Nation briefs 2/9/14

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WASHINGTON -- The Postal Service lost $354 million over the last three months, and officials warned that mounting losses could lead to cash flow problems for the rest of the year, the agency said Friday.

The loss was far less than the $1.3 billion in the comparable quarter the previous fiscal year, but Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe continued to press Congress to give the agency more flexibility to manage its finances.

The report for the financial quarter ending December 31 comes as Congress works toward fixing the agency's troubled finances. On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill that would end Saturday mail delivery and make permanent a temporary hike in the cost of a first-class stamp, which went from 46 to 49 cents on Jan. 26.

The Senate measure also would restructure a congressional requirement that forces the agency to make a $5.6 billion annual payment for future retiree health benefits. The Postal Service has been urging Congress to reform the service's finances as it continues to cope with steep financial losses. The Postal Service lost $5 billion in the last fiscal year, down from $15.9 billion in 2012.

"We cannot return the organization to long-term financial stability without passage of comprehensive postal reform legislation," Donahoe said.

On the positive side, the Postal Service said revenue grew by $334 million, driven by a 14.6 percent growth in shipping and package services that saw a boost from the holiday season. But first-class mail declined 4.6 percent.

NSA collecting less than 30 percent: The National Security Agency collects less than 30 percent of calling data from Americans despite the agency's massive daily efforts to sweep up the bulk of U.S. phone records, two U.S. newspapers reported Friday. Citing anonymous officials and sources, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal both said the NSA's phone data collection has had a steep drop-off since 2006. According to the newspapers, the government has been unable to keep pace since then with a national surge in cellphone usage and dwindling landline use by American consumers. The Post said the NSA takes in less than 30 percent of all call data; the Journal said it is about or less than 20 percent. In either case, the figures are far below the amount of phone data collected in 2006, when the government extracted nearly all of U.S. calling records, both newspapers reported.

Applying same-sex ruling to Justice: In an assertion of same-sex marriage rights, Attorney General Eric Holder is applying a landmark Supreme Court ruling to the Justice Department, announcing Saturday that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages. The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programs, and Holder says same-sex couples will qualify for them. They include the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries in the line of duty.

Sentenced for passing classified info: A State Department expert on North Korea pleaded guilty Friday to passing classified information to a journalist, and has agreed to a 13-month sentence in a deal with prosecutors, pending a judge's approval. Stephen Kim, who pleaded guilty to making an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, faced a maximum of 10 years in prison had he been convicted of that charge. Prosecutors agreed to drop a second count, making false statements. If he had been convicted of both crimes at trial, Kim would have faced 15 years in prison, his lawyer said. Kim could be released in less than a year for good behavior. The case stems from a June 2009 story by Fox News journalist James Rosen. He reported that U.S. intelligence officials warned the president and senior U.S. officials that North Korea would respond to a UN Security Council resolution condemning nuclear tests with another nuclear test.

Acquitted on terrorism charges: During an atmosphere two years ago when Chicago authorities were warning demonstrations could turn violent at an upcoming NATO summit, the chief prosecutor chose to invoke an almost never-used Illinois law to charge three self-described anarchists with terrorism. After jurors acquitted them Friday of all terrorism charges -- convicting them instead of lesser arson and mob action counts -- journalists asked Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez if, in hindsight, she regretted filing the more-serious charges. "Absolutely not!" she said, her voice rising in a courtroom hallway. "I would bring these charges (again) tomorrow morning -- with no apologies and no second-guessing." Prosecutors had accused Brian Church, Jared Chase and Brent Vincent Betterly of plotting, in the weeks leading up to the summit, Molotov cocktail attacks on President Barack Obama's campaign office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home and police stations.

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