The Pen, The Post Office and the Two Americas

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Pen, The Post Office and and Two Americas – a simple headline, and a case for our President and our Senate Majority to do something simple themselves: a call to turn back the rhetoric of a "failed US Postal Service", empower rural communities, narrow the inequality gap amongst rural residents, and push the envelope of innovation.

An action that can be accomplished without the contribution of a single Republican member of Congress.  

In the past year my political allegiances have been strained; my political beliefs have not.  Here at home I remain befuddled by our inability to tackle the challenges with the rampant expansion of the oil and gas industry, severance tax rates and the challenges to continue our leadership on the New Energy Economy.  For those, we have a remedy: ballot initiatives.  At the federal level I  understand the challenges in Congress over tackling issues of the least amongst us with the House majority).  Conventional wisdom is that nothing that could mitigate the economic challenges we face across rural America can be addressed in Washington absent almost certain obstruction from with the House majority.  

To that end I'd offer an alternative point of view: Executive Action, or "The Pen".

Conventional wisdom is the United States Post Office, in particular our rural post offices, are doomed to extinction.  This is a manufactured crisis initiated by a lame duck Congress in 2006 with the sole intent to privatize the service, even though they are constitutionally required to preerve and promote it under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution .  It should surprise no one that their first dalliance with privatization was with a Romney/Bain entity, "Staples".   Today, absent the pre-funding requirement imposed on the Post Office by the 2006 Congress, a requirement imposed solely on one government entity, they would have registered a $1 billion profit, not a loss of $354 million.  

The myth that USPS is a money pit is simply that:  a myth.  

Like many from my generation, I grew up in a remote, rural community served by a Post Office,  zip code 80735.  Still operational; how much longer yet no one knows.  Our Postmaster, "Shorty" Wilcoxen, a war veteran and whose family were homesteaders in our community, was a valued member of our community.  His wife, our school secretary for years.  Solid, middle-class citizens in a small, rural town.

USPS was – and still is – one of the greatest "common good" services put in place by our Founding Fathers.  Like the many great social programs that emerged a century-and-a-half later through from the New Deal – projects that brought us rural electrification and federal law establishing cooperatives for farmers – there was a magic in those approaches.  They made the impossible, possible. Every community was enriched by these public investments.

It should also be of little surprise that our first Postmaster General, a Presidential Cabinet position until 1971, was Ben Franklin,  an agriculturalist steeped in innovation.  Ben is credited for such radical ideas as crop insurance, local fire departments,  the lending library and the community hospital.  The drafts of our nations Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution were written on hemp paper from his paper mill.  

There is a tale of "Two America's" in this diary.  Not only is the issue of postal closings predominantly a "Rural v. Urban" issue, it's also about the vast and growing inequality in our rural areas.  The poorest census tracts aren't (as Congressman Ryan now knows) inner-city neighborhoods, but communities dotted across our national rural landscape.  It's a tale of "The Post Office" v. "Wal-Mart", the two largest civilian employers in the United States with two diverse business models: one that provides nearly 600,000 jobs, whose workforce includes many veterans, offers their employees living wages and benefits for their 600,000 employees and requires zero federal subsidies;  the other, a corporate model that pays an average wage half that of the Post Office, has become a welfare queen for federal subsides and has resulted in the wealth of the six individuals, heirs of the Wal-Mart empire, in a bounty equivalent to the entire bottom 43% of our entire nation.  

While our Post Offices face certain closures and reduced service on it's march towards privatization,  the 'Wal-Mart expansion accelerates, its profits tethered to continued federal transfers.

I wish I was making this up.

600,000 v. 6 – That is the two Americas.  

The USPS is governed by a nine member board, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  Until the President's announcement to appoint Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, to a board vacancy this past February, the board has operated with five open seats, leaving a majority to Bush appointees.  It wouldn't take a political genius to understand why the President, prior to Senator Reid invoking the nuclear option, wasn't going to spend any time on these nominations.  The present board of Governors are being good soldiers, carrying out the intent of the 2006 Congress to suffocate USPS.  Any attempt to change the balance of power would be blocked.   Ditto for Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), where two Presidential appointments to fill their existing vacancies would bring a Democratic majority.  In its present form, it, too, is controlled by a Republican majority. With sub-Cabinet positions now only requiring a simply majority in Congress, the President can tilt the majority to one focused on using the USPS infrastructure to drive innovation and reduce inequality.  

President Obama has stated he will use his executive authority to reduce inequality where possible.  The case for reinventing the nation's Postal Service as a center for innovation is strong.  Recent recommendations by US Postal Service Inspectors concluded that USPS could provide basic banking services (deposits and withdrawals) under their existing authority WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF CONGRESS.  Rulings made by the PRC in 2010 has given the Post Office the option to conduct pilot programs, although the Republican-majority of the Board of Governors has opted to not do so.   The infrastructure is in place and the argument for postal banking compelling:  93% of all bank branch closing since 2008 have come in zip codes where the average household income is beneath the median level; 58% of their branches are in zip codes with one branch bank or fewer.  Modest income earned from banking services would keep the infrastructure sustainable.

