July 13, 2004

Commentary: 'Fahrenheit' 98, 2000, and XP

Author: Jay Lyman

Seeing Michael Moore's thought-provoking "Fahrenheit 9/11" has given me a much greater appreciation of the disdain -- dare I say the hate? -- that many Microsoft Corp. foes feel as they face off against the powerful, politically connected software giant.

"Fahrenheit" places most of the blame for the Iraq mess, of course, on the Bush administration and some major corporate interests -- mostly The Carlyle Group and Halliburton. There is scant mention of Microsoft; it hosts a conference where some of the biggest defense and other support contractors get together to talk about how much money they can make off the war with statements such as "It's the biggest financial opportunity on the planet;" and "It's good for business, but it's bad for people."

Although it sort of beat you over the head -- okay, Dubya is dumb, so enough already -- I came away from the film with a gut ache, and it wasn't from the super-size popcorn and soda I shared with the wife.

For one, I was appalled that all of those American and Iraqi men, women, and children had been killed or injured for what appears to have been a big joint business venture among greedy America corporations; I was horrified by the blank look on President Bush's face as he learned of the 9/11 attacks and sat in front of a group of schoolchildren for nearly 10 minutes, waiting for direction and looking like it was time to go see the principal.

What really turned my stomach was the hypocrisy of the whole thing. We go to Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction; not finding them, then ostensibly we're there to liberate the Iraqis for freedom and democracy.

But what are we doing about genocide in Zaire, to cite just one of many international problem areas? What support could we give those beleaguered, hungry, and sick African people with just a fraction of the resources we're dumping into Iraq -- which has become, in some respects, worse than Vietnam? How can we continue to send our unrested soldiers out on neighborhood raids that terrify the Iraqi locals? How's that for winning hearts and minds?

We actually are winning hearts and minds -- but for the other side.

I thought it was sad that a U.S. soldier questioned in the film had to ask why he is being paid $2,000 per month to do the same truck-driving job as an $18,000-per-month private contractor. A National Guardsman with whom I saw the movie -- who spent seven months in Baghdad and a year away from family -- said the Iraq scenes looked familiar. He agreed with the point about the money and recalled how U.S. troops are guarding the private contractors across Iraq.

For those who think that Moore is either full of himself or hot air, I can relate. This is where Microsoft comes in. I have never understood the pure hatred some people hold for one company, particularly when they have not been the actual victims of monopoly preying or pushing. But I now equate it to my disdain for the Bush administration. And when you think about it, there are parallels between the two targets of our collective distaste.

Size: Here you have the candidate who said he would do away with big government going with another big -- Big Business. Supporters of Bush, along with many of the Democrats who have failed to balance executive or judicial power for the past five to seven years, are made up of the nation's biggest businesses. One of the world's biggest businesses, Microsoft, is certainly among the most influential corporate -- and political -- interests in the world.

Relationships: In "Fahrenheit," Moore draws strong lines between the Saudi royalty and the Bush "royalty," with George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden both portrayed as silver-spoon renegades who rose to power while their families helped each other. So in the movie, it's the Bushes using the Saudis for capital gain, and vice versa. For the IT industry and Microsoft, the big, filthy, dirty-work relationship is with The SCO Group. Both the Bush administration and Microsoft have plenty of other suspect dealings according to those who don't care for them, and their respective relationships center on partnerships for power.

Fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD): Here's where the connection really clicks. This explains to me how many of the more-technical/less-political people I speak with day in and day out perceive Microsoft. I've reached a point where I don't really believe anything the Washington administration is saying. When I hear about the national terror alert going up from yellow to orange, for example, I'm now thinking FUD.

Fear is a central theme for Moore, as it was in his Academy Award-winning documentary (or, as some say, gun-umentary) "Bowling for Columbine." In "Fahrenheit," fear is used to bully the American people into higher Bush approval ratings and to back the Bush administration's desperate need to go to war.

We all know about the FUD factor from Redmond. Some of this came to light during the company's federal anti-monopoly lawsuit three years ago. But most of it is well-hidden in the corporate back rooms of America and doesn't leak into the public domain. A recent example is the Dell/Linspire news story from last week. Even if you don't disbelieve everything Microsoft spins out, the suspicion the company's enemies harbor is similar to what many citizens now have for Bush and his international business comrades.

There are other connections here. We don't even need to go into the fact that the Bush administration let Microsoft off easy in the 2002 DoJ antitrust case, allowing the world's largest software company to continue its monopolist ways. And there is the fact that Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer are all major Bush campaign donors. Who knows what other connections there are between Microsoft and the Bush administration?

That's meat for a future column, perhaps.

The bottom lines here: Let's keep informed on our own, try to identify government and corporate FUD, and be proactive about rejecting it. Let's also try to understand each other's viewpoints and agree we should protest those in public or corporate office who are misusing their power and leverage the ballot box -- or buying power -- to unseat them as soon as possible.