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War Costs: Even Worse Than You Think

The federal government will spend $2.4 trillion by 2017 for waging the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the most mind-boggling statistic to come from the Congressional Budget Office's estimate released today on the rapidly rising costs of Bush's war.

The number assumes that the current 200,00 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 75,000 by 2013 and remain at that level by 2017. At a hearing of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, CBO Director Peter Orzag described just how much money we're talking about:

-$11 billion a month is being spent in funding for Afghanistan and Iraq-- of which $9 billion goes to Iraq. In 2003, President Bush's Budget Director, Mitch Daniels, estimated the cost of the Iraq War would be $50 to $60 billion.

-Of the $2.4 trillion figure, $1.7 trillion is the projected war costs over the next 10 years. Nearly $900 billion of this is for actually fighting the wars, while $700 billion will be used to pay off interest on the money borrowed to finance the wars.

-Bush is asking for $196 billion in war funding in next years' budget. This is more money than the total budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Justice Department, FBI and Environmental Protection Agency.

The CBO did offer an alternative, withdrawal-based budget scenario where by 2010 there would only be 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would bring war costs to $570 billion by 2017.

At the same time, the CBO's projection is not even a worst-case scenario. "This doesn't consider if Vice-Preisdent Cheney is successful in invading Iran," pointed out Texas Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett. "This assumes troop levels will stay the same and then go lower." Orzag also admitted that it's hard to estimate the full veterans health-care costs, particularly in treating Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome.

During the hearing, Orzag was intent on pointing out to the committee that the "emergency funding" Bush keeps requesting for the Iraq War really isn't emergency funding, noting that a lot of this money goes to buying equipment. "The purpose of 'emergency funding' isn't to replace a 1990 tank with a high-technology 2007 or 2008 tank," Orzag said.

Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, who spent most of the hearing as the only Republican there and only defender of the Bush policy, also declared, "We should be putting these [war] costs in our base budget."

Democratic members made much of the absence of Republicans and the fact that Bush Administration officials declined to testify about the war costs. "Their absence speaks even louder than words and statistics," Doggett huffed.

"Someday, somebody has to pay for this war and that's going to be the children of the wounded," Massachusetts Democratic Representative Jim McGovern noted. "I only wish the President was listening." McGovern is one of several Democrats proposing a tax to pay for the war that Orzag called "unsustainable" in budgetary terms.

The Post Office vs. the Founding Fathers

On July 15, the postal rates for America's most important political magazines, both left and right, increased by twenty to thirty percent after the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) adopted a rate plan written by lobbyists from Time-Warner.

The lobbyists' plan, unsurprisingly, has the effect of shifting the burden of new postal increases away from its large circulation corporate clients like Time and People toward smaller, independent publications like The Nation and National Review. (The Nation is looking at roughly $500,000 in increased annual postal costs.)

The rate hikes turn more than two hundred years of postal policy on its head and have led numerous small publications to the brink of bankruptcy. As the Founding Fathers understood, political magazines of all perspectives and persuasions are invaluable incubators for political ideas and discourse. Their disappearance degrades our media and cripples our democracy.

Postal rate increases for the magazine industry generally don't generate major news and the PRC was counting on its obscurity to insulate it from the criticism it well deserved. But last spring when we at The Nation found out about the PRC's abdication to Time-Warner and what it would mean, not just for us, but for all publications in our category, we started talking to colleagues and friends and a bipartisan grassroots fire was soon lit with the non-profit media reform group Free Press leading the charge. (Even the blogosphere, which obviously need not concern itself with postal costs, took on the issue, rightly insisting that Time-Warner's efforts to harm the independent press off-line mirrored Big Media's goal of upending the net neutrality that guarantees that web users can access small, independent websites as easily as they can find the big boys.)

