VP Joe Biden Believes There's 'No Legal Reason' The Government Can't Slap A Sin Tax On 'Violent Media'

from the brain-disengaged,-all-power-rerouted-to-mouth dept

I’m not sure where vice president Joe Biden is getting his information, but he seems rather confident that a tax can be levied against “violent media.” He may want to check with the Supreme Court, which has ruled against regulating violent video games and found taxing certain varieties of speech differently to be a violation of the First Amendment.

Possibly Biden just got carried away with the jovial spirit of censorship pervading the post-Sandy Hook political climate. Or maybe he was just in an overly-agreeable mood and started making affirmative statements without considering what he was saying.

Or maybe he was just “playing to the crowd,” which was entirely comprised of reps for various religious/community groups.

Those present for the Monday evening meeting included Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Barrett Duke, the vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm.

The meeting also included Bruce Reed, Biden’s chief of staff, and Melissa Rogers, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, according to people who attended.

This is not to say that all members (or even all representatives) of religious communities are censorious or prone to pushing their subjective morality on others. There are several exceptions. Franklin Graham, however, isn’t one of the exceptions.

Graham, two people in the meeting said, told Biden the government should consider taxing media companies that broadcast violent images and produce violent video games.

He floated the idea that media and entertainment that portray violence should be subject to a special tax, with the proceeds going to help victims and their families,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Let’s stop here for a moment and take a look at this proposal, possibly in the way that might befit a nation’s Vice President.

First off, the idea is bad and Graham should feel bad. As was mentioned above, applying additional tax to certain forms of speech is a clear violation of free speech rights. The government would be applying this tax to whatever it arbitrarily deemed “violent” enough to qualify for the “sin tax.” (This is really what this amounts to — a tax on certain speech and, indirectly, certain consumer behavior.)

Secondly, the direct flow of tax revenue from “violent media” to “victims and their families” makes an implicit connection between the two principals. This links the two in the government’s eyes and in the public’s eyes. This also handily allows the government to dodge the fact that there is very little, if any, explicit connection between “violent media” and violence. In essence, this presumes guilt on violent media creators and punishes them for exceeding some arbitrarily acceptable “violence” threshold.

Then there’s perhaps the most troubling aspect: who decides what amount of violence is non-taxable and where does that line get crossed? If it’s a PG-13 film, does it go untaxed? Does any M-rated game immediately have the tax applied? Will game developers and filmmakers explore other paths, like explicit sexuality, simply because violence gets taxed and sex doesn’t? Or will they, more likely, adapt to the new chilling effect and produce stunted, sanitized output?

There are other questions to consider as well. With the consumers footing the bill for violent movies and games, will this price hike affect purchases by attaching some sort of stigma to the products themselves? Would the government label these items with something like: “2% of this purchase goes to victims of violence,” thus making consumers feel complicit in violent criminal activity simply by purchasing the media?

[Bonus: will the MPAA be involved? It is one of Biden’s buddies and its rating system is built on one of the most bizarrely abitrary set of ‘standards’ in the entertainment industry.]

These are just a few aspects that should be considered before anyone even brings the subject up, much less offers Vice Presidential-backing for the idea. But Biden seems almost charmingly naive in his response:

Biden told Graham that there was “no restriction on the ability to do that, there’s no legal reason why they couldn’t” tax violent images, Clark added.

I’m guessing at this point someone has gotten word to Biden that there’s actually at least one legal reason the government can’t tax “violent images,” because there has been no further word from either proponent of this terrible idea.

Graham’s representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Biden’s office also did not respond to requests to comment about the meeting.

Maybe Biden felt this conversation would never leave the room and therefore felt comfortable making ridiculous claims. He certainly appears to have tried to chill a little free speech himself.

Five people who attended the 2½-hour meeting told POLITICO that Biden made a specific plea to those present to keep his words off the record from reporters.

“He basically just said in general that these stakeholder meetings that if you put words into the vice president’s mouth it sometimes comes out wrong and gets misquoted,” said Shantha Alonso, the director of the poverty program at the National Council of Churches.

Well, that’s a nice out to have. I guess we’ll see if the “I was misquoted/comment was off the record” excuse gets run up the flagpole sometime soon. If it doesn’t, we might be safe in assuming that, no matter what conclusions the CDC reaches in its study of violence and violent media, Biden and like-minded supporters will be moving forward with their reinterpretations of the First Amendment.

(h/t to Techdirt reader Colin for sending this our way. Not sure which Colin it is as multiple Colins come up in the search, but he knows who he is and can certainly take credit for the tip in the comment section.)

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Comments on “VP Joe Biden Believes There's 'No Legal Reason' The Government Can't Slap A Sin Tax On 'Violent Media'”

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47 Comments
Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Can we get a hate tax too?

When you call people extremely public nasty names, when you restrict their health options based on your own personal moral ‘claims’, when you force babies to be born into enviornments where they have apparently negative support until they are old enough to be good little worker drones/cannon fodder/stand-your-ground fodder…

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Taxation for Services

I would not mind paying taxes much more like Europe if I got the benefits that they do.

Things like;
* real public healthcare that works
* the digital equivalent of public roads infrastructure
* various levels of job security/placement services for those seeking entry level positions (Sure I don’t need that now, but would have seriously helped get my adult life started on the correct footing and would help new entrants to the job market.)

