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

Stop Girdling the Post Office

Mark Jamison, Retired NC Postmaster at Save the Post Office, October 29, 2020

In forestry the practice of tree girdling is well known. Although there are some circumstances where this can be a useful practice, in most cases the technique is used for nefarious ends. Girdling involves removing the bark and layers below the bark, usually around the trunk of the tree. The cut, when it includes the entire circumference of the tree, makes it impossible for the tree to heal itself and everything above the cut will eventually die. In forests where logging is limited to dying or diseased trees, loggers will girdle healthy trees to kill them and make them available for harvest.

For at least the last fifty years, the right wing has been girdling the post office and the postal network in the hope of undermining its health and thereby reaping a financial harvest. The very people who have been charged with caring for and sustaining the Postal Service have instead repeatedly cut services, saddled the institution with requirements that undermine its ability to function, and denigrated the value of the network.

Louis DeJoy and Robert Duncan are the latest in the long line of postal girdlers. But they have taken their game to a higher level and for what are clearly political reasons. Both are products of the president that appointed them and both evidence their benefactor’s outright mendacity. They have made it clear that regardless of the law, public necessity, or public opinion, their goal is to cut postal operations. The recent OIG report reviewed here at STPO  demonstrates that clearly.

How much would it cost consumers to give farmworkers a significant raise? A 40% increase in pay would cost just $25 per household

Economic Policy Institute offers context for wage increases for farmworkers:

How much would it cost consumers to give farmworkers a significant raise? A 40% increase in pay would cost just $25 per household

The increased media coverage of the plight of the more than 2 million farmworkers who pick and help produce our food—and whom the Trump administration has deemed to be “essential” workers for the U.S. economy and infrastructure during the coronavirus pandemic—has highlighted the difficult and often dangerous conditions farmworkers face on the job, as well as their central importance to U.S. food supply chains. For example, photographs and videos of farmworkers picking crops under the smoke- and fire-filled skies of California have been widely shared across the internet, and some data suggest that the number of farmworkers who have tested positive for COVID-19 is rivaled only by meat-processing workers. In addition, around half of farmworkers are unauthorized immigrants and 10% are temporary migrant workers with “nonimmigrant” H-2A visas; those farmworkers have limited labor rights in practice and are vulnerable to wage theft and other abuses due to their immigration status.

Despite the key role they play and the challenges they face, farmworkers are some of the lowest-paid workers in the entire U.S. labor market. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that it would not collect the data on farmworker earnings that are used to determine minimum wages for H-2A workers, which could further reduce farmworker earnings.

This raises the question: How much would it cost to give farmworkers a significant raise in pay, even if it was paid for entirely by consumers? The answer is, not that much. About the price of a couple of 12-packs of beer, a large pizza, or a nice bottle of wine.

Jobless claims: a very positive reversal

 

This week’s new jobless claims report not only reversed last week’s increase but declined below 800,000 for the first time on an *un*revised basis. I say that because revisions from two weeks ago now have that week as the lowest since the pandemic struck.  [NOTE: California has restarted reporting its claims, and has also reported for the past two weeks, and is the likely cause of the big revisions – generally downward, or positive.]

On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, new jobless claims declined by 73,125 to 756,617. This would be a new low, except two weeks ago was revised down to 731,249. After seasonal adjustment (which is far less important than usual at this time), claims declined by 55,000 to 787,000. This would be a new low as well, except two weeks ago was revised down to 767,000. The 4-week moving average also decreased by 21,500 to 811,250, a new pandemic low:

 

Here is a close-up of the last three months since the end of July highlighting the overall slow progress in initial claims since then:

 

The Post Office in a Decent Society

Mark Jamison’s commentary on USPO matters have been featured at Angry Bear Blog a number of times. A retired postmaster, Mark Jamison serves as an advisor, resident guru, and a regular contributor to Save the Post Office. Mark’s previous posts concerning the USPO can be found here at “Save The Post Office” or by doing the search function at Angry Bear. Mark can also be contacted on USPO matters markijamison01@gmail.com

The Post Office in a Decent Society, Save the Post Office, Mark Jamison, October 20, 2020

In looking at the results of the recent lawsuits against the Postal Service — eight of which have led to rulings banning changes in postal operations until after the election — it is tempting to make a bad sports analogy.  After all, going 0 for 8 in the courts lends itself to comparisons with the futility we often associate with the worst teams and players. But to do so trivializes matters of the gravest civic importance.

