Post Office Banks? Why Not?

When I was a boy in Jamaica, I used to get a blank sheet at the Post Office and fill it up one by one whenever I had a penny to spare to buy a stamp. When the sheet was full, I turned it in at the post office and had the total amount of the stamps added to my little deposit book. It was the way we children saved for expenses like Christmas and birthday presents.

I don’t know if they still have that in Jamaica, but I think it’s a wonderful idea.

Of course Republicans like Congressman Darrell Issa are appalled at such proletarian ideas. The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which oversees the Postal Service, dismissed a proposal to allow US post offices to provide banking services. He called the suggestion “unacceptable” and a “massive expansion” of government power.”

What got the congressman’s shorts in a knot? The competition that the existing banking system would face, of course. As I’m sure you know, the Republican Party is dedicated to protecting the privileges of bankers and other elite special interests. And they can count on generous campaign contributions in return.

Issa complained that:

The Postal Service pays no federal, state, or local taxes, is exempt from most state and local laws, and is implicitly backed by the taxpayer in the event of bankruptcy. With these inherent advantages over the private sector, allowing USPS to expand into broad new arenas, such as the financial service industry, would be unacceptable and represent a massive expansion of the power of government.

Issa was responding to a proposal from the Postal Service’s inspector general that included offering a range of financial services.

The post office is lumbered with an unfair system that forces it to put up millions in advance on its employee pension plan.  Making that system more reasonable would probably be enough to stem the current flow of red ink.

But the last thing Issa and his ilk want is to keep the post office viable. They want to privatize mail services – another hand-out to their millionaire buddies.

You can see why they would object to any plan – however sensible – to get the mail service in the black.

Despite fierce opposition by Issa and his pals in the banking community, however, the proposal refuses to go away. An article in Salon.com this morning reports that Vicki Kennedy (photo above), a nominee for an existing vacancy on the Postal Service Board of Governors, made this comment during recent nomination hearings:

I think it … important to look at the possibility of expanding into related business lines.

The article notes that Mrs. Kennedy (Ted’s widow) is a Democratic nominee, and adds that with existing vacancies on the board of governors, the President has an opportunity to reverse the Republican majority. At least one other Democratic nominee also expressed positive interest in the inspector general’s proposal.

The article also cites studies that indicate strong public support for the idea. And with a network of 35,000 locations throughout America, post office banking would be especially welcome in rural America, the article added.

The idea certainly seems worth considering but I doubt such reforms are possible as long as Issa and his Republican colleagues control the House of Representatives. The fist step to any progress in America is kicking them out in November.

Then, Congress can seriously consider ways of making the Post Office profitable. Freeing the service from its onerous pension obligations should be a top priority. And the banking idea should also get serious consideration.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for more on the post office’s problems.

 

The Good, Bad and Ugly

immigrants

 

While mobs of Ugly Americans shamelessly strut their stuff, cursing and spitting at buses transporting children who fled to America in fear of their lives, the wise words of Pope Francis must not go unnoticed.

Decrying the “racist and xenophobic attitudes” facing undocumented immigrants,  the pontiff put the crisis in perspective with laser-like accuracy and commanding moral authority:

This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.

What more is there to say?

President Obama should take heed. Congress should take heed. The American people should take heed.

The Great American Experiment is being tested once again. And the world is watching.

It is no secret that the children are refugees from Latin American hell holes created partly by US policy in the past and the drug abuse epidemic of the present.

Americans cannot in good conscience shirk their responsibility. Not only Catholics, not only Christians but all Americans will be judged on their response to this heartbreaking deluge of terrified and abused children.

The US is quick to condemn other countries when they fail to respond with humanity and dignity to refugees from adjoining hot spots. Now, it is America’s turn to show the world how such crises should be handled.

And it will not be enough to ensure the safety and welfare of these children temporarily. It is cynical and heartless to send them back to face the terrors they are fleeing. Yet that seems to be what the President is doing. The $3.7 billion he is asking Congress to approve will be used to hire more border guards, more judges and more law enforcement agents, to warn residents of Latin America that they will not be able to stay in America, and to provide food and shelter for the refugees until they can be sorted out and sent home.

