MasterPo says: This blog is about topics and issues that are of importance to me. I am not one of the countless blogging lemmings that are tripping over each other scurrying down the hill and off the cliff of blogging oblivion trying to write the greatest blog on the latest topic de'jour. Your comments are welcome.

September 29, 2011

The Postal Blues

(NOTE: The following is a guest post from a reader who wishes not to be identified. Edit for format only.)

It is no secret by now that the U.S. Postal service is deep in the red and getting worse fast!

I share the feelings of surprise others have expressed. Not surprised that it is happening but surprised it has taken this long to become so chronic!

I can speak about this from personal experience. I had worked at the USPS for 4 years – 3 as a letter carrier and 1 as a supervisor – until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. (In fact, after my first two weeks working at the Post Office I bought stock in FedEx and UPS!)

First, let me set the record straight on a few things.

Pundits and commentators lump postal workers in the same category as other unionized people in terms of “generous” pay and benefits. That is simply NOT true!

“Generous” is a matter of perspective. When I started in the USPS starting pay for a letter carrier was about $16/hr. If you live in Bumble Creek, Middle America that might be considered great pay. But if you live in or near a major city like LA or New York it’s not much (about $33,000 a year gross based on 40 hours). It is true that most letter carriers and other postal workers do work a lot of overtime at time-and-a-half but even that raises your pay to only $50,000 or so. Still good for a small town but not for an urban or suburban area. And hardly “generous” in my opinion. Even among the 20-30 year veterans of the Postal Service pay is only about $60,000-$70,000 base pay, perhaps $80,000-$90,000 with generous overtime. Still not bad but not the 6-figure pay often made out to be.

And just the other day I heard a pundit on some TV show describe the Postal pension as “generous”. That’s also NOT true!

In fact, the Postal pension system is very poor by comparison to pensions in other fields like teachers. When I worked at the USPS the first thing HR told us as new hires was NOT to rely solely on the pension! They STRONGLY advised us to contribute to the Thrift Savings plan which is basically a 401k plan. And even with the pension, at the time I worked there, I contributed about 5% to my pension account (it wasn’t 100% “free”).

The medical healthcare plan, disability plan, life insurance plans, etc were decent at best. But far from “generous” and certainly NOT cheap!

Truth where truth is deserved.

But here’s also another bit of inconvenient truth:

The sheer amount of waste, inefficiency, incompetence, slothing/laziness, gross mismanagement, fraud and theft in terms of time and milking the system that I saw as both a letter carrier and a supervisor is criminal!

The employees – letter carriers and clerks – know they basically can’t be fired. So once they pass their probation period they are in for life (the saying was “He’s a 30 year mortgage”). To fire someone was a long drawn out process of reviews, arbitration, reviews, more reviews, negotiation, etc etc. Not that I wanted to see anyone lose their job. But the fear of losing your job is a good motivator.

I saw a person come to work drunk and couldn’t be fired.
I saw a person leave the office without permission and disappear for a week but couldn’t be fired.
I saw a person just not show up at work for over a month and couldn’t be contacted by phone or mail (turned out he was in rehab!) and couldn’t be fired.
I saw a person admit to taking cash from the office petty cash for personal use and not be fired.
I saw a person come to work drunk and threaten to shoot fellow employees and couldn’t be fired.
I saw a guy tell the supervisor he wasn’t coming in the next day because he was working his second job and couldn’t be fired! (Imagine that – telling your boss you’re not coming to work because you have another job to go to!)
I saw a person get injured literally 2 days after completing their probation, get a doctors’ note they can’t perform heavy work, and now had a guaranteed 40 hours a week job with benefits but could barely do any real work!
Any time some new technology or new procedure, no matter how minor, was tried to be introduced people just refused to use it or obey and they couldn’t be fired.

Just a few examples of what I saw…

If you know you can’t be fired why do a good job? Why do the right thing? Why even come to work?

Upper management didn’t support lower management. Not an uncommon complaint among lower and middle managers. But, at least in my district, the Executive-in-Charge was truly a little Napoleon! He loved to make supervisors and Postmasters squirm in meetings and on conference calls. He would think nothing of transferring a supervisor or Postmaster to an office 30-40-50 miles away from their home! He would openly call people “stupid” and “asshole” in front of a wide audience their peers. Definitely not a Dale Carnegie graduate. By the same point, jobs at the district office were granted mostly, not on merit or even seniority, but on nepotism! At least half the people in the district office, especially among the higher level positions, were related to the Executive-in-Charge by either blood or marriage! Totally unethical at a minimum, probably illegal too, in any other business but apparently not at the Post Office.