A bipartisan group of publications banded together and shot off a letter to the Postal Board of Governors demanding a delay in implementation of the new rates until an investigation into the process was completed. A massive media campaign was undertaken that saw scores of newspapers, radio programs, websites and magazines come out against the rate increase. Almost 1,000 academics started a petition drive to Congress requesting hearings on the matter and the public responded to the coalition's joint call to similarly petition Congress to address the charges being directed at the PRC.

....And they listened! Next Tuesday, October 30, the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia chaired by Danny Davis (D-IL) will hear testimony from a series of witnesses, including The Nation's Victor Navasky. It's unlikely that the increases will be overturned but stranger things have happened and just the fact of the hearings themselves is a testament to the power of grassroots protest.

Help keep it going by signing the Free Press petition to Congress to reverse the unjust postal rate increase for small political publications. It'll also help to call the offices of the members of the subcommittee prior to the hearing next week, especially if you happen to live in one of the subcommittee member's districts. Names and number follow:

Danny K. Davis, Chairman, (202) 225-5006
Eleanor Holmes Norton, (202) 225-8050
John P. Sarbanes, (202) 225-4016
Elijah E. Cummings, (202) 225-4741
Dennis J. Kucinich, (202) 225-5871
Wm. Lacy Clay, (202) 225-2406
Stephen F. Lynch, (202) 225-8273
Kenny Marchant, (202) 225-6605
John M. McHugh, (202) 225-4611
John L. Mica, (202) 225-4035
Darrell E. Issa, (202) 225-3906
Jim Jordan, (202) 225-2676

There are precedents for the Postal Rate Commission's rulings to be revised but it's going to take a massive groundswell of public opposition similar to the explosion of outrage over the FCC's 2003 decision to change media ownership rules. The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. With your help we can reverse this decision and salvage the postal system that has served free speech in America so well for so long.

Bush on Cuba

President Bush's belligerent speech on Cuba signals that he intends to continue his Administration's delusional crusade for regime change--despite the self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war. His unwise and misguided warning to Cuba was troubling for its inference that there might (read: should be) violent upheaval on the island; his effort to push the Cuban people toward that; and his effort to split the country's military.

The speech shows how distant Bush remains from understanding Cuba's reality today, and how little leverage the US has to exert a positive influence on the transition well underway. This past Spring, in a special issue on Cuba guest-edited by Peter Kornbluh, The Nation laid out a new US policy--one that would end 48 years of delusion and discord. "The next occupant of the White House," we argued, "will have an unusual opportunity to bring US policy toward Cuba into the twenty-first century." lifting the embargo and building normal relations.

Colin Powell's former chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson put it well, referring to the US's intransigent stance. It is "the dumbest policy on the face of the earth. The time has come to change it."

Hillary Day at the Nixon Library

"Hillary's fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life," Carl Bernstein told a packed auditorium at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, earlier this week.

Bernstein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter on Watergate, and author of a new book on Hillary, A Woman in Charge. His appearance in Yorba Linda was a historic moment of sorts, as he himself noted: if he had said in 1999, when he started doing research on Hillary, "that I would be invited to speak at the Nixon Library, and that I'd be talking about Hillary as possibly the next president of the United States, I'd be accused of smoking something--and inhaling."

The event marked the transformation of the Nixon Library from a private institution run by Nixon loyalists to a public one run by the National Archives, under the direction of historian Tim Naftali. Bernstein spoke to a full house--300 people--including many students from nearby colleges getting extra credit for showing up.

Hillary's life with Bill, Bernstein said, was one of "remarkable sacrifices and embarrassments," because "she undertook the job of containing and covering up the effects of his sexual compulsions."

At lunch before his talk, Bernstein emphasized Hillary's continuing obsession with secrecy. He told me he did not think Hillary would repeal Bush's Executive Order on Classification, the most restrictive ever, which has outraged advocates of freedom of information in Congress and the media. Bush's order gives the president or any former president the right to withhold the former president's papers from the public. At the time it was issued--shortly after 9-11--it seemed intended to conceal from the public information about the presidency of Bush senior, many of whose staffers held high positions in the White House of Bush junior.

