Stupid Media Watch: Let's Tax Email!
By Ken Magill
George Skelton apparently doesn’t understand the Interwebs is a global series of tubes.
The LA Times writer published a piece last week in support of a Berkeley, CA politician who recently came under fire for proposing a tax on email to prop up America’s ailing postal service.
“The most courageous politician in California — probably the nation — is a Berkeley city councilman, Gordon Wozniak,” wrote Skelton. “His gutsy act: proposing that the government tax email.”
Actually, gutsy wasn’t the word that came to mind when I first read of Wozniak’s proposal. It slips my mind what it was, though.
Hmmm. Now what was that word?
Oh, yeah: Ignorant. That was it: Ignorant.
Skelton defended Wozniak against folks like me by writing that the councilman “is certified brainy — a retired nuclear scientist, a futurist who, he admits, may be ahead of his time about taxing email.”
But just because Wozniak is smart doesn’t mean he is informed. My father was a world-renowned mathematician. As I understand it, there are certain fields in which research cannot be advanced without drawing upon his work.
He knew squat about the Internet. But the difference between dad and these two guys is at least dad knew he knew squat about the Internet.
Skelton and Wozniak: not so much.
“I don't know about taxing gigabits. I'm not even sure what they are,” wrote Skelton. “But email I'm as familiar with as a nagging toothache. I spend way too much of my day, as do many workers who depend on computers, hitting the delete key or — even more time-consuming — routing spam into the junk file and trying to block out the arrogant sender forever.
“Often the email is in a foreign language that's all Greek to me. Or it's spinning me on some Atlantic Coast congressional race that is of no interest whatsoever. I'm also not in the market for awnings or pet food or a ‘tactical robot.’ And, no, I really don't care about the ‘Amway Boycott’ or that "the National Farmers Union Endorses Raw Milk."
“So leave me alone. And stop clogging my inbox.”
So as with everyone else who complains about getting too much spam in their inbox, I say: What the heck are you doing that you get so much spam? Get a Gmail account. And those Amway boycott and raw-milk emails: They’re called press releases. They come with the job.
In any case, after winding up the stupid for the opening few paragraphs, Skelton goes sonic-boom stupid.
“There also are the scam scum,” wrote Skelton. “No, I wasn't aware that I had just won the $25-million online lottery and the check would be sent as soon as I turn over my personal info. Nor am I interested in the woman who wants to ‘share her love.’
“You get the idea. I'm not nearly as concerned about keeping snail mail afloat as fending off these spammers and scammers and denying them free access to my work station. Make them pay. Maybe it'll be a deterrent.”
Or maybe it won’t.
Just how we would go about “making them pay” apparently doesn’t penetrate Skelton’s don’t-confuse-me-with-logic force field. In fact, he’s got another well-educated, expert-on-everything-under-the-sun source for that.
According to Arthur J. Cordell, a professor at Carleton University and former information technology advisor to the Canadian government: “Email would be easy to tax. The Internet service provider could bill it."
Why is Canada looking more and more like the Utah state legislature to me when it comes to the Internet?
Even with my limited understanding of how email actually works, I can spot major flaws in Cordell’s statement.
How would an ISP differentiate for taxation purposes email sent by a real human and email sent by a bot-infected computer?
Ooh. Wait, the tax would be a way to detect bot-infected computers and incentivize their owners to clean them up, right? Brilliant.
Oh, and there’s no way there would be a mass migration of servers out of the U.S. to avoid the tax, right? I mean, what country would want an entire sector of the American economy to move there?
And, of course, taxing American Internet users for their email usage would certainly deter Russian and Nigerian spammers.
But who the hell am I to question my credentialed, intellectual superiors?
Cranking the stupid up to light-speed, Skelton then explains how he would implement his scheme:
“Emailing within a company would be tax-free. I'd allow everyone a certain number of untaxed, private emails a month — 100, maybe 200,” he wrote. “After that, each message would cost one cent, up to a certain size. If they ran off the screen, they'd cost extra — just as a bulky letter costs more than a 46-cent stamp.
Wait: What? If they ran off the screen they would cost extra? Excuse me for a minute while I cock my head to the side like a confused dog.
So an email opened on my extra-large desktop screen would be subject to no extra tax but the same message opened on my Droid would cost more?
How would the tax fairies that apparently live in Skelton’s head know which emails were running off screen and which weren’t? Would the Internal Revenue Service start auditing email creative departments?
Boy, that would be just ducky.
And just how would we define “email within a company?” Would email between different divisions of a conglomerate count? Oh, wait. People like Skelton hate big business, so in the interest of punishing all that has even a whiff of success, of course it wouldn’t.
The biggest question, of course, is why so many people automatically think a legislative sledgehammer is the solution to a minor nuisance that’s been largely solved from an end-user perspective.