Monday, February 27, 2012

Going Postal on the Poor

Leave it to Congress to exceed even its own abysmal level of clueless incompetence. In general, our lawmakers have not raised too much of a stink about the mass closures beginning in May of post offices and mail distribution centers, and the loss of thousands of postal service jobs. That severely poor rural areas are being unfairly targeted in the cutting frenzy has raised nary an eyebrow. I can't seem to recall any bill pending in the Bubble Dome that would put an end to Congressional franking privileges (free postage for official mailing to constituents) in order to stem the hemorrhage of money from the cash-strapped USPS.

But that has changed.  It is suddenly occurring to the political class that, due to closures and cutbacks, the delivery of mail-in ballots may be delayed in this November's general election. They have therefore decided that postal budget cuts constitute a crisis of epic proportions.  People may be unable to vote them back into office because they can't get to a post office! Delivery of ballots to absentee voters may be slowed by days, even weeks!  The closing of the distribution centers will mean an end to next-day delivery of first class mail. So something must be done -- pronto!

Some politicians are calling for delaying the closures until after Election Day. Millions of voters cast their ballots by mail every year, and in Washington and Oregon, voting is done only through the mail. Voting by mail is always more popular during a presidential election year. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is worried that ballots from rural areas in his state won't get to and from their destinations in time: "Not knowing how long it will take to process those ballots could disproportionately affect rural voters, he said.“Closing these facilities carries many unintended consequences. It is not a risk worth taking.”

What Wyden didn't say is that those rural areas will end up suffering from a lot more than disenfranchisement once the small-town post offices are shuttered for good. One of the main excuses the government has for annihilating mail service as we know it is that the Internet has killed snail mail. Tell that to the rural poor, who are often deprived of decent broadband coverage in their remote habitats. Mitt Romney is not the only tone-deaf member of the ruling class elite. He and his plutocratic cadre just assume that everybody has a computer, a Cadillac and a career, money to burn and gas to burn to drive to the nearest unclosed post office, maybe 50 miles away.

According a recent report published by Reuters, nearly 80 percent of the 3,830 post offices under consideration for closure are in sparsely populated rural areas, where poverty rates are higher than the national average -- and where one third have no Internet service. And unbelievably, the USPS did not even take economic impact on communities into consideration in deciding which facilities to close. The decision was based purely on profitability or the lack thereof. From Reuters:
About 2.9 million people live in the rural communities where the post office that may close is either the only one or one of two post offices serving their zip code area. For many rural residents, that would translate into longer drives to mail packages, pay bills or buy stamps.
The Postal Service chose post offices for possible closure based primarily on revenue. Two-thirds of the 3,830 post offices slated for closure earned less than $27,500 in annual sales, postal data show. Nearly 90 percent of these post offices are located in rural areas, where shrinking populations and dwindling businesses mean the post offices simply cost more to operate than they earn.
As with so many of the other gratuitous cost-cutting measures in the current federal budget, the post office cuts seem designed specifically to punish poor people in the name of austerity. If you don't do your fair share in this mercenary society, you just are not going to get President Obama's fair shot. Your worth as an American citizen seems to be  based solely on your monetary productivity. And Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe seems to know exactly what he is doing, because he refused to honor a Freedom of Information request from Reuters about revenue from each individual post office on the chopping block. The targeting of the indigent is no accident. And the savings from these arbitrary closings are so miniscule as to be meaningless. Statistics show that Donahoe's proposed closings would save only $295 million a year, or four-tenths of one percent of the USPS's annual operating expenses.
"That's a drop in the bucket," said William Henderson, who served as Postmaster General from 1998 to 2001. Then he corrected himself: "That's not even a drop in the bucket. The bucket won't ripple."
Do read the whole Reuters article. It is a real eye-opener; an all-too-rare example of enterprise journalism in this era of media stenography. It just adds even more evidence to the charge that Donahoe is another political front man of the privatization of America. He is doing his fair share to give corporations a fair shot at shaking us all down in their endless quest of making a buck. To hell with people who don't have enough money to make a difference, or to make him and his boss care.