And the unions, oh boy! The unions went out of their way to protect the real slugs while turning their backs to good workers. It truly did seem that the worse you performed the more the union was there for you while those few who really tried to do a decent job and be a reliable employee were marginalized and ignored by the union (but was still happy to take their pay as dues).

I can remember when the union local rep would come in for an “update” meeting. He’d always say something like this:

“Things are bad. Sales are down. Revenue is down. Don’t expect a lot from the next round of contract negotiations. We can’t promise anything. But thank God you have a union representing you! ‘Cause as bad as it is it would be much worse if we weren’t representing you!”

WTF?! You know the saying “With friends like that who needs enemies”?

In my opinion the USPS well deserves the losses they are taking and then some. No private company, even a unionized one, would survive a month run the same way.

September 25, 2011

The Loss of Dreaming

On a recent installment of the Jerry Doyle radio show (Doyle played head of security Mr. Michael Garibaldi on the wildly successful “Babylon 5” TV show – who knew he was a radio talk show pundit too?!) he discussed the loss of the American dream. Not a new topic. It’s often discussed in the context of is it still attainable, realistic, etc. You can find many websites and blogs that discuss it.

But in this article MasterPo wants to go beyond the usual discussion to a very fundamental problem. And that is, the basic loss of people even dreaming the American dream!

In other words, the American dream cannot be reached when people aren’t even dreaming about the dream anymore!

For several years now MasterPo has been part of a small local group comprised largely of 20-somethings, a few 30-somethings, and even a few late-teen-somethings.

Inevitably the issues of being young and starting out come to a head with drama in the group often dealing with work and earning money. This is where MasterPo is seeing the loss of dreaming the dream.

Universally, not a single one of the teens and 20-30-somethings shows any interest in the American dream! They show no interest in working hard to build a career and professional reputation, establishing a nest egg, putting down roots by buying a home (be it a private house or a condo etc), and just being part of the American community. All they do care about is Xbox, cars, and beer.

Worse, when MasterPo prods them about their hopes and dreams and ambitions for themselves in the future they are as empty as the beer cans after a Friday night! MasterPo doesn’t expect deep philosophical plans about their goals in business or research or even the arts (would be nice though). But these kids aren’t even expressing the generic “Someday when I’m a big business person” or “When I get older and become a successful ” dreams that was expressed at least when MasterPo was in high school (not that many years ago).

Now some readers are going to say that’s “normal” for youngsters.


If a 20-something can get out of their own responsibilities to themselves (much less to the American social community as an American) because they are a 20-something, at what age does reality kick in? Do you really expect when that 20-something turns 30 they get a birthday card with a reality check in it and say to themselves “I’m 30 now. I better get my tail in gear!”

Doesn’t happen.

Have we as Americans lost the sense of the American dream in less than a generation?!

How can we have a functional, much less successful and growing, America when the youth of today isn’t even dreaming about the dream in between rounds of whatever the latest Xbox game is?

If there is a loss of the American dream it isn’t because the dream is harder to achieve (which it is), but rather because more and more people especially among the youth just aren’t dreaming of the dream!

Dare to dream.

September 21, 2011

MasterPo Agrees with Ron Paul About Healthcare!

MasterPo Agrees with Ron Paul About Healthcare!

It’s no secret that MasterPo isn’t a huge Congressman Ron Paul fan.

While MasterPo does agree on some points like auditing the Federal Reserve, many of Ron Paul’s isolation and international policy views just aren’t real-world.

And in spite of his good stand on several issues he just isn’t electable.
But this article isn’t about what MasterPo doesn’t like about Ron Paul. Instead, it’s about what MasterPo does like about him!

Recently (as of writing this) at a Republican primary debate the moderator Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical question to the Congressman (paraphrased):

A 30 year old man who by his own choice has decided not to purchase healthcare insurance suddenly and unexpectedly becomes seriously ill. What should society do for him?

Congressman Paul’s answer in a nut shell: Nothing!

The man made his decision not to purchase healthcare insurance and now must live with the consequences, as extreme as those may be.

MasterPo 100% agrees with the Congressman!

Every action has a consequence. Every non-action has a consequence.

