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 With Government Sniffing Around the Web, Make Sure to Use Your Vote Wisely: an Interview With Presidential Candidate Steve Forbes

 By Don Hamilton

 One of the most important decisions you will make in this new century is picking its first president. The century is shaping up to be a fascinating opportunity with a high likelihood that society will be greatly enriched. No one can predict the future. What we can do is look to the past to help us make some good guesses.

We could take the glass-is-half-empty view, the worst-case scenario that we all die because we run out of food. By counting as we have done in the past, some concluded that there would be food lines in the 1990s, but food is cheaper now and more plentiful than ever before in all countries. This wasn't the first time experts have erred in their predictions.

 People can only measure against what they know and they tend to count and total things that they are familiar with such as total gallons of oil or cubic meters of coal. Using these measures, you can predict when the known quantities will run out. Prognosticators also told us that we would have gas lines because we would have to run out of oil by the 1990s. Same story; gas is cheaper and more plentiful than ever.

 Similarly, the end of the world did not come as many predicted. There was no fire and brimstone or any doomsday computer glitches. Life gets generally better, cleaner, more efficient and profitable. We add more people each year with generally improved education. The gene pool of talent gets deeper all the time and the real resource is the human mind not, the things we dig out of the ground.

 All we can say about the future is that we know we are on the cusp of massive change. The way we work and live will change dramatically. Historically the trend is toward longer life and better living conditions for the average person and more and more freedom. Worldwide the changes are huge; we see a shift from trying to make the world one big happy worker paradise where the government writes rules to make everything fair (translate equal, even, the same) to a world where capitalism is bringing about growth surges and freedom to be rewarded at different levels for different contributions to society.

 We are entering a period where more work is done at home. Single parents have the chance to work at a distance without fighting the freeways and still spend time with the kids. These are realities of the new Internet-based economy. If the leadership that we elect does not understand this, roadblocks will be built instead of bridges.

 A recent example of a possible obstacle was the federal Occupational Safety and Heath Administration's interpretation of the rules for a home worker:  ``Employers should exercise reasonable diligence to identify in advance the possible hazards associated with particular home work assignments and should provide the necessary protection through training, personal protective equipment, or other controls appropriate to reduce or eliminate the hazard," the OSHA letter said.

The November letter continued: ``An employer is responsible for ensuring that its employees have a safe and healthful workplace, not a safe and healthful home."

OSHA quickly backed down on the application of this letter as a standard but in small print of a comment afterward, we are warned that some version of this thinking will ultimately be applied.

This type of thinking will slow down or stop changes in our society that we need for the good of all. Think about this when you are making your choice for president this spring. The California Primary is March 7 and by the end of the month the two major parties should have picked nominees.

WWWiz wouldn't presume to tell you how to vote, but we want to give you at least some guidance on how the candidates stand in regard to the Internet. Of course, there are other important issues being raised in this election and there are a multitude of Web sites that compare the candidates' stands on abortion rights, crime, defense spending and so on. (One,, even recommends whom you should vote for based on answers to a 17-question survey.) But we will leave those issues to others–we zeroed in on candidates' thoughts about the Web.

Al Gore, the ``father" of the Internet, has laid out his position and we know where he stands. ``All candidates are for the Internet and its future growth," he said. You can be the judge of how sincere he or the others are.

WWWiz looked most closely at two candidates, John McCain and Steve Forbes, both with strong views and positions regarding the Internet economy and the government's relation to it. From the beginning both have worried the most about the continued freedom of the Internet and have both taken a stand against taxation.

In a phone interview, Steve Forbes spoke with WWWiz about his ideas and strong beliefs that the Internet should be kept free of tax and special rules. As we went to press John McCain was trying to pin George W. Bush down on whether he is for or against a moratorium on Internet taxes.

On the candidates Web sites, Forbes' has the most identifiable pro-Internet positions. They are direct and you don't have the feeling a lawyer wrote them to be pliable. If the other sites have clearly defined positions, they were hard to find.

WWWiz: What tax rules should apply to the Internet?

