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  • Last modified 30 days ago (Nov. 14, 2019)

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Postal, yes; service, no

When gas prices soared during the Arab oil embargo of the ’70s, executives from U.S. oil companies cast about for a nifty phrase they could spout whenever TV cameras came on.

A simple sound bite was all they needed to counter growing public sentiment for the government to take over oil companies.

The man they turned to was Arnold Zenker, an interesting footnote in history in his own right. He briefly had replaced legendary Walter Cronkite as evening news anchor during a performers’ strike in the ’60s.

Zenker, moving from news to public relations, followed “And that’s the way it is” with his own legendary line: “If you like the nationalized postal service, you’ll love nationalized oil.”

The U.S. Postal Service long has been a poster child for governmental inefficiency — and with good reason. When you send a letter from Marion to Hillsboro, it first goes to Kansas City then to Wichita before finally making its way to Hillsboro — if it ever arrives at all.

This 402-mile route to a destination only 10 miles away apparently allows fancy sorting equipment to be employed. Yet much of the time, we’re told, the equipment doesn’t work right and mail ends up being stacked up until it can be sorted by hand — which is why it may take weeks for out-of-state newspapers to reach their destination.

The Postal Service has a long history of canceling out logic as vigorously as it cancels stamps. Never has that been more apparent than in its latest attempt to eliminate a century-old tradition of door-to-door delivery of mail because some of its letter carriers apparently are scared of barking dogs.

The logical flaw is so obvious even a maligned postal worker should be able to find it.

If it’s so dangerous for an able-bodied letter carrier to walk once a day through a stretch of homes, why is it any safer for each and every resident of those homes, many of them infirm, to have to walk the exact same path daily to reach their mail at a central location?

Government should be about reducing risks to citizens, not increasing them. Imagine if police officers, firefighters, or soldiers reacted the way postal workers have. Being a letter carrier appears to be less about serving the public and more about serving yourself.

But safety isn’t the real issue here. If it were, the Postal Service wouldn’t be insisting on exposing dozens of citizens to a risk just so its own employees don’t have to face it.

We’ve asked for statistics. They say actual dog attacks resulting in serious injury to local postal workers are rare. In fact, we’ve seen no evidence of any such attacks in Marion County in the past two years. Many of the complaints letter carriers have lodged haven’t involved dog bites or even dogs running at large but rather dogs barking inside homes.

We understand that barking dogs creep some people out. Sticking your hand in someone else’s mouth might creep us out, too. So might having to hang around dead bodies. People in the latter categories probably shouldn’t aspire to being dental hygienists or funeral directors. People with mortal fear of dogs probably shouldn’t seek careers as letter carriers.

Time was, “going postal” meant acting out in extremely violent ways. The pendulum has now swung so far in the opposite direction that “going postal” means refusing to cope with the challenges, real or imagined, that naturally go with a job.

If this trend expands to other government workers, imagine what might be next. Utility workers could become so fearful of working on pipes traversing various neighborhoods that we have go back to another practice that ended a century ago and have communal wells to which residents would have to go to get their water each day.

The Postal Service, already prostituted into delivering all manner of junk mail people don’t really want, needs to think about whether “service” should continue to be part of its name. “Bureaucracy” might be a better fit.

This isn’t just about people being disappointed over losing door-to-door mail delivery. It’s also about looking ahead to what dangers will be created by letter carriers preferring to ride in vehicles instead of doing what they were hired to do.

The first time some 90-year-old, partially disabled person slips and falls, breaking her neck, while walking two blocks through snow and ice to get her mail, a huge lawsuit will follow. And who will end up paying? Not the Postal Bureaucracy. We, the taxpayers, will have to bail out the quasi-independent agency yet again.

Sen. Jerry Moran’s office has been investigating the short-sighted and selfish over-interpretation of rules that have driven a whole series of needless service cutbacks in Florence, Marion, and Peabody. He appears to be the only hope for appealing this appalling overstepping of bounds and for delivering commonsense to our doorsteps.

Encourage him not to give up the good fight. The Postal Service is supposed to work for us, not the other way around.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Nov. 14, 2019

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