Insurance, as well as other activities of life, is about preparing in advance for things that can happen. No guarantees it will happen but that is why you decide to buy insurance (and other things) because of your own perceived judgment as to whether or not an event is likely to happen. If you deem it a rare or low risk, you do nothing and then have to suffer (yes suffer!) the consequences of not being prepared. Likewise, if you deem it a high chance and you spend the money to prepare but the event doesn’t happen, you don’t get a refund in life.

In this scenario the 30 year old made the conscious decision not to prepare for the possibility of illness (and injury) by not purchasing healthcare insurance. His decision. It is not society’s fault nor is it society’s responsibility to undo his poor decision making. If a private group like a charity wants to help him out that’s fine. But it is not up to society to now step in and catch him from his own bad or even foolish decisions.

If you say it is, then where does it stop?

Your home is robbed or burns down and you don’t have insurance. Does society owe you to replace it?

You had the ability to contribute to a 401k or IRA but didn’t. Spent the money on vacations and partying. Does society now owe you an old age income? (seems Social Security has become that)

And so on.

So where does it stop?
Who pays for it?
Is there enough money in the world to pay for it?

People are responsible for themselves.

September 17, 2011

Aspirations Of A Dark Suite

Recently MasterPo had yet another very troubling conversation.

At MasterPo’s workplace there is a lunch room with a TV. Typically during the day the TV is set to CNBC or MSNBC for financial news (or Fox for general news). A lot of small/personal investors work in MasterPo’s office.

This morning MasterPo had gone in to check the market. A co-worker comes in and starts to chat about the market. MasterPo asked if the co-work was aware that (as of writing this – it was finally extended late December 2010) it appears Congress is not going to extend the Bush tax cuts. The co-work said he wasn’t aware but it didn’t matter as we are part of the 98% of Americans who earn under $250,000 so we wouldn’t be impacted. MasterPo informed him they aren’t going to extend the tax cuts for anyone regardless of income level! Then added “Don’t you aspire to $250,000 or better?” The co-worker responded “When I get to that level then I will fight for those people.”

This is very sad!

Though, regrettably, not surprising in this day and age when “the rich” (since when was $250,000 “rich” anyway?!) are Public Enemy #1.

There is a saying: Being successful without recognition or reward is like relieving yourself in a dark suite – you get a warm feeling but no one notices.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the quest for increased income and wealth is the motivating inspiration for a large number of people’s willingness for taking on hard work. All well and good to say achievement, production and ‘helping people’ is the goal. But without proportional award that grows as your achievements grow there is nothing to aspire a great many people to in fact be creative and hard working. In that regard Gordon Gecko was right.

MasterPo is sure people are going to comment that doing well and producing is award itself. Definitely the feeling of accomplishment is needed. No one likes to toil away without someone saying “Good job!” at least once in awhile.

But don’t deceive yourself! No one who is honest with themselves is going to willfully seek out the added work, effort, accountability, stress and risk of striving without aspiring to greater and greater income. No one. Anyone who says the work is all that matters to them and not the money, if not already independently wealthy, is either a fool or a liar. Period.

On a greater societal scale it simply is amazing how many people care about the situation of their fellow man solely on the basis of something as superficial as how much money they earn.

Who is one person to say what another person should make?
Is this the America your parents dreamed of?

Thus is born out of the “entitlement society” for if someone has more than you it must be an unnatural imbalance brought by abuse and cheating of others, never by risk and hard work, and you are entitled to a growing share of their pie.

If more people concentrated on building themselves up rather than pulling down someone else we would be so much better off.

September 13, 2011

You Can’t Tax “The Rich” Today As If It Was 50 Years Ago!

Recently on Yahoo Finance’s Daily Ticker (formerly called Tech Ticker, wonder how much they paid a marketing guru for the new name?!) there was an article taking the stand that a weaker Dollar is good for the American economy and the Fed should do QE3 and beyond. MasterPo isn’t going to comment on the shear stupidity of this argument.

But as with many Yahoo Finance articles it is the reader comments that are worth noting. In particular on unnamed person commented in part quote:

“Start trying to balance the budget. Start now. Tax the rich at the rate of 50 years ago.”

Sadly, this isn’t a new idea. It’s a sentiment often expressed.

But, if we’re going to use the tax rates of decades ago let’s be complete.

Yes, taxes on “the rich” were highly 50-60-70 years ago.


There were also significantly more deductions, credits, write-offs, allowances, shelters etc. available too. So the actual amount of income taxed at these higher rates was much less than commonly thought.

