Treasury proposes postal changes after Trump attacks on Amazon

President Donald Trump’s task force scrutinizing U.S. Postal Service operations is proposing an overhaul of the financially distressed agency, including changes to how it prices packages shipped by retailers like Amazon, a frequent target of the president’s attacks.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Treasury-led task force says the Postal Service should price packages “with profitability in mind” and impose higher rates on general e-commerce goods and other non-essential items sent through the mail.

Trump commissioned the report earlier this year after months of attacking Amazon for, in his view, ripping off USPS and treating the agency like its “Delivery Boy.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos privately owns The Washington Post, and Trump, who slams the Post’s coverage as unfair, often conflates the newspaper with the e-commerce giant, even calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”

The report’s recommendations are broad and sweeping. They call for stronger oversight by the Postal Service Board of Governors — which sat empty for much of Trump’s presidency. They also encourage the agency to consider other revenue streams, such as renting out unused real estate to businesses, charging outside shippers for access to people’s mail boxes and issuing hunting and fishing licenses.

But the ideas for package rates are likely to draw the most scrutiny, given the president’s attacks on Amazon. The task force says the Postal Service should distinguish between essential items, such as medication or tax notices, and non-essential items, such as consumer products — and mark up the latter to generate more income.

The administration on Tuesday denied that it’s targeting Amazon, saying the report’s recommendations would hit the coffers of all retailers with a large volume of online sales.

“None of our findings or recommendations are linked to any one customer or competitor of the Postal Service,” said a senior administration official. “We based our analysis on the needs of the entire economy and all its businesses.”

But Trump’s frequent rants about Amazon hover over the findings.

“I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” Trump tweeted in April shortly before the White House announced the task force. “Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne by the American Taxpayer. Many billions of dollars. P.O. leaders don’t have a clue (or do they?)!”

The president told The Daily Caller last month that Amazon is “getting the bargain of the century,” adding, “I think that’s why I’ve asked for a review.”

The task force, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, spent weeks meeting with companies and trade associations in affected industries like retail and package delivery. Officials from the Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies have also been involved. A report was initially delivered to the White House in August, though its public release was delayed until later in the year.

The senior administration official said the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission can enact some of the changes, including increasing package prices, without intervention from Congress, but said other proposed changes would require lawmakers to act.

For more than a decade, the Postal Service has logged billion-dollar loses, resulting in a total cumulative deficit of nearly $63 billion as of September. But those losses are not driven by Amazon or other big shippers of packages. Instead, much of it can be attributed to the decline of letter mail in the internet era and the mandatory payments that Congress has ordered the Postal Service to make into a retiree benefits fund. The task force recommends restructuring that obligation, but not doing away with it altogether.

The report does not call for privatizing the Postal Service, despite the Trump administration saying in June that it wanted to do so as part of a government reorganization.

Amazon did not immediately comment, but an industry coalition that represents the e-commerce giant warned the report could cause widespread economic damage.

“If it were to be adopted in its entirety I think we would be approaching a worst-case scenario from a consumer and business perspective,” said John McHugh, a congressman-turned-lobbyist who leads the so-called Package Coalition, saying Congress should be involved in changing longstanding Postal Service regulations.

Amazon, like other bulk users of the Postal Service, negotiates a special shipping rate that is not publicly disclosed. Though Amazon would pay below the standard rate, by law, those negotiated arrangements must cover the cost of shipping the packages — meaning the post office cannot lose money on them as Trump claims. Each agreement is evaluated and endorsed by the Postal Regulatory Commission and approved by the Postal Service Board of Governors.

Package delivery has been a rare bright spot on the Postal Service’s earnings statement. Mail carriers are delivering more packages than ever before — as the number of standard letters steadily declines — bringing in $21.5 billion in revenue in the most recent fiscal year.

Amazon has been developing other delivery options in anticipation that the Postal Service cannot accommodate its rapid growth. It runs a service in which contract drivers drop orders at customers’ doors and recently announced it would lease trucks to entrepreneurs to start delivery services. The company has also experimented with aerial drones and, according to media reports, self-driving vehicles, though those are still years away from adoption because of technological and regulatory hurdles.

The investments could help Amazon lessen the sting of a rate hike over the long term or gradually move away from the Postal Service altogether if shipping expenses become too prohibitive. Industry advocates have warned that fewer packages would only mean more pain for the agency’s bottom line.

Trump’s most direct impact on the Postal Service could be appointees to the Board of Governors. The body plays a key role approving so-called negotiated service agreements, giving it a hand in how much Amazon and others must pay for postal services. The board could, in theory, send Postal Service negotiators back to the table if such deals are not judged to be in the agency’s best interest.

The board sat entirely vacant for the first 18 months of Trump’s presidency. He’s so far nominated people for three of the nine board seats, two of whom were approved by Senate-wide vote in late August.

