Two-bit stamp

WHO needs a 25-cent stamp? Before you know it, the cost to mail your basic letter home or pay the phone bill will be on its way to half a buck. The United States Postal Service is doing some odd things to ``save money'' and enlist public sympathy. In the Boston suburb of Needham, the town's two post offices close for an hour or so at lunchtime, the most convenient hour for many to do their mailing errands. Yet postal workers are visible, chatting and lunching. Does such abbreviated service really save money?

The postal service has been moving toward automation, but competing services like United Parcel Service and Federal Express still lead the way. Why shouldn't Americans have a world-class postal service - efficient and cost-effective? In some respects it is, but it is also another case of federal mini-privatization yet to pan out.

A workable postal service, like the nation's infrastructure, should be treated as an investment in the future. Why should a modern nation tolerate bare-bones service - or 25-cent stamps, as just proposed by a presidential advisory panel? If the public can afford to refurbish old battleships, it can certainly afford a first-class post office. Let's get the priorities right!

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