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City Councilman: Email Tax Could Discourage Spam, Fund Post Office Functions 439

New submitter Christopher Fritz writes "The Berkeley, CA city council recently met to discuss the closing of their downtown post office, in attempt to find a way to keep it from relocating. This included talk of 'a very tiny tax' to help keep the U.S. Post Office's vital functions going. The suggestion came from Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak: 'There should be something like a bit tax. I mean a bit tax could be a cent per gigabit and they would still make, probably, billions of dollars a year And there should be, also, a very tiny tax on email.' He says a one-hundredth of a cent per e-mail tax could discourage spam while not impacting the typical Internet user, and a sales tax on Internet transactions could help fund 'vital functions that the post office serves.' We all know an e-mail tax is infeasible, and sales tax for online purchases and for digital purchases are likely unavoidable forever, but here's hoping talk of taxing data usage doesn't work its way to Washington."
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City Councilman: Email Tax Could Discourage Spam, Fund Post Office Functions

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  • FP? (Score:4, Funny)

    by dosius ( 230542 ) <> on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:29AM (#43115357) Journal

    Good luck taxing e-mails sent from privately maintained offshore servers. :P


    • Re:FP? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:36AM (#43115465)

      No tax ever stays in the advertised form.

      Just in case someone reads this who has not experienced many examples already, consider the US federal income tax. The amendment describes a progressive tax of 1, 2, or 3 percent, and the reason it does not include the original line of "and not to exceed 10 percent" is because the politicians of the day thought that adding such a line would be seen as permission to raise the tax to 10 percent by their successors.

      I have in Real Life(TM) ranted plentifully about road and bridge projects with a toll that were sold as "until the building cost is paid off" but persist many decades after all possible construction expenses had been paid simply because the regional government likes the revenue.

      • Re:FP? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by satch89450 ( 186046 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:52AM (#43115631) Homepage

        Regarding bridges/roads and tolls: One of the rationales for keeping tolls on roads and bridges is to collect money to maintain the roads/bridges once they are paid off. I've seen this reasoning used in three states, and in all cases the tolls were increased "because the cost of maintaining the roads keeps going up." In Cook County IL, the real reason the tolls were kept on is because sub-standard work had to be torn up and re-done -- multiple times. The reason the work was sub-standard is left as an exercise to the reader.

        I've never lived in a state where the tolls were retired and the booths torn down.

        Dig a little deeper, and you find out that the governments appreciate how tolls free up general revenue for other spending.

      • No tax ever stays in the advertised form.

        Like all things the government does, making sure politicians keep to their tax promises requires attention and action from the voters in order to keep from growing. Unfortunately, we ignore it until someone tells us we can slash them. And it just happens to benefit them and not most people. Witness the Norquist/tea party insanity.

        I admit, I don't pay attention to the budget until it goes into crisis mode: I find it very boring at most times and I'm easily distracted.

    • On the other hand, hashcash would work. No tax revenue from people offshore, but you still force them to burn CPU cycles which has basically the same effect.
      • by green1 ( 322787 )

        What Spammer sends anything from their own machines? When you're sending from a botnet of millions, what real effect will chewing up someone else's CPU cycles have?

        • Well, let's put it this way: if the spam can send ten messages per second per machine in a botnet, and you force them spend one sec per message to compute hashcash tokens, then you have reduced the rate of spam by a factor of ten. Reducing the rate of spam doesn't end spam, but it does help.
          • It affects everyone by a factor of 10, and does nothing to fix the problem. All it does is add a ton of implementation costs and new ways for the system to break.

            • It does not affect everyone by a factor of 10, because most email users are not composing messages as quickly as their computer can send those messages. If every email message you sent took an extra second of CPU time, you would probably not notice.

              The only non-spammer people who would be disproportionately affected are people who like to send mail to dozens of addresses at a time. These people are already impacted by spam mitigation measures, and nobody seems to mind.
    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      Or botnets.

      How will it stop spammers who aren't even sending the messages from their own computers anyway? All it will do is add $50 to the bill of anyone who gets infected (which is not, of itself, a bad thing, but it adds a whole new level of complexity, collection and appeal problems) and the original spammers will not pay a penny.

      And all that will happens is that email will move offshore. Will you tax per email received or sent? Sent from US only? Sent through non-US servers from a US computer with

      • Re:FP? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:10AM (#43115833) Homepage Journal

        All it will do is add $50 to the bill of anyone who gets infected (which is not, of itself, a bad thing...)

        Oh, yes it is - it's an example of victim blaming, [] and it is a very, very bad thing.

        Not that I disagree with the concept that folks need to be 'incentivized' in order to do things they should be doing anyway, but I don't believe punishing people for being attacked is the right way to go about it.

        • If people are leaving their car keys in their cars, and there have been a rash of incidents where cars were stolen (keys already being in them) and used to commit various crimes and hit/ runs, then people who continue to leave their keys in their cars are absolutely part of the problem.

          Victim blaming is incorrect if it tries to assign all blame to a victim, but there are many cases where the victim made poor choices which directly contributed to whatever has happened to them. You cant just pretend we live

    • Re:FP? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Threni ( 635302 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:59AM (#43115709)

      No-one's explained -why would I want to fund the post office?

      I just get spam and bills and rubbish. If it cost loads for these clowns to post me rubbish perhaps it would dissuade them and they'd have to actually provide value. The post office should be helping me by preventing it; instead they've stated they need all the spam to survive. Well, I'd rather they not survive.

  • by dosius ( 230542 ) <> on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:31AM (#43115389) Journal

    How about not forcing the postal service to keep 75 years' worth of back-funding for pensions?


    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      How about converting everyone to 401k retirement plans, like he rest of us.

  • Cute idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:32AM (#43115397)
    It's a cute idea, but clearly this city councilperson doesn't understand how email works.
  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:32AM (#43115401)

    where else will i go to meet and talk to people i know for an hour or two at a time? its like a town meeting square where people go for hours just to stand around

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:33AM (#43115403)

    Berkeley is a college town, so a large block of voters are students with no long term interest in the community. So a lot of kooks get elected.

    • by serialband ( 447336 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:50AM (#43115613)

      That would be true of any November ballots, if students even vote in large enough numbers. June ballots are not affected since students are out of town. The kooks are voted in because the town is full of kooks. A lot of people have settled in and taken root.

      • The kooks are voted in because the town is full of kooks.

        Well, then a kook tax would be appropriate. Rephrasing his proposal:

        "There should be something like a kook tax. I mean a kook tax could be a cent per gigakook and they would still make, probably, billions of dollars a year."

  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:33AM (#43115415) Journal

    Dear nitwit,

    Your post advocates a

    ( ) technical (X) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante

    approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

    ( ) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
    (X) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
    (X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
    ( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
    ( ) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
    (X) Users of email will not put up with it
    (X) Microsoft will not put up with it
    ( ) The police will not put up with it
    ( ) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
    ( ) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
    (X) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
    ( ) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
    ( ) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

    Specifically, your plan fails to account for

    ( ) Laws expressly prohibiting it
    (X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
    (X) Open relays in foreign countries
    ( ) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
    (X) Asshats
    (X) Jurisdictional problems
    (X) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
    ( ) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
    ( ) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
    ( ) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
    ( ) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
    (X) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
    ( ) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
    (X) Extreme profitability of spam
    ( ) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
    (X) Technically illiterate politicians
    ( ) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
    ( ) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
    ( ) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
    ( ) Outlook

    and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

    ( ) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever
    been shown practical
    ( ) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
    ( ) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
    ( ) Blacklists suck
    ( ) Whitelists suck
    ( ) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
    ( ) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
    ( ) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
    ( ) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
    (X) Sending email should be free
    ( ) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
    ( ) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
    (X) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
    ( ) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
    ( ) I don't want the government reading my email
    ( ) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

    Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

    ( ) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
    (X) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
    ( ) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your house down!

