Trump Using Amazon to Destroy the Post Office

| Educate!

Note: We have been covering the effort to privatize the Post Office since Popular Resistance began. The Post Office is a public service that corporate interests see as a profit center for them to take control of, raise prices and privatize this public good for their own profits.

The Post Office is too popular for Donald Trump to attack directly. He is using an attack on Amazon as cover for attacking the Post Office. Trump’s executive order to investigate the Postal Service is designed not to expand this very valuable public good that is created by the US Constitution but to privatize it. “Fixing” the Post Office is obvious to anyone who examines it. Federal law now requires the Postal Service to put retirement and health benefits into a fund to cover those costs for the next 75 years. Removing that unnecessary requirement would free up resources to expand the Post Office to provide more services. In 2013, Margaret Flowers and I wrote “Don’t Shrink the Postal Service, Expand It,” we argued,

The Postal Service is perhaps the best example that public institutions are in reality more efficient than private ones. Although since the 1980s the Postal Service has been under an attack so severe that private corporations would not survive it, the Postal Service remains financially solvent without public subsidies and while continuing to offer services at low rates.

In addition, the Postal Service, because it is public, has a mandate to serve all of the public no matter where they are. Unlike private corporations that operate only in areas where they can turn a profit, the Postal Service serves everyone. In some rural and low-income urban areas, the post office is the only institution that connects those communities to services and to the rest of the world.

The Postal Service is one of our oldest institutions and is the only one explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, in Article 1, section 8, the Postal Clause. It has a rich history from the early Pony Express to the more than 1,000 post offices built during the New Deal era to create jobs that included hiring artists to paint murals depicting American history.

And the Postal Service is one of our most popular institutions. A recent Pew Opinion Poll found that the Postal Service has an 83 percent approval rating, higher than “President Obama, either major party, the Catholic Church or the NRA.” It is this love for the Postal Service that is responsible in part for its continued existence. Community members are teaming up with postal workers to prevent cutbacks and closures.

Rather than shrinking the Postal Service, there are sound arguments to expand it to offer new services, from voting by mail to financial services to create a Postal Savings Bank that could provide capital for infrastructure projects. The Japan Post Bank, a savings institution, is the largest holder of deposits in the world and played a big role in the rebuilding of Japan after World War II.

Among the services an expanded Postal Service could provide are banking services for the unbanked. This would do away with the voracious rip-off knows as same day lending. The Post Office should also stop selling off public buildings for personal profit, as they have done with Sen. Diane Feinstein’s husband as the real estate agent selling off the beautiful postal buildings. KZ

Trump Moves to Gut the Post Office

His war on Amazon expands to include the right-wing’s campaign to abolish America’s oldest—and still successful—public service.

Some may be inclined to think that Donald Trump’s executive order Thursday night establishing a task force to recommend reforms for the U.S. Postal Service reflects another salvo in the president’s war against Amazon. Trump’s attack on Amazon, a clear byproduct of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s ownership of The Washington Post, included the suggestion that the online retailer was “ripping off the post office” by securing a special deal for the USPS to ship packages the last mile. By reviewing the finances of the post office, Trump’s task force could demand increases to that shipping contract, possibly costing Amazon billions of dollars.

Whether Amazon actually is getting a special deal on shipping is open to intense debate. The company also happens to enjoy a discount on stamps, which they then mark up to their own marketplace sellers, a pure arbitrage deal to earn profits from a publicly issued product.

But these issues have almost nothing to do with the Trump executive order. The Amazon spat is a cover for the formal unveiling of a long-wished right-wing project to destroy the post office and have private industry take over its infrastructure, which taxpayers funded long ago. All the executive order really does is create a report; it would take a willing Congress to deliver the final hammer blow. But that report, with a government imprimatur, will become part of that right-wing wish list, living on for decades in think tanks and private shipping company boardrooms as a fervent dream.

And sometimes dreams become reality.

Let’s look at the executive order, which is a bit deceptive in its intentions. The policy section manages to mention that the Postal Service routinely earns the highest public approval rating of any agency in the federal government. But then it layers on the bad news: the decline in first-class mail volume—$65 billion in losses since 2009, an “unsustainable fiscal path.”

Amazingly, the policy section alludes to the inability of the USPS to fund retiree health and pension benefit obligations, without stating that it has the impossibly high statutory burden of pre-funding those obligations 75 years out, effectively having to pay today for future workers who have not yet been born.

Amazingly, the policy section alludes to the inability of the USPS to fund retiree health and pension benefit obligations, without stating that it has the impossibly high statutory burden of pre-funding those obligations 75 years out, effectively having to pay today for future workers who have not yet been bornNo public agency or private company has any similar burden. It was placed on the Postal Service in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act to deliberately cripple the agency at the behest of UPS and FedEx, its two major competitors on package delivery. There should be no confusion: Without this completely anomalous pre-funding mandate, the USPS would be a money-making operation, regardless of the rise of email.

