PAUL GIGOT: Time to check in on a few of the other big stories of the week. United Airlines persuaded a federal bankruptcy judge that it should be allowed to unload its pension obligations on the U.S. Government. The questions are: will other struggling airlines and other companies follow, and can the government take care of retirees without a lot more money from taxpayers? Melanie?
MELANIE KIRKPATRICK: These are scary questions, and a lot of people are saying that what we have here is another savings and loan crisis on our hands, and that if we're not careful the taxpayer is going to end up spending billions of dollars to bail out companies that can't take care of their retirees. We already have a lot of airlines in trouble, and with what has happened to United, you know, a lot of the other airlines may say, hey, that looks pretty good. Why should we have to pay our pension benefits? Let the government take care of them. And then auto parts companies also are in trouble. And the ultimate nightmare is the auto companies themselves going under.
PAUL GIGOT: The irony here is the United Workers, who negotiated these pension benefits in the good times, are now going to lose them. These are defined benefit plans, as they say, which means that your benefits are guaranteed in the future -- a lot like Social Security. And I think this is the kind of thing, a warning on Social Security, that this could happen to Social Security. Because after all, it depends on the solvency of the federal government, which is ... in doubt, as we say?
John Bolton, the President's nominee for UN Ambassador, barely made it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, after weeks of discussion about whether Bolton bullied subordinates or twisted intelligence.
MAN: John Bolton is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be.
PAUL GIGOT: After Republican George Voinovich refused to support Bolton, the committee voted to send his name to the full Senate, but without a recommendation. John, what happens now?
JOHN FUND: Well Paul, those who are not reconciled to President Bush running his own foreign policy took 10 pounds of flesh out of John Bolton. He is going to go to the floor, he will be confirmed. But the Democrats may mount a filibuster to appease all of their liberal base voters and I think this will eventually pass, but he'll probably have to wait a few weeks.
PAUL GIGOT: But if they have a filibuster, they need 60 votes. Do you think that it's possible that John Bolton could lose?
JOHN FUND: No. I think that they will have the filibuster to show to their base that they are continuing to oppose him. And I think it's also going to play into the politics of judicial filibusters. Ultimately, though, they don't want to talk this to death.
PAUL GIGOT: This has really been an embarrassing performance by Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Twice now, George Voinovich, one of his key members, has surprised him. And that's just never supposed to happen.
DANIEL HENNINGER: If he was a baseball manager he'd be fired.
PAUL GIGOT: He would be fired, I agree.
This week, GE launched its so-called "eco-magination" advertising campaign. It began with a print blitz in major newspapers and three TV ads featuring GE products -- jet engines, locomotives, coal burning technology -- that GE says are friendly to the environment. Dan, what's the point of GE suddenly going green?
DAN HENNINGER: Well, the short point is, there must be money to be made in green. The larger point is, I think GE's calculation is that there is global pressure for environmental regulation and they might as well take advantage of it. And I think it's a positive and shrewd step. It inserts an element of market reality into this process. All of these big global clean-up projects like Kyoto incur costs. And those costs are invariably passed from the corporations right down to consumers. And it's a very regressive tax. If GE can provide some rationalities to process, if their brainpower can make the process affordable, it'll be a big plus. But if not, it's still going to be a big bite.
PAUL GIGOT: This is also a little bit of a "don't target us if you want to when it comes to global warming," which really has become for the environmental movement the number one big issue. And Jeff Immelt is saying, "Pick on Exxon or somebody else, but just not us." All right. Next subject.