But the Bush executive order on classification would have a special appeal for Hillary as president, Bernstein said. "Do you think she wants to open the papers of Bill's presidency, which include all the material on her role?" Asked about the legislation introduced by Congressman Henry Waxman to repeal Bush's classification order, Bernstein was skeptical it would pass in the next congress: "Do you think Democrats in Congress would demand repeal in the face of Hillary's opposition?"

"Nixon's history is settled," Bernstein told the audience at the Nixon Library. "What is not yet settled is the history of the Clintons--their use and abuse of power." That's important because, if Hillary wins, "we're talking about a restoration."

Her obsession with humiliation and secrecy can be traced back to her "hellish childhood," Bernstein said, in a family where her father "verbally humiliated and abused her mother." The question asked by people at the time, according to Bernstein, was, "Why did her mother stay with this man?" He couldn't help noting that the same question would be asked about her.

While Hillary's concern with secrecy remains a constant today, Bernstein said, she has changed in other ways since her days as First Lady. In the White House she had "a take-no-prisoner combativeness, an anger that was consuming." It had disastrous effects: the 1994 victory of New Gingrich and the Republicans, which transferred control of the House away from the Democrats for the first time since the New Deal, he said, "was a result of the failures of Hillary Clinton."

But in the Senate "she became self-confident in a way she had never been since she met Bill." Her old combativeness "is gone." As for the senators who voted to convict her husband in his impeachment trial, Bernstein said, "she joined their prayer group."

Finally, does Carl Bernstein think Hillary going to win the presidency? He replied, "The night the Supreme Court voted to make Bush president, I said on TV I thought he would be a compassionate conservative, reach out to Democrats, and govern from the center. So don't turn to me for predictions about politics."

The Bush Administration as Cold Warriors in a Strange Land

They came in as unreformed Cold Warriors, only lacking a cold war -- and looking for an enemy: a Russia to roll back even further; rogue states like Saddam's rickety dictatorship to smash. They were still in the old fight, eager to make sure that the "Evil Empire," already long down for the count, would remain prostrate forever; eager to ensure that any new evil empire like, say, China's would never be able to stand tall enough to be a challenge. They saw opportunities to move into areas previously beyond the reach of American imperial power like the former SSRs of the Soviet Union in Central Asia, which just happened to be sitting on potentially fabulous undeveloped energy fields; or farther into the even more fabulously energy-rich Middle East, where Saddam's Iraq, planted atop the planet's third largest reserves of petroleum, seemed so ready for a fall -- with other states in the region visibly not far behind.

It looked like it would be a coming-out party for one--the debutante ball of the season. It would be, in fact, like the Cold War without the Soviet Union. What a blast! And they could still put their energies into their fabulously expensive, ever-misfiring anti-missile system, a subject they regularly focused on from January 2000 until September 10, 2001.

They were Cold Warriors in search of an enemy--just not the one they got. When the Clintonistas, on their way out of the White House, warned them about al Qaeda, they paid next to no attention. Non-state actors were for wusses. When the CIA carefully presented the President with a one-page, knock-your-socks-off warning on August 6, 2001 that had the screaming headline, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.," they ignored it. Bush and his top officials were, as it happened, strangely adrift until September 11, 2001; then, they were panicked and terrified -- until they realized that their moment had come to hijack the plane of state; so they clambered aboard, and like the Cold Warriors they were, went after Saddam. In the process, they crashed that plane of state into Iraq, creating a classic Cold War disaster (which is why Vietnam analogies always come to mind) in another era. No small trick.

Chalmers Johnson was himself once a Cold Warrior. Unlike the top officials of the Bush administration, however, he retained a remarkably flexible mind. He also had a striking ability to see the world as it actually was--and a prescient vision of what was to come. He wrote the near-prophetic and now-classic book, Blowback, published well before the attacks of 9/11, and then followed it up with an anatomy of the U.S. military's empire of bases, The Sorrows of Empire, and finally, to end his Blowback Trilogy, a vivid recipe for American catastrophe, Nemesis: The Fall of the American Republic. All three are indispensable volumes in any reasonable post-9/11 library.

