Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear Amazon

Dear Amazon,
I'm writing to let you know that, in spite of the fact that I own a Kindle, I'm not going to spend another cent at Amazon until I hear that you are (1) treating your employees better and (2) no longer a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). All of the people you employ are worthy of human respect and dignity, and our democracy must no longer be subverted by corporations who think their money entitles them to legislative work-arounds. Not only am I not going to spend another cent on Amazon, but I'm encouraging my friends who support workers and love democracy to do the same.
Most sincerely,
Mary Ray Worley
P.S. And I'm deleting my wish list.
I e-mailed the above letter to Amazon this afternoon. I received the following response:
Thank you for your feedback. Please see our message at:
We hope to see you again soon.
Best regards,
Sai Rongali
The link goes to a page with this message:
A Message from Amazon - September 22, 2011

There's been recent news coverage regarding temperatures and working conditions in our Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, fulfillment center.

Certain parts of the country experienced unusually high temperatures this summer. We spent more than $2.4 million urgently installing industrial air conditioning units in four of our fulfillment centers, including our Breinigsville facility. These industrial air conditioning units were online and operational by late July and early August. This was not mandated by any governmental agency, and in fact air conditioning remains an unusual practice in warehouses. We'll continue to operate these air conditioning units or equivalent ones in future summers.

We have temporary employees working in our facilities for two reasons - to manage variation in customer demand throughout the year and as a way of finding high-quality full-time employees. There are 1,381 full-time employees in Breinigsville, all of whom receive full-time benefits including healthcare. Since January of this year, 850 temporary employees in Breinigsville have been converted to full-time employment.

We welcome and embrace questions about our preparedness and planning, and indeed we routinely ask those internally, but those who know us well don't doubt our intent or our focus on employee safety.

Thank you. [emphasis added]
I like how hard they work to make sure the reader knows how protecting their temporary employees from being cooked alive is not "mandated by any government agency." Never mind that it's mandated by human decency.

I really hope it's true that Amazon is going to some considerable effort to do right by their temporary employees, and that they'll insist that their private contractors do the same. But I couldn't help but notice that nothing was said about Amazon's membership in ALEC. So they won't be seeing me again soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to #SaveUSPS? Remove the Fangs from Its Throat

The rally today on the Capitol Square in Madison to save the US Postal Service was good. It was well attended, and the weather didn't interfere. We had a few speakers—politicians and union leaders—and we handed out info sheets, asked folks to sign the petition supporting HR 1351, and talked to people about what's needed to save the USPS. Best of all, it was heartening to hang out with other posties.

This rally and hundreds of others across the country were planned by the postal unions to garner support for HR 1351, the USPS Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act. From the rally, you might think that the one magical fix needed to ease all of the USPS's woes is just to pass this one bill. In fact, the bill is a needed but tiny step toward fixing the Post Office's situation. It is a temporary fix for one of the worst provisions of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which in fact dealt two ruinous blows to USPS finances.

The PAEA requires that the USPS transfer to the Treasury $5.5 billion per year for 10 years, ostensibly to fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years. This is the part of the PAEA that the postal unions are most concerned about, because it places an undue and even absurd burden on the USPS that is placed on no other government agency. In fact, it forces the USPS to provide for the retirement health benefits of people who aren't even born yet.

Another provision of the PAEA caps all postage rates for "market dominant" service at the rate of increase of the Consumer Price Index. "Market dominant" service is anything that the USPS has little or no competition for, such as first-class mail and bulk mail, including catalogs, periodicals, and advertising circulars. This requirement directly contradicts 39 USC 101(d), which states that "postal rates shall be established to apportion the costs of all postal operations to all users of the mail on a fair and equitable basis." In other words, the prices the Post Office charges should cover its overall expenses. But the provision in the PAEA actually prohibits that it do so. And, of course, the price of fuel has increased considerably faster than has the Consumer Price Index.

HR 1351 does nothing to address the postage rate cap, which is ruinous because the USPS loses money on every single catalog and other piece of bulk mail it processes and delivers. HR 1351 does not even repeal the prefunding requirement, the excessive obligation faced by no private company and no government agency. Instead, HR 1351 merely allows the USPS to use money it has already overpaid into its pension funds to cover future payments to the retiree health benefit fund. HR 1351 would reduce the size of the largest hole in the USPS's budget, the $5.5 billion per year prefunding requirement. This would be good, but it would not prevent the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service.

