Going, going, gone

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

Did you know that of all our national institutions, our postal service predates our country, our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution?

In 1775, at the first Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin, because of his background working for the Crown delivering mail in the colonies, was appointed the first Postmaster General of the soon-to-be United States of America. This postal service became one of the few agencies (along with the military) authorized by the U.S. Constitution.

Franklin had foresight. He saw the public necessity of a postal service in a democracy. He was a well-rounded fellow, postal routes not his only concern. He was first of all a writer – contributing articles for his brother’s newspaper in Boston when he was barely in his teens. He was by nature a scientist – he invented the lightning rod, bifocals, a stove – that came to be called the Franklin stove – which generated a cleaner fire and greater warmth with less fuel. He was a civic leader, establishing the first library, in the city of Philadelphia; and then the first fire company, a philosophical society, a militia for civil defense, a hospital, streets, lighting for those streets….

The man is the epitome, the perfect example of civic-minded entrepreneur that made America great.

The postal office he started and that has been in existence as a – get this – public service – is in jeopardy because it does not make a profit. Governments and their agencies are not profit-making entities, especially governments founded on the remarkable principle “of, by and for the people.” But some people in this country, even in governmental positions, do not know this about governments.

The United States Postal Service is the only delivery service in the country that delivers to everyone, no matter where they live; it is legally obligated to serve all Americans regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. It is a universal service — the poor and the rich will get and send their mail no matter where they live.

If we no longer have this governmental public service, like the military’s public service, we will not have universal mail service. We do have the expensive FedEx and UPS, but they already farm out their outlying packages to the USPS – that is, the mail that goes so far into the hinterland these guys don’t go there, the U.S. mail carriers take it there. So, private for-profit carriers such as Amazon Prime and UPS pay the Post Office to deliver to places they don’t care to go.

On June 20, 2018, a long two years ago, the President proposed privatization of the postal service because it doesn’t make money and why should we have to pay for it? On this principle, wouldn’t he have to get rid of the military also? Or his position, as he sees it, as head CEO of the country?

That 2019 headline was a minor blip in a tsunami of alternative facts, and now it’s in the news again, the dastardly Post Office not making any money for the country.

If we lose it, what’s the big deal?

How about this: a letter that costs us 50 cents at the Post Office today costs $8.50 via FedEx. If we live in a place where there is no pharmacy and we get our meds by mail, maybe FedEx doesn’t want to deliver there, and there’s no real incentive for them to open up a route just for us. So how do we get our meds? If we live in a place where there is no precinct anymore for us to vote in and we’ve had to vote by mail, it’s going to cost us or the local election board $8.50 per ballot? Whoops! A few more poor persons not voting.

Why does the President care? He wants to put 630,000 postal employees on the welfare rolls to save how much? He thinks Mr. Bezos’s Amazon is using the Postal Service to get cheap shipment rates? Or he just hates Bezos because he’s richer than the him. Or maybe he has no nefarious plan other than his world view that everything is really a business; the entity he’s president of is just another resort with golf course and hotel, jets and helicopters, free meals and servants that has to turn a profit or start cutting corners.

There are many things in this country that are taking the dive – safe drinking water, national parks, educational excellence, school lunches, justice for all, goodwill around the world and the wealthy paying commensurable taxes. I regret all of those. But if Franklin’s postal service goes, I will have to sit down and cry. I love my classy old wonderful-smelling Jefferson Post Office.

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