Last week’s announcement that the auto industry could add as many as 167,000 jobs by 2015 merely confirmed what some economists were saying: that lower wages allow car manufacturers to hire more people more profitably. As part of the agreement between the federal government and the unions in 2007, a lower tier of wages was created in order to halt the hemorrhaging of cash the carmakers were experiencing that led to the bailouts. The unions reluctantly agreed to accept the two-tier system, concluding that a lower-paying job was better than none at all. Before the agreement, auto workers were making about $29 an hour, plus benefits (health insurance and a pension plan), which brought the total to $50 an hour or more. The onset of the recession pricked that “high wage bubble” which had been hidden prior to the recession. Under the 2007 agreement, entry-level workers were paid $14 to $16 an hour, plus benefits, bringing their total compensation to about $25 an hour. Although those wages affect only about one in every six workers, it was enough to allow Chrysler to turn a profit last quarter of $212 million, potentially setting the stage for its first profitable year since 2005. At present it takes between 20 and 30 man-hours to produce a new vehicle. Chrysler’s costs are the lowest of the big three automakers, averaging about $1,250 per vehicle. And so the new wage pact agreed to early this fall will add only a few dollars to the overall price of a new car.
If you’ve seen “Little Blue Dynamos” ads urging you to consume blueberries, you probably assumed they were simply the result of blueberry producers getting together to promote their product. In fact, they are the result of certain blueberry producers’ collusion with the federal government to force all blueberry growers and importers to fund such promotions under the threat of hefty fines for noncompliance. Blueberry producers aren’t alone in using the federal government to wrest marketing dollars from each other. Producers and importers of a variety of other commodities, from avocados to watermelons, are subject to similar treatment. And Christmas tree growers and their customers nearly got socked with a tax of 15 cents per tree this holiday season under the same program — a fate averted only because of a public outcry.  
The joys of Christmas do not include coping with crowds at shopping malls or wracking your brains trying to figure out what to get as a gift for someone who already seems to have everything. Books are a way out of both situations. You don't even have to go to a bookstore, with books so readily available on-line. As for the person who seems to have everything, newly published books are among the things they probably don't always have. One of the most enjoyable new books I read this year was a biography titled Stan Musial: An American Life by George Vecsey. Musial was one of the great hitters in the history of baseball, with a lifetime batting average of .331. This biography, however, is more about Musial the man, and the era in American life in which he lived, which makes it more three-dimensional. It is a good read, and may be especially appreciated by people old enough to remember that era and the values that prevailed in that era, which Musial exemplified.
It's not like the old days in China when the top guys in the Communist Party at least pretended to be pro-equality.  Back then, "poor peasants" were encouraged to denounce and kill "rich peasants" for the crime of being too productive, too individualistic, or insufficiently enthusiastic about self-sacrifice. Today in Australia there's a mansion, overlooking Sydney Harbor, that recently sold for $32.4 million. Its new owner is Zeng Wei, 43, the son of Zeng Qinghong, once one of the most powerful men in the Chinese Communist Party.  
As the year 2011 has witnessed an inordinate number of protests, particularly in the state of Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has proposed a number of steps to restrict certain displays of opposition in his state. Walker has indicated that he wants to introduce a fee to protestors who wish to demonstrate. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week, “Gov. Scott Walker’s administration could hold demonstrators at the Capitol liable for the cost of extra police or cleanup and repairs after protests, under a new policy unveiled Thursday.” According to the policy, groups of four or more people must first obtain permits before conducting any activity or display in state buildings, and must obtain those permits at least 72 hours in advance of any event. The rules regulating displays outside of the Capitol indicate that a permit is required for 100 or more people. There is some wiggle room for spontaneous gatherings in the wake of unforeseen events.  
The House Ethics Committee announced December 2 that it will extend its investigation into allegations that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) or a surrogate offered to raise campaign funds for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for President Obama’s former Senate seat. In a news release, Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) disclosed that the committee will need more time to "gather additional information necessary to complete its review." A newly released report, originally compiled in August 2009 by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) claims there is "probable cause" to affirm that Jackson "directed a third party" to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for a Senate appointment, or knew his surrogate "would likely make such an offer." At least $1.5 million in campaign funding was reportedly offered. There is "substantial reason to believe" Jackson usurped federal law by ordering his congressional staff to launch a "public campaign" to secure the appointment, the report noted. Further, the OCE report named businessman Raghuveer Nayak as a likely third party.  
In an effort to discourage the Mexican government's violations of the human rights of Central American migrants, last Friday more than 30 House Democrats urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put pressure on the Mexican government by making any American aid to Mexico contingent on Mexico's proper treatment of Central American migrants. Led by Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, dozens of Democratic colleagues signed a letter that castigated Mexican authorities for kidnapping, robbing, and extorting money from migrants who cross the Mexican border into the United States. "We believe that strengthening Mexico's efforts to evaluate performance and increase the accountability of its security forces, including the Federal Police and the INM (National Migration Institute) should be key elements of U.S. assistance to Mexico," read the letter. It added that such action is the only way to "ensure that crimes and human rights violations committed by members of these federal agencies do not go unpunished."  
Reports indicate that the predominant costs of implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s new "green" economy regulations are job loss (as coal plants are forced to close) and mass blackouts.  President Obama admitted in a 2008 interview that he is intent on shutting down the U.S. coal industry:  
Two months after receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military bravery, former Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer finds himself in an intense battle with a potentially far more pernicious foe than the Afghan Taliban: a global defense and security contractor with ties to the U.S. military. In late November Meyer filed a lawsuit against his former employer, the U.K.-based defense contractor BAE Systems, for what he charges is retaliation against him after he criticized the company’s pending sale of high-tech sniper scopes to the Pakistani military. According to the suit, after Meyer resigned from BAE in protest over the sale, the company effectively blocked his hiring by another company by claiming he had a drinking problem and was mentally unstable.  
When Brandon Burgess, CEO of ION Television, named the producers of the upcoming Republican presidential debate being cosponsored by Newsmax, in Iowa on December 27, he was ebullient in his praise: “ION, Newsmax and Mr. Trump are committed to host a serious presidential forum which will include some of the most reputable journalists and media people in the country.” The debate will be produced by veterans of CNN, CBS, and NBC News. Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy was no less enthusiastic: “With Donald Trump and the top-notch media and production team led by Eason Jordan [who was president of CNN's news gathering for 23 years] we have organized, we expect that the Newsmax ION 2012 Presidential Debate will have the largest audience of any Republican primary debate to date.” Those named to the production team reflect Ruddy’s long-standing and friendly relationship with the mainstream media, which goes all the way back to when Ruddy started Newsmax with money and significant help from Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon banking interests and one of the 250 wealthiest individuals in the world. Scaife owns and publishes the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which has been criticized for its overt bias in favor of Democratic political officeholders in Pittsburgh. Scaife was known for ignoring campaign finance rules, donating nearly $1 million to President Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972 but escaping without ever being charged. He also endorsed Hillary Clinton in her run for the Democrat party’s nomination in 2008.
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