Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The little rube and a Town Hall

That was an hour of my life I will never get back. I sat in amazement as the little rube twisted, spun, fabricated and exaggerated facts about city finances, retirement costs, retiree medical and more. I sat and listened to one after another voter/taxpayer rant about the excessive wages and benefits of city employees. Sitting front and center in the room was none other than Richard "Don't call me Dick" Rider. Rider had prepared a flier he set out for those in attendance to pick up and read. The heading on the flier was the name of his group, "San Diego Tax Fighters." The headline reads, "OUTRAGEOUS! We Are Still Paying 130% and Higher Pensions to Most 30 Year San Diego City Employees." The flier is full of exaggerations and miss-information and it does an excellent job of inflaming anyone who reads it.

The little rube's presentation is the same power point found on his web site "CleanUpCityHall." His script is well rehearsed and followed to a tee. He did not allow anyone to change the focus or dispute his assertions. I was chatting with a detective who had attended the meeting when I receive a message from the little rube via Twitter that read, "Explaining the City Deficit in Five Minutes" , which made me laugh out loud. OK, I understand "sound bites" but come on you little rube. It took the city years to get into this hole and for just as many years, people have been analyzing the reasons and attempting to find solutions and the little rube now tells everyone he can explain it in five minutes. Click on the link above and you tell me if he has succeeded. If not, I would suggest you call his office and tell him he failed. He suggested on more than one occasion this evening the only way to effect change and get politicians to change is to call them repeatedly until you see the change you believe should take place.

The highlight of the night was the little rube rallying the masses to his battle cry. Reforming the pension of city employees. He started by exaggerating the reality of the plan and as usual presented his information in a manner to inflame and anger. He succeeded and it was clear the mood in the room was to remove and cut whatever they could. Then the little rube went one step too far. As he explained his relationship with Donna Frye he said there was not one plan that would fit all when making cuts. "The cuts we need to make are not a one size fits all. The cuts we need to make to the person who retired in 1996 are not the same as those that need to be made to someone who retired recently." Did you all catch that? He indicated in this little diatribe he is looking at making a run at those who are already retired and their benefits. Now, before you all start screaming and yelling; he is a lunatic and stands about as much chance of getting at your benefits as I do making Lieutenant. So you can all relax but you need to be aware of his mentality and thought processes. He is clearly delusional and not well versed in the reality of what a vested benefit is.

What I found more concerning was his repeated comments of taking to the voters a referendum seeking changes he believes need to be made to eliminate city employee's "Lavish Retirement Benefits." He was as usual extremely vague as to what these changes are. He was very clear though he views the voters to be the solution to making the changes necessary to eliminate these lavish benefits.

The one hour presentation was broadcast on CityTV and will soon be in the archive and available to view. It is something everyone needs to view. His town hall meetings are going to be held city wide. The little rube does not see his area of influence as being only District Five. He sees his influence to be city wide and he has made plans to go into every district with his message to garner as much support as he can to pull off his agenda and make San Diego a national model of reform and how to reduce and eliminate retirement benefits. Constant vigilance on our parts is going to be required to ensure current and past benefits are preserved and the benefits of new hires are sufficient.

Who is paying attention?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Morbid Curiosity

Maybe not the best heading but it does fit my thoughts right now. I was perusing magazines at Borders last night checking out the latest Outside, Hot Rod, Backpacker and Maxim magazine when I saw the cover of Time. "Why It's Time to Retire the 401K (And what you can do instead)" was gracing the cover of the magazine. It caught my eye so I grabbed it and found a spot to sit down so I could read what this latest revelation was all about. I have argued against 401K Defined Contribution retirement plans as the replacement for the Defined Benefit plan for many reasons over the years. So my morbid curiosity was elevated as I began to read the analysis of this popular retirement plan.

In 2006 I attended a conference at Harvard regarding the status of municipal retirement plans and the attempts across the nation to eliminate the defined benefit retirement plans for the less costly and less beneficial 401K defined contribution. Several states, cities and counties across the nation had made the change and were re-thinking the changes. What they initially thought would save them money, had now begun to exponentially cost more than the original defined benefit plan. The initial savings was negated when the payment owed by the entity grew as fewer participants were left in the plan. Similar to what is occurring in San Diego today. While there will be an initial savings, as those remaining in the SDCERS Retirement system dwindle, the City will be required to make up the difference and their payment will begin to grow, negating the savings.

