

You know what? Ted Turner is an ass! We’ve all known that Turner is an ass, okay? Do you people understand that? Ted Turner sticks his foot in his mouth so many times that he has developed the first-ever case of athlete’s tongue!

You know what else? He’s not the only ass! Marge Schott, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, is also an ass. She rivals Turner in saying things that offend some people, and she doesn’t even care if people are offended. Same with political consultant James Carville. He’s an ass! And he’ll admit it too!

How about radio shock jock Howard Stern? He’s an ass as well! Matter of fact, he is so successful because he’s an ass! He incorporates it into his radio persona. He gets outrageous and it offends people, and (this is the important part) it gets the attention of the people!

Let’s get brutally honest here. At some point in our lives, we all have those moments when we are a complete and utter ass. Maybe it is by accident, or maybe it is out of pure selfish motivations, but at some point in your life, you were an ass. Some people grow up and grow out of it, others never do.

But being an ass has become an endangered species, thanks in no small part to lawsuit-happy attorneys and the hyper-sensitive people who feel that we should all walk on eggshells just to appease them.

Listen, folks, it’s easy to understand the motivations of the lawsuit-happy attorneys. After all, they’re greedy asses! The hyper-sensitive people are the real problem.

Just like we were all asses at one point in our lives, so too many of us used to have fragile egos as well. Most of us, however, have had those egos smashed and trampled on. That’s a part of dealing with other people. That’s a part of dealing with the real world. We grow up, we understand that the world does not revolve around ourselves and our petty needs and desires, and we hopefully become better people because of it.

Problem is, the social movement of our more liberal idealists has coddled too many people into thinking they are entitled to having a fragile ego. That somehow stepping on your toes is an unpardonable sin. And the lawyers, of course, have latched onto that notion by bringing lawsuits for the most inane of statements and the most petty of comments. It is political correctness not only running amok, but in many cases running to ruin.

What we need is a dose of reality. We need to recognize that the person who says "nice bazongas" is an ass, and to let him be an ass. We need to let people like Ted Turner and Marge Schott say what they say because they haven’t had their reality check yet. Let them be asses! Sooner or later, the asses of the world get theirs.

Conversely, we also need the people with the fragile egos grow up and get new egos. Trust me on this. I speak from experience when I say that the world will not end just because your ego is bruised or shattered. You’ll grow up. In fact, after it is over you might just look back and laugh at how you used to act, and wonder how you were able to go on the way you were.

Monday, March 15, 1999

Week of 03/15/1999

Constitutional Negligence
Supreme Court Justices Let Too Many Get Away
- by David Matthews 2

"Let Stand Without Comment."

You’ve probably seen that statement often in reference to the US Supreme Court. It is perhaps the most frustrating statement that the nine justices can make to anyone who supports freedom.

The US Supreme Court, as the highest branch of the judiciary, serves as what many consider to be the ultimate arbiter of what falls within the Constitution of the United States. It is often their voice that serves as the last word on whether or not a law or regulation should even exist.

You’ve probably heard the old saying about taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court, right? Well, unfortunately, most of the cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court never even make it to the nine justices to review. The sheer volume of cases presented to the justices in any given year means that they have to pick and choose which ones they will hear. Most of those decisions fall to the faceless and nameless group of law clerks who work for eight of the nine justices. (Justice John Paul Stevens is the only one who still looks at every case himself.) Those lucky few that survive then go before the justices to decide for themselves which cases they will hear. At least four justices must agree to hear the case before it goes for a full review. The rejected cases are simply deferred back to the last judgement rendered by the lower courts. In other words, they "let stand without comment."

Contrary to popular opinion and the media, when the justices refuse to hear a case, they are neither for nor against that issue. It simply means that they thought the case didn’t warrant their attention at the time. Sometimes it is because they have already decided on the issue and are not willing to give it a second look. Other times, they may feel that the issue isn’t worth reviewing at that time, but perhaps they will review the issue in a later case. But there really is no way of knowing because the bulk of cases don’t even make it to the justices themselves.

