Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama and to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. It is great to live in a country where every citizen has the right to vote, but is not required to vote. Where every citizen has a choice, and is not given a ballot with only one name on it... It is great to live in a country where anyone, rich or poor, can aspire to, and even become, President of the United States of America. As we say, hooray for the U.S.A.!

Key Dates for President-elect Obama: Born on August 4, 1961 to Ann Dunham and Barack Obama; his mother took him to Indonesia on January 1, 1967 and remarried. On January 1, 1971, he returned to Honolulu to live with his grandparents; on September 1, 1979, he enrolled in Occidental College. On September 1, 1981, he transferred to Columbia University, and on September 1, 1990, he was elected the first black President of the Harvard Law Review. On June 1, 1991, he graduated from Harvard Law, married Michelle Robinson on October 3, 1992; was elected to the Illinois State Senate on November 4, 1996, and was re-elected on November 4, 2002.

Two Books and the Senate: His first book, Dreams From My Father, was published on August 10, 2004; he was elected to the U.S. Senate on November 2, 2004, and then published his second book, The Audacity of Hope, on October 17, 2006.

The Announcement: On February 10, 2007, he announced he would seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for President. On January 3, 2008, he won the Iowa Caucus and on November 4, 2008, he was elected President.

Key Dates for Michelle Obama: On January 17, 1964, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson was born in Chicago; she graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in 1981; from Princeton University in 1985; and from Harvard Law School in 1988.

Work Life: Worked for Sidley & Austin in 1988; in 1989 began dating the future President-elect; left the law firm in 1991 to work as Assistant to the Mayor of Chicago; was married in 1992; became Executive Director, Public Allies in 1992 and Associate Dean, University of Chicago in 1996; in 2002, appointed Executive Director for Community Affairs for University of Chicago Hospitals.

National Picture: In 2005, Michelle Obama was promoted to Vice President for Community and External Affairs at University of Chicago Hospitals; from 2007 on, she worked full time for her husband's Campaign. On November 4, 2008, she became the next First Lady.

Super Happy: IBT's General President, Jim Hoffa, is super happy. The IBT endorsed President-elect Barack Obama on February 20, 2008, after a Union-wide survey of its members. Then in June, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear reinstated the Governor's Employee Advisory Council which gives state employees the right to join unions. Then, Governor Beshear reinstated an Executive Order which cleared the way for approximately 4,000 state employees to join the Teamsters. The Executive Order also reinstated the Teamsters as the State Workers' Union representative.

More Reason For Smiles: On June 14, the Michigan Democratic Party Chairman, Mark Brewer, nominated Hoffa as one of Michigan's two elected super delegates and his nomination was confirmed unanimously. From August 25-28, Hoffa attended the Democratic National Convention and was honored as a "super delegate" voting for Senator Obama. And we know what happened next, so the super delegate is super happy.

New Historical Attraction: Next month a fantastic new Capitol Visitor Center opens on the East Side of the Capitol. The three-leveled Center has fountains, spiral staircases, sky lights, theaters and statues of people most of us have never heard of.

Such As? Philot Farnsworth, TV's inventor; John M. Clayton, co-negotiator of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850; Maria L. Sanford, an early female college professor; Edward Douglass White, Jr., Supreme Court Justice; Chief Washakie, a famous Shoshone warrior; Hawaiian King Kamehameha I; and Po' Pay, a Pueblo Indian leader who rose up against the Spanish in 1680.

Costs: The underground complex cost $621 million and is expected to have at least 3 million visitors its first year. The whole U.S. Capitol only received 1.5 million tourists this past year. Come to D.C. to review your history. When you do, stop by.

Go East, Go East: The Insider has, in the past, jokingly advised young men and women to "Go East" to look for jobs, instead of the legendary "Go West, Young Man, Go West." With the amount of downsizing that continues, it is no longer a joke. Americans are already in India training to be or are employed there as information technologists. Now that NANO -- India's projected inexpensive car -- has arrived, thousands of engineering jobs need to be filled and India cannot produce enough engineers.

Catch Up: Rana Hassin, labor expert at the Asian Development Bank, says that 78% of India's 406 million workforce live in rural areas and just 22% live in towns and cities. Highly restrictive labor laws make it hard to fire or terminate workers. India's bad roads, fights over whether land should be agricultural or manufacturing, and other local issues, currently prevent India from catching up with its potential. 

