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February 22, 2000

Editorial

Jeff Sessions and his Abuse of Power

Last summer Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson met in Washington, D.C. with Senate Republican leaders, including Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. Christian Coalition, an organization that has been refused Federal tax-exempt status because of its political activities, was planning its version of a voter registration drive in churches around the country. Robertson had been irked by the efforts of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which had sent letters to churches warning them about the tax implications of intervening in partisan politics, and he came for help.

A few weeks after the meeting, Jeff Sessions and five other Republican senators, including Jesse Helmes and Strom Thurmond, filed a complaint with the United States Justice Department. They charged that Americans United for Separation of Church and State had ``intimidated people of faith into not participating in the political process.'' The senators knew, or at least should have known, that church cooperation with Christian Coalition is a violation of federal law. Nevertheless, they used their Senate privileges to send a meritless complaint to Attorney General Janet Reno, wasting taxpayer's money in an effort to harass Americans United. The Christian Coalition publicly applauded.

No one was surprised last week when the U.S. Justice Department ruled that Americans United had violated no federal laws. However, Sessions was unapologetic. His press aide, John Cox, said that the Alabama senator believes that Americans United is “one of the most left-wing groups in America.'' Americans United, is in fact a responsible non-profit organization, founded in 1947, with more than 60,000 members.

Jeff Sessions has seriously abused his power as a senator by attempting to use the U.S. Justice Department for a personal vendetta. He has also insulted every American who believes that the separation between the activities of churches and those of our government must be maintained. Jeff Sessions should apologize.

-- Dan S. Silver


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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I had attended one of Konrad Kressley's lecture on the future as part of my school's E.O. Wilson lecture series, and was pleasantly surprised to see his article "Alma Mater.edu" in the January 10-24 Harbinger. As a teenager with a vested interest in the future, I found both the article and the lecture thought-provoking. One of Kressley's recurring points was the computers would become more involved in the lives of most people, and current events provide us, the people of today, an opportunity to help determine whether the increased involvement of computers will lead to an era of greater freedom or one of unparalleled opportunities for oppression. Of the many effects that technological advances could have on life in the future, one of the more important ones may be political. Today, cryptographic technology already exits with which ordinary Internet users can converse without fear of eavesdropping or tampering and publish online anonymously, eliminating fear of retaliation -- basic rights are ensured in a way that law alone could not ensure. So, the Internet can become a medium immune to interference from the centralized power of whoever would be an oppressor.

However, the Internet could also become a powerful means for interference from the powerful. It seems that our lives will become more and more involved, directly or indirectly, with computer networks -- Kressley's article shows this trend in action -- and, just as technology for Internet-supported freedom exists, there can be technology for Internet-supported suppression. With a mountain of network traffic from a growing number of sources through which to sift to find traces of dissension, the Internet could be Orwell's imagined surveillance network of telescreens turned into reality. Similarly, with a mountain of network data with which to temper, the Internet could be the perfect medium for incarnating his imagined Ministry of Truth capable of changing the official past by defacing records -- no paper trails to destroy, no laborious manual searching.

Put briefly, the question determining whether the Internet makes us freer is largely one of who controls the information flow -- will people use the channels to exchange information among themselves as they wish, or will centralized power control them?

This question is raised almost explicitly in a lawsuit over DVD copy protection. The DVD Copy Control Association is charged with the task of ensuring that the discs are not copied; to help the electronics companies and movie makers who profit off of Digital Video Discs, they have sued hundreds of people for distributing over the Internet information that helps users to access data stored on DVD's.

Legally, the DVD CCA's claim has no merit -- while using the tools to create bootleg DVDs is illegally, having or distributing the tools, or using them for legal purposes, is almost certainly not -- but the realities, not the legal technicalities, are what I write to you about. It would be wonderful if it were possible to have ironclad safeguarding of both copyrights and freedom of speech, but one of the two protections must give: this case helps demonstrate that free distribution of information cannot coexist with control like that which the DVD CCA wants -- after all, the distribution of information on how to copy DVD's would be unstoppable on an uncensorable Internet, and the DVD CCA itself argues that it will lose control over DVD copying if it is not stopped. That is, for the DVD CCA to get what it seeks in its suit, the government must have the ability to control the Internet, which it could not have if cryptography were protecting anonymity and privacy on the Internet.

So, you are presented a choice between two futures for the Internet -- one in which corporations and governments have the capacity to use the network for control, and one in which ordinary individuals have the ability to use it for sharing ideas and information, without fear of interference. If you choose the future ruled by ordinary individuals, you are not alone: the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the organization which organized the successful protests against the Internet censorship law known as the CDA, is organizing the defense against the DVD CCA in court. The merits of the case -- not to mention the ideological high ground -- are on the side of those fighting for a freer future, but the best lawyers are on the side of the movie and electronics giants. Level the legal playing field: support the Electronic Frontier Foundation as they work to keep the Internet a tool of freedom.

For more information, or to find out how to help, you can see the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Web site at http://www.eff.org/.

Thank you for your time,
Randall Farmer
Alabama School of Mathematics and Science Mobile, AL


Dear Editor,

I worked at a shipyard in Mobile around 1980 but don't remember the name. I operated a huge crane with two giant steam-operated pistons. On about my third day, my rigger and I were storing these huge girders next to each other. Right when we were closing in next to another piece of iron, my rigger got distracted talking to someone and walked right in-between the two pieces of iron. I opened the throttle full and swung left very gently and lightly, applying steady pressure. I pulled the load very fast over the operations bunker and slowed the load smoothly. I swung back and saw my rigger waving his fist at me, brushing himself off. I had knocked him down. I was shook up, I had just saved a man's life, and he was almost killed. He was right between those beams. I was taken off the crane and given menial jobs and harassed. They never debriefed me, and I was in too much shock to try and go speak for myself. If you talk to operators familiar with that crane, show them this letter and get their opinion on whether I did the right thing or not, you will see that I did. And if you found my records you can see that they were trying to fire me. I saw my medical records; it states in there "we can fire him today." And you can see by their accounts of what happened (the crane's throttle and the man being knocked down), I can be exonerated and be given due recognition.

Sincerely,
Michael Rowley
Olympia, WA


Dear Editor,

I was pleased to read Townsend L. Walker, Sr.'s letter in the 2/8-21/00 Harbinger regarding the lack of a national health plan in the USA.

I too favor a system of universal coverage. My experience worldwide has been that developed people everywhere find incredible the fact that this wealthiest of countries abandons its "have nots."

We don't have to look only to foreign lands for good models. Our own state of Hawaii has for more than 20 years provided what is essentially a universal system through employers and state support. The remarkable story of Hawaii's health care is home grown, yet is widely ignored, even suppressed, so that even otherwise well-intentioned medical people plead ignorance.

How about giving your readers the facts on Hawaii's humane solution to health needs!

J. Cain
Mobile, AL


Dear Editor,

Nice piece on "All the Way to the Mitigation Bank".

Did the U.S. Corps of Engineers set up the MBRT pursuant to the rules of FACA (Federal Advisory Committee Act). If so, was your paper given proper "notice" of all meetings etc.?

Wonder if the Corps "initiated a Section 7 consultation" with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the establishment of the MBRT, the wetlands bank concept, and the indirect/cumulative effects to ESA listed species caused by such a deal (being as yet undisturbed wetlands would be bushwhacked as a result, thereby possibly causing harm to listed critters)?

Sincerely,
Ned Mudd
vezere@aol.com


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