But while alluding to “inflexible costs,” the executive order says that the USPS “must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.” Yet, a true restructuring would require only one line of legislative text: “The 75-year pre-funding mandate is hereby repealed.” The fake crisis would be over. But that’s not what Donald Trump’s minders want.

The executive order establishes a task force, chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to “evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS.” Also on the task force are anti-government zealot and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, former Booz Allen Hamilton lawyer and Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon, and whomever else Mnuchin wants to throw in.

In reality, there’s already a “task force” empowered to evaluate the Postal Service. That’s the USPS Board of Governors, an 11-member panel that operates like the board of directors of a corporation, empowered to review all policies and practices and engage in long-range planning. But this board, which includes the postmaster general, their deputy, and nine presidential appointees, has not had a new member confirmed since the George W. Bush administration. It’s been operating without a quorum since 2015, and currently all nine appointee positions are vacant. The Trump administration took until October of last year to nominate three of the open nine governor seats; they’re only getting a confirmation hearing next week.

If Trump, or anyone in his administration, were actually concerned with Postal Service operations, he’d quickly stock its board. Instead, he’s formalizing a task force to look into undermining it. Here are some things the executive order wants the task force to look into:

  • “The USPS’ role in competitive markets,” specifically package delivery, where it competes with private shippers;
  • “Issues relating to government monopolies operating in the commercial marketplace”;
  • “The USPS monopoly over letter delivery and mailboxes”; and
  • “The definition of the ‘universal service obligation’ in light of changes in technology, e-commerce, marketing practices, and customer needs.”

I think the goal is clear. The task force is being prodded to open up the mailbox to any company, and degrade the centuries-old tradition that the post office deliver anywhere in the nation, through snow or rain or heat or gloom of night. After eliminating these public benefits, the task force might seek to bar the post office from competing in markets where the private sector operates, or to privatize the agency altogether, selling its infrastructure off for parts.

These have long been hard-right fantasies, which, if made real, would be a direct money funnel to UPS and FedEx’s corporate treasuries, to say nothing of Amazon, whose cash reserves could easily buy Postal Service infrastructure.

These have long been hard-right fantasies, which, if made real, would be a direct money funnel to UPS and FedEx’s corporate treasuries, to say nothing of Amazon, whose cash reserves could easily buy Postal Service infrastructure. In fact, the executive order says that the final report should take into account the views not only of postal workers and consumers, but also of “competitors in the marketplace.”

This report of “administrative and legislative reforms” to the post office is due August 10. Legislative recommendations would obviously have to pass Congress, and that’s unlikely even today, given the important role the post office plays in rural communities.

But we’ve already seen bids to privatize and undermine the Postal Service administratively. In 2013, the Postal Service partnered with Staples to sell stamps and deliver mail and packages inside their stores, with their non-union workers. The American Postal Workers Union kicked off a long campaign to stop this, but the practice only stopped after a National Labor Relations Board judge ordered it. Trump’s NLRB might not have the same posture if the “Approved Shipper” program were restarted.

The USPS already gives competitors a sweet deal to participate in its own destruction. It ships the last mile for UPS, FedEx, and Amazon, delivering the packages that are unprofitable for those companies to deliver themselves. And the Postal Service’s leadership has repeatedly cut employee hours and eliminated routes, closing post offices and laying off tens of thousands of workers in the process. Having a government task force call for the death of the post office will build on these efforts at self-immolation.

The solutions here are obvious. The post office has the advantage of 30,000 locations, universal service, and a wider reach than for-profit companies could ever cast. Returning to the postal banking system we had from 1911 to 1967, which offers financial services to the unbanked with simple accounts and even small loans, would fit the agency’s mission of expanding commerce and save billions for vulnerable populations—all the while shoring up postal finances. The author of a 2014 white paper on postal banking, then-USPS Inspector General David Williams, is one of the nominees for the Board of Governors, and if allowed to do his job, Williams could fix up a system that would solve numerous problems at once.

This is one of a many ideas to maintain the Postal Service’s strong position at the center of American life, where it’s been since before the Constitution was written. Instead, Donald Trump, while claiming fake concern for the USPS getting “ripped off” by Amazon, wants to empower a gang of cretins bent on selling off the agency for parts.

  • Jon

    I have just called my US Rep and Senator to ask specifically take the lead in repealing that outrageous 75 year requirement. I ask all who have read this article to do the same. Also can PR discover who it was who introduced this awful measure back in 2006, and if such person is still in Congress, to defeat that person (and any co-sponsors!)?

