Hightower: Putting the Trump stamp on the public

D.T. (as aides refer to the present occupant of the Oval Office) is really quite good at one special skill: branding.

He has slapped his name on a ridiculous range of consumer merch — teddy bears, steaks, made-in-China ties, vodka, underwear and even a urine test. His nasty policies and behavior steadily turned the brand toxic, as only two merchandisers have kept his name on their products.

Still, some two dozen towers, condos, palaces and other glossy real estate edifices blare his name, and 17 global golf meccas proclaim his ostentatious wealth. Then, of course, there’s his very own post office.

Yes, he bought a 60-year lease on the “Old Post Office Pavilion,” an iconic 1899 federal structure that once housed our country’s postal service and has also been the home of various other national government agencies.

Located just five blocks from the White House, D.T. and daughter Ivanka had it converted into a 270-room hotel for the rich in 2016. “The Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.,” boasting gold-trimmed bathrooms and a 5,000-square-foot suite in what once was the office of America’s postmaster general.

The suite can be yours for about $25,000 a night (but that’s a bargain compared to a bigger presidential suite that The Donald named for himself, charging up to $29,000 for a one-night-stay, plus $4,000 in taxes). Branding the once-public facility with the family name was “really important,” Ivanka declared at the launch of the redo. “You’ve got to be careful,” she explained. “You can’t allow people to walk by thinking it’s a post office.”

Daddy agrees. Now that he’s in the White House, he wants to bring the family’s sensibility for branding to our local POs.

The Trumpsters say it’s time to turn this historic public service over to the magic of the free market profit motive and the efficiency of bottom-line corporate management. You know, like airlines and cable companies.

Are they not aware that the mail agency is enormously popular and important to the public?

A February Pew Research poll finds that an astonishing 88 percent of Americans give a thumbs-up to the PO’s work, dwarfing the pitiful approval rating of Trump and the Congress critters who’re trying to kill it. Even the president’s executive order that set up the task force conceded that our postal service “is regularly cited as the Federal agency with the highest public approval rating.”

The 640,000 middle-class postal workers and letter carriers merit such kudos because they literally deliver for us in every ZIP code. Working from 30,825 local POs, they trundle 150 billion pieces of mail a year, 4 million miles a day to 157 million addresses across the land, from inner-city neighborhoods to back roads — and deliver them within a few days.

They carry their loads door to door, ride snowmobiles, fly bush planes, run mailboats and even ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on mules to reach us. USPS does all of this without taking a dime in taxpayer funds, financing its operations entirely from its sales and services to customers.

This is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all of America’s people and communities into one. And that’s why the right wing is so dead set on offing it.

For decades, extremist anti-government propogandists (from the John Birchers to the Koch brothers) have relentlessly pushed the narrative that government is inherently incompetent, wasteful and “the problem” — a social evil that is to be hated and, piece by piece, eliminated.

For more information and to keep the post office public, go to USMailNotForSale.org.

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Trump’s Postal Task Force Releases Report

December 4, 2018 postal 1 Comment
From the Treasury Department:

December 4, 2018
Washington – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today released the Task Force report on the United States Postal System.  The report, United States Postal System: A Sustainable Path Forward, provides a series of recommendations to overhaul the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) business model in order to return it to sustainability without shifting additional costs to taxpayers.

“The USPS is on an unsustainable financial path which poses significant financial risk to American taxpayers,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “President Trump tasked us with conducting a thorough evaluation of the USPS, and today’s report contains achievable recommendations that fulfill the President’s goal of placing the USPS on a path to sustainability, while protecting taxpayers from undue financial burdens and providing them with necessary mail services.”

Between fiscal year (FY) 2007 and FY 2018, the USPS experienced net losses totaling $69 billion. The USPS is forecast to lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. The USPS’s business model—including its governance, product pricing, cost allocation, and labor practices—must be updated in light of its current operating realities.

On April 12, 2018, President Trump issued the Executive Order on the Task Force on the United States Postal System. The Executive Order established a Task Force on the United States Postal System, chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury and including the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management.  The Task Force was directed to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS and to develop recommendations for administrative and legislative reforms that will enable the USPS to create a sustainable business model.

The Task Force’s recommendations include, but are not limited to:

Improving governance by strengthening the Board of Governors and developing enforcement mechanisms to ensure financial commitments and reforms are met;
Clearly defining the Universal Service Obligation by specifying what are “essential postal services,” or types of mail and packages for which a strong social or macroeconomic rationale exists for government protection;
Developing a new pricing model that removes price caps and charges market-based prices for both mail and package items that are not deemed “essential postal services”;
Modernizing the USPS’s cost standards and cost allocation methodology;
Pursuing cost-cutting strategies that will enable it to meet the changing realities of its business model;
Reforming USPS employee compensation in a manner consistent with proposed reforms to the broader federal workforce;
Restructuring retiree health benefit liabilities with a new actuarial calculation that is based on employees at or near retirement age;
Exploring new services that will allow the USPS to exact value from its existing assets and business lines, but that present no balance sheet risk.
The Task Force’s full analysis and complete list of recommendations can be found in the full report.

View the Task Force report on the United States Postal System.

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U.S. Postal Service delivers red ink for 12th year as letter mail drops

The U.S. Postal Service on Wednesday reported a financial loss for the 12th straight year, citing declines in mail volume and the costs of its pension and health care obligations, as the agency braces for an upcoming report ordered by President Donald Trump to address its “unsustainable financial path.”

Postal officials said they expected next year’s finances to be helped by a strong holiday season of package deliveries and a just-approved increase to the price of its first-class stamp, from 50 cents to 55 cents. It takes effect in January.

But they pleaded anew for help from Congress to relieve the Postal Service of onerous health and pension prepayments and for help from regulators to grant the agency more flexibility to increase prices so it can return to profitability.

“Absent legislative and regulatory change, we cannot generate enough revenue or cut enough costs to pay off our bills,” said Postmaster General and CEO Megan J. Brennan. “The flawed business model imposed by law continues to be the root cause of our financial instability.”

The Postal Service reported a loss of $3.9 billion for the budget year that ended Sept. 30, compared with a $2.7 billion loss the year before.

A nearly 7 percent increase in package delivery was unable to offset drop-offs in letter mail, which makes up more than 70 percent of total revenue. First-class mail volume fell by roughly 2.1 billion pieces, or 3.6 percent, as people in the digital age rely more on email for online bill payments.

Revenue was $70.7 billion, compared with $69.6 billion last year, but there were higher transportation and labor costs from delivering more packages.

Trump in recent months has asserted without evidence that the Postal Service is “losing a fortune” and reporting annual losses because it is not charging higher shipping rates for online retailers such as Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post. In April, Trump issued an executive order demanding a review of the Postal Service’s finances. That report, led by the Treasury Department and originally due in August, was expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Trump has often labeled the Post “fake news” after the newspaper reported unfavorable developments during his campaign and presidency and highlighted the Bezos connection by calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.” On Sunday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the expected next chairman of the House intelligence committee, told Axios that Democrats will seek to investigate whether Trump sought to punish Bezos by pressuring the Postal Service to raise Amazon’s rates.

Package delivery has been a bright spot for the service, although its growth is slowing, and regulators have found its contract with Amazon to be profitable.

The Postal Service, an independent agency, is trying to stay financially afloat as it seeks to invest billions in new delivery trucks to get packages more nimbly to American homes.

Regulators this week approved the Postal Service’s request to increase the price of its first-class stamp by 5 cents. The 10 percent increase to the cost of mailing a 1-ounce letter is the biggest since 1991. The price of each additional ounce will drop from 21 cents to 15 cents. The rate increase takes effect on Jan. 27.

To become financially stable, the Postal Service has been urging Congress to provide it relief from the mandate to prefund retiree health benefits. Legislation in 2006 required the Postal Service to fund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits, something that neither the government nor private companies are required to do. It is also seeking flexibility from regulators to increase stamp rates above the rate of inflation.

To avert bankruptcy, the post office has defaulted on the multibillion-dollar health prepayments each year since 2012.

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