The fundamental threat to the USPS comes from its own management. Easing the artificial financial burden on the USPS would reduce the need to savagely sever employees, jettison post offices, and dismantle the distribution network. But the problem was never a need to do these things. The USPS's finances could be perfect, and management could—and, from its recent words and actions, would—still seek to destroy the USPS as we know it.
  • Postal management wants reduce delivery from 6 days per week to 5 days per week, which, as we have already pointed out, is a colossally bad idea. Former president of the APWU William Burrus cites the folly of going with a 5-day delivery scheme:
  • The Postal Service has been granted a monopoly on access to the mailbox, but if the USPS abandons delivery on a sixth day, it is doubtful the American public will permit the monopoly to continue. If five-day delivery were enacted, the Private Express Statute would likely be modified to permit a private company to deliver mail on the non-delivery day. Rest assured, once the sanctity of the mail box is pierced, it will not be restored at a later date.
  • Postal management wants to separate retail sales from sorting and delivery operations, as a prelude to abandoning its retail network to private stores and outsourcing sorting and delivery to private mail-processing and delivery companies.
  • It wants to close half of the nation's post offices. USPS management seeks to close 16,000 of its present 32,000 post offices by 2017—essentially all those that aren't entry points for large amounts of bulk mail. Further closures would follow. These closures are illegal under current law, which stipulates that "no small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities." Yet USPS management fully intends to proceed with a massive number of closings.
  • USPS management wants to decimate its mail-processing network, closing some 313 of its approximately 487 mail-processing plants. Management knows, and admits, that the remaining few plants do not, and could not, have the capacity to handle even the current recession-reduced mail volume at current delivery standards. USPS management seeks the approval of the Postal Regulatory Commission to increase delivery times by at least a day or two for all mail. This will be the end of first-class mail as we know it, ceding all important mail delivery to FedEx and other expedited delivery services. By management's own estimates, this permanent destruction of its ability to provide first-class service would save costs amounting to only 4% of budget.
Any one of the above attacks is sufficient to cause the ultimate destruction of the US Postal Service. So any effective effort to defend the USPS as we know it must address every single one of them and the reason the USPS is facing this multipronged attack. The New York Metro Area Postal Union (APWU, AFL-CIO) is demanding that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe resign immediately, and if he will not, it calls on the Postal Board of Governors to fire him. In colluding with those who would destroy the USPS, "Donahoe is violating his oath of office and failing to meet the requirements of his position to be responsible for the overall operation of the Postal Service."

The New York Metro Area Postal Union is absolutely right, and the postal unions would do well to join the call for the Postmaster General's resignation. Furthermore, they should insist that the USPS again be managed as a government service and not as a business. The management of the USPS has been captured by the private mailing industry to the point that decisions are made for the benefit of big mailers and not for the American people—whom the post office is meant to serve. The "uncoupling" that is really needed, contrary to the USPS Office of the Inspector General's assertion, is that the fangs of the private mailing industry should be removed from the throat of the USPS.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rally to Support the Post Office

Tomorrow (Tuesday, Sept. 27), from 5 to 5:45pm, on the Capitol Square at the corner of King and South Pinckney Streets, postal workers and their friends and supporters will rally to draw attention to the best way for Congress to save the US Postal Service. There are those in Congress who are trying to do to the USPS what Scott Walker has done to Wisconsin. If you don't want to see the postal unions broken and the post office dismantled and privatized, please join us. We need your support!

View Larger Map

Rallies are being held all over the country, most of them from 4 to 5:30pm local time. But here in Madison, the rally is scheduled to begin at 5pm and will last about forty-five minutes. Rallies will also be held (from 4 to 5:30pm) in Kenosha, Janesville, and Milwaukee.

The American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, and the National Association of Postal Supervisors are joining together for this nationwide event. Here's what the unions have to say in a nutshell:

There's more info here.

Please write to your Representative and ask that s/he support HR 1351, or thank him/her if s/he is already co-sponsoring the bill. (Here's an updated list of the 215 co-sponsors.)

And please sign and share the petition, which we'll send to Congress tomorrow to coincide with the rallies.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

USPS Seeks to Demolish Itself, Be Privatized explains that USPS management, and its "Office of the Inspector General" intend to break up and privatize the U.S. Postal Service. They plan to close the first half of the remaining 32,000 U.S. Post Offices by 2017.

Here's a good 2-minute video of Kent Rose explaining why "There Used to Be a Post Office Here."


Friday, September 23, 2011

Breaking News: War Settles Nothing

In her post "Breaking News: The Civil War Is Over" in Wednesday's New York Times, Linda Greenhouse describes the state of Virginia's challenge to the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ignominiously known as Obamacare. The day after the PPACA was signed into law, Governor Bob McDonnell signed the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, which provides that "no resident of this Commonwealth . . . shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual insurance coverage." Greenhouse elaborates: "In other words, a few weeks shy of the 150th anniversary of Virginia's 'ordinance of secession,' the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the reach of the federal health care law's individual mandate."

True, Virginia's challenge of the PPACA has a lot to do with asserting states' rights over Federal law. But is that really all there is to it? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to object to the individual mandate. Because of the death of the public option, the mandate requires that each one of us do business with private insurance companies that don't exactly have a good track record in terms of looking out for the welfare of their subscribers and have proven repeatedly that their only interest is their bottom line.

In the Fourth Circuit panel's ruling on Virginia's challenge of the PPACA, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, "A state possesses no legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from the government of the United States." Greenhouse parenthetically wonders, "Should a federal judge really have to say such a thing in 2011?" as if this comes as a surprise. It shouldn't. The Founders' belief that the American people needed protection from the federal government drove them to put many such protections in the Constitution. Regardless of what you consider tyranny, our laws should indeed protect us from it. Greenhouse concludes: "So as this debate for the soul of the country continues to unfold, I take comfort—perhaps unduly, no doubt prematurely—from the reminder from the appeals court in Richmond that the Civil War is over and that p.s., the Union won."

Does anyone really believe that just because my side beat up your side, you have to agree with me? Does the fact that "the Union won" mean that the Union also wins the "debate for the soul of the country"? Might = right? Do we really believe that anyone can be persuaded by force? That the soul of the country goes to the "winner" of the Civil War? Greenhouse seems to think that the fact that the Union "won" settles everything.

The Union's so-called victory settles no more than a schoolyard brawl would. Hearts and minds are never won on the battlefield. The War Between the States changed points of view on the issues at the heart of the South's secession only insofar as it served to entrench them more deeply. The war didn't convince anyone of the moral indefensibility of slavery. If the intent was to win a moral argument, war was the absolutely least effective means available.

