Remember Pensions?

I don’t.  And if you’re my age (under 30, but barely), you probably don’t either.  They’re like unicorns, something that I’ve read about, but never experienced personally.

What I understand of pensions is basically that they’re promises from an employer that a certain amount of money will be made available to the retiree after a certain number of years of service.  The funding commitment, or buy-in, by the participant, in most cases, is minimal.  The thinking behind this mindset is commonly known as defined benefit, as opposed to the more commonplace 401(k) accounts that you and I have (or used to have before the economic crisis forced many of us to liquidate to keep a roof over our heads).  The 401(k) accounts belongs in a category known as defined contribution.  The basic difference is that defined benefits define just that, the benefit, not what the worker contributes, and defined contribution is the exact opposite, the contribution on the part of the worker is defined, not the benefit.

Pensions (defined benefit) are undoubtedly a better deal for the worker.  Who wants to focus on what they have to save for their retirement?  I’d much rather focus on what’s due to me without having really to consider what’s going to have to come out of my pocket to pay for the nurses who are going to be wiping the drool off of my chin when I’m zoned out in a nursing home at the age of 97.  Naturally, these are the more expensive options, and private employers have pretty much completely abandoned defined benefit plans in favor of defined contribution plans.  Government workers still largely have defined benefit plans, one of the few remaining perks of working in the public sector.

Most likely, this is set to change in the coming years.  Many states are thinking about converting their systems to defined contribution plans, or a combination of defined benefit and defined contribution.  And probably I’m going to surprise some of my readers out there, depart from leftist orthodoxy for once, and hit one into right field on this one.  We have no choice but to abandon the purely defined benefit plan for workers.  It’s simply to expensive for the states to be able to afford it while simultaneously paying for the other things that governments need to pay for.  This isn’t a question of morals or what we ‘should’ do, it’s a question of what’s financially viable.

For those of you that are reading this that are teachers and cops, and stand to lose from this, I’m sorry.  This is not a personal attack.  I realize that the work government workers perform is vital to who we are as a nation and our continued existence.  But the compensation model that we have in this country is simply not sustainable given the long term demographic trends that we’re witnessing in the United States these days.  I’m not going to demonize what many have come to think of as ‘lavishly compensated’ government workers.  That’s hardly ever the case.  Mostly, government employees are everyday, middle class people like you and me.  I still support the collective bargaining process, and I consider myself a friend of labor.  But at the end of the day, the defined benefit retirement model is simply too expensive for this nation.

I don’t think that we should throw existing workers nearing the end of their careers into the defined contribution plans.  I simply don’t think that would be fair.  For those workers that are still going to be in the labor force for some time to come, I think that they should be put into it gradually.  And for all incoming and new government workers, I think that they should totally enrolled in the hybrid plans.

This isn’t something that anyone enjoys doing.  But it’s something that we must do as a nation if we truly want to remain globally competitive.  And at the end of the day, it’s the right, not to mention fair, choice for this country.

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You Stay Classy Arizona

In the recent past, the state of Arizona has assumed an outsized prominence in the national news media relative to its size.  Discussion of the state and political goings on there have cropped up with an unusual frequency in the past year or so.  First came the passage of SB 1070, the toughest, anti-immigrant, and some would say, a bigoted law that would co-opt local law enforcement in the fight against illegal immigration.  The legislation was widely decried as being racially tinged.  Local police were authorized to interrogate anyone they suspected of being illegal aliens with respect to their citizenship status.  This is unprecedented in modern US history.

That embarrassment was followed by the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) at a supermarket meet and greet in Tuscon.  Congresswoman Giffords was nearly killed, as six other innocent bystanders were along with 13 others who were seriously injured.

So, what does Arizona doe in the wake of this?  The state legislature is currently debating a bill that would further make it easier to carry around guns in the state, specifically on the campuses of its public universities.

