- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Indecency proposal

The Washington Times reported that the Senate has passed legislation to increase Federal Communications Commission fines against broadcasters (not cable or satellite services) for indecency from the current paltry $32,500 to $325,000 per violation and that the House bill makes it $500,000 per offense, with the possibility of the revocation of a station’s license after three indecency violations (“Congress cracks down on broadcast indecency,” Nation, Saturday).

I certainly like the House’s “three-strikes-you’re out” provision because it treats white-collar criminals like street criminals. But I would suggest yet more imaginative provisions by Congress. First, no fine should be fixed, which would require Congress to adjust the fine periodically in the future. Second, the figure to which the ever-increasing fine is pegged should not be wholly arbitrary — whether it is $32,500 or $325,000 or $550,000 — but should be related to some economic reality that would be easy for the FCC to prove.

For example, Congress could set the figure at X dollars per viewer; even a fine of 10 cents per viewer with 3 million viewers would be $300,000. Or, Congress could set the fine so as to recover X percent of all advertising revenues paid to the broadcaster for the violating broadcast. I recognize, of course, that the fine cannot be so great as to deter the FCC from prosecuting a claim; it is the broadcaster we wish to deter, not the FCC.



NATO and Western Europe

James Hackett’s Sunday Commentary column, “NATO enters the game,” dealt with the belated recognition by European NATO nations that they, too, could be threatened by the proliferation of missiles capable of delivering nuclear, chemical and/or biological warheads.

He emphasized the importance of sustaining the momentum by calling on Congress and the Pentagon to avoid cutting funding for activities that would support European involvement. If indeed that were all that is required, there would be a real chance of progress,

As Mr. Hackett noted, West European governments have spent years denigrating America’s missile defense plans even though they had been kept abreast of much of the research and development.

Britain and Germany have had formal agreements to participate in the program since 1985, and other nations have shared in the R&D.; NATO certainly did not need a four-year study to discover that a missile defense of Europe is technically and financially feasible. The study was yet another way of avoiding a decision to start real investment.

Europeans remain skeptical because they have seen the enormous investment made by the U.S. for, as yet, little return. The missile defense capability in Alaska has been in place for almost two years but has not yet been tested properly or declared operational. The director of the Missile Defense Agency is reported to have stated that the current defense is better than zero. Not a great return for the expenditure of $100 billion.

As a strong believer in the need for genuine missile defense, I wish Mr. Hackett were right in his optimism that NATO is entering the game. I fear, however, that until the American program demonstrates real capability, the Europeans will continue to move forward very slowly.


North Potomac

All tied up

In “Why we overregulate” (Commentary,Sunday), Richard Rahn correctly reveals that “public choice” economics is not limited to government bureaucracy. Though it seems counterintuitive to the requisite efficiencies of a profit-making enterprise, the proliferation of government mandates affecting private business sustain the paychecks of an increasing number of corporate bureaucrats hired to navigate the never-ending stream of rules and regulations emanating from the alphabet soup of federal agencies.

Individual job security, however, is not the only reason some companies enthusiastically embrace the regulatory maze. Consider the large telecommunications company, for example, whose origins date back to the simpler, less-competitive times of the monopoly era. Such a company necessarily employed a legal staff devoted to regulatory matters, and its cost was built into the price the company charged for its services.

With minimal or no competition, that cost easily was passed on to the consumer. Remove the regulatory thicket, and not only does the regulatory staff have to find something else to do, but competitors don’t have to incorporate such regulatory compliance costs into their overhead. In other words, the existence of excess regulation not only provides jobs and opportunities for empire-building but is a substantial barrier to entry into the marketplace for entrepreneurs adept at raising capital for selling a better mousetrap but not for hiring lawyers to interpret how the government thinks the mousetrap should be built.

In a world of fast-paced technological growth and global competition, the anti-competitive symbiosis between regulator and corporate “regulatee” afflicts the marketplace to the detriment of consumers, entrepreneurs and the prospective employees and shareholders of new enterprises.


Oak Hill, Va.

Anti-Serbian quest

It’s interesting to note that Western governments have been loath to let the Serbian province of Kosovo be partitioned for fear that the territory will not be economically viable if it is illegally granted independence, but they appear willing to allow a much smaller and highly mountainous entity, Montenegro, with a population barely that of Albuquerque, N.M., to become yet anotheroneofmany “independent” (but really economically dependent on Western aid) banana republics in the Balkans — as usual, violating any Yugoslav laws on the secession process (“Montenegrin vote today on independence issue,” World, Sunday).

All this points to the centuries-old anti-Serbian “divide and conquer” agenda that was initiated by Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century to reduce Serbia so that it would never be a threat to their hegemony in the region and to deny Serbia access to the Adriatic. By encouraging Milo Djukanovic’s cigarette-smuggling enterprise/fiefdom in tiny Montenegro, we may provoke yet more civil war. We are yet again encouraging secessionists the world over and further impoverishing the Balkans. Someday, a similar situation could happen in the Southwestern U.S. If a majority of California’s residents vote to secede from the United States, will we allow it here?

Because of this anti-Serbian quest, nothing in the Balkans has been resolved, and there will be yet more instability in the region and bloodshed.


Henderson, Nev.

South of the border

That was a very interesting “Yankee go home” item in Inside Politics about Mexico’s immigration policy and how different from (and tougher than) the United States’ immigration policy it is (Nation, Monday).

A retired Marine Corps three-star general officer told me recently that the greatest compliment the United States could give to Mexico would be to adopt its immigration policy verbatim as our own.


Marine Corps (retired)

Stafford, Va.

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