Monday, January 29, 2001

Week of 01/29/2001

Deregulation Bait-And-Switch
- by David Matthews 2

"Whoever claims that economic competition represents 'survival of the fittest' in the sense of the law of the jungle, provides the clearest possible evidence of his lack of knowledge of economics." - George Reisman

There’s a very deceptive trick that some people play call the "bait-and-switch." Let’s say, for instance, you see an ad for a computer system that seems too good to pass up. You bring the newspaper circular with you to the store and you ask the salesman for this particular model. He smiles and says that the model that was advertised was all sold out, but he’ll be more than happy to sell you the next best thing.. it’ll just cost you a whole lot more than the advertised special.

That is the bait-and-switch. Odds are, that particular model was never in the store to begin with. The whole ad was just a lure to get you to buy a more expensive model than you would not have otherwise wanted to purchase. It’s deceptive, and in many instances downright fraudulent.

But what if, instead of a store, we were talking about a government program? And what if the item being fraudulently marketed was something that we absolutely could not live without?

Ever since their creation, the words "public utility" has always meant a government-endorsed monopoly. Electricity, natural gas, telephones, water, septic systems, cable television, airports, garbage collection, mail delivery.. all have been at one point or another either run by the government, or run as a government-endorsed monopoly. There would be no competition.. they were the only folks who provided that particular service. And if the service is lousy, or the prices too high, well, you were told to simply suck it up and deal with it.

Of course, we don’t like having to simply "deal with it." We’re used to having alternatives to turn to instead of having to deal with bad or overpriced service. If a store has bad service, we go to another store. If a restaurant has rude waiters and bad cooks, we find another restaurant. Why, then, can’t we do the same with so-called "public utilities"?

That’s been the basic argument behind the trend to deregulate these services. The quality sucks, prices are too high because these services are operating as a monopoly. Open the market, and the prices will go down and the quality will improve.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just "opening the market". Those who have gotten used to a monopoly, who have wielded that power, are not willing to let that power go without a fight.

Let’s say, for instance, that you owned a garbage company, and it was the only garbage company allowed to pick up trash in the town. Having a government-endorsed monopoly means you can set whatever rates you think are appropriate. Your men can pick up the trash as noisily as possible, blocking driveways and side streets if they have to. They can show up at 2pm, 10am, 6am, or even 4am if they want to! And if the people complain? Well, too bad. As long as you make nice with the town council and make sure your contract gets renewed, you don’t have to care what the people think!

Now suppose you’re told that from now on, you’ll have to share your market with three other companies. That’s not good, because that means you’ll have to earn the trust of the customers you once didn’t have to give two squats about. You’ll have to share your territory with three other companies who will be trying to take away your customers. And you’ll have to charge prices much lower than before so the people will be willing to stick with you and not go with the competition. Boy, it would suck to be in that situation, wouldn’t it?

But what if you could change things so that the people would be willing to go back to those old days of a controlled monopoly?

Let’s say, for instance, that you used your influence in the town council to write how the supposed "deregulation" was going to happen. You make sure that the three companies have to use your landfill to dump the trash. And you’ll be charging those companies for use of your landfill. They, of course, will have to pass that cost to their customers, which means you can keep your costs lower than theirs.

Now you add to those rules with some new ones. Like having the landfill closed to the public. That means they can’t bring their garbage to the dump themselves.. they HAVE to pick a company to do that for them. Charge extra for things like picking up old furniture, Christmas trees, or junked computer equipment.

Oh, and while you’re at it, you strike a deal with three other towns to have their trash deposited in your landfill as well. Pretty soon that landfill will be getting full, and you’ll have a "trash crisis" on your hands. This will mean more money to pay for the creation of a new landfill. Guess who gets to pay for that? That’s right! All of that gets foisted on the public through higher trash fees.

The end result is, of course, making more money than ever before, having more power over the public than before, and creating your own "crisis" to make the people regret ever wanting competition in the first place.