Unfortunately, you might be seeing that discouraging comment more often. The justices have decided that they will not be reviewing as many cases as they have in the past. Court watchers believe that this will discourage the insanely high volume of appeals presented to them. I guess time will tell if that theory works.

The decision to hear fewer and fewer court cases is also causing another problem - it is hastening the erosion of individual freedoms.

Remember that the Supreme Court serves as the final word as to what does and does not violate the Constitution of the United States and its subsequent amendments, and while the nine justices have decided to slack off on the number of cases they will hear, the other two branches of government have INCREASED the number of laws and regulations designed to micromanage the rest of the country. Some of those laws violate individual freedoms. Some laws are in blatant defiance of past Supreme Court decisions. Add to that the laws that are passed by fifty state legislatures, and the ordinances passed by local governing branches in each of those fifty states, and you end up with a ton of new laws and new regulations and more infringements on individual freedoms. That means more lawsuits and more appeals, not less, and the chances are that freedom will be left in the wayside increases because the justices don’t want to deal with them.

This kind of action borders on what only can be considered constitutional negligence on behalf of the judiciary. It is bad enough we have both the legislative and executive branches that either ignore individual freedoms or blatantly defile them, but to have the judiciary acquiesce to the abuses with their indifference is just as bad.

I understand, of course, that the legal system is about as speedy as I-285 during rush hour, and about as exciting as sitting through rush hour traffic. My college advisor was right from the beginning - the law is incredibly dry. But that should never detract from the utter reality that the judiciary is that last line that prevents America from resembling a demented version of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

So if the justices want to cut down on the volume of appeals, sticking their heads in the sand is not a viable option. If they are serious about wanting to preserve freedom while cutting down on those appeals, there are some simple steps that can be taken.

First, the judiciary, from the Supreme Court on down to the local traffic court judge, need to treat individual freedom as the rule, not the rare exception. The state of Alabama, for instance, recently passed a law that banned so-called "marital aids," and rationalized the existence of that law in court simply because they can make such a law! That kind of thuggish attitude is precisely why our court system is burdened with such lawsuits, and if the legislative bodies were told that they can’t just pass any law they wanted to on a whim, they wouldn’t be so flippant about it. Much like the burden of proof rests with the state in criminal prosecutions, so too should the burden of justifying a law that limits individual freedom, no matter how slight that limitation, rest heavily with the state.

Second, the US Supreme Court should reconsider their decision about "sovereign immunity" - that tyrannical doctrine that says legislators are immune from prosecution for their actions as legislators. Some of the most anti-freedom (and anti-American) pieces of legislation have come down the pipe since that 1998 decision because the legislators know that they themselves cannot be held personally responsible for their actions. The politicians don’t want to be held responsible for their actions, but they hypocritically demand that you, the American citizens, do.

Third, there should be an automatic sunshine rule in regards to legislation that does not concern the major felonies such as murder, rape, robbery, or fraud. If the state cannot justify the continued need for such legislation after a certain period of time, that law is automatically considered unconstitutional and removed from the books. That would eliminate a lot of so-called "blue laws" that the legislature cannot remove without invoking the political wrath of the moralist minority.

For years now, the chief justice of the Supreme Court has warned Congress against trying to federalize and micromanage every social problem. They have repeatedly ignored those warnings, and instead have opted to react like Pavlovian dogs to the whims of the special interests in restricting individual freedom. Unless the Supreme Court is willing to take a stand for the individual, the other two branches of government will continue their abuse of power.

Monday, March 8, 1999

Week of 03/08/1999

Wrath Of The Church Ladies
The Crowd Doth Protest Too Much Over Monica
- by David Matthews 2

After a year of speculation, rumor-mongering, and political spin set between "crumb" and "liquefy," Monica Lewinsky finally had her time to tell her side of the story in front of the media. No third-person hearsay, no "masters of disasters" telling it the way Hillary wants it told, no former high school acquaintances trying to be the next gossip column diva, no Ken Starr, and certainly no Linda Tripp. It was just Monica and Barbara Walters and the ABC crew.

