The $200B Broadband Scandal

David Isenberg:

My friend Bruce Kushnick is a man on a mission. In The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, he writes:

. . . in the early 1990’s . . . every Bell company . . . made commitments to rewire America, state by state. Fiber optic wires would replace the 100-year old copper wiring. The push caused techno-frenzy of major proportions. By 2006, 86 million households should have had a service capable of 45 Mbps in both directions . . . In order to pay for these upgrades, in state after state, the public service commissions and state legislatures acquiesced to the Bells’ promises by removing the constraints on the Bells’ profits as well as gave other financial perks . . . The phone companies collected over $200 billion in higher phone rates and tax perks, about $2000 per household.

The manipulations, deceptions and broken promises are documented in detail in New Jersey, Texas, Pennsylvania, California and Massachusetts. Book synopsis here.

More here.

Podcasts, blogs and Dave Barry

C.W. Nevius:

“Newspapers,” he said right off the bat, “are dead.”

Uh, to be honest, I was hoping for something a little funnier. But, the more he talked about it, the clearer it became that it is a worthwhile topic for discussion. And Barry may even be right.

Everyone has heard about cutbacks in the newspaper business, from the big names on the East Coast to the papers in your driveway. And if there is anyone who typifies the rapid pace of change in the business and its effect on how you get your news, it is Barry.

Shopping in 1975

Alex Tabarrok via a Sears Catalog:

Sears’ lowest-priced 10-inch table saw: 52.35 hours of work required in 1975; 7.34 hours of work required in 2006.

Sears’ lowest-priced gasoline-powered lawn mower: 13.14 hours of work required in 1975 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 20-inch swathe); 8.56 hours of work required in 2006 (to buy a lawn-mower that cuts a 22-inch swathe. Sears no longer sells a power mower that cuts a swathe smaller than 22 inches.)

Could Blogs Get Tangled in Web of Ethics Rules?

Lisa Sink:

That’s because state elections law says that anyone who spends more than $25 a year to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate – without that candidate’s knowledge or control – must register with the state as an independent committee and disclose the sources of the money spent and how it was expended.

Should bloggers be regarded as a part of the news media, exempt from such rules, or should they be seen as partisan actors in a campaign who must register? Few bloggers draw the line where Berg did.

The Chocolate Bomber

John Tagliabue:

Every three weeks, a FedEx flight departs Zaventem Airport on the edge of Brussels carrying Michel Boey’s products to the United States. Call it the chocolate bomber.

“It is exactly as in wine,” he said, receiving a visitor amid heavy aromas of dark chocolate. “Once, wine was wine. Now we appreciate smaller quantities, but the quality is better.”

Did an iPod Scuttle the (Broadcast) Flag?

Wes Phillips takes an interesting look at the Senate Commerce Committee’s recent sausage making discussion regarding the “Broadcast Flags” – or “Audio Flag’s. These are essentially “takings” of our fair use rights via Hollywood special interests:

John Sununu (R-NH), an MIT graduate, questioned the necessity of the restriction. He said that advocates of the restriction maintained that its absence would “stifle creativity.” He demurred. “We have now an unprecedented wave of creativity and product and content development…new business models, and new methodologies for distributing this content. The history of government mandates is that it always restricts innovation…why would we think that this one special time, we’re going to impose a statutory government mandate on technology, and it will actually encourage innovation?”

Rosanne Cash Black Cadillac Gives Grief a Lift

CBS Sunday Morning:

his past week, Cash released what is perhaps her most personal album to date — and what might just be her finest: “Black Cadillac.” It’s a musical memoir of mortality, loss and redemption.

Cash explains that the album served as a catharsis.

“The writing of it was a release in a way,” she says. “And so to bring my reason and discipline and my sense of poetry to this — these feelings that something manageable, this tremendous sense of grief and loss, to bring all of those things to this, to this kind of tidal wave of feelings was useful to me.”

Koppel on the Decline of TV News

Ted Koppel:

Now, television news should not become a sort of intellectual broccoli to be jammed down our viewers’ unwilling throats. We are obliged to make our offerings as palatable as possible. But there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic.

What is, ultimately, most confusing about the behavior of the big three networks is why they ever allowed themselves to be drawn onto a battlefield that so favors their cable competitors. At almost any time, the audience of a single network news program on just one broadcast network is greater than the combined audiences of CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

Paying Taxes: Sport or Folly?

J. Craig Williams:

Forgive me here if I take a position against taxes, but as you may know, it’s a bit of a favorite American pastime.  It’s OK for everyone else to pay taxes, just don’t raise mine, and just don’t ask me to pay any more than my fair share.  By the way, if I can figure out a way to avoid paying some of those taxes, don’t begrudge my deduction.

It’s admittedly a tough position to take knowing that lower tax dollars may mean that our men and women in green may not have enough armor, that the shuttle is built by the lowest bidder, our school teachers aren’t paid sufficiently, and on and on, all the way down to the pothole across the street that is now big enough to swallow my left front end if I don’t swerve in time to avoid it.

But I better stop before I talk myself out of complaining about taxes.  Who hasn’t heard of the $400 hammer, after all?

This article about the IRS prosecuting lawyers who come up with tax shelters did more than strike me.  It’s just plain wrong.  Think about it.  Congress passes laws that require us to pay taxes.  Once you establish the rules and write them down, it’s up to the lawyers to figure out the loopholes and the way around them.  The tax code fills up 24 megabytes of space on my hard drive, which on my iPod leaves only enough room for Stairway to Heaven and The Long and Winding Road.  There really isn’t much difference between the songs and the code anyway, but I digress.

So, when enterprising lawyers go out there and successfully figure out how to shelter money from taxes, the IRS takes aim and prosecutes the lawyers for being smart enough to figure out what they did wrong when they wrote the code.  I’m not sure if the lawyers are being prosecuted because they showed the ________ (fill in your own word) of the IRS and Congress to the rest of us or because the result of their work actually means less dollars in the government’s hands and more money in our hands.

Sure, there’s another way to look at it:  the lawyers actually did something illegal that was precluded by the code, and they should be punished.  As you can see just from these paragraphs, however, there’s no such thing as black and white in the Internal Revenue Service code.  To prove that, all you have to do is look up section 61 that defines income and see what a mess the whole thing starts with.

If the IRS wants to collect money from us, how about making it simple?  You know, just like it was when we were kids and dividing up the spoils from the lemonade stand:  “One for you and two for me, one for you and two for me…”