Saturday, July 31, 2004

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's war on Journalism

Outfoxed is Robert Greenwald's latest political documentary. He is the director of two previous documentaries, Uncovered: the Whole Truth about the Iraq War, and Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election. As a documentary maker he has a clear agenda, but that doesn't stop his work from being fairly presented.

Outfoxed covers the Fox News network (, and their clear agenda that marches in step with the Republican "conservative" agenda.

Like Uncovered there is an "A" and "B" story-line. The "A" storyline in Outfoxed is various media watchdogs like Peter Hart (FAIR), David Brock (Republican Noise Machine), and Eric Alterman ( These watchdogs are talking about Fox News, presenting their view of what Fox News is doing. The "B" storyline is to present clips from Fox News broadcasts. The two storylines are played off against each other, with clips selected to elaborate the points made by the watchdogs being interviewed.

The thrust of the story is that Fox News is anything but "Fair and Balanced" as they so loudly proclaim. Quite the opposite, and in fact that Fox News is extremely unbalanced, unfair, politically slanted in their news coverage towards the Republican sourced agenda, and often their commentators are lying.

I do not know about this myself, because I do not watch television (except for brief snippets that can't be avoided due to the ubiquitous presence of television). The clips shown in Outfoxed are truly outrageous, however.

For example the most common image shown is Bill O'Reilly ( shouting "SHUT UP" at guest after guest. In one segment they show O'Reilly being interviewed and saying "I've only used that 'Shut Up' line once" immediately after which is shown clip after clip after clip with Bill O'Reilly shouting SHUT UP or CUT OFF HIS MICROPHONE. Later in the documentary Al Franken characterizes Bill O'Reilly as a habitual liar. In the process of demeaning and abusing his guests it is clear, again just from watching these clips, that his style is to have a pre-determined selection of "truth" and to be on a witch-hunt determined to stomp out anything that is against that "truth". And they have the audacity to call themselves "Fair and Balanced"?

All in all this is a very well done documentary. The news media in the United States has been conglomeratized to the point where only 5 corporations own the vast majority of the media outlets. The problem is not just with Fox News, but the entire news and information system. There is a well known concentration of the power and ability to inform the populace into an ever shrinking circle of ownership.

The American style of Democracy relies on a well informed populace who can make the decisions of Democracy. Yet, one of the striking statistics shown during the documentary contrasted viewers of Fox News versus NPR or PBS viewers. Several questions were asked such as whether there are proven links between al Qaeda and the Iraq regime (before the U.S. invasion and toppling of that regime). Now, clearly there is no such connection, however Fox News viewers overwhelmingly said there is a connection, while NPR/PBS viewers overwhelmingly said there is no such connection.

Clearly having such a misinformed populace is a threat to America's Democratic system.

Over and over in the documentary, it is claimed that the tone and content of the "news" presented on Fox News is selected by management on a daily basis in memo's sent to the staff. That the tone and content is purposely selected to favor the Republicans and to slander the Democrats. That any Fox News journalist who dares stray from that party line runs the risk of being fired and their career ruined. That the tone and content just so happens to mirror the daily chosen talking points put forward by the Republican party itself, and that the Republican party daily message is parroted word-for-word by the Fox News staff.

No wonder the American populace is so malinformed. At least those who watch Fox, that is. As a listener to NPR (for over 20 years) I am glad to be among the informed populace.

To be fair here, Rupert Murdoch, the mogul leading the news empire that contains Fox News, is really an Australian. In other countries, such as Australia, the news media is expected to be slanted. At the same time there are multiple news organizations, each with their own slant. So the informed public in those countries are free to ingest their news from multiple sources, and the public can then make up their own mind. Perhaps Murdoch just doesn't understand the American preference for unbiased journalism?

Outfoxed isn't just a documentary, it is also a call to action. One of the actions we are called to is to, ourselves, find multiple sources of news and information. Why should we rely on those 5 mega-corporations to feed us schlock? There are plenty of news organizations with other points of view.

Part of the Outfoxed staff has kept up their watchdog role closely tracking Fox News's behavior. You can keep up with them here:

News Hounds: We watch Fox so you don't have to (

In addition they have two web sites full of recommendations of actions and activism we citizens can take. For example, if you see something egregious on a news program, to write a letter to the station you saw it on. Or to contact an FCC commissioner.

