Wednesday, January 05, 2011
When I was seventeen, some friends and I got in trouble with the police for illegal possession of alcohol. Both friends pleaded guilty. I wanted to also because I was guilty. I wanted to pay the $35 fine and get it over with, but my father insisted I pay $150 for an attorney to get me off - and he told me fee would be coming out of my bank account on which his name appeared under my own.
“Why should I do that?” I asked him.
“Because with this on your record, you won’t be able to get a government job,” he said.
The clannish Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat culture I came from was extremely involved with government. It worked for you if you cooperated with it, if you knew the right people, and especially if you had an Irish name. You could get a job when you needed it that would pay fairly well and wouldn’t be too difficult. Little did I know then that I would work over thirty years at a government job as a public-school history teacher.My father is standing with his jacket open. To his left is JFK. Seated in front are Congressman (and later Speaker) John McCormack, Kenneth Lyons of NAGE, and Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers - all from Massachusetts.
My father grew up in the Irish enclave of Boston known as Charlestown. Counting his military service during World War II, he worked thirty-three years for the federal government, mostly as a civilian procurement officer for the US Air Force. After claiming a work-related disability, he retired a GS-13 in 1974 at age fifty-two with generous pension and medical benefits. Early in his career, he helped form NAGE - the National Association of Government Employees, which has since morphed into SEIU - the Service Employees International Union which has been supplying thugs for Democrats at Tea Party rallies of late. Government unions like SEIU, NEA (National Education Association), AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and AFS-CME (National Association of State, County and Municipal Employees) are the biggest public employee unions. Public employee unions now dominate the American labor movement.
These unions have been negotiating contracts with cities, states and the federal government containing extremely generous pensions and medical benefits that even in the best of the times would be unsustainable. Both sides must have known it would eventually become impossible to deliver on the terms of those contracts, but they were approved anyway. Employees contributed to the pension fund and the city or state contributed as well for what are called “defined benefit” plans. That means if the pension funds’ investments aren’t sufficient to pay certain specific benefits for each pensioner and spouse - taxpayers are on the hook for them. State and municipal officials who signed those contracts had to know there would come a day when the fund would be insufficient, but it would be far enough off that they’d be out of office and others would have to deal it.
Well, that day has arrived. Dozens of cities and states are on the brink of bankruptcy because of those contracts. Prichard, a small city in Alabama, has simply stopped sending checks to its retired employees because the pension fund dried up and the city doesn’t have the money. According to a New York Times article: “‘Prichard is the future,’ said Michael Aguirre, the former San Diego city attorney, who has called for San Diego to declare bankruptcy and restructure its own outsize pension obligations. ‘We’re all on the same conveyor belt. Prichard is just a little further down the road.’”
Mr. Aquirre mixed his metaphors, but he’s absolutely right. If a city or state goes bankrupt, union pension contracts would be nullified, just as they are when corporation does. Had General Motors been allowed to go under, its generous pension contracts with the UAW (United Auto Workers) would have also. Is that why Democrats in the Obama Administration bailed out GM? Unions are the Democrats’ biggest constituency after all. Even in bankruptcy though, taxpayers may still have been stuck with the bill because there exists another federal agency called the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation) which underwrites pension programs for bankrupt companies the way Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee foreclosed mortgages.
Government encouraged shaky mortgagees through the Community Reinvestment Act and then couldn’t pick up the pieces when it all came crashing down. The economic mess we’re in now is the result. In spite of what the Obama Administration and its media minions claim, this recession/depression is far from over. In fact, it’s likely to get a lot worse when the pension bubble breaks as it inevitably will.
So maybe I better not retire from my government job after thirty-four years. My pension wouldn’t be all that generous, especially the medical benefits, which would be paltry. With part time employment elsewhere to supplement I could get by all right, but The Maine State Employees Retirement Fund I’ve been paying into all that time is underfunded by billions. What would I do when I’m sixty-five or seventy and the checks stop like they have in Prichard? My father’s generation enjoyed a comfy retirement, but us baby boomers aren’t likely to. Humpty Dumpty is about to fall off the wall. All Obama’s horses and all the Democrat men won’t be able to put their massive entitlement programs together again. They won’t be able to bail out all the cities and states - not with a debt that’s $14 trillion and climbing fast.
Will there be riots like there are in Greece? People in France rioted when President Sarkozy said he'd raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. What will happen here when the checks stop?
Looks like we baby boomers are going to have to keep working until a few years after we’re dead. One consolation is that I won't be arrested for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor in my old age. That's good because I expect I'll be needing a snort now and then after I get home.