Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Jones v USPS

In Jones v USPS, the Postal Service provided weekly service performance data since the beginning of the year. This is the most complete picture of on-time performance that we’ve seen since the mail delays became an issue earlier this summer. The data set is discussed in this post. There was also a hearing today in the Jones case. We hope to have more on that later.

In the Washington case, an amicus brief was filed by the County of Santa Clara, the City of Columbus, and Thirty-Eight Local and Tribal Governments. The brief argues that the operational changes made by the Postal Service impede delivery and receipt of vote-by-mail, absentee, replacement, emergency, military, and overseas ballots, voter registration material, and outreach and education efforts. They also create significant burdens for officials administering elections and interfere with tribal government functions.

In the Washington case, the Postal Service filed a brief in opposition to the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. As noted on Law360,”Between arguing that the states’ concerns were overblown and pointing to regulations that say the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Washington D.C. Circuit Court have exclusive jurisdiction over such complaints, the USPS said the court should not grant the proposed injunction to undo changes that have already been made.”

“This case is now about plaintiffs’ attempts to have this court oversee the day-to-day operations of USPS, based on a claim that courts have analogized to a ‘Hail Mary,’ to right wrongs that do not exist,” the brief said. “Plaintiffs’ legally deficient claims, arising from unsupported fears about the potential actions of USPS, do not warrant the extraordinary relief it seeks.” See the Law360 article for more details.

Lawsuits against DeJoy, USPS & Trump over mail delays and election mail, Save The Post Office, Steve Hutkins, September 16, 2020

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The Seven-Percent Solution: The Not-So-Secret Plan to Downsize the Postal Service

Steve Hutkins authors Save the Post Office on issues affecting the Post Office.

First, a disclaimer. The following analysis is largely speculative. It’s not based on insider information. The evidence comes from news articles, government reports, legal filings, and a few leaked internal USPS documents that were published on postal news sites. The analysis could be totally wrong.

The hypothesis is simply this: The Postal Service has embarked on a plan to reduce labor costs by about 7 percent. That represents approximately 67 million workhours, or the equivalent of about 33,000 jobs.

The analysis will also suggest that all the things we saw earlier this summer — the removal of blue collection boxes, the decommissioning of over 700 sorting machines, trucks leaving plants partially loaded or empty, letter carriers heading out on their routes with mail left behind, a presentation saying that overtime was being eliminated, post offices closing for lunch or earlier in the day, rumors of post offices closing completely — were not, as the Postal Service claimed, isolated incidents, business as usual, or the result of miscommunication between headquarters and local managers.

Rather, they were part of a comprehensive plan to eliminate tens of millions of workhours and downsize the Postal Service in significant ways.

The Seven-Percent Solution

According to its 10-K financial report, in FY 2019 the Postal Service experienced a total “controllable” loss of $3.4 billion. That doesn’t include another $5 billion or so in losses related to pension and retiree health care costs that the Postal Service didn’t pay.

To balance the books, the Postal Service can increase revenues, raise prices or cut costs. Revenue increases are difficult, since First Class letter volumes are falling and Congress has limited what new forms of business the Postal Service can expand into.

The Postal Service has already introduced a temporary rate increase on commercial parcels through the holidays, and it will raise rates again next year. But price increases on letters and flats are limited by law and increases on parcels are constrained by competition in the marketplace. In the past, increasing rates has basically helped the Postal Service keep up with rising costs but done little to reduce the losses.

That leaves cutting costs as the only way to make significant inroads. Given that nearly 80 percent of the Postal Service’s expenses are related to labor, cost cutting means one thing, reducing workhours.

In FY 2019, compensation and benefits costs totaled $47.5 billion. To offset a loss of $3.4 billion, the Postal Service would need to reduce these costs by about 7 percent.

Back in July, District Managers and Plant Managers around the country began sharing Standup Talks in which they outlined the downsizing plan to employees. The talks identify exactly how many workhours need to be eliminated in each district in the three areas of postal operations: mail processing, delivery, and post offices.

The talks indicate that there is a comprehensive plan to reduce workhours across the board by about 7 percent. Even though it hasn’t been stated outright, that goal appears to be a key element of the Postmaster General’s transformative plan for the Postal Service.

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Is Mail Delivery Taking Longer?

Is U.S. mail delivery becoming slower for First Class mail? A New York Times analysis of more than 28 million pieces of mail found that on-time delivery declined noticeably in July and August. This comes after PMG Louis DeJoy put cost-cutting measures in place. Delivery has sped up slightly since the summer but remains slower than earlier this year. Twenty-eight million pieces of first-class letters were tracked by SnailWorks. The results of the analysis shows how on-time delivery declined noticeably in July after the arrival of the new and politically aligned PMG Louis DeJoy and the start of his mandated policies to trim transportation costs.

