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Monday, May 30, 2005

Hula Hula Boys

Don't seem to want too many civilians attending their luau. I've spent the last few weeks trying to locate an online source for many of the important Oregon Supreme Court cases published before 1998. Starting in 1998, the Court started making its "slip opinions" available online so that anyone with a computer could access them. However, the court has not itself made earlier decisions available electronically. They are available through several subscription sources -- Lexis Nexis for one, CaseMaker for another. Unfortunately, if you aren't a subscriber or belong to a subscriber institution (like PSU, for example), Lexis Nexis is off limits, while CaseMaker is available only to members of the Oregon State Bar. So, while I can access some of these cases because I'm affiliated with PSU, I can't make them available publicly. Fortunately, Ron Ledbury, a Portland curmudgeon with legal/political/economic training and who has a variety of axes to grind, (and an amicus filer in Strunk), *has* made them available on a website he hosts http://law.pdxlawg.us/cases/ (I am grateful to Ron for making the site available - and I fully endorse his efforts to make them more widely available - but I don't want anyone to mistake my link as an endorsement of the rest of his causes). It can be a challenge to find the cases on his site, but if you know the citation (typically you need to have seen them cited in a legal brief or ruling by case/chapter number, e.g. OR 306), they are reasonably easy to find. Ron's site covers Oregon Supreme Court rulings from 1976 - 1998 and includes *most* of the important PERS cases - Eccles, Hughes, OSPOA and others. If you want to understand the case history that the Supreme Court has staked out on PERS, it is worthwhile to review these cases. If nothing else, you'll get a better understanding of why each side in the current dispute cites these cases for different reasons.

Tomorrow, unless more interesting news takes precedence, I'll try to provide direct links from here to some of the important PERS cases on Ron's site. In the meantime, happy hunting.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Knocking on Heaven's Door

On the eve of this Memorial Day weekend, I depart from my usual screeds to remember a whole bunch of people who mean so much to me. Many of these people left long before their time was up; in other cases they had rich, full lives but whose supersized life really challenges me to live only in the shadow of their memory. Consider me selfish - I wish all these people were still around. On the other hand, more than a few of these people would barely recognize the place. Rest in peace: Mom (you were too damn young to leave. You didn't get to meet Susan or Liz, and we never had a chance to reconcile our lifelong differences); Dad (my personal WW II hero); Irene (the best damn mother in law any man could ask for); Cece (you were never as mean and gruff as you thought you were; in fact, you were just an old softie and I appreciate your suspending all your prejudices to let me share a part of your life); Alex (life is so unfair - you never had a chance from the day you were born); Wayne (thanks for hiring me and thanks for being the intellectual and scholarly role model you were); Dan (thanks for being there when I needed you); Tom (you're forgiven for not minding the store); Ann (I only did what I had to do; it was never personal); Joe (thanks for stepping aside to let me have a chance); and Vera (my heroine and role model for all the many things that unsung state workers do on a daily basis to make everyone's life a whole lot easier).

Finally, let me take a moment to honor all those men and women who defend our country in the armed services. I may not abide political decisions to enter into armed conflict, but I have nothing but admiration, respect, and gratitude for your service to our country. A special note to my nephew Adam: we love ya man. We thank the lord daily that you came home from Baghdad with everything still in tact (including your wicked sense of humor). Eighteen months of combat can suck the life out of you and everything around you. It didn't do it to you. You da man.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Next Voice You Hear

May or may not be either OUS or PERS explaining why it is that *most* OUS faculty and staff haven't even received IAP statements yet (at least as of yesterday). The problem, it seems, is that in the conversion to the "new" PERS system, OUS information didn't transfer properly. Suddenly, it seems, that PERS has no addresses for OUS members. Wonder if they lost all the account information too. This problem certainly hasn't been communicated very widely. Rumor has it that PSU's HR office didn't even know the problem existed; OSU has recently reported the problem. I'm sure that OUS and PERS will work this out, but there has been a stunning silence from both groups in informing all the affected parties at all OUS institutions of the problems.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wonder Where the Lions Are?

