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  • Apologia. Although I recently asserted here that I wanted to write more about my own experiences, there is so much unbelievable chicanery happening in these apparently inexorably declining United States that what goes down in my own little world seems quite insignificant when it comes to choosing what to write about. I hope you find my stories on events that affect more than just me worth reading, thinking, and possibly learning more about and acting upon. I may yet go on to plumb my own navel, but I'm not sure if any readers have much use for the lint.

    If you live in the U.S., you probably heard that the U.S. Postal Service has fallen on hard times. Now it has announced that starting in August, Saturday mail deliveries will be discontinued in order to live within its shrinking budget.

    USPS Revenues have declined with the rise of email and texting, and its marginal profits from delivering junk mail barely cover costs. More and more, the agency counts on revenues from postage on parcels, but it has to compete with the likes of FedEx, UPS and DHL in the area of parcel delivery. Those entities don't like the competition and have set about to squash it.

    You might think that USPS is a dinosaur bureaucracy that just can't hack it in today's economy, and that it should be put out of its misery. Not really so - the postal service has highly automated its operations. In fact, it contracts FedEx to deliver priority mail (and cheaper than FedEx would charge you directly). That USPS can't hack it in the 21st century is just the impression that the industry wants you to have. What you may not know is that they designed plans to put the USPS into the red and enlisted the U.S. Congress to do their dirty work.

    It turns out that the biggest USPS financial problems are in large part result from an onerous and ill-considered 2006 law called the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act" (PAEA) that mandates pre-funding the postal service retiree health care and pension benefits for 75 years — something that no other government agency or private company does or is required to do. This arbitrary albatross accounts for the majority of USPS recent operating losses.

    Around 85% of the USPS's budget deficit is due to its congressionally imposed pension-funding mandate. Per employee, USPS pension mandated reserves for retiree health care far exceed those that the federal government as a whole, the military, and almost all Fortune 1000 companies. PAEA – enabled by lobbyists for the private package delivery industry – administered that poison pill.

    Speaking of mandates, none of the competitors to USPS are required to deliver letters to every American town, village and hamlet and maintain offices in those places. None of them pay their employees as well, provide them with pension funds or permit them to unionize. If USPS mail carriers worked for the competition, they would have to buy the trucks they drive, would be relentlessly clocked and routed throughout the workday, and subjected to rather onerous quotas of deliveries.
  • I don't get why Americans endorse this race to the bottom for hourly workers driven by large, publicly held, non-unionized enterprises, but many do. Rather than wonder why postal workers should have better working conditions than private employees, you should be asking why UPS and FedEx employees are driven like cattle and remunerated with such miserly wages for potentially backbreaking labor. If rock-bottom prices are what you seek, be aware that's what it takes.

    The private carriers lobbied for laws that cripple USPS, realizing full well that they cannot provide its level of service at prices people could afford. Consider this: The Postal Service delivers 170 billion items per year to over 150 million addresses. FedEx and UPS combined deliver 7 billion items per year to 30 million addresses. They depend on USPS services for the first and last mile of those pickups and deliveries in many places. That may help their bottom lines, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if they had to provide all those services you and I are used to, we would be paying a lot more for them. And most of the extra money you would pay would go to executives and shareholders, not workers.

    What we are seeing here, as in so many other corporate-orchestrated privatization initiatives, is a thinly cloaked grab for assets and infrastructures built by government programs over scores or hundreds of years that, thanks to pay-to-play elections and revolving-door lobbying activity, Congress is more than happy to enable. Wolves continue to circle around the social security and medicare trust funds, so remain vigilant.

    Regarding "going postal," when was the last time you heard of a USPS employee going on a shooting rampage? By my reckoning, it's been a decade or more. On the other hand, when was the last time private corporations shot up the economy and held taxpayers hostage? Not so long ago, and not for the last time. Unless we do something to stop it.

    Here's one simple and easy thing you can do to help fight off the privateers: When you order items online, please choose a USPS delivery option. If that option doesn't exist, badger the retailer to provide it. Companies love to tell you that as a consumer, you have choice, right? Then exercise it.

    @image: The Jolly Postman, painting by Norman Rockwell, 1949
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