Civil Disobedience and the Mailman

April 21, 2015

From the Tampa Bay News, "Ruskin gyrocopter pilot says postal officials are telling him not to talk to media," April 20, 2015

The Ruskin mail carrier who last week flew a gyrocopter into restricted airspace over Washington D.C., to make a political statement says he has been put on paid leave with the U.S. Postal Service with orders not to discuss his story with the media.

"I was informed by the acting postmaster—and he sounded like he was reading from a script—that I was on administrative leave pending an investigation," Hughes wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

"I am NOT allowed on postal property without advance permission and I can only enter the building through the front if I do visit with permission. (This injunction always precedes a termination.) I asked about the nature of the administrative leave—it's with pay BUT I'm not allowed to talk to the media AT ALL."

It is another restriction that Hughes said he intends to violate. He said the move amounted to a "gag order" that he did not respect.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service said she could not discuss Hughes' employment status.

"I can confirm that he is a rural mail carrier," said Enola Rice, the USPS regional communications director for Central Florida. "We don't discuss the status of employees.  All I can do is confirm that he is an employee."

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From NBC News, "Gyrocopter Pilot, Doug Hughes, Frustrated His Message Isn't Getting Through," April 19, 2015

Hughes spent a night in jail after Capitol Police arrested him.  The ultralight aircraft and its cargo—a U.S. Postal Service bin carrying the letters—were seized.

Hughes' Russian-born wife, Alena, told the AP that her husband acted out of patriotism for the United States.

Asked Sunday if he too thinks he's a patriot or simply crazy, Hughes said. "Everyone gets to make up their own mind about me, that's what I'd say."

"But do you consider yourself a patriot?" a reporter asked.

"No, I'm a mailman," he said.

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From his Letter to Congress, Doug Hughes, April 15, 2015

“The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it.  They know we know it.  And yet, Nothing Happens!" —John Kerry, 2-13

In a July 2012 Gallup poll, 87% tagged corruption in the federal government as extremely important or very important, placing this issue just barely behind job creation.  According to Gallup, public faith in Congress is at a 41-year record low, 7%. (June 2014)  

Kerry is correct. The popular perception outside the DC beltway is that the federal government is corrupt and the US Congress is the major problem.  As a voter, I’m a member of the only political body with authority over Congress.  I’m demanding reform and declaring a voter’s rebellion in a manner consistent with Jefferson’s description of rights in the Declaration of Independence.

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From Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham, April 15, 2015

Hewitt: Look, today gives a whole new definition of the term going postal, and I want to start there.  61-year-old Florida mailman, Doug Hughes, landed a gyrocopter on your Capitol, your office front lawn this morning.  Do you think he should have been shot out of the sky before he got that close to the Capitol?

Graham: Yes. He should have been subject to being shot out of the sky. I don’t know why he wasn’t, but our nation is under siege.

Radical Islam is a threat to our homeland.  There are probably radical Islamic cells in our backyard already.  And if somebody is willing to, you know, approach vital government infrastructure, they should do so at their own peril.  

I don’t know if he’s mentally ill. I’m glad he’s alive in that regard, if he’s mentally ill, but we’ve got to be more serious about our national security.

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From “Hardball,” Chris Matthews, April 16, 2015

I have got an idea for Congress and the Capitol Police.  Instead of charging this guy on the helicopter, gyrocopter, why don`t you give him community service?  And his community service can be one hour.  And his one hour should be spent addressing a joint session, a joint meeting of the Congress.  He should walk in there and tell them why he did that. And that must all be there to watch it`s.  That can be his community service and we can all watch.  If they put this guy in jail, what a bunch of clowns that would be to do that.

Court dismisses lawsuit over Berkeley post office after USPS rescinds decision to sell the historic building

April 15, 2015

The Postal Service has rescinded its decision to relocate and sell the historic post office on Allston Way in Berkeley, California.  As a result, the legal case challenging the sale has been declared moot by the court, and the case has been dismissed.

The lawsuit was filed by the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation late last fall.  The complaints argued that the Postal Service had failed to comply with federal historic preservation and environmental protection laws (NHPA and NEPA) prior to entering into a contract for sale of the building.

Yesterday, U.S. District Court judge William Alsup dismissed the lawsuits on the ground that they were moot after the Postal Service agreed to his requirement that it make a binding commitment to rescind its decision to relocate retail services and to confirm that the building is no longer for sale.  As noted in the Alsup's ruling yesterday, "no pending sale exists and the property is not currently even listed for sale.  The USPS stated that it has not decided when, if ever, to re-list the Berkeley Main Post Office for sale."

Should the Postal Service change its mind at some point in the future, the court’s ruling says that the Postal Service "must provide plaintiffs with written notice at least 42 calendar days in advance of the closing of any future sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office or any final determination to relocate retail post office services.”  That would give the City and the Trust an opportunity to renew the court case and reassert their arguments concerning NEPA and NHPA.

There's an article about yesterday's ruling on Berkleyside, and the court's order is here.  There's more about the recent developments leading up to the ruling on Occupy Oakland, here.  

The City of Berkeley was represented by Antonio Rossmann (pro bono), and the National Trust was represented by Brian Turner.  Their work has really paid off.  In December, the prospective buyer of the post office canceled the sale, perhaps because of the lawsuit, and now plans to sell the building have been completely dropped. 

Based on the court's ruling yesterday, if the Postal Service were to renew its plan to sell the building, it would need to start at the beginning of the relocation process.  That doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon, so yesterday's decision by the court is definitely a victory for the citizens of Berkeley, who have been fighting the sale since 2012. 

The only downside of Judge Alsup's decision to dismiss the case is that the court never ruled on the merits of the NHPA and NEPA issues themselves.  Thus, the complaints about how the Postal Service goes about selling historic post offices were not litigated, and no precedents were established that might affect the sale of other historic post offices.  And that may be why the Postal Service decided to cancel its plans to sell the Berkeley post office.


Photo credit: Rally outside the Berkeley post office (Berkeleyside.com)

The surprise behind today's Doodle: Google does its part to save the post office

April 14, 2015

Check out the ending of this video about the making of today's Doodle celebrating the anniversary of the Pony Express.  Looks like even Google wants to help save the post office.

Another kind of tax: The Postal Service cuts back at a post office deep in the hood

April 10, 2015

The Postal Service is extending collection hours at many post offices on April 15th for Tax Day, but there's at least one post office in California that's getting a lot less than extended hours.  Customers of the Marcus Foster post office, located on International Boulevard in the heart of Deep East Oakland, have been experiencing a range of cutbacks, and one local writer says the cuts amount to a kind of Hood Tax.

According to an excellent piece written by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, the Postal Service has been cutting back services at Marcus Foster in some very noticeable ways.  The piece appears on his website, Safero.org, here, and there's a follow-up post from earlier this week, here

Allen-Taylor is an Oakland journalist and political commentator who’s written for several Bay Area newspapers.  He’s also the author of a novel, Sugaree Rising (which gets some great reviews on Amazon).  In 2013, the PEN Oakland writers' organization honored him with a lifetime achievement award.

Allen-Taylor describes the cuts in service at the Marcus Foster post office as a type of “Hood tax.”  That’s a reference to the way prices are often inflated in small stores in low-income neighborhoods populated by minority groups.  Or, as he puts more eloquently, an “inconvenience applied to folks enacted for the privilege of living within the confines of areas we once called ‘the ghetto.’”

The Marcus Foster station is not a big office, just over 2,000 square feet, but it can be a very busy place, with a line of ten or more customers waiting at the counter.

Some time ago, Allen-Taylor noted that the Postal Service had reduced the staff from three clerks to one.  There may be plans to bring back a second clerk, he says, but in the meantime, lately there’s been only one clerk at the post office.

That means longer lines, of course, and it may also be the reason that the post office has been closing for over an hour for lunch everyday.  The sign on the door doesn’t provide any explanation, just “closed for lunch.”

The USPS.com Find Locations page currently says the post office is open 9 to 5, and there’s nothing about closing for lunch, so it’s hard to say what that’s all about and how long it will go on.

There have been other cutbacks as well.  Some time ago, the Postal Service removed the two blue boxes outside the post office.  (One was in front on the street, and the other was a drive-up box in the parking lot.)   Presumably the boxes got culled for being under-utilized.  Now you have to go into the post office to mail something. 

That’s not all.   A few months ago, the post office also eliminated package pickup services, as well as pickup for certified and registered mail, for anyone who does not have a post office box at Marcus Foster.  Everyone else needs to go to the post office out near the Oakland airport, on Pardee Drive. 

According to Google Maps, the Airport post office is 2.8 miles from the Marcus Foster office.  If you have a car, it’s a 9-minute drive (without traffic).  If you take the bus, it’s 29 minutes, and if you’re on foot, it’s a 51-minute walk. 

It’s not clear if the Postal Service changed the policy about package pickup in order to be able to reduce the staff, or if it’s having problems staffing the office and had to reduce services because there was only one clerk.  Allen-Taylor suspects that the Postal Service is trying out the one-clerk system to see if the station can get by that way permanently.

The Postal Service owns this facility, and there’s been a post office there since 1982.  (It may have leased the property at some point before owning it.)  There’s no indication at this point that the Postal Service has plans to close the post office and sell the building.

Allen-Taylor is concerned, though, that the cutbacks are prelude to something more — “a test run towards a closing of the Marcus Foster Branch altogether, on the theory that it will get less attention and, therefore, political kickback than, say, selling off the main post office branch in Berkeley.”

The post office is named after Marcus Aurelius Foster (1923 – 1973), an African-American educator who served for many years as Oakland school superintendent and who had a national reputation for educational excellence.  Foster was murdered in 1973 by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army because of his alleged support of a plan to create a student identification card system in Oakland.  In reality, he had opposed the ID cards.  (There's more on Wikipedia.)

Allen-Taylor writes that the Marcus Foster post office “sits in the middle of one of Oakland’s ‘Forgotten Lands,’ those depressed neighborhoods where city officials, the media, and the rest of the city’s resident tend to look when bad things happen.”

He sees the neighborhood differently.  He describes the area, which is called the Elmhurst District, as “made of many good people attempting to raise their families and build a community.”

The people in Elmhurst don't deserve to be forgotten.  They certainly don't deserve a post office that's not properly staffed with full services — like package pickup for everyone, collection boxes outside, and open all day and not closed for lunch.

(Photo credits: Marcus Foster PO on Google Street Views; closed sign on front door)

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