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

Why Congress Should Not Get Out of the Way of the Postal Service

invisible hand Guest Post by Mark Jamison, retired Postmaster. News of Ron Johnson the Tea Party favorite from Wisconsin taking over as chair of the Senate committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs has caused an overwhelming sense of panic among progressives and postal workers. Johnson will control oversight of the Postal Service in the Senate.

There may be good reason to think this has the makings of disaster. Johnson is on the record stating that it would be a good idea if the Postal Service went into bankruptcy and got privatized. His training is in accounting, but he has refused, with an aggressive ignorance, to acknowledge the basic tenets of accounting. When witnesses come before his committee, he bullies them and waves his arm abrasively. His dislike of unions is so intense he is willing to set aside his worship of the business principles of a contract to concoct a bankruptcy scheme to abrogate postal labor agreements.

Is the coming of Ron Johnson any reason to panic?

Tom Coburn, the current ranking member on the committee, has said virtually all of the same things as Johnson (in his quiet, deadly way). Several of the other Republicans on the committee — Rand Paul, Mike Enzi, and Kelly Ayotte — have also said many of the same things Johnson has. All of them have shown a disdain for the Postal Service as an institution. All of them have questioned the Postal Service role as a national infrastructure.

Never mind too that Tom Carper, the Democrat from Delaware and current chair of the committee, has endorsed virtually every cut, every closure, every act of outsourcing that PMG Donahoe has engaged in or even imagined. On postal matters, his views are not that far from Johnson’s.

It could be the end

While Ron Johnson will probably just carry on like Carper, Coburn, and the other Republicans on the committee overseeing the Postal Service, the specter of Senator Johnson as chair is haunting progressives.

The sky is falling atThink Progress, where Kira Lerner tells us that with Johnson “it could be the end of the Postal Service as we know it.” Lerner therefore hopes that Congress passes legislation — any legislation at all, bad as it might be — before Johnson can pass something worse.

How likely is any legislation coming out of a lame duck session will be good? Anything likely to come out of the Senate would carve in stone the current agenda of cuts to the workforce, reductions in service, and secret NSA agreements. Plus, any bill passed by the Senate would have to go to conference with whatever Darrell Issa comes up with in the House. The result will be further degradation of the postal network. There is little chance it will make those who care about postal services in this country very happy.

Over at Daily Kos, Laura Clawson seems just as frightened of Johnson as is Lerner. Faced with Johnson’s statement that the Postal Service should go through a bankruptcy process, Clawson says, “Another solution is for Congress to get out of the way of the Postal Service making money providing needed services like banking for tens of millions of people who don’t have access to financial institutions.”

Postal banking might be useful for the millions of unbanked citizens, but it is worth giving this notion of “getting Congress out of the way” a bit more thought. The idea seems to be almost everyone’s answer for what ails the Postal Service. Blaming Congress is apparently something folks everywhere on the political spectrum can agree on.

That should come as no surprise, considering that Congress has become less popular than a shady used car salesman. But would all be right with the Postal Service if Congress just got out of the way?

The answer to that depends a lot on what you want the Postal Service to do with its newfound freedom.

Getting Congress out of the way

For many people, “getting Congress out of the way” means that the Postal Service should be free to compete. It should be allowed to deliver wine and beer, it should be allowed to get into the banking business, and it should be allowed to expand its products and services in many other ways now prevented by law. Even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the most enlightened members of Congress, likes to say that the Postal Services needs to be free to compete so that it can increase revenues and sustain itself.

That all sounds fine — unless you’re one of the companies that has to compete with the Postal Service. In fact, one of the reasons that legislation has been stalled for the past four years is there are many interests who don’t want to free the Postal Service to compete. The mailers want cheap rates, the package industry wants a cheap way to fill the last-mile, ideologues on the Right want to kill labor, legislators with rural constituencies want to protect the infrastructure and services that benefit their communities. Everybody wants something, but no one really wants competition.

Other advocates of “getting Congress out of the way” have something else in mind. They’re thinking about how Congress had made it difficult to close post offices, interfered with ending Saturday delivery, and tried to stop the closure of most mail processing plants and ending overnight delivery.

For these folks — like the large mailers who think downsizing will keep their rates down — getting Congress out of the way means giving the leaders of the Postal Service more freedom to do exactly what they have been doing for the past several years — closing plants, reducing service, and all the dismantling we’ve witnessed.

Still another view of “getting Congress out of the way” involves ending the prefunding mandate, i.e., the law passed by Congress in 2006 (the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act) that unnecessarily requires the Postal Service to prefund its retiree health benefit fund (RHBF) to the tune of $5.5 billion a year. According to this view, the main problem facing the Postal Service is that it is running so deep in the red — a problem caused almost entirely by the RHBF payments.

But prefunding is not really the problem. It is just an excuse. The Board of Governors and the senior leadership in L’Enfant Plaza have been using the crisis created by the RHBF payments — along with the drop in volume associated with the Great Recession — as an excuse to advance an agenda they have long held dear. It is an agenda that goes back way, long before prefunding became an issue.

Transforming the Postal Service

The corporate elite has sought a more corporatized Postal Service, free of regulation and oversight, at least since the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, if not before. Postal management has consistently helped achieve that goal. Since 2003 when former PMG Jack Potter offered his Transformation Plan, the goal of the Postal Service has been to do exactly what Mr. Donahoe has done over the last five years.

The management of the Postal Service does not want the agency under its stewardship to function as an institution that serves the needs of millions of average Americans. It wants to be a corporate player. So when the leaders of the Postal Service talk about getting Congress out of the way, they’re saying they don’t want government oversight and regulation to interfere with allowing them to turn the Postal Service into a corporation — more specifically, a delivery company.