Or anyone on the Supreme Court these days. They clearly aren't in a hurry to release the City of Eugene decision despite all the predictions of one being imminent. Anyone for early summer, after the Legislature packs up and goes home and everyone's off on vacation. It's sorta like politicians who make some really important (unpopular) decision on a Friday afternoon and hope that it will get lost in the excitement of the weekend. And, if it wasn't already obvious, the Court won't be releasing any PERS-related decisions this week. Our wait is reminiscent of the experience described in Fogel and Engerman's controversial book on the economic effects of slavery called "Time on the Cross".

Held Up Without a Gun

The plot thickens. In response to my "Torn and Tattered" essay, I received several emails from PERS members who are in positions to have knowledge about their employers' submissions to PERS. Their stories share a common theme - it ISN'T the employers that are at fault here. Both aim their blame at PERS. While one would expect that employers would try to sidestep blame, there are several smoking guns they offer. In one example, an employer has verified electronic receipts from PERS showing the dates that all contributions to the IAP were made. For the first few months PERS could not reconcile the employer submittals even though the employer had submitted them in a timely (and correct) way. Then, the records show, information returned to the employer verified by PERS as of 12/31/04 had not included contributions for October and November 2004. Did they include December 2004? This employer's employees showed earnings rates that varied all over the place, despite the fact that all payroll information was transmitted for all employees to PERS on magnetic tape or electronically in the same instant. It the second case, with issues similar to the first, the PERS member/transfer agent added another twist. Payroll usually comes at the end of the month. Payroll submissions to PERS take place on the first of the next month; PERS only invests money on the first of the month. Consequently, for example, money withheld from an employee's account and contributed on their behalf to PERS on March 31st (for example), arrives at PERS on April 1, but too late for PERS to record it *and* invest it that day. Instead, the money doesn't get invested until May 1 - thirty or more days after PERS gets the money. Where does the money sit during that period and who scoops up the earnings - it surely isn't the employee? Inquiring minds demand to know.

All my various emails have an angry and edgy and cranky tone to them. Letters and emails and posts at other places - myhillmywaynow.blogspot.com and the PERS Discussion Group have already started heavy recruiting and strategizing discussions. They're planning to "Rock the Casbah". Several speak of potential legal action, which may be inevitable. I think it fair to say that readers already know that it is bad enough to be shaken down by a bunch of guys with middle names of "the" in a carjacking; but it is a whole lot worse when the hold up takes place by a bunch of well-dressed, well-spoken thugs in suits and ties and no guns.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Torn and Tattered

Just when you thought it couldn't get much worse, along comes ....... the IAP and its assorted fiascoes, catastrophes, and just plain fubars. Things have gotten so bad that PERS has had to post a Q&A over on its site just to explain some of the questions they've already fielded. I won't repeat what's there, but I will report that I've heard from readers who work for the SAME agency in the SAME Department who've received different rates of return on their IAP investments. You have to ask yourself: how is it possible for two people working in the same department at the same agency to get two different return rates on their IAP investments? Kinda curious, doncha think? Who do you blame? Darth Vader? This one has me flummoxed. Worse still, everybody's pointing fingers at everyone else -- the employers didn't submit payroll data in a timely way, PERS didn't process the data in a timely manner, the Legislature didn't provide enough time for PERS to implement the IAP, the investment bankers didn't invest the money quickly enough. It's enough to sound like a Monty Python skit, except this one involves real money.

It only gets worse. Today I received a note from a reader who reported that she retired on 3/1/04. She contributed $524 to the IAP for January and February 2004. She couldn't get access to the money when she retired; she's had to wait for it until just last week. Today, 14 months after retiring, the account is worth $410, despite the fact that the fund didn't lose a dime while the woman was working. But because they couldn't figure out how to get her money in timely fashion, she eats the losses for 2005, which exceed the gains from 2004. Now I suppose you could argue that PERS would have to pay out the gains in to those people whose accounts gained in value and I would agree with you. But, don't you think that the members SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN A CHOICE? How difficult would it have been to say: "we can't get your money to you when you retire; do you want to keep it fully invested or move it to a safe money-market type account?" Why is it that the involuntary beta testers of any system are the ones with the broken computers, and programmers saying, oh we're sorry but we have no liability.

