There are some words that have slipped into the language under false pretenses. They are usually used to obfuscate raids on the public treasury.
One example is that word usually used only by politicians, industrial development types and other hustlers: infrastructure. That word hides a multitude of sins. If you announce that you spending a million dollars to dig a sewer line for an industrial park people might ask questions. But if you are spending a million dollars on “infrastructure” then it’s OK. We don’t want to look too closely at what things actually cost.
How many times have you heard the cry that infrastructure is a wonderful bipartisan program that everyone’s for and it will stimulate the economy? Well, it will stimulate you if you sell asphalt.
But the most pernicious buzz word in recent years has been privatization. Let the “private sector” do it better and cheaper. Somehow Republicans and conservatives have been sold the idea that raiding the public treasury is capitalism. Taking money from the taxpayers isn’t capitalism. Whenever you hear the word privatization hold onto your wallet.
There are certain things we have decided that the government needs to provide. Like locking up criminals. Building roads and bridges. Providing public schools for an educated populace. But private prisons have become big business. Roads and bridges are proposed to be farmed out to foreign corporations, paid for by tolls. Of late corporations have their eye on the $700 billion we spend on K-12 education every year, with testing services, textbooks and private schools.
You are not a free enterprise capitalist if you raid the public treasury to get a sweetheart no-bid contract with automatic increases. How is it possible for a private company to provide the same level of service yet still make a profit?
The latest effort to dismantle a public utility is the post office. Ben Franklin, one of our founding fathers, set up the postal service and it has tied together the country for all these decades.
One argument for turning the post office into some version of UPS or FedEx is that the post office loses money. Do we expect prisons to make a profit? Highways? Public schools?
Perhaps you would like to pay FedEx rates to mail a letter.
Have you ever watched as the postal service has tried to close a little-used post office to save money? People raise hell and Congressional critics of the post office are quick to demand that all the post offices in their district remain open. The suggestion to cut Saturday deliveries raised an uproar.
If you live in the suburbs or out in the country the postal service is your lifeline. Especially lately. Yes, even out on our farm we get on-line necessities from the post office, UPS and FedEx. If the postal service did not exist, would those UPS and FedEx trucks still be coming to our neighborhood? Or outside a limited coverage area, would they suggest we go down to a depot to pick up packages?
President Trump is a harsh critic of the postal service. He threatened to veto the emergency relief bill if any of the money went to the postal service. He wants the postal service to charge Amazon more money for the packages it delivers for Amazon. Amazon is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, a leading purveyor of what Trump calls “fake news.”
So, he is proposing that we all pay more for package deliveries either to the Post Office or Amazon because he got his feelings hurt.
More and more states are switching to or considering voting by mail and every state already has absentee balloting by mail. When we have dismantled the postal service will we turn our elections over to UPS or FedEx? Do all you politicians who want to privatize the post office want to turn all your campaign mailers, voter surveys and constituent newsletters over to a private company rather than the postal service, where such material is protected by federal law?
Some cost-cutting proposals being kicked around in Washington other than eliminating Saturday deliveries is cutting package delivery to three days a week. Or increasing the time for mail delivery.
The postal service, when it comes to letters, has a monopoly. Yeah. That’s been the case since 1795. Why is it suddenly a problem? When something has worked for over 200 years maybe we ought to think twice about drastic changes.
Give me strength: OK, I’m a grumpy old man. But some reactions to the current coronavirus attack make me grind my teeth. There’s a website where people rate the visible parts of the homes of celebrities and news makers who are Zooming from home. How bored do you have to be? Also, you knew it was coming: Designer face masks. What’s so special about singers who broadcast a “concert” from home? How is it different from watching them on YouTube or a music service, except the sound quality is worse? Now, get off my lawn.
Locals more stable: Republican legislators have been cutting all sorts of taxes in recent years in the face of budget surpluses. Luckily, some of it went into the rainy-day fund. But faced with the decimation of tax revenues due to the pandemic some tough decisions will have to be made. Ironically, local governments won’t be savaged quite as badly. Local budgets will certainly be disrupted, but not as badly as the state budget. While the state has cut the sales tax on food by two percent, from seven to five cents, the local rate has remained unchanged. Groceries are a mainstay of sales tax collections; people have to eat through good times or bad. Property taxes for locals are also stable. A slower economy will hurt local budgets for sure, but it is the hundreds of millions of dollars cut in state revenue which will be the hardest to overcome.
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.