To that end, then, postal leadership has been very clear about wanting to jettison the retail network, especially thousands of small post offices that do not make significant profits but that have been essential to rural communities across this country. Donahoe, his predecessors, his enablers on the BOG, and politicians of both parties have sought to reduce employment, undermine labor agreements, degrade the mail-processing network, as part of this move toward a corporate model. They continue to sign secret agreements with companies like Amazon, Staples, UPS, and FedEx while reducing service standards for the American public. They have abandoned any pretense of “binding the nation together.”

Yes, the 2006 PAEA put what seemed to be a big impediment in the way of postal progress in the form of the RHBF prefunding payments. But a closer look at the law reveals all sorts of ways in which Congress “got out of the way” — with some very problematic results.

PAEA divided products into two categories, which has led to the Postal Service’s practice of moving products from the more regulated market-dominant category into the competitive category, which is less regulated and often shrouded in secrecy. PAEA has fostered more Negotiated Service Agreements, which has resulted in the likelihood of more, not less, monopoly in the package delivery market. The rate cap regime set up by PAEA may have looked like a grand advance supposedly creating a predictable rate system; but, it further endorsed the idea the Postal Service exists for the benefit of stakeholders, primarily a narrow sector of the mailing industry, and not as an infrastructure designed to benefit the American economy and the American people as a whole.

The public good

The problem is that government — and the Postal Service is a legitimate function of government — does not exist to compete. Government exists to facilitate commerce, communication, transportation, and all the rest. One of its main functions is to build infrastructures that promote the general well being of both the economy and the civic space. The postal network is one of the government’s great infrastructures. It is not supposed to be a competitive player in the marketplace.

We do not expect highway systems to compete. We do not expect water and sewer systems to compete. We expect these infrastructures to function well and to extend access and service broadly.

The postal network, even as technologies change, serves as a fundamental infrastructure for both information and goods. The Founding Fathers saw the value in that sort of infrastructure, and that view is no less valid today. The network that we have created can and should adapt, but it remains essential.

We have lost our appreciation for public goods and the public square. All around us we see the basic fundamental structures of our society being captured by private, rent-seeking interests. We are told that our schools and universities would be better if they competed — in other words, if we introduced the profit motive. The same thing goes for our prisons and law enforcement. Everything will supposedly work better if private enterprise takes over.

This kind of thinking reduces everything in life to a single paradigm of profit and loss. It co-opts and perverts words like “effective” and “efficient,” reducing their meanings to a very narrow slice of human experience.

But different elements of society have different goals, different ways of measuring success, efficiency, and effectiveness. Trying to stuff everything into a model of competition simply doesn’t work. Businesses should pursue profits, schools should educate, infrastructures should facilitate.

The postal network has been built over generations to serve the American people. It has done that job well by connecting every corner of America, by maintaining the most affordable rates in the world, and by adapting to changing technologies. It has done this while providing a sense of identity to thousands of communities and meaningful employment to hundreds of thousands workers.

Yet in spite of all the Postal Service has accomplished, its leaders remain committed to turning the Postal Service from useful infrastructure into nothing more than a delivery company.

Doing the work of the people

The Postal Service does not need to be set loose, and it does not need to be freed from Congressional control. Giving the leaders of the Postal Service a free hand is not going to help matters. They will continue doing exactly what they have been doing.

Instead, the Postal Service needs to be properly managed, properly maintained, and properly directed towards fulfilling its role as a basic national infrastructure, owned by all Americans.

The problem is not that Congress needs to get out of the way but that Congress needs to do its job.

Congress needs to ensure that the Postal Service operates under a robust universal service mandate that is clearly defined. It needs to ensure that the management structure of the Postal Service works for the American people, not its own agenda. It needs to find appropriate means to maintain our existing postal infrastructure while adapting it to 21st century needs and technologies. Congress needs to do its job and properly tend to and care for public goods and national assets.

The new Congress probably isn’t going to do any of those things, but passing bad legislation in a lame-duck session or giving the management of the Postal Service more freedom to degrade the institution is not going to solve anything.

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Racism or a Nation’s Reality ? ? ?

invisible hand Crooks and Liars has a post up on it’s site here: Wingnut Cartoonist At Indy Star Gets His (Gary Varvel) Cartoon Yanked Claiming the cartoon was overtly racist, the Indianapolis Star eventually yanked it after initially removing the mustache off of the man coming through the window claiming the mustache created an image too ethic. For all I know and being of Italian descent, the man could have been Italian.

One emotion portrayed by this cartoon (and missed by many) is the overall tenor of America’s attitude towards legal and illegal immigrants coming from south of the US border. Without knowing Gary’s thoughts and approach towards immigration and about the people he depicts in his cartoon, one could take the opposite view of the cartoon in how it portrays White America. We have changed again from a nation asking for other countries to:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Emma Lazarus

to a nation of:

Send us your technically qualified and those who can get an H-1B and are willing work for less wages. Doctors are most welcome! We will take advantage of you; but if you qualify, you can sup at our nation’s table of economic reward and pay taxes. All others need not apply even if you live under the threat of violence and poverty.

I do not know Gary and his ideas or political beliefs. Maybe Gary’s cartoon was drawn upon a foundation of racism; but, it does demonstrate one clear fact. The politics of this nation and the character of its people has changed over the last decade or so and we have become a nation of fear. We are afraid of different hues, cultures, and religions so much so we ban them altogether from our borders, our neighborhoods, and our homes. Our nation’s politicians of recent are doing nothing to foster any change in these attitudes and are actively fanning the flames of fear of immigrants and a president who took action.

Thinking of the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, when was the last time you have celebrated it with strangers from outside of your family?

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The Fournier Transform

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic Thoughts:
The Fournier Transform
Near Stupidoclypse Alert

Major meme

#Fournierderp

It looks as if Ron Fournier may sweep the left blogosphere.

I read this by Joan McCarter at DailyKos

The nation’s most stubborn and willfully ignorant pundit, Ron “why won’t Obama lead and make Republicans like him” Fournier, strikes again.

