The handwriting on the wall of the local post office is not hard to read: the United States Postal Service, established at about the same time as our country, 1775, is probably on its way out. I'll miss it.
But the numbers are grim: even though a recent study by the Government Accounting Office found increasing efficiency in mail delivery, the USPS is facing a $7 billion loss for 2009. Mail volume is down and some 700 local post offices are slated for closure.
If it occurs, citizens of a certain age will regret the end of postal service. Plenty of Americans are old enough to remember when the average home had neither a television nor a telephone, and contact with the outside world was maintained largely through mail service and the newspaper, which was often delivered by the mail carrier.
A safe way for a top-level American official to disappear from the public spotlight, without actually appearing to hide out, was to arrange a fact-finding trip to Africa. The media would ignore the trip and the absence while the official could bulk up his resume with high-minded thoughts about the Third World.
But Hillary Rodham Clinton seems to have broken that mold.
Video of her dancing with the Masai and at a Nairobi nightclub are on the Internet, and she really broke through the clutter with a teeth-clenched response to a mistranslated question.
Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a "death panel." Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.
Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:
Q: Does the health care legislation bill promote "mercy killing," or euthanasia?
Q: Then what's all the fuss about?
A wise and practical man once said that it is all right to stand on principle if the principle you're standing on has a good foundation, otherwise the consequences may be more than you can bear, particularly in politics. That is exactly the dilemma Republicans may face after voting overwhelmingly not to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some 31 GOP Senators cast their lot with the most conservative elements of the party and the National Rifle Association, which regards her as an enemy and threatens to downgrade their opinion of those senators who voted aye, in declining to support the nomination although the passage was never in doubt. Nine Republicans joined the majority Democrats in overwhelmingly approving her.
In reality there was nothing terribly unusual in so many of the minority voting against a nominee of a president from the opposing party. Of late that has been the norm rather than the exception. The previous nominee, Samuel Alito, proposed by George W. Bush, was confirmed in 2005 despite the loss of 40 Democrats. A year earlier 22 Democrats voted against Bush's choice for chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, who received 78 votes for easy confirmation. Normally, these votes are like one's numbers on the SATs, no one asks your score after you're admitted. It is enough to know you made it.
Attorney General Eric Holder is poised to appoint a criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged CIA abuses committed during the interrogation of terrorism suspects, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Citing current and former US government officials, the newspaper said Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be "narrow" in scope, focusing on "whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized" in memos issued by the administration of former president George W. Bush that liberally interpreted anti-torture laws.
Current and former CIA and Justice Department officials who have firsthand knowledge of the interrogation files contend that criminal convictions will be difficult to obtain because the quality of evidence is poor and the legal underpinnings have never been tested, the paper said.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally requested that Congress raise the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit on Friday, saying that it could be breached as early as mid-October.
"It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations," Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.
A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.
Now we know the enemy in the health-care debate, the really, truly despicable people, the worms who ought to be stuffed back in the dirt they crawled out of. It's ordinary citizens who have had the temerity to show up at meetings of their representatives in Congress, asking in so many words -- "What in the name of heaven are you planning to do with our lives?"
Imagine that your two best friends are British and Canadian tobacco addicts. The Brit battles lung cancer. The Canadian endures emphysema and wheezes as he walks around with clanging oxygen canisters. You probably would not think: "Maybe I should pick up smoking."
While that response would be highly irrational, the fact that America even is considering government medicine is equally wacky. The state guides healthcare for our two closest allies: Great Britain and Canada. Like us, these are prosperous, industrial, Anglophone democracies. Nevertheless, compared to America, they suffer higher death rates for diseases, their patients experience severe pain, and they ration medical services.
Look what you're missing in the U.K.:
The percentage of U.S. homeowners who owe more than their house is worth will nearly double to 48 percent in 2011 from 26 percent at the end of March, portending another blow to the housing market, Deutsche Bank said on Wednesday.
Home price declines will have their biggest impact on prime "conforming" loans that meet underwriting and size guidelines of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the bank said in a report. Prime conforming loans make up two-thirds of mortgages, and are typically less risky because of stringent requirements.
What does the country really need? That is the question of the hour in this the summer of our discontent.
Thomas R. Marshall, vice president of the United States under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913-21, once made the mistake of answering this question.
Apparently a likable man, he was a progressive governor of Indiana in his time, and he had a sense of humor, which always brings the chance of trouble.
Unfortunately, it was his fate to be remembered for one impish remark: "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar."