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Single-Payer: It's What the People Want
Published on
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
by Common Dreams

New poll shows majority of Americans support such a system.
by  Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Weeks after Vermont's governor announced he was ditching the effort to create a single-payer healthcare system in his state, a new poll reveals that's the kind of healthcare system a majority of Americans support.  (Photo: Joe Newman via Public Citizen/flickr/cc)

A majority of Americans support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare system, a new poll shows.

The results showed that just over 50 percent of the 1,500 likely voters surveyed indicated support for a single-payer system. Almost 80 percent of Democrats supported such a plan, while 25 of Republicans did.

The findings were first shared with The Hill by the Progressive Change Institute, an arm of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The new poll comes on the heels of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin's abandoning what was seen as a trailblazing plan to create a single-payer healthcare system in his state. The move was derided by Dr. Andrew D. Coates, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, who said, "Vermonters throughout the state understand that an equitable health care system must be truly universal and must remove all financial barriers to medically necessary care. They recognize that a public single payer is an essential incremental step toward these goals."

"The time for a single-payer system is now. Our patients in every state urgently need it," Coates added.

That sentiment is widely shared.

News & Views | 1.23.15


On Verge of Victory, Europe's Ascendant Left Declares 'Subservience is Over'
by Jon Queally
In relatively short time, both Syria and Podemos went from being non-existent political entities to standing on the doorstep of taking power.


'Nauseating' Praise for Dead Saudi King Exposes Hypocrisy of West, Say Critics
by Deirdre Fulton
Under the dictator's reign, Saudi authorities sought to halt political dissent through intimidation, arrests, prosecutions, and lengthy prison sentences.
And the Lifetime Award for Shameful Corporate Behavior Goes to... Chevron
by Sarah Lazare
The race was close, with Glencore and Walmart coming in a close second, but voters ultimately determined that Chevron deserves the top distinction.
US May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treaty
by Thalif Deen
Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.
Pennsylvania Court Hands Down Big Win for Teachers' Union
by Deirdre Fulton
"Today's decision is a victory for collective bargaining and the notion that contracts between parties should be negotiated, not imposed.”
NRC: We're Keeping Fukushima-Style Nuclear Reactors Going
by Andrea Germanos
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected an appeal to halt operations at the nearly two dozen reactors in the nation that have the same containment system as those at the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors.
Fossil Fuel Industry Gives California Communities a Breath of Toxic Air: Report
by Nadia Prupis
There is a "disturbing lack of data on health effects of oil and gas production in California," author Jhon Arbelaez said on Thursday.
more news...


Message to the UK: The Fracking Bridge is Already Burning
by Naomi Klein
In rushing to exploit the UK’s shale gas reserves, the industry has spent millions on public relations and brazenly overridden the democratic will of British citizens by overturning laws that had prevented drilling under homes.
Saudi Arabia’s Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace
by Murtaza Hussain
It’s not often that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials.
My Future in Prison 
by Kathy Kelly
'I will be free in three months, but our collective future is most assuredly shackled to a wrongheaded criminal justice system.'
Hearings Highlight Congressional Efforts to Undermine Net Neutrality
by Sandra Fulton
The right choice was as clear after the hearings as it was before: Congress should back off and let the FCC do its job.
Drones and the New Ethics of War
by Neve Gordon
Drone wars are wars without losses or defeats, but they are also wars without victory.
How We Banned Fracking in New York
by Sandra Steingraber
Every rally. Every march. Every jug of Dimock water. Every public comment. Every local ban. Every letter to the editor. Every letter to the Governor. Every concert. Every expert testimony at every hearing. Thank you.
more views...


more newswire...

Karen Greenberg: Will the Failed 'War on Terror' be the Template for Addressing the Ebola Crisis?


