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

Preserve the People’s Post Office: Let Us Do Meaningful Postal Reform

It is said the Postal Service is mired in debt, that it is unsustainable, a burden to the American people. This is the position of the current postmaster general, supported by the board of governors who hired him and by a treasury secretary who seems to be the chief architect of the current assault on a cherished national institution, goaded by a president who cares little for governing or the public welfare.

These claims are a lie, one that has been pushed repeatedly for at least fifty years by those who would steal an American asset and convert its public benefits into private profits.

If the Postal Service has large unfunded liabilities, it is as much because they have been defined as such by those who seek to look at this most American of institutions in a way that lays the most burdens upon its shoulders. The truth is that the Postal Service has incurred its liabilities in the service of a greater and necessary good. Far from being onerous and intractable, they are evidence of a skewed perspective, a perspective bent on being intentionally blind in furtherance of an ideology that denigrates and denies the validity and necessity of government.

If one begins with the premise that government is only a creator of debt, then the normative assumptions underlying the accounting systems designed to measure government will be weighted towards finding liability, not value.

The Postal Service has employed as many as 800,000 Americans gainfully in jobs that paid living wage and provided life-sustaining healthcare and secure retirements. These benefits rebound and reverberate through local economies, spreading both wealth and security. They have lifted many whose options were otherwise limited into productive middle-class lives while bringing communities together. And this has been done in the service of a noble and useful purpose, creating an essential infrastructure whose uses are limited only by a failure of imagination and political will.

It’s all on Trump

The Post Office is Trump’s responsibility.  He appointed the Postmaster General.  If he had asked for more funding, he would have gotten it.  If there is any delay in delivering ballots this November, it’s on Trump.
The integrity of the election is on Trump.  He runs the intelligence services and is responsible for preventing foreign interference.  With his leadership, Congress would have provided more funds to help states deal with the disruption caused by COVID-19.  Any delay in counting ballots is on Trump.
The continuing deaths and economic hardship caused by COVID-19 is now on Trump.  It has been 6 months now since it was clear that COVID-19 would kill tens of thousands of people and wreck the economy.  If Trump had led a federal effort to massively ramp up testing capacity, we could be testing 20 million people a day now.  Everyone with COVID would quickly be identified and quarantined.  The epidemic would be over and we could all go back to work and school and ordinary life.  Every death, layoff, and eviction that occurs now on is on him.
The looting and violence in American cities is on Trump.  If he acknowledged the legitimacy of the protests and supported a reasonable police reform bill, the country would come together.  There would be no opportunity for looters or violent counter-protesters.  The frustration, chaos, and violence in our cities is on him.
Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress can’t make Trump do his job, but at this point it doesn’t matter.  He’s President.  It’s all on him.  Call him out.

Watchdog asks postal regulator to seek USPS data on mail delays

Steve Hutkins on Mail Delays. At the end of this post, Steve issues a call to action. Perhaps, You may be able to help?

Today I (Steve) filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) asking it to ask the Postal Service to provide on-time delivery reports for the past several weeks. These reports would offer more transparency into postal operations and show just how much the mail has been slowing down since the Postmaster General implemented his transformation initiative.

The service performance reports show the percentage of the mail that met the Postal Service’s service standards, i.e., the expectations for how long it will take for each type of mail to be delivered. For First Class mail, the standard is 2 to 5 days; for third-class mail (Marketing Mail), the standard is 3 to 10 days. Generally speaking, about 85 to 95 percent of the mail meets these standards. The mail that fails to meet the standards is, by definition, delayed mail.

Due to changes at the Postal Service earlier this summer, on-time scores have declined significantly, as illustrated in this graph included in a USPS presentation to representatives of the mailing industry in August. On average, starting in July, on-time performance on First Class mail, for which the target is 96 percent, fell to about 79 recent. In some districts, scores fell to around 70 percent. (You can find more of these charts here and here. And a couple of days after this post was first published, even more charts were released; the official version on the House Oversight Committee’s website omits the Priority chart, perhaps because it’s considered more confidential.)


The service performance reports on which this chart is based contain scores for all the USPS districts in the country, so it’s possible to see where the most widespread delays are occurring. They also break down First Class mail into 2-day mail (local) and 3-5 day mail (regional and national). The reports also indicate how much mail was one day late, two days late, etc. In other words, they provide a fairly complete picture of mail delays.