As far as I can tell, not a penny is being requested to address the root of the problem – the unbearable conditions in countries that have fallen into the hands of tyrants, drug dealers and lawless gangs.

It would be cynical and short-sighted to ignore the depravity in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

America has an overriding moral obligation to help its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors develop sustainable economies and  tolerable living conditions. Catholics have a moral obligation to intervene. Christians of every faith have a moral obligation to intervene. The world has a moral obligation to intervene.

It is time to launch a massive global initiative inspired by the pope’s words:

Above all, … promote development in their countries of origin.

And in the meantime, let’s stop cursing and spitting at the unfortunate kids. They’ve been through enough already.

The AP photo above shows immigrant families who entered the U.S. illegally standing in line at the bus station after they were released from a Customs and Border Protection processing facility in McAllen, Texas, in June.

Click for the Pope’s statement.

Click for a sample of “racist and xenophobic attitudes.”

 

The Neighbors Step in

barlow

 

America’s northern neighbors are coming to the aid of Detroit residents who have been left without water. The Council of Canadians has joined the fray and is taking the fight before the international community.

The council is active around the world, working to ensure people’s access to water. In May, a group of Detroit residents approached chairperson Maude Barlow (above) about their water crisis. Barlow visited Detroit and talked to families who were struggling to keep water running in their homes. She determined that their rights are being violated.

“‘I’ve seen water problems in poor countries and the third world,” she said. “But I’ve never seen this in the United States, never.’”

The council joined with the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, and Food & Water Watch to make a formal complaint to the United Nations regarding the human rights violations by the city’s appointed emergency manager.  UN experts confirmed that Detroit is violating families’ rights to water and sanitation.

Obviously, neither the Canadian Council nor the UN can force America to address this flagrant human rights abuse. But now America faces the critical scrutiny of the rest of the civilized world.

Meanwhile, to focus more attention on the Detroit residents’ plight, the council’s Windsor chapter has organized a convoy to truck in water on July 24.

The council is also organizing a petition drive to ask President Obama and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder  to intervene on behalf of the Detroit families.

Of course, Snyder isn’t likely to pay any attention to the petition. He is the one responsible for the crisis.

He kicked out Detroit’s elected representatives and replaced them with Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who promptly rushed the city into bankruptcy and is selling off its assets. The crackdown on delinquent water customers is a step toward privatizing the utility.

It’s a recurring pattern throughout Michigan ever since the Republicans took control of the state.

President Obama’s options are limited by the Constitution. And – with a Republican House -  he is not likely to get congressional support for any action he might propose.

Ultimately, the future of Detroit, the future of Michigan and even the future of the United States rests with Americans. As long as Republicans control state governments and the House of Representatives, this kind of abuse is predictable.

Fortunately the voters get a chance to have their say in a few months.

Click to sign the petition.

Click for more on the Detroit crisis.

Click for more on Detroit’s bankruptcy.

 

A Cinderella Story

Mo

 

On a weekend when Germany won the World Cup (as predicted) and Justin Rose won the Scottish Open (as expected), Cinderella stories were hard to come by. And we need those tales of underdog triumph to keep us going.

Most of us are underdogs. The world is set up that way. While the few, the proud – the lucky – bask in the limelight, the rest of us scrub away, getting up each morning with the odds stacked against us but persevering nonetheless. We get ourselves to work, knowing we probably won’t hear a kind word from the boss or the customers today, knowing we might not meet expectations, knowing that no raise, no promotion is in sight, expecting no more than “another day, another dollar.”

But who knows? Perhaps our luck will change. This could be the day we win – win what? That big promotion? That coveted date? The lottery?

In Mo Martin’s story, it’s the Women’s British Open.

Yes, I’m talking about golf. But isn’t golf a lot like life – a game of skill and luck?

