Janine Jackson: A congressman said it would be “a staggering act of sabotage” if the new head of the US Postal Service were allowed to make major changes. Major Trump donor – surprise – Louis DeJoy posted a series of memos, leaked to Washington Post, calling for significant operational changes, including restrictions on overtime that many, including the Postal Workers Union, argue would slow mail delivery, at the same time as Donald Trump supports crucial pandemic support for the USPS , subject to strong price increases. “Sabotage” is starting to sound like a pretty apt description.
But what we need to know is that this direct attack on the postal service, while it can be felt particularly acutely during a pandemic and an election where the most reasonable response is postal voting, isn’t anything new, just the latest iteration in a decades-long assault on the U.S. Postal Service, featuring characters and ideas you might unfortunately be familiar with.
Lisa Graves is Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of True North Research, and author of the new feature, The billionaire behind the efforts to kill the U.S. Postal Service. She is now joining us by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Lisa Graves.
Lisa Graves: Thank you very much for inviting me.
It’s like the slowest daylight flight in history, this effort to privatize the US Postal Service. Something about a federal agency that serves everyone, and doesn’t make people rich much richer, only messes up some people. We can’t cover every minute, of course, but give us some of the history and key players in this effort.
Sure. What we found in our research is that Charles Koch, who is one of the richest billionaires in the world, and who runs one of the world’s largest privately held companies, Koch Industries, has put the effort into people who have worked on the privatization of the postal service for more than five decades, basically. We have therefore traced Charles Koch’s first financing of the Magazine Reason and Reason Foundation, which tried to popularize the term “privatization”, and specifically targeted the postal service for privatization. Additionally, after Charles Koch became the Libertarian Party’s largest funder, his platform included the direct abolition of the postal service.
Then, in the 1980s, his right-hand man went on a commission, set up by Reagan, which also called for the privatization of the postal service. His group then appealed to the Reagan administration official behind it, a guy named James Miller, who continued to push for the privatization of the post office in the ’90s.
He was rewarded with a post on the Board of Governors of the George W. Bush administration, prompted in part by Susan Collins of Maine, and then he used his post as chairman of that board to advance that effort in 2006 to Saddle up our postal service with an extraordinary and unprecedented debt, to pay the health benefits of future retirees in 50 years. And that debt has really been a huge hurdle for the Postal Service over the past few years, including their current book.
And so you have a decades-long campaign, fueled by Koch’s men, to privatize the most popular government agency, the one that serves more people than any other agency in our entire government. And now, with the help of Trump and his political representative, Lou DeJoy, trying to make the postal service less efficient, we have a combination of forces that puts our postal service in grave danger.
I wanted to draw you to one part, the Postal Responsibility and Improvement Act, because we often hear in the press that the problem is that the Postal Service just can’t compete with UPS and FedEx; but that’s part of the reason people call it a fabricated crisis. But it often comes across, if it does appear, as an allegation by some critics, or somehow, that’s only a minor part of the story. Can you tell us a little more about this pre-financing requirement?
Sure. This pre-financing requirement was imposed after other George W. Bush insiders considered privatizing the postal service and felt that having potential future liabilities would be an obstacle to privatization. So the next thing that has happened is that James Miller has pushed through Congress this effort to transfer this debt, or this potential future debt, into a fund. And what he did was take huge sums that the Postal Service had in savings, put them in that account, and impose a payment of almost $ 5 billion each year for those future debts. It was really designed to make the postal service more attractive for privatization.
And Susan Collins has been instrumental in that, with Mitch McConnell strongly supporting the appointment of James Miller to the Post Board of Governors.
And so you have the person who is now the head of the Senate, who is able to do what it takes by the American people and by the people of towns and small towns all over the world, to save the Postal Service. . Instead, you have someone who has worked behind the scenes to help this effort, to weaken our postal service.
