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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 30, 2020

Janie Thibodeau Martin

Neither Rain, nor Snow".

I am a big fan of my rural mail carrier. Like most of the carriers who have provided service to me over the past decades, she does her best in very difficult weather conditions to deliver to my mailbox (or if there is a package, to my porch) six times a week; always gives a friendly wave, and apologizes when things don't go perfectly. From time to time rural carriers open mailboxes and find wasps, spiders and mice. Infrequently the surprise in the box is grimmer; my (now retired) mail carrier brother-in-law was one of the victims of a serial mailbox bomber in 2002 and we are grateful that although he was seriously injured, he survived. (He said other times he got much more enjoyable mailbox surprises from thoughtful customers, like freshly baked bread.) City carriers have to do a great deal of walking, exposed to all kinds of weather, and the necessity of approaching houses on foot subjected them to 6,244 dog attacks in 2017 alone.

Over the years I've known mail carriers who spotted lost animals and helped them get home; summoned emergency services for house fires and vehicle accidents; and reported elderly or frail customers who failed to pick up their mail as usual; causing relatives or authorities to intervene in what could have been a fatality. Few people know a neighborhood like a mail carrier, and I think of them as the unofficial "front line" of neighborhood watch contributors in a rural area like mine.

I am a heavy user of on-line communications; all the same, I also use mail a lot. I correspond regularly with quite a few people; some are cherished pre-computer generation loved ones, and some are column readers who choose to reach out to me via a letter. Others are relatives who are perfectly able to use text or e-mail, but like to pick up a funny or thoughtful card and send it, knowing I'll be delighted. And I enjoy returning the favor. I still mail birthday cards, and if the recipient is a youngster it might have sticks of gum in it; or a dollar bill.

I think electronic communications have been a big factor in the increasingly hostile manner in which some people communicate with one another, which is spreading from on-line forums to nasty in-person encounters. During electronic communications, the ability to "snap back" a reply to something that angers or frustrates us does not have that pause, that time for reconsideration, that accompanied the need to get a piece of paper, an envelope, a stamp and a pen. Instead we respond in haste, and often repent at leisure after hitting "send."

None of us like the fact that postage stamps have increased in price. But I think 55 cents, less than the cost of a candy bar, is a cheap price for putting a smile on someone's face; my electronic communications are not actually "free," since I pay for the service.

I was thinking about these things when I saw that the current administration is considering privatizing the postal service.

The United States Postal Service was created early in our country's history. In 1792, George Washington and James Madison created legislation to allow newspaper companies to send papers through the mail service inexpensively, and to protect the privacy of personal correspondence from government screening. That action protects our right to political information free of government censorship; it also protects the privacy of our mailed communications.

There is no doubt the postal service needs financial changes. According to an interesting "Forbes" article I read, the postal service has received NO taxpayer money in 30 years. While it is a government agency (and according to polls, it is the most popular government agency we have,) it is considered "financially independent." Therefore, it has to support itself via sales of services such as stamps. At the same time it is the ONLY government agency required to fully fund its retirement liability. (Try to find any business that does that these days!) And congress has to authorize any change in service rates; the postal service cannot make changes on their own. It is a messed-up system, and it's really no wonder the service is struggling financially. But I wish there would be consideration to fixing the convoluted financial problems, and not privatizing the entire service. (And I am mystified; why, with our national debt increasing steadily the last couple years and currently at more than $23 TRILLION, are our leaders concerned about the $13 billion postal service debt?)

Change is inevitable. The use of computers has reduced the need to mail things such as payments; but those in rural areas where computer services are slow, unavailable or costly have a barrier to this option. And many people are uncomfortable with such methods, or question the security of their credit cards in on-line transactions.

I bet privatization would result in both higher costs to consumers, and almost immediate service reductions including facility location closures and delivery day reductions. I worry about my two beloved weekly newspapers and my monthly magazines, already beleaguered, who utilize "printed material" rates for delivery. A privatized mail service would be under no obligation to keep rates low for such material. It would also result in creation of replacement jobs that likely would pay less with fewer benefits than what is currently earned by postal service employees. Overall, I don't think that's good for any of us.

I will watch warily if this initiative is pursued.

In the meantime, thank you postal service employees. I appreciate you six times a week when I get my mail. I appreciate dropping a card in outgoing mail, knowing in three days or so someone I love will have a bright spot in their day. I love getting paper birthday cards, Christmas greetings and postcards from friends who are traveling. I hate reading newspapers and magazines on line. I hope I never have to adjust to a computer screen for those things, because it just isn't the same.

Thanks Ken, for your assistance on this column.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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