The punchline comes when the local press keeps on referring to it as "trash deregulation." You would know it is far from the kind of deregulation that you were afraid was going to happen.

Now let’s get brutally honest here.. a lot of what we call "deregulation" is nothing of the sort. Sure there are some instances where there is genuine competition, but in many instances what is going on is not deregulation as much as it is re-regulation.

You don’t have to look any further than California’s attempt at deregulating electricity to see where the bait-and-switch is happening. I know a lot of people were expecting their electrical bills to go down when that utility service was "deregulated", but just the extreme opposite happened. The bills went through the roof and now there are staged blackouts.

Well, let’s take a closer look at this so-called "deregulation." (I know some people would rather we NOT take a closer look, but how else are we going to explain how and why this stuff is happening?)

First of all, there was no true deregulation of the utilities. That would require the stringing of more power lines, the construction of new towers, and more infrastructure than there is right now. That did not happen. Instead, the same current was being sent along the same lines into the same homes and businesses as before.

The number of actual providers of electricity - the plants that crank out the wattage - did not increase.. they actually decreased! The rules were changed concerning electrical plants. Investor-owned power plants were forced to sell their services off and become part of a centralized provider called the Power Exchange. As a matter of fact, just about every former provider became a glorified middleman for the Power Exchange. All they had to do was maintain the lines and maintain the bills. They no longer generate the power, they just get to listen to the complaints.

Actual providers - the ones making electricity - decreased, but not the demand. It kept on growing. All through the growth of the Internet, when Silicon Valley would become Server Valley because of all of the Dot-Com businesses and Internet service providers out there, and the introduction of hybrid electrical-and-gasoline cars, and all of the homes that got wired to the Internet, the demand in California skyrocketed!

Now, when the demand grows beyond your capacity, what would a real deregulated business do? It would have to grow and expand to meet the need. When the demand for electricity grew beyond the capacity of the Power Exchange, were new plants built? No. Because hidden in those rules were even more rules that hindered such expansion. In fact, there hadn’t been a single additional power plant built in California since the early 1990’s! Why? Because those rules were inserted at the behest of the environmentalists. Save the whales, save the seals, save the coastline, save the trees, save the slugs and the snails, save the "pristine" look of the environment.. but when it comes to keeping up with the demands for electricity, environmentalists would rather have you save your breath.

Without those additional power plants, the providers could not meet the demands of the people. Blackouts were ordered, and people were urged to conserve.

Prices have gone through the roof in some places, not because of competition, but because the rates were restructured through this common provider model. So cities like San Diego were allowed to transfer their costs to the public, while the rest of the state gets locked-in-rates that are much lower than the cost the companies had to pay, which were driving those companies bankrupt. Their choice was to either hit the consumers with a huge rate increase, or go belly-up.

And through it all, the politicians and the members of the media call THIS deregulation! Folks, this is not deregulation. This isn’t even CLOSE to deregulation! This is the prelude to socialized utilities. And the only solution being offered by the government is to take it even further.. and completely socialize the electrical services!

One might even suggest that the state government WANTED this to happen. That they intentionally set this bait-and-switch up so that it would fail, so the people would be clamoring for relief.. which they would offer with their socialized program.

Now that would be fraudulent, wouldn’t it? Oh.. wait a minute.. we’re talking about the government.. they who supposedly can do no wrong.

Well, the same thing is happening in Atlanta as well, only this time with the natural gas companies. People wanted deregulation, and the local government supposedly "gave" it to them. Truth is, they did nothing of the sort. All they did was create a whole new level of marketers who didn’t provide the natural gas; they only served as middlemen to the actual providers. And then people wondered why their gas prices went up.

Do you want to know what actual deregulation is like? Look at the local phone companies! They’re tearing up roads.. and sometimes cable, water, power, and sewer lines in the process.. to put in new lines. THAT is what competition does. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it DOES happen.

Can the electrical utilities be deregulated successfully? Yes. Look at Pennsylvania for proof!

