How To "De-Popularize" A Popular Government Service

September 20, 2016

In the corporate boardrooms or the meeting rooms of the think tanks created by those corporations to advance their causes, they do not study so much about the good of the world or of America or of the American people, but how more profits can be squeezed into the bottom lines of their computer ledgers. Research and development of new products to sell to the public takes time and expenditure of money, with no guarantee of a matching return. So often and again, the corporates and their paid thinkers look to take over enterprises that have been already developed by the American government, paid for by the citizen taxpayers, and proven to be both a success and potential private profit.

Of course, the very success that makes these government-developed enterprises lucrative targets for private takeover also makes it difficult to convince the public that they need to be taken away from the government that created them, built them, and made them so successful. And so one of the most popular plays in the corporate/think tank playbook these days is to sabotage the government’s ability to run these popular programs until the programs deteriorate so badly that the public is led to believe the only way to save them is for the corporations to step in and take them over. Or, in actuality, take over the most lucrative parts of them, and leave the government to keep the unprofitable dregs and take any and all of the blame when those sectors fail.

We’ve seen that most dramatically, most recently, in the operation—or mis-operation—of the United States Postal Service.

Despite all the troubles it has faced in recent years—the creation of which were not of its own making—the postal service remains extremely popular with the American public. A recent Gallup poll result, for example, gave the postal service good/excellent favorability percentage of around 71.5%. According to Gallup, “While the U.S. Postal Service has recently withstood a barrage of negative attention, from getting hacked to announcing continued multibillion-dollar deficits, it enjoys the most positive image of 13 high-profile government agencies Gallup recently tested. Younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to review the Postal Service favorably.” (“Americans Rate Postal Service Highest of 13 Major Agencies” November 21, 2014)

And, as I said, the “negative attention” mentioned in the Gallup release was not entirely the fault of postal service management itself, but was forced by drastic budget cutbacks authored by a Republican/conservative-dominated Congress under the direction of the corporations’ plan to de-popularize the postal service and make it riper for corporate raiding and takeover.

But in some areas of the country and certain communities within certain cities, postal service management has not “managed” the cutbacks as well as managers have done in other areas.

Last year, for example, I wrote several columns about how because of those cutbacks, management has butchered some of the essential services at Oakland’s Marcus Foster Branch of the U.S. Postal Service, located in the moderate-to-low-income predominantly African-American/Latino Elmhurst District in the flatlands of what is popularly known as “Deep East Oakland.” (“The 'Hood Tax’, An Example” CounterPoints column April 2, 2015) (“Cutbacks At The Marcus Foster P.O. Branch Confirmed” CounterPoints column April 8, 2015) (“Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back—The Continuing Problems At Marcus Foster Post Office” CounterPoints column April 26, 2015) (“The Marcus Foster Mailbox Removal, Belatedly Explained” CounterPoints column May 15, 2015)

Management is so bad at Marcus Foster and attention to protocol so low that they no longer bother to send someone out to take down the American flag off the flagpole at night any more and run it back up in the morning. The flag sits up there unattended, night and day and through the weekends, contrary to federal law and American flag protocol. Myself I’m not much of a flag-symbol person so this is not one of my personal priorities to fix, but it’s a symbol of how little postal management cares about what happens at the Marcus Foster Branch.

One of the service cutbacks at the Marcus Foster Branch I do care about happened sometime after there was a break-in or two at one or both of the two outdoor mail deposit boxes just outside the post office building. These are the boxes where people used to be able to post their mail without having to go inside the branch during business hours, or during the evenings and weekends when the branch was closed. I say “used to,” because instead of beefing up security at the boxes after the break-ins, the Marcus Foster management decided to just remove the two outdoor mail deposit boxes altogether, with no notice and no instructions as to where the nearest after-hours mail deposit location might be.

In desperation some patrons—maybe in an attempt to get their mail postmarked on a certain day—decided to try to deposit their after-hours mail at the Marcus Foster Branch in another way.

The branch has two glass-plated doors, one on the front of the building, one on the side that used to open into the portion of the branch where the rented post office boxes are located. The side door was permanently closed by management more than a year ago, also without explanation and at an inconvenience to the patrons, but that’s another story. Anyway, some time ago, probably for security reasons, management had thick metal security screens installed over the glass on the two glass doors. The screens on the side door are flush against the casing in which the glass sits, but on the front door, the workers unaccountably left a small gap between the casing and the screen right next to the door handle, a gap just wide enough to slip in letters but not wide enough to admit a hand to fish them back out again. Immediately after the outdoor deposit mailboxes were removed from Marcus Foster, some patrons began dropping their mail into that little slot between the screen and the door after hours or when the branch was closed for lunch, presumably in the expectation that branch workers would get the letters back out again and send them through the system.

The Marcus Foster workers did not, probably because there was no easy way to get the letters back out again from deep in that gap between the screen and the glass of the door.

And so there the letters sat for several weeks last year, until management finally sent a maintenance worker out to unhook the security screen long enough to get the letters back out.

Someone working at the branch eventually put up a small sign warning patrons against putting their mail inside the screen, but the sign was barely visible or readable through the security screen and, in addition, was unintelligible to the large percentage of Spanish-only speakers in the Marcus Foster Branch area since it was only written in English. And for more than a year, for whatever reason, people stopped putting their mail inside the branch door screen.

Until a few weeks ago that is, when patrons began taking up the habit again. And so now, a new batch of mail has piled up inside the Marcus Foster door screen, clearly visible by branch workers and management—whenever management happens to come out to the branch—without any discernable plan by postal management to do anything about the problem.

You could, of course, blame the branch patrons for depositing their mail where they are not “supposed” to, but that wouldn’t solve the problem, which is actually easy to do in several ways, if management put their minds to it.

They could put up a larger, more prominent warning sign in both English and Spanish on the outside of the front door, unblocked by the security screen.

They could send out one of their building maintenance workers to install a metal plate to block the gap between the security screen and the glass of the door, making it impossible to slip mail in there any more.

To solve the problem of no after-hours deposit box at Marcus Foster, management could install a secure slot in the front or the side of the branch building that would allow patrons to drop in mail after hours.

Or, finally, they could restore a box to the Marcus Foster Branch with the appropriate security measures.

What local postal management has done about the problem so far is nothing, perhaps on the supposition that because the Marcus Foster Post Office Branch is not in a neighborhood that merits much consideration in their eyes, no consideration is due, and nothing need be done to remedy the situation.

And so people’s faith and trust in the service provided by the federally-run postal service becomes eroded until they lose complete faith and believe they would be better served by it all be taken over by the private sector, which, after all, is exactly what the corporate government-program raiders and their conservative Republican Congressional allies want and are getting at.

Some readers may think this is a small thing, or a local thing, not worthy of much attention. But it is upon small things that great civilizations erode and crack and eventually fall, and someday our great-grandchildren will find it impossible to believe that there was ever such thing as superior government-run postal service in this country, or know how it was that it eventually came to be lost.


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