Bringing make the tax rates of 50-60-70 years ago but without the same deductions etc. would result in a significant tax increase! And given the levels of income that today is considered “rich” MasterPo is sure quite a few people would get a shock to see now they are taxed as “rich” at these higher levels!

You can’t pull one man up by bringing down another.
Never happens.
Never will.

You end up with two people down.

September 7, 2011

September 11th – 10 Years Later

This 9/11 marks not just another passing year but an anniversary. It’s been 10 years since that fateful day in 2001. MasterPo worked in lower Manhattan off Wall Street at that time. The whole thing unfolded before my eyes. But this day isn’t about MasterPo. It’s about three things:

One – The 3,000 American civilians murdered on that day as they just went about living their daily lives. The mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and children of older parents all just living their lives. Total defenseless. Even the Japanese on December 7th 1941 had the decency to attack a primarily military target with at least the capability of defense.

Two – Reformation of the undeniable fact that there is evil in the world and that are evil people in the world. There are people who don’t really have a specific goal, a specific destination they want to attain in their actions. That kind of person at least has a chance to discuss issues with. But instead, as Michael Caine’s character of Alfred said in Batman: Dark Knight quote

“Some men can’t be reasoned with, can’t be bought. They just want to see the world burn.”

And similarly, a reformation of the undeniable fact that people like this are coming for us– you, your family, your children, your friends, your co-workers, your favorite TV and sports stars, et al. - as Americans just because we are Americans!

Some may actually believe their God wants them to kill us and will be rewarded for this. That’s hard to defeat with words.

Some may just want to kill and cause mayhem. Too much candy as kids?

But whatever the reasons this aspect of reality simply can not be glossed over with a white-wash of Political Correctness.

Three – Commitment to never ever forget! Almost immediately after 9/11 people began to push that day out of their minds. MasterPo isn’t just referring to the history revisionists and the PC crowd. Quite a few Average Joe’s seemed to forgot very quickly. It may be human nature, the preference of the human mind, not to want to recall unpleasant memories. But when these memories embody all the above and are still very real threats to these very same people who choose to forget that just isn’t sane.

There isn’t anything more to add on this solemn anniversary.

MasterPo leaves you with these videos as thought and honorable remembrance:

September 5, 2011

Courage: An Open Response to Glenn Beck

“Courage” has been a reoccurring theme of Beck’s for several months now. The courage to take a stand and do the right thing because it is the right thing even when the people around you (or the rest of the world) isn’t. The courage to do what is right even if you personal may pay a price for it (whether it be lose face in front of friends or co-workers, lose your job, lose something of value to you, etc).

During his TV show on Wednesday April 27th Beck showed three disturbingly gruesome videos:

1. A fight between patrons in a diner style restaurant (looks like a Waffle House or an IHOP but didn’t say) over syrup.

2. The beating of a woman in a McDonalds, reportedly because she gave another woman’s boyfriend a look the other woman didn’t like, to the point the victim lays on the floor having convulsions.

3. A man standing on the street outside a store in NYC, someone runs up to him holding a large revolver and shoots him twice point-blank.

Beck’s point is that no one out of all the people watching stepped up and came to the aid of the people involved.

1. In the syrup video patrons continue don with their meals as the melee ensues around them. A few people (employees?) eventually try to break up the fight but only half heartedly even though one of the fighters is clearly having the advantage over the other fighter (not to mention there are children around).

2. In the McDonalds video an employee tries tepidly to break up the fight but doesn’t succeed. When the victim is on the floor quivering with convulsions apparently brought on by the attack (whether the beating caused the seizure or she had an underlying condition already is unknown) no one comes to her help. Though there isn’t much you can do for someone having a seizure at least being there is a comfort.

3. After the man was shot (it was reported as a gang attack but mistaken identity (the wrong person) ) he is seen on the ground trying to get up but can’t. Then stops moving altogether.

Meanwhile people come out of the store to see what happened, see the man on the floor, and just stand around. No one tries to help the victim.

These aren’t entirely new scenarios. Events of people being hurt or victims of crime and no one help have been occurring in America since at least the late 60’s. There was the now famous (if that’s the right word) case of a woman being beaten and stabbed repeatedly over the course of several hours on the streets of a very middle class New York City neighborhood. She cried for help throughout the entire ordeal. Residence heard her cries but just closed their windows. That is considered a turning point.

There is also the famous case in the 70’s of a local news crew who stood by and filmed a man set himself on fire in a street corner in Atlanta yet did nothing. Finally someone came running over with a blanket to smother the flames.