The more this stuff surfaces, the more I think I'm walking torn and tattered into a "close" room where there are three or four others in the room - PERB, the Employers, the Legislature, the Governor, and some right coast investment bankers. Someone has just cut the cheese and it stinks. The only thing I know for certain is that it ain't me who let one rip, but somehow I'm always the one downwind of the stench.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Get On The Natch - I

There's not exactly a ton of news to report right now. Maybe the City of Eugene decision will be released this week, maybe not. Justice Paul de Muniz, author of the majority opinion in Strunk is out of the country for 4 weeks, as reported last week in one of the newspapers I review. So either the decision is already written, is being written by someone else, or is on the back burner until Justice de Muniz returns. We'll know when we'll know. That's about all any of us can say.

In the meantime, I'm going to introduce a new feature today: Get on the Natch, which allows me to publish (with permission) letters and emails I get from PERS friends and occasionally non-friends. These letters usually speak for themselves and so I won't offer any commentary other than to introduce them. I won't identify the authors of these letters; people can feel free to email me in full knowledge that I won't reveal their writings to anyone. I would NEVER put your words from a private letter to me up here without first getting your permission. Look for the first letter posted in the space below this afternoon.

Our first entry of Get On The Natch:


Disco Inferno - Friday, May 20, 2005, posted by mrfearless47
.........."And so my PERS friends (and those of you who I wouldn't exactly call 'friends'), there you have it. You understand now why I want to take all of that social, economic, and religious diversity of the PERS family and just turn it upside down, turn it inside out, and just shake the living daylights out of the apathy, enmity and animus that exists towards us in the halls of power. To do this, we have to set aside all our differences and unite in a common purpose.".......

I loved your last three "rants." I would like to help with that "common purpose" you mentioned above. I want "PERS people" to be mad as hell and stand up and say "I'm not going to take this any more!" I know I'm tired of having my PERS pocket picked and being called names like greedy and lazy.

I want to start doing something NOW to help change the climate in Salem in 2006! We need to have a planning phase and start it SOON. I've been thinking of how we might best reach a good portion of those 300,000 PERS members and get them motivated. We need their email addresses. The PERS-member readers of your blog and Dana's OPDG forum still know a lot of active PERS member back where they used to work. If several "someones" that they respect (you, Dana, Martha, RRobert) were to ask them to contact their old co-workers, explain to them why they should care about what is happening to their PERS, and then ask them for a staff directory or just a list of employee names and email addresses. From that we would be able to compile an email list that would at least get us started on our way. ... (an identifying line edited out -mrf47).

After we've gotten a good number of email addresses, we have the best writer in our group (you) confer with our other greats -- Dana, Martha, RRobert [Spake not always clear ;-) ] -- to craft the first email to be sent out. In addition to explaining to them why they should care about PERS and why we need to work together to elect new blood in Salem, we ask them to forward this email to all the PERS members they know and they, in turn, should ask these people to forward it to their PERS friends/co-workers, etc, and so on. Also, ask all of them to send you the email addresses of the people they forwarded your message to. We then add those addresses to our ever growing email list.

If enough people commit to working on something like this, we could go from a grass roots level to something really big. Have you had any experience in creating a political PAC? I wonder how difficult it would be. Maybe one of Dana's OPDG members would have experience with creating one. If something like that could be created and we are able to reach a good portion of our 300,000 PERS members, we could then ask them to contribute $5 or $10 to the PAC to help elect PERS friendly candidates to the Governor's Office and the Legislature.

What do you think? Am I being overly optimistic? Too simplistic? What? I just want us to START doing something to get the ball rolling in the right direction. I'd be willing to make a political time commitment....last year I worked on Kerry's campaign -- I know, I know, but he was better than Dubya Dufus -- as long as he could keep his foot out of his mouth and quit handing gems to Karl Rove to bash him over the head with.

Tell me what you think.....what can we start doing to help our cause? And keep ranting on your blog -- I really look forward to them!

