Mr. Bates vs the Post Office Review

Mr. Bates

This is a difficult one for me to review objectively because the subject matter triggers me greatly. It tells the story of Alan Bates and hundreds of British subpostmasters fighting a power with limitless resources, the government. The entire story in Mr. Bates is everything Libertarians worry about in a government agency.

Basically, the Post Office installed faulty software in all their branches. The faults resulted in many subpostmasters showing accounting shortfalls. The government, along with the software developer, hid the faults, blamed the subpostmasters and sent them to jail, took their money, and largely ruined their lives.

Eventually one subpostmaster, the titular Mr. Bates, managed to raise enough ruckus to bring the attention to the public. It only took twenty-five years. Yep, this whole mess started in 1999 and isn’t fully resolved to this day.

Sadly, my job today isn’t to lambaste the British Post Office and government, it’s to review a television series, and that is what I will do.

Lots of Characters

Mr. Bates starts at the beginning of the disaster when Alan Bates loses his post office because of accounting shortfalls for which he refuses to accept responsibility. He asks for audits, software checks, and what not but is denied.

We then start to meet some of the other subpostmasters encountering the same difficulties. This leads to the biggest problem with the series, there are a lot of characters. It’s not really anyone’s fault and I think they did an admirable job of consolidating people and keeping the total down to a reasonable number. That being said, there are a lot of stories going on at the same time and the complexity of weaving them together is no easy task.


I found the acting in Mr. Bates to be largely top-notch with Toby Jones in the lead role particularly strong. He shows his determination to see the truth prevail but also his fatigue over the course of the decades long fight. His wife, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh is also quite strong in her role.

Ian Hart as Bob Rutherford is a particular standout although, as I mentioned, the acting is excellent throughout.

Cinematography, Music, and the Rest

All of the supporting features of the show were well done and believable. I was particularly impressed with the music which didn’t try to overwhelm us with emotions but simply enhanced the sometimes-traumatic story. All good work in my opinion.

The Story is the Thing

Mr. Bates is not a big budget, high-production, action movie. The horribly miscarriage of justice that all those subpostmasters suffered is the main star. It’s such a vile story, such a little guy against the government story, that you don’t really need anything else. I commend them for keeping it fairly simple because it could have gotten overly complex and tried too hard to manipulate the viewers emotional. It just told the story and told it properly.


Since the broadcast of Mr. Bates vs the Post Office, public awareness of the situation rose dramatically and reignited the legal proceedings, which as mentioned, continue on today. In that regard I find it impossible not to consider the show to be a spectacular success regardless of anything else.


I found myself immersed and oft-times riveted to the drama of the story. I was never bored although I suspect an audience looking for high-octane drama might find it slow-moving and somewhat dull.

A fantastic series I think well worth watching and not only because I’m a Libertarian.

Tom Liberman

Lance Armstrong sued by the Government

Lance Armstrong Sued by GovernmentHere’s a story that makes me want to weep. It’s all bad.

Lance Armstrong is being sued by the government over money the Postal Service gave him, his teammates, and his team during the period between 1998 and 2004. For this financial boon the team was called the U.S. Postal Team during the Tour de France. Armstrong won the race every year from 1999 to 2004 although these victories have now been voided after he admitted to using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).

The government claims it did not receive the value of the services for which it bargained. The idea of advertising is that a business spends money to promote their goods and sees an increase in sales.

Golly, let me try to pick a place to start my rant. It’s not easy. Lance? Lance’s teammates? The government lawyers? The Postal Service?

I’m no fan of Armstrong. Not because he cheated, they all did, but because of the way he ruthlessly bullied and hurt people to keep his secret. His teammates rode along in silence saying nothing until the gravy train came to a halt and only then did they come flying out eager to tell stories. The Postal Service paid $40 million dollars to a cycling team to advertise? What were they advertising? The Post Office isn’t trying to make a profit. They provide a service to citizens. If people want stamps they buy them. The money goes to pay for this service. The Post Office shouldn’t be competing with any private business. They should never advertise. Meanwhile the lawyers who thought this one up can’t possibly think that the publicity for the then heroic Armstrong wasn’t value for the investment. It most certainly was as documented by their own records.

I don’t want to get too deeply into the Post Office but it’s the perfect example of a working tax. People purchase stamps to mail letters and packages. Those letters and packages are delivered by the government. The tax directly supports the service for which it is paid. That’s the way all taxes should be. But, I digress.

Armstrong is not a nice man but he delivered precisely on the investment the Post Office made in him. He won races, he garnered publicity, he wore their colors, and undoubtedly promoted their services. What’s the issue? He cheated and was caught later? They haven’t paid him since 2004. He revealed his lies in 2012. What are the possible damages?

If it turns out my old girlfriend, still love her, great woman, didn’t really like me can I sue to recoup the dinners I bought? I had fun at those dinners. I enjoyed her company.

