Media Criticism

What 'courage' Looks Like to a Big-Time Newspaper Columnist: Taxing Email


Profiles in courage. ||| Sactown Magazine
Sactown Magazine

You've almost certainly never heard of George Skelton, but he has been the main California-politics columnist for the Golden State's largest newspaper for the last two decades, and he covered politics for the L.A. Times (in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.) for the two decades before that. You can plausibly use him as a stand-in for the basic political values commonly found in our nation's leading newsrooms.

And George Skelton not only wants to tax your email, he thinks proposing a tax on your email marks the height of political courage. Stand back, people, it's newspaperin' time!

The most courageous politician in California — probably the nation — is a Berkeley city councilman, Gordon Wozniak. His gutsy act: proposing that the government tax email.

Wozniak, 59, suggested taxing email during a recent council meeting as the city went on record opposing the sale of the Berkeley main post office and urging the Postal Service to maintain all its services there. […]

An email tax — as part of a broader Internet tax — could raise money to help keep the Postal Service afloat, Wozniak told the council.

"There should be something like a bit tax," he said. "I mean, a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would make, probably, billions of dollars a year…. And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email."

So crazy it JUST MIGHT WORK. |||

I don't know about taxing gigabits. I'm not even sure what they are.

But email I'm as familiar with as a nagging toothache. I spend way too much of my day, as do many workers who depend on computers, hitting the delete key or — even more time-consuming — routing spam into the junk file and trying to block out the arrogant sender forever. […]

So leave me alone. And stop clogging my inbox.

Or how about you leave me alone, George Skelton, by not taking my money in the name of keeping open money-losing post offices?

Read the whole column for such columnar brain-fartery as "I'd allow everyone a certain number of untaxed, private emails a month — 100, maybe 200. After that, each message would cost one cent, up to a certain size." Hat tip to Michael C. Moynihan.

Reason's past George Skelton archive.

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  1. I wonder if Lord Woz would approve of a tax on churches to fund satanists?


    1. The playing field has always been level. It’s the skill levels that vary.

  2. Oh, yes, good idea. There will be no enforcement issues.

    1. Yeah, I mentioned this when someone posted a link to this in the AM links.

      This is another idiotic display of someone who is so ignorant of technology they don’t realize that what they are suggesting is borderline impossible.

      They’d need tracking software on (at the very least) every mail server in the country. At worst, it would be on every computer.

      1. Actually for the even more idiotic “bit tax”, you’d need the ability to track where every single bit of data that passes over the internet originated from and who sent it. I’m not even sure where to start with that. At the very least it would require the government to have access to the detailed records of every bit that passed over every ISP’s network in the entire country, and tracking SW at least on every single server, not just mail servers. Fucking scary as hell how that can and will be abused.

        1. Something tells me this would be a feature not a bug if anyone actually tried to press this into law. Installing government software on every internet connected computer would be the only way to accurately meter the taxes. If they did it by account, they could just have the ISPs report how much data was transmitted by the account. This would be the absolute end of free WiFi anywhere in the States, though.

        2. The new Office of Internet Taxation will just have to place a regulator onsite at every company that maintains email servers to ensure that the government gets its proper pound of flesh.

          Sensible, common sense regulation.

        3. All your packets are belong to us.

          1. Thread Winner!!!

    2. That’s why we’ll need a FB message tax, twit tax, text tax, IM tax, message board post tax, and facetime tax.

      You’re brilliant Warty! Soooooo many delicious revenue streams.

    3. I’ve heard that there are some countries in this world that arent America. And that some of those countries have computers in them. And I know it sounds ridiculous, but some of those countries have email servers on those computers. I wonder what they would think of Americas stupid email tax.

      1. Yeah, there would all of a sudden be very few email services in the USA. Again, people ignorant of technology attempting to legislate technology. I bet this guy thinks the USA owns the internet, too.

  3. George Skelton, the creator of incredible incentives for hackers. Now I wouldn’t only receive spam emails, I’d be unknowingly sending them too! And getting charged for them, no less.

  4. “I’d allow”

    How noble and gracious.