Mr. President, we know that some of your worst detractors are from our rural areas; those of us who live in these parts feel that pain.  What we're asking for is to give us 'tools'; tools that empower our neighbors and our Main Streets. Without subsidiesWithout CongressYou need only your pen.  Let's stop this federal retreat – give our small communities the option to not just survive, but thrive, for posterity.  A renewed postal service, with a focus on innovation, won't solve all of our ills – it is, however, a good start.

Mr. President, you made a commitment to exercise your executive authority to reduce inequality.  The solutions are as close as our local post office.

Let's be the yin for Cliven Bundy's yang.




42 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Are you SURE you don't want to run for office?

    Another good piece on public policy and rural America, Michael.

    • BlueCat says:

      +1000! When did Michael get so good at articulating…well…everything!?!

    • MichaelBowman says:

      One of these days!  In the meantime, I'd like to see Mark Udall standing in front of every rural post office in the state asking the question, "Why does Congressman Gardner support the closure of this post office?".  Every one of those communities, as MamaJ pointed out below, has an elderly citizen who receives medicine through the Post Office. Many of them are 'left behind' because access to rural broadband is either too slow, or non-existent.  They don't have access to a fax machine without spending 30 minutes of wages to send/receive a single page. They are forced to use costly, alternative, predatory banking products.

      I didn't want to conflate the issue of cannabis for compassionate use in to this diary and make it overcomplicated, but since we're talking medicine, I'll touch on it briefly here – and may write a second diary on the subject.  There are 50,000 people that die annually from seizure-related deaths; one every 10 minutes.  While extensive research is being done outside of the US, we, of course, are still trying to start the car while everyone else has been around the track three times.  With an Executive Order the President could take marijuana off of Schedule 1 (at the very least for compassionate use) and give access to medical marijuana to every American who could benefit from its use: seizures, cancer patients, PTSD, etc.  And with that EO he could designate the Post Office to be the interstate deliverer.  They have a tracking system, they exist in every community large and small.  If this President, the Democratic party and our representatives want to take on the ignorance at DEA, and the power of the pharmaceutical lobby over this 'plant'…start there. He doesn't need Congress to do a single, damn thing except sign an EO.

      Every one of these small communities has a significant number of minorities who do wire money home – and can only acccomplish this by driving significant miles to the closest Western Union on the $4 gas they purchase with their minimum wage job.

      I hope someone from Senator Bennet's staff is reading this – the DSCC should be doing the same thing in every rural state: the progressive candidate standing next to the rural post office slated for closure asking the question: "Why does my opponent want this community asset closed?"

  2. davebarnes says:

    Not enough votes in rural areas. They lose.

  3. Duke Cox says:

    Ausgezeichnet, meine freund. Hervorragende Arbeit….

  4. Davie says:

    Thank you Michael for an insightful, thought-provoking and most of all, achievable proposal! 

    I think you really need to present this in person to President Obama because I know you are extremely persuasive 🙂

  5. mamajama55 says:

    In Colorado, the right wing attack on post offices is not just because they are a unionized workforce; it is also because Colorado now conducts all mail-ballot elections, and if post offices continue to close, or postal delivery is curtailed, that will put a serious crimp in the electoral process. Guard your trash, people.

    Marilyn Marks sincerely beleives that mail ballots are a disadvantage to  Republicans. It's sad that she sees this only in partisan terms, instead of how accessible it makes voting, and increases voter participation, for all affiliations.

    So many other services that open up the world for those without cars or drivers in the household – the elderly, the poor- require mail delivery, as well. Without mail-order prescription service, many people could become ill or die without their medications.

    I like your solution of appointing USPS Board members who actually want the system to work.  What a concept! Basic banking services, too – it should be possible to wire money anywhere without going through Western Union's convoluted and expensive process.

    Oh-Willeke, in his extensive Facebook comments below, doesn't acknowledge what was done to make USPS pre-pay its pensions – without that basic honesty, the rest of his argument for crippling USPS falters.

    Excellent diary, Michael.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      I'm going to assume you didn't take the time to read any of the embedded links to this diary, Moddy.  One of them talks about the acquiessence of a handful of Democrats in the 2006 'reform' legislation.  Unfortunately, no one on the current Board of Governors is interested in 'reform'.  They are interested in turning this Constitutionally-protected service over to privatization.  "Reform" lies in the hands of the PRC and the BOG – and their mission could be redirected the 'The Pen'.  I have no idea what the Congressman's take is now on the postal service (this comment was made 10 years ago.  For Kristsake – ConMan and Coffman are "evoloving" on a daily basis.  Why don't we let Congressman Polis weigh in here without you putting words in his mouth?

    • mamajama55 says:

      Well, if the USPS would have been able to make sensible decisions on its own, it surely would not have chosen  to have to pre-fund its retiree's pensions 75 years into the future Congress did that.

      For the rest, I guess that this will have to be a place where I disagree with Jared Polis – I think it's worth it for taxpayers to subsidize the USPS, for all of the reasons mentioned: essential to connect rural areas, services for shut-ins, etc.