Outfoxed: next steps. You've seen the film. You know the story. Now it's time to fight back. (

Free Press is a non-profit organization working to involve the public in media policymaking and to craft policies for a more democratic media system. (

This country is lost only if Americans continue being complacent in regard to defending this country.

I remember hearing that one or more of the Founding Fathers of America felt that there ought to be a revolution every 20 years or so, because otherwise the powerful will become too entrenched. In our day the powerful have become very entrenched (for example, George W Bush is the third generation of his family to hold high political office, Al Gore's family has a similar history, as does John Kerry's family). Entrenched power often doesn't understand the real needs and desires of the people. That disconnect is, I believe, at the heart of the problems facing the United States of America today.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

RFID, the one 'Chip' to bind them all?

"And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" Revelation 13:16-17

For years the typical paranoid lunatic was one who feared that the government was going to put chips in us all for mass crontrol and tracking. Well, paranoid lunatics or not, it's well on its way to being a reality.

RFID (or Auto-ID) chips are, as of this writing, actively being deployed as a replacement to the bar-code system that's been widely used for the last 20 years. These aren't, yet, being considered for widespread insertion into people, but that's merely a matter of time, and the technology does exist to insert tracking chips into people. They are currently being inserted into people for specific purposes, such as people with extreme medical conditions, in high class business executives prone to being kidnapped, or parents worried about their children getting lost. And, of course, it's starting to be big business to put chips into the family pets in case they go wandering.


[Guardian Unlimited; Sep 21, 2003] 500 paedophiles to be tracked by satellite tags (,6903,1046614,00.html) Paedophiles are to be electronically tagged in the UK for the first time in a move that could prompt a revolution in the treatment and monitoring of sex offenders. A British company is to hold talks with Ministers in the next few weeks with a view to launching a Home Office-backed trial involving between 100 and 500 child sex offenders. It is also talking to government officials in the United States, Italy and Ireland and is to tag a number of paedophiles who have volunteered to wear the device. ... Civil liberty groups expressed deep concerns last night. 'If they have been released, they should be free to live their life in liberty. This muddies the waters between guilt and innocence,' said Mark Littlewood, campaigns director of Liberty.

Sky Guardians: and

[C|NET August 29, 2003] MIT to uncork futuristic bar code ( A group of academics and business executives is planning to introduce next month a next-generation bar code system, which could someday replace with a microchip the series of black vertical lines found on most merchandise. The so-called EPC Network, which has been under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for nearly five years, will make its debut in Chicago on Sept. 15, at the EPC Symposium. ... There are several key differences between an EPC and a bar code. First, the EPC is designed to provide a unique serial number for every item in the system. By contrast, bar codes only identify groups of products. So, all cans of Diet Coke have the same bar code more or less. Under EPC, every can of Coke would have a one-of-a-kind identifier. Retailers and consumer-goods companies think a one-of-a-kind product code could help them to reduce theft and counterfeit goods and to juggle inventory more effectively. ... "Put tags on every can of Coke and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes," boasts the Web site of the Auto-ID Center, the research group at MIT leading the charge on the project. "No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain--or how much product is on the store shelves." Another feature of the EPC is its 96-bit format, which some say is large enough to generate a unique code for every grain of rice on the planet. "Every molecule on Earth is what the MIT boys said," Abell said.

EPC Symposium ( The symposium has two tracks, one for CEO's the other for CIO's, and apparently none for normal people.

Planning committee is (as listed in

  • AdvanStar
  • American Trucking Association (ATA)
  • Association of Automatic Identification & Data Capture Technology (AIM)
  • Auto-ID Center (AIDC)
  • Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors (CCGD)
  • Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)
  • Electronic Commerce Council of Canada (ECCC)
  • Food Marketing Institute (FMI)
  • Fleishman Hillard
  • Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA)
  • International Mass Retail Association (IMRA)
  • National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS)
  • National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS)
  • Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI)
  • Uniform & Textile Service Association (UTSA)
  • Uniform Code Council (UCC)

[C|NET August 18, 2003] Privacy advocates call for RFID regulation A handful of technology and consumer privacy experts testifying at a California Senate hearing Monday called for regulation of a controversial technology designed to wirelessly monitor everything from clothing to currency. The hearing, presided over by state Sen. Debra Bowen, focused on an emerging area of technology that's known as radio frequency identification (RFID). Retailers and manufacturers in the United States and Europe, including Wal-Mart Stores, have begun testing RFID systems, which use millions of special sensors to automatically detect the movement of merchandise in stores and monitor inventory in warehouses.

