U.S. Mail Delivery: Neither Snow Nor Rain — Just Money And Politics

Who would have thought that the speed of U.S. mail delivery would be a hot political topic? Well, it is 2020, so anything is possible. Cue the current uproar about the timeliness of delivery of vote by mail ballots for the upcoming presidential election. It’s not snow or rain that would be keeping the USPS from its appointed rounds. No, sir. Blame money and politics for the mail mess.

Why are mail in ballots in the spotlight? It’s a numbers game. The sheer volume of ballots expected to be cast in this manner for the upcoming presidential election is significant. Back in 2016, 1 in 4 ballots cast were submitted by mail; but a surge in mail in ballots is expected for the 2020 presidential election. In fact, a record number of ballots is likely to be sent by mail this fall.

Some states have already seen a demand for mail voting increase five times or more during the primaries. At this rate, it is possible that half or more of voters will cast ballots by mail for the November 3rd election. Using this method, they’ll figuratively be putting the stamp of approval on the candidate of their choice and a literal stamp on the envelope to mail in their ballot.

Mail in ballots are a popular choice due to the coronavirus crisis. Voters are wary of being exposed to the virus at the polls, and CDC has recommended mail ballots as a way to avoid the risk of exposure. Accordingly, an estimated 80 million ballots could be cast by mail in the rapidly approaching election. That’s a mass of mail!

Unfortunately, USPS is delivering some bad news as well as the regular mail. It’s warning states it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November 3rd election will arrive in time to be counted even if they are mailed by the required deadline. Some folks are thus sounding the alarm that voters whose ballots are not timely received will effectively be disenfranchised. “Disenfranchised” is a fancy-schmancy word meaning deprived of their right to vote.

So that we’re in good form for the upcoming election, let’s take a quick vote. Raise your hand if you have ever thought USPS delivered mail in a speedy or even timely fashion. (NOTE: My hand is NOT raised.) Although I couldn’t see your hands if they were raised, I’m betting there were none to see anyway. Hey, there’s a reason that traditional mail is called snail mail. Sure, it is way slower than e-mail is, but traditional mail was never fast to begin with. Ridiculously slow times for mail to be delivered have been occurring for some time. Of course, now that it is election time, slow mail delivery must be a political plot, right?

So the theory goes, the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy,  a major Trump supporter, is deliberately making changes to the USPS’s operations to benefit the president. DeJoy, a 63 year old former supply chain CEO, took the reins of the USPS in June. His assigned mission from the Commander-in-Chief? Make the USPS more profitable. This task is a daunting one given that the post office has lost money for years. In 2016, the postal service recorded its fifth straight annual operating loss–a whopping  $5.6 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) loss. USPS is in such dire financial straits that it is hoping to receive $10 billion from Congress  simply to remain in operation.

What has DeJoy done since taking over? He has reduced overtime (which increases payroll costs), restricted extra mail transportation trips (which result in more employee time and additional cost for operating postal vehicles), and cut other agency expenses. These measures, to no one’s surprise, has resulted in slower (and it was slow to begin with!) delivery times. AHA! A political plot for sure!

DeJoy is the first postmaster general in almost 20 years who is not a career postal employee. From the current fiscal state of the USPS, it doesn’t seem that a career postal employee makes a good top dog. DeJoy is a successful CEO with a proven business track record. Isn’t that who one would want to shake up an operation which is drowning in red ink? But no! Certainly DeJoy was only chosen because he was (GASP!) a Republican and a Trump supporter. The political plot thickens!

But wait. Is Trump improperly monkeying around with a government operation? Let’s consider what the USPS really is. The postal service, which is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution (in Art. I, Section 8, clause 7 for you fellow political science majors), is an independent government agency of the EXECUTIVE branch. For you non-political science majors, the executive branch is the President. So President Trump is taking steps to shake up an agency in his branch of the government to make it more fiscally sound. How horrible!!!

The USPS is big business, but it is a business that’s in big trouble. How big a business it is? The postal service employs over half a million people and is the third largest civilian employer in the country after the federal government and Walmart. This big business’ big trouble is plummeting use and soaring losses.

With the increasing use of e-mail, the volume of first class mail has significantly declined. In addition to e-mail use, USPS is having to compete against private package delivery services such as Amazon, Federal Express, and UPS. Back in 2009, a proposal was made, but not implemented, to eliminate Saturday mail delivery as a cost-cutting measure.Plans were even  floated to close a number of smaller post offices to stem the flow of red ink from USPS. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall a hue and cry that these were political moves.

President Trump’s political opponents are currently railing against the cost-cutting measures implemented by USPS. They believe some voters will not have their votes counted if these measures take effect. To head off such a result, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back from recess for an in person (not via mail) vote possibly on Saturday. Specifically, legislators will be considering proposed legislation, “Delivering For America,” that would prohibit any changes in mail delivery service prior to the November election. Hmm. That sounds like a political move.

I personally am not in the least bit concerned that my vote won’t get counted. That’s because I’m not going to rely on USPS to timely get a mail ballot in for me. I’m going to go vote in person wearing a mask, socially distancing, and utilizing hand sanitizer after handling the ballot. I’ll put the marked ballot into the machine for tallying, so I have only myself to blame if the delivery is slow.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you plan to vote in the presidential election? If so, will you be voting in person or via mail? Have you ever voted by mail in the past? Did you have any concerns about doing so? If you were the Postmaster General, what steps would you take to get the USPS back in the black? It is unreasonable to expect an agency to operate in the black?