  • As a retired USPS city carrier and activist for the Zeitgeist Movement, I have long been aware of the deep structural problems existing within the postal culture as well as within the broader American culture. The ‘business’ culture has permeated postal decision making as it has nearly every aspect of American life, even though the Postal Service has always been a public service, not a for profit organization and not a ‘business’ enterprise. As such, it should not be considered to be in ‘competition’ in the monetary market economy in general. This attitude, however, is rare indeed, even within the postal culture. Working for the public good as opposed to working in competition against, well basically everyone, is a value that has become subsumed by American monetary market culture.

    It is not at all surprising that the present administration is seeking to further undermine or totally dismantle an institution that is founded on public benefit and service and not on private profit. The general ‘business as usual’ attitude of American culture as much as demands it. It is also interesting to note that there has been a decades long USPS ‘hiring freeze’ made necessary by the automation of mail handling over the preceding decades and the relatively strong Postal unions preventing the traditional layoffs of employees we would usually see in most ‘profit’ oriented business interactions. USPS for a long time was the number one non-military employer in the United States. As a consequence of the gradual decrease in the number of postal employees resulting from the ‘hiring freeze’ and the growth of socially subsidized for profit institutions like Walmart, this is no longer true. Public service increasingly plays only a supporting role to private for profit businesses. This inversion of values, putting private profit over the public benefit is at the heart of the problems facing us today.

    Because of the union supported relative high pay levels within the postal service, many postal jobs have always been in high demand, especially in rural communities like my own. However with the permeation of postal culture by the ‘business’ mindset, there have already been many efforts to outsource whatever jobs have remained to help make the USPS more cost effective in the competitive market place by effectively extracting more labor for less pay and benefits for those employed. So the union protected postal employees are being replaced by automation and outsourcing through attrition. Over my twenty-three years as a city carrier, I watch the Union’s negotiating position degrade over time. This was as much a consequence of the cultural indoctrination of the Postal Union members by the American everyone out for themselves ‘business’ culture as it was a consequence of automation and outsourcing by postal management. Like nearly all unions today, Postal Unions are weaker than ever. A ‘for profit’ driven culture makes that inevitable.

    Who is the real ‘enemy’ here? The deeply conditioned cultural values are driving the unravelling of global society and that culture is driving individual human actions at every level that are unsustainable socially and environmentally. It is a rather bizarre irony that human culture fundamentally based around the human sharing of ideas and creative imaginings has so profoundly embraced a culture of competition and everyone for themselves. The key to a sustainable future for all life upon the Earth is the recognition that human collaboration and sharing rather than competition and personal profit is the greatest human strength. We should be actively seeking to ‘institutionalize’ more public service organizations like the historic USPS rather than to undermine and ‘privatize’ them. But in order to accomplish that effectively, we need to clearly recognize the underlying cultural motivators that are driving every decision making process at every level and shift the dialogue to a higher level. It is not just about higher paying and more secure jobs. It is about the cultural context for our relationships with one another and with our planet at every level. That cultural context is the responsibility of all of us together. It is what will decide not only whether the USPS and institutions like it, but the whole of humanity will have a future upon the Earth.

    Fear is a driver of selfish actions. Yet as individuals, our time upon this Earth is very brief. Our only real choice is how we choose to spend our time. Will it be in pursuing an ultimately impossible material security driven by the fear of an inevitable fate or motivated by a love that transcends our individual existence and creates a sustainable future for all future generations. The choice is yours.

    Let us suppose for a minute that whatever we truly are transcends the death of our physical bodies. If we ever again come into any kind of physical existence, then what we leave behind matters. If we only live one physical life, then the quality of that life, certainly not fear driven material accumulation, is all that really matters. Either way, the competitive monetary market culture that permeates our lives today is antithetical to living a better quality of life today or to leaving behind a more sustainable world for future generations. Not really that difficult a choice to make when it comes right down to it.

    The hardest part is whether or not we allow our individual choices to be driven by fear or by love. What drives your relationships with those around around you, with family, friends, casual acquaintances, those you interact with but will never meet personally? How do those interactions impact the quality of those lives and therefore impact your own life in an intimately interconnected world? The quality of our life is driven by emotions. Will those emotional drivers be fear or will they be love? Will the lives of those we interact with be driven by fear or by love? We will harvest what we sow. Again, not much of a choice when it comes right down to it. Be brave. If you are able to overcome your own fear, every relationship is a choice. Will that relationship be defined by fear or by love?

  • jemcgloin

    As soon as I saw Trump’s attacks on Amazon, the first thing I thought of was that it was really am attack on the Post Office.
    The Republican attack on the Post Office is now in its second decade. Hannity was attacking it just last week.
    Sadly and predictably, if you google Post Office Democrats, you find petty much nothing. The Democrats are doing nothing to save an institution that was directly set up by the Constitution.
    Yes the Post Office should expand into public banking, the 75 year rule should be ended, and this institution should be protected.