Incompetent Elected Official of the Week: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo)

This box of rocks also has an idea about how to save the Postal Service, and it's probably better than Sen. McCaskill's.

[ I know—I need some Republican IEOTWs. There have been a lot of Democrats lately. The problem is that the things presidential candidates say don’t qualify (Michele Bachmann’s claim that she could lwoer gas prices to $2 would have been a sure winner), and the Democrats have been unusually inept lately.]

From the New York Times, discussing the U.S. Post Office’s impending insolvency:

“An overarching trend that has fueled the Postal Service’s crisis — and reduced annual mail volume by 22 percent since 2006 — is that Americans are e-mailing, paying bills electronically and reading shopping catalogs and news online.

“Noting that some great books have been written based on letters sent by the Founding Fathers and by soldiers, Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, urged the postmaster general to run an advertising campaign urging Americans to send more letters to each other.

““There is something special about receiving a piece of first-class mail, knowing that it comes from someone you care about,” she said. “I really believe that if someone would begin to market the value of sending a written letter to someone you love, you might be surprised what it will do for your Christmas season.”

That’s brilliant, Claire: spend money the Post Office doesn’t have to urge more people to use an archaic method of communication they no longer use since it is slower, less reliable and more expensive than the alternative, because there’s “something special” about it! That’s going to turn everything around.

If the Senator’s  idea works, maybe we can use the same approach to bring back the use of other obsolete and inferior technologies. Like…typewriters! Didn’t you love that ‘clack-clack-clack-ding!‘ sound? Phonographs! And telegrams! Ah, there was such a thrill when you got one of those!

With such laser focus (Wait! That reminds me: laser pointers! Get rid of them and start using the old fashioned, wooden kind again! They felt so good in your hand, and they made a cool ‘swish’ sound if you whipped then around…remember!) and rapier-sharp problem-solving ability in the U.S. Senate, is it any wonder that the nation is in the midst of both a budget crisis and a crisis of public trust?

There has to be some level of demonstrated incompetence and stupidity that mandates removal from high office. Even if I were a relative of Senator McCaskill, this would do it for me.

 

22 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Finance, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Leadership, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

22 responses to “Incompetent Elected Official of the Week: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo)

  1. Jeff

    I sent some friends of mine a custom-made anonymous Christmas card via snail mail last Christmas. I don’t doubt it tickled them more than an equivalent e-Greeting would have.

    AND I can barely restrain the urge to buy a typewriter. It’s an itch I can’t scratch until I actually BUY the damn thing and realize I was crazy and give me back my computer.

    Do the things the candidates say don’t count because they’re not “elected?” Highlighting the nonsense they say would still be a worthy endeavor, I think.

  2. Eric Monkman

    I fail to see the incompetence. Suggesting that an organization should advertise something that it is trying to sell is good advice (if a little bit obvious). Trying to distinguish a product from its competitors is likewise a good plan. If I was selling typewriters I would do the same (emphasizing that you could use them to fill out standardized forms, which is harder to do with a computer). If I was selling phonographs, I would emphasize the beauty of a physical record as compared with the ephemeral nature of an iPod track (hard to believe, but apparently this line of advertising actually works, see http://www.economist.com/node/21526296). Perhaps especially when one has an unpopular product, the importance of marketing cannot be overlooked.

    • If this isn’t tongue in cheek, then you have a future in Missouri politics. Why not flush taxpayer money directly down the toilet? trying to distinguish a dead, outdated, unpopular product from its competitors is called “futility,” not “a good plan.”

      • Eric Monkman

        You may be correct that the postal service in its current form is doomed. If that is so, then it should be wound up, its profitable parts should be privatized and the government should get out of the business of delivering stuff. Until and unless that happens, the post office needs to try to decrease losses, so as not to require public subsidies (that would be the real flushing of “taxpayer money directly down the toilet”). Increasing mail volume would certainly help achieve this. How is mail volume to be increased without advertising?

