And another thing ... Postal Service, Robin and watchdogs

And another thing ... Postal Service, Robin and watchdogs

August 13th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Mailbox of red ink

News stories on the continued debacle that is the U.S. Postal Service always helpfully tell us "the Postal Service is an independent agency that receives no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control."

What business, what corporation other than an agency that has anything to do with the government can sustain losses like the spring-quarter $2 billion red ink our mail service had? It makes us long for the old days of 2013 when the spring-quarter losses were only $740 million. No agency can post such losses for seven straight years, which the Postal Service has done, without shutting down, reorganizing or making drastic changes.

The Postal Service gladly tells us the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act has saved the agency $15 billion, but that amount averaged over the eight years since then is about the amount the agency lost in the spring quarter.

A few other points to ponder: A congressionally mandated $5.7 billion payment for health benefits for future postal retirees is due in September, and a potential default on the mandated payment wouldn't be the first time that's happened; the agency needs $10 billion for new vehicles, new equipment and other upgrades; and the agency's operating revenue increased in the spring quarter over last year's spring quarter by $327 million to $16.5 billion, but its operating expenses increased over the same period by $1.5 billion to $18.4 billion.

This screams for some kind of privatized system and is an issue some congressman in need of a boost in his district should take on. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, are you listening?

Don't ignore the signs

We're torn when it comes to mental illness, aren't we? Most of us go through life every day, rejoicing in the ups and wavering through the downs, but not letting the ordinary ups and downs derail us. So because it's something we routinely manage, we wonder why everybody isn't able to do it.

When actor Robin Williams died Monday, having taken his life, not everybody was surprised. He'd been treated for drug addiction, alcoholism and depression, even openly acknowledging his struggles. We wonder how much the drug use and the alcoholism caused the depression, or whether the depression predisposed him to abuse of drugs and booze. Doctors have debated depression for years but still can't give you the whys and wherefores of just exactly how it manifests itself in someone.

But what we do know is this: It can be treated, and it can be monitored. It's no guarantee of a perfect life, but it's an arm around the shoulder.. Depression affects 63-year-old Oscar-winning actors with all the trappings of Hollywood success (but outward signs of problems) and 20-year-old Chattanooga men with full lives ahead (and no outward signs of problems).

We can't bring back Williams, whose late-night appearances with former "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson (not to mention his movies and stand-up routines) were as funny as anything ever on television, but we can be sensitive to those around us. And we can remind them there is always help available.

Just for starters, there's the Chattanooga branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (899-6922) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

Watchdog necessary

More than two and a half years after a Times Free Press investigative story exposed the fact businesses controlled by Chattanoogan Carey V. Brown were a front for payday loan companies charging borrowers exorbitant rates (officials say between 350 and 500 percent), state prosecutors in New York City brought criminal charges Monday against a dozen payday loan companies and their founder, Brown.

The charges of violating usury rates and multiple counts of conspiracy outlined that Brown's "payday syndicate" controlled every facet of the loan process, made loans in states that outlawed them and hid one arm of the scheme in the West Indies to try to put the company out of U.S. reach.

When the newspaper published its initial story in December 2011, the report was ignored by other media and found little support in the business community. The newspaper was threatened by Brown attorneys.

Today, although Brown and two partners maintain their innocence, their practices stand exposed for preying on those desperate for money, and the newspaper's community role as a watchdog is all the more evident.