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.

Graphic Design Awesomeness
Posted on November 12th, 2009 at 11:59 pm by Steve

File this one under “E” for “EPIC WIN”! Cameron Booth created this idealized map of the United States Interstate Highway System, after the style of H. C. Beck’s original London Underground maps.

Oh, What a Few Billion Dollars Could Do…
Posted on October 20th, 2009 at 7:13 pm by Steve

Went for a ride through the Central Artery Tunnel at 10:30 pm on Sunday night, and – as usual – the road was down to just one lane. Several police cars, a few parked construction vehicles, and two workmen standing next to an idle machine that comrade E. assures me is a concrete cutter. I actually can’t recall driving through Boston after 10pm on any night of the week without having the Central Artery either reduced to one lane or closed completely. The maze of on-ramp closures and diversions has, on occasion, been severe enough that I’ve unintentionally ended up in East Boston.

How much does it cost to have a highway that stays open all night long?

How much does it cost to build an integrated urban transit system that actually makes sense? In 1990, the Commonwealth committed to doing things like building the Green Line out to Medford, building the Blue Line out to Lynn, adding walking paths and bicycle trails, and restoring commuter rail service to the southern burbs on the Greenbush Line. If you follow the money, you can guess which ONE of these options has actually come to pass (yes, the Greenbush Line — probably the least useful in terms of passenger-miles, but the most vociferously demanded by relatively wealthier suburbanites).

Another proposal that was prominent throughout the planning stages of the Big Dig related to passenger rail service. Currently, all the rail lines into Boston terminate either at North Station or at South Station. The two stations are about a mile apart, and there is NO direct transit link between them – Amtrak advises passengers with luggage to take a taxi, although they could also walk down to the Red Line platform, and board a Red Line train to Downtown Crossing, then walk up and over and down again to the Orange Line platform and ride the Orange Line to North Station, and then go up two levels and into North Station itself to board their continuing train.

The Big Dig entailed digging a huge tunnel in which to bury the Central Artery highway…eight lanes of traffic underneath downtown Boston, stretching from… yes, you know this by now… North Station to South Station.

People with an ounce of fucking common sense insisted that the planners include a provision for TRAIN TRACKS in the tunnels that would be built from NORTH STATION TO SOUTH STATION.

What happened? Here’s an excerpt from a Boston Globe article from 1994:

Calling a proposed rail link between North and South Stations too expensive, a panel of transportation specialists yesterday threw cold water on a Weld administration plan cherished by supporters as a way to help solve Boston’s vehicular chaos.

The final report of the three-day “Boston Conference: Shaping the Accessible Region,” held last April and May, said alternatives should be sought for the $2 billion to $4 billion link designed to unite Boston’s communter rail systems.

In the report the panel endorsed development of the 14-mile route known as the Urban Ring.

So… in 1994 the Commonwealth killed the idea of linking North and South stations via rail because it would have added $2 billion to the cost of the project.

Fast-forward fifteen years: the Globe estimates that taxpayers will have spent over $22 BILLION on the Big Dig, including debt payments… and that 73% of those costs are borne by Massachusetts alone.

For what it’s worth, the original project estimate was $2.6 billion.

N493DA, Rest In Peace
Posted on August 12th, 2009 at 3:36 pm by Steve

Apropos of this post, this:

I may well have flown on ship 493 on a trip from Boston to Tampa, Orlando, or Fort Lauderdale in my youth. The Boeing 727-200 was long a workhorse of Delta’s fleet. It’s sad to see what’s become of her.

(I created the graphic above from a photo on and another on a photographer’s Flickr site which, I’m sad to say, I’ve lost track of.)

Air Traffic Visualizations
Posted on May 21st, 2009 at 12:30 pm by josh-wah

For a certain someone who appreciates data visualization and all things aviation…

Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns.

Green Line Extension Visualizations
Posted on April 29th, 2009 at 3:53 pm by Steve

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation has published some animated 3D renderings of the proposed stations on the Green Line extension, which is scheduled to begin service in 2015. Pictured above is the Union Square station, which the Commonwealth is proposing be located along the existing Fitchburg Line railroad right-of-way… that means you’d have to walk up the hill by the Dunkin’ Donuts to get to the station, something Union Square transit advocates object to (it’s harder for elderly and disabled folks to reach it). The advocates’ alternative, though, is to run the Green Line as a streetcar directly into Union Square from about where the Target store is located at the end of Somerville Ave. That’s not likely to fly.

There’s a bunch more information on the web from the Commonwealth, from the City of Somerville, as well as from Union Square Main Streets, a great neighborhood advocacy organization.

Hirohito Moments in Air Travel
Posted on January 15th, 2009 at 7:34 pm by Steve

This is how US Airways delivers the bad news:

A “Hirohito Moment” is a vast understatement, after the Emperor’s surrender broadcast in 1945: “Despite the best that has been done by everyone . . . the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” Popularized by the blogger Billmon.

This is the “status exception” in question:

Amazing Photos from Above
Posted on October 6th, 2008 at 3:54 pm by dr.hoo

new plant life on a volcano

Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand brings his amazing large format aerial photography to NYC next year. Here’s an amazing collection of his work on The Big Picture (one of my favorite weekly photo sites).

The images above is:

Mountainous countryside near Maelifellssandur, Myrdalsjökull Region, Iceland. Once the young lava fields of Iceland cool down, life begins anew little by little. Ice, wind and water flatten and carve out shapes to begin with, then, during the summer, bacteria, lichen and fungi prepare the soil for plants, in particular mosses which adapt to an environment which remains difficult. These plants colonise the most favourable sites and terrain little by little, forming a new ecosystem.

Each photo has a link to the Google satallite photo of the location. The link for the above image is here.

Invisible Cities
Posted on September 28th, 2008 at 7:36 pm by Steve

Illustration of two stories from Invisible Cities

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Kahn remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, 1972. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver, 1974.

Driving up the price of Oil
Posted on May 30th, 2008 at 11:20 am by dr.hoo

The Big Picture has an interesting article on how the US energy policy has worked to drive up the price of oil.

It turns out that for the past 3 decades, we’ve had a George Costanza Energy policy — every decision we have made as a country has worked to drive energy prices higher. Had we made the opposite decisions, Crude Oil prices would be much lower than they are today ($130.17 as I type this).

What follows is a list of energy-related policies of the United States. On many of these, I have no opinion — but I wanted to list as many as I could to demonstrate why Oil is where it is

US Policies with an impact on Energy:

1. Limited areas available for offshore drilling;

2. Stopped the rise of CAFE standards for automobiles;

3. Restricted nuclear power generation of Electrical;

4. Federal Reserve policies since 2001 led to a very weak US dollar (raising Oil prices);

5. Energy conservation policies? None

6. Iraq and Afghanistan wars contributing to Middle East tensions

7. No major United States funding for R&D on energy;


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