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The Truth About the U.S. Postal Service

Mar 272012
 
 By , March 27, 2012
The Truth About the U.S. Postal Service

By Jim Hightower

What does 50 cents buy these days? Not a cuppa joe, a pack of gum or a newspaper. But you can get a steal of deal for a 50-cent piece: a first-class stamp. Plus a nickel in change.

Each day, six days a week, letter carriers traverse 4 million miles toting an average of 563 million pieces of mail, reaching the very doorsteps of our individual homes and workplaces in every single community in America. From the gated enclaves and penthouses of the uber-wealthy to the inner-city ghettos and rural colonias of America’s poorest families, the U.S. Postal Service literally delivers. All for 45 cents. The USPS is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all people and communities into one nation.

So, naturally, it must be destroyed.

For the past several months, the laissez-fairyland blogosphere, assorted corporate front groups, a howling pack of congressional right-wingers and a bunch of lazy mass media sources have been pounding out a steadily rising drumbeat to warn that our postal service faces impending doom. It’s “broke,” they exclaim; USPS “nears collapse”; it’s “a full-blown financial crisis!”

These gloomsayers claim the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can’t keep up with the instant messaging of Internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable and is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses. Wrong.

Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations — including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices — are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.

The privatizers squawk that USPS has gone some $13 billion in the hole during the past four years — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actually, private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.) The Postal Service is NOT broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored “losses,” the service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).

What’s going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that’s what. In 2006, the Bush White House and Congress whacked the post office with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to PRE-PAY the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who’ll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who’re not yet born!

No other agency and no corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement.

This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That’s the real source of the “financial crisis” squeezing America’s post offices.

In addition, due to a 40-year-old accounting error, the federal Office of Personnel Management has overcharged the post office by as much as $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. This means that USPS has had billions of its sales dollars erroneously diverted into the treasury. Restore the agency’s access to its own postage money, and the impending “collapse” goes away.

The post office is more than a bunch of buildings — it’s a community center and, for many towns, an essential part of the local identity, as well as a tangible link to the rest of the nation. As former Sen. Jennings Randolph poignantly observed, “When the local post office is closed, the flag comes down.” The corporatizer crowd doesn’t grasp that going after this particular government program is messing with the human connection and genuine affection that it engenders.

America’s postal service is a true public service, a grassroots people’s asset that has even more potential than we’re presently tapping to serve the democratic ideal of the common good. Why the hell would we let an elite of small-minded profiteers, ranting ideologues and their political hirelings drop-kick this jewel through the goal posts of corporate greed? This is not a fight merely to save 32,000 post offices and the middle-class jobs they provide — but to advance the BIG IDEA of America itself, the bold, historic notion that “yes, we can” create a society in which we’re all in it together.

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National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, "Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow," Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be - consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks. Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower is a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, spreading the message of progressive populism all across the American grassroots. He broadcasts daily radio commentaries that are carried in more than 150 commercial and public stations and on the web.
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Latest posts by Jim Hightower (see all)

  • Inyear25252001

    I agree with Hightower on most things, but I beg to differ that the Post Office is a bloated, corrupt entity. I have worked as a seasonal a couple winters for three of the Denver area outlets and can say that I have never seen such lazy, petty, conniving workers behind the scenes as I have seen there. My second night of work I was confronted and threatened by an employee for mentioning to a superior that something minor had been done wrong my first night, the fellow employee that I worked with on a night shift spent easily 2/3s of the night sleeping in the cafeteria, employees are so corrupt that the Post Office has its own police force to watch over them, union reps spend a lot of their paid time going around trying to anger the managers so that they react and the reps can get them written up, etc., etc., etc.
    The Post Office could easily eliminate a third of its laziest employees and still get the job done. And that is what they should do.

  • John S.

    I don’t doubt it, InYear, but it is true what he says about the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which forces the PO to pre-pay the health care benefits employees all the way up to those who’ll retire
    during the next 75 years. No company could survive under such a burden. And yet the same congressmen who voted for this piece of sabotage are the same ones to say the govt needs to operate more like a business. Oh, sure, and the bigger the business, the more tax breaks and subsidies they get (think oil companies), the opposite of what the PO gets. Sure, many govt employees game the system and take advantage of the fact that the system makes it hard to fire them, but that’s not what’s bringing the PO down.