BY JIM HIGHTOWER
In 2006, then-president George W. Bush, congressional Republican leaders, the powerful “privatizer lobby” [including FedEx, UPS and Wall Street speculators] and Koch-funded think tanks and Astroturf front groups colluded to put a one-of-a-kind paper “debt” on the books of USPS.
Congress enacted a postal-service “enhancement” provision requiring the public postal corporation to pre-fund the health and pension benefits for all postal-service retirees 75 years in advance!
Think about that. This arbitrary, wholly unprecedented, legislated requirement to pay now for the retirement benefits of future employees [including those not even born yet] has piled a false cost of about $5 billion a year on the debit side of the agency’s balance sheet.
By cooking the books with this false entry, the right wing has been able to wail that our Postal Service is broke and continuing to bleed money, endangering taxpayers with a massive bailout. As you’d expect, Fox News and the entire gaggle of alt-right media screechers keep flinging this falsehood far and wide.
And this year, their most gullible fan and leader of the “free world” has joined the fling-fest, bloviating in serial tweets about “our money losing post office” and, in the official text of his executive order to form a postal task force, rubber-stamped the Chicken Little myth that “USPS is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured.”
Chances are that you, too, have been caught up in their lie, because supposedly responsible, mainstream news sources [Washington Post, AP, network TV channels, NPR, etc.] have swallowed it whole and routinely repeat it unedited and in unison. At the end of each fiscal year, when USPS is compelled by law to announce yet another multibillion-dollar “loss,” mass media outlets report the dramatic number without explaining the bookkeeping hoax hidden in it.
This artificial, 75-year pre-funding decree is an absurd burden that no other corporation or government agency is forced to carry. Take it away, and voila! The Postal Service is a moneymaker. Since 2014, it has posted operating profits totaling $2.7 billion – a healthy average of $900 million a year.
Their assertion about the necessity of postal privatization is a fraud, but worse is the exorbitant price We the People would pay if they succeed. Surprisingly, Trump’s in-house task force puts the public cost right in their restructuring proposal, apparently thinking they were writing a prospectus to attract property hustlers like Trump, rather than a document that we might read. They candidly presented privatization as a fantastic profiteering opportunity for a corporate cost-cutter:
“A private postal operator that delivers mail fewer days per week and to more central locations [not door delivery] would operate at substantially lower costs,” says their proposal. “A private entity would also have greater ability to adjust product pricing in response to changes in demand or operating costs. Freeing USPS to more fully negotiate pay and benefits … and allowing it to follow private sector practices in compensation and labor relations could further reduce costs … [and] a privatized Postal Service would be more insulated from politics.”
Let’s review what that tells us:
– Instead of six-day delivery, you’d get your mail maybe three days a week, though you’d have to drive at least a couple of miles to collect it, paying an ever-rising monthly fee for the privilege.
– Delivery to “more central locations” also means abandoning the Postal Service’s historic egalitarian principle of universal service, substituting the FedEx principle of “profitable service,” which excludes wide swaths of rural and inner-city America.
– The “ability to adjust product pricing” means the cost of stamps and other postal services would [like today’s prescription medicines] rise on corporate whim.
– Freeing a private operator to “more fully negotiate” employees’ pay, benefits, working conditions, and rights means they would be based on the Walmart/McDonald’s race-to-the bottom standard, rather than a civil-service scale of upwardly mobile, middle-class opportunities.
– And “insulating” a corporate mail service from politics means shutting out customers, workers, communities – and, well, you and me, the Public.
Nothing symbolizes our fight for the democratic ideal of the Common Good more than our public post office. This essential, egalitarian, nationwide service literally is us: It was a unifying center of American life before the USA itself was formed, and it is the only agency enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
More profoundly, its 31,000 branches belong to us, not a handful of rich corporate investors, tangibly linking your mailbox and mine to all others. Our postal service is daily proof that we really are “all in this together.” To save our public postal service, go to USMailNotforSale.org.
– Jim Hightower’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer