The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Ethics
Photo by BlueShift 12 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It was surprising when Donald Trump declared he would make fixing the U.S. Postal Service one of the top personal priorities of his four-year White House adventure. It quickly became obvious, though, that he was using the word "fix" in the same way your veterinarian uses it when you bring in your dog.

Yes, Trump was saying, "Let's fix this puppy," and he wasted an inordinate amount of his presidential power and prestige in a failed attempt to neuter an agency that literally delivers for the people. Think about it: For a 55 cent stamp, America's extraordinary postal workers and letter carriers will take your piece of mail and deliver it by truck, car, airplane, boat, motorbike, mule — and, of course, by foot — to any address across town or across the country. The post office is a public system that works; it is both essential and effective. Indeed, the U.S. Postal Service ranks at the top of federal agencies in popularity, with 91 percent of the public approving its work. Thus, an uproar of protests (including by Republicans) spread across the country, killing Trump's attempt to gut the agency.

When it comes to bad public policy, however, failure is just a way of saying, "Let's try the back door." Trump was defeated, but he left behind an undistinguished Postmaster General named Louis DeJoy, who had only two qualifications for the job: He was a Trump megadonor, and he was a peer of corporate powers that've long wanted to privatize the Postal Service. In March, before the new Joe Biden presidency had taken charge of the postal system, DeJoy popped through the back door with his own "10-year Plan" to fix the agency.

Rhetorically, his plan promised to "achieve service excellence" by making mail delivery more "consistent" and "reliable." How? By consistently cutting service and reliably gouging customers. Specifically, DeJoy's plan was to close numerous mail processing facilities, eliminate jobs, reduce post office hours of service, and cut the standard of delivering first-class mail from three days to five. Oh, and to potentially raise stamp prices.

Delivering lousy service at higher prices is intended to destroy public support for the agency, opening up the mail service to takeover by private profiteers. That's the real DeJoy plan. And who gets joy from that?

Corporate ideologues never cease blathering that government programs should be run like a business.

Really? What businesses would they choose as the ethical model for governing our democracy? Pharmaceutical profiteers? Big Oil? Wall Street money manipulators? High-tech billionaires? Airline price gougers?

The good news is that the great majority of people aren't buying this corporatist blather but instead valuing institutions that prioritize the Common Good. Thus, by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans have stunned smug right-wing privatizers like DeJoy by specifically declaring in a recent poll that our U.S. Postal Service should not be "run like a business." Indeed, an overwhelming majority, including 49% of Republicans, say mail delivery should be run as a "public service," even if that costs more tax money.

In fact, having proven that this 246-year-old federal agency can consistently and efficiently deliver to 161 million homes and businesses — day after day, year after year — it's time to let the agency's trusted, decentralized, well-trained workforce provide even more services for our communities. One service it is uniquely capable of delivering is so-called postal banking. Yes, the existing network of some 31,000 post offices in metro neighborhoods and small towns across America are perfectly situated and able to provide basic banking services to the one out of four of us who don't have or can't afford bank accounts. The giant banking chains ignore these millions, leaving them at the mercy of check-cashing exploiters and payday-loan sharks that extract exorbitant profits for their Wall Street backers.

The post office can offer simple, honest banking, including small-dollar checking and savings accounts, very low-interest consumer loans, low-fee debit cards, etc. The goal of postal banking is not to maximize corporate profits but to serve the public. Moreover, there's nothing new about this: Our post offices served as banks for millions of us until 1967, when Wall Street profiteers got their enablers in Congress to kill the competition.

We the People own this phenomenal public asset. To enable it to work even better for us , rather than for the forces of corporate greed, go to AGrandAlliance.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

New Washington Post Editor Sally Buzbee

Photo by Knight Foundation (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0)

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post announced with much fanfare that it was hiring Sally Buzbee to be the newspaper's new editor. Arguably the second most important newspaper in America, the top Post position carries with it enormous responsibility. Buzbee will soon join the Post in June after she finishes up her current position as senior vice president and executive editor at the Associated Press, the world's largest news outlet.

But suddenly Buzbee and the AP are facing a barrage of questions after the wire service fired a young reporter, Emily Wilder, last week. She became the target of a concerted right-wing smear campaign because of Pro-Palestinian tweets she had posted in college. (Wilder is Jewish.)

The episode is not only troubling for the AP, it's also a problem for the Post, as it prepares for Buzbee's arrival. The last thing the paper wanted during this key transition period, which followed an extensive, high-profile search for a new leader, was to be grappling with doubts about Buzbee's leadership. But after watching the Winter debacle unfold last week at the AP, it's impossible to not question the editor's newsroom guidance. Post reporters must be wondering how many of them will soon be thrown under the bus by management if GOP activists target them with bogus claims of "bias."

The stunning termination of Wilder came just 16 days after the Stanford University graduate was hired. Her AP bosses told her she had violated the company's social media policy, although they would not detail how. Her college tweets became newsworthy when conservative news outlets, including The Federalist, Washington Free Beacon, and Fox News, began highlighting them and accusing AP of having an anti-Israel bias. Note that the entry-level Wilder was working out of the AP's Arizona bureau and her journalism output had nothing to do with the Middle East.

Wilder was initially assured that her previous tweets were not a problem and that the AP would stand by her, but was subsequently fired. The move came just days after the AP's bureau in Gaza was bombed by the Israeli military as part of the May fighting that erupted in the Middle East. The Israeli government insisted the building housed Hamas operatives, but has not provided definitive proof in order to justify leveling the AP building. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pointed to Wilder's employment and tweeted, "Not a surprise from a media organization that shared office space with Hamas." He also suggested the AP colluded with Hamas and allowed reporters to be used as "human shields."

It's clear the AP found itself in the middle of a contentious, international national standoff when the Wilder story, and the manufactured claims of bias, began to gain traction. Rather than defend its targeted reporter, AP caved to the right-wing mob, thereby encouraging to take aim at more journalists in the future.

"It feels like AP folded to the ridiculous demands and cheap bullying of organizations and individuals," Wilder said. "What future does it promise to aspiring reporters that an institution like The Associated Press would sacrifice those with the least power to the cruel trolling of a group of anonymous bullies?" she asked.

Added Columbia Journalism School professor, Emily Bell, "If news organizations cave in to pressure from bad faith campaigns, if they cancel workplace contracts on the basis of student activism or errors of judgment, then the field will miss out on some great reporters. Newsrooms are too often unprepared for this predictable onslaught."

The whole sordid chapter represents a black eye for the AP and raises real questions about its leadership.

Whether Buzbee directly ordered Wilder's firing is unclear. But Buzbee is a high-ranking executive of the news operation and everyone there must have known terminating Wilder would generate lots of news. More significantly, Buzbee has remained silent as the controversy has escalated and the AP has been widely denounced within journalism circles for giving in to disingenuous, right-wing trolls who aren't seeking fairness, but instead want media scalps as trophies.

It was clearly Wilder's college tweets that prompted AP's review of her online content. But in justifying her firing, the AP insists she was fired "for violations of AP's social media policy" for tweets posted this year.

None of this is believable and it all reflects poorly on the AP. If the Associated Press did have a problem with a new hire regarding a tweet or two, the normal course of action would be for an editor to counsel that person and warn them about the social media policy. It's completely irrational to fire someone hired just 16 days earlier because of a minor social media guidelines transgression.

It's obvious the AP did not want to defend Wilder and did not want to do battle with bogus GOP allegations, so the wire service took the cowardly way out.

And soon, the AP's executive editor will be taking over the Washington Post newsroom.