Posts Tagged ‘Postal Service’

Matt Taibbi on the one-party press, etc.

March 12, 2021

The Sovietization of the American Press by Matt Taibbi on TK News.  “The transformation from phony ‘objectivity’ to open one-party orthodoxy hasn’t been an improvement.”

HBO’s docuseries Allen v. Farrow: A shameful, vicious, McCarthyite attack on filmmaker Woody Allen by Joanne Laurier for the World Socialist Web Site.

Louis DeJoy Is Killing It by Casey Taylor for New York magazine.  “While Biden dithers, Trump’s minion wrecks the postal service.”

“Deaths of Despair” Are Rising – It’s Time to Define Despair by Bruce Bower for Science News.  “Scientists investigate whether despair is distinct from mental disorders.”

Sabotage of Postal Service can risk lives

August 21, 2020

A number of people on my neighborhood association list-serve report problems with their mail delivery, including not getting medications and pension checks in a timely way.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recently took a lot of mail-sorting machines out of service and stopped overtime work, which he admits will slow down mail deliveries.  Delays in delivering medications can risk lives.

Some e-mails blame our local post office staff, but this is something that only happened in the past month or two and I don’t know of anything that has changed there at that time.

One of the under-reported aspects of the Trump administration is how he and his crew have undermined the normal workings of government.  We see this in Trump’s undermining of efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.  Now we see it again in his support for DeJoy’s policy.


USPS slowdown delays delivery of life-saving meds by Christina Farr for CNBC.

Postal changes delay mail-order medicine for vets by Hope Yen for the Associated Press.

It’s Very Hard to Rebuild a Bridge Once It’s Torn Down by Jason Kottke for

Why I Love the Post Office (And You Should, Too) by Mindy Isser for Current Affairs.

The Postal Service and its last-minute defenders

August 19, 2020

Click to enlarge.

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.


The passing scene – October 4, 2015

October 4, 2015

Roger Millikin: The Man Who Launched the GOP’s Civil War by Jonathan M. Katz for Politico (hat tip to naked capitalism)

Roger Millikin, a right-wing textile magnate, was a driving force in transforming the South from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and the Republican Party from the party of Lincoln into the party of Strom Thurmond, Jessie Helms and Trent Lott.

If not for him, or someone like him, Rick Perry might still be a Democrat and Elizabeth Warren might still be a Republican.

The Invisible Poverty of ‘Poor White Trash’ by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

I never use expressions such as “redneck” or “white trash.”  The word “redneck” originally to poor white farmers who worked in the hot sun in long-sleeved shirts.  It was a term used by educated people to express their contempt for manual labor and lack of schooling.  The term implies that poor white people are more racist than affluent white people, which in my experience has not been the case.

One Day After Warning Russia of Civilian Casualties, the U.S. Bombs a Hospital in Afghanistan by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack).

Bubbles Always Burst: the Education of an Economist by Michael Hudson, author of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Debacle Inc.: How Henry Kissinger Helped Create Our “Proliferated” World by Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman.


The passing scene: March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015

When a Summer Job Could Pay the Tuition by Timothy Taylor as the Conversible Economist.


When I attended college in the 1950s, any young American could earn enough working at a full-time summer job, and a part-time job during the school year, to pay tuition at a state university.  The USA is generating just as much wealth per person as it was then, so there is no inherent reason why that shouldn’t still be possible.

Wrong-Way Obama? by William Greider for The Nation (via Truthout)

The world economic situation is very much like it was on the eve of the Great Depression of the 1930s.  World leaders need to work together to create jobs, and to write down debt that is a burden on economic growth and never going to be paid anyway.  The Transpacific Partnership Agreement is the exact opposite of the kind of international agreement that is needed.

Who Owns the Post Office? by Mark Jamison for Save the Post Office (via Angry Bear).

