Return to Sender
May 11, 2011 6:59 PM   Subscribe

So it turns out that the United States Postal Service has lost $2.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011 with estimated losses of $7 billon by September. Despite shedding over 130,000 jobs in the past three years and promises from the Postal Worker's Union to not demand any raises in the near future, some doubt that the USPS has a future in America. Does the future have a P.O. Box? Google sure thinks so.
posted by Avenger (174 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I still use the USPS to send postcards to my nephews and nieces abroad for their birthdays.
Email is not the same, and FedEx seems overkill for that.
posted by monospace at 7:03 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do a lot of small package shipping, and the USPS *could* have a very bright future indeed in that arena, if they could get out of their own way.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:05 PM on May 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


The ability to receive mail no matter where you live has been an basic tenant of life in the US for a long time. I don't see that changing anytime soon, and Fed-Ex and UPS can't deliver to BFE for 45 cents. In fact, the USPS can't either. But I don't see our legal structure negating the need for original documents either. So I think it will stick around in some form for quite a while, although it may cost $5 for first class mail.
posted by COD at 7:05 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


How about introducing new products and new ways of doing business? New management techniques and new ways of selecting and dealing with employees?

Yes, I understand that corporate America in the 1990s thought it could fire its way to success, too, but unless USPS is going to outsource the mail to China, I don't think that's a good example to follow. I am also not impressed that this seems to be an example of the GOP credo: cut it until it bleeds, and then bleed it until it dies.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:06 PM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


TENET not TENANT. Pllease Godl. Before my head explodes.
posted by unSane at 7:07 PM on May 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


Right. I'm stocking up on forever stamps.
posted by contessa at 7:11 PM on May 11, 2011


Its accounting shenanigans. If they could account for their retirement and future healthcare costs the way every other company does the losses would be much lower, but still loss making. After all we don't expect your local roads department to make money do we?
posted by JPD at 7:12 PM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


If people would learn how to use the automated postage terminals at post offices instead of waiting in line for 30 minutes to send a small domestic package, that might save some money.
posted by yellowlightman at 7:12 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


1. I don't expect the Postal Service to be a revenue generator, I expect it to do it's job at reasonable price.

2. Just get that $7 billion from the Defense budget, they can probably spare it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:15 PM on May 11, 2011 [63 favorites]


yellowlightman, if the USPS would let me drop the packages that I used the automated postage terminals to pay for rather than making me stand in line to hand the small domestic package to a human, I wouldn't have to wait for 30 minutes and would be less likely to choose FedEx or UPS by default.
posted by straw at 7:16 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


While these massive shortfalls suggest that the USPS needs reform, I don't think they should be held to the same standards as corporations. America is a huge country and getting mail everywhere is necessary for a functioning society. That's why the USPS is granted a monopoly over mail service, because it is that importnt that everyone be able to receive and send mail in a timely fashion. It isn't out of the question for there to be increased governmental subsidies for the USPS - it is the definition of too big to fail.
posted by boubelium at 7:16 PM on May 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


This is another legacy of the Bush Era of misrule.

There was a moment, from '98 or '99, until as recently as '06, where the USPS was faster, cheaper, more accountable and more reliable than UPS or FedEX (especially as FedEX fumbled getting into the ground-shipping game), and actually showed a profit (which it dutifully paid back into the treasury).

Postal workers at the offices were pleasant to deal with, automated systems at the branches and online appeared that were truly next-generation, and it was generally the way to ship things in the Age of Ebay. (Now passed into the age of Craigslist and Etsy.)

The sudden and shocking reversal is almost certainly down to Bush-era appointments, and being below Obama's radar ever since.

On a personal level, I've seen it. In 2006, I ordered a coat and a computer. The coat was shipped via standard USPS, the computer next-day air by Company Who I Still Don't Like and Lost My Kindle Last Christmas. The coat arrived the next day, I had to drive 50 miles to a shipping office to pick up the computer, four days later.

Three years ago, my wife shipped a wedding portrait in a nice frame, and album to her mom. The USPS lost it, and laughed at us when we tried to have them track it down.

Year before last, my wife shipped some christmas presents to her family, along with an ultrasound image of our as-yet-unborn daughter. USPS lost it, and laughed at us when we tried to have them track it down.

This is despite the online system showing us the last postal facility it was checked in at. They wouldn't call the office, or the next one on, to have someone go look in the lost packages room or somesuch.

In 2002, I ordered a fishing reel, and when it went missing, a customer service rep called =me= to let me know, and then hand-delivered it to me that Saturday when they found it... and it was =still= within the original shipping window.

Something happened between then and now... and so I believe it can be reversed once we get rid of the free-market, privatize-everything bozos running the show over there.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:17 PM on May 11, 2011 [47 favorites]


The ability to receive mail no matter where you live has been an basic tenant of life in the US for a long time.

My aunt still sends me brown-paper-wrapped packages full of baked goods on various holidays, and it is awesome in a way I cannot fully describe here right now. I still send cards, postcards, letters (lately from Ben Franklin's post office here in the PHL, hand-canceled stamps!). There is no digital replacement for the USPS.
posted by gac at 7:18 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


The thing is that the post office is expected to run without subsidies, and it's currently in a shrinking market due to disruptive technology and strong competition. It also doesn't help Bush signed a law to make it illegal to rise postage prices faster than inflation (which we need as the market is not exactly proportionate to the changes in the rest of the economy) The internet is taking over most of what we used to use letters for, for business, government and personal correspondence. And for packages, UPS and FedEx are now preferable options for many businesses.

I think the reality is we're going to have to either adapt to life without mail in rural areas and possibly the suburbs (perhaps everyone will go to a PO box in town), or we'll have to start subsidizing the USPS.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:20 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here is my memory of the USPS:

* Gazing at their unkempt, unappealing retail shelves, which often looks more like a third-world convenience store than a hub of communication.

* Listening over the intercom to the latest Employee Evaluation results (like do most businesses announce these kind of things over the intercom with customers in the building?) *Everyone* failed, BTW.

* Waiting for 45 minutes to check for forwarded mail. The harried postal employee apologized, claiming "everyone's just so disorganized around here" as he took down my address with a pen ON HIS HAND.

* One time I was not able to purchase stamps without puppies on them for some reason. They had just gotten rid of the stamps machine; I was unable to understand the subtle reasoning behind this.

* One time there was a cigarette in my mailbox. Also I think a postal employee crushed the harmless praying mantis that hung out on my porch.

Yeah, I'd be up for a airline-style deregulation.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:25 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are they still delivering on Saturdays? They've been claiming that they'd stop for years now and I'm still getting Saturday mail.
posted by Neekee at 7:25 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


People who mail actual letters are weird.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:25 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually a really good relevant article from the LRB on postal deregulation.

Via The Awl
posted by JPD at 7:30 PM on May 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


My latest foray into a Post Office, circa three days ago (Monday). I wanted to mail a package and buy some stamps.

Mailing the package - a frigging snap with the self serve kiosk. Too bad about the inability to track it, though. How hard would that be, USPS? (Answer: not hard at all, but mysteriously unable to do so.)

Getting the stamps - another issue entirely. My options were (1) wait in a line with 15 people ahead of me and (2) don't buy stamps. I chose 2, and drove to the grocery store across the street where I obtained a book of stamps in the express lane. How hard would it have been to place a self-serve stamp vending machine in the Post Office? (Answer: trivial, but mysteriously absent.)

There are your problems, USPS, and it won't take 7 billion dollars to solve them either.
posted by contessa at 7:32 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ten years of military adventurism or 300 years of subsidizing the post office.

Our budget priorities? Seriously fucked up.
posted by notion at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2011 [33 favorites]


I hear you guys still have door to door delivery: Wouldn't moving to the end-of-street type boxes that much of Canada has save a ton of money in terms of how much area each postalworker could deliver to?
posted by Canageek at 7:36 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The self-serve kiosk sells stamps at my post office.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:37 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was kind of boggled when I heard a bad-choices Libertarian of my acquaintance talk about rural people who relied on US mail as if they were lazy free riders. I guess that really is the new talking point. I know the post office is going to have to change to cope in an era of declining mail--not just packages but bulk mail like catalogs, which people are declining through places like Catalog Choice--but I was of the opinion that actual postal service was one of those "we're not a third-world country" parts of government. Silly me, I guess we really are a third world country.

Also, . for the future of Metafilter CD exchanges when and if they get rid of US Mail.
posted by immlass at 7:37 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone should read the LRB article that JPD linked to. It's worth a post of its own.
posted by enn at 7:38 PM on May 11, 2011


There's nothing that can replace USPS Media Mail. Hurrah for a mandate to keep shipment of information cheap, and boo that there's no real way to make that profitable. I totally shipped a 35-pound box of books this week for <$16. Beat that, UPS or FedEx.
posted by asperity at 7:38 PM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


I love the US Postal Service.

But there aren't a lot of branches where I live, so that my closest branch is too far to ride my bike (or rather, it's in the midst of hairy traffic and in the opposite direction of everywhere else I ever need to go, thus totally inconvenient). When I do go, the lines are interminable and the employees are grumpy--the classic experience, sure, but not the experience I've had elsewhere.

So I find I do all my mail business at the locally owned UPS store, two blocks away, where I can still buy stamps and send my packages via USPS if I want to, and the staff is friendly and they remember me from visit to visit. I did find that when postcard stamp prices increased, I wasn't able to get the new stamps that day, nor the one centers I'd need to use up my old stamps. I had to wait until the next day. But they told me super nicely and when I went in the next morning they already had them set aside for me, so...
posted by padraigin at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2011


But I don't see our legal structure negating the need for original documents either.

Not sure why you think this. I heard much the same thing about paper checks, up until ten years ago when 9/11 happened and suddenly it became really obvious that having your financial industry dependent on moving a lot of paper around was pretty stupid.

And so Congress passed Check 21 and said, more or less because they could, that "a copy of a check is 100% as good as the original one on paper." Done. Now, when you give a check to someone, chances are that their bank just scans it and then shreds the paper -- leaving nothing but the electronic copy. And that's just as good as paper because Congress said so.

The same thing could happen with legal contracts, and has already happened in some states. (Although generally the requirements for electronic signatures are more difficult than just obtaining a paper copy, although if you're doing enough of them this is changing.) If Congress wanted to implement an across-the-board national digital signature equivalence act, in excess of what has already been passed, I suspect they could. Given the things the courts have seen fit to include within Congress' regulatory purview, establishing a nationwide digital-signature standard and making it generally equivalent to an ink signature, or prohibiting anyone from treating a digitized document differently from an original, doesn't seem to be a huge stretch. There are a few lingering edge cases that would have to get worked out (old bearer instruments that don't have any sort of serialization to make them unique, for instance), but I'd bet 99% of the cases where documents are getting sent around due to some perceived legal requirement could be wiped out if Congress decided It Shall Be Done and acted decisively.

Things stay the same until they don't, and then they tend to move quickly. I knew people who swore that the U.S. would never move from a paper-based check system, and that it would always exist alongside the electronic networks. They were wrong, whatever the merits of a paper system might have been. The same thing could happen to contracts and other legal documents.

What's keeping electronic signatures from happening right now is twofold: first there's a patchwork of state laws, some of which are quite stupid (allowing, for instance, a copied-and-pasted image of a signature to count as a "digital signature"); second there's just not a good business case for it unless you are handling a lot of paper documents. Sending clients a piece of paper to wet-sign and send back is cheap, if the volume isn't too high. But if that cost went up, then things might change quickly.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:41 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Conservatives who rail about the U.S. Postal Service are like comedians who make jokes about airline food.

see, e.g.: Mallard Fillmore.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:43 PM on May 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Getting the stamps - another issue entirely. My options were (1) wait in a line with 15 people ahead of me and (2) don't buy stamps.