The problem comes when politicians engage in this fraudulent game of "bait-and-switch", and then have the utter audacity to call it "deregulation" and not have anyone call them on it. Where are the talking heads on this? Here’s an instance of actual fraud and deceptive advertising going on by our elected leaders, and NOBODY is calling them on it!

I’m waiting for someone in California with the courage to get in front of the cameras and say "Governor Gray Davis, when will you stop lying to the people? This is not deregulation, and you damn well know it! So stop calling it such! You people wouldn’t know what deregulation was if it came up and slapped you in the face!"

But unfortunately you won’t hear that from the talking heads, or from the members of the alphabet soup media. They will continue to play the accomplice to this blatant act of deception because the members of the media are not fond of competition any more than members of the government.

Look, folks, the problems we have with deregulation are not because of the marketplace. Rather, it’s because we have government bodies that absolutely do not want deregulation in its truest form, and are engaging in this fraudulent con game to get people to hate the very idea of market competition in these areas.

As it stands right now, though, things are not going to get any easier for the people in California, Atlanta, or anyplace else where this bait-and-switch game is being played out. Things are going to get worse for them. But what they need to understand is that the fault lies not with competition, but with the people who do not like to give up the power that they have for so very long coveted.

Monday, January 22, 2001

Week of 01/22/2001

Farewell To A King
- by David Matthews 2

"The nation’s interests have been served and therefore I decline prosecution. This matter is now concluded. May history and the American people judge that it has been concluded justly."

With those words, Robert Ray closed the book on nearly eight years worth of scandals that have shadowed the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

Eight years of various allegations of abuse of public power that have ranged from corruption to perjury to withholding evidence to sexual harassment to outright murder. Eight years of investigations, eight years of arrests, eight years of having dirty laundry aired, eight years of having lives ruined and careers ended. Millions of dollars spent investigating and probing into every aspect of Clinton’s political and personal life, right down to the arc and curvature of his phallus. Can you imagine that? Who would have ever imagined that a president’s sexual appendage would be part of an official report on abuse of power?

And now, after eight years, millions of dollars spent, lives ruined, lives lost, and one impeachment trial held, Bill Clinton left the White House the exact same way he came in… by his own accord. Not in shackles, not in disgrace, not humbled and humiliated, but with his head held high and with a cocky, arrogant, saunter of a man who just got away with murder.

Indeed, many people will tell you that Bill Clinton DID get away with some serious crimes.. if not murder, than certainly a whole litany of crimes that either he’s been accused of, or else investigated for.

For Bill Clinton, the last days in office were spent not building what he would call a "legacy", but rather were spent tying up loose ends.

In the twenty-four hours prior to his leaving office, the last remaining scandals were being cleared. The Los Alamos spy scandal that publicly painted Wen Ho Lee as a traitor to the US was quietly dropped by both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Energy saying there was "no evidence of espionage". Linda Tripp, who became the unwilling mole in Clinton’s cover-up of his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, was fired from her job in the Pentagon. And Clinton’s own people cut a deal with the Office of Independent Council and the Arkansas Bar Association concerning his perjured testimony in the Lewinsky affair that would allow Clinton to escape being prosecuted after he left office and closed the books on the remaining allegations against him.

All that was left for Clinton to do was help his loyal supporter from the Whitewater scandal, Susan McDougal.. which he did through a full presidential pardon just hours before leaving office.

Of course, Clinton would tell you he didn’t go completely without punishment. He surrendered his Arkansas law license for five years, plus he had to pay a $25,000 fine. But both are mere pittances for what he could have been facing. Clinton will be making more money in retirement than he did as President, not counting his wife’s $8,000,000 advance on her future book. And as for his law license, Clinton used that about as much as used his good judgment concerning the women in his life.

Let’s get brutally honest here.. Bill Clinton’s so-called "punishment" is about the same as you or I being charged with grand larceny and only having to pay a nickel fine! The man did the crime, but he will never have to do the time.

As Mel Brooks once said, "It’s good to be the king."

