Bob Simpson

Bob Simpson
Oak Park, Illinois, United States
August 05
Retired history teacher and former web production guy
Webtrax Studio
So who is this guy? Well, my name is Bob “Bobbo” Simpson.I am a retired teacher and former web production guy. I am also 1/2 of the Carol Simpson labor cartoon team.

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AUGUST 14, 2012 6:15AM

The U.S. Postal Service is essential to our democracy

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The free exchange of ideas is critical to representative government and was one of the reasons why the US Postal Service(USPS) was created. At its founding the Postal Service had a deliberate policy of subsidizing the mailing of newspapers and other periodicals, precisely to encourage the communication of ideas. The importance of this was understood by President George Washington who signed the bill authorizing the US Postal Service in 1792. The idea of a postal service is enshrined in the US Constitution.

George Washington stamp

Despite its historic role in the free exchange of ideas, the U.S. Postal Service is under attack.

Republicans in Congress have taken aim at the Postal Service. They have been aided and abetted by Democrats who have remained silent, or like the current Postmaster General, even cave in to some of their demands. Congressional Republicans have created a thoroughly artificial financial crisis within the Postal Service to push for rate hikes, massive cutbacks in service and the closure of many small town and neighborhood post offices. Their ultimate goal is to privatize the USPS.

Critics of the Postal Service claim that if privatized its competitors like UPS and FedEx can take up the slack. This is ridiculous. The USPS is a universal service that goes everywhere, including many places that UPS and FedEd do not. Its package delivery is less expensive for small businesses and better for shipping internationally. FedEx even uses the Postal Service to deliver to customers not covered by its own fleet. 

Mail Truck

Critics also maintain that the Post Service has been made by obsolete by the Internet. Yet as of 2011, 30% of the urban population and 40% of the rural population do not have broadband Internet. US broadband is also slower and less reliable compared with many other nations. But even if 100% of Americans had modern broadband Internet, this does not remove the need for the Postal Service.

The Internet is largely private property where freedom of expression is not guaranteed. Facebook can suspend user accounts and pages. Twitter can censor tweets. YouTube can remove videos. Websites can be deleted by the private companies that host them. Internet content is delivered (or not) by huge corporate telcoms. 

 Print is not dead and has its own particular advantages

Printed works are more portable than Internet-based communication and if printed properly, can last a very long time. Many people prefer to read longer and more thoughtful writing on paper. Once you own a printed copy of something, it won’t disappear because a web server blew up, hackers wrecked it, a government censored it or the website owner zapped it for their own reasons. Print makes it easier to have numerous backup copies. Both print and the electronic media have their advantages and disadvantages. Since we are in the middle of a media revolution, we don’t have the perspective to understand all of those  advantages and disadvantages.

At a time when people are concerned about Internet security and all forms of idea exchange are subject to interference, it’s best to have as many ways to communicate as possible. This is especially true in the USA where political literacy is low and the means of communication is being concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands.

Encouraging the free exchange of ideas is more important than making a profit.

Over the years, the USPS has been forced to raise the rates for mailing periodicals to the point where smaller publications have curtailed or even suspended operations. Smaller publications are where new and unpopular ideas are first tested out. If we are serious about democracy, then the USPS should be lowering postal rates for periodicals and books to encourage reading and the exchange of ideas. It won’t make a profit, but so what?

The Congressional Republicans are strangely quiet about how their efforts to strangle the Post Service will affect American democracy. This is especially odd considering their supposed reverence for the “Founding Fathers” who to one degree or another realized that the free exchange of ideas was critical to representative government, even if they were suspicious of actual democracy.  We subsidize oil companies. Why not subsidize democracy?

Attacks on the USPS did not begin with the present crop of Congressional Republicans

There have been numerous times when the free exchange of ideas by mail has been attacked. One of the most egregious was directed against the USA‘s first known direct mail campaign. The mailing organizers were not hawking credit cards, insurance schemes, or political candidates. They were promoting freedom and democracy. 

Their shipment of direct mail arrived at the Charleston, South Carolina harbor on July 29, 1835. Not knowing exactly what to do with the many sacks of mail, Postmaster Alfred Huger set them aside. That evening a mob broke in, stole the mail and the next evening burned every piece in a mass demonstration that attracted a crowd of at least 2000 people.

The mail consisted of unsolicited literature advocating the abolition of slavery, sent by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS). They were addressed to individuals whose names were a matter of public record. No one was ever prosecuted for this theft and destruction of US mail. 

