The Lawyers Full Employment Act of 1995.
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 95 21:28:57 PDT
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: The Lawyers Full Employment Act of 1995.
[This is getting to be like a soap opera with two intertwining story lines
bouncing back and forth. But unlike a soap opera you can't console yourself by
remembering that they're just actors - in this one the blood is real. Come
with us now to the halls of Congress... -psl]
From: "Brock N. Meeks" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
CyberWire Dispatch // Copyright (c) 1995 //
Jacking in from the "Senatorial Hi-jinks" Port:
Capitol Hill, Senate Gallery -- One hundred of the nation's most powerful
men and women beat the shit out of you today and you don't even know it.
But you will. If the Senate passes what it thinks is the deregulatory
package of telecommunications reforms it's now voting on, your cable bill
will go up. Your local telephone bill will go up. Your long distance bill
will go up. Hell, your dog might even get pregnant.
During what has become a torturously slow debate, one after another
pro-consumer amendment is brought to the floor, bludgeoned by bone-head
Senators and defeated.
But Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), from whose committee this bill was
spawned, disagrees: "I guarantee that with this bill you'll have lower
cable prices, lower DBS (direct broadcast satellite) prices, lower local
phone prices and lower long distance." Will you resign your seat in the
Senate if your "guarantee" proves false, Senator Pressler? No answer...
A sample of how the consumer has taken it on the chin during this debate:
-- An amendment that would have allowed you to BUY and OWN your cable set
top box from a Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Piggly Wiggly -- instead of renting it
every month -- was defeated. Years ago AT&T argued that consumers
shouldn't be allowed to buy their own phones because, well, those retail
phones would crash the network. Right... This set top box amendment was
merely meant to parrot the developments that led to allowing you to buy
your phone, instead of lease it.
It was defeated because some argued that such a move would hurt "small,
rural cable operations" those that need the extra revenue. Yeah, right, a
cable company, a monopoly, price protection? Sounds like an equation for
financial disaster to me. But you do the math.
And remember, this is a *deregulatory* bill, Stupid.
-- An amendment that would keep the FCC from overiding the rules of States
and local governments is going nowhere. Pretty damn boring, eh? Think
again. Unless this amendment is passed (and it looks very doubtful at this
juncture) all these cable and telephone companies can simply start tearing
up YOUR local city streets, bypassing the city ordinances and zoning laws
by appealing to -- and I'm not making this up -- the FCC!
That's right, when a telephone or cable company wants to dig up half the
streets in downtown Boise or Brooklyn or Buffalo or Buena Vista -- all in
the name of building that "Information Superhighway for Billie and Bobbi
--the city is likely to tell them: "No, you can't do that because it will:
(A) Cause tremendous traffic jams.
(B) Cause incredible air and noise pollution.
(C) Cost the citizens a huge amount of money while we local government
officials oversee the project to make sure you don't fuck things up."
If these companies are unhappy about states and cities excercising their
what amounts to soverign rights, all they have to do is ask the FCC, in
Washington, DC, to allow them to "go ahead." They can and will. Period.
End of story.
And you're left with the traffic jams, the noise and seeing your kids'
schools not get fixed up and repainted because the "information highway"
crowd was too busy, well, making way for its fiber optic golden goose.
And in the biggest struggle in the debate to date, the Senate defeated, by
a vote of 57-43, an amendment that would have given the Department of
Justice a role in deciding whether a local market is competitive enough to
allow all hell to break loose by ending the majority of restrictions now
placed on the Baby Bells.
It's easy to see why those Senators voting this amendment down did so: Why
have the government's most experienced competition lawyers, those in the
Antitrust Division, make such decisions?
Nah, just let the overworked and understaffed FCC make antitrust decisions.
Don't you love the logic of these guys?
Sen. Bob Kerry (D-Neb.) argued to the bitter end that not giving Justice a
role was just plain idiotic. He reasoned that Justice had to be a part of
this bill because it was the agency most used to dealing with the Monopoly
minded corporations driving the entire process. "The American people
didn't ask for this bill," he said. "It was the large corporations. The
least we can do is protect one of the last pro-consumer provisions of this
bill and make sure that Justice is watching out for the subscribers," he
In last year's bill, which was killed only at the last moment, this same
amendment was part of a widely supported bill! What happened to all those
Senators who supported the Justice role last year? Kerry demanded of his
When Kerry shot this rhetorical dart at Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), this
paragon of wisdom coughed up a hairball: "That was a whole year ago."
