Jonathan B. Wilson

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Jonathan Wilson is an Atlanta attorney with more than 19 years of experience guiding growing private and public companies.  He currently serves as the outside general counsel of several companies and is the former general counsel of (NASDAQ: WWWW) and EasyLink Services (NASDAQ: ESIC).  He is also the founding chair of the Renewable Energy Committee of the American Bar Association's Public Utility Section.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Taxing the Internet
As Declan McCullagh reports, some Governors, municipalities and tax-hungry Congressmen are returning to the Internet, (like the swallows to Capistrano), in search of new tax revenues. 
Wyoming Republican Michael Enzi has a proposed bill (S. 34) to extend state sales taxes to transactions occurring on the Internet. 
Others are trying to ressurect the "Internet access tax" that would permit states or municipalities to impose taxes on Internet connections.  Those taxes are currently pre-empted by the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act (1998) which imposes a moratorium on taxes on Internet connections and transactions occurring over the Internet.  That moratorium expires in November of this year unless it is extended or made permanent.
There are several bills pending that would make the moratorium permanent (S. 156, HR 1077 and 743) but the upcoming expiration of the prohibition on Internet taxes is going to bring this issue again to the fore. 
8:41 am edt 

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Public Interests, Private Litigants
If you haven't already read it, Walter Olson's Friday WSJ op/ed is available here, discussing the decision County of Santa Clara v. Atlantic Richfield, barring municipalities from hiring contingent-fee lawyers to pursue speculative cases against deep-pocketed defendants.
As Walter notes, President Bush recently signed an executive order banning the federal government from doing just that, a break from the practice begun during the Clinton administration that resulted in the nationwide tobacco settlement that Olson has criticized at length
The Santa Clara decision turns primarily on the idea that the government's lawyers must be neutral and concerned with only the public interest.  If the government lawyer is paid on contingency that patina of neutrality is destroyed as the lawyer is incentivized to obtain a cash recovery, regardless of the public's interest.
While privatizing government functions is often a good idea in the public interest (and, indeed, some of the most innovative thinking about improving government in the past several decades has centered on the idea of privatization), it is not always the case.  The public's interest often could only be achieved through public efforts, even of those efforts are, in some ways, less efficient that what the private sector could achieve.
Road-building is an easy example.  If the government (both state and federal) outsourced the function of building and maintaining roads, it is unlikely that any roads would ever get built.  While private roads can occasionally work in special situations where there is a captive audience of drivers who have no choice but to use a particular route, the millions of miles of roads that today make the U.S. economy feasible would never have come into being if they relied upon private investors for their planning and implementation.
Government outsourcing would seem to work best when the tasks being outsourced are discrete and do not rely on an exercise of judgment as to the public interest.  (Outsourcing the construction of a road to a private firm can be efficient; outsourcing the task of determining whether or not to build a road, and if so, where, would not be efficient).  Private actors can be adept at determining how to accomplish a defined task quickly and economically.  Private actors have no capacity to identify which outcomes are preferred in the public interest.
Litigation is an exercise in determining the self-interest of the litigants.  At any given stage in a lawsuit a private litigant can either proceed, by pursuing claims, defenses, etc., or settle, usually by paying the demands of the opposing party. 
Once public-interest litigation is outsourced on a contingent fee basis it becomes nothing more than an exercise by the contingent-fee lawyers in maximizing their cash recovery across a continuum of effort and outcome.  There can be no guarantee that such a process will produce an outcome in the public interest. 
The Santa Clara decision and President Bush's executive order are two steps in the right direction. 
9:28 am edt 

