TIME Government

Americans Actually Love the Post Office

United States Postal Service clerks sort mail at the USPS Lincoln Park carriers annex in Chicago
USPS mail clerks sort packages in Chicago, November 29, 2012. A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans think the post office is doing a good or excellent job despite its financial difficulties. John Gress—Reuters

Poll finds that the beleaguered USPS is the nation's most-liked government agency

Complaining about the post office is an American pastime, like griping about Congress, or whining about the DMV. Who, in their right mind, actually likes dealing with the post office?

A lot of people, it turns out. According to a new Gallup survey, 72% of Americans say the U.S. Postal Service is doing an excellent or good job. That puts the USPS ahead of 12 other government agencies, including the FBI, the CDC, NASA and the CIA. And the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to think highly of our much-maligned courier: 81% of 18-to-29-year-olds rated the post office’s job as excellent or good, while 65% of those over 65 said the same thing.

So what accounts for the post office’s surprising popularity? Age, for one.

(MORE: The Postmaster General Hangs Up His Mail Bag, With a Parting Shot at Congress)

As the volume of letters has declined, the USPS has evolved to become as much a courier of packages as it is a way to send and receive first-class mail. In the last few years, the post office has not only expanded its delivery of parcels (it recently began a partnership with Amazon to deliver on Sundays), but it also often delivers packages for FedEx and UPS in what’s called “last mile” delivery, which are shipments to residents that private carriers don’t service. That means millennials interact less with the USPS at its worst — the interminable lines at understaffed post offices — and more from the comfort of home, where the mailman is the person at the door with their new shoes from Amazon or their iPhone from the Apple store.

The post office is also the one agency that Americans actually see doing its job each day. You see postal employees on their routes. You can see post offices open. When’s the last time you saw an FDA worker inspecting your local restaurant or the Federal Reserve Board in action as it plotted the end of quantitative easing?

Not that the latest survey should make the post office rejoice. The faltering institution has run deficits every year since 2007 and its aggressive efforts to adapt to the digital age have not yet been enough to offset the substantial drop in mail volume and onerous Congressional mandates to fund retirees. But it never hurts to have the public on your side.

TIME Government

U.S. Postal Service Selects First Female Postmaster General

COO and Executive Vice President of U.S. Postal Service Megan Brennan listens to questions from the media after a news conference on Sept. 15, 2011 at the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington.
COO and Executive Vice President of U.S. Postal Service Megan Brennan listens to questions from the media after a news conference on Sept. 15, 2011 at the headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Megan Brennan joined the service as a letter carrier in 1986

The United States Postal Service has selected its first-ever female Postmaster General, the agency announced Friday, following the upcoming retirement of its current head.

Megan Brennan, who rose from a letter carrier in Pennsylvania in 1986 to chief operating officer in late 2010, will take over for Patrick Donahoe, who previously announced he would step down in February after 39 years with the service.

“She is highly regarded throughout the Postal Service and among the broader community of our major customers and business partners—and rightly so,” said Mickey Barnett, chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, of Brennan. “As the head of operations, Megan has led important initiatives to provide Sunday delivery services, improved tracking, and greater predictability and reliability.”

USPS has around 491,000 employees, roughly 220,000 fewer than a decade ago, as it continues to transition into an increasingly paperless age. While USPS operating revenue increased $569 million this fiscal year, the agency suffered a $5.5 billion net loss.

TIME Government

U.S. to Grant Refugee Status to Some Children

U.S. Vice President Biden speaks with law enforcement officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 19, 2013 in Washington.
U.S. Vice President Biden speaks with law enforcement officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 19, 2013 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. government will launch a program in December to grant refugee status to some minors under the age of 21 who live in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and whose parents legally reside in the United States.

U.S. officials say parents can ask authorities free of charge for refugee status for their children in the Central American countries, which are plagued by poverty and vicious gang violence. The program does not apply to minors who have arrived in the U.S. illegally.

Vice President Joe Biden is set to announce program later Friday at the Inter-American Development Bank, where the presidents of the three Central American countries will present a plan to stem child migration from their countries.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the program’s formal announcement, said that children deemed refugees will be able to work immediately upon arrival in the U.S., opt for permanent residency the following year and for naturalization five years later. They did not say how long the process of receiving refugee status will take.

An official said the Central American children that meet the requirements will be part of a quota of 4,000 people from Latin America receiving refugee status each fiscal year. The U.S. quota of Latin America refugees currently consists of Cubans and Colombians.