The lawsuits have been initiated to preserve our right to vote and do so in a way that preserves our health and safety during a pandemic. They have also served to highlight the politicization of a national asset and institution, one whose mission embodies the concept of one nation through the provision of universal service.

The Postal Service has repeatedly lost in court because there is no argument that can defend the clownish tenure of Louis DeJoy and the overt politicization of an infrastructure that should be totally nonpolitical by Robert Duncan and the other members of the Postal Board of Governors.

Duncan continues to serve as a director of a super PAC dedicated to electing Republican candidates to the Senate. Whatever insights or advantages Duncan’s experience might bring to the operations of the Postal Service, they are more than offset by his utter lack of respect for the institution. His continued partisan position during a contentious election in which the Postal Service is playing an essential role is inexcusable. A person with any sense of civic duty or public propriety would have stepped aside long ago.

Let’s make a coronavirus deal?

Latest on the relief negotiations is here.  Short version, Pelosi and Mnuchin are still negotiating over a $1.9 trillion bill; McConnell is floating the idea of a $500 billion dollar bill, but it is far from clear he can or even wants to pass anything.

If Pelosi can get to a deal with Mnuchin, that’s great.  I still think that the House should pass a bill with or without sign off from Mnuchin and challenge Trump and Senate Republicans to pass it.

But I would add now that the House should consider passing a $500 billion bill and calling McConnell’s bluff.  Part of the impetus for hanging tough on a big bill was to limit the ability of Senate Republicans to sabotage a Biden presidency by withholding any further relief (which they would surely do).  But it looks increasingly likely that the Democrats will take the Senate and be able to pass their own bill in January.  Of course this is not guaranteed, but we need to play the probabilities.  If the polling holds up on the Senate, the main aim should be to get through the next 3 months without too much human suffering and economic damage.  $500 billion is not enough, but properly targeted it would be a lot better than nothing.  Passing an inadequate bill would not help the Republicans politically, and it might help the Democrats drive home how intransigent and destructive Republicans are being on coronavirus relief.

A New Agenda for Postal Reform

Steve Hutkins of Save The Post Office critiques the cost-saving measures put into play to-date by PMG Louis DeJoy, the bypassing of the Postal Regulatory Commission which is supposed to review such plans, and the resulting unprecedented mail delays across the country. Steve proposes a plan to meet the Covid crisis impact on the Postal service head-on and also lays a foundation for future Postal Service incorporating new business and creating increased revenue.

In late June of this year, a few days after the new Postmaster General took office and in the middle of a pandemic, the Postal Service initiated a plan to eliminate 64 million work hours, the equivalent of 33,000 jobs. It was one of the largest cost-cutting plans (perhaps the largest) in the history of the Postal Service, and leadership wanted to get it done by the end of the fiscal year on September 30 — and without telling anyone about it, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is supposed to review all such plans.  Within weeks, unprecedented mail delays were occurring across the country, members of Congress were hearing about post offices closing early, and — given that half the country may vote by mail — even the integrity of the election was threatened.

The response was swift. People protested in the streets, Congress held hearings and issued a damning report, and a dozen lawsuits were filed, leading to injunction after injunction banning the operational changes. The leaders of the Postal Service were forced to step back. But those in charge are still in charge, and the Work Hour Reduction plan is just on pause, waiting until after the election.

In the meantime, there’s a crisis at the Postal Service. As of mid-September, almost 10,000 postal workers had tested positive for Covid-19, and over 52,000 had taken time off because they were sick or had to quarantine or care for family members. Those numbers are obviously much higher now, and they will get worse over the winter. Overtime hours, rather than being reduced, have gone way up, from about 11 percent of total workhours before the pandemic to 17 percent during the week of October 2 and 21 percent during the week of October 9.

The surge in packages caused by the pandemic is taxing the capacities of the system, resulting in continued delivery delays. First Class mail, which normally has an on-time delivery target of 96 percent and an average score of 92 percent, has been averaging about 85.6 percent since early July. When the quarterly results are posted next month, the fourth quarter of 2020 (July-Sept) may be the worst since the Postal Service first started reporting service performance data back in 2009.