Recently, at Tomdispatch.com, he reviewed a little noted recent book, The Matador's Cape, America's Reckless Response to Terror by law professor Stephen Holmes, which is, he writes, "a powerful... survey of what we think we understand about the 9/11 attacks -- and how and why the United States has magnified many times over the initial damage caused by the terrorists."

Think of this as a meta-review--because Holmes covers a range of the major books, especially by neocon actors, in this drama, Johnson is able to explore 12 books and 12 questions for our post-9/11 moment, ranging from "Did Islamic religious extremism cause 9/11?" to "Why did American military preeminence breed delusions of omnipotence?" and "How was the Iraq war lost?"

Looking over the littered landscape left by the Bush administration's Cold Warriors manqué, Johnson concludes:

 

"There is, I believe, only one solution to the crisis we face. The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge, still growing military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic -- becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force. To take up these subjects, however, moves the discussion into largely unexplored territory. For now, Holmes has done a wonderful job of clearing the underbrush and preparing the way for the public to address this more or less taboo subject."

 

 

Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong

Four and a half years ago, after reading the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA operative specializing in counter-proliferation work, I wrote an article in this space noting that this particular leak from Bush administration officials might have been a violation of a federal law prohibiting government officials from disclosing information about clandestine intelligence officers and (perhaps worse) might have harmed national security by exposing anti-WMD operations. That piece was the first to identify the leak as a possible White House crime and the first to characterize the leak as evidence that within the Bush administration political expedience trumped national security.

The column drew about 100,000 visitors to this website in a day or so. And--fairly or not--it's been cited by some as the event that triggered the Plame hullabaloo. I doubt that the column prompted the investigation eventually conducted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, for I assume that had my column not appeared the CIA still would have asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak as a possible crime. But now that Fitzgerald's investigation is long done, the Scooter Libby spin-off is over (thanks to George W. Bush's total commutation of Libby's sentence), and Valerie Wilson has finally published her account, it seems a good time to say, I was right. And to add, where's the apology?

From the start, neocons and conservative backers of the war dismissed the Plame leak and subsequent scandal as a big nothing. Some even claimed that somehow former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and I had cooked up the episode to ensnare the White House. (Oh, to be so devilishly clever--and to be so competent.) But these attempts to belittle the affair (and to belittle Valerie Wilson) were based on nothing but baseless spin. As was--no coincidence--the Iraq war. In fact, the Wilson imbroglio was something of a proxy war for the debate over the war itself. In the summer of 2003, when the Plame affair broke, those in and out of government who had misled the nation into the war saw the need to spin their way out of the Wilson controversy in order to protect the false sales pitch they had used to win public support for the invasion of Iraq.

First they attacked Joe Wilson when he disclosed that he had gone to Niger in February 2002 for the CIA and had reported back that the allegation Saddam Hussein had been uranium-shopping there was highly dubious. Then when Valerie Wilson's CIA identity was exposed during the get-Wilson campaign, they pooh-poohed the leak. They subsequently spent years doing so. Here's a brief list of Plame attacks I've published before:

* On September 29, 2003, former Republican Party spokesman Clifford May wrote that the July 14, 2003 Robert Novak column that disclosed Valerie Wilson's CIA connection "wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhand manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of."

* On September 30, 2003, National Review writer Jonah Goldberg huffed, "Wilson's wife is a desk jockey and much of the Washington cocktail circuit knew that already."

* On October 1, 2003, Novak wrote, "How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA....[A]n unofficial source at the agency says she has been an analyst, not in covert operations."

* On July 17, 2005, Republican Representative Roy Blunt, then the House majority leader, said on Face the Nation, "This was a job that the ambassador's wife had that she went to every day. It was a desk job. I think many people in Washington understood that her employment was at the CIA, and she went to that office every day."

* On February 18, 2007, as the Libby trial was under way, Republican lawyer/operative Victoria Toensing asserted in The Washington Post, "Plame was not covert."

* In his recently published memoirs, Novak wrote of Valerie Wilson, "She was not involved in clandestine activities. Instead, each day she went to CIA headquarters in Langley where she worked on arms proliferation."

A year ago, in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I disclosed for the first time that Valerie Wilson was operations chief at the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA's clandestine operations directorate. She was no paper-pusher or analyst, as Novak and others had said. She was in charge of covert operations on a critical front. (Isikoff and I detailed some of her work in the book.) As part of her job, she traveled overseas under cover. CBS News recently reported that it had confirmed she had also worked on operations designed to prevent Iran from obtaining or developing nuclear weapons. Ironic? Ask Dick Cheney.

And Valerie Wilson was not known about Washington as a spy. Though Cliff May has made this argument, in the years since the Novak column appeared, no one in Washington has come forward to say, "Oh yes, I knew about her before Novak outed her." In fact, Valerie Wilson was a mid-level, career CIA officer--there must be hundreds, if not thousands--and such people are (to be frank) not usually on the radar screen of Washington insiders. They are not known regulars on the D.C. cocktail circuit, such as it is. Ask Sally Quinn.

For her part, Valerie Wilson, who left the CIA at the end of 2005, has only recently been able to challenge the purposefully misleading descriptions of her CIA tenure. Appearing before the House government oversight and reform committee in March, she testified the she was a "covert officer" who had helped to "manage and run operations." She said that prior to the Iraq invasion she had "raced to discover intelligence" on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions," she said under oath, "to find vital intelligence." She noted that she could "count on one hand" the number of people outside the CIA who knew of her spy work.

On Sunday, as she launched her new book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, she appeared on 60 Minutes and repeated her case. Though the CIA has absurdly prevented her from acknowledging that she worked for the agency prior to 2002--she started there in 1985--Wilson told Katie Couric, "Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys basically did not get nuclear weapons." After her name appeared in the Novak column, she said, "I can tell you, all the intelligence services in the world that morning were running my name through their databases to see, 'Did anyone by this name come in the country? When? Do we know anything about it? Where did she stay? Well, who did she see?'...It puts in danger, if not shuts down, the operations that I had worked on."

What damage was actually done by the leak remains a secret. On 60 Minutes, Valerie Wilson said a damage assessment was conducted by the CIA but that she never saw it. She added, "I certainly didn't reach out to my old assets and ask them how they're doing, although I would have liked to have." That damage report has not been leaked. Nor has it been a subject of congressional interest--as far as one can publicly tell. in 2003, the Democrats in Congress who cared about the Plame leak were obsessed with calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. That fixation proved to be a mistake. A special prosecutor could only focus on criminal matters and could only disclose information necessary for a prosecution--rules that Patrick Fitzgerald would stick by. The Democrats never pushed for a congressional investigation that could have examined (and perhaps made public, even if in a limited fashion) key issues in the case, such as the consequences of the leak. Valerie Wilson said to Couric that the damage was "serious." The public ought to know if this is so. (When I once asked Senator Jay Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, if he had any intention of probing the Plame leak, he said he no interest in doing so.)

In trying to spin their way out of the CIA leak mess, the neocon gang made much of the fact (again, first revealed by Isikoff and me) that Richard Armitage, who was the No. 2 at the State Department and a neocon-hating Iraq war skeptic, was the administration official who initially told Novak that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But the Plamegate deniers often ignore the inconvenient truth that White House aide Karl Rove--during the White House campaign to undermine Joe Wilson--confirmed this classified information for Novak and also passed the same leak to Matt Cooper, then of Time. (It was only because Cooper's editors at the newsmagazine did not care about Wilson's wife that Novak published the leak first.) Libby and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer also shared information about Wilson's wife and her CIA connection with reporters. This was all part of the White House effort to tarnish Wilson by making it seem as if his trip to Niger had been nothing but a nepotistic junket. And as testimony and documents presented at the Libby trial showed, Vice President Cheney had been driving the pushback effort and had early on learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment and then conveyed that information to Libby.

