Photo: Telstar Logistics
You arrive home from work, and at the end of your driveway, or attached to your house, is a box. Inside the box are letters, bills, newsletter from your local friendly realtor, and if you're like me, a stack of catalogs. When you're home on weekends, there's still a little frisson
of excitement when you hear the thud of mailbox lid onto mailbox, because The Mail's Here! The mail. You never know what's going to be in the mail. Today it's less likely that it will contain a long, chatty letter from your pen pal, or a birthday card, or a note from your cousin. But if you are old enough to remember when there was no such thing as e-mail, there's still that little thrill when the mail comes.
There was a time when mail was one of our country's few equalizers. Whether you lived in a mansion or a hovel, your mail was sorted the same way, delivered the same way, and cost the same. In rural areas, perhaps you had to get to the post office, or your address had "R.F.D." in it. Rural Free Delivery. Imagine a burgeoning nation that still managed to delivery mail to most homes and every post office in the entire country, long before automated sorters and zip codes or even the automobile. We forget just what a monumental achievement just delivering the mail was in the last 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, mail is no longer quite as equal. You can pay more for overnight delivery, or if you want a return receipt, or other special handling. But those are a matter of choice. Even now, whether your daughter's wedding is taking place at a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island or in the backyard of the small church down the road, chances are you'll be putting the same stamp on the envelopes that hold the invitations.
The U.S. Postal Service is perhaps the last public institution that truly serves all the people. Even public schools are now unequal, with poor areas getting short shrift in terms of education. But a stamp is still a stamp.
But that may too go the way of the dodo, because in 2006, a Republican-led Congress started the destruction of this last egalitarian institution by deciding that the U.S. Postal Service had to do what no other entity public or private is required to do: fund its pensions 75 years in advance
. H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act
mandated that this pre-funding take place within a decade -- something even the most profitable corporation would be unable to do. None of this is designed to protect postal retirees. On the contrary, it's designed to make it impossible to get the things we receive in our mailboxes to their destination by any other means than private carrier -- UPS, FedEx, DHL, and the like.
Between 1990 and 2010, PACs associated with UPS and FedEx donated
$41,224,198 to political candidates. Individual contributions associated with just these two companies brought in another $2,719,367. The U.S. Postal Service? Well, it's not allowed to buy a single Congressman.
The Postal Service has been endangered for for the last six years since the Republicans decided to start killing it off. Not only is it a way to make sure that there's something else in this country to which only the wealthy have access, but getting rid of the Postal Service would mean that many fewer union workers -- a key Republican goal.
The U.S. Postal Service could survive, albeit in a smaller role thanks to e-mail and automatic bill paying, were it not for this onerous pension requirement. But as it stands, the Service is on the verge of default because of these huge payments it's required to make thanks to George W. Bush and his Republican Congress of 2006. NYT
The Postal Service, on the verge of its first default on Wednesday, faces a cash shortage of $100 million this October stemming from declining mail volume that could balloon to $1.2 billion next year, newly available documents show.
Confronting $11.1 billion in payments over the next two months for future benefits, the service said it would fail to pay about half that amount, which is due Wednesday, and does not foresee making the other half, which is due in September. An additional $5.6 billion payment due next year is also in question.
The post office wants to reduce operating hours or close more than 13,000 post offices. It has also announced plans to close half of its processing centers. It wants Congress to give it more flexibility in setting prices. And it also wants to lower service standards to largely eliminate next-day delivery for first-class mail.
But even if the post office were to get these changes from Congress, including eliminating Saturday delivery and the multibillion-dollar payments on future retiree programs, the agency would still be losing money, it said. Since 2007, it has lost $25 billion — $20 billion of which is attributable to the payments for future benefits, required by law since 2006.
Mission nearly accomplished.