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

GOP Voting Rights Act Position Falls Apart

Tuesday brief update on Arizona and GOP oral arguments in SCOTUS.

Hardcore GOP Position For Defanging VRA Falls Apart Under SCOTUS Questioning,” Tierney Sneed, TPM

The Arizona case before the Supreme Court involves two restrictive voting practices in the state which invalidates a vote:

– Arizona’s 2016 ban on most third-party mail-ballot collection, and

– its longstanding policy of discarding a voter’s entire ballot if she casts it at the wrong precinct.

Many states have a similar rule, while in other places, an out-of-precinct voter’s ballot counts for non-local races.

Beyond the question of whether those specific policies — which the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down — should be reinstated, the bigger potential consequence of the case is whether the Supreme Court uses it as a vehicle to further narrow the scope of the Voting Rights Act.

Canceling Outstanding Student Loans in Default

Some State AGs Take Action

Seventeen State Attorney Generals signed and sent a letter to Congressional leadership (Schumer, Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy) calling on Congress (Friday February 19) to pressure President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student load debt for borrowers as a part of pandemic relief. The AGs write:

“As the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, we write to express our strongest support for Senate Resolution 46 and House Resolution 100 calling on President Biden to use executive authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt for all Federal student loan borrowers.

Because we are responsible for enforcing our consumer protection laws, we are keenly aware of the substantial burden Federal student loan debt places on the residents of our states.”

Broad cancellation of Federal student loan debt will provide immediate relief to millions who are struggling during this pandemic and recession, and give a much-needed boost to families and our economy.

The current options for borrowers have proved to be inadequate and illusionary. For example, 2% of the borrowers applying for loan discharges under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program have been granted a discharge. In addition, efforts by our Offices to obtain student loan discharges for defrauded students – to which students are entitled under existing law – have been stymied by the U.S. Department of Education for years.”

The Postal Service wants to slow down the mail, Congress says not so fast

Steve Hutkins at Save The Post Office continues his dialogue on planned changes to USPS operations with one change amongst the others resulting in later deliveries of first class mail. The Washington Post was the first to report on this change as well as other changes. You may be able to catch portions of Louis DeJoy’s planned changes at other sources as well.

The Postal Service wants to slow down the mail, Congress says not so fast

Congressional Action:

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform has just posted a discussion draft of postal reform legislation in advance of Wednesday’s hearing with Postmaster General DeJoy and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Ron Bloom. The draft has three main sections — one about creating a Postal Service health benefits program that includes Medicare, one on reforming the Retiree Health Benefit Fund obligation, and a third on service standards for on-time delivery.

The section on service standards comes first, and it is obviously a response to all the problems with poor service over the past seven months. It includes more stringent service performance reporting than currently shared with the Postal Regulatory Commission and the public, a tougher line on what happens when the Postal Service fails to meet the standards, and changes to the PRC’s advisory opinion process for reviewing a change in standards (including a report to Congress). The draft legislation concludes this section as follows:

“The United States Postal Service may not revise the service standards for market-dominant products in effect on the day before the date of enactment of this Act in a manner that lengthens delivery times before the date on which the report required by subsection (c) is submitted to Congress.”

The Committee’s meeting on Wednesday (24th) is clearly going to address the past problems with service performance and what to do about them moving forward. (There’s more about the delays here.) It’s also clear that the Committee is aware of the Postmaster General’s plans to change service standards, as was reported recently in a great scoop by the Washington Post, and the Committee wants to head the PMG off at the pass.

Back to the Future: The USPS, PRC, and Mailers revisit the meaning of PAEA

Steve Hutkins at Save the Post Office

Continued discussions between the mailers who are faced with higher rates, PMG Louis DeJoy, and Congress. The mailers are in court as we read Steve’s excellent review of what is taking place.

Also, PMG DeJoy has plans of increased prices for mailers also includes slower service and higher prices for First Class mail. The February 12th edition of the Washington Post exposed the PMG plans to increase prices for First Class Mail and slower deliveries of First Class Mail going from 2 days to 3 to five days. More information can be found at WaPo or truthout.

