Washington, DC -- Forty-eight hours and a half bottle of Jack Daniel's into my 40th birthday and suddenly I knew what I had to do: Compress my pending mid-life crisis into one white hot shining moment.
So I filed a lawsuit against the United States of America, calling the bluff of this bastard Congress, claiming the indecency provisions contained in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are unconstitutional.
And so it is. On Wednesday Dispatch becomes a plaintiff in a legal tussle for free speech in cyberspace. The American Civil Liberties Union is doing the heavylifting; a handful of others will be keeping me company. Before President Clinton can drop the signing pen for this rat-fucked piece of legislation on Thursday, the suits at the ACLU will be marching into court, papers in hand.
Having worked myself into a lather over this on the strength of a strange voodoo rhythm that only Pat Buchanan stumping in Louisiana before hordes of gun worshiping gay bashers could love, a sudden evil chill crawled up my spine. My Gwad! What if I've been set up? Yes, that's it. The timing of this millstone legislation was calculated to pass just inside the morose window of my birthday. I'm being purposefully driven mad.
But who could harbor such a grudge? Who would be devious and cunning enough to yank Sen. Bob Dole's chain and make him delay the vote just long enough for me to turn 40? There could only be one answer: Mike Nelson, the Administration's point man on encryption policy and a former staffer for Vice President Gore when he was just a second-class Senator from a third rate state.
Nelson, you see, is fond of introducing me as "the most dangerous man on the Net." Clever, but he stole the line from my Mother or ex-wife... but I digress. Yes, it has to be him.
Seizing the moment, I knew there was only one thing to do: Alert the President before he signed this bill, thus becoming an unwitting dupe in Nelson's twisted plot to turn my brain into gruel.
But I needed a plan. I knew that if I could only talk to Bill, chat him up face to face, maybe share one of those contraband Cuban cigars the CIA smuggles in for him, all would be right with the world. He'd see he was just a pawn and not only veto the bill, but he'd rush to the Rose Garden, tear the mother into shreds and feed it to the Republicans.
Around 11 p.m. I made my way to the front gate of the White House. "I have an urgent message for the President," I said, "I need to see him immediately." The guard was not amused and fumbled for what must have been an Uzi resting under his overcoat. "I'm with the press," I said. I dug for my credentials and flashed them. Now the guard's grip began to tighten on a weapon outlawed-for-all-sane-people and barked at me something about a joke that could get me 5-10 in the slammer.
I looked at my press credentials. Egad! I'd flashed my Diner's Club Card! I couldn't bullshit my way out of this, no use trying, I slunk away.
It was just about midnight that I thought of the rats.
The plan was deceptively simple. I'd scrawl an urgent message in paragraphs, attach one each to a rat, bag the lot and toss the entire rodent tribe over the White House fence with instructions not to stop until they had stormed their way inside.
The logistics worked fine, on paper; however, I suddenly realized that once inside the White House no one would be able to tell the rats from the White House Press Corps. I ditched the plan.
That was when a cat leapt from an alley. He looked strikingly like the First Cat Socks. I pounced on him. Fate would not be so generous again. This was an omen.
My plan now entailed tying my entire message around the neck of this Socks-Imposter. The rest would be easy. First, I put masking tape on the bottom of the cat's feet. Next, I had to calculate the trajectory for tossing this beast over the fence and onto the White House lawn. Now this is not an easy task for a 40-year-old, lathered and booze-addled, mathematically challenged journalist.
The Arc of the Cat, you see, is crucial. Too high and he'd be caught in the radar that now guards against low flying single engine planes with a habit of making unscheduled landings on the front lawn. Any blip on that early warning radar and a surface to air missile launches from just inside the White House tree line. The missile, I figured, would do serious damage to the note.
No, the Arc of the Cat had to barely clear the fence, yet land squarely on the lawn. If I was lucky, once on the ground the cat would begin to writhe in spastic convulsions due to the masking tape on the bottom of its paws; cats hate this, it drives them fucking nuts. [Disclaimer: Kids, Do Not try this at home with Muffy. You have been warned.]
This twisted feline mambo was important for two reasons. One, it would make the cat a much tougher target for any of a number of snipers that camp on the roofs of all tall buildings within the line of sight of the White House. Yes, they're there, watching through night scopes, ready and willing to drill any intruder. Secondly, the cat's crazed dance would immediately set off the motion detectors and the Secret Service would come running. They'd discover "Socks" and rush him inside to the First Family's private residence. Clinton, being the curious man he is, would take note of the message around the "Socks-Imposter" and no doubt phone the front gate and have me summoned to his private chambers, offer me a Cuban contraband cigar and praise me for having saved him one of the greatest humiliations of his presidency.
