Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Sept. 3, 2020

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

At least 21 states are suing the U.S. Postal Service over delivery delays, The Washington Post reports. Issues include stalled delivery of items like medications, as well as likely interference with voting by mail. Maryland’s attorney general says the USPS has acted illegally and unconstitutionally, causing harm to the nation and individuals. The slower delivery, ordered Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, has included removal of mail-sorting equipment and public mail boxes. 

The legal challenges, according to The Post, include addressing violations of the Voting Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. President Donald Trump stated in August that he opposes both vote-by-mail and any emergency funding for the USPS, which has been challenged by loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DeJoy, when called to congressional oversight hearings, said he would delay further “new initiatives,” but would not commit to reversing steps he has already taken that slow the mail. 

The 467 billionaires in the United States have seen their wealth rise by more than $730 billion since the start of the pandemic in March, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. The organization is supporting the Make Billionaires Pay Act, recently introduced to Congress. According to ATF, if 60% of U.S. billionaires’ gains made between mid-March and early August were taxed, Medicare could pay for all out-of-pocket health care expenses for a year — the billionaires would still have a wealth gain of more than $310 billion.

One of the highlights of the Republican National Convention was the chant of “12 more years.” According to NBC News, the convention messages included the idea that the U.S. will descend into chaos without Trump. The convention was also notable for not introducing a new party platform — a first in 166 years.

Political scientist Norm Ornstein, from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says the Hatch Act forbids the use of federal property “for political activities or for engaging in anything that is a partisan political act,” with the exception of the president and vice president. Ornstein called last week’s Republican National Convention “the most blatant abuse of power … for partisan purposes by far than anything we have ever seen by a president of an executive branch.” Fox News’ Dana Perino said “it doesn’t matter” that the law was broken since “by the time they have an investigation, this election is going to be over.”

Trump has proposed a permanent cut to payroll taxes, Forbes reports. When projecting the impact, the Office of the Chief Actuary at the Social Security Administration said that lacking another funding source by the end of the year (it’s currently funded by FICA payroll taxes), the SS Disability Trust Fund assets would be depleted by the middle of 2021 and regular SS retirement benefits would end in the middle of 2023. 

In 2019, Social Security took in $1,061.8 billion and paid out $1,059.3 billion. The end of Social Security could occur if Trump were to be re-elected and the House and the Senate were both controlled by Republicans, Forbes stated. 

Protesters have renewed fodder after the shooting of a Black man by police in Kenosha, Wisc. Officers shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back Aug. 23 as he walked away from them. He survived the shooting but is now partially paralyzed. Amid protests over the Blake shooting, three demonstrators in Kenosha were shot by a counter-protester, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, leaving two dead. The local sheriff told The New York Times, “This is why I don’t deputize citizens with guns.”

Labor Day review of some of the Trump Administration worker protection reversals: a rule to protect health workers and patients from airborne infectious diseases stopped (NPR); asbestos rules relaxed (Politico); OSHA’s ability to inspect for safety is at its lowest level ever (Forbes); protection against silica-caused lung disease put on hold (NBC News); underground mine safety inspections rolled back, as have been inspections for off-shore oil rigs and meat-packing plants (Politico). The Trump administration has also revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order (NBC News) and OSHA eliminated from its home page a list of worker deaths.

Blast from the past: “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”  Benjamin Franklin, American statesman and scientist, 1706-1790. Franklin was appointed postmaster general by the Second Continental Congress. Prior to his organizing of mail delivery, letters in the colonies were left at inns and taverns. Franklin sped up delivery times with day and night wagon transport, and established routes from Florida to Maine.

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