Nanny Tries to Resurrect Pappy

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This recent story has gone virtually unnoticed. It is a report that the federal government — yes, our very own nanny-state — has funded anew one of its many websites: www.fatherhood.gov. The site is devoted to teaching American men and — let’s not be sexist! — American women how to be good fathers.

The site gives just tons of terrific tips about being a good dad, such as: it is the father’s job to provide healthy meals for his kids, and actually to eat meals with them. (This is a revelation: I thought that since the government is advertising to get people to apply for food stamps, the rolls for which have swollen to an all-time high of 47 million, it is in fact the government’s job to feed the kids.) And there is other vital information, available nowhere else. There is a video about how to wash your hands, with narration that instructs: “Wet hands under running water, add soap, and rub all parts of the hands and fingers for 15 seconds.”

The things you can learn from government! I never knew you had to use soap!

The site offers some even more desperately needed videos on reading, “constructive play,” and — most amazing — brushing your teeth.

There is a richly layered irony in this. Begin with the fact that the website was funded most recently by the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. The idea that deficit reduction is advanced by funding completely superfluous government websites is self-evidently ridiculous.

Now add the bigger point. Here we are, nearly 30 years after the publication of Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, the definitive analysis of the massive destruction brought to the American family (and society) by the benighted changes to the welfare programs in the early 1960s. The new form of welfare basically paid young girls to make horribly bad life choices, mainly to have children too young and out of wedlock. The illegitimacy rate in the inner city spiraled out of sight, hitting 25% by the mid-1960s (when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report on the black family crisis). In the inner city, the first of the month was dubbed “Father’s Day,” in grimly humorous recognition of the fact that the only “father” in these broken welfare families was Uncle Sam.

Over the decades since, the welfare state’s iatrogenic pathology has spread from the inner city to mainstream America. Now over 70% of all black children, 50% of Hispanic children, and 25% of non-Hispanic white children are born out of wedlock. The rate of illegitimacy for all American births is currently 41%, and for American women under 30, it is a stunning 53%.

So the richest irony of all is that the nanny state that did so much to eliminate fatherhood is now trying to train men to be fathers.

In fine, now that nanny has choked pappy to death, she is trying to resurrect him.




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They're Coming for Your Internet

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In a thinly-veiled message to Internet users throughout the US and beyond, the FBI today (Jan. 19) shut down the file-sharing service MegaUpload.com, seizing the company’s domain name along with its headquarters. With this raid, the feds clearly meant to show that they were the bosses of the online world, laws and legislation be damned. As usual, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

Back up a couple days. On the eve of January 17, Internet sites all over the world were preparing to “blackout” to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) then under consideration in the House of Representatives (in the Senate, as the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA). The bill would give the government power to seize any website that was reported to be hosting pirated material, or even providing links to such material.

Those doing the reporting, of course, would be the media companies themselves — thus giving them, essentially, a kill switch for sites they don’t like. So if you pan a big-budget movie — or break off a relationship with a studio exec — or really just in any way piss off anyone connected to a lawyer in the entertainment industry — your site could get shut down without due process and without recourse.

But the possibilities for petty revenge are far from the worst thing about the bill. That would be instead its potential to crush political dissent. Under SOPA, the presence of any link to “pirated” material would be sufficient to kill a site — even if the content is provided by anonymous commenters. Hence, the easiest way to silence dissidence online would be to spam the offending site with dubious links.

Even the biggest sites would be susceptible to such tactics; hence why even the behemoths of the Internet, such as Google and Wikipedia, signed onto the protest. With such sites as these “blacked-out” (usually redirecting to petitions or email-your-congressman forms), even casual Internet users found themselves confronted with the ramifications of the government’s latest lunatic notion. For once the people spoke, and many Congressmen reversed position.

The feds couldn’t let such a demonstration go unpunished, but lacking the power to shut down Google and Wikipedia (for now, anyway), they did the next best thing: publicly target and destroy a site like MegaUpload, as a way of announcing that they would shut down whomever they felt like. What they always forget, though, is how little they know about computing and networking, compared to the people who put together the kinds of sites they want to shut down. The response from the actually competent sector of the online world was swift and brutal: within two hours, the hacker collective Anonymous (previously best known for taking down the Church of Scientology site) had attacked and temporarily killed off the sites for the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the US Copyright Office, and assorted major film studios and record labels.

These sites will all come back, obviously: only the government would claim the right to banish a site for good. But the mere fact that they could go down at all shows their vulnerability to attacks from very loosely affiliated networks of competent individuals. And that is a weakness that, try as they might, the DoJ, the FBI, the MPAA, et al., can never come to grips with: their very existence is predicated on massive, centralized, bureaucratic incompetence. To give that up would be to begin their own dismemberment.

It will be fascinating — and a bit worrying — to see how the government and major media companies will respond. Certainly SOPA and PIPA will come back in new, more insidious forms, probably as riders on unrelated bills. Though President Obama bucked his industry pals and came out against the bills this time (only, of course, once the online campaign against them was in full cry), there is no guarantee he would in a second term. Meanwhile, among the Republican candidates, only Ron Paul (natch) has denounced the bills; a President Romney, Gingrich, or Perry would probably sign them into law. [Edit: in the evening's Republican primary debate in South Carolina, candidates Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul all spoke out against SOPA — though Romney and especially Santorum still appeared to leave space for future censorship of the internet.]

Until then, what is required of us is vigilance — vigilance, and an unyielding determination not to let a few hundred computer illiterates in Washington DC legislate away our cultural future.



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The Master of the Internet

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is a political hack, a personification of statist mendacity. He’s a danger to individual liberties and free markets — not because of any clear intention to do wrong, but because he’s a man of gilded academic credentials yet little evident wisdom or insight.

Like the president he serves, Genachowski was educated and has spent his adult life in an echo chamber of small-minded conformists. And, like the president, Genachowski struggles to describe grand ambitions with the vocabulary of a clerk.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama made a big deal about “net neutrality” — a term that meant different things to different people. To traditional left-wing partisans, it meant government-funded high-speed internet service for the usual laundry list of aggrieved minority groups. To Silicon Valley tech firms, it meant cracking down on big internet service providers (ISPs) who wanted to charge heavy users of bandwidth more than light users.

“Net neutrality” was (and is) poorly-defined and is therefore likely to disappoint some or all interested parties whenever it is implemented. As public policy, it is an inherently cynical proposition. The Federal Communications Commission is the regulatory agency best positioned to give shape and force to the vague term; so Obama needed someone to run the agency who wouldn’t mind facing the inevitable disappointment that would come from fulfilling a cynically-made promise. He needed someone with enough career ambition to want the job — but not enough insight to recognize what a bad hand it would be.