It appears mail delivery did slow down in July and August.

As you already know, timely mail delivery has become a key part of the 2020 election outcome due to an unprecedented number of Americans who are likely to vote by mail to avoid visiting a polling place during the pandemic.

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Covid Vaccine Tracker

In a  recent conversation with one person who I would consider knowledgeable, I was led to this site. COVID-19 Live Vaccine Tracker. This is an initial rundown of various Covid vaccines being worked on by international companies and the phase they are in today. I will attempt to update this from time to time.

“A compilation of the active vaccine candidates being studied for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) cures. This tracker will update periodically and will have the latest news and information.” The COVID-19 Live Vaccine Tracker, ContagionLive

Phase 3

Vaccine Name: mRNA-1273
Company: Moderna
Moderna’s phase 1 trial, mRNA-1273 vaccine: Results of treating novel coronavirus (COVID-19) were published July 14, 2020 in The New England Journal of Medicine. The NEJM reported on the results of potential vaccine induced protective responses in 45 adult participants receiving doses of 25, 100, or 250 μg (micrograms) throughout March and April 2020.  Antibodies did occur and correlated with higher doses of the mRNA-1273 vaccine as by anti–S-2P antibody GMT (geometric mean titer) ; 40,227 in the 25-μg group, 109,209 in the 100-μg group, and 213,526 in the 250-μg group.

With the second vaccination on day 57, the titers  had again showed increased antibody GMT when tested; 299,751, 782,719, and 1,192,154 μg. Serum-neutralizing activity (antibody that defends a cell from a pathogen or infectious particle by neutralizing any effect it has biologically) was detected by two methods in all participants evaluated, with values generally similar to those in the upper half of the distribution of a panel of control convalescent serum (blood serum containing antibodies  from disease or inoculation) specimens.

Adverse effects, includes half of the participants were fatigued, exhibiting chills, headache, myalgia, with pain at the injection site. Systemic adverse effects occurred after the second vaccination  particularly with the highest dosage. Three participants (21%) in the 250-μg dose group reported one or more severe adverse events.

The mRNA-1273 vaccine had induced anti–SARS-CoV-2 impact with an immune response in all participants of varying intensity with no trial-limiting safety concerns were identified.

mRNA-1273 vaccine was given a  Fast Track designation enrollment for a phase 2 trial at the end of May with an enrollment of 600 in 2 cohorts of those aged 18-55 years and those over 55 years.

A phase 3 trial involving 30,000 volunteers is receiving funding from BARDA and Operation Warp Speed. Participants in the study will receive either an injection of 100 μg mRA-1273 on Days 1 and 29 or a placebo.


Vaccine Name: Inactivated Vaccine
Company: Wuhan Institute of Biological Products; China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm)

The project involving Sinopharm and the Wuhan Institute of Virology are funded by the China Ministry of Science and Technology to achieve a goal of developing a vaccine utilizing inactivated vaccine. Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials with individuals of ages 6 and up are underway. As of June 16th, 1,120 volunteers participated in the phase 1 and 2 trials. The volunteers have received two injections of the vaccine at low, middle, or high dosing strengths or a placebo scheduled 14 days, 21 days or 28 days apart as reported by China National Biotec Group (CNBG). The seroconversion rate (time period during which a specific antibody develops and becomes detectable in the blood) for the 14-day and 21-day schedule of the mid-dose was 97.6%. At 28 days, it was 100%.

The Inactivate Vaccine appears to be working best at the middle strength when given 28 days apart. All participants in middle strength dosing regime developed neutralizing antibodies.

Sinopharm has initiated a phase 3 trial to evaluate their vaccine candidate in the United Arab Emirates. The country has authorized up to 15,000 participants aged 18 to 60 years to enroll.

China’s Sinopharm touts 100% antibody response for COVID-19 vaccine with workers

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Blows Up Absentee Voting

Everything was running according to plan in Wisconsin. The state’s 72 county clerks print the ballots, mail them to voters, collect election results, and coordinate their canvassing boards, while 1,850 municipal clerks at the city, village, or township level operate the polling places and handle absentee ballots. The state had prepared for the national election after a tumultuous April election.

This last Thursday September 11th, Wisconsin was all set to have a smooth national election. The state’s 1,850 municipal clerks had printed at least 2.3 million absentee ballots in preparation of another surge in absentee voting (which occurred earlier this year – April) and had already mailed 378,482 of them. They were under way and would to meet the Sept. 17 deadline established by state law when ballots had to be mailed. A deadline by which the SCOTUS had mandated

A little history, this April, the municipal clerks were crushed by a last-minute surge of requests for absentee ballots  from residents who decided to vote by such due to a fear of the Covid pandemic. The resulting delays from not having enough ballots led to ballots being mailed later to voters and a delayed vote, with ballots being received after the state deadline.

