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United States Postal Service

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The United States Postal Service released a new Forever stamp honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Oct. 2. The stamp’s unveiling took place at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery during a first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony that was open to the public.

Designed by Ethel Kessler, an art director for USPS, with a Michael J. Deas oil painting based on a photograph by Philip Bermingham, the stamp captures the 107th U.S. Supreme Court justice in her black judicial robe and favorite white-lace collar.

“Justice Ginsburg was an iconic figure who dedicated her life to public service and the pursuit of justice,” said USPS Board of Governors Chairman Roman Martinez IV. “She was a true pioneer, and it is our honor to celebrate her incredible legacy in this way. This stamp serves not just as a tribute but as an inspiration for future generations to uphold the values she fought for.”

Joining Martinez for the ceremony were Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent at National Public Radio; Lori Dym, USPS procurement and property law managing counsel; Elizabeth Glazer, founder of the public safety nonprofit Vital City; and Ginsburg’s granddaughter Clara Spera, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and senior associate at WilmerHale.

The Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp and is available in panes of 20 at select Post Office locations nationwide and at usps.com/shopstamps. Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.

The stamp will serve as a lasting tribute to the Brooklyn native who has left an indelible impact on American jurisprudence and society at large.

Ginsburg’s multifaceted legacy includes the legal and social changes she helped to bring about; the example she set of tenacity and perseverance in the service of meaningful work; the inspiring passion that she brought to her dissents in defense of principles she held dear; and the countless people — young and old, men and women — who view her as a role model.

About Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ginsburg was a lifelong trailblazer as a woman in a male-dominated field, a law professor, an expert on anti-discrimination and equal protection law, and a judge who was unafraid to dissent from her colleagues in steadfast defense of her principles.

In a distinguished career that began as an activist lawyer fighting gender discrimination, Ginsburg was a respected jurist whose strong dissents on socially controversial rulings made her an icon of American culture.

President Bill Clinton nominated her to serve as a Supreme Court justice in 1993, and she subsequently earned praise for her pragmatism and willingness to build consensus. After a 2007 decision upholding a federal abortion procedure ban, she took the unusual step of reading her dissent aloud from the bench, a practice she continued with greater frequency during her second decade on the court.

In 2011, she received an honorary law degree from Harvard, which she attended for two of the three years of her legal education. In 2012, she was the subject of a panel discussion at Yale Law School prior to being named the first Gruber Distinguished Lecturer in Women’s Rights. In 2013, an issue of the Harvard Law Review included several warm tributes to her jurisprudence, and she received the Radcliffe Medal from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2015 for her role as a socially transformative figure.

In 2013, a popular blog created by a New York University law student elevated Ginsburg to the status of “Notorious R.B.G.” — a humorous play on the name of late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. — and further enshrined her as an icon of American popular culture. In 2016, Ginsburg and two biographers published “My Own Words,” which became an immediate New York Times bestseller. The 2018 documentary “RBG” brought additional attention to her life and work, and another film released that year, “On the Basis of Sex,” dramatized Ginsburg and her husband arguing her first discrimination case in the 1970s.

Ginsburg was a lifelong fan of opera, and during her time on the bench she came to be seen as one of the country’s foremost promoters of the art form. In 2015 she attended the debut of a one-act operatic comedy that dramatized her friendship with fellow Supreme Court justice and opera lover Antonin Scalia, a conservative with whom she frequently disagreed on legal matters.

During her Supreme Court years, Ginsburg battled cancer several times but always insisted on returning to the bench as quickly as possible after treatments. Even as she became more visibly frail, her determination to stick to her rigorous, much-publicized daily workout routine and her regular, relentless schedule of work earned her ever greater admiration as she demonstrated her endurance and the strength of her commitment to causes she had championed for a lifetime.

Ginsburg died at the age of 87 on Sept. 18, 2020, at her home in Washington, DC, of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

After Ginsburg’s death, she lay in repose for two days at the Supreme Court — outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time — after which, during a private ceremony, she was the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.

New Snow Globe stamps from the U.S. Postal Service are now available for purchase.

Beloved by children and adults alike, snow globes can be miniature worlds of white, kitschy souvenirs of memories made or tiny works of art caught in a whirling microcosm. Celebrating the spirit of the holidays, the U.S. Postal Service captures the playful pleasure of snow globes on four new stamps.

“People collect all sorts of souvenirs on their travels: coffee mugs, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets — but none are as enchanting as snow globes, creating snowstorms you stir up with a flick of the wrist, that gradually settle to display a world in miniature,” said Sheila Holman, dedicating official for the stamps and marketing vice president for the Postal Service.

