QUESTIONING TECHNOLOGY: Ten Issues for Clinton

The presidential campaign of 1996 has been reduced to the typical 90s media event. Stripped of any meaningful content and larded with mindless slogans and empty imagery, candidates Clinton and Dole have become little more than media spokesmen for the corporate interests who created and control them.Yet, even if the compelling issues of our time have been snuffed out of the public arena during this election season, they still exist and will continue to haunt us as a society. Though we are not likely to get answers from Clinton or Dole (much less even have the questions posed to them), it's useful to at least explore some of the issues that SHOULD be addressed.Here are a few questions for the President on technology and the effects it is having on society. Don't expect answers.1. Mr. President, our society is now going through the fastest rate of technological change in history. You and Vice President Gore have encouraged this expansion of technology, assuring us that it is good for the country. Yet, history tells us that rapid technological change is extraordinarily disruptive to people's lives. Millions of jobs are lost. If new ones are created, they require massive new training and skills in order to get up to speed. There are also unknown consequences from these new technologies for the environment, health, communities and the general quality of life.Why, Mr. President, are Americans told such rapid change is inevitable and that we, as a nation, must accept it? Why, like other issues of such importance, do we not analyze the impact and likely consequences of new technologies before they are introduced? Why is the decision on whether or not to introduce a new technology left solely in the hands of corporate executives? Why are U.S. citizens not allowed to vote on whether or not they will accept such intrusive new technologies into their lives?2. Mr. President, every technology has a distinct bias. For example, nuclear energy technology -- because of its extraordinary potential danger to our health -- requires a huge capital investment, highly centralized control and a "priesthood" of experts that must continue to oversee its byproducts thousands of years into the future. On the other hand, solar technology is an inexpensive, non-polluting, decentralizing energy source that can be used on a small scale by individuals or local communities.Though huge advancements have been made in solar energy technology over the past few years, it remains an obscure industry largely because the corporate interests that manufacture and sell energy oppose the decentralization of energy production. As President, would you support increased government funding for solar energy development and changes in the tax laws that would encourage a transition away from centralized, corporate-controlled energy production?3. You speak constantly of "growing the economy," Mr. President. Since this in effect means continuing to exploit the Earth's natural resources on a global basis for corporate profit, how long can we continue to "grow" before we hit the limit of the finite resources available on this planet? What happens then, Mr. President?4. It seems that a central assumption of today's high tech culture is there's virtue in overpowering all that is natural. Our towns, cities and architecture increasingly separate us from nature and wildness. As foreign policy, we attack the cultures of self sufficient native people who choose not to participate in our global marketplace. You're an educated man, Mr. President. How healthy can a society be that breaks it bond with nature? Or, is it the case with your corporate backers that all that really matters is that we breed a population of "consumers" whose only purpose on this planet is to feed off the global marketplace and increase shareholder value for a few global investors?5. Mr. President, which is the more important goal of education today: to offer training that helps the student find a better job or as a process that teaches the student to think independently and to critically question the assumptions of the society we live in?6. You've endorsed computers in the classroom and school hookups to the Internet. The automatic assumption is that this is a good thing. Besides the obvious conveniences of searching databases and doing research, can you offer a single piece of evidence that proves conclusively that computers or the Internet have been used effectively in improving the general quality of education?7. We live in an age where the power of some global corporations exceeds that of many governments. Why, Mr. President, should a corporation -- any corporation -- have rights greater than that of a single individual citizen?8. Mr. President, under the guise of preventing terrorism, your administration has proposed a wide range of measures that would allow the easy surveillance of virtually all digital communications -- from e-mail messages on the Internet to voice calls made over cellular telephones. Why -- when history shows otherwise -- should we believe that the federal government won't abuse this vast new power and use it to harass its enemies?9. One of the issues facing the federal government today is the allocation of valuable spectrum for over-the-air commercial digital broadcasting. A debate has ensued over whether television stations should starting paying for use of the public's airwaves; or whether -- in exchange for what they claim is their "public service" programming -- that these broadcasters be allowed to continue to use the airwaves free of charge.Why, Mr. President, since these airwaves belong to the public, should there not be a third option? That is to re-claim this spectrum for public use and create a kind of non-profit, broadcast "commons" where corporate messages are prohibited. Why, Mr. President, are the only options you present restricted to selling or giving away this very valuable public resource?10. Finally, Mr. President, you proudly hail the so-called "V-chip" as a way to allow parents to control what their children watch on television. Surely, you know -- but won't publicly admit -- that this is a meaningless ploy to convince unknowing parents that they somehow will be able to tame the beast of commercial television. I wonder, Mr. President, why you don't really address this matter head on and use your bully pulpit to deal with the very real issue of how television is used as a propaganda tool by corporations (and, yes, the government too) to promote a consumer culture that defines success in terms of money and possessions? Why not surprise your friends in Hollywood and use the power of the presidency to convince parents to simply turn off the dreaded box and raise their kids in a TV-free environment? Have you considered that television is the REAL drug problem in America?

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