On April 6th, SCOTUS in a 5-4 vote with the majority decision authored by Justice Kavanaugh “approved one of the most brazen acts of voter suppression in modern history. The court will nullify the votes of citizens who mailed in their ballots late—not because they forgot, but because they did not receive ballots until after Election Day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent, the court’s order “will result in massive disenfranchisement.” The conservative majority claimed that its decision would help protect “the integrity of the election process.” In reality, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election itself.”

State officials had learned their lesson, planned far ahead to have enough ballots available, and set the stage for the prompt and orderly mailing of millions of ballots to give voters enough lead time to vote on time.

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Off-Roading with the FDA

It appears the FDA is now willing to deviate from its “bedrock mission” of guiding the public with accurate science-based information to a different road emphasizing variable political interests.

“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult  .  .  .   @SteveFDA“, addressing you directly with your Twitter handle (trump). 

FDA is endorsing twitter as a mechanism to broadcast actions with and by Commissioner Dr. Hahn. Tweeting:

I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.” SteveFDA.

It would appear the FDA is now under direction of trump who is taking it down roads not traveled by the FDA in the past with the medical profession in the back seat. Some are not so willing to go along for the ride.

“We cannot entrust the health of 330 million Americans to a person who is subservient to President Trump’s whims, unprecedented promotion of unproven therapies, outrageous lies, and political motivations.” Dr. Eric J. Topol, MD, the editor-in-chief of Medscape

Medscape has three interesting articles critiquing the FDA. The first article reviews the  expansion of remdesivir usage, the second covers FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn actions, and the last is questioning the FDA’s Covid decisions.   The first two articles were published on August 31st and the last on September 2nd. Typically, I read the articles and then go on to the comments section to see what medical practitioners have to say. I would suggest you too read the articles and then read the comments which can reveal a different perspective.  The comments can be useful and insightful.

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Testimony of Mark Jamison; Jones v. United States Postal Service Part II

Testimony of Retired Postmaster Mark Jamison in law suit against the USPS and DeJoy filed Wednesday, September 2, 2020, Save The Post Office

Jones vs Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service and Donald J. Trump, as President of the United States, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Preliminary Injunction, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Declaration of Mark Jamison, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Election Mail

Angry Bear added this chart to depict how people are voting by mail. There are 44 million voters in nine (4 just added) states + D.C. voting by mail only, 118 million voters in 34 states where absentee voting is allowed for all, and 46 million voters in seven states where an excuse is required for absentee voting. The chart above reflects this pattern although some states changed how they vote by mail with some going to all mail, etc.  The purpose was to depict how big the mail-in voting is.

Mark: In the 2018 election there was an audit of election mail that showed that only 96-98% of ballots were delivered on time; in some areas these percentages were worse. The current on-time percentage for the USPS is somewhere closer to 95% right now (again, much worse in some areas). If we applied that number to election mail, that would be like throwing out 5% of the ballots. I do not think that you can deliver 100% of 1st class mail to all of the various addresses that they go to nationwide; there will always be a few problems with deliveries. However, 100% on time delivery of BALLOTS should be the goal for the USPS. There are many articles related to election mail concerns and suggestions that are being published in the leadup to the 2020 election and in response to nationwide concerns about holding free and fair elections, including one that I wrote.

A simple lack of institutional attention could noticeably slow down mail. For the most part ballots originate and are processed within a local area serviced by one or possibly two plants. This takes some transportation issues out of the equation. There are some areas, e.g. Florida where a significant portion of residents have second homes and may be mailing ballots from a distant location. Otherwise the concern is processing and on-time performance within a local area.

Not all first-class mail receives a postmark since some of it does not run through the machines that the USPS uses to cancel mail. Marketing mail would not normally receive a postmark. As recently as the 2018 election, the USPS typically treated ballots and other election mail as 1st class mail, even if it was sent at marketing mail rates.23 The letter sent by Thomas Marshall to 46 states’ secretaries of state and that is referenced above indicated that the USPS would not be able to guarantee on-time delivery of ballots (at least eight days out in the case of Washington state). Marshall’s letter suggests that election mail (ballots or requests for ballots) that is entered at marketing mail rates will be handled as marketing mail, which receives the least preferential handling.

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Testimony of Mark Jamison; Jones v. United States Postal Service Part I

Testimony of Retired Postmaster Mark Jamison in law suit against the USPS and DeJoy filed Wednesday, September 2, 2020, Save The Post Office

Jones vs Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service and Donald J. Trump, as President of the United States, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Preliminary Injunction, US District Court, Southern District, New York

Declaration of Mark Jamison, US District Court, Southern District, New York

“Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Introduction

Those were the stirring words of President Lincoln during his first inaugural address. The nation had come to a crossroads or perhaps it was a dead end, we could no longer go on without facing our original sin, what some euphemistically called “that peculiar institution.”  After four years of the bloodletting, we finally put aside the evils of slavery, but rather than finish the job we stopped half way.

