Editorial January 15, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

It was only a year ago that over 1 million Americans contacted the Federal Communications Commission insisting on an open internet on which the speed of downloads is not dependent on an Internet provider controlling the download speed and charging websites more to be in the ‘fast lane’.

The requesting business was Comcast and the people’s opposition to FCC cooperation with Comcast’s wishes was specific to Comcast. The people prevailed for at least a while but what came out of the discussions were examples of how much better and less expensive Internet connections are in other countries and how some cities in the US that want to provide an Internet connection are blocked from doing so because of some state’s legislation prohibiting service being offered by the cities. Bottom line with the cities’ interest in becoming Internet providers is that an Internet connection is necessary for many things now; banking, shopping, and an endless opportunity to research anything from literature to healthcare. To be without the connection because you cannot afford regularly increasing costs to connect is to be limited in your ability to do business, personal or commercial, or be aware of risky weather.

Such a service being slower but more expensive than Internet services provided in other countries is similar to the situation where pharmaceuticals cost far less in other countries than in America.

We do not have a Congressional Majority that is willing to control the rising cost of an Internet connection any more than it is willing to intervene and bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals in this country. We do, however, have a Congress that is more than willing to provide the telecommunications services to North Korea that everyone here wants but can’t seem to have. The bill, HR 757, is a reaction to North Korea announcing it has carried out underground hydrogen bomb tests. Among the requirements that the President research activities that are sanctionable, the bill also states that “’Congress…seeks unrestricted, unmonitored, and inexpensive radio, Internet, and electronic mass communications available to the People of North Korea.’”

While some US telecom is likely to be involved in helping the President figure out how to provide unrestricted and inexpensive “radio, Internet, and electronic mass communications” (a cheap and effective bundle Americans are looking for) it is not likely we will see Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon or other trucks installing cable lines on  the streets of Pyongyang. With a purchasing power parity per North Korean individual of $1800 per year (198th in the World) the service better be cheap or free. Such a bundle set up to service extremely low income populations has not been successful here in the US because telecoms see no profit there and since North Korea or its people will not or cannot, respectively, afford the bundled service someone will have to pay and that would be US taxpayers.

With the bundled telecom service for North Korea provision Congress is akin to setting up a Radio Free Europe approach to getting US propaganda over national borders. It is not likely that the effort will be effective; Radio Free Europe has stood the test of time but the signals of Radio Marti, designed to bring the truth to Cubans, are easily blocked (yet we still pay for the broadcasts).

There has been some talk recently about ways to bring the Internet to rural US areas by tethering the ISP way up in the sky. Let’s say they do manage to get that working over North Korea – how are you going to put computers, cell phones and televisions in the hands of a people so poor they eat dogs?

If you ask why this can be done the answer is that it is now a matter of national security and seems to seek a way to get America’s message to the North Korean masses, but the greater question is why this Congress has supported telecom company wishes over millions of Americans but is not willing to provide an ‘unmonitored, inexpensive, unregulated Internet’ for those millions of Americans?

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Fight Against Islamic State Not Going So Well, Say Former Administration Officials

A trio of former Obama administration officials painted a grim picture of the fight against the Islamic State group, on the day of the president’s State of the Union speech.

“I would not be surprised if I woke up one morning and ISIS in Libya had grabbed a large portion” of territory there, similar to the Blitzkrieg-style push it made in Iraq in 2014, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on Tuesday.

His comment echoed the concerns of the committee’s chairman, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, who said that while there has been some success in reclaiming towns in Iraq and Syria, more broadly, the Islamic State’s influence has grown in countries like Libya and Afghanistan, and even in the United States.

With the help of airstrikes from the US-led coalition, Iraqi troops wrested control this month of a major city, Ramadi, from the group also known as IS or ISIS.

This battlefield victory is one of the wins Obama may highlight in his annual speech to Congress, as he makes the case that the White House’s current strategy against ISIS is working…

But Morell, along with former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers and former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, argued that airstrikes and battlefield victories alone will not defeat the Islamic State.

Removing the leadership is easier than denying the group a safe haven, Morell said.

Denying IS its safe havens in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere will require complex military actions, but it will also take political solutions in Damascus and addressing the Sunni-Shia divide in Iraq, Morell said. “We really can’t have military success without political solutions in both places.”

Ford agreed that without political solutions in Iraq or Syria, the fight against IS would not end…

Morell, Ford and Vickers all agreed that Assad has to go, but did not put a deadline on his departure. One internal timeline prepared for U.S. officials painted a scenario that did not foresee Assad stepping down as the country’s leader before March 2017.

As for who could follow Assad, “initially, it would be a very wobbly government,” Ford said. But “I do not believe that if Assad goes, it’s inevitable that IS takes over.”

As for the military component of the strategy, the problem remains the lack of a strong enough ground force, especially in Syria, Morell said.

There is a strategy in Iraq to build a ground force, and the victory in Ramadi is an example of its potential, he said. But “there is no strategy in Syria for a ground force with that same potential.”

He suggested that following Assad’s departure, Syrian government forces, “as degraded as they are,” should be turned into the force to take on IS.

Even in Iraq, the ability to create a large enough ground force with the will to fight ISIS remains in question.

“My sense is that in Iraq there is military progress,” Ford said. But low oil prices are putting serious pressure on the ability of the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to wage war against the Islamic State. More…


Quotes on the Issues

ISIS

ISIS Started with Saddam?

The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) might be led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and may have emerged out of al Qaeda in Iraq, but the question of who exactly is responsible for the group’s rise is still debated. One increasingly popular argument places the blame on the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Foreign Affairs / By Samuel Helfont and Michael Brill

North Korea

The sanctions bill we passed this evening will give the Administration additional authorities to target businesses and individuals engaged in financial and commercial dealings with North Korea and that support its nuclear weapons research, ballistic missile program, and systemic human rights violations.  It also reiterates that the United States will not provide assistance to those governments that engage in arms trading with North Korea. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Iran

The crews of the two US Boats detained Tuesday after sailing into Iranian territorial waters were later “transferred ashore by U.S. Navy aircraft,”

“we have concluded that passage of Americans in our territorial waters was not a hostile passage or for espionage or similar acts.” – Gen. Ali Fadavi, naval commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Initial indications are that one of the boats suffered mechanical difficulties, and the other craft stayed by its side as it drifted into Iranian waters.   By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley – Foreign Policy Magazine


Magic Mondays

with Congressman Marc Pocan (D-WI-2)


From Al Monitor

And We Thought We Had Problems with Congress

After the heat of recent parliamentary elections and controversy over parliament’s formation, it might be engaging to observe the 596 members try to reach consensus on more than 330 laws.

According to Article 156 of the Egyptian Constitution, in the absence of a parliament, the president can issue decrees that have the force of law. However, within 15 days of parliament sessions commencing, the new legislature must discuss and approve these laws. More…. Al Monitor.

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It’s Complicated

SALALAH, Oman — The Sultanate of Oman has always been the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member on best terms with Iran. Muscat’s alliance with Tehran must be understood within the context of Oman’s independent approach to foreign affairs under Sultan Qaboos’ leadership.

The Middle East’s escalating geopolitical crisis of early 2016 — stemming from Saudi Arabia’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Jan. 2, followed by Iran’s livid response — is testing Oman’s ability to maintain such strategic neutrality at a time when Riyadh is determined to unite its allies against Tehran. More…. Al Monitor.

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