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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.


Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing

Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.

Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.


Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’

The Nassau County district attorney’s (DA) office makes a cameo appearance in Empty Mansions, an incredible book about Huguette Clark (1906-2011), the Manhattan-raised heiress whose generosity and eccentricities were legendary.

Now that Ryan Murphy, a creator of television’s “Glee,” has optioned Empty Mansions’ film rights, I imagine a scrum of top actresses are vying to play Clark.


Old Fight Has New Meaning

It was exactly a century ago that the American people finally won the long and forgotten Battle for the Parcel Post. Only in the United States were people forced to use private companies to send most packages. Luxembourg and Egypt and San Salvador had parcel posting, but we didn’t.

For many years, the Post Office Department had an 11-pound weight limit, and by law was required to charge uncompetitive rates for small domestic packages. A century ago, it actually cost Long Islanders using the U.S. Post Office less to mail a 10-pound package to China than to New Jersey. For anything above 11 pounds, you had to use one of the private “express” companies. There was little profit in rural service, so if you lived too far out, you paid a whole lot, and probably had to wait a long time. The Wells Fargo wagon brought the band instruments to 1912 River City because that was the only choice.

The Suffragettes, labor unions and other social movements were in a broad coalition with small businesses and farmers urging Congress to pass the Parcel Post bill (mailing one pamphlet at a time was far more expensive than sending a whole box of pamphlets to a local office for distribution). Long Island farm families saw direct sales of eggs, seeds, potatoes and a hundred other products to customers around the country as their best hope of survival.

The parcel post fight opened the eyes of many Americans to how things worked in Gilded Age Washington. At Congressional hearings, leaders of industries and organizations would testify in favor of the parcel post authorization bill, without opposition testimony. Letters and cards in support flooded in. Nothing would happen. The express industry could protect its interests without showing up to any hearing. In the end, public indignation over high dividends and excess profits for the express companies gave Congress the political cover to finally authorize parcel post service, effective Jan. 1, 1913. Even its wildest supporters didn’t foresee its immense, immediate popularity, or its atomic effect on the American economy.

In the first five days, four million parcels were mailed. Within a month, all the talk had turned to removing remaining limits and pricing disincentives to posting parcels. Entire industries that we take for granted burst into being because of parcel post, including the mail order business and the packaging industry as we know them. The Sears company tripled its revenues within five years. Along the Hudson River, vast beds of violets and other flowers had never been utilized until parcel post because the express company service to rural areas and villages was nonexistent or expensive. Suddenly, there were regional and national floral delivery businesses.

Postal expansion gave Americans one of the great investment payoffs in our history.

And now some of the same private interests from a century ago are back, guns blazing. This time, they want First Class and railroad mail, too. They’re positioned to get it. There are plenty of ideologues, extremists and partisans in Congress just festering to dismantle every public program that proves them wrong.    

With only a handful of exceptions (such as Bangladesh), you can’t mail a letter anywhere else for 46 cents. Overall Postal Service revenues are steady. It’s the unprecedented 2006 Congressional mandate that 75 years of retirement benefits be prefunded by 2016 that has pushed USPS into the red. Congress prohibits postal banking, digital posting and other lucrative, relevant options for post office retailing. We are offered only cutbacks, closings, layoffs and rate increases as options.

We are being trained to think of ourselves as corporate customers and not citizens.