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Going Postal. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Going Postal.
I've put off this rant for a few days, but since the local paper decided to poke the bear and make the issue front-page news for some godawful reason, I'm in:

The Post Office is dying, and with it much of what makes us a nation.

For all the bloat and overreach of government, there are a few functions that were important enough to have been explicitly written into our Constitution. Not even the military got a blank name-check; if anything, the Second and Third Amendments grew out of colonial distrust of the 18th century military-industrial complex, and Congressional appropriations to "raise and support armies" were limited to two years at a time.

The Founders also enabled taxation (duh), the national debt (duh plus interest), uniform rules for naturalization and bankruptcy (yay!), preservation of intellectual property rights (for "limited times"), but virtually no other express and unlimited power as this one:

To establish Post Offices and post Roads.

Until the 1970s, the United States took that seriously. The delivery of the mail was an honorable civil service, its mission as respected in peacetime as the military was at war, and its spirit sandblasted into one of its most iconic palaces:

The Postmaster General was in the line of succession to the Presidency, and control of the postal system was historically a mixed bag- used during Reconstruction to reassert federal authority in the former Confederacy, but also used for patronage by presidents of both parties.

That all began to change in 1971, when the Post Office Department became the current red-head stepchild of the federal government known at the U.S. Postal Service. The Postmaster General was removed from the Cabinet and succession, and its functions were quasi-privatized, but its monopolies over first-class mail deliveries and mailbox controls were preserved. Private competition long had its eyes on the lucrative ends of the business, and by the 1980s, UPS had expanded to and FedEx had entered the "urgent delivery" market.   Free of "last mile" delivery requirements and freer to operate outside legacy union constraints, these businesses ate into much postal business, and the Internet dealt decades of killing blows, as well.

Congress retained control over much of the postal business model- requiring uniform first-class postage through the country and mandating Saturday delivery- but the biggest blow came in the lame-duck Congressional session following the 2006 midterms. The Republicans in control passed, and Dubya signed, legislation requiring postal workers' health care costs to be prepaid 75 years in advance- a burden unseen by any private business or sector of the federal government itself.  Efforts to relieve this burden got filibustered during subsequent years of partial Democratic control, and the effect on the postal budget has been staggering.  As of 2014, efforts were under way again to end Saturday delivery, but Congress, not wanting to offend Grandma, again put the kibosh on it, so expenses have had to be cut in the only way the GOP knows how: by firing people.

Until earlier this year, Rochester and Buffalo each had its own General Mail Facility. I've never been to the one here; Rochester's is in suburban Henrietta.  And I'll never get to see the one here, since everything deposited in a 142-anything mailbox, even to the office across the street, now gets trucked to the 14623 to be mechanically sorted and sent back.

It's affected my business in a bad way. Routine correspondence now takes a minimum of two days to go less than a net mile, and three days is increasingly typical.  (Mail sent from Rochester doesn't seem to get here any faster, either.)  To this, add- or rather subtract- the number of post offices, substations, dedicated mailboxes and multiple daily pickups.  We used to have a blue mailbox on the nearest street corner; now, the closest is a good half a mile away.  The pickup times have also become fewer and earlier: I used to be able to take mail to the GMF in Henrietta, or the airport station here, as late as early evening and still get it to its destination the next day. Now, nothing gets picked up any later than 5 on weekdays, 4:30 on Saturdays or at all on Sundays or holidays.

While pickups come earlier, deliveries get later.  My Rochester office rarely sees the mail before 2 p.m.  Locally, it's a little better at the office (and my new one is across a courtyard from one of the few remaining staffed substations), but house mail is all over the clock, usually because of part-timers bearing more and more of the load.

Yet the post office itself is still always busy- and always slowed by the counter clerks upselling unneeded services, pimping passports, and circling survey begs on every receipt.  And the vultures have yet to circle in to pick the carcass that would be fine for medium-and-larger places but the death knell of rural America that's already seen its air travel become a luxury-only item.

Oddly, the saving of the beast might be the Internet, after all. Amazon has contracted with the Postal Service for much of its delivery base. They won't pick up from a mailbox on a Sunday but they will deliver your CDs, door-to-door and guaranteed, because Jeff Bezos is paying them to.  That's one of the few innovations that Congress hasn't cut off. Unlike other legacy postal systems elsewhere, the USPS has not been allowed to expand into any other kinds of retail beyond very limited postal supplies and low-dollar money orders.  If they'd been permitted to use the Internet rather than be killed by it (using its established networks for anything from prepaid access cards to actual wi-fi delivery), the balance sheet would likely look very different.

Or, they could have the shackles taken off to enable products and options that people like me would actually PAY for.  Including:

* Real Priority Mail- something between 49 cents and 20 bucks (the current overnight cost) to know a letter absolutely positively will be there in two days, with tracking and a service guarantee. Right now, so-called "priority mail" is a "we'll try" promise, but at least with tracking capability so you can check.

* Delivery tracking on anything, including just a first-class letter. It should cost less than certified, because it's just barcode reading.

* Discounts for currently undiscounted things. If I address it  legibly (I can even barcode the address in Word), meter the postage and bring it to the post office, it should cost less than if I scribble an address in crayon, attach five Fat Elvis stamps, and leave it in my own mailbox for pickup.

I'd even be okay with ending Saturday delivery and zoning the cost of first-class postage.  They already have the maps and the software to do it for every other kind of mail, so why not?

Most of this would take Congressional action, which is as oxymoronic a phrase as you can get.  So I'm not holding my breath, or much hope.
1 comment or Leave a comment
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: August 24th, 2015 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
So what we have here is a failure to communicate.
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