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Congressmen in Wonderland

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 12, 2001

With federal buildings in Washington closing down, musical-chairs fashion, in response to the ongoing anthrax terror campaign, and the undeclared war in Afghanistan escalating (the press being extremely careful not to call the hundreds of Americans now on the ground by the term "military advisers," with all its Vietnam-era resonance), it's understandable that the attention of Congress now focuses, more than ever, on matters of pressing national concern.

Like a ban on Internet gaming.

Did Osama bin Laden finance Al-Qaida's activities by wagering against the Yankees in the Series? No such evidence has been presented, yet the House Financial Services Committee voted 34-18 on Oct. 31 to virtually ban Internet gaming in the United States by outlawing payments for online wagers via credit cards, checks, or electronic fund transfers.

President George W. Bush signs the Patriot Act Anti-Terrorism Bill into law during a ceremony at the White House. Surrounding Bush from left are Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen Pat Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, (R-WI).
President George W. Bush signs the Patriot Act Anti-Terrorism Bill into law during a ceremony at the White House. Surrounding Bush from left are Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen Pat Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, (R-WI).

Banks and credit card companies would be obliged by law -- under this and a companion measure -- to "make a good faith effort to discontinue processing transactions to or from specific unlawful Internet gambling businesses," asserts Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, who then absurdly attempts to assure those institutions this won't "unduly burden" them.

This shows about as much comprehension of how easy it is to stop the movement of money on the Internet -- or to track how it's being used -- as medieval attempts to make it illegal to turn a telescope skyward and use it to view the stars.

This is akin to admitting the government can't actually stop folks from smoking marijuana -- and instead threatening to jail those who sell plastic sandwich bags later used to store, transport of consume the stuff ... while assuring SC Johnson that being required to track the end use of every Ziploc bag won't "burden them unduly."

Going a step further down the road to Wonderland, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, then thundered, "Not to bring (Internet gambling) down is to say one supports unregulated gambling."

Really? So by failing to end something, a congressman reveals that he supports it? Can we thus conclude that -- since Rep. Leach has (thankfully) not taken any steps that we know of to jail all homosexuals -- he "supports sodomy"?

While Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., adds: "Beware, because whether this bill passes or not, I'm going to suggest to every single bankruptcy court in America that any debtor who incurred debt due to Internet gambling be discharged from that debt because you, the credit card companies, have aided and abetted an illegal activity!"

Good one, John. And we also won't have to pay back our bank loans if we can show we blew it all on cocaine and ladies of easy acquaintance, right?

After all, the bank "should have known." And what about gun stores? Surely Sens. Feinstein and Schumer will want to warn the banks they won't be able to collect if they finance gun stores. Where does the line form? How about if I go broke manufacturing radar detectors? Do I also get one of the "All Debts Forgiven -- Get Out of Jail Free" cards?

Those who defraud Internet users by failing to pay off should be pursued under existing laws against fraud and confidence games. Protecting consumers from scam artists sited overseas does indeed present a challenge -- the best solution may well turn out to be standard warnings of "caveat emptor," combined with rigorous enforcement of brand-name and copyright protections which allow consenting adults to know they're dealing with a reputable casino ... like the ones listed in the Las Vegas or Reno yellow pages.

But blocking consenting adults from spending their money "unwisely" over the Internet? Will the committee next investigate whether anyone really "needs" the kind of stuff being sold by Sharper Image or those stuck-up, European types at eLuxury.com?

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to Privacy Alert, 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503 -- or dialing 775-348-8591. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at 1-800-244-2224, or via web site www.thespiritof76.com/wacokillers.html.

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