[Politico]

Trump Goes On Anti-Media Tweetstorm, Attacks Reporting He Says Puts Lives ‘At Risk’: ‘Very Unpatriotic!’

President Donald Trump is going on yet another Twitter tirade about the media, this time attacking certain reporting as “very unpatriotic!”

To recap: Trump tweeted this morning that he recently met with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and talked about the “fake news.” Sulzberger shot back by saying he specifically told the President he’s concerned about his “dangerous” attacks on the media.

Well, um, he’s still doing it (not that he ever stopped).

And not only that, but Trump is now accusing reporters of putting lives at risk by reporting on “internal deliberations of our government”:

You will also notice that Trump, hours after revealing his meeting with Sulzberger, is back to attacking the Times again.

The Times report on this meeting features Sulzberger making one very serious point to the President:

Mr. Sulzberger recalled telling Mr. Trump at one point that newspapers had begun posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. The president, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.

[Mediaite]

Trump levels false attacks against The Post and Amazon in a pair of tweets

President Trump on Monday used his Twitter account to make false and misleading attacks against The Washington Post and Amazon, the behemoth online retailer whose founder owns The Post.

In the first of his tweets, Trump said the “Amazon Washington Post has gone crazy against me ever since they lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court two months ago.”

The president was apparently referring to a Supreme Court case decided last month that will allow state governments to compel retailers beyond their borders to collect sales tax revenue from consumers.

Amazon, the nation’s biggest online retailer, took a small hit in its stock price after the decision, even though it already collects taxes on its sales in all states. The company, whose founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post, does not collect taxes on third-party purchases. The Post and Amazon are independently operated.

It’s not clear what Trump meant by “gone crazy against me,” though he was critical in a separate tweet Monday of media coverage of his efforts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. The Post reported over the weekend that Trump has privately fumed about a lack of progress even as he has publicly touted his administration’s efforts.

In his first tweet on The Post and Amazon, Trump also complained that the U.S. Postal Service is “the delivery boy” for Amazon, which he said pays only “a fraction of real cost.”

Trump has previously said that Amazon costs the Postal Service billions of dollars in potential revenue, even though officials have explained to him that Amazon’s contracts with the Postal Service are profitable for the agency.

In a second tweet, Trump said that The Post “is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon.”

Trump has made the false claim about The Post serving as a lobbyist for Amazon multiple times.

Responding to a similar tweet in March, Post publisher Frederick J. Ryan Jr. said: “The Washington Post operates with complete independence in making all news and editorial decisions. We alone decide what to publish. It is preposterous and disingenuous to suggest that The Post is used to advance Jeff’s other commercial interests.”

Post editors have also rejected Trump’s accusation that The Post has supported Amazon’s interests.

“The reality is he didn’t present any evidence that we were lobbying for Amazon,” Post Executive Editor Martin Baron has said in response to a previous Trump attack. “The reason is because there is no evidence.”

Contrary to Trump’s assertion, Ryan has also said that The Post is positioned for “continued profitability.”

[Washington Post]

Trump urged postmaster general to double rates on Amazon

President Trump has reportedly urged the U.S. postmaster general to double shipping rates for Amazon.com and other companies amid months of his continued criticism that the online retailer is costing the Postal Service “billions” of dollars in revenue.

Trump has personally met with Postmaster General Megan Brennan multiple times since 2017 to petition her for a hike on rates for Amazon and other firms that ship packages, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing officials familiar with the conversations.

The president’s demands came despite counsel from close advisers and top Postal Service employees that Amazon, the largest shipper of packages through USPS, actually helps keep it afloat financially.

According to the Post, Brennan explained to Trump in their conversations that the Postal Service is bound by its contracts with retail companies, noting that to change them would require a review by the independent regulatory agency that oversees the USPS.

Trump signed an executive order last month to create a task force to look into the Postal Service’s “unsustainable financial path.”

USPS has given Amazon a shipping discount due to the volume of packages it ships, but has not released details on its agreement with the retailer. Analysts have estimated that the company uses the Postal Service for about 40 percent of its shipping.

Trump also reportedly met with different groups of senior advisers including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn on the service’s financial dealings and whether Amazon was in fact costing the USPS “massive amounts of money,” as he once claimed in a tweet.

The president has frequently taken aim at The Washington Post, which Amazon owner Jeff Bezos purchased in 2013.

[The Hill]

HHS official shared post saying ‘forefathers’ would have ‘hung’ Obama, Clinton for treason

A political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services shared an image in 2017 that said “our forefathers would have hung” Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason, a CNN KFile review has found.

Ximena Barreto is a far-right political pundit who in December 2017 joined the Trump administration as deputy director of communications at the department.