Back to the Future: The USPS, PRC and Mailers revisit the meaning of PAEA

Earlier this week a group of mailers’ associations continued their effort to convince the DC Circuit Court to stop the Postal Service from increasing rates under the new authority it was recently granted by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The Postmaster General has told the mailers that another rate increase, based on the new authority, is “imminent.” The exact size of the increase has not yet been revealed, but the Postal Service’s calculations indicate it could be as large as 5.56 percent. Market Dominant revenues in 2020 were about $42 billion, so a full increase could mean $2.3 billion in additional costs for mailers.

In December, the Mailers filed appeals on the PRC’s order approving the new system in the DC Circuit. On January 27, 2021, they proceeded to file a request for a stay seeking to prevent the order from being implemented while the court heard the appeal. On February 8, the Commission filed its brief opposing the request for a stay, and the Postal Service filed its own opposition as well. On Tuesday of this week (February 16), the Mailers filed their reply. (For more background about the case, see this previous post and this one too.)

We Need a Plan for Militias

We Need a Plan for Militias

 A social trend can lie dormant for years, gradually expand and then suddenly explode as if following a hidden exponential growth curve.  Revolutions work this way, and so do religious cults.  Most of the time the curve is nipped in its early phase, but not always.  It isn’t a good idea to assume a fringe movement will always remain fringe.

This brings us to the topic of right-wing militias, people who carry assault rifles, study military tactics, go target-shooting in the woods and live in an end-times epistemological bubble.  They’ve been around for decades, occasionally getting in the news, and gradually getting more numerous and influential.  Read this recent report in the New York Times, which documents the mainstreaming of armed freelancers aligned with the Michigan Republican Party, and ask yourself whether we are approaching an inflection point.

Cause

Before Science, treating the symptoms of an illness was all we had. Along our way, using trial and error, we found a few things that worked. The big breakthroughs came when we started to look for the causes of an illness. The association of an illness with toxins was deducible. Then, as we knew more and could see farther, we found that most of our physical illnesses were caused by such other things as bacteria, and viruses.

Still and yet, we see attempts to treat illnesses symptomatically. It wasn’t that long ago President Ford wanted to the nation to deal with the swine flu by treating the symptoms. Only yesterday, President Trump wanted us to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 with whatever occurred to him. At first look, it might seem that this approach could be cost effective. That look was 300,000 dead wrong. The most proximate cause of all these deaths was a Corona Virus, COVID-19. The cause next proximate was the refusal to acknowledge the first. The President didn’t want to acknowledge the reality of the pandemic. The people didn’t want to make the necessary changes to their lifestyles. Those 300,000 and more unnecessary deaths could have been prevented by acknowledging and addressing the pandemic, the cause.

Economics was the reason most often given for not addressing the cause of these unnecessary deaths. But good economics would have mandated the expenditures necessary to quickly produce one-billion N95 face masks, and install needed workplace safeguards. Just as good economics would mandate looking to the cause of our inequities and disparities in income and wealth.

Politics is another area where looking to the cause is of utmost importance. With such matters as the electoral college, the inherently unrepresentative Senate, and qualifications for the office of President; treating the symptoms of these flaws in the constitution isn’t even a short term solution. The Senate impeachment vote is a case in point: 34 GOP senators representing 34% of the Senate votes but just 14.5% of population could have blocked the conviction of a president who tried to violently overthrow American democracy. The flaws in the electoral college, not the people, selected Donald Trump in 2016.

The treating of social ills seems to bring out the worst in us. We are want to treat the consequences, the symptoms, of poverty, disparity, and injustice with increased policing, incarceration, …, when we should be looking to the causes.

If we are to successfully deal with climate change, we must address the causes of climate change.

How the Pandemic could lead to a big USPS price hike

Angry Bear has been featuring the words of Steve Hutkins and Mark Jamison for a good bit of time now. They are the go-to people outside of the USPS on issues associated with it and the Congress which impacts it. We exchange emails and stories from time to time.

Save the Post Office is edited and administered by Steve Hutkins, a retired English professor who taught place studies and travel literature at the Gallatin School of New York University.


Expected Rate Increases Beyond CPI

On November 30, 2020, the Postal Regulatory Commission issued a 484-page order revising the rate system for Market Dominant products. Under the new system, the Postal Service will be able to raise rates beyond the Consumer Price Index, which it was prevented from doing (aside from the provision for an exigent increase) by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. (See this previous post for more about the order.)