The American Civil War began only 150 years ago. The longer I live, the better I know how short a time that really is. We haven't come nearly as far since then as we like to think. The Pyrrhic victory that Greenhouse finds comforting didn't settle anything. She confesses that she just doesn't "get the attack on the federal law," that she doesn't "understand people who voluntarily, without claiming poverty, let their children go uninsured." Reasserting the Union's "victory" won't be especially enlightening.

Here's a radical thought: it's high time Americans started talking to each other, and—more to the point—listening to each other. Might we not defy the mainstream media's efforts to fan the flames of our ideological polarization? The media has a vested interest in that polarization: conflict makes the most compelling news and conveniently diverts attention away from the corporate owners' and sponsors' plundering of the nation's commonwealth. To be sure, actually talking and listening to each other would be very difficult. But certainly it would be less difficult than, say, Civil War.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

USPS: Breaking the Law and the Tie That Binds

Last Thursday, Representative Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA) and 74 other US representatives (including Wisconsin's own Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore) sent a letter to the chair of the Postal Regulatory Commission warning of the harm that will be done to the US Postal Service by widespread closure of post offices. Of the 75 signatories, 7 were Republicans and 68 were Democrats. (Apparently that's what "bipartisan" looks like these days.) It's unclear how helpful this warning will be, but it certainly won't hurt, and it's encouraging to know that at least some of our lawmakers are paying attention and understand what's happening in spite of all the misinformation peddled by the mainstream media.

According to the representatives, "the law requires that 'the Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas.' (39 U.S.C. 101(b)))." But oddly enough, "the USPS is centering its downsizing efforts on small post offices ... which tend to be located in rural areas." This piqued my curiosity, so I looked the law up. Here is section 101(b) in its brief and comprehensible entirety:
The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining.

No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities. (emphasis added)
The law assumes that rural post offices will not be self-sustaining. In fact, it's very likely that they've never been "self-sustaining." Nevertheless, the USPS has proposed closing some 15,000 "unprofitable" post offices and has already begun the process of dismantling its "unparalleled retail network." Apparently they won't let a little thing like the law get in their way.

Moreover, as horrifying as it will be to the uber-capitalists among us, the purpose of the postal service is not to make a profit.
The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. (Section 101(a), emphasis added)
The postmaster general actually wants to close half of the nation's 32,000 post offices. "A reduction of this size would have a severe negative impact on rural America, threatening the viability of thousands of small towns across America." In many small towns, the post office is the center of community life, the constant that draws and holds people together. Closing those post offices would do irreparable harm to American rural life. And once the extraordinary fabric that binds the nation together is gone, there will be no getting it back.

So what's the deal with the law? It appears that the postmaster general can ignore the illegality of what he's doing with impunity. So, whose responsibility is it to see to it that they do in fact follow the law and the congressional mandate to "provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns" in order to "bind the Nation together"? How are the decision makers held accountable? And if they're not, then please explain to us which laws are meant to be followed and which are meant to be ignored?

The Postal Service "is no less valuable today than when Pony Express riders raced across the American frontier." In fact, it is considerably more valuable today. Modern technology has increased its value, rather than decreasing it. Think of all the online shopping we do—not all the packages we receive are delivered by FedEx and UPS. In fact, sending packages via the USPS is usually cheaper, providing substantial savings to consumers, corporations, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. As the representatives correctly assert, "this Constitutional institution must be strengthened, not eviscerated, because it continues to improve quality of life for our constituents."

Strange Fruit and the Execution of Troy Davis

I am numb this morning. I woke up to learn that Troy Davis was killed last night. I know that for a long time black men have been put to death for flimsier reasons than those given for Troy Davis’s execution. I know we still have a long way to go in the struggle against racism. I suppose it was naive of me to think we were past such racial barbarity, even in Georgia. But still the news comes as a dreadful shock.

Author Tim Wise objects to the “I am Troy Davis” meme when repeated by white people: “To most all white folks and folks with money generally, please stop saying ‘I am Troy Davis.’ No, no you are not. Nor would you ever be. If you don't understand that, you understand nothing.” True. There is a great chasm between my experience and that of Troy Davis. I may very well understand nothing. But I still assert that “we are all Troy Davis.” Because to accept the chasm between us is not an option. The things that divide us are temporal and insignificant. The things that bind us together, whether we acknowledge them or not, are eternal. Although my meager ability to identify with such a one as Troy Davis is paltry, my weakness, my ignorance, doesn't change the fact that in truth Troy Davis is my brother. Jesus died for him as surely as he died for me. We are all Troy Davis, because the hatred and injustice and indifference behind his execution diminish us all.

Strange Fruit (lyrics by Abel Meeropol)

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

"Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." May God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Congress Created This Problem, and Congress Can Fix It

Six Days to Five: A Colossally Bad Idea

In his 35,000-word “deficit reduction plan” 9/19/2011, President Obama included 300 words to destroy the US Postal Service

“by giving USPS authority, which it has said it will exercise, to reduce mail delivery from six days to five days.”

Former APWU president William Burrus:

Reducing the number of delivery days is absolutely the wrong approach to the loss of mail volume, which has been caused primarily by the recession. The economy will recover, but if five-day delivery is implemented, it will have created conditions that will lead to the ultimate demise of the Postal Service.