Barreto was placed on leave by the department on Monday after the liberal watchdog Media Matters reported that Barreto called Islam “a cult” and pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which alleged that Clinton was part of a child-sex ring based in part at a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant.

A subsequent KFile review of her Twitter account “RepublicanChick” found that Barreto also repeatedly used the hashtag #BanIslam and twice shared conspiracy theories about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Barreto also shared a conspiracy theory that French President Emmanuel Macron was controlled by the Rothschild family and that Clinton and Obama were controlled by investor and Democratic mega-donor George Soros. Both the Rothschilds and Soros are frequent targets of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

A department spokesperson did not comment on tweets unearthed by KFile and reiterated to CNN that Barreto has been placed on administrative leave while they look into the matter.

Prior to joining HHS, Barreto was a far-right political pundit and Trump-supporting blogger.
She co-hosted a YouTube show called “The Right View by Deplorable Latinas.” A now-removed biography on her personal website said she “has worked as a political activist, and worked hundreds of hours with Republican candidates (sic) campaigns, including John McCain, Ted Cruz and President Donald Trump.”

Here’s what Barreto tweeted:

On Barack Obama

In May of 2017, Barreto retweeted an imagesaying the “our forefathers would have hung” Clinton and Obama for treason.
In August of 2017 Barreto retweeted an image of a statue of Obama labeling him “a Muslim terrorist.”
In January of 2017, Barreto wrote in a tweetthat Obama was a “pansy and a traitor.”

On Seth Rich

In October 2016, Barreto implied Rich was killed by either Clinton or the Democratic National Committee, using the hashtags #KilledByTheDNC #HillaryBodyCount #ClintonBodyBags
In May, 2017, Barreto retweeted a video about Rich, saying that “the media blackout and the silence from Washington on Seth Rich should scare the hell out of you.”

On Islam

On five separate occasions found by KFile’s review, Barreto tweeted the hashtag “#BanIslam” in asserting that those participating in the Women’s March had turned their back on “real oppression.”
She also tweeted “#DeportLSarsour,” referring to Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour.
In other tweets, she called for a boycott of Amazon for an ad that showed a Christian priest and Muslim imam together, saying that “an Imam would never sit with a priest FYI”.

On Hillary Clinton, Democrats and Emmanuel Macron

In a tweet in August of 2016, Barreto falsely claimed that Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s family had terrorist ties.
In April of 2017, Barreto spread a conspiracy theory that Macron was controlled by the Rothschilds and that Clinton and Obama were controlled by Soros.
“Macron is just a political puppet of the Rothschilds, just like Obama and Hillary are Soros Puppets!” she wrote.

[CNN]

Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

Advisers Gave Trump PowerPoint Presentation Debunking His Claims on Amazon. It Didn’t Work

Over the past week or so, President Donald Trump has ramped up his attacks against tech giant Amazon, claiming the company isn’t paying any taxes while accusing them of taking advantage of the Postal Service and costing the government billions of dollars.

In the wake of Trump’s personal war against Amazon, fact checkers and journalists have noted that the president’s claims are either unsupported or outright false. The thing is, Trump’s advisers tried early on to keep him from tossing out his Amazon falsehoods. It just didn’t take.

Per the Wall Street Journal, White House officials kept hearing Trump grouse about Amazon during his first months in office. Therefore, they decided to set up some briefings so he would speak factually and knowledgeably about the company in public.

Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, and other officials gave PowerPoint presentations and briefing papers they believed debunked his concerns that Amazon was dodging taxes and exploiting the U.S. Postal Service.It made little difference. Mr. Trump persisted in attacks that ran counter to the material they had showed him.

A source also told WSJ that the presentation wasn’t “the narrative he wants,” adding that Trump “didn’t find it persuasive because he keeps saying it’s untrue.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Says He’ll Take ‘Very Serious Look’ at Amazon’s Business

President Donald Trump said he will take a “very serious look” at Amazon.com Inc. and what he said is an “uneven playing field” the retailer enjoys against competitors.

“I’m going to study it and take a look,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “We’re going to take a very serious look at that.”

Trump aides said earlier in the week that the White House wasn’t preparing punitive measures toward Amazon, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the president’s comments indicated a potential shift.

Amazon was little changed in extended trading, dropping 0.1 percent to $1,451.75 at 5:43 p.m. in New York. While Trump’s broadsides against the company battered the stock last week and into Monday, investors have shrugged off his latest assaults and sent the shares up each of the past three days.

Trump has fired off a barrage of criticism against Amazon and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos in Twitter postings since last week, sinking the Seattle-based Internet retailer’s market value by as much as $55 billion at one point. Trump has argued the company receives favorable treatment on taxes and postal rates.

“You look at the sales tax situation which is going to be taken up I guess very soon, there’s going to be a decision from the Supreme Court,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “So we’ll see what happens. The post office is not doing well with Amazon that I can tell you.

