Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Postal workers behaving badly

You ever had one of those days when you want to throw your work in the trash? At least two postal letter carriers did it -- and got caught.

Most of the nation's almost 195,000 letter carriers this year swiftly completed their appointed rounds, but a few bad actors discarded mail or stole thousands of dollars of tax refunds and medication.

A Georgia letter carrier left the U.S. Postal Service in March after admitting he dumped more than 600 pieces of mail into a Dumpster, including Netflix DVDs and first-class mail. He told investigators that he threw out the mail because he wanted to be done for the day. The man is serving 12 months of probation, paid a $500 fine and $182 in restitution to Netflix.

A letter carrier in Alabama was caught on tape dumping more than 250 pieces of mail into a gas station Dumpster. She resigned from the Postal Service in August after pleading guilty to one count of delay of mail.

The bad behavior is detailed in the Postal Service Inspector General's semiannual report to Congress, which covers the period from March to September this year. The watchdog team conducted more than 1,990 investigations that prompted 453 arrests -- very few of which involved postal employees -- and more than $672 million in fines and restitution.

Some postal workers also stole from the mail before it leaves the post office, according to the report. A California postal worker quit in June after investigators caught her rifling through parcels in the back of a parked truck and stuffing pill bottles in her pant pockets and shirt.

Under questioning, she admitted to stealing from hundreds of parcels over four years to support an addiction to Vicodin. The worker resigned, was ordered to pay more than $9,300 in restitution and sentenced to 10 months in jail and six months of probation.

Closer to home, a District letter carrier and two co-conspirators pleaded guilty in July to stealing more than $100,000 in Treasury checks, D.C. government checks and identity theft. A joint sting operation in February between the Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Secret Service and the D.C. Office of Inspector General caught the postal worker mishandling checks belonging to other routes.

Over two years, the letter carrier admitted receiving about $500 for each check passed to her co-conspirators, who would then cash them using fake driver's licenses. She resigned from the Postal Service in July and was sentenced to 25 months in jail and ordered to pay more than $130,000 in restitution.

The Postal Service employs about 580,400 career workers and the actions of those described in the report represent a fraction of one percent of all USPS workers, spokesman Mark Saunders said.

"We are a microcosm of society," he said, adding later that "One offense is one too many and employees who commit illegal acts are dealt with accordingly."


House Dem Peter Welch: Obama's Tax Cut Plan Will Backfire

President Obama may have agreed to the outlines of his tax cut deal with Republicans in the name of bipartisanship, but he shouldn't expect any good will from Republicans in return, one congressman told Hotsheet today.

"The irony of this is the Republicans who are agreeing with this are going to use this deal for two purposes," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a vocal opponent to Mr. Obama's deal. "It will be an argument they use to oppose any spending for helping middle class Americans. They'll say our debt is so great we can't afford it."

Secondly, Welch said, the GOP will "use this addition to the debt against the president, saying he is a budget buster."

Mr. Obama worked behind the scenes in recent weeks to craft a compromise plan for extending the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year. The plan proposes to extend all of the tax cuts -- including those for the wealthiest Americans -- for two years, extend unemployment insurance for about a year, and to cut payroll taxes, among other things. The plan costs a hefty $900 billion, which stands in stark contrast to calls from both the president and members of Congress for deficit reduction.

Mr. Obama has endorsed various proposals for deficit reduction this year, such as a federal pay freeze, and he created a deficit reduction commission that recently released a comprehensive plan for cutting $4 trillion from the federal budget. Welch contends this tax cut deal undermines those efforts.

"The ink's not dry on the Bowles-Simpson report, which made clear we have to make hard sacrifices," he said. Meanwhile, Welch criticized both the president and Democrats for being unable to make the "easy choice" for deficit reduction -- letting the tax cuts expire for those making over $200,000.

Welch is organizing opposition to the plan among House Democrats with a letter he intends to send to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yet he said he is "pessimistic" about its impact, since "whatever we do this year could be undone next year" when Republicans take over the House.

He added, "This is not a debate that can be won without tough presidential negotiation and his willingness to draw that line in the sand."

While Welch and several other lawmakers -- both Democrat and Republican -- are pushing back against the proposal, others say the deal represents a smart move politically by the president.

CBS News Senior Political Producer Robert Hendin reports on economists who predict the plan will spur economic growth.

"While [Democrats] may be upset at parts of the deal, in the end, a stronger economy and new tax cuts - created on THEIR watch - will only help the president's and their electoral chances in the next election," Hendin writes.

CBS News Political Analyst John Dickerson adds, "Obama ran in 2008 as a man who would bring both parties together. Monday night he presented himself as a man who had done just that."

U.S.: Accused teen hit man in Mexico is an American citizen

State Department confirms the boy's citizenship, but offers no further information
"I slit their throats," accused teen hit man says
"I either work or he'll kill me," he says, describing a drug cartel boss
Mexico City (CNN) -- A 14-year-old accused of ruthless killings on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel boss is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Monday.

Gini Staab would not provide any further information.

"We have confirmed the boy's U.S. citizenship but can't say anything more about the boy's situation in the absence of a (provisional arrest warrant) signed by at least one of the parents," Staab said.

Earlier, Staab said that the boy, once his citizenship was confirmed, would be given "all appropriate consular assistance, just like we would for any U.S. citizen arrested and incarcerated overseas." Assistance would include prison visits, information on local attorneys and checks on his welfare, she said.

The teen -- reportedly carrying a birth certificate issued in San Diego -- and two of his sisters were detained Thursday at an airport in central Mexico after an anonymous tip alerted authorities he was heading to Tijuana, Mexico, local media reported.

A spokeswoman for the Mexican attorney general's office said authorities detained the 14-year-old Thursday evening on suspicion of working as a drug-cartel hit man, but declined to provide details.

But the boy faced a battery of questions from reporters after he was detained, answering questions point-blank as camera flashes lit his face.

"I slit their throats," he said, describing what he said was the killing of four people.

The teen told reporters after his capture Thursday night that he was an orphan who joined the Pacifico Sur drug cartel when he was 12. He said Julio "El Negro" Padilla, one of the group's alleged leaders, threatened him.

"I either work or he'll kill me," the 14-year-old said.

With his hands shoved into the pockets of his cargo pants, the 14-year-old told reporters that he was paid weekly in dollars and pesos. But in answering questions about whether he knew what he was doing when he allegedly participated in the killings, the teen said he was under the influence of drugs and unaware of his actions.

"No, I didn't know," he said.

Troops standing beside the teen while the youth was interviewed wore masks to hide their faces -- a common sight in Mexico, where clashes between authorities and cartels have intensified since President Felipe Calderon announced a crackdown shortly after he took office in 2006.

But the teen's face was clearly visible.

Martin Perez, director of Mexico's Children's Rights Network, said late Friday that authorities should not have given television cameras and newspaper photographers access to the 14-year-old.

"It was completely inappropriate, the form of presenting him in front of the media," he said.

"Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent," he said. "Also, it could put his life at serious risk. We have to remember that this is a fight between criminal organizations."

OBAMA grows a pair! Keeping it real.

Facing frustration from Democrats, Obama defends tax cuts deal

A defensive President Obama cast himself Tuesday as the guardian of middle-class Americans and the unemployed, saying sharply that he had to strike a deal with Senate Republicans over the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy in order to protect the fragile economic recovery.

Facing broad frustration from his party's liberal base and many Democrats on the Hill, Obama emphasized the portions of the compromise he reached the previous day that benefit middle class families and the jobless, whose government insurance would have expired without the deal.

Obama said he had little choice but to compromise because he has been unable to persuade Senate Republicans to maintain middle-class tax cuts without also extending the top-tier tax rates for another two years - even though a majority of Americans agree tax cuts on high incomes should end.

"A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people," Obama said during an afternoon news conference.

He also sharply criticized his party, accusing Democratic critics of failing to reasonably assess what he has achieved during a difficult political time. And he compared complaints that he has ceded too much ground on the tax debate to the objections from liberals during the health-care debate.

"This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us," he said. "I know that shocks people. You know, the New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

"Most Americans, they're just trying to figure out how to - how to go about their lives and - and how can we make sure that our elected officials are looking out for us."

Obama spoke as Vice President Biden urged Senate Democrats to support the tax compromise, a $700 billion package that will be paid for through additional borrowing even as public concern mounts over the country's fiscal condition. Liberal Democrats, in particular, are furious over Obama's decision to extend the top-tier tax cuts. Obama campaigned in 2008 and again during the midterm season to end them.

Democrats emerged from their luncheon with Biden divided on the proposal.

"I'm not talking, I'm not talking," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose proposal to let the cuts lapse for income over $1 million was defeated Saturday on a 53 to 37 vote. Schumer has said some Senate Democrats favor allowing the entire Bush tax package to expire on schedule Dec. 31, forcing the next Congress to resolve the issue.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who is chairman of the Budget Committee and also a member of Obama's bipartisan deficit commission, told reporters that he was prepared to support the plan.

"There are parts of it that I dislike very much, but look, we've got to deal with reality here," Conrad said, adding that deficit reduction has "got to be the next shoe that drops here."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), however, said he remained opposed to the plan in its current form, citing the extension of tax cuts for higher earners and the extension of unemployment insurance for only 13 months.

"Why didn't they get unemployment for two years if they wanted to do that?" he added.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was one of several members still on the fence. "I'm not convinced or unconvinced at this stage," she said. "I'm just staggered by the enormity of this package."

Feinstein added that she and other members want to know the consequences of the package. "If we don't vote for this, what happens? Not politically, but economically. If we do vote for it, how sure can we be that it will in fact spawn jobs, pump the economy?" she asked.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that the tax-cut package could still be revised. "We'll work with the president and Congressional Republicans over the next many hours" on the package, he said.

Will Democrats approve the bill?

"Um," Reid paused. "I'm going to do what I think is right."

Republicans emerged from their own luncheon huddle vastly supportive of the package. "I think the vast majority of my members will be supportive," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, calling the legislation "essentially final."

Obama used the news conference to present himself as above a political fight that his core constituency is eager to have with an emboldened Republican Party after a bitter midterm campaign, which culminated with Republicans taking the House and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

Speaking angrily at times, Obama said his "No. 1 priority is to do what's right for the American people" and protect what remains a halting economic recovery. He raised the threat of shrinking paychecks and millions of unemployed without government insurance benefits to carry them through, saying several times that "this is not an abstract fight."

In a nod to the sentiments of his base, Obama said "I understand the desire to fight" and committed to "fight" again in two years to end the top-tier tax cuts when they would be set to expire. He said tax cuts for the wealthy "remain the Republicans' Holy Grail."

But Obama, whose approval rating remains relatively high despite the midterm setback, also expressed deep frustration with his own party. He criticized congressional Democrats for not holding a vote on the Bush tax cuts before the midterm elections, which he said would have "crystallized the positions of the two parties." And he rejected the idea that he has ceded too much ground.

"You know, so this notion that somehow, you know, we are willing to compromise too much, reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again," he said, referring to liberal criticism over his inability to secure a government-run insurance option in his health-care overhaul.

Before the luncheon, many Senate Democrats were mum on whether they would support the deal, which would include the temporary extension of the George W. Bush administration tax cuts for all income levels, the extension of unemployment benefits for 13 months and a 2 percent cut in payroll taxes. Several said they were taken back by the scale of the proposal, which would also reenact the inheritance tax and extend college-tuition tax credits among other changes.

"It's very difficult to be for anything until you've seen everything," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told reporters as he headed into the luncheon. "Right now it looks to me like it's going in the right direction, and I reserve my judgment until I've seen everything."

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) stopped short of endorsing the package but signaled that he would support the reduction in the payroll tax, which he said would help stimulate the economy.

"The vice president is going to speak to us today, and I just want to keep my options open," Baucus said before the luncheon. "Whatever we can do to get the bulk of the American middle class working and companies hiring people and so forth, that's what I care about most."

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), meanwhile, said that he was "disappointed" to learn of the deal by reading about it in the newspaper and sounded an initial note of skepticism on it.

"We have a $13 trillion debt. We don't need to add another trillion dollars to it," Dorgan said. He then paused and added, "Well, let me look at the details and understand what they're doing."

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she had been one of a few Democrats to vote for the tax cuts under President George W. Bush. She said, however, that the cuts were funded by a large federal surplus at the time.

"Those tax cuts were paid for," Landrieu said. "We're now being asked to vote for a package that's not paid for."

Some liberal Democrats have lambasted the White House for the deal, with Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) going so far as to suggest that he would filibuster the bill should it reach the Senate.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on Tuesday added his voice to the chorus of Democrats dissatisfied with the deal.

"I think it's 'Let 'em eat cake,' that kind of attitude," he said, meaning giving benefits to the wealthy at the expense of the country. He said the cuts would give him a smaller tax bill, but "I don't need it."