The Founders of the United States didn’t think of the Postal Service as a business.  They thought of it as a means of binding the nation together.   Benjamin Franklin, once a postmaster, would have been shocked by closing of post offices in small towns because they didn’t generate enough traffic.

How Parents in One Low-Income Town Are Raising Hell to Save Their Schools by Alan Richard on Alternet.

School teachers will tell you that the key to better schools is parents getting involved.   Parents in a small town in Mississippi have figured out how to make that work.

Peasant Sovereignty? by Evanggelos Valliantos for Independent Science News.

A recent study of nine European countries is the latest study to confirm that peasants and small farmers are more productive than large mechanized farms based on industrial agriculture.  If decision-makers are concerned about feeding the world, they should be thinking about how to get land in the hands of hard-working peasants who have little.

Turning Japanese: coping with stagnation by Roland Kelts for The Long+Short.

Japan is considered a failure by some because its economy isn’t growing.  But the Japanese economy and culture work well for the Japanese.  We Americans could learn something from them.

The Postal Service is not a business

November 25, 2014

Mail delivery is a Constitutional function of government (Article I, Section 8) and Pew Research Center found it was the most highly-regarded of 13 federal government agencies mentioned in a poll.  Yet the Obama administration and Republicans and Democrats in Congress seem determined to dismantle it.

Postal CarrierCongress imposed requirements, such as funding pensions 75 years in advance, that make it difficult for the Postal Service to compete.  But the deeper question is whether the Postal Service should “compete” at all.

There is no need for a government agency to provide services that private companies such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express provide perfectly well.  The reason the Postal Service is needed is to provide mail service for isolated rural communities and poor communities that the private companies don’t serve, and to provide backup in case the private companies falter.


If Congress doesn’t act in the next month, it could be the end of the Postal Service as we know it by Kira Lerner for Think Progress.

Why Congress Should Not Get Out of the Way of the Postal Service by Mark Jamison, retired postmaster, for Angry Bear.

The most popular areas of government are shedding the most workers by Drew DeSilver for Pew Research Center.

It’s the people’s mail that will be slowed, workers say by Alexandra Bradbury and Diane Krauthamer for Labor Notes.


Public employment fails to keep up

October 14, 2014


My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me links to articles with the charts shown above, both from the Economic Policy Institute, whcih the seriousness of the current attack on the public sector and the decline of public employment.

Public employment, unlike in previous economic recoveries, is still depressed, especially at the state and local level.  In and of itself, this creates a drag on the whole economy, just like job losses in any other category.

And after a certain point there aren’t enough public employees left to do their jobs adequately.   Teachers with too-large classes teach less effectively.  Firefighters with too-long shifts and too-small crews fight less effectively.  Nurses with too many patients may not be able to keep track of them as they should.  Public roads and public utilities aren’t maintained.

While there can be featherbedding in public employment, this is not the situation now.  Public services in many places are in dire straits.


How to discredit government

May 27, 2014

There is a tried and true way to prove that government can’t do anything right.

You campaign successfully for office.  Then you deny the government agencies you’ve targeted sufficient funds to do the job (as with the Veterans Administration) or add requirements they can’t meet (as with the US Postal Service) or appoint incompetent managers (as with FEMA under the Bush administration).  Sit back and watch your victims struggle.   Give the predictable failure as a reason for abolishing the program or turning it over to for-profit business.

This is as old a technique as the Biblical story of Pharaoh ordering the Hebrew slaves to make bricks without straw.


Let’s revive post office banking

February 7, 2014

Senator Elizabeth Warren and others want to revive postal service banking.  It’s a good idea.  Many big banks don’t want to bother with small depositors, and poor people without bank accounts spend an estimated 10 percent of their incomes on check cashing services, payday loans and other services just to get access to their incomes.

postoffice-bank39The idea is that they would be able to deposit cash or checks at their local post offices, and then withdraw funds with a passbook or maybe a debit card, all without a charge.  Some supporters propose free or cheap checking accounts, payday loans and international money transfers (the latter very important to immigrants).

