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Est. April 5, 2002
Jan 16, 2020 - Issue 801
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Postal Service
Is Another Public Service
On The Chopping Block


"It's one thing to contemplate the seeming contest
between electronic communications and communicating
by personal letter (the USPS), but there still remains
the question of powerful interests that wish to make
irrelevant the Postal Service, so there might not be
even the possibility of trying to reconcile the two."

For more than 200 years, the U.S. Postal Service has served as the glue that has held the country together, providing communication among the people and its leaders the vital information that is needed to make the country work and provided private communications among the people, but it is a prime candidate for privatization.

Right-wing politicians and their sponsors in Corporate America have been working diligently for decades to convert this vital service to all Americans into an enterprise that will bring the bulk of the money generated into private coffers. In this, it is much like the privatization of public education, healthcare, management of public lands, even the military, to name a few: The private companies that would take over these functions of service to the people and make them profit-seeking only want the parts that are the most profitable. The grunt work (the bulk of the work that is less profitable) is left to the government.

When the early government decided that the nation needed a means of communication that could connect all citizens of the former colonies, so that some sense could be made of the various colonial governments into a nation and society, they created the Post Office Department in 1792, with Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster. For now, we'll leave who constituted the citizenry and who controlled the disparate colonial governments for another discussion.

From the need to communicate came methods of delivering the mail that would be inexpensive and efficient. It's how there came to be post roads, the roads that were built specifically for the mail carriers to use, but were used by the general public, as well. And the object was that mail would be delivered to every person at every address. That remains the object of what is now the United States Postal Service (USPS). There is no private company that will take on that task, because the profits would not be big enough, if there were profits in taking on such a monumental task.

The USPS takes on that task every day, though people may complain about the service at one time or another, the mail is delivered to hundreds of millions every day. The USPS is a vital part of the business of America, as well, with all of the forms of subsidies that the service provides to Corporate America (think catalogs and advertising papers sent at reduced rates). Private companies prefer to take the bulk of the business that brings in money, like package delivery. United Parcel Service has been around since the early 20th Century and the Postal Service seems to have made its peace with that company, but there are many others that want a piece of that action and all of the competitors of the USPS want a piece of that.

But, since there is no private corporation that would take on the task of delivering the mail to every household, including the backwoods of our least populated states, at such a low rate, private communications between individuals remains the province of the USPS. There is not another entity that will take on the job. Also, there is the question of privacy of communications. While it is true that while other government law enforcement agencies may know the outside of the envelope, they cannot open the mail to see what is inside without a warrant.

This is not true of electronic communications that have become preeminent in the past two or three decades. The internet makes most communications available to private companies and it is therefore easy for the government's law enforcement agencies to buy that information from private hands.

Try as it might, the electronic world in which we live will never be able to compete with the postal service in providing a common understanding of our problems and the potential solutions, simply because the internet is a quite impersonal medium, while the old “snail mail” is the one in which human beings are involved on a person-to-person basis. Considering a comparison between the two, a letter sent by mail is usually a more thoughtful and reasoned communication, than a quick answer to an email or a text. The U.S. even has a president who can't seem to communicate by other than a tweet, which usually comes out to his millions of followers as would tweets between a couple of fourth graders.

Contrary to the concept of the founders, who wanted a method of communication among the populace to bring them together and, thus, they created the Post Office Department, the electronic methods of communicating has tended to separate the people, to atomize them. In communicating with each other, we seem to have lost the thoughtful and reasonable part of relating to one another. This is something that needs to be worked out as a society and will take some time to accomplish, if there is even an attempt to do that. Anyone can go on line and make a completely erroneous statement or hostile statement or hateful statement and that information goes out to thousands or millions of people and that tends to cause more separation among individuals or factions of a social or political nature. Those statements usually go unchallenged or, if they are, they descend into chaotic shouting matches out of which no reasoned thinking comes.

It's one thing to contemplate the seeming contest between electronic communications and communicating by personal letter (the USPS), but there still remains the question of powerful interests that wish to make irrelevant the Postal Service, so there might not be even the possibility of trying to reconcile the two. For example, in 2006 Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which mandated that $5.5 billion per year be paid to fully prefund employee retirement health benefits, which meant that the USPS would have to fund worker retirement health benefits 75 years into the future, for people who aren't even born yet, who might work for the service. There is no corporation that would be able to withstand that kind of financial demand and not go under.

That act of Congress was intentionally designed to diminish to nothing what has been a mainstay of the nation, not to mention that it is the only business that is provided for in the U.S. Constitution. In that way, went the thinking of the right-wing politicians and corporatists of 2006, the whole thing could be privatized, to the extent that profits could be made. The USPS has managed to stay alive despite all that and, if it were freed from that burden of payments, would thrive and would not have to threaten to close post offices, curtail services, and shorten hours.

Solutions have been suggested, including the return of postal banking, which would revitalize some of the post offices in both poorer section of cities and in rural areas. Naturally, the banks don't want that to happen, nor do the payday lenders, who profit mightily from those who have no access to banking services. Saving the USPS is an issue that should be of vital interest to everyone in the U.S. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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