What if my kitties were just pretending all those years to enjoy the snuggling? Can I sue to get the money I spent on food and vet care back?

As a baseball fan can I sue to get back the money I spent (ok, my mother the season ticket holder spent) on all those years Mark McGuire was hitting home runs for the Birds on the Bat? Did I retroactively not enjoy the games?

This is not only ridiculous but it sets and awful legal precedent. Now, if Armstrong had failed to try during those years, if he had taken the money and not put forward the effort to win, then a lawsuit makes sense. Then the government didn’t get its money’s worth.

I don’t even think this is a money grab. This is someone trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of Armstrong to bolster their own image. Golly, you go Post Office, get that bad man.

No winners here, nothing to see, please return to your lives.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (buy it, seriously, it’s good, $2.99, it’s a bargain)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Post Office Financial Woes

US Postal ServiceIt’s a little after the meaningless default but I wanted to talk today about the financial situation the U.S. Post Office finds itself in and, more importantly, the political dividing line that it has created.

Basically, the Post Office owes the Federal Government $5.5 billion and they are unable to pay it. What’s important to understand is that this is not money they owe to their employees for work, or money they owe contractors for building, repairing, and working on existing post offices. This is money they owe the federal government. That in itself should cause you to raise a few questions.

Why does the Post Office owe the federal government anything?

First lets examine what they do. They employ half a million people (including many veterans), deliver over 600 million pieces of mail to over 140 million places. They operate 31,000 post offices and over 218,000 vehicles. Suffice it to say that it’s a big operation. These operations are funded by stamps. People pay to have packages and letters delivered. The Post Office is not funded by the Federal Government or taxes collected by that entity.

Now, why does the Post Office owe the Federal Government? We have to put on our time travel hats back to the mid 1980’s in order to fully understand this situation. After the Carter presidency the United States was in a recession and the Reagan administration’s solution to this was stimulus. We spent money and this in turn raised our national debt from $800 billion to $2.4 trillion in eight years. This dramatic increase caused a great deal of concern, well-deserved I might add. In order to mask this precipitous increase the Federal Government instructed the Post Office to start to pre-pay their pension rather than deducting salary from worker’s checks.

As the debt rose the amount of pre-pay increased until it reached $115 million a week. This represents a 75 year in-advance pension payment. 75 years. That’s not a typo. The post office fully funds retirement for employees who won’t be born for 3 years, that is, if they work until they’re 72. All this to mask the true debt.

The pension payment was based on the growing employment of the Post Office and the growing U.S. population which seemed to go hand in hand. But then something important happened. Email.

The ever-increasing prevalence of email and instant messaging has reduced the Post Office’s workload, and revenue, by about 30%. They responded by eliminating many jobs and increasing productivity. Now, we have a collision here. The Post Office pays pension on an estimate of an ever-growing workforce while shrinking their actual workforce. So, as of now the Post Office has overpaid their ridiculous 75 year pension payments by $75 billion. So, not only is their pension payment insane to begin with but they’ve overpaid that madness by $75 billion and now they are going to default on a $5.5 billion payment to the entity that owes them at least $75 billion. How does that make any sense?

Meanwhile the leaders of the Post Office have repeatedly asked Congress for permission to close post offices and reduce delivery days only to be denied. They are denied for three reasons all of which should anger every small government, libertarian out there. The Post Offices are generally named after Congress members. The Post Offices serve as a place to reward loyalists with a job of Postmaster. And most insidiously, if the Post Office is forced to borrow money from the Treasury rather than work on a break even basis the banking industry makes huge amounts of money on interest on those loans. Yep. Greed, paying off those who finance the campaigns, corruption, graft, massive egos, you name it and it’s part of the problem.

Now, despite the loss in first class mail revenue the post office has offset this loss with increases in package delivery for small businesses engendered by internet shopping.

If the Post Office was allowed to close offices, reduce delivery days, had not been robbed of $100s of billions, and had not been forced to take out loans and pay them back with interest they would be more than solvent. They would likely be profitable. Even if they were not they would have a nest-egg to pay off their debt as they restructured.

My big question is why has the fiscal woes of the Post Office split the electorate with Democrats largely on the side of the Post Office and Republicans against it? It doesn’t make sense to me. The Post Office is not an example of big, wasteful government. It was explicitly authorized by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution of the United States. If it had just been allowed to do its job without Big Government interference it would be delivering mail to your house and making a profit all the time, or at least breaking even.

To me the demise of the Post Office should be a rallying cry to all Americans. It was interference from the federal level that ruined it, a Republican talking point, and it was a shining example of government working well to the benefit of all citizens, a Democratic talking point.

Now, it lies in ruins because of greed.

Don’t write your Congress person. Don’t protest at the mall. Don’t spout off to all your friends. Vote for someone who offers realistic solutions to the issue. That’s how we change things.

Tom Liberman