Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Broke - U.S. Post Office system may shut down entirely this winter -

Broke - U.S. Post Office system may shut down entirely this winter  - 

The United States Postal Service has long lived on the financial edge, but it has never been as close to the precipice as it is today: the agency is so low on cash that it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due this month and may have to shut down entirely this winter unless Congress takes emergency action to stabilize its finances.

“Our situation is extremely serious,” the postmaster general, Patrick R. Donahoe, said in an interview. “If Congress doesn’t act, we will default.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Donahoe has been pushing a series of painful cost-cutting measures to erase the agency’s deficit, which will reach $9.2 billion this fiscal year. They include eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing up to 3,700 postal locations and laying off 120,000 workers — nearly one-fifth of the agency’s work force — despite a no-layoffs clause in the unions’ contracts.
The post office’s problems stem from one hard reality: it is being squeezed on both revenue and costs.
As any computer user knows, the Internet revolution has led to people and businesses sending far less conventional mail.
At the same time, decades of contractual promises made to unionized workers, including no-layoff clauses, are increasing the post office’s costs. Labor represents 80 percent of the agency’s expenses, compared with 53 percent at United Parcel Service and 32 percent at FedEx, its two biggest private competitors. Postal workers also receive more generous health benefits than most other federal employees.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearingon the agency’s predicament on Tuesday. So far, feuding Democrats and Republicans in Congress, still smarting from the brawl over the federal debt ceiling, have failed to agree on any solutions. It doesn’t help that many of the options for saving the postal service are politically unpalatable.
“The situation is dire,” said Thomas R. Carper, the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the postal service. “If we do nothing, if we don’t react in a smart, appropriate way, the postal service could literally close later this year. That’s not the kind of development we need to inject into a weak, uneven economic recovery.”
Missing the $5.5 billion payment due on Sept. 30, intended to finance retirees’ future health care, won’t cause immediate disaster. But sometime early next year, the agency will run out of money to pay its employees and gas up its trucks, officials warn, forcing it to stop delivering the roughly three billion pieces of mail it handles weekly.
The causes of the crisis are well known and immensely difficult to overcome.
Mail volume has plummeted with the rise of e-mail, electronic bill-paying and a Web that makes everything from fashion catalogs to news instantly available. The system will handle an estimated 167 billion pieces of mail this fiscal year, down 22 percent from five years ago.
It’s difficult to imagine that trend reversing, and pessimistic projections suggest that volume could plunge to 118 billion pieces by 2020. The law also prevents the post office from raising postage fees faster than inflation.
Meanwhile, the agency has had a tough time cutting its costs to match the revenue drop, with a history of labor contracts offering good health and pension benefits, underused post offices, and laws that restrict its ability to make basic business decisions, like reducing the frequency of deliveries.
Read more -

Think before you tweet - 2 Mexicans Deny Terrorism, Face Possible 30-Year Sentence for Tweet -

Think before you tweet - 2 Mexicans Deny Terrorism, Face Possible 30-Year Sentence for Tweet - 

A former teacher turned radio commentator and a math tutor who lives with his mother sit in a prison in southern Mexico, facing possible 30-year sentences for terrorism and sabotage in what may be the most serious charges ever brought against anyone using a Twitter social network account.
Prosecutors say the defendants helped cause a chaos of car crashes and panic as parents in the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz rushed to save their children because of false reports that gunmen were attacking schools.

Gerardo Buganza, interior secretary for Veracruz state, compared the panic to that caused by Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of "The War of the Worlds." But he said the fear roused by that account of a Martian invasion of New Jersey "was small compared to what happened here."
"Here, there were 26 car accidents, or people left their cars in the middle of the streets to run and pick up their children, because they thought these things were occurring at their kids' schools," Buganza told local reporters.
The charges say the messages caused such panic that emergency numbers "totally collapsed because people were terrified," damaging service for real emergencies.
Veracruz, the state's largest city, and the neighboring suburb of Boca del Rio were already on edge after weeks of gunbattles involving drug traffickers. One attack occurred on a major boulevard. In another, gunmen tossed a grenade outside the city aquarium, killing an tourist and seriously wounding his wife and their two young children.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/09/04/2-mexicans-deny-terrorism-face-possible-30-year-sentence-for-tweet/#ixzz1X1dTRVBq

Russians evicted from homes for Olympics - ahead of the 2014 Winter Games -

Russians evicted from homes for Olympics -  ahead of the 2014 Winter Games - 

Sochi native Vladimir Tkachenko needed a decade to build a house on his modest salary. He then had 11 hours to move all belongings out of the way for the bulldozers clearing the way for a new road.
Tkachenko's violent eviction, which has recently alarmed the Sochi community, is only the latest incident in what critics say is the darker side of Sochi's Olympic preparations ahead of the 2014 Winter Games.
The father of two, who had to seek medical assistance after bailiffs hit him over the head with an electric shock baton, does not shy with his words: "It's real fascism," he told AFP a week after his family's three story brick house was reduced to rubble.
"We scream that we are a democracy, but judging by the way people are treated we are in a cavemen state," Tkachenko said. "I don't understand anything. I am completely lost."
Russia is to hold the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in its southern resort of Sochi, and has pulled out all the stops to develop massive sports and transportation infrastructure on time in an area that has been a residential and agricultural backwater south of the city.
But while visiting IOC officials praise the Russian government's efforts to remake the Black Sea city into the future sports capital, locals and observers say the undertaking is economising on the locals' wellbeing.
About 1,000 families have to be relocated under eminent domain to make room for Olympic venues and roads that are part of Sochi's 2014 Games development plan.
A letter sent late last year to the IOC by the Human Rights Watch said that "in most cases, expropriation takes the form of a forced sale" that is neither transparent nor fair.

Read more -

Nude webcam photos lead to cross-border lawsuit -

Nude webcam photos lead to cross-border lawsuit - 

A U.S. judge has cleared the way for an Ohio woman to sue a Vancouver-based software company after naked video-chat photos of her were snapped without her permission.
According to court documents, the woman, Susan Clements-Jeffrey, is a Springfield-based substitute schoolteacher who says that in 2008 she purchased a used laptop for $60 from one of her students, who told her he had a new computer and didn't need it anymore.
At the time, Clements-Jeffrey, a widow in her 50s, had renewed a high school romance with a man living in Boston, Carlton "Butch" Smith, and the pair were sending sexually explicit webcam photos to each other.
The laptop, however, had originally been purchased by Ohio's Clark County School District, which had installed Vancouver-based Absolute Software's LoJack for Laptops theft-recovery software on it.
Clements-Jeffrey became aware that explicit photos of her from the web chat were snapped by Absolute's theft recovery unit when police showed them to her.
Read more -