Another Write-wing Conspirator

Commentary, observations, musing, and ranting from the middle of the road (or just to the right of center. Usually.) featuring The Curmudgeon

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  • Welcome to The Curmudgeon’s lair

    Welcome to my curmudgeondom. As you’ll soon learn, your reactions to my missives here are likely to range from fear to loathing to tears to outright rage—and I just might even evoke from you an occasional sober nod or two.

    If you see a posting you like and wish to share it with others, by all means feel free to do so. I'd prefer that you send the link to your friends, but you're also welcome to reproduce anything here—as long as you retain my identity on the document. If you have a web site of your own and wish to post a link to this blog (or to a specific post), again, feel free to do so.

    The purpose of this blog is simple: to provide me a vehicle for sounding-off on whatever topic suits me at the moment. While there’s sure to be no shortage of politically-oriented palaver here, it is by no means all (nor necessarily even most) of what will be proffered to your discerning mind. You’ll also find that my personal politics, ethics, morals, and standards are pretty much “all over the map” (according to my mother-in-law)—so, don’t be surprised to see rants regarding, say, the interference of churches in politics, politically-correct anything, “nanny” laws, taxes, the United Nations, Congress, the Commissioner of Baseball, the State of Ohio’s speed limits, steroids, Jesse Jackson, the “mainstream” media, ultra-liberals, ultra-conservatives, the price of cigarettes, Obamarxism, regulating sales of alcohol, gasoline price manipulation, Muslim foot baths, illegal immigration, laws banning the sale of adult sex toys, cell phones, heavy-handed cops, meddlesome politicians, Hillary, Billary, our all-but-self-proclaimed uncrowned Queen Nancy, “W”, eminent domain, freedom of speech, and the designated hitter all in succession. It is, as I said, my curmudgeondom — and I have the credentials and bona fides to lay claim to the title of The Curmudgeon. So, there.

    Some of the postings you'll encounter may seem familiar—especially to those who know me personally. By way of explanation… I once had an ongoing relationship with a local newspaper, and had a number of published opinion pieces—some of which may be posted here. My arrangement was for a feature entitled An Opposing View; given that the editorial staff had a generally liberal, left-of-center view, it stands to reason that my "opposing" view would generally be perceived as coming from the right (in more ways than one, in my own humble opinion). These posts will be annotated as having been previously published.

    Comments, of course, are always welcome. You may agree or disagree with me. Doesn’t matter. Of course, I reserve the right to completely ignore you — but, feel free to let your feelings be known, anyway. And if you don't want to comment directly here, my e-mail address is: jimseeber@gmail.com .

    Oh, and…yes, I can spell. That "Write-wing" is only a play on words. So, there. Again.

    Welcome, once again. Strap in and hang on.

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    Armchair philosopher, politically-incorrect political commentator, raconteur, retired air traffic controller, dilettante truck driver, US Army veteran, recluse, sometime-writer, redneck convert neè Buckeye, ne'er-do-well, bon vivant, unrepentant libertine, unapologetic libertarian, and (of course) curmudgeon…

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Archive for the ‘labor’ Category

The Money Pit: An Old Law Holds True

Posted by The Curmudgeon on August 11, 2010

Parkinson’s Law meets Obama…and Pelosi…and Reid…

In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parkinson first advanced a concept which eventually became known as “Parkinson’s Law.” Though it’s undergone some revisions and refinements (and led to a number of corollaries), its basic premise remains: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

For example, imagine a worker performing a routine task normally requiring sixteen man-hours (nominally, two business days) to complete. Now, imagine that some genius efficiency expert determines that forty hours (one work week) should actually be alloted for this task. According to Parkinson’s maxim, over a period of time our worker will adjust his routine to expend all forty hours alloted for the task—though he’d previously accomplished the same task on numerous occasions within the constraints of the old standard of sixteen hours. (It could also be argued that for a unionized operation there would be an additional demand for overtime—but, that’s fodder for a different rant.)

One popular corollary of this basic premise will sound familiar to most readers: Data expands to fill the space available for storage (i.e., go ahead and buy that humongous hard drive that makes your current drive look puny by comparison—but, you’re still gonna fill it up).