On health care, we needed a market-driven plan that decreases the percentage of uninsured Americans without convoluting the U.S. health care system. Just such a plan sprang out of conservative think tanks and was tested by a GOP governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.

Honestly. He wrote that. In November, 2014. Four and a half years after the Affordable Care Act—modeled after a Heritage Foundation proposal and Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts law—passed. After a presidential election in 2012 that featured Mitt Romney going through insane contortions trying to differentiate between Romneycare and Obamacare because they are almost exactly the same.

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Election, democracy, Hong Kong and the US

This is a 7 minute video that looks at the way money has reduced the voter population that counts down to a handful.  Sure, we all get to vote, but it’s the things that happen before the final vote that makes the real decision.  How often do we hear that there is no one to choose, we have no choice?  My response is: Did you vote in the primary?  I think the greater work done by money regarding controlling the election results is during the primary runs.  The media looking at this as a celebrity contest and reporting it as such (Dean scream of joy turned into a negative) combined with lack of voter participation just makes it too easy for the money to be determinate in a primary.

The comparison of what we have created in the US to Hong Kong is based on this ability of a few to determine who the many have to choose from.  In the US, the filter is money.  In Hong Kong it is by law.  This video makes if simple enough for anyone to understand, including those who learn about life from the Fox news system.

 

We can not count on our media system to inform the populace as to the mechanics of our current electoral process.  They are no longer free of conflict of interest.  An election is now a major source of income/profit and the media is doing just as we have come to accept a private for profit business do in our version of capitalism.   Though it was not always just about profit or profit primary vs secondary.  It has perverted the intent of the 1st amendment as it relates to the ideals mine and my former generation were taught regarding our version of democracy.

I was surprised from the video just how close we are to having success in changing the way we fund our elections.  10 votes in the Senate.  10!

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Paul Waldman gives voice to my own dismay at the silly “Republicans now need to ‘show they can govern,’ because everyone wants to ‘get things done’” line …

here.  It’s nonsense.  Obvious, absolute nonsense. Why are so many pundits buying into this line?  Maybe because they’ve heard it over and over and over, from other pundits?

Sorta like other things they’ve heard over and over and over, that maybe they should stop buying?  Yeah, probably.

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Will Jeff Merkley or Sherrod Brown now decide to run for the 2016 presidential nomination?

So who won the 2014 midterm elections?

The easy answer is the Republican Party.

On election night, the party managed to seize control of the Senate by picking up at least seven seats previously held by Democrats, a goal that has eluded Republicans since 2006.

The GOP also captured at least 14 House races, expanding its already sizable majority to at least 243 seats — the most it’s claimed since Harry Truman was president.

While a dizzying 14 gubernatorial races were tossups heading into Nov. 4, almost all of them broke toward the GOP — meaning that Republican governors will still vastly outnumber Democratic governors on Inauguration Day.

And Americans are plainly disillusioned with President Barack Obama; according to the exit polls, a full 54 percent of voters disapprove of his performance as president, and 65 percent say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

There was good reason, in other words, for conservative journalist Philip Klein to crow on Twitter that “this is what a wave feels like” — because it is.

But here’s the thing: In politics, the easy answer isn’t always the only answer, and the winner of an election isn’t always the one who benefits most. Take a closer look at demography, geography and the road ahead for the parties, and it’s clear that the long-term winner of the 2014 midterms wasn’t the GOP at all. The long-term winner, in fact, wasn’t even on the ballot this year.

Her name is Hillary Clinton.

Of course the GOP is celebrating right now, as it should. Any election that ends up putting Republicans into the governors’ mansions in Illinois and Maryland is worth getting worked up about. But under the surface, almost everything about last night’s midterm results — and the map, the math and the legislative morass that lies ahead in the run-up to 2016 — suggests that the former first lady and secretary of state could have a better next two years than the party currently guzzling champagne.

Which is not to say that Clinton will be unbeatable (even if her path to the Democratic nomination got a little easier after Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a likely rival, watched his hand-picked successor lose Tuesday night). Far from it. Clinton spent the last two months holding 45 campaign events in 18 hard-fought states, but almost all the big candidates she stumped for lost, from Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky to Bruce Braley in Iowa. Critics will say her campaign skills leave a lot to be desired, and she certainly won’t be heading into 2016 with many chits to cash in. But that doesn’t change one simple fact: Even Tuesday’s huge GOP victory shows that Republicans still have some catching up to do if they want to defeat her in 2016.

—  How Hillary Clinton won the 2014 midterms, Andrew Romano, Yahoo News, yesterday

Why, of course! Isn’t everything Democrat all about, always about, Hillary Clinton?  All Hillary Clinton, all the time?

Please stop.  PLEASE. STOP.

I read somewhere (I can’t remember where) this morning that Clinton is huddling today with some of the Clintons’ longtime political aides to analyze the election results and figure out how she should proceed.  Not whether she should proceed, but how.  And yesterday I read that she and her longtime aides are trying in light of the election results to figure out what her “messaging” should be.

Does anyone remember reading anything about Hillary Clinton and her impending campaign that doesn’t mention longtime aides, longtime associates, longtime supporters, longtime consultants?  Y’know, people in her “orbit”?  People who hope to profit directly from a Clinton campaign and then a Clinton presidency?  I sure don’t.

And, while—granted—the Yahoo News story I excerpt from above was published yesterday, the day after the election, rather than, say, today, two days after the election, it does show how thoroughly the political news and commentary media has precluded even from consideration that the Democratic Party recognizes Tuesday’s earthquake for what it is.  And what it is is a primal call for a Democratic presidential nominee who doesn’t have to search for and then settle on a message.  Someone who already had one of those.

One that is long steeped in what matters to voters and potential voters now: issues that can be addressed only by policies of populist economics.

The Democrats have won the culture-wars issues, everywhere except in Texas and the South, and it’s (past) time to accept their victory and move on from it.  They also have won the economic-policy issues.  It’s time for them to recognize that … and move on to it.  In depth.  In specifics.  In spades.