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fatah al-Islam Crackdown a Sign of Progress
Many of the reports this morning and over the weeked regarding fighting between the Lebanese army and a group calling itself Fatah al-Islam describe that fighting as a "significant blow to a country already mired in a dire political crisis between the Western-backed government and Hezbollah-led opposition."  (MSNBC)
Reports indicate that several dozen have been killed over the weekend as the Lebanese army has confronted and besieged the group's headquarters in a Palestinian refugee camp inside Lebanon.
Rather than call this a "significant blow" to Lebanon, however, let me suggest that this is a positive development and an indicator of the health of the Lebanese government.
Middle eastern governments and non-governmental groups respect power and view conciliation as a weakness.  By striking out a this al-Quaeda-linked group, the Lebanese government is not only demonstrating its capacity to govern within its borders but is also eliminating a safe haven for the same terrorists we are fighting elsewhere.
If the Lebanese government had sat quietly by while the militants gained strength, that quiescence would have demonstrated weakness to the radicals and would have invited further terrorist activities.
The U.S. government should support the crackdown, but quietly and behind the scenes.  Send aid to the Lebanese government and give them encouragement, but do it without public acknowledgement.  Doing this will develop Lebanon as an ally but without branding the Lebanese action as an American proxy.
8:03 am edt 

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Weakness in the West
Bernard Lewis offers a glimpse of how American foreign policy is viewed through the lens of the radical Islamists:
During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: "What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?"
* * *
We in the Western world see the defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union as a Western, more specifically an American, victory in the Cold War. For Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a Muslim victory in a jihad, and, given the circumstances, this perception does not lack plausibility.
From the writings and the speeches of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, it is clear that they expected this second task, dealing with America, would be comparatively simple and easy. This perception was certainly encouraged and so it seemed, confirmed by the American response to a whole series of attacks--on the World Trade Center in New York and on U.S. troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the U.S. military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000--all of which evoked only angry words, sometimes accompanied by the dispatch of expensive missiles to remote and uninhabited places.
Stage One of the jihad was to drive the infidels from the lands of Islam; Stage Two--to bring the war into the enemy camp, and the attacks of 9/11 were clearly intended to be the opening salvo of this stage. The response to 9/11, so completely out of accord with previous American practice, came as a shock, and it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then. The U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S., and that some revision of their assessment, and of the policies based on that assessment, was necessary.
More recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory. It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view. If they are right, the consequences--both for Islam and for America--will be deep, wide and lasting.
It is ironic, though perhaps pathetic, that those most opposed to U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq are often those who respond to the violence of the Islamists with the demand that we recognize their concerns or that we acknowledge some culpability for the root causes of their anger.
It is precisely this reaction, however, that fuels the Islamist violence.  The view that America, or the West, is responsible for Islamist violence often claims that America fails to see the world through the eyes of its adversaries.
On the contrary.  Our adversaries have a world view that we should know well: They have a belief that they are creating a global government to be ruled by Islamist principles.  They believe that the weakness of their adversaries justifies the violence they employe.  They interpret invitations to "negotiate" as weakness and an invitation to further violence. 
The only way to counter this world view is to attack it militarily, and successfully, and to debate it head-on.  Public statements of fear, withdrawal and regret will only invite further Islamist violence. 
7:58 am edt 

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Realignment of America
Michael Barone writes today about the movement of American's from the "hip" cities on the coasts (New York, San Francisco, L.A.) to the "interior boomtowns" of Atlanta, Jacksonville, Austin and Charlotte:
Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they're moving out of our largest metro areas. They're fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they're moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations--these are driving many Americans elsewhere.
The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.
As Barone writes, "demograhy is destiny" and politicians will ignore this long-developing trend to their peril. 
7:54 am edt 

Monday, May 7, 2007

Reform in France?
Yesterday's election of Nicolas Sarkozy in France may well signal a turn in that country's economy.  As John Fund writes, France has become an icon for a cradle-to-grave socialism that has driven the country's unemployment to record levels. 
Sarkozy's election also follows that of Germany's Angela Merkel, a moderate, pro-business figure who has eschewed much of the country's former anti-Americanism. 
Ironic, that at a time when the incumbent U.S. President and his party are languishing in the polls that long-time opponents of American-style capitalism are making moves in the opposite direction. 
12:24 pm edt 

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Jonathan B. Wilson is an Atlanta attorney at the law firm of Taylor English Duma LLP.  Jonathan B. Wilson provides legal advice to investors, companies and business executives involving corporate law, securities law, SEC matters, intellectual property, website and Internet legal issues, start-ups, limited liability companies, partnerships, 1934 Act matters, outsourcing, strategic alliance agreements, contracts, and other matters of importance to growing private and publicly-traded companies.