NYU Professor Steve Hudkins says that Donohue seems to be frantically rushing to get rid of post office jobs and buildings before advisory studies and public input are even collected and collated. (Hudkins runs his Save the Post Office website purely as a public service. He neither works for the postal service nor has he any relatives who are postal employees. He just likes his small-town post office!):
The Postal Service isn’t waiting to hear what the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has to say about the Network Rationalization plan.  The PRC’s Advisory Opinion is due out in late summer, probably August or September, but the Postal Service plans to get started on the consolidations as early as May. 
It’s disconcerting that the Postal Service is in such a rush to begin closing the plants, especially considering that it has only itself to blame for when the Advisory Opinion will be ready.  The Postal Service could have submitted the Request for an Opinion four months earlier....
It’s not clear why the Postal Service is now in such a hurry and why it wants to close so many plants in such a short time.  It’s a sure formula for chaos in the mail system, and delays in delivering the mail will be inevitable, probably much worse than the change in service standards for First-Class mail that's already part of the plan.
Perhaps the Postal Service wants to increase pressure on Congress to pass legislation, perhaps management really believes its own hype about how dire the situation is, or perhaps they just want to amp up the sense of emergency to help further their agenda.
Whatever the reason, the Postal Service is basically thumbing its nose at the PRC and saying it doesn’t really care what the Advisory Opinion says.  Many of the plants will be closed before the Opinion even comes out.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio wants Donahue fired, and he also doesn't understand why the President is not more involved in defending the USPS against (mainly) Republican assault.  
"They think somehow the private sector will take over," DeFazio said. "Tell me who in the private sector is going to deliver a letter for 45 cents to a small rural community 40 miles from the nearest, or 100 miles from the nearest, sorting facility? That's not going to happen. These people will be deprived of any meaningful service."
DeFazio said generally that reduced mail service would be an "incredible blow" to the U.S. economy and would affect several companies and consumers who rely on the current level of service.
"I guess we'll become the first developed nation on earth without a postal service, just like we're the only developed industrial nation on earth without universal healthcare," DeFazio said. "We're the best."
Obama's proposed 2013 budget calls for ending Saturday mail service to save money, but he has been mum on the plant closings, layoffs and shuttering of post offices in poor rural areas. What a huge surprise. How many photo-ops and campaign events has he held in poor rural areas? If you can't afford the gas to drive to one of his populist harangues in a monied burb, you're out of luck.

Abandoned Post Office in South Georgia


Grung_e_Gene said...

DeFaizo is correct, the President needs to stand with the USPS and Postal workers. A lot of veterans transition into the Post Office for a good career post military service.

And "Austerity" measures always target the poor and middle class. Government cutbacks never target Oil Compnay Welfare or DoD Graft and Corruption but always cut back on needed services used by the majority of Americans.

Denis Neville said...

The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.

“At Postal Service headquarters, officials say they did not consider Internet accessibility when determining which offices to shutter.”

Yet another example of the indifference to the growing social inequality by our ruling elites.

As someone who grew up poor in rural South Dakota years ago, I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be today. We didn’t have a telephone. The Post Office was our lifeline to the outside world. I shutter to think what my life would be like today if I were still living there under those same circumstances.

Today, “The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor.”- J. K. Galbraith

Have they no sense of decency left?

What would Ben Franklin (Ben Franklin’s original post office is among the many post offices being stamped out) think?

Outside Independence Hall when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended, Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

Thomas Jefferson would later write, "We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest, which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves."

One cannot help but think of the great Roman satirist Juvenal’s scornful words, “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the people have abdicated their duties; the people, that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and long eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses.”

Just as the Romans lost the capacity to govern themselves by being so distracted by mindless self-gratification, we also have our “bread and circuses” as well as many other outlets for mindless self-gratification.

According to Juvenal, writing about the Rome of his time, it was hard not to write satire. It is hard not to write satire these days, when we and our government are so consumed with bread and circuses. We constantly satirize ourselves.