The Future: Mahatma Gandhi taught that simple rural living was preferable to city life. The Insider surmises that today the Great Teacher might urge villagers to seek education for their children, so they can help build a truly great industrial democracy.

Seven Year Suit Snails On: A lawsuit filed seven years ago by Indonesian villagers against Exxon Mobil Corp. alleges "killings and torture by Indonesian soldiers" who were guarding a natural gas plant in Aceh Province. U.S. District Court Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer's ruling in August that a "reasonable observer" could conclude the company has "some control" over the military forces enables the case to continue. Exxon's spokesperson points out that there is "no claim that (the Company) participated in any human rights violations or any other wrongdoing." Judge Oberdorfer's ruling leaves it up to a Washington, D.C., jury to determine.

Increased Union Membership: While employers in the U.S. are wrestling with the proposed "Employee Free Choice Act," China's government-affiliated unions have been authorized to organize 80% of foreign-employed employees. Not unlike what Germany did a number of years ago, in China the law says that union members "must be consulted on all major decisions." But what a major decision is, is not defined. Point to notice: only foreign employers are being targeted.

Selling Leases: The first "land use rights exchange" was set up recently in Chengdu which allows farmers to sell or rent their rights to use the land. Most peasants have 30- to 60-year land use contracts.

Huge Concern: Some officials fear that if rural peasants can sell their land use, the pre-revolution days of feudal landlords will return, thus creating a new flood of landless poor. But the other side of the coin is that small plots are simply not as productive as large plots.

What Won't Change: The collective ownership status of land will remain. The current land use designations -- from arable to commercial, for example -- will not change. And the peasants land use contract rights will not change. Allowing peasants to sell their leases is a beginning.

Buttonworth Agreement: In 1792, under a Buttonworth tree in downtown Manhattan, 24 merchants gathered to sign an Agreement which established the New York Stock Exchange. You'd think they surely would know how to run the thing after being at it for 217 years.

Financial Centers: Even so, New York and London are still the main financial centers, but other places in the world are moving up. Labuan, an island off the coast of East Malaysia, is on the rise. It provides full tax exemption from overseas income, exemptions from Malaysian withholding taxes for dividends, interest and royalty income and no capital gains tax. More than 300 financial services firms operate in Labuan.

MDGs: Take a look at the UN's alphabetical program called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which lists targets for the "developing world to achieve by 2015."

Eight Basic Goals: The goals are to reduce extreme poverty, achieve universal primary schooling, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV-AIDS and other killer diseases, ensure environmental stability and create a global partnership for development... And that is before lunch.

Success? Although adopted at a U.N. Summit in 2000, the chances of the goals being reached by the target date of 2015 are slim. The Insider says the U.N. apparently has two choices: admit failure or come up with a new date.

Where Are The Seychelles? This tiny country is in the Indian Ocean and has designated almost 50% of its land as protected national parks... Its 450 sq. km also has two "natural laboratories" -- the prehistoric Vallee de Mai Palm Forest and the Aldabra Raised Atoll, with a beautiful lagoon.

When: The Seychelles were settled about 200 years ago by Europeans, African slaves and Asian traders. It achieved independence in 1976.

What's Up: The Seychelles, along with Comores, Madagascar and Mauritius -- jointly called CMMS -- are negotiating with the EU for a new partnership agreement. President James Michel founded the Sea Level Rise Foundation in Rome to get international action on climate changes.

Doing Something Right: The Seychelles has the highest literacy rate in the region, one of the lowest infant mortality rates, and is number 50 in the UN Human Development Index (HDI). Its 85,000 people are friendly, they get along with each other and they have no national or ethnic enemies. Question: What in the world do they talk about?

GINA Moves Closer: The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, Pub. Law. No. 110-233, is a very technical law that amends other federal statutes. GINA will become partially effective on May 21, 2009, for insurers and on November 21, 2009, for employees. GINA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees who are already covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of genetic information.

The Primary Purpose: Health insurers, Group Health Plans and Medicare's Supplemental Plans may not exclude participants or charge higher premiums based on one's genetic makeup. In addition, employers, employment agencies and unions cannot use genetic information to make decisions regarding hiring, promotion, compensation, dismissal, or similar adverse actions.

