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Trump personally pushed U.S. Postal Service head to double rates on Amazon, other firms

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WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.

Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a group of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.

Despite these presentations, Trump has continued to level criticism at Amazon. And last month, his critiques culminated in the signing of an executive order mandating a government review of the financially strapped Postal Service that could lead to major changes in the way it charges Amazon and others for package delivery.

Few U.S. companies have drawn Trump’s ire as much as Amazon, which has rapidly grown to be the second-largest U.S. company in terms of market capitalization. For more than three years, Trump has fumed publicly and privately about the giant commerce and services company and its founder Jeff Bezos, who is also the owner of The Washington Post.

Trump alleges Amazon is being subsidized by the Postal Service, and he has also accused The Post as being Amazon’s “chief lobbyist” as well as a tax shelter — both false charges. He says Amazon uses these advantages to push bricks-and-mortar companies out of business. Some administration officials say several of Trump’s attacks aimed at Amazon have come in response to articles in The Post that he didn’t like.

The three people familiar with these exchanges spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the White House’s internal deliberations.

Brennan and Trump have met at the White House about the matter several times, beginning in 2017, and most recently four months ago, the three people said. The meetings have never appeared on Trump’s public schedule. Brennan has spent her career at the Postal Service, starting 32 years ago as a letter carrier. In 2014, the Postal Service’s Board of Governors voted to appoint her as postmaster general.

Clouding the matter even further, Trump’s aides have also disagreed internally about whether Amazon is paying enough to the Postal Service, with some believing the giant commerce company should be paying more, while others believe that if it weren’t for Amazon, the Postal Service might be out of business, according to the three people.

Trump has met with at least three groups of senior advisers to discuss Amazon’s business practices, probing issues such as whether they pay the appropriate amount of taxes or underpay the Postal Service, according to the three people.

These groups include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, then-National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg. Bremberg has served as a key liaison with Brennan.

One of Amazon’s biggest defenders within the White House was Cohn, who had told Trump that the Postal Service actually made money on the payments Amazon made for package delivery. Cohn announced his departure from the White House in March.

The White House, the Postal Service and Amazon — as well as Bezos, via an Amazon spokesman — declined to comment for this report.

While Trump has leveled a range of criticisms at Amazon, his efforts to increase the company’s shipping and delivery costs stand as the only known official action he’s taken to go after the company.

The company, meanwhile, has tread carefully around Trump. It has dramatically expanded its spending on lobbying in the past few years, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, but Amazon officials have not been directly engaged with White House officials about the review, according to the three people familiar with the White House deliberations as well as others familiar with Amazon’s approach.

The company has, however, hosted more than a dozen lawmakers and governors at numerous Amazon facilities across the country to impress upon them the company’s economic footprint and job creation potential.

On March 7, when the company announced that it would be building a new fulfillment centre in Missouri and hiring 1,500 employees, it alerted the state’s two U.S. senators on Twitter, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt.

Trump has berated Amazon and The Post on social media, briefly driving down Amazon’s stock price. And he has said publicly that he doesn’t believe the information he has been presented by some of his advisers and Brennan herself regarding the Postal Service’s contract with Amazon.

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” he wrote on April 3. “Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourn by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”

Details of Amazon’s contract with the Postal Service are secret, making it difficult for financial experts to assess claims about the relationship. Amazon has said that publicly releasing the contract, which contains detailed information on the company’s delivery systems, would give competitors an unfair advantage.

Amazon primarily uses the Postal Service for the “last mile” of its deliveries. It brings the packages to the post office closest to the final destination, and then the Postal Service takes it from there. The Postal Service says other companies also have “last-mile” agreements with it but declines to say whom.

Amazon is the leading player in e-commerce but competes with other retail giants such as Walmart, Macy’s and Costco to offer fast and inexpensive delivery of products. The Postal Service competes with UPS, FedEx and others for delivery.

Amazon said it spent US$21.7 billion on shipping costs in 2017, a figure that includes sorting, delivery center and transportation costs. Roughly 40 per cent of its packages are delivered by the Postal Service, according to some analysts, a figure neither Amazon nor the Postal Service have confirmed. It is not known how much Amazon pays the Postal Service each year and what percentage of its items are shipped via the Postal Service.

