Monday, February 11, 2013

Week of 02/11/2013

No More Saturday Mail? I Can Live With That.
– by David Matthews 2

So the big news from the United States Postal Service is something that has been hinted at for a long time now…

No more Saturday mail!

Or… maybe not, depending on who is telling the story.

The Postal Service plans on cutting off Saturday mail delivery on the week of August 5th, but apparently some people don’t think that date is set in stone.  The media is certainly a little confused about it.  Some media services claim that this is a done deal, and others are treating this as an “option” or a “possibility”.

Of course some politicians don’t like this idea and they think they can stop this from happening.  Congress has tried to require a six-day delivery system through budget appropriations, but since Congress refuses to work with the White House on passing a budget and has instead pushed through continuing spending resolutions, they can’t really use that to force the Post Office to keep it going.  Besides, I thought the GOP-controlled Congress hated “unfunded mandates” anyway.  Don’t their proxies on Fox News continually rail on and on about how wrong it is for Congress to require things without paying for them?

Yes, money is a key part of the problem.  The USPS is in the hole for some $20 billion (“billion” with a “B”), mostly because of a GOP-enacted rule in 2006 concerning postal worker pensions.  You know, back when the GOP was in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House?

And it’s not like the Postal Service hasn’t tried to make cuts elsewhere.  They’ve been shutting down smaller post offices and laying off employees.  Plus they’ve been continually raising the price of stamps.  Thankfully that “Forever” stamp system has helped consumers weather the transitions a little easier.

So the decision was made to end the Saturday deliveries.  Mail deliveries, that is.  They still want to deliver packages six days a week, and they will keep the Post Offices open during that time.

It’s not a cure though.  The move would supposedly only save them $2 billion, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the $20 billion they’re in the hole for.  It would also eliminate a few thousand jobs, even though they’ve been doing that for several years anyway.

Personally, this commentator is fine with the decision to end Saturday deliveries.  I don’t have too much to look forward to in the mail anyway and certainly nothing that I’m desperate to have show up immediately.  Besides, aside from call centers, Corporate America isn’t open six days a week anyway, so any mail that comes in on a Saturday wouldn’t be processed until Monday.  Banks aren’t always open on Saturdays either. 

And if you think about it, we’re really not using the post office as much as we used to.  Even if the GOP wasn’t screwing over the Postal Service, it’s still losing money.  We’re not writing letters as much because we have social media services and email and instant messaging and cellphones.  We’re not mailing-in orders because we can do that online and then have them delivered through private courier services like Federal Express or United Parcel Service.  And the push is now on for electronic bill paying and paperless statements, so those are less envelopes going through the Post Office.  We’re cutting our demand, and that’s cutting into the Post Office’s revenue. 

But it’s not really about what we the American public are willing to “accept”.  There is a much larger problem with the United States Postal Service, and that problem can be summed up with just one word: Congress!

Let’s get brutally honest here… the USPS exists as a quasi-independent government agency.  It’s part-private and part-public.  It’s supposedly a part of government and yet it’s not.  When it comes to setting postal rates and dealing with the employee problems, then it’s considered a “private” group.  But when it comes to delivery dates and breaches in the mail service, then supposedly it’s a “government entity”.

We know that it’s not a completely independent organization because it’s being allowed to run a massive debt when most businesses would be shut down.  (Not counting the “Too Big To Fail” banks, of course.)  Then there’s Congress and their asinine presumption that they are “entitled” to dictate when the Post Office should stay open and how they should fund their pension program.  Bear in mind that this is the same legislative body that made a mess out of Social Security, not to mention their own personal banking systems back in the 1980’s.

There are some people that are claiming that this is just a veiled attempt to privatize postal delivery like in Germany.  But that actually gives the GOP way too much credit for intelligence they’ve never really proven to possess.  If it can’t be explained in a ten-second sound-byte from a peroxide-blond media personality, then quite often it’s too complicated for them to figure out.

The Postal Service is in serious need of a fix, and it’s more than just finding a way to fill-in that $20 billion hole.

First and foremost, the USPS needs to get off the fence.  It either has to be a full-fledged government entity, with all of the power and oversight (or lack thereof in the case of the GOP) that goes with it, or it should be set free and operate as a completely private entity, without any of the current Congressional micro-mismanagement. 

I know the latter scares the crap out of liberals, but having the Post Office go private would actually work for their union friends.  They wouldn’t have to worry about Congressional efforts to break up the union like they saw in Wisconsin.  Plus, as long as they don’t do anything stupid like the Teamsters did with UPS back in the 90’s, they can pretty much guarantee that they’d get what they want with a private entity as opposed to a government one.

I also know that people are afraid that making the postal service private would somehow jack up the price of stamps.  Well I have news for you: it’s already happening.  It’s been going up a penny every year since 2006.  Every year.  The reason why we aren’t making as much of a fuss over it is because we have the “Forever” stamps that allow us to use what we have and not have to buy extra stamps just to cover the additional cost.

What really hurts the idea of going private right now is that $20 billion hole that the USPS is in.  The government can keep that kind of debt going.  Private businesses can’t.  And the longer that the GOP-imposed pension law is in place, the bigger that debt hole will grow.  Something needs to be done about that, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

The sad reality is that the postal system itself is an outdated medium of communication that has been slowly edging towards joining the fax machine, the telegraph, and the town crier in obsolescence.  There is still a need for it, but that need is dwindling as faster and more efficient means of sending information are becoming more prevalent.  Reducing the delivery days from six to five does more than just save money.  It acknowledges that the post office’s day in the sun is slowly starting to set.  We may not like to hear that, but it is inevitable.

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