TIME Government

Americans Actually Love the Post Office

United States Postal Service clerks sort mail at the USPS Lincoln Park carriers annex in Chicago
John Gress—Reuters 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.

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.
Alex Wong—Getty Images 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.

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 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

White House at midday
Allan Baxter—Getty Images White House at midday

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

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

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

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

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-CAMPAIGN
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images 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.

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

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.

TIME France

France Says Conditions Not Right to Deliver Warships to Russia

A Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is docked in the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire, Aug. 20, 2014, Saint-Nazaire, France.
Mehdi Chebil—Polaris A Mistral-class amphibious assault ship is docked in the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire, Aug. 20, 2014, Saint-Nazaire, France.

Minister says decision surrounds Russia's involvement in Ukraine's civil war

France said Thursday that it would not deliver either of the warships Russia has ordered because its conditions had not yet been met.

Russia ordered two Mistral class amphibious warfare ships in 2010. The first was due to be delivered this year, but President Francois Hollande said it would not happen because of Russia’s involvement in the civil war in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

“The conditions today are not met to deliver the Mistral,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told RTL radio. “What are these conditions? It is that in Ukraine we are in a situation that is becoming more normal, that allows for things to cool down.”

On Wednesday, Russian news agency RIA quoted Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin as saying that Russia had been invited to take delivery of the first ship on Nov. 14. He also said the second ship would be floated on the same day.

[Reuters]

Read next: Russians Re-write History to Slur Ukraine Over War

TIME 2014 Election

Democrat vs. Democrat Down To Wire in Silicon Valley House Race

Barack Obama, Mike Honda
AP President Barack Obama is greeted by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., as the president arrives in Los Altos Hills, Calif., where he will attend a fundraising event Wednesday, July 23, 2014, during his three-day West Coast trip to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

California hopes the non-partisan, open system will lead to a more functional Congress

Don’t look now, but a moderate might get elected to Congress next month from California.

In California’s 17th congressional district, which encompasses much of Silicon Valley, two Democrats are on the ballot on Nov. 4. One is seven-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, 73, and the other 38-year-old former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna, who is trying to unseat his fellow Democrat.

Why wasn’t this battle decided in California’s June 3 primary? Honda and Khanna both “won” that primary: they both gained enough votes to advance to the general election and under California’s new rules—this is the second cycle the system has been in place—it doesn’t matter that they are both Democrats. In fact, seven out of California’s 53 congressional districts have two candidates from the same party competing in the General Election.

More than 30 years ago, California led the country in closing its primaries. But that, coupled with redistricting that gerrymandered safe seats, led to increasingly partisan politicians more afraid of a primary challenge than of losing to the other party. In other words: politicians more likely to blow up the government than make deals across the aisle.

So in 2010, Californians voted to take the parties out of redistricting and opened up its primary process in the hopes of electing people who didn’t think compromise is a dirty word, or at least seek to work with their opponents instead of vanquishing them.

Whether this political experiment has worked remains to be seen. But if any place in the country understands disruption and reinvention, it’s Silicon Valley. And the Honda/Khanna race, while troubling fratricide to most of the party, carries undertones of California’s intent: moderation.

Khanna spent a whopping $3 million to come in a distant second in the primary, which Honda won by 20 points. Honda has the endorsement of much of the establishment, including President Obama, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and the California Democratic Party. Khanna enjoys the backing of some deep-pocketed Silicon Valley tycoons, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a campaign team drawn from Obama’s presidential bids.

Khanna burned through another $1 million post primary and by the end of September had just $218,000 cash on hand compared to Honda’s $965,000. “We were always the underdog going into this thing,” Khanna tells TIME. “But we will have enough money to compete on Election Day. We’ve built a strong campaign on a lot of retail politics.”

Khanna has been attacking Honda as ineffectual and unwilling the reach across the aisle to get things done. During the debate Khanna mocked Honda’s “bipartisanship.” Honda has been attacking Khanna as a Republican in Democratic clothing. “He sent out a mailer labeling me a liberal,” Honda tells TIME. “I am a Democrat. He is?” Honda has also been promoting his seniority and his ability to deliver for the district, including helping to secure a BART train extension to the area. And, yes, he has touted his “bipartisan” credentials working with Republicans on legislation and initiatives.

Polls show the race in a dead heat with just three weeks to go until Election Day. But just the fact that the race is a debate over which candidate would be more functional, pragmatic and less dogmatic is already a victory for state reformers.

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