Water Shutoffs Robbing Detroit Residents of 'Dignified' Life: UN Investigators 

$7 Billion US Eradication Effort Delivers Record High Poppy Crop in Afghanistan

2014 Set to be Hottest Year in Recorded Human History: NOAA

Dark Money Spending in Key Senate Races 'Shattering' Records: Report

US-Backed Ukraine Army Used Cluster Bombs Against Its Own People: Reports 

Prisoner Gag Law an Attack on Fundamental Free Speech Rights, say Critics

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Dr. Hakim: My Father Was Killed by a Computer, Says 7-Year-Old Afghan Child 

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Michael Halpern: 800+ Scientists Urge Greater Freedoms for Canadian Government Experts 

Ramon Mejia: I, Too, Cry Justice for Jennifer 

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Earthjustice: Broad Coalition of Groups Call On Governor Cuomo To Stop Exploding Oil Trains 

350: San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos to Introduce "Climate Change" Warning Labels for Gas Pump Handles at Board of Supervisor's Meeting 

US PIRG: Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in Primary Elections 

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Pushing Release of CIA Torture Report, Senators Threaten Use of Special Rule

US-Supported "Good Guys" Firing Ballistic Missiles in Ukraine?

International Law Experts Condemn "Collective Punishment" of Gaza's Civilian Population

Privacy Groups Push Back Against Latest Facebook Tracking Scheme

Former NSA Chief: Why I'm Worth $1 Million a Month to Wall Street

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Donatella Rovera: The Flight from Mosul: “We Left Everything Behind to Save Our Lives” 

Richard Eskow: Don’t Panic! We Can Expand Social Security and Medicare

Ajamu Baraka: From Victim to Colonial Settler: Shifting the Paradigm on Israel

Rebekah Wilce: ALEC Agenda in Dallas: Evisceration of Medicaid, School Privatization and Expansion of Gas Exports

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity: Obama Should Release Ukraine Evidence

Glenn Greenwald: Terrorism in the Israeli Attack on Gaza 



ACLU: Comment on Senate NSA Reform Bill

Worldwatch Institute: Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record

Greenpeace: Life Size LEGO Figurines Descend on Rockefeller Plaza to Save the Arctic

Police Can't Search Cell Phones Without a Warrant: SCOTUS


'Kafkaesque' No-Fly List Ruled Unconstitutional By Federal Judge


Ukraine Due to Ink Austerity Pact with EU

Are Bee-Friendly Plants 'Poisoning Pollinators'?

American Hindsight: Wars Aren't 'Worth It'

Snowden: Citizens Have 'Civic Obligation to Push Back' Against Abuses

'Consigned to Financial Ruin': Evictions Fueling Economic Disadvantage

'Little Evidence' Wealth Inequality Is Going to Change Anytime Soon

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New Challenges Ahead for South African Labor after Platinum Miners End Five-Month Long Strike

Fannie Lou Hamer and the Racist Dixiecrats: A Conversation With Bob Moses



Shamus Cooke: Who Will Save Iraq?

Lynn Holland: How the US is Fueling Military Repression in Honduras

Peter Hart: TIME on Iraq War: What Did We Do to Deserve This?

Margaret Kimberley: The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq

Jim Goodman: Will GM Crops Collapse the Food System?

Dean Baker: Bankers Could Go To Jail



ACLU: Federal Appeals Court Declares Utah Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Jubilee USA: IMF Paper: Corporate Tax Avoidance Hurts Global Economy and Poor Countries

Forest Peoples Programme: Communities Protest That UK’s Equatorial Palm Oil Are Poised to Seize Land in Liberia

Rising Call: No Strikes. No Troops. No War in Iraq.


New Yorkers Wage Urgent Battle for GMO Label Law

Nearly Two Years Caged in Embassy, Groups Demand Justice for Julian Assange

Miami Sues Banking Giant Over Predatory Mortgages

Mass Spying on Users of Social Media Totally Legal, says UK Government

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American 'Healthcare' Exceptionalism: Highest Costs, Worst Care

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The Untouchable 2nd Amendment



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Katrina vanden Heuvel: Where Is the Accountability on Iraq?

Ariel Dorfman: How to Forgive Your Torturer

Ira Chernus: "Iraq" Is Still Arabic for "Vietnam"



Brennan Center for Justice: Voters in 22 States Face New Laws That Could Make Voting Harder in November

North Carolina NAACP: Worker's Rights the Focus for Moral Monday Demonstration as 20 Arrested at North Carolina General Assembly

WATERKEEPER Alliance: Investigation Finds Contamination, Health Concerns at Duke Energy Coal-Fired Power Plant


Can a New Populist Movement Fight Off American Oligarchy?