The Postal Service has been granted a monopoly on access to the mailbox, but if the USPS abandons delivery on a sixth day, it is doubtful the American public will permit the monopoly to continue. If five-day delivery were enacted, the Private Express Statute would likely be modified to permit a private company to deliver mail on the non-delivery day. Rest assured, once the sanctity of the mail box is pierced, it will not be restored at a later date.

Customers will demand Saturday deliveries, and if the Postal Service does not deliver, private companies will fill the vacuum. And if the mailbox is not protected on Saturday, why should it be protected Monday through Friday? This act would preface the dismantling of government-provided postal service as we know it.

Obama also wants to “give USPS the ability to better align the costs of postage with the costs of mail delivery while still operating within the current price cap.”

The “price cap” is the 2006 law mandating that USPS lose money on every piece of catalog and other bulk mail. 

Everything is on the table:  destroy processing and distribution infrastructure, close thousands of post offices, decimate the workforce, abrogate “no layoff” agreements for which employees gave back $5,000/year of their salary scale, renege on pension and healthcare obligations.  Everything is on the table except mailers paying the cost of delivering their bulk mail.


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Truth about the USPS "Crisis": A Summary

The lie being told about the US Postal Service’s financial difficulties is that mail volume is down because of e-mail and the Internet. In fact, the “crisis” is an entirely manufactured one. The USPS is under the same kind of attack as the one launched by Scott Walker against Wisconsin public employees: it’s an effort to break the unions and to privatize as much of the USPS as possible.

The Real Problem: 
Funding Benefits for Unborn Postal Workers
The 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) requires the USPS to prefund medical insurance benefits for retirees for 75 years in the span of ten years. In essence, the USPS is required to fund benefits for retired workers who haven’t been born yet.

Postage rates on catalogs and other kinds of “bulk mail” are lower than the actual cost of delivery. This was true in 2006 when the PAEA was passed. Nevertheless, a provision in the 2006 PAEA ties postal rate increases to the rate of inflation (rather than to actual costs). Costs have risen faster than the rate of inflation because of rising fuel costs.

Decrease in mail volume is primarily the result of the economic recession rather than use of e-mail and the Internet.

The Postmaster General’s Proposals: 
Cut, Gut, Privatize
Reduce the postal distribution network by more than half, which would increase delivery times by at least 1 to 2 days for all mail, that is, the end of first-class mail as we know it

Close 15,000 “unprofitable” post offices (as if the USPS were a business rather than a service)

Reduce delivery from 6 days per week to 5

Break USPS contracts with the postal unions and lay off 120,000 workers

Reduce the agreed-upon employee retirement and insurance benefits (also a breach of contract)

Lose 100,000 more postal jobs to attrition

The Winners:
The Private Mailing Industry

After the USPS reduces its distribution network and decreases delivery frequency, anyone who needs to send a piece of mail quickly will have to send it via FedEx, UPS, or another private delivery company.

Once post offices and processing-and-distribution centers are closed, they will be sold, undoubtedly at low prices, to private companies, making it impossible for the USPS to recover them or reinstate current service standards.

The end result will be that private industry will have accrued a huge percentage of what used to be the US Postal Service.

The Losers: Workers, Small Businesses, 
Citizens, and the Economy
The USPS has been the second-largest nonmilitary employer in the US, second only to Walmart. In the last 4 years, the number of USPS employees has been reduced by 110,000, plus another 20,500 so far in 2011. This doesn’t include the 120,000 layoffs Donahoe wants to make or the 100,000 more jobs to be lost to attrition. That’s a loss of 350,500 out of 645,000, well over half.

Any jobs that are added to private industry as a result of picking up the slack from the USPS’s decreases in service will be lower-paying, lower-benefit jobs (a la Walmart).

A loss of this many good jobs when the US economy is already embattled will be a huge blow to the middle class and a further widening of the enormous gap between the fabulously wealthy and the rest of us.

“Unprofitable” post offices are scheduled to close in many remote rural areas and in many low-income neighborhoods. In rural communities, the area post office often serves as the center of community life.

Real Solutions
Passage of HR 1351 (which has more than 200 cosponsors from both parties) would allow the USPS to use money it has overpaid into its pension fund to fulfill the PAEA prefunding requirement.

Adjustment of the prefunding requirement so it’s more reasonable.

Make the Postmaster General and the Postal Board of Governors step down and investigate them for malfeasance, gross mismanagement, and dereliction of duty.

Sign the Petition at
Don’t let the USPS be destroyed:
The petition will be sent to Congress on Sept. 27, 2011.

Further Reading
The mainstream media are repeating the lies and misinformation being spread by PMG Donahoe and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform). Only a few sources are reporting the truth:
Save the Post Office, by Steve Hutkins:
American Postal Workers Union (APWU), AFL-CIO:
National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC):
Truthout, “Postal Workers: The Last Union,” by Allison Kilkenny:
OpEdNews, “Destroying the Postal Service in Order to Save It?”
by Chuck Zlatkin, Legislative and Political Director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union:

Further Questions
Who exactly is behind the deliberate destruction of the USPS?

Who inserted the provision that the USPS prefund retiree health benefits for 75 years and what justification was given for it? Did Congress even know about it?