 

 

 

 

 

All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten–The Political Version

Whew! Mercifully the impeachment proceedings are now over and Americans can move on to the next political brouhaha. With all the divisiveness and sniping, it’s a wonder our elected officials in Washington have time to think about running the country. What the American political world needs now is to go, not back to the future, but back to the basics. And when I say basic, I mean BASIC. As in kindergarten basic.

New York Times best-selling author Robert Fulghum had the right idea in his immensely popular book, All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”  He explained that adhering to the basic rules we learned way back in kindergarten serves us well in the adult world. Since squabbling politicians are acting like kindergarteners, perhaps they could use a refresher course in Kindergarten 101.

Kindergarten is a year for learning the basics. Subsequent school years build on the foundations set at the very beginning of a student’s academic life. Don’t believe me? Think you’d pass driver’s ed in high school if you don’t know a red light from a green light? Sure kindergarteners learn their colors and numbers, but they also learn some very important principles about social behavior. Let’s consider some of the lessons they learn and how those lessons might help our elected representatives.

LESSON #1: Respect Authority

Unsurprisingly, the very first lesson youngsters learn is to respect authority. The teacher is in charge, and they are not. Students might not like Mrs. Smith, but they have to respect her position at the school. They are perfectly free to think she is mean, dumb, unfair, etc., but she’s still sitting at the desk in the front of the class and running the show. Things go more smoothly if the relationship is cordial. Starting off the day by sticking their tongue out at her is not likely to make their day go well.

Raise your hand if you think politicians are respectful of authority today. They simply aren’t. Anyone who belongs to a different political party, is on the other side of a controversial issue, or who is a block to achieving a political goal is likely to be called names, talked down to, etc. Starting with the president and working our way down an elected official of the smallest town, each of these representatives deserve respect for serving on the people’s behalf. It’s not about who they are, what they look like, where they come from, or how they got the position. It’s the fact they are in the position. You don’t have to like them; just show their position some respect.

LESSON #2: FOLLOW THE RULES

A second lesson kindergarteners quickly learn is to follow the rules. Breaking the rules leads to consequences they won’t like. They might not get to go to recess, they might have to go talk to the principal, or they might have to sit in time out. If a student doesn’t like a rule, then there is an acceptable way (another rule) to go about changing that rule.

The current mindset for politicians is that rules (translate laws) were meant to be broken. The ends justify the means. If it gets them elected or keeps them in office, who cares if it is illegal? But the rule (law) is there for a reason. What if we didn’t have any rules? What if everyone could pick and choose which rules they wanted to follow?

LESSON #3: SHARE

One of the hardest things for young children to learn is to share. Apparently adults have a hard time with this concept as well. In a kindergarten classroom, there will only be a certain number of purple crayons, and that number will undoubtedly be less than the number of students wanting to color with them. With sharing, every student might get an opportunity to use the much coveted crayon color. Hoarding of the crayons by a few will lead to hard feelings and run-ins.

Politicians don’t have crayons to share, but they might be in a better frame of mind if they took some time to chill and do some adult coloring. What politicians do have is experience, knowledge, resources, connections, and information. Using these items collaboratively would lead to a better outcome for all. Hoarding any of these things can cause anything from hard feelings all the way up to a lawsuit or investigation.

LESSON #4: Listen

What’s easier said than done? To listen. Kindergarteners can’t wait to get their two cents worth in and will interrupt fellow students as well as their teacher. Moreover, they may not pay attention to what is said because they are not interested; the bug crawling on the wall is enthralling while the teacher droning on about what she wants the students to do is boring. But failing to listen means the student may not receive important information, i.e., we can go to recess early if you put your books away.

Sure politicians will listen; however, that is generally only to themselves or to someone who can do something for them such as make a campaign contribution. Putting their “listening ears” on as my mother always told me to do, might give them some surprising insight into what their staff, colleagues, and constituents want or how they are feeling. And if the politicians take the time to listen, they might find that others will then be willing to listen to them.

LESSON #5: Don’t Hit People

Kindergarten is a year when youngsters learn to control their actions. They are told, “Don’t hit people.” That admonition may be followed by the comment, “It’s not nice.” Kindergarteners may not care about or understand being nice, but they do learn that hitting others usually has negative consequences. They may be hit back by their victim and they may suffer repercussions from authority figures, i.e., the teacher, the principal, or their parents.

Politicians don’t generally go around hitting people because battery, of course, is not legal. But they think nothing of verbally assaulting each other, particularly on Twitter. Saying mean things on Twitter has led to the trend of politicians reading aloud mean tweets made about them. Well, it’s better to use the insult to get a laugh than to retaliate in kind.

Robert Fulghum astutely put the situation this way: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” How united are we in the United States if politicians are bashing each other with words and inflicting emotional harm? How about not speaking, tweeting, or posting anything that is a verbal jab? You can disagree without being disagreeable–my mother told me so during my kindergarten year and for many years afterwards.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are politicians currently acting like kindergarteners? Which of the above kindergarten lessons do politicians today need to learn most? Which of these lessons do you yourself need to learn?