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Peter Edelman: We (and This Includes You, Democrats) Have Blown a Huge Hole in the Safety Net

Hazel Henderson: Peaceful Transitions From The Nuclear To The Solar Age

Rebekah Wilce: Are Organic Standards in Jeopardy? Watchdogs Say 'Yes'

Jody Williams and Robert Dodge: The Nuclear Zero Lawsuits: Who Will Speak for the People?



The Yes Men: Environmentally Conscious Future Not Actually Planned for Reed College

Reprieve: UK Government Faces Legal Action Over Failure to Investigate BT Drones Link

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): The Week in Keystone XL: Rallies Across America Call for Keystone Rejection

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'The World Is Watching': Rachel Corrie Appeal at Israeli High Court

'Weak Attempt at NSA Reform' Sails Through House

Army Moves from Martial Law to Coup D'Etat in Thailand

Judge to US Govt: Hand over Secret Video of 'Torturous' Force-Feedings

Southern States Crushing Women's Right to Choose

NBC's Brian Wiliams Lands Snowden/Greenwald Interview in Moscow

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Lavabit Founder: Gov’t Bold-Faced Lies & Mass Surveillance Effort Forced Me to Close My Company

Activists Launch 1,000 Mile Caravan to Raise Plight of 37 Sikh Detainees



Robert Borosage: What is the New Populism?

Liz Pleasant: Our Economy Wants You to Be In Debt—5 Things You Can Do to Take Charge

Robert C. Koehler: The Social Immune System

Richard Heinberg: California's Shale Fail: The Case of 13 Billion Barrels of Missing Oil

Chuck Collins: Thomas Piketty and US Wealth Taxes

Blair Bobier: The Power and Potential of DIY Democracy



Center for Biological Diversity: Federal Wildlife Agency Withdraws Approval of Arizona's Rosemont Mine

Credo: New Letter to California Lawmakers Shows Broad Support for Fracking Moratorium

Organic Consumers Association: Mexico-Based Via Organica Project Approved for Membership in Consumers International

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Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.
Independent, non-profit newscenter since 1997.

Our Mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.


Bernie Sanders: 'I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States'
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"What's most important is this idea of a political revolution," says the Independent Senator from Vermont, "rallying the working families of this country around a vision that speaks to their needs."
Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional?
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"Official Washington and its compliant mainstream news media operate with a convenient situational ethics when it comes to the principles of international law and non-intervention in sovereign states."
US Drones: 'Psychological Torture' from Above and the Resistance from Below
by Sarah Lazare
"Campaigners on the ground say the accumulated years spent living under constant threat of death from above are sowing tragedy, "psychological torture," and resistance across the country."
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"I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe."
New England on 'High Alert' After Canadian Pipeline Reversal Approved
by Jacob Chamberlain
“Thursday’s decision brings toxic tar sands oil right to New England’s doorstep, and one step away from flowing south through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.”
What the US Media Won't Tell You About Ukraine
by Ted Rall
"Why are American reporters covering Crimea ignoring the big picture, and instead so focused on secondary distractions like how it makes Obama look and whether there's a chance of a new Cold War?"
Big Oil Push for Crude Exports Spells 'Disaster' for Climate: Report
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"The industry push for exports is a symptom of the President's disastrous 'all-of-the-above' energy plan, that puts the interests of Big Oil over the interests of the American people."
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"Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama."
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"Fifteen towns approve a resolution that would establish a bank that works for people of Vermont, not Wall Street."
What is Happening in Venezuela?
by Miguel Tinker Salas
"This is not the first time the opposition has resorted to extra-parliamentary means to oust a sitting president in Venezuela."

Colombia Nationwide Strike Against 'Free Trade,' Privatization, Poverty

Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer http://www.ThePortlandAlliance.org/commondreams

Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.

"[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies," declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country's largest union, in a statement.

The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia's feared police, with human rights organization Bayaca reporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the "terrorist" Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.

"Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to 'control the situation,'" Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. "There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence."

Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia's workers, indegenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia's healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

"This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year," Martin told Common Dreams.

Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.

"[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”

(Photo: Twitter/@zonacero)


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Published on Thursday, April 11, 2013 by Common Dreams

Two Obamas, Two Classes of Children

Expansive NSA surveillance programs. Corporate gene patenting. Carbon dioxide levels soaring to milestone levels. The Bradley Manning trial.

Inspiring movements that bring us hope: Standing up to austerity policies in Europe; Standing up to the rightwing in North Carolina; Standing against Big Oil's plan to extract much more carbon energy by building the Keystone pipeline and by greatly expanding fracking.

It’s been a wild couple of months for our readers, our world – and, for those of us in the media trying to help you make sense of it all. Our staff has been working overtime to keep you on top of the breaking news that matters -- and providing perspective from the leading progressive thinkers and activists who are shut out of the corporate media.

I think you will agree that it’s at times like this that independent voices and a strong independent media are absolutely crucial.

If you count on us to help understand these issues, we need your help.

We can’t do it without you.

Exclusive: Why I Spoke Out at Obama's Foreign Policy Speech
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A 'Nonviolent Army of Love' Rises in North Carolina to Face Down Rightwing's Assault on Progress
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How America Became a Third World Country
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Documents Show Exxon Lied in Aftermath of Tar Sands Pipeline Rupture 
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Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.
Independent, non-profit newscenter since 1997.

Our Mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. 


Published on Thursday, April 11, 2013 by Common Dreams

Two Obamas, Two Classes of Children

The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after an airstrike on their extended family household by order of President Barack Obama killed several Afghan adults and at least ten children in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, Sunday, April 7, 2013. (AP Photo)

An Associated Press photograph brought the horror of little children lying dead outside of their home to an American Audience. At least 10 Afghan children and some of their mothers were struck down by an airstrike on their extended family household by order of President Barack Obama. He probably decided on what his aides describe as the routine weekly “Terror Tuesday” at the White House. On that day, Mr. Obama typically receives the advice about which “militants” should live or die thousands of miles away from drones or aircraft. Even if households far from war zones are often destroyed in clear violation of the laws of war, the president is not deterred.

These Obama airstrikes are launched knowing that very often there is “collateral damage,” that is a form of “so sorry terrorism.” How can the president explain the vaporization of a dozen pre-teen Afghan boys collecting firewood for their families on a hillside?The local spotter-informants must have been disoriented by all those $100 bills in rewards. Imagine a direct strike killing and injuring scores of people in a funeral procession following a previous fatal strike that was the occasion of this processional mourning. Remember the December 2009 Obama strike on an alleged al-Qaida training camp in Yemen, using tomahawk missiles and – get this – cluster bombs, that killed 14 women and 21 children. Again and again “so sorry terrorism” ravages family households far from the battlefields.

If this is a war, why hasn’t Congress declared war under Article 1, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution? The 2001 Congressional Authorization to Use Military Force is not an open-ended authorization for the president. It was restricted to targeting only nations, organizations or persons that are determined to have been implicated in the 9/11 massacres, or harbored complicit organizations or persons.

For several years, White House officials, including ret. General James Jones, have declared that there is no real operational al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan to harbor anyone. The Pakistani Taliban is in conflict with the Pakistani government. The Afghan Taliban is in brutal conflict with the Afghanistan government and wants to expel U.S. forces as their members view occupying-invaders, just as their predecessors did when they expelled the Soviet invaders. The Taliban represent no imminent threat to the U.S.

President Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, used to complain to his colleagues about the CIA’s drone attacks saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people.” He knew how such attacks by whining drones, hovering 24/7 over millions of frightened people and their terrified children produce serious backlashes that fester for years.


Yet this unlawful killing by a seemingly obsessed Obama, continues and includes anyone in the vicinity of a “suspect” whose name isn’t even known ( that are called “signature strikes”), or mistakes, like the recent aerial killings of numerous Pakistani soldiers and four Afghan policemen – considered our allies. The drone kill list goes on and on – over 3000 is the official fatality count, not counting injuries.

In a few weeks, The Nation magazine will issue a major report on U.S.-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan that should add new information.