Football Politics: Manchester City Football Club, a member of the English Premier League, was founded in 1880, and is nicknamed "Sky Blues." After going into exile Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's former longest-serving Prime Minister, bought the club in 2007 for $145 million. Thais love football, or soccer as we call it. When Mr. Thaksin decided to seek asylum in the U.K., he sold "Man City" to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family. The Sheikh also bought two restaurants, Hakkasan and Yauatcha, which are favorites of Man City's players' wives and girlfriends, thus making the team happy... The Sheikh's day job is Minister for Presidential Affairs.

Outlook: Sky Blues fans are enthusiastic about the Sheikh's ownership and hope that Abu Dhabi's oil revenues will be used to "buy" expensive players who can kick more footballs to victory than any other team... Yea, Sky Blues!!

No End Play: The world's largest container port operator, Hutchinson Whampoa's Hutchinson Ports has not yet succeeded in obtaining approval to operate in India. The three other largest container companies do: APM Terminals, Singapore's PSA and Dubai's DP.

The reason? Indian politicians object to the "close relationship" between Hutchinson Whampoa and China... The Insider says Hutchinson Ports will keep trying to gain entry into India.

March Is Coming: Just a gentle reminder that March 2009 will be "Women's History Month" and many displays are being prepared. Penn State's exhibit, for example, will travel to 38 libraries in the Penn State System. The exhibit will publicize "A Few Good Women" a project concerning women who were nominated to high U.S. government positions for the first time or named to White House posts in the 1970s by President Nixon. A Few Good Women is Chaired by former Secretary of Commerce Barbara Hackman Franklin.

Happy Anniversary: Alaska and Hawaii will both celebrate their 50th anniversary as states in 2009. Alaska joined the union on January 3, 1959, and Hawaii on August 21, 1959.

Alaska's Start: Asians arrived in Alaska about 15,000 years ago via a no longer existing land bridge over the Bering Sea. Peter the Great sent explorers in 1728. In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million...

And in Hawaii: Polynesians settled in the 6th century... In 1778, British Captain James Cook was the first European to arrive... American colonists overthrew the native monarchy in 1893, and five years later, Hawaii became a U.S. territory.

In Politics: From 1988 to 2008, the Democrats won all the Presidential elections in Hawaii and the Republicans won them all in Alaska. This year both states have women governors, Linda Lingle in Hawaii and Sarah Palin in Alaska. Both Governors are Republican women.

The Future: SNP promises to hold a Scotland-wide referendum on independence from England by 2010.

The Terms: If Scotland ends the Union, it would be like a divorce: paintings in the National Galleries in Edinburgh and London would have to be divided. Scotland would also inherit its share of North Sea oil. But divorce can be expensive and Scotland would also have to pay its share of Britain's national debt. Since Prime Minister Gordon Brown sits in a Scottish seat in the U.K. Parliament, what would happen to him? Even if King Solomon considered this issue a second time, he would still not let Brown be cut in half.

Chunfeng, Now Official: Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre, headed by Zhang Zhiru, founder of the Shenzhen Migrant Workers Association, is now permitted to handle workers' grievances in China. China's new Labor Contract Law, which took effect in January 2008, has resulted in almost 1,000 labor disputes being accepted for arbitration in Shenzhen. The Contract Law restricts a company's former ability to hire workers on an informal basis from third-party labor agencies and can no longer fire them without compensation. The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is affiliated with the Chinese government and unions established outside of ACFTU are still illegal. ACFTU recently engaged in collective bargaining with Wal-Mart in three cities...

More On China's Labor Laws: China's State Council recently issued regulations concerning non-term contract employment, termination rights, and other issues. There is still confusion about open employment terms, consultation rights of employees, temporary employees and other issues... There has been a dramatic rise in labor related grievances since the law passed, and employers are blaming it for higher costs and manufacturing slow downs.

More Work for Lawyers: ACFTU's Chenzhen Chapter has hired 6 law firms to represent workers this year. The Insider wonders if China will consider outsourcing its labor work to the United States?

Money Talks, Politicians Listen: Some governments appear surprised that China is using its $1.8 billion in foreign reserves to advance foreign policy, as well as earn income. For example, China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) bought $150 million in bonds from Costa Rica as part of an agreement signed last year under which Costa Rica must cut its ties with Taiwan and switch to the People's Republic of China. The MOUs signed by the two countries provide that in January 2009, SAFE will buy more Costa Rican bonds.