MasterPo agrees with Glenn Beck that “humanity” is being lost in America today. And the trend has clearly accelerated of late.

But there is a reality that Beck needs to accept.

One word: Liability.

We have seen time and time again people trying to help, being Good Samaritans, and in fact helping people and saving lives but then getting arrested themselves! Or at a minimum later being sued for millions$$ by the very person (and/or their family) they tried to help.

In the videos he showed in each case yes someone could and should have stepped up to help. But there is great personal risk, not just of becoming a victim yourself, but of the liability. In the McDonalds video if someone had tried to help the convulsing woman that may have caused additional injuries. In the shooting video, suppose one of the bullets had punctured the man’s spine; If you rolled him over try clear his air way and try to put pressure on the wounds you may injure his spinal cord leading to permanent paralysis. In both cases you may have saved the victim’s life but can now be sued for injuries! “Good Samaritan” laws are only a defense, not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.

MasterPo acknowledges that is the point of Beck’s argument: To do the right thing even at the risk of personal loss because if we don’t help each other we fall apart as a nation and society.

Nevertheless, when the rubber meets the road it takes a great leap of courage in today’s society to risk all that for someone you don’t know.

Perhaps MasterPo has become the jaded, detached person Beck is railing about.

In MasterPo’s own defense there was one circumstance 10 years ago where MasterPo was present at meeting where high level people in the company were talking ‘smack’ about a co-worker who was killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11. MasterPo was disgusted and outraged! But kept quiet for fear of losing the job. It is a badge of shame MasterPo carries to this day.

To that extent, MasterPo will never be silent again.

September 1, 2011

Gold: A Misunderstood Metal

With the remarkable rise in the price of gold over the last 2 years (as of writing this – in spite of the recent pull back) as well as the apparent uncertainties, even declines, in more traditional icons of American economic prowess the yellow metal has once again come to the forefront of interest by both preppers and individual investors. Add to that the boom in ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) and it seems like “gold for the masses” is the order of the day. Consequently almost every preparation blog, book, and podcast devotes quite a bit of time discussing the use of gold (and silver) in a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event.

And most of them get it wrong.

In terms of preparing for an economic disaster they misunderstand the role of gold (and silver) in a preparation plan. In fact, one of the main arguments against buying gold – that being you can’t eat it - is closer to the real understanding of the purpose of the metal in a survival plan.



But the primary purpose of owning physical gold is not as a “universal currency” for if/when the dollar collapses. MasterPo highly doubt the supermarket will be accepting gold coins for groceries no matter what the American economy does. That is not to say some form of exchange or barter for gold won’t happen. It surely will. But that isn’t the main reason for owning gold.

The primary purpose for having physical gold is as a store of wealth in shaky economic times. Period.

It is true that if some calamity befell the entire world gold would probably be useless compared to more basic human needs like food. But the likelihood of such a worldwide disaster really is low. It would take something like a nuclear war or asteroid hit or other cataclysmic event for such to come to pass. A massive economic reorganization is a far more likely scenario in terms of national or global calamities. And as such, gold (and silver) will still be of value in whatever new currency systems come out from the aftermath.

And it is true that gold can go down just as easily as any other investment. Though to this argument MasterPo asks: For gold to return well below the $1,000/oz level the dollar would need to soar and the economy to grow soooooo much as to be unrealistic. In the longer term maybe. But not today, tomorrow, and not likely next week.

The exact value of that gold after such an economic event is unknown. But it will surely be far more than whatever the prevailing paper fiat currency is (was) just prior to the event. And that is its function: To store wealth for conversion into a more exchangeable form later.

If you are fortunate there may even be an opportunity to grow your wealth through gold ownership in the times of trouble. But that too should be seen as an alternate benefit of owning gold and not the primary reason.

History proves that physical gold is a viable means of storing wealth when transitioning from one economic reality to another. Far better than whatever paper currency is the normal at the time. The gold mined by the ancient Egyptians, Mayans, Greeks etc still holds value today. Even without the historical context, just melted down it has a high value as a metal.

MasterPo is not suggesting you should be selling everything you have and buy gold. Certainly if it’s a matter of paying the mortgage or buying a gold coin, pay the mortgage first! The future is not at all certain, in spite of recent national and global events. But just as you may be compiling stores of personal supplies, a store of gold or silver is important too so long as you understand the main purpose and not have unrealistic expectations of what you are buying it for.