Another corollary is attributed to Parkinson, himself, and is sometimes referred to as “Parkinson’s Second Law”: Expenditures rise to meet income.

Based upon that assertion, one might reasonably deduce that the esteemed Mr. Parkinson must have at some point studied the spending habits of Democrats.

One might also be inclined to pose a hybrid corollary: Congress increases spending to consume whatever money is available—and even spends money that ain’t there.

Most budgets (whether business, military, or household) are intended to establish limits—not goals to attain. Employees are — from the top down — generally encouraged to find ways to reduce spending. Bringing in a project “under budget” is regarded favorably, as doing so makes available previously committed funds to be applied to other projects; should an overly-generous authorization be encountered, it’s not considered acceptable to spend more lavishly in an effort to insure that all alloted funds are exhausted. Exceeding the budget isn’t allowed; when one runs out of alloted funds, there simply isn’t any more money to spend. Work stops. The household has to wait until next month to buy that new television. The Army parks its tanks, trucks, and helicopters because there’s no money to purchase fuel. Plants close. Employees are furloughed.

Conversely, consider recent comments made by Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) to a gathering of his constituents:

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here, and I didn’t really need to come up here to learn it, is the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice. The only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice. Which is why, whether its balanced budget acts or pay as you go legislation or any of that—it’s the only thing.” (And now for the best part—with emphasis added…) “If you don’t tie our hands, we’ll keep stealing.”

One scarcely knows whether to be aghast at Perriello’s unexpectedly frank admission or curiously relieved by the refreshing honesty of it; at any rate, it at least confirmed what many already believed. (We’ve been known to sing the praises of an honest crook from time to time.)

Of course, Mr. Perriello overlooks recent history. Obama himself (after racking-up trillions in debt) exhorted Congress to adopt “paygo” to ensure that future expenditures would be deficit-neutral. Congressional Democrats enthusiastically(?) accepted the challenge and shepherded the legislation to passage.

…then began side-stepping their own brand spanking-new rule less than a week later.

More recently, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) cut short Congress’ summer recess, summoning members back to Washington to pass new bail-out legislation, tweeting that “I will be calling the House back into session early next week to save teachers’ jobs and help seniors & children.” (more on that in a moment) The price tag? More than $26 billion added to the staggering deficit (forget actually paying for the measure; all this spending merely adds to the mounting debt—for which there are no funds). Actually, the measure as written assigns the tax debt to U.S. firms operating in overseas markets; however, if these firms respond by simply not shifting funds back home to be taxed, the burden for the resulting shortfall (added to the potential loss of $120 billion in profits that might also be kept overseas) would be transferred to…us.

The latest? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (you know; the federally-financed lenders on which Congress just spent billions upon billions of bail-out dollars it doesn’t have) just crawled back out of the woodwork, hats in hand, to beg for another $3 billion in federal alms. (Don’t breathe a sigh of relief, just yet; this latest request is merely intended to cover the shortfall for the current fiscal quarter. Stay tuned.)

Oh, and (in case it escaped anyone’s attention) there was yet another report released a few days ago showing that the massive “stimulus” package last year had been squandered in large measure on such boondoggles as:

  • $762,000 to create interactive choreography programs at the University of North Carolina
  • $296,000 for a study of dog domestication at Cornell University
  • $2,000,000 to send researchers from the California Academy of Sciences to islands in the Indian Ocean to study exotic ants
  • $500,000 for new windows at the Mt. St. Helens visitors center in Amboy, Washington. (The building has been closed since 2007 and there are no immediate plans to reopen it.)
  • $89,000 to replace sidewalks in Boynton, Oklahoma (The “old” sidewalks had been built only five years before. Moreover, one of them goes nowhere near any houses or businesses and leads directly into a ditch.)
  • $1,200,000 to create a museum in an abandoned train station in Glasboro, NJ

It should be noted that it’s unclear whether this “stimulus” package — intended to create jobs — actually created more than a relative handful.

How does this happen?

No great mystery. Remember the health care reform package? Remember how scandalized we all were to learn that virtually no one in Congress had read it prior to voting on it? It was 1,017 pages long.