It took a century to bring the hope of healing to the next step with the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s. And still we hid from our responsibilities and the hopeful destiny that could have been our course. Some clung to hate and privilege, resisting and rejecting the idea that all of us were created equal and had a role to play as citizens in this experiment of self-government.

Today we have the opportunity to starkly face and solidly put to rest the sins of our past. Even now when the chance to make amends is within our grasp there are those who choose anger and dissension, hate and separation, obfuscation and obstruction over opportunity.

There is no right more sacred than the right to vote, to exercise one’s choice in free and fair elections. Through the Civil War, World Wars, the 1919 flu pandemic and all matter of natural disasters, we have made it a point to hold elections. In these troubled times, faced with another pandemic, there are those who would obstruct our ability to vote for purely partisan reasons. There are those who are too cowardly to stand before the electorate and seek an honest count.

We can and must do better. Every citizen who wants to vote should be able to vote and there should be no question or impediment that prevents that or the counting of their ballot. Every voice must be heard.

The U.S. Postal Service is a treasured institution. It has been around in one form or another since before our country was founded. The mandate of Title 39 gives the Postal Service a mission — binding the nation together. Those words are reminiscent of Mr. Lincoln’s mystic chords. The idea of binding the nation together also implies a healing and a connection. For our entire history the Postal Service has bound this nation together.

Today there are at least ten lawsuits seeking to ensure that the Postal Service does not become another casualty in our age where our most cherished norms and even basic truth itself are rejected for fear mongering, conspiracy theories, financial  advantage, and the exposition of ugly hate that tarnishes any notion of our better angels.

I had the privilege of testifying in one of those suits.

The following testimony was submitted to the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of Mondaire Jones, et al., v. United States Postal Service, et al, on Sept. 2, 2020. The testimony in its original legal format is here.

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DeJoy’s Fix for the Post Office: The Wrong Time, the Wrong Plan, the Wrong Man

PMG Louis DeJoy’s Fix for the Post Office, Mark Jamison, Save The Post Office, Aug. 29, 2020

After years of being a journalistic backwater the Postal Service is all over the news. From the usual contextually vacant reports about financial losses, we shifted to meaty and sometimes sensational coverage about the removal of Blue collections boxes and mail processing equipment at plants. There’s also the entrance of a new villain on the scene, Louis DeJoy, a wealthy Trump and Republican contributor with business interests and investments that coincide with the Postal Service.
Mr. DeJoy began his tenure as Postmaster General in June of this year after being named to the post by the Postal Board of Governors, which oversees postal operations. The Board is populated by a former RNC chair, a couple of investment bankers, the CEO of a public affairs and corporate advocacy consultancy, and a former CEO of various logistics and transportation companies that also specialized in mail consolidation, a form of outsourcing of mail processing.

Mr. DeJoy’s first couple of months have been eventful to say the least. His comments to the BOG at his first open session of the board on August 7th make clear that his intentions are to transform the Postal Service. Early in his remarks he says, “We are at the beginning of a transformative process. Our goal is to change and improve the Postal Service to better serve the American public, and I am excited about the opportunities ahead.” He proceeds to offer the usual professions of fealty to the ethic of service to the American, followed by the even more usual assertions about the dire straits the institution finds itself in.

Whatever he may say, it’s clear that Mr. DeJoy has entered the scene like a bull in a china shop. Within weeks of his taking office, there have been widespread reports of delays and service failures (which are backed up by internal USPS documents), news stories about Blue box removals, reports of mail processing equipment being removed, employee reports of mail left on docks or at carrier cases, and actions that seem to violate basic contractual provisions with the unions, causing the initiation of grievances as well as the breakdown of normal lines of communication between the APWU and L’Enfant Plaza. Mr. DeJoy seems to be moving full steam ahead at executing the expressed desires of the president for dismantling the USPS.

It’s fair to say that under DeJoy the Postal Service has lost any sense of urgency with respect to delivery of the mails. DeJoy seems to be taking his cue from the Wall Street manipulators who populate the BOG and hired DeJoy. He is in paring mode, sacrificing service and performance for operational reductions with questionable or at least unproven financial payoffs. This is especially damning during a pandemic and economic slowdown and certainly before an election, times when the postal network is more necessary and important than ever.

An article earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal suggests that DeJoy is actually doing the right things “to make the U.S. Postal Service’s operations more efficient,” but he may have picked the wrong time to get started on them.

But the problem is bigger than the timing. It’s always the wrong time for any plan that sacrifices service for “efficiency.” DeJoy’s plan is the wrong plan for saving the post office, and DeJoy is simply the wrong man for the job.

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