Like the president, Genachowski struggles to describe grand ambitions with the vocabulary of a clerk.

Genachowski’s curriculum vitae reads much like the president’s: Columbia undergraduate, Harvard Law School. Of course, a lesser Ivy, followed by Harvard Law, doesn’t mean so much — a few geniuses and many middling mediocrities have followed that path.

According to his official biography, the FCC Chairman has spent his whole career “active at the intersection of social responsibility and the marketplace.” But what does that mean? “Social responsibility” — like “social justice” and “public interest” — is a code word that careerist tools use to camouflage their unmerited self-regard.

After Harvard, Genachowski clerked for Supreme Court Justices David Souter and William Brennan. A promising start. Later, he clerked for Abner Mikva on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This might seem like a step backward to the uninitiated; but Mikva is a lion among the establishment Left. The step, however, did establish Genachowski as more a politico than a great legal mind. It was followed by stints working for Charles Schumer and a couple of House committees — which confirmed Genachowski's drift into the ranks of partisan political hacks.

When the Democrats lost control of the House in 1994, Schumer found Genachowski a spot working for FCC Chairman Reed Hundt. Hundt did some good during his time at the FCC. He continued his predecessor’s efforts to lower regulatory barriers and, therefore, costs related to international telephone service; and he didn’t stand in the way of ownership consolidation that was going on at the time in the terrestrial radio business. But generally he did the statist bidding of the Clinton administration.

In a 2010 talk at Columbia University, Hundt admitted that “his” FCC had used its oversight powers to pick winners in the telecommunications market. It crafted regulations to “favor the Internet over broadcast” as the common medium of the country because right-wing talk radio “had become a threat to democracy.” And he bragged that he’d made policies “to allow the computers to use the telephone network to connect to the Internet . . . and to do it for free. In other words we stole the value of the telephone network . . . and gave it to society.” According to the Los Angeles Times, he called the highlight of his FCC tenure “state-sanctioned theft.”

Genachowski unintentionally highlights the moral emptiness of the administration he serves. And the moral emptiness of the American “progressive” movement in general.

Hundt seems to have been an inspiration to the careerist Genachowski — proof that a man with Ivy League credentials but no particular qualities could rise to levels of high esteem in the nation’s capital. The elite among these hacks parlay this esteem into lucrative post-government employment with rent seekers such as McKinsey and Co. and the Blackstone Group. In 1997, Genachowski left the FCC and went to work as a sort of bar-admitted personal valet to Barry Diller at IAC/InterActiveCorp, a New York-based conglomerate of internet commerce companies whose crown jewel is the widely-reviled Ticketmaster. This episode is Genachowski’s main claim to business experience. His resume entries while at IAC — “Chief of Business Operations” and “General Counsel” — sound impressive, until you realize that Diller runs the firm as a sort of personality cult and doesn’t suffer strong (or, some say, even competent) subordinates.

Genachowski’s resume also includes short stops at a couple of minor venture capital funds. But his track record doesn’t suggest any particular vision for technology or business. He seems to have been an access-peddler brought in to provide political contacts. And he didn’t last long in any of those gigs. He was just biding his time until he could pass back through the revolving political door.

Genachowski unintentionally highlights the moral emptiness of the administration he serves. And the moral emptiness of the American “progressive” movement in general. Two speeches that he gave December 2010 set a framework for examining his circular logic, slipshod ethics, and tired rhetoric.

On December 1, 2010, he gave a talk with the Orwellian title, “Remarks on Preserving Internet Freedom and Openness” to FCC staffers. As we’ll see, his definition of “openness” is perverse — and it may be the key to understanding the Obama brand of knee-jerk statism.

“After months of hard work at the FCC,” he said, “and after receiving more than 100,000 comments from citizens across America, we have reached an important milestone in our effort to protect Internet freedom and openness.”

This theme of “hard work” recurs in Genachowski’s rhetoric. It’s not clear exactly what he thinks is “hard” about the work of dictating how internet service providers can operate. The approach of his FCC has been to meet separately with various “stakeholders” in telecommunications regulatory policy — and then to issue edicts influenced, if not drafted, by a handful of leftwing thinktanks.

In any event, congratulating himself and his staff for doing “hard work” is reminiscent of government bureaucrats who call their offices “shops.” They’re contemptuous of real shops and actual hard work.

“Yesterday, I circulated to my colleagues draft rules of the road to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet.”

This is almost too easy. Who but a hard-charging statist, blind to simple logic or common sense, would believe that such “rules” preserve “freedom and openness?”

“This framework . . . would advance a set of core goals: It would ensure that the Internet remains a powerful platform for innovation and job creation; it would empower consumers and entrepreneurs; it would protect free expression; it would increase certainty in the marketplace, and spur investment both at the edge and in the core of our broadband networks. . . . The proposed rules of the road are rooted in ideas first articulated by Republican Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, and endorsed in a unanimous FCC policy statement in 2005. Similar proposals have been supported in Congress on a bipartisan basis. And they are consistent with President Obama’s commitment to ‘keep the Internet as it should be — open and free.’ ”

There are two points worth noting in the section above.

One, Genachowski often presses the point that his edicts are consistent with those of the GOP appointees who’ve preceded him. In his worldview, that which is “bipartisan” is inherently good. He doesn’t seem to understand that both parties are deluded in believing that their central planning will make the market for communications services operate more efficiently.

If government agencies get to define and things like the levelness of playing fields and the unreasonableness of “discrimination,” there will be no free market of ideas.

Two, Obama and his minions are being cagey when they claim “openness” as a goal of their market rules. “Openness” is a term of little fixed definition in economics circles — or almost anywhere else. It sounds like a free-market value — but statists can use it as a Trojan horse for bringing central-planning policies into effect. The main policy hiding in this horse is “net neutrality,” a regulatory concept that means . . . whatever the Feds want it to mean.

“This openness is a quality — a generative power — that must be preserved and protected. And . . . there are real risks to the Internet’s continued freedom and openness. Broadband providers have natural business incentives to leverage their position as gatekeepers to the Internet. Even after the Commission announced open Internet principles in 2005, we have seen clear deviations from the Internet’s openness — instances when broadband providers have prevented consumers from using the applications of their choice without disclosing what they [the providers] were doing.”

In this opaque discussion of “openness,” Genachowki seems to be referring to the 2010 federal appeals court decision in Comcast Corp. v.FCC. It came as the result of a legal dispute between the FCC and the telecom giant that dates back several years. Comcast — one of the biggest ISPs in the United States — has made a practice of slowing some customers’ internet connections when they use BitTorrent, a bandwidth-hogging file-sharing service used primarily to trade digital versions of TV shows and films. (Many film and TV studios also complain that BitTorrent encourages piracy of copyrighted content.)

