Friday, May 13, 2005


Bait & Switch Recruiting Tactics

Can you say "stop-loss order?"
The minimum period a recruit can usually enlist for is four years.

But in an attempt to help recruiters meet their quotas, the army has announced the 15-month active service programme will be launched nationwide.
Source: BBC News US woos soldiers with early exit, May 13, 2005
Remember this from 2004?
The "stop loss" orders mean personnel who could otherwise leave the military when their volunteer commitments expire will be forced to remain to the end of their overseas deployments and up to another 90 days after they come home. "Stop movement" orders also bar soldiers from moving to new assignments during the restricted period. The orders do not extend any unit's stay overseas.
Source: Tom Squitieri, USA TODAY, Army expanding 'stop loss' order to keep soldiers from leaving, Jan 5, 2004 [Emphasis added.]
Yeah, tell me all about the "early exit" offer.


Condi Rice Tells a Joke

With anti-American riots across the Muslim world caused by rumors Gitmo interrogators desecrated the Koran, Condoleeza Rice sprang into action:
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised "appropriate action" would be taken if the allegations proved true about insults to the Koran at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
(Source: Washington Post Anti-U.S. Protests Spread to Pakistan, May 13, 2005 [Emphasis added])
Being as how the folks investigating torture cleared everyone not appearing in one of the pictures of any involvement in the abuses (two officers were disciplined, but the top brass were "cleared.")

Given that background, and the Bush League's "no pictures, no war crimes" policy, I find it difficult to believe another whitewashed report stating no such events occurred hasn't already been written. Any investigation conducted by the Bush League will center on supressing, not revealing, any desecration of the Koran.

Besides, the State Department can't order the Pentagon around, anyway. Rumsfeld will just stonewall in the hopes the "messiness" dies down.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Looting the Pension Fund - W's MBA Training Follows Industry Standards

During the "hostile takeover" craze in the 1980s and 90s, "overfunded" pensions were "relieved" of their excess capital.
As happened in the mid-1980s, rapid appreciation in the value of equity investments has pushed many defined benefit (DB) pension plans into a position of substantial overfunding. Unlike the mid-1980s, however, a pension plan sponsor cannot tap these excess assets for other corporate purposes. Or can it?
(Source: Michael S. Melbinger: Gaining Access to Excess Pension Assets [This article appeared in Pension Management, August 1995][Emphasis added])
Now, of course, the brilliant business strategy of tapping pension "surpluses" for extra cash has reached its inevitable outcome: suddenly all those "overfunded" pensions are now "underfunded."

Of course, this really is old news:
Underfunded pensions pose huge dilemma
Figure is estimated to be $300 billion after being $23 billion in 1999; rising costs threaten an already fragile economy with fiscal chaos
The pension time bomb is ticking -- and could ultimately explode in a savings-and-loan-like crisis.

An aging work force and the collapse of the stock market have combined to create massive underfunding of traditional corporate pensions. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), the government agency that insures these pensions, estimates the underfunding at $300 billion, a total that was only $23 billion as recently as 1999.
(Source: Robert Samuelson, The Detroit News, July 17, 2003
Various examples of the victims include:
American Airlines employees (but not senior executives)"Guarantee your pension like American? Not likely"

Employees of Kemper Insurance:
...Kemper’s retirement plan has promised $1.05 billion in benefits to its nearly 12,000 participants—mostly retirees and former employees of operating unit Lumbermens Mutual Casualty Co.—but has just $515 million in assets.
(Source: Jerry Geisel, PBGC takes over Kemper pension plan, Business Insurance Daily News, Oct. 21, 2004

And, of course, today's new record holder:
United Can End Pensions, Judge Says
Ruling Clears Way For Largest Default In U.S. History

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 11, 2005; Page E01

A bankruptcy judge last night approved United Airlines' request to terminate its pension plans, clearing the way for the largest corporate pension default in history and setting the stage for a possible strike by the airline's flight attendants.