In other words, what they need—and soon—is a presidential candidate who really knows the specifics, the actual nitty-gritty, of these policies, because he or she has been deeply involved in and openly committed to them for a long time.

Last year, when it appeared likely that Obama planned to nominate Larry Summers to replace the retiring Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman—reportedly, Obama had offered it to Timothy Geithner, who declined; Timothy GeithnerSeriously!—three members of Senate Banking Committee told Obama that they would vote against Summers’ confirmation.  Those three members effectively nominated Janet Yellin, by forcing Obama’s hand.  Those three Banking Committee members were Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley.

I’ve noted several times here at AB my abiding hope that Brown would run for the nomination, whether or not Clinton runs.  I know that others here and there have voiced the same hope, and I don’t know whether he would be interested were it not that Clinton has the entire Democratic establishment cowed, and if so, he might reconsider in light of Tuesday’s message.  But I’d also wondered whether Merkley has toyed with the idea of running against Clinton, once he was past his reelection campaign.  He won comfortably on Tuesday, albeit against an awful, self-imploding Tea Party opponent, in a largely liberal state that votes entirely by mail.

So … here are highlights about his Senate record, from Wikipedia:

Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, citing Bernanke’s failure to “recognize or remedy the factors that paved the road to this dark and difficult recession.” As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Merkley became a leading force in the effort to pass the Wall Street reform bill. Along with Michigan Senator Carl Levin, successfully added an amendment, usually called the Volcker Rule, to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street reform bill, which banned high-risk trading inside commercial banking and lending institutions. Merkley also championed an amendment that banned liar loans, a predatory mortgage practice that played a role in the housing bubble and subsequent financial collapse.

He was a founding signatory of a mid-February 2010 petition to use reconciliation to pass legislation providing for a government-run health insurance program in the Senate. Merkley also championed legislation that provides new mothers with a private space and flexible break times to pump breast milk once they return to work. Merkley’s breastfeeding amendment was included in the health care reform law and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

In late February 2010, Merkley again made headlines when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade Republican colleague Jim Bunning of Kentucky to drop his objection to passing a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans. Bunning replied, “Tough shit.” A spokesman for Merkley claimed that the Oregon senator did not hear Bunning’s remark at the time.

In late 2010, Merkley began circulating a proposal to his fellow Senate colleagues about the need to force Senators to filibuster in order to block legislation.  In 2011, Merkley introduced a bill to reform the filibuster and help end gridlock in the Senate. He was joined by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Brown would have the advantage in the general election of being from large swing-state Ohio, and I suspect at this point that John Kasich will be a strong contender for the Repub nomination, as might Rob Portman.  But if he won’t run, then maybe—hopefully—Merkley will.

And, yes, in light of Tuesday, it’s conceivable that Elizabeth Warren will change her mind and run Certainly she will be urged to, more intensely than she has been.  But I don’t think she will.

But the nascent Ready for Warren movement could be easily adapted to a Ready for Sherrod or a Ready for Jeff movement.  And there are, I’m certain, some large Dem donors who have had more than enough of “women’s issues” campaigns and don’t give a damn whether the Clintons will cut them out, should Hillary win the nomination and the election.

It’s time now, folks, for an end to the Hillary Clinton obsession and an end to the Clintons’ campaign-industrial complex.  Really.

Maybe the long-term winner, in fact, was on the ballot this year, after all.

His name is Jeff Merkley.

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Why Tom Harkin Caved

Sen. Tom Harkin said Monday that he shouldn’t have compared Joni Ernst to singer Taylor Swift and added that “in no way did I intend to offend” the Republican Senate hopeful.

“I shouldn’t have said those things, I know that. I regret anytime someone feels offended by what I have said,” the retiring Democrat said in a statement. “But I am only human and I can make mistakes sometimes in how I say something. I can assure Senator Ernst that in no way did I intend to offend her. In fact, I have complimented her on running a very good campaign.” …

“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice.’

“…Well, I got to thinking about that,” he continued. “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

Ernst, who is facing off against Democrat candidate Bruce Braley for the Iowa Senate seat, invoked the lyrics to Swift’s hit song “Shake It Off” in her response to Harkin on Monday.

“He compared me to Taylor Swift, that’s okay, we’re gonna shake this off, we’re gonna drive on, we’re gonna do the right thing, we’re gonna push this next 24 hours” Ernst said in an interview.

Tom Harkin: I shouldn’t have said it, Lucy McCalmont, Politico, today

That’s right, Ms. Ernst.  You shake it off.  You drive on.  Sheep and lemmings aren’t usually used as working animals in the way that mules, donkeys and horses are.  But the political news media is changing that. They’re the winger Republican Senate candidates’ workhorses this year, and Nia-Malika Henderson and (I assume) others are serving this week as your chauffer. Driving you on to Washington.  Or hoping to.

Harkin, of course, remembers quite clearly exactly what he said.  He no more said Ernst looks like Taylor Swift than he said that Ernst is as nice as Mr. Rogers.  Which is why initially after Ernst’s Fox News statement yesterday morning, he refused to apologize.

But here’s the thing: Once some members of the press picked up Ernst’s outlandish interpretation as fact, Harkin had to choose between reiterating his point that apparently some voters stupidly are fixated on Ernst’s physical appearance and seemingly nice personality, or instead going along with the false narrative that he said Ernst looks like Taylor Swift.  Harkin undoubtedly was pressured by the Braley campaign or by DSCC head Guy Cecil to choose the latter.

That was a mistake, in my opinion.  And I’m damn sure that most voters who actually read Harkin’s comments will know exactly what Harkin was saying.  Some of them will be offended by Ernst’s manipulation and demeaning view of Iowans’ intelligence.

