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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning for Digital TV
By Kathy Hare

          We have all heard the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. The inspirational words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty actually read "your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," but that's such an antiquated idea I believe it should be updated. After all, when Lazarus wrote those words in 1883 this was an entirely different country, and it's time we acknowledge that fact, instead of living in a dream world.

          What started this rant is the federal government's latest give-away program. The program is designed to ensure all Americans will be able to receive television broadcasts after February 17, 2009. More about that later - right now I want to concentrate on freedom.

          Freedom is the liberation from the control of some other person or some arbitrary power. Under the law, children are not free because they have neither the mental, physical, or financial capability to care for themselves. They remain under parental control for their own protection, until they become responsible adults. Logically, freedom only exists hand in hand with responsibility.

          Immigrants didn't flock to America because they were looking for hand-outs. They were fleeing monarchs, dictators, and oppressive governments that never gave them the opportunity to support themselves or a family. That's what America offered in the 1800's, opportunity - not security. There were no food stamps, Medicare, social security or welfare programs. Nor were there thousands of government grants for individuals, non-profit groups, or corporations. Individuals and families were free to succeed or fail based on their own efforts, and the American Dream was fueled by the earnings of the individual. Immigrants understood freedom does not exist in the absence of financial independence.

           Some people say the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913, which legalized the Federal Income Tax, changed America's policy of self-determination forever. At the time, Congress wanted to update our military forces for the impending war in Europe, so they adopted a 1 percent tax on net personal income of more than $3,000 with a surtax of 6 percent on incomes of more than $500,000. But the average worker made less than $1000 a year and paid no income tax.

          By 1918 the federal government needed more funds, so Congress enacted a progressive income tax which gobbled up to 77 percent of the wealthiest Americans' earnings. In 1942, President Roosevelt, creator of the New Deal, hailed his new Revenue Act as "the greatest tax bill in American history." According to the Internal Revenue Service Web site, "It increased taxes and the number of Americans subject to the income tax," while also creating deductions for medical and investment expenses.

          Since then the IRS has been tweaked by every administration. Eisenhower needed vast funds to build the Interstate Highway System. Johnson wanted more revenue for both a war and a "Great Society." Over the years, additional wars and an endless supply of social entitlements increased the federal tax burden. Now, in 2008, the Internal Revenue Service consumes four months of the average American's income annually to fund federal programs.

          Perhaps Americans could lessen that tax burden, which erodes our personal freedom, if we stopped being so complacent about the programs the government funds. This brings me back to the plan to ensure television reception for all Americans.

          In 2005, the  National Telecommunication and Information Administration decided to require all television stations to cease broadcasting analog signals and switch to digital broadcasting by February 17, 2009. Digital broadcasting provides a clearer signal to viewers, while also freeing-up analog channels for wireless communications and public safety agencies, such as police and fire departments.

          Viewers who currently receive a signal via cable or satellite TV, or those who own a digital television, will continue to receive broadcasts without interruption. But the 21 million Americans who still use outside antennas or rabbit-ears must buy a converter box before the 2009 deadline, or their television sets will stop functioning. The converter can be purchased at many retail stores such as Radio Shack or Best Buy, and costs between $50 and $70.

          That doesn't seem like a huge expense, but major networks are already featuring sad looking senior citizens who may not be able to afford the converter. Never fear! Grandma won't have to live without TV. In fact, no matter what your age or income, all analog television viewers can request two free $40 coupons to offset the cost of purchasing two converter boxes. Two, because the government realizes even low-tech rabbit ear families own more than one television set.

          Now I've searched the constitution but I can find no clause which guarantees every American the right to television. So why is the federal government spending over $1.5 billion to ensure television reception for private citizens?

          Evidently someone at the Government Accountability Office asked the same question in 2005, when the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act was established. Gary Kepplinger, general counsel for the GAO, said "At issue here is the use of appropriations to pay for an item (a $40 gift card) that is ordinarily considered to be a personal gift." But the NTIA insisted, "The government, rather than recipients of the gift cards, is the primary beneficiary of the expense," and the GAO approved the program.

          While there are thousands of other wasteful federal programs, this one bothers me so much because of its stupidity. Television is not a necessity of life. In fact, many of us might be better off without it. We would certainly have more time to exercise our bodies and minds if it was not available. All Americans really needed from the government was information - not another subsidy.

          I think all taxpayers should go to www.dtv2009.org and print out an application for the "free coupon." Print you name and address on it and then send it to your congressional representative and ask, "Why is the government subsidizing television reception for private individuals?"

          If you qualify for the program, like my own rabbit-ear family, I urge you to download the coupon. But instead of requesting your $40 coupon, send the government this message, "I am an adult who is capable of supplying my own entertainment without the aid of government funds."

          It would be a small gesture, at the most it could become a mini tax-revolt, but just maybe Congress would begin to get the message. Americans don't need more subsidies; Americans need to keep more of their income to ensure their freedom now and in the future.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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