The United States had postal savings from 1911 to 1967.   In the days before federal deposit insurance, Americans trusted the post office more than private banks, and rightly so.  Many bank depositors lost their savings after the 1929 financial crash, but the postal savings accounts were safe.  Use of postal savings faded after creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 1933, and banks after World War Two began offering higher interest rates on savings – 3 percent instead of 2 percent.

According to Wikipedia, many other countries also have post office banking, including Britain, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, China, India, Sri Lanka, Israel, South Africa, Kenya and Brazil.

The Inspector General of the U.S. Postal Service estimated that 68 million Americans have no savings or checking accounts.  Many of them live in ZIP Codes without banks or bank branches, or only one.  He estimated that these Americans spent $89 billion in 2012 for check cashing and similar situations, which comes to about $2,400 per family.  They might well have paid just as much or more if they had accounts in regular banks, in charges and fees for overdrafts, having bank balances fall below a certain minimum and so on.

It is tempting to see banking services as a solution to the Postal Service’s financial problems.   I think this would be a mistake.  Big banks do not provide affordable services to poor people for a reason.  It isn’t profitable.  There are few if any instances in which government made a profit providing a service where private business could not.   The only justifiable reason for government to undertake to provide a service is that we, the people, have decided it is a necessary public service.

It is also tempting to propose a long list services the postal service could provide.  I think it would be best to start with a basic, no-frills service in which people can deposit cash and checks, and access them with passbooks or maybe debit cards, and see how that works.   It is best to be sure you can walk before you try to fly.

Many people have remarked that it is expensive to be poor.  Your cost of living is higher if you’re chronically short of cash.  Post office banking wouldn’t solve all the extra problems of the working poor, but it would help.


Why Turning Post Offices Into Banks Would Be Win-Win by Ed Mathews for TruthOut.

Postal Banking: Maybe Not So Crazy After All by Adam J. Levitin for The American Banker.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

Who will get that Postal Service pension fund?

October 21, 2013

PO_picketPO_picketThe U.S. Postal Service operated at a net loss of $4.95 billion last quarter.  But it would have made a profit if not for the payment of $5.13 billion to the Retiree Health Benefit Fund.

In other words, the Postal Service would be making a modest profit if not for the absurd requirement that it fund employees pension benefits for 75 years in advance.  I don’t see any reason for such a requirement except to make the Postal Service fail.

When and if the Postal Service does go bankrupt, what becomes of that pension fund?  I’m pretty sure the money will not be used for the benefit of jobless former postal employees.

Mail delivery is a function of government specifically mentioned in the Constitution.  It is a public service that should be continued.

I do have a good guess as to what will become of the Post Service’s prime real estate.  It already is being sold off at bargain prices to private developers.


A 49-cent postage stamp is still a bargain

October 7, 2013


Click to enlarge.

Even with a 3-cent increase, the price of mailing a first-class letter is cheap, if you adjust for inflation.  And no comparison of past and present costs means anything if you don’t adjust for inflation.

Click on Even With 3-Cent Hike, Postage Still Cheap by Historic Standards for the source of the chart and background information from U.S. News and World Report.

Links for your weekend browsing 6/7/13

June 7, 2013

Here are links to articles that I found interesting, and I think you might find interesting, too.

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Julian Assange.

The founder of Wikileaks reviewed The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt, executive chair of Google, and Jared Cohen, former aide to Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton and now head of Google Ideas.   He said Google epitomizes the death of personal privacy and the shift toward authoritarianism.

The section on “repressive autocracies” describes, disapprovingly, various repressive surveillance measures: legislation to insert back doors into software to enable spying on citizens, monitoring of social networks and the collection of intelligence on entire populations.  All of these are already in widespread use in the United States.  In fact, some of those measures — like the push to require every social-network profile to be linked to a real name — were spearheaded by Google itself.

