Sen. Harry Reid: The Postal Service Must Be Saved Because ‘Seniors Love Junk Mail’

You know a service is on its last legs when the best argument a person can make for its continued existence is both a) very likely untrue and b) incredibly depressing. The United States Postal Service, best known these days for its massive accounting losses and quarterly stamp price increases, is being forced to deal with the reality of a world that sends most of its mail via the internet. With deep cuts and office closures looming, Sen. Harry Reid took to the Senate floor to say a few words in its defense, as The Consumerist reports:

Speaking yesterday to his fellow Senators, Reid really sucked the air out of the room with this part of his “Save the USPS” speech:

“Elderly Americans rely on the United States Postal Service… I’ll come home to my home here in Washington and there will be some mail there. A lot of it is what some people refer to as junk mail. But for the people that are sending that mail, it’s very important. And, talking about seniors – Seniors LOVE to get junk mail. It’s sometimes their only way of communicating or feeling they’re part of the real world.”

Here’s Reid in “action:”

It’s rare to see someone make a statement that undercuts the “essentialness” of the USPS so thoroughly, especially one made in its defense. If the best argument a person can come up with is that the Postal Service needs to remain intact in order to provide a point of contact between desperately lonely seniors and the companies that prey on them, then it’s time to admit that maybe, just maybe, the “service” is actually more of a burden.

In fact, with “austerity” being the watchword (well, not here specifically, but all over Europe), maybe it’s time to (and this is an unfortunate turn of phrase, but trust me, it gets worse…) kill two birds with one stone and cut off the flow of junk mail to seniors. Now that they won’t have a third rejection letter from Publishers Clearing House to look forward to, perhaps they’ll go more gracefully into that good night, thus reducing the strain on the already-overmatched Social Security fund.

Speaking of overmatched retirement funds, most the USPS’s massive losses stem from having to prefund retiree health benefits, an issue that could be negated with another “two birds one stone” solution. The USPS could cut loose its potential retirees, shifting them from “mounting losses” category into the more profitable “willing recipient of mass mailing” demographic. We call that “win-win” where I come from (a rural Midwestern area known for its redundancy).

Or maybe it’s time to privatize. The USPS seems to believe it can compete if the government takes the, uh, governor off rates and services. If so, the USPS will need to hit the ground running, something massive entities are rarely good at. As the Consumerist has shown, both FedEx and UPS are willing to step in to fill the void. The two companies already have a proven track record for getting packages from Point A to Point B (even if the final destination was supposed to be Point C) as well as making great strides in treating your packages with a government-like callous disregard. This may also hasten the adoption of paperless billing, which should prove to be a boon to the economy as the affected companies will be able to collect “convenience charges” for electronic transactions, something simply not possible in the era of horse-and-buggy pen-and-checkbook.

Of course, paperless billing requires an internet connection and the ability to navigate to secure sites without picking up a variety of obnoxious toolbars and pernicious malware, so maybe Harry Reid is right. Despite the fact that Grandma likely has over 96,000 hours of AOL packed into a file box in the hall closet, the internet can be a weird and dangerous place for those used to more analog experiences. And AOL itself is no help. Signing up for the service seems simple enough for those with landlines, but once you decide you no longer need its portal to the sanitized internet, getting them to cancel your service is about as simple as removing your own kidney. (Actually, it’s more difficult than that. It’s like trying to persuade the surgeon to remove the faulty kidney and instead being told that what you really want is a third kidney.)

If Senator Reid is right, and the USPS is the only thing standing between seniors and a not-all-that-untimely (but very lonely) death, thanks to its continuous flow of “human contact” via junk mail, perhaps the solution is to move some postal workers over to Meals-on-Wheels and let the private sector decide whether or not it wants the aching loneliness of America’s growing elderly population on its hands. My guess is that no matter who’s handling the delivery side of the business, junk mailers will still find a way to get their ads into the hands of general population.

As for Publishers Clearing House, it will have to make a few adjustments. For starters, it may have to stop pushing magazine subscriptions, as most magazines at this point are pamphlet-thin and nearly 75% ads. (Except for Reader’s Digest Large Print Edition!) As the denizens of the internet march slowly towards their golden years, they’re not going to have much patience for an information source with less interactivity than a PDF. And they’re certainly not going to be checking the mailbox for contact with the outside world.

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