 Forbes: I think whatever rules apply to the telephone and catalog orders. There should not be extra levies put on the Internet as attempted before the moratorium of October 1998.  I also believe they shouldn't do what Governor (Mike) Leavitt of Utah and others are proposing, which is in effect a national sales tax on the Internet. The Internet is creating a lot of new business and commerce, which is creating a lot of new tax revenue and it's not a zero-sum game, it stimulates commerce. The politicians are being very shortsighted in their attempts to get their taxation claws on the Internet. The Leavitt proposal has some very disturbing privacy issues. His plan has a central authority that keeps track of what you buy and where you buy it from. I find that idea not a good one.

 WWWiz: How do you feel about the attempt to control access on the Internet because of child pornography and other issues?

 Forbes: The Internet is open and I would assume and would hope, certainly if I am president, it will happen on the federal level that the Justice Department, FBI, and federal law enforcement agencies are cruising the Internet and finding these sites that shouldn't be there. Child pornography is against the law whether you do it through the mail or through the Net. You don't have to have new laws to control the Net; you just need to find out which sites are breaking the law. Some disturbing issues have come up regarding threats on the Net. If people see sites that raise serious questions like people making threats against other people or things of that sort, we should phone the police or the local newspaper and have it publicized that certain things are happening here that may be in violation of the law. Yes the Net brings a lot of new challenges but presumably with human imagination we should be able to make sure that those that are using the Net to violate the law are brought before the bar of justice. It's different than what we have been accustomed to, but that is the nature of change.

 WWWiz: I know that everyone is claiming to be against taxation of the Net. Can you tell me what the differences are between your position and that of Bush?

 Forbes: George Bush has not been as explicit as I have been in terms of taxing the Net.  He was very vague about extending the moratorium. He has talked about months rather than years and hasn't been explicit. He also has not been aggressive about removing the taxes that Texas has put on the Internet. These official levees were grandfathered with the moratorium of 1998. I think he should be pushing legislation to repeal those. My whole record has been to support the moratorium. I supported it when the bill came up with Cox and Widen. When it looked like the governors were going to kill it, Cox called us when I was with Americans for Hope, Growth and Opportunity and we got out press releases and questions to reporters so when the governors made their move, we were ready with our countermove. So we have been long working to keep the government's taxing claws off of this thing.

 WWWiz: How about the same comparison between you and Gore.

 Forbes: Despite all his protestation about being a high-tech man and inventing the Internet, clearly he has not been as forthright when it comes to taxation. In terms of other issues on high tech he had to be dragged kicking and screaming behind the scenes on H-1B (work visas) a little over a year ago, which I think needs to be looked at again to increase the number of visas.  He talks a good game and talks the language, tries to learn all the secret handshakes but when it comes to doing real things that conflict with the entrenched interests of his party, he has been a very reluctant warrior.

 WWWiz: What is your feeling on the federal government putting Internet connections and computers in all the schools?

 Forbes: I think this is an example of where the government extends its taxing and regulatory powers under the name of helping us or helping our children. With the rapid decline in the cost of high technology and access to the Net, what Mr. Gore has created with the Gore tax is just a growing bureaucracy. Most schools were on the Net before the Gore tax.  So-called universal access is going to happen if you allow free play of the market. Systems become cheaper and cheaper, access becomes easier, you have to know less and less. It's like the automobile; you don't have to be an engineer to learn to drive a car.

 WWWiz: We have free computers now if you sign up for an Internet provider or agree to ads but either way you pay something in money or inconvenience. Do you think it is better if they to pay something so those people and organizations that really want to be part of the Net will act and those that are not that interested will not? A person who will take a free thing does not necessarily really want it.

 Forbes: More and more you are going to bring the world to schools but it is something that you can't force-feed them on. It's something they have to do themselves, in some cases we throw hardware into a situation and then people who aren't familiar with it don't understand it and haven't been trained in it start scratching their heads and figuring out, OK what do we do now?

 WWWiz: If you were at Microsoft today and tried to explain the government's position on monopolies what would you say to them?

  Forbes: I'll probably get in trouble for this but I would chastise their legal beagles. Not being a lawyer I can offer free advice. In terms of defense they should have acknowledged that they have a dominant position in the operating systems and we want to keep that position and we will fight ferociously to do it. What they should have done is say you have to look at the whole high-tech industry, not just one facet of it. While Microsoft is a huge company, they should have said that the software that we have is but a piece of the whole. Over the last 10 years Gates was portrayed as this malignant Darth Vader and yet they should have said to the government: Where was the harm? Real prices have come down. Investments in new startups in the last 10 years have increased 40 fold. It has gone from a $2 billion 10 years ago an $80 billion per year rate basis this year. They should have said that Gates couldn't have prevented the rise of the Internet or prevent the rise of e-commerce or prevent the constant improvement of Sun Microsystems. They couldn't prevent the rise of AOL and Apple is coming back. If this company was dominating the universe what happened? Where is the harm? I do believe that by the time this thing winds its way through the court, technology will make it obsolete. Microsoft has some very serious technological challenges with the one-size operations system fits all. The world is passing that by more and more now.