    1. Yeah, if that doesn’t bring out the “fuck off, slaver”, nothing will.

  5. Again – is this Woz any relation to the other, more famous Woz?

    1. Probably Steve’s idiot brother, who he had put on the Berkeley council where he wouldn’t be a danger to anyone.

    2. A little Googling tells me they may not be related (Gordon is from Iowa, apparently, and Steve is from Cali), although they both seemed to be at Berkeley at the same time.

      1. Have they ever been seen together before?

        1. HHmmmmmmmm…..

    3. Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak is a retired nuclear scientist and futurist.

      The future obviously belongs to the past in Gordon’s mind.

      1. The gamma radiation must have made him think he was the Hulk.

  6. Sounds great. Tax successful businesses out of existence to prop up failing businesses. What could -possibly- go wrong?

  7. As said before, as a tax, this is a horrible idea. However, were I running a company, I would make sure that there was an email budget for each department, and every recipient in every email sent would cost the department $0.05. Any overages come out of the bonus plan, anything left in the fund goes to the bonus plan. That way, every time some drone went to send an email, they would think, “Do I really need to copy everyone in the world on this? Is it worth the $20? Is this going to get me closer to my other incentivized goals or not?”

    1. Meh, I’d just fire the asshole forwarding chain emails and spam, and find someone that actually does their fucking job.

      1. Its not even that. Its the email from George to Martha copying everyone who’s ever sat in a meeting where the topic of widgets came up and the next three levels of supervision on both sides about whether or not the widget color has been finalized, which Martha knows and only George needs to know.

        1. TPS Reports!

        2. Those are supremely annoying.

        3. My favorite is the guy who has to reply to every thread, just to be seen.

          Replies with “thanks” for no reason. Sometimes even to someone else saying “thanks”.

            1. Thanks

            2. I didn’t believe it when my sister-in-law told me she makes $7630 per month at home from her computer.

              1. Thanks!

            3. Thanks

    2. But how will you ever hear about Mary’s retirement party or George’s grandson’s birthday party. Never mind not knowing where to go to sign the cards and get some cake.

      1. Jesus. The FLDOC used to send out death notices for everyone’s extended family. At least once a day you’d get so-and-so’s uncle/aunt/gramma/nephew has passed away. The worst part was, it wasn’t a standard form email, so the Outlook rules only caught about half.

        1. Sounds like my job. Every day someone is dying or getting sick, or there is some kind of fattycake available for the hippos to shovel into their cavernous mouths.

          1. I almost had a terrible accident with my mouthful of coffee because of this message.

      2. There is a woman in my office who, I swear, sends out credit union wide emails to let everyone when she’s going to lunch. Worse, she uses some God-awful font, the writing is in lavendar and she always inserts a smiley face. On my last day, whenever that blessed day be, I’m gonna send her an email.

        1. Why wait? Do not deprive yourself of the joy that comes from shutting down the people who share too much.

          I suggest something along the lines of:

          “Dear lady. Please make certain to post an email to the office each and every time you need to leave your post to satisfy the urge to defecate. We all schedule our days around when you will be at your desk and this information would be of great use to us.

          Additionally, please compose your emails in ALL CAPS, as this helps us comprehend the importance of your daily comings and goings. Thank you for your help in advance.”

          1. Yeah, unfortunately she would probally send out a follow-up to “All”, apologizing that she hadn’t been more considerate in the past and promising to “partner” more closely with us in the future. She really is that dense.

            1. On the other hand, she probably knows how to spell “probably”.

        2. One of our professional consultants was entirely unaware that his email client (IncrediMail) inserted flowers and smiley faces with ads encouraging others to use IncrediMail in every email. He looked so pained when he found out that all of his professional email had looked so fruity for so long.

          1. /facepalm

            I’ve seen this done ON PURPOSE, more times than I can count. Between that and all the free screensaver/desktop programs people infect their computers with makes me want to slap people.

            1. Yeah, when I started here we had a lot of employees using IncrediMail because the office manager thought it was cute. We’re a very small company so I moved us onto google apps and told everyone it was impossible to run gmail through IncrediMail. Exporting their archives and reimporting them to gmail was a nightmare though.