It was a bleak day at Royal Birkdale with the wind whipping off the Irish Sea at around 25 miles per hour, not the kind of day for low scores. The unpredictable and unforgiving links had claimed some surprising victims, sending US Women’s Open champion Michele Wie packing early.  But there was no shortage of previous champions left on the leader board on the final day of the prestigious Women’s British Open. South Korea’s Inbee Park, for example. She  was in the lead by a stroke, looking to become only the seventh woman to win four of the LPGA’s majors.

And then there was Mo.

Nobody was paying much attention to the 31-year-old American. It was her 64th LPGA tournament, her ninth year as a pro, and she hadn’t won yet.

Mo was not a star. True, she was a standout at UCLA, but it took her six years to reach the LPGA Tour. She was ranked 99th in the world, one of the many pro golfers who go from day to day, just managing to pay their bills and keep the dream alive.

Mo’s game was solid on this day, not spectacular but solid. At 5-foot-2, she is among the shortest hitters in women’s golf. She had moved into the lead on the second day, but lost it, and trailed big names like Park and Shanshan Feng of China.

And now it was her last hole, her last chance for glory. She stood in the fairway and looked across the gnarly terrain at the green, 236 yards away. She reached for her 3-wood.

If you play the game long enough,  you will probably know what it feels like to hit the ball in “the sweet spot.” It sends a shiver of pure joy up your arm and into your heart as the ball sails, straight and long, zeroing in on the target.

And on Sunday, July 13, 2014, on the fairway of the par-5 18th hole of the Women’s British Open, with the wind at her back and one last swing at victory, Mo Martin hit the ball in the sweet spot.

“I heard it hit the pin from the fairway,” she said later. “That was a pretty fun feeling.”

She still had some work to do. The ball had bounced off the flag stick and settled 6 feet away.

But, on this day, she would not miss the eagle putt.

She hadn’t won yet, though. Shanshan Feng of China and Inbee Park of South Korea were still on the course. But they faltered coming in.And Norway’s Suzann Pettersen failed to erase a pair of earlier double-bogeys with her birdie-birdie finish.

With that 3-wood, with that 6-foot putt, Mo had won the Open.

Winning a major is a life changing achievement, of course. And while women golfers don’t make nearly as much money as the men, the purse is nice, too.

Mo took home nearly half a million dollars, and will use it to save her late grandfather’s ranch back in California. Her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, died last March at 102.

He was Mo’s biggest fan, and even after turning 100, followed her on the tour.  And she was devoted to him. She wore his initials on a necklace in her victory Sunday.

Perhaps he was looking down as she hit that 3-wood. Who knows?

Click for the news story.

Click for Open results.

 

Score One for the People

 

judge

 

districts

I had forgotten about the amendments I voted for back in 2010. Along with 60 percent of Floridian voters, I had enthusiastically said yes to two constitutional amendments designed to stop Republican legislators from drawing those weird looking  electoral districts that keep them in power. Like so many other efforts to address the hanky panky in our state’s democratic processes, the amendment was taken with a grain of salt by the Good Ole Boys in Tallahassee.

Sure, they would draw the electoral maps more fairly (wink, wink). Sure, the process would be transparent and democratic (nudge, nudge). After all, who would know? They’ve been fooling all of the people all of the time for generations, they would just do it again one more time.

They reckoned without the Florida League of Women Voters.

The fight against gerrymandering has been the League’s Holy Grail for the past 70 years – ever since the organization was formed. And they weren’t about to let the Legislature skirt the constitutional amendment they had worked so hard to get passed. Joined by other civic minded groups such as Common Cause, the League sued.

And what do you know? They won!

A Florida judge ruled Thursday that the Good Ole Boys broke the law. And he had some harsh words for their shenanigans.

Judge Terry Lewis (above) found that Republican operatives and consultants conspired to circumvent the requirements of the amendment. And he added:

What is clear to me from the evidence … is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process.

The judge said two of Florida’s 27 congressional districts (see map above) had been drawn to benefit the Republican Party and ordered them redrawn. The legislature is expected to appeal the ruling, and the Good Ole Boys could still get their way. After all, they own pretty much everything in Old Florida, including the justice system (not in South Florida, of course, where Cubans and Jamaicans and all kinds of other immigrants live).

