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The case of the potentially imperiled private pensions.

Some unions and senior-citizen groups worry that the sharp increase in bankruptcies may threaten pensions. Take Braniff Airlines. The bankrupt firm wanted to cut September pension checks to retired members of the Teamsters and Machinist unions by up to 40 percent. A federal judge blocked those cuts, but allowed cuts in pensions for retired pilots and managers. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation says it can provide aid. Its largest previous payout was $60 million. The Braniff payout might go as high as $70 million.

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Business failures are at a 50-year high, according to Dun & Bradstreet - the outlook is for ''large numbers of'' failures in the next six to nine months.

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