Student Loans as Medieval Indentures

types of debt[1]

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Dave Dayen writing for Salon points out that U.S. student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion.  It has exceeded credit card debt for some time.  Unlike ordinary debt, student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and are virtually impossible to refinance.  Dayen said people now collecting Social Security are still paying on their student loans.  It is a terrible drag on the economy.   Indebtedness keeps young people from buying homes, buying automobiles, starting businesses or getting jobs based on what they love to do.  But the problem is not just the student loan system.  It is the lack of affordable education and the lack of decent jobs for people with high school educations.

Scam Alert! Press Sleeps Through Great Post Office Fire Sale.

The Postmaster General is selling off Postal Service property, much of it prime downtown real estate, at bargain prices.   It is a great deal for the buyers and a bad deal for the public.   Maybe this is why Congress has imposed unusual financial burdens on the Postal Service, such as funding retirement 75 years in advance, and refuses to allow the Postal Service to take normal business steps to stem its losses.

Why Does Eastman Chemical Fear for Its Reputation?

The Washington Spectator reports on how Eastman Chemical, a Kodak spinoff, paid scientists to write journal articles saying its baby-bottle plastic is safe.   There was a time, 30 or so years ago, when I would have presumed Kodak executives were above such conduct.  Maybe they were, then.

This Is Your Brain on Coffee.

Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times says academic research says that moderate amounts of coffee—four or five ordinary cups a day, or one Starbucks drink—are good for you.  I’m glad to think that, because I’ve never weaned myself from my coffee addiction.  I hope and presume that none of these studies was paid for by the coffee industry.

Links for weekend browsing 5/31/13

May 31, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting, and you might find interesting, too.

Our American Pravda by Ron Unz.

The publisher of the American Conservative writes that many important news stories are ignored by the major U.S. newspapers and broadcasters, including the mystery of the 2001 anthrax attacks, evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam and charges by an FBI whistleblower of a high-level espionage ring.  Ron Unz says you need to use the Internet to find the real news.

Postal service is on its last legs, with little help in sight in the Los Angeles Times.

OC&LpostofficeAs a government corporation, the U.S. Postal Service has the worst of both worlds—a requirement to make a profit, but no freedom of action to do the things necessary to make a profit.  Even so, the USPS might be able to survive if not for the requirement that it fund retirement benefits 50 years in advance—far longer than the USPS is likely to be in existence, unless things change.

At Universities, Too, the Rich Grow Richer by Lawrence Wittner.

Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, received $2.9 million in salary for the 2011-2012 academic year, the year he was forced to resign in disgrace over the Penn State pedophile scandal.   He is an example of how state universities reflect the U.S. trend to huge compensation packages for top executives, wage stagnation for middle-level workers and a growing number of low-paid temporary workers (adjuncts) at the bottom.

Why is the FBI helping a monstrous dictator? by Ted Rall.

A cartoonist and syndicated columnist asks why the FBI has arrested an opponent of Uzbekistan’s corrupt and hated dictator, Islam Karimov, who has massacred his own people and literally boiled opponents alive.  Karimov was so odious that the Bush administration severed relations, but the Obama administration restored the connection, because of Uzbekistan’s strategic location and Karimov’s help in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

If the Postal Service goes under…

February 19, 2013

Unless something changes, it is only a matter of time—maybe a very short time—before the U.S. Postal Service goes out of business.  The USPS has all the hallmarks of a failing business.  It is cutting back on service, letting employment fall by attrition, driving its remaining employees to work harder, and resorting to short-term expedients to keep going.