[C|NET July 9, 2003] Wal-Mart cancels 'smart-shelf' trial Wal-Mart Stores has unexpectedly canceled testing for an experimental wireless inventory control system, ending one of the first and most closely watched efforts to bring controversial radio frequency identification technology to store shelves in the United States. ... A Wal-Mart representative this week told CNET that the retail giant will not conduct a planned trial of a so-called smart-shelf system with partner Gillette that was scheduled to begin last month at an outlet in Brockton, Mass., a Boston suburb.

[C|NET] Big picture page around the above story:

[CNN Online, July 9, 2003] Goodbye UPC bar codes Razor blades and medicines packaged with pinpoint-sized computer chips and tiny antennae to send retailers and manufacturers a wealth of information about the products -- and those who buy them -- will start appearing in grocery stores and pharmacies this year. Within two decades, the minuscule transmitters are expected to replace the familiar product bar codes, and retailers are already envisioning the conveniences the new technology, called "radio frequency identification," will bring -- even as others are raising privacy concerns. ... "It would help you manage your inventory a lot better," says Todd Andrews, spokesman for the Rhode Island-based CVS pharmacy ... "If you could utilize RFID technology to tell you that a prescription is in the waiting bin, maybe the product could say: 'I've been here 10 days and I haven't been picked up yet.' Then, you could call the patient," Andrews says. ... "Simply stated, I don't think most people want their clothes spying on them," Rotenberg said.

[The Register June 27, 2003] RFID Chips Are Here Bar codes are something most of us never think about. We go to the grocery store to buy dog food, the checkout person runs our selection over the scanner, there's an audible beep or boop, and then we're told how much money we owe. Bar codes in that sense are an invisible technology that we see all the time, but without thinking about what's in front of our eyes. ... Surveillance is getting easier, cheaper, smaller, and ubiquitous. Sure, it's possible to destroy an RFID tag. You can crush it, puncture it, or microwave it (but be careful of fires!). You can't drown it, however, and you can't demagnetize it. And washing RFID-tagged clothes won't remove the chips, since they're specifically designed to withstand years of wearing, washing, and drying. You could remove the chip from your jeans, but you'd have to find it first.

This article is a compendium of activities and links to articles describing each one, as follows:

[Computerworld; APRIL 01, 2004; Bob Brewin;,10801,91830,00.html?nas=PM-91830]

TSA eyes RFID boarding passes to track airline passengers

APRIL 01, 2004 (COMPUTERWORLD) - CHICAGO -- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is examining the use of RFID-tagged airline boarding passes that could allow passenger tracking within airports, a proposal some privacy advocates called a potentially "outrageous" violation of civil liberties.

Anthony "Buzz" Cerino, communications security technology lead at the TSA, said the agency believes the use of boarding passes with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips could speed up the movement of passengers who sign on to the agency's "registered traveler" program. This would permit them to pass through a secure "special lane" during the boarding process.

Under the registered traveler program, frequent fliers would provide the TSA with detailed personal information that would be correlated by a background check. Privacy advocates said they believe the RFID boarding pass would then serve as an automatic link to the registered traveler database. Details about how the system might work haven't been released by the TSA, and Cerino couldn't be reached today for further comment. ... The TSA has already started to work on deploying RFID boarding passes in Africa under the Federal Aviation Administration's Safe Skies for Africa Initiative (, Cerino said. He didn't say which countries would use the boarding passes or when the project would start. The initiative identifies Angola, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe as member countries.

Links to related sites

EPCglobal ( "EPCglobal is leading the development of industry-driven standards for the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network to support the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in today’s fast-moving, information rich trading networks. We are a member-driven organisation comprised of leading firms and industries focused on creating global standards for the EPCglobal Network. Our goal is increased visibility and efficiency throughout the supply chain and higher quality information flow between your company and its key trading partners."

