Friday, January 27, 2006

Postal "Security" Helps Terrorists

A postal regulation designed to fight terrorism has not only failed to protect us, it's weakened our economy, thus our ability to fight terrorism. Confused? Let's go back a decade.

My local post office used to open at 5 a.m. (window service at 9 a.m.) I'd enter at dawn, weigh my packages on one machine, buy stamps from another machine, and drop the packages in the mailbox. Convenient for me, as I often mail manuscripts. Convenient for other patrons, since they didn't have to wait on line behind me.

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded. In the post-Oklahoma City climate, anti-government terrorists were immediately suspected. Clinton and Reno demanded tough new security measures to "fight terrorism." Their brainstorming resulted in those mailbox stick­ers, the ones requiring that all packages weighing a pound or more be hand-delivered to a postal employee.

I never understood how this was supposed to fight terrorism. I guess it's meant to prevent people from mailing bombs or drugs or whatnot. But wouldn't an X-ray or bomb-sniffing dog be more effective? Can't a terrorist as easily give a dangerous package to a postal worker as drop it in a mailbox? I've given packages to postal workers, and it's not like they do anything different if it weighs a pound. No one checks my ID or takes my photo... (Oh wait, better not give them any ideas.)

Anyway, we now have this utterly pointless regulation that Clinton/Reno foisted on us to prevent another Flight 800. Except that it was later determined that the explosion wasn't caused by terrorism but by mechanical failure. (Unless you believe those conspiracists who blame the downing on "friendly fire" from a US Navy ship; either way, it wasn't terrorism.)

Naturally, even after terrorism was ruled out, the regula­tion wasn't repealed. I guess the feds decided that it was still a great way to fight terrorism. Except that the regulation never made sense even before terrorism was ruled out. It didn't prev­ent 9/11. It didn't even prevent anyone from mailing anthrax.

You may say this regulation is a small thing, so who cares if it's ineffective? Can't hurt. But it does hurt. It hurts our economy. And that's one goal of terrorism. Weak economies create political instability. Weak economies can't afford top security people or equipment.

How does this regulation hurt our economy? I used to be able to drop my package in a mailbox, no time wasted. But re­cently, I wasted a half hour at the post office. My package was all weighed and stamped, but I waited on line just to give it to a clerk, just so she could toss it into a bin without a glance.

Now add that up. Add up all my time wasted yearly just to hand deliver packages that could as easily be dropped in a mail­box. Multiply that by millions of others waiting on line for the same purpose. If only ten million people waste ten hours each a year due to this pointless law, we're already talking a hundred million work hours lost to the economy. And it's easily more than that.

All that lost productivity, for a regulation that hinders people from doing honest business, but did nothing to prevent anyone from mailing anthrax.

But can't I give my packages to my letter carrier? I wish I knew. I've tried. It's worked sometimes. But I've also had the letter carrier accept my package, only to return it days later stamped "return to sender" because it wasn't hand delivered at the post office. (I mean, what's the point? If they think it may be a bomb, why not call in the FBI? Why return it to me?)

Yes, it seems a small inconvenience, but that's the most ef­fective way of destroying freedom; chipping away at it rather than taking it all at once. A frog will jump out of a pot of hot water, but if you place it in cool water, then bring it to a slow boil, the frog will remain there until it dies.

Yes, I know some idiots will scream, "Hey, in case you have­n't heard, we're at war!" as they defend every law designed to "fight terrorism," no matter how pointless and ineffective and even counterproductive. Such people don't care about my personal inconveniences. They don't even care about their own liberties. But why are they helping terrorists by weakening our economy?