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A First-Class Institution

Despite the clamor raised over cutting Saturday delivery, the Post Office is not broke—and it hasn't taken any of our tax money since 1971

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Consider 50 cents. What does that buy these days? Not a cuppa joe—that'll cost you two bucks at Starbucks, and even McDonald's wants a dollar for a small. Nor will it get you a newspaper, a pack of gum, a shoeshine or a bus token. And Walmart, which promotes itself as the palace of cheap, sells practically nothing for a half-buck.

There's one place, though, where you can get a steal of a deal for a fifty-cent piece: your local post office. Put down two quarters, and you'll get a first-class stamp in return—and you'll even get change. Slap that 46 cent stamp on a letter, drop it in the mailbox, and our nation's postal workers will move your missive clear across the country—hand-delivering it to any address in America within three days (42 percent arrive the very next day, and 27 percent more get where we want them to go within two days).

Each day, six days a week, letter carriers traverse 4 million miles toting an average of 563 million pieces of mail, reaching the very doorsteps of our individual homes and workplaces in every single community in America. They ride snowmobiles to reach iced-in villages, fly bush planes into outback wilderness areas that have no roads, run mail boats out to remote islands in places like Maine and Washington state, and even use mules on an eight-mile trail to bring mail to the 500 members of the Havasupai tribe of Native Americans living on the floor of the Grand Canyon.

From the gated enclaves and penthouses of the über-wealthy to the inner-city ghettos and rural colonies of America's poorest families, the U.S. Postal Service literally delivers. All that for 46 cents. And if you've written the wrong address or your recipient can't be found, you'll get your letter or package back for no charge.

The USPS is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all people and communities into one nation.

So, naturally, it must be destroyed.

THE POSTAL PANIC

On Feb. 6, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced plans for the post office to stop Saturday delivery of letters, theoretically saving the USPS $2 billion a year. The cut in service, which would take effect in August, plays right into the hands of those who want you to believe the post office is broke. For the past year, assorted corporate front groups, a howling pack of congressional right-wingers and a bunch of lazy mass-media sources have been pounding out a steadily rising drumbeat to warn that our postal service faces impending doom: the situation "is dire," USPS "nears collapse," it's "a full-blown financial crisis!"

According to this gaggle of gloomsayers, the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can't keep up with the instant messaging of internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable, is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses and is plummeting irreversibly into bankruptcy.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. I realize that the Powers That Be never allow truth to get in the way of their policy intentions, but come on—three strikes and you're out! Let's examine.

Unprofitable? So what? When has the Pentagon ever made a profit? Never. Nor does anyone suggest it should. Neither has the FBI, Centers for Disease Control, FDA, State Department, FEMA, Park Service, etc. Producing a profit is not the purpose of government—its purpose is service. And for two centuries—from 1775, when the Continental Congress chose Benjamin Franklin to be our fledgling nation's first Postmaster General, until 1971, when Richard Nixon's Postal Reorganization Act took effect—America's nationwide network of post offices was fully appreciated as a government service.

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