“The playing field has to be level for everybody,” he said as he returned from a trip to West Virginia.

Amazon collects sales tax in every state that has one. But Amazon’s policies don’t apply to third-party merchants selling goods through its website, and many of those transactions remain untaxed. Such sales make up about half of the company’s volume. Amazon has said it’s up to the sellers to collect any taxes and many don’t.

The Trump administration has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to let state and local governments collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments next month centering on a South Dakota law that calls for collecting sales taxes from large internet retailers even if they don’t have brick-and-mortar stores in the state. A ruling is expected by late June.

While its contract with Amazon is confidential, the Postal Service has argued that its e-commerce services benefit the organization and its mail customers. It is legally prohibited from charging shippers less than its delivery costs. Further, taxpayers don’t directly support the Postal Service’s operations.

Amazon regularly uses the Postal Service to complete what’s called the “last mile” of delivery, with letter carriers dropping off packages at some 150 million residences and businesses daily. The company has a network of 35 “sort centers” where customer packages are sorted by zip code, stacked on pallets and delivered to post offices for the final leg of delivery.

The company remains exposed to government action on other fronts.

The Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission could open antitrust or consumer protection investigations. The company is also competing for a multi-billion-dollar contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon.

Safra Catz, the chief executive of Oracle Corp., one of Amazon’s rivals for the Defense Department contract, criticized the bidding process in a private dinner with Trump Tuesday, complaining that it favored Amazon, people familiar with the plans said.

Trump heard her out and said he wants the contract competition to be fair, but made no indication he’d interfere in the bidding, the people said. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Trump isn’t interfering in the contract decision.

[Bloomberg]

Trump continues Amazon attacks, says it costs USPS ‘massive amounts’

President Trump is not backing down on his argument that Amazon financially hurts the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), tweeting on Tuesday that the mega-retailer costs USPS “massive amounts of money.”

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

The president’s strike at Amazon on Tuesday follows a series of tweets in which he criticized the company’s shipping arrangements with USPS.

“Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon,” the president tweeted Monday. “THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!”

The USPS does give Amazon a shipping discount because of the volume of packages it ships and has a deal with the USPS to ship packages on Sundays, but details of the arrangement have not been made public.

The accusation that Amazon is hurting the USPS has been disputed, with some fact-checkers saying that while the Postal Service is having problems, it is not because of Amazon.

Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has long been a target of Trump.

Bezos also owns The Washington Post, and Trump on Saturday accused him of using the newspaper as a “lobbyist” for Amazon. He has also often accused the Post of being “fake news.”

The Post and Amazon are two separate businesses and operate independently of one another.

[The Hill]

Trump keeps up Twitter assault on Amazon, this time criticizing its U.S. Postal Service contract

President Trump on Monday doubled down on his criticism of the U.S. Postal Service’s arrangement with Amazon, saying he would change how much the country’s largest online retailer pays in shipping fees.

“Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon,” he tweeted Monday morning. “THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed.”

The tweet marked the third time since Thursday Trump has lashed out against Amazon. The retailer’s stock was down 4.9 percent in morning trading.

Last week he attacked the retailer for paying “little or no taxes to state & local governments” and said the company uses “our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.)”

Two days later, he asserted the USPS loses an average of $1.50 on each Amazon delivery. “This Post Office *scam* must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” he tweeted.

Amazon collects local taxes in the 45 states that require it, although third-party sellers may have other arrangements.

Trump also incorrectly said The Washington Post is a lobbyist for the retailer. (The Post is personally owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon. The newspaper operates independently of Amazon.)

Amazon and USPS declined to comment on Trump’s tweet Monday morning.

The Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent federal agency, oversees the Postal Service’s pricing structure and reviews its contract with Amazon annually.

Amazon does receive a discount from the Postal Service, though the details of that arrangement have not been disclosed. An independent regulator reviews the contract every year to make sure it continues to be profitable for USPS.

Although Monday’s tweet was the first time the president implied he would try to change how much USPS charges Amazon, he has railed against its pricing structure in the past. In December, Trump attacked the company’s arrangement with the U.S. Postal Service and said the agency should raise the shipping rates it charges Amazon.

“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer?” he tweeted. “Should be charging MUCH MORE!”

A fast rise in parcel deliveries — many of them from Amazon — has helped offset some of the Postal Service’s losses in recent years. In 2017, USPS delivered 589 million more packages than it did a year earlier, amounting to an 11.4 percent growth in volume and $2.1 billion increase in revenue. (Mail volume, meanwhile, decreased by about 5 billion pieces, or 3.6 percent.) Overall, the Postal Service reported a $2.7 billion loss last year on revenue of $69.6 billion.

[Washington Post]

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