"This is about dismantling the Postal Service, getting rid of unions, privatization, and selling post office buildings to developers." - Grey Brechin. Living New Deal Project. Univ. of Calif. Berkley.
BOGUE, Kan. - On the surface, the effort to close small post offices and cut wages and jobs may seem justifiable. Email has dramatically reduced the sale of postage stamps, and the private companies FedEx and UPS are delivering packages door to door.
But, if you dig a little deeper, you find the politics ...
No, you haven't read Thomas Frank's The Wrecking Crew or Sheldon Wolin's Democracy Incorporated? You should. But few Americans read much, especially anything too demanding, nor bother to question. They pull up an easy chair in front of the TV, or listen to talk radio rants. It's less taxing on the brain, but it's a big part of the problem.
I recently watched Jeff Greenfield interview author Fran Lebowitz on public television. You may not want to hear it, but Lebowitz has it right. Democracy is not natural. It's unnatural -- a human invention, an aberration. Rule by a monarch, a dictator, the military, an authoritarian religion, or a privileged class -- well, for our species, that sort of government is much more common. (If you have high-speed internet, you can still view the interview at pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/.)
Real democracy is an unending struggle of the many to limit the accumulation of dangerous economic, social, or political power. It requires intelligent, accurately informed, courageous, and active citizens -- not merely productive workers and eager consumers. Unfortunately, the latter is increasingly what we've come to, and the beneficiaries are the plutocrats, the few, who work relentlessly to dismantle democratic government by privatizing it, or by running it themselves. Now the politics ...
In 2006, in a span of just 3 days, Dec. 7-8-9, HR 6407 was introduced, passed both Republican House and Senate by voice vote. That means no record was kept of who voted how. George W. Bush signed it into law 5 days before Christmas.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-VI, who introduced. it had just 3 co-sponsors. The obvious strategy was to avoid accountability in the upcoming election.
So what did HR 6407 do? It compelled the US Postal Service to deposit $5.5 billion annually for 10 successive years to lay aside retirement benefits for 75 years. That should make it easier to understand why USPS reports a $30.2 billion shortfall over five years. But the really interesting point is that no other government agency, no private company is required to do the same. Why not?
The new law forces USPS to make radical changes, cutting as many as 220,000 full-time jobs and reducing benefits -- in an already dismal economy. Not incidentally, 220,000 is roughly equal to the membership of the American Postal Workers Union.
Part of the impact is likely to be the closing of 3,700 post offices, 134 in Kansas, including my home town and quite possibly yours. And unionized postal workers will get the blame.
More politics. In April, Stephen Lynch (D-MA) and a whopping 226 cosponsors including 25 Republicans (just one Kansan, Rep. Lynn Jenkins) introduced HR 1351. This bill would allow recalculation of the lame duck vote and cut USPS a little slack. However, in a heartbeat Speaker John Boehner referred the bill to an 11 member subcommittee, 7 of which are Republicans. (The Speaker's power of referral is basically impossible to challenge.) So the bill is being strangled, and the odds of keeping small post offices open look dismal.
Somehow we the people have been sold the idea that government is primarily about making a financial profit -- not about providing services for the common good and curbing privilege and power.
Our small town of Bogue will probably lose our post office, along with 133 others in the state. There was an official public meeting to hear comment. But many of us, having witnessed other such meetings, fear it's a done deal -- a political courtesy call.
People in cities view their post offices only as providing a necessary service. In villages like ours, the post office is where you meet and trade news with friends and neighbors. For example, our postmistress Kelly Jones is one of us, knows all her customers by first names, knows who's in the hospital, whose grand kids are about to make them great-grandparents. City folks have little understanding how much our post office -- like our little cafe, our church or the neighborly bank on main street -- contributes to our lifeblood.
Losing our post office would stab at the heart of what's left of our town. No, there's a better way to say it. It threatens the visceral connectedness of our community. Some may think that's no big deal. We disagree.