Archives for category: Pensions

We hear the same refrain across the nation: public sector pensions are destroying our economy. The modest pensions paid to teachers, police officers, firefighters, and social workers are a threat to our future.

Matt Taibbi examined these claims in this article in Rolling Stone. Read it and weep or rage or get active to stop the zillionaire’s from looting the hard-earned pensions of public sector employees.

Read David Sirota’s report “The Plot Against Pensions.”

Read David Sirota’s exposé of the PBS deal to take $3.5 million from Arnold for a series about the “pension crisis.”

Read about PBS’ decision to return Arnold’s money.

Read about David Sirota’s discovery that the Arnold Foundation underwrote a Brookings report on public pensions.

The puzzle: why would a multi-billionaire devote so much effort to stripping people of modest pensions that they earned for working 25-30 or more years? What is it that he finds so troubling about a man or woman receiving $40,000, 50,000, or 60,000 a year in retirement? Would he prefer penury for pensioners?

Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College and fervent advocate for public education, asks why public education continues to lavish so much favorable attention in the leaders of the privatization movement while disregarding dissenting voices or–worse–treating our nation’s public schools shabbily.

He suggests that the Republican attack of public funding of PBS may have made the network dependent on the billionaires who favor privatization and view public schools with contempt.

With the sole exception of Bill Moyers, who has run programs about ALEC’s efforts to destroy every public service, and who recently interviewed me about the profit motive in the privatization movement, PBS has made no effort to investigate the assault on public education across the nation.

Dreier contrasts the lavish attention devoted to the privatization propaganda film “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” with the absence of attention to a remarkable new film celebrating the daily struggles of public schools in Pasadena, California. This film, “Go Public,” tells the true story of life in a public school. Will it appear on public television? That’s up to you.

The same might be said of “Rise Above the Mark,” another well-produced film that tells the story of real life in schools today and the insidious efforts to destroy public education by the powerful and complicit politicians.

David Sirota recently compelled PBS to return $3.5 million to billionaire John Arnold, who had underwritten a series on the “pension crisis,” an issue dear to him as a critic of defined benefit pensions.

Maybe Dreier’s critique will encourage PBS to give equal time to our nation’s public schools, not just their critics.

PS: I mistakenly attributed the article to another wonderful Paul–Paul Horton. Wrong! My bad!

David Sirota, who has become one of our nation’s top investigative reporters, here tells the story about how Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel says there is no money, that public pensions have emptied the city’s coffers, and that he has to close schools because of a huge deficit. But Sirota says that the Mayor has found plenty of money for favored projects, funded by his “Tax Increment Financing districts.” This is a shocking story though not many who live in Chicago are likely to be surprised. During the teachers’ strike in 2012, when the city claimed it could not afford smaller classes or libraries or anything that the schools needed, there were many complaints about the use of TIF funding for an unnecessary stadium. Read on.


Sirota writes:


This same story, portraying public employees as the primary cause of budget crises, is being told across the country. Yet, in many cases, we’re only being told half the tale. We aren’t told that the pension shortfalls in many US states and cities were created because those same states and cities did not make their required pension contributions over many years. And perhaps even more shockingly, we aren’t being told that, while states and cities pretend they have no money to deal with public sector pensions, many are paying giant taxpayer subsidies to corporations — often far larger than the pension shortfalls.

Chicago is the iconic example of all of these trends. A new report being released this morning shows that the supposedly budget-strapped Windy City – which for years has not made its full pension payments – actually has mountains of cash sitting in a slush fund controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Indeed, as the report documents, the slush fund now receives more money each year than it would cost to adequately finance Chicago’s pension funds. Yet, Emanuel is refusing to use the cash from that slush fund to shore up the pensions. Instead, his new pension “reform” proposal cuts pension benefits, requires higher contributions from public employees and raises property taxes in the name of fiscal responsibility. Yet, the same “reform” proposal will actually quietly increase his already bloated slush fund.