Yes, this was a case of putting politics (getting Joe Wilson) ahead of national security concerns (such as protecting the identity and operations of a CIA officer working the WMD beat).

It is true that at the end of the day, no one was charged with a crime for leaking information on Valerie Wilson. Patrick Fitzgerald decided that he could not prove in court--as he would have to under the law--that the leakers knew that Valerie Wilson was a covert officer. But Fitzgerald did pursue Libby and Rove for possibly lying to FBI agents and the grand jury investigating the leak. He nabbed Libby but, after much consideration, opted not to indict Rove.

Still, Rove was caught in a lie. Toward the start of the Plame affair, the White House declared that Rove was not involved in the leak, and Bush indicated that anyone who had leaked classified information would be dismissed. But the White House statement regarding Rove was false (probably because Rove had misled White House press secretary Scott McClellan). Bush's promise was false, too, for Rove remained Bush's master strategist even after Isikoff published an email showing that Rove had leaked classified information about Valerie Wilson to Cooper.

The bottom line: this episode demonstrated that the Bush White House was not honest (the vice president's chief of staff was even convicted of lying to law enforcement officials), that top Bush officials had risked national security for partisan gain, and that White House champions outside the government would eagerly hurl false accusations to defend the administration.

So is anyone apologizing? For ruining Valerie Wilson's career? For perhaps endangering operations and agents? For lying about the leak? For misleading the public about Rove's role? For placing spin above the truth? Armitage did apologize (via a media interview) to the Wilsons. But no one else involved has. And no one--not Bush, not Cheney, not their aides, not their neocon confederates--has admitted any wrongdoing in this saga.

It's like the war: false statements, false cover stories, and failure to concede the errors in judgment and action that have caused harm to national security. But the meta-narrative of Bush and his neoconservative allies is one of no apology, no surrender. They say and do what they must to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions. Reality be damned. What matters is what they can get away with. In the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, they did escape retribution. In the larger case of the Iraq war, they are still hoping to.

******

A FAREWELL: This is my last "Capital Games" article for The Nation. After twenty years of representing The Nation in Washington--and five years of writing this web column--I am leaving the magazine to become chief of Mother Jones' new seven-person Washington bureau. It's been an honor to be part of America's oldest political weekly and to write for you. I hope you continue to read and support The Nation--and that you also check out the work I do for Mother Jones. You can read my farewell letter to The Nation here. And a reminder: I will continue to blog at www.davidcorn.com, which is about to become part of an expanded and redesigned CQ.com. Thank you for all the clicks.

FCC Promotes Media Monopolies

As my friend and colleague John Nichols wrote last week, "Bush's chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has initiated a scheme to radically rewrite media ownership rules so that one corporation can own the daily newspapers, the weekly 'alternative' newspaper, the city magazine, suburban publications, the eight largest radio stations, the dominant broadcast and cable television stations, popular internet news and calendar sites, billboards and concert halls in even the largest American city."

Essentially, Martin wants to get rid of the cross-ownership ban, which has been on the books in this country since 1975. It's a rule that prevents any one company from owning and operating both a newspaper and a broadcast television station in the same town. The idea that we've had in this country for thirty-some years, informed by the ideas of the Founding Fathers, is that it would be unhealthy for one corporation to control all of the most popular outlets for news and information in a given area. That would be bad for democracy. Apparently Kevin Martin doesn't think that way.