 WWWiz: The current revolution looks as though it might be on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. What are your thoughts on the importance of this change?

 Forbes: I think it is a huge change and of a magnitude that we are beginning to comprehend, which is why people keep scratching their heads on the stock market. It's becoming obvious that some of the ways we are accustomed to looking at it don't seem to hold quite the water that they used to. Obviously there will be more failures and busts but clearly more and more companies are going the IPO route.  This is stimulating companies to do things that they would never have done before the rise of the Net. In essence this whole era is doing to the human brain what machines did to human muscle, expanding its reach; a 90-pound weakling can lift thousands of pounds with the help of machinery. So to, all of us with our computers have the power and reach of a million minds a few years ago. The old saying that it is just beginning is absolutely true as we are just beginning to fathom what is happening. Look at the rise of molecular based chips. Talk about miniaturization–we will have the ultimate. The explosion of bandwidth will be the same thing. This is a profound era; the brain is the last frontier on this earth and we are just beginning the exploration of the brain.

 WWWiz: How should people select a president for this great time of transition? What should we look for?

 Forbes: I think it has to be an individual that recognizes the promise of the Net and the limitations of government and also recognizes that we have very real issues such as intellectual property rights that have to be dealt with. We need to realize the full promise of this and not lose it either with excessive regulations or potential misuses or abuses that get a backlash. It's like the challenge of the automobile; we had to build highway rules for safety, insurance. Progress is never seamless or without price and challenges. We have a fantastic instrument and the problem is creating an environment where it is allowed to flourish. The tax issue is one and property rights, privacy. These can be dealt with; as we make sure that those with other agendas of expanding the scope of government are held back. Some can't stand that it is something that they can't control. I think if we can meet these challenges, it will flourish.

 WWWiz: Do you think that the Net is becoming so big that it will be impossible to tax as companies can move offshore and chasing individuals is not vote-getting in the end?

  Forbes: One must never underestimate the capacity of government to muck things up. You are right, people will be able to go offshore and wind their way around whatever rules are put in place by the state. Rather than looking for the last line of defense, we should let this thing realize its full potential because it is absolutely fantastic in terms of individual empowerment and opportunity. I hope that Europe doesn't put in rules and regulations that thwart the thing. We will end up crippling its advances. If you make it easy, people get more things done.

 WWWiz: You have been in the forefront of Web use with the best Web site in politics. How has this affected your campaign?

 Forbes: It has been a very, very helpful vehicle. I announced my candidacy on our Web site in March of  '99. I was the first presidential candidate announced on the Internet. We have signed up over 30,000 volunteers with names and address through our Web site of people willing to help out, and I figure only about 100 of them are spies for the other side and the rest are real. The Internet is a way of bringing people on, but you might say it is a way of bringing them onboard. People might see something about you; they might see an ad, read a clip, hear a sound bite on TV but the nice thing about our Web site is that it is enormously comprehensive. We have a massive amount of information on it about my position on a number of issues. It's updated on a daily basis. This way if you want to learn where I am on social security, you have a comprehensive position on it and if you want to find out more on the flat tax, you can go to our Web site and do that. The nice thing about the Web as you know is that you are the master; you can do it at your convenience. You can spend as much time or little time on it so you don't feel that it's an imposition on you because you are in charge. It is a great way for people to find out what my campaign is about. We are making them true believers.

 WWWiz: What do you see in the next four to eight years as far as the Web mobilizing people for political races?

 Forbes: It will be seen as a way of mobilizing people for political purposes. It is a way of bringing people into the process that have not been involved politically before and in fact it becomes a form of precinct politics. You don't have to go to a meeting in a basement in a building as you did in days of old. This way you can do it with your fingertips. People will become more and mere drawn into it.

 Official Web Sites of the Major Presidential Candidates



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