Who is on the Postal Board of Governors and what are their ties to the private mail industries that will benefit most from the demise of the USPS?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

USPS: Vultures Circling the Eagle's Nest

Last night and this morning mandatory talks about so-called Network Optimization were given to US postal workers across the country about possible plant closings. According to the Associated Press, "the Postal Service says it may close more than 250 mail processing facilities [out of approximately 500] across the country in an effort to cut costs." Orwellian, isn't it? Calling the slash-and-burn proposals "network optimization" is like calling an epidemic "population optimization." Ouch. Once those plants are closed, the USPS will never get them back, thus permanently destroying its ability to provide first-class service. But some lucky private distributors will undoubtedly land many of those plants for a song. So even though the US population continues to grow, the postal service's processing capacity is about to shrink drastically. This is optimization only for the privatization vultures circling overhead.

In Wisconsin, mail-processing plants in Oshkosh (apparently this one is a done deal), Portage, and Wausau would be closed, as would the one in Rockford, Illinois. More closings are being considered in Iowa and Michigan. (Click here to see a list of all the possible closures.) The plant here in Madison, where Tom works, would have to process mail that is now being processed in Rockford and Portage. A few more mail-processing machines could be added in Madison, but overall mail volume at the plant would increase substantially more than processing capacity. Much of the mail would have to be transported farther for processing, requiring substantially more fuel and more time for every piece of mail that would have been processed at one of the closed plants.

The closings would severely cripple the USPS, making it impossible to maintain the current first-class-mail delivery standards. In other words, if they do this, you can kiss first-class mail good-bye. So what's a one- or two-day delay if it helps keep the USPS from closing its doors altogether? Well, first off, the closings don't even remotely address the root of the problem, which is the provision in the 2006 law requiring the USPS to prefund health care benefits of future retirees seventy-five years into the future, which in essence means that the USPS is required to fund health care benefits for workers who haven't even been born yet. This problem could be addressed easily with just a couple of fairly minor accounting adjustments. House Resolution 1351 would do exactly that.

Second, "the closings could cost as many as 35,000 jobs." If the volume of mail being processed every day decreases, then fewer workers will be needed to deliver each day's mail. So the USPS will lose workers that it currently needs. It's not that the USPS is just sloughing off unneeded workers. You'd think that in these days of record unemployment, Congress would move fast to ensure that not one job is lost from the USPS. You'd be wrong.

Furthermore, the reduced volume of mail per day will make it easier to make the case that mail should be delivered fewer than six times a week. With five-day-per-week delivery and slower delivery rates, other providers will seize the opportunity to pick up the slack. Imagine UPS and FedEx eagerly circling the ailing eagle's nest. The next thing you know, we're several steps closer to privatization.

Worse still, those who believe that "government is the problem" claim that this manufactured crisis is further evidence that government programs are destined to fail.
The centrifuge that is government is broken. Here. Let me prove it to you. *throws pitchfork into centrifuge* See there! It's broken!
So the salivating vultures who are greedily circling the post office are using its deliberately cooked-up financial difficulties as a reason to dismantle other government programs and services: Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid. Except war, of course—that's something the government can always do well.

~ ~ ~
Please sign the petition to keep the US Postal Service from being destroyed. And share widely. We're going to submit the petition on September 27 to coincide with the USPS union rallies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Brother's Keeper: Personal and Social Responsibility in the Age of the Tea Party

I am a Christian, an Episcopalian, and my faith drives my politics. There is nothing that Jesus expresses more frequently or more profoundly in the gospels than his concern for the poor and the outcast. "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40, New International Version).

I believe that it's God's intention that we seek justice in the world we live in, that we care for others—by any and every means available—especially for the poor and disadvantaged, not just to give them handouts, but to respect them, to value and listen to and learn from them, to empower them. I believe that the heart of God longs for justice, and that it is God who places that same longing in our hearts. I believe that if we really want to know Jesus, we will find him among the poor and the disenfranchised rather than among the wealthy and powerful.

The view that Jesus would have us merely protect our own and distance ourselves from whoever we consider "other" is deeply disturbing. Certainly we should take responsibility for ourselves and for our families. But is that really enough? "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors [the universally despised scumbags of their day] doing that?" (Matthew 5:46-47). Of course, we should love and care for and protect our own families insofar as we're able. But doing so does not in any way preclude or excuse us from loving and caring for and protecting others.

There seems to be an exaltation of the idea of "personal responsibility" that justifies dismantling the systems we have put in place to care for ourselves, our families, and each other. If natural disaster strips you of your home and all your possessions, have you failed in your "personal responsibility"? If medical bills impoverish you and your family, should the rest of us turn our backs on you and just expect you to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps"?

The callous disregard for others demonstrated at the last two Republican debates is profoundly alarming. The question Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul at this week's debate was in reference to a theoretical person who simply chose not buy health insurance. But are those without health insurance in this country uninsured just because of a simple miscalculation of the risk involved? Unfortunately the real question involves real people in tragic and heartbreaking circumstances.

In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Cain asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" after he'd already killed Abel. When we callously allow our brothers and sisters to die—for lack of insurance or a flawed trigger-happy judicial system—their blood cries out to God from the ground, just as Abel's did.

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Many thanks to the Christian Left for the artwork!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

USPS Under Threat

The Postmaster General is in the process of:

  • reducing the postal distribution network from some 520 processing and distribution centers to “less than 200,”
  • increasing delivery times by at least 1 or 2 days for all mail,
  • closing 15,000 “unprofitable” post offices,
  • destroying 220,000 of the 645,000 postal jobs.

He also wants to:

  • reduce delivery from 6 days per week to 5 days per week,
  • break the employee unions, lay off middle-class union employees, and replace them with part-time, low-wage, low-benefit employees,
  • take away promised retirement benefits employees have worked for,
  • take away promised medical insurance benefits employees have worked for.

