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Postal Crimes and Misdeeds - Volume I
Office of Instructions and Mail Depradations
Ever since people have had stuff other people have tried to steal it. Since mail is just stuff in transit it makes sense that people would try to steal that too. Many times, when messengers were carrying stuff from say, King A to King B, they got their heads chopped off when King B didn't like the stuff King B was sending him. There was soon a shortage of mailmen, so someone had to step in and do something.
Enter Benjamin Franklin. Ben didn't like kings at all, and even before there was a United States of America, in his role of colonial postmaster he realized that the sanctity of the mail was at risk from acts of fraud, robbery, corruption, and other deeds of malfeasance. With this in mind he created the Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations, now known as the Postal Inspection Service. Mail Depredations is a perfect term for what we are going to be discussing here.
As Ben's Postal Service evolved, the type of depredations it was victimized by changed. No longer was it assaulted solely by standard criminal elements who were trying to use the mail illegally for personal enrichment. After September 11th, 2001, for instance, blind fanaticism in the form of domestic terrorism reared its ugly head, and the very mail that Americans depend upon to communicate was used to strike fear into their hearts.
Relatively cheap digital photography also became available around that time, and cameras began to pop up on every street corner and in every nook and cranny of every building. This revealed an insidious type of postal depredations that would have been inconceivable to our already overworked first postmaster Ben Franklin.
The cameras exposed a new source of postal misdeeds to the American people. Practically every week the Internet is now inundated by viral videos in which postal employees are getting their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar, either by stealing from the mail or by committing some noteworthy act of unbelievable stupidity. So in spite of Ben's best efforts the Postal Service is never completely safe, not even from itself, and especially not from the Congress that created the institution.
Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act
I just checked my notes, and was surprised to find that none of today's postal depredations involved stealing, at least not in the classical sense. But in reality, probably the biggest looting of the postal treasury took place in 2006, when the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed by Congress. In this case, Enhancement is a word that means We're going to screw you good.
I am sure good old Ben Franklin rolled over in his grave once or twice as this one was enacted into law, because it was basically an underhanded attempt to destroy a sacred public institution that every American relies upon to one degree or another. Sponsored by unmasked bandits posing as public servants, the bill pointed a gun at the Postal Service's head and demanded that the organization hand over 5.4 to 5.8 billion annually, supposedly to be used to fund the retirement benefits of Postal Employees. Not since old west bandits rode down the Wells Fargo stagecoaches has such a sinister gang of Desperados heisted the US mail.
No other organization, public or private, has ever been required by law to deposit such an unbelievably large amount into a pension account. It has been estimated that this law will fund the retirement of employees for the next 75 years. There are postal employees yet unborn who will supposedly benefit from this money, that is if the cash is not looted out of the retirement coffers first and used to fund some Congressman's pet pork project.
To date, the retirement pre-funding has cost the postal service 32 billion dollars. During that same period the organization has endured a loss of 41 billion dollars. Doing the math demonstrates that only 22% of this loss has been from the drop off in mail volume caused by the economic recession, and the other 78% by the shameless Congressional looting legalized by the 2006 act.
Who were the bandits that carried out this crime? The ringleader of the gang of thugs was Tom Davis III from Virginia. His cohorts, I mean cosponsors, were John McHugh of New York, Danny Davis of Illinois, and Henry Waxman of California. Since the latter two are Democrats, it appeared to be a bipartisan looting. The bill was signed into law by then President George W. Bush.
California Congressman Darrell Issa has since taken over leadership of this anti-postal mafia and is now the torch bearer in the crusade to destroy the Postal Service. Issa points out the institution's financial losses as proof of its inefficiency and irrelevance, but hides the fact that the financial losses came about largely due to the actions of the raid his co-conspirators successfully carried out against the postal treasury.
2013 - Senator Feinstein's Hubby Sells Post Offices
US Senator Dianne Feinstein is a supposedly labor friendly Democrat Senator from California. Her repeated victories in the Golden State have come about because of the endorsement of local labor unions, including the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), and the American Postal Workers Union, (APWU). Therefore, when a company chaired by Feinstein's husband Richard C. Blum received a contract to sell decommissioned post offices it raised a few eyebrows among postal employees, and also to those who monitor political corruption.
Post Office closures have met with vociferous protests by the American people. The most notable of these protests was the "occupation" of the Berkeley, California post office when it was recently targeted for shutdown. In addition to the hardship these closures represent for citizens served by these postal facilities, post office closures also mean lost jobs, something that so-called labor friendly politicians like Feinstein have pledged to fight against. Instead of being outraged by the closures, however, and fighting to protect her constituents, it appears that in this case Feinstein and her husband stand to profit to the tune of millions of dollars.
Although Feinstein says all the right things; insisting that her assets are held in a blind trust and that she has voted against bills that would harm the postal service, the foul stench of misconduct continues to cling to her. Particularly bothersome is the fact that this is not the first time her husband's company has benefited from legislation. During the height of the mortgage crisis, for instance,Senator Feinstein introduced a bill to fund the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an institution that also had a lucrative contract with CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), the company for which Feinstein's husband serves as Chairman.
At this point Feinstein's activity remains in the "misdeeds," rather than the "crime" stage, but as the old saying goes, "where there's smoke there's fire," and it will be interesting to see how vehemently Feinstein protests postal closures, and how ardently she opposes anti-postal legislation.
Incidentally, Dianne Feinstein is ranked as the 14th richest politician. Her net worth is estimated at $70 million dollars. How labor-friendly could she really be, with this kind of scratch?
2001 Anthrax Attacks
The year 2001 was not a good time to be a Mailman. Terrorism struck hard twice that year with postal workers; the first time when the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, and the second a week later when Anthrax letters began to be distributed through the US mail, an attack that eventually killed five people and infected 17 others.
Although the anthrax letters were directed to Senators and news organizations, not to the Postal Service in particular, paranoia blossomed rapidly throughout the USPS when two postal workers were killed in the Washington DC suburb of Brentwood, and another nine became ill after contracting the disease.
This was the first time in my postal career that I have seen people afraid to go to work. It was also the first time I saw latex gloves being stocked in the postal supply room. Now these gloves are standard equipment and many letter carriers still wear them on a daily basis, but at that time they were unheard of. Postal Employees were also given flu shots inside the post office that year, probably because the organization feared that someone would contract flu-like symptoms and rekindle the flames of the anthrax terror.
The anthrax attacks were costly both in terms of the human lives that were affected and the extensive decontamination efforts that were taken. The Brentwood postal facility, for example, cost 130 million dollars and 26 months to clean up. It took five years and 65 million dollars to decontaminate the Trenton, New Jersey mail processing center, through which other anthrax letters passed.
To this day the mystery of the anthrax attack has not been solved to everyone's satisfaction. The FBI's chief suspect was a government scientist named Bruce Ivins, an expert on biodefense at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The FBI spent seven years accumulating evidence against Ivins, until on August 6, 2008 they declared him to be the sole culprit. Two days later Ivins committed suicide and the real mystery died with him. In early 2010 the FBI formally closed the case, in spite of strong criticism about their handling of the affair and lingering doubts about Ivins' guilt. Fueling the controversy was the fact that one of the 9/11 hijackers had been hospitalized with a lesion strongly resembling cutaneous anthrax prior to the 9/11 attacks, indicating the involvement of Middle-Eastern terrorists.
In case you're one of the only ten people on the planet who hasn't seen this yet...
2013 Lawn Driving Attack
Tiptoe through the tulips, you think? Sorry Tiny Tim, but not quite. More like plowing through the petunias.
Possibly the most unbelievably outrageous among this current list of famous Postal Depredations was the brazen action taken in early October by a postal employee who drove her vehicle across a customer's front lawn to deliver a package. This breathtakingly unthinkable incident was captured on hidden camera by a customer, who uploaded the clip to You Tube. The video went viral, and has now taken too many views to add up. My You Tube search result returned 1,040 items, each of which basically consisted of the same video uploaded by different people. Each one of these videos has taken several hundred to thousands of hits. You can do the math if you would like, but I have to be at work in an hour and a half. It had 3.7 million views just four days after the incident, so by now the results must be approaching the infinity and beyond range.
Vicky Anderson of La Grange, Georgia is the customer who took the video. Although her neighborhood was quiet and safe, she had her son install the security cameras as an "extra precaution." Expecting a package, her son checked the video feed from his cell phone at work, and was astounded to lay eyes upon an act much more shocking than anything burglars could dream up, which was a postal worker driving across his mother's front lawn. Instead of stopping in the driveway and walking the last 20 feet to the front porch, the letter carrier in the video drove across the grass and right up to the doorstep, where she rather carelessly tossed the package before backing up the way she came.
To date the Postal Service has not offered up any details on the identity of the Postal Employee caught in the act, or what her ultimate status will be. From personal experience, I am pretty sure she will not be removed for this incident unless she was in a non-career position, such as Rural Carrier Associate or City Carrier Assistant. The most probable outcome is that she will have to take a temporary unpaid vacation, after which she will get her wages and her job back and can then get back to doing what she does best, using her postal vehicle to make mysterious tire treads appear on people's lawns.
In closing, I hope you will understand that this hub is not all-inclusive. Postal depredations occur on a daily basis; my email notifications are constantly littered with links to them. Since our beloved Benjamin Franklin has now passed on, I consider it my sworn duty to inform you of these outrageous deeds whenever and wherever they occur, so stay tuned for future editions of Postal Crimes and Misdeeds.