And there’s the United States Supreme Court. Those justices have made it crystal clear where their sympathies lie. And it’s not with the League or the Democrats – or the people.

But, at least, the ruling puts the issue in the spotlight and sets a precedent that could have widespread repercussions.

Both Republicans and Democrats have engaged in gerrymandering for decades. And after they swept the state legislatures in 2010, Republicans were in a position to redraw congressional maps based on demographics in that year’s census. They drew the maps in such a way that minority areas were grouped together in single districts. That left a bunch of sparsely populated white districts and a few densely populated minority districts.

This is  one reason Republicans won the House in 2012 even though Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than the GOP candidates.

Now, the ugly gerrymandering practice is under legal scrutiny. And who knows where that could lead?

There’s a similar lawsuit pending in North Carolina. And 21 U.S. states have redistricting commissions,with13 of those states relying on citizens commissions exclusively to draw electoral district lines.  A 14th state, Iowa, uses a process that depends on neither the state Legislature nor an independent redistricting commission to draw the districts.

Could this trend be gathering momentum? Could this be the beginning of the end of the gerrymandering plague? Let’s hope so.

Click for more on the historic ruling.

Click for more on the implications.

 

The Impeachment Election

refugees

 

You might think the November election has nothing to do with the President. Whoever wins, he still has two years to serve. But does he really? Don’t bet on it.

It’s becoming clear that if the Republicans win the Senate and keep the House, President Obama will be impeached.

Of course he has committed no impeachable offense. But that does not matter.

To the Republican base, his offense is being President while black. And nothing he does can change that.

They have invented various reasons to make his presidency illegitimate,  that bogus birth certificate story, for example. But in their heart of hearts, they must know they just can’t tolerate the idea of a black man in the White House.

You might think I’m exaggerating, that Americans have evolved beyond the Jim Crow era, but you would be mistaken. Racism is alive and rampant in this country.

Not among all Americans, of course. And not even among most Americans. But it infects enough people to make a huge impact on the political scene.

Unfortunately, the generally tolerant American majority is not much interested in politics. It’s the fringe groups that care enough to get involved. (And the special interests, of course, but that’s a separate issue.)

This is especially true today among Republicans.

And Republican politicians recognize this. They know they dare not ignore the crazies for fear of facing opposition – fierce opposition – in the primaries.

The racist element has existed in America for generations, and election of the first black President fanned its flames into a wildfire. If you doubt the extent of the phenomenon, just take a look at the hate-filled crowds waving American flags and shouting curses at those refugee children in California (photo above).

Do you think for a moment the reaction would be the same if they were little blonde-haired, blue-eyed darlings  from Sweden?

The President is safe from bogus impeachment charges as long as his party controls the Senate. The Republicans know impeachment proceedings would get nowhere in this Congress, so they have to settle for a frivolous lawsuit against him.

But, trust me, the moment they get control of Congress, impeachment proceedings will begin.

If you thought this election was less consequential because the President is not on the ballot, think again. He is.

 Click for more on impeachment.

Click for more on opposition to the child refugees.

 

Not a Drop to Drink

detroit

While the UN is bringing clean water to the poorest parts of the world, thousands of residents are without any water in a major American city. This is the kind of Third World society Americans are creating by voting for Republicans.

In 2010, Republicans were swept into power in state legislatures and in the House of Representatives. Only the Senate stayed Democrat.

The full extent of this disaster is now being felt as Republican legislatures and governors implement draconian policies that rob women and minorities of their rights and inflict suffering on the poor.

While the media spotlight is on the gridlock created in Washington by Republican obstructionism, equally destructive measures are being introduced, almost unnoticed, at the state level.

Michigan is a case in point.

The state is ruled by Republicans, and they are reshaping it in a Third World image. Governor Rick Snyder makes no secret of his goal. The heading on his web site declares he is “reinventing Michigan.”

And in the state’s largest city, reinvented Michigan is on display.