The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. will take over the airline's $645 million in pension payments and receive in exchange up to $1.5 billion in securities in the reorganized airline.
(Source: Washington Post)
Interestingly, our CEO President, who went to MBA school with the same generation of business leaders, has looted the Social Security Trust Fund by spending the reserves meant to back it up - and now wants to resolve his problems by cutting the last guaranteed benefit program: Social Security. After all, who wouldn't want Social Security run the same way large businesses run their pensions?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Price Gouging?

Part of the manufactured California energy "crisis" was shutting down power plants unexpectedly. By creating perceived instability, the energy providers raked in far greater profits that if they had run their plants normally.

Call me cynical, but I am having a feeling of deja vu all over again:
Oil prices leap, outage adds to fears
Tue May 10, 2005 11:38 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Oil prices leapt to more than $53 a barrel on Tuesday after news of a big refinery outage in the United States added to fears about a shortage of refined products and offset the impact of swelling crude supplies.

U.S. light crude was trading $1.02 higher at $53 a barrel. Brent crude oil in London gained $1.07 to $52.36.

News that ConocoPhillips' 250,000 barrels per day refinery in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, was shut down because of a power outage added to the bullish mood. The refinery is one of the largest in the state and has gasoline-making capacity of 104,000 bpd. (Source: Reuters)

Monday, May 09, 2005


Crusades Movie Gets Favorable Review - in Egypt

Nice to see something resembling historical balance coming out of Hollywood:
Crusade movie strikes chord in Arab world
Mon May 9, 2005 10:18 AM ET
By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - A new epic movie about the Crusades has struck a chord in the Arab world, where cinemagoers say it has challenged the Hollywood stereotype of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists.

Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven," which depicts a 12th Century battle for Jerusalem between Muslims and Crusaders, is also a welcome message of support for those who back moderation over extremism in managing ties between Islam and the West.

"The film goes against religious fanaticism very clearly. All that goes against hatred, fanaticism and systematic opposition between those two worlds is welcome," said Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, author of 'The Crusades Through Arab Eyes'.
But Scott's efforts have not won universal praise among Middle Eastern viewers.

U.S.-based Lebanese academic As'ad AbuKhalil objected to a scene where the lead character, a Crusader called Balian and played by Orlando Bloom, appeared to show Arab peasants how to dig wells to irrigate farm land.

"I was ... most unhappy, when the hero of the movie ... took over his estate, and with typical Western 'genius' taught those inferior Arabs how to dig for water, as if they had not been doing that for centuries," AbuKhalil said on his Web site.

"This is akin to the Western myth of Zionist immigration causing the "desert to bloom" in Palestine."
For another non-traditional view, try Terry Jones' 1994 BBC series: The Crusades. Although told in an amusing manner, the underlying history is quite sound.

[UPDATE: History Professor (and blogger) Juan Cole analyzes Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven]


Krugman Rocks out on SSI

Paul Krugman:
Let me repeat that: to avert the danger of future cuts in benefits, Mr. Bush wants us to commit now to, um, future cuts in benefits.

This accomplishes nothing, except, possibly, to ensure that benefit cuts take place even if they aren't necessary.
(Source: Paul Krugman, New York Times, The Final Insult)
Kind of says it all in a nutshell, doesn't it?

Sunday, May 08, 2005


Does Anybody Check the Lobbyist Register?

Classic Washington regulation: Lobbyists must "register" but there doesn't appear to be an easy way to check that register:
Lobbyist Paid by Pakistan Led U.S. Delegation There
Published: May 8, 2005

WASHINGTON, May 7 - Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the center of a federal corruption investigation, led a Congressional delegation to Pakistan in 1997 but failed to tell the group's sponsor or the lawmakers that he was a registered lobbyist for the Pakistani government, according to the sponsor and the two House members on the trip.

"I wish I'd known that he had a bias that way," said Representative Michael R. McNulty, Democrat of New York, who was on the trip. Gregg Hilton, whose nonprofit organization, the National Security Caucus Foundation, sponsored the trip for Mr. McNulty and Representative Howard Coble, said he felt "deceived" by Mr. Abramoff.
Easy enough to design a database to hold all this data - I could design one myself for about $10,000 total and I'm not much of a database designer.

I also find it difficult to believe our Congresscritters are so naive as to blindly trust a lobbyist's unsupported word.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?