The 1% Simply “Shed” Their Obligations
Posted on November 29th, 2011 at 2:18 pm by Steve

Corporations are legal “persons,” and, like you and me, enter into binding legal contracts. One difference is, when they go bankrupt, they just “shed” their obligations and move on. You and I aren’t usually so lucky.

A case in point is extreme financial distress. For a person, this might be caused by a loss of employment, or sudden illness; for a corporation, it could be a drop in business, excessive operational costs, or bad planning. In either case: revenue is down, costs are up, and the balance sheet is negative.

If you’re a person, this kind of crisis means that you’ll suffer direct hardships: the things you own get taken away, and if you actually still earn money, your future earnings are pledged to your creditors. If you have a mortgage, you’re typically foreclosed and lose your home. Your car gets repossessed. Your belongings are sold off to pay your debts.

Ah, but if you’re a corporation, things are different! You can simply “shed” those expensive obligations and soldier on! Well, you can’t shed all your contracts – just the ones you made with your employees:

AMR [American Airlines’ parent company] was determined to avoid Chapter 11 as air travel fell and losses mounted after the 2001 terrorist attacks, even as peers used bankruptcy to shed costly pension and retiree benefit plans and restructure debt.

(Source: Bloomberg Business Week, November 29, 2011)

Of course, the obligations you made to your peers (i.e., other corporations) must still be honored. These debts will be “restructured.” But your contractual promises to pay for the doctor visits and medicine for the thousands of people who gave you 30 of the best years of their lives? Those you can “shed” like a tired skin you’ve outgrown.

“You would expect a leaner, stronger company to emerge from bankruptcy,” Chris Logan, an analyst at Echelon Research & Advisory LLP in London, said today by telephone. “As they are in Chapter 11, it will be more easy to demand concessions from the labor force.”

Ah yes, “concessions from the labor force!” In other words, the executives hold a gun to the heads of the employee unions and offer them a choice: either some of you lose your jobs and the rest lose your benefits and even more of your salary, or all of you lose your jobs and your benefits and all of your salary. Some choice.

It’s not like we haven’t been down this road before, with this very company. American’s pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, gate agents, baggage handlers – you know, the people who actually make the planes fly and keep the passengers safe – these very employees took a 30% pay cut back in 2003 in hopes of avoiding a bankruptcy proceeding. Those poor saps! Now, instead of regaining the $1,600,000,000 that they gave up eight years ago, they’re being told that they’re still earning too much, and that if they don’t make further sacrifices, they’ll all lose their jobs.

While the workers have already taken huge pay cuts, given up their pensions, and paid more in health insurance premiums, American’s executives have somehow managed to escape harm. In 2008, the same year his airline lost more than $2 BILLION the boss’s compensation package topped $5 million. But, pity poor Gerald Arpey: that $5 mil was a 22% drop over his 2007 compensation.

A quick glance at the headlines will tell you that, even through huge losses and now bankruptcy, The 1% at AMR are doing just fine: “Despite losses, American Airlines CEO’s compensation climbs” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Apr. 21, 2011; “Executive compensation at American Airlines raises eyebrows” – Tulsa World, April 19, 2010; “AP says Arpey earned $6.6 million in 2007” – Dallas Morning News, April 19, 2008.

Thus do the executives of the corporate entity continue to prosper and thrive, continuing to do their “jobs” of running the business, while thousands of employees are laid off, and tens of thousands more lose the only hope they had of actually being able to, you know, survive their retirement years on something other than handouts and cat food.

Although all of that can change.

The Drum Major Instinct
Posted on September 15th, 2011 at 9:55 pm by Steve

God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. (Preach it, preach it) God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war as the war in _________________. And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it. And we won’t stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation.

— The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

February 4, 1968

In 1996, MBTA Promised Green Line to Somerville by 2011
Posted on August 2nd, 2011 at 7:21 pm by Steve

In 1996, the MBTA planned to have the Green Line extended to Somerville by 2011.

Today, in 2011, the Patrick administration announced that they will be delaying – until at least 2018 – construction and operation of the Green Line into Somerville and Medford.

Long-time watchers of Somerville’s transit woes (such as this author) are unsurprised by this latest development.

Courtesy of those pesky “archives” that libraries seem to love, here’s a Boston Globe article from January 28, 1996 (more than FIFTEEN years ago!):

Slater, the T’s planning director, contends, “Somerville probably has more bus service than any comparable area. It’s got a lot of service going into both Lechmere and Sullivan, where people can make connections. Part of the long range plan is to extend the Green Line into Somerville. The deadline on that is the year 2011, and we’re trying to meet earlier deadlines now on other projects.”

I guess the good news is that the planning horizon today is half what it was in 1996. Maybe in 2018, they’ll announce service in 2022. And, in 2022, they’ll announce service in 2024. And, in 2024, they’ll announce service in 2025, and maybe by then it will actually be built.

I’m not holding my breath.

Ghosts of Discount Retail Past
Posted on April 14th, 2011 at 11:35 am by Steve

Spotted on Somerville Avenue next to McGrath Highway… once the haunt of Mrs. B and a long-departed Stop & Shop; later the home of electronics retailer Fretter; and, most recently, host to the lowest rung of the TJX retail hierarchy, the now-defunct A.J. Wright.

Somerville Breakfast Wars Draw Blood
Posted on April 13th, 2010 at 5:29 pm by Steve

If you’re local to Somerville (like some of us are, or were), then you’ve hopefully enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at either or both of Sound Bites and the Ball Square Café. There’s been bad blood between the two ever since Sound Bites expanded to the building next door, and the owners of the old space rented it to their son, who convinced the old Sound Bites chef to stay behind. The Somerville News’s blog picks up the story:

Police were called to Broadway today as a crowd scuffled and tried to separate the owners of SoundBites and Ball Square Cafe. It wasn’t the first time police were called to mediate Ball Square owner Mike Moccia and Yasser Mirza, of Sound Bites, but it may have been the most intense episode yet with witnesses reporting punches thrown and blood drawn.

In Case You Were Wondering…
Posted on February 22nd, 2010 at 11:44 am by Steve

…the masters of the American economy (and, thus, the people whose largely unaccountable decisions determine the material fortunes of most people in our country) don’t give a flying fuck about you, me, or anyone else we know:

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

(Source: New York Times, “The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs”)

What a shame that the structure of our economic and political life is simply a force of nature that is immune to modification. If only there were some way to structure a society so that the primary economic activities were directed toward something else in addition to “maximizing shareholder value.”

Or, wait…

Author James Herod’s Book “Getting Free”
Posted on February 16th, 2010 at 4:16 pm by Steve

“The knowledge that we are slaves being bought by the hour rather than the lifetime has also been lost. We have been wage slaves for so long that we have forgotten there is any other way to live. We have forgotten that once we had land and tools and could live independently, providing for ourselves, without being forced to sell our labor power for wages.”

I’ve linked to him before… and now I’ll do it again. Highly worth reading.

so that was fast, but are the right people listening?
Posted on February 11th, 2010 at 6:06 am by jaz

in case it hadn’t passed through your FB feed, the self-explanatory group, “I bet we can find 1,000,000 People who Support Same Sex Marriage,” surpassed its goal by the end of 11 days, and is still going strong.

so i guess the question is whether we have a really big choir preaching to itself, or if this kind of action really gets noticed and influences any kind of change.

America’s Rivers: A Drying Shame
Posted on January 28th, 2010 at 4:17 pm by Steve

Rebecca Solnit writes in the London Review of Books of the water-powered rise and fall of the North American west:

Eighty per cent of the Colorado River’s water goes to agriculture. Twenty per cent of California’s agricultural water goes to grow low-value alfalfa. The river, in its climate-change-driven decline, will strangle all these projects and make a mockery of the two great dams and the reservoirs that were once signs of triumph over it and over nature. The reservoirs and dams are failing now, long on silt, short on water, products of the short-sightedness that has made the West a place littered with projects that seemed like a good idea at the time.

Indeed, the epitaph for most of the “modern world” could be simply “projects that seemed like a good idea at the time.” The UN’s triennial World Water Development report says, “Humanity has embarked on a huge ecological engineering project with little or no preconception – or indeed full present knowledge – of the consequences. We have sought to redesign and impose a new order on natural planetary systems, built over aeons of time.”

(By the way, that UN quote, the riverbed image, and the inspiration for this blog post’s title, come from Arteries International.)

Your Local Police: Hunting for Aliens
Posted on January 27th, 2010 at 5:39 pm by Steve

It’s even creepier than it sounds. Under the new “Secure Communities” program spearheaded by the Department of Homeland Security – named in the fashion of Bush’s “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” Initiatives – all local and state police bookings will be run through the DHS master immigration database. Anyone flagged as an “illegal alien” will be detained at the request of DHS.

The idea that your local police would be cooperating with DHS in enforcing immigration rules completely undermines whatever limited trust might still remain between community members and police officers. Don’t just take my word for it; here’s the conclusion of a lobbying group called the Police Foundation:

immigration enforcement by local police undermines their core public safety mission, diverts scarce resources, increases their exposure to liability and litigation, and exacerbates fear in communities already distrustful of police.

The fact that every single person arrested and booked will be run through this system is considered a civil rights PLUS because it avoids the “profiling” of people based on their skin color or perceived ethnic background.

With that so-called advantage, I’m sure a lot of liberals will line up and cheer for the Obama administration’s newest plan to help Keep Us Safe from all those house-cleaners, musicians, DJs, gardeners, nannies, computer programmers, strawberry pickers, and meat packers who currently enable threaten our way of life.

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