Commentary by Steve Effros Power Corrupts Lord Acton’s well used observation, "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," could probably be cited as the predominant theme in Washington these days. To be sure, that is the case in the increasingly acrimonious battles between Congress and the President. The entire debate over war and peace, civil liberties and security and economic "haves" and "have-nots" is being played out on a stage where leveraging power is the single constant. The current administration came into office with at least one clearly defined goal: to bolster the power of the Chief Executive to the point where other "checks and balances" ceased to have a meaningful role. We see that fight continuing to play out even with Congress now in the hands of the "opposition." It’s tough to wrest power away from those who accumulate it, once they’ve got it. Lord Acton suggested that the more power one accumulates, the more it corrupts the possibly benign intentions of the possessor. The signs are easy to spot; replace all the key decision-makers who access the levers of government with those who are loyal and friendly. It is not necessary that these people have knowledge or expertise in what they are doing, just who they are working for. Control the agenda. Don’t allow issues to get raised until, so to speak, the "fix is in." If you don’t have the votes, don’t allow a vote. Delay. Only release information that supports your point of view. If the data does not do that, get new data or change the assumptions of the data collection and reporting so that the preconceived position turns out to be supported. Does all this sound familiar? Sure, I could be writing about the White House and Congress, the Iraq war, or "Brownie" doing a good job. But I’m not. I’m looking at what has happened to the FCC. A spate of articles have appeared recently—from Wall Street analysts to trade and consumer press reports—about Chairman Martin and what or why he is doing what he is doing. In a hearing last week, a member of Congress even asked the Chairman why he appeared to be introducing so many proposals antithetical to the cable industry. His response was predictable, and in a way correct: the Chairman of the FCC is usually criticized by most industries the FCC regulates. True enough, but there is a difference. As I have noted before, ever since the so-called "Sunshine Rules" inadvertently concentrated power in the Chairman’s office (long before Chairman Martin got there), that office has accumulated power that appears to have reached its unfortunate peak. The result is that the processes of the Commission itself are being corrupted. I am not going to engage in the "..is Chairman Martin cable-bashing?" debate. What is clear is that Chairman Martin has some "favorite" issues, among them a la carte and indecency. He is a true believer in those issues and has found that he also has almost total control of the levers of power at the FCC. So he is using them to achieve what he sees as righteous ends, by whatever means. Not a good sign, but a clear trend around Washington. The fact that the other Commissioners seem to be frozen out of much of the decision-making process doesn’t help either. It’s the overall structure that has become dysfunctional, not just one person. The "corruption" is taking its toll. Lord Acton also noted that "…public discussion demands at least the profession of good faith." We can at least hope for that.

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