But it gets worse: an investigation by Pando has discovered that Emanuel has been using that same slush fund to enrich some of his biggest campaign contributors.

How a “shadow budget” is bankrupting Chicago

The new report, from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First, shows how Chicago’s roughly 150 “tax increment financing” (TIF) districts divert property taxes out of schools and public services and into what is now known as Chicago’s “shadow budget.” That’s a slightly nicer term for what is, in practice, Emanuel’s very own sovereign wealth fund.

Living up to his billing as “Mayor 1%,” Emanuel has used the fund to (among other things) offer up $7 million of taxpayer cash for a new grocery store, $7.5 million for a proposed data center, $29 million for an office high rise and $55 million for a huge new hotel (and that latter project is on top of $75 million more in tax money Emanuel has offered up to build a private university a new basketball stadium). And these are just a few of the corporate subsidy proposals in a $300 million spending spree Emanuel has championed at the very moment he has pled poverty to justify pension cuts, property tax increases and the largest school closure in his city’s history.

Stephen Sawchuk reports in Education Week on a study finding that most teachers will not stay on the job long enough to collect a pension.

He writes:

“The report from Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington-based consulting group, contends that states’ current defined-benefit pension policies, which pay out according to a fixed formula, are not well aligned with a profession that has grown rapidly younger and more mobile. And that could put teachers at serious financial risk later on in their lives.

“For the paper, analysts Chad Aldeman and Andrew Rotherham used “withdrawal” tables—state estimates on teacher-turnover rates—to estimate the percentage of teachers who will earn a pension in every state. They drew on each state’s assumptions for female teachers aged 25 who began teaching after Aug. 1, 2013. (Keep in mind that the state formulas are different for male teachers or those of other ages, and these stats would look different for them.)

“Based on those assumptions, only 45 percent teachers in the median state will qualify for payouts, a process that typically takes 5 years. And only 20 percent will reach the normal retirement age of 58.

“That’s a lot of money left on the table. Many teachers won’t even meet the vesting requirements. And for those that don’t, states typically allow teachers to take only the contributions they made into the pension plan if they leave the profession, or move to another state. “

Of course, many states are trying to ditch defined benefit pensions altogether.

And it must be noted that one of the implicit goals of the current “reform” movement is to encourage teacher turnover, specifically to reduce future pension costs. That’s not good for the teaching profession or for children or for education, but it helps cut costs.

Rupert Murdoch definitely does not like David Sirota.

Sirota is the journalist who broke the story about the Arnold Foundation funding PBS’ pension series. Arnold thinks all those greedy pensioners are bankrupting the country. Can’t have that!

Murdoch rushed to denounce Sirota and defend his fellow billionaire.

What is it with these billionaires? It is ok for them to live in luxury, right? Why do they want to cut the pensions of people who just want a decent retirement?

Texas billionaire John Arnold, who has drawn attention for his interest in public sector pension reform (meaning that public sector pensions are too generous), is supporting both sides of the gubernatorial race in Rhode Island.

David Sirota wrote about how the Arnold Foundation underwrote a PBS special on the pension crisis and underwrote a Brookings Institution report on the same subject. PBS returned $3.5 million to the foundation because of Sirota’s disclosure.

Arnold is also a major supporter of charter schools, Common Core, and other “reforms” favored by corporate reformers.

The Providence Journal reports:

” PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Billionaire Houston philanthropist John Arnold is not only investing heavily in the political future of state General Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo — he’s also backing a national education effort showcasing her Democratic rival: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

“Arnold’s philanthropic organization, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has awarded $4.25 million in grants over the last three years to “Education Reform Now,” 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with ties to the “Mayor’s for Educational Excellence Tour,” according to the foundation’s website.

“Taveras, a Democrat in his first term, is one of four mayors taking part in the tour, which is meant to highlight new education efforts in their cities.

The tour includes San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and is scheduled to stop in Providence on April 25.

“Education Reform Now” is operated by “Democrats for Education Reform,” a New York-based political action group that supports, among other things, closing down failing schools and establishing national education standards.

