- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Rural post offices should not be stamped out

I believe “Closings eyed for village post offices” (Business, yesterday) will mislead your readers into believing the President’s Commission on the Postal Service’s report targeted the closing of rural post offices. I attended the meeting of the commission Wednesday, and the emphasis in the report made reference to consolidating mail processing centers and not rural post offices. There is a process in place that addresses the closing of post offices and, while the commission may recommend to modify that policy, your headline was out of context.

As president of the National League of Postmasters, I provided both written and oral testimony to the commission. The following comments, directly relating to small post offices, are from my testimony given in April in Los Angeles. I hope this will help clarify to your readers the actual facts relating to those “village post offices” your article mentioned.

The National League of Postmasters wants to focus on the best use of our current network of more than 26,000 post offices, of which 62 percent are the small post office operations located in rural America.

The League of Postmasters is hopeful that this commission will, as it is mandated, look to improve the Postal Service and its bottom line but not neglect to identify the need to continue universal service and access to a post office. Though delivery of letters, parcels and advertising mail is our core business, we feel there is much more we can do. Our network of post offices provides a unique opportunity to expand nonpostal services at our facilities while using the infrastructure we have. We take pride in serving our customers, and we need to realize our full potential.

Rural and intercity post offices often are perceived as money losers, but this is not a true picture. While the postage revenue is collected where the mailer enters the mail into our system, the cost of delivering the mail is borne by the post office that ultimately delivers the piece. To say that more than half of the post offices lose money is not a fair analysis.

Robert Cohen, director of the Office of Rates, Analysis and Planning, testified before this commission on Feb. 20 in the District. He stated: “The cost of universal service is a surprisingly small portion of the Postal Service’s $70 billion budget. The cost of the 10,000 smallest post office was $567 million. [Less than 2 percent of the total budget]” Rural customers are not second-class citizens; they deserve access to postal services that those in metropolitan areas enjoy.

At the beginning of the 21st century, rural America comprises 2,305 counties, contains 80 percent of the nation’s land and is home to 56 million people. A past inquiry initiated by the Postal Rate Commission reported that rural Americans are 26 percent of the population and make up 34 percent of Americans with incomes below the official poverty line. The study also noted that small towns have the highest concentrations of elderly people. We believe post offices fulfill a need for this segment of the population as well as provide invaluable service to these customers that cannot be measured in dollars. We believe post offices must be measured by the service they provide and not be judged solely on financial considerations.


National president

National League of Postmasters


Let’s hear it from the troops

Writing as a veteran of the Navy, I can understand Army Gen. John Abizaid’s dissatisfaction with troops speaking out against the war and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (“Enemy force uses ‘guerrilla tactics’ in Iraq, Abizaid says,” Page 1, yesterday).

As anyone in a military uniform knows, service people protect democracy without being able to enjoy the liberty of free speech. So, the fact that the soldiers risked almost certain punishment by complaining to the news media reveals the level of their frustration and disillusionment.

I suppose if President Bush can use military groups for carefully crafted political rallies and carrier landings for photo opportunities, military personnel on the ground should be able to set the record straight for the American people.


Knoxville, Tenn.

Helping or harming Africa?

Steve Chapman repeats in his Tuesday commentary (“Helping Africa?”) the age-old adage that teaching someone to fish is better than giving him a fish. No one is likely to dispute that statement, but it doesn’t match up with the rest of his commentary about U.S. trade policy toward Africa.

While I strongly agree that developing nations in Africa and elsewhere should be given the same fair treatment as industrialized nations — provided they are not ruled by totalitarian regimes or sponsors of terrorism — I fail to see how giving those same nations preferential trade treatment is teaching them how to be self-sufficient. They should be given the same chances but not more. Where is it written that the Western and developed world has a moral obligation to risk harming our own economies for the sake of giving an advantage to another nation?

There are many reasons that some countries are unable to compete economically, and I would argue that domestic political problems and culture are chief among them. In this age of political correctness, it is trendy to claim that all non-European cultures are somehow “pristine” and utopian and should not be corrupted by external influences. The fact is that every culture on Earth has “bad” cultural elements — some more so than others — many of which impede the ability of those societies to effectively compete in business and trade. If cultural and political issues prevent a country from competing effectively on an even playing field, then they need to change from within and not expect the rest of the world to accommodate them with special circumstances.


Ludwigshafen, Germany

‘Quite a leap’

Wednesday’s editorial page featured a letter, “Constitutional principles,” responding to a story in Tuesday’s edition (“Cradle of democracy?” Culture, et cetera) that calls into question my reputation as a constitutional scholar. I should like to respond.

Tuesday’s article, which came from the Associated Press and not from The Washington Times, was less than accurate. The story discussed the claim by Portsmouth, R.I., to be “The Birthplace of American Democracy,” based on a 1638 document called the Portsmouth Compact. After quoting from the compact, the AP reporter quoted me as wondering whether “Jews, Quakers, or perhaps even Lutherans and Calvinists” would have been happy living under its language. Unfortunately, the compact language printed in the story was not the full quote read to me by the reporter, which included, among other things, reference to Jesus Christ.

That gave your letter writer, Neil F. Markva, occasion to question my “lack of knowledge and understanding that all four groups share the very same ‘Holy Word of truth’ as their guide for individual and corporate liberty.” Not content to stop there, he goes on to label me a “constitutional-opinion expert,” tarring me with the Langdell case law method of legal education, U.S. courts’ compelling state interest and balancing tests, and even Article 39 of the Soviet Constitution, the notorious defeasance clause. And all of that from an AP story quoting me only twice. Quite a leap.

For the record, over the years I’ve written critically of the Langdell case law method, compelling state interest and balancing tests, and especially Article 39. As for the original issue, the AP story focused on the Portsmouth Compact’s conflation of church and state. I expect my concern about that is what most exercised Mr. Markva.


Vice President for Legal Affairs

B. Kenneth Simon Chair in Constitutional Studies

Director, Center for Constitutional Studies

Cato Institute


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