The wolves are again sticking it to us.

At some point will the “republic” begin to realize that there is no longer any bread, just circuses?

Zee said...

The sudden concern that our congresscritters are expressing about rural post office closures and the impact that may on the 2012elections is really quite touching.

Doubtless that concern will extend all the way to the morning of Wednesday, 7 November 2012, when the reprieves are revoked and, once again, the nation's rural post offices will be on the chopping block.

Though I live in a large city, the bulk of New Mexico is wonderfully rural. As Mrs. Zee and I ride our motorcycles through New Mexico and Colorado, many villages that we pass through may consist only of a post office, maybe a small grocery or general store, and maybe...just maybe... a gas station. In many cases, not so much as a single dwelling is visible nearby.

As I ride through, I often wonder if perhaps the tiny post offices are also the main social meeting places, where these rural folks go not just to post a letter, but also to see a familiar face other than those out at the tiny farm or ranch.

The ride to the next village or town that might have a post office is usually quite some distance. As gas prices soar, it will cost much more to drive to the next post office for those who are actually

“still sending [their] Christmas cards and [their] birthday cards [via the U.S. Postal Service]." -Reuters

Moreover, as gas prices continue to rise, keeping that little general store stocked with food will become increasingly expensive, too, as will the long drive to see a doctor or dentist, etc.

I see the death of a highly independent way of life that I respect, even if I don't share it. But all I see from politicians is concern about garnering votes...all the way to the morning of 7 November 2012.

Valerie said...

First, what a lovely little building! Can you imagine what it looked like when it had windows?

Who ever heard of a First World Country without a Federal Postal system?

And DeFaizo needs to recognize that the President IS the architect of this whole closing the Federal Post Office System. Obama IS THE PROBLEM along with a pro-corporate Congress. This country is going to hell in a hand-basket thanks to our great leaders!

In Germany, because there is a slow-down in snail mail, the German Federal Post Office has decided to have a special offer on sending small, flat packages both overseas and domestically to remind people how wonderful snail mail can be. They can be sent as a piece of mail for a reduced price. My German friends are now sending little packages to one another - just a little something to brighten someone's day. In New Zealand they have these charming ads on T.V. showing how much it means to someone to still get a letter. The theme is "send and you shall receive." They are like Hallmark commercials.

Once again governments that see their job as working on behalf of the people they represents - who OBVIOUSLY benefit from a national postal system - as opposed to our government. Well, I suppose technically our politicians are representing the people they represent - the ones that pay into their political campaigns.

How self serving for these politicians to think they should slow down the closures until after the election! What a bunch of slimy hypocrites.

James F Traynor said...

Right now I'm thinking of Vito Marcantonio. A pity he died so young. I know where he'd be on this issue. I was a first generation Irish American kid growing up in the South Bronx when I first heard about him and knew, first hand, the kind of tactics used by the Republican, Democratic and Liberal Parties to get him politically. He was and is the only politician for whom I've had any real respect.

DW2000 said...

@James F. Traynor: How great to see mention of Vito Marcantonio!! Yes, he was a giant. I think there have been a few others....but few in his class.

Of course he also had his blind spots.
Too close to the Communist Party, which was fine in US matters....not so good on foreign affairs. His triple pirouette on the US entering World War II was telling in this regard.

But he was a great one.

His book, "I Vote my Conscience" is a collection of his unforgettable speeches.

We need him and and a army of kindred spirits today.

Thanks again for the reference.

Karen Garcia said...

Here is my comment in response to David Brooks's whiney offering this evening....

Don't worry, David. While the Grand Old Party has allowed itself to devolve into a nihilistic free-for-all, the Democrats haven't exactly been slouches in the execution of sharp right turns either. The guy in the White House has himself been more than accomodating to the Tea Party. In fact, he was so accomodating during the fake Debt Ceiling Debacle this past summer that John Boehner bragged he got 98% of everything he wanted in the way of budget cuts. Obama has been doing his utmost to out-Republican the Republicans. No wonder they're imploding: they have nowhere else to go.

