- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Options and ‘a la carte’ cable

In his Tuesday letter, “A la carte cable,” David Honig uses the library as an analogy for why cable TV should not be available to consumers a la carte. Why not stick with an analogy to a restaurant, the source of the phrase?

When a new restaurant in my neighborhood receives good reports, I likely will give it a try. If it suits me and many others, it likely will thrive. If it serves unsavory (in some minds) or poor food, has lousy service or attracts a very small clientele, it likely will not survive in the marketplace. Why should television stations be any different?

DALE HILL

Colorado Springs

Kudos for running Peter Suderman’s column raising red flags on the wisdom and viability of so-called “a la carte” cable pricing. (“Why cable ‘a la carte’ won’t roll,” Commentary, Sunday).

A la carte advocates have hitched their wagon to an enormously appealing argument: Consumers shouldn’t have to pay for programming they never watch. Why should you pay for Viacom’s MTV when what you really want is the Discovery Channel? Why pay for Disney’s ESPN when all you really want to watch is the 700 Club?

The truth is that you’re paying for channels you don’t watch because a fan of Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas is paying for channels he doesn’t watch. Yes, the long-standing industrywide practice of bundling channels actually saves consumers money.

If Congress and the Federal Communications Commission enforce broad a la carte pricing mandates across the industry, most expect the less objectionable channels that parents praise to struggle and die in the face of pressure from the top-rated channels they criticize. In short, it isn’t the highly profitable Comedy Central that will suffer. It’s the less profitable, and less watched, counterparts.

National decency advocates should be congratulated for staying vigilant and standing on the front lines in defense of our children. Likewise, industry should be commended for responding recently to the market and introducing new “family tier” programming. That’s what we call a consumer-driven solution, not dangerous governmental tinkering.

JASON WRIGHT

President

Institute for Liberty

Fairfax

A real Alternative Minimum Tax

Why bother with Richard Rahn’s “Practical tax reform” (Commentary, Thursday) when we still have to deal with the alternative minimum tax? What we need to do is make the AMT better.

It amazes me that Congress has bothered specifying which deductions have to be thrown out under the AMT. What do we care which particular deductions taxpayers claim? Why not simply set the alternative minimum tax percentage and family exemptions? Then let the taxpayers worry about how they want to use their money.

Paying whichever is higher, the AMT or the standard calculation, would be mandatory for the top 2 percent of earners (you know, the ones the Democrats hate with such a passion). The choice of standard calculation versus AMT would be available to everyone else, except they would pay the lower of the two.

This is a reform that really is an alternative minimum tax.

RICK MARVIN

Gaithersburg

Nonpartisan research

The “Mr. ‘Nonpartisan’ ” item in Wednesday’s Inside Politics column contains factual errors, mischaracterizations and observations that reflect on the reputation of the Congressional Research Service.

The item refers to a “recent Congressional Research Service report that asserted that President Bush had violated the law by allowing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on phone calls to the United States from suspected terrorists overseas.”

The apparent reference is to a Jan. 5 CRS memorandum, prepared by attorneys in our American Law Division. Alfred Cumming, who is cited in the Inside Politics item, did not write the memorandum. Furthermore, the column mischaracterizes the memorandum, which analyzes the various legal arguments that have been made both pro and con regarding the legality of the NSA surveillance program. The memorandum raises questions about the strength of arguments supporting the program, but it does not “assert” that the president has violated the law.

The Congressional Research Service provides nonpartisan, objective analysis to Congress that meets rigorous review standards to ensure balance and objectivity. CRS employees are respected public servants of the legislative branch, who, in service to the majority and minority in both chambers of Congress, present their analyses with balance and without partisan bias. At the CRS, employees’ personal political views or previous employment are not permitted to intrude into their nonpartisan work for Congress. Such considerations played no part in the above legal analysis of the surveillance program or in Mr. Cumming’s work.

Hence, I must strongly object to the assertion that Mr. Cumming’s personal support for a political candidate or his former work in any way influenced the objectivity of his analysis.

DANIEL P. MULHOLLAN

Director

Congressional Research Service

Washington

Campaign finance reform over a term limit

Thomas Sowell is correct that corruption in government should be defined more broadly than simply the giving and taking of illegal contributions (“Political corruption” Commentary, yesterday). Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham are neither the beginning nor the end of corruption, and, in all fairness, mismanagement does, as Mr. Sowell suggests, have a greater effect on the average taxpayer (even though it is not defined as corruption).

Though Mr. Sowell’s idea that a single term limit should be imposed on all politicians probably comes from the kind of radical thinking we need to overhaul a system that has become rotten, I disagree with this particular suggestion.

Mr. Sowell claims that politicians spend their first term preparing for their second. This is true, but in more ways than Mr. Sowell acknowledges. His point is that campaigns are expensive and politicians would be tempted toward corruption and catering to special interests to fill their campaign war chests. Nevertheless, a second term is dependent — to some small extent, at least — on performance during the first term.

The promise of a second term holds politicians to the promises they made to get elected. If every politician were a lame duck as soon as he or she took office, what would be the point of following through on challenging promises made during the campaign?

Like Mr. Sowell, I would like to believe that public office could attract people of the stature of our nation’s founders, who heeded the call to duty and service to country. However, I feel more pragmatic. If every public office were limited to one term, that would require a lot of people, and the odds are that not all of them would have such noble qualities.

Purging career politicians such as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy or Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be great, but we risk losing those politicians who are re-elected year after year on their own merits.

To really solve this issue of corruption, campaign finance reform is better than a single term limit. Politicians should be allowed to accept money from anyone in any denomination so long as it is fully disclosed to the voting public.

This way, voters know what they get when they vote for a candidate. Politicians can finance their campaigns without looking to secret contributions from Mr. Abramoff or his clients. Disclosure holds politicians more accountable to voters and less accountable to special interests who hold the purse strings. (Theoretically, candidates with well-financed campaigns that rely heavily on special-interest funding will be less popular in the eyes of voters than candidates who are independent.)

JOHN GRAY

McLean

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