Mail Fail


Closing comments on this post because for some reason it’s become a magnet for comment spam.



As usual, The Daily Show beat me to this. Watch this clip from Wednesday’s show….


The U.S. Postal Service is facing financial trouble yet again, a victim of new technology and changing consumer habits. It’s not a shocker: I rarely send mail anymore, doing most of my communicating and business transactions online. I think most people are doing likewise.

Wingers love to use the post office as an example of how government can’t do anything right, but that’s a lie, since the postal service is not really a government agency, doesn’t get any direct tax dollars, and is one of the only government agencies actually mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Wingers love everything in the Constitution, don’t they?

On top of all that, the private operators in this industry have faced the same pressure as the U.S. Postal Service, and several no longer exist as a result. Remember Airborne Express, DHL, and Flying Tigers? So it’s not as though Glorious Private Enterprise can do this delivery stuff any better.

Here’s something I don’t get: my mailbox is as full as ever, but it’s almost entirely crap I don’t want. Let me show you today’s mail, for example:

Help, My Mailbox Is Full Of Crap

There were 17 pieces of mail: eight catalogs, two newsletters from churches we no longer attend, three political fundraising requests, two non-profit communications, a “save-the-date” notice for my cousin’s wedding next year, and the title to my new car from the State Dept. of Revenue. Other than the last two pieces, I could have lived without the rest of it.

Yesterday’s mail wasn’t much better: four catalogs, a newsletter from The Belcourt, a postcard from a local retail establishment, a fundraising solicitation from the Democrats. *Yawn* I mean cripes, not even a bill.

I find this extremely annoying. I’ve asked to be removed from these catalog lists a thousand times, but I still get dozens of them in the mail every week, and I don’t want them. You know, I’ve been writing about this for four years! Problem still hasn’t been solved!

Special shout-out to The Teaching Company: How the hell do you people stay in business? I bought one course — an online download, no less — three years ago. For my trouble I’ve been deluged with one catalog a week. How could that possibly be cost effective? Not to mention environmentally unfriendly? When are you people going to give up on me?

What really annoys me is if you buy one thing online, you’re immediately signed up for a lifetime onslaught of dead-tree catalogs. Umm … if people are buying online, maybe that should be a clue that they’re not interested in getting dead-tree catalogs? At least give us a chance to opt-out! But no, once these companies have a way to contact you, they’re relentless. They’re like the zombie sales team that just won’t die.

The Postal Service is desperate to save money, but their ideas are tepid, at best. Kill Saturday delivery? Sure, fine, I can live without it. But how much will that really save?

So here’s another idea. Instead of constantly raising first-class postage rates on Joe and Jane Consumer, let’s just raise the postage rates on these assholes who keep sending us catalogs we don’t want. Do away with the bulk postage rate (that’s Mr. Beale’s idea, actually), or make very limited exceptions: non-profit groups, for example. L.L. Bean and Pottery Barn can pay the same postage rate as the rest of us — heck, maybe a little pressure on the bottom line will force them to be a little more judicious with their catalogs. Maybe those of us who buy on-line will be offered a chance to op-out (and we won’t automatically be opted back in again if we make a purchase). Make these idiots pay, for crying out loud.

I like that idea but on second thought, does it go far enough? How about this: Let’s make the U.S. Postal Service completely digital. I mean, 100%. No more old-fashioned mailboxes for the teenagers in my neighborhood to smash. Now the U.S. Postal Service gives you an e-mail address and maintains mail servers. Everything is done online via a national E-Postal Service. If you want a private e-mail address, one you can shield from online marketers, then you can still have your private Comcast and Bellsouth accounts. I know I would. Make the old-fashioned dead-tree stuff history.

The U.S. Postal Service is the nation’s second-largest employer, after Wal-Mart. If we make it completely digital, we could eliminate most mail carrier jobs and drastically cut the size of the mail fleet. Think of the savings in fuel and overhead! Instead we’d have tech people managing mail servers all across the country and a skeleton crew of delivery people handling packages. Think of the money we’d save. Wingers should like that.

I know, it’s a radical idea. Not everyone has a personal computer, not everyone has access to a public computer. It sounds crazy, the postal employees’ union will hate it. But suck it up. We can phase it in over 20 years. That’s where we’re headed anyway, folks. Might as well face the music. They were able to transition away from the pony express way back when, time to embrace the digital age now.