              1. Do you like one giant pain-in-the-ass project over after a couple of weeks or a constant low-grade pain-in-the-ass maintenance hell?

                1. I’ll take the giant pain in the ass project over a constant low grade pain in the ass. At least at the end of the giant project, you have a sense of accomplishment and you’ve resolved a problem.

        3. I still have work friends who tell the story of the time I told the mainframe coder who would send the whole IT department emails about things like “we’ve figured out how to bolt web-services onto the Big Iron, its *modern*!” In no uncertain terms via reply all that I didn’t give a shit if his steam locomotive had GPS, it wasn’t going to make it viable and to take me off his email list.

          I did get a pro forma talking to by my boss in which he stated that my use of reply all was technically inappropriate. But it was all CYA. He then informally told me he enjoyed my snark.

    3. That way, every time some drone went to send an email, they would think, “Do I really need to copy everyone in the world on this? Is it worth the $20? Is this going to get me closer to my other incentivized goals or not?”

      Only problem with your plan, Brett, is that drone probably wasn’t getting shit out of the bonus pool to begin with.

      1. Oh, yeah. Well, I also have a plan to pay everybody something if the company makes money (or moves towards profitability). Everything will be base pay plus some form of incentive. It keeps the deadweight down.

    4. 90% of my work email is internal. Good luck taxing that.

    5. Brett, sounds a lot like my rant on how “more communication” is not, by any means, an inherent good, contrary to the maunderings of consultants and writers.

      Its all about the signal to noise ratio. If “more communication” lowers that ratio, its bad, not good.

      1. Yep. Just because a married couple spends their nights shouting at each other, it does not follow that they have a good level of communication. On the other hand, having a bureaucracy that rewards knowledge hoarding also is suboptimal. The goal of the exercise is to create a tension between distributing information and not wasting people’s attention. On balance, if the rewards are right, you should get a pretty good outcome.

  8. I’m guessing ‘the email’ is too hard for him to figure out, like most people in his generation, and he has no younger family members who tolerate him enough to help. Technologically stupid + statist liberal = I didn’t even know such a hatefully annoying combination could exist.

  9. I’d bet this idiot would support a Tobin Tax, too.

  10. Those poor, poor buggy whip makers stage coach lines. We should do something to help them.

    Maybe a special tax on airplanes.

  11. “I don’t know about taxing gigabits. I’m not even sure what they are.” Then shut the fuck up about technology. Your opinions are invalid.

    1. We should tax people who call for taxes on things that they don’t understand and are too lazy to learn about.

    2. “There should be something like a bit tax,” he said. “I mean, a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would make, probably, billions of dollars a year…. And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email.”

      I don’t know about taxing gigabits. I’m not even sure what they are.

      Not only is he so stupid that he thinks his opinions are worthwhile despite the fact that he doesn’t know what a gigglebert is – he thinks the guy who has no idea how many giggleberts there are on the AOL thingie is a brainiac.

      1. Then shut the fuck up about technology. Your opinions are invalid.

        Seriously, I’ve watched episodes of NCIS with better tech knowledge than this asshat.

        he thinks the guy who has no idea how many giggleberts there are on the AOL thingie is a brainiac

        And they’re both probably still using AOL…

  12. At what point did the moral justification for a tax completely get thrown out the window. It’s like taxes are simply “ways to extract revenue” (i.e. steal) with no discussion of justness.

    1. About 7000 years ago, I think.

    2. “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” –Fr?d?ric Bastiat

  13. So leave me alone. And stop clogging my inbox mailbox.

    This is what I say to the post office.

    1. The USPS charges a lower rate for junk mail than they charge for regular first-class mail, even though it is less desirable.

  14. When I’m in charge, anybody who proposes taxes something that they don’t know what is will have a date made between STEVE SMITH and their butt.

  15. Gee, wonder why this is happening in California? No idea, really. It’s a fucking mystery why that sate is such a basket case.

    1. Hey now, this has been floated since the mid-90s from all over the place world. CA is a retarded basket case, but it’s MY retarded basket case.

      1. Yes but in the mid 90’s it almost sort of kind of made sense becasue E-mail accounted for the overwhelming majority of electronic communications, today we have twitter, facebook, instagram, skype, and a hundred other forms of online messaging and taxing “e-mail” would just cause that traffic to shift to one of the untaxed forms.