The Time's article highlighted Occidental Petroleum Corporation who in the 1970's raided their employee's retirement fund. At the time, laws did not prevent employers from doing this as long as they closed the find and started over. Occidental Petroleum closed the original employee retirement fund and opened the 401K program. Over the years employees saved money in hopes of having sufficient funds to outlive their savings. The 401K plans proved to be less successful and have not provided sufficient moneys for people to live in their retirement years.

The tough times in the stock market have left most people with 401K retirement funds worse off than just 10 years ago. In 1983, sixty percent of workers in America participated in defined benefit retirement plans with less than fifteen percent of Americans participating in 401K type deferred contribution plans. 401K retirement plans were never meant to be the only vehicle for retirement. When Congress started the 401K plans it was done to close a loop hole for executives who received bonuses and to be a perk for these same highly paid executives. In 2007, the numbers reversed; sixty-three percent of retirement plans were in the form of 401K style defined contributions and seventeen percent were defined benefit plans.

The average 401K plan today has less than $46,000. That is not enough money for retirement, no matter what part of the country you live in. To make it worse, 46% of all 401K plans have less than $10,000. "The time may have come to consider returning 401K plans to their original position as a third tier of retirement planning, behind pensions and Social Security" says Alicia Munnell, who heads the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "They should not be the thing we rely on for retirement security." Last summer the Government Accountability Office concluded, "If no action is taken, a considerable number of Americans face the prospect of a reduced standard of living in retirement."

Where my morbid curiosity kicks in; what is in the mind of the mayor? Does he just not care about the people who work for this city? Why would he strip away benefits for retirement and force upon workers a plan that will leave them destitute when they reach retirement age? From the beginning the mayor has openly said our benefits were not excessive but not politically sustainable. So, for political expediency, the mayor has destroyed the lives of countless individuals who dedicated themselves to serving the citizens of San Diego. Every cut, reduction and elimination to wages and benefits at the hands of the mayor, the city has gained virtually nothing. The budget deficits continue to grow and the mayor's only answer is more cuts. He has continued to blame the employees and their retirement benefits and now the "Recession" is at fault.

What is to come next? On Monday, the City Council bought hook line nad sinker the mayor's plan to begin the process to build a new city hall. The wages and benefits of employees are not politically sustainable, but building a new city hall to the tune of $432 million dollars while facing a $200 million dollar budget deficit is. Add to this the mayor's championing of the one billion dollar expansion to the Convention Center and the $250 million dollar downtown library he want to build. Call me crazy but this is lunacy. We were once referred to as "Enron by the Sea." It appears this label was justified. The idiocy of the elected officials in this town is pathetic. The mayor will cut wages, lay off workers, eliminate retirement benefits, demand furloughs, and at the same time make plans to spend two billion dollars without batting an eye. This all while making plans to again cut wages, lay off workers, eliminate benefits and cut services in an attempt to cut the projected $200 million dollar deficit.

My morbid curiosity wonders when it will all end.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tongue in Cheek Folks

My last post, "The little rube for mayor" was tongue in cheek and designed to get people thinking, talking and acting to ensure this self serving politician is identified for who and what he is. If you have not had a chance to spend some time reading his web site, "Clean Up City Hall" it is a must read. This egotistical, self inflated; snake oil salesman is the biggest threat to city employees, retirees and workers that has ever come to town. You thought Mike Aguirre, Pat Shey, Gerry Sanders, Richard Rider or Steve Francis were dangerous? None of them hold a candle to this lunatic.

To begin to understand his agenda, mission or goals you need to take a look at the white paper, "Target San Diego" which talks about the agenda of the right leaning Republicans and the groups spearheading this fight. CPI or Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego commissioned this paper which was written by Lee Cokorinos in November 2005. This document is seventy-nine (79) pages in length and provides an inside view of the little rube and the mayor's mind and why they have done many of the things they have to labor and specifically the SDPOA since elected. It gives a clear roadmap of the little rube's agenda and what his goals and aspirations are. If you focus your attention starting on page 25, with the "Americans for Tax Reform and the Project for California's Future" you will begin to understand the reasons the mayor has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the need for increased revenues and additional or increased taxes of any kind and the little rube's fixation with outsourcing. I would strongly urge you to read the ENTIRE document closely.

