Corruption is paid by the poor — Pope Francis.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. – John Acton
Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse. – Adlai Stevenson
This posting was not what I had planned. What I had planned was to be as devoid of the politics of the day as is reasonably possible in such times. It was going to have something to do with the value of self-reflection and forgiveness. But, “I read the news today, oh boy” and buried between items about the virus, the stalled stimulus negotiations, the return of the Space X Dragon and the death of beloved actor Wilford Brimley was an article about the Postal Service. Such putrid odors emanated from it (and to be clear, this is not meant to reflect badly on the author who was merely telling the truth) that I was compelled to pull out the disinfectant.
Some background is called for. From 2004 through 2006 the Postal Service made $6 billion in profits. It paid out retiree and workers benefits in the same manner as all other government agencies. In other words, these benefits were paid upon retirement. Still, there were challenges ahead as competition dwindled its share of the markets and profits had diminished. But in 2006 Congress enacted the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. And like most pieces of legislation pushed through the halls of Congress by purveyors of the most mendacious, it’s title was more than a little ironic. For by 2008 the Postal Service was bleeding billions.
The PAEA transferred payment responsibility for retirees’ benefits from the US Treasury back to the Postal Service itself. But it did something else too, and that something proved to be the poison arrow aimed at the heart of an otherwise successful, albeit troubled operation. The PAEA required the Postal Service to fund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits, something absolutely no other government agency or business is mandated to do. To satisfy this commitment the Postal Service pays between $5.5 and 5.8 billion a year to this funding. In 2016 alone, it lost $5.6 billion. $5.8 billion was from the accrual of mandatory unpaid retiree health benefits. That was not a typo. Last year it lost $8.8 billion, a $4.9 billion increase from the previous year’s $3.9 billion loss. To be sure the Postal Service has other challenges as well, but this is like batting in the ninth inning without having the advantage of batting in the previous eight while your opponent feasted on gopher balls and built up a lead that would have called for mercy rules in most softball leagues.
It should also be noted that the competition itself also relies on the Postal Service to complete many of their deliveries, particularly in the most rural areas of this country. It might be helpful if the avenues of investment for the agency were less restrictive but by law it is only allowed to invest its $40 billion in retiree health benefits in US treasuries which have a limited return. It should also be noted, for the edification of the many who seem to believe otherwise, the Postal Service does not operate on the American tax dollar as every other government agency does. Although constitutionally mandated and under the auspices of the federal government it is funded like any other business, strictly through its own acquired revenues but with restrictions that other businesses are not constrained by. Such as the aforementioned investment opportunities.
But the Postal Service’s financial situation, for the time being, is what it is. There have been noises made by voices on the left side of the aisle to eliminate or at least refigure the more noxious elements of the PAEA in future legislation but the chances of that happening before the next election are impossible. The fact remains that the agency responsible for the successful delivery of millions of ballots, is being pushed to the precipice of its very existence to accommodate an administration which stands with the cabals of Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, and Richard Nixon as one of the most corrupt in our history.
This president has called the Postal Service “a joke” and has been vilifying it for quite a while. He has threatened a $10 billion congressionally approved loan unless the agency charged Amazon more for packaging deliveries. 400% more. Amazon is owned by one Jeff Bezos, not my favorite billionaire, but considerably wealthier than the pretender in chief and also the owner of the Washington Post, which has been one of his harshest critics. It is against this backdrop that he nominated Louis DeJoy in May to the Postal Service Board of Governors for the position of Postmaster General. Mr. DeJoy assumed office in June. He has no previous experience with the Postal Service.
He does have experience as a political operative, contributing in excess of $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund as well as millions more to various other Republican candidates and causes. He is also the chief fundraiser for the Republican National Convention. He was the CEO and chairman of New Breed Logistics until 2014 when it was acquired by XPO Logistics, a Connecticut based freight transporter. After the acquisition he served as CEO Of XPO’s supply side chain until 2015. He served on XPO’s board of directors until 2018.
Now, in the middle of a pandemic necessitating a potentially mammoth amount of postal balloting in an election where the president finds himself belly flopping in national polling, an obvious political ally has been put in charge of ballot delivery. In a recent memo employees were instructed to leave mail behind at distribution centers until the next day if it delayed carriers from their routes. Long time practices dictate that postal workers do not do this and instead make multiple trips, if necessary, to ensure timely deliveries. According to the memo the elimination of overtime is on the horizon, resulting in further delays in people’s medicines, mail, checks, and eventually, ballots. This will undoubtedly give oxygen to the president’s spurious claims of being cheated in the election process, a charge he has made more and more frequently as his poll numbers drop precipitously. Mr. DeJoy used the memo to make the case that unless such changes were made the Postal Service would end up like US Steel which once was “the largest company in the world “ and now “they are gone”. To be clear, US Steel may no longer be “the largest company in the world” but is not “gone”. It is a $1.7 billion company with 27,500 employees.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sought to hold the $10 billion congressionally approved loan to the Postal Service until the agency agreed to let the Treasury Department take over a large swath of operational control. While that didn’t happen, an agreement was reached for the service to surrender copies of 10 of the largest “negotiated service agreements”. These are agreements with the largest third-party shippers like Amazon, Fed Ex and UPS who rely on the Postal Service to finish delivery in areas of the country that are hard for typical domestic carriers to reach. If you smell the putrid breath of the president on this agreement, remember his all too public proclamations about Amazon and Mr. Bezos.
And so it goes, as masked and unidentifiable federal troops assault and literally kidnap American citizens engaged in the protected speech of protest, it appears every lever of government possible is being pulled to assure the continuation of a presidency stewing in a gumbo of mendacity, greed, and corruption. Harry Truman once remarked about the pressures of the presidency “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Today, what makes the kitchen forbidding is not the heat, but the stench.