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Hey, Who’s Killin’ My Post Office -- And Why?

EASTSIDER-Let me be clear:  I like my Post Office. I like the mail carrier that actually delivers mail to my door six days a week. I like the fact that there is one Federal office building in my area that makes me smile instead of frown; and I like the idea that in almost every community in the United States, large or small, thereisa USPS office, as well as mail carriers and a postmaster. They form a positive connection to my government, decent paying jobs with benefits, and are often the visual emblem of government, providing services to those who cannot or are unable to leave their homes. 

This is unlike the politicians who run my government, those whose services seem to largely include selling off public assets and granting tax breaks for corporations and the rich. 

The usual attack on the USPS states that it is inefficient and “people don’t use mail anymore.” That it’s somehow part of the “old economy,” replaced by smart phones, and most importantly, that it is economically unsustainable and would be broke were it not for massive infusions of cash from the federal government. This drumbeat has been going on for so long that if you ask someone in my neighborhood if the post office is losing money, most folks would say “sure!” Such is the impact of repeated media coverage over time. 

So when the Washington Post and the Brookings Institute (the number one rated think tank in the nation)put out hit pieces about the USPS going broke and the need for change, it came as little surprise to many. The facts, however, do not support the argument…it’s simply not true! 

Hey, somebody has to stand up for the USPS -- and clearly, it will not be the media, the once-reliable Brookings Institute or the political/lobbyist class. Forgive me, but this humble blogger can’t help himself. 

The truth is, the US Post Office was getting along just fine until 2006, when Congress passed its annual appropriations bill. Buried in it were a couple of real doozies from our bought-and-paid-for elected officials: the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act” and the “Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund.” 

Have you noticed that whenever elected officials really sell us out it’s always with language that says the exact opposite of what the legislation does? 

What they really did was require the USPS to pre-fund years and years of anticipated retiree health care benefits. You got it. The Post Office has to pay about $5.5 billion per year into this bogus fund to prepay health benefits. This was done by the same Congress that stole Social Security Fund money for years, putting it into the General Fund to “balance” their phony budget. The same Congress that creates its annual “showdown in Washington” moment for television to increase the National Debt ceiling just to stay afloat. 

The take away from these articles is that the USPS is going broke, the politicians can’t fix anything, and the profitable parts of the USPS ought to be spun off to the private sector. Yeah, well, they “fixed” the Post Office all right. 

The scary truth is that this horsepuckey has been repeated so often, and in so many places, that our numbed citizens now actually believe it’s true. The exact opposite is the case. Only in America. 

Now, I understand theWashington Post article -- Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper) probably wants to privatize the operation so that Amazon and the private sector can “help” us become more efficient. 

By spinning off the profitable areas of Priority Mail and parcel delivery from the USPS, Amazon can cut wages, eliminate benefits, magically become bigger than FedEx and UPS and take over the world. Or maybe FedEx or UPS can become the biggest, or whatever. Even scarier, they plan to generate mergers and acquisitions activity by the financial services industry, enabling them to skim money off a load of corporate debt, possibly causing the next financial crash to be even bigger.  

What I don’t understand is theBrookings Institute piece. Over the years, Brookings has always had a reputation for middle of the road or even (gasp) a liberal bent. 

When Elaine C. Kamarck, a “Senior Fellow of Governance Studies” and “Director of the Center for Effective Public Management” for the Institute, wrote about privatizing the USPS in her article, Delaying the Inevitable,”  I read it with great interest. 

There are two fundamental problems with her piece. First, the conclusions of the article are based on a basic math error, evidently not Ms. Kamarck’s forte. If you take the roughly $5.6 billion annual prepayment for the fiscal year in question, the USPS actually made money. But instead, Kamarck took a bunch of these annual payments and clumped them together to come up with the $22.4 billion figure; then she used it in a single fiscal year analysis.  

The other bad assumption of Kamarck’s piece is not a simple math error, but rather the typical dismissal by pseudo-science economist types who “assume” that delivering the mail, with all that it entails, is an unprofitable and hence worthless act. This mind set is endemic only to people who live in a huge metropolis like Washington DC or New York City.  

If you live somewhere else, like McFarland, CA or Sanger, CA in the central valley, or Hayfork, CA in the Trinity Mountains, or in any small town in America, you know that the USPS performs vital services to the underserved. It’s a physical symbol of the Federal government that helps you. It’s a gathering place, where mail carriers actually go out and do something for the forgotten; it provides decent jobs with benefits to members of the community and it may just be there for us in a time of need.  

So, of course, the lobbyist and political elites want to get rid of the USPS; and they are closing more post office branches every year. But I have a better idea: how about blocking the politicians from putting these slimy pieces of “payoff legislation” into appropriations bills?   

For those interested in this issue, see the blog Save the Post Office for more information.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 1, 2016