Letters to the Editor
The Choking Game
To the Editor:
We have been grieving the loss of Gabriel for two months. Now we can stop grieving and carry on with our lives.
The problem is, Gabriel is gone and won't be returning. Another problem is that while UCLA has "never heard of [the choking game]", many young teens have. News reports about the choking game have recently been carried by USA Today, ABC News' 20/20, CBS News, CNN News, and Fox News.
Thankfully, someone is trying to alert parents about this horrible ï¿½gameï¿½ so that they might be able to keep their children safe. Does no one at UCLA Medical Center listen to, watch, or read the news?
After Gabe's death, many of my friends and co-workers told me that they used to choke each other when they were kids. Gabe's twin brother told us that he and Gabe learned how to choke themselves from another adolescent. Fully one-half of the eighth graders in Gabe's class have either heard of or tried the choking game themselves. Six seventh graders at a middle school in Nampa, Idaho were recently caught 'playing' the choking game. Security cameras videotaped them choking each other in a school hallway. Gabe was smart, an honor roll student. This risk-taking behavior is out there, and parents need to know about it.
Many heartfelt thanks to Paul M. Warner and the Canyon News for sensitively and accurately reporting Gabe's story. Gabe was very much loved by all his family. We will miss him forever.
Congressional Postal Reform: What's In It for Consumers?
By Don Soifer
With a major Postal Service reform bill now having passed the House of
Representatives, debate over the legislation among big business, big labor and bean counters from various branches of government is focused on Senate and White House approval.
Lost amid the political wrangling is the fact that the new law does little
to fix the most fundamental problems that affect post office consumers:
Exorbitant spending on labor, flat productivity, and murky accounting
practices that make it impossible to tell whether the Post Office is
unfairly hiking prices on Aunt Minnie to give discounts to big mailers.
The U.S. Postal Service has an oversized workforce of about 700,000 career employees who earn, on average, more than 25 percent more than their private-sector counterparts. That premium is one reason nearly 80 percent of USPS spending goes toward labor, which compares to about 50% at private delivery companies.
American consumers pay twice for this excess: Once as letter mailers,
forbidden by the USPS monopoly from taking their business elsewhere, and again as taxpayers. In addition to being exempt from most taxes, the USPS has received $27 billion in federal appropriations since 1970.
The legislation offers no relief on labor issues. A serious reform plan
would have strengthened USPS management's power to negotiate with unions. Instead the bill explicitly states that no existing labor privileges, such as no-layoff rules, shall be affected.
The bill capitulates to unions even further by mandating that one slot on the USPS Board of Governors be filled by someone with unanimous backing from organized labor. How about a seat for someone representing the consumer?
Ken McEldowney, the executive director of Consumer Action, a San
Francisco-based nonprofit that vigorously supports underprivileged
consumers, would be a good choice. Testifying before a Presidential
commission, he pointed out that the Postal Service's forays into non-postal commercial ventures "involved large expenditures with near-zero revenues." Those expenditures, he feared, were being shifted onto ratepayers in the form of stamp price hikes.
That's the kind of voice consumers need on the Board of Governors - and the kind you might have expected from a bill that declares, "the Governors shall represent the public interest."
In addition to failing on labor, Congressional lawmakers passed up an
opportunity when they rejected a proposed amendment from Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), one of Congress' free-market champions. It encouraged using pilot programs to test alternative methods of providing postal services, such as by allowing local postmasters to subcontract delivery routes to private companies.
It's a shame that the new bill is so ineffective on these crucial matters,
especially since it caps 25 years of Congressional efforts to repair the
The silver lining may be that many of the Postal Service's bottom line
problems can be fixed without legislation. Jim Miller, a veteran champion of free-market reforms, has been installed as the Service's new Chairman of the Board. Independently of Congress, Postal Service managers already have some of the tools to make consumer-friendly improvements.
Miller and Postmaster General John Potter have a powerful opportunity of their own to make major strides to cut waste and prevent future stamp price increases. Of 35 specific reform recommendations made in the Report of the President's Commission on the USPS, a full 17 could be implemented with no Congressional action whatsoever.
They include measures like "developing an appropriately-sized workforce" by encouraging retirement; improving procurement practices; and maximizing the use of outsourcing to the private sector.
Any one of these steps could have a serious cost-saving impact.
The Senate is not likely to vote on the postal bill until lawmakers return
from the summer recess, and there's no telling when, or if, the President will endorse it.
In the meantime, there's no reason the USPS can't move ahead with
cost-saving reforms. With the legislation as weak as it is, passage is at
any rate almost irrelevant in terms of actually improving the Postal
Service. American consumers need USPS managers to move ahead on reform.
Don Soifer is Executive Director of the U.S. Consumer Postal Council, an association of mail users dedicated to promoting sensible reform and competition within the postal system.
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