The Postal Service and its last-minute defenders

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Democratic leaders are rightly angry because the U.S. Postal service might not be able to deliver mailed-in ballots in time to be counted in the 2020 election.

Postmaster-General Louis DeJoy has cut overtime pay and taken mail sorting machines out of service, even though he acknowledges this will delay mail deliveries.

This is supposedly an economy measure, but a Monmouth University poll says 72 percent of Democrats say they might vote by mail, while only 22 percent of Republicans say so.  DeJoy’s policy just might change the outcome of the 2020 elections.

The reason the U.S. Postal Service is in dire straits in the first place is that Congressional leaders, both Democratic and Republican, have deliberately made it so.

The only reason Democratic leaders are concerned now is their perception that Postal Service failure will affect their chances of winning this year’s elections.

Don’t get me wrong.  All their outrage is fully justified.  But if they hadn’t been willing to put the Postal Service on the slide to privatization in the first place, while selling off its prime real estate at bargain prices, there wouldn’t be a problem now.

Here’s the back story, as reported by the great Matt Taibbi.

During the Bush years, the U.S.P.S. was put on the “high risk” list by the General Accounting Office, headed at the time by a future Pete Peterson foundation CEO named David Walker who would later come out in favor of privatizing the post office. The GAO recommended cuts and other measures to address the “rapidly deteriorating” financial situation of the U.S.P.S.

But when an analysis by the Office of Personnel Management was released in November, 2002, it turned out the U.S.P.S. had a “more positive picture” than was believed. The U.S.P.S. was massively over-paying into its retirement fund, headed for a $70 billion surplus.

Then in 2003 the Postal Pension Funding Reform Act was passed, which among other things forced the U.S.P.S. to pay the pension obligations of employees who had prior military service.

A few years after that, in 2006, the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” passed with overwhelming support in both houses, forcing a series of incredible changes, the biggest being a requirement that the U.S.P.S. fully fund 75 years worth of benefits for its employees.

The provision cost $5.5 billion per year and was unique among government agencies. “No one prefunds at more than 30%,” said Anthony Vegliante, the service’s executive vice president, at the time.

The bill also prevented the post office from offering “nonpostal services” as a way to compete financially. This barred it from establishing a postal banking service, but also nixed creative ideas like Internet cafes, copy services, notaries, even allowing postal workers to offer to wrap Christmas presents.

Coupled with the pre-funding benefit mandate and other pension changes, this paralyzed the post office financially, making it look ripe for reform.

By 2012, there were calls for the U.S.P.S. to eliminate 3,700 post offices (a first step toward eventually closing as many as 15,000) and 250 mail processing centers. [Senator Bernie] Sanders, along with other Senators with large rural constituencies like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill, managed to change the bill and save a lot of the mail processing centers.

The Senate that year also cut the amount of required pre-funding for benefits and began refunding the U.S.P.S. for about $11 billion in overpayment for retirement costs.

A few years after that, in 2015, the Post Office Inspector General issued a blistering report about CBRE, the company that had served as sole real estate broker to the U.S.P.S. from 2011 on.

The report found that CBRE had been selling and/or leasing post office properties at below-market prices, often to clients of CBRE – a company chaired by Richard Blum, the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

This chronic problem had a financial impact on the Postal Service, and would have become a much bigger problem had the U.S.P.S. been forced earlier on to sell off a massive quantity of infrastructure through that broker, as originally hoped.

The thread running through all of these stories was that panic over the financial condition of the U.S.P.S. was often a significantly artificial narrative, caused by a bipartisan mix of stupidity, greed, and corruption.

This high-functioning civil service organization, which provided tremendous value to the public through everything from subsidized news deliveries in the Pony Express years to the well-maintained public meeting places built in remote rural locations, has not had real backers in either party for most of the last thirty or forty years.

None of this means the Trump-DeJoy story isn’t serious.  It just means that Trump is not the first person to try to gut the U.S. Postal Service.

Source: Reporting by Matt Taibbi

The situation with voter suppression by Republicans is much the same as with the crippling of mail delivery.  It has been going on for years, but the Democratic leadership only gets concerned right before national elections.

If the U.S. Postal Service ceased operations, Federal Express and United Parcel Service could not replace it.  In 2015, the latest year for which I could find figures, the USPS delivered 142.6 billion pieces of mail, of which only 54.9 billion were first-class mail.  In the same year, FedEx delivered 2.9 billion pieces and UPS 4.7 billion.

As a job creation measure, if for nothing else, Congress should fully fund the USPS to hire enough workers so that all the mail can be delivered on time without overtime pay.

Also, keep first-class mail rates low.  This, too, is important to citizens in an age of lock-down and to the economy in general.

LINKS

Trump’s War on the Post Office and the Census Bureau by Melvin Goodman for Counterpunch.

The Goodfellas Scheme to Destroy the Post Office by David Sirota for Too Much Information [Added 8/21/2020]

The Press Cries Wolf by Matt Taibbi.

Trump Donor’s Firm Got Big Postal Service  Payout by Matthew Cunningham-Cook for Too Much Information [Added 8/20/2020]

How Our Postal Rates Measure Up to Other Countries by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

A decade of facts and figures by the U.S. Postal Service.

FedEx vs. UPS: Comparison Fact Sheet by iDrive Logistics.

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