But what most Iowans won’t know is that yesterday, while the political media was all excited about Harkin’s statement—or, more accurately, about Ernst’s (and therefore the media’s) translation of it—Ernst indicated to a reporter that she believes that statements of fact actually are opinions; she doesn’t know the difference between a statement of fact and a statement of opinion.  She also told the reporter that any statement, oral or in print, by a news reporter is a statement of that reporter’s opinion.  Here’s what occurred, as reported yesterday by the Washington Post’s Ben Terris and summarized by Paul Waldman on the Post’s Plum Line blog last evening:

Some reporters actually got within talking distance of Joni Ernst today, and the results were pretty much what you’d expect:

“[Obama] is just standing back and letting things happen, he is reactive rather than proactive,” she said. “With Ebola, he’s been very hands off.”

“What should he have done about Ebola?” Esquire blogger Charlie Pierce asked her. “One person in America has Ebola.”

“OK, you’re the press, you’re giving me your opinion,” Ernst said.

“It’s not an opinion, only one person in America has it,” he said.

“But he is the leader, he is the leader of our nation,” she said. “So what he can do is make sure that all of these agencies are coordinating together, to make sure he is sharing with the American people he cares about them, he cares about their safety.”

It goes on, Waldman says.  Ernst’s comments and the press’s choices about which ones they’ll focus on or even report on.

This year’s election campaign has been a perfect storm of silence of the lambs and silence of the press.

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Nia-Malika Henderson has the same trouble Ernst does with understanding clear, sequential sentences

For those who don’t know, Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for the Washington Post’s politics blog The Fix.  I am neither of fan generally of that blog (with the exception of one of its regulars, Sean Sullivan, and one or two of the several others) nor a fan specifically of Henderson—who, best as I can tell, never met a comment related to women, or to a woman, that she didn’t reflexively view as sexist if some woman or women said the comment is sexist or if the comment could be twisted as sexist.

And this morning Joni Ernst said a comment by Tom Harkin about her was sexist; ergo, Henderson thinks the comment by Harkin is sexist.

Or, more specifically, Henderson thinks that Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift, so even though Harkin said nothing of kind—seriously; he said nothing of the kind—Henderson thinks Harkin said Ernst is as attractive as Taylor Swift.  Specifically, here in full is what Henderson wrote, in a post titled “Tom Harkin compares Joni Ernst to Taylor Swift, because sexism. Then he apologizes.”, which I momentarily thought, naïvely, was sarcastic:

Here’s a Fix rule for politicians. Never, ever, ever comment on someone else’s personal appearance. Nothing good can ever come of it.

Retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin just broke this rule into a million pieces. Here’s what he said about state Senator Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee running to replace him, courtesy of Buzzfeed:

“In this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads. And there’s sort of this sense that. Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive, and she sounds nice. Well, I got to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

If you watch the video, what Harkin said isn’t just him riffing and going off script. Nope, he has clearly given some forethought to what he said and doesn’t think it’s sexist or problematic. He likes the line. He thinks it’s cute and clever and the audience seems at least slightly amused.

Ernst, a National Guard lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq, was not. In an interview with Fox News she said she was “very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that.” “I think it’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female,” Ernst said, adding that there is a double standard in terms of coverage. “I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things.”

She is exactly right. The relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.

Give Ernst credit. She came up with this zinger of a retort to Harkin.

“He compared me to Taylor Swift, so I’m gonna shake it off.” ‐ @joniernst responds to Harkin

comments at kick off of 24‐hour campaign swing

8:51 AM ‐ 3 Nov 2014

Nick Corasaniti

@NYTnickc

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82 RETWEETS 24 FAVORITES

Update #1: Harkin has, so far, declined to apologize.

Update #2: Harkin has now apologized.

EXCLUSIVE ‐ Just talked w/ @SenatorHarkin ‐ says he

“was wrong” to make Taylor Swift remarks re:

@joniernst ‐ “Didn’t mean to hurt anyone”

2:33 PM ‐ 3 Nov 2014

No, indeed, the relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.  Nor, of course, was the relative attractiveness of Joni Ernst a focus for Harkin. Harkin’s comment was that he kept hearing that Ernst’s attractiveness is a focus of some voters, as is her reputed niceness—and that neither is an appropriate focus, in Harkin’s opinion, because neither will impact how her votes in the Senate would affect her constituents’ lives.  Only her ideologically-based votes—which will be most of her votes—will affect her constituents’ lives.

If she does become a senator.

Not really a tough concept to understand.  And I don’t actually know whether Ernst herself did not understand the comment or instead just pretended not to understand it.  Harkin’s comment involved a more-than-one-step analysis—two steps, by my count—and Ernst doesn’t present herself as the most intelligent of folks, so maybe she didn’t understand the comment rather than taking a clear-but-compound statement and twisting it for attempted political gain.  But there’s no question at all that Henderson did not understand it.

Here’s a rule for political journalists. Never, ever, ever mindlessly adopt some politician’s or political operative’s take on an opponent’s statement.  Nothing good can ever come of it.

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Cleveland Plain Dullards

You’d think that, by now, people would understand that, once it is on the web, there is no point locking the barn door after the cat has gotten out of the bag.

This is today’s hot meme

The Cleveland Plain Dealer filmed (and posted) a joint interview with current (and likely re-elected) governor John Kasich and challenger Ed Fitzgerald. Kasick pretended Fitzgerald didn’t exist, repeatedly refused to answer a question and generally acted like a Republican.

The Plain Dealer endorsed him anyway. Then they removed the video from there web site. I guess they stand for the principle that it’s not news if it makes the candidate they prefer look bad (that’s journamalism 101).

Then a site of which I have never heard posted the video and, evidently determined to make sure it got maximum exposure “The Northeastern Ohio Media Group, a business partner with the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, has demanded that an Ohio liberal political blog pull a video of Gov. John Kasich’s awkward interview with the newspaper’s editorial board.”

As a result, the video is, as I type this not available only at the obscure* Plunderbund**

But also at
Eschatonblog
Talking Points Memo (same link as above)
Balloon Juice
Wonkette

and, well you get the picture.

All those sites link to a YouTube video which will be taken down. However, YouTuber John Manyjars (whom you really really want to follow) can e-mail it to others who can post it (for example to robert.waldmann@gmail.com).

Kasich is way ahead in the polls and will probably win in spite of the efforts of the Northeastern Ohio Media Group to suppress a video which is embarrassing to him. However, someone at the Northeaster Ohio Media Group has demonstrated not only complete contempt for journalism but also utter total incapacity to understand current media.

If it’s on the web, it can’t be suppressed and trying to suppress it is not only an attempted assault on the public’s right to know but also utter total idiocy.

Update: Better late to the pile on than never, The Daily Kos shows it’s huge number of readers the link

THU OCT 30, 2014 AT 10:35 AM PDT
John Kasich dodges question on his rape crisis counselor gag rule, bratty kid style

I wondered where they were. Now I’ll check
Media Matters (still nothing)
and
Crooks and liars.(still nothing)

*to me, but I’m not from Cleveland, although my mother is.

** update 2. Typo corrected. Thanks to Jason in comments

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By Default or Design: The Demise of the Postal Service

Guest Post by Mark Jamison, retired Postmaster Webster, N.C.

This post originally appeared on Save The Post Office Blog. This is Part 2 of three posts and following Invisible Hands: The Businessman’s Campaign to Dismantle the Post Office.

Default.  It’s an ugly and dangerous word.  It gives the impression that the individual or enterprise attached to it has utterly failed.  It implies defeat and irresponsibility.  

The news media use the word with relish.  Like a car crash, a hurricane, or a murder, it sells newspapers.  Combined with the word “bailout,” it’s also a surefire way to advance a particular political agenda.

On August 1, 2012, the United States Postal Service did not make a payment of $5.5 billion to the United States Treasury.  On September 1st the United States Postal Service will fail to make a second payment to the Treasury of $5.6 billion.  The Postal Service, blare the headlines, is thus guilty of an “historic default.”  But it’s all hot air.  The Postal Service is simply not making payments it should never have been required to make in the first place.

Whose fault is the default?

The two payments behind all the headlines were prescribed by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA).  The payments were ostensibly designed to pre-fund the health benefits of future retirees from the Postal Service; but, they were actually nothing more than an accounting place holder used by Congress to mask federal budget deficits and to satisfy an arcane accounting system that exists primarily to deceive and dissemble. 

invisible hand

In 2002, an examination of the postal pension liabilities revealed that the Postal Service was actually overpaying into one of its pension fund by tens of billions of dollars.  But lowering the payments would have added to the federal deficit, so Congress had the Postal Service put the money it was saving from reduced pension payments into an escrow account.

A few years later, when PAEA was being crafted, Congress created a retiree health care fund, and shifted the money from the escrow account to the new fund.  It also mandated that the Postal Service pay off the balance of its retiree health care liability in ten years.  A forty-year payment schedule would have been totally adequate, since the fund was intended to cover retirees for the next seventy-five years, but the payments would have been too small to balance out what the federal government was losing with the reduced pension payments.

The retiree health care fund now has in excess of $44 billion.  As it grows with interest, the fund will have more than enough to cover the costs of retiree health care for decades to come.  The fund, it’s important to note, is not being used for current retirees.  As with most businesses, that expense is paid for out of current revenues, on a pay-as-you-go basis.   The $5 billion payments to the fund were excessive to begin with.  They are now totally unnecessary.

Yet in spite of all this, the word DEFAULT issues from the lips of Congressmen as a foul epithet.  It reverberates through the media as an example of the failure and profligacy of government.  It is worn as a talisman of triumph by those who insist that government cannot, will not, and must not succeed in a utopian world of free unfettered markets.

invisible hand

The Postal Service has over $320 billion dollars in its pension and health care plans.  These plans are widely recognized to be significantly overfunded.  Claiming that the Postal Service has failed to meet an obligation and has therefore defaulted is a little like saying that a man who fails to add a monthly payment to his multi-million dollar 401K ought to file for bankruptcy. 

Claiming that the Postal Service has defaulted is merely an excuse to further the notion that the Postal Service is an anachronistic dinosaur that ought to be broken up or privatized.  It’s also a means for Congress to avoid and evade its responsibilities to govern effectively.

The reality of the situation is that several groups and forces have combined, through ignorance and cupidity, to dismantle a significant piece of our national infrastructure and to eliminate 500,000 good, solid middle-class jobs. The truth, at this point, is that the fate of the Postal Service is the result of a bad dream, a dream that has us on a runaway train heading for a cliff.  Solving the problem is less a matter of saving the train than simply waking up.

It was a very bad year

I’ve written many times over the past year, on “Save the Post Office”, other websites, and filings with the Postal Regulatory Commission, about the value of the postal infrastructure, the mismanagement of the Postal Service, and steps that could be taken to put things on the right track.

Last August, in post entitled “The Perfect Storm: How everything is coming together to take the Postal Service apart,” I suggested that Patrick Donahoe may go down in history as the last Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service and that he would almost certainly be considered the worst PMG of all time because of his substantial efforts to dismantle and decapitate a cherished national institution.

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In “How to Save the Postal Service Before It’s Too Late,” I offered a series of modest, reasonable, and realistic proposals designed to both calm the growing mentality of crisis surrounding the Postal Service and to begin updating the business model of the Postal Service so it could build on its significant assets and retain its relevance into the 21st Century.

Over the past twelve months, the situation has only gotten worse.  It’s been an endless stream of overwrought claims of impending disaster.  The fire has been stoked by the media, which look for conflict and controversy rather than reason and fact.  The crisis mentality has been furthered by a Congress that seems of incapable of discerning the public interest, let along legislating and governing in a responsible manner.  The situation has been exploited by ideologues, who have used it to advance their agenda of privatization, and by many stakeholders in the mailing industry, who have licked their lips over the prospect of a postal system operated for their benefit alone.

