New CIA Director Has Hawkish History on Israel and Iran

The Bottom Line Licensed to Rule

Television license. There is no argument over the fact that the TV license riles the public more than any other. Everyone hates paying it and feels it is redundant.

Television license. There is no argument over the fact that the TV license riles the public more than any other. Everyone hates paying it and feels it is redundant. After a protracted battle, the Knesset passed legislation in May 2003 (as part of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first budget cuts) to cut the radio license by 5 percent and the TV license fee by 10 percent, in order to force the Israel Broadcasting Authority to become more efficient.

There are some journalists and technicians at the IBA who work hard and earn all the fees they get. But there are many others that do nothing, and if this were a normal enterprise, they would have been dismissed already. Even those at the authority admit that 600 out of the 1,800 employed there are superfluous, and that the budget of NIS 920 million is bloated beyond imagination. But director Yosef Barel is a consummate politician-handler. Using screen time and flattering reports, he managed to massage their egos and ward off the evil decree. Now he proposes to reduce the television license, but at the same time sharply increase the license for car radios. What's the connection? Why should owners of car radios pay for those who watch television?

Clearly this illogical suggestion would not stand up to legal examination. But in the meantime, Barel has managed to defer the treasury's original efficiency plans. Has Netanyahu forgotten "the fat man, thin man" scenario? Is the broadcasting authority not one of the fattest men in the country, needing an immediate and strict diet?

Ehud Olmert. Many prime ministers over the years have set up socioeconomic councils to "advise" them. The council would normally be full of "senior leaders of the economy" who see a golden opportunity to influence government while enjoying some of the benefits: a grant here or there, some funds, a little plot of land maybe - and maybe the interest rate could be pushed down, too. Everyone would be happy. The panelists would get top billing in the papers while the prime minister got free advice, which he wouldn't dream of accepting. And so each council, one by one, went its merry way.

Now Industry Minister Olmert has revived the idea. He recently convened an "industrialists forum" to hear their advice on Israel's trade with the outside world. The panelists, swelling with pride over the good fortune dropped into their laps, immediately sat down to draft requests to make to the minister on their next meeting, because there is no industrialist who would miss such an opportunity.

So I have a suggestion for the minister: Set up another forum, the "consumers forum." Of course such a panel, Olmert wouldn't enjoy. The participants would be the ordinary public: consumers, Consumer Council members, workers, clerks, housewives - all experts onmicroeconomics.

Of course, the meetings wouldn't be as much fun, and there certainly wouldn't be any cigars. But the panel could force Olmert to listen, and maybe finally understand why consumers like the current system of individual item-pricing on every food product, a system that the "industrialists forum" can't abide.