        1. Are you suggesting that people might respond to tax disincentives? No one except teathuglicans believes that anymore.

          1. Unless it’s a tax on soda or cigarettes. Then it’s a moral imperative.

      2. It’s polling at 36% “good idea”. OWN IT.

  16. I don’t know about taxing gigabits. I’m not even sure what they are.

    Truly he has a dizzying intellect…

  17. “An email tax ? as part of a broader Internet tax ? could raise money to help keep the Postal Service afloat, Wozniak told the council.”

    Hey, you stupid fuck, how about we tax automobile sales and give the money to horse and buggy companies?

    Stupid. Fuck.

  18. “There should be something like a bit tax,” he said. “I mean, a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would make, probably, billions of dollars a year…. And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email.” OK; As an I.T. Systems Engineer I can resoundingly say this luddite should be deresed (Tron ref.). It is like the other departments where I work. They come up with these grandiose ideas that involve technology and I.T. then bring the project to me and then are dumbfounded when I tell them it cannot be done or that X amount of money will make it possible. They never, ever consult me first. It’s killing me!

    1. Ahh, the wonderful world of IT…

      “Hey, we want you to do this thing that no one else has ever done before because it’s not technologically possible. Could you have that done by next Tuesday? Also, we don’t want to spend more than $10 on this project, so you’ll have to improvise.”

      It’s a wonder that “going postal” hasn’t been changed to “going sysadmin” yet.

      1. Because sysadmins boil the frog slowly with weird data loss and slowdowns instead of gunning people down?

        1. I always like to throw in the ol’ shared drive quota.
          What is that you say? You can no longer write to your O: drive. Mwahahahaha
          I let them stew for a couple days then remove it.

        2. No, those are the things people THINK we do for fun. If a good sysadmin wants to fuck with you, you’ll never know it until it’s too late and it’ll have a meaningful effect.

            1. YES! I’ll go all John McClane on your ass if you fuck with my network. Machine gun and all. Yippee Ki Yay, motherfucker!

            2. Nice!

      2. It’s called “kill -9” for a reason.

    2. Yup. Same here. We estimate it will take 12 weeks at current resource levels. “That’s not acceptable.” “To which I reply, “You took 6 months with 5 people to develop just the idea of this, but 3 months for little ol’ me is not acceptable to make it happen?” Blank stares. Fucking Product Management.

      1. If this weren’t so common in IT, I’d swear you worked for the same company as me in DC…

        The routine:
        Step 1) come up with some hairbrained idea that requires “tech”
        Step 2) ask the It director what it will take to get it done
        Step 3) Ignore IT director and demand RFP for half the cost and 1/3 the time
        Step 4) take 6 months to debate and review the 3 RFPs received
        Step 5) give IT director until next Tuesday to complete a project that should take 6 months.

        Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

        1. Holy shit. I didn’t even know we had an office in DC!

          1. That is, unfortunately, EVERY office everywhere. I know people that work for BIG tech companies and they complain about the same damn thing. Once you reach a certain level in management, they stop caring about whether you actually know anything about technology and just look at what school you went to.

            1. That’s one great thing about the place I work. All promotions are internal, so the bosses all the way up the line are former hand-ons grunts.

              1. Consider yourself very lucky. That’s not the case in most places. Depending on the industry, the level of management varies.

                I worked for a retailer and had a district manager that had never, not once, worked a day in a retail location. Ever. Got out of college, went to work at HQ, then was promoted to DM. The guy was intelligent and probably pretty competent in the office, but had no idea how to run a store.

        2. “But..but…but… I see how easy it is. You just push a button and zing there it is. It’s like magic.” ~Every end user in the world

          1. “But..but…but… I see how easy it is. You just push a button and zing there it is. It’s like magic.” ~Every end user in the world


            Although, I do have a bit of fun with the “magic” aspect of IT. I’ve been known to shout ALAKAZAM! or somesuch when the problem is simple to fix. I even got a reputation when I worked for GeekSquad for fixing computers with magic.