When and if the Postal Service fails, I predict the following things:

  • Winter-Weather-Ohio_Gree_20110201083920_640_480An uptick in the U.S. unemployment rate.  The U.S. Postal Service employed 528,458 people in 2012, the lowest number since 1978 and down from a peak of  797,795 in 1999.  For comparison, General Motors employed 91,000 before filing for bankruptcy.
  • Rate increases, service reductions or both from Federal Express or United Parcel Service.  Both companies rely on the USPS to fill gaps in their service.
  • A sell-off of the Postal Service’s assets—buildings, vehicles, computers and much else—at bargain rates.  The Postal Service doesn’t keep track of the market value of what it owns.  Its purchase cost for its land and buildings was $27 billion, but much of the its real estate holdings are in prime locations in the center of town, and undoubtedly worth many times the original price.

Postal CarrierMail delivery is one of the functions of government established by the U.S. Constitution.  There is no good reason why it can’t continue.  One problem is the mandate that the Postal Service fund the retirement benefits of employees 75 years in advance—some of whom may not be of working age before the USPS is defunct.  No private business would ever assume such a burden. While this mandate has been temporarily eased, the larger problem is that, although Congress in 1970 mandated that the Postal Service be self-supporting, it did not grant the Post Service’s managers the same authority that corporate managers have to set rates and determine what services to offer.  So it has a mandate to compete, but in handcuffs.

So-called conservative Republicans in Congress have along sought to abolish or privatize the Postal Service because they oppose public service on principle.   I give them credit for at least fighting for their principles, which is more than I can say for the majority of the so-called liberal Democrats, including President Obama, who do not stand up either for their principles or their core supporters.

Click on You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service for a fuller report by Dave Johnson for Alternet.

America’s bargain postal rates

May 1, 2012

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones looked at the new bill enacted by the Senate and noticed one thing missing—a increase in postal rates sufficient to cover costs.

Take a look at countries around the world that have smaller volumes of mail than us: they all charge higher postage rates. They have to. And as volumes keep declining in America, we’re going to need higher rates here too. Right now, a first-class equivalent stamp runs 75¢ in Germany, 72¢ in Britain, 82¢ in France, 98¢ in Switzerland, 97¢ in Belgium, and 63¢ in the Netherlands. There’s no way that we can stay at 45¢ as volumes decline and pretend that somehow everything will be hunky-dory.

But allowing the price of a stamp to go up is apparently even more of a political taboo than closing rural post offices. I suppose Democrats are afraid of annoying granny and Republicans are so intent on busting the postal carriers union that they don’t like the idea of anything that brings in more revenue. We are ruled by idiots.

via Mother Jones.

Postal rates are set by an agency called the Postal Regulatory Service.  Under a 2006 law, the price of first-class mail stamps, periodical delivery and other services in which the USPS is “market dominant” can be increased only by such amount as is necessary to keep pace with the rise in the Consumer Price Index.  The USPS is free to increase prices of services in which it is “competitive,” such as priority mail or commercial package delivery.

My impression is that the Postal Service’s main problem is an excessive requirement pre-paying pensions.  The bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate eases that requirement, saving the Postal Service $5 billion a year and allowing it to reclaim $11 billion in excess payments.  Whether it will survive the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is another question.

But Kevin Drum makes a good point.  Our so-called “snail mail” is a real bargain.   It’s one respect in which our government service appears to surpass foreign governments.  Why get rid of it?

Click on Rearranging the Deck Chairs at the Postal Service for Kevin Drum’s full summary of the bill.

Click on Senate approves bill to help United States Postal Service for the Los Angeles Times’ report on the bill.

Click on In praise of the U.S. postal service for my earlier post on the Postal Service.

The attack on universal service

April 10, 2012

Most of us Americans, down through history, have felt that there should be no upper limit on what an individual can achieve nor (which is different) what an individual can honestly acquire.

Along with that, we have had another idea–that there are certain things that everybody should have, regardless of who they are.   We Americans were pioneers in the idea of free, universal public education.   We have public library in which everybody, regardless of ability to pay, can borrow and read a book.   We have public highways which anybody can use.  The U.S. Postal Service provides affordable mail delivery to all Americans, no matter where they live or hard they are to get to.    Historically our regulated utilities – telephone, electric and gas – were expected to provide a basic affordable service to all customers in their area.  For a time all or almost all states provided affordable or even free college education to everybody who was able to do college work.