      I'm not sure that's what Polis was saying in the quote you linked to, anyway.  I'm always suspicious when decades-old quotes are taken out of context, and I'd like to see the original reference. In any case, when USPS was "unshackled" from Congress' bonehead policies was the last time it did make a profit, in 2006. So Polis was partly right.

  6. MichaelBowman says:

    Perhaps because the CONSTITUTION requires us to preserve it? 

    • Progressicat says:

      In fairness to the corporatist dillweeds who want to push more profits into corporate hands while dismantling a government organization that works pretty well, as Michael notes particularly serves as a point of connection in rural America, and doesn't get to pick and choose its customers as any private carrier would and does, there is no Constitutional requirement that the US maintain a Post Office that I'm aware of.

      Section 8 of Article 1 enumerates congressional powers including:

      The Congress shall have power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defence[note 1] and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;


      To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

      But the text nowhere says that Congress shall or must establish one.  Of course, common sense and experience suggest that they should.

  7. Duke Cox says:

    Republicans suffer from the delusion that ALL enterprises run better when operated "like a business". I am so sick of hearing it.

    (Let's run this (school, library, hospital, prison, and on and on) like a business.."

    "For profit" is not the only worthy goal of human enterprise…

    • MichaelBowman says:

      And the best Moddy can do is to link to a three-year old article from the Independence Institute that quotes Polis ten years prior to that? (I can't open the link embedded in the II artilce.).  First, to do the math, Jared would have been barely emerging from puberty 14 years ago.  Second, the now-Congressman is espousing exactly what this diary is promoting: "…(if we don't) unshackle USPS and allow it to leverage its infrastructure effectively as a normal privately owned company, then USPS will sadly fade away as it becomes increasingly irrelevant in the marketplace.” 

      If Moddy had taken the time to read the embedded links he'd see there is a lot of material I embedded that supports the case for "leveraging" the infrastructure, not burning it to the ground.  A vision that is not supported by the Republican-controlled Board of Governors we have today.  So yes, Moddy, in this case, at this time, you took the words right out of my mouth "those awful Republicans".  A "real Republican" would understand the value of our national investment in that infrastructure and leverage it – not destroy it.

    • dwyer says:


      But don't we run prisons now like businesses, because they are business…with their own lobbyists and don't we have the highest incarceration rate in the world?

  8. Diogenesdemar says:

    . . . ferengi . . . 

  9. Gray in Mountains says:

    where else in the world can you mail a 2 page letter, correctly addressed, anywhere in the country with a strong likelihood that it will arrive in 3 days or less for the price of spare change? And, I'm sure Bowman would agree, if you are receiving it in a small rural town it does not necessarily have to be correctly addressed

  10. Old Time Dem says:

    You wrote that "they are constitutionally required to preerve [sic] and promote it under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution."  The Constitution provides that Congress has the power "To establish Post Offices and post Roads."  That is a grant of a power to Congress to establish a post office, but it does not create a positive duty to establish, maintain, or promote, a post office. The Nation article you cite to is simply wrong.

    As a simple illustration of why that clause is not a requirement, have you travelled on a "post Road" recently?

    • MichaelBowman says:

      It had the power to 'establish' and it did so.  As for 'post Roads", postal carriers travel county roads, postal vehicles travel city streets – postal trucks travel the interstate highway system.  So, yes, "post Roads" exist and I travel them frequently. 

      • Ralphie says:

        People travel the Boston Post Road every day.  It's US 1, US 5, and US 20 in NY, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

        • Old Time Dem says:

          No shit.  But does Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 7 require the federal government to maintain it?  Even the parts that are now city or town streets, or even abandoned?  No.

          The difference is between the grant of a power to Congress, and the diarist's claim that the power to establish a postal service is a requirement to have a postal service.  It is not.

      • Old Time Dem says:

        Those are not "post Roads" as was meant by the drafters.

        And you completely avoid the issue.  There is no question that Congress had the power to establish the USPS; that is in the Constitution.

        But you claim that Congress is required by the Constitution to preserve and promote the USPS.  That is wrong.

        • MichaelBowman says:

          …and we don't deliver the mail via horse any longer. Do you think they were going to build those 'post roads' and then only allow passage by a postal carrier riding his horse?   I'll stand by my claim and I'll let you stand by yours, OK?  Given that Article 1 is a 'general welfare' article, the preservation and promotion (or adapting to the contemporary needs of society) of the Post Office seems obvious.

          • Old Time Dem says:

            Do you understand the difference between "may" and "shall"?  The Postal Clause is a "may" clause. It does not require Congress to establish the post office; it only permits it.

            BTW, I think the USPS is a great institution.  It's just that your constitutional theory is ridiculous.  If you think I'm wrong, cite to some authority other than its obviousness to you.

            • MichaelBowman says:

              Yes, honey, I'm pretty versed in legaleze and understand the difference in the two words – I'll cede your point. wink  You might take notice that I was quoting a journalist from The Nation.  Can we just agree that whether they "may" or "shall" establish a Post Office and post roads, that they actually "did" do so? And that people other than the postman were allowed to use those roads?  (and don't take my last two questions seriously – just kidding with ya.  If I didn't know better I'd think you were my ex)

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