        • Eric, read my lips—it isn’t going to increase. I haven’t received or written a non-business letter in years. It’s not happening. Advertising only makes sense if you have something to sell. To turn the tide, the whole communication culture would have to run backward…which never happens…and permanently. Impossible. Obviously impossible. The Senator’s suggestion is like saying that a good adverting campaign will make people stop using microwaves, because the old fashioned cooking is fun. the graetest ad genius who ever lived isn’t going to make people who send dozens of e-mail a day start writing letters, licking envelopes, putting on stamps, and going out to mail them, not knowing if they’re ever going to arrive. I saw this day coming years ago. Didn’t you? And a letter writing campaign would have been futile THEN.

          • Eric Monkman

            Then the Post Office should be wound up and its profitable bits should be sold off. Until that happens, however, they have a duty to try to increase volumes. The Post Office has huge fixed costs (they need to operate the infrastructure that allows them to deliver mail all across the US). Their unionized employees are hard to lay off, so they will be paying most of their salaries regardless of whether they deliver mail or not. They cannot increase prices. In the long run, if they are to continue as a business, they will need to decrease capacity and lay off employees, but this is hard and will require government action. Until such action is forthcoming, the only way to for them to decrease their losses is to deliver more mail. How do you suggest they do this if not by advertising?

            • Wishing on a star. Sacrificing virgins. Anything will be less expensive, and just as effective. A government service is there to serve the people’s need, not to sell them on the utility of an inferior service they no longer need. They should restructure to be able to provide deliver of those items which can’t be sent electronically. It is unethical for a government to 1) spend money 2) it doesn’t have 3) to mislead people that 4) a service they have already rejected is 5) superior, when they know it isn’t.

            • tgt

              You do realize the post office is essentially autonomous, right? Also, without the full infrastructure (not profitable), no piece of it could be profitable. The Post Office works because it gets mail to and from every address daily. Splitting it up would doom it even worse than keeping it together.

              • Eric Monkman

                The Post Office operates autonomously, but it has many restrictions on what it can and can’t do. It can’t charge more to deliver mail to a hard-to-access location (as a private delivery service would do) and it can’t increase its prices without government permission. The post office could possibly sell off bits of itself that might be valuable to private companies. For example, the Post Office presumably has a great logistics and information storage system. This could be worth quite a bit to a private company, possibly for reasons unrelated to the countrywide delivery of mail. The Post Office also has a money order service. This could be sold to another business (though with the advent of PayPal and related products, this service is unlikely to be worth much).

                My main point throughout is that, until the government lets the Post Office shut down or radically redesign itself (perhaps by cutting many routes, raising prices or charging different prices depending on the distance the mail is sent), the Post Office will continue having to incur huge fixed costs. The only way to recoup these costs is by delivering more mail (more deliveries equals less fixed cost per delivery). Mr. Marshall seems to think that advertising will not increase mail volumes by any significant amount. He may be right, but if I had to sell some good, I would try to sell that good, rather than giving up. For example, if I had to produce typewriters, I would try to sell typewriters using any legal and ethical means that I could, I wouldn’t just give up trying to sell what I must produce anyway. The Post Office has to deliver mail, so they should try to sell mail delivery.

                • tgt

                  Your main point would hasten the end of the post office more quickly. The reason the Post Office is useful is because it delivers mail everywhere. The expensive, hard to reach locations are the ones that most need mail servicing. Changing the cost of mail by distance would also be untenable. How much mail would be returned or not delivered for lack of proper postage?

                  I don’t think Jack is attacking the idea of advertising, but of seemingly useless advertising. We haven’t heard any complaints about advertising new stamps or flat rate boxes. Advertising the penetration rates of bulk mail and reliability, I’m sure, would not be considered incompetent. Now, advertising to get people to increase their use of an out of date technology by 1000% is just silly.

                  • Eric Monkman

                    I am advocating a quick end to the Post Office if it has in fact outlived its usefulness. I am not sure that that point has been reached yet.