This year’s federal budget is 2,450 pages long; how many people do you think have read all of that one? Or last year’s? Or the year before?

Pork-barrel projects are generally concealed very carefully within such spending measures; it’s sometimes nearly impossible to figure out who inserted specific expenditures (if anyone even notices them). In many cases, it’s a matter of “you vote for mine, and I’ll vote for yours.”

And we give these clowns the key to the treasury. Which probably explains why it’s currently empty.

As to Pelosi’s latest effort? Forget saving teachers’ jobs; that’s not what it’s about.

This bail-out is superficially intended to help debt-ridden states (those that refused to rein-in spending…California and New York, for example—blue states, it should be noted) to balance their budgets. The fix will be temporary, as these states have yet to make the necessary cuts in expenditures to ensure long-term viability (last year’s $862 billion “stimulus” package included $145 billion to balance state budgets—and it obviously didn’t last very long). So, Congress will now be voting to decide whether the states that practiced fiscal responsibility are ultimately going to be taxed to bail-out those that refused to.

But, wait; there’s more (R.I.P., Billy Mays). Consider these figures compiled by Americans for Limited Government in a recent newsletter:

Out of the estimated 3.3 million public school teachers nationwide, teachers’ unions were expecting about 160,000 layoffs this year—roughly 4.8 percent of all teachers. Slightly more than 38 percent of those expected layoffs are centered in just three states: 9,000 in New Jersey, 16,000 in New York and 36,000 in California.

About 57 percent of those 160,000 teachers are unionized, with contributions to state and local unions averaging $300 per teacher. Add another $162 per teacher to the National Education Association and $190 per teacher to the American Federation of Teachers (as reported by Education Next), and Congress will in effect be voting to pump no less than $40 million (emphasis mine) into the political coffers of teachers’ unions.*

Quickly, now; which party do you think will be the beneficiary of union contributions?

In other words: If you’re a Republican in a state that has a balanced budget, you can expect to be taxed not only to pay for wasteful spending in California and New York, but also to contribute indirectly to Democrats’ campaign funds.

Not that Queen Nancy (from California—just in case you’ve forgotten) has such thoughts in her mind. She just wants to help teachers and old folks and children. Oh, and cops and firefighters (again, widely unionized). Just ask her.

Just don’t ask her exactly what’s in the measure, nor what it’s actually intended to achieve. (Remember that she once said that Congress “has to pass the legislation in order for you to find out what’s in it.”)

Her mission is, at best, to spend more and more money that we don’t have.

Once again, Parkinson is proven a sage.

So is Congressman Perriello.

Somebody tie Washington’s hands—quickly.

 

 

UPDATE: The $26 billion in spending has been approved by Congress and awaits Obama’s signature.

The watchword now is “BOHICA.” (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again)

* ALG drew heavily from the following sources:

NetRight Daily How 39 Dems and Snowe and Collins Gave $40 Billion to Teachers Unions
EducationNext The Long Reach of Teachers Unions
The Heritage Foundation Teachers Unions Stifle Education Reform

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Posted in budget, corruption, debt, deficit, economy, education, election, federal bail-out, labor, obama, Parkinson's Law, Pelosi, politics, Reid, stimulus, tax, waste | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Damaged goods,” obstructionists, and politics as usual

Posted by The Curmudgeon on March 29, 2010

The Theory of Relativitism

 

For those who might’ve slept through the event, the Obama regime announced Saturday the recess appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. (It seems that less-than-popular news is quietly released on Saturday mornings—when it’s presumed that no one’s paying much attention; remember Van Jones?)

Ever on the alert for opportunities to refine the nation’s thinking, Democrats seized on the opportunity to branch out; correcting our poor math skills seems to be their new mission—though not to the exclusion of politics-as-usual relativism.

To refresh readers’ memories…

Relieved at having managed to scrounge-up a sole Republican vote (though it required a lavish bribe—and they subsequently lost it, anyway) when the House initially passed its health care reform package, Democrats smugly pronounced it a “bipartisan” effort. (Note that Democrats at the time considered one (1) vote by the opposition to constitute “bipartisanship”; this is a crucial bit of information.)

