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02/27/2003 Archived Entry: "Raiding Pension Funds"
On the Political Front:
American Airlines is still talking about bankruptcy, this time with a possible date -- as early as May. Negotiations to stay afloat are revealing an interesting trend...
I quote, "American Airlines pleaded with workers this month to accept steep cuts in wages and benefits to save $1.8 billion a year." Meanwhile, "Northwest Airlines asked its pilots to accept about a 20 percent pay cut as the No. 4 U.S. carrier intensified its drive to cut labor costs." I have no love for the airline industry that eagerly joined hands to turn airports into imitation police states where customers are considered criminal suspects. But the airlines' grab for "employee benefits" -- largely pension funds -- illustrates a theme I've been repeating. Companies (and government agencies) are going to start raiding pension funds en masse because those funds represent one of the few sitting pools of untapped assets. Governmental agencies on the state and local level will grab pension funds because they have been saddled with impossible and unfunded mandates by the feds, especially regarding "home security" measures...like randomly searching vehicles and otherwise violating their citizens' civil liberties. Companies will grab at pension funds for a multitude of reasons, including: 1. to cover their own bad business practices -- (like the airlines' decision to no longer function as a service provider but instead, become a quasi-branch of government under the nail-clipper confiscating charade of "safety,") and 2. to get a quick buck while the getting is good, and 3. to bust the unions. Of course there will be decent and reputable employers who angonize over the awful choice of either laying people off/closing their doors or having to cut wages and benefits. They will be caught in a moral dilemma. The problem is...how will we tell them from the scroundels, poor businessmen, and opportunists?
Years ago, when I debated whether to cut the security net of a regular job and go full time as a writer, the greatest fear I had was not the possibility of missing the monthly bills. (I've supported myself since the age of 16 and I have no compunction about doing no-glamor work like flipping burgers, if necessary.) But I worried about cutting myself off from benefits like health insurance in the event of illness or pension payments if I became too elderly to punch a clock. Now it seems that no one is going to be secure in those benefits, no matter how honestly they worked under a contract that guaranteed them.
Most bloggers today will be commenting on Bush's speech yesterday on the future of Iraq and on establishing a post-Saddam democracy over there. I won't add to the static beyond making two points: I don't think Iraq has a culture or history that will allow a democracy to grow roots; I don't understand why the US believes it has a right or responsibility to export and impose a particular form of government on a foreign nation. The most plausible answer to the latter puzzlement is that the US really wishes to establish a government that will be favorable to its own interests.
On the Personal/Movement Front:
Brad is still on the road and, predictably, I am working 14-hour days until he returns and the house comes to life around me once more. In such circumstances, this blog becomes a guilty pleasure to which I turn when I'm bored with work or when something just won't fall into place no matter how hard I pound it with my intellectual hammer.
Best to all,