Indeed, the last eight years of the Clinton White House can be characterized not as a statesman leading a nation, but rather that of a king looking for validation.

As president, Bill Clinton has often been called King Bill the First by this commentator, and not without good reason. Of all of the most recent men who have been elected into the White House, Clinton has been the most self-centered of leaders, treating the country he governed not as a temporary guardian, but rather as a king overlooking his fiefdom.

Richard Nixon could have been considered a king by many who remembered his policies. His duplicity concerning Southeast Asia, and his freezing of the economy undid his claims of supporting free trade and of world peace. However, in the last days of his administration, he put the office of the President ahead of his presidency and resigned instead of fighting a pending impeachment. The faults people had back then were with Nixon’s policies, not with the man.

Gerald Ford did not want to be the president. Indeed, he was the only man not elected to the office. He got the job because Spiro Agnew resigned, and he was next in the line of succession. Indeed, Ford never got past the stain that was the Nixon Administration.

Jimmy Carter, in his simple Georgian way, saw himself more of a statesman than a leader. He negotiated rather than delegated, which eventually proved to be his undoing amidst a national depression and world terrorism. He didn’t hide his faults. Rather, he admitted to them freely in the pages of Playboy magazine.

Ronald Reagan was clearly more authoritative than Carter, which at the time was sorely needed. But like Nixon, any faults one might have with him concerned the people around him, not Reagan himself. It was the late William Casey, director of the CIA, who freely admitted to the Iran-Contra affair, or First Lady Nancy Reagan, who consulted with astrologers and complained about the White House china. President Reagan’s only personal faults were his age, and what later would be admitted to as the onset of Alzheimer’s.

The elder George Bush was more in the office to coast on the successes of the Reagan years. As a world leader, his skills were utilized well. Unfortunately that did not translate into economic success for him, and his "read my lips" pledge that was eventually broken managed to put a stop to a second term. The worse you could characterize the elder Bush as being would be just another politician.

Bill Clinton, however, was a completely different person than his predecessors. Where other presidents acted out of genuine concern for the people they governed, Bill Clinton acted more towards his own interests. Somewhat appropriate for a man who came from the "ME" generation.

Every aspect of Clinton’s political life can be characterized by a narcissistic need for attention. Whenever it appeared that Clinton would be considered "soft" on world affairs, he would order bombing strikes on hot spots in the world, be they in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Kosovo. When the House of Representatives was ready to impeach the president, Clinton sent planes to Iraq. Whenever Clinton appeared to be unfaithful to his wife, he would be seen in carefully staged "retreats" with Hillary, or he would be seen taking the family to church, holding the family bible in his hands as though it was a shield from political arrows. Whenever it appeared that people would forget about him, Clinton would stage some event, some appearance, to make sure the cameras caught him.

When caught in a bold-faced lie, Clinton would only tell the truth when it served his interests, and not sooner. And rather than wish people would forget about those failings, Clinton would instead use them as a means to generate sympathy whenever it appeared he was getting too arrogant.

And Clinton’s personal actions translated into duplicity in his job. While Clinton would later question the nation’s drug policy, and he would even pardon his own brother on his last day in office, it was his drug policy that led to the arrests of millions of people for similar charges, and indirectly led to the death of a pro-freedom crusader and best-selling author by the name of Peter McWilliams.

Clinton claimed to support tax cuts and claimed to support "working families", and yet fought tax cuts at every opportunity, preferring instead to offer a glorified IOU to those select families who met certain requirements. Instead of tax cuts, we’re given tax hikes so that "the rich" can pay "their fair share".

Clinton claimed to support a smaller government, and yet all he did was lay off full-time government employees in lieu of consultants, part-time employees, and temps. And the scope and extent of government did not shrink one iota in the eight years Clinton was in office. Instead, it grew, and continues to grow to this very day.

Clinton claimed to have been concerned about the price of gas, yet it was his executive orders that took away millions of acres of property.. much of it rich in oil. Oil that could’ve been used to offset our dependency of oil being shipped from other countries and kept our gas prices down. Instead, those lands are declared off-limits, and much of the oil being pumped from our own lands are being shipped overseas, causing us to be even more dependant on foreign supplies.