Pro slavery mob
A pro-slavery mob burning abolitionist mail 

The Postmaster General of the USA ignored the blatant violation of federal laws and ruled that in this case “states rights” prevailed. President Andrew Jackson, still celebrated by some as a great “man of the people”, introduced legislation that would have banned abolitionists from sending mail to the southern slave states, although Congress eventually decided it did not have the power to that.  Throughout the South vigilance committees were established to monitor the mails for any possible abolitionist literature and punish anyone caught with it. Where the force of law failed, state sponsored terrorism was always available. 

 Slave owners were the power behind racist mobs and politicians

The term "totalitarian" is normally used to describe a dictatorial government that subordinates the individual to its power. But I believe it can also accurately describe individual economic enterprises and how they are organized. By this description, each southern plantation was its own unique totalitarian institution. Taken together, they were a vast gulag of slave labor camps and the most powerful economic enterprises of their time. As a result plantation owners put a totalitarian stamp on American politics for much of our early history. Their reliance on slavery was associated with institutional racism, white supremacy, massive human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, environmental destruction, militarism and territorial imperialism. It eventually resulted in the Civil War, which cost upwards of 750,000 American lives.

For the slave owners, tampering with the US mail to crush democracy was all in a day’s work. But of course abolitionists( a despised minority even in the North), continued to use the US mails where they could, until the time came when abolition of slavery finally became national policy. 

But even the slaveholders did not attempt to actually shut down the Postal Service when they went to war with it. The modern effort to destroy the Postal Service through deep cutbacks and eventual privatization is coming from a Congress molded by the power of corporate wealth.The modern corporation that began to emerge after the Civil War was the successor to the slave plantation as the USA’s most dominant economic institution. 

 Like the slave plantations before them, the power of today’s corporate wealth weakens our democracy

The modern corporation is normally organized in a topdown totalitarian manner.The corporation is a place that even Bloomberg Businessweek says is “where free speech goes to die.” Most Americans simply accept this as without question because corporate property is “private” poverty. How much American political culture is molded by the habits of obedience formed by working within totalitarian corporations is something that deserves further study.

There are corporations who are reasonably benign and even supportive of democratic values, but there are others who have a dark association with extreme violence, white supremacy, environmental destruction, discrimination by race and gender, sweatshop labor, catastrophic financial fraud, war and other serious abuses. 

The corporate powered postal “reformers” in the money-soaked company town of Washington DC want to avoid any discussion of the democratic values that the Postal Service is supposed to uphold. How committed are the most powerful US corporations to the free exchange of ideas that is so critical to a democracy? Not very committed if one measures the amount of support they give the US Postal Service in its funding crisis.

Perhaps that is because corporate lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the American Petroleum Institute want to ensure that their propaganda messages dominate American thinking. That is consistent with the corporate drive to privatize education, dominate the mass media, crush what remains of the US labor movement and overwhelm their electoral opponents with the sheer force of money. 

 There is another reason for the hostility toward the USPS: The American postal worker

American postal workers are diverse, a true face of the USA. They live in urban, rural and suburban areas. They include both men and women. They come from many different ethnic backgrounds and have had a variety of life experiences. They live in every state and US territory. They belong to unions and make a decent living which includes benefits like retirement and vacation time.

Postal workers

Through their unions they have a voice at the workplace and in the halls of political power. They can go to a union meeting and discuss issues that affect their lives and take action with other postal workers.They represent the dream that all working class people should have a comfortable living standard and a powerful voice in public affairs.

From the point of view of the corporate elites, US Postal Service employees with their living standards and their unions, set a bad example for the rest of the working class. Today’s corporate agenda for working class America seems to be low wages, temporary jobs, no benefits, no job security, no voice at work, a limited voice in public affairs and no unions. 

This is very dangerous to democracy because it creates a society with a vast gap between rich and poor. This feeds the social desperation that grows anti-democratic totalitarian political movements. It is also is a major factor in creating economic crashes such as this country had in 1929 and 2008, which also feed totalitarian movements of social desperation. Unions are an important part of modern democracies and the postal unions stand as living examples of that.

 Your local post office is an essential part of the infrastructure of our democracy.

Perhaps it's time for us to recognize our local post office for what it is, an essential part of the infrastructure for democracy. Perhaps we need to thank our postal workers for being who they really are: peaceful warriors for the democratic exchange of ideas. Perhaps it’s also time for us to reflect on how committed we are to democratic values and if we are willing to defend them. Defending your local post office would be a good place to begin.