Conversely, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week blamed the failure to gain Senate confirmation for Craig Becker on “obstructionist” Republicans; similarly, Obama decried the “partisan politics” that forced him to use the back-door approach of recess appointment. Both Reid and Obama neglected to mention that Becker’s nomination was blocked by a similar bipartisan effort; indeed, two (2) Senate Democrats joined Republicans in opposing Becker. (Pop quiz for the New Democrat Math: When is one (1) vote out of 228 House Republicans more “bipartisan” than two (2) votes out of 59 Senate Democrats?)

It should be noted that Obama didn’t seem to consider himself to be of the obstructionist persuasion when he assisted in blocking the confirmation of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations; he did, however, assert that Bolton had to be considered “damaged goods” for having gone on to the U.N. via recess appointment by then-President George W. Bush.

Clearly, he doesn’t consider his own recess appointments to be likewise tainted—and both “bipartisanship” and “obstructionism” similarly come fully-equipped with sliding scales.

Recess appointments are nothing new. Given their controversial natures, both Bolton’s and Becker’s appointments were widely predicted. Any President is well within the bounds of law in making such appointments; it’s implicit, though, that such a tactic will draw criticism—especially from the opposing party.

Nor is there anything new about obstructionist tactics, filibusters, and the rest of the same old, same old: politics as usual. One man’s guardian of the law standing in the breach is another’s obstructionist; it’s all a matter of perspective. It’s all relative.

The big difference? This all centers around a President who vowed to change how Washington does business. It involves a Speaker of the House who vowed to “drain the swamp” and bring a higher level of ethics and accountability to government. Since the Obama regime’s rise to power, the promised “transparency” has taken on the appearance and consistency of granite. And as for listening to the will of the people—

…not unless you’re Big Labor or a Democrat donor with deep pockets.

So-ooooo…how’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?

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Posted in corruption, Craig Becker, labor, obama, opinion, Pelosi, politics, recess appointment, Reid, Senate confirmation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Working Hard—or Hardly Working?

Posted by The Curmudgeon on January 16, 2010

How greed hastened our decline

I happened to catch a recently-aired news piece that immediately seemed all too familiar.  A company that manufactures sports equipment had decided to shut down its operation in favor of moving the whole works to another country—where labor costs were considerably lower.  The workers interviewed exhibited the usual degree of concern over their futures, a company spokesman explained the market forces involved, and we were treated to a sneak-peek at the new operation.

“Nothing new,” you might say?

Not quite.

The operation marked for termination was in Mexico; the newer, cheaper operation was in China.  The company itself was a long-established firm that had years before closed its U.S. operation in favor of cheaper labor in Mexico.  Moreover, this was not the first such Mexican plant to close—nor is it likely to be the last.

I relate that story as a lead-in, of course.  As such stories often do, this set my fertile (some would say “fecund”…or even “fetid”—and I’m nowhere near being out of “F” words, yet) mind to wondering.  And wandering.

At the close of World War II, the U.S.—the place that then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt had characterized as “the arsenal of democracy” (ironically, he was actually referring specifically to Detroit)—was the unquestioned world leader in virtually every manufacturing field.  From stoves to steel to guns to shoes to ships to airplanes to pretty much everything, we were It, the dominant power without peer owing both to the wartime industrial build-up and the simple fact that all the other nations’ manufacturing bases had been decimated by several years of aerial bombardment or hostile occupation.

We all know by now, of course, what’s transpired in the interim.  Countless U.S. factories have closed, thousands of workers have been thrown-out of what were once secure jobs, and even entire industries all but disappeared.

What happened?  How did we go from being the world’s leading producer of so much to being the producer of…well, basically reality-based television shows and corporate mergers?