One of Snyder’s despotic tactics is dissolution of democratically elected local governments and their replacement by his appointed managers. The pretext is the existence of “financial emergencies” in the cities targeted.

Detroit’s decay – precipitated by the flight of industry and predatory lending by banks leading up to the housing crisis – gave Snyder the excuse he needed to fire the city council and send in a hatchet man. Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has forced the city into bankruptcy (over the objection of many residents) and city employees have lost their pensions in the process.

The city’s assets are being sold off and its utilities are being “privatized.”

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department  is one of the agencies in line for privatization. And it’s being whipped into shape in readiness for the sale.

This spring, the utility began shutting off service for 1,500 to 3,000 customers per week. Many of these customers inherited the delinquent water bills when they moved into their apartments but that makes no difference. It’s pay up or else!

According to city officials, more than 154,000 of 296,000 residential customers are behind in paying their water bills. And residents who are more than 60 days behind are shut off.

You can imagine the widespread horror resulting from this policy. Thousands are without a drop of water to wash or clean or even drink. In case of a fire, there is no water to put out the flames.

It’s a humanitarian crisis so severe that the UN is being asked to help.

Imagine that. Mighty America is going to the UN to beg for clean water.

How’s that for a Third World country?

 Click for the appeal to the UN.

Click for more on privatization plans.

 

Yes, the UN Offers Hope

global-water-scarcity

 

In a world where injustice so often triumphs and progress proves so frustratingly elusive, there is the United Nations. I know, you’re thinking the UN is just another pantomime designed to fool the gullible. You’re ready to give up on it as you watch much of the world engulfed by the flames of war.

But I’ve seen the UN at work, and it manages to make life better for millions of oppressed people, despite the obstacles it has to face. I saw UN doctors treating yaws in Haitii more than half a century ago, for example, and I believe yaws is now vanquished. And the work goes on, as old plagues like malaria and polio are beaten back and new plagues like AIDS are confronted.

The UN is hobbled by its structure, of course, and starved for funds. It is, after all, the sum of its parts, and the countries comprising it have selfish and greedy agendas.

Still, the organization’s continued existence sends us a message of hope.

Today, I received an email from the United Nations Foundation, telling of encouraging progress in reducing poverty and saving lives throughout the world. The UN’s annual report on its Millennium Development Goals, established by world leaders in the year 2000,  reveals that:

  • The number of children who die before the age of 5 has been reduced by nearly 50 percent
  • Malaria fighters have saved more than 3 million lives, mostly of children under 5
  • Extreme poverty has been reduced by half
  • More than 2 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water
  • Great strides have been made in providing educational parity for boys and girls in most of the world.

Of course, we don’t often read or hear about this kind of progress. What we get are the UN’s frustrating failures. Hard, grinding work is not news. War is news. Steamy rhetoric and senseless saber rattling are news.

There are even absurd conspiracy theories surfacing in the right-wing media – nonsense about a One World Government, underground prisons and black UN helicopters threatening to invade America.

It seems the UN has become a handy target on which to vent our frustrations.

It’s so tempting to curse the darkness (as John F. Kennedy reminded us) when we could help to alleviate it by lighting a candle. Getting involved with the UN’s good works is one way to light that candle.

Click here to get involved.

Click for more on the report.

 

Government by the Few

society

 

The truth is that American elections are not determined by the mass of the nation’s citizens. About half of the qualified voters go to the polls. And who they get to vote for is predetermined by hidden hands. Mysterious special interests compete for control of the levers of power in Washington – and in state capitals across the land. You and I take what they choose to give us.

They skillfully give us just enough to keep us from taking to the streets with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Some people don’t get nearly enough, of course. They and their children go hungry. If they get sick, they die. If they are desperate to have an abortion, they are obliged to seek out some backroom quack using coat-hanger technology. They can be raped and beaten – and even murdered – with impunity. They have no rights.

But these people are not politically relevant. They are scattered, uninformed, confused and lied to. The power brokers fill their heads with nonsense of every kind, from celebrity gossip and sports melodrama to false religious mythology. A massive drug culture robs the desperate millions of the will to resist oppression.