The Postal Service, meanwhile, reported shipping and package income of US$19.5 billion last year, an 11.8 per cent increase from one year before. This increase wasn’t enough to stop the Postal Service from losing money for the eleventh straight year. That’s largely because of the continued decline in first-class mail, and expensive health benefit costs that the Postal Service must set aside for future retirees, according to data released by the agency.

Delivering packages has been a financial boon to the Postal Service in an otherwise tumultuous time, but experts say it is an open question whether Amazon’s arrangement fully compensates the Postal Service for its range of expenses. While the Postal Service is legally prohibited from charging a shipper less than it costs to deliver a package, the Postal Service is not required to include in its costs things such as retiree benefits.

David Vernon, an analyst at Bernstein Research, estimates that Amazon pays the Postal Service roughly US$2 per package for each delivery, about half of what Amazon would pay United Parcel Service or FedEx. He based this estimate on broader data released by the Postal Service.

The Postal Service has tried to rapidly adjust its business model to take on more package delivery, but he said it would be better suited if it delivered fewer packages at a higher rate.

“In my business judgment, there’s too much ‘package’ in the postal network,” he said in an interview. “If you doubled the price, you would have fewer of them, but you would make money off what is left.”

Still, Postal Service officials, both in meetings with Trump and publicly, have insisted that they are making money off their arrangement with Amazon.

In January, Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer wrote an op-ed in the Hill newspaper pushing back against calls for it to raise package rates.

“Some of our competitors in the package delivery space would dearly love for the Postal Service to aggressively raise our rates higher than the marketplace can bear – so they could either charge more themselves or siphon away postal customers,” he wrote.

“The Postal Service is a self-funding public institution that generates its revenue from the sale of postal products and service, we compete for every customer across all of our product categories, and we exist for the benefit of American businesses and consumers.”

Because the Postal Service has lost money for 11 straight years, it has had to repeatedly borrow funds from the Treasury Department’s Federal Financing Bank, totalling US$15 billion. Its reliance on taxpayer funds has allowed Mnuchin — one of Trump’s closest advisers — to gain a foothold in its future.

One of Mnuchin’s counsellors, Craig Phillips, is leading Trump’s review of the Postal Service, along with Kathy Kraninger, associate director for general government at the Office of Management and Budget. It is due in July.

The review group is tasked with reviewing the package delivery market, the Postal Service’s role in that market and the decline in first-class mail volume, among other things. It is required to recommend changes to the White House and Congress.

The Postal Service is overseen by a board of nine governors, which pick the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general. Currently, there are no governors serving on the board, though Trump has nominated three individuals who are awaiting Senate confirmation. The Postal Service, led by the postmaster, works out contracts with private companies that are approved by an independent federal agency, the Postal Regulatory Commission, which also assesses each year whether the contracts are in compliance with the law. Amazon has a multiyear contract with the Postal Service, and it is not clear how quickly it could be changed.

Trump’s attacks on Amazon date to 2015, when he accused Bezos of using The Post as a tax shelter to allow Amazon to avoid paying taxes, a false accusation. (Amazon is a publicly traded company, and The Post, wholly owned by Bezos, is private. The companies’ finances are not intermingled. The Post’s editors and Bezos also have declared that he is not involved in any journalistic decisions.)

Bezos responded to Trump’s 2015 attack with a tweet.

“Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump. Will still reserve him a seat on the Blue Origin rocket. #sendDonaldtospace,” Bezos, who owns a space company, tweeted in December 2015.

This angered Trump, who at the time was fighting for credibility during the GOP primary.

“Trump takes everything personally,” said Steve Moore, a former economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Moore says he has told White House officials that Amazon is paying the Postal Service plenty for its services and in fact helping the agency survive.

But others say Trump sees one company exploiting the government for a competitive edge. Amazon’s stock price is up close to 70 percent in the past year, and a growing list of competitors have complained that they have a hard time competing with the giant company on everything from delivery to its cloud computer business.

“I think this particular issue is one that he comes at from his business background and understanding the dynamics of cost and delivery and overhead,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said of Trump’s approach to the postal issue with Amazon. “And so . . . when you put all those components in there, it allows him to probably have a position on this that is deeper rooted in an understanding of a business model than perhaps some other presidents.