The next day, I was repeatedly asked whether or not I saw the interview. Nope. Sorry. I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Monica finally got her time in the limelight. For over a year, she’s been an unwilling pawn in the spin battle between modern-day Torquamadas and forces rabidly (or, at least with the feminists, grudgingly) loyal to the Clinton Administration. Everybody talked about Monica, and most of it wasn’t pleasant. Worst of all, she wasn’t in a position to defend herself in the press about it. I was one of the few voices that mentioned this travesty online, so I’m glad that she finally has a chance to say what her side of the story is.

At the same time, however, I really wasn’t interested in what she wanted to say. Listening to her talk about her relationship with the President of the United States is not on the list of things I would want to spend my valuable time doing. I’d rather spend my time paying attention to the other things that Bill Clinton is screwing with, namely our rights, our freedoms, and our money. Things that really matter to you and me, or at least they’re supposed to.

But what really got me was listening to all the talk afterwards from people about the Monica interview. To many of them, their minds were already made up. She was a slut, and that was it. People weren’t even politely apologetic about the frankness in their opinions about her.

The curious thing about the post-interview talk, however, was the number of people who watched the interview anyways. What did they expect would happen? Did they actually expect Monica to prostrate herself in front of the cameras, sobbing endlessly and begging for forgiveness like Jimmy Swaggart did when he got caught with a prostitute? Sorry, but that was Clinton’s act last year, and it was about as believable as the plot line to "Santa Claus Conquers Mars."

So why did millions of people watch Monica? If anything, I’d dare say for the sake of pure schadenfreude - that perverse sense of joy out of the misery of other people. (With a word like that, I’m surprised it was created in Germany and not here in the southern US.)

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. I think that schadenfreude has become the latest American pastime, and that’s fine by me. After all, where would pseudo-news series like "Hard Copy" and "American Journal" be without that sense of feeling good out of the misfortune of others? Hell, even "America’s Funniest Videos" wouldn’t have been so successful if not for schadenfreude, never mind daytime talk show hosts like Jerry Springer!

But what really gets me is the utter snobbishness people took when someone like Monica poured her whole life out in front of the cameras, never mind when someone like Bill Clinton and his "masters of disaster" spin team do it to her. Let me ask you, would YOU be willing to have your entire life spread out - faults and flaws especially - for the whole nation to peer at and judge? I don’t think so.

We the public looked down at the Monica Lewinsky story with that pious church lady snobbishness that would make Dana Carvey’s famous character jealous. The only thing that was missing from this collective self-righteous attitude was the scarlet letter that people wanted to brand on Monica’s ass. (Somehow that thong image keeps sticking in their minds.) Although, I’m sure that, thanks to the media and the politicians, the very mention of the name "Monica" will now harbor images of stained dresses, oral sex, and cigars, which would be just as effective as any scarlet letter the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne could envision.

If Hawthorne’s tale of Hester Pryne is any indication to Monica’s possible future, she’ll redeem herself later on in life, while those who brought such a burden upon her will be humbled. But what about those of us who are so quick to judge and so slow to change our judgement? Have we learned the lessons of our highly idealistic yet realistically dysfunctional Puritan past? From our attitudes concerning "L’affair Lewinsky," it appears we haven’t.

It is sort of interesting, however, that the man responsible for this crisis gets rewarded by society, while we spend our time castigating the other half. Worse yet, it is our continued intellectual dysfunction that fostered this kind of situation in the first place. We think Clinton’s dalliances (consentual or otherwise) are either "forgivable" or "inconsequential," yet we aren’t so forgiving with Monica’s participation. That does little to prevent other such scandals from being made.

Conservatives and moralists fume that the aftermath of the "L’affair Lewinsky" scandal will leave us with allowing people to lie under oath, or to allow infidelity. I would daresay the opposite will be the outcome. I think more than anything, we’ll see a political arena even more sexually sterile; that marital fidelity - or at least the appearance of it - will be the hyped word of the campaigns. Much like the old church ladies who abhor the fun they had in life that they would punish everyone else further, our politicians and spin doctors will further punish society for their own sins.