There is a great deal of blame to go around — virtually everyone involved in this theater of the absurd has failed in some manner — yet the simple fact of the matter is that we stand today in a situation that can be easily and reasonably resolved to the benefit of the American people.  A great and useful institution has been damaged and demeaned.  Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, while ill-considered and even idiotic plans have been advanced.  But the damage is all self-inflicted.  Despite the weighted words of “default” and “bailout,” the postal crisis — at least the one grabbing all the headlines — is essentially fictitious and fraudulent.

An infrastructure that builds infrastructure

The Postal Service has been and continues to be an essential infrastructure.  It furthers our democratic ideals and our commercial opportunities.  The postal network — the thousands of facilities and plants, the millions of miles of routes, the machinery and data processing capacity that supports everything, and the human capital that drive the network — the mailhandlers, clerks, carriers, and postmasters — is a useful and important piece of our national infrastructure.

invisible hand

Yes, electronic communication, the Internet, cell phones, and all the other modern means of moving information have challenged the postal system.  But the postal network has adapted to technological change before and remained not only relevant but an important driver in the utility and productivity of new technologies.

Those who think that the postal network is no longer valuable should read the recent report from the USPS OIG, Postal Service Contributions to National Infrastructure.  As the report makes clear, the postal infrastructure has enabled the country to grow, businesses to prosper, and new technologies to evolve.  Even in today’s advanced electronic environment, there is still considerable value and benefit in being able to deliver to every house and business, six days a week. There is still considerable value in having a positive and useful government presence in small towns and communities in every corner of the nation.  There is still considerable value in having a means to distribute the printed word across a neutral and trusted network, as well as a system for handling voting by mail.

In addition to the value of the infrastructure and the ongoing opportunity it offers for business and commercial development, one cannot easily discount the social value of the network.  The Postal Service has offered meaningful and worthwhile employment to millions of Americans, and it has lifted many families into the middle class.  We hear all about how postal workers are paid too much and receive benefits that are too generous, and how this is an unfair burden to taxpayers.  But postal workers do not receive a dime of taxpayer money.  Their salaries and benefits have been fully paid for by reasonable and sustainable postal rates that are among the cheapest in the world.

invisible hand

The postal network has bound the nation together by making the commerce and goods produced in one part of the country available throughout the country.  Thanks to the postal system, a person in a remote region of rural America can shop for the same products as a person in a busy metropolitan area.  Certainly television and the Internet now offer windows into other worlds, bringing the world to our living rooms and now even our phones, but as broadening as those connections are, they lack the unique capacities offered by the physical connections embodied in the postal network.

We have built a tremendous asset in the postal network, yet most of our leaders — our elected representatives in Congress and the executive officers of the Postal Service — seem willing to simply disassemble that asset and consign it to irrelevance or worse.  This cavalier treatment of an asset owned by the American people borders on the criminal.  What is worse, the reasons they offer for what they’re doing are as thin as the paper we claim to no longer need.

The postal network offers unlimited potential.  It could be used to assist local and state governments in their missions.  It could be used to assist federal agencies, the way it helps with the census and elections. The use of the postal network could save millions if not billions of dollars in taxpayer money if we allowed it to be used effectively and efficiently by other governmental bodies.  The network also offers huge potential in data and resource collections through mobile sensors on postal vehicles.  Its vehicle fleet could be used as a proving ground for new technologies.  Its facilities could be early locations for charging stations.

The only thing that stands in the way of a more productive use of this national asset is our lack of imagination, our parochialism, and our ideological inflexibility.  The promise of binding the nation together is an open and ongoing one, providing we are prepared to acknowledge the potential of the postal network.

Instead, that potential is being lost.  Instead of dedicating ourselves to finding value in our national infrastructure, we have donned blinders of self-absorption that limit our vision to only those things that offer immediate return.  The financial crisis was driven by this narrowed vision of immediate gain, and our failure to find a robust recovery is rooted in the same blindness.

Taking the service out of the Postal Service

Once the Kappel Commission of 1968 laid the foundation for the new Postal Service, the agency’s leadership has been fixated on the idea that it must become something other than what the Founding Fathers created it to be.  Rather than performing the essential and necessary work of binding the nation together, the leadership of the Postal Service has been seduced by the idea of privatization. They may not always call it that, but the fact is that when your goal is to jettison every characteristic that makes the postal system a service infrastructure in favor being “more businesslike,” then ultimately the goal is privatization.

invisible hand

Patrick Donahoe and the current Board of Governors represent the culmination of forty years of dishonest thinking.  Their plans spell the destruction of a public postal network.  They would turn the country’s postal system into a private logistics company. The healthcare prepayments mandated under PAEA and much else that Congress has done are part of what’s behind the current crisis, but Mr. Donahoe and the BOG are also part of the problem.  Their actions have served to undermine the stability of a national institution, and thanks to them, there are 400,000 fewer good paying jobs than there were five years ago.  They say the cuts have been made necessary by declining mail volumes, but Mr. Donahoe and the BOG seem congenitally unable to tell the truth about the state of postal affairs.

One need only look at the Postal Service’s offerings in the Nature of Service Cases before the Postal Regulatory Commission.  In the five-day case, the Postal Service sought to cut 17% of service for about a 3% savings.  In the network rationalization case, they withheld research that showed huge revenue losses as a result of the proposed changes in service standards.  In PostPlan, they propose to reduce service to 13,000 communities for virtually no cost savings. Worse, the plan is little more than a political sop to disguise office closings.

The sum total of their plans has been nothing short of massive reductions in service with the goal of abdicating their responsibilities to provide universal service.  The plans are poorly conceived and poorly presented.  More often than not, they have been revised on the fly, as expedience and publicity requires.  That’s because the plans lack any fundamental basis in preserving our postal system.

invisible hand

The BOG and Mr. Donahoe have not acted as managers entrusted with a national asset. They have acted more like vulture capitalists stripping the organization of its assets so that what’s left can be sold to the highest bidder.

If the Postal Service stands in dire straits today, it’s because those charged with running the service have done everything in their power to gin up a crisis.  Each month, Mr. Donahoe and his senior managers offer up another prediction of doom.  We’re told there’s a cash flow crisis, but somehow there are billions of dollars available to spend on unproven and still unproductive systems like the FSS machines.  We’re told that volumes are falling precipitously due to the Internet, but instead of showing all the ways it’s adapting to the new environment, the leaders of the Postal Service make ever more hyperbolic predictions of doom.  What prudent business that uses the Postal Service wouldn’t be making alternative plans right now?

invisible hand

The management culture of the Postal Service is rotten and bankrupt.  For years we have heard reports of managerial bullying.  Just the other day, an arbitrator took the unprecedented step of requiring a District Manager to apologize for the ongoing atmosphere of bullying in offices in the Los Angeles area.  Many have heard the story of Jerry Lane, the former Cap-Metro Area Vice-President who left the Postal Service after assaulting an employee.  How does someone like that reach such a senior position anyway? The behavior that resulted in his “separation” was neither unique to him or others in the organization.

Whether it’s fudging numbers to make a plan more palatable or looking the other way at abusive managers, the senior management of the Postal Service has lost the capacity to be self-critical.  The problems of the Postal Service can be attributed, at least in part, to a management culture and a senior management that have become hopelessly dysfunctional.  No solution to the postal crisis that does not include a restructuring of the senior management and a thorough housecleaning at L’Enfant Plaza will be effective.

Where’s a Congress when you need one?

While senior postal management bears the lion’s share of the blame for our current circumstances, Congress owns the problem.  As the day of the faux default approached, we saw senators screaming that their colleagues in the House were letting the American public down by not acting on a bill to resolve the situation.  But in doing so, they unnecessarily amped up the already overheated rhetoric with misleading talk of “$25 million a day” losses and the impending default.

invisible hand

The leadership in the House has run from its responsibilities.  Darryl Issa, chairman of the committee with oversight responsibility for the Postal Service, has offered prescriptions that would immediately destroy the Postal Service.  At least Mr. Issa is ideologically consistent.  He stands for a view of America and the American economy that leaves most of our citizens behind and actively denigrates government.  His offerings on postal matters reflect that.  It’s no wonder that his colleagues do not support his bill. It’s easy to argue that Mr. Issa may be the biggest beneficiary of the current situation. When words like “default” and “bailout” start getting thrown around, his radical solutions don’t seem so radical.

The problem is that if the House were to act tomorrow on the bill already passed by the Senate, we would simply be taking bad legislation and making it worse.  Tom Carper, the Democrat from Delaware, plays the point man in postal legislation.  His prescriptions are, for the most part, endorsements of the course Mr. Donahoe and the BOG have set.  They dismantle the institution and the postal network and harm hundreds of thousands of postal employees and thousands of American communities.  Mr. Carper’s proposals seem designed to satisfy the direct mailers, which is no surprise since they are major contributors to Mr. Carper’s campaigns.

Whatever his motivations or reasons, Mr. Carper has increasingly portrayed himself as the savior of the Postal Service.  It is a role similar to the one Mrs. Collins of Maine played during the debate on PAEA, and the results are likely to be the same.

invisible hand

Many news outlets have opined that Congress ought to get out of the way and let postal management and the BOG run the Postal Service, the more businesslike the better.  Others have simply said the Postal Service is irrelevant and should be privatized.  My response to both of those views is that no government is not good government and it certainly isn’t better government.

While Congress has clearly failed to function as a thoughtful body in governing the Postal Service, that’s not reason for removing the postal system from Congressional control.  We, as citizens, ought to demand that Congress fulfill its role in overseeing the Postal Service in a professional and effective manner.  Those who think no government is a good idea or that the Founders had no faith in government are delusional.  Without a strong government based on democratic principles, the end result will be either anarchy or plutocracy.

The default of leadership

The issue is not large or small government.  The fact is that many of those who argue for small government actually support the expansion of government, so long as that government favors their interests.  The largest expansion of government in our history has occurred under two Republican presidents.  

The issue ought to be effective government.  Clearly those who designed our political system understood the need for infrastructure.  They understood the need for and value of postal services.

invisible hand

One of the greatest challenges our country faces today is rebuilding our infrastructure. We have done best economically when we focused on investing in foundational infrastructure.  Good infrastructure expands economic opportunity and allows more people to participate more fully in the economy.  Growth built on broad economic participation is growth that is both sustainable and growth that is broadly beneficial.  The postal network has played a major role in providing that kind of growth, and it can continue to do that.

The Postal Service does not have a fiscal crisis.  There are billions of excess contributions in retirement accounts.  Those accounts, including the ones designed to fund retiree benefits, are well funded. The crisis facing the Postal Service is one of management and governance.

The management of the Postal Service has no credibility. It has offered plans that do not protect or utilize a great American asset.  Instead, their plans transfer the assets and revenues of the Postal Service into the hands of a small segment of the mailing industry and serve to dismantle the postal network, a useful and essential infrastructure.

The Congress of the United States has abdicated its responsibility with respect to postal matters. It is not simply about the failure of the House of Representatives to act on a bill.  It goes much deeper than that.  When the legislature of the United States is no longer able to see the value in an infrastructure that sustains not only our commerce but our democratic values, when they are willing to sacrifice services that thousands of American communities rely on, when they are willing to undermine the useful, effective, and economically efficient employment of nearly half a million Americans, when our legislators are willing to do these things casually and cavalierly, then they have failed the country, miserably.

There is no Postal Service default. The Postmaster General and the Congress of the United States have defaulted on their responsibilities to the American public.  Shame.

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