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Toronto-area rapper blames systemic racism for months of misdiagnosis

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TORONTO — When Matthew John Derrick-Huie went to the doctor with chest pain and shortness of breath in 2017, he didn’t know he was about to embark on a two-year medical nightmare.

The 24-year-old Canadian rapper who goes by the stage name “John River,” told CTV News that he went to the emergency room five times before doctors took him seriously and on that fifth visit, they gave him a spinal tap to test for meningitis.

“I felt I had been trying and pushing so hard with every fibre in my body,” he said. “I’m not a quitter. I don’t think I’m weak. I don’t believe in giving up in any capacity in my life and even for me, I was unbelievably outmatched.

For the next 60 days, River visited family doctors, specialized clinics and emergency rooms as often as 30 times in search for an answer, but failed to find one. Some doctors told him he was suffering from anxiety and depression and prescribed him antidepressants, but he knew that wasn’t the issue.

“One physician told me that I was in a depressive state and I just didn’t realize,” he said.

“I said: ‘Respectfully, I lost my house twice when I was 17, my cousin who used to live with us was murdered…with all due respect, if I was going to have an anxious breakdown, I feel like it would’ve happened already.’”

It wasn’t until River’s family took to social media that they were able to find a doctor who would take a look at River’s case. The doctor soon discovered River’s brain was sagging in his skull due to low cerebrospinal fluid levels. The doctor believed River’s spinal canal had been leaking since that meningitis test two months prior. Cerebrospinal fluid leaks are a known complication of spinal tap procedures. 

”I understand (cerebrospinal fluid) leaks are what some people would call a rarity and a difficult diagnosis, but I don’t think that’s applicable here,” he said.

Rivers questions why doctors didn’t follow up with him after the original operation and given him an immediate treatment to fix the leaking.

“They knew they had given the patient a procedure in which you told him: ‘For the next two days, you may feel like you want to die.’ If you don’t proceed with a follow-up procedure, one would have to assume that that patient is still out there.”

River required eight months of recovery and also wonders why no one would listen to his pleas for help.

“I absolutely, unequivocally, no doubt, feel that it absolutely had to do with the fact I was a young black man,” he said.

River adds that he felt multiple instances of racism as he dealt with health-care providers, including one visit when a nurse accused him of visiting the hospital solely for drugs.

“She said to me: ‘I know you are here for drugs, why don’t you just tell us which drugs they are and we’ll expedite this process,’” he said. “How is it within a two-minute time period (that) you were able to come to the distinction that I either came to your hospital to abuse narcotics or to sell narcotics?”

River said it was only after he spoke publicly about his medical situation on Twitter that other members of the black community reached out to him with similar stories dating as far back as the 1970s.

Dr. Onye Nnorom, a family doctor who works with the University of Toronto to advance the health of black people in Canada, said River’s experience in the health-care system is one of many similar stories she’s come across.

“I do hear about experiences of racism and I’ve heard about it not only from my patients, but also from family members (and) from colleagues, so it is certainly a problem,” she said. “I think one of the biggest problems is that we’re not able to collect data to demonstrate it.”

Nnorom adds she’s also heard from black patients who’ve been accused of seeking drugs instead of medical care.

“The (health-care provider) is making assumptions about their appearance and thinking that they’re a drug dealer,” she said. “That’s going to affect the way the health-care provider is able to diagnose and treat the patient.

“From the patient’s end, that really makes a person feel like they’re not being respected.”

Racism within the Canadian health-care system is not only an issue among black Canadians. In 2017, an external review found several Indigenous women had felt pressured into sterilizing themselves immediately after childbirth at a hospital is Saskatchewan.

Additionally, a report concerning the case of Brian Sinclair, who died of a treatable bladder infection in 2008, found emergency staff at a hospital in Winnipeg ignored him for 34 hours because they assumed he was homeless or intoxicated.

In 2018, the Canadian Public Health Association acknowledged that “we are all either overtly or inadvertently racist and that the influence of this racism affects the health of individuals and populations” and offered several recommendations for all levels of government and health-care providers, including a complete review of their policies and to provide “system-wide anti-racism and anti-oppression training for all staff and volunteers.”