New Snow Globe stamps from the U.S. Postal Service are now available for purchase.

The dedication ceremony for the Snow Globes stamps took place at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge. The stamps are now available at Post Office locations nationwide and online at The Postal Store at usps.com/shopstamps.

Joining Holman at the ceremony were Gregory Manchess, stamp artist; Eric Mamula, mayor of Breckenridge; Scott Reid, deputy town manager and winter sports enthusiast; Jonathan Oetken, winter sports host and master of ceremonies for the event; and Harry Rinker, author of a book about snow globes and noted antiques writer.

“Snow globes cause wonder,” said Rinker, who is also a member of the Postal Service’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee and a snow globe collector himself. “Every shake is different and each time a globe is shaken, it is the beginning of a new adventure. Shaking a snow globe is an opportunity to relive a multitude of childhood, winter, and winter holiday memories.”

The first published reference to snow globes was in a report of the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle, where several manufacturers exhibited “snowstorm paperweights,” as they were called at the time. Beginning around 1900, snow globes began appearing as souvenirs at tourist sites around Europe.

Over the years, snow globes have been called by many names — snow dome, water globe and snowfall weight, among others — but the most widely used name today is snow globe. Though “globe” seems to indicate a sphere, they come in almost any shape that can contain the liquid inside. The container is often mounted on a base, though sometimes the shape, such as a bottle, allows it to stand alone without a support. The base might enclose a music box; other modern embellishments can include lights and animation of the scene inside.

Derry Noyes, an art director for USPS, designed the Snow Globes stamps with original art by Manchess. Painting in oil, Manchess created the designs featuring icons of the season, each spherical snow globe sitting on a brown base: a snowman wearing a jaunty red-and-white scarf; Santa Claus on a rooftop, preparing to climb down the chimney; a reindeer standing in a snowy forest; and a snowy tree decorated with colorful ornaments.

In each snowy scene, white flakes fly beneath the dome of glass, with the words “forever” and “USA” in the lower left-hand side of each stamp. The booklet cover features a detail of the snowman globe. To the left, the title Snow Globes is in capital letters of icy white and blue. The booklet includes 20 stamps, five each of the four designs.

The Snow Globes stamps are being issued as Forever stamps, which will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.

Postal Products

Customers may purchase stamps and other philatelic products through the Postal Store at usps.com/shopstamps, by calling 844-737-7826, by mail through USA Philatelic or at Post Office locations nationwide. For officially licensed stamp products, shop the USPS Officially Licensed Collection on Amazon.

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Image courtesy of USPS

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), the U.S. Postal Service recently introduced new festive Piñatas! stamps in a dedication ceremony at the 36th Annual Piñata Festival in Roswell, New Mexico.

These Forever stamps come in four designs — two donkeys and two seven-pointed stars — celebrating the traditional Mexican fiesta favorite.

This is the third consecutive year the Postal Service has issued a Hispanic-themed stamp. In September 2021, USPS issued Day of the Dead stamps, and in July 2022, USPS issued Mariachi stamps.

“One of the reasons I feel proud to work at the Postal Service is because we are one of the nation’s oldest and most admired public service institutions. Part of that proud history is celebrating our multi-faceted heritage through stamps. Ours is truly a world culture, and our stamps allow us to weave together the many threads of our national tapestry, and piñatas are the perfect example of this,” said Isaac Cronkhite, chief processing and distribution officer and executive vice president, U.S. Postal Service, who served as the stamps’ dedicating official.

Other participants at the stamp ceremony were Juan P. Oropesa, City Councilor, Roswell, NM; Timothy Z. Jennings, Mayor of Roswell, NM; Alma Salas, Board President, Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce; Felipe Flores, Jr., Western Division, Senior Director of Processing Operations, U.S. Postal Service; Yesenia Prieto, Executive Director and Piñata Maker and Artist, Piñata Design Studio; and Emily Zaiden, Director and Curator, Craft in America Center.

Background

Image courtesy of USPS

Scholars believe piñatas might have their origins in China, where medieval European explorers described a New Year’s custom that sounds familiar to us today. A brightly decorated animal figurine was beaten with a stick until it broke open, releasing the seeds contained in the hollow interior. After the remains of the vessel were burned, the ashes were gathered for good luck during the coming year.

By the 14th century in Italy, a similar practice — possibly imported from China by Marco Polo — became part of festivities during the season of Lent. Rather than the brightly adorned figure that featured in the Chinese ceremonies, the Italians used an undecorated clay vessel called the pignatta (“fragile pot”), which was filled with sweets rather than seeds. As the custom migrated to Spain, breaking the pignatta — piñata in Spanish — evolved into a form of celebration on the first Sunday in Lent. The piñata came to the New World with Christian missionaries in the 16th century.