This decline isn’t completely attributable to any single cause.  While it may seem to some a convenient diagnosis to cite a combination of greed and laziness on the part of the average worker, it’s important also to consider what some view as the indefensibly lavish—even scandalous—levels to which executive compensation soared.  In recent years we’ve been stunned by revelations of astronomical salaries and bonuses, extravagant lifestyles, and outrageous “perks” bestowed upon high-ranking corporate officials—many of whom presided over firms reeling from staggering losses.  Government regulation and environmental policy have also played key roles, gradually creating an ever less-hospitable business environment—elevating both production costs and exposure to litigation.  Unfair trade practices affecting foreign markets have posed ongoing woes, largely through protective barriers.  Automation has also dramatically reduced the number of workers required.  And of course the very nature of our economic base has undergone dramatic change.

That said, the one factor looming largest is labor cost; it simply costs less now to produce many goods outside the U.S.  As domestic labor costs have risen, foreign-based manufacturing facilities have flourished owing to the availability of cheaper labor.

Here’s a thought: We know the effect of rising domestic labor costs, and we’ve heard the condemnations of organized labor for effectively pricing many workforces out of their respective markets—but does that tell the entire story?  Yes, unions typically press for higher pay and benefits (arguably, sometimes unreasonably so), but…why?  Certainly, some of this effort is genuinely intended just to improve the workers’ lot.  Still other demands seem intended merely to maintain a union’s own viability and relevance (i.e., unions must continually secure something for their members in order to justify their own existence—and to retain the member support vital to the unions’ survival).  In some areas, however (the auto industry comes immediately to mind), wages not only adversely impacted industry viability, but shocked the rest of the nation.  Added to this were the demands for more lucrative benefit packages that inflated overall compensation even more.  How does one justify paying an assembly-line worker more than six figures per year?  For that matter, how does one justify the audacity of demanding that kind of compensation in the first place?  What about those guarantees of wages being paid during periods of seasonal layoffs—effectively requiring the employer to pay people for not working?

Let’s go back to the aforementioned new factory in China.  What were the workers there doing before the factory opened?  Were they employed?  Were they among the lowest-paid unskilled labor?  Maybe eking-out an existence on a family-operated farm?

In turn, what were the workers in Mexico doing for a living before the (now) soon-to-close plant first opened?

In general, operations relocated to countries offering reduced labor costs have proved a boon to the local economies where they were introduced.  Though low by prevailing U.S. standards, compensation for local workers generally brought a substantial improvement in standard of living at the time the plants were established—just as they initially provided opportunities for U.S. workers more than a century ago as the domestic economy transitioned from its largely agrarian base.

Which brings us back to why the U.S. plants closed in the first place.  Why did labor costs rise?  More to the point: Why were (perceived) excessive demands made by the labor force—the very demands that contributed, at least, to their own demise by making foreign labor more attractive?

For generations, this country offered virtually limitless opportunity—to those willing to work for it.  Family histories abound with tales of great-great-great grandfathers who uprooted their families from other countries to come here seeking their fortunes.  Many (though certainly not all) succeeded.  They set their sights on a goal, achieved it, and rested on the fruits of their labors and risks.  Quite a few entrepreneurs along the way established businesses and built factories, boosting the local economies where they were situated.  Vast numbers of unskilled (and to no small degree unemployed) workers learned in-demand trades and secured good jobs.  They went on to live relatively comfortable, secure lives—not as comfortable as the entrepreneurs, of course (who had, after all, made the initial investment making it all possible, assuming all the risk)—but the lives they ultimately led were measurably better than the lives that had seemingly awaited them.  Consequently, this also led to the rise of what have come to be called “the working class” and “blue-collar” workers.  Again, in many ways this domestic experience presaged  that of the Chinese and Mexican workers of recent years.  (Keep in mind that this emergence was related to the spread of the Industrial Revolution, and became a world-wide phenomenon—and note that neither “working class” nor “blue-collar” is synonymous with “unskilled”.)

Now, let’s revisit the U.S. industrial capacity at its zenith: post-World War II.  Notwithstanding the legions of returning soldiers who took advantage of the G.I. Bill to obtain college educations, many servicemen returned to their pre-war jobs or found similar employment.  A great many were wage-earners, whether skilled and unskilled labor; truly blue-collar.  They generally earned a decent paycheck.  They would typically live in a modest—but respectable—home.  They weren’t rich, but they provided well for their families.  Most could manage at least one family vacation per year, drove late-model (though not necessarily new) cars, and could even manage to put a little into savings.  With some creative financial management and judicious spending, they could even send their kids off to college.  For most, life wasn’t so bad.