These were not the actions of a statesman representative of the people, but rather of a ruler who lorded over them. A king, not a president.

Fortunately, however, this was a king that had a limited reign. Bill Clinton’s days as the new Sun King are over. Divine right gives way to constitutional limitations, and thus President Clinton becomes FORMER President Clinton.

Unfortunately for us, the real legacy he leaves behind is a price tag that WE have to pay… and perhaps it is only just because we the voters are the ones who put Clinton in office and kept him there a second term. We have to deal with the high taxes, and the high prices at the pump, and with the added government burdens placed on us. We have to deal with the hypocrisy and the stain that Clinton left on the office he considered to be his destiny to hold.

One can only hope it is a stain that can be easily removed.

Monday, January 15, 2001

Week of 01/15/2001

The Constitutional Quiz
- by David Matthews 2

"Today, when a concerted effort is made to obliterate this point, it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals- that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government- that it is not a charter FOR government power, but a charter of the citizen's protection AGAINST the government." - Ayn Rand

One of the buzzwords that’s been passed about by Republicans.. and most notably by conservatives.. is "Constitutional". It’s a word used to describe how judges should be appointed, and how members of the White House should act when carrying out their jobs. When campaigning for president, George W. Bush sometimes used that term. He supposedly wanted to appoint judges that respected the US Constitution and made decisions in accordance to what that document and all of its amendments says.

Conservatives love to use the Constitution to their advantage, especially when their counterparts are flagrant violators of that document. And let’s get brutally honest here.. the government as run by President Bill Clinton in the past eight years has been about as UNCONSTITUTIONAL as it has ever been in American history. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, considered to extremely liberal, has called the government as run by Bill Clinton to be the most unconstitutional administration in history! So obviously the conservatives and the Republicans would want to paint their side as supporters of the Constitution.

And now it’s time for George W. Bush to put his money where his mouth is… to be a leader that respects the US Constitution and to make sure the people working under him also respect that document.

Bear in mind that Bush and EVERY cabinet member will have to take an oath of office swearing that they will protect, preserve and defend the US Constitution. Now certainly Bush wouldn’t want to be seen as a perjuring liar like his predecessor, would he?

So to make sure we can keep the incoming Bush Administration honest, let’s explore what it means to be a supporter of the Constitution.

Let’s suppose you are a newly-elected member of Congress, and you had promised to be a strict supporter of the Constitution. Like the President and his administration, you too have to take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend that document.

Scenario 1: A group of spinsters calling themselves "Mothers For Morality" come to you with a problem. It seems that they have been on a self-appointed crusade to purge all local bookstores of what they deem to be "filth". They’ve managed to get just about every locally-owned bookstore to stop selling magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Playgirl, and Cosmopolitan. Even the swimsuit and wrestling magazines have been pulled from their shelves. But there is one bookstore that continues to brazenly sell this "smut" to the public. It is a national franchise store, and the manager there says the franchise will fight any attempt to censor their products all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

"Mothers for Morality" demand action be taken against this franchise, and they are asking for your help. Do you..

  1. Sponsor a bill that would hold franchise store owners directly accountable for violations of local obscenity laws. This would mean that a franchise owner in New York could be arrested and extradited to Kansas to answer to standards of decency that have not been updated since 1950.

  2. Meet with the franchise owners of this bookstore chain and inform them that you plan to use your political influence to get the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service to investigate their business activities unless they comply with the demands of this special interest group.

  3. Inform "Mothers For Morality" that although you can sympathize with their concerns, that you had taken an oath to abide by the Constitution, and the publications in question are all protected by the First Amendment.

Scenario 2: While visiting a military base in your district, the base chaplain talks about a request he received for Wiccan services by some of the soldiers. Being a Baptist, you find Wiccan beliefs to be akin to Satanism. Do you…

  1. Get the Armed Forces to adopt regulations that would prohibit the exercise of any non Judeo-Christian or Muslim faiths at military chapels, declaring that all other beliefs are merely "cults" and not true religions.