Last week, the Postal Service gave the PRC its calculations for the two new authorities crafted by the Commission. The Notice of Calculations of Future Rate Authorities indicates that the density-based rate authority will be 4.5 percent, and the retirement-based rate authority will be 1.06 percent, for a total of 5.56 percent.

Those potential increases are on top of the approximately 1.8 percent increase for First-Class Mail and 1.5 percent increase for other categories the Postal Service has already proposed for 2021. If the Postal Service were to exercise its full rate authority, the total increase would thus be over 7 percent. The new system also gives the Postal Service authority for an additional 2 percent increase for products that don’t cover their attributable costs.

ACA Medicaid expansion growth is 25% in 2020

The Good Part of Medicaid

Originally, Medicaid filled the gap if Americans could not afford healthcare insurance.

Today, Medicaid is filling the gap if people lost income and/or healthcare insurance during the pandemic. If below FPL or 138% FPL, people qualify for Medicaid. Others who were already in the ACA healthcare exchanges qualify for larger subsidies. Those not qualified for either were left stranded by president trump. in 2020

Newly elected President Biden is creating an opportunity for those not qualifying for Medicaid and lost their insurance to enroll in the ACA. Biden will open up healthcare exchanges so those who lost their jobs can enroll in new healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, Medicaid enrollment increased ~4 million from February 2020 due to Covid.

What Happens if You are 55 and Using Medicaid

First, lets answer a question. “Does the Affordable Care Act allow states to confiscate the estates of seniors on Medicaid when they die?”

The opponents of the ACA coined a commentary taking things out of context and citing, The Affordable Care Act confiscates the estates of seniors who were on Medicaid when they die.

History has it that all states had an option since Medicaid began in 1965 to recover some Medicaid costs from recipients after they died as Health and Human Services explained in a 2005 policy brief.

– In 1965, it was optional and states could only recoup Medicaid costs spent on those 65 years or older.

– It changed in 1993, when Congress passed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 budget bill   requiring states to recover the expense of long-term care and related costs for deceased Medicaid recipients 55 or older.

The 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act also gave states the option to recover all other Medicaid expenses.

Biden Promises to Help Fix the Student Loan Crisis

There are those who always raise the issue of “I paid for mine, you pay for yours. I know of no other debt created by borrowing money where the penalty is a life time of servitude and the means of retirement in Social Security is also attached too.

Principal remains untouched and whatever money paid goes to interest atop of interest and penalties. By the time salary catches up and if it does, the interest and penalties have grown.

Allen Collinge of Student Loan Justice is finally getting national Coverage on TV.


Biden expected to tackle student loan debt crisis, what the impact would be, “Rebound,” January 25, 2020

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to help solve the student loan debt crisis, and many are expecting him to tackle that soon. On the campaign trail, he spoke about favoring some student loan debt forgiveness but was hesitant on the idea of wiping out the debt completely.

Student loan debt forgiveness, in any form, is very controversial. While some believe it is necessary for millions of Americans who are unable to pay these loans back. Others worry it will raise the national debt to help those who are unable to repay their loans.

Neal McCluskey, with the Cato Institute

The Less Than Supreme Court

How Recent Supreme Court Decisions Have

Damaged Both the Court and the Constitution

There’s a pattern:

In November of 2000, immediately following the very close, highly contested, presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, John Roberts, a lawyer in private practice who had clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist, rushed to Florida to be legal adviser to then Governor Jeb Bush during the to be decisive Florida recount; a recount decided not by the counting of ballots but by Reagan Appointee Justice Scalia’s bullying the court into its halting. Six months later, now President George W. Bush nominated the aforementioned John Roberts for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals only to be rebuffed by a Democratic Senate Majority. When Republicans regained Senate Majority in January 2003, Bush renominated Roberts; this time, he was confirmed. In 2005, President Bush successfully nominated John Roberts for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. After all, he owed him.

Justice Thomas was chosen by George H. W. Bush to replace the retiring civil rights icon, Justice Thurgood Marshall. Clarence Thomas was chosen because of his ultra-conservative republican bona fides, his being black, and the unlikeliness of his being another Justice David Souter.

Justice Alito was chosen by George W. Bush because of his ultra-conservative republican bona fides; and the unlikeliness of his being another Justice David Souter.