Thursday, April 12, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 446 - Cable and Kaul

April 12, 7:45 a.m.

A Couple of Columns
Nicholas Johnson on the Qwest for Cable; Donald Kaul on Understanding Iraq

The Iowa Board of Regents, which still needs a governance policy, also still needs another three Regents. Bonnie Campbell made it through. The rest are waiting as the legislative session wanes. Brian Morelli, "Senate Approves Campbell for Regents; 3 Nominees Await Votes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 12, 2007.

Meanwhile, there are other issues, and a couple columns I will reproduce in full. One is my own, in this morning's Des Moines Register regarding Qwest's cable grab -- an issue that will have an impact on every Iowan (and, in my opinion, not a positive impact).

The other is a column by one of my all time favorite columnists, Donald Kaul. For the years that the Register could honestly brag that it was "the newspaper all Iowa depends upon" Don was the columnist all Iowans depended upon, and were delighted by. One would often find the morning papers on the counters of rural cafes around the state left open to his column. Funny, insightful, a national as well as statewide treasure, he was also one of the creators of the RAGBRAI ride, before he went the way of David Skorton.

He and I would ride together during those early years I was reporting on RAGBRAI from the road for National Public Radio. He rode an expensive 10-speed. Even less of a spendthrift then than now, I rode an old clunker three-speed, with rod brakes -- a model designed for the postal service of India that the Viet Cong had subsequently acquired and successfully discovered how to turn into their own version of a weapon of mass destruction, or at least mass transportation. With enough padding on its hard leather seat, it was comfortable and easily capable of cruising at 20 mph or more. Not everyone wore bicycle helmets during those early RAGBRAI days. (I always do now.) As Don and I were resting under a tree and visiting one day he observed, "I've noticed, Nick, that folks tend to protect the best that which they value the most. I have a bicycle helmet. You have a padded seat."

He once proposed that every U.S. Senate seat should be occupied by two, rather than one, Senators. One could campaign in the home state, the other could put in a full work week in Washington. It would provide better local service and a much more productive Congress. To illustrate the point, the Register ran a composite picture to show how it might work: one half of the face was Don's, the other half mine.

Anyhow, he's still writing. And he's still blending insight, wisdom and humor -- which isn't easy to do with Iraq, whether in the White House, halls of Congress, or newspaper columns. Thanks to Rapid Response's Trish Nelson for bringing this one to my attention, and to for distributing it.

Rein in prices by keeping tough local regulation
Nicholas Johnson

April 12, 2007

Qwest can already offer cable-television service. But it wants more.

It wants to write the rules, and with state, not community, franchises.

So it gave over $79,000 to Iowa legislators during 2005-06. Its industry PAC gave another $86,000. And the Iowa Senate gave the company what it wanted.

We don't assume anything's amiss. We trust our legislators. But we also follow President Ronald Reagan's advice: "Trust, but verify."

Why tilt the playing field to favor one industry?

Because, we're told, the bill's good for us. Competition lowers prices. Really? Qwest lobbies legislators to reduce its prices and profits? I don't think so. As AT&T's CEO told Wall Street, "it's going to be a war of value and services," not prices.

The data are slightly mixed. But most show it's tough local regulation, not competition, that lowers prices -- the very regulation this bill undermines.

North Liberty has telco competition. Iowa City doesn't. Yet Iowa City's locally regulated cable rates are lower.

A study of Chicago-area cable services found no significant impact on rates from telco competition. Another found the same in Texas.

Not only do Iowans gain nothing from this bill, they also lose. Qwest gets to end-run regulation by Iowa's cities. Then the bill lets cable companies cancel their local franchises and ask for equal treatment.

Qwest says getting franchises from cities is burdensome. But most Iowa cities use Mediacom's model franchise. All Qwest would have to do is cross out Mediacom's name and insert its own.

As a Federal Communications Commission member, I played a role in writing some of the few consumer protections provided by local regulation.

Cable companies usually have to wire the whole town. This bill could let telcos choose the neighborhoods they want.

Cable companies pay Iowa's cities franchise fees based on revenues. So will Qwest -- but it wants to exclude its advertising revenues.

Moreover, contributions for public-access channels' operating expenses, such as the $319,000 Mediacom gives Iowa City, will apply to Qwest for only a limited period, then disappear. Qwest won't have to pay anything more than its reduced franchise fee.

Why are Cedar Rapids' basic rates increasing 55 percent, while Iowa City's will probably remain lowest in the state? Tough local regulation.

And who will protect those who can barely afford "basic" rates now?

