Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How America is getting pecked to death by birdbrains. Part 1: The USPS and privatization.

Under the Republican-Bush Administration and so-called "conservative" ideology, the United States has very nearly become a Third World nation. Birdbrained thinking is behind every aspect of a declining United States, from the drain on our human treasure and national treasury by the Iraq war, to today’s topic: A draining trip to the post office.

I went to the post office today, May 7th, to mail a package. The post office is three blocks from my office, roughly a three-minute walk. I left the office at 12:25 PM. I got back to my desk at 2:20 PM.

The post office is one of the two biggest in Manhattan, the James Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets. Using it turned out to be a nightmare.

The Flat Rate Follies

I wanted to use the service that lets you stuff anything that fits into a certain size box for a flat rate. I saw signs all over the post office announcing what a great deal this is. What I didn’t see, after a block-long traipse from one end of the huge post office to the other, were the boxes.

I finally found some kind of roving postal official who’s evidently there to answer questions such as, “Where do I get one of those flat-rate boxes?”

So I asked him, “Where do I get one of those flat rate boxes?”

“Well,” he said, seeming a bit unsure of himself, “there might be some over on that table.” He pointed to a table at the south end of the post office.

“Nope, I’ve already looked there,” I told him.

“Well, go over there,” he said, pointing in the opposite direction to the philatelic store at the north side of the post office.

I went to the store. I looked around. I couldn’t see a flat rate box. I got in a line. There were six people in front of me. Finally, it was my turn. I asked for one of the flat rate boxes.

“I have only one left,” said the clerk, pulling it from a hiding place behind his counter.

One left? One left? I’m in one of of the two largest post offices in Manhattan, if not in the United States of America, with signs all over the place advertising flat rate boxes, and they only had one box? One?

“I’ll take it,” I said. “How much?”

The price of “free”

“Oh, it’s free,” said the clerk.

Free? They make you stand in line 10 minutes for something they’re giving out free? Why don’t they just stack ‘em up in the corner, under a sign that says: Flat Rate Boxes. Take One, Free.

I put the contents of my package into the box. I addressed the box. I sealed it. Then I had to get at the end of another line, in the main hall of the post office to buy however much postage I needed to put on the box, and to obtain a receipt.

True, there were a few computerized stamp-generating machines in the hall as well, with long lines of their own behind them. But I wanted to make sure I got everything exactly right, since if I screwed up the box, I wasn’t likely to find another. So I got in the line for service by a human.

There were 27 people in that line. I know, because I counted them. There was one – one! – window with one postal clerk behind it open. Five others were closed. This was an the middle of the business day. In the bustling midtown Manhattan business neighborhood. In one of the city’s two largest post offices. One clerk!

From time to time, another clerk window would open for a few minutes, then close again. Often people in line didn’t see the window or hear the tiny bell the clerks behind the windows would ding instead of calling out “Next!” The Farley Post Office used to have a semi-automated system with flashing lights that would indicate when a window was available. That seems to be out of order.

The line in front of me shuffled along slowly. The line behind me grew longer. After a while there were only 12 people in front of me, and 41 behind me.

Postal customers seethe

Not that there weren’t postal employees around. There were, although none of them were doing clerical duties behind post office windows. For example, there were two uniformed postal postal police on patrol. On patrol for what? Probably to make certain none of the customers “go postal” out of sheer frustration and rage. A few seemed on the verge. Eyes rolled. Lips mouthed what appeared to be silent curses. The cops watched us suspiciously.

One hour and 35 minutes after went to the end of the line, I was “served.” A postal clerk took my package, asked if it contained any liquids (no) or explosives (nah, me?) and if I wanted any other “services.” (Nope, this one has cost me enough time.) He relieved me of $8.95 and handed me a requested receipt.

My package is now speeding on its way. I hope.

The birdbrained
urge to “privatize”

For a few bucks more – and certainly for a lot less that I’d bill my own clients for almost two hours of lost time – I could have gone the same distance to a FedEx office and gotten taken care of in less than five minutes.

I think that’s the intent behind the tightfisted Congressional funding of the Post Office that winnows down postal staffs to skeleton crews, slowing down service to a crawl while constantly driving up postal rates. The USPS is yet another service that birdbrained Republican dogmatists would like to “strangle in the bathtub.” Somehow, financing mail delivery the way the government has done since George Washington was President sounds like some kind of communist plot to them.

More important than war

Never mind that a funding post offices was the sixth item listed as one of the duties of Congress (Section 8) in the U.S. Constitution by the framers. They listed it ahead of the power to declare war. It was that important to them.

Today the birdbrains in Congress want the USPS to “pay for itself,” in violation of the constitution. Essentially, they want the government to dis-invest in a constitutionally-mandated benefit for citizens and small businesses (such as publishers) alike. So they choke off funding for the post office. Result: rates go up, service goes down, and in a huge building you can waste nearly two hours to mail a package via the one or (rarely) two clerks on duty.

Can and will private business do what the Post Office does? Sure, at a price that will drive up everything from the cost of paying your phone bill (and of receiving it, since the phone company’s costs also will get passed along to you) to the delivery of mail order shorts, to the cost of publishing a struggling journal.

Oh, also Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy Valentine’s Day. The price of mailing your card (or paying a bill) could cost you $4.53 at today's rates if it’s a privatized price.

Commerce will suffer. Taxpayers, instead of paying a miniscule portion of their taxes toward support of the United States Post Office, will pay a huge cost increase on everything that travels by or does some kind of business by mail. That’s just about everything. Got that? Every-thing. Every-damned-thing.

Of course, that’s what the Congressional birdbrains want.

How to protest

Write or call your Congressional representatives and senators. With just your zip code you can find their addresses and phone numbers here.

Quote this article to them. Or print it out and mail it to them.

Ask them if they’re part of the bird-brained thinking that’s strangling a critical government service, the U.S. Post Office, and turning the USA into a Third World country. Ask them what they specifically intend to do about lousy postal service and climbing postal rates.

Do it fast. Before the price of a stamp goes up again.

1 comment:

ott said...

As I remember it. Bush put in his kind of Post Master General. Who set up a deal that put (Federal Express ) boxes at Post Offices. After 6 months in power he then got a signing bonus of 6000,000 dollars to go to work for Federal Express(?) But the media told you all about it, right.