The machine you used to send the package -- which I assume was an Automated Postal Center -- didn't sell stamps? That's pretty odd since in my experience they all do. Maybe it had run out or something.

(Odd note: I think the stamps that come out of the APC are actually different than the ones you get at the counter ... they are much thinner. With the adhesive backing on, they're only about as thick as a normal piece of 20# paper, as compared to the ones you get at the counter which feel more like card stock. I assume this has something to do with the inner workings of the machine, but it might explain why it could have run out yet there were still stamps available at the counter.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:47 PM on May 11, 2011


Why is it that when I read the LRB article, I get the sense of a generalized failing of critical institutions that bind society together?
posted by wuwei at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


. . .because the mail never stops. It just keeps stops coming and coming. . .
posted by Danf at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2011


Another private postman, Joris Leijten, who quit Sandd in January, told me that he used to sort mail on his bed. In a café among the grand villas of Bussum, near Hilversum, he handed me the flyer that Sandd put through his door after he resigned, advertising his job: a picture of four smiling white people in Sandd blue, striding down the road with light sheaves of paper, grinning. ‘Keep busy outdoors, in charge of your own time,’ it read. ‘Ideal for students, housewives and pensioners.’ He showed me a day’s work from just after Christmas: three rounds, sorting and delivering 323 pieces of mail, weighing a total of 81.4 kilograms, to 279 addresses. Sandd claimed this should take six hours; Leijten said it took eight. For this he was paid a little over 27 euros – not much more than €3 an hour.
Yeah, the LRB article is definitely worth it for the details of what the conservatives desire: another job that can't pay a decent living wage.
posted by notion at 7:52 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The machine you used to send the package -- which I assume was an Automated Postal Center -- didn't sell stamps?

You know - it could have, to be honest I thought it was dedicated to dealing with packages only. So, my bad if that was the case.

To add to my litany against the USPS though -- perhaps if they stopped offering a bulk rate to every mass mailer on the planet, they'd raise the revenue they need. When a person's residential mail is 90% junk marketing material addressed to "Resident", there is a problem. Show me one mail carrier who enjoys sorting this fucking waste, and one recipient who is happy to have their hands on the 5th offer that month for carpet cleaning. I'd be alarmed if it was more than one in 100,000 for either.

For real: regular retail postal rates could support the USPS we have, except that most of the mail that becomes their responsibility doesn't pay it.
posted by contessa at 7:58 PM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Charge more. Problem solved!
posted by Brocktoon at 7:59 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just want the option to do this:

All mail, other than federal, state and local government mail, and my pre-approved senders, such as, netflix, utilities or services that do not do online payments, will be refused and never reach my mailbox.

No ads, no mailing list credit card offers, none of that crap. All automatically refused, or never even sent because of some little ID tag next to my address at the post office would not have me listed as an available address to begin with.

Everything else that is not an advertisement or offer, like packages, would be held at the post office for pickup. I just can't trust boxes to sit in my apartment foyer or on my doorstep for six hours while I'm at work, and not be taken.

This wouldn't work for everybody, or everywhere, but it would be a fantastic option to have.
posted by chambers at 8:00 PM on May 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Australian post offices are more like mini stationery-electronics-book-music-gift stores where you go to pay your bills, do some banking, get passports and stuff. Oh look, you can send mail here, too!

Still, I can't remember the last time I got a letter by post that couldn't have been sent by e-mail instead. Parcels, sure, and the Express Post network is great here, but letters? Not a one. It's all bills from companies I pay by automatic deductions from my bank account, letting me know that my last deduction went through just fine, and by the way here's a catalogue full of services you didn't ask for, yes, have some.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:01 PM on May 11, 2011


Even when I was in the business of shipping bikes and bike parts from Canada to the U.S., and from the U.S. to Canada, back in 2001, I found both national postal services far too inconvenient and time consuming to use effectively; except in December, when I had enough volume to justify buying a bunch of prepaid shipping envelopes in advance, for small, high-profit items (think derailleurs, disc-brake-sets, etc.) I remember complaining to my boss when he sent me to the Post Office to ship a bunch of packages in mid December because I knew that I was going to be in line for at least an hour. He looked me in the eye and said "That's why we call it WORK, Jeff."

If neither of those postal services was able to win over me as a customer a decade ago, it is unsurprising to me that they are not viable as businesses at this point. At 55 years of age, and almost computer illiterate (compared to rest of you dips here), I would seem to fit the target demographic of traditional mail services pretty much perfectly. Yet the only mail I receive at this point are the newsletters from my monthly charities. Were I to get one of those new fangled Kindle thingys that all the cool kidz are using, so I'd have something to read on the can, I actually wouldn't get any mail at all. Seriously.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:01 PM on May 11, 2011


Why are they still delivering on Saturdays?

Because Saturday mail delivery is AWESOME. It's a whole extra day you get your mail! Sometimes GOOD mail like letters from people or checks or even just interesting catalogs and whatnot that you DON'T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL MONDAY FOR! Yay!

Kill Saturday delivery? Fuck that! Charge me an extra dine per stamp, and charge the people who send me junk mail marginally more, and deliver on Sunday too.

I hear you guys still have door to door delivery: Wouldn't moving to the end-of-street type boxes that much of Canada has save a ton of money

(A) Lots of the US has multi-box thingies too; AFAIK door to door delivery is a legacy feature.

(B) No, it could not conceivably save anything approaching "tons" of money in the context of the federal budget. The whole USPS deficit is not a significant amount of money in the context of the federal budget, and there's no obvious reason why the USPS should be expected to earn a profit or break even every year even if we decided it should break even over the long term.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:03 PM on May 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow. I haven't had any particularly bad experiences with the USPS lately. They're almost uniformly better than FedEx or UPS – those flat-rate Priority Boxes are also a pretty sweet deal most of the time, and there's no remotely better value than mailing a small package 1st Class.

I've also found that UPS and FedEx both seem to excel at one thing -- insulating shippers from ever knowing the actual cost of shipping.

Last week, I had to ship a few large pieces of equipment from work to be repaired in some far-away state. It was nothing urgent -- we keep a healthy supply of spare parts on hand. All in all, I had about 5 large 40lb boxes, which I handed to our lady who has The Power to print shipping labels and arrange pickups. Even after telling her that the packages weren't urgent, she dutifully slapped two Priority Overnight labels on the boxes.

"But won't that be expensive?" I asked.
"Yeah, but they'll get there faster."
"But our budget is pretty tight, and I frankly don't care if they're hauled to California via turtle."
"Oh. But this is FedEx. That's different."

I rolled my eyes, sighed, and walked away. This is one of those fights that the youngest person in the office will never win. Every office I've worked in has been the exact same way.

When shipping things for my own side-business, I never come across a package that UPS or FedEx were willing to ship for less money than the Postal Service at an equivalent level of service. Not one. Maybe some businesses get cut a special deal, although I've never heard specifics on that subject, and doubt it's true for any smallish company.

A few years ago, during a period of awesome underemployment, I was a seasonal worker for UPS. As the previous anecdote implies, we delivered (and shipped) a ton of overnight stuff to businesses. One business was particularly bad -- on a particularly busy afternoon during my pickup rounds, the secretary dropped a box of about 800 overnight envelopes at my feet. Conference invitations, badges, or somesuch. Policy states that I needed to scan every single overnight pickup in front of the customer. My supervisors weren't pleased with me when I returned 2 hours late that night, but were happy when I showed them the $20k worth of "easy" packages that I picked up for them. (That said, it's worth noting that it's illegal to ship small stuff via non-urgent mail with anybody other than USPS. Letters have to be overnighted or sent through the post.)

This same company would frequently mail other tchotchkes overnight, despite there likely being no actual business reason to do so. We'd also deliver stuff like rugs and furniture, which could not even possibly have been profitable for the shipper, unless they were getting an absolutely amazing deal on UPS postage. (Try getting a quote for shipping a large package -- say, a bicycle. It's going to run you at least $200. Freight is the only economical way to move large stuff, and even at that, you've got to do it in big batches.)

Still, I get the impression that businesses don't seem to give a fuck what they pay for shipping, which is why UPS and FedEx can claim to be "better for business." If the businesses knew what they were spending, or knew how to utilize any of USPS's online features or pickup services, I doubt they'd be parroting the same line.
posted by schmod at 8:07 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


If there's one thing that business is better than government at, it's PR and marketing.
posted by anthill at 8:15 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vietnam doesn't have a reliable postal service - most things of value go missing, and other things can take weeks to arrive.
It's one of the biggest hallmarks of a third world country: the absence of reliable mail.
posted by grubby at 8:21 PM on May 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


The elephant in the room is that broadcast postal delivery to personal addresses is simply unsustainable given the shape of US urban planning over the last, oh, 60 or 80 years. City sprawl greatly increases the cost of home delivery, and in the US, due to our infatuation with cars, we sprawl like nowhere else. Meanwhile, electronic communication has seriously undercut the revenue associated with delivery, and costs for fuel and labour have increased dramatically since the Time of Cheap Gas in the late nineties. I imagine these costs are only going to increase with time.

So the choice must eventually come to do one of three things:
a) Massively subsidize home delivery (basically the status quo),
b) Scrap home delivery and move to centralized pickup system (thus cutting a huge portion of delivery costs),
c) Scrap the suburbs and create higher density cities.

A hybrid (a-b) solution might involve a high cost for home delivery, perhaps with subsidies for people who can't travel to their post office. Option (c) seems drastic simply as a response to problems in the USPS, but it would simultaneously address the fairly disastrous social, economic, and environmental costs that the suburbs entail.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


This could case some serious fucking disgruntlement, folks.
posted by jonmc at 8:28 PM on May 11, 2011


Scrap home delivery and move to centralized pickup system (thus cutting a huge portion of delivery costs)

The less-dense, previously-more-rural-but-now-vastly-more-wealthy-and-conservative part of my hometown in New Jersey has always been this way. It's hardly a new concept.
posted by schmod at 8:31 PM on May 11, 2011


I really can't see any circumstance where the USPS becomes something we cannot support through subsidies. It hasn't exactly been unsubsidized even after it became "independent". I think we need the post office. What happens when UPS and FedEx and other delivery companies start sinking their profits into really shitty investments, like say, bad mortgages. But I am sure that would never happen, because, you know, bad things never happen when we're talking about the finances of big corporations. They just get bailed out. But never the USPS I guess.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:35 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't laugh, but here's a relevant Yahoo! Answers.

Because I, too, question things that sound knowledgeable, but are on Yahoo Answers, I poked around a little more, and while that guy may be overselling it, there does seem to be some basis in fact.

You've got to admit - compared to most companies and government entities in America right now, the USPS being able to not only pay for its current retirees, but being overfunded on its obligations to future retirees to the tune of $6.9 billion - well, that doesn't seem to match up to the "moneypit" characterization that people to like to sling around.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:42 PM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Step 1 : Double the fees to deliver junk mail.
Step 2 : Stop delivering on Saturday.
posted by crunchland at 8:43 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


If the USPS goes down, that's 'it' for me for the US market; I'd have to simply stop accepting orders from there. My stuff can't be delivered digitally, and yet the minimum price for a FedEx package from here to there is more than the value of the product itself.

FedEx/UPS/etc. work fine when there is enough $ value in any given package to justify the expense, but lower-value items are simply going to become unshippable. Whether or not the 'market' will find a way to serve that segment remains to be seen ...
posted by woodblock100 at 8:47 PM on May 11, 2011


I just want the option to do this:

All mail, other than federal, state and local government mail, and my pre-approved senders, such as, netflix, utilities or services that do not do online payments, will be refused and never reach my mailbox.

No ads, no mailing list credit card offers, none of that crap. All automatically refused, or never even sent because of some little ID tag next to my address at the post office would not have me listed as an available address to begin with.

Everything else that is not an advertisement or offer, like packages, would be held at the post office for pickup. I just can't trust boxes to sit in my apartment foyer or on my doorstep for six hours while I'm at work, and not be taken.

This wouldn't work for everybody, or everywhere, but it would be a fantastic option to have.


This is actually not difficult to come close to achieving.

Step one: rent a PO Box at the post office. You're already wanting to go there regularly anyway, so just rent a box. You don't even have to get a big one -- if you have a particularly heavy mail day or packages which won't fit, they'll put a yellow card in the box and you go to the counter to pick up whatever they have for you.

Step two: register your new PO Box address with the National Do Not Mail Registry. It's kind of like the Do Not Call list for your phone, only it will cut back your junk mail to the bare nubbins.

Step three: any junk mail you receive for the next month or so, drop directly into the recycle bins you will find in any PO Box center. You won't have to be bothered to take it home and recycle it from there, and you'll be able to just forget you ever got it as you walk out the door after picking up your mail.

Step four: any junk mail you still receive after 4-6 weeks, keep a copy of and contact the sender directly. They aren't obligated to stop sending you stuff, but most of the time they are happy to take you off their list if you take the time to request that.

And there you go. You've achieved having your packages held for you and not stolen off your porch, and you've managed to cut your junk mail quantities down by probably 75%. It's pretty simple, really.

Of course, this only will actually work if we still have a Post Office and PO Boxes available in the future.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't believe the fundamental problems within the USPS are due to a decline in demand (eg. with the popularity of e-mail and other forms of digital messaging). I'm sure they make up for that with the sheer hordes of companies prefering bulk mail for their nefarious snail-mail-spam ops. I'm sure they're fine keeping their small parcel services alive as well, a market which I'm sure UPS and FedEx wouldn't want to invest in anyway.

The bulk of the problems within the USPS, I believe, are due to newer self-governing laws created in recent years. A prime example (and what I believe is the main reason for this current huge deficit) is the statutory requirement from 2007 that requires the USPS to "prefund" all retiree health benefits (RHBs). This alone easily costs them roughly 5.5 billion per year, and is pretty much unheard of anywhere else, and is a show of the leverage a USPS union can hold. Interestingly enough, before 2007 and RHBs, they were turning a profit.

Profit or no, there still exist some fundamental problems with the USPS. The hostile workplace, which has admittedly improved since the phrase "going postal" was in its height of popularity, still has a ways to go. Directors way up the chain still send their written orders to cut X amount of $ to their MPOO's. The MPOO's in turn pass it along to the branch postal managers. These changes are often so detached from the actual needs of each office (eg. the higher ups care about the numbers) and so painful to implement, that greivances start piling in, making many offices miserable places to work (less carriers running more routes, lack of funding for new equipment to meet demands, non unioned temps getting stuck with the worst routes = burnout all around and a hostile work environment, all with the heavy union interest along the way!)

Much of their overhead is also invested on internal auditing and any legal proceedings derived from findings (There's one case I know of. The USPS lost against a former employee for accepting a small gift from other directors out of appreciation for performance...the case ended up being agressively pursued, but ulimately dismissed (yes, postal court)....but not after a hefty $20k+ in outsourced lawyer fees..and all over a ~$30 gift). I'm sure there is plenty of scenarios like this being mysteriously lumped in as "operating costs."

To me, the USPS is really a microcosm of big government, being both commercially inflexible and bad at understanding the basics of business. There are however some neat benifits of being part a larger government. After the anthrax scare a few years ago, for example, they were able to put together a fairly extensive emergency response strategy including a bit of government backed "authority"...and yes, postal inspectors are also federal officers that carry firearms (no, the major TV networks have not yet figured out a way to turn this little known fact into an entertainment goldmine...maybe with a NCIS flare? honestly I'd stay up to watch it)
posted by samsara at 8:49 PM on May 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Step 1 : Double the fees to deliver junk mail.
Step 2 : Stop delivering on Saturday."

Step 1: Junk mail already subsidizes first-class mail.

Step 2: The USPS has proposed cutting Tuesday or Wednesday delivery, their lower-volume days, rather than Saturday.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 PM on May 11, 2011


You'll have to pry Postcrossing from my cold dead hands.
posted by msbutah at 9:20 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Samsara, the postal inspector network really is intriguing. Over a decade ago I got to work on design for a few retail post office locations, and one small sorting center. The older sorting center had a separate door in back that led to a tiny hallway that was completely lined, walls, floor and ceiling with black carpeting. One end was lit by a 15 watt bulb. At the far end was a set of stairs up to a space about 5' tall that cut across the top of the post office space below. It was lined on both sides with "one way" partially mirrored glass. Dating to before the availability of cheap closed circuit TV, this was so the inspectors could come and go unnoticed and spy on the staff.

More recently they just put in lots of camera boxes and domes and move their much more limited supply of recording devices around at semi-random, stopping by the locations at odd hours so that staff doesn't ever know whether they are being filmed.

Either way, it was both cool, and a bit spooky. I can imagine that the constant feeling of a big brother watching and reviewing your every work move, combined with the ever-friendly public you have to serve really is quite a psychic drain, particularly when you don't have good management.
posted by meinvt at 9:27 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cutting Wednesday delivery makes more sense than Saturday.

Whatever happens, we'll have to simply pay more for the service. Whether through increased postage, or through subsidy. I wouldn't shed a tear if the USPS were to wither away. But the thing keeping that from happening is their monopoly on mail box delivery. Until/if that changes, we simply gotta pay more to have the USPS do our mailing.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:30 PM on May 11, 2011


"perhaps if they stopped offering a bulk rate to every mass mailer on the planet, they'd raise the revenue they need. When a person's residential mail is 90% junk marketing material addressed to "Resident", there is a problem."

Yes. The problem is that nobody else besides junk mail marketers regularly use the mail. There used to be these things called letters that regular people, and businesses, would send, a couple a week from every damn person in the country. 90 percent of the time, people use email for the same purposes now. The USPS's biggest customers are junk mailers. If junk mailers disappeared tomorrow, so would 90 percent of the mail, and maintaining frequent deliveries to large swathes of the country would no longer make any sense. Because there's no point in filling a truck with gas everyday and paying a guy to drive a route in order to deliver 6 letters in 4 miles. The mail exists to send you junk.
posted by Diablevert at 9:30 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


There used to be these things called letters that regular people, and businesses, would send, a couple a week from every damn person in the country. 90 percent of the time, people use email for the same purposes now.

Yes, well, the problem is that you need a relatively expensive device and internet connectivity to do that. Libraries could've been the answer to that, but the same people who want to axe the postal service get all hot and bothered about killing library funding, too. Until we're willing to legitimately subsidize access to the Internet for everyone, cutting off mail service is no different than any other effort to close up the gated culture and let the plebes outside the walls fend for themselves.

People being able to easily communicate with each other regardless of their means is one of those things that defines a civilization worth saving.
posted by verb at 9:44 PM on May 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


So it turns out that the United States Postal Service has lost $2.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011 with estimated losses of $7 billon by September.

Ok...I'm guessing thats about $8.8B...lets say $9B/year. That would mean each American (300M, right?) pays about $30/year to get their mail?

That sounds like a deal to me.

We need to stop looking at government systems as for profit companies. It relates to why us Americans are paying $25K for a night in the hospital now.

Not everything has to be driven by who can pay how much in a free market.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:45 PM on May 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


If people would learn how to use the automated postage terminals at post offices instead of waiting in line for 30 minutes to send a small domestic package, that might save some money.

Yes...it would save money...but it would also kill jobs. You have to balance technology with skill. Otherwise you'll end up in a walmart with a cashier stopping the transaction because the power went out and she can't calculate 5% tax on $120 worth of garbage from china.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:47 PM on May 11, 2011


The problem is that nobody else besides junk mail marketers regularly use the mail.... If junk mailers disappeared tomorrow, so would 90 percent of the mail.

Just as a counterpoint, apparently 97% of all email is spam.
posted by verb at 9:48 PM on May 11, 2011


Yes. The problem is that nobody else besides junk mail marketers regularly use the mail. There used to be these things called letters that regular people, and businesses, would send, a couple a week from every damn person in the country. 90 percent of the time, people use email for the same purposes now. The USPS's biggest customers are junk mailers. If junk mailers disappeared tomorrow, so would 90 percent of the mail, and maintaining frequent deliveries to large swathes of the country would no longer make any sense. Because there's no point in filling a truck with gas everyday and paying a guy to drive a route in order to deliver 6 letters in 4 miles. The mail exists to send you junk.

I'm gonna need you to show me your work. Otherwise I think its all made up.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:48 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I think it will stick around in some form for quite a while, although it may cost $5 for first class mail.
posted by COD


Too late for an "eponysterical"?
posted by ShutterBun at 9:52 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


kaibutsu writes "So the choice must eventually come to do one of three things:
"a) Massively subsidize home delivery (basically the status quo),
"b) Scrap home delivery and move to centralized pickup system (thus cutting a huge portion of delivery costs),
"c) Scrap the suburbs and create higher density cities."


You could also double your perceived density by cutting delivery to only three days a week in low density areas. Half the miles, same amount of mail.
posted by Mitheral at 9:56 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could also double your perceived density by cutting delivery to only three days a week in low density areas.

I think mail service is going to have to be applied uniformly, actually. You can't have differing levels of service for people simply based on where they live. That's kind of directly against the whole concept of the US as a unified country of people.

I'd be fine with every other day mail delivery, personally. But then, I'm not a Netflix subscriber.
posted by hippybear at 10:00 PM on May 11, 2011



Yes...it would save money...but it would also kill jobs.


I think there's a reasonable, though not unassailable, case to be made for keeping the USPS a functioning extension of the federal government. But as a jobs program, the case falls apart like a house of cards.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:05 PM on May 11, 2011


I'm gonna need you to show me your work. Otherwise I think its all made up.

Would an admission of guilt from the Postmaster General himself suffice?
posted by ShutterBun at 10:06 PM on May 11, 2011


Meinvt, absolutely spooky. When I was younger (and when my father was a manager of post office operations/MPOO) I used to walk on site and behind the scenes fairly often with him when not in school (back when "take your kid to work" days weren't too frowned upon). Not all post offices we visted had those observation "catwalks"...but the larger ones that did were so mysteriously intriguing. I never got to walk down one, as they were often behind a keypad lock. But from below, all you saw were these large fully enclosed "ducts" running across the ceiling with small horizonal 3"x12" tinted windows towards the top. I always wondered if someone was up there watching all the time.

I suppose with advances in camera technology those catwalks are increasingly becoming obsolete. But I'm sure the older case/sorting offices never tore theirs down...creating that persistently ominous feeling that you're always being watched by the men in black suits...
posted by samsara at 10:09 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do people on here not know that you can have the USPS mail you stamps? I see a lot of people here complaining about waiting in line or having to drive to a post office for stamps. You can buy them online and poof they're in your mailbox. Pretty sure they'll mail you those boxes too.

I have never had a problem with the USPS where I live. My stuff arrives on time (or usually well before), the employees at my PO are helpful and nice, and the guy who does the deliveries will actually knock on my door if I have a package.

Sorry you guys live in really terrible places?
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 10:16 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


I do a LOT of Priority Mail shipping with US Postal Service, and am very happy with the service. I live on a rural route, and even with the idiotic post-9/11 shipping regulations, which I suspect were drawn up on behalf of UPS and FedEx lobbyists, I've worked with three different rural carriers and one small-city carrier over the years, and all of them were fine with picking up packages at my home office long as they were metered and had a scan form.

When shipping things for my own side-business, I never come across a package that UPS or FedEx were willing to ship for less money than the Postal Service at an equivalent level of service. Not one.

Absolutely agreed. Shipping UPS I would end up paying more for slower service. Come on, 5 days to ship a 1-pound item for $10 vs. 2 days for $5 with the post office? We've almost never had a problem with lost items, even on international shipments. Now the lobby at city post offices, that's a genuine clusterfuck almost 100% of the time, but I've gradually figured out how to avoid us doing that.

To me, the USPS is really a good deal. Would I pay $10 for 5-day Ground? Screw that... I'll pass on deregulation. Whether I'll be paying more through taxes and Federal deficit fallout than I would through the USPS markup, though, I don't know.
posted by crapmatic at 10:23 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Edit: through the UPS markup, not the USPS markup
posted by crapmatic at 10:24 PM on May 11, 2011


It's been a long time since I got a letter that couldn't have been done better, faster, and cheaper with email.

“If it can be digital, it will be digital; letters and transactions on paper will die quickly; physical media isn’t far behind"

Great! No more junk mail, and let USPS focus on package delivery to compete with UPS. I like this future.

The only thing missing is a widely adopted infrastructure for email encryption and signatures*


* Purely a political problem. The tech has existed for a long time.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:36 PM on May 11, 2011


90% of what I get in the mail is garbage. Like, literally garbage that I just have to throw away.
posted by delmoi at 10:37 PM on May 11, 2011


I'm gonna need you to show me your work. Otherwise I think its all made up.

Report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 12, 2010 (full report in pdf):

"USPS’s business model is not viable due to its inability to reduce costs sufficiently in response to continuing declines in mail volume and revenue. Mail volume declined 36 billion pieces over the last 3 fiscal years, 2007 through 2009, due to the economic downturn and changing use of the mail, with mail continuing to shift to electronic communications and payments. USPS lost nearly $12 billion over this period, despite achieving billions in cost savings, reducing capital investments, and raising rates. However, USPS had difficulty in eliminating costly excess capacity, and its revenue initiatives had limited results."

"First-Class Mail volume has declined 19 percent since it peaked in fiscal year 2001, and USPS projects that it will decline by another 37 percent over the next decade (see fig. 3). This mail is highly profitable and generates over 70 percent of the revenues used to cover USPS overhead costs."

Standard Mail (primarily advertising) volume has declined 20 percent since it peaked in fiscal year 2007, and USPS projects that it will remain roughly flat over the next decade. This class of mail is profitable overall but lower priced, therefore, it takes 3.4 pieces of Standard Mail, on average, to equal the profit from the average piece of First-Class Mail.

Standard Mail volume was affected by large rate increases in 2007 for flat- sized mail, such as catalogs, and by the recession that affected advertising, such as mortgage, home equity, and credit card solicitations. These solicitations appear unlikely to return to former levels. Standard Mail also faces growing competition from electronic alternatives, increasing the possibility that its volume may decline in the long term."

I was wrong about the relative proportions of Standard (that is to say, junk) Mail vs. First-Class Mail (Bill and Letters) --- according to a USPS chart in the GAO report --- the volume of Junk Mail sent only overtook the volume of First Class mail sent in about 2003-2004. For a few years they were about 55-45, until a rate hike on junk mail in 2007 (exactly the policy recommended by several posters above) caused the volume of junk mail sent to drop precipitously. However, this did nothing to arrest the fall of First Class Mail. In 2000, there were about 100 Billion piece of First Class Mail Sent vs. about 80 Billion Standard; In 2010 there were about as a 80 billion of each type, and the post office itself projects that in another ten years junk mail will be about 70 billion while first class will drop to less than 60. Given that these are the Post Office's own internal projections, it would be prudent to assume they are optimistic.
posted by Diablevert at 10:40 PM on May 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


It might be interesting to see a comparison of *actual* volume of standard vs. first class mail. (meaning both the measured volume and weight of the material, as opposed to simply the number of pieces.)
posted by ShutterBun at 10:46 PM on May 11, 2011


what I think is that most mail should be replaced with a government based digital system. For junk mail senders would just upload digital files, and users could go online and see what's been sent to them and either delete it or file it. If they did nothing, it would be printed and delivered.

The system would be setup so that mail would go directly to the user, not the address. And when they move they could just update their address in the system and no one would ever need to know their actual address, just their name and mail ID.

For old-school physical letters, the system would as it does today. This would cut down on tons of extra crap the USPS does that's totally redundant. They could also deliver every other day to save effort. I don't think most people would find this problematic.
posted by delmoi at 10:48 PM on May 11, 2011


It is a shame to see the decline of the USPS, because it's a truly amazing institution - for insanely low cost you get insanely good results (in terms of being able to ship an item or mail piece across the continent with a near-guarantee that it will get there in just a few days). This is a big country and the USPS is an entity with a mostly-effective presence in every part of it, linking the rich and poor alike. It's another one of these big institutions that we'll miss when it's gone (or when it's reduced to just another pricey private company).
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:58 PM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why are they still delivering on Saturdays? They've been claiming that they'd stop for years now and I'm still getting Saturday mail.

As far as I can tell, postal unions - dropping a day of service would mean a loss of jobs, and people don't so much like that. I am not saying this to trash unions in any way - it's completely understandable. Also, as several people mentioned above, if USPS were to drop a day of service, a day other than Saturday would make more sense - lots of people, especially in rural areas don't want to be two straight days without mail, and then what if there's a holiday weekend and you get no mail Saturday, Sunday, or Monday all in a row. If you're somewhere in the boonies without broadband, the mail still matters.

Also agreeing with JPD that the way USPS is forced to deal with their retiree benefits is really bizarre and screws with their numbers rather badly.

/former junior Capitol Hill staffer stuck with "postal issues" because no one else gave a shit
posted by naoko at 11:02 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's true. Institutions that are allowed to continually provide service in the face of staggering losses can be pretty damned impressive, for a while.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:03 PM on May 11, 2011


I was just reading this, interested in the conversation. But while I was doing so, I was talking to my buddy, to whom I express-mailed a cashier's check yesterday. According to USPS, he should have received it by noon today. According to him, he hasn't seen it. So that's twenty bucks out of my pocket, for nothing.

I don't mind paying for postal service, I don't mind them running a deficit, because people getting mail is, as others have said, a hallmark of civilization. But that's sort of predicated on the mail actually getting there. Next time, I use some private company, and USPS can go fuck itself.
posted by Errant at 11:15 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're somewhere in the boonies without broadband, the mail still matters.

If you live anywhere in the country regardless of your internet service, the mail still matters.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 PM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and for the record, I was mailing from Seattle to Holyoke, MA. Neither are boondocks, so the rural argument holds no water.
posted by Errant at 11:19 PM on May 11, 2011


According to USPS, he should have received it by noon today. According to him, he hasn't seen it. So that's twenty bucks out of my pocket, for nothing.

Express mail is guaranteed to be delivered on time. If you have your receipt, take it to the post office and ask them about a refund.
posted by Silly Ashles at 11:34 PM on May 11, 2011


Yup, express mail is guaranteed. That's why it's the most expensive way to ship with USPS.
posted by hippybear at 11:42 PM on May 11, 2011


I don't know what I would do without my USPS media mail. Seriously. I have no idea what I would do. My local library is terribly underfunded and does not offer an affordable interlibrary loan system; all I have to rely on are books loaned across media mail and the occasional digital ebook. Without USPS media mail I would be completely cut off from tens of thousands of books and archival materials that are unlikely to ever be digitized on their own. With the cost of UPS and Fedex as they are, there would be absolutely no way for me to afford this project. I've invested three years, and I won't be done for at least another seven; is it even reasonable for me to expect USPS to be around in the next four? The very discussion of cutting the mail service is infuriating. In a civilized world the free trade of thoughts and creative works would never be mused as mere budgetary fat. Just because we feel everyone is on the internet, does not mean everything is the internet. We save money by putting an end to the easy exchange of words in writing, then all we do is show our absolute disrespect for the written word itself- - in every form. We've already suffered several decades of ever increasing anti-intellectualism in this country, will this finally be the administration that puts an end to information?

fucking hell.

posted by TwelveTwo at 12:03 AM on May 12, 2011 [9 favorites]


Why doesn't the staggering failure of almost all privatisations/deregulations of public services give people pause for concern?

If you see Sid, tell him he's a bastard.
posted by fullerine at 12:11 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the USPS could subcontract delivery of bulk/junk mail out to a private carrier, who would only deliver that type of mail on specific days of the week. That way I could just tip the delivery person to drop my batch directly into the recycling bin.
posted by krippledkonscious at 12:14 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother got a heavy shipment of books from a company recently that she didn't order. Company sent her a postage paid return label. Mom has a disability, so she calls the USPS for a pickup. Postal Service Man comes today for the scheduled pickup and apparently he refused to come up the stairs and get the package (remember, my mother is disabled), and when she mentioned it, she said he told her that the only pickups were for Priority or Express Mail and she'd have to not only lug the heavy box down a flight of stairs, but also take it to the post office, stand in line for god knows how long, and hoist it up onto that scale they have.

My mother cannot do any of this. She can't even stand for too long, let alone lift a 20+lb box of books and wait in a crowded post office line. Thank goodness for layers and layers of red tape and bad customer service.

I think if you simplify customer service, provide real service, an actual phone number (not that 800 # they make you call for service) and a new system of funding the USPS, it can work very well. In general, it's much cheaper to send out of the USPS than UPS or FedEx, so I'm sure those guys have lobbyists up the wazoo to make sure the USPS isn't subsidized.

But in order to remain the valuable service that it is, I think that's what it comes down to.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:19 AM on May 12, 2011


perhaps if they stopped offering a bulk rate to every mass mailer on the planet, they'd raise the revenue they need

As others have said, it's that sort of junk mail that subsidizes your occasional letters, postcards, holiday cards, whatever.

Yeah, they give mass-mailers a bulk rate, but they also make those mass-mailers presort their stuff. The discount given is not as much as the savings from the presorting, so the result is profitable for the USPS. I suspect the rates are set at something pretty close to whatever they think the revenue-maximizing level is going to be, given that the USPS' mandate requires them to deliver to every address in the country six days a week. (If they didn't have this mandate and thus the huge sunk cost, they'd probably charge bulk mailers more and make more on less volume and fewer truck movements, etc.)

At least as of last year or so, the biggest single customer of the USPS in dollar terms was supposedly Netflix. Interestingly it's not the outgoing DVDs that cost Netflix the most, but the return trip. (They get a bulk rate on the outgoing side since it's all presorted down to a pretty low level, but the Business Return Mail rate is basically a First Class letter.) I've heard speculation that if there were a way to practically do it, Netflix could save millions by burning DVD-Rs and just letting their members throw them away or keep them rather than sending them back. Of course there are copyright problems that would prevent this, but in essence Netflix is paying big money to move crap around that costs less than the postage it takes to move.

Perhaps for that reason, it's no secret that Netflix is moving away from sending DVDs through the mail as quickly as they can. And when that happens the USPS is going to see a significant amount of well-addressed FCM disappear. Not good.

Great! No more junk mail, and let USPS focus on package delivery to compete with UPS. I like this future.

The USPS can't possibly compete on package delivery with UPS. At least, they can't do it without basically becoming UPS, which they can't do. They'd need to reduce staffing and salaries and increase automation to the level that UPS has, which the union won't let them do, and they'd need to get rid of all the unprofitable storefront operations (better known as "Post Offices"), which Congress wouldn't allow. And without the bulk mail to subsidize the fixed costs of the delivery fleet, they probably wouldn't be able to offer Flat Rate shipping, because in reality it does cost significantly more to send a package from Bangor to Pago Pago than it does from Minneapolis to St. Paul, and in fact it costs more to deliver to rural addresses than urban ones, particularly if you're not driving a truck out there to dump the latest round of credit card offers on everyone's doorstep. Which is why UPS and FedEx don't let you cram 25 pounds worth of lead shot into a box and ship it to Guam for $4.95, or any of the other crazy things that the USPS lets you get away with.

I love the USPS, despite its faults, but UPS is a brutal, well oiled machine. They're like the Ivan Drago of shipping. They exist in a very competitive space, and if they were doing anything obviously wrong, somebody would be eating their lunch already. Instead, they've managed to force some of their competitors out of business or out of direct competition* with them. They're currently beating the pants off of FedEx, but the latter is hanging on well enough to keep them from getting lazy.

No way does the USPS want to get in the ring with them, and if they did I'm not sure what the point would be since at most you'd probably just be able to drive down shipping rates by whatever their profit margin is, and to do so you'd have to give up everything that makes the Postal Service different. (And honestly if reducing private-carrier parcel rates is that important, it's probably cheaper to just give FedEx or DHL some cash so they can close the IT gap with UPS and keep them on their toes.)

I'm not sure there are any easy answers here.

What we need to do is decide what services the USPS offers that are truly critical for us to have as a nation, in the sense of being worth funding regardless of profitability. Is it nationwide, flat-rate household mail delivery? Cheap ground parcels? Library / Media Mail? Handling passport applications? Money orders? Transporting live bees? A massive jobs program? Because the current USPS is all of those things and more.

Personally I think they need to drop the daily-delivery requirement for all mail, and bring back Standard Mail as a consumer service. Standard would be non-day-specific delivery; it would get routed to the recipient's Post Office (or sorting facility) and be held until there was a significant quantity (say 5 lbs.) or a higher priority shipment to the same address or neighborhood triggered delivery. First Class and premium parcel services would be much more expensive, and would be day-specific in that they'd trigger a truck roll regardless of how many pieces were headed on that route. This would vastly reduce costs but wouldn't bankrupt the system overnight, since bulk mailers could still use it. Of course it's a fantasy, because the union would never let it happen ... the only way it would reduce costs is through cutting personnel.

And therein lies the problem. I do not envy them.

* The key point there is that in 2008, DHL threw in the towel on running its own air-freight operation in the US and contracted with UPS to do it instead.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:19 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


And as far as cutting Saturdays goes, that's often the only day many of us who are at work during normal daytime hours can go to the post office.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:20 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't live there, so maybe you're already doing this in the land of the dollar, but if not:

To let the USPS compete with free email delivery, design a snail mail system that lets regular people piggyback their non-business mail with junk mail, so people get free delivery and the junk mailers pay regular rates (not reduced junk rates) to get mail recipients who will actually accept (not blindly reject or discard) their junk because a personal letter is attached. It could be printed envelopes and post cards with printed ads and coupons, those all-in-one envelope/stationery things you fold up (with ads printed right on the page people will be reading), or envelopes combined with catalogs (in a tear-off insert in the middle of the catalog). Just make sure the hybrid personal/junk mail is all clearly marked so it's easy to sort, it gets past all rules against junk mail, and people don't accidentally throw away private mail.

And create free packages for schools that encourage students to write snail mail letters in school. (Pen pal starter kits with free stationery and international postage would be cool.) I bet a lot of kids are growing up without ever sending an actual letter to anyone. If you get them interested in writing and receiving letters, they might turn into paying customers.
posted by pracowity at 12:27 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you live anywhere in the country regardless of your internet service, the mail still matters

Does it matter to me as an individual? Or just that, as an institution, it's a requirement for other services/entities I depend on? I literally cannot remember the last time I purchased a stamp, though I guarantee it was over 10 years ago. On the rare occasion that I do have to send something, isn't UPS or FedEx a viable option?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:36 AM on May 12, 2011


I can certainly ask them about a refund, and I will, but that doesn't get my mail there on time. If their most expensive service can't accomplish the task they claim, what good is any of it?
posted by Errant at 1:14 AM on May 12, 2011


If their most expensive service can't accomplish the task they claim, what good is any of it?

If everyone's experience were like yours, your implication (that they suck?) would be valid, but I suppose most people do indeed get their express mail when promised and for a price they figure is within a fair range, and the few who don't get their express mail when promised instead get a refund.

If you wanted to arrange 100 percent guaranteed service (on-time delivery or you'll get video of the deliverer apologizing to you and your tribe before committing ritual suicide), you'd have to pay somewhat more for the service.
posted by pracowity at 1:29 AM on May 12, 2011


I'm surprised the post office functions at all. In a large semi-urban area near the heart of our nat'l gov't, at my last two addresses in different local zip codes I cannot stop my mail when I go away. There are numerous ways to do so: online, in person, handing a form to your carrier. None of them work. They receive the filled-out card, internet form, whatever, acknowledge it, and my mail keeps coming. I illegally made a mailbox key and gave it to my daughter and now contract with her to come and get my mail when I travel.

They seem puzzled that I care about this when I ask at the post office. And cheerfully admit that they do not stop my mail. And ask ME how they are supposed to keep track of that kind of thing. The usps seems to have reached the point where competent decent people no longer work there, only the same sort of lackadaisical, disinterested scum that gum up most low-end 'service' businesses anymore. Perhaps we replace people with machines sometimes because people so often suck.
posted by umberto at 2:54 AM on May 12, 2011


All y'all know that UPS and FedEx use the USPS for "last mile" shipping on a lot of their residential shipping, right? Like, UPS and FedEx already contract out shipping to the USPS because the USPS is so much cheaper. Getting rid of the USPS means not only will you be forced to pay commercial shipper rates, but your shipments will be more expensive and slower because that "last mile" savings will no longer be available.

Getting rid of junk mail will a) not get rid of junk mail and b) won't help the USPS. For example, a local junk mailer decided that rates were getting too high and they weren't getting enough business off the junk mail (let alone e-mail spam), so they created a local "penny-saver" type newspaper but did home delivery with it. As long as you include at least one local news story, according to local laws, it isn't garbage and you can throw it on everyone's driveway whether they want it or not. They hired kids to deliver it (both cheap and let them constantly whine to the city council or the state legislature, as needed, that they were providing safe jobs for children that let them learn responsibility, 50s nostalgia style!) and dumped it on people's driveways once a week, with one local story and a metric asston of ads ... which they got from lots of national companies that also send you junk mail.

Trust me that "stupid useless fake newspaper that I don't want on my driveway getting rained on and ew the ink ran and I have to touch it" is waaaaaaaaaay more annoying than junk mail in your mail box you can tip directly into the recycling bin.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:16 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing is that the post office is expected to run without subsidies

Negative "subsidies", even -- nobody in Congress pays for their own mail (franking privilege)

Why are they still delivering on Saturdays?

Because they haven't been allowed to give it up -- the USPS can't actually make its own decisions without congressional oversight. (Huh, I guess USPS is the DC of the business world). And more importantly, cutting Saturday delivery won't save nearly as much money as people think. They'd still have to have all the people working in the sorting facilities, so it's just the carriers that would be off. Otherwise, just cutting Saturday service would have a much greater impact on delivery times than just pushing things back one day b/c of Sunday being an off day as well.

Other points:
Yes, APCs sell stamps.
Yes, you can get stamps in a ton of places nowadays, including almost all grocery store checkout lines. The USPS doesn't *want* you waiting in line at a USPS office just for stamps.
There should be a track-shipment option at the APCs; been a while since I used one, but I am almost positive it's there.


It hasn't exactly been unsubsidized even after it became "independent".
How so?
posted by inigo2 at 4:26 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


The usps seems to have reached the point where competent decent people no longer work there, only the same sort of lackadaisical, disinterested scum

Way to paint literally hundreds of thousands of people with a real broad brush, all because you had a couple bad experiences putting a hold on your mail.
posted by inigo2 at 4:28 AM on May 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here's a thought...How about allowing the USPS to charge enough to cover costs? Of course, then we'd be treated to howls of outrage over that, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on May 12, 2011


Write by WASTE. The government will open it if you use the other. The dolphins will be mad. Love the dolphins.
posted by chavenet at 4:54 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think mail service is going to have to be applied uniformly, actually. You can't have differing levels of service for people simply based on where they live. That's kind of directly against the whole concept of the US as a unified country of people.

hippybear, it's already the case that there are differing levels of service. I have a sister who recently moved to Wyoming, and she has to drive to a community mailbox to pick up her mail. I was surprised to learn, after moving to NYC ten years ago, that outgoing mail wouldn't be picked up at our home; we needed to walk to the nearest blue box.

As far as I'm concerned, neither of these is a big deal, and if everybody had to deal with both of these restrictions, it would help USPS efficiency.

I remember (related to none of this) back in the 80s, a letter being delivered late and stamped "Found in a supposedly empty bin." Yeah, there was a stamp for that. It was funny.
posted by torticat at 4:58 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing I love about living in England is Royal Mail. There is not a lot I love about the UK but that is one thing. I buy and sell on ebay a lot and it is just so bloody reasonable here. I tried selling some old comic books when I was in Canada last month and figuring out shipping was torture (and very expensive in the end).

I can ship packages anywhere in the UK for the same rate by weight. I can also ship packages anywhere in EU for the same rate by weight (and even some neighbouring pseudo-EU countries like Turkey).

North American shipping interferes with economic activity in a big way.
posted by srboisvert at 5:02 AM on May 12, 2011


Moving all electronic really isn't a solution. It isn't surprising that the MeFite population wouldn't see that, but a huge chunk of the population, possibly even a majority, has a tenuous connection with the internet at best.

There are approximately 245 million internet users in the country, but if I understand the statistic correctly, that just means "people who use the internet at some point during the year," not "people who have any kind of familiarity, competence, or regular contact with the internet." If we interpret having a Facebook account as evidence of bare minimum familiarity with the virtual world, half the country is still basically offline. There are about 150 million active Facebook users in the US, but that includes things like business or organizational pages, so the number of actual people involved is smaller than that. Even more, it also includes your grandma, who got set up on Facebook because one of her kids set her up, but doesn't even really know how to use Google, much less deal with electronic documents.

No, the number of people who are actually comfortable enough with computers to use them as a reliable substitute for paper transactions is a lot smaller than it sounds. This is actually something of a problem for social safety net agencies, many of whom have pushed their customer interaction online, because many of the users of said agencies either aren't familiar enough with web sites to be comfortable using them or don't even have internet access at all.

And that's the thing about the mail: you don't need any particular skill set to use it. Stuff just shows up at your house.* You don't need to pay anything to receive mail, and last I checked, the internet was still essentially a luxury service, i.e. lack of internet service isn't going to get your house condemned the way lack of water or heat will.

MetaFilter is, if my experience here is any indication, one of the most highly literate and tech-competent communities on the web, and the $5 cover charge weeds out a lot of the unserious and inept. In other words, it's about as far from a representative sample of the population as it's possible to get. But every week down at the legal aid clinic, I see people who can barely navigate the legal system as it is. I talked to a woman last night who honestly thought that if she refused to sign for certified mail, she couldn't be held responsible for the contents of said mail, i.e. she couldn't be served with a summons, etc. I think that the ability to effortlessly interact online needs to be added to some sort of "invisible knapsack" list, because not everyone has it, and the people that do are, on average, far more likely to have money than the people who don't.**

So the talk of doing away with USPS really bothers me. The ability to do legal documents electronically is awesome, but it will never be a complete substitute for paper, and people are already being hurt by efforts in that direction.

*Okay, you do need to be on the ball enough to actually check, read, and understand your mail, but now we're talking basic literacy. Which is actually a real problem, but beyond the scope of this discussion.

**On average people. I know there are MeFites who are hurtin' financially. Class isn't just about money anymore.
posted by valkyryn at 5:06 AM on May 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


All the ideas here for saving money are beside the point. The postal service should not be required to be profitable any more than libraries or police should be. It's a service, not a business.

But even that isn't the point. The point is that people who hate government want to break government to self-fulfill their prophecies. The postal service isn't failing because it isn't making money. It's failing because it's preventing the rich from getting richer at an even faster rate, and they hate that.