Why? The big lie is, “USPS is in financial trouble, because volume is down.”

Not true. The “crisis” is entirely a manufactured one. It was manufactured by a 2006 law passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush. This law requires USPS to:

  • pay $5.5 billion yearly to the U.S. treasury, every year for 10 years,
  • never raise postage rates, for any kind of mail, faster than the rate of inflation.

If it were not for these arbitrary and deadly requirements, USPS would not be in a financial “crisis.”

The $5.5 billion per year is supposed to pay for medical insurance benefits for future retirees for the next 75 years. No other company, and no other government agency, has to prepay 75 years worth of future benefits.

USPS has already overpaid at least $50 billion into its pension fund. USPS is in no danger of running out of money for retirees.

Postage rates on catalogs and other kinds of “bulk mail” are lower than the cost of delivery. This was true in 2006, it was known in 2006, and it is still true. The 2006 law makes sure these rates stay lower than what it costs USPS to deliver the mail.

Fuel costs have risen faster than the rate of inflation. The 2006 law makes sure USPS cannot increase its prices as much as its costs have increased.

The effect of these destructive requirements is to bankrupt the Postal Service.

Instead of asking the Postal Regulatory Commission for permission to raise prices, the Postmaster General is closing most of the postal distribution network, closing thousands of post offices, destroying hundreds of thousands of decent jobs, and planning to drastically reduce postal service.

It’s as if the people who wrote the 2006 law, and Postmaster General Donahoe, were trying to destroy the Postal Service.

Who would do this? Who will benefit?

The private mailing industry will benefit. After the US Postal Service reduces its distribution network to the point where it can no longer provide service within 1 to 3 days, anyone who needs to send a piece of mail to get somewhere quickly will have to send it FedEx, or some other private service, at a much higher price.

The U.S. Postal Service owns a huge amount of very valuable property: usually a large Post Office in the center of every town. Once the post offices and processing and distribution centers are closed, they will be sold, at low prices, to private companies. Once these post offices and processing centers are gone, USPS will never again be able to recover them.

The Direct Marketing Association and other big mailers of the “Mailers Technical Advisory Committee” want to keep their postage rates low—whatever the cost.

  • The cost will be thousands of lost post offices. The loss of some of these will devastate their towns.
  • The cost will be hundreds of thousands of lost middle-class jobs. In a bad economy, this loss will multiply to many more unemployed people.
  • The cost will be a lesser postal distribution network, no longer able to provide first-class service.
  • The cost to remote areas will be that postal service will simply be unavailable.
  • The cost to the economy will be the loss of a service essential to millions of people and business.

The USPS has been adding 3 million delivery addresses per year, as population grows. Reducing the distribution network and closing post offices, capacity will not be available when population, prosperity, and need for postal service increase.

The U.S. Postal Service is not a business. It is a public service. Its destruction will do great harm to the U.S. economy.

What should be done?

  • Congress must pass House Resolution 1351. This would allow USPS to use the $50 billion it overpaid into its pension fund to cover its obligation under the 2006 law to prepay future medical insurance for future retirees.
  • Congress must reject House Resolution 2309 and all similar bills. H.R. 2309 would close thousands more post offices and break the employee unions, replacing decent jobs with low-wage, low-benefit jobs.
  • Congress must repeal the 2006 “Postal Accountability Enhancement Act,” which is the cause of the crisis.
  • Postage rates on all kinds of mail must at least cover their costs.
  • The Department of Justice must investigate and stop the Postmaster General’s actions to close post offices and processing and distribution centers in violation of current law. By law, post offices and processing centers cannot be closed unless USPS can show that the closing will not hurt service. The closings always hurt service. USPS acts without providing required information to the community and unions, without regard to public input, without regard to reduction of service.

Please sign the petition at We plan to send the petition to Congress on Sept. 27, 2011.

For more information, see, and follow the links in the “petition activity” tab under “The story so far” on the petition page.

Contact your representative and senators at

Visit the American Postal Workers Union website at to send your congressional representative an e-mail message and/or find their mailing address.

Contact President Barack Obama via Web Form.


Washington Office: District of Columbia 20500

Phone: (202) 456-1414
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Experts on this issue include:

Steve Hutkins writes a brilliant website devoted to exposing USPS attempts to destroy itself:

This post from Sept. 11, 2011 is a good overview:

This post from Aug. 13, 2011 explains that USPS has precipitated a crisis in order to win destructive change not normally possible:

Carol Miller brings the important perspective of the isolated rural Western town, hard hit by the ruthless and unnecessary abandonment of postal service:

Cliff Guffey, president of APWU, presented this excellent rebuttal of USPS claims, to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Sept. 6, 2011:

Chuck Zlatkin, Legislative and Political Director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, the largest local of the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, reiterates that USPS is telling the country the Big Lie about itself, in order to turn itself into an employer in the Walmart mode:

Zlatkin is also quoted in Allison Kilkenny’s piece in Truthout, exposing USPS actions as class warfare:

This Truthout link also includes a video of Thom Hartman interviewing Chuck Zlatkin.


Ten Years Later: A Prayer for Peace

Ten years ago today, I woke up at 9am central time thinking I heard someone crying.

A little later I went to Borders, and I heard the barista in the cafe talking with a person ahead of me in line. I could tell from their tone and the snatches I heard that something terrible had happened, and I knew I didn't want to hear it from some stranger at Borders, because then I would remember what that person said for the rest of my life.