Two Grand Dames: Congress Party President Sonja Gandhi, an Italian citizen by birth, is at the top of India's political leadership as the widow of Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi who was assassinated in 1991. Mayawati, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, leads the Bahujan Samag Party (Majority People's Party). She is also the first Dalit (Untouchable) to head any of India's state governments. The Chief Minister only uses one name.

The Problem: Mayawati is a fast-growing power. She is in competition with the Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty. Gandhi's own base is Rae Bareli near Lucknow, where she wants to build a rail coach factory to bring "thousands of jobs to the area." Mayawati has "withdrawn" 400 acres which were allotted for the factory. She argues that farmers "were not happy to lose their land." The issue before the High Court is really which woman will lead India in the future.

Russia and the $$ Crisis: One has to admire history. It is ironic. Not too long ago, Communist Russia owned all means of production. Then, Communism collapsed and along came entrepreneurs. Soon there were Russian billionaires... Next, financial turmoil arrived... Many oligarchs are in financial trouble... So VEB, the state-owned development bank, is taking shares as collateral for bail-out loans. If borrowers default, the Russian government will again own the means of production. But now Russia is an oligarch itself, not a Communist state... Ironic.

Worries Continue: Although the federal PBGC asserts it has enough money to take care of its responsibilities, some pension experts continue to be concerned about PBGC's $3.1 billion equity loss in 2008. Established by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, PBGC's deficit could be around $12 billion at the end of 2008. Spokesman Jeffrey Speicher says that PBGC has operated "with a deficit for all but six years of its history." Once again, The Insider asks: Who's watching the watchers?

New ADA Amendments: On January 1, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 takes effect. It redefines "major life activities" (MLA) and will include in the protected class: standing, lifting, bending, reading and concentrating. Also included are: thinking, working, caring for one's self, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, speaking, breathing, learning, and communicating. This new legislation passed easily.

What Still Remains: If an employee is not able to perform the "essential functions of the job, even with an accommodation, no accommodation is required."

Thai Cooking: Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, 73, was ousted by the Thai Constitutional Court for accepting pay to host a TV cooking show on grounds that he violated conflict of interest rules. The Court reached this decision without even tasting the Prime Minister's cooking. Now that's just not fair.

FY 2008: NLRB General Counsel Ron Meisburg reports that the Board had a great FY 2008 year. Some 95.1% of all initial elections were held within 56 days of the petition's filing. And regional offices reached a settlement rate of 96.87% in ULP cases. In addition, the Regional Offices won 90.8% of Board and ALJ decisions in whole or in part. The representation cases had increased by 2.3%. So congratulations go to the NLRB.

What's Ahead: The Federal minimum wage is scheduled to rise from $6.55 an hour to $7.25 in July, 2009... It may go higher. President-elect Obama has stated he wants the minimum wage to be set at $9.50 an hour and to index it to inflation. A number of studies show that raising the minimum wage reduces job creation.

New King is Crowned: Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is now King of the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan. His Majesty was actually a King-in-Waiting for two years until the court astrologers decided on an "auspicious moment" for the major event to take place. Although the King serves as head of state, he can be impeached by a Parliament that will be chosen in democratic elections for the first time in March. The new King, 28 years old, was educated in England, the U.S. and India.

Argentina Finds New Money: President Cristina Kirchner plans to nationalize pension funds of about $30 billion to provide financial relief for the country. In addition, annual contributions total $4 - $5 billion which would give Argentina a great deal of wiggle room in the financial crisis.

WTO Chief: Pascal Lamy is seeking a second four-year term as WTO chief when his current tenure ends in August 2009. The WTO, which has 153 members, will probably welcome Lamy's decision because they can avoid the time consuming and bitter campaigns which occur whenever the position of Director-General is open. The Insider believes that Lamy won't have any competition. Unless something drastic happens, he will be re-elected.

More on Rich China: The China Investment Corp. (CIC) is a sovereign wealth fund set up about a year ago with $200 billion in foreign exchange to invest... China's financial institutions have about $1.8 trillion in foreign exchange reserves... They are being cautions, saying they don't have enough experience to manage huge investment banks. But if you look at the way Wall Street has been operating, neither do the U.S. investment bankers... The Insider presumes the Chinese will invest "a billion here and a billion there," maybe even buy Old McDonald's Farm, e-i-e-i-o... Although Wall Street's future may not be known, there is one sure thing: The Insider wishes each of you a wonderful Christmas, a happy Chanukah, a fun-filled Kwanza and a safe and healthy New Year. B.S.M.