At the time of the Spanish arrival in what is now Mexico, the Indigenous people had their own traditions. The Aztecs, for example, decorated clay pots with feathers and filled them with small gifts. After hanging clay pots in front of statues of their gods, they struck the pots with sticks until the vessels broke and the treasures inside fell to the ground as offerings.

Spanish missionaries combined these ceremonies with their own Lenten tradition to attract Christian converts. Used as religious instruction, the piñata represented the devil and temptation. The blindfolded “player” symbolized blind faith armed with the stick of goodness; breaking open the piñata showed the triumph of good over evil.

Today, the piñata is still an important part of many celebrations in Mexico and the United States, and the custom has spread to other countries. Piñatas feature in all manner of festivities: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. They are a traditional part of the posadas, a nine-day festival held in early December that commemorates Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.

Historically, the piñata-maker — called the piñatero or piñatera — began with a clay pot as the base, which was covered with shredded paper and engrudo (a paste made from water and flour or cornstarch).

The design emerged as the maker attached cones and other forms to the prepared pot. Gluing strips of curled and cut tissue paper over the entire structure, the artist turned the clay vessel into a swan or a bull or a seven-point star — almost anything imaginable. Today, a traditionally crafted piñata might begin with a frame made of reeds tied with string; a homemade piñata sometimes uses a balloon as the base. Whether mass-produced, handcrafted by artisans or made at home, piñatas are easily found to fit any occasion or taste.

The customs surrounding piñatas today are very similar to those from centuries ago. Filled with treats and presents, the piñata hangs by ropes that can be manipulated to move up, down or sideways. A blindfolded player tries to strike the piñata with a stick while the rope is pulled to make a direct hit more difficult. Each player takes a turn until one breaks the piñata, scattering its contents on the ground to be gathered up by all the participants. Though the meaning of breaking the piñata has evolved, the result is still the same: bounty for all.

Stamp Art

The stamp art features four digital illustrations of two traditional piñata designs — a donkey and a seven-pointed star. The bright, saturated color palette was inspired by Mexican culture, including the vibrant colors of small-town houses, traditional hand-sewn dresses, handmade toys and flowers, and classic piñatas themselves. The donkey illustrations are set against either a pink or orange background; the stars feature either a purple or green background. The background colors add to the exuberant and celebratory feel of the stamps.

Víctor Meléndez created the original art and designed the stamps. Antonio Alcalá was the art director.

The Piñatas! stamps are being issued in booklets of 20 stamps. These Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.

Postal Products

Customers may purchase stamps and other philatelic products through the Postal Store at usps.com/shopstamps, by calling 844-737-7826, by mail through USA Philatelic or at Post Office locations nationwide. For officially licensed stamp products, shop the USPS Officially Licensed Collection on Amazon.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Mailbox fishing and check washing, two pernicious crime phenomena, are on the rise.

The United States Postal Inspection Service defines check washing as a scam involving “changing the payee names and often the dollar amounts on checks and fraudulently depositing them.” Often, thieves steal the checks from mailboxes, removing the ink using commonplace chemical agents.

Chelsea Binns, assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, described check washing as an “old school fraud” that is ascending in popularity.

“It is actually the second most common form of consumer fraud right now,” trailing only identity theft, she told TBR News Media in a phone interview.

Carrying out mail theft is relatively simple, Binns noted. Mailbox fishers commonly send a “line” into a post box, often with a sticky end.

“Similar to catching a fish, they’re using these devices and techniques to catch the check out of the mail,” she said.

After stealing the check, criminals can use commonplace chemical agents, such as nail polish remover, to “wash” the stolen checks, removing and changing the payee and amount to suit their preferences. Fraudsters can either cash the check themselves or sell it online in the underground market.

While check fraud is a longstanding practice, the crime has spiked following the COVID-19 pandemic. A February report by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network indicates mail theft complaints rose 161% between March 2020 and February 2021 compared to the same period over the previous year.

While there have been cases of U.S. postal service employees committing fraud, the report suggested the rise has been driven by non-USPS employees — ranging from rogue individuals to organized criminal operations — carrying out mail thefts.

David Shapiro, a distinguished lecturer at John Jay College, is a fraud risk and financial crimes specialist. Reached by phone, he detailed why these crimes are multiplying regionally and nationally, noting the relative ease with which one can become a check fraudster.

“It’s a low-tech fraud, so it makes it available to so many people,” he said. “Granted, it can get higher tech when you want to expand the network and make it more profitable for organized criminals … but you can enter this business basically as a solo practitioner.”

Compounding this problem is the crime’s profitability, which he indicates has increased considerably due to broader financial trends.

“The number of checks in circulation is way down, but the average value of the checks is way up,” he said. “Now you’re fishing, but you’re not fishing for minnows. You’re fishing for flounders, making it more appealing to the low-tech street thief.”

While much of the national discourse around these crimes centers around security breaches within the postal delivery system, Shapiro regarded the problem primarily as a payment system problem.

“It’s being driven by the banks because the banks are ultimately liable for this kind of thing,” he said. “The customer is not out [of pocket], generally. The fraudster gets away, so basically it’s a bank liability.”

Given the scale and reach of the crime, these losses can compound astronomically. Earlier this year, Randy Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, reported that check washing now accounts for more than $815 million per year in losses to individuals, businesses and financial institutions.

In the face of these challenges, there are tangible ways to protect oneself from mailbox fishing and check washing. Binns advises using a black-ink gel pen when writing out checks.

“That sinks into the check’s fibers, and it can’t be washed,” she said.

The assistant professor also advised against using one’s residential mailbox for check deliveries, and recommended mail with issued checks be taken directly to the post office and handed to a postal worker. She said mailboxes, even those placed outside the post office, are at risk of fishing.

She lastly advised consumers, particularly elders, to explore transitioning to online payment systems, removing the risks associated with paper checks altogether.

“Unfortunately, it’s time for us to change our habits to try to combat this,” Binns concluded.

The North Country Peace Group stood outside the Setauket post office Aug. 12 to show support for the system. Photo from the North Country Peace Group

The North Country Peace Group, a local grassroots organization, held a vigil in front of the Setauket post office on Route 25A Aug. 12 to show support for postal workers and to express concerns that the Trump administration’s cutbacks in United States Postal Service services will undermine mail-in voting, according to a press release from the group.

About two dozen people took part in the hour-long demonstration, titled, Sound the Alarm: Attacks on the USPS Threaten Our Democracy. Several protesters went inside the post office to thank the postal workers and to deliver a message directly to the postmaster.

“Since President Donald Trump’s (R) new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy instituted cuts designed to slow down the mail, deliveries are languishing at postal hubs,” the press release read. “This year, with so many people choosing the safety of mail-in ballots due to the COVID pandemic, a delay in mail delivery could deny voters’ constitutional rights and egregiously impact the November election.”

Many drivers honked in support of the ralliers who held signs that read “Protect Mail-In Voting,” “Save the USPS — Save democracy,” and “Thank You, Postal Workers.”

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The money police said a St. James man sent to St. Louis as part of a phone scam. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police worked in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to intercept cash sent by a St. James man as part of a phone scam.

Police said a 79-year-old man received a phone call April 8 from an individual who claimed the man’s grandson had been involved in a motor vehicle crash and subsequently arrested. The caller said the victim needed to send $9,500 in cash to an address in St. Louis to be utilized for his grandson’s bail.

This kind of scam has been used before, where scammers pretend to be a family member needing cash for bail. Scammers often use social media to get facts about the person before calling up family members, usually the grandparents.

The man, who sent the cash via USPS, then spoke with his grandson and determined the call was a scam and called police. Financial Crimes Unit detectives contacted officials at the New York office of the Postal Inspection Service who then contacted officials in the St. Louis office. Postal inspectors intercepted the package prior to delivery and turned over the cash to detectives April 14 to be returned to the victim.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the Financial Crimes Unit detectives who kept an innocent victim’s money from making its way into the hands of a scammer — a result that is not always easy,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said. “We would like to remind people to be alert to scams such as this one, as well as those involving the IRS, Social Security and utility companies. It is also important to be aware of emerging scams relating to COVID-19.”

For more information on scams, visit www.suffolkpd.org.

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File photo from USPS website

By Amanda Perelli

The Port Jefferson Station post office has a new postmaster.

Matthew Bertsch, previously the United States Postal Service postmaster in Syosset for three years, started his position in April and said since then has worked to ensure all day-to-day operations go smoothly. He said his top priority is to make sure mail gets delivered, accurately and timely to the community.

“It really is all about the community,” Bertsch said. “I want everyone to understand that my door is always open to them. If there’s an issue, just ask for a little understanding and I’ll be more than happy to discuss with them what the issue is and how we can resolve it.”

When he’s not at work, he umpires baseball at the collegiate level and helps with varsity football. Living in Selden with his wife and three daughters, he said he’s very family oriented.

He encouraged members of the community to stop by the post office, located at 544 Jefferson Boulevard, at any time to discuss possible improvements or suggestions on what the post office can do to better serve them and the community.