  2. Swallow your personal feelings and realize that under the US Constitution, members of the US Government cannot declare what is or is not a "cult", and tell the chaplain to at least have some materials ready for Wiccan followers to use in their ceremonies should they ask for them.

Scenario 3: A twelve-year old girl recently ran away from home so she could meet with her cyberspace pen-pal. She had been in touch with her "friend" on the personal computer her parents had put in her bedroom, and they had been engaging in some pretty naughty chats. When her mother found out that her credit card was used to buy a plane ticket, she called the police. Only after she was intercepted at the airport by police did the girl find out that her so-called "teenage friend" was really a forty-year old pedophile. Since the girl is from your district, the alphabet soup reporters are in your face with their cameras asking for your reaction. Do you..

  1. Blame the whole incident on the evils of an unregulated Internet, and immediately demand that all Internet Service Providers be licensed and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission just like any phone company, and thus held to the strictest of media standards the FCC can impose by law.

  2. Blame sexually explicit websites for encouraging pedophiles to prey on kids, and sponsor new legislation that would outlaw all material deemed "harmful to children".

  3. Say that while you sympathize with the plight of the mother, you must publicly ask why the child’s parents didn’t do a better job watching over the girl’s Internet activities. Point out that the responsibility of watching over a child’s Internet activities rests with the parents, not with government.

Scenario 4: You’re returning to Washington on the same day that a small group of protesters organize a rally against America’s involvement in some third world nation you’ve barely heard of. In the center of this protest you see someone burning a small American flag for the equally small collection of alphabet soup reporters. One of those reporters sees you approaching and asks for your comments about the protest. Do you…

  1. Condemn the flag-burners, and pledge to once again support legislation that would outlaw flag-burning.

  2. Tell the press nothing, but quietly ask the local police in attendance if they wouldn’t mind roughing up the protesters a little bit off-camera.

  3. Condemn the flag-burners, but remind yourself and the press that what they do is protected by the First Amendment, and that all of the flags they burn cannot burn away the freedoms those flags represent.

Scenario 5: Some disgruntled employee with a clear history of mental problems shoots up his workplace, killing fifteen people. The guns that were used in this massacre were all illegally purchased. Since this happened in your district, the alphabet soup reporters are all asking you whether or not you would push for more gun-control legislation like the governor of the state just pledged to do five minutes earlier. Do you..

  1. Agree with the comments of the governor and pledge to do everything in your power to make guns illegal.

  2. Agree with the comments of the governor, but instead blame the "culture of violence" for encouraging the massacre through violent movies, violent books, and violent television programs. Then pledge that you will do everything in your power to see that the entertainment movers and shakers be held responsible for every life lost by violence.

  3. Remind the press that all of the guns were purchased illegally and suggest that if the governor was serious about preventing further atrocities, it would be best to spend the time and money on enforcing current laws on the books and not trying to deprive responsible adults their Second Amendment right to protect and defend themselves.

Scenario 6: A fellow lawmaker comes to you asking for your support on a crime bill that includes provisions that you think are unconstitutional. The bill gives the police greater power to search and seize property on the mere suspicion of illegal activities. It also expands on the number of illegal activities that police can use to justify the seizing of a person’s property. You know that the proposed bill flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment, but this lawmaker promises that in return for your support of his bill, he will lobby heavily for your tax cut package. Do you..

  1. Accept his offer, hoping that the courts will trim the most unconstitutional provisions once it becomes law. Besides, the bill will make you look "tough on crime," and you get another supporter for your tax cut.

  2. Tell your elected brethren that while the bill looks oh so politically appropriate, you cannot in any clear conscience vote for a bill you know is unconstitutional. You would much rather be known for preserving the US Constitution than for supporting a bill simply for political expedience.