Auto-ID center ( DEFUNCT industry consortium driving the development of the RFID / Auto-ID system. NOTE: The web site now has a notice saying the Auto-ID Center has closed down, and been replaced by EPCglobal and the Auto-ID Labs ( The Auto-ID labs web site is not responding as of this writing.

STOP RFID ( Activist organization aimed to stop the spread of RFID and related technology.

RFID Journal ( RFID Journal is an independent, online daily devoted to one thing: educating business people about radio frequency identification and its many business applications.

Combat Zones That See (CTS; A US DoD project to develop to track "everything", supposedly to be used in combat zones apparently. Village Voice article ( Big Brother Gets a Brain: The Pentagon's Plan for Tracking Everything That Moves

Safe Skies for Africa Initiative ( A project run by TSA to establish RFID use in African airports. This is likely a beta test outside the eyes of privacy advocates in the U.S. of something which will be fielded in the U.S. eventually. - RFID Stocks, RFID Stock News, RFID Research, RFID Industry News, Radio Frequency Identification Links...

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The disappearing traditional ways

All around the world traditional indigineous cultures are disappearing as fast as you can say Coca Cola or McDonalds. What are we losing to this "progress"?

The salt-men of Tibet

In the upper reaches of Nepal, and in Tibet, there is a culture of people who make their living by mining salt from various lakes around Tibet. Salt doesn't naturally occur in the diet of the Himalayan peoples, because they are so far from the ocean. So over the millenia of living on this land, they have developed a full set of traditions and activities surrounding the harvesting of salt, and commerce to trade the salt with other peoples who can grow grain.

With the encroaching modernity, these traditional ways are disappearing. I have found a couple resources that show some bits of these peoples lives.

The Caravans of the Himalayas: This book is a glossy coffee table style book published by the National Geographic Society. It is an intimate portrait of the lives of these Himalayan tribes. The book covers far more than the salt gathering trip, but their year-round lifestyle.

Life at this altitude is very hard. It is well above the treeline, and the vast majority of plants that grow is the grass the yak's feed on. Everything circles around the yak herds, feeing them, sheltering them, using them for food and clothing, and more. The altitude is high, the food scanty, the weather cold, the work is hard, yet these are the peoples who developed spiritual traditions of such great depth as to inspire the whole world to spiritual exploration and the journey to enlightenment.

The Saltmen of Tibet: This DVD is an intimate portrait specifically of the trip to gather salt. All the words and singing are by the tribal people speaking in their native language, subtitled all the way.

The movie begins with the preparations at home. Making and repairing ropes. Gathering the salt gathering crew and animals. Collecting and repairing the tools. The consideration of which person in the crew will take what role on the journey.

Then as the men, for women do not take this trip, set off we learn that it is a month-long journey just to get to the salt lakes. Rituals abound around this journey, from various superstitions over why the salt availability varies from year to year, to a special language that is spoken only after a specific point in the journey. It is a month long journey of daily herding the 160 yak's, pitching tents, cooking meals, drinking tea, and more.

We members of modern societies have to honor our ancestors, for we can see that life was very hard for everyone, and that it wasn't all that long ago when everything was done manually in the nature we see in this movie. Without the work of our ancestors, we would not be here today.

Interspersed with scenes of the men gathering salt by hand, is scenes of lorries gathering salt. Everybody needs the salt, and in the modern eye one thinks "does it matter how the thing is done?" and "does it only matter what the result is?". That is, salt is salt isn't it? Or is it?

We see in the salt men's style of gathering a great reverence for the earth, and the task of gathering the salt, and great thankfulness for the salt lake in providing their gift of salt. Truly, the salt they are gathering literally means life (or death) for them, because without the salt their bodies would not function. As they gathered the salt, songs and prayers of thankfulness were sung. As they finished the salt gathering task, special rituals and prayers were done. Also yak figurines were left as an offering to the Goddess who watches over the lake.

Is salt that means life, salt that is gathered with such great reverence, is that just any old salt?

And, what if the earth, our planet, really does respond to such reverential prayer? Do you think me mad for suggesting this? Well, consider what is being learned scientifically about the power of prayer. The many scientific studies of prayer for the sick show that prayer and other forms of spiritual healing have a positive effect on those who are prayed for. It's not too farfetched, then, to consider that other things, when prayed for, also benefit from the prayer.