Really Arizona?  A member of Congress nearly dies and six others do indeed die as a direct result of gun violence, and your response is to make it easier for people to carry firearms onto the campuses of public universities?  This policy is so devoid of logic, not to mention compassion, that it boggles the mind.

As a native of Michigan, the state the produced Kwame Kilpatrick, and a resident of New York, the state that produced Eliot Spitzer, I know a fair amount about being embarrassed by your elected officials.  Arizona, you’ve got nothing on the rest of us.  You ought to be ashamed of your legislature.  What a bunch of clowns.  And if you want to see what the GOP wants America to look like, look no further than the Grand Canyon state.  Arizona is a blueprint for what the Republican party would do to this country were they to hold all the levers of power.

Obama to Qadaffy: Leave

So, Obama wants the Libyan dictator out.  In a call today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Obama articulated a new position that Qaddafi should resign immediately.  Hear hear.  A noble sentiment.  And one that should have some force supporting it.  I remember the last time that an American President was demanding a change of government, insisting that an Arab despot should relinquish power.  It was in the spring of 2003.  The President was Bush; the despot was Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

And how did that turn out for the US?  If you ask any reasonable person, Democrat or Republican alike, you’ll get the same answer.  I don’t think the President ought to be demanding wholesale change of regime that he’s not willing to back up.  American power, in part, is derived by the fact that people fear us.  And if we become the boy who calls wolf, eventually, those very wolves will end up eating us because no one will fear us after empty promises prove to be just that, hollow shells with nothing behind them.  Should the President try to follow through with his demand, as a President ought to be any time they insist a country change its government,  he’d be crazier than Bush.

The takeaway: Don’t make threats we’re not willing to back up.  It cheapens us, despite whatever sentiment is fueling them.  As noble as the goal is, making demands we’re not prepared to enforce is beneath us as a country and weakens us in the long term.  We, as a country, have a troubling tendency to make them with an astonishing frequency.  And, it should have occurred to this country long, long ago that playing God and kingmaker in so many countries in the world in precisely the same fashion hasn’t exactly worked out for us over the long haul.  Maybe now’s a good time for us to stop telling everyone who should be governing them.

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*After I saw the above spelling of Qaddafi’s name, I couldn’t help myself.  It just reminds me of the best of tabloid journalism that one would find in the New York Post or some such publication.  And it amuses me.

Stupidest Sex Scandal Ever

Congressman Christopher Lee of New York’s upstate 26th District resigned his seat today.  The reason?  Sexual improprieties, of course!  Gawker reported that the married, Republican (naturally) Congressman was trolling for sex on Craigslist, of all places.  The reason that Gawker was able to make this assertion was that the moron in question (and sitting Congressman, mind you) was sending out his face picture.  How intelligent!  This is kind of like Eliot Spitzer thinking that noone would either notice or care that he was off banging high priced whores.  I’m not sure I understand this manner of thinking, though I do know that should I ever pursue a career in public service, discretion is the name of the game when it comes to sexual transgressions.

At any rate, now, you should be wondering ‘Hey, this is a Republican in a sex scandal, so where’s the sexually deviant part?’  Well here it is: the reason that he resigned so quickly was that he was also busy scouting out transgendered women.  Several pre-op women claim to have carried on correspondence with the Congressman, and there’s also evidence that Lee specifically posted on Craigslist for transgendered women.  After the allegations were made my Gawker today, Lee resigned almost immediately.

What I love about Republican sex scandals is that they’re always more interesting than ones with Democrats.  With Democrats, it’s always a lecherous male politician running around on his wife, sometimes with a prostitute.  So boring, so predictable.  But with Republicans, they’re always so much more lurid and there’s usually a twist (like trannies!), which always makes them so much more entertaining.  So, a wonderful end to a rather boring, late February week.

Peeps!