So how did you do? It’s obvious which answers were the correct ones, even though they may not necessarily be ones our current collection of lawmakers would want to support.

And therein lies the problem. All too often, we elect politicians who will simply ignore the Constitution in the name of political expediency. Rather than recognizing that there are boundaries spelled out in the Constitution that people in government cannot cross, quite often they have developed the dangerous attitude of "pass them all and let the courts sort them out!"

Some have even developed the arrogance to say that the mere fact that they CAN pass such a law makes that law automatically constitutional. Hey, our legislators have the ability to pass whatever law they want to, but that doesn’t make that law right, and it certainly doesn’t mean they acted within the limitations set by the Constitution.

It’s not easy being a strict supporter of the Constitution. It means having to say no to a lot of backroom deals and looking out for those tricky amendments that get tacked onto bills. It means putting your personal feelings and beliefs aside and realizing that the rights spelled out in the Constitution are not limited to what you deem those rights to be. It means having to swallow your pride and swallow your feelings of self-righteousness.. which is a Herculean task given many of the egos in Washington.

It isn’t impossible, however, because there are some in Congress who try their best to live up to their jobs as spelled out in the Constitution. People like Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who has been dubbed "Congressman No" for his repeated refusal to support more government. Sadly, though, such people are the extremely rare exception in Congress.

Equally sad is the realization that many Republicans, and indeed many conservatives, are not as supportive of the US Constitution as they claim to be. Indeed, many of the un-Constitutional options listed in my little quiz were based on real bills and actions sponsored by conservatives! More often than naught, their oath to protect and defend the US Constitution falls along the wayside just like any other political promise.

The rights guaranteed by the US Constitution are not buzzwords to be bantered about like "compassionate conservatism" or "family values" or "risky tax scheme". They are the only things that separates a free nation from a tyrannical one. Anyone who takes an oath to protect and preserve the US Constitution should take that oath seriously, and take that oath to heart. And we as voters, for whom the rights guaranteed in the Constitution were designed for, need to hold those lawmakers and policy enforcers to that oath, and hold them accountable when they violate it.

Monday, January 8, 2001

Week of 01/08/2001

It’s 2001… Where Are You HAL?
- by David Matthews 2

Okay, so here it is, 2001. We’ve talked about it, we’ve speculated about it, we’ve fantasized about what it would be like.. and now it’s here.

I thought maybe I would take a little trip. How about the moon? I’m told there are wonderful resorts up there. I’ll just ask my HAL 9000 computer to make all the arrangements, then get in my hover car and jet on over to the spaceport, where I’ll be taking the next Pan-Global space shuttle. I’m sure there will be some attractive young stewardess in stark white unisex uniforms who will provide me trays of liquid food for the journey as I watch them walk about in zero gravity in their magnetic sneakers.

Oh.. wait a minute.. I can’t do all that stuff.. can I?

We haven’t had a man on the moon in about thirty years. We’ve only now got a permanent space station in orbit over the Earth, and that’s still under construction. While space shuttles seem to be taking off and landing more and more frequently now, there’s still only one shuttle in space at a time, and that’s mostly for the US government.

And forget Pan-Global.. there isn’t even a Pan-Am anymore! Although given the problem with airlines today, I’m sure there are plenty of people who miss having Pan-Am as an option. Cripes, there are so many scheduled flights that are being cancelled that you would have a better chance of attending a Smashing Pumpkins concert than you do of flying the not-so-friendly skies.

Speaking of flying, I’m sure I speak on behalf of the millions of commuters that crowd our roads twice a day when I say that we WISH we had hover cars to get around in! In addition to cars that drive faster and cause more accidents, we now have these urban tanks called Sport Utility Vehicles that chug more fuel than fratboys at an all-you-can-drink beer blast. Add to that the number of people who are driving these monstrosities who are talking on the cell phone, and it looks more like Death Race 2000.