Applicants who don’t meet the requirements will be evaluated to see if they can be admitted conditionally under a non-permanent migratory status that allows them to work temporarily in the U.S.

The program aims to be a legal and safe alternative to the long and dangerous journey some Central American children take north to reach the U.S. and to reunite with their parents here. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied child and teenage migrants showed up at the U.S. border earlier this year.

Biden’s announcement comes as President Barack Obama is poised to act soon to unveil a series of executive actions on immigration that will shield possibly around 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally from deportation, according to advocates in touch with the White House.

Biden was not expected to announce any additional funds to support the Central American initiative, which will focus on the communities of origin of many of the children heading to the United States, officials said. Central American officials have not provided the expected cost of the plan. Officials said U.S. cooperation with Central America currently amounts to $600 million a year.

On Wednesday, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez said the plan includes measures to stimulate economic growth, improve public safety, improve government agencies and provide better education and training opportunities.

TIME Security

Report: Feds Using Airplanes to Target Criminal Suspects’ Cell-Phone Data

Cessna taxiing
Wellsie82—Moment Open/Getty Images

Devices on planes said to simulate cell towers and trick phones into reporting data

The Justice Department is using equipment on board aircraft that simulates cell towers to collect data from criminal suspects’ cell phones, according to a report Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the operations, reports that a program operating under the U.S. Marshals Service is said to use small aircraft flying from five different airports around the country. Devices aboard those planes called “dirtboxes” essentially trick the suspects’ cellphones into thinking they’re connecting to legitimate cell towers from big wireless carriers like Verizon or AT&T, allowing the feds to scoop up personal data and location information about those targeted.

However, the report details those devices could be gathering data from “tens of thousands” of Americans in a single flight, meaning nonsuspects are likely to be included in the data roundup. The new report could shed some light on earlier reports of mysterious “phony” cell towers that security researchers have found around the country.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal

TIME Government

Report Details Secret Service Mishaps in White House Breach

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White House at midday Allan Baxter—Getty Images

One of several blunders, according to a Homeland Security report

An intruder was able to climb the White House fence and enter the premises in September because of a number of mishaps, like faulty alarm systems and officers not even spotting him, according to a summary of a Homeland Security report Thursday.

Members of Congress were briefed on the report Thursday, according to the New York Times, which obtained its executive summary. The report is said to detail the security lapses that allowed Omar Gonzalez, who is charged in the Sept. 19 breach, to enter the White House. Among them, an officer who was stationed with an attack dog on the North Lawn was busy talking on a personal cell phone in a van and had not seen the man climb the fence.

Julia Pierson, who was the Secret Service director at the time of the incident, later resigned.

Read more at the New York Times

TIME Health Care

Millions Fewer Americans Will Enroll in Obamacare Plans Than Predicted

The home page for the HealthCare.gov on March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
The home page for the HealthCare.gov on March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

Through the law’s new marketplaces in 2015

Expectations for how effectively the Affordable Care Act would impact the U.S. uninsured rate were high—too high in fact. That’s according to an analysis released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services that says millions fewer Americans will get private health insurance through the law’s new marketplaces in 2015 than was previously estimated.

The department now says it expects between 9 and 9.9 million Americans to enroll in private health plans through state and federal exchanges by next year, down from 13 million, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had predicted. The revised projection is due to deeper analysis on how long it takes for new federal programs to “ramp up,” according to HHS, which said the new estimate includes about 6 million Americans who will re-enroll in plans through the exchanges, as well as new customers who buy coverage there. Some 7 million Americans are enrolled in exchange plans today.

“The next group of people will be harder to reach,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at a Center for American Progress event on Monday. Open enrollment through the ACA’s insurance exchanges is set to begin Nov. 15 and last until Feb. 15, 2015. Last year’s enrollment period was plagued by major technology snags, with the federal insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov and some run by states largely inoperable at the outset. The snafus embarrassed President Obama’s Administration and cast doubt on HHS’s ability to manage a large, complicated new program.

To avoid similar issues this year, Burwell said HHS and the contractors who are building and operating HealthCare.gov have been testing the system for five weeks. Burwell said tech experts are testing how many users the systems can handle at once and whether various parts of the computer programs work seamlessly together. Security testing is also part of the process, Burwell said, in addition to a simpler application for coverage that reduces the screens a new consumer must navigate from 76 screens to 16. “Things are simpler, faster and more intuitive,” she said.

Still, the secretary warned that performance perfection in the exchanges is unlikely. “We will have outages. We will have downtime,” she said.