A fired up PERS member,"

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wreck of the Day

Two of my favorite intellectuals - and professional acquaintences (Dick Lewontin and Steve Gould (Stephen Jay Gould, now deceased) - wrote a spendid critical analysis of elements of evolutionary theory in the late 1970's. The article was published in the Journal of the Royal Society (of England) and carried the incredibly delicious title "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm". I've been waiting more than 2o years to use the title of that article in some piece of my own writing. Sometimes the opportunities arise when you least expect them. After reading in yesterday's Oregonian that Friday the Oregon Senate passed on to the Oregon House a bill that would remove partisan labels from all legislative and statewide elected offices, reducing the contests to primary "free for alls," I knew that the opportunity had finally come.

On the surface any effort to remove partisanship from Oregon politics would be seen as a good thing. Nevertheless I keep wondering whether this will be another wreck of the day from the legislature or whether it is a serious attempt to put lipstick on the pig. Call me cynical if you like. I don't have any answers, but I do wonder "Cui Bono?", "trojan horse?", "wolf in sheep's clothing?" and other thoughts. I'm not exactly enamored of the motives of anything coming from this or past legislatures. Exactly how does removing a label from a ballot remove partisanship? How does a candidate run without a platform, yet have a platform to run on? And where does that non-partisan platform come from? How will we know whose water any particular candidate is carrying? Can a candidate list his/her political affiliation (or hints of it) in a voters' pamphlet and, if so, where exactly is the non-partisanship there. And the list of questions goes on. We're left to inquire, as Lewontin and Gould might have done, are labels part of a spandrel that simply have to be there to satisfy political constraint, or do they exist for a purpose separate from their political necessity. Are they necessary at all? Put more simply, are labels a necessary consequence of the political architecture, or do they have some function independent of it? Which leads us back to the question: will removing the labels produce the "wreck of the day" or a "panglossian panacea"?

OK, I know this rumination appears to violate what I said yesterday about being clear and writing with a purpose. I can't help it. When I read the piece about this bill in the Oregonian, I went looking to find the authors of this bill and who voted for/against it. The lists left me in the curious position of thinking of Lewontin and Gould's article and how it perfectly skewered the adaptationist paradigm in evolutionary theory, and how, by analogy, it could extend to this effort to "adapt" to the political structure of Oregon. If you want to read it, here is a good start. Since the link isn't visible for some obscure reason, I have to enter it manually here. You'll need to copy this to your browser bar: http://tinyurl.com/cnyu6. It's heavy, but rewarding, reading.

A demain.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Fool on the Hill

Forgive me if a sound a trifle annoyed at a few people. I don't have any difficulty with people who think that my two previous entries (West of Hollywood, Disco Inferno) were a bit "over the top.". Ain't it grand that we live in a free country? But as an educator for more than 30 years, I do occasionally get peeved when people criticize me for saying something I didn't say, or reading something beyond what I'm saying to distill a different message than the plain language of my writings state. Years and years of telling students (and children) to "read the instructions carefully" have clearly fallen on more than a few deaf ears. The most recent blast of criticism (about 5, compared with more than 500 "you go girl" - don't ask and I won't tell) probably isn't worth responding to publicly, yet I want to make a point clearer than a few people seem to be interpreting it. My ellipitical titles and forays into popular culture notwithstanding, each of my essays has a clear point or two in it. These aren't disguised, buried in metaphor, or otherwise obscured in a wall of words. They're there for those who take the time to read the essays fully. If it wasn't obvious from the two controversial essays, let me repeat: my point was NOT simply an attack on the Fool on the Hill (our current Governor); it was much larger than that. If you think that ALL I'm interested in doing is sending Ted out to find another elected job he can serve in for yet another single term, you've completely misunderstood what I'm suggesting. Think of my approach as the PERS members' "nuclear option" (or is that "nookyaler option"). Changing Governors without changing the rest of the branches of government is sort of like moving a deck chair on the Titanic.

I'm not fond of any of Gertrude Himmelfarb's writings (except maybe her book on Charles Darwin written well-before the rest of her ideas were so hardened), but I am fond of a title to a book she wrote about 10 years ago entitled "On Looking Into the Abyss". Think of that title when you read my last two essays.