Except for two things.

With the growth of the “white collar” workforce, there appeared a growing tendency to look down on those of the working class…as though actually working—like with their hands—was something about which to feel somehow inadequate.  As the armies of white shirts, ties, and suits grew, so did the gulf between the two classes—in both pay and in prestige.  Well-appointed offices and desks seemed somehow superior to punching time clocks and getting dirty, and the paychecks of the respective classes generally reflected this.  (Some white collar positions did lag behind, though; indeed, there even appeared a movement around 1980 calling for equity in “comparable worth”, with its agenda being advanced most prominently on behalf of female office workers annoyed that they were paid less than some labor-intensive working-class jobs would typically pay—though there don’t seem to be many accounts of secretaries and clerks trading their air-conditioned offices and business attire for coveralls and heavy manual labor in brutal weather conditions.)  At a time when image gained importance, white collar professions (and the trappings thereof) loomed larger in stature.

And then there’s Man’s basic nature to always want more.  As our happy wage-earners surveyed the difference between their standard of living and that of the “suits,” they wondered why they weren’t more equitably compensated.  Their skills were certainly essential (do you think that most purchasers of a brand-new Mercedes or Cadillac are likely to maintain or repair their own vehicles—or pump-out their own septic tanks?).  Perhaps they were initially justified in demanding a larger slice of the pie—and with increased income came the ability to afford more of the extravagances that would also serve the dual purpose of equalizing the prestige enjoyed by the white collar workforce.  But how much more would be enough?   Should our assembly line worker be able to afford the twenty-acre estate that a board chairman commands?  Are we all entitled to our own private jet?  More importantly…when does “enough” become “too much”?  Where should the line(s) be drawn?

Economists assert that such lines are determined for us by market forces.  Simply put: If you demand more than you’re worth (what the market will bear), your job disappears.  Knowing what that limit is, however, is often difficult; it goes without saying, then, that any negotiation becomes something of a gamble—and the greater the demand, the greater the risk.  With the advent of “outsourcing” and “moving offshore” during the latter part of the twentieth century, the stakes were raised even higher as another dimension was added to an already-competitive business environment.

Labor simply demanded too much—and several foreign economies became the beneficiaries of this miscalculation.

Significantly, some view this international redistribution as a normal occurrence, in keeping with economic evolution as undeveloped (and emerging) nations claw their way onto the global stage—either filling voids left as other nations expanded their “service-oriented” economies viewed as preferable to emphasis on manufacturing, or by simply undercutting competition.  However, this stance ignores both the unfavorable balance of trade that results and the hazard of becoming overly-reliant on foreign sources for a reliable flow of essential goods—and the results of having that flow disrupted.

Look around you.  Start with your feet—or, more correctly, your shoes.  Chances are that they were made overseas—and the odds are that they came from China.  Check the labels on your clothes.  Sri Lanka?  Malaysia?  Dominican Republic?  How about all your gadgets?  You may think your computer, at least, was produced domestically—but were its components imported?  Even a call to tech support frequently goes to India or Pakistan.

Now consider the impact of these (and many, many more) items suddenly becoming unavailable owing to a brewing conflict in some far-flung corner of the world, catastrophic natural disaster, or insufficient fuel reserves to transport these goods to domestic markets; the seemingly unrelated issue of labor costs abruptly becomes very much a national-security concern.

…largely because we devalued the virtue and integrity of real work and let our growing desire for extravagance become an unquenchable thirst.

Yes, we’d all like to have a vacation home, a yacht, and other trappings of wealth; unfortunately, that lifestyle simply isn’t in the cards for most of us.  We won’t all be able to send our kids to Ivy League schools, either.  And our personal wealth isn’t likely to rival Donald Trump’s.

What we once had, though, was a respectable job, a comfortable living, and a stable future—much of which we gambled away in an ill-fated quest for perceived stature and unjustifiable wealth.

 

 

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Posted in economy, labor, labor costs, outsourcing, unemployment | 5 Comments »