Which the US generally lacks; then again our lack of defending civil/human rights is slowly turning us in to a third world country…

Zakida Paul (profile) says:

Re: Re: Taxation for Services

I look at the US healthcare system and I am supremely thankful for the UK NHS. Sure, it has problems but it is fair and efficient and costs the taxpayer less than the US system.

Of course, that does not stop the Tories from selling off huge chunks of it to American private healthcare companies while mainstream media completely ignore it while giving all the air time to UKIP and their bunch of xenophobic and racist europhobes.

Sorry for the rant. My point was that I agree with your point that taxes are fine as long as the tax payer gets it back in quality services.

silverscarcat says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The problem is, when the primaries come up, well…

Ron Paul was the most moderate of all of the R candidates last election…

Bets that Democrats registered as R’s and voted for Romney?

And don’t forget that many R’s register as Dems to vote for the man/woman least likely to win against their candidate at times.

You basically have a situation where both sides are sabotaging each other just to get a few points and screw the country over.

Moderates can’t win because of that situation.

Colin says:

I’ll take my credit only since Tim mentioned it. There’s apparently a write up on Polygon (sourcing the same Politico article that I saw) as well. Obviously not as in-depth or focused as the Techdirt article but interesting if you want video game journalist/fans perspective on it (spoiler alert: it’s not glowing):

http://www.polygon.com/2013/5/14/4329352/biden-says-theres-no-legal-reason-why-the-government-cant-tax

Blatant Coward (profile) says:

First thing to be taxed

I think there is some merit in the idea myself.

Genesis 22:10
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Genisis 4:8
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him

Exodus 32:27
And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.

Deuteronomy 19:12
Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.

Judges 9:54
Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through, and he died.

1Samuel 15:3
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

Psalms 94:6
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.

1Kings 18:23
And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.

Isaiah 11:4
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.

Jeremiah 15:3
And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the LORD: the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy.

Ezekiel 9:6, 7
Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.
And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is bigger than violence...

You touched on the problem with ratings systems in general. Who gets to decide what gets what rating period. By it’s very nature ratings systems are unfair censorship simply for the fact that whoever gets to decide (unless it was the artist which would be funny in and of itself). The only thing that should be allowed to be required is a factual list of content that the potential viewer may be concerned about with absolutely no commentary injected as to the morality of the items in the list.

Dannie blaze (profile) says:

What about reviews of content deemed to be subject to the ‘sin tax’, Would film and games reviewers also be subject to it? What about adverts in magazines for violent games/films/etc? Or billboards? Trailers on youtube? Where exactly is the line drawn?

Do any politicos truly think before they speak? Sometimes I get reminded of my brother-in-law who has ADHD – there seems to be no mechanism in between ‘think stupid thing -> Say stupid thing’

John85851 (profile) says:

What about the logistics?

I don’t know how much we should be complaining about this since it’s obviously just a quick statement. I don’t think anyone has even thought about the logistics:

– What will be taxed? Like the article says, who will say what is violent? The “Saw” movies definitely are, but what about James Bond movies? And does the tax apply to old movies which were violent in their time, but are considered tame by today’s standards? Will a Humphrey Bogart movie from the 1940’s be taxed because he shoots a soldier?

– Where will the tax money go? I have the feeling it won’t go to the “victims”… and are there really victims of violent movies?

– And if the money will go to victims of violent crime, how can people get on this list? Sure, this might be a response to the Sandy Hook shooting, but what about the cashier at 7-11 who was robbed at gun-point? That’s a violent crime.

But, as usual, a politician makes a grand statement without filling in any of the details.

Muunuu says:

Violent Games

Good. For once, game developers SHOULD explore sexuality. This American hinderness and fear on sex is just plain stupid. Over 30% of players are adults yet we are continuous treated like brain-dead little kids with spooked out parents. This is why the game industry NEVER grows in far as adult-life goes. I can never get a game that talks about anything that is adult, we always get these generic PG-13 crap games with gore and blood thrown in because the game developers and publishers are whimps. Yet I can find the material easily in a book or movie.

I am tired of playing games with constant violence and blood in them, yet I can’t strip my characters down without someone crying tears about it. One thing about the sex though I don’t like how this nation constantly puts the female up as this big-breasted creature and that’s the ONLY way a female body is suppose to look like.

Lots of love for the D and F cups, lots of hate for the B and A cups.

This is why I love South Korea and Japanese games the most. They give me what is lacking severely in western titled games. Seriously though we need to get over sexuality being this very voodoo thing. Face it, teen pregnancies or whatever are happening. Without the video-games.

Video-games are NEVER the cause for any real-life trauma. So we need to stop blaming inanimated objects for the actions of whack-jobs in the real world, who’s actions have existed before the creation of video-games by other kooky or evil people.

Murders have always happened. A video-game does not cause or is the blame for murder. Same with rape. Rape has happened video-games do not cause rapes.

If the game industry would stop being such whimps, we would see more meaningful plot-twists and truly adult-themed topics in games. But if the audience can’t handle anything that isn’t sanitized to the great beyond, then we’ll continue to stay in the idiot bubble. And the ‘games are only for kids’ crowd that is plaguing the market.

We’re STILL stuck in the big huge Nintendo era of censorship.

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