Reason Express

Vol. 8 No. 12


In this issue:

1. Getting Drafty
2. Free to Blog
3. Auctioning Off Taxes
4. Quick Hits
5. New at Reason Online—Deaths, Lies, and Videotape
6. News and Events

1. Getting Drafty

It has been a couple of months since the last wave of interest in the possibility that the United States may have to turn to a conscripted military to meet all of it various—and growing—security commitments around the globe. Nothing much has changed since then; the same manpower crunch confronts the Pentagon along with the same big hurdles to a new draft.

Any draft would confront two opposing trends affecting American forces. The current force is not built to handle tens of thousands of conscripts who do not want to be in the Army. There is nowhere to stick them where they can do relatively little harm to operations or morale. At the same time, the modern U.S. Army needs recruits with fairly high-level sets of skills. The Iraq operation would have been complete disaster, especially the no-rulebook peacekeeping/occupation phase, absent the smarts and inventiveness of your basic grunt. If the Army cannot recruit people of this caliber to service, then Plan B has to be conscription. Then again, does a conscript function anywhere near as well as the volunteer, given similar skill sets?

The Pentagon's fear that the answer might be no, especially in combat, still militates against a draft. But some sort of domestic "skill set" or "homeland security service" draft might be a fallback way to fill up homeland security spots and free-up National Guard and Reserve volunteers for more active duty. Does that mean we'll someday see a conscripted Homeland Security Force, a kind of paramilitary interior ministry operation? Better ask your block captain.


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2. Free to Blog

The Federal Election Commission has come down firmly on the side of allowing bloggers to blog, even about political matters. It seems people are allowed to promulgate their opinions in America. But the FEC has retained the right to sniff around online political ads and so-called unsolicited campaign e-mail.

However, as everyone with an email address knows, what's "solicited" is in the eye of the beholder. If you sign up for one political mailing list and fail to check or uncheck the right box, you may be agreeing to receive email from other interested parities. You may even want to receive more info from other groups about Social Security reform or drilling for oil in Alaska. The FEC seems to be saying that lists of people who explicitly opt-in to receive such communication are subject to FEC rules if money changes hands over the lists.

Right now those rules only involve a disclaimer, but the FEC's poking into email between private entities trying to figure out if any rules are broken cannot end well.


3. Auctioning Off Taxes

Tax season is upon us, so it is natural and usually altogether proper to see a bunch stories bashing the IRS. But the notion that earnings from the sale of items on eBay are likely to be considered taxable income should not be among those story hooks.

There is little doubt that many eBayers derive a nice income supplement from their online activities. For some, earnings of thousands of dollars a year via the nation's online garage sale are not unheard of. Such retail activity has traditionally carried with it a fair bit of government scrutiny, regulation, and taxation—fees, permits, and such. Perhaps it should not, but it clearly has.

It is not much of a stretch to consider the proceeds from an ongoing auction presence on eBay to be income for tax purposes. The hard to figure angle for our armchair auctioneer is how to come up with anything like a market value for much of the stuff that is sold as "collectible." If you pay $5 for a plate and turn around sell it for $100, do you have a $95 profit that you should report, or does latter transaction prove that you merely exchanged value-for-value? The Sotheby's set has plenty of experience parsing such tax issues, the massive flea market nation of eBay not so much.


4. Quick Hits

Quote of the Week

"We are not the speech police. The FEC does not tell private citizens what they can or cannot say, on the Internet, or elsewhere"—Federal Election Commissioner and amateur comedian Ellen Weintraub on new FEC regs.


Merger Phobia

Consumers Union has come out against the proposed mergers between long-distance and local telephone companies by arguing that prices might go up as a result. But it is not like the phone giants actually compete against each other now.


Flight of the Obfuscator

The GAO takes a look at the Secure Flight passenger screening system, which the Transportation Security Administration says is ready to find terrorists among millions of airline passengers.


Cuban Revolution

Billionaire man about town Mark Cuban has come to the rescue of Grokster, pledging to pay for the company's legal battle against record companies over its file-sharing software.


5. New at Reason Online

Death, Lies, and Videotape
The UN deconstructs the Hariri assassination. Michael Young

Guess Who's Coming
Progress at the cineplex. Jesse Walker

Who Killed Captain Video?
How the FCC strangled a TV pioneer. Glenn Garvin

And much more!

6. News and Events

Computers, Freedom, and Privacy

Reason is proud to be a media sponsor of the 15th annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, which will be held from April 12-15 in Seattle, Washington. This year's theme: Panopticon. For more details on what USA Today has called the "most important computer conference you've never heard of," go to: http://cfp2005.org/

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