Former Deputy PMG Ron Stroman discusses mail delays and threats to the election

H/T: When I woke up.. blog. Everything you don’t know that you don’t know..

Former Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman was on MSNBC with Nicolle Wallace. His take on the Senate hearing yesterday, the delays going on at the Postal Service, and the risks for voting by mail is fantastic. Stroman believes that there is a ‘significant question’ whether delays in mail are intentional, and he expresses concerns over the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in light of significant delays in mail delivery.

I had more to this and somehow deleted it. So, I am starting over with “why” I think we need to heed former Deputy Post Master General’s concerns.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) asked PMG Louis DeJoy, “Will you be bringing back any mail sorting machines that have been removed?” To which PMG Louis DeJoy answered, “There is no intention to do that, they are not needed.” This occurred during a Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee. I am not sure if Senator Peters pursued this further; but, I believe this needs a “Why” question and maybe 4 more until he has satisfied he has an answer to a potential problem such as a lack of capacity. PMG Louis DeJoy does not look like the type who would wander around a Postal Sorting facility such as located in Pontiac, Michigan from which 12 of these machines were removed. Pontiac, MI is a major sorting facility which might cause issues with ballots being delivered timely. There is more to DeJoy’s answer than we do not need them anymore.

And the old machines, what happened to them?

Innovation

The customer goes online and chooses a face mask from those listed on the USPS Web Page and places an online order. Their order goes direct to the factory making the mask of choice where it is filled within minutes or less and dropped in the on-site USPS bin that is picked up several times a day. The USPS then delivers the order to the customer. The USPS could enhance its revenue stream by charging a very small fee for advertising on its Web Page

Background: For the last maybe five years I have, for the most part, limited my substitute teaching to AP and Honors Economics, Government, History, Physics, and Environmental Science. These are subjects where I can wing-it; take that late call where I know that there will not be a lesson plan. On my way in I thinking of subject matter related questions. I begin by asking the class where they are, then go Socratic asking questions that require that they apply what they have been studying. History took the longest to figure out the applied; I’ve shown some of how I do the History here at AB. I seldom lecture, don’t feel that I have to teach the subject matter; do want to help both the teacher and the students.

High Schools, desperate for ways to help their students succeed, can be too quick to fall for the buzzword economic solutions such as Entrepreneurship, Free Markets, … and offer them as panaceas without much justification. Both Entrepreneurship and Free Markets get my attention. If the students bring either of them up, I open it up to discussion then segue to innovation by pointing out that all Musk and Bezos did and are doing is asking how it should be. Something that they as students could do. The huge success Musk and Bezos enjoy comes from successfully implementing the changes. Walmart had asked the question of how it should be; Bezos saw what Walmart had done and asked the next logical question in re brick and mortar. I bring the class around to what’s next. I’ve no doubt that Bezos has fully realized that his warehouse model is already antiquated and that the next step is direct from factory as in my USPS example, that’s the way his mind works. Sorry Jeff, this time it goes to the USPS.

Need proof changes at the USPS are slowing down the mail?

Here you go!

Save the Post Office is edited and administered by Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Hutkins (Steve) is the author of this commentary. (Angry Bear Blog has had a long relationship with both authors Steve Hutkins and Mark Jamison both of whom author the “Save The Post Office Blog.”)

Everyone knows the mail has been slowing down. News reports are filled with stories from postal workers and customers about delays. E-bay sellers are complaining about shipping problems with the USPS, and many say they have been switching over to private carriers. Talking Points Memo has an ongoing column based on reports from the field.  Ask anyone, and they can tell you about problems they’ve had getting a package or an important letter.

For a while, it seemed that the pandemic was causing these problems, and there’s no question that the surge in packages was a challenge for the Postal Service to keep up with.

But then came Mr. DeJoy, the new Postmaster General.

Within weeks of his taking office in mid-June, changes were being made at processing plants and post offices that appeared to be causing delays not just in parcel delivery but for letters and flats as well. In a memo to postal employees, DeJoy admitted it: “Unfortunately, this transformative initiative has had unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels.”