Iowa's cities have negotiated franchise benefits. They will lose them two ways. (1) Quest's "state franchise" probably won't require these benefits. (2) Then Mediacom can cancel its local franchise and opt for the same terms from the state.

Mediacom offers almost all cities free cable and Internet connections for schools, libraries and city offices. Gone. Production services for city council meetings. Free or reduced-cost informational PSAs from the city. Direct city access to the Emergency Alert System. Financial support for broadband city networks. All gone.

It's all something for members of the Iowa House to think about before they vote on this bill -- and they also "Trust but verify."

NICHOLAS JOHNSON,, is a former FCC commissioner now teaching at the University of Iowa College of Law.

[Note: This column is copyright by the Des Moines Register and is reproduced here for educational and commentary fair use purposes only. In the spirit of the "Fairness Doctrine" the President of Qwest Iowa, Max Phillips, also has a column on this subject in today's Register. Max Phillips, "Allow state franchise to open competition, lower TV rates," Des Moines Register, April 12, 2007. As you might imagine, he takes a different view of the matter.]

Donald Kaul

April 11, 2007

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. The world of Islam is divided into two mainstream groups---Shiites and Sunnis. They disagree on who is the legitimate heir to Mohammed’s sovereignty over the Muslim world, a disagreement that has been going on for the past 1400 years, give or take a few weeks.

Most Muslims, and there are a lot of them in the world, are Sunnis, BUT the majority of Iraqi Muslims are Shiite.

DESPITE THAT, Iraq was ruled for many years---rather brutally---by a Sunni minority. (Saddam Hussein, while a nominal Sunni, lived a lifestyle, along with his sons, that was quite secular, in the sense that Las Vegas is secular.)

UNTIL we reinvaded Iraq, deposed Saddam, uprooted the Sunni ruling class and engineered an election that installed a Shiite majority government.

UNDERSTANDABLY, the Sunni minority was totally ticked off at being shunted aside and began attacking U.S. and Iraqi government troops, as well as Shiite civilians.

PREDICTABLY, the Shiites responded by attacking Sunnis wherever they found them and, backed by a private Shiite militia called the Mahdi army, began driving Sunnis from their homes in traditionally mixed neighborhoods.

STUBBORNLY, our government refused to call it a civil war, preferring the term “war on terror.”

INEXPLICABLY, in an effort to see that our Shiite-sponsored government succeeded, we attacked the Mahdi army, which was the only thing propping up that government.

UNSURPRISINGLY, this made Iran, Iraq’s neighbor, exceedingly happy since it also happens to be a Shiite-majority state. It began sneaking arms into Iraq to help the Shiite government (whom, you’ll remember, we were also trying to help).

ODDLY, this infuriated us, apparently because we wanted a monopoly on protecting the Shiites from the Sunnis. We and the rest of the Incredible Shrinking Coalition of the Willing threatened Iran with sanctions even more severe than the sanctions we threatened it with because it won’t stop trying to build an atomic bomb.

INFURIATINGLY, Iran retaliated by capturing 15 British sailors and marines at sea, claiming that they had violated Iranian waters. When the British government denied this, the Iranians produced confessions in which all 15 apologized for trespassing.

NATURALLY, this did not satisfy either Britain or the United States, who felt the confessions were obtained under duress.

IRONICALLY, we had just produced a member of al Qaida who, after four years of interrogation at Guantanamo, had confessed to masterminding every terrorist crime of the past 10 years and we accepted his word as gospel. (Apparently, with current interrogation methods, you can get a ham sandwich to confess to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.)

EMBARRASSINGLY, the King of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni state and traditionally our firmest Arab ally, cancelled a Washington state dinner in his honor and denounced the U.S. occupation of Iraq as “illegal.”

DEFIANTLY, Sen. John McCain, a staunch supporter of the war, announced that the Surge in Iraq is working. He’d just returned from a trip to Baghdad, he said, where he’d found neighborhoods that were as safe as Lux soap, filled with “welcoming Iraqis.”

UNFORTUNATELY, “The New York Times” went into those neighborhoods a few days later and found them still dangerous and the “welcoming Iraqis” cynical. It seems McCain and his party had been escorted by 100 soldiers in armored Humvees while attack helicopters circled overhead. “He is just using this visit for publicity,” a Baghdad merchant said. “They’ll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America and we will have nothing.”

So there you have it. We have made our greatest enemy stronger in the region, alienated our allies there and made the country all but uninhabitable.

And that’s why we’re in Iraq---UNENDINGLY.

(Correction: Last month I made light of conservative Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s brag that he had raised $50,000 for his campaign. The actual figure was $500,000. I apologize for not making light of that.)
Don Kaul is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he's wrong.

UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

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