It is interesting how every indigenous society holds great reverence for the earth, and directly prays for the health and wellbeing of the earth. Do they know something that we, with our jet airplanes, have forgotten? I pray that we remember before it becomes too late.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

On delaying the national elections (2004)

This thought seems innocent enough. What would happen if a major "attack "of some kind occurred on or near election day? Would we hold the election anyway?

In Spain a few months ago, shortly before their latest national elections, a major al Qaeda attack occurred. The shocked populace voted in that election overwhelmingly against the incumbants, and for the party calling for Spain to pull out of Iraq and this so-called war on Terror. Note that Spain was one of the few major backers of the U.S. and U.K. invasion of Iraq, going so far as to host the summit at which this was planned. For Spain to later pull out of the invasion which it helped plan should be a black eye to the whole war on Iraq, but somehow black eye never happened.

This week we have another round of vague warnings by Homeland Defense Secretary Ridge and FBI Director Mueller with "no specific or credible information about threats to the political conventions", and at the same time there are discussions over whether to delay election day based on those vague threats. Say what?

Amongst the ravings of the conspiracy-theorists which I'd read a few years ago was this scenario:

  • Step 1: In the open, on national news, conduct a semi-legal "coup" to force the "election" of a chosen set of people.
  • Step 2: These people use terrorist threats as a lever to destroy certain civil liberties.
  • Step 3: Somehow the next election is missed, and that chosen set of people stay in power.

Steps 1 and 2 have actually happened, and now we're facing step 3 being discussed. Except that the discussion at the moment isn't to cancel having elections altogether, but to "delay". Except that "delay" must first mean "cancel" and then "reschedule". Now, suppose "they" were able to manufacture terrorist threat after terrorist threat and continually delay the election? Would that not create the condition in which step 3 would exist, if you can persist with a terrorist threat for long enough that the election never gets rescheduled?

When I first read that outlined projected sequence of events, I first dismissed it - how could that possibly happen? Why would it happen? But then we've had the September 11, 2001 attacks happen, and all the resulting events such as the "Patriot Act" which destroyed a wide swath of civil liberties. As a result, the current administration has completely lost its credibility to me (due to the large number of impeachable offenses they've committed), and now I question everything they say. I can only assume most of what they say is false, and that it's feeding some hidden and sinister agenda. If they were to have been behaving with more moral integrity (as Bush claimed he would), then I expect I'd never have begun to doubt them. This is a "by your actions ye shall know them" scenario, deceitful liars that they are.

So let's analyse this a little bit. Here's an article giving an overview of the proposed delay.

In the article it says the leader of the US Election Assistance Commission, DeForest Soaries Jr., sent a letter to Homeland Defense Secretary Ridge proposing that his commission be charged with planning for a delay of the national elections if necessary. As a result this has Ridge's department conducting a review of what would be required to lay the legal framework for the delay (that is, cancellation and rescheduling) of an national election.

In case you, like me, have never heard of the US Election Assistance Commission, here are the commission web sites.

The commission was formed in the wake of the fiasco during the 2000 election. They were charged with updating the conduct of elections, especially in the voting technology used. Most of the duties and responsibilities listed above have to do with standards setting for voting machines, usability studies for voting machines, and the like. It's an advisory commission.

To now charge them with deciding when or if the election can be safely held, and what "safely held" means is open to debate, is a wild divergence from their current charter. Why cannot the Federal Election Commission (FEC) be put in charge of this issue, as they have been all along? Why is an advisory commission asking for regulatory power? And why are we at all considering this change of election date in the first place?

This only raises a lot of questions, doesn't it? So let's consider them in turn.

Under what circumstances would a delay in the election date be valid?

As the CNN article quotes Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "I don't think there's an argument that can be made, for the first time in our history, to delay an election. We hold elections in the middle of war, in the middle of earthquakes, in the middle of whatever it takes. The election is a statutory election. It should go ahead, on schedule, and we should not change it."

In other words, what is the national capacity to physically conduct an election and count the votes of Americans. Is there a condition under which the voting process itself could be greatly hindered in a way where it's appropriate to delay?