And as Carvey’s church lady so eloquently said.. "Well, wasn’t that special?"

Monday, March 1, 1999

Week of 03/01/1999

Slate’s Lesson - News Doesn’t Sell
And That’s A Good Thing
- by David Matthews 2

Last year, the online magazine Slate announced that they would do something sort of unusual. They would start charging people for access to their online publication.

This raised some eyebrows for online watchers, although Slate’s managing editor, Michael Kinsley, rationalized that the decision merely followed a trend seen on plenty a site devoted to sexually-oriented content - namely the hype that sexually-oriented sites are raking in big bucks on their subscriptions. So Kinsley figured if sex could sell online, why not Slate?

Well, apparently it didn’t, and the Microsoft-owned publication was forced to take down the "subscription only" sign and open their pages up to the general public once again.

Kinsley and company had apparently discovered the truth about the commercial aspects of the Internet.. namely that not everything on the Internet sells. Furbys do. "Yahoo!" does. Sexually-oriented content certainly does.

News doesn’t sell.

That’s a hard truth for the people at Slate to swallow, and they’re not alone. Consumer Reports, for instance, put their archived reports of products in a subscription site. I don’t know how much they’re generating from the people who are willing to pay the monthly subscription fee, but I don’t think it would be enough for them to warrant the service in and of itself without including some outside advertising.

The New York Times web site may look like they’ve gone subscription, but in reality their site is free of charge. All they ask is that you fill out some registration forms before proceeding. Their cost? Simply a small portion of your online anonymity - and only for as long as you’re visiting their site. The folks at the NY Times learned early on that the nature of the Internet is towards free access.

News doesn’t sell, at least not on the Internet.

Sex sells online because it is something that is sorely lacking in the real world. Let’s face it, if sex was really as open as the moralists complain that it is, sex online wouldn’t be so successful.

Furby dolls sold online because there was such a demand for them around the holiday season that anyone with a Furby was able to charge whatever the market would bear. The same holds true for Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch dolls, Star Trek collectibles, or anything else that has a consumer demand.

Stocks sell online because it allows the average consumer a chance to get involved in something that was once reserved to the elite few who could afford it. Oh sure, you still have to pay big bucks to make any real money in the stock market, but it doesn’t take Alan Greenspan to tell you that the steady rise in the stock market has something to do with the surge of people getting into the market.

But news doesn’t sell online because there is so much information out there that is free that subscription-based content cannot compete. Why go to Slate and pay for your news when you can just as easily go to MSNBC for your headlines for free? Why pay Slate to read Michael Kinsley’s commentaries when you can go to Brutally Honest,, or The Drudge Report and get your commentaries for free?

News doesn’t sell, and that’s really a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of advertising on television news and the newspapers. There is nothing more aggravating for this author when he picks up the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and finds whole sections devoted to nothing but ads with perhaps a single-column devoted to some obscure news piece from somewhere in the world. But even though we need the ads, let’s face it, there’s much in the news that would be commercially toxic. Do you think that the people running the Toyota dealerships are thrilled when they hear that their cars are the most stolen in the Atlanta area? Put a nice spin on it if you like, but they know that such news means people aren’t going to be willing to buy their cars. Do you think that the oil companies are tickled pink when they hear that one of their tankers went aground and is spilling crude over the ocean just in time for the 6 o’clock news? It doesn’t exactly spark confidence in consumer interest, does it? If it were up to them, that kind of news would not be fit to print, publish, or broadcast.

Neither am I saying there isn’t some influence by corporate interests in the news either. Think about all the news about the anti-impotence drug Viagra. The press was gushing about all the hype surrounding the drug. How good is it? How does it work? Can women use it? That kind of interest certainly helped the people who make Viagra.

But the brutally honest reality is that news - in and of itself - does not sell. It is way too common a commodity. You can sell the medium, and certainly folks like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner have made big bucks doing that, but the message itself cannot be sold.

That’s a lesson Slate found out the hard way.