Nel's New Day

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

July 22, 2015

U.S. Justice for the Top 1 Percent

Mass media is gradually turning to the criminal (in)justice system within the past few months. One publicized tragedy is a teenager’s suicide after he was incarcerated at Rikers for three years with no trial following his arrest for allegedly stealing a backpack. When the case was finally dismissed, he was so traumatized by the years in solitary confinement and abuse that he couldn’t survive.

President Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, has recently been addressing the serious problem that the U.S. incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other industrialized country. The discussion about a system that imprisons almost twice as many people as two decades ago and that disproportionately jails people of color is long overdue.

prison_pop_increase

Adam Benforado is one person who has researched the differences between freedom and imprisonment—not only class and race but also juror life experience and the fatigue level of parole boards. In his new book, “Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice,” he describes the great emphasis of unreliable confessions on convictions. The Innocence Project, responsible for over 330 exonerations, found that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, stated, “Once the confession is taken, it trumps everything else…its effects cannot be reversed.”

Police who initially focus on behaviors showing that a suspect lies, use methods from false ideas about body language and leading lines of questioning. Detectives ask provocative questions and then look for “jittery limbs or averted gaze.” Benforado explained that “frequently someone who’s committed a horrible crime will look you straight in the eye and tell you that they’re innocent.” Techniques  to get admissions of guilt employ coercive “good-cop, bad-cop” routines. Vulnerable people such as those with low IQs, a history of mental health problems, or with less life experience such as teenagers often make false confessions in efforts to appease interrogators. Over 80 percent of people who confess but please not guilty are convicted because the confessions are almost impossible to erase.

Even recordings can result in viewer bias. According to Benforado, the point of view can make a huge difference:

“When people watched the footage shot from the perspective of the interrogator, they tended to say, well, this looks like a completely fine, voluntary confession. But when they watch the videotape from another perspective, through the eyes essentially of the suspect, suddenly they notice all of these coercive factors. And they tended to think, well no, actually that confession cannot come into court because it is so badly influenced by the actions of the interrogator.”

Benforado also pointed out how facts have little relationship with jury verdicts. Black men typically get longer prison terms and have a higher incidence of death sentences than white men. Jurors’ backgrounds and experiences, “cultural cognition,” weigh more heavily in guilt or innocence than legalities. For example, in trials of rape date, “women who were older, who were more conservative, who adhere to more traditional gender norms, were far more likely to let the man off in this particular case than women who were liberal and younger.”

Parole boards may be the most alarming part of injustice because of how the time of day plays a big part of whether prisoners are released or returned to prison. The worst time to get a parole is before the first break of the day.

The saddest conclusion of Benforado’s study is that the legal system is primarily created by and composed of white, wealthy, highly-educated older men. At this time, white people in the United States think that they are at risk. That’s the reason that a young man went to a Bible study at a church in Charleston (SC) and killed nine people.

One major tragedy  in the United States criminal justice system is that 2,500 people in the United States were sentenced to life without parole when they were teenagers. The country will pay $4 billion to keep them there for the rest of their lives. All UN-affiliated countries in the world have signed and ratified a treaty to ban life imprisonment for juvenile offenders except for the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama by a 5-4 vote that these life sentences violate the 8th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. and the court banned mandatory life sentences for minors. The ruling, however, left the decision of whether the ruling is to be applied retroactively up to individual states. Eleven states have thus far ruled in favor of retroactivity, but five have ruled against retroactivity.

One of these 2,500 juvenile lifers is Efren Paredes, who went to prison in Michigan when he was 15 and has been there for 26 years. An honor roll student with no criminal record, he was arrested but claimed that he was at home with his family watching TV when a convenience store clerk was shot and killed in a robbery. The Supreme Court announced last March to hear Toca v. Louisiana in the upcoming session that would determine whether Miller would be retroactive nationwide.

Michigan is second only to Pennsylvania in the number of juvenile lifers. According to Michigan law, teenagers as young as 15 years old are automatically tried in adult courts for murder cases, and convicted teens go directly to adult prisons. If the court rules in favor of retroactive treatment, convicts tried as juveniles must have a re-trial with the hope that a jury grants the possibility of parole because they plead their cases before a parole board. Even if the Supreme Court rules for nationwide retroactive application of Miller in Toca v. Louisiana, Parades’ parole could be in danger because he has always maintained his innocence when parole boards demand for a showing of “remorse.”