Turning my imagination loose for a moment, if there were a rampant threat all across the country maybe it would be appropriate to change the election day. Such a threat would have to affect a majority of voting precincts, and be majorly disruptive. But I am having a hard time thinking up a specific form of attack that would have these attributes. If the attack were physical, it would require an al Qaeda cell in a large number of precincts (for example, a drive-by shooting of the people queuing up to vote). The physical security at polling places I've used has been very lax, but on the other hand there are a vastly huge number of polling places which would make it daunting to attack a significant number of them.

In Spain it was a single attack of spectacular scale. That single attack shifted the vote so that the incumbants fell out of power, with Spain quickly withdrawing from Iraq. To stage an attack like that in the U.S. would be a smaller operation than one which would directly attack hundreds of polling places. Such an attack is of a size which al Qaeda has performed before (e.g. September 11, 2001). And we saw then how easily the CNN/NBC/CBS/ABC/Fox/etc hype machines can go into action making anything be the most spectacular extravagenza of all time, thereby amplyfying whatever emotional effect was created from the event of the moment, whatever form it happens to take.

Therefore we can assume that an attack which damaged a few "national landmark" type buildings in a spectacular way might end up being enough to cause consternation in the style of the event in Spain a few months ago.

But, would that really affect the nations ability to conduct a vote? Such an attack would not effect any significant number of polling places, so therefore the vote would be easily conducted just as it always has been (in the middle of war, earthquakes, or whatever). I don't think such an attack would affect the nations ability to physically conduct a vote.

What it would affect is the outcome of the vote. One thing the September 11, 2001 events showed is how quickly consensus can be changed. A spectacular event occurred, and all of a sudden the country is invading Afghanistan, looking for terrorists behind every tree, and so on ultimately leading to the (potentially illegal) invasion of Iraq.

What does it mean to 'safely hold' an election? What is considered a 'threat' to the election?

We've already seen that it would be immensely difficult for an organization to affect a significant number of polling places even with the lax physical security, and therefore it would be immensely difficult for an organization to undermine the physical conduct of the voting process. That leaves me wondering what type of "threat" would be sufficient.

For example, the administration is probably worried over the low approval rating the Bush Administration has right now (note: if they hadn't been lying so much, maybe they'd have a better approval rating). They might be thinking along the lines of, if a terror attack occurred, would it cause the approval rating to sink even further, national anger to rise, and thereby causing the administration to be voted out of office?

In other words, would the decision makers see the potential "threat" as being a threat to the current administrations ability to stay in power? Or would they see it as "can we conduct the election"? What's worse is that the decision makers are a Federal commission, appointed by the current President, and therefore part of the current Administration, and they are no doubt highly incentivised to keep the current Administration in power.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Self-organized Voter Registration drives, homespun political activism

The date is July 8, 2004. We are in the middle of the 2004 national elections which, among other issues, will choose the next President of the United States. As stated elsewhere on this site, there should be no surprise as to who I'm planning to vote for. I'm going to hold my nose and vote for the most likely to win over Bush, even if that person may not be the best choice overall. (I would prefer to have Wesley Clarke, since his role as Chairman of a company that makes electric vehicles clearly was a "put his money where his mouth is" kind of decision, but Kerry will just have to "do")

In late June 2004 Michael Moore's movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, was released, and I was among those who saw this movie the first day. While at the theater my friends and I came across a flyer calling for action, organized by They were promoting an on-line nationwide "town hall" meeting with Michael Moore. At the town hall the participants were persuaded to join in two types of activites, voter registration drives in their local area, and voter registration drives targeting the "swing states".

As a result, my fiancee and I decided to self-organize a voter registration drive at a local movie theater for the following weekend. Obviously people coming out of Fahrenheit 9/11 would likely be hot-to-trot just as we were, and ready to do something, such as finally register to vote (grin).

Let me tell you, before last weekend I had believed that "voter registration" could only be conducted by experts, or would require some special licensing, or in some be done only by a select few people. Little did I think it would be so easy as this:

  • Drop by the DMV office.
  • Grab some forms.
  • Go somewhere public.
  • Hand out the forms.

That's it. That's all there is to conducting a voter registration drive.

How's that for some simply organized, and simply conducted, democratic activism? What could be simpler? Well, unfortunately there were one or two gotcha's, but it really is essentially that simple.