Then there is HAL, or the lack thereof. Computers have gotten smaller, smarter, and more efficient than those days of punch cards and magnetic tape. The computers of today can hold more information, process data much faster, and can do some automatic functions for us. But a true artificially intelligent computer is still a long ways away from becoming a reality, never mind one that could become schizophrenic and kill people.

Come to think of it, aside from all of the technological knickknacks, there is very little that has changed amongst us as a society over the past thirty years. We still have a great mistrust in government, our leaders are still trying to push their "Great Society" agendas, our government is still waging an unpopular war (namely the so-called "War On Drugs"), we’re still sending soldiers to foreign lands to get killed, and we are still trying to fight our way from the outdated sexual attitudes and equally outdated racial attitudes. Heck, I just saw some tie-dyed T-shirts for sale at the local mall! Lava lamps and chemical euphoria are still the rave. Yesterday’s LSD is today’s Ecstasy.

So what happened to that futuristic world that we kept on reading about? Where is HAL, and SAL, and the Discovery, and lunar colonies, and those stewardesses in zero-G?

Well let’s get brutally honest here… we did a great job with the personal creature comforts, but beyond that, we pretty much dropped the ball on progress.

Science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the whole "2001" saga, speculated that we would keep going into space and put up space stations and colonies on the moon because that’s the way we were headed in that time. We went to the moon, and we all cheered and had big dreams. And then we got bored waiting for the next big thing. And when we got bored, our politicians did what came naturally to them.. namely they took the money that was being spent towards space and put it towards their own pet programs.

The space shuttles finally came about, and we once again had dreams of going into space. But then the Challenger explosion reminded us all once again that going into space involved risk, and we got scared. We lost our vision.

So when NASA decided to scale back their missions, nobody complained. Nobody complained when we decided to no longer look towards going back to the moon to stay. Nobody complained when we decided that our permanent space station would be nothing more than an oversized cosmic peephole instead of the threshold to the final frontier. We didn’t complain because we no longer saw ourselves going to space. It’s too scary out there. People might die.

We saw other problems as unsolvable. We saw the solution to discrimination as more discrimination. We saw the solution to big government by bringing in even more big government. We thought the Cold War was over simply because the Soviet Union was no more, yet the countries that made up that Eastern Empire still have weapons of mass destruction pointed at us, and we still have our own weapons pointed at them. Yesterday’s Breshnev is today’s Putnin.

We don’t like being the world’s policemen, yet that’s what we eventually do anyways. We send our soldiers to foreign lands, where they become targets to any terrorist sect with a grudge, and then we ask why can’t we police these countries.

We hate the laws that are passed, yet we don’t do anything about it come election time. Either we don’t vote, or we vote for the same people who passed those bad laws instead of voting for someone who would do something about that. We simply shrug and tell ourselves that we can’t fight city hall, when in fact most of us haven’t even raised a finger against the system.

If anything, we’ve gotten worse over the past thirty years. At least in the late 1960’s there were people struggling for a cause. Today we struggle for maintaining preferential treatment. In the late 60’s, people were willing to go to prison, and endure beatings by police officers and being sprayed with fire hoses for their causes. Today all we do is make harsh words and grumble and complain, but we eventually become complacent. Anything as long as we get our creature comforts.

The real magic of science fiction is that it inspires us. It inspires us to look beyond today and see beyond today’s limitations. The future worlds created by men like Clarke are more than just a collection of fancy creature comforts, but worlds that don’t have any of the problems of today. They give us a goal, but it is up to us to get there.

Maybe we need to look at those old science fiction movies and books that said what the future we call today would be like. Maybe we need to revisit the works of authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen King and Ray Bradbury to see just where we went wrong, and to remind us that we could be much better than we are today.

The dreams of a better future are still there, buried amidst all of the chaos of the present. TRUE leaders, true people of vision, are the ones who nurture those dreams, and work to help people make those dreams real.

Don’t worry. Someday we’ll invent HAL, and SAL, and the Discovery. We’ll go back to the moon, not just to visit, but to put up homes and try to live there permanently. We will have that future we so promised ourselves in the past…

But first, we have to get past today.