TIME Government

Lynch Emerges as Lead Attorney General Candidate

Loretta Lynch
Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, speaks during a news conference in New York, Monday, April 28, 2014. Seth Wenig—AP

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch has emerged as the leading choice to be the next attorney general, but President Barack Obama does not plan to make a nomination until after a trip to Asia next week.

People with knowledge of his plans say Obama has decided against pushing for confirmation in the lame duck and instead will leave it up to the Republican-controlled Senate next year.

The White House would not comment on whom Obama plans to name. But the people with knowledge of his thinking say Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney for Eastern New York, has risen to the top of his list in the past couple of weeks. If selected, she would be the first black female attorney general. Florida’s Janet Reno was the first woman attorney general.

TIME

Economy Adds 214,000 Jobs in October, Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.8%

Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014.
Jobseekers wait to talk to a recruiter at the Colorado Hospital Association's health care career event in Denver, Oct. 13, 2014. Rick Wilking—Reuters

Unemployment rate drops to lowest level since July 2008

The Labor Department released last month’s employment figures Friday morning, and the report shows that the U.S. labor market has continued to post steady gains while some stubborn weak points still exist. Here are some key points from the October jobs report.

What you need to know: October was the 56th straight month of private-sector job gains in the U.S., and monthly gains have averaged about 227,000 so far this year. The job market has been steadily improving, which is good news. However, on the downside, hourly wages have struggled to make gains and the number of long-term unemployed is still almost 50% higher than it was before the recession hit.

The Federal Reserve, which had continually worried that the labor market is not as healthy as it hoped nearly seven years after the start of the Great Recession, eased up on its view following its meeting last week. The Fed issued this cautiously worded update on its outlook:

“On balance, a range of labor market indicators suggests that underutilization of labor resources is gradually diminishing.”

The big numbers: The U.S. labor market added 214,000 jobs in October, falling shy of economists’ estimates of 235,000 jobs, according to Bloomberg data. The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly to 5.8% —its lowest level since July 2008 — compared to an anticipated 5.9%. Private employers added 209,000 jobs.

Hourly wages ticked up by 2 cents last month, while the number of long-term unemployed was little changed at 2.9 million.

What you may have missed: October’s gains keep the U.S. labor market on track for its best annual performance since 1999. That year an average 265,000 Americans found jobs every month. The October job additions are a pick-up from the recent three-month average of 224,000 jobs.

The continued growth comes amid global worries of slowing economic growth, although there’s little indication that it has spilled over into the U.S. labor market.

“It all speaks to the story that the U.S. can sustain pretty strong growth even when there are concerns about growth slowing in places like China and the euro zone,” said Jeff Greenberg, a senior economist at JP Morgan Private Bank in New York.

Some of the biggest job gains last month went to the professional and business, and healthcare sectors, which added 37,000 and 25,000 jobs, respectively. Retail hiring has also accelerated as stores geared up for the holiday season ahead, and service-sector employment, which increased by 12,000, is at a nine-year high, according to a note from Goldman Sachs economist Kris Dawsey.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

Read next: Let’s Fix It: Blame Unemployment on the Color Blue

TIME faith

This Election Proves That Our Country Is Stuck

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Supporters listen as US President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally for Tom Wolf, Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor, at the Liacouras Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 2, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

With each election, Americans become less confident that their leaders will make America more just, equal and free

Our country is stuck. We’ve lost sight of what government should be. And even when we do agree on problems that need to be addressed, special interests too often confound even the broadest compromises and the most basic functions of government.

On Tuesday, Americans delivered control of the Senate to the Republican Party, yet few believe—on the right or left—that this election will create the change so many long to see. With each election, Americans become less confident that their elected leaders will be able to do the things that will make America a more just, equal and free society for everyone.

Through the corrosive influence of money in politics, the corrupt process of gerrymandering electoral district lines, and racist voter ID laws, our government is becoming less reflective of the people it represents and more reflective of the special interests of those with special access to our elected leaders. Our democracy is broken and nothing short of a people’s movement for deep, systemic change will fix it.

The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated against young African American and Latino men in this country is abominable. It is cruel and sadistic, and undergirding it are myriad, malevolent forces that are destroying communities of color and poor communities across the country. And it’s getting worse everyday.

Moreover, the privileges and fears attached to whiteness and cultivated in white communities fuel it and stop many from standing against it. This reality directly contradicts every deep tenet of our Christian faith, and if we do not challenge it, we are complicit in it. We are called to celebrate, not destroy, human life. We are required to liberate not imprison the oppressed and to love and nurture, not to annihilate, our young people.

