commentary— PAGE 11 LETTER TO THE EDITOR
While Valley City sleeps... Postal service needs a new service model W W By Paul Stenshoel
hen Governor Jack Dalrymple was asked after last week’s State Water Commission’s meeting in Bismarck whether Valley City will ever be without dikes again, his best guess was basically, “No.” For more than a century, Valley City has enjoyed the true asset of having a scenic and free river running through town. Unless something changes in the very near future, those days may rapidly be coming to an end. Permanent elevated dikes, designed to relieve the flooding of the Devils Lake region northeast of us, are strongly being considered for construction in Valley City. Essentially, our northern neighbors want us to inherit the burden of a problem they have contributed to extensively. What’s bugging me is that nobody officially has investigated to determine exactly why the flooding in the north has become so extensive. Our government politicians want to impose a solution, to the permanent detriment of Valley City, without ever understanding the full cause or consequences. It wasn’t that long ago when the folks up at Devils Lake were actually asking for water to be pumped into Devils Lake because of drought conditions. When are these people ever going to be content with just the way things are, and leave good enough alone? Natural high water should be a celebrated event; it’s a gift from God, not something you should panic over, or think you should control.
To me it’s beautiful in the prairie when all the sloughs and rivers are full and running over and it’s healthy and a privilege to see natural high water come here from time to time. But much of the problems at Devils Lake are neither healthy nor natural. If you want to see a good example of turning a beautiful river setting into an industrial canal zone, just head up to Grand Forks someday. When you cross over the bridge, east into Crookston, Minn., look north up the Red River and you’ll get a good idea what the Sheyenne River potentially could look like in the very near future. This would be an example of what we should not do. If you want to see an example on how to do things correctly, check out the city of Boise, Idaho. They’ve done a beautiful job with their city and river. Here are a couple websites worth visiting, one which include flooding photos on the Boise River: <http://images.search.yahoo.com/ search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=ushmailn&sz=all&va=boise+river> and <http:// www.cityofboise.org/Departments/Parks/ParksAndFacilities/Parks/page18151.aspx>. There are big meetings coming up in the future dealing with Devils Lake water. I strongly recommend that folks like Madeline Luke, Dick Betting and Sharon Buhr are sitting at the negotiating table when those meetings arrive. These people understand the full consequences of this situation and can represent our city in the best manner. Paul Stenshoel lives in Valley City.
A thin red line of heroes when the band begins to play By Ed Raymond
ongress just passed a $662 billion defense budget to fight a war with Afghanistan, a country without fighter planes, tanks, aircraft carriers or bombers. It does have an untold number of snoopin’ and poopin’ fundamentalist religious fanatics carrying AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and cellphones that can be wired to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They have blown the limbs off and tsunamied the brains of thousands of our young men and women. As of Dec. 9, 2011, we have had 4,487 killed in our other
foreign adventure in Iraq and 1,736 killed in Afghanistan. Over 22,000 have suffered serious physical wounds such as the loss of limbs that probably will require medical care and disability payments for the rest of their lives. On top of these casualties we may have as many as 300,000 with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and thousands of others with traumatic brain injuries who cannot be salvaged with interviews, bull sessions and pills. Even many of the dogs used to sniff out IEDs and other explosives have PTSD. The cost of these two wars has been estimated to be between $2 trillion and $3 tril-
lion. For almost 45 years after World War II, we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union. We finally drove the Soviets to financial bankruptcy, spending over $12 trillion to do it. It’s estimated the Soviets spent an equal amount. They almost got us first. When Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger started to remodel and refurbish our WWII Navy battleships for war against the Soviets, they only proved that generals and admirals have a tendency to fight the last war instead of the present one. At the end of the Cold War we GADFLY, 15
ith the U. S. Postal Service on the edge of bankruptcy, Postmaster General Patrick Donahue – backed by the General Ac- By Lloyd countability Office Omdahl (GAO) – is proposing drastic across-the-board cuts to stabilize the agency. Preliminary plans include abolishing 3,600 of the agency’s 31,000 post offices, mostly in the rural areas, eliminating next-day service, raising rates, stopping Saturday deliveries, and consolidating half of the 500 mail processing centers. As one of the most rural states, North Dakota will experience some serious impacts. Around 75 communities will lose their post offices and major processing centers in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Minot will be closed. The plans have been deferred until next May but they will not disappear unless Congress changes the way it looks at the Postal Service. The communities in which post offices have been marked for closing need to be vigilant. This deferral is temporary. In 1970, the Post Office Department was removed from the president’s jurisdiction and converted into a self-supporting corporation with freedom to negotiate with unions, to replace the partisan employment system with a career service, and to manage its own finances. The idea was to run the Postal Service like a business. The model worked until private services cut into the parcel delivery market and e-mail started taking a good chunk of the first-class mail. The Postal Service experienced a 17 percent loss of volume over the last three years. As the Service was slowly sinking into a sea of red ink, it was suddenly required to fund future retiree health benefits at a tune of an extra $5 billion a year. This drove the deficit up and brought on the proposal to take radical action. After 40 years operating as a business, we have now come face-to-face with the fact that sticking with the
present model requires draconian cuts to balance the books and will continue to do so in the decades ahead. Under this business model, eventually all of North Dakota will be going to Carrington to get mail at the last remaining delivery site. That will be about 2020. To save the present business model and make the cuts, the Government Accountability Office has suggested that an independent group similar to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) be formed to blunt the political influences that will be involved in the decision-making. In other words, keep Congress out of the kitchen. If the cuts are made as proposed, the Postal Service will no longer be able to deliver on its mission as stated in Title 39 of the U.S. Code: “The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities Some years ago, when the University of North Dakota Bureau Of Governmental Affairs was doing some studies on local government efficiencies, our Minneapolis expert made an observation about libraries. He said that libraries cannot be self-sufficient but are an important component in a community’s social infrastructure. The same is true for the Postal Service. If we are going to have anything like the Postal Service in the future, we have to quit thinking about it as a business that must break even. We need to see it as a critical component of our social infrastructure. We already accept that principle in the National Park system, the Weather Service, Amtrak, the Armed Forces and a score of other governmental functions. We may lose money on the specific function but we would gain in the general well-being of the country. Lloyd Omdahl was the Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota, taking office after Ruth Meiers died in 1987. Previously he was a professor of political science at the University of North Dakota.