The problems at the Postal Service, coupled with the President’s comments attacking the post office, have made many people afraid to cast their ballots by mail, even though it may be the only safe way for them to vote. Just a few days ago, the states suing the Postal Service in Pennsylvania v DeJoy decided the situation was so bad that they’ve asked the court to appoint former Inspector General and BOG member David C. Williams to serve as a special monitor to oversee operations until the election.

Hopefully in January a new administration will take office in Washington. How will it deal with this crisis, and how might it envision the future of the Postal Service?

Redux et Redux

Slavery, never gone, had been given new life in Europe with slaves from Africa; first by Portuguese Traders in the 15th Century, then by the Spanish in the 16th. The bubonic plague of the 14th Century had wiped out one-third of Europe’s population; Europe needed laborers. Slavery was widely practiced on the continent and in the colonies until the 19th Century. Sharecropping, but another form of Western European feudalism dug up after having been buried for some 400 years, was brought over and resurrected in the postbellum south. It all seems somehow lacking in imagination, doesn’t it? More greedy-grubby than creative. Even the Peonage of the postbellum south was borrowed from the Spanish who borrowed it from Eastern Europe. Though outlawed in 1867, Peonage is still practiced in the American south today.

The rationalization for these heinous acts? Something along the lines that it was OK to enslave or indenture someone as long that someone was somehow different from yourself. After all, god made us in his image and they were different from us so that made them different from god, too. Lo god! Could we get your thoughts on multiracial share-cropping?

They’re doing it again. That’s they’re, as in it’s the same 17th Century mindset cast of characters; instead of fading away with progress, they’ve grown with regression. And, it as in feudalism as in enslavement, indenturing. This time, they are not calling themselves Lords, or Planters/plantation owners; at least not in public. This time they don’t manor. don’t plant, don’t own the plants; … don’t hire the workers. Don’t really do anything. They do have almost all of the wealth. They do employ (endow) syphilitic sycophant* fronts groups such as Conservatives, Libertarians, and The Federalists Society. They are the very We of Entitle. After all, more than four centuries have passed. It was time to change something; even if it was only names and titles. It is still much the same menu. They not only didn’t move forward with the times; they have managed to take the Nation backward in time.

Jobless claims: only one week’s data, but cause for significant concern

Jobless claims: only one week’s data, but cause for significant concern

 

Today marked the biggest increase in new jobless claims in two months, and one of the two biggest increases since May, while the slightly lagging continuing claims continued to decline.

On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, new jobless claims rose by 76,670 to 885,885. After seasonal adjustment (which is far less important than usual at this time), claims rose by 53,000 to 898,000. The 4-week moving average also increased by 8,000 to 866,250:

Here is a close-up of the last four months highlighting the overall glacial progress in initial claims since the beginning of August:

Just Stirring the Pot – Updated

Regeneron Seeks Emergency Approval per trump’s miracle recovery and subsequent endorsement.

Biotech company Regeneron moved Wednesday to apply for emergency approval for an experimental antibody treatment praised by President Trump.

“Subsequent to our discussions with regulatory authorities, we have submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for our REGN-COV2 investigational antibody combination for COVID-19.”

And trump? President Donald Trump received the antibody cocktail last Friday along with other drugs under a compassionate use program after becoming sick(?) with the coronavirus. Trump hailed Regeneron’s treatment in a video posted on Twitter Wednesday, saying he would authorize its emergency use and make it available to Americans for free.

Who knew this was a clinical trial of the real drug? What if it was a placebo and he cured himself? If they approve this after all the hoopla over other drugs    .   .   .

Just more deflection from the real issues, the pandemic, himself, etc.

Maybe, we should just follow the money???

A Warning From Michigan

A 4–3 party-line vote and Republican judges on the Michigan Supreme Court invalidated a law that had empowered a historically popular Democratic chief executive to take emergency actions to combat COVID-19. The basis for the decision was an antiquated doctrine that conservatives on the United States Supreme Court have signaled they want to revive.