    • Came here for this. /thread
    • +6.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ayvee ( 1125639 )

      (X) Microsoft will not put up with it

      Uh, no. Microsoft actually wanted [] to do this ten years ago.

    • Well played.

      I too have not seen that in a while. It is really quite amazing how good that form is at answering every proposed solution I've ever seen.

  • The city councillor can impose a liquorice tax on all emails sent within his jurisdiction. For every 1 trillion emails sent, a person must place one stick of liquorice on the councillors desk.

    That makes about as much sense as what the councillor is proposing.

    Just to be clear, I don't like liquorice all that much.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    After all, who are we to say that buggy whip manufacturers are any less deserving of our support?

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      The Pot office is an example of buggy whip operation that has not been allowed to innovate of charge a market price. For instance the forever first class stamp is a good form of innovation, but it does not go far enough. Why should it cost the same to mail a letter from Dallas to Chicago as from Dallas to the middle of nowhere frontier North Dakota. There is no opportunity of scale in North Dakota. Charging different rates will be inefficient, so just formally make the delivery time up to 5 days, instea
      • Then there is the issue of closing post offices. There should be some standard, such as no post office for less than 5,000 people. For instance, evidently the people of Derby Connecticticut (3,000 people) are upset that their post office is going to close even though there is another a half mile away. Evidently the US taxpayer is expected to cover maintenance costs for the building. I know how they feel. My historic post office might close, which serves way over 20,000 people, although there are satellite kiosks in other areas, but the reality is that it is sitting on a very valuable piece of property and does not need to be that big. I kind of hope it does not close, but will understand if it does.

        On the other hand, they're planning to close the Long Beach sorting center, which is pretty much the only center in Southern California that can accept Express Mail as late as 9:00pm and still deliver it to California the next day (something even FedEx and UPS don't do.) Yet, the "bulk mail acceptance facility" in Anaheim isn't in any danger, despite closing at 5:00pm.

  • WTF?! Seriously, why are we paying this idiots for?

    This idea is so stupid it doesn't even need a technical explanation why it will fail to produce anything good.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do I put the stamp on my monitor or insert it into my computer's cup holder?

  • by therealkevinkretz ( 1585825 ) * on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:39AM (#43115491)

    For only a few dollars extra per car, all the blacksmiths would still be in business.

  • Better idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:56AM (#43115683) Journal

    How about we levy a $10,000 "tax" for politicians that introduce stupid legislation.

  • by no-body ( 127863 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @10:58AM (#43115701)
    Those polititians can't fix the real issues, so they dream up nonsense to make headlines and get reelected.

    There is enough money around to fix all problems, it's not used properly by the people controlling it.
  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:00AM (#43115725) Journal
    Why exactly do we want to find yet another way to siphon money from the public to maintain an obsolete business model that, as far as I can tell, exists solely to deliver snail-spam to my door?

    I have no objection to paying $4.99 to FedEx for the once or twice each year I actually send something in a #10 envelope... As long as it means the literally hundreds useless catalogs (plus credit card and life insurance offers, plus political fliers in even-numbered years) I get per year need to do the same - By which I mean, hopefully that would effectively end unsolicited commercial/charitable/political mail.
  • The Postal Service was sort of a socialist effort to raise up the American people and equalize access to information and commerce.
    The USPS is primarily a taxpayer subsidy of a few dubious and onerous types of predatory businesses. (Raise the price of junk-mailing, anyone?)
    The Berkeley city council probably was set up to regulate local social intercourse and promote local business interests,

    as they say, the rest is history.

  • "Very tiny tax"? That's how they all start off. Just pay us a little more. It's not much, so you shouldn't complain. And then it becomes a little more. And a little more. And a little more, until suddenly you find more than a quarter of your annual income is going to fund all kinds of crap you never wanted in the first place.