At the bottom of page 27, you will find the little rube's philosophy for change; "Your primary mission is not to educate, but to persuade." To educate you must be specific; articulate; provide consistent and honest information. To persuade you simply have to sound specific; sound articulate and appear to be providing consistent and honest information. The little rube is a master of the spin machine; fabricating numbers to suit his agenda; and providing a portion of the truth making it difficult to debate his position.

On page 33, the "Reason Foundation" a center-right foundation is explained. To understand the government reforms and privatization the little rube presses for so hard, reading the information here along with the various magazines highlighted (Reason; The Economist; The Nation; The American Enterprise; and Privatization Watch). In the last sentence on page 35, the little rube appears. But on page 39, "The Performance Institute and the Assault on San Diego" starts with a statement by the little rube; "If we can show reform in San Diego, it becomes a model nationwide." On page 43 the real "Little Rube" comes to life when he hits town. Since his arrival, he has begun a systematic program to implement his agenda and build his credentials for his movement to the next level of government office. The little rube is clearly positioning himself for a run for mayor in 2012.

Our task is to shadow his every move and counter his lies, spin and half truths. To accomplish this we need to have real numbers in hand, educate ourselves so we can educate the naïve taxpayer/voter. The little rube is going to attempt to persuade these naïve taxpayers/voters, knowing they are angered by the downturn in the economy, the loss of their retirement savings, medical insurance and in many cases their jobs (his spin and exaggerated numbers and the UT have fueled this anger). He will play on this anger to persuade them to go along with his cuts, modifications and eliminations of wages, benefits and in many cases jobs. We must educate these same people with factual data and show what the little rube's agenda will do to this city.

We cannot sit back and grimace at his comments; yell at the TV; curse the paper; or allow him to put forth initiatives for changes to the Charter without countering his every word. We need to be pro-active and get in front of his campaign to persuade by educating the public. We must be attentive to his words, actions and agenda. We can use his own words and actions against him. He is playing a game of politics and following an agenda that is in conflict with some of his own past words and actions. We must focus on Law Enforcement ONLY. We must focus on the wages, benefits and working conditions of the job we know. Allow Fire, MEA, 127 and the others to focus on what they do and their wages and benefits. We can only argue and defend what we know. So let us keep it simple and focus our energy on the proposed cuts to law enforcement and the reductions to our wages and benefits and what the long term costs will be.

If you did not see the October 7, 2009, City Council meeting, I would suggest you do so. It can be seen online at the City's Web site on CityTV, in the archive section. The little rube was caught in a couple of miss-truths and allowed to use a Power Point to present his view of the future deficit. This presentation will no doubt be seen on the 14th at the little rube's town hall meeting. What is alarming about this is at the same meeting it is clear the only person on the current City Council who understands reality and has any ethics is Todd Gloria. The "Green Rock" AKA Marti Emerald, clearly is out of her league and has highlighted just how ignorant she is to the reality of politics and what is going on in the world around her. We are in trouble folks. The "Dim Bulb" AKA Sherri Lightner is just as bad as the green rock. I think if you combined their IQ's, you would not come close to reaching 100.

The little rube is holding a "Town Hall Meeting" on Wednesday, October 14, 2009, at 6pm at the Scripps Ranch Library. If history repeats itself, the audience will be filled with right leaning, extremely conservative types, with the idea city workers are overpaid, lazy, incompetent thieves whose wages and benefits need to be eliminated and reduced while the majority of jobs could be done cheaper and better by outside contractors. There was applause with every mention of eliminating DROP, reducing retirement benefits and reducing wages at his last town hall meeting.

We must counter his lies with facts and the truth; we must counter his spin with reality; we must be the teacher in the room, providing education to the taxpayer/voter as the little rube attempts to persuade. We have to first be in attendance. We need to visible, professional and active. Asking questions; countering lies; stopping the spinning of reality and educating as we do so. I will be there; who will join me?