Kathleen Finlay, the CEO and founder of The Center for Patient Protection, called River’s treatment “appalling.” 

“Anytime a person presents multiple times to a hospital or a health-care provider for the same symptoms or worsening of their symptoms, that should send up big red flags, that should not be happening,” she said. “Fortunately, the outcome here worked out well, but patients can actually die in these situations.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health declined to comment directly about River’s case, but said in a statement Thursday that the government “is committed to providing all people in Ontario with a health-care system that is focused on them.”

“(The People’s Health Care Act, 2019) states that the health-care system should be centered around people, patients, their families, and should be guided by a commitment to equity and to the promotion of equitable health outcomes,” a spokesperson for the department wrote in the statement.

The ministry adds it does not collect data on a patient’s race that could be used to measure access to treatment.

River, who was nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award in 2015, took two years away from music to deal with his health situation. He has since returned to his promising career and plans to advocate for equality within the health-care system.

“The only thing that’s on my mind every day is how much pain I went through,” he said. “I could never consciously allow somebody else to go through what I went through.”

“If we save one life because of the pressure that we apply today, then I can say to myself: ‘OK, I did my job.’”

River’s first song since the ordeal, titled “Burn the Boats,” discusses his misdiagnosis and how he is now “back from the dead” following the complications.

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ROTHENBURGER: What we need in this country is a special racism court

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ANOTHER PERSONALITY LOST his job Friday over racist remarks.

The latest offender is Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters, who resigned after revelations he used racist slurs against a player a decade ago.

The case is pretty typical when it comes to process. An indiscretion is revealed, social media lights up, an employer assesses the damage and acts accordingly. Loss of employment is often the resulting punishment.

There’s got to be a better way, a practical approach based on common criteria and effective assessment.

Aside from legislation against hate speech, the court of public opinion has mostly been in charge of defining racism and the appropriate punishment for those found guilty of it.

Social media are the vehicle of choice both for committing acts of racism and for meting out retribution, but racism means different things to different people.

Quoting the dictionary definition of racism is of little use, since we have a habit of either expanding it or contracting it to fit our own opinions for each situation. As an exercise, consider the following, and rank them according to your own view of the seriousness of the offence.

1. A hockey commentator chastises “you people” who immigrate to Canada but don’t wear poppies on Remembrance Day.

2. A prime minister is found to have worn “brownface” at costume parties.

3. An NHL coach makes racist remarks to a hockey player.

4. A woman taunts people sitting near her in a restaurant, saying they aren’t true Canadians.

Are any of these situations more egregious than the others? What factors do you consider in defining them as racist, or not, and in making your own judgment as to what should happen?

In each of those cases, apologies weren’t enough. Don Cherry tried to apologize but was fired anyway. Justin Trudeau apologized and almost, but not quite, lost his job. The woman in the restaurant apologized but was fired. Bill Peters apologized but was suspended, then resigned.

Immediacy isn’t always an extenuating factor, either. Cherry was immediately fired from his TV job, and so was the Lethbridge woman in the restaurant, but Trudeau’s and Peters’ indiscretions happened years ago. There seems no statute of limitations when the public’s indignation is aroused.

What about intentions? Does it matter if someone offends inadvertently, or is ignorance no excuse? It’s pretty clear, for example, that Trudeau wasn’t trying to be racist — he just likes to dress up on occasion, and has a habit of making bad choices.

Was Don Cherry intentionally being intolerant, or did he just get carried away with his fervor about the need to honour veterans? Many have said the latter. Did Cherry understand that “you people” is widely viewed as being racist, or is it just the way he speaks?

Clearly, there’s a difference between using racial slurs to intentionally belittle someone, but is the end result the same?

Premier John Horgan last week announced the creation of the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network. By the sounds of it, it’s mostly an information, training and prevention program, not one that hands out punishment, but it might prove to be an important step.

The move came after Ravi Kahlon, the NDP MLA for Delta North, spent his summer travelling the province gathering ideas on how to deal with racism. He’s flying the idea of fining people for lesser offences relating to racism, the kind that currently don’t make it to court.

None of the examples I gave above was prosecuted other than by public opinion which, as I said, carries a lot of weight. The offences weren’t committed by organized hate groups, weren’t part of any campaign against minorities, didn’t involve violence.