The Michigan Supreme Court was following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court. In an opinion last year, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissent calling for the revival of the nondelegation doctrine. Gorsuch premised his argument on the originalist claim the Framers believed “such delegation of power, in the case emergency powers, would frustrate ‘the system of government ordained by the Constitution’ if Congress could merely announce vague aspirations and then assign others the responsibility of adopting legislation to realize its goals.”

Legislatures aren’t equipped to resolve every question for themselves. Nor are they nimble enough to confront every new challenge as it arises. Sometimes, they need to draw on the executive branch’s expertise and dispatch. And in this case, the Michigan legislature through Gerrymandering has had control of the legislature since 1990. They have the ability to overrule the governor.

Deniality

Le dénialité est trop cher.

Denial isn’t specific to Americans, though we do seem to be better at it than most. We are now at least 30 years into severe climate change, yet 30-40% of Americans are in denial; assumedly, still looking for, waiting for, a return to normal. Not only are we not going back to the way it was 30 years ago; under the best of scenarios, no one of the next 5 generations will see the weather and climate of 1990 again. Under less than best of scenarios, neither the current generation nor the following 3 generations, will see weather and climate return to those of today. Still we see these professional deniers push and shove their way into any public discussion to argue that we can’t afford to take the necessary steps to halt Climate Change because the changes would be too costly. This lot deliberately tries to lead us to believe that their employers’ sunken costs are somehow our own.

The real cost of our not doing enough 30 years ago is the cost of the damage done during those 30 years plus the cost of doing today what still needs to be done. Putting it off just makes it ever more expensive. Still and yet,we hear politicians, economists and the self-anointed say that we can’t afford to do what we need to be doing about Climate Change. If we don’t, in another 30 years, we will have borne all the added damage that will have been done and be facing a situation where no amount of money will be enough. The cost of Climate Change will always be increasing until Climate Change is reversed. We’re well into shorter periods of doubling for temperature change, the number of wildfires and the acres burned, extended periods of drought, displaced people, … i.e., the price of not doing whatever it takes is doubling; so the price of doing whatever it takes. It is the not doing something about Climate Change that we can’t afford. We simply must stop burning fossil fuels.

—Extending—

Trump, although perhaps better known for his lying, is also a known Climate Change denier. Most of his supporters are in deep denial about Climate Change; many of them support him because of his denial. The Trump presidency itself is a consequence of our collective denial of Climate Change (that and a few or more other things). Since taking office, Trump has taken several actions that increase greenhouse gas emissions; thereby increasing the rate of Climate Change, increasing the damage.

The COVID-19 pandemic itself is an indirect consequence of this denial. Climate Change has severely diminished viable habitats for many species, putting pressure of these species, putting different species in closer proximity. President Trump denied the pandemic; told America that it would go away. It didn’t; it won’t. His is one of the biggest denials by an American president of all times. As a consequence of the pandemic, of Trump’s lying about and public denial of it, and also because of a large segment of the American public’s denial of it; more than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 to date. Most of these deaths could have been avoided. Yet, Trump lies to us about aerosol transmission, susceptibility of children to COVID-19, availability of a vaccine, … These lies themselves are a form of denial; a denial of reality. So, too, the believing of those lies by some thirty-plus percent of Americans. If we had provided masks and imposed obligatory wearing, tested, and did contact tracing, the death toll would have been <30k. The damage to our economy would have been ~ -3% GDP. We know this because of South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, … America’s denial of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a very high price. It will keep doing so until: we make the wearing of mask obligatory for close proximity, have rapid result accurate testing, and do effective contact tracing; or, until almost everyone is vaccinated with a highly effective vaccine.

Is our denial inherited? Probably. In our past: The Capitalists lied about capitalism and the people believed them, died early for capitalism by the tens of thousands. Slave owners lied to themselves. Slave owners lied to poor white southerners and those poor white southerners believed them, fought and died for them. More lately, many Americans let Fox News lie to them and tell them what to believe. What are they thinking letting someone tell them what to believe? How could someone let tell them what to think?

America has been in decline for 50 years now, yet a majority of us wait for things to get back to normal. Oh, and by the bye, that was Normal we just passed, the town just before that was called Normal, and, that town straight ahead is called — Normal. Sorry, guess you can’t get to normal from here.