Gotcha #1: Read the instructions on the form carefully. You are undertaking some legal activities, and there are a few requirements. For example, if you are simply handing out forms then there's no requirement you are under beyond handing out the forms. However, if someone is filling out the forms and handing them to you, there is a receipt at the bottom of the form which they are supposed to keep. The California forms we handed out had every piece of information and requirement (and then some) you might want to know, so read carefully.

Gotcha #2: Are you on public property or private? Remember we decided to go to a movie theater? For this activity to be most useful, your best location to be at is near the doors to the theater, because that's where the people will be congregating. But the theater in question had a parking lot (their property) completely surrounding the sidewalk (their property) leading to the front doors (their property), so everything in sight was their property. While the U.S. constitution protects freedom of speech and the right to assemble, the rights of a property owner generally over-rule the right of someone to come onto that property to exercise their free speech rights.

While standing in front of the movie theater, getting a lot of positive feedback from the patrons, we were approached by the theater's manager. Seems they have a policy around the exercise of free speech, since it is private property. What they wanted was for us to register with their main office before we could do our little voter registration drive in front of the theater, and the registration process would take five days.

In other words, as I said in gotcha#2, private property is controlled by the property owner. While it's of value to recognize the rights of property owners as to the use of their land, it's worrisome for the practice of free speach. Consider that more and more of the "public" spaces are actually privately owned. Where in the past shopping was done "downtown" with the majority of the space there being publicly owned, today the bulk of shopping is done in various kinds of shopping centers, and everything in sight is privately owned. As more and more of the space is privately owned, what happens to our rights to free speech? If the property owner can control when we have free speech, where we have free speech, and the content of our free speech, then is it really free speech?

We learned the next day the picture isn't quite as bleak as all that. The next day we went to the local farmers market, stood on the public sidewalk as people went in and out, and handed out voter registration forms. While there we met some official operatives of the local Democratic Party who were operating the official Democratic Party booth a little ways down the sidewalk from us. What we learned is a magic word:

"The Pruneyard Decision" (google search), and @ findlaw

Basically what this decision means is that for private property that functions as a public gathering place, that free speech is allowed in such spaces. Which means that gotcha#2 is greatly eased, so long as you understand the rights the Pruneyard Decision gives you.

Friday, July 2, 2004

Review: Uncovered: The Whole Truth about the Iraq War

This documentary, Uncovered - The Whole Truth About the Iraq War, is a very powerful indictment of the George W Bush administrations actions which led the U.S.A. to invade Iraq in the Spring of 2003. So powerful that as I left Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary on the same subject, I wished that Moore had done his movie in the style of Uncovered. However the two movies appeal, and are powerful, on two different levels.

Fahrenheit appeals to the audience at the gut level. Much of that film shows gruesome images of war, and in particular the actual attacks on September 11, 2001 are shown with great cinematic style focusing the viewer on the emotional reactions and overwhelm of the witnesses of that attack. As an emotionally powerful movie, that covers the lies and deceit of the Bush administration, Fahrenheit works very well.

Uncovered covers largely the same material, but focusing on a factual dissection of Bush administration statements versus the verifiable truth. As a factually oriented documentary it is also very powerful. The style is to present two stories that play off one another. Story "A" is the statements by the Bush administration made in the propoganda leadup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Story "B" is told with interviews of an all-star cast of former Washington insiders each with 15-30 years experience in the Weapons Inspection, Intelligence, Defense and Diplomatic corps. These interviews served as counterpoint to the statements by Bush administration officials, and demonstrate the lies that were said at every turn by these officials.

The documentary was filmed in the summer of 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq. Looking back from a years time since it was filmed, some of the interviewees were very prescient in their remarks. One in particular discussed how this attempt to "install democracy" at the point of a gun was very unlikely to succeed, and instead very likely to infuriate the ones we are attempting to democratize, with the likely result that any democratic government in Iraq would likely be exceedingly antagonistic to the U.S.A. and that the whole incident would likely serve only to recruit more soldiers for the terror organizations. Which is exactly what's happened over the past year.

In short, I give this film many thumbs up and urge all American Citizens to see this movie. Especially to do so before November 2, 2004, so that you understand clearly the importance of your vote in the upcoming election.