In short, there is no ceiling in American society over how high you can rise, but there is a floor under certain things, so that everybody has access to certain basic resources.

I was talking recently with my letter carrier about how the idea of universal service is under attack.   The U.S. Postal Service is burdened with a requirement that it fund its retirement system 75 years ahead–something no other organization of which I know has to do.   Without this requirement, the U.S. Postal Service would be self-sustaining.  Now it is being operated as if it were a corporation in decline, like Eastman Kodak Co. in its last days.

The requirement was imposed by people in Congress who do not believe in the ideal of universal service.   They think that what you get should depend on your ability to pay or, if you are a child, on the ability of your parents to pay.  The same impulse, in my opinion, is behind the current attack on the public school system.  If the move to privatize public education is carried to its logical extreme, then the quality of your education would depend on the economic class into which your parents are born (even more than it is now).

The deregulation of public utilities in the late 1970s and early 1980s was based on the theory that the benefits of competition outweighed the benefits of guaranteeing everyone access to energy and communication.   The problem with that is that investment in public utilities requires planning on a much longer-term basis than the average individual investor is likely to entertain.   In the old days, electric and gas utilities were required to have enough reserve capacity to provide for the maximum foreseeable demand plus a substantial margin for error.  This is no longer required, and incentives for short-term profit are not a substitute for this requirement, in my opinion.

I remember reading in my local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, that when a public water supply was first proposed for Rochester, N.Y., many wealthy people, who could afford potable water for themselves, objected to being taxed to provide a universal service.  Only when it became clear that impure water was a source of infectious disease, and that infectious disease did not respect income levels, did they agree to support a public system.

I think the objections to universal service are often based on that kind of attitude.  Of course there are limits to what can be provided.  Reasonable people can differ as to what these limits are.  But I think I am individually better off, not worse off, when others have access to  knowledge, communication and necessities of life.

The Postal Service and its enemies

December 6, 2011

The U.S. Postal Service yesterday announced a downsizing of service.  It will close more than 200 mail processing centers, which will delay many first class mail deliveries for at least a day.

Up until now more than 40 percent of first class mail has been delivered the following day, 69 percent within two days and 99 percent within three days.  I’d say that’s a bargain for 44 cents (or even 45 cents after Jan. 22).  Under the change, according to the Associated Press, 51 percent of first-class mail will be delivered within two days and “most of the remainder” in three days.  Periodicals will take up to nine days.

Mail-order businesses, such as L.L. Bean and Netflix, will be hurt.  They can shift their business to Federal Express or United Parcel Service, but those businesses rely on the Postal Service to fill gaps in their coverage.

The Postal Service has been losing money for five years, even since Congress imposed a requirement that it fund employee retirement five years in advance.  I believe this requirement is due to a right-wing ideology that opposes government providing a universal service to all Americans rather than just those it is profitable to serve.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe wants to downsize by a different method.  He has asked Congress for authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and cut benefits for postal employees.  This what the CEO of a failing corporation would do to postpone the inevitable.

For most of the 20th century, the Postal Service was a model for all public utilities.  Theodore M. Vail, the chief executive officer of American Telephone and Telegraph Co., in 1913 settled anti-trust suits by committing AT&T to providing a universal service to all customers at the same rates and to allow independent telephone companies access to its long-distance service.  Electrical utilities in a later era were prodded into the same commitment.  Employees of telephone and electric companies took pride in quickly restoring service interrupted by storms and floods, just as mail carriers took pride in delivering the mail no matter how bad the weather.