The FCC has maintained that this selective tightening of specific uses of the internet pipeline violates its policies of “openness” and “net neutrality,” providing an opportunity for the Feds to dictate corporate action to the likes of Comcast. Comcast has maintained that the FCC’s statements about internet openness are just industry guidelines, not legally enforceable.

The two sides have spent a lot of time in federal court, debating these points. In 2008, a trial judge ruled for the FCC and said it could wrap just about any edict it wished within the policy cloaks of “openness” and “net neutrality.” But in April 2010, a federal appeals court overruled the trial court and found that the FCC does not have the authority to sanction Comcast for restricting access to BitTorrent.

Internet access is not a right; it’s a consumer service. High-speed internet access is a luxury service, and even less a right.

During oral arguments, D.C. Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph told the FCC’s lawyers, “You can’t get an unbridled, roving commission to go about doing good.” In his written decision a few months later, Randolph wrote: “Policy statements are just that — statements of policy. They are not delegations of regulatory authority.”

Randolph’s ruling is a big win for liberty — and the prevention of regulatory creep. But it’s a big problem for Genachowski. Playing bureaucratic games with the “net neutrality rulemaking process” accomplishes nothing; it’s all just talk, without any statutory basis. Until Congress passes a law codifying net neutrality, Comcast can tell the FCC to sod off. And keep tightening the pipe for BitTorrent.

Back to Genachowski’s hackery:

“Protecting Internet freedom will drive the Internet job creation engine. . . . [C]onsumers and innovators have a right to know basic information about broadband service, like how networks are being managed. The proposed framework therefore starts with a meaningful transparency obligation, so that consumers and innovators have the information they need to make smart choices about subscribing to or using a broadband network. . . . [C]onsumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful Internet traffic — to go where they want and say what they want online, and to use the devices of their choice. Thus, the proposed framework would prohibit the blocking of lawful content, apps, services, and the connection of non-harmful devices to the network. . . . [C]onsumers and innovators have a right to a level playing field. No central authority, public or private, should have the power to pick which ideas or companies win or lose on the Internet; that’s the role of the market and the marketplace of ideas. And so the proposed framework includes a bar on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic.”

Genachowski must have had trouble in Constitutional Law — even at Harvard. And introductory logic at Columbia — if he ever took it. Reread that last paragraph. The man conflates a “right to a level playing field” with eyewash about a free “marketplace of ideas.” Those two things are mutually exclusive. If government agencies get to define and dictate (or, sometimes, dictate first and define later) things like the levelness of playing fields and the unreasonableness of “discrimination,” there will be no free market of ideas. Or anything else.

Another point: Genachowski’s broad strokes, pitting “consumers and innovators” against evil ISPs, are so crude as to be meaningless. In many cases, the ISPs are the innovators and content-owners on the internet. And, as he proceeds to explain, his notion of “consumer” less resembles any person than it does a grievance mechanism concocted by some leftwing think tank.

“Universal high-speed Internet access is a vital national goal that will require very substantial private sector investment in our 21st century digital infrastructure. For our global competitiveness, and to harness the opportunities of broadband for all Americans, we want world-leading broadband networks in the United States that are both the freest and the fastest in the world.”

The grubby materialism of statist political philosophy usually leads to farcical conclusions. Thus, Genachowski’s talk of “vital national goals” includes the right to a “level playing field” in terms of high-speed internet access. But why stop there? Why not add a right to a level playing field in terms of high-speed cars? High-definition TVs? Brushed-aluminum appliances?

Internet access is not a right; it’s a consumer service. High-speed internet access is a luxury service, and even less a right.

“. . . Accordingly, the [FCC’s current] proposal takes important but measured steps in this area — including transparency and a basic no blocking rule. Under the framework, the FCC would closely monitor the development of the mobile broadband market and be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate. . . . The Commission itself has a duty and an obligation to fulfill — a duty to address important open proceedings based on the record, and an obligation to be a cop on the beat to protect broadband consumers and foster innovation, investment, and competition.”

Any Beltway bureaucrat who doesn’t carry a gun but talks about being a “cop on the beat” should be summarily thrown in the Anacostia River.

This last bit is very important. There’s little foundation in either statute or legal precedent for the FCC to have regulatory authority over the “mobile broadband market.” But mobile devices are the fastest-growing segment of the consumer electronics marketplace, and the Feds want control of what appears and how it appears on all those smartphones and tablets.

And beware: any Beltway bureaucrat who doesn’t carry a gun but talks about being a “cop on the beat” should be summarily thrown in the Anacostia River, especially if he thinks that a “cop on the beat” is supposed to go around fostering things. Genachowski uses the phrase repeatedly — so he’ll require multiple immersions.

On December 15, Officer Genachowski gave another speech — this one at the National Press Club in Washington, entitled “Response to Communications Workers of America’s ‘Speed Matters’ Report.” It finished the work that his earlier comments had begun:

“CWA was one of the very first organizations to question whether America’s broadband networks are where they need to be if we hope to realize the full potential of this transformational technology. . . . Slowly but surely, others have come to recognize the strategic importance of having world-leading broadband networks, but, as today’s report makes clear, we still have a lot of work to do. The FCC has been working hard to address the key challenges CWA has spotlighted in this report.”

This is a typical approach for Obama Administration apparatchiks: they allow labor unions to define regulatory policy. CWA leaders encourage partisan “activism” and compare political opponents to Nazis (need proof? Google “Christopher Sheldon,” vice president of a New Jersey CWA local). That an obsequious FCC chairman allows the leaders of this union to set policy priorities is just bad.

“The economy and jobs are at the core of our work. We’re focused on seizing the opportunities of communications technologies to catalyze private investment, foster job creation, compete globally, and create broad opportunity in the United States. . . .

"I agree with CWA that the great infrastructure challenge of our generation is high-speed broadband Internet. Robust broadband networks create all kinds of jobs, all across the country &‐ everything from construction jobs, to urban planners and architects, engineers and scientists, sales people and IT professionals.”

Internet access doesn’t make people employable. Employable people tend to be early adapters of technology.

Here’s another example of the Obama administration’s folly. A central plank of its political philosophy is that the purpose of business is to create jobs. Of course, that is false. Jobs are a side-effect of business, the purpose of which is to make profits. But high-speed internet access as an engine of job creation is something of fetish for Genachowski. In a separate speech, he said:

“[E]very billion dollars spent on infrastructure will create 20,000 to 40,000 jobs — jobs that can’t be outsourced. . . . These includes all kinds of jobs — construction jobs, urban planners and architects, engineers and scientists, sales people and IT professionals.”

