The Selling of America

Although we spend a lot of time looking at atrocities like the war in Iraq and the demolition of the Constitution, our government is destroying America in many other, and equally pernicious, ways. These ways include selling national forests into private hands, for example. There’s an article in the newest issue of Harper’s (not yet online) that argues the real point of the No Child Left Behind Act is to turn public schools into profit-making private businesses (profit being the real goal, of course, not education). We have a health care crisis because government favors and protects private insurance industry above the lives of citizens.

Their current project seems to be killing free speech by running small, independent periodicals out of business. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, writes,

Half a million dollars. In postage.

In just a few short days, The Nation will pay one of the biggest bills we’ve ever faced – half a million dollars – because of a postal rate increase scheme designed in part by lobbyists for the TimeWarner media conglomerate. Mailing costs for mega-magazines like TimeWarner’s own Time, People and Sports Illustrated will go up much less or in some cases decrease, while smaller publications like The Nation will be hit by an enormous rate increase.

Teresa Stack explains,

… in May 2006 the United States Postal Service proposed a rate increase for periodicals of about 11.7 percent, an increase that would have affected all periodicals more or less equally. Instead, in February the PRC [Postal Regulatory Commission] recommended a version of the rate proposal put forward by Time Warner, which had previously been rejected by the PRC and strongly opposed by the USPS. This proposal would have a disproportionately adverse effect on small national publications while easing the burden on the largest magazines.

The decision was followed by an industry “comment period” of only eight working days, an impossibly short time for small publications to digest changes so complex that to this day there is no definitive computer model to fully assess them. Nonetheless, the new rates are scheduled to take effect July 15.

We now know that small titles will be devastated. According to an analysis by McGraw-Hill (but not, inexplicably, done by the PRC or BOG), about 5,700 small-circulation publications will incur rate increases exceeding 20 percent; another 1,260 publications will see increases above 25 percent; and hundreds more, increases above 30 percent. Some small magazines will no doubt go out of business. Meanwhile, the largest magazines will enjoy the benefit of much smaller increases and in some cases, decreases. To make matters even worse, editorial content charges will now be based on distance. The system of charging one price however far editorial content travels, which has existed since our country’s founding, seems to have been summarily dismissed by the PRC, and then by the governors, with little thought of its future impact.

The Postal Regulatory Commission, btw, is made up of presidential appointees. I assume most of ’em are Bush appointees by now. See Liza Sabater for more.

The Nation is asking for contributions to keep itself in business. If there’s a small magazine in your life that you can’t live without, whether The Nation or another one, they might need some help. I wouldn’t be surprised if some smaller publications become web-only. And then there’s net neutrality

Bold Moves

Last February, Democrats in Congress struggled to put various anti-Iraq War resolutions up for a vote in the House and Senate. Republicans resisted. Senate Republicans in particular were effective at preventing debates on the bills to close so a vote could be taken. Then White House surrogates were dispatched to the cable political talk shows to smirk about do-nothing Democrats.

During that time, as Greg Sargent reported, the Dems got their hands on a GOP talking points memo that instructed Republicans in congress to avoid debating Iraq like the plague.

We are writing to urge you not to debate the Democratic Iraq resolution on their terms, but rather on ours.

Democrats want to force us to focus on defending the surge, making the case that it will work and explaining why the President’s new Iraq policy is different from prior efforts and therefore justified.

We urge you to instead broaden the debate to the threat posed to Americans, the world, and all “unbelievers” by radical Islamists. We would further urge you to join us in educating the American people about the views of radical Islamists and the consequences of not defeating radical Islam in Iraq.

The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date,
mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily. If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.

This is still the strategy, of course. As Eugene Robinson recently noted, President Bush is still claiming that the people we’re fighting in Iraq are the same ones who attacked us on 9/11.

“The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th,” President Bush insisted last Wednesday. But those who planned and executed the Sept. 11 attacks are either dead, in U.S. custody or holed up in Pakistan. They are nowhere near Iraq.

The other part of this strategy is to beat the Dems into submission with dishonest rhetoric. Arianna Huffington comments on the Bill Kristol op ed I blogged about yesterday:

I had a preview of this deluded triumphalist drivel a couple of days earlier — on Thursday afternoon specifically. Even more specifically, I was on the 4:00 pm Amtrak Acela from New York to Washington.

