Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Here's to the State of Missouri...*
According to Free Exchange on Campus, on April 12, "
the Missouri House passed HB 213, the ACTA-inspired bill that mandates annual reporting to the coordinating board of higher education on issues of 'intellectual diversity' including protecting the viewpoint that 'the Bible is inerrant.' Rep. Jane Cunningham, the sponsor of the bill, wants the good folks of Missouri to believe this is based on the views of students because she has an individual case that she misrepresents as a systemic problem."

Every academic in the country ought to write a nasty letter to the speaker of the Missouri House and to every major newspaper in the the Show Me state protesting this nonsense. And we should be vigilant about this bill becoming a template for other states around the country. Among other things, the act opens the door to the teaching of so-called "intelligent design" as science and legitimates "monitoring" of the content of university classes. Of course, those of us on the socialist left could perhaps use the mandate for "intellectual diversity" in this legislation to protest the pro-business propaganda that often passes for scholarship and teaching in economics and business departments (where many faculty treat, not the Bible, but the equally loony pronouncements of Milton Friedman as "inerrant").

[ * Phil Ochs, at the height of the civil rights struggle in the south, penned a delightfully pointed little ditty called "Here's to the State of Mississippi" skewering that state for clinging to its racist, segregationist policies. The title of this post is an allusion to that song. Below is a choice snippet from Ochs' lyrics:

And here's to the schools of Mississippi
Where they're teaching all the children that they don't have to care
All the rudiments of hatred are present everywhere
And every single classroom is a factory of despair
There's nobody learning such a foreign word as fair
Oh, here's to the land you've torn out the heart of
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of]

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Death Knell of the Little Magazine?
Bob McChesney sent out an urgent letter earlier today alerting media reform activists and media studies scholars alike to the U.S. Post Office's impending rate hike and what it will do to "little magazines" like In These Times, The Nation, Monthly Review, Z Magazine and, for that matter, right wing publications like The National Review.

Here's some of the more important bits:
The U.S. Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its rates for magazines, such that smaller periodicals will be hit with a much much larger increase than the largest magazines.

Because the Post Office is a monopoly, and because magazines must use it, the postal rates always have been skewed to make it cheaper for smaller publications to get launched and to survive. The whole idea has been to use the postal rates to keep publishing as competitive and wide open as possible. This bedrock principle was put in place by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They considered it mandatory to create the press system, the Fourth Estate necessary for self-government.

It was postal policy that converted the free press clause in the First Amendment from an abstract principle into a living breathing reality for Americans. And it has served that role throughout our history.

What the Post Office is now proposing goes directly against 215 years of postal policy. The Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its mailing rates for magazines. Under the plan, smaller periodicals will be hit with a much larger increase than the big magazines, as much as 30 percent. Some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent.

The new rates, which go into effect on July 15, were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight, and the increased costs could damage hundreds, even thousands, of smaller publications, possibly putting many out of business. This includes nearly every political journal in the nation. These are the magazines that often provide the most original journalism and analysis. These are the magazines that provide much of the content on Common Dreams. We desperately need them.

What the Post Office is planning to do now, in the dark of night, is implement a rate structure that gives the best prices to the biggest publishers, hence letting them lock in their market position and lessen the threat of any new competition. The new rates could make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine, unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate.

Not surprisingly, the new scheme was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers, or for citizens who depend upon a free press.

The corruption and sleaziness of this process is difficult to exaggerate. As one lawyer who works for a large magazine publisher admits, “It takes a publishing company several hundred thousand dollars to even participate in these rate cases. Some large corporations spend millions to influence these rates.” Little guys, and the general public who depend upon these magazines, are not at the table when the deal is being made.

The genius of the postal rate structure over the past 215 years was that it did not favor a particular viewpoint; it simply made it easier for smaller magazines to be launched and to survive. That is why the publications opposing the secretive Post Office rate hikes cross the political spectrum. This is not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue, it is a democracy issue. And it is about having competitive media markets that benefit all Americans. This reform will have disastrous effects for all small and mid-sized publications, be they on politics, music, sports or gardening.

This process was conducted with such little publicity and pitched only at the dominant players that we only learned about it a few weeks ago and it is very late in the game. But there is something you can do. Please go to and sign the letter to the Postal Board protesting the new rate system and demanding a congressional hearing before any radical changes are made. The deadline for comments is April 23
I want to reiterate Bob's call to action here. The disappearance of "little magazines" would be a huge blow to the left because-- in the absence of strong left political parties and militant unions--they are among the few institutions that give the left in the U.S. a national identity. And without them, I'd be forced to read Newsweek, Time, the New Republic, U.S. News and World Report, Foreign Policy and other such pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, pop-culture-obsessed dreck. Please save me from this mind-numbing fate. Log onto and make your voice heard....