Now switch the scene. The president, filled with memories of what his secret drone directives as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner have done to so many children, in so many places, traveled on Monday to Newtown, Connecticut for the second time. He commiserated with the parents and relatives of the 20 children and six adults slain by a lone gunman. Here he became the compassionate president, with words and hugs.

What must be going through his mind as he sees the rows of 10 Afghan little children and their parents blown apart in that day’s New York Times? How can the president justify this continued military occupation for what is a civil war? No wonder a majority of the American people want out of Afghanistan, even without a close knowledge of the grisly and ugly things going on there in our name that are feeding the seething hatred of Obama’s war.

'Unless the American people come to realize that a president must be subject to the rule of law and our Constitution, our statutes and treaties, every succeeding president will push the deficit-financed lawlessness further until the inevitable blowback day of reckoning. That is the fate of all empires.'Sometime after 2016 when Barack Obama starts writing his lucrative autobiographical recollections, there may be a few pages where he explains how he endured this double life ordering so-called precision attacks that kill many innocent children and their mothers and fathers while mourning domestic mass killings in the U.S. and advocating gun controls. As a constitutional law teacher, he may wonder why there have been no “gun controls” on his lawless, out-of-control presidency and his reckless attacks that only expanded the number of al-Qaeda affiliates wreaking havoc in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, North Africa and elsewhere.


Obama is not like the official criminal recidivist, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, who misses no chance to say he has no regrets. Obama worries even as he greatly escalates the aerial attacks started by George W. Bush. In his State of the Union speech he called for a “legal and policy framework” to guide “our counterterrorism operations,” so that “no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way.” Granted, this is a good cover for his derelictions, but it probably reflects that he also needs some restraint. Last year he told CNN it was “something you have to struggle with.”


Mr. Obama recognized in his CNN interview that “it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means. That’s not who we are as a country.”

Unfortunately, however, that’s what he has done as a president.

Unless the American people come to realize that a president must be subject to the rule of law and our Constitution, our statutes and treaties, every succeeding president will push the deficit-financed lawlessness further until the inevitable blowback day of reckoning. That is the fate of all empires.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).

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How the Post Office Is Being Destroyed By a Phony Budget Crisis

Congress, not the post office itself, is the problem

As every 6 year old learns, there is real and there is make believe. The massive Post Office deficit that is driving its management to commit institutional suicide by ending 6-day mail delivery, closing half of the nations’ 30,000 or so post offices and half it’s 500 mail processing centers, and laying off over 200,000 workers, is make believe.Local post offices all across the country, which function as community commons, including this one in Gerry, New York, are threatened with destruction because of Congress's shenanigans with the USPS budget. (Photo by Ross Griff under a Creative Commons license from flickr.com)Local post offices all across the country, which function as community commons, including this one in Gerry, New York, are threatened with destruction because of Congress's shenanigans with the USPS budget. (Photo by Ross Griff under a Creative Commons license from flickr.com)

Here’s why. In 1969 the federal government changed the way it did accounting. It began to use what was and is called a unified budget that includes trust funds like social security previously considered off budget because they were self-sustaining through dedicated revenue.

At that time the Post Office was, as it had been since 1792, a department of the federal government like the Department of Energy or the Department of Agriculture. While generating most of its revenue from postage it also received significant Congressional appropriations.

In 1970 Congress transformed the Post Office into the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The new quasi-public agency was intended to put the Postal Office on a more business like footing. The Postal Service was given was allowed to borrow to make needed capital investments and was given more flexibility in how it spent its money. In return Congress required the Postal Service to become self-sufficient. The subsidy, at that time running about 15 percent of total revenues (close to $10 billion a year in 2012) was phased out over the next 15 years. After the mid 1980s the only taxpayer funds involved in the Post Office, amounting today to $100 million a year, subsidizes mail for the blind and official mail to overseas voters.

In keeping with the new philosophy that the Postal Service should be independent, President Richard Nixon’s Office of Management and Budget administratively moved its finances off budget in 1974. In 1989 Congress did it by statute.

