Postal Hikes and Time Warner’s Role Discovered by New York Review of Magazines

ben_scott_140x140.jpg The New York Review of Magazines catches up with Time Warner and the postal rate hikes it lobbied for and got. First, the bottom line:
…the true price of letting corporations shape government policy: free speech.

Going Postal, Callie Enlow, New York Review of Magazines, 2008

The NYRB gets into some of the underlying political machinations:
Even Time Warner was taken aback. Halstein Stralberg, co-creator of Time’s rate proposal, said, “There was a new chairman at the commission and there was a totally new environment, and they adopted it, to my surprise.”
The NYRM noted the sudden parachuting in of a new chairman just before the decision as unusual:
In the corporate world, The Progressive Populist would most likely be forced out of business. But should the same rules apply when the product is ideas and the conduit is a government-owned monopoly? To the current administration, the answer is yes, said Cullen. The president appoints the five commissioners that compose the Postal Regulatory Commission. Between the 2005 Time Warner complaint, when the PRC rejected the corporation’s proposed rate restructuring, and the 2006 rate hearings, when the PRC adopted the suggestions almost verbatim, two new commissioners joined the PRC. One of them, Dan G. Blair, replaced George Omas as chairman just one month before the end of the rate cases, a move that Bob Cohen described as “pretty unusual.”
However, the NYRM didn’t follow up on the other chairman, the chairman of the Postal Board of Governors from January 2005 to January 2008, James C. Miller III, and his 27-year-old theory:
“…none should be favored and none benefited. Each party pays the cost of service it consumes, not less, and does not bear the cost of others’ consumption.”
Curious how someone with that philosophy should be chairman just at the time the decision was made.

The NYRM does say what happened, why it was unusual, and who it affected:

Instead of a simple markup, the entire rate system was overhauled, imposing a cost-based structure on a branch of government originally established to provide a public good, one that the Founding Fathers deemed vital to our democratic society. The Postal System was built on the premise of promoting the free flow of ideas by giving preferential treatment to their most common method of conveyance: the printed pages of periodicals.

Journals of opinion, the idea-laden niche that has hewed closest to the Founding Fathers’ conception of the kind of periodicals whose availability would benefit our fledgling democracy, collected rate-increase data among themselves as soon as they had hard figures. American Conservative, a biweekly magazine with a circulation of 13,000, faced an increase of 58 percent. Eagle Publishing, producer of Human Events, paid the USPS an additional $211,000 in 2007. Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, was so incensed that he co-authored an editorial in The Los Angeles Times with Teresa Stack, president of The Nation, denouncing the rate hikes. Like National Review, its strange bedfellow The Nation faced an additional $500,000 on its 2007 postal bill. The New Republic and The New York Review of Books each faced increases in excess of 15 percent. Recently Alan Chin, general manager of The New Republic, said the extra postage costs forced them to tighten belts across the budget and seriously consider switching to lighter paper stock.

For Free Press and the coalition of small political magazines, the issue extended beyond paper and percentages, beyond the survival of a few dozen journals of opinion and even beyond the futures of several thousand small-circulation publications. What was most in danger of going bankrupt was the circulation of ideas, information and opinions, which the old preferential rates for periodicals intended to promote.


PS: Seen on BoingBoing.