For me, aside from a longstanding tradition I have of spending the holiday with a close friend, my favorite part of Easter is the Peeps diorama competition.  Every year, the Washington Post has a contest wherein participants stage scenes from history, art, politics or pop culture with scenes to scale and populated with Peeps, those absolutely vile, delicious, awful and wonderful Easter marshmallow ‘treats’.  There’s probably been an Easter or two that I ate an entire package of Peeps and promptly vomited them right back up.  I’d have to check with my mother.  But, the allure of Peeps isn’t in the taste.  What contestants manage to come up with is breathtakingly hilarious sometimes, and usually pretty damned clever.  Take a look at the links in the article and you’ll get a better understanding of what I’m talking about.

Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill Advances

I think unions had a very valid function when they first came into existence.  Preventing people from dying in industrial accidents, and making sure that the average worker got a fair shake were their primary goads.  Were they corrupt in many senses?  Of course.  And I think that in the past few decades, scapegoating workers and their compensation for the ills of the country has become rather fashionable.

Nowadays, I think that unions still have a valid function, given the posturing evident by Governor Scott Walker (R-WI).  The bill in question that would strip unions of their right to collective bargaining advanced in the lower chamber of the state legislature when Republicans, after refusing to deliberate on any amendments whatsoever, sprung a surprise vote on the floor, and closing it seconds later, a period during which most Democrats present didn’t get a chance to vote.

The bill’s now headed to the state Senate, where all 14 of the Democratic Senators have, for all intents and purposes, gone on strike in absentia, rather ironically, preventing the body from conducting any business whatsoever.  So, gridlock will ensue.  And, before you criticize, know that Abraham Lincoln pulled the same kind of stunt, not showing up for work (actually, jumping out of a second story window) as an Illinois state legislator, to prevent a bill from advancing in the 1840s.

I don’t think that Walker is primarily interested in reducing labor costs.  The unions have said that they’re willing to make concessions.  On the face of it, sure, he is, but I don’t think that’s his real goal.  Walker has rejected every compromise extended to him.  Everyone else in the country is feeling the pain, why shouldn’t unions?  And unions recognize this.  But Walker has rejected their offers out of hand, indicating, at least to me, that his primary goal isn’t the reduction of labor expenditures, but the destruction of the unions.  This really is a shame.  Instead of focusing on balancing the budget of the state and focusing on job creation, we have a Republican governor who’s intent on destroying opponents and waging philosophical battles instead of achieving concrete, bipartisan results.  I can only imagine what sort of tone this is setting for the rest of his administration.  Governor Walker was just inaugurated in January.

Libya Gets Bloodier

The events of this Arab Spring have been relatively bloodless, at least thus far.  Yes, some people have died, but given the scope of the changes, it’s relatively few.  As I write this, that’s set to change.  Forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi have deployed tanks in and around downtown Tripoli as his authority, even amongst his inner circle of cronies and relatives, has rapidly collapsed, have deployed tanks inside the city.  Reports of live gunfire in the capital have continued to come from the embattled north African state.

Gaddafi, a figure I would normally make light of, given his delusion in connection with, well, pretty much everything, has blamed the uprising on drug fueled teenagers and Al-Qaeda.  Right.  Drug fueled teenagers and those democracy loving followers of Osama bin Laden are known for their prowess in toppling corrupt, kleptocratic regimes.

This situation is a relative no-brainer for the United States.  Whereas Mubarak in Egypt was an ‘ally’ (read: giant foreign and military aid recipient) we have no such constraints in condemning Gaddafi, who has never been such an ‘ally.’  On the contrary, for most of the history of his regime, he has actively opposed, often violently, the interests of the US, even going so far as to undertake a program of airline hijackings and bombings on western airlines in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the infamous 1988 Lockerbie bombing.  Gaddafi has somewhat moderated his stance on the global scene since then and he’s given up his quest for nuclear weapons, but his strange and bizarre antics have continued unabated at home.

So, here’s for hoping that another tyrant is toppled, with a minimum of life lost.  Good luck to you Libya.