This muckraker will be taking a vacation from his anti-elected officials screeds for awhile. Further blog postings will continue as usual, but the reminders about our elected officials will continue appear at periodic intervals, whenever I think people are getting too smug, too self-satisfied, and too complacent. "We've only just begun to fight."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Disco Inferno

Warning: if yesterday's essay bothered you, today's won't make you any happier. In fact, today's might make you want to throw stones (literally) at me. Read at your own risk.

Disco Inferno is a place I think about regularly. Imagine a place where all elected officials (and the unelected or self-appointed ones too) could be sent to suffer through endless reruns of "Saturday Night Fever", polyester disco suits, Donna Summer's pantingingly puerile lyrics, "Welcome Back, Kotter", and maybe with the Village People thrown in for added torture. Think of this as a Guantanamo for legislators who committed terrorist acts against PERS members and who continue to think of PERS as a sort of slush fund to bail out a state budget that's been assembled out of quicksand since 1990 when Ballot Measure 5 passed. The problems in Oregon aren't necessarily caused by a lack of money; they are almost assuredly caused by a pandemic lack of imagination, an epidemic shortage of intelligence, a millimeter deep gene pool, insatiable corporate greed, and a congenital absence of a spine - all collected together in that group of stuffed shirt legislators that keep getting sent back to Salem to do ------------------ absolutely nothing, in cahoots with governor after governor each actively trying to do worse than his/her predecessor. At the 'eye of this stupidity storm' are PERS members and retirees who ended up with a system, not of their making, that turned out to benefit them in retirement (AS PROMISED FROM DAY 1) in a way that working for substandard salaries did not during their working life.

As I noted yesterday, there are no fewer than 300,000 PERS members, retirees, beneficiaries, spouses, and children who are of voting age in Oregon. This is one of the most accurate cross-sections of Oregon I've ever run into. We live east of the Cascades; we live west of the Cascades; we live in urban centers and in rural outposts and everywhere in between. We vote Democrat, we vote Republican, we vote Independent, we vote Libertarian, we vote Socialist. We're pro-choice, we're anti-abortion, we're pro-Union, anti-Union, pro-schools, anti-schools, neutral about schools, for tax increases, against tax increases, we're pro-death penalty, anti-death penalty, pro-assisted suicide, anti-assisted suicide. We go to church, to synagogue, to mosque, or we don't worship to any higher deity. No matter how you slice us and dice us, the most you can say is that we are not monolithic in our political beliefs, our religious beliefs, or our social beliefs. Yet, for all this diversity, most of us feel unity in the belief that we've been betrayed by all the efforts to "reform" PERS and we take it very personally that we've been singled out for some sort of karmic retribution by the very people (not literally) who developed the system for our retirement, and who now feel that an injustice was done to employers and to taxpayers for which WE must now pay. Our history and the facts of our stories mean nothing do them - they're inconvenient details that don't fit the narrative the media is telling and the politicians spouting, and so must be ignored, rewritten, or massaged. They conveniently forget that the PERS system was foist on us; we didn't get to pick it or choose it. It came with the jobs. So what if we figured out after years of salary freezes, salary cuts, cost-of-living increases that barely kept some members off food stamps, that the PERS system was the ONLY compensatory aspect of our salaries that made the jobs economically viable. We scrimped, saved, and suffered self-deprivation during our working lives so that we wouldn't have to do this quite as aggressively when we stopped working in our later years. For this, we get what? A swift kick in the ass, a cut in retirement benefits, and a goodbye tantamount to saying: "Don't let the door hit your butt on the way out. So long you greedy SOB. Have a nice life" Oh, you don't like it: "Sue me".