None of this made any difference, as exhaustively detailed by the USPS Inspector General in a 2009 report. The OMB and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) continued to treat the postal service as part of the unified budget, the budget they use for “scoring” legislation to estimate its impact on the deficit.

And that’s where the make believe comes from.

In 2001 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) put the Postal Service on its list of “high-risk” programs because of rising financial pressures resulting from exploding demand from both the residential and commercial sectors. A year later the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found the Postal Service had been significantly overpaying into its retirement fund. It seemed a simple matter to reduce future payments and tap into the existing surplus to pay for current expenses.

And that’s when make believe began to have a tragic impact in the real world.

How the Unnecessary Tragedy Unfolded

In late 2002, the CBO announced that this logical change in the retirement contribution formula could increase budget deficits in Congress’s unified budget by as much as about $3.5 billion a year, or $41 billion over the long haul. If the overpayments were used to delay future rate increases, the CBO added, future government receipts would decline, adding to the unified budget deficit.

To overcome the budget scoring objections Congress began what in retrospect we can see was little more than an exercise in rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The final law allowed the Postal Service to use its overpayments to pay off its debt and delay increasing rates for 3 years. After that any overpayments were to be collected in an escrow fund that would be unavailable to the Post Office until Congress determined how the funds would be used. And then came the quid pro quo. The Postal Service became responsible for paying postal workers for the time they spent in prior military service. Up until then, as one might expect, these obligations were paid by the U.S. Treasury. Assuming that obligation essentially eliminated any Post Office surplus during the 10 year scoring window.

The House and Senate held 11 hearings on postal reform between 2003 and 2006. Senator Susan Collins, Chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee commented, “two issues… united every single witness who has testified before our committee … a desire to see the escrow account repealed and the return of the military pension obligation to the Treasury Department.”

Bills to this effect were well received in Congress. But again and again the OMB and CBO stepped in to thwart policy makers. In 2004, as the bills were moving rapidly through Congress the Bush Administration stopped their progress by announcing its opposition,which they justified by the impact on the unified budget. The next year, on the day that a bill to help the Post Office with big bipartisan backing was brought to the floor of the House , the Bush Administration again threatened a veto because of its “adverse impact on the Federal budget”. Congress backed down.

In 2006 Congress finally passed a new law. The Postal Service was allowed to tap into escrow money and pension obligations for military service were shifted back to the US Treasury. But again a quid pro quo was required that negated any financial benefits that would result. To achieve unified budget neutrality the USPS was required to make 10 annual payments of between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion each to the newly created Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. The fund could not be tapped to pay actual retiree health benefits during those 10 years.

The level of the annual payments was not based on any actuarial determination. The numbers were produced by CBO as the amounts necessary to offset the loss of the escrow payments.

Remember, this all began because the post office discovered it had surplus funds. Unified budget accounting made sure it could never tap into this surplus unless at the same time it assumed new liabilities of an equal magnitude.

The Simple Solution

The solution to the post office financial deficit is simple. Give it back the money Congress, as a result of pressure from the CBO, has stolen from it over the past years. Then make future payments into the health fund for retirees actuarially based.

Once this artificially generated financial noose is removed from the postal service’s neck we can get on with helping it navigate the shoals of an uncertain future. To do this the postal service must build on its two most important assets: its ubiquitous physical infrastructure and the high esteem in which most Americans hold it. In combination, these assets offer the post office an enviable platform upon which to many new revenue-producing services.

But to do this Congress will have to remove another burden imposed by the 2006 law: a prohibition on the postal service offering non-postal services. Like issuing licenses (e.g. drivers, hunting, fishing, etc) or contracting with local and state agencies to provide services. Congress should also lift the prohibition on the post office shipping wine and beer.

In offering new services the USPS could learn from post offices in other countries. The French post office offers banking and insurance services. Remember that from 1911 to 1967 the US Post Office successfully and profitably ran a nationwide postal savings bank. The Swedish post office will physically deliver e-mail correspondence to people who are not online.

But before any of this will happen we need to fess up. The postal crisis is contrived. Let’s stop scaring ourselves silly with make believe deficit monsters and unshackle this national asset.

David Morris is Vice President and director of the New Rules Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. focusing on local economic and social development.


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