  • by Rambo Tribble ( 1273454 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:07AM (#43115791) Homepage
    ... this is so lame! Think how much better it would be to put a tax on verbs! Then you could derive income from speech, text, posts, signage, display, heck, even thinking!
  • Why not? Fedex and UPS have perfected delivery of packages so why not the mail? I'm not sure what magic the USPS possesses that private industry couldn't do better anyway. Barring that, how about mail rates that make sense ? I live in Maryland and it doesn't make sense to me that I can send a piece of first class mail to New York City and Nome Alaska for the same price.
    • FedEx uses the post office for many local deliveries. Commercial carriers will not deliver everywhere. This is a national infrastructure issue.

    • by sootman ( 158191 )

      Read this. Seriously. It answers all your questions. []

      Like this little nugget:

      Over the past five years, FedEx and UPS have spent a combined $100 million lobbying Congress. Because neither company has a delivery network nearly as sprawling as [the USPS], they contract with the postal service to deliver the "final mile" of much of their cargo. For instance, more than 21 percent of all FedEx deliveries are dropped off by a postal carrier. Meanwhile, millions of postal-service letters hitch rides on FedEx flights every day, for which the company gets paid $1 billion a year. FedEx and UPS don't want the postal service to go out of business but to remain contained, out of the way...

      > Fedex and UPS have perfected delivery of packages so why not
      > the mail? I'm not sure what magic the USPS possesses that private
      > industry couldn't do better anyway

      Fact: you have it exactly backwards. The system that UPS and FedEx have "perfected" is... TO USE THE USPS! Can you believe that? A fucking FIFTH of all FedEx deliveries are actually done

  • Stop making the PO pre-fund pensions forpractically hundreds of years in advance, and get rid of the pension plan and go to 401ks like most of the people have instead and the PO will be fine. Don't try slapping another tax on people to support the bad business decisions the US Congress forced on the PO.

  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:16AM (#43115909)

    It might work, but there may be a bit of collateral damage.

  • Here is the email address of Berkeley City Councilman Gordon Wozniak

    You know what to do.

  • I don't think our problem is a lack of revenue; it's bad spending.

    First, government is massively inefficient at every level thanks to the "government job" mentality and the tendency to over-hire bureaucrats.

    Second, many government programs are pure pork barrel designed to appease certain special interest groups or make cronies rich.

    Finally, government is a self-justifying agenda. In order to justify its cost, it needs to constant invent new mission creep in order to give a "legitimate" need for increased an

  • From the Huffington Post []

    There are many reasons, but by far the most important is that the Postal Service's losses are largely the product of a congressional mandate imposed on no other public or private enterprise in America. Since 2006, Congress has forced the Postal Service to make enormous annual contributions into a fund for future retiree health benefits, including the $5.5 billion and $5.6 billion mentioned above. In fact, since they began, these payments have accounted for more than 80 percent of th

  • Wouldn't it be more prudent to charge an address with a flat tax to receive snail mail? Charge a flat tax for individuals. Charge corporations based on volume received.
  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Friday March 08, 2013 @12:20PM (#43116713) Homepage Journal

    First off, this fellow in a city council has no responsibility for the funding of the USPS.

    Second, he has no ability to tax anyone outside his city - does he propose that Berkley alone fund the USPS?

    Third, the issue with USPS solvency is, for the most part, inflicted upon the USPS by Congress, which has decided that since the USPS was profitable in 2006, that it should fully-fund 75 years of pension obligations by the end of 2016. This has resulted in over-funding the pension fund beyond any reasonable requirement by any conventional funding formula, and if you look closely, the losses the USPS reported these last few years is only slightly more than the annual over-payment of the pension system.

  • Spammers already don't care about the law. Who in their right mind would think they would pay the tax? The lusers of the zombied computers will be ones stuck with the bill.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell