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Return to Sender

The U.S. Postal Service was at it again this week, banging its tin cup and trying to buy more time to reinvent a dying business model while confronting a growing annual budget deficit that now exceeds $7 billion.

However, before we see the blueprint for moving our 19th century postal system into the 21st, the nation’s mail carriers apparently need some more triage. They are asking us to pony up another two cents for a first-class stamp—the sixth time the price of stamps has increased in the past 10 years. On Jan. 2, the price of a first-class stamp will be 46 cents, which is almost twice as much as it cost to buy a stamp in 1990. But you won’t be able to tell this by looking at a stamp, because the Postal Service stopped putting the price on its stamps years ago.

This sad news was accompanied by a laughable a bit of public relations balm: in addition to the first-class rate increase (expected to raise $3 billion), the Postal Service will be issuing some special “forever” stamps. The “forever” stamps, adorned with evergreens, will remain permanently priced at 44 cents, with one caveat: you can only use them during the Christmas holiday crunch.

What’s next, specially priced stamps for Mother’s Day cards going to Toledo?

The Postal Service eliminated the equivalent of 50,000 jobs this year and began the process of closing nearly 10 percent of its facilities. Unfortunately, these measures have had about as much of an impact on the flow of red ink as one of BP’s oil-leak containment caps. Before the latest stamp price increase was announced, trial balloons were briefly floated proposing to eliminate Saturday mail deliveries and cut back on postal workers’ pensions. These lead balloons were quickly shot down, especially the latter, which made the postal workers’ union go…well, postal.

After spending more than 20 years watching UPS and FedEx eat its lunch in the overnight and two-day delivery market —most of those U.S. Postal Service overnight boxes they tout on TV actually are flown by the private carriers—the Postal Service is now watching the World Wide Web devour what’s left. In just the past 12 months, the amount of snail mail has declined by almost 13 percent. It is not a stretch to suggest that the only remaining profit centers for the U.S.P.S. are those fake government letters touting mortgage refinancing and the fake “pay to the order of” checks that car dealers spew out. Come to think of it, that’s probably why all those outrageous fake offers are not illegal—they’re the only things keeping the mail bags full.

We have a suggestion for the people who are running the United States Postal Service:

Take refuge in the nearest public library. And while you are there, giving your tired dogs a rest, take a look around.

You will discover that your local public library has not been consumed by the Internet, it has adapted to it. The dwindling number of books that are kept on the shelves have made way for rows and rows of personal computers. Our libraries are now community data retrieval centers.

After a brief visit to the library, pick yourself up, take your $3 billion in new revenue, and go out and order the largest-capacity, highest-speed servers that have ever been built. Then send a text message to Google, Microsoft and the other tech giants:

Neither monsoons of email and text, nor blizzards of Twitter and Facebook posts, nor gigabytes of gloomy forecasts of its demise will keep the United States Postal Service from making its appointed rounds.

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