Briefs: Judge calls out 'politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service'

File photo by Indian Country Today

Associated Press

News briefs for September 18

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them "a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service" before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service. 

The states challenged the Postal Service's so-called "leave behind" policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first class mail.

The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time.

"The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service," Bastian said.

He also said the changes created "a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised."

Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written order later Thursday that closely tracked the relief sought by the states. It ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the "leave behind" policy, to treat all election mail as first class mail rather than as slower-moving categories, to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail, and to inform its employees about the requirements of his injunction.

Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is reviewing its legal options, but "there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives." 

Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, called the notion any changes were politically motivated "completely and utterly without merit."

Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines. 

But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections.

At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards. 

He also said slow-downs caused by the "leave behind" policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization's top priority.

Lightning storm, easterly wind: How the wildfires got so bad

SALEM, Ore. — It began as a stunning light show on a mid-August weekend — lightning bolts crackling in the skies over Northern and Central California, touching down in grasslands and vineyards.

The National Weather Service warned that the dry lightning striking a parched landscape "could lead to new wildfire." 

It turned out to be a huge understatement. Thousands of bolts ignited hundreds of fires in California and at least one in Oregon, setting the stage for some of the most destructive wildfires the West Coast states have seen in modern times.

One month later, firefighters are still battling them, and at least 34 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington.

"What really was jaw dropping for people was the fact that this really changed the paradigm that people have in terms of their sense of security," said Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Jim Gersbach. "These burned so close to populated areas, driven by this wind — basically unstoppable."

At town hall, Biden blasts Trump's 'criminal' virus response

MOOSIC, Pa. — Joe Biden on Thursday went after President Donald Trump again and again over his handling of COVID-19, calling Trump's downplaying of the pandemic "criminal" and his administration "totally irresponsible."

"You've got to level with the American people — shoot from the shoulder. There's not been a time they've not been able to step up. The president should step down," the Democratic presidential nominee said to applause from a CNN drive-in town hall crowd in Moosic, outside his hometown of Scranton.

Speaking about Trump's admission that he publicly played down the impact of the virus while aware of its severity, Biden declared: "He knew it and did nothing. It's close to criminal." 

Later, Biden decried Americans' loss of basic "freedoms" as the U.S. has struggled to contain the pandemic, like the ability to go to a ballgame or walk around their neighborhoods. "I never, ever thought I would see just such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration," he said.

Biden faced a half-dozen questions about the coronavirus and a potential vaccine in the town hall from moderator Anderson Cooper and audience members. The pandemic was not just the main topic of the night — it was the cause of the unusual format of the event: a drive-in with 35 cars outside PNC Field.

Trump heats up culture war in appeal to Wisconsin voters

MOSINEE, Wis. — President Donald Trump stepped up his rhetoric Thursday on cultural issues, aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural Wisconsin voters as he tries to repeat his path to victory four years ago. 

Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Trump views success in the state's less-populated counties as critical to another term. He held a rally Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.

Trump has increasingly used his public appearances to elevate cultural issues important to his generally whiter and older base, as he hinges his campaign on turning out his core supporters rather than focusing on winning over a narrow slice of undecided voters. In Mosinee, he called for a statute to ban burning the American flag in protest — a freedom protected by the Supreme Court — and criticized sports players and leagues for allowing demonstrations against racial inequality.

"We have enough politics, right," he said, joking that sometimes, "I can't watch me." He added of protests in sports, "People don't want to see it and the ratings are down."

Earlier Thursday, in a speech at the National Archives to commemorate Constitution Day, he derided The New York Times' "1619 Project," which aimed to recognize the often overlooked consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

Trump and Biden hit unlikely battleground state of Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota has backed Democratic presidential candidates for nearly half a century and rarely receives much attention during the final stages of the race, when campaigns typically focus their resources on more traditional swing states like Florida or Pennsylvania.

But Minnesota will feel like a genuine battleground on Friday when President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, campaign here to mark the beginning of early voting.

They're expected to avoid the urban core of Minneapolis to focus on rural and working-class voters, some of whom shifted to Republicans for the first time in 2016. Trump will be in Bemidji, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, while Biden will swing through Duluth, on the banks of Lake Superior and close to the Wisconsin border.

Since narrowly losing Minnesota in 2016, Trump has focused relentlessly on the state in hopes that a victory this year could offset losses in other states. He has visited regularly and kept a close eye on issues of particular importance to rural corners of the state, reversing an Obama administration policy prohibiting the development of copper-nickel mining and bailing out soybean, corn and other farmers who have been hurt by trade clashes with China. 

More recently, he's embraced a "law and order" message aimed at white suburban and rural voters who may be concerned by protests that have sometimes become violent. That's especially true in Minnesota, where the May killing of George Floyd by a police officer sparked a national reckoning on systemic racism.

Rescuers reach people cut off by Gulf Coast hurricane

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Rescuers on the Gulf Coast used boats and high-water vehicles Thursday to reach people cut off by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, even as a second round of flooding took shape along rivers and creeks swollen by the storm's heavy rains.

Across southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, homeowners and businesses began cleaning up, and officials inspected bridges and highways for safety, a day after Sally rolled through with 105 mph (165 kph) winds, a surge of seawater and 1 to 2 1/2 feet (0.3 to 0.8 meters) of rain in many places before it began to break up.

Sally sped up late Thursday, moving at 15 mph compared to its previous crawl of 3 and 5 mph (5 and 8 kph), but was still dumping heavy rains in southeastern Virginia and eastern North Carolina, where forecasters also said there was a chance of tornadoes. The storm was expected to dump as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) in parts of the Carolinas and southern Virginia, prompting warnings of flash flooding and moderate river flooding. As much as 8 inches of rain fell in central Georgia on Thursday. 

In hard-hit Pensacola and surrounding Escambia County, where Sally's floodwaters had coursed through downtown streets and lapped at car door handles on Wednesday before receding, authorities went door-to-door to check on residents and warn them they were not out of danger.

"Please, please, we're not out of the woods even if we've got beautiful skies today," said Escambia County emergency manager Eric Gilmore.

'Forrest Gump' author Winston Groom dead at 77

FAIRHOPE, Ala. — Winston Groom, the writer whose novel "Forrest Gump" was made into a six-Oscar winning 1994 movie that became a soaring pop cultural phenomenon, has died at age 77.

Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope, Alabama, said in a message on social media that Groom had died in that south Alabama town. A local funeral home also confirmed the death and said arrangements were pending.

"While he will be remembered for creating Forrest Gump, Winston Groom was a talented journalist & noted author of American history. Our hearts & prayers are extended to his family," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

"Forrest Gump" was the improbable tale of a slow-witted but mathematically gifted man who was a participant or witness to key points of 20th century history — from Alabama segregationist Gov. George Wallace's "stand at the schoolhouse door," to meetings with presidents.

It was the best known book by Groom, who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and graduated from the University of Alabama in 1965, according to a biography posted by the university.

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