(Whereas war can make them richer, if they own the right businesses.)
posted by DU at 5:06 AM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here's an idea - subsidize the USPS by jacking up (WAY up) the bulk rates charged to assholes like West Elm and CB2 that feel the need to send me the same catalog every two weeks all year round.

Let's examine what, in the age of the internet, makes up most mail these days:

1) catalogs
2) credit card and insurance company solicitations
3) political organization solicitations
4) random garbage from the cable company
5) magazines

Here's what's not in most people's mail, and doesn't need to be at all:

1) bills of any sort
2) casual correspondence

That leaves pretty much packages, wedding invitations and postcards. Make the assholes that clutter up my box with 1 through 4 above pay for the other stuff we still want to come to our door. Otherwise, seems like we could all get our wedding invitations and postcards at a central office and eliminate the drivers, delivery people and a good percentage f vehicle storage, fuel and maintenance costs.
posted by spicynuts at 5:23 AM on May 12, 2011


The USPS can't possibly compete on package delivery with UPS. At least, they can't do it without basically becoming UPS, which they can't do. They'd need to reduce staffing and salaries and increase automation to the level that UPS has

As a former UPS worker, I'd take issue with your argument about automation. Because of the tremendous volumes that USPS works with, a high degree of automation is largely unnecessary, and economies of scale really kick in, to an extent that UPS will never be able to even dream of. Also, UPS isn't that automated. Packages are still mainly sorted by hand (albeit on a complicated conveyor belt system).

Yup, express mail is guaranteed. That's why it's the most expensive way to ship with USPS.

Tell me about it! Somebody sent me an important document via Express Mail last year. For one reason or another, I was unable to receive the document, and was away from my phone for most of the day. When I finally got back, there were about a dozen increasingly-frantic phone calls on my voicemail from my letter carrier -- and then the postmaster, who were worried sick that I wasn't going to get the letter in time. Eventually, the last message said to knock on the back door of the post office to pick it up, as the front desk was closed. Sure enough, I went to the back door; the guy who opened it gave me a "Oh, you must be that guy" look, and brought me my letter. Say what you will, you get your $13 worth when you send something Express.

Negative "subsidies", even -- nobody in Congress pays for their own mail (franking privilege)

Yes, but there are rules about what can be franked or not. It's gotten a lot tighter over the years. (Interestingly, once congress restricted franking to small envelopes, there was apparently a huge glut of sorting/stuffing equipment for large envelopes that flooded the market, and completely fucked the market for the guys who made that equipment). Also, I work for congress, and most everything we do gets sent via FedEx despite there being multiple post offices on site. For some reason, UPS are barred from making pickups on-premises.
posted by schmod at 5:23 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Make the assholes that clutter up my box with 1 through 4 above pay for the other stuff we still want to come to our door."

To reiterate once more: THEY ALREADY DO. And have for decades. Junk mail subsidizes first class mail. Learn how the system works before complaining about what it's doing wrong.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:29 AM on May 12, 2011


To reiterate once more: THEY ALREADY DO. And have for decades. Junk mail subsidizes first class mail. Learn how the system works before complaining about what it's doing wrong.

Learn how to read my comment. I said jack up what they currently pay. Jack it WAY up. Clearly they are not currently subsidizing my mail given that the USPS is losing money. Also, the current price is clearly not a deterrent to cluttering up my mailbox so there's more room for increases.
posted by spicynuts at 6:10 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jack it up until they stop sending it! That will solve the budget issues....
posted by smackfu at 6:17 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


@spicynuts, so your goal is not actually any improvement in mail service, your goal is to cause it to cease to exist? Be upfront about it.

And you realize that getting rid of junk mail means you just get junk advertising in more irritating, less-regulated, ways, right? There's no list for "don't send me crap" for driveway-drop advertisers, for example.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:28 AM on May 12, 2011


increase automation to the level that UPS has

Um, do you have any idea the level of automation in the USPS? Yes, there are still some things sorted at the carrier level. But point-to-point sorting, which sorts down to the delivery route, is reasonably commonplace.

In addition to the fact that most comparisons to UPS are silly when you actually look at volumes:
UPS from Jan 1 to March 31 of this year: average volume per day of 12.67 million [cite]
USPS from Jan 1 to March 31 of this year: Total mail volume of 41.0 billion pieces, or average of 455,555,555 pieces per day [cite, with breakdown by type-of-mail.]
posted by inigo2 at 6:32 AM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's an awful lot of "get these old people off my sidewalK" snark going on here; hard to tell which parts are ironic, sarcastic, or serious snark masking itself as ironism or sarcasm.

Here's the thing: The terminally-digital who think of themselves as the bleeding edge are not the people who make this country run. So we should really not take their opinion about this kind of thing very seriously.

We have one of the world's better postal systems (just ask people who've traveled a lot outside the US), and we have some of the developed world's lowest levels of regard for our postal system. Which postal system has been a cornerstone of civil society, and which postal system still has a serious role to play until such time as
  1. Every citizen has guaranteed confidential and secure access to email (or its functional equivalent),
  2. most citizens know how to use it,
  3. a very, very large proportion of the population can afford to use it,
  4. and access to that communications medium is guaranteed by law to continue into the reasonable future, free from private or government tampering beyond that which is minimally required to constitute reasonable prvention of harm.


Also, FWIW, I see a lot of people complaining about problems I've never seen in a local PO.

E.g., every post office in my area has the following: Most also have at least some 24-hour-accessible PO boxes, though the mall and strip-mall storefronts are more restricted.

We seem to have pretty high expectations: We expect the PO to be like McDonalds or FedEx and be entirely, squeakily consistent from one kiosk to the next. We expect a system with massive infrastructure that's expected to be self-sustaining but has no real means of making much of a profit to also modernize to meet our demands.

I say (as has been said above), take a few piddly bucks from defense and use it to modernize and subsidize the PO.

It will never happen of course because of this bullshit relligion of free-marketism that we seem to be so bought-into here in the US.
posted by lodurr at 6:40 AM on May 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


ne thing I love about living in England is Royal Mail.

Doing some searching, it looks like the price to send a letter within the UK is £0.46, or 74.8 cents. Current cost in the US is 44 cents. So, you're paying for that ability to ship to the EU for the same price.
posted by inigo2 at 6:44 AM on May 12, 2011


I didn't fully appreciate USPS until I lived in rural Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer. No mail service for anyone who lives outside of a major city. Sure, they should make improvements and modernize, but I view a nationally available mail service as part of necessary infrastructure, just like like good roads and electricity and all that.

Oh, and I love the Saturday hours- my old apartment didn't have a foyer so they'd leave a slip whenever I had a package, and I would go on Saturdays and pick them up, so I never had to miss any work.
posted by emd3737 at 6:51 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the reality is we're going to have to either adapt to life without mail in rural areas and possibly the suburbs

But that's where Real America is!
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:52 AM on May 12, 2011


emd3737, saturday hours are probably the cheapest part of saturday operations. AFAIAC they should get rid of saturday delivery, but branch staffing on saturdays should stay.
posted by lodurr at 6:53 AM on May 12, 2011


yellowlightman, if the USPS would let me drop the packages that I used the automated postage terminals to pay for rather than making me stand in line to hand the small domestic package to a human, I wouldn't have to wait for 30 minutes and would be less likely to choose FedEx or UPS by default.
posted by straw at 10:16 PM on May 11 [4 favorites +] [!]


If the APC doesn't have a bin right next to it in which to put your stamped packages, they're usually cool with you leaving it on the counter.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:55 AM on May 12, 2011


My office is a short walk to the nearest USPS branch, which is across the street from public housing. The counter help -- all of whom I know by sight -- are not bubbly as such, but still nice people. There's only a line when someone buys a pile of money orders or is mailing a stack of eleven tracked and insured parcels internationally. Normally it's no sweat.

I go there to mail a parcel or fat envelope about every other week, and drop off mail in the slot every week. I would be willing pto pay more for the tracking if it worked: the last two times I never got any results after a certain point, and had to call the recipient to make sure the item arrived.

In my suburban town, though, there is ALWAYS a line. And my mail is often days late. (Did you know your bulk mail ads often contain a message to the letter carriers specifying the date of delivery? And that date is usually before the advertisised specials end?) I wouldn't want to have to go to a central Post Office, but maybe a collective mailbox every block would be cool, as long as they bring big stuff to my door.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:08 AM on May 12, 2011


I was sure that all of my amazon.com ordering would save them...
posted by Theta States at 7:11 AM on May 12, 2011


post bank
posted by ennui.bz at 7:20 AM on May 12, 2011


One other thing I'll add -- USPS definitely isn't perfect; no company with that many employees will be. But the one time I had a complaint about a package not showing up, and the local branch wasn't helpful? I sent an email to the postmaster general at the time. The next day, my package showed up, with a higher-up accompanying the delivery person to make sure I was happy. Got a problem? Send it up the ladder.
posted by inigo2 at 7:25 AM on May 12, 2011


cmgonzalez writes "And as far as cutting Saturdays goes, that's often the only day many of us who are at work during normal daytime hours can go to the post office."

Only Saturday delivery would be affected; post offices would still be open.

pracowity writes "If you wanted to arrange 100 percent guaranteed service (on-time delivery or you'll get video of the deliverer apologizing to you and your tribe before committing ritual suicide), you'd have to pay somewhat more for the service."

And you'd still fail, it's not possible to deliver on a promise of 100% on time delivery.

wenestvedt writes "I wouldn't want to have to go to a central Post Office, but maybe a collective mailbox every block would be cool, as long as they bring big stuff to my door."

This is how newer housing in Canada works except they have special boxes for bulky items built into the mail box and items that won't fit there or require a signature have to be picked up at a postal outlet (not a post office but rather a store front that has contract with Canada post to provide services).
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 AM on May 12, 2011


90% of what I get in the mail is garbage. Like, literally garbage that I just have to throw away.

But by the self-justifying logic of the "market," as argued up-thread, it's actually only all the waste and garbage that junk mail represents that makes the whole system worth maintaining at all in economic terms. Otherwise, the postal service isn't worth anything at all, it would seem. More and more, I'm getting the impression that unfettered capitalism perversely ends up valuing junk more than the things that we actually value in human (as opposed to economic) terms.

So not only are unregulated markets not efficient, they potentially give rise to systems of waste and inefficiency that become self-justifying--junk mail, like Wall Street, becomes too big to fail on the basis of theoretical economic justifications, while the value of real, tangible public goods--a thing as basic as a functional postal system connecting our society--gets theorized away completely.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 AM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh, it's more that people clearly don't realize that the junk is what is keeping their stamp prices cheap. If people were willing to pay $1 to mail a letter, then they wouldn't need the junk at all.
posted by smackfu at 7:59 AM on May 12, 2011


Where is this "unfettered capitalism" you speak of?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:04 AM on May 12, 2011


If people were willing to pay $1 to mail a letter, then they wouldn't need the junk at all.

When the pony express first started did we apply the same rigorous calculus of economic value we apply now, and if we had, would we have had any incentive to bother? In those days, a single personal letter was seen as valuable enough to justify a hundred mile trek on horseback.

We don't think the personal things people have to say to each other are valuable enough to be economically justifiable anymore. Because our economic dogma is cheapening the perceived value of human life and culture by treating them as economic products. Rather than viewing humans as the masters the market is meant to serve, we view humans as a fungible resource.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:05 AM on May 12, 2011


The Pony Express was a private company, so I'm sure they charged using strict economic value, otherwise it wouldn't have been a viable venture. And they did $5 per 1/2 ounce letter when they started in 1861, which is a pretty astronomical sum.
posted by smackfu at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2011


more annoying than junk mail in your mail box you can tip directly into the recycling bin.

Unfortunately, most of my junk can't be put directly into a junk bin. It's offers for credit cards, which needs to be shredded. Which takes up time. But that's another discussion.
posted by Melismata at 8:13 AM on May 12, 2011


Doing some searching, it looks like the price to send a letter within the UK is £0.46, or 74.8 cents. Current cost in the US is 44 cents. So, you're paying for that ability to ship to the EU for the same price.