These “service levels,” aka “service performance,” refer to the percentage of the mail that is delivered on time, i.e., within the “service standard” for each type of mail. For First Class mail, the standard is 2 days for local mail and 3 to 5 days for regional & national mail. Marketing Mail has a service standard of 3 to 10 days. Typically, about 85 to 95 percent of the mail is on time, although in some cases the performance scores can be lower and the delays can go on for several days.

The Postal Service shares quarterly service performance reports on its website and with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), which posts them here. The most recent reports cover the third quarter, April 1 – June 30. This table based on those reports compares the third quarter performance for single-piece First Class mail in 2019 and 2020. It shows declines in near every district. In some, the drop was striking. Nationally, performance on 2-day mail dropped from 93.9 percent to 92.4; for 3-5 day mail, from 86.5 to 81.4 percent. Presumably, these declines were due to the pandemic.

As for what happened after June 30, the Postal Service hasn’t provided any details about the delays. It knows, of course, exactly how bad the delays are and where they are occurring, as reported internally in weekly performance reports similar to the quarterly reports. But these weekly reports are not shared with the PRC or the public.

One can, however, get a good sense of what’s in those weekly reports by looking at some charts that appear in two USPS presentations given earlier this month that were published on PostalPro, a website where the USPS shares information with its business customers.

As seen in the following charts show the on-time performance for the Pacific and Eastern Areas on a weekly basis for the past few months.  The charts prove that it’s not your imagination. The mail has clearly been slowing down since the beginning of July — dramatically.

Progressive politics and the pandemic

How will the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the police murder of George Floyd and other black people affect the political mood in the United States?  The libertarian-leaning economist Tyler Cowen suggested in March that the COVID-19 pandemic would mark the “death of the progressive left.”  It would erode support for key progressive goals, including redistributive economic policies and aggressive action on climate change.  He asked provocatively what we have heard about climate activist Greta Thunberg recently, and suggested that the pandemic will make protecting the climate “seem like another luxury from safer and more normal times.”

Cowen may be proved right, but progressives and Biden apparently did not get the memo.  Since Cowen wrote Biden has moved to the left and expanded his polling lead over Trump, and there are reasons to think the pandemic and the protests over police violence will shift the center of gravity in this country to the left.

There are some specific ways the pandemic is likely to increase support for the policy agenda of progressive Democrats.  The pandemic has highlighted gaps in our health care system that will likely increase support for universal health insurance.  The pandemic-induced recession may create an appetite for government spending to create jobs, including jobs to fight climate change.  Biden has proposed a massive green infrastructure program that polls well.  The plight of parents trying to balance work with the need to take care of children may increase support for childcare.  Covid-19 has revealed serious weaknesses in our aging unemployment insurance system, which seems ripe for a make-over.

These examples share a common logic that undermines the case for laissez-faire and may shift the mood of the country to the left in a fundamental and enduring way.

Questions for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

Save the Post Office is edited and administered by Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Hutkins (Steve) is the author of this commentary.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been on the job just two months, but he can already boast of many accomplishments, including these:

  • He has become the subject of a review by the USPS Office of Inspector General concerning allegations of a conflict of interest over his investments and his controversial policy changes; the review may lead to an investigation.
  • He has provoked calls for his immediate resignation from Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Manchin and Representatives Gerry ConnollyPeter DeFazio and Alma Adams, as well as 700,000 people on a MoveOn petition.
  • He has implemented changes to postal operations that are delaying the mail and heightening fears about the Postal Service’s ability to deliver election mail on time.
  • He has inspired 175 members of Congress to write a letter calling on him to reverse his overhaul of the Postal Service, citing the coronavirus pandemic and upcoming elections.
  • He has also inspired four House Republicans — Reps. Peter King, David McKinley, Brian Fitzpatrick and Daniel Webster — to join 80 House Democrats in signing a letter expressing “deep concerns” about DeJoy’s changes and calling for them to be reversed, and Montana Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte have separately sent their own letters criticizing the mail delays.
  • He has caused U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. to call on the New Jersey Attorney General to convene a grand jury to investigate him for election subversion, and Arizona Secretary of State to ask the Election Integrity Unit of the Attorney General’s office to investigate him for deliberate delay of ballots.
  • He has spurred protestors to take to the street in front his house rallying against his complicity in Trump’s effort to suppress voting by mail.
  • He has demoralized thousands of postal workers by implementing changes they view as undermining the mission of the post office.
  • He has helped to undermine “the most trusted brand in the nation” and “America’s favorite federal agency.”

