- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

Pushing for cable choice

Do you chuckle at the description of the cable industry as “well-functioning?” Well, that’s what Americans for Prosperity (AFP) called it on these very pages while savaging the millions of families who wish to pay only for the cable programming they choose — also known as cable choice (“Parents, not government,” Op-Ed, May 21).

So why is it that we cannot pick and choose — and pay for — only the cable networks we want in our homes? Because there’s a cozy relationship between programmer and distributor — one that comfortably conceals them from the votes of the marketplace and reliably yields annual price increases that are several times the rate of inflation.

With the exception of cable television, no other media sector requires a customer to purchase a product he does not want — or that he may even find harmful or offensive — in order to obtain a product that he does want. Some conservatives would have us believe that a “free market” exists in the cable business, but without meaningful choices given to customers to select what goods and services they actually want, it is absurd to call today’s cable business a free market. What we propose is actually the creation of a free market in cable programming — just like there is for virtually all other goods and services.

That’s why family groups such as the Parents Television Council have joined with national consumer and family organizations and even a number of prominent cable television executives in calling for some form of a la carte cable pricing. An open market between the buyer and the seller always has — and always will — yield the best results.

The opponents of cable choice, however, appear to share one common trait: They gain an enormous financial benefit by keeping the status quo. The cable industry is only “well-functioning” at lining its own pockets by forcing consumers to pay for — increasingly each year — what they don’t want.

For that matter, why would a conservative organization such as AFP — whose bailiwick is government spending and taxation — take this type of sudden interest in an issue like cable choice? It raises the specter of behind-the-scenes Washington influence peddling at its worst, and we challenge AFP and other affiliated groups to come clean about their sources of funding. How much money have these groups collected from the cable industry to suddenly join the fight against cable choice? Only then will the American people know who is acting in the real interest of children and families and who is shilling for giant media conglomerates.

The Federal Communications Commission’s recent recommendations hopefully will motivate the industry to step up to the plate, take responsibility for its product and fix a problem that it has not only created but perpetuated. Make no mistake about it: The industry has the ability to fix it. The question is whether it will do so or whether the cable industry will continue to spend tens of millions of dollars in Washington to thwart the will and desires of its own customers across the country.

We will continue to advocate the market-based reforms necessary to bring about real change on America’s televisions and favored by about 80 percent of all Americans in poll after poll. We call on conservatives and liberals alike to join us and the dozens of other family and consumer groups working to give families a break.

L. BRENT BOZELL III

Founder

Parents Television Council

Alexandria

Obama on supply and demand

Friday’s editorial on Sen. Barack Obama’s health care policy,” Obama’s delusional spreadsheet,” was certainly accurate, but it missed the principle point Mr. Obama was making. That is, he is going to increase the effective demand for health care and, at the same time, lower the cost. In other words, he is proposing to repeal the law of supply and demand.

If he can convince me of his ability to do that, I most assuredly will vote for him.

WILLIAM M. STELL

McLean

‘The mother of all problems’

The Sunday editorial “Social Security and immigration” is misleading with respect to Social Security surpluses. The statement that President Bush will have spent more than a $1 trillion in Social Security surpluses over the past five years cannot be true.

The oft-cited surpluses are made up of two parts, cash income and interest income. The cash income can be spent. The interest income is interest owed to the Social Security Trust Fund and cannot be spent. The trust fund is money that the government owes itself and is part of the national debt.

There is no “lockbox.” At present, the Social Security Trust Fund’s asset’s are about $2 trillion and the annual interest more than $90 billion. The amount of Social Security surplus that will have been spent over the past five years is probably less than $400 billion. Social Security cash-flow funds are handled “off budget,” and the surplus money is put into the general fund and can be spent for anything the government desires. Keeping track of surpluses is just a paperwork exercise. Every Congress since Social Security started running a surplus has spent it. You can’t blame the current president for this one.

The impact of immigration on Social Security is another subject. A March 29 article, “Social Security liability foreseen” (Nation) said that in 2004 Social Security tax payments that couldn’t be matched to valid Social Security numbers amounted to $65 billion. If this number is valid, Social Security cash flow for 2004 would have been negative. This implies that Social Security would be in deep trouble now if it weren’t for the illegal aliens.

The Sunday editorial points out myriad Social Security problems that would be created with legalization of the illegal aliens. See what happens when Congress ignores two major problems for more 20 years: They merge to be the mother of all problems.

JOHN T. MCVICKAR

Vienna

Failed democracy in Nigeria

Though I agree with Michael A. Brown’s overriding assertion that the United States should engage Nigeria in order to avert terrorist infiltration (“Nigeria’s fresh start,” Commentary, Saturday), I have major issues with his portraying the recent Nigerian election as a fresh start and some kind of wonderful democratic event to be heralded by the United States.

Mr. Brown conveniently fails to point out that newly elected President Umaru Yar’Adua was virtually unknown before being hand-picked by outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo. He doesn’t mention that through Mr. Yar’Adua, Mr. Obasanjo has positioned himself to have ongoing influence over, if not control of, the government.

Mr. Brown glosses over concerns about the fairness of the election that vaulted Mr. Yar’Adua to power; most international election observers have either condemned the election or come short of declaring it free and fair. Mr. Brown further implies that because President Bush’s 2000 election victory turned on the Florida debacle, Mr. Bush should be sympathetic to Nigeria’s leader, elected under questionable circumstances. I would hope not.

Again, I agree that the United States should engage and support Nigeria, but let’s not fool ourselves. There are major problems in Nigeria, and doubt about its adherence to democratic principles is perhaps the biggest of them. Let’s deal with Nigeria with our eyes wide open.

FRED LAWRENCE

Potomac

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