            A little sleight of hand goes a long way in perpetuating the myth as well.

  19. This is exactly why I was spouting off about the “Liquidate the post office and send actors to nursing homes to pretend to be postmen” plan the other night.

    Throw the journalist and the brave Berkeley city council member in a home, have some poor student actor put on a post office uniform and deliver the Woolworths catalog to them a couple of times a week. Maybe pick up the birthday cards they send to their grand kids. Just toss those in the trash on the way out, though.

    Monocle Industries d/b/a US Postal Service

  20. ROTFL

    I challenge this guy or any other idiot who supports this idea to even propose a meaningful definition of what an e-mail is

    1. It’s a thingy that goes through the intertubes.

      1. NAILED IT

  21. “There should be something like a bit tax,” he said. “I mean, a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would make, probably, billions of dollars a year…. And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email.”

    You know, I actually proposed this same thing, only instead of email applying it to the vast personal information databases that state and federal agencies are compiling.

  22. Regardless of whether this is a good idea, it’s simply not technologically feasible, owing to the fact that the core SMTP protocol doesn’t include any sort of user authentication, so there’s no way to prove who actually sent a particular message and thus who’s responsible for the tax.

    1. Never underestimate the government’s ability to regulate or ban something through sheer force of will.

      If you stand an MX record up, you will be forced to register it with the government. And appliance will then be put in front of that device (the wild side) which will do packet inspection. The server owner will then be taxed on every email sent out. If you put up an unregistered SMTP server, all emails will be blocked by the Net Neutrality commission.

      SPAM listing services will become quasi-government organizations, much like bond-ratings agencies. Tasked with a mission from the government, they will have the power to blacklist any server not in compliance with email tax policy.

      I can do this all day.

      1. Dude. Seriously. Shut the fuck up.

        1. I’m bucking for a job with the FCC. That’s on my resume.

      2. Actually the FCC and DHS could step in and require all emails be encrypted and force a Government issued internet ID card that includes your hash. When you move to a new provider you would have to provide your key to them to initiate SMTP. All for the good of the public and in the name of national security of course. Oh and the childrens.
        If there was no compliance the provider would be penalized into oblivion.

        1. A lot less new HW investment that way.

      3. An MX record specifies what server in a particular domain is supposed to RECEIVE mail. Lacking one is no barrier at all to the ability to SEND mail.

        1. You still need an SMTP server.

          It’s moot anyway. Any draconian measures to regulate something as common as e-mail would be met with such resistance by the denizens of the internet as to make the regulations useless anyway.

          Hell, when net neutrality was threatened, there was serious talk of setting up a separate “internet” to get around all the regulations. Do you honestly think that taxing emails would result in less of a response?

  23. Between email and the courier companies, there really is no need for the post office.

    Even Western Union shut down telegram services years ago.

    1. But how will I get the Woolworth’s catalog?!?

      1. I am sure the post office will have the last Woolworth’s catalog to you any year now.

    2. Actually, they sold off telegram services. It’s now doing business as International Telegram.

  24. it just never ends with these folks – everything is done in service to govt.

  25. I don’t know about taxing gigabits. I’m not even sure what they are

    You just sit there and look pretty, babydoll, and leave the thinking to us.

  26. “Stand back, people, it’s newspaperin’ time!” and “such columnar brain-fartery” made me smile, despite the rage inducing stupidity of said newspaperer.

    Oh, and I presume this tax would extend to emails from .gov, .mil and .edu addresses? Heh heh heh.

  27. This guy defines arrogant moronism.

    Next up: Let’s tax text messages! We can use the funds to keep your local switchboard operator employed.

  28. From the comments:

    If you’re going to be stupid, find dumber people to write about you.

  29. I don’t know about taxing gigabits. I’m not even sure what they are.

    “I don’t know anything about technology, but I know I like taxes.”

  30. Who actually gets spam?

    I haven’t looked at a single spam message in maybe 5 years. I haven’t had to delete any, either. I just don’t get them.

    PARTICULARLY on my work email.

    On my gmail, I can see that the spam folder has messages in it – but I don’t actually look at them, so that doesn’t count. But on my work email, I can’t even see the poor spam circling the drain. It’s just not there.