As a Christian, I read Romans 13 and believe that government has the responsibility to “not [be] a terror.” Yet again and again, unarmed African Americans fall victim to excessive use of police force.

Millions of other Americans are suffering and dying in poverty, due to the egregious sin of income inequality. In the country that has produced the most wealth in human history, too many families are having to choose between putting food on the table for their children and paying the electric bill during cold winter months.

We, as people of conscience, and we, the people, through our government, have a duty to take on root causes of racism, poverty and economic injustice. In the 72nd Psalm, King Solomon prays that he may use his authority to “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” It is our duty as people of faith to take leadership in our communities to solve the problems that are keeping so many people from flourishing.

As frustrated as I am by the shortcomings of our democracy, I am hopeful that out of our disappointment will spring forth activism rooted in a faith bigger than all of us. Though hope for just legislative solutions seems dead, I remain firm in my belief in a God of resurrection. Using the fierce and grounded (and biblical) model of love and non-violence, I am hopeful that Americans of all faiths can band together to work for real change on the issues plaguing us.

Nothing less than future of our democracy is at stake.

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, where she also holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Burkina Faso

What You Need to Know About the Unrest in Burkina Faso

Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, Oct. 31, 2014.
Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, Oct. 31, 2014. Joe Penney—Reuters

President Blaise Compaoré stepped down Oct. 31 after 27 years in power

The West African nation of Burkina Faso grabbed rare international headlines this week as thousands of people amassed in its capital, Ouagadougou, to protest plans to keep their longtime leader in office. After days of unrest that included setting Parliament ablaze, overrunning state TV broadcasters and deadly clashes with security forces, President Blaise Compaoré stepped down Oct. 31 after 27 years in power. Army Chief Gen. Honoré Nabéré Traoré quickly announced he would fill the void and said elections would take place within a year.

What are the basics about Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso, which is densely populated with more than 17 million people and ranked by the United Nations as one of the world’s least-developed countries, shares borders with six countries: Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

The country gained independence from France in 1960 and would suffer from five military coups in the first few decades that followed. It was known as Upper Volta until 1984, when it was renamed Burkina Faso, meaning “land of upright/honest people.”

Who is Blaise Compaoré?

Compaoré served as minister of state under President Thomas Sankara, who ruled from 1984 until 1987. Compaoré seized power when Sankara and 12 other officials were killed in mysterious circumstances by a group of soldiers.

He subsequently won four presidential elections, most recently in November 2010, although only 1.6 million Burkinabés (less than a tenth of the population) voted. This latest term was supposed to be Compaoré’s last, but Parliament was considering a bill this week to remove the constitutional limit, igniting the masses. (The President’s plans to extend his term in office in 2011 also led to the popular protests.)

Why does his step-down matter?

Despite his low international profile, Compaoré was a key ally of the U.S., helping in the fight against al-Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sahel and the Sahara by allowing the Americans to operate a base in Ouagadougou. France, as a former colonial power, also has Special Forces troops based in the country.

Burkina Faso’s geopolitical position also meant that Compaoré held notable diplomatic influence in the region and frequently acted as a mediator in West African conflicts, including those in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. A report from the International Crisis Group in July 2013 said that the collapse of Burkina Faso’s diplomatic apparatus would “mean the loss of an important reference point for West Africa that, despite limitations, has played an essential role as a regulatory authority.”

The report added that Compaoré “has put in place a semi-authoritarian regime, combining [democratization] with repression, to ensure political stability,” yet suggested this system was both unsustainable and unlikely to allow for any smooth transition after his departure.

The toppling of Compaoré’s government is likely to bring a new challenges to the West by creating even more instability in the region and, potentially, a space in which extremist groups could flourish.

The White House expressed deep concern over the deteriorating situation this week and urged “all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains.” France, which welcomed Compaoré’s resignation, also called for calm and urged all actors to exercise restraint.

So what’s next?

Reflecting on the week’s events, an official from the influential opposition party Movement of People for Progress (MPP), Emile Pargui Pare, told AFP: “October 30 is Burkina Faso’s Black Spring, like the Arab Spring.” Other commentators have also compared the demonstrations here with the Arab Spring, the wave of revolutionary protests and clashes that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Back in 2011, Burkinabés held up signs comparing Compaoré to the ousted Tunisian ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The political events in Burkina Faso are likely to resonate across the continent, where several national leaders are due to step aside soon, including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who has hinted at extending his term as President. And on Wednesday in Benin, nearly 30,000 opposition supporters demonstrated in the streets of the country’s largest city, Cotonou, to push for local elections that were due in March 2013.

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