Heh. That means that it's barely more expensive to mail something to London from California than it is to mail something to London from London. Mailing an letter to the UK via USPS only costs $0.98.
posted by schmod at 8:14 AM on May 12, 2011


I think the reality is we're going to have to either adapt to life without mail in rural areas and possibly the suburbs

But that's where Real America is!


Well, the reality is, that's where America is.

Add up the populations of the top 25 cities in the us, and you come to something just less than 35 million people. The next 25 cities won't even add another 25 million to that total. Easily over 2/3 of the population lives in areas that should, according to some in this thread, do without mail service because it's simply too difficult to serve them, or something.
posted by hippybear at 8:33 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


A lot of snarking on the terminally digital by folks who basically argue that a printing out paper shipping it and then throwing it away is unavoidable and well just dandy. In Seattle they recently passed a law against dropping yellow pages on people's doorsteps and I'd rather do the same thing for penny savers rather than simply throw my hands up in the air and saying there's nothing to be done about this paper spam deluge. According to the stranger the city of seattle pays $350,000 a year to recycle yellow pages.

End-to-end lifecycles. If you throw shit out into the world you should have to take it back. That should go for advertisers as well as computer manufacturers. And somebody's going to have to take a good look at the costs involved if your model is throwing a whole lot of shit out there to people who are 99%+ not interested.
posted by Wood at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


they can go bankrupt for all i care.
it would just force everyone to use fedex and ups which i would welcome.

i never receive letters, only packages, which they don't even attempt to deliver.

sometimes they don't even leave slips, i actually go to the post office empty-handed occasionally just to check to make sure because i've had numerous packages returned to sender that i never even knew about.

when i buy stuff on ebay i send the seller this yelp page to explain why i'm insisting on ups.

i feel like 95% of all mail nowadays is junk mail and bills. i have no problems with it costing $5 to mail an envelope.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:42 AM on May 12, 2011


How about allowing the USPS to charge enough to cover costs?

It's not quite that simple. There's a demand curve for mailing services, and the risk is that if the USPS keeps increasing rates in order to cover costs, the volume of mail will keep going down, making the cost per piece higher, forcing them to raise rates, which would further lower volume ... I think the usual term for this is "death spiral."

Now, maybe that won't happen, but I think it's likely sooner or later. We'd do better to just decide which services we're going to fund, come hell or high water, as public goods, and then if they make money or even break even, bonus.

I can ship packages anywhere in the UK for the same rate by weight. I can also ship packages anywhere in EU for the same rate by weight (and even some neighbouring pseudo-EU countries like Turkey).

When I've visited the UK I've been impressed with the RM as well, but it's not like similar services don't exist in the US via the USPS. You can send flat-rate Priority Mail parcels anywhere in the US, Canada, and Mexico -- which is geographically a larger area than the UK+EU, I suspect -- and the non-flat-rate option isn't particularly complex. There is a "zone" system in addition to weight, but the US is a lot larger than the UK ... if they didn't do this they'd really be screwing people sending packages locally in order to make up the loss on stuff going thousands of miles.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:54 AM on May 12, 2011


End-to-end lifecycles. If you throw shit out into the world you should have to take it back.

This would kill newspapers too.
posted by smackfu at 8:55 AM on May 12, 2011


"Which postal system has been a cornerstone of civil society, and which postal system still has a serious role to play until such time as
Every citizen has guaranteed confidential and secure access to email (or its functional equivalent),
most citizens know how to use it,
a very, very large proportion of the population can afford to use it,
and access to that communications medium is guaranteed by law to continue into the reasonable future, free from private or government tampering beyond that which is minimally required to constitute reasonable prvention of harm."


Hmm... USPS as e-mail access provider? Every person in America is guaranteed an address, and e-mail kiosks in most POs? This is probably working in doubly the wrong direction; reducing usage of mail and increasing overhead for the PO. Maybe the terminals have some NetZero-era ads on them? Hah!

Just skylarking, anyway...

I went to the main Post Office on 8th Ave (across from Penn Station) on Tax Day this year. The staff was generally helpful, friendly, and in good spirits, despite having to deal with assholes all day long. Yeah, overtime pay, but you don't have to *like* working overtime to get paid for it, you just gotta show up. Respect.

It's not like Aruba, where anything valuable (including magazines! because apparently you can't get US magazines there?) disappears and what doesn't takes weeks to get to you. Granted, that's really the only other postal system I have experience with, but it was enough of a wakeup call to show me just how good we have it.
posted by Eideteker at 9:02 AM on May 12, 2011


My business imports large-capacity motorcycle fuel tanks from Australia to the US. Typically they are shipped via post in boxes that are roughly one yard cubes and weigh 8 pounds or so. When we order a tank, it enters the mailstream in Australia and is usually at my local post office in a week or less. It then sits there because our local delivery person (a contractor, not a USPS employee) says it's too big to bring to us.

They started getting better about actually delivering our mail when we started sending UPS call tags to them for the parcels.
posted by workerant at 9:11 AM on May 12, 2011


Well, the reality is, that's where America is.

Add up the populations of the top 25 cities in the us, and you come to something just less than 35 million people. The next 25 cities won't even add another 25 million to that total. Easily over 2/3 of the population lives in areas that should, according to some in this thread, do without mail service because it's simply too difficult to serve them, or something.


That argument would only make sense if everywhere that was not within the city limits of the largest 50 cities in the US was rural. Which is far from the truth.

As of the 2000 Census, 222,360,539 of the 281,421,906 people in the US lived in urban areas.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


This would kill newspapers too.

Why? People pay for newspapers, some of them at least, and the costs of recycling could be folded into that. There's a million ways you could do it, yeah, I know government bad bad bad, but you can have something like a redemption value, a penny per paper, or per 100 papers. Anything to make it prohibitively expensive to spam people and build a business on generating massive amounts of waste and externalizing the costs.

This is a general principle for computers, paper, mail, newspapers, packaged food, pizza delivery, everybody, don't externalize the cost of your waste.
posted by Wood at 9:18 AM on May 12, 2011


That argument would only make sense if everywhere that was not within the city limits of the largest 50 cities in the US was rural. Which is far from the truth.

Read what I was responding to: I think the reality is we're going to have to either adapt to life without mail in rural areas and possibly the suburbs

And still, even the top 275 cities in the country isn't going to get you anywhere close to 270million. So I'm not sure what you mean by "urban areas" according to your uncited factoid. And certainly, most of the locations on that top 275 list would be regarded as backwoods by a lot of the people who live in the big coastal cities. Perhaps even denigrated as unworthy red-state flyover territory, which is bullshit us-vs-them-ism which needs to be fought against regularly.

The fact of the matter is, you can't have a service like the USPS and have it only apply to people in cities. That's why cities have bicycle messenger services and car courier companies -- they're the form of local post office people want if they only want to participate in limited city-only service. The USPS has always had a full-country service mindset when it comes to what they provide, and if they're going to serve only the cities (as some here have suggested), I will be lobbying long and hard to see them fold completely. There's no point for them to exist if they're not going to be country-wide.
posted by hippybear at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2011


I ordered stamps online from USPS. (Stamps are starting to look better again, especially the Forever Stamps.) They mailed them to me for $1. There's some sort of irony there, which is why I did it, but I don't know what it is.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:38 AM on May 12, 2011


We need reliable public institutions like the postal service more than any economic calculus can adequately express. Our contemporary flavor of market capitalism doesn't inherently value actual, substantive value--it doesn't discriminate between real, sustainable value and short-term perceived value. And without some non-economically defined measures of value (like shared social values and common aspirations), actual value in our economy becomes a chimera. A completely worthless, piece of crap good or service, marketed successfully enough, can become an economically viable product and even kill superior products. And on the large-scale producer's side, it's ultimately more economically advantageous to sell well-marketed junk than to sell quality, because even quality goods require just as much marketing expenditure to compete. Marketing is practically the only real competitive game going anymore. Why expend the extra capital on labor, better materials and production techniques when you can just apply a little extra marketing spit-polish to make a product shine?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:45 AM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the way home I stopped to mail a next day letter. Fed Ex is marginally more convenient than USPS, so I stopped at Fed-Ex and it cost $33. When I got home I checked the USPS price, $18. Doh! That's a damn big spread for the exact same service. In fact, the USPS guaranteed delivery time is 4 hours sooner.

So either USPS is under pricing it's service, or Fed-Ex just screwed me.
posted by COD at 10:16 AM on May 12, 2011


Canada Post is a bit odd in that it is government owned, and it also owns a direct competitor in Purolator Courier. Purolator is operated as a separate private company.
posted by Harpocrates at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2011


I ordered stamps online from USPS. [...] They mailed them to me for $1.

Are you sure you were paying for the shipping and not some sort of convenience fee for ordering online? (There's a fee for doing a Hold Mail request online that doesn't exist if you do it on paper.)

I buy stamps by mail sometimes, generally if I want a large quantity of a particular kind. I've never been charged for shipping, either to send in the order form or to get the stamps back.

You might have to drop by the lobby of a Post Office once to get the form (which contains an integrated post-paid envelope), but with each order will come another form so you won't have to do it again.

The form, interestingly, doesn't go to some sort of central fulfillment house as I suspect the web orders do, but it goes to your local PO and they cash your check and send you the stamps out of their stock. This means it's quite fast, generally 1-2 business day turnaround in my experience.

As far as I know they've provided this service forever, but few people know about it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2011


Online: "All stamp orders are charged a $1.00 Handling Fee, regardless of the order amount"

OTOH, I've never paid for Held Mail when requesting it online.
posted by smackfu at 10:45 AM on May 12, 2011


Even Canada Post sucks, btw. Or rather, for countries at the same level of development, you'd think they would be about equally good, but Canada Post suffers mightily by comparison with the USPS. (IME it was the single bureaucratic entity in Canada that was worse than its US counterpart - every other one was better.)

People just don't know how good we have it, post office wise. Sure there are jerks or sometimes something gets lost. I've had that happen with UPS and FedEx too. If you're someone who never uses the mail, then fine, but a lot of people do need to use it and often they are people who are older, poorer, less educated, less connected, etc - the kinds of people a government service should be helping out because we want to live in a humane society.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:58 AM on May 12, 2011


They are also often not old, quite middle-class or higher, have college educations, have a perfectly good web of connections, etc.

The amount of othering that is going on all up and down this thread is astounding to me.
posted by hippybear at 11:02 AM on May 12, 2011


So I'm not sure what you mean by "urban areas" according to your uncited factoid.

I told you right in the comment that it was 2000 Census data. Go look at the factfinder yourself if you don't believe me.

What I meant by "urban areas" is, strangely enough, what the Census Bureau defines as urban areas. If you're curious, urban areas are Census blocks with a population density of at least 1000 / mi2 and surrounding blocks with a density greater than 500/mi2.

Look, I'm with you that the idea of dropping or reducing services to rural areas is bad.

But so is the idea that lots of America is rural. It just isn't so, and is pernicious nonsense. Americans overwhelmingly live in urban areas -- which emphatically include small urban areas. Even in so-called "flyover" states, people still predominantly live in urban areas -- only Vermont, Maine, West Virginia, and Mississippi were majority rural.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:16 AM on May 12, 2011


Nah, I never said that the US is mostly rural. And if that's the definition of an urban area, then it includes a lot of places which the big city dwellers would never regard as urban. They'd likely call them "small towns" or even "quaint".

So, yeah, it's a different definition of "urban" than what most people living in NYC or LA would probably hold in their mind. But if that's the official government definition, I'm happy with it. More urbanites than anyone generally realizes works for me.
posted by hippybear at 11:23 AM on May 12, 2011


OTOH, I've never paid for Held Mail when requesting it online.