In yet another speech — to Jesse Jackson’s corporate shakedown organization, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition — Genachowski blathered: “If we want the United States to be the world’s leading market for the innovative new products and services that drive economic growth and job creation, we need all Americans to be online. . . . [Question: Even convicts? Even four-year-olds?] Broadband is essential to economic opportunity. Job listings are moving exclusively online. Increasingly, if you’re not connected you can’t find a job.”

This is a classic example of a dull-witted statist confusing correlation with causality. Internet access doesn’t make people employable. Employable people tend to be early adapters of technology.

But back to his National Press Club screed:

“[I]f we want the job-creating Internet services and applications of the future developed in America, we are going to have to do better. That’s why our National Broadband Plan sets a goal of 100 megabits per second broadband to 100 million homes. This would make the U.S. the world’s largest market for very high-speed broadband services and applications — unleashing American ingenuity and ensuring that businesses and jobs are created here, and stay here. . . . Because speed matters, we set a goal of at least 1 gigabit-per-second service to at least one anchor institution in every community in the country. These ultra-fast testbeds will help ensure that America has the infrastructure to host the boldest innovations that can be imagined.”

This is old-fashioned, institutionally-decadent pork. And it has the same rotten smell as the various high-speed rail projects Obama likes mentioning. There’s no evidence that Americans want or need the “testbeds” (what a word) that Genachowski describes. But, using nothing more than circular logic, he promises big-government boondoggles designed . . . to generate the CWA dues that allow people like Christopher Sheldon to avoid honest work.

“In September, the Commission approved an order giving schools and libraries the flexibility to buy low-cost fiber through our Universal Service Fund, moving us one step closer to achieving this goal. And, as the National Broadband Plan recommends, we’re also working with the military to make military bases one-gig centers.”

You have to give Genachowski credit for unearthing old bureaucratic technology. The United Service Fund is an obsolete program, originally intended to encourage telephone service to poor rural areas. There’s no objective evidence that it needs to remodeled into some sort of open-ended subsidy for “schools and libraries” (as if libraries, of all things, were cutting-edge, job-creating agents of innovation). The fact that the FCC is trying to do this is yet another example of how government programs never go away.

Maybe, behind all the bullshit, Genachowski doesn’t even understand what “regulate” means.

As far as military tech goes, the whole Bradley Manning-Wikileaks episode suggests that generals need to get better control of the carbon-based links in their computer chain before asking for screaming fast internet connections.

“As CWA’s report states, to spur innovation, the Internet must not only be fast, it must remain open. That’s why the FCC is also moving to preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet. . . . It’s a vital part of what we need to do unleash innovation and protect free speech, to foster broadband investment and promote a vibrant economy — to create jobs in the United States. And that’s why it’s essential that we move forward next week with our strong and balanced proposal to adopt the first enforceable rules of the road to protect Internet freedom.”

Again, there’s cognitive dissonance among these hacks. Nothing the FCC or any other government agency does creates jobs. Even if the FCC’s budget were increased fivefold and its offices crammed with more bureaucratic inmates, the sovereign debt or tax revenue required to fund such folly would quash actual jobs in the private sector, by removing the money to pay for them.

“As the Speed Matters report emphasizes, two key challenges facing the U.S. are broadband availability and adoption. . . . Up to 24 million Americans couldn’t even get broadband if they wanted it. And even where broadband is available, too many Americans are not adopting. Roughly 1 in 3 Americans has not adopted broadband, nearly 100 million people. The adoption rate is even lower among certain communities — low-income Americans, rural areas, minorities, people with disabilities.”

You can hear the echoes of Obamacare’s coverage mandate. If “too many Americans” don't have something, or don't even want something, then the government should enable them to have it — or force them to have it.

“We’ve got out work cut out for us, but with the help of the organizations here, I’m confident we’ll get the job done.”

What job? Forcing high-speed internet access on people who haven’t asked for it . . . and may not be able to afford it, or want to afford it, instead of other things? Arranging big-ticket boondoggles that will make work for self-interested groups like the CWA? Flouting the appeals court decision and dictating terms of operation to ISPs — while hiding behind anodyne jargon such as “rules of the road”?

Whatever the answer, Genachowksi’s “job” seems to make a mockery of his statement in a February 2010 interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he said, for once in plain language, “We’re not going to regulate the Internet.” Maybe, behind all the bullshit, he doesn’t even understand what “regulate” means.

The most difficult part of reading through the scores of speeches and press releases of Chairman Genachowski is enduring the constant repetition of the same tired rhetoric, the same meaningless cliches. It’s easy to see why statists — and all politicians — become cynical. Repeating the same stupid phrases over and over again must rob any promise, even any concept, of meaning. And this is “work.” This is a "job."

A quick bit of history. The FCC was created in 1934 to allocate and regulate the use of the radio spectrum — which was a scarce commodity at the time, though essential to a cutting-edge technology — and broadcast signals. That was, arguably, a defensible regulatory role. But, since those early days, FCC bureaucrats (including most of the agency’s chairmen) have been pushing at every edge to expand their role. And they have usually been itchy to regulate the content that broadcasters send across the airwaves. This constant urge to regulate content negates the more humble, technology-focused purpose that the FCC is supposed to serve.

Just a few days after dishing out gross flattery to the CWA, Genachowksi did his master’s bidding and vomited up an Executive Order establishing “basic rules of the road to preserve the open Internet as a platform for innovation, investment, competition, and free expression.”

When he first took the FCC Chair, he had described “net neutrality” as a set of rules that would prohibit ISPs from tightening access for applications — such as BitTorrent — that they found undesirable. And his scheme seemed to apply to both wired and wireless networks. But the Comcast decision threw a wrench into those grand plans, so Genachowski claimed unconvincingly to have reconsidered his position and become a moderate dealmaker with a light regulatory touch.

If the FCC regulates ISPs under Title II as telecommunications infrastructure, the internet would become in effect a public utility.

His story isn’t supported by reality. The FCC’s December 2010 Order prohibits ISPs from blocking content, requires them to disclose how they filter traffic, and bans them from “unreasonable” discrimination against applications and web sites. And the FCC gets to make up what’s reasonable and unreasonable as it goes along. (Wireless Internet service providers are completely exempt from the Order.)

So ISPs may own the hardware of the Internet, but the FCC controls how that hardware is used. And the present FCC Chairman favors application suppliers — such as BitTorrent. And Google. And the sites run by IAC/InterActiveCorp. This couldn't give the FCC any power to control free expression or free innovation, could it?

