March 03, 2005


Declan McCullagh is a superb reporter about what's happening to the 'net. He's the chief political correspondent for CNET's News.com, and his Politech  (for Politics and Technology) website has been for a decade essential reading for anyone seriously interested in internet freedom and the intersection between politics, culture, law and the 'net. My e-mail inbox has daily, often multiple, updates from Politech that are invaluable. I don't agree with a lot of Declan's personal politics on many issues--he's pretty much an anti-government libertarian, and we once had a tough exchange about his opposition to foreign aid--but as a reporter he's indefatigable and perspicacious.

Declan has a piece out today for CNET that is a must-read for both bloggers and political activists: an interview with Bradley Smith, one of six members of the Federal Election Commission. It's a real eye-opener: Smith "says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over. In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines."

This crackdown--which will take place under the restrictive provisions of the dreadful McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that put a lot more hard money into the political process and made the presidential election of '04 the most expensive in history--would dramatically change the nature of 'net politics as it is now practiced. Ultimately, of course, the restrictions Smith talks about would undoubtedly be challenged and taken all the way to the Supreme Court (they've never gotten above a 1992 U.S. District Court up to now). Interestingly enough, its the Democrats on the FEC who've blocked an appeal to that '92 decision which would seek continuation of the internet exception to McCain-Feingold. Make sure you read this scoop by Declan by clicking here.

A P.S. After reading the above, an old journalistic pal of mine who's written extensively about the Internet and now works for one of the major U.S. newsweeklies (which is why I can't use his name) dropped me some intelligent musings:

"This is a giant, giant issue, and thank you for flagging it. It touches on so many big questions that Congress is ill-suited to answer: can you regulate the Internet for political content the way that you regulate, say, radio and television? And should you? To what degree are those decisions determined by technology versus pure politics? You probably know as well as anyone else the strange dialectic of the early days of the FCC. On the one hand, the agency was particularly a hotbed for the left wing of the FDR administration; on the other hand, it had the powers it did partly out of a desire by FDR to quell the right-wing critics who'd sprouted up on radio. And thus we have the clumsy communications beast that we live with; Information wants to be free, the Netheads used to say, but the reality is never that neat.

"Even I can't make my mind up entirely; as much as I loathe the idea of using badly written, cynical campaign finance law to muzzle free expression, there are countervailing pressures. The notion that the Internet should be as free as possible from regulation (which came from the right, let's not forget) has some nasty side effects, notably the e-commerce exemption from sales tax, which is a noxious bit of theft, indefensible by any notion of progressive taxation. If it is ever to be defeated, it will require the intellectual breakdown of the idea of the Internet as a somehow fragile, protected communication medium.

"Basically, I think the only long-term solution is a total overhaul of the FCC. I'm not holding my breath." Well said, brother...Also, my friend Micah Sifry--Executive Editor of PersonalDemocracy.com--has signaled to DIRELAND an article on their website on this subject by Michael Bassik which is quite interesting...

CENTRAL EUROPE TURNING AWAY FROM THE U.S.:  In today's Boston Globe, Susan Milligan has a useful tour d'horizon of attitudes toward America in the "new Europe" countries of Central Europe. America is no longer the model or the magnet, especially for the younger generations. That's another indication of what Bush hath wrought, reflects the rapacious effects of the multinational corporations on these countries' economic independence (almost none of them own their own mass media any longer)--and more testimony to a growing, Continent-wide European consciousness as the E.U. expands and strengthens....There's a large glitch developing, however, in the admission of Roumania to the E.U. in '07: a growing number of Eurodeputies are rallying to a campaign to postpone Roumania's entry because of fears it won't be able to meet the E.U.'s high standards for democracy and won't curb rampant corruption either, reports today's Le Monde....By the way, don't miss the fascinating dissection of how Bush misused and misquoted Albert Camus in his speech in Brussels during his recent European tour. It's by the excellent Ronald Aronson, author of the superb "Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel That Ended It."

WHY MITT ROMNEY WON'T GET THE GOP NOMINATION IN '08: Ethan Jacobs of Bay Windows, the Boston area gay newsweekly, has done his homework and produced a very useful disinterment of Gov. Romney's many pro-gay statements and commitments before he became governor. This was particularly true in his '94 campaign for Senate against Teddy Kennedy, when Mitt the Mormon was trying to dispel the impression he'd be a religious fanatic in office. Mitt is now touring the Southern states as an anti-gay marriage crusader to jump-start his '08 campaign. But you can be very sure the Christian right and Romney's rivals for the '08 GOP presidential nomination will take advantage of this laundry list of pro-gay quotes and positions and use them against Mitt the Flip-flopper four years hence--and that's one good reason he won't emerge as the nominee. The GOP base also knows that the flip-flop issue helped them destroy Kerry's credibility in '04, so they don't want a Janus-like candidate subject to similar taunts from the Dems in '08.