Another tragedy is that female victims of abuse are sent to juvenile detention halls that fail to treat them for mental health issues. “The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story,” produced by the Human Rights Project for Girls (Washington, DC), the Center on Poverty and Equality (Georgetown University Law Center), and the Ms. Foundation, reported that girls’ involvement in juvenile justice systems nationally is “growing disproportionately” and that girls of color are especially affected.

Many infractions, such as running away from home or school truancy, should not have led to incarceration, and the Human Rights Projects for Girls is fighting for legislature that would require prompt help for sex trafficking victims who are foster-care children and expose sex trafficking of minors. Most youth are confined in facilities lacking licensed professionals as mental-health counselors. Congress could fix loopholes in treatment of girls in crisis by tying funding to federal law requirements.

The biggest sin of prisons, however, is that privatization has made prisons a chief money raiser for the top one percent in the United States. With the rise of privately-owned prisons, incarceration has become big business in America. Holding a population of over 130,000, private prisons hold about 17 percent of federal and 7 percent of state inmates, bringing over $3.3 billion in revenue to just two corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, just last year. Almost half the immigrant detention population is in private prisons. Corporations fiercely lobby against any reduction in their population, whether from reductions in mandatory minimum sentencing laws, immigration reform, or drug legalization and decriminalization. There’s not much danger of losing their prisoners, however, because privately-owned prison companies usually include an occupancy level of 90 percent or above in their contracts.

Private companies are in control of extending prisoners’ sentences through doling out infractions—twice as many as government-run prisons—adding about $3,000 of costs to taxpayers per prisoner. When released, prisoners from private prisons are more likely to go back into the system. CCA has provisions in its contract to keep the most costly inmates—those with health issues—from going into its prisons. They had 14 different exclusion criteria including HIV-positive, disabled, elderly, or those with “sensitive medical conditions and/or high risk diagnoses.”

Current laws that incarcerate millions have not resulted in any greater safety for the country’s population and are a giant waste of money. Yet politicians support these failed policies because lobbyists pay them. While Chairman of the Florida House of Representatives, now-Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took $75,000 for his state campaigns, hired a former GEO trustee as economic advisor, and made sure that GEO got a $110 million contract for the state’s largest private prison facility. A federal inquiry found tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to Florida lawmakers and ended up indicting Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom. Moving on to being a U.S. senator, Rubio pushed Florida Gov. Rick Scott to turn 27 state prisons to GEO. For that, Rubio’s PAC got $114,000 in 2011.

The U.S. is horribly over-incarcerated. The 2.4 million men, women, and children in jails and prisons are more people per capita than any nation except for Seychelles. This 700-percent increase has come since 40 years ago when the U.S. was comparable to other nations. During that time, the War on Drugs cost $1 trillion and arrested 45 million people. Imprisoning people means that they cannot get treatment for the reason behind their drug use, and the prisons resort to solitary confinement. Portugal decriminalized all drug use and now treat addition as a medical issue with humane correctional methods. Drug-use rates have markedly declined.

The criminal justice in the United States is totally skewed toward the privileged who will fight to keep the status quo because it gives them money and position.

June 11, 2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership, A Deal with the Devil

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is nearing fruition tomorrow as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has worked hard to make a deal with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) by dumping the proposed Medicare cuts to pay for workers displaced by the agreement. Boehner’s word on this is worthless because he plans to attach the Medicare cuts to a separate trade “preferences” bill with African countries that is not considered must-pass legislation. Fast-track authority gives the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements and limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on them, with no amendments or filibusters permitted, that requires only fifty-one votes, not sixty, to pass.

Despite President Obama’s furious push to “fast track” the TPP and Pelosi’s caving in on a worthless agreement, a large number of Democrat House members plan to vote against the fast tracking. Even so, the White House thinks is has 19 Democratic votes with others still in play. Thirty GOP House members are “no” or “leaning no” on the vote, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

 

As the vote grows closer, more has been disclosed about the secretive agreement, and none of it is good. While skipping over the details about how the TPP was negotiated by corporations for the benefit of corporations around the world to lower wages and benefits while erasing regulations through blackmailing countries, the following is more information about the TPP—all of it bad.

The House has made the TPP worse than the Senate version after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) successfully attached a new negotiating objective late Tuesday night: it specifically instructs the U.S. trade representative to ignore action on climate change while negotiating future trade deals. Specifically, it “ensure[s] that trade agreements do not require changes to US law or obligate the United States with respect to global warming or climate change.”

The TPP may force privatization of so-called “public” institutions such as the post office, public schools, public roads, public libraries, public parks, public pensions, etc. so that corporations can replace these with profit-making enterprises that send the profits to the wealthy few. The U.S. Trade Representative website says TPP will have “groundbreaking new rules designed to ensure fair competition between state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and private companies.” Also:

“We are also pursuing pioneering rules to ensure that private sector businesses and workers are able to compete on fair terms with SOEs, especially when such SOEs receive significant government backing to engage in commercial activity.

“… Commitments ensuring SOEs act in accordance with commercial considerations and compete fairly, without undue advantages from the governments that own them, while allowing governments to provide support to SOEs that provide public services domestically; and Rules that will provide transparency with respect to the nature of government control over and support for SOEs.”

Corporations are also battling to privatize highways and make public schools into corporate profit centers. Private companies have largely taken over the U.S. prisons to the detriment of everyone. Private prisons contain 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners. Corporations are trying to take over water delivery from publicly-owned municipal systems.

A majority of people in the United States seem to understand the danger of the TPP. According to an International Business Times poll, 62 percent oppose the TPP, and 85 percent of moderate and conservative Republicans oppose it. A top concern is that U.S. workers shouldn’t have to compete with imports made under conditions less costly to employers. Those benefiting from TPP are Philip Morris, fossil fuel companies such as Exxon, financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, military profiteers such as Halliburton, pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer—the list of corporations goes on and on.

The legislators who have voted for TPP or plan to vote for the TPP tell naysayers that this trade agreement is different, that it won’t be like all the others—although they most likely have not read the agreement and have no idea what they’re talking about. With past trade agreements almost identical to the proposed TPP, U.S. workers compete with children coerced to work in foreign factories, trafficked and forced labor, and foreign workers so mistreated that they jump to their deaths from factory buildings. U.S. consumers buy products made in collapsing and/or burning buildings that kill thousands of foreign workers. Labor provisions of trade agreements aren’t enforced, and union activists are murdered, tortured, kidnapped, and threatened. The 14 free trade agreements that the United States signed with 20 countries allow filling of complaints for labor violations, but almost no one has done this filing because no one is told about the provisions. Even for the few complains, serious allegations, such as human trafficking and child labor, remain unsettled for years.

The newest leak of the TPP draft reveals that it would block Congressional reforms for lower drug costs and extend the life of patents through “Evergreening,” slight modification of products for new patents. A comparison of drug costs between Canada and the United States shows the exorbitant prices that people on this side of the border pay. Doctors without Borders declared that the TPP could become “the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines” in developing countries.

Even if the TPP fails, the U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating for two other, more dangerous deals. The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would bind the two biggest economies in the world, the United States and the European Union, and the largest agreement, the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), combines the U.S. and the European Union with 22 other countries scattered throughout the world. TiSA, negotiated for the past two years, would liberalize global trade covering almost 80 percent of the U.S. economy. (TPP will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity.) Like the TPP, it would restrict how governments manage public laws through a regulatory cap and dismantle state-owned enterprises, turning these services over to the private sector. TiSA measures:

  • Limit regulation on service sectors at all levels with “standstill” clauses to freeze regulations in place and prevent future rulemaking for professional licensing and qualifications or technical standards such as staff to patient ratios in hospitals or safety controls on airlines.
  • Make any broken trade barrier irreversible through a “ratchet” clause.
  • Disallow regulations that are “more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service.”
  • Eliminate restrictions on foreign investments with corporate control.
  • Permit corporations a dispute mechanism giving them money equal to “expected future profits” lost through violations of the regulatory cap.
  • Allow financial services suppliers’ transfer of individual client data out of a TiSA country for processing, regardless of national privacy laws.