So I just left and drove home, listening with horror to the radio. The whole time I was driving home I was crying and yelling "Not with that bastard in the White House!" I knew that W's response would be more disastrous than those acts of terrorism. And it was. And it still is.

Ten years later we are still at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our civil liberties are on life support. We can't fly anywhere (unless we're wealthy enough to own our own airplane) without either having naked pictures taken of our bodies or being groped by a complete stranger. We are less safe, in spite of the security theater that plays out daily in airports and malls. We are more afraid, we are more hateful, we are more hostile. Our collective wounds have not healed; they have only festered.

I pray for peace and healing for all who suffered so intensely ten years ago. I pray we find ourselves again. I pray we learn that hate begets only more hate. I pray we become a people of compassion rather than aggression, of understanding rather than ignorance, of quiet courage rather than noisy alarm. I pray we would end our wars and begin studying and practicing peace. I pray we would reclaim our civil liberties and defend human rights rather than subverting and undermining them. I pray that we would again abhor torture rather than celebrating and defending it. I pray that we would come to appreciate peoples and cultures who are different from us, rather than fearing and maligning them. I pray for peace and healing for all those who have suffered grief and loss in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks gave Al Qaeda exactly what it wanted: war. Ten years ago the United States had the sympathy and good will of much of the world. Instead of making the most of the opportunity that presented, we squandered it and launched ourselves into a decade of military aggression. Ten years is a very, very long time to be at war. Our volunteer troops are exhausted and haunted by all they have had to see and do.

Ten years is more than enough. It's time to wage peace.

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Adventures in Letter Writing

Speaker Boehner,
With so many of us out of work, we're sick to death of obstructionism and disrespectful behavior that wouldn't be tolerated in a grade school assembly. Put the American people ahead of party politics for once. We've had it with the shameful behavior of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Don't think that if you get in the way, we won't remember it come 2012. I don't know when I've ever been angrier with the state of politics than I am now. Pass the bill quickly.
Very sincerely,
Mary Ray Worley

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tell Congress . . .

Ach! I actually wrote a letter to Ron Johnson. Gag. I was as polite and respectful as I could be under the circs.
Dear Senator Johnson,
I'm writing to ask you to put aside partisan politics and vote in favor the JOBS bill the president spoke about in his address to the joint sessions of Congress tonight. We expect our elected politicians to do more than obstruct. The American people are in desperate need. Please put them before politics.
Mary Ray Worley
Oh well. It had to be done.

Contact your Congresspeople here.

Thanks to the Armchair Patriots for their awesome poster!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ready for the Bread Line? The "Wisconsinization" of the USPS

Yesterday afternoon, a Senate hearing entitled "U.S. Postal Service in Crisis: Proposals to Prevent a Postal Shutdown" was convened before the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, chaired by none other than the inimitable Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). In his introductory statement, Senator Joe had this to say about the USPS:
Through parts of four centuries, the Postal System has actually helped make us a nation, connecting the American people to one another, moving commerce and culture coast to coast and to all points in between. The Postal Service has also bound individual towns and neighborhoods together, with the local Post Office often serving as a center of civic life.

Over the years, the Post Office has grown very large. Today the United States Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States, second only to Wal-Mart. And with 32,000 Post Offices, it has more domestic retail outlets than Wal-Mart, Starbucks and McDonalds combined. Sadly, these impressive statistics belie a troubled business on the verge of bankruptcy. . . . The bottom line here is that if nothing is done, the Postal Service will run out of money and be forced to severely slash service and employees. And that is the last thing our struggling economy and our country need right now.
First, Mr. Chair, the USPS is not a "troubled business." It is not a business at all. It is a public service. Certainly, severely slashing service and employees (sounds extremely painful both literally and figuratively) is indeed the "last thing our struggling economy and our country need right now." I can't help but think that was a Freudian slip about slashing employees (rather than slashing jobs or slashing the number of employees).

In her statement, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) correctly asserted that "the Postal Service plays an essential role in our national economy. . . . The Postal Service directly supports a $1.1 trillion mailing industry that employs approximately 8.7 million Americans. . . . Many of these businesses can’t turn to readily available alternatives. They depend on a healthy, efficient Postal Service."

The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) has pointed out that the USPS's financial difficulties can be entirely attributed to the "congressional mandate to pre-fund future retiree health benefits. [The USPS] is the only federal agency required to do so: It must pre-fund these benefits some 75 years into the future on a massively accelerated schedule. This postal-only mandate, which costs the USPS $5.5 billion per year, accounts for 100 percent of the Postal Service’s $20 billion in losses over the past four years. It also accounts for 100 percent of the rise in the Postal Service’s debt in recent years. Without the mandate, the USPS would have been profitable over the past four years and it would have significant borrowing authority to ride out the bad economy" (emphasis added).

That the truth of this situation is not being reported on and that the lies about the situation are being spread by the media has me howling mad. According to, "The Postal Service could be pursuing a rate increase now to help with its cash flow problem, yet it was just a few weeks ago that the Postal Service pulled its request for an 'exigent rate increase' (i.e., one that goes beyond the rate of inflation) because the Postmaster General didn’t want to anger the mail industry — his big 'stakeholders,' for whom a small increase means less profit."

In his testimony yesterday, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe pointed out that as of June 2011 the number of USPS employees had been reduced by 8,000 in the previous quarter. So not only is the USPS hemorrhaging money, it's already hemorrhaging jobs at an alarming rate. In the last four years, the number of USPS career employees has been reduced by 110,000, plus another 20,500 so far in 2011.