Kristol was sitting a row behind me, talking on his cell phone with someone who apparently shared his optimism. “‘Precipitous withdrawal’ really worked,” I overheard him say, clearly referring to the president’s use of the term in that morning’s press conference. “How many times did he use it? Three? Four?” he asked his interlocutor, and the conversation continued with a round of metaphorical back-slapping for the clever phrase they had “come up with.”

I, of course, have no idea who was on the other end. Tony Snow, perhaps? After all, he and Kristol were colleagues before Snow left Fox. But whoever it was, the emphasis during their conversation on the significance of the “clever” phrase has been emblematic of the White House prepping of the president.

Instead of sending their boss out with the real facts or logical arguments, Bush’s aides and their friends (see Kristol) concoct some nonsense phrase in the spin lab, hand it to him and tell him to go out there and repeat it as often as he can. The latest is “precipitous withdrawal.” It’s the new “cut and run.” It’s actually not all that new: back in January 1969, Richard Nixon used it again and again in his famous “Silent Majority” speech: “The precipitate withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster not only for South Vietnam but for the United States and for the cause of peace.” Again and again throughout the speech, Nixon used the phrase to paint the nightmarish consequences of a “precipitate withdrawal” from Vietnam. Almost forty years later, George Bush is using the slightly tweaked “precipitous withdrawal” to paint his own nightmarish scenario of what will happen if American forces leave Iraq. And for that, apparently, we have Bill Kristol to thank. At least partially.

By now you’ve heard of the faux filibuster Sen. Harry Reid plans for tonight. Margeret Talev writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

Senate Democrats are planning an all-night session Tuesday, daring Republicans to engage in an old-fashioned filibuster over Iraq troop withdrawals rather than just threatening one.

The tactic was unlikely to deliver the 60-vote supermajority that war critics need to bypass procedural hurdles and amend a defense authorization bill so that it would require withdrawing combat troop in four months.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that a little late-night drama might focus more public attention on why the new Democratic majority still hadn’t enacted binding antiwar legislation as it had campaigned to do.

“If Republicans insist on blocking a change of course in Iraq, Democrats will give them the opportunity to explain this, lots of opportunity to explain this,” Reid said. “We are going to have votes during the night. We’re not going to let everybody go home and have a good night’s rest.”

Bill Scher says
the punditocracy for the past six months has wagged its finger at the Dems, telling them to compromise and reach a bipartisan consensus. “In particular, [David] Brooks recently accused Reid of thwarting a biparistan consensus to change course (but remain) in Iraq, for political purposes,” Bill writes. But this “bipartisan consensus” was a figment of pundit imaginations; it never existed in Congress. As has been true for many years, “compromise” in pundit speak means “agreeing with Republicans.”

For six months, the Senate leadership largely took the counsel of the punditocracy. Bipartisanship for bipartisanship’s sake. Compromise for compromise’s sake. The argument was that’s the only way to responsibly govern and win the respect of the electorate.

But it was a bust. Despite all the efforts to water down legislation and curry the favor of the conservative minority, conservatives obstructed most everything anyway.

Few voters realize this, because these filibusters have been mere minutes long, if even that much. If Democrats couldn’t get 60 votes to break a filibuster, they would simply pull legislation off the floor, or not bother to put it on the floor. When Democrats avoid conflict, the media ignore the story, and with it, the conservative obstructions.

Conservatives were able to block popular legislation, without the public knowing about it. There was no political risk taken, no political price paid.

In the past several days a number of prominent Republican senators — e.g., Dick Lugar, John Warner — have called on a change of policy in Iraq, but when pressed about how they will vote they crawl back into their partisan corners and refuse to vote with Democrats. Reid said Republicans blocking the Levin-Reed amendment are “protecting the president instead of protecting the troops.” This is exactly right, and also a heck of a talking point.

I say that any Republican who admits Bush’s policy is wrong but who refuses to stand with Democrats against it ought to be haunted by armies of protesters in weasel costumes. Flush them out, I say.