Tag Archives: The American Prospect

Bankruptcy Laws Favor Businesses, Hurt Individuals (Surprise Surprise)

Big companies declare bankruptcy all the time.  General Motors and Chrysler did it.  So have most of the major airlines:  Delta, Northwest, United, US Airways, and most recently, American.

Sometimes, these big companies aren’t even bleeding so much money that their future is in doubt.  No, they’re just looking ahead and saying that if they keep going the way they’re going, they’re in big trouble and won’t be able to compete.  They’re not actually in a great deal of trouble; they’re just anticipating trouble.

What happens in these bankruptcies?   Mostly, it’s a matter of really big guys stiffing really little guys.  They stiff their vendors, including some very small companies, and mostly, they stiff their employees.  They get to weasel out of fairly negotiated labor contracts, health benefits, pension benefits, and more.  Sure, we’re all happy that GM and Chrysler survived, but they survived by screwing the people who make GM and Chrysler cars.

Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

But what about ordinary people?  Can’t they use bankruptcy the same way?

Turns out, not so much.

Turns out, it’s a lot harder for ordinary people to take advantage of bankruptcy.  Bush administration changes in bankruptcy laws make it harder than ever to use bankruptcy to get out from under credit card debt.  Student loans?  Not covered by bankruptcy at all; declare bankruptcy while you have student loans and the loans survive the bankruptcy and you still owe.  Underwater mortgage?  Fuggedaboutit.  Bankruptcy laws specifically prohibit ordinary people from using bankruptcy to get out from under onerous mortgages.

Truth be told, The Curmudgeon doesn’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who borrowed beyond their means to buy great houses they could never possibly afford.  The same is true for those who piled up too much debt on their credit cards and those who borrowed money for school.  The Curmudgeon admits to being somewhat of a hardass about this:  he believes such people need to suck it up, pay what they owe, and meet their commitments.

But that idea needs to go both ways.  If American Airlines ordered a million dollars worth of widgets from your company, it needs to pay you the damn million dollars.  If your union engaged in a fair negotiation with GM and the company agreed to pay you a certain wage and provide a certain level of benefits, GM needs to pay you what it willingly agreed to pay you.

Robert Kuttner explores the inherent unfairness of how American bankruptcy law treats big business and ordinary people in his article “The Age of Double Standards” in the April edition of The American Prospect magazine.  It’s worth a few minutes of your time, and you can find it here.

Mini-Rumination: Ranchers and Government

We all know about those brave, bold, and hardy ranchers out in the American west:  strong, independent, and conservative, they don’t like easterners, don’t like Democrats, and don’t like government.  They vote Republican with pride, and the only thing they want from gov’mint is for gov’mint to stay the hell out of their way.

Right?

Well, maybe not.

According to an article in the April edition of the magazine The American Prospect – yes, one of The Curmudgeon’s leftist magazines – it looks like ranchers may like gov’mint a little more than they’re willing to admit.

The article, “Wolves to Slaughter” notes that:

According to the Western Watersheds Project, an Idaho-based nonprofit that monitors the livestock industry, an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion is spent each year in state, federal, and county subsidies to support the survival of ranching on more than 250 million acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  For the benefit of public-lands ranchers, the federal government clears forest, plants grass, replaces native vegetation with genetically modified exotic flora, builds roads and cattle guards and fences, dredges springs and seeps, diverts streams, blows up beaver dams, “improves” habitat by bulldozing and crop-dusting, and monitors the health of livestock.

So it looks like these gov’mint-hating independent spirits are just another version of the welfare queens they abhor, feeding off the public teat while at the same time criticizing others who do the same.  They say they hate government, but they’re receiving their own version of food stamps, courtesy of the federal government they say they loathe.

They’re hypocrites.  Surprise surprise surprise (as Gomer Pyle might’ve said)!

Mini-Rumination: Say What?

As noted recently, The Curmudgeon enjoys reading leftist magazines – among them, an interesting monthly called The American Prospect.  The December 2011 issue has a number of thought-provoking (if overly idealistic and overly optimistic) articles about what needs to be done to return some manufacturing jobs to American soil.

One of the articles, an otherwise interesting piece titled “The Cost of Free Trade” by Michael Lind, which you can find here, includes the following sentence:

Today, in challenging a powerful bipartisan consensus supported by Rooseveltian liberal internationalism and Reaganite conservatism and buttressed by academic dogma and historical mythology, progressive critics of the conventional wisdom about trade and investment have failed to speak with a single voice.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

To think that some people think liberals lack the common touch.

Mini-Rumination: Another Mystery Solved

As an avowed leftist – which sounds a lot more subversive than it really is – The Curmudgeon is a fan of the magazine The American Prospect.  Like any publication that approaches subjects from an ideological perspective, it sometimes goes too far and verges on the foolish, but for the most part, it’s in the right places on most of the issues near and dear to The Curmudgeon’s heart.

Among the publication’s contributors, The Curmudgeon is still on the fence about Robert Kuttner, the magazine’s co-editor.  He’s right on some matters, silly on others, but probably an okay sort; like a lot of journalists, his writing suggests that he’s never worked in a business that actually aspires to make money and that he suspects that such enterprises are inherently evil.  In the December 2011 issue, though, he offers a truly profound statement about the Occupy Wall Street movement (which the publication dubs “OWS,” no doubt because everything sounds more important when you endow it with an acronym).   In a feature entitled “Protest and Possibility,” which you can find here, Mr. Kuttner writes:

OWS has put the Republican right, Fox, and friends in an exquisite bind.  The more they ridicule the protests, the clearer it is which side they’re on.

Thank goodness Mr. Kuttner cleared that up for us.  Without his insight, readers – including The Curmudgeon – might have mistakenly assumed that conservative America heartily endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement and its scruffy participants.