“Last week, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation confirmed that it helped finance the nonprofit and nonpartisan Brookings Institution’s report, “Pension Politics: Public Employee Retirement System Reform in Four States.”

“The report, released last month, highlights the state pension system overhaul that Raimondo spearheaded in 2011 as a national model.”

So, billionaire Arnold hails Raimondo as a “pension reformer,” and supports Taveras an an “education reformer.”

This may be the most important article you read this week or month or year.

Crack investigative journalist David Sirota, who blew open the story of the financing of the PBS series on pensions, now demonstrates the five rules of what he calls “native advertising.”

In this case, the same John Arnold Foundation that underwrote the PBS series with $3.5 million, underwrote a report by the Brookings Institution on the need to rein in pensions of public sector workers.

Sirota demonstrates that this is far from accurate, that there are other views, but that Brookings did not present a balanced account. It added to the echo chamber of those who want to cut pensions but ignore huge tax cuts for corporations.

Most telling is the David vs. Goliath claim, where the rich corporate sector presents itself as the little guy against the powerful unions.

He writes:

“Rule 4: Portray the native advertiser as an underdog and its work as heroic, all while ignoring facts to portray the native advertiser’s opponents as an evil Goliath

“The best native advertising flips the script. It casts the monied native advertiser as the earnest underdog David and the native advertiser’s disadvantaged opponent as the big bad Goliath. The Arnold-funded Brookings paper does exactly this.

“For instance, the paper asserts that “public employee unions are one of the most—if not the most—powerful political actors in state politics.” Readers are expected to believe that this makes unions the omnipotent villain that needs to be thwarted by poor powerless corporations, even though that’s the opposite of what the data show.

“According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, unions have spent a combined $1.7 billion on state politics since 2000. That’s a lot – but it is dwarfed by the $8.1 billion spent on state politics by the business sector in that same period. Those numbers are hardly surprising or secret – they track the same rough ratio that exists at the federal level.”

Intrepid and fearless journalist David Sirota broke open the scandal of PBS accepting $3.5 million from the foundation of a billionaire with a strong interest in “reforming” (away) the pensions of public sector workers.

Here Sirota reviews how the story unfolded, how PBS and WNET stone-walled, how the Arnold foundation attempted to distance itself from its funder, and how social media changed everything. A decade ago, no one would have connected the dots. If they had, their article would have been published, dismissed, and forgotten after quick denials. With social media, the spotlight of public scrutiny is brighter.

Thank you, David Sirota. You are the public’s protector and omsbudsman.

Investigative Journalist David Sirota wrote a brilliant series of articles about PBS taking $3.5 million about pension reform from the foundation of billionaire JohnArnold, a former Enron trader. After stonewalling, PBS decided there was a perception of conflict of interest since Arnold has been a prominent figure in the public debate about public pensions. And PBS returned the money.

Here is an analysis of the imbroglio by Felix Salmon of Reuters. It is an open secret that PBS has become heavily dependent on corporate funding, as Salmon notes here:

“There’s a whole world of subtext in that phrase, “we thought we were following the guidelines” — a lot of which my former boss Jim Ledbetter teased out in his 1997 book Made Possible By…: The Death of Public Broadcasting in the United States. The big problem is that public broadcasting has become dependent on corporate financing — and has become very good at coming up with programming which represents corporate interests.” I was reminded of a conversation I had with a high-level executive of Maryland Public Broadcasting a year ago; she said to me, “We no longer can do investigative journalism, we go where we find corporate sponsors.”

Sirota’s original pieces were “The Wolf of Sesame Street” and “How PBS is Becoming The Plutocratic Broadcasting Service.”

PBS is returning $3.5 million to former Enron trader John Arnold, in response to stories by investigative journalist David Sirota about a likely conflict of interest. Arnold was underwriting a series on pension reform, and Sirota warned that PBS was abandoning its impartiality because of Arnold’s strong views.


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