The Order — which, like agency policies before it, does not have the weight of law — passed on a 3-to-2 vote among the FCC commissioners. It was a party-line vote, with the two commissioners appointed by Republican presidents voting against and the three appointed by Democrats for. Commissioner Robert McDowell, who voted against the Order, predicted that it would result in an “era of regulatory arbitrage.”

Other critics said that Genachowski’s Order gives the FCC a tool to regulate content and, echoing the Comcast decision, pointed out that the agency has no legal authority over the internet in the first place. One critic aptly compared Genachowski’s Order to a rule forcing FedEx and UPS to treat all packages in the same way the Postal Service does.

In response to these criticisms, the FCC organized faint praise from leftwing thinktanks that had supplied Genachowski with many of his talking points. Harold Feld, a talking head from a thinktank called Public Knowledge said:

“[The Order is] hardly more than an incremental step beyond the Internet Policy Statement adopted by the previous Republican FCC. After such an enormous build up and tumultuous process, it is unsurprising that supporters of an open Internet are bitterly disappointed — particularly given the uncertainty over how the rules will be enforced.”

Comments like this were supposed to support Genachowski’s claim that he was acting as an honest broker trying to work out a compromise — just as Obama had tried to position himself regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In both cases, the claims were false; the “compromises” split trivial differences between similar visions of corporate welfare. In the case of net neutrality, Democrats said that Republicans were protecting the interests of the cable and phone companies that are the main providers of broadband internet service to American households. Republicans said that Democrats were protecting application companies such as Google, Netflix, and BitTorrent, which have become successful in an era of unregulated internet and want to raise barriers against potential competitors.

Genachowski’s Order drew the attention of Congress. And not in a good way. In April 2011, the House of Representatives approved House Joint Measure 37 — which prohibits the FCC from regulating how internet service providers manage their broadband networks. This action was aimed squarely at thwarting Genachowski’s power grab. Rep. Greg Walden — Measure 37’s author — told theNew York Times:

“Congress has not authorized the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet. [Genachowski’s Order] could open the Internet to regulation from all 50 states.”

Walden went on to say that, in his opinion, the Order was an Obama administration attempt to use the regulatory process “to make an end run around” the Court of Appeals ruling in Comcast.

At about the same time, a separate congressional i‐nquiry forced Genachowski to answer questions about whether White House officials had improperly influenced the net neutrality rules. Rep. Darrell Issa — chairman of the House Oversight Committee — pointed to media reports that suggested “Obama administration officials had knowledge of and potentially contributed to [the] crafting of” the FCC’s rules in this area. Issa also noted that Genachowski and Obama had made suspiciously similar remarks about the rules in separate speeches made during the fall of 2009. And he asked pointedly whether former White House economic adviser Larry Summers had been the conduit with the FCC, planning Genachowski’s net neutrality Order.

Genachowski took a sleazy, legalistic tone in evading Issa’s questions. He whined that the Communications Act of 1934 “does not prohibit communications between commissioners and commission staff and members of the administration.” He said that the FCC’s rules requiring disclosure of such communications did not take effect until the release of a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” Since the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on net neutrality was issued in October 2009, he claimed that he didn’t have to explain any meetings that had taken place before that date. And finally — sounding like a minor-league version of Bill Clinton playing games with verb tenses — Genachowski said that the FCC’s “Office of General Counsel is not aware of any potential violations of the ex parte rules in connection with the subject matter.”

According to committee staffers, Issa didn’t expect candid or complete answers from Genachowski. The purpose of his questions was to show the FCC that Congress was aware of its attempted power-grab. But Genachowski ignored that message. He’s still grasping at more regulatory power.

Free Press, a leftwing thinktank that has an extremely close and influential relationship with Genachowski’s FCC, has suggested that the agency should try to move broadband service into the same regulatory category as telephone lines. Rather than regulating broadband providers as information services under Title I of the Communications Act, Free Press says the FCC should regulate them under Title II as telecommunications infrastructure.

If the FCC does this, the internet would become in effect a public utility. This is a troubling — and exhausting — proposition. The United States doesn’t need yet another whole category of consumer services wrapped in the obscuring cloak of “public utility.” Public utilities are bad for many reasons, not least the fact that bureaucrats like Julius Genachowski consider them tools of social engineering.

Of course, Genachowski is neither wise enough nor honest enough to acknowledge any of this. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise. His grasping careerism is the reason he was chosen for the job.




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Weiner Words

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I admit it: I doted on Anthony Weiner. I followed all the news about him; I was horrified when he resigned; and I miss him terribly, even now. He was wonderful entertainment.

But like certain other kinds of entertainment, which Weiner himself would probably enjoy, this was not something you could discuss at every opportunity. On hearing me prate ecstatically about the latest Weiner news, most of my friends muttered things like, “Oh, you mean that congressman who sent out pictures of his crotch?” Yeah, well, that’s the one I mean. The congressman who did that, then told lies about it — gross, elaborate, stupid lies — and tried to get others to lie for him, too.

The truth is, I loved the spectacle of a pompous windbag falling on his face, then prying himself back onto the rostrum, then falling on his face again, and every time slipping and falling because he had tied his own shoelaces together. The sex part didn’t matter to me; I liked the sheer humiliation.

Of course, I had to find good, moral reasons for being interested in this, and I did. And they actually happen to be good, moral reasons. One of them has to do with the appropriate punishment (humiliation) for the kind of person that Anthony Weiner is — a parasite, a bigot, and an aggressive fool.

Let’s take those in order.

Parasite: According to the uncontested findings of Wikipedia, as soon as Weiner left college he went into politics. Since then he has been continuously supported by his “work” as a partisan political activist. In his entire adult life, he has never had a wealth-creating or even a wealth-maintaining job. To everyone’s surprise, he turned out not even to be a lawyer.

Bigot: Before the scandal, Weiner was famous for one thing: relentlessly slamming people who disagreed with his “progressive” legislative agenda (e.g., fully socialized medicine). His constant rhetorical preference was to accuse those people of sinister motives and interests. When his scandal started, he assured political donors that the whole thing was the creation of “a vast rightwing conspiracy.” Yes, hackneyed and derided as that bigoted phrase has become, that’s what he said.

Aggressive fool: Don’t bother looking again at the press conference where he lied about his sexual transmissions. Consider his congressional website, where he offered, by actual count, 275 videos of speeches given by (can you guess?) himself. How much of a fool do you have to be . . . ?