And it would have worked, too, but I didn't factor in the cat's unwillingness to become a feline projectile. At the top of his arc, the cat pulled off a perfect pike maneuver that would have a former East German diving judge cough up a perfect "10." This mutant furball careened off the top of the fence and hauled ass down Pennsylvania Ave.
Dejected, I resigned myself to the only recourse I have left: Dispatch.
There are so many things wrong with this bill that it's hard to know where to start. Of course the anti-indecency provisions are by now well-known. Say a dirty word on-line, go directly to jail. Hell, reading this Dispatch or forwarding it to a friend could land net you 2 years behind bars and set you back $250,000.
In addition, seems Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) snuck in a sentence that, theoretically, makes it a crime to also send any language dealing with abortion through cyberspace. This apparently due to something called the Comstock Act, which was put in place about the same time all those laws that made spitting on the sidewalk a crime also passed into law, somewhere around the around the turn of the century.
But court decisions have rendered Comstock obsolete, yet it's still officially on the books. Hyde's staff swear up and down that they added the provision at the behest of the Justice Department, yet they can produce no proof. Hyde promised that the provision wasn't meant to forestall abortion information. Small catch... as long as Roe v. Wade stands as law, that's true. But if that ruling is overturned, and it is under constant assault, the Comstock Act is given new life.
Now here's a thought: Hyde is an ardent supporter of overturning Roe v. Wade... so you figure out the real implications here.
Although supporters of this bill insist that it is deregulatory, don't believe it. First of all, congressional sources conspired at the last moment, and in secret, with no debate and with no mention in public meetings, to make sure the there was nothing in the bill that would keep the FCC from regulating the Internet.
David Lynch, Rep. John Dingell's (D-Mich.) telecom staffer, told me point blank that the bill "does not limit the FCC's ability to regulate the Internet." As if that weren't enough, Lynch vamped on: "If the Internet starts looking like a telephone company we might have to start looking at regulating it like one." Two words: Internet Telephone. You figure out the rest.
Suffice to say, Congress set us all up with this bill. They've painted a huge red bullseye on the Net and when Clinton signs the bill, hunting season is open.
Want more arcane bullshit? Okay, here it is. In a 22-page document titled "FCC Proceedings and Actions Required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996," the law firm of Wiley, Rein and Fielding outlines 69 separate regulatory "proceedings or actions" the FCC must undertake because of this bill. It covers everything from "Delegation of Ship Inspections to Private Parties" to setting standards for the so-called "V" Chip (yet another government mandated censorship program) to figuring out how much providers of interactive services will be allowed to charge schools, health care providers and libraries (hint: they get a discount, but the percentage is left up to the FCC.)
Of course, the Congress doesn't mention that later this year it will hold hearings aimed at cutting the FCC off at the knees, both in funding and oversight capability. How the hell can this bill be carried out as written if the agency charged with its implementation is effectively castrated? Answer: It can't. Anyone want to give odds that this was just coincidence?
Another myth about this "obscene act" is that it will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Listen close, you'll hear Clinton and Gore each say this at Thursday's signing, I'll bet a sack of rats on it.
If we just talk straight numbers, yes, the bill does create jobs. But look closer, look at it like Labor Secretary Robert Reih would and ask yourself what are the quality of these jobs. Answer: pathetic.
Although some of the jobs this bill creates will be high paying, technical jobs, most will be low paying, non-union jobs. Digging ditches to lay new cables, new fiber. Construction jobs for installing wireless towers. Sales jobs up the ass, all on commission no doubt. Customer representative jobs, again, low paying, tedious non-union jobs.
Why? Because the phone companies, for one, will create separate subsidiaries which they don't have to staff with union employees. And most manual labor jobs aren't union anyway. A lot of jobs will come from the wireless industry. Again, non-union and low paying, for the most part, building infrastructure, sales force, etc.
Although Howard Stern's privacy (is this an oxymoron?) isn't in question here, your privacy is.
The bill basically allows the telephone companies to use the data they have on you in any way they see fit, with one caveat: They must provide the same access to that information to competitors, if asked. As long as they don't hog all your private data, such as how many times you call Domino's Pizza or whether you're an avid QVC network shopper, they can sell your data to just about anyone and use it internal in ways that should make your skin crawl.
This is all laid out in admittedly banal Congress speak: "A local exchange carrier (that's your local phone company) may use, disclose, or permit access to aggregate customer information... only if it provides such aggregate information to other carriers or persons on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions up reasonable request therefore."
In other words, bend over and kiss your sweet aggregate good-bye.
Now, I have to go... there's a cat running around Washington with incriminating evidence tied to its neck, no doubt rummaging through a White House garbage can, and I have to track him down.