    I get email I don’t want, but I always can recognize it as something I registered for. Linkedin is a big culprit for unwanted email for me.

    But that’s not SPAM, in the sense of an unsolicited email from a source with which I have no pre-existing relationship.

    1. Who actually gets spam?

      People who haven’t learned to use a spam trap.

    2. Everybody who looks at these boards gets spammed.

      Email spam? I still get a few that leak through.

    3. Dude, you have maybe missed out on millions of dollars, and the opportunity to help people like Dr. Mobuto who needs to get his money out of his country and only needs a small bank transfer to initiate the transaction.
      Or at the very least could have done something about your small penis.

  31. My proposal is a tax on stupid political newspaper columns. It will be $0.05 per word.

    Who decides if the column is stupid? I do.

    Why me? because fuck you, that’s why.

    1. And by “per word”, I assume you count each word of the column in each copy of the paper?

      If so, I’m in.

      1. Exactly. We’ll need a unionized federal workforce to verify the number of copies though.


  32. What he’s really trying to say is that we should get off his lawn.

    1. No shit.

      “I don’t know what a gigabyte is, but we should tax them.”

      You can almost taste the stupid.

      1. Tastes just like “deep dish” pizza casserole.

  33. This guy isn’t even smart enough to suggest taxing internet connections to save newspapers that are dying because they hire idiot columnists.

    1. Shhhhhhhh, you’ll give him ideas.

      Wait, I doubt the guy is functionally literate. I think we’re safe.

  34. A Cali dead tree journo writes about a Berkeley city council buffoon, and it turned out dumber than one could imagine.

    did. not. see. that. coming.

    1. Indeed – all that Derp so densely concentrated could almost collapse into a Derp-singularity and suck the whole world in.

    2. George Skelton has been an embarrassment for the City of Los Angeles since the Times circulation numbers started to swirl around the toilet bowl lo these many years ago.
      Dead Tree Journalist with the brain of an Oak Tree, completely hollow and full of nuts and squirrels.

  35. Apparently Woz is too dumb to figure out that you use a separate email account to fill out forms online from the one you use to communicate with people you care about hearing from. I use a completely fake Gmail account for everything I do online.

  36. After that, each message would cost one cent, up to a certain size. If they ran off the screen, they’d cost extra ? just as a bulky letter costs more than a 46-cent stamp.

    Because there’s absolutely no way that a 24″ 1080p monitor in portrait rotation could be used as a workaround.

    The stupid… burns…

    1. HAHAHA, I didn’t even see that. And don’t forget font size manipulation.

  37. PART TIME Jobs for FULL TIME Moms
    Looking For A New Way To Help Your Family? I know I was, and that is why I picked the MOM Team to work with. I want to encourage you to do as I did and take a look at my web page and lets see if my business could be what you are looking for. No risks, no hype, no pressure

    1. Contact Berkeley city councilman, Gordon Wozniak. I’m sure he will be interested.

  38. Gah.

    Thing is, if people wanted an authenticated, maximum size/maximum number/for-fee email system? It could be built in parallel to the existing one, and everybody interested could sign up. The Internet is anything you can run over TCP/IP, after all. Alternate mail systems have been proposed a bunch of times, and I think has been partially implemented a few. Hell, the Post Office could set up the damn thing.

  39. How about, while the silly season is in full flower, we also start using bits of cowry shell with a hole in the middle for money?
    The internet has become the success that it is and such an engine for economic growth because the government has kept meddling hands off.
    Everything that government touches it eventually manages to break. The same would be true of taxes on the internet.
    Hands off, before the people decide that a “bit tax” means we get to count the pieces we hammer your hands into and you get to pay your doctor by the piece for making the pieces into usable flippers.

  40. And we should have the death penalty for stupid legislation, or any elected official that proposes unconstitutional laws, bills, statutes, regulations, policies, acts, or anything that doesn’t directly support and defend constitutional rights as set forth by the US Constitution. How about an elected official tax? How about a tax for proposing legislation? How about a tax on every stock trade? How about every office renovation to elected officials offices come out of their pocket? How about elected officials pay a daily fee for their job.

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