In the 1980s and after, this ethic came under attack.  A commitment to universal service came to be regarded as socialistic (by supporters of Ronald Reagan) or monopolistic (by supporters of Ralph Nader).  What was wanted was competition.  When I reported on business for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, telephone executives spoke disparagingly of POTS (plain old telephone service).  Instead they admired the people who could create new products—call waiting, caller ID, automatic call forwarding and so on.  Innovation of course is a good thing, but the first duty of a public utility is to maintain basic service.

Mail delivery is a Constitutional function of government (Article I, Section 7).  It seems to me the Founders wanted all Americans to be able to communicate with each other, and that their reasons are still valid today.

If it was up to me, I would not reduce lay off postal workers or reduce postal service—because, among other reasons, the effect of eliminating 28,000 jobs on our recessionary economy.  I would hire postal workers and expand mail delivery to seven days a week.

A question.  If the Postal Service is shut down or privatized, what happens to that 75-year employee retirement trust fund.  Does it go to the private company to use for its own purposes?  Does it revert to the federal government’s general fund?  It certainly isn’t going to be refunded to us postal patrons.

In praise of the U.S. Postal Service

September 3, 2011

I’m a great admirer of the U.S. Postal Service.  If it didn’t exist, and some entrepreneur proposed doing what it does, it would be regarded as a miracle of free enterprise.  Consider:

Six days a week it delivers an average of 563 million pieces of mail—40 percent of the entire world’s volume.  For the price of a 44¢ stamp, you can mail a letter anywhere within the nation’s borders.  The service will carry it by pack mule to the Havasupai Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Mailmen on snowmobiles take it to the wilds of Alaska.  If your recipient can no longer be found, the USPS will return it at no extra charge.  It may be the greatest bargain on earth.

It takes an enormous organization to carry out such a mission.  The USPS has 571,566 full-time workers, making it the country’s second-largest civilian employer after Wal-Mart Stores.  It has 31,871 post offices, more than the combined domestic retail outlets of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.  Last year its revenues were $67 billion, and its expenses were even greater.  Postal service executives proudly note that if it were a private company, it would be No. 29 on the Fortune 500.

via BusinessWeek.

But now the U.S. Postal Service is on the brink of insolvency, for two reasons.  Its most profitable businesses are being cherry-picked by Federal Express, United Parcel Service and other private companies.  The USPS has the mandate to make a profit, but also the requirement to provide a universal service.

The question is which is more important—making a profit or universal service.  If making a profit is more important, there is no need for a government Postal Service.  But if we want a universal service, if we want sheep herders in Idaho and 86-year-old widows who can’t afford Internet connections to have a right to send and receive messages at an affordable cost, then we should think of it as a public service.

Here is an illustration of the difference.

The Post Office–“Neither snow nor rain…”:  During Christmas week in 2008, a terrible blizzard hit the Puget Sound region.  Not being well-equipped for blizzards, many of us were shut-in for days, and my street was one of many that went unplowed.

On Christmas Eve, my daughter and I went out to build a snowman.  Our snow-blanketed street was deserted and silent.  After a while, we were surprised to hear a vehicle approaching.  Soon a U.S. postal truck, producing the only tire tracks on the road, came into view.  The truck stopped at our house and the mail carrier delivered two packages for my daughter, one from each grandmother.

Without that delivery, my daughter would have had only one present on Christmas day, the one her father and I gave her.

FedEx–“A blizzard? Get it yourself!”:  The day after Christmas, my sister called to ask how my daughter had liked her gift, and we told her we never received it.  My sister said, “Man, FedEx sucks! I paid extra for them to deliver it on Christmas Eve!”

When I called FedEx to inquire about it, I was told that they weren’t going to deliver until the snow melted, and if I wanted the package sooner, I had to go to the main FedEx facility to pick it up.  I stood in line at the facility for about two hours that weekend.  A Tacoma News-Tribune article later reported that neither FedEx nor UPS had made any of their deliveries during Christmas week, to the consternation of their customers, but the U.S. Post Office had made all of theirs.

via Green for the rest of us.