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10/26/2005 Archived Entry: ""Wiretapping" the Internet/government involvement in everything"

IF YOU FIND IT WEIRD THAT THE MEDIA COVERAGE of the FBI/FCC's recent decision to "wiretap" the entire Internet focuses almost entirely on money, you'll probably appreciate John Gilmore's outrage at the way rights are being treated as a throwaway issue. And be glad that electronic privacy groups are finally challenging this absurd, tyrannical fiat on more fundamental grounds.

Seemingly unrelated, the media and Congress have also been abuzz with the question of how the fedgov will "help" television owners, come 2009 when TPTB have degreed that the familiar old broadcast signal will be cut off. The question they're asking themselves is: How shall the fedgov supply conversion boxes to the 21 million households estimated to have only antenna-connected TVs so they'll be able to receive the new digital signals? Not whether the fedgov owes us all little TV boxes. But only how to deliver them.

"Seemingly" unrelated, but in fact, they're deeply rooted in the same morass -- a morass that stretches from the barrier islands of the Atlantic to the ferry docks of Seattle -- and no doubt into the Arctic circle of Alaska and the pineapple plantations of Hawaii.

Both reveal just how ridiculously deeply the federal government has inserted itself into the most minute details of American life.

Both show a mad attempt to micromanage literally everything that goes on in the country.

Why should the fedgov tell broadcasters what to do with their signals -- especially in this technological age? Why on earth should the fedgov assume an automatic responsibility to buy boxes for every individual homewner who doesn't already have cable or dish? ("Oh fedgov won't you buy me a color TV ...")*

Where and when did the federal government acquire the authority simply to order any business or institution in the country to do its bidding? Why does almost no one outside of the libertarian fringe ever question Washington, DC's, authority to order any business to do anything? Money isn't the central issue!

When did the fedgov decide that every citizen was a potential criminal or terrorist?

When did the media quit noticing that rights are a bigger issue than how much some federal fiat order costs? When did the media quit noticing that rights, in fact, exist -- and vastly supercede government powers?

When did the fedgov decide that its job is to take care of our most minute household needs?

(One double-edged question whose answer is so obvious that it doesn't need to be asked is: "Why is the fedgov so obsessed with controling all communications media -- and making sure every American continues to be bathed in a perpetual stream of mass-media influences?")

Ever since Hurricane Katrina -- when Bush declared that the fedgov would take total financial responsibility (as if private insurance and individual initiative simply didn't exist, period) and the mass media universally acted as though total federal control was the natural course -- I've been noticing more and more federal micro-involvement.

Oh, I'm sure it's not new. Not at all. I'm just noticing more of it. But also I think that, post-Katrina, a sort of Communist-level federal control is assumed to be more the norm.

No, I'm not accusing the Busheviks or the bureaucratic establishment of being communist. But I do believe that a long-time wet dream -- really a long-time real-life goal -- of the bureaucratic heirarchy has very recently moved out of the shadows to become accepted by both ordinary Americans and the media. And that this goal is small-c communist by its very nature.

That assumption is that bureaucrats and politicians must control everything from the top down. Stalin and the heirs to his political domain eventually learned that micromanagement from the center doesn't work. It only creates chaos. But the U.S. federal government hasn't learned that lesson. And is greedily moving toward a Stalinist level of micro-control.

The dream of total control has been thriving -- but unstated -- everywhere within the federal government. And not just within the Bush regime. Or the Clinton regime. Or Bush I or Reagan or Carter or Nixon. It's more a function of bureaucracy than of politics. A function of the personal fiefdoms of insecure, do-gooding, power-building individuals and institutions than of ideology.

Nothing new. Nothing has really changed in decades. Except -- I perceive -- one thing.

It's only within the last few months that the fedgov has finally come out of the closet. Nobody overtly says, "The federal government wants to micromanage every aspect of life and commerce." But suddenly -- or at least it feels sudden -- everybody from Joe Blow down the block to the most allegedly "conservative" think tank or media outlet -- simply assumes that government will, and should, take care of every need, right down to what sits on the table next to your television set.

Maybe it's good that the secret is finally out. Who knows? Better to be honest and open, if you have a government that's going to attempt to micromanage everything from the cost of sugar to the running of the Internet, from which TV signals reach tiny Kentucky hollers and Indiana farms to what vaccines we're either compelled or forbidden to take. Better to know.

But it still scares me that we've gone from relatively free action to open central control in a few generations and nobody but a few of us "wing-nuts" even cares.


* Of course I understand that the business about making sure we all get a converter box is, on one level, politics as usual. It probably goes something like this: The television industry wants to get rid of traditional broadcasting and go digital. But they can't afford to lose another 21 million customers, even though these are probably the folks who don't buy much. So the industry cozies up with the fedgov's regulators. All parties agree that the government will "order" the industry to cease regular broadcasts on January 1, 2009. So now, since it's a government order, the government -- strictly to "serve the people" mind you! -- has a moral and financial obligation to supply conversion boxes for everybody. No question that the television industry should supply the boxes. No question of whether people should buy -- or not buy -- the converters with their own dime. Maybe it didn't happen exactly like that. But close. The thing that's different, though, is the assumption that the taxpayers should fund and the federal government should provide, a strictly optional consumer item. And (alas) the fact that everybody, including alledge conservatives, seems to think this is a perfectly normal way for an American government to operate.

(Thank you to Mystery Woman.)

Posted by Claire @ 11:18 AM CST

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