But they have consequences, both to the perpetrator and the target. Society has decided it’s no longer the sort of thing we just put up with. The question is, how can their seriousness be defined, and how can appropriate repercussions be decided? There are no guidelines, and it would help if there were.

So, following up on Kahlon’s idea, what if a sort of bylaws court for hate offences was developed that could take care of things like the Burnaby convenience store case in which a customer berated clerks for not speaking English, or the examples above?

After all, we could take the position that racism is racism is racism, and one example is as ugly as the next, but is that really fair?

Suppose this special court operated under a set of criteria such as the ones I’ve mentioned. How much time has passed since the incident? Was an apology offered? Was the offence intentional? What language was used and to what degree are the terms offensive? Did it involve an overt slur? Did it occur in a public setting? Was it a first or second offence?

With those things in mind, our brief list might rank the restaurant rant and Peters’ insults ahead of the others, followed by Cherry and Trudeau. You might view it differently but the point is that one offence isn’t always the same as another, and that penalties should be somewhat different from one another.

Should those penalties involve community service? A public apology? Fines based on a system similar to traffic offences?

Such a system would have to be complaints based, and it would be a challenge to enforce. But each time it was, it would make a statement that if you engage in racist talk or actions, even though it falls short of violence or an all-out hate campaign, you’ll pay a price.

And, employers could make decisions based on these independent evaluations by the court system, instead of on the highly fallible court of public opinion.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He writes five commentaries a week for CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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Remembering everyday violence against women and girls on Dec. 6

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It’s the National Day of Remembrance for the 14 women who were killed at the L’école Polytechnique in Montréal for being women and for being students in a discipline that, at the time, was wholly male-defined.

Across the nation and on different social media platforms, the remembrance is being marked by symbols and personal testimonies.

It’s a reminder that the violence has not ended despite the overworked sector of civil society — women on the front lines in shelters, rape crisis centres and counselling centres.

While the collective outpouring of grief that marks this day is anchored in a remembrance of the murders of women at the polytechnique, it is also imperative that high-profile acts of violence don’t overshadow the everyday, routine forms of violence that women suffer.

Six deaths every hour

The report of the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability notes that around the world, every hour, six women are killed by men they know.

Femicide, or the killing of women because they are women, is underpinned by patriarchal ideologies that define how women should comport themselves. This ideology, grounded in the belief that men own women and that women need to be controlled, is also at the heart of gender inequities.

A woman places flowers on the monument dedicated to Maryse Leclair during a ceremony at Place du 6 décembre in Montréal on Dec. 6, 2003, to commemorate the 14 women slain by a gunman at l’École Polytechnique engineering school in 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Although the tragic events at the polytechnique occurred 30 years ago, women and girls in Canada today continue to suffer from the effects of patriarchal ideologies. They experience that patriarchy differently, depending on where they are located in the matrix of domination — the axes of race, class, gender, religion, age, ableism and sexuality that criss-cross society and heighten the vulnerabilities of some women more than others.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry reveals the extent to which Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ+ are dehumanized and subjected to violence. Canadian statistics reveal that a woman is killed every five days by an intimate partner or a family member. Murder is the finality in the continuum of violence that women and girls experience.

Privilege does not shield

We can’t forget these deaths — the murders that are reported in short, terse paragraphs in the news, or that are accounted for only by organizations situated in particular communities, or remembered by close family and kin.

These deaths testify to the presence and power of patriarchal values and traditions. Similarly, while groups like the incels have attracted power and attention, they remain the tip of the iceberg. There are countless everyday expressions of male power and violence that work to constrain women.

Much like how the focus on racism that tends to be restricted to the actions of extreme hate groups and their acts of violence, the systemic, everyday racism that permeates society also needs to be named and dealt with.

The takeaway of the murders at the polytechnique is this — violence that is endemic and coursing through society is violence that crosses the boundaries of race, class, age, sexuality, gender and religion. It’s violence that is anchored in the view that women are inferior, less than men, and to be controlled by men.

The 14 women killed at the polytechnique were white, middle class and educated, and this did not shield them from patriarchal violence. What then about the women who have no such privileges? How best can we remember them?

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