And the political system is persistently fine tuned to stop even those who wish to vote from exercising their franchise.

In their desperation and confusion, the denizens of the American underclass turn on each other, gang banging and looting, scamming and bullying.

Meanwhile, in the corridors of power, psychologists and propagandists devise new and ever more persuasive means of manipulating public opinion. The media, now owned almost entirely by a corporate elite, passively goes along for the ride.

A carefully gerrymandered Supreme Court reshapes the law of the land to favor the few. And a skewed justice system keeps the peace with bias toward minorities and compassion to those who can afford it.

This is the world’s premier democracy?

That’s what I learned in school.

And it must be true. Despite its obvious flaws, American society is attractive enough to draw millions of immigrants from around the world. There are waiting lists 20 years long of people who want to live in this country. Hundreds of thousands of desperate Latin Americans swarm across the border from Mexico, enduring unspeakable misery and risking their very lives in the process.

I, too, chose to become an American. I could be living in Jamaica. I could be living in Canada. I could be living in Britain. But here we are – Sandra and I and our cats – in Lakeland, Florida, USA.

None of it makes sense.

Obviously, I am missing something. Obviously, there’s something about human nature that I cannot grasp.

If you know something that I don’t, would you please share it with me?

Click for more on American voting patterns.

Click for thoughts on America’s class system.

 

How You Play the Game

wimbledon

 

I’m sure you know this verse (by American sportswriter Grantland Rice):

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.

It came to mind this weekend as I watched the Wimbledon finals and the closing rounds of the World Cup. There’s a message in that poem that I fear is fading.

Today, it seems, it doesn’t matter how you play the game; what matters is winning.

In sports, as in politics and business and academics and just about every facet of life, another quote seems more apropriate. Attributed to legendary coach Vince Lombardi but actually originating with coach Red Saunders it’s

Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

It’s puzzling that so-called spectator sports have become so obsessed with the final score. Where’s the spectacle in the kind of soccer they’re playing in Brazil? Surely, what fans want to see is incredible mastery of a skill, superhuman physical ability, once-in-a-lifetime dramatic moments?

Does it matter so much who wins or loses if the spectacle is unforgettable?

Apparently it does.

So fans probably won’t long remember Costa Rica’s valiant effort. The record books will show only that Holland advanced to the semifinals of the World Cup. Nobody will care that the game was decided by penalty kicks after being deadlocked even after extra time. Penalty kicks! What an anticlimax!

And few fans will be talking in the years to come about Roger Federer’s vast repertoire and indomitable spirit; they will remember only that he lost. Novak Djokovic will go down in history as The Winner.

In a way, it’s sad that there had to be a winner and a loser.

Watching that Wimbledon final, I thought both men emerged as winners. They were as athletic as a pair of cats. They were as creative as Van Gogh. They were as inexhaustible as a Kenyan marathon runner. They were delightful to watch. It was tennis for the ages.

I wish I could say the same about the women’s final. But Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard was so obviously outclassed that it was more painful than delightful to watch. I am sure she will learn from this experience though, and will some day – soon I hope – provide us with the kind of spectacle we got from Federer and Djokovich.

And I wish I could say the same about most of the World Cup matches. But it seems far too often the teams are more afraid to lose than eager to win. They pass the ball back and forth in the back field, not daring to do anything spectacular - or even interesting. They seem to be waiting and hoping for a mistake by their opponents, a chance to slip through the defeners and get the ball in the opposing net somehow, anyhow, to “win ugly,” as tennis great Brad Gilbert put it (in his book about tennis).

Where are the spectacular strikers of yesteryear? Where is today’s Pelé ? Is anyone even trying to be like that magical superstar of the 1958 World Cup? Or are they all too afraid of making a mistake that costs their team the game? Are they all interested only in playing it safe?

I suppose that the consequences of losing today are so intimidating – and the rewards for winning are so overwhelming – that the kind of spectator sports I enjoyed as a boy are destined to vanish.

But at least we had that great show by Federer and Djokovic. It made the weekend memorable.

Click for the Wimbledon story.