Sunday, May 15, 2005
* United's Pension Default and Why Almost Nobody is Talking About It

On Wednesday, there was fairly big news that a bankruptcy judge was allowing United Airlines to default on about $10 billion worth of pension benefits for employees. But when I say "big news" what do I mean? This was something that I knew about because I pay some attention to business news, but it certainly didn't make any waves in Left Blogistan.

A fried of mine sent me an email asking why this isn't a bigger story:
I think this story is huge. I think it's far bigger than social security reform, which is pie-in-the-sky egghead bullshit that nobody really understands. ... I find it odd that while Congress is moving to fuck over the consumer so it can help some credit card companies make the most of their 24% return (I'll eat my hat if rates come down over the long haul as a result of the legislation), the Bankruptcy Court is being used by big business to fuck over the worker.

Bankruptcy is legal. While it's legal, it should be enforced in the way the bankruptcy law is intended. Let them liquidate the company. That means sell every plane. Fire every CEO. File shareholder suits against every pre-bk officer and director who made more than a $1 million in any year in which the pension plan was looted. After you collect all the money, pay off all the debts. If there still isn't anything left to cover the pension shortfall, then you can screw the workers. Screw everybody else first.

What do you think? Am I wrong that this is a big deal? Am I wrong that it isn't getting much airplay? Am I going to have to post on Loudocracy?
Well, I did a search for "pension" on Kos, and the only mention of this was one reference in Cheers and Jeers. It seems to have been mentioned maybe once each by Kevin Drum and Atrios. Why isn't this bigger news?

I think there are two basic reasons. First, political bloggers are just not all that attuned to business news. It's hard enough staying on top of politics, with major culture war issues in the news every day (Bush, filibuster, Reid, congress, etc.) For me, I try to stay attuned to politics, science, and business, and it's just too much. Part of the reason why I post so infrequently is that it's more than a fulltime job just taking in information, let alone taking time to write about everything.

Second, there is a LOT of bad stuff happening in America and the world right now. For me, for example, I think that the torture scandals and what is happening in Iraq dwarfs virtually everything else in importance. When it comes to domestic issues, the Bush / neocon takeover of government is the biggest issue, and a close second is the environment and energy policy. Tax is third. Tiger Woods missing a cut is fourth. On the other hand, some might (rightly) say that the ONLY issue of importance at all is voting system reform. That doesn't mean that there aren't big, important things going on in other areas, and I would agree with my friend that this pension default would otherwise be fairly big news.

But, I hate to tell you, there are probably at least five to ten major underreported stories at at least this level of importance. Just to take one example (also mostly from the business pages), China's emergence onto the world scene and the effect that this is having on commodities and currency markets probably deserves wall-to-wall daily coverage. (And you should definitely be reading Billmon on a daily basis to get his take on this.)

In fact, part of the Bush / neocon strategy is to take advantage of our short attention spans and hit us hard in a large number of areas at once. Some have argued that Social Security reform is nothing more than a song and dance routine to put our minds on something while other major institutions are being dismantled.

In any event, this United pension default is probably at least worthy of one recommended diary on Kos, so I do agree that despite all of the other news that's happening right now, this is underreported. On the other hand, even if we wrote the perfect piece, I'm not sure we'd get the votes from the community to put it on the front page.
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