So, that’s one high-minded excuse for my delight in Weiner Agonistes: he deserved to be humiliated, and he was. Here’s another: his scandal allowed us to study the bad qualities, not only of Congressman Weiner, but of many other people who are currently being paid to abuse the English language.

Let’s take, for example, people whose default language is the vocabulary of sickness. Where would they be without it? They can excuse their friends for anything they do: they are merely sick. And they can damn their enemies for anything they do: they are really sick.

On June 11, at the height of the scandal, a spokeswoman for Weiner announced that he had left Washington for an undisclosed location, “to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person.” Note the lack of parallelism: She didn’t say a "better person"; she said a "healthier person." Weiner, the real Weiner,was fine; he just needed to have more wellness.

But Weiner’s silly “health” claim tended to confirm the silly statements of his critics. He said he was sick; they said he was a “sicko.” From thousands of instances, I’ll select just one: the conversation of Sean Hannity with Karl Rove on Hannity’s TV show, June 8.

Hannity referred to the “perverted transcript” of Weiner’s conversation with one of his inamorata. This illustrates Hannity’s peculiar way with words: no matter how “perverted” the conversation may have been, the transcript itself wasn’t perverted; but that’s the way Hannity pictured it. On a more conceptual level, I fail to see why it was “perverted” for Weiner to write little notes to people about getting aroused by them, or even about his fantasies of having sex with them. It might be tasteless; it might be stupid (and oh Lord, it was); but perverted? Talking about sex? By that standard, only Shirley Temple comes out clean.

On hearing me prate ecstatically about the latest Weiner news, most of my friends muttered things like, “Oh, you mean that congressman who sent out pictures of his crotch?”

There’s more. Referring to Weiner’s picture of his virile member, Hannity insisted, again and again, that it was a “pornographic picture.” “He’s sick,” Hannity said. “He’s sick and needs help,” Rove agreed. Then Rove made some priggish remark about how Weiner could have been conversing about sex with underage women and wouldn’t even have known that he was.

All right. Let’s look at these words of Rove and Hannity. Was the picture pornographic? To me, it was about as pornographic as the Mona Lisa, and I suspect that my view is shared by hundreds of millions of people around the world. To some, I know, any picture of a naked sex organ is pornographic, in the sense that it arouses their sexual desire. (Why arousal is supposed to be bad in itself, I have no idea.) Nevertheless, you might as well say that a medical text is sick and pornographic, because somebody might get off on one of the diagrams. And I’m told that some people do, just as my eighth-grade friends got off on the pictures of naked natives in our school’s collection of National Geographic. But maybe the “sickness” lies in the beholder of these “perverted” (as opposed to crass, dumb, or tasteless) situations. Don’t you think that may be possible?

Now let’s consider the “underage” issue. There’s no indication that Weiner was trying to seduce 17-year-olds. The notion that everyone has to govern his or her communications according to the rule that nothing must be said or shown that could have an unhealthy effect on an underage person, whether underage persons are present or not . . . what kind of notion is that? If an underage person sneaks a look at an erotic movie, that isn’t the responsibility of the producers. Period. And if Weiner conversed with some underage person, and didn’t know that he did, how would that be evidence of a perverted sex interest in Weiner?

But really, what are we talking about? We’re talking about some sex talk and some pictures of a penis. I remember an episode of the early TV series, Our Miss Brooks. The title character, played by the all-time master of dry wit, Eve Arden, was the English teacher at Madison High School. She was in love with the biology teacher, the shy, prudish Mr. Boynton. One day, Mr. Boynton admitted to conducting experiments on the reproductive capacity of lilies. He blushed when he admitted it. “That’s all right,” said Miss Brooks. “I once saw the word ‘lily’ written on a fence down by the railroad tracks.”

In other words, suppose that somebody sends out a picture of his penis. What then? Nothing.

I’m not portraying Anthony Weiner as an apostle of sex education. He evidently had no interest in discussing anything with underage people. And it’s mildly repulsive to me that he had an interest in discussing anything with anyone, or that anyone had an interest in him, sexually or politically. That’s my own aesthetic evaluation. But let’s get some perspective on this. We know that lack of perspective is a leading symptom of mental illness. Bearing that in mind, it’s easy to see that Hannity and Rove (who flew into delirium about Weiner’s perversity) had less perspective on the situation than Weiner (who was merely behaving as a man of nature, an unreconstructed son of the soil), and therefore showed themselves sicker than Weiner. But that doesn’t make them bad people. They’re just not healthy.

As soon as Weiner left college he went into politics. In his entire adult life, he has never had a wealth-creating or even a wealth-maintaining job.

At this point, let’s reflect on what is sacred in our political culture. From time to time there’s a controversy about some disgrace to the flag, or to the pledge of allegiance, or to the national anthem. Yet the true Ark of the Covenant is, apparently, the congressional gymnasium. This is the evidence, from an AFP report of June 2:

“The latest batch of photos, including the fact that he [Weiner] used the House gym as the backdrop for his sexual deviance[!], appeared to be too much for Democratic leaders.

"“This is bizarre, unacceptable behavior,’ said number two House Democrat Steny Hoyer.

"‘It seems to me extraordinarily difficult that he can proceed to represent his constituents in an effective way given the circumstances this bizarre behavior has led to,’ Hoyer told CBS's ‘Face the Nation’ program.”

So, when Weiner demanded that the United States government nationalize the entire healthcare system, or when Weiner, Hoyer, and several hundred other members of their party spent trillions of dollars that weren’t their own to bail out failed economic enterprises and “stimulate” still more failures, that wasn’t “bizarre, unacceptable behavior.” But when Weiner took a picture of his penis in the gymnasium of the House of Representatives, that was bizarre.

Lower down in the report we see:

“Democrats consider the scandal all the more sad because Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, a hugely popular aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”

Did you ever see that phrase before — “all the more sad”? If you haven’t, I’m not surprised. It’s one of those expressions that today’s journalists use when they need to get around the fact that they don’t know grammar. “More sad” means “sadder,” in your grandmother’s untutored but accurate vocabulary. The difference is that your grandmother knew how to form a common English comparative and therefore didn’t have to invent cumbersome phrases to circumvent the obvious.

So journalists are naïve about grammar — so what? Well, ex ungue leonem: they are also naïve about the rest of the world. Do you believe — does anyone believe — that Democrats went into terminal depression because of their sympathy for Huma Abedin, or that more than ten of them had ever heard of Huma Abedin? “Hugely popular”? Who’s buying this stuff? Hillary Clinton isn’t “hugely popular” — so how should Huma, her assistant, be? And are we supposed to believe that a top aide to one of the Clintons is to be pitied for her association with a sex scandal?

Ah yes, the wronged woman.You can never be out of tune in America, plunking on that string. It’s another sign of our strange attitudes about sex, its nature and its relative importance.

Routine was the sympathy, the warm, intense, sticky, gooey sympathy, that the media showed for Weiner’s presumably distressed wife, Huma. And sympathy is certainly due to a spouse who finds that his or her significant other is making digital love to foreign entities. But I can’t see why learning that one’s husband has been exchanging sex talk with people he met online would be worse than learning that he was a cheap, obnoxious, grandstanding, ignorant, cynical, arrogant grubber for votes, whose every public utterance was enough to make thinking persons consider smashing their TV screens. And the evidence that Huma’s husband fitted that bill was richly available to Huma, long, long before she married him. As an employee and close friend of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, however, Mrs. Weiner had probably gotten used to a lot of things that the rest of us don’t have to put up with.

But now comes Kirsten Powers, a modestly successful journalist, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to stage multiple interviews about the fact that several years before the scandal she had had a romance with Weiner. This should have been enough to disqualify her from any comment on anything, but she was not deterred. A loyal Democrat, she deplored her former boyfriend’s conduct but said that it didn’t o’ershadow the effulgent light of his contributions to the republic. She went on and on about that on television. Then she changed her mind and wrote a long essay calling for Weiner’s resignation. It had finally penetrated her thick skull (she didn’t put it in exactly those words, but that was her meaning) that the man had lied. The man was a liar. But again, was that news to the rest of us?

What was news to me was Powers’ other approach to the problem of Weiner’s moral guilt. The thing that really anguished her, she said, was his “misogynist view of women,” his “predatory” “trolling" of "the Internet for women — some half his age." And the things he said to them! Dearie, you can’t imagine! He actually pictured himself entering themand . . . and filling them until they . . . ! So he was clearly sick, sick, sick.

That’s one high-minded excuse for my delight in Weiner Agonistes: he deserved to be humiliated, and he was.

I’ve seen a lot of amateur sexology, but I concede that this bit floored me. I mean, Powers’ analysis ravaged me. It was too much for me to take. I felt like a victim of her power. I was stunned and may never be able to recover from the awesome force of her enormous statements. I gagged, literally gagged, on this evidence that there are actually people in the world who think that the shopworn sexual fantasies in which men — and, I hear, women too — indulge themselves when they are, shall we say, warming to the subject, are to be taken as literally as fundamentalists take the first chapter of Genesis. No doubt Powers believes that when a man kisses his wife and tells her, “I love ya, babe,” he is infantilizing the poor, helpless creature, and burdening her with his “love.” It’s tantamount to rape, and child rape at that! No doubt she thinks that when man or woman declares, “You’re mine! All mine!”, this constitutes a clear violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God. What would the Declaration of Independence say about that? And I suppose that if Powers ever visits the theater, she will rush on stage to stop Macbeth from killing the King.

Incidentally, this latter-day Cotton Mather (but that’s a bad comparison; Mather was a pretty good writer) seems never to have heard of the concept of consenting adults, or even of adults. To her, it seems shocking that a 21-year-old woman might do something that a 46-year-old man might do, such as type her sex thoughts into a computer. Half his age, indeed! Clearly, we should have laws prohibiting sex talk between any two adults who are different in age, because the younger will surely be hurt in some way that she (or he) will be unable to avert or even to understand.

The fact that this sort of nonsense isn’t given the ridicule it deserves is yet another proof that there are two cultures — not the two famous, supposedly antagonistic, cultures of science and the humanities, but the two cultures of the adult world and the world of the nursery school.

Living in the adult world are people who have had sex and admitted that they enjoyed (or hated) it; old-fashioned hookers; old-fashioned politicians; raunchy homophiles; any preacher who has actually read the Bible; any person who was ever actually concerned about his soul (as opposed to his “mental health"); any person who has ever actually affirmed or denied traditional values as values, and not as prescriptions for some kind of insipid “well being”; and any person who has ever argued that people should be free, and take the consequences for what they do with their freedom. To this list I will add your grandmother, who knew much more about a lot of things than Kirsten Powers appears to fathom.

As an employee and close friend of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, however, Mrs. Weiner had probably gotten used to a lot of things that the rest of us don’t have to put up with.

Living in the world of the nursery school are all the disciples of the nanny state, all the apostles of the “appropriate,” all the people who believe that gay people will be fine, so long as the state is willing to bless their unions, all the people who pretend that "politics" is synonymous with “public service,” and all the people who believe that they themselves are entitled, by virtue of their ability to write a series of 800 words and get it published, to decide what is right and healthy for other adults to do. Notice: these people never say, "What the hell! Go ahead and do what you want (you tasteless S.O.B.)! Thank God, it’s none of my business." They always say, "I'm not sure that your behavior is appropriate,” which means, “I would have you arrested if I could.”

Isabel Paterson talked about another bifurcated age, like ours — the early 20th century, in which she came to maturity:

"This country used to be at once rigidly respectable and wide open. Novelists scarcely hinted at reality; and with saloons on every corner, it was very bad form and meant being dropped from invitation lists if a young man became intoxicated at a party" (New York Herald Tribune "Books," June 25, 1933).

Paterson might have mentioned something she knew very well, from her life as a journalist in turn-of-the-century Vancouver and Seattle — the fact that all large North American towns had a lively red-light district a few blocks from the quarters of the nice people, just as, today, cable TV displays the raunchiest kind of comedy shows, one or two clicks from the solemn mainstream media channels whose function is to tell you what is good for you to know. Today’s novelists more than hint at “reality” (meaning sex); but meanwhile, for every person who reads a serious novel there are 100 people learning wellness from Oprah.

So who are the superintendents of the nursery school?

They are people like Kirsten Powers, who apparently believes that you can be any kind of idiot you want to be, so long as you are a member of the right political party and your sex play doesn’t involve telling somebody that you want to do various explicit things.

They are people like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, who treat tastelessness as if it were prima facie evidence of dementia.

They are the mainstream media, who never questioned Congressman Weiner’s assertion that he was battling for the middle class against the demonic forces of the Republicans and their vile puppet masters, the corporate authorities of America, or his desire to use that crusade to make himself the mayor of New York — until it was shown (by the non-mainstream media) that his principal crusade at the moment was being conducted on behalf of penis-awareness among nubile women. Then: “Oh horrors! This man is a fool. Why didn’t somebody tell us that before?”

