UPDATE: The House passed the REINS Act by 241-184 at 5:30 PM on December 7.

In a purported effort to trim $3 billion in costs, the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced Monday it will move forward with a plan to terminate next-day delivery of first-class mail, including everything from letters to postcards to large envelopes. Facing the damning reality of bankruptcy, officials also plan to close the doors of more than half of the 461 processing facilities that have been vital to the effectiveness of next-day delivery.

Having lost 29 percent of its first-class mail volume in the last 10 years, USPS officials view a reduction in its network of post offices and processing centers as necessary to endure the stale economy and technological advances such as e-mail correspondence and online bill-paying that have burdened revenues.

"The fact of the matter is our network is too big. We’ve got more capacity in our network than we can afford," David Williams, vice president for network operations, asserted during a press conference Monday. "More importantly, we've got to set our network up so that when volume continues to drop, our network is nimble and flexible enough to respond to those volume losses." Williams assured that service standards would not change before next April.

The move would lower delivery standards for first-class mail for the first time in 40 years, as the distance between post offices and processing centers will broaden.

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.

 

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.
 

Mainland China remains Communist China. Marxism, or perhaps Maoism, remains the political philosophy of government in this giant nation. Although Marxism has been a resounding failure everywhere it has been tried — except, of course, for the party elites — communists still propound the virtues of their system. One of those virtues is that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” means that strikes do not exist under communism because the workers hold power.

Someone forgot to tell the workers at the Hi-P International plant in Shanghai. More than 200 of these workers have gone on strike, and the strike entered its third day on December 2. The workers were chanting slogans and carrying banners that demanded answers from management. The strike was principally prompted by fears of big layoffs, and it was part of more general labor unrest in China.

Thousands of workers have gone on strike or begun work stoppages at factories that are part of China’s export industries. This has interrupted the supply of such products as shoes, bras, watches, and electronic equipment. The companies claim to operate on a razor thin profit margin and that there is no room for pay hikes, and, indeed, the workforces in some facilities may be reduced.

Top Masonic leaders met with the heads of European Union institutions to discuss spreading “democracy” and human rights in Europe and throughout the EU’s so-called “neighborhood,” according to a press release issued by the Brussels-based emerging continental government. Critics of the supranational regime, meanwhile, pointed out the irony of unelected regional rulers discussing democracy — especially after the EU-backed overthrow of democratically elected leaders in Italy and Greece in recent weeks.

The November 30 meeting, "A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity: a common willingness to promote democratic rights and liberties," was hosted by EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, a former underground Maoist leader in Portugal before adopting a more moderate stance and entering the political world. Among the EU officials in attendance at the gathering were European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

"Building a future based on democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice is a task and ambition of the European Union, and much still remains to be done, not only in the neighborhood of the European Union, but in our own countries, too,” Commission President Barroso said in a statement. “I am glad to see that participants share a deep concern for the promotion of those values which are and have to remain at the core of the European project."

Economist and conservative commentator Don Boudreaux attended the opening of the Institute for Justice (IJ) on September 10, 1991, and thought to himself at that time that “it sounded like a good idea.” Looking back at what IJ has accomplished since then, Boudreaux says, “IJ’s success over the past two decades is nothing short of phenomenal.”

At the ceremony marking the beginning of IJ, co-founder Clint Bolick spelled out exactly what they intended to do, and recognized the enormous changes in the way of their doing it. IJ is going to be focused, he said, on “removing barriers to opportunity and helping low-income people earn their share of the American Dream.” For instance:

Little Devon Williams, who was able to escape the cesspool of the Milwaukee Public Schools and instead get a good education in an excellent neighborhood private school, thanks to the nation's first real parental choice program. I tell you, the inspiration, the look of joy and optimism on their faces, speak volumes to the fact that we are right, and that we must persevere in these efforts that are only barely begun….

Each of us possesses fundamental rights that no government may take away. If any of us loses our rights, we all lose our rights. And if [anyone] does not have liberty, then none of us has liberty. We have so much work to do.

JBS CEO Art Thompson's weekly video news update for December 5-December 11, 2011.

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