No private company or government agency has such a requirement for this type of future funding, or to carry this responsibility on their books. And removing those assets from the postal service deprives it of additional cash, to help it modernize its fleet, for example, its postal trucks, to make them more fuel efficient, to modernize.
And so here you have a situation where this postal service is in many ways the backbone of the key parts of our economy, the distribution chains in our country, the handling of hundreds of millions of mail items, things that cannot be replaced by e-mail, orders and checks of persons and goods. In this pandemic, these postal workers have been on the front lines as essential workers, making deliveries to their neighbors all over the country, and yet they are under attack by the head of their own agency, trying to deprive them of the ability to deliver. . mail on time, as people expect.
Corporate media often convey, tacitly or explicitly, the idea that whatever the case, the private sector does it better, and whatever the case, the government should be supposed to mess it up. It’s the kind of speculative atmosphere, before you even get to the news. So, perversely, those who want the public service to remain public are seen as inserting an ideology.
But who imagines that Charles Koch puts all that energy into something that is not supporting the ideologies we see reflected in its investments elsewhere? And part of that is not being a huge fan of democracy. But it’s also – and it’s not often talked about – it also doesn’t care about human beings in particular who would be hurt by taking out the US Postal Service. And it’s not just the people who depend on it, but it’s also the workers, right?
It is true; the postal service employs more than 500,000 Americans. It is the second largest civilian employer in the United States. And unlike Walmart, which is the largest employer, Postal Service workers are not subsidized by state aid because of extremely low wages, like Walmart paid its employees.
Instead, you have a very diverse workforce. In some cities, a significant proportion of workers are African Americans, such as in Chicago. As a workforce of 100,000 veterans, he has a tremendous track record. It is the most popular brand in America and the most trusted government agency. And yet, in large part because a billionaire placed special emphasis on the extreme privatization agenda, he was able to shift this marginal idea from those fringes to near-dominance within the Republican Party, unfortunately. And that’s at odds with a long history of bipartisan and cross-party support for this vital public service which, in fact, the private sector can’t do better, swindle us for, which costs so much more, as we can already see in the prices charged, in my opinion, by FedEx and UPS for other deliveries.
And who are not encouraged to go all the way on these rural roads, where the post office goes, simply because it is part of their job.
Exactly exactly. And so, on several occasions, Congress has spoken of the importance of the Postal Service as binding the nation together, ensuring that every American, regardless of distance, regardless of the size of the city in which he lives, even through hurricanes like Katrina. , through pandemics like this crisis, you have postal workers who have been working to deliver the mail, rain or shine, and make sure that people’s mail gets to them and their ballots, for example, reach the clerks. They are therefore a vital function in our society, they should not be privatized. And this effort by Trump, McConnell, and others, to actually move the postal service forward toward privatization, is a fundamental rejection of this central institution that was in fact named and created in our US Constitution.
American Postal Workers Union fights back; there is a worker-led coalition, US Mail Not for Sale. What can people do to help crack down on this assault on the US Postal Service?
I urge everyone to call on every member of Congress, regardless of party, to demand that they protect the Postal Service, to demand that the Postal Service receive funds as part of these Covid relief measures. May he be given a certain capacity to have loans and be released from this unprecedented debt. I also think, quite frankly, that they should call for the resignation of the Board of Governors that approved Lou DeJoy for this position, as we need a post office manager who is dedicated to preserving and developing it as a that vital. Public Service. And also, when they call and ask for support for the postal service, I ask them to repeal this 2006 law, which also prohibited the postal service from offering banking services, cafes or other services that would contribute to strengthen it. and more flourishing, and also places an undue cap on the postal service activities that people may need and want.
WWe spoke with Lisa Graves from True North; they are online at TrueNorthResearch.org, and you can find the folder, The billionaire behind the efforts to kill the U.S. Postal Service, at InThePublicInterest.org. Lisa Graves, thank you very much for joining us this week CounterSpin.
Thank you so much. It was an honor to be there.