Finally, the rulers of the nursery school are such cross-sections of the political class as Weiner himself, who was forced to resign from Congress because he lied, and counseled others to lie, but delivered a resignation speech in which he represented himself as a success, according to the best nursery school values. He thanked his wife (who was conspicuously absent) because “she has stood with me.” He thanked his parents (also absent), “who instilled in me the values that carried me this far.” (Uh, question, please, Mr. Congressman. Uh, I mean, uh, which values? Which values were those? Mr. Congressman? Mr. Congressman?) He also thanked the members of his staff, who worked long hours in his office, thereby “defin[ing] the notion of service.” In the nursery school world, service means working your tail off for a power-sucking congressman, so that maybe you’ll get to be one, too.

No traditional politician would have dreamed of saying things like this, but traditional politicians didn’t grow up in a nursery school. Yet the worst thing is that no one in the mainstream media said what my local talk-show host immediately came out with: “What does this guy think he’s doing — accepting an Academy Award?”

Yes, that’s an obvious remark. But to hundreds of thousands of our well-brought-up fellow citizens, it’s not obvious at all. To them, such comments are the products of envy and “rightwing” hatred. That is because they are living in a different world from the one inhabited by you and me. They are either nannies or the nice children studying to take the nanny’s job.

I’ve saved the best for last. According to the Associated Press (June 10),“U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said Thursday he wished Weiner would resign ‘to get that story off the front page.’ He said the controversy distracts from pressing economic issues.”

So here is a supposed political enemy, one of the right-wing Republican congressmen whom Weiner routinely reviled, maintaining that the economy is endangered by the public’s distracting interest in Weiner’s sexual embarrassment. Tony! Tony Weiner! Pull your pants up! You’re distracting everyone. It’s time for teacher to tell us about economics!

You can’t get much creepier than that.




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Taxing the Ether

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Here’s the instinctive mindset of the Democratic Party: “If it moves, tax it. If it doesn’t, tax it even more.” If you need proof, consider the frantic attempts by desperate Democrat governors in high-tax states to tax commerce conducted on the internet.

One story about this comes out of California, notoriously one of the most economically ignorant and fiscally incontinent states in the nation. It appears in a Los Angeles Times editorial lauding the efforts of Democrats in the state legislature to try to apply California’s outrageously high sales taxes — nearly 11%, counting state and localities together — to purchases on the internet, targeting especially the dominant internet retail giant Amazon.com. The LAT (always an affirming voice for redistributionist tax-and-spend government) argues that the state is “owed” millions in tax dollars for sales over the net. The paper, natch, supports a bill by Berkeley Dem Nancy Skinner to require internet retailers to collect sales taxes.

The LATviews this as fair — what is the difference, it asks, between buying your shoes at the local store and purchasing them at a store based in Nevada? And, the rag pompously avers, this is the law.

It cites the 1992 Supreme Court ruling (Quill Corp. v. North Dakota) that held that out-of-state mail-order companies (and presumably, by inference, internet retailers) with no physical presence (i.e., no actual stores or warehouses) in a state could not be compelled to collect sales taxes from customers in that state — although the court allowed states to try to collect taxes from such customers directly. So this is the law.

According to the LA Times, people who buy over the internet are both legally and morally (morally?) obligated to pay sales taxes on their purchases. It argues that Amazon and other online stories deliberately encourage consumers to evade their legal and moral obligation by failing to inform them of that obligation on their websites. Not only must the internet help to suck in taxes; it must also lecture people about their ethics.

In an effort to grab more taxes — as opposed to cutting spending — Gov. Quinn cost his state jobs.

The LAT not only endorses legislation that would require any internet company to collect sales taxes from purchases by Californian customers if that company has any affiliates (suppliers) in the state; it also recommends a national bill that would explicitly require all internet companies to collect sales taxes on half of all states that want their citizens’ purchases taxed—and which of them wouldn’t? The LATconcedes that so long as the Republicans have a check in Congress, such a bill won’t ever be passed, but the grand vision is of every vendor of five-dollar trinkets to become an IRS agency, assiduously divvying up its surplus value in accordance with the 50 tax codes of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia.

At the time the LAT piece was published, rumors were circulating out of Sacramento that the state Board of Equalization — the agency responsible for collecting California state taxes — would be hiring computer geeks to find out ways of looking at internet traffic to discover which criminal Californians are daring to buy on the web. This, needless to say, caused considerable consternation—not to mention considerable concern about the morals of internet aficionados who would thus be involved in killing the internet.

But the LAT’s case is patently defective. Why the devil should a business like Amazon, which uses none of California’s police or fire services (since it has no bricks-and-mortar locations in the state), much less its educational enterprises, have to pay the state a nickel? And why should Amazon customers within the state have to pay any more than they do right now? They already support the schools with their property taxes. Their sales taxes, collected at the stores that actually exist within the state, support the police, the fire department, and the other agencies that protect those stores. Where does one’s moral and legal obligation stop?

And the consequences from trying to tax the internet are likely to be counterproductive to the states that do it, as a piece in the Wall Street Journal reports. The WSJ — which understands economics approximately a thousand times better than the LAT understands it — points out the obvious: if a state (like California) tries to saddle (say) Amazon with collecting sales taxes for that state because Amazon has affiliates within it, then Amazon will just drop those affiliates.

Indeed, as the WSJ piece recounts, this is just what happened recently in Illinois (a state in even worse fiscal shape than California, if that be possible). The tax-happy Democratic Governor Pat Quinn signed a law applying the state sales tax to internet purchases in Illinois, and it took Amazon only a few hours to announce that it was immediately halting purchases from and affiliation with the 9,000 small Illinois businesses with which it had been doing business — business profitable for Illinois as well as for Amazon.

So, in an effort to grab more taxes — as opposed to cutting spending — Quinn cost his state jobs. Either a discontinued affiliate will stay in Illinois and see its sales plummet (which will then necessitate cutting its workforce), or it will — as some are already doing — move to an adjacent state (such as Indiana) that manifests less tax madness.

Rhode Island, which like Illinois and a few other states (Colorado, New York, and North Carolina), had earlier passed an “Amazon tax bill,” has collected only peanuts in extra sales tax revenues. A study by the Tax Foundation shows that when you factor in the lost jobs from affiliates cutting back, closing down, or moving away, the state probably lost revenue.

The LAT editorial suggested that to prevent internet companies from dumping affiliates in a state that imposes an Amazon tax, what we need is a federal law forcing all internet companies, wherever located, to collect taxes from all customers, wherever located, and remit those funds to the customers’ respective states.

That insipid argument is based on the absurd premise that if we pass a national Amazon tax, Amazon couldn’t drop all of its national affiliates. But it sure as hell could, and just move its central operations to (say) Mexico and all its affiliations to businesses in other countries. That would be yet another example of government greed, triumphant.




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