Sources Consulted

 America’s First Direct Mail Campaign by  Nancy Pope

 Abolitionism by Reyna Eisentark

 Democratic Discourses  by Michael Bennett

 George Washington signs the Postal Service Act

 The Postal Service Is Essential to Democracy by John Nichols

 How Cuts To USPS Threaten American Democracy by Trisha Marczak

 Mail Matters by Richard R. John

 A Prospective Raise in Postal Rates Riles Magazines by Jeremy W. Peters

 The Manufactured "Financial Crisis" of the U.S. Postal Service by Ralph Nader

 Digital Age Is Slow to Arrive in Rural America by Kim Severson

 Where Free Speech Goes to Die: The Workplace by  Michael Dolgow




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Editor's Pick?

Nah...... probably not. If I had the choice it'd get a Pulitzer though!!

Rated, rated, rated!
interesting, but i do wish you wouldn't refer to democracy in america. those slave masters went to some effort to make sure america was not a democracy, and succeeded very well.
Democracy is always a process in motion and we made significant gains that I believe peaked in the 1960's and 1970's with the civil rights movement and the women's movement.

Since then the reverse has been true with our corporate elite (as divided as they are), reasserting power and fencing us in with privatization, police repression and outright money bombing of our badly broken election system.

We have a lot of work to do against unfavorable odds if we are serious about democracy in the USA.
May I abuse the privilege of your pages? I wrote this some time ago but I can't find it on OS. I had a copy stashed away, though:

Conservatives are always up in arms about the U.S Postal Service, which is often taken as an example of inefficient government bureaucracy.

The truth, however, is quite different.

The U.S. Postal Service was created in 1971, under the Nixon administration, in an attempt to privatize the mail system. Despite frequent assertions to the contrary, the Postal Service doesn’t cost the federal government anything at all. Postal Service employees are covered by federal pension and health care programs but the Postal Service, not the federal government, is putting up the matching funds for those services. That’s why the Postal Service is asking Congress for permission to withdraw from federal pension and health plan programs: they are too expensive.

During the past few years, the USPS has operated on its own revenues until 2010, when the service suffered an $8.5 billion deficit that was covered with loans from the federal government. (Note that these are loans, not grants. The USPS has to pay the US Government back somehow, sooner or later.)

Conservatives argue that these loans constitute federal subsidies. A loan is not a subsidy. Get used to it. The Postal Service has taken out federal loans to subsidize operations before, and paid them back. Compared to the Wall Street bail-out, an $8 billion expense to underwrite postal services is chicken feed.

Decreasing mail volume resulting from the use of the internet continues to adversely affect the Postal Service’s bottom line, and that’s not likely to change….but the fact remains that there are things that simply can’t be sent via email, and some things you don’t want to send that way.

The cheaper solution the Republicans cite for mail deliver is to turn the whole business over to Federal Express.

Federal Express? How would that work? (And why not the United Parcel Service?) \

The cost for delivering a one ounce letter ACROSS THE STREET from my home in Florida is just 44 cents with the U.S Postal service. On average, it takes the Postal Service three days to deliver a letter anywhere in the US. The cost for delivering the same letter to the same destination via Federal Express is $10.50.

Next day delivery to Zone 1 (within 150 miles) costs at least $15.50.

Local next day delivery from the USPS: $13.25.

The Federal Express rate for next day delivery of the same letter to Zone 8 (1,800 miles or more) is $27.30. The cost of a flat rate envelope from the Postal Service is $18.30 regardless of the distance. (The Postal Service has a $26.50 rate for deliveries to Zone 8 but, if you go to a Post Office, the clerk will tell you to use the flat rate envelope which gives you the same overnight delivery for $18.30.)

The discrepancy between Federal Express rates and USPS rates continues throughout the range of products offered by both companies.

What, if anything, does this prove?

Well, for starters, it proves that the Postal Service is a hell of a lot cheaper than Federal Express for the same exact services, but the most important statistic is the relative cost of sending an overnight letter via FedEx as opposed to sending the same letter via the Postal Service.

The next time you pay your bills, assuming you actually pay by mail, add up the number of items you’re sending out and multiply that by $10.04 because that’s what it’s going to cost you to pay those bills.

On average, I pay ten bills a month. My cost, with Federal Express, would be $100. My cost with the Postal Service: $4.40.

Attacking the US Postal Service is yet another attack on poor people, because the poor rely on the Postal Service to pay their bills and stay in touch with each other because, when you can no longer afford your internet access or your cell phone or your land line, you can still afford to send a first class letter.

Laying off 100,000 postal workers won’t solve the Postal Service’s problems. Increasing the postal service rates by 10% will….and it will enable those workers to keep their jobs.