Filed under U.S. Postal Service

20 responses to “Mail Fail

  1. ATSF616

    I spent 32 years of my life working for USPS, and while I usually find your comments on politics and economic issues insightful and on-target, I’m afraid you have oversimplified some very complex issues. Incidentally, there is no monolithic “postal employees’ union” — rank-and-file employees bargain through four major unions: American Postal Workers for sorting/processing/window clerks, maintenance and motor-vehicle craft: National Association of Letter Carriers (city carriers); National Rural Letter Carriers; and National Postal Mail Handlers (basically loading dock/transfer personnel).

    The current financial “crisis” is as much a bookkeeping issue as an operational one. USPS has been required, especially since 2006, to prefund a far higher percentage of projected future retirement and health benefits than any federal agency or private company. USPS management is now asking Congress for authority to abrogate legally-negotiated labor agreements, close thousands of post offices essential to the well-being of isolated rural areas, and raid the completely solvent CSRS retirement trust fund to use as operating cash.

    • Admittedly I don’t know anything about the USPS except as a consumer, so I appreciate your insight. I do think that change is coming, and we can be proactive and control what that change looks like and look out for the public good, or end up with a completely privatized postal service controlled by FedEx and UPS that ends up costing us all more in the long run because Our Corporate Overlords demand their profit.

      Let me add, Mr. Beale’s great-grandmother and great uncle were both postmasters in their little Kentucky towns. I’m very fond of the postal service.

  2. Min

    I’m rather sentimentally attached to the Post Office. I still receive paper bills, I still pay things by check, I still send Christmas cards and thank you notes, I still go to the local PO to buy stamps and post packages. I would hate to lose an institution that made it possible to build a continent-wide nervous system for the country.

    OTOH I loathe all that junk mail, so jacking up the price of bulk mail postage works for me.

  3. I have to say that my experience with package delivery has been best with the Post Office. UPS takes longer and the drivers are careless handling packages. The last time I had a Fed Ex delivery the guy could not find the right building, dumbass non-union guy. If I have a choice it is USPS. If the Republican/Teabaggers weren’t so set on killing the unions, the USPS would be doing just fine.

  4. I’ll echo what your first commenter said. Forcing the USPS to fully fund their pensions (both the pension itself & future retirees health care) is costing the P.O. $5 Billion/year – the majority of their “deficit”. As the commenter correctly noted, that is not how private businesses fund their pensions. They do it acturially, funding portions now and allowing that money to build value over the years before the benefits become due.

    Secondly, the work that the Postal Service does is vast. They deliver mail, all of it, to large cities and small burgs over millions of square miles all for the same price. As a transportation consultant, I am well aware that the private competitors jack up the price for every little thing that drivers their cost up. Going to a residence? That’s an extra $3, going to Cornflake, Iowa? Likewise. Per package. And whose delivering that package in Cornflake? The Postal Service has contracted with FedEx & UPS to finish those deliveries. Misaddress a package? $9 extra. And so on.

    They’re entirely different models. And sadly, in my opinion, part of the problem is treating the USPS as if it were the same as a private entity. It’s not. As you noted, and it’s rarely said, it’s mandated by the Constitution. There’s no question that like any organization, systems can be modernized and made more efficient. But the vast majority of the current deficit is these onerous pension rules that Republicans would bristle at imposing on UPS or FedEx or any private business. It’s utter foolishness.

    • One blogger (forgot who now but I think it was John Cole) said we need to stop looking at the postal service as a business, stop looking at postal service shortfalls as “losses” and start looking at them as the cost of a service.

      • ATSF616

        Conservatives love to scream about “80% of USPS costs being attributed to labor.” Well, duh…’s a “service,” which usually implies warm bodies being paid for doing stuff. What else is the money supposed to go for?

  5. Joe

    One more additional clarification. You mentioned Airborne, DHL and Flying Tiger. Flying Tiger was primarily a heavy cargo (i.e. not individual packages generally) carrier & they were purchased by Federal Express back in ’88 (had to look it up), giving FedEx an expanded international presence. Airborne, which was primarily a small package service in the air, similar to what UPS & FedEx do, but towards their end, they had expanded into a ground service too. They were purchased by DHL to give them a larger U.S. domestic presence. DHL pulled out of most of the domestic market a year or two ago. BTW, DHL is owned by DeutschesPost, the German postal operation which was privatized (had to look that up too). One piece of the purchase of Airborne couldn’t go through, buying Airborne’s actual airline which hauled the freight between airports due to a federal law which prohibits U.S. air carriers from being owned by a foreign entity.

