Warehouse F
Our Mail Delivery
The Unseen Enemy
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Can We Live Without Our Postal Service?

By James Donahue

Before we had the Internet and private delivery services like United Parcel Service and Federal Express, the United States Postal Service was a vital part of our daily lives. That service, financed by sales of stamps and subsidized by the federal government, was our communication link with family and friends, and the way people moved goods from place to place.

There was a postman’s creed, inscribed on the James Farley Post Office in New York that everybody knew: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

And that was always quite true. I vividly recall a time in my youth when our small community in Michigan was totally cut off from the outside world by a massive blizzard. The snow came down wet and then froze when the temperature dropped. It was about a week before the roads were plowed out. But the mail still got delivered. It was delivered by an aircraft with skis that landed on a golf course within sight of my home.

I co-authored an historical book about a great forest fire that swept Michigan’s Thumb District in 1880. There was one story about a mail carrier who delivered the mail by horseback. Even though he knew a fire storm was approaching and the air was full of smoke, he ventured off with his mail pouch because he believed the mail must go through. He died when the fire caught up with him.

Those were the days when there was such a thing as a penny postcard, and general mail delivery cost no more than three cents. I was an ardent stamp collector for a while and I had my book filled with stamps from that period and the years before. Today the cost of postage stamps has risen so high, and the postal service has been printing so many different kinds of stamps that it costs a small fortune to keep up a stamp collection. I sold my collection for a good price some years ago.

The postal service we knew and enjoyed since the days of the pony express changed after 1970 when Congress turned the post office into what we know today as the U.S. Postal Service. It became a quasi-public agency that was allowed to borrow to make capital investments, given flexibility on how it used its money, and was directed by Congress to become a self-sufficient agency.

Since then we have seen the introduction of central sorting sites, the invention of the area code to allow computerized machinery to assist in high-speed sorting, the introduction of special delivery trucks for city delivery, more and more use of part-time delivery personnel and higher and higher prices for stamps and services. Nixon moved the postal service off the national budget in 1974. He did it by administrative order, but Congress did it by statute in 1989.

The postal service has been running deeper and deeper in debt all this time. At the same time, competition from private carriers has grown, and the Internet and I-phone text messages have replaced much of the old ways of keeping in touch by writing letters. It has gotten so bad that some schools are considering dropping the teaching of hand writing from the curriculum. Yet its carriers still faithfully deliver the mail six days each week.

The new package service, designed to compete with UPS and FedX, and express mail that can move important information to its destination sometimes within a single day has been among the best ever offered by our local post office. Best of all, the cost of sending a package via the post office is less than half the price charged by the other carriers.

Postal workers say the USPS has had an increase in the volume of mail that it has been handling. They note that the service handled the largest volume of mail in history in 2006. So why is the postal service now threatened with some $20 billion in losses?

Articles in some blog pages point to what some theorize may be a conspiracy to force the privatization of the mail and package delivery service. The USPS was debt-free at the end of its 2005 fiscal year. But Congressional legislation in 2006 required the agency to fund 75 years in worker benefits over 10 years at a cost of $5.5 billion a year. By 2009 the service was staring at a $10.2 billion debt and it passed its $15 billion statutory debt limit in 2011.

Postal workers say that law accounts for 100 percent of the agency’s losses.

The threat of losing our postal service strikes a hard blow to those of us still using and depending upon this service. The USPS is planning to end Saturday delivery, close half of the nation’s post offices and processing centers and laying off more than 200,000 workers in a radical move to balance its books. And if this happens, it promises to be the beginning of the end.

We are as guilty of using e-mail to send messages as everybody else because it is a quick and efficient way to stay in touch. But we also rely on the Post Office to carry those important legal papers, checks and deliver packages ordered on line. People in the area where we live depend on the postal service since we are not in a populated area. Closing half of the post offices here will mean long drives for many just to reach a service in another town.

And with cutbacks like this, we can no longer expect the mail to get those important cards and letters delivered on time.

This is all downright foolishness. With NASA shutting down, who dares to believe that we will always have satellites circling our planet that allow Internet signals to bounce from place to place. And if we lose the ability to send e-mail and text messages, what will we do without our reliable postman to pick up the slack?