The Postmaster General needs to appear before Congress immediately, not a month from now, as currently scheduled, and he needs to speak to the American people in a press conference.  Here are some of the questions he should be asked.

Conversations with the president; When the president was asked about your cutbacks on August 9th, he said he hadn’t spoken with you, but news report later said you had met with him a few days previously, on August 3. How many times have you met with the President or spoken with him over the phone? Have you discussed mail voting in conversations with the president or with other members of the White House or Cabinet, including Secretary Mnuchin?

RFL: Mark Jamison, Trump vs. The USPS & the Importance of Mail-In Voting

Contributor to Save The Post Office and Angry Bear blogs, Mark Jamison was interviewed and featured on Richard French Live, also can be seen on Meet the Press hosted by Chuck Todd, and later CNN. In this RFL YouTube, Mark gives all the reasons why we should be concerned with trump and Louis DeJoy tampering with the USPS and mail-in ballots.

President Trump has been attempting to sow the seeds of doubt before Election Day without evidence of issues resulting from mail-in voting which has been used successfully for absentee voting and other state voting. Suggesting ballot fraud and voting irregularities trump, republicans, and their followers claim it will result in a “rigged” by mail election if mail-in voting is used extensively now.

Meanwhile, we witness an overhaul of the USPS administration taking place with a new trump-politically-selected-PMG and new senior staff being put in place, the removal of additional resource to secure on-time delivery of ballots, mailboxes being removed from service in some states which use mail-in voting, OT being cut at the USPS office, etc. all done within ninety days of a national election. One has to wonder who is rigging the election and taking action to deter citizens from voting in a safe manner during a pandemic and making their vote count.

Former USPS Postmaster Mark Jamison discusses how and why Trump is attempting to destroy the Postal Service.

Now

WWII was America’s finest hour. Before that, her multitude of sins had always been covered up by her bounty of natural resources, her yet unsettled land, … her offer of opportunity. There was room to grow, chances for people to start over, … In the lead up to, and during, the War, America stepped up. Then, the situation was well defined. Usually, it’s hard to discern what is going on at a given time; what is going on ‘now’. Before the War, we sometimes got away with not knowing what was going on ‘now’; could and did attribute success or failure to fate, to an invisible hand, … . Then, working class Americans couldn’t expect much more than the ‘short brutal life’. After the War, returning veterans weren’t willing to let their government off the hook that easy. They had fought and died for their Nation; now their Nation owed them, had to do better by its people. During the War, working class Americans who had been unable to find gainful employment during the Great Depression found gainful employment; learned that they were quite capable, knew what it meant to have money to spend. A new generation of leaders who had met people from all over the world, had seen how other people lived, stood ready to take over.

During those first few years after the War, America was blessed with her industrial capacity being left intact. She was production-ready when no one else was. Working-class Americans had money in their pockets from all those wartime jobs. They were looking to buy. The world; needing everything, looked to America. In the years following the War, the wealth generated by her production was plenty enough to pay off the War Debt and have some left over for the worker’s savings.

During the 1950s, there were warning signs; like recessions and stagflation. But defense, aircraft and automobile manufacturing, and all those exports, were still generating enough wealth to go around.

By 1965, Europe and Japan were becoming more and more self-sufficient. America, manufacturer to the world, began losing her markets; That was what was going on ‘now’, then. So, what to do?

In the 1960s, it wasn’t uncommon to hear or read that the economy needed war. Business was inclined to blame it on the unions or taxes. Loss of markets was seldom heard. Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam raged on, costing dearly in ‘blood and treasure’. Then, as now, to most politicians, the economy is magic, works on fairy dust called forth with buzzwords; will self correct, …, … . LBJ may have been the best President since FDR at knowing what was going on ‘now’. He foresaw the consequences of 6.5 million southern blacks being displaced by the mechanical cotton picker. He knew that the time had come for Civil Rights, Medicare and Medicaid, The Clean Air Act, … He blew it with Vietnam; came from looking through the lens of the past, I suppose.