The Great Decency Fake-out

Congressmen and senators are meeting with each other right now to decide which of two competing versions of the Telcom Reform Act should be adopted as law. Whichever they choose, they will be able to send you to prison for saying "Fuck" on the Internet.

We got to this serious and dangerous pass by way of a five act comedy.

Act I: June. Senator Exon waved his blue book of pornography on the Senate floor, frothing at the mouth about "pornographers, pedophiles and predators." The Senate passed the Communications Decency Act (CDA) by a vote of 84-16, banning unspecified "indecent" speech online. Numerous commentators point out that the CDA is ridiculously vague and would certainly ban speech that is perfectly legal offline.

Act II: June. White knight and futurist Newt Gingrich goes on TV and announces that the CDA is unconstitutional. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief because it is well known that this man runs the House with an iron hand--the CDA will not get through.

Act III: August. The House passes its version of the Reform Act. True to Gingrich's word, the CDA never even comes up for consideration. Instead, the unusual Cox-Wyden act is adopted, vaguely but gloriously praising the Internet as a method of communication, education and community building but not actually implementing any legal measures. Spectators declare victory--Gingrich has killed the CDA.

Act IV: August. The discovery is made that a last minute "manager's mark amendment" added to the Reform Act would ban the depiction or description of sexual or excretory organs or functions online. Most of the Congressmen voting in favor of the final version of the bill don't even know its there. No-one's name is on it, no-one knows how it got there. Fewer still understand that this is the exact language Congress passed into law some years ago to define indecency on television.

Act V is happening now. The conference committee is looking to create a compromise version of the Act. Whether it adopts the CDA (unlikely) or the manager's mark version, it will become illegal to say anything on the Net you couldn't say on the radio or TV. The phrase "Fuck the Telcom Reform Act" would get me sent to prison.

Question: If Gingrich runs the House as tightly as they say, could this have possibly happened without his knowing? Or have we just witnessed the Great Decency Fake-out, the ceremonial death of the CDA and its quiet replacement with something equally lethal? Either way, its your tax dollars at work.