"NEW YORK IN THE '70S"-- That's the title of the terrific new book by one of the world's great news photographers, Allan Tannenbaum, my old colleague on the late, lamented, and legendary Soho Weekly News, where I wrote a column back when we were young and went to bed when the sun came up.

The SWN, which helped launch the careers of many downtown artists, like Keith Haring, was a nest of budding talents. Annie Flanders great Style section for the paper became the magazine Details when the SWN folded. Gerald Marzorati, the paper's art critic, after a stint on The New Yorker  wound up editing The New York Times Magazine (Marzo was so archi-minimalist in those SWN days he had no furniture at all in his apartment). Clyde Haberman, Tim Weiner, and Jane Perlez all eventually went to the Times, too. Jeff Weinstein, the SWN's copy chief, after years editing at the Village Voice (where we crossed paths again) became the arts editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Cartoonist Bill Plympton's animated films have since won renown and air frequently on the Sundance Channel. David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter went on to found the successful Paper. Lewis Grossberger, who invented his ironic Media Person persona for the SWN (Media Person is now found at Mediaweek) just last month published his satirical and hysterical history of rock 'n roll, Turn That Down! The multi-talented import from Brit theater, Alan Platt, among other achievements invented the concept of a nightclub in a bowling alley in which Yasser Arafat, years later, became an investor. Michael Musto invented his wickedly funny nightlife/showbiz column-in-drag for the SWN--he's still at it at the Voice, and has become a TV personality as well. One of our rock critics, Michael Shore, is now producing for Larry King. Tim Page, the SWN's classical music critic, now fills the same role at the Washington Post--where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his music criticism....And there were so many more--you'll find them all on the SWN memorial website that the paper's flamboyant founder and publisher, Michael Goldstein, set up not long ago (hey, Michael, where are those articles archives you promised to make available online?)

Allan Tannenbaum ("Boo," as we all called him, 'though I can't remember why) became a star by getting the last photographs ever of John Lennon, taken for the SWN in the days before Lennon's death, and they went 'round the world. Boo is an original character and a tireless and talented chaser of the photographic scoop and the symbolic moment, and now his riveting book --filled with his filmic souvenirs of New York avant garde nightlife in the '70s, among other things-- has been turned into a multi-media exhibition at Tribute, the museum-art space on the southern tip of Manhattan at 24 Broadway at Bowling Green (opposite the big bronze bull). The exhibit opens March 10. For details, check out Tribute's website by clicking here. Simone Signoret said that "nostalgia isn't what it used to be"--but Boo's book (a hit at the Frankfurt Book Fair) is the exception to the rule, and I have no doubt the exhibit will be too. You may nibble a visual appetizer by visiting the book's cool website.

Posted by Direland at 06:23 PM | Permalink


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people are stranger

Posted by: gfbvbxv | Sep 8, 2007 1:40:14 PM

You quote the "intelligent musings" of "an old journalistic pal of yours"...

>>>"The notion that the Internet should be as free as possible from regulation (which came from the right, let's not forget) has some nasty side effects, notably the e-commerce exemption from sales tax, which is a noxious bit of theft, indefensible by any notion of progressive taxation."<<<

The sales tax (VAT in Europe) is the MOST REGRESSIVE FORM of taxation there is...because it falls most heavily on those who MUST spend every dollar they have IN ORDER TO SURVIVE.

When you say that this guy "now works for one the major newsweeklies", I BELIEVE YOU. It's precisely the level of "intelligence" I would expect from someone with a job like that.

Posted by: redstar2000 | Mar 4, 2005 9:41:45 AM

Good of you to flag this. Over at PersonalDemocracy.com, we noted it too. Two quick comments:
1. I think Bradley Smith is deliberately trying to stir up bloggers to provoke an anti-FEC backlash from them and further his own agenda, which is against any regulation of money in politics at all. His career can be traced back to ideological screeds for the CATO Institute decrying any limits on campaign contributions, and other measures that would essentially give complete free rein to the rich. This is not a defense of McCain-Feingold, which you and I have talked about and you know I think is badly flawed.
2. As your unnamed friend, whom I wish would visit his old friends on this side of the pond once in a while, correctly notes, the Internet exception in campaign finance and FCC law is a political thicket. There is a case now wending its way up the courts that may force the issue of whether it makes sense to exempt Internet communications from the regulation of other forms of coordinated communications expenditures. Congress didn't do anything to change this, in the drafting of BCRA, and so far it appears there's been little obvious abuse of that loophole, but right now, as Michael Bassik pointed out for PDF here http://www.personaldemocracy.com/node/366, "coordination between individuals, candidates, 527s, political parties, and just about anyone else is completely legal with respect to online communication."

Personally, I think efforts to clamp down on speech are a bad idea, and regulation of campaign contributions and spending ultimately hits a wall when we're talking about genuinely independent expenditures. The best solution is more speech, not less speech, that enables people without big wallets a chance to have a meaningful voice and run viable campaigns...aka full public financing along some version of the Clean Elections model.

Posted by: Micah Sifry | Mar 3, 2005 10:52:45 PM

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