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Why the GOP Is Killing the Post Office

The conventional wisdom is that the US Postal Service is closing post offices and ending Saturday service because it's broke. Don't believe it.



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The attack of the shrinkers and killers is another sad (and shameful) product of our nation's current crop of no-can-do "leaders." They've given up on America's Big Idea of creating a democratic society united by pursuit of the common good and energized by the spirit of "together we can." Instead, corporate elites are out to shove America's greatness into a shriveled ethic that says, "I got mine, you get yours."

While it's certainly true that emails and tweets are faster than mail, there remains a vast demand for postal services, especially where broadband Internet does not reach (50 percent of rural residents, 35 percent of all Americans), as well as when hard copy and physical delivery are essential. FedEx has its place, but its self-serving priority is always to go after maximum profit — it has no interest in or ability to deliver universal service at an affordable price to the whole nation.

Postal privatizers and downsizers have reams of data on the price of everything USPS does — yet they are completely unable to calculate value. They don't give a whit either that their model of "service" would leave out entire groups of people, communities, and businesses, or that they'd be taking away much more than mail from millions of fellow citizens. Despite the right-wing denigration heaped on this public service, ordinary folks still feel personally attached to their post office and mail carriers. Sure, there are complaints and some horror stories, but there are many more (though less reported) stories of extraordinary service and simple human kindness by postal workers, which is why the agency has been named the most trusted in government for six straight years.

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 Senator 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.

But then, all you need to know about that crowd's sensitivity to our people's deeper values is that the list of 3,700 postal facilities suggested for closure includes the historic Franklin Post Office in Philadelphia. It is located on the very site of Old Ben's house in Franklin Square, right next door to the US Postal Service Museum. And, get this, in an especially tender touch, the Franklin office received notice that it was going on the chopping block on July 26, 2011 — exactly 236 years to the day in 1775 when the Continental Congress enacted Franklin's proposal to establish a national post office for our fledgling democracy.

The biggest lie of all is that the USPS is an antiquated, unnecessary, failing civic institution that simply must give way to electronic technology and corporate efficiency. This is nothing but ideological hogwash spewed by private profiteers and political quislings.

Obviously, the Postal Service is no longer the only player making the rounds, and it must make some major adjustments to find its proper fit and new opportunities in the marketing and public service mix. But this requires top management and political overseers to be a bit more creative and business-like than constantly cutting, closing, outsourcing, eliminating — and giving in to the bashers and slashers.

This is the time to innovate and offer new services and products — don't shrink, expand! Start with three phenomenal assets that USPS has: (1) that network of 32,000 retail outlets (many of them historic and even works of art) that form the most extensive local presence of any business or government in America, drawing more than seven million people into them each day; (2) an experienced, smart, skilled, and dedicated workforce of nearly 600,000 middle-class Americans who live in the communities they serve and are brimming with ideas and energy to move the Postal Service forward — if only those at the top would listen and turn them loose; and (3) the general goodwill of the public, which sees the local post office and its employees as "theirs," providing useful services and standing as one of their core civic institutions (in a 2009 Gallup Poll, 95 percent of Americans said it was personally important to them that the Postal Service be continued).

Let's build on those big pluses. This is one government program that really works for the people, but it can work better and do more. Here are just a few ideas:

Go digital. John Nichols reported in The Nation that USPS already has the world's third-largest computer infrastructure, including 5,000 remote locations with satellite Internet service. Expand that into a handy consumer service offering high-speed broadband all across the country. Rather than bemoan the loss of postal business to the Internet, become an Internet hot spot in town after town for universal email, digital scanning, and forwarding of documents, etc.

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