FCC Commissioner Martin's latest attempt to curb as much diversity and democracy from the nation's media as possible is both a mogul's dream and a citizen's nightmare. In 2003 Martin's predecessor Michael Powell tried to do the same thing (with Martin voting with him) but was stymied by a cross-partisan grassroots uprising that saw more than three million citizens, including many Nation readers, protest the FCC and Congress and force the monopolizers back on their feet. But they're back and a renewed and reinvigorated citizens' movement is the only thing that can stop them again. Encouragingly, there are already legislative allies in the unlikely tandem of Democrat Byron Dorgan and Republican Trent Lott. "We do not believe the commission has adequately studied the impact of media consolidation on local programming," the two Senators, a North Dakota Democrat, and a Mississippi Republican, said last Thursday in a letter to Martin. "The FCC should not rush forward and repeat mistakes of the past."

The media reform group Free Press has been leading the opposition with the formidable help of two of the five FCC commissioners, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Go to the Free Press Action Center and let your elected reps know that Congress should hold hearings on media ownership before any decision is made; file a comment before the FCC and write to your local paper and website. Free Press is also hosting live online chats with both dissident Commissioners--Adelstein takes questions tonight, October 22, at 8 pm EST and Copps next Monday, October 29 at 7 pm EST. Just click here to join the conversation.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Rebecca Solnit, as usual, offers plenty of food for thought in her essay, "Finding Time." As often with Solnit, I was both impressed by her insight, and impatient of her tendency to draw tenuous connections to all her pet issues/peeves, irrespective of the subject at hand.

Who can resist a piece that begins, "The four horsemen of my apocalypse are called Efficiency, Convenience, Profitability, and Security, and in their names, crimes against poetry, pleasure, sociability, and the very largeness of the world are daily, hourly, constantly carried out. These marauding horsemen are deployed by technophiles, advertisers, and profiteers to assault the nameless pleasures and meanings that knit together our lives and expand our horizons."

Solnit offers some wonderful insights into the ways in which our lives are shaped by the tyrannical regimen of these four values, but the only downside is that much of it leads inexorably to a litany of the standard complaints against automobiles, commerce, McMansions, consumerism etc. There's even the obligatory admiring nod to those darned Europeans.

The result is more sermon than opinion journalism. But as I said before, Solnit always makes it worth your while.

Pelosi's Stark Rebuke

It's not suprising that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized 18-term Congressman Pete Stark for his heartfelt and emotional comments about the Republican's failure to override Bush's veto of S-CHIP. In a blog last week, I predicted that Pelosi would do just that.

Still, it's downright disappointing. Maybe the DCCC should bring on board MSNBC's feisty Keith Olbermann to give it some backbone. I think Olbermann got it right when he called Stark's remarks "refreshing."

The way Pelosi turned on Stark is bound to turn people off of politics--which are already so canned and scripted, and devoid of human feeling and emotion. Look what happens to someone decent like Pete Stark, who steps out of the mold to express his anger and passion about what he believes, sincerely, is being doing to harm our kids.

Can't you just see the Democratic consultants going berserk after Stark said what he did--even if it was in the heat of the moment and debate. Trouble alerts issued in DC--someone speaks his heart and mind! Can't you see the consultants telling party chieftains--Distance Yourself: This will hurt you in '08. Then you have the right-wing, anger-fomenting media machine ripping into full gear. Hannity, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Malkin, O'Reilly and ilk salivating and bloviating and distracting attention from the real story.

That is, what is despicable and beneath contempt are not Stark's words but this administration's assault on kids. Speaker Pelosi stated that she was worried about how her longtime congressional ally's words, "distracted from the seriousness of the subject at hand--providing health care for America's children."

With all due respect, I think the Speaker should be more worried about how Republicans' assault on kids' health and wellbeing begins at home and extends to Iraq. I think she might have issued a tough and humane statement, calling on all to stop wasting time on attacking people like Pete Stark-- whose emotional words reflects real concern and care for the future of this nation-- and start providing healthcare for all, including our beloved kids, and ending a war that is killing US men and women, thousands of Iraqis, stretching our military to breaking point and undermining our security.