    I think you mentioned union questions (or perhaps another commenter). UPS’ local drivers are all Teamsters, although they bought out their part of the Teamsters pension fund to go to their own self funded program (which I’m sure they’re not paying in like the USPS does). Both FedEx & UPS have purchased other transportation companies in the full truckload and the less-than-truckload segments (LTL). UPS bought Overnite Transportation, a nationwide LTL carrier which was the largest non-union carrier and they are now represented by the Teamsters. FedEx remains non-union, their ground delivery operation, in fact, use non-company owner operators, a fight that has been in the courts with adverse rulings for the drivers. Likewise, UPS & FedEx are in ongoing fights over union organizing for FedEx. FedEx’s drivers are covered under the Railway Labor Act due to FedEx having purchased the ground/package operation of old REA Express, a rail intermodal package delivery company with its own interesting history (again, just looked it up). Part of the fight over the FAA funding was a rule having been added to the legislation moving FedEx out of the the Railway Labor Act & putting them into the general labor law, thereby allowing easier organizing.

    There’s interesting history that I’ve seen just briefly researching this. The postal service didn’t start handling parcels until 1913. REA was formed and owned by all of the railroads following the U.S. taking control of the railroads during World War I. Much of the European Union has privatized mail, although I don’t know to what extent & I have no idea what the cost is.

    As most of these matters are, they’re more complicated than many want people to believe. Since the mantra is that government can’t do anything well and we’re going to prove it, and coupled with too much of our nation being unwilling or unable to think complexly, it makes for difficult situations.

    • Right, all of that consolidation in the private shipping sector … FedEx and UPS basically swallowing up their competitors … that’s how we do things in the U.S. these days, one of these days there will be just three companies left on earth: FedEx, Coca-Cola and Google.

      It does make me nervous that the USPS has partnered with FedEx. I think eventually what we’re going to have is the death of the USPS and a privatized postal service via FedEx.

      FedEx is pretty evil, IMHO. All of their drivers are independent contractors, IIRC. Drivers have to buy their own vehicles, non-union. No protections. And I seem to recall reading something about FedEx being involved with the FAA union leading to that recent shutdown? Can’t remember the details on that one … Just seems like whenever private industry muddles around in the public sector everyone loses. Except for Fred Smith, of course. He’ll be rich forever.

  6. Proud Socialist

    “The U.S. Postal Service is the nation’s second-largest employer, after Wal-Mart. If we make it completely digital, we could eliminate most mail carrier jobs ”

    The dumbest thing an otherwise decent person has ever written. Your heart must be hardening up in your old age. Better rethink this with a little compassion instead of an adding machine.

    • The dumbest thing an otherwise decent person has ever written.


      Just thinking like a Teabagger here. But in fact, the USPS is already calling for the elimination of 120,000 jobs to deal with its current fiscal crisis. So it’s happening anyway, and I would guess the loss of those jobs will just mean suckier service for everyone, not reflect increased efficiency or a beneficial change in operations.

      What I’m suggesting would be phased in over many years. Instead of massive layoffs of currently employed people, they’d just stop hiring new people as they transition to an electronic system. As part of the shift to an electronic mail system there would of course be a digital infrastructure that would need to be put in place. This might even have ramifications for maintaining net neutrality.

      The more I think about it the more I like my idea. Sorry. You know who won’t like it are the telecoms, but they SHOULD embrace it. Because clearly the Glorious Shiny Free Hand of the Market has not been sufficient incentive for them to build the infrastructure needed to bring the internet out to rural America. Government is going to have to do it. And once East Jesus and West Bumfug are in the loop, people will be more likely to sign up for whatever products AT&T and Comcast and Verizon are going to hawk.

      Of course, I realize I don’t know what I’m talking about. Everything is wireless now, anyway. Everyone has e-mail on their smart phones and all that. As Mitt reminded us, it’s a Smart Phone world.

      • Proud Socialist

        Its not about ‘suckier service’ or no Saturday deliveries or YOUR inconvenience. Its about what comes first: peoples lives, pride, families, peoples future role in society as producers or some hucksters bullshit like “digital infrastructure” and “internet connectivity” and “moving into the future”. Bullshit doesn’t come first, people come first. PEOPLE. Your neighbors, the family down the block… jesus, where did your sense of propriety go SB that you can sign off on the idea of shitcanning 120,000 people and their families because its just more convenient for ya? Is your life stretched so thin you can’t see the lack of humanity in that kind of thinking? BTW, just because the political hacks running the USPS are down with dumping workers doesn’t mean squat. They’d dump their own grandmothers to keep their patronage-bucks flowing.

        There are so many fundamental things wrong with this dump the worker line of thinking it boggles my mind that you are supporting it. Its like carrying the de-industrialization of the US one step further. Lets look at a few things..

        “What I’m suggesting would be phased in over many years. Instead of massive layoffs of currently employed people, they’d just stop hiring new people as they transition to an electronic system.” Sure they would. I”ve got a bridge to sell ya too… they’ll gut those legacy workers like cutting dry weeds the second you blink.

        This is the same goddamn stupid ‘logic’ used to break unions in the seventies…

        “new hires will get fewer benefits, lower wages etc while the old worker-folks will be jus’ fine”… Sure, if working themselves to death is jus’ fine.

        or in a slightly different line of bullshit…
        ” we just won’t replace people and let natural attrition bring down the workforce”… Again, those old workers will just work harder. Or die. Or quit.

        lets bring it up to speed to the cataclysmic 2010’s…” retirees on social security/medicare will get less but we’ll protect the old folks (until they’re dead)” Right, then NOBODY will have good benefits. Real smart.

        Can’t you see it? Driving the wedge into the group, fracturing them off by age/gender/class to get the oh so critically important rollbacks? Critical to who? New hires? I doubt it, they don’t want less. Maybe critical to management/political hacks out to make some cheap point at the expense of the working class. Break another union or two. Damn few people work harder than mail carriers.

        But lets cut to the chase here. I don’t care if it IS inefficient. I don’t give a crap if the system IS antiquated and quaint and out of date. Its making good paying jobs for good people and their families AND THATS WHAT COUNTS.

        Stand for something besides ‘saving money’ and ‘efficiency’ SB. What side ARE you on?

      • But PS… they’re laying people off ANYWAY! Just to “save money.” Because they can’t make ends meet.

        They employ 540,000+ people and they’re talking about laying off 120,000 of them. That’s about one-fifth of their workforce. And they’re going to do it all at once (or pretty much at once) because they can’t afford to keep them employed because fewer people are using this service.

        I’m not talking about doing that. What I’m talking about would shrink the size of the USPS workforce by attrition because it would be implemented slowly, AND it would embrace the new technology that is the reason people aren’t using the old-fashioned service to begin with. It would keep the USPS as an entity, keep it out of the hands of the greedy guses trying to privatize the public sector, folks like Fred Smith. On top of that, jobs would be shifted to the tech sector, which is where they’re going anyway. But there would be a public tech sector, which we need to have because the public is who created the internet to begin with.

        I mean, I suppose we could have the government employ people to shoe horses and make buggy whips, but if no one is buying them, what’s the point? I simply don’t see the benefit to denying the reality that people aren’t communicating the same old-fashioned way.

  7. I’ve only got dial-up access at home. We don’t electronically pay anything. Our bills come in the mail and our checks go out the same way. I think the USPS does pretty well for 1st class mail and the costs aren’t huge. But I spend a few hours each week at work going through our personal mailboxes deleting the damn PowerPoint decks of stupid bubba stunts and cute kittens and send this to eleventeen of you friends before all your hair falls out crap that have clogged our email accounts with their 7 MB attachments. I’ll be damned if I want LL Bean or Pottery Barn or Winturthur sending me PDFs of their catalogs. Make them pay for the actual cost of delivering their junk mail to our mailboxes and the USPS might be able to pay off the national debt. 🙂

    • Don’t you have a Blackberry or iPhone?

      • themadkansan

        Pursuant to that:

        Around here at least, Blackberries/iPhones/Smartphones in general cost roughly twice as much per month for service than what we have now, so no – not everyone has joined the Connected Craze, because We Can’t Afford It.

      • Don’t you think if the government got involved it would get cheaper? There’s be some competition for the 2 corporations which currently hold a monopoly.

      • themadkansan

        …There’s “what should be”, and there’s “what is”. I rarely have enough to deal with “what is”, nevermind trying to push “what should be”.

        I don’t like it one bit, but that’s what encompasses my life now and most likely for the foreseeable future.


    • Min

      You and me, Jim. You and me.