Nevertheless, Donahoe wants Congress to give him permission to break a four-month-old contract so he can slash 220,000 more jobs. He wants to go to 5-day delivery and slash worker benefits. The point of this, really, is not to save the USPS. It is to destroy the postal unions.

As Chuck Zlatkin asserts in his perceptive piece in OpEd News, the situation is nothing less than the "Wisconsinization" of the postal service, that is, it's "an excuse to break postal unions and siphon off the profitable aspects of mail delivery to private enterprise and demanding that those most in need sacrifice again."

Both Collins and Lieberman praised Donahoe yesterday for his "courage" and his "creative proposals." Donahoe's proposal to throw the USPS under the bus is neither courageous nor creative. It's cowardly and utterly destructive.

Because the USPS is so big and is spread all over the country, because it supports a $1.1 trillion industry, gutting the USPS as Donahoe proposes will have a calamitous effect on the already embattled US economy. It will have a far greater impact than the "Wisconsinization" of Wisconsin. It will be an enormous blow to the already rapidly shrinking middle class and may very well precipitate another Great Depression.

Remember the bread lines, soup kitchens, hoboes, and Hoovervilles of the 1930s? They may be our future as well as our past.

* * *
If you haven't already signed the petition, please do so,
and ask your friends and family to as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Where's the Corruption?

Troll comment seen on Facebook: "With union corruption, it's hard to see how anyone could be proud." I've heard this "baby-bathwater" sentiment before.

Unions are like any other human institution—prone to human failings. But that weakness doesn't mean we should abandon or vilify them. It means we should strengthen them and address whatever corruption we might find. It also does not mean that we shouldn't be proud of the many, many good things that unions have done for working people—the 8-hour workday, the weekend, worker's compensation, safer working conditions, child labor laws, pensions and health care benefits, to name only a few. There's a lot in labor history to honor and celebrate and be proud of.

At one time, labor unions in the United States had more power than they do today, hence their vulnerability to corruption. You know, "Abuse of power comes as no surprise" and "absolute power corrupts absolutely." But now, labor unions can hardly be singled out for corruption and abuse of power. To abuse power, you have to have some. The real point of labor unions is to give power to the powerless, to aggregate against inordinate corporate power.

Nowadays, the search for corruption is an easy one. Anyone paying attention knows that U.S. politicians are far more responsive to corporate lobbyists and monied interests than they are to their constituents. Corporations are writing laws designed to undermine not only workers' rights but those of the poor and the disenfranchised. And politicians are giving their corporate supporters a leg up on the backs of the poor.

In short, my dear troll, if you're concerned about corruption, follow the power. And given that labor unions have very little of that these days, they should be the least of your worries.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Labor Day Road Trip!

Perhaps you've been following the hullabaloo surrounding the Wausau Labor Day parade. First, the heroic Marathon County Labor Council disinvited local Republican politicians because of their anti-labor activities. Sensible enough. Would you force your kid to play nice with the schoolyard bullies? Apparently Mayor Tipple would. Tipple told the labor council that if the Republicans weren't allowed to march in the parade, then the council would have to reimburse the city for its expenses (insurance, police protection, etc.).

Now the labor council president, Randy Radtke, has announced that the Republican politicians will be un-disinvited. The Wausau Daily Herald reports that Radtke sent the following statement in an e-mail:
We didn't start this fight in Wisconsin, but were responding to anti-worker positions and policies supported by local Republican politicians, including those who have complained about not being invited. With the track records that Pam Galloway, Sean Duffy, Scott Walker, and Jerry Petrowski have all put together this year, they should be ashamed to even show their faces at a Labor Day parade. [emphasis added]
But show their faces they will—maybe. If they have the nerve. If you're not sure you will recognize those faces if they do turn up, click on the links in this paragraph to refresh your memory. Apparently, Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (you remember him—he's the guy who complained about his measly $174,000 annual salary and the horrors of having to drive a used minivan) has said he will attend a Labor Day celebration in Merrill, Wis. But maybe State Senator Pam Galloway and State Assembly Rep. Jerry Petrowski will show up. You never know.

Have you ever been to Wausau? It sits just across the Wisconsin River from Rib Mountain, and it's just two and a half hours from Madison, straight up Rt. 51. The parade is on Monday, September 5 at 4 pm. The parade route starts on North Third Ave. at West Wausau Ave. and continues south on Third Ave. to Stewart Ave. (see map below). Whaddaya say come Labor Day we head on up there and show some union pride? I understand that some Wausau workers would be honored if workers from around Wisconsin would join them. And from all the hullabaloo, I'd say they could use some Labor Day solidarity. I'm not encouraging mayhem, mind you. Just some good, sensible, hard-working Wisconsinites who know when to cheer and when not to.

Update: According to the Wausau Daily Herald, Galloway and Duffy will be at the Wausau Labor Day parade. Galloway says she hopes the event "will be about families watching a parade [read: never mind what Labor Day is really about]—not politics," even though the politicians will now be allowed to do their politicking. According to the Herald, "Galloway said she is a little concerned that the conflict will 'poison the well' of the typically feel-good event." Who's poisoning whose well do you think?

Duffy says he'll be there with his kids: "I'm thrilled the organizers of this event [were bullied into setting] aside political differences. . . . The unfortunate truth is Wisconsin's political environment has become so toxic these days [Surprising, isn't it, how people get a little pissy when you take their rights away.] that even parades [meant to celebrate the people we have screwed] are seen as a chance to take political swipes at each other."

No indication yet whether Petrowski will be there.