Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Northern Marianas public pension case is one to watch by JC Grim

“House Speaker Madigan’s ‘let the courts decide’ is a travesty of justice, a costly effrontery and negligence of a legislator’s oath of office. Though, we might expect that Ty Fahner of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and other members who are practicing lawyers will represent the state “pro bono,” and most of us will know why” (Illinois Pension Reform Is without Legal and Moral Justification).

This story caught my attention on NPR’s Planet Money in May, 2012. I am not a lawyer, but this court outcome has wide implications for public pensions.

The Northern Marianas public pension story might give some context to the effort of the edu-reformers to break teachers’ pension obligations and Madigan’s willingness to “let the courts decide.” A judge in the Marianas is determining the fate of public pensions for public employees on this American Protectorate. Madigan, et al. may be counting on this court case to set the legal ground for breaking public pension contracts.

The Northern Marianas pension fund is the first public pension fund in the U.S. to seek bankruptcy protection. I don’t think it will be the last. Chris Christie is running around NJ screaming about teacher’s unreasonable pensions and the state pension shortfall. They and other pension “Henny Pennys” fail to inform the public that governors like Christine Todd Whitman in NJ and Jeb Bush in FL borrowed money from the teacher’s pension funds to pay other debts (Bush used the money to bail out Edison Schools when they mismanaged their money running FL charter schools) and those funds have never been paid back; hence, shortfalls.

It’s no surprise the Marianas would be the test case to legalize a corrupt scheme to steal the livelihoods of average government workers. It’s the home of Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay and a tax shelter heaven for corporations. Someone should investigate the judge hearing this case and the REAL reason state pension funds are in shortfall. Theft, corruption, and greed by the financial industry and congress might be buried in the files.

“Benefits were too good” is a lie being perpetrated by the tapeworms in the financial industry and edu-reformer types. In 1959, the Justice Department indicted Jimmy Hoffa for “borrowing” from the Teamsters’ pension. Hoffa planned to invest the money in a financial scheme that, when he cashed out, he would repay the teamsters’ retirement fund. That used to be called fraud until the financial industry in collusion with corrupt politicians turned private corporation’s defined-benefit retirement plans over to Wall St. who sold average workers on 401K’s and IRAs – the gift that allowed corporations to funnel workers’ salaries into the coffers of “Jimmy Hoffas” in the financial industry. Then Enron bankruptcy happened. The Enron bankruptcy case permitted corporations to pay off investors instead of workers’ pensions. Millions of average workers lost their pensions and were left destitute.

In the meantime, all through the 1980′s and 1990′s, government officials all over the US started “borrowing” from government workers’ pension funds – saying they’d pay it back when financial coffers grew. Thirty years of tax breaks for millionaires, billionaires, and capital gains drained state coffers, and government officials never returned those “borrowed” funds. Sounds like fraud – but NO. It’s those greedy policemen, firemen and teachers who don’t “deserve” such a pension plan.

Wall St will crack open the last protected pensions under the guise of lazy workers getting extravagant retirements. The financial industry wants all of our money – state and federal pensions AND social security to enrich themselves. This case could give it to them.

Senator Murkowski told CNN in a 1998 interview after the Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff scandal in the Marianas was exposed: “The last time we heard a justification that economic advances would be jeopardized if workers were treated properly was shortly before Appomattox.”

-- JC Grim

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