My how time files.
We're talking about billions and billions of dollars here. At stake are
YOUR local telephone rates, YOUR long distance rates and YOUR cable rates.
Isn't it prudent to give the nation's Antitrust division a crack at
overseeing this? Not according to Senator Pressler.
Pressler argued that giving Justice a larger role would only "turn them
into regulators." Besides, he argued, the Justice Department still had all
its antitrust tools intact and could use them at any time. But it would
be the FCC's main gig, Pressler acknowledged, with Justice sitting on the
sidelines unless called on.
Not surprising, the army of lobbyists for the Baby Bells were sweating this
vote. In the end, they won. A lot of smiling lawyers in D.C. swilling
imported beer last night.
In the Halls of Indecency
Far away from the glaring lights of C-Span 2's never blinking eye, which
beams the debate into the homes of political junkies and cubicles of bleary
eyed reporters everywhere, a drama of indecent proportions was shaping up.
Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.), the father of the bastardized Communications
Decency Act, a provision that essentially criminalizes "indecent" and
"obscene" speech on the Internet, was running scared.
After having offered some technical corrections on Friday (June 9) to amend
his original language, he caught wind that an amendment to be offered by
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was growing legs.
Leahy's amendment is a silver bullet: It kills Exon. Okay, okay... It
kills the Exon amendment.
But the votes for Leahy are soft; who the hell wants to vote against
"decency" after all? Earlier in the day the Senate voted 100-0 to mandate
that cable companies have to scramble their adult channels to the level
that one sees only snow and hears nothing but "hiss." It was championed as
a "decency" amendment.
Exon, looking for a white knight, found him: Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
Exon now plans to amend his Decency Act yet again. This time he is
attaching an amendment by Coats to its ass-end. What does Coats do? Well
it bans ambiguously defined "indecent" programming from being shown on
cable systems. In other words, show NYPD Blue, go to jail.
This little amendment probably won't sit good with ABC, NBC or CBS which
cable companies, by law, are required to carry.
But... but... "we can't!" the cable companies will cry. And the networks
will cry "lawsuit" and "unconstitutional" and ... well, there's a reason
the political hacks call this bill the "Lawyers Full Employment Act of
How did Dispatch scoop this? While skulking in the hall outside the Senate
chamber, what do I see? A Leahy staffer with furrowed brow in a huddle
with the entire staff, or so it seemed, of the Center for Democracy and
Technology (CDT), the renegade group that split off from the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, following the lead of former EFF Executive Director
Jerry Berman, who now holds that position for CDT.
There were worried brows and pursed lips all around. "Ummm... this could
be something good," I thought to myself, strategically wedging myself into
the huddle, all ears.
But the conversation burped. A sentence from the Leahy staffer lurched
forward and was snapped back like a dog lapping up his own drool.
"Brock, Brock... ah, can you move on... can you just...." CDT's Janlori
Goldman pleaded, as if my presence had suddenly fucked up a negotiating
session that carried the importance of the Strategic Arms Talks.
The Huddle huddled closer, squeezing me out. "Some democracy, I know,"
offered Goldman. Another CDT staffer pulled me aside on the stairs and
gave me the dirt on the Exon shift. Goldman later apologized. "It's
getting a little tense around here," she said, winning the door prize for
the understatement of the day.
Why the tension? Exon had apparently pulled a procedural fast one. He
hadn't told Leahy, hell, hadn't told *anyone* about his shift. And now,
the Leahy crowd, conferring with CDT and scrambling for a strategy. [As a
side note, CDT was the only advocacy group I recognized that day; no ACLU,
no EFF, no nobody.]
What was the fear in those halls? That Exon would submit his new amendment
with Coats attached and that would leave Leahy with this ass twisting in
the wind, going nowhere. Why? Leahy's amendment, you'll recall, is a
"smart bomb" aimed only at the *Exon* language, NOT the new Exon-Coats
Having not seen the Exon/Coats amendment, Leahy would have no time to
respond before it was brought to the floor.
Very tense times all afternoon. And then reprieve.
The Senate closed up shop around 9:30 last night, agreeing to come back
today. Exon's amendment wasn't offered, but it now gives Leahy a chance to
craft some kind of response.
What will that response be? Can't tell you... yet. I have to find a
certain huddle of Senatorial staff and civil liberty types... maybe this
time they'll let me listen in on the play calling.
© 1995 Peter Langston