Postage, oil, fuel mileage, the sneeze

Thursday, April 18, 2002

First-class postage rates will increase to 37 cents from 34 cents June 30. All postage rates are going up an average of 7.7 percent. Postmaster General JACK POTTER also announced there would be no more postal-rate increases until at least the beginning of 2004.

On April 5 the Postal Service unveiled its plan for postal transformation which argues for long-term change authorizing the service to operate more like a private business. That's an uphill battle with unions and major postal users lined up to oppose the plan.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the fundamental obstacle is a unionized work force of nearly 800,000 people and a highly politicized management that makes privatization impossible. U.S. representatives and senators are also more interested in protecting jobs in some mail-processing centers than in productivity and reform.


Oil prices going up? When I was in Cuba recently, FIDEL CASTRO had high praise for Venezuela President HUGO CHAVEZ (a Fidel Castro wannabe) who has destabilized that country to the point of being overthrown by the military for 48 hours. He came back into power because of the inept handling of the supposed democratic government.

Venezuela exported 2.5 million barrels of oil a day ... and the US. stock market rose and gasoline prices dropped when Chavez was dethroned.

SADDAM HUSSEIN (Iraq) exports 1.5 million barrels of oil a day (4 percent of world production and 8 percent of US. imports). He recently announced that Iraq would stop exporting oil for 30 days to protest Israel's anti-terrorism campaign in the West Bank.

Think the world's not getting smaller? Venezuela was one of the major Third World countries that Castro was supporting along with training doctors, athletes, and coaches.

The turmoil in Venezuela is also a reminder of Latin America's dangerous deterioration. Most haven't noticed but (according to the WSJ) half of that continent is in political or economic trouble -- or both -- following a decade of U.S. mistakes or neglect (reversing most of the gains made during RONALD REAGAN'S presidency).

Maybe the Chavez fiasco will alert American elites, especially Sen. Chris Dodd, to stop indulging Cold War grudges and start addressing current problems in the region. (Dodd has been stopping confirmation of some Bush appointees to Latin America.) As The Journal comments:

"One virtue of true democracy is that there are basic freedoms that not even huge majorities can overwhelm. Mr. Chavez's expropriation of private property, his creation of Castro-style block committees to spy on families and his reshuffle of management at the state oil company finally made him unpopular, and demonstrators took to the street to demand his ouster. They were fired on and at least 16 were killed in a huge anti-Chavez demonstration. This butchery precipitated the coup.

"It failed, and now Mr. Chavez is back, and with him no doubt deeper Venezuelan polarization. Saddam Hussein has hailed his return and Castro and Gadhafi cannot be far behind. That these rogues are Mr. Chavez's best friends tells us a lot about Venezuela's future."


Bloody bad idea: Several U.S. senators are pushing legislation to substantially increase fuel-mileage requirements for cars and light trucks, including the ever-popular sport utility vehicles. Proponents claim the higher standard will save us millions of barrels of oil a day. Nice theory, but it's fatally flawed. Boosting the corporate average fuel economy requirement, also known as CAFE, will increase joblessness and cause more carnage on the highways.

The technology doesn't yet exist to manufacture the large-cylinder engines that power SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks to run at 35 miles per gallon. Increasing the CAFE would add up to $2,500 in compliance costs to the price of a vehicle, in essence a tax on middle-class America.

Congress instituted mandatory CAFE requirements in the late 1970s. Our dependency on fuel oil has increased 50 percent since then. When cars are more fuel-efficient, people tend to drive them longer.

There is a moral issue here. Last summer a panel at the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the original CAFE requirements had contributed to as many as 2,600 traffic deaths in a single year. CAFE forces manufacturers to make smaller cars. Smaller, lighter cars are less safe in crashes than larger ones because they have less mass to absorb hits and less interior space to act as a cushion. How does increasing mayhem on the highways enhance the environment? If Washington honestly wanted to reduce gas consumption, it would raise the gas tax considerably. Thankfully, that's a political no-no.

The government should focus on increasing both the supply and the sources of oil. Mexico, for instance, could greatly increase its production of oil if its citizens enjoyed the same property rights we take for granted in the U.S. Discover oil south of the border, and it will be seized by Pemex, Mexico's national oil company. That's no incentive for the vast, active type of exploration we have here. The same is true in Russia and China, where oil potential has barely been scratched. And, of course, Congress could pass the Administration's proposal to explore and develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, whose oil output could well exceed imports from Iraq. -- Steve Forbes, Forbes magazine


The sneeze: They walked in tandem, each of the 93 students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and moms freely brushed away tears.

This class would not pray during the commencements ... not by choice but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance, and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were routine ... until the final speech received a standing ovation.

A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then he delivered his speech ... an astounding sneeze.

The rest of the students rose immediately to their feet, and in unison they said, "GOD BLESS YOU." The audience exploded into applause. The graduating class had found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future ... with or without the court's approval. -- From an e-mail

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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