                    I do not believe that personal mail volumes can be increased by 1000% (or anything like it). I do not believe that personal mail volumes cannot be affected by advertising, though.

  3. Jeff

    It’s time for Jeff’s Mostly Irrelevant Thought Of The Moment!

    How would this affect something that depends on the mail like Netflix? How would they get discs back if there’s no post office? Would that hurt them? Would they do UPS? I’m curious.

  4. Catherine M. Jordan

    I’m almost afraid to say anything. Jack, you’re pretty vehement about not writing letters. Not to put words in your mouth, but I think your point was more about whether writing more letters was a long-term viable plan for increasing revenue at the USPS. It did, however, come across to me as a rant against hand-written letters.

    With regards to the USPS – I don’t think it has a viable business model. Communications styles and needs have changed over the last 20 and 50 years, and the USPS needs to go away, just as the Pony Express did. This need not spell the end of letter writing or mail delivery. Capitalism dictates that if a market for the service exists, a provider will emerge.

    Regardless, I do write letters – non-business ones – several times a year. I won’t say email isn’t often more efficient, but I love getting a real letter, and I presume the people I write to also enjoy real letters; no one has ever complained. I have fond memories of my grandfather getting up at 5am, setting up his desk, and “taking care of his correspondence”. Mind you, this was 35 years ago. Nonetheless, I have been known to emulate him, and not just with the family Christmas letter. Just not every day, or even every week. There is something about a letter – just as there is something about a home-cooked dinner, that didn’t come out of the microwave – that makes it special. And I treasure the few letters that I kept from my grandfather. I wish I had been more prescient and kept them all.

  5. Karl Penny

    Jack, sometimes I get a little nostalgic about older technologies, generally ones that figured so prominently in my youth, but have now gone the way of the klepsydra. I get nostalgic enough that, almost, for a moment, ideas like Sen. McCaskill’s seem to make sense, and a gleam comes to me eye, and I begin to think, “Yeah….” Then I remember that it’s daylight out, and however pleasant dreams can be, they’re just dreams. I also remember that there are reasons—good reasons—why I and millions of others adopted email, wrote documents on a computer, listened to music through an MP3, read my books on a Kindle, and played games on a computer. Truth to tell, most of us don’t really miss those older technologies, except in brief spurts. I have an old Olympia Portable typewriter in a closet. I must have typed a million documents on that thing, from my freshman year of high school through college. Letters, papers, notes, forms, checks (!) even. It was so indispensable, I took it with me most everywhere. Now, it just sits in that closet, and I hardly ever take it out even to look at. The last time it saw any use was last year, when a local high school was doing a play, and they needed an old manual typewriter as a prop. Now, it’s back in the closet. Sen, McCaskill may have successfully deluded herself, but I don’t think she’s going to delude much of anyone else, and thank heaven. But, if this is what passes for progressive thought among our elected leaders, then God help us all.

  6. Tim LeVier

    If McCaskill wanted to make a real difference, she’d fine all of the businesses that allowed their consumers to “Go Paperless” and “Save the Environment”. Then give the proceeds of the fines to the postal service.

    Or better yet, she could ask the USPS to run an advertising campaign asking consumers to login to their accounts and turn their preferences back to “Paper” so that they get “Paper” statements every month and on top of that, ask all the consumers to reply to all the junk mail and credit card offers they receive.

  7. Pingback: Comment of the Day: “Incompetent Elected Official of the Week: Sen. Claire McCaskill” | Ethics Alarms

  8. Dwayne N. Zechman

    FYI: One of the Post Office’s essential functions is the transport of sensitive and/or classified government materials–while allowing the package to remain in an unbroken chain-of-custody with government employees.
    This is why the Post Office can never actually go away, nor be privatized. Franking privileges in the Congress* aside, the U.S. Government itself is one of the Post Office’s biggest customers.

    –Dwayne

    *…and by “Congress” I mean both House and Senate.

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