You have your loony RINO seditionists, and what passes for the liberal crowd has its DINOs -- corporatists who pride themselves on having somewhat more enlightened social values even as they continue to pour the wealth of a nation into useless wars, grow an increasingly intrusive surveillance state, fail to defend labor unions, privatize our schools and prisons, prosecute an inhumane war on drugs, enable ongoing banksterism, and offshore jobs in corporation-friendly free trade agreements. The RINOs and the DINOs enjoy frequent and mutual wallows in the mudhole of Citizens United.

It's really one big Uniparty with two corrupt halves, owned and operated by a defacto Oligarchy. It speaks, grunts and bellows for nobody but itself.

John in Lafayette said...

Mr. Zee reminds me of my time living in rural New Mexico. A photo of our post office can be found here:

I've written many times to my "representatives" in Congress about the need to save the postal service, but since the people most in need of that service aren't likely to have SuperPACS, there isn't much concern for them in Washington.

The constitution empowers Congres to establish post offices. I would posit that granting Congress that power also obligates them to provide postal service to all Americans. I suppose that Congress standing idly by while another of our constitutional rights is taken away shouldn't surprise us any more, but it should still outrage us.

Thanks, Karen, for this excellent piece. I've posted links to it in all my usual places.

And thanks, too, Karen, for this gem: "His (Santorum's) campaign needs to be declared a living Superfund site."

Denis Neville said...

@ James F Traynor – “Right now I'm thinking of Vito Marcantonio.”

I had never before heard of Vito Marcantonio. I was only a young boy in South Dakota when he died.

Some results of my Google search to learn more about him:

Dorothy Day’s tribute, "Death in August - Vito Marcantonio," in The Catholic Worker, September 1954. A testament of Vito Marcantonio’s political work with the poor. Seen as a Communist sympathizer, he is denied a Church burial [the ultra-reactionary Francis Cardinal Spellman overruled East Harlem clergy and denied Marc a Catholic funeral]. She says he lived Matthew 25 and did the works of mercy.

“The thing that we will remember Vito Marcantonio for was “he understood concerning the needy and the poor.” The Psalmist said, “Blessed is he who understands concerning the needy and the poor.”…”The poor of East Harlem felt that Vito loved them and was interested in them. “It was like the confessional or the clinic,” someone said of his office. “There was always someone there to listen, to advise, to give help. Crowds came to him, and he always listened. He always tried to help.”

John Simon, “Rebel in the House: The Life and Times of Vito Marcantonio,”

“[Vito Marcantonio] was an advocate of civil rights, civil liberties, labor unions, and Puerto Rican independence. He supported social security and unemployment legislation for what later was called a “living wage” standard. And he annually introduced anti-lynching and anti–poll tax bills a decade before it became respectable. He also opposed the House Un-American Activities Committee, redbaiting, and antisemitism, and fought for the rights of the foreign born. He was a bold outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism.”

“His vision was a better society rather than heavenly salvation, but he felt his calling as powerfully as any priest… His red tombstone reads “Vito Marcantonio: Defender of Human Rights.”

“You only live once and it is best to live one’s life with one’s conscience rather than to temporize or accept with silence those things one believes to be against the interests of one’s people and one’s nation.” - Vito Marcantonio in Congress June 27, 1950, the only Congressional voice opposed to U.S. intervention in the Korean War.

One of the greatest aspects of Sardonicky is the education it provides.

I echo DW2000’s that our nation needs Vito Marcantonio and an army of kindred spirits today in our sorry state of political and social affairs. Thanks for the reference.

Kat said...

