October 03, 2017
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Tom Hartmann on the USPS

by Thom Hartmann

In February of this year, the United States Post Office announced it is ending Saturday delivery of mail in an effort to save $2 billion a year.

Since then, our news media has completely botched the story, and given cover to a Republican Party and its corporate donors. For years they've been trying to destroy the United States Post Office - the largest employer of unionized workers in the nation – and now they're making it happen. But almost nobody is reporting on that aspect of it.

One of the most egregious examples of this media malpractice occurred on Sunday’s Meet the Press, when David Gregory reported on the Post Office’s cutbacks by saying, “In the information age…what we affectionately call ‘snail mail’ seems somewhat impractical.”

He noted that there were “45 Billion fewer pieces of mail today than just five years ago,” and that the Post Office had a “$16 billion shortfall in 2012.”

“So the bigger question,” Gregory asks, “is this: Is the current model sustainable?”

Not once in the report, did David Gregory bring up the real reason why the Post Office is hemorrhaging cash and now taking drastic measures to find savings. The Post Office was described as just the latest victim of the digital age, rather than what it really is: the latest victim of the Conservative war on unions.

Rewind back to 2006.

Things were going well for the Post Office. They were making money. They were even seriously considering replacing a large part of their fleet – the largest fleet of vehicles in the nation – with electric vehicles. It would be a huge boost for the electric car, and a huge slap in the face of oil barons like the Koch Brothers.

The Post Office had to be stopped, and Republican Congressman John McHugh (NY) was the man to do it. He had been a member of the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, and was deeply in the pocket of right-wing interests. In 2006, he succeeded in proposing and then watching pass the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. It was passed by a voice vote in a Republican Congress and signed by Republican President George W. Bush.

What the law did was ram a poison pill down the throat of the Post Office. It required the USPS to pre-funding its Retiree Health Benefits Fund for more than seven decades out into the future – and do it all within ten years. With this law, Congress forced the Post Office to set aside money for the health benefits of future retirees who aren’t even born yet.

It’s an obligation that no other private business or government agency has ever had to comply with before. And it costs the Post Office $5 billion a year.

So the news media thinks ending Saturday delivery to save $2 billion a year is worth reporting on. But a Congressional requirement that sucks $5 billion out of the Post Office annually doesn’t even receive a mention.

The Post Office was regularly running surpluses prior to this poison pill legislation. But every year since, the Post Office has lost more and more money to that retirement fund for people 75 years from now. So they're now ending Saturday delivery, looking to close offices around the nation, and will likely lay off tens of thousands of unionized workers.

Of course, the big winners in all of this are private mail carriers like FedEx and UPS that eventually won’t have to compete with the Post Office and its ability to send a letter from Florida to Alaska for less than 50-cents. Or its ability to offer Saturday service at no extra cost. Private mail carriers charge between 50x and 100x more than the USPS when it comes to paper mail delivery.

The passage of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act in 2006 was the culmination of a relentless effort carried out by Conservative Koch-funded think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), CATO, and the National Taxpayers Union, that had spent years writing papers and lobbying Congress to privatize the Post Office.

A common misconception is that the Post Office is a government agency funded by taxpayer dollars. That’s not true. In fact, the Post Office has largely been self-sufficient since the 1980’s and only recently has been forced to appeal to Congress for help since it swallowed that Republican poison pill in 2006. But the Post Office does have to fulfill a requirement by the government to provide universal service. It also was given a monopoly over most paper mail delivery.

Conservatives hate this. Government getting something right? For over 240 years? Unthinkable! Call in the CEOs!

So, we the consumers will get screwed when the price of mail will rise dramatically without the Post Office. But, hey, it will make a bunch of stockholders and CEOs at for-profit corporations like FedEx and UPS really, really rich.

And perhaps most importantly, by breaking up the Post Office and its half-million unionized workers – Conservatives have once again neutered organized labor in America and starved the Democratic Party of a primary fundraising base.

Curiously, ALEC, which writes corporate friendly legislation and relies on its membership of Republican lawmakers around the nation to pass this legislation, had a model bill known as the “Unfunded Pensions Liabilities Act,” which calls on state governments to account for exactly how they plan to fund future retiree benefits.

The law passed by Republicans in 2006 that’s crippled the Post Office today uses this same principle, and then takes it a step further to require the post office to pre-fund those retiree benefits 75 years out into the future.

Congressman John McHugh who was the main primarily responsible for the 2006 law is a former member of ALEC. So, too, was former Virginia Representative Tom Davis. And he co-sponsored the law, too.

In the years since the Post Office was forced to set aside more than $5 billion a year, private carriers like UPS and FedEx have seen their revenues and stocks increase dramatically. As billions are siphoned out of the Post Office every year, it can no longer reinvest in updating equipment, and thus finds it harder and harder compete with the private market.

In the first two years since the 2006 law kicked in, investors in FedEx enjoyed a 25% increase in the value of their company.

So this plan to kill the Post Office has, so far, been executed flawlessly by the Republican Party and its corporate overlords.

But even they couldn’t have expected all the help they’ve received in the years since from a mainstream corporate media that fails over and over again to report on what’s really happening with the Post Office.

Whether it’s lazy journalism or an effort to give cover to the corporatists, the news media is assisting in the demise of the Post Office – an institution started by Ben Franklin that’s older than the United States itself.

So that leaves it up to us – “we the people” – to tell the real story about what’s happening. The Digital Age isn’t killing the Post Office. Instead, the demise of the Post Office is another good ol’ fashioned story of corporate corruption of politicians and a Republican Party that exists, first and foremost, to serve the CEO class and screw the middle class.

Thom Hartmann is a New York Times bestselling Project Censored Award winning author and host of a nationally syndicated progressive radio talk show. You can learn more about Thom Hartmann at his website and find out what stations broadcast his radio program. He also now has a daily independent television program, The Big Picture,  syndicated by FreeSpeech TV, RT TV, and 2oo community TV stations.  You can also listen or watch Thom over the Internet.