Yeah my mistake; it's doing a Change of Address that costs a nominal amount if you do it online, while being free on paper. Hold Mail is free either way.

They are also often not old, quite middle-class or higher, have college educations, have a perfectly good web of connections, etc.

Agreed; I use the shit out of the Post Office. Lots of fun yuppie crap like Netflix (at least as it exists right now) and PaperBackSwap and Half.com would be impractical or at least a whole lot more expensive if it weren't for the USPS. Amazon uses it heavily, too, especially for the "free" shipping option on smaller items. I am suspicious that many people may be getting the benefits of the Post Office (and the whole letter-mail-monopoly scheme that it is built around) without realizing it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You would think the USPS, given how their main strength is their PRIME REAL ESTATE, they'd be turning those largely empty buildings into INTERNET CAFEs along with offering short OFFICE SERVICES like faxes and photocopying. Mindboggling how they're able to waste such good potential for business.
posted by liza at 11:57 AM on May 12, 2011


Yeah, totally wasting: Because they've got all that excess capital, time, human resources and legal mandate to do those things. And it's not as though there isn't a huge bank of libertarian reactionaries who'd prefer they cease to exist, and are happy to kill them with a thousand envelope-cuts.
posted by lodurr at 12:06 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But liza, if they tried to push into those markets, lobbyists from the private sector would shut them down on the basis that they were creating a state-sponsored monopoly--which has been the historical conservative argument, remember, against most public services: If the government gets into the business, it will drive out the private sector because the private sector is constrained by the demands of generating shareholder value in the form of increased profits, while the public sector has no such obligations.

Until very recently in our history, the private sector acknowledged full well that the public sector can offer more value for the buck to consumers--and it was on that basis that arguments against public services were usually based.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:09 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


liza: what buildings are you referring to which are largely empty? I've been backstage in more than a couple of post offices, and there's a hell of a lot going on back there.
posted by hippybear at 12:16 PM on May 12, 2011


To be fair, she could be referring to the fact that the USPS owns a shitload of real estate it doesn't use for anything. (Which, it's my understanding, they've been gradually trying to sell or lease to make $$.)
posted by lodurr at 12:26 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wood writes "but you can have something like a redemption value, a penny per paper, or per 100 papers. Anything to make it prohibitively expensive to spam people and build a business on generating massive amounts of waste and externalizing the costs.

"This is a general principle for computers, paper, mail, newspapers, packaged food, pizza delivery, everybody, don't externalize the cost of your waste."


Just implement a tax per pound on paper to pay for the waste management. The overwhelming vast majority of things made of paper are eventually going to be recycled, buried or burned. The vanishingly small number of of exceptions aren't worth even codifying for exemption. However you'd still get free paper delivery because the advertising is so lucrative.

LobsterMitten writes "Even Canada Post sucks, btw. Or rather, for countries at the same level of development, you'd think they would be about equally good, but Canada Post suffers mightily by comparison with the USPS. (IME it was the single bureaucratic entity in Canada that was worse than its US counterpart - every other one was better.) "

Larger land mass, a 1/10th of the population. It's amazing we can compare them at all.

hippybear writes "Nah, I never said that the US is mostly rural. And if that's the definition of an urban area, then it includes a lot of places which the big city dwellers would never regard as urban. They'd likely call them 'small towns' or even 'quaint'."

Just because an urban area doesn't have a Godzilla worthy footprint doesn't mean it's not urban. It's doesn't surprise me much though that big city dewellers consider smaller urban areas as not worthy. Especially for the case we're considering an urban area needs merely be larger than a single delivery route.
posted by Mitheral at 1:12 PM on May 12, 2011


they can go bankrupt for all i care.
it would just force everyone to use fedex and ups which i would welcome.

i never receive letters, only packages, which they don't even attempt to deliver.

sometimes they don't even leave slips, i actually go to the post office empty-handed occasionally just to check to make sure because i've had numerous packages returned to sender that i never even knew about.

when i buy stuff on ebay i send the seller this yelp page to explain why i'm insisting on ups.

i feel like 95% of all mail nowadays is junk mail and bills. i have no problems with it costing $5 to mail an envelope.


Well, now that we know the priority in this country is you, we'll just go ahead and shift our awful ways.

You're obviously so important -- you don't even have time to hold down the Shift key when typing.
posted by grubi at 1:40 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Larger land mass, a 1/10th of the population. It's amazing we can compare them at all.

Yes, very true - and nearly all the population is spread out in a thin band along the longest axis of the country.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2011


If the government gets into the business, it will drive out the private sector because the private sector is constrained by the demands of generating shareholder value in the form of increased profits, while the public sector has no such obligations.

Until very recently in our history, the private sector acknowledged full well that the public sector can offer more value for the buck to consumers--and it was on that basis that arguments against public services were usually based.



That's not really an accurate representation of the traditional conservative arguments against state owned services and utilities. The idea has always been that state-owned businesses can operate at a loss because the taxpayers don't have any direct choice about whether to fund them or not. The corollary to that is that state owned monopolies can operate at a loss, relying on taxpayer subsidization, and undercut better alternatives that can't compete and break even at the same time.
posted by verb at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2011


It may not be an accurate representation of the arguments; I think you are closer to the mark about the actual arguments that get made. Except that when I hear them made, there's usually a few more instances of the word "inevitably" salted throughout the rhetoric: as in the private alternatives will inevitably be better, because the public monopoly inevitably has no incentive to be efficient or improve quality, and so the public monopoly will inevitably drive out the private alternatives, etc.

And as far as the idea that taxpayers don't have a choice about whether to fund or not, I do notice the use of the qualifier "direct". We do have a choice, after all, about whether to fund things like the post office or the war on [crime/terror/drugs/{insert fear}]. It's just that as political rhetoric tends toward eliminationism (and due to the nature of eliminationism, it only needs to be on one side), it gets harder and harder for people to actually express their choice.

--
*as the late Eric Hoffer used to say, "it doesn't take two to start a fight -- an idea in the mind of one is enough."
posted by lodurr at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2011


Dang, I wish I had seen this post yesterday because it is one close to my heart; we are a PO family.



Did you know that when they ship bees, the package often travels with the swarm outside the box? Apparently as long as the queen is inside the others go along for the trip.

In addition to bees (and ladybugs, praying mantises, etc.) the post office also accepts birds. It is not that unusual for my husband to come home and tell me there were loose chickens or swans or pheasants running around.

With all the mail that gets moved inevitably there is a lot of loose money. It all goes into a special fund. You might think it gets pocketed, you would be wrong. Few people would think it worth their $50,000 a year job with benefits to try and steal $20.00 and the post office takes this very seriously.

Surprised at how much postal workers earn? The Post Office is one of the best jobs for people without a college education and their union is one of the strongest in the nation.

Finally, I'm glad all of you have so many great ideas of how to make the P.O. more profitable, but in the real question is should it be a profitable business? If the answer is "yes" then most definitely there will be a closing down of all non-profitable post offices all across America and only in major metropolitan areas will we continue to send and receive mail on a daily basis. However, let's not forget the post office is in the constitution-- it is one of the responsibilities of congress to establish post offices and post roads.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:08 PM on May 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


However, let's not forget the post office is in the constitution-- it is one of the responsibilities of congress to establish post offices and post roads.

Buh-buh-buh socialism!
posted by verb at 5:28 PM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cutting Wednesday delivery makes more sense than Saturday.

Says the person who's never worked in any office that regularly receives or sends checks, contracts, bills, or anything through the mail.

If the USPS has to drop a day of delivery, Saturday is the only day that makes any sense.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:29 PM on May 12, 2011


Also, this one time I had a bad experience with the USPS so it should just be allowed to wither and die.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:47 PM on May 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Did you know that when they ship bees, the package often travels with the swarm outside the box?

Please please please someone who knows more about this than me make a FPP about shipping bees by USPS.
posted by hippybear at 5:48 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mailable Live Animals include bees, chicks, poultry, scorpions (in some circumstances) and other small cold blooded animals, NOT including tarantulas.
posted by unSane at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also: the following live, day–old animals are acceptable for mailing when properly packaged: chickens, ducks, emus, geese, guinea fowl, partridges, pheasants (only during April through August), quail, and turkeys.
posted by unSane at 6:00 PM on May 12, 2011


That's not really an accurate representation of the traditional conservative arguments against state owned services and utilities. The idea has always been that state-owned businesses can operate at a loss because the taxpayers don't have any direct choice about whether to fund them or not.

That may be one version of the argument; and maybe that's the better one. But I've also often seen variations on the argument maintaining that its unfair to expect private companies to be able to compete with public service providers that aren't under competitive pressure to generate profits.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:07 PM on May 12, 2011


I also used to get a (mini) pumpkin in the mail every Halloween from my uncle. Just wrote the address right on the pumpkin itself, and glued the stamp right on there. Opening my mailbox around Halloween to find that always put a smile on my face.
posted by inigo2 at 8:09 PM on May 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


so, it seems safe to say that the USPS will handle irregular things that UPS & FedEx wouldn't want to deal with.

Of course, we should just demand that they routinize everything to become more efficient....
posted by lodurr at 8:27 PM on May 12, 2011


Just wrote the address right on the pumpkin itself, and glued the stamp right on there.

Some magazine -- Wired? -- used to have an ongoing competition where readers would mail them weird stuff, generally without anything enclosing it.

The USPS will pretty much mail anything as long as the address is legible and it's not hazardous to the people handling it. There's a non-machinable charge, of course, but it's not much -- $2.75, IIRC. Shipping a pumpkin isn't any more expensive than shipping a mailing tube or a wooden crate of the same size.

UPS will handle some types of unwrapped stuff (I've seen tires shipped UPS with nothing but a barcode label stuck onto the tread) but I'm not sure whether you could send, say, an unwrapped coconut, which is one of my USPS favorites.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


All mail, other than federal, state and local government mail, and my pre-approved senders, such as, netflix, utilities or services that do not do online payments, will be refused and never reach my mailbox.

I have friends and relatives that work for USPS and they're always telling me about something going wrong at work. Problem #1 seems to be the absurd notion that USPS can be run as a self-subsidizing business. Post Offices should simply be a component of life in a modern civilization -- if you've got a letter or parcel that needs to get somewhere, the Government should be able to get it there for you. Whether it's a matter of business or infrastructure, the Postal Service is something that worked well up until about 6 or 8 years ago. If the system was 'broken', it was done so intentionally, to serve someone else's (financial) ends.

After re-incorporating the USPS as a proper, subsidized Federal agency, USPS could earn additional money by offering a additional services -- office services (copy, e-mail, telephony, banking) because the number of copy shops seemed to diminish almost as soon as the ink dried on the Kinko's/FedEx merger.

The poor need access to basic banking and internet services as much as us 'faking-it', middle-class people. /socialism
posted by vhsiv at 3:50 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


The USPS will pretty much mail anything as long as the address is legible and it's not hazardous to the people handling it. There's a non-machinable charge, of course, but it's not much -- $2.75, IIRC. Shipping a pumpkin isn't any more expensive than shipping a mailing tube or a wooden crate of the same size.

Stuff the USPS is (mostly) willing to ship.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:18 PM on May 13, 2011


i never receive letters

Charlie Brown Syndrome.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:20 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


On my desk I have a coconut that we mailed to my father-in-law from our honeymoon in Hawaii, 20 years ago. The address is written on the coconut in black marker. I'm assuming we stuck stamps on it, but they aren't there today. Neither my wife nor I has any memory of mailing a coconut to her father, which leads me to believe the USPS has no problem with somebody mailing a coconut while drunk either :)
posted by COD at 7:11 PM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna need you to show me your work. Otherwise I think its all made up.

Report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, April 12, 2010 (full report in pdf):


So I'm kinda glad I called you out on it...thanks for the actual facts!
posted by hal_c_on at 7:36 PM on May 13, 2011


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