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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Support the United States Postal system from right wing attacks

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Aug 22, 2012

By Thom Nickels

The next time you see the person who delivers your mail, shake their hand and thank them for a job well done. Tell them that they are a vital part of what is truly American, the United States Postal Service, which became a cornerstone of American life during the 1775 Second Centennial Congress, when Benjamin Franklin was named the first Postmaster General.

Much like the right to bear arms, the "right" to a federal postal system is enshrined in the Constitution. In many ways, you can’t get more American than the Post Office. It is right up there with the 4th of July and The Bill of Rights.

But make no mistake: the United States Post Office is under attack from politicians who would like to see it privatized. They want to eliminate free mail delivery and replace it with a private for-profit company that would have the power to raise rates and charge outrageous sums for mail delivery. Home mail delivery at that point could become so pricey that many people would be forced to do without. Few people would be able to afford Fed Ex-style prices, like the $20 to $30 fee to send a letter from New York to the West Coat.

This is not what Benjamin Franklin had in mind.

In the early Twentieth Century, mail in the United States was delivered twice a day. My great aunt used to tell me stories about these twice a day deliveries—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Mail delivery twice a day is nothing short of extraordinary, although once a day is quite acceptable. My old criticisms of the US Postal System had to do with the Post Office redesigning mail delivery routes; in other words, changing the time the delivery person drops mail in your slot. When I first moved to the Riverwards, the mail time on my street was between 10 and 11 AM. I’ve always thought that this was an ideal time to receive mail. It affords you ample time to get to a bank and get important business mail well before 5 PM. Since my childhood days in Chester County, I can happily report that mail has always come to my residence, in or out of Pennsylvania, between these hours.

When the Postal Office announced a redesign of my (Fishtown) street’s delivery time about 3 years ago, I was not a happy camper. The new time was slated somewhere between 2:30 and 4 PM, and the change hit hard. I complained to the Post Office, telling them that the delivery person circles my street all morning long but doesn’t actually deliver mail here till almost 3 PM.

"A postal re-design is a re-design," I was told. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it. Then things got worse. Because our regular delivery person had to undergo an operation, mail began to be delivered on my street close to 5 or 6 PM. There’s something perverse about getting mail at dinner time. I told the Post Office this in no uncertain terms.

Then I began to notice how forces in this country were trying to destroy the Post Office altogether. Not kill it with one large blow but hack away at it slowly, bit by bit. That’s when I realized that late mail is a small price to pay to safeguard the system just as Franklin envisioned it.

Consider what happened to Holland when that country privatized its postal system in 1989. Within ten years of the change about 90% of the post offices closed in that country, and mail pickups at mail deposit boxes went down to once a day. Mail delivery became unreliable and iffy, with packages getting lost or disappearing.

Say what you want about the US Postal Service—"They’re a bunch of slow motion lazy salamanders!" —but it is still the best system around. Under a Fed Ex style system you would have a lot more to complain about. The US Postal Service is a not for profit institution, unlike Fed Ex, whose goal is to make as much money as possible.

Does anyone think a for-profit system would attempt to deliver mail through rain, snow or sleet, or travel into obscure, isolated areas? Not on your life. Inevitably, for-profit institutions fall into some kind of corruption. As writer Michelle Maireese noted: "To this day, for-profit mailers refuse to service remote or dangerous locations, relying on the Postal Service for end-delivering of letters and packages."

The US Postal Service is not perfect, and its critics say it is broke and in need of reform, but these same critics and their allies are the very ones who put the US Postal Service in that position.

If you are going to thank your local delivery person, you should know the facts. In 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was voted on only after a "poison pill" was added to the bill. The poison pill was this: Politicians forced the US Postal Service to pre-fund their retirement for the next 75 years within a 5-year span.

A plan like that is almost bound to fail for obvious reasons.

The ideologues working to privatize the postal system used this "poison pill" to cripple the Post Office so that in the end they could say: "You see there! Government failed again. It does not work! We need to privatize!"

But does anyone or "anything" work well after being poisoned?

As the New Hampshire Labor News Network put it, "The citizens in our country who rely on the Postal Service are just collateral damage. Profits for the wealthy are placed above all else."

Politicians who want to abolish the US Postal Service have a problem because they don’t want to be seen as tampering with the Constitution, so rather than risk this label they engineer insidious long range plans that slowly attack the postal service financially.

But Benjamin Franklin knew better, and that’s why the Postal System was enshrined as a universal, American "entitlement."

Any politician who tells you otherwise is… un-American.