To satisfy the trade agreement supporters who want to open up trade in services among the 51 TiSA nations, an international deal, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), governs these sectors through the World Trade Organization (WTO). TiSA’s goal is to deregulate and privatize services worldwide, even among emerging nations with no input into the agreement. Social, cultural, and even public health goals would be sidelined in favor of a regime that puts corporate profits first. It effectively nullifies the role of democratic governments to operate in the best interest of their constituents.

The love that the GOP, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, K Street lobbyists, and giant multinational companies have for the TPP should be a red flag for the dangers of the TPP. Bill Moyers wrote:

“[The TPP] favors CEOs over workers, profits over the environment and corporate power over the rule of law. Small wonder that it was drafted in secret or that Obama, McConnell and Boehner are determined there will be no amendments permitted once it is made public.”

Congressional supporters of the TPP are selling the soul of the United States to the devil.

August 5, 2012

Nun Closes Down U.S. Nuclear Facility

The nun’s bus tour may be over, but one 82-year-old nun is still in the news. Megan Rice was one of three activists who succeeded in temporarily closing “The Atomic City,” the U.S. government’s only facility for handling, processing, and storing weapons-grade uranium. They cut through perimeter fences at the facility at Oak Ridge (TN) and reached the wall of a building where highly enriched uranium, a key nuclear bomb component, is stored. The activists triggered security sensors but were still able to get through four fences and walk for “over two hours” before reaching the uranium storage building.

The security breach occurred nine days ago, but the shutdown, which applies to “all nuclear operations” at the site, didn’t start until five days later. Rice and her two co-conspirators Michael Walli, 63, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, were held in custody before Rice and Walli were released after a three-and-a-half-hour hearing in Knoxville (TN) last Friday. Boertje-Obed waived his right to a detention hearing and remains in jail. A hearing or arraignment is set for this coming Thursday, and the trial is set for October 9.

Their purpose was not to show how weak security was at the facility. Ralph Hutchinson, coordinator for the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said the three of them intended to take a stand against nuclear weapons. “It wasn’t so they could show how easy it was to bust into this bomb plant, it was because the production of nuclear weapons violates everything that is moral and good,” Hutchinson said. “It is a war crime.”

Despite their intent, their actions did show the weakness of the place’s security. The private contractor responsible for protecting the facility, WSI Oak Ridge, is a subsidiary of the world’s biggest security firm G4S. That’s the same company which caused the British military to fill in for security when the company failed to provide 3,500 of the guaranteed 10,400 security guards for the Olympic Games in London. Mitt Romney, a strong supporter of privatization in all areas, criticized the quality of security for the Olympics while he was in London.

Conservatives who want to turn all government functions over to the private sector might want to observe the weakness of this philosophy.  Or perhaps an 82-year-old nun is stronger and smarter than any terrorist in the world.

June 17, 2012

Save the Post Office!

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:13 PM
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Is the U.S. Postal Service paying for itself? Conservatives keep saying no, that postal workers should be cut back. Maybe Republicans have stock in UPS and FedEx. Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations, including the rconvenience of 32,000 local post offices, are paid for by peddling stamps and other products. So what’s with screaming about the USPS deficit? There isn’t one.

It’s all in the accounting. In 1969 the feds changed to something called a unified budget which included trust funds such as Social Security that had been considered off-budget because they were self-sustaining by a dedicated revenue. At the time of the change, the USPS had been a federal department like the Department of Energy or the Department of Agriculture for the prior 177 years. In fact, the post office is in the Constitution. The next year, 1970, the Department of the Post Office became the U.S. Postal Service.

The change moved the post office from a government entity to something that looks like a private corporation. The move allowed the USPS to borrow for necessary capital investments and gave more flexibility in its expenditures. The provided subsidy was phased out over the next 15 years. By the mid-1980s, the only USPS taxpayer funds, about $100 million a year, subsidizes mail for the blind and official mail to overseas voters. USPS finances were administratively moved off budget in 1974 and legislatively removed in 1989.

No matter what the change in law was, the Congressional Budget Office still treated the USPS as part of the unified budget, the one they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit. And no matter how much the USPS had stashed away, the federal government didn’t pay interest on all this money that helped the budget look better. At the same time Congress was able to control everything that USPS does.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) put the Postal Service on its list of “high-risk” programs in 2001 because it seemed to going into the red. One year later the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found the USPS had been significantly overpaying into its retirement fund. The USPS could be self-sustaining by reducing future payments into the retirement fund and use the existing surplus to cover current expenses. But they weren’t allowed to do this; they still looked as if they were short of money.

Letting the USPS have their money back could increase unified budget deficits by up to $41 billion, about $3.5 billion each year. That’s when Congress rearranged the chairs on the national deficit Titanic. The USPS was allowed to use overpayments to meet its debt and delay decreasing rates for three years. After that overpayments were collected in an escrow fund that is unavailable to the USPS until Congress determines how to use those funds. They also required the USPS to pay pensions for postal workers for the time they spent in prior military service. Until this time, the obligations were paid by the U.S. Treasury. That way Congress managed to take the USPS’s surplus away from them. In essence, the USPS was paying pensions for a time that workers did not work for the USPS.

Even Congress thought that this wasn’t fair and started to pass bills to change back to the earlier system. George W. Bush stopped this process, however, because of its “adverse impact on the Federal budget,” translated into Bush not wanting to give the USPS back its own money.

Congress found a way to seemingly give back the USPS its money in 2006: the USPS could use the escrow money, and pension obligations for military service was transferred back to the U.S. Treasury. But the USPS money stayed in Bush’s budget because the USPS was required to make 10 annual payments of between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion into the newly created Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. This law required the Postal Service to pre-fund 100 percent of its entire future obligations for 75 years of health benefits to its employees within ten years. The USPS couldn’t use any of this money for actual retiree health benefits during those 10 years. There was no justification for this annual amount other than it would pay back the money that had been in the escrow account. And the government didn’t give them any interest.

Therefore the USPS isn’t broke; in fact, it made a profit the year before the 2006 law took effect. The USPS just can’t access its money because this would make the budget look worse than it already does. Part of the solution is to give the money back to the USPS and make payments into the health fund based on actuarial statistics. Another part of it is to lift the prohibition on the USPS offering non-postal services such as issuing licenses (e.g. drivers, hunting, fishing, etc.) or contracting with local and state agencies to provide services. The USPS could make more money if Congress lifted the prohibition on its shipping wine and beer.

The French post office offers banking and insurance services. From 1911 to 1967 the U.S. Post Office successfully and profitably ran a nationwide postal savings bank. The Swedish post office will physically deliver email correspondence to people who are not online.

Congress wants to break another union by laying off more than 200,000 workers and then privatize another government function. At this time, the 574,000 USPS workers comprise the second largest civilian workforce in the nation; USPS is a Fortune 500 company. These workers are not employed by the government. Losing union rights would mean cutting salaries, removing health care, taking away pensions, and moving to part-time workers who would have even fewer rights. It’s a movement to slave labor. Privatization would continue the downward slide away from a country that has a substantial middle-class.

In a radio interview with Alan Minsky of KPFK, economist Michael Hudson observed,

“The pretense is that privatization is more efficient. But privatizers add on interest and financial fees, high executive salaries and bonuses, and turn the roads into toll roads and other infrastructure into neofeudal fiefdoms to charge monopolistic access fees for people to use. This is what has happened in Chicago when it sold off its sidewalks to let bankers finance parking meters in exchange for a loan. Chicago needed this loan because the financial lobbyists demanded that it cut taxes on commercial real estate and on the rich. So the financial sector first creates a problem by loading the economy down with debt. And then ‘solves’ it by demanding privatization sell-offs under distress conditions.”

Anyone who uses private mailing knows that it costs a great deal more than the post office. But conservative legislators don’t care: they get free mailing. A good side-affect for conservatives who want to destroy our country’s democracy is that shutting down the post offices will move the casual meeting places for small communities. The less that people get together and talk, the easier they are to control. Control, for conservatives, is their top priority.

The next time you hear someone say that taxpayers are funding the post offices, that post offices aren’t paying their own way, that they are running in the red, that we should fire the workers and privatize the post offices—tell them no!

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