The lifestyle liberals join in on piling on the poor. Yesterday, Mark Bittman wrote a column about regulating what foods may be purchased with SNAP benefits. He calls for an unholy alliance with this state senator from Florida. Here is the legislation she wants to pass:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As individuals receiving public assistance reach record levels, the fraudulent use of these funds is becoming more widespread. Current Florida law does not prohibit recipients from using government assistance at ATMs inside liquor stores, strip clubs and even out-of-state locations such as Las Vegas and the Bahamas. Additionally, purchases of unhealthy food items such as potato chips, candy bars and soda are allowed. This session, Senator Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, filed a bill that would ban such purchases.
These dollars are intended to help struggling families, and, in most cases, they are being used appropriately,” said Storms. “However, we should do what we can to prevent dollars intended to help Florida’s poorest families from being spent in the wrong places. This law would ensure this does not continue.”

Storms’ bill prohibits a recipient from using his or her EBT card to access cash benefits outside of Florida. It prohibits EBT card purchases made for alcohol or tobacco products, as well as certain foods such as candy, sweet rolls, chips and sodas. It also prevents access to automated teller machines located in gambling and adult entertainment establishments, and provides a list of establishments inside the state that a cash assistance recipient may not access cash benefits through an EBT card from an ATM, as well as any out of state purchases.

And here is the always prescient Orwell writing last century:

'The miner's family spend only tenpence a week on green vegetables and tenpence halfpenny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three year's old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew, probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes - an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate carrots raw?

'Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would rather starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit tasty. There is always something cheaply pleasant to tempt you. Let's have threepennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny icecream! Put the kettle on and we'll have a nice cup of tea! White bread and marg and sugared tea don't nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread and dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the Englishman's opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.'

Denis Neville said...

Told You So…

Keystone XL Pipeline is back!!!

“A proposal by Canadian oil firm TransCanada to seek new approval for segments of its Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted warmly by the Obama White House today.”

“TransCanada is using a divide-and-conquer method by splitting up the original Keystone route in two. The lower half of the pipeline would now start in Oklahoma and travel to Texas, but because it does not cross an international border it would not require the special cross-border permit. The northern half would still need federal approval, but TransCanada would begin building the lower half even without it.”

A commenter asks, “How will Bill McKibben and the other so-called environmentalists who refuse to see the truth about Obama and the democrats find a way to make this a reason to vote for their favorite deviants?”

Pat in Minnesota said...

As a postal worker at one of the many processing plants slated for closure after May 15, I thank you Karen for your attention to this all too-often ignored issue. Obama should have fired Donohoe long ago, but then again Obama hasn't shown much concern for postal workers or any wage slaves for that matter. It doesn't have to happen this way, there are myriad ways to fix postal finances, just one being the pre-funding of retiree health benefits. There is no contingency plan for the workers in these plants, only some talk of early-out incentives for those in management. If there ever was a case of worrying about the horses after leaving the barn door open all night, this is it.

I'll survive after the ax comes down, but I know there are many who will struggle greatly.

Is there anyone out there able to stop the madness in this country?

DW2000 said...

@Kat: The Orwell quote is amazing...
Thanks. What is the source?

Kat said...

great comment today, but I had to resist the urge to reply with a "We'll have you to thanks when rethuglican Prez Santorum is outlawing abortion!". You were short on replies today.

Kat said...

Oh heck. there were lots of comments there. I forgot that I pulled up your comment by clicking on "reader picks".
Remember Karen, Obmama has been "quitely been doing his damnest to GOVERN" (as one commenter replies) and although you may think it is "hip" to be weary and cynical (as another commenter replies) there is a true choice to be made! Could the difference between the candidates not be more stark?

Kat said...

DW2000-- The Road to Wigan Pier.

It really applies quite well to Bittman's column yesterday if you read some of the comments.
Someone wrote (not sarcastically, mind you)
"Instead of food stamps they should distribute sacks of beans and rice and a coupon for a pressure cooker."

Jay - Ottawa said...

With apologies to President Johnson's 1968 Kerner Commission, which established this simple template of interpretation, the American nation has moved toward two societies, one rich, one poor -- separate and (grossly) unequal.

Johnson tried to correct the black/white divide -- and the rich/poor divide -- with help from the other two branches of government. In our day all three branches are falling over themselves to undo the reforms of the past and heighten the disparities of the present.