And so my PERS friends (and those of you who I wouldn't exactly call 'friends'), there you have it. You understand now why I want to take all of that social, economic, and religious diversity of the PERS family and just turn it upside down, turn it inside out, and just shake the living daylights out of the apathy, enmity and animus that exists towards us in the halls of power. To do this, we have to set aside all our differences and unite in a common purpose. If you're a Democrat and you've been screwed over by another Democrat, throw the rascal into disco inferno. If you're a Republican, and you've been cavity-searched by another Republican, put him/her in the penalty box -- for life. You need to release yourself from the shackles of the logic that "...the devil you know is somehow better than the devil you don't know". It is that reasoning that allows these people to get elected and re-elected. They take your vote for granted; they capitalize on your altruistic tendencies, or your selfish tendencies, or your mean-spirited tendencies, or your 'greater good' tendencies. And we are suckered everytime, like lambs being led to slaughter. It is time to work outside your normal comfort zone, to become unpredictible, and to think outside the box. Put all the other important issues aside, just once. Ask yourself whether that juicy tax cut the Republicans might be offering you is worth the price you're going to pay out of future PERS benefits? As yourself whether those added dollars the Democrats want to throw at the public schools really does you any good at all if you're paying a disproportionate share as a result of potential tax increases and reduced salaries and benefits (particularly PERS benefits). At the moment, all the political posturing is over an essentially zero sum game. The ONLY way someone else can gain is if someone else loses - and PERS members, as a group, seem to be the current [close your eyes here for a moment if my words offend] "niggers", "jews", "muslims", "wetbacks" [Please don't be offended by my choice of words here. I mean no disrespect or intolerance of any of these groups, but I really want to let people know how it feels to be a PERS retiree at the moment. I truly do understand how it feels to be discriminated against as I fall into one of the categories described above, and have an adopted daughter in another of those categories. I know wherefrom I speak].

Throw off the shackles of consistency and predictibility. Let's let the politicos know that we won't support them under any circumstances, even if this runs contrary to our interests in other areas. Let's remind them that we, too, understand Howard Beale's scream: "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more". Let's consign the SOBs to that purgatory called Disco Inferno, where power and 50 cent won't get you a ride on Tri-Met.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

West of Hollywood

"I'm way deep into nothing special, riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood"

Stop reading right here if you're not ready for one of my (possibly) incoherent rants.

Just change the last word to Salem and you'll have a pretty good idea what I'll be doing during 2006. We have a lot of people sent to Salem to do the people's business who seem more interested in their own business than ours -- those of us 300,000 + who are connected directly or indirectly to PERS. Just remember folks, a large group of us is watching your every action and dissecting it publicly, loudly, and in multiple forums. This blog site is averaging about 10,000 "hits" per month; my PERSList counts about 2600 members; and Dana Jackson's Oregon PERS Discussion Group just turned 600 members last week. Dana's site gets about 500 messages a month, on average. Some months there are many more; other months less. The point is that taken together, all these sites can harness an enormous constituency in amazingly short order to unleash cruel and unmerciful assaults on the candidacy of anyone who's crossed us in the past few years. PERS members have worked hard and mostly uncomplainingly throughout their careers and have asked relatively little in return - just what we were promised, no more and no less. I don't regard PERS as an entitlement program. It was and is our money on terms that we agreed to (and actually didn't have any choice over). If the terms turned out to be more generous than some stupid legislator and employer thought they'd be oh so many years ago, why do I have to pay for THEIR mistakes. I lived up to my part of the bargain at submarket wages in exchange for a brighter retirement. Why is it that these politicians and employers can decide that they can remove the lightbulb just as I enter the retirement room. NOTHING the court can do can fully compensate me (or anyone else) for the nearly 3 years of non-stop anxiety over matters that have always been outside our (working people's) scope of control. Let's move the finish line or change the rules just as people are closing in on retirement. Better yet, let's change them AFTER they retire and have no way to ever go back. We *might* be made financially whole, but this entire scheme will probably benefit the employers and the State in more subtle ways - by reducing the life expectancy of those entering the retirement years. PERS Coalition attorneys try to soothe peoples' anxieties by reminding them that this is all about money and nothing else. Sorry, but I'm not soothed. How do you compensate someone for the added physical stress this has created in so many people. How do you bring back valued employees who've simply upped and left. How do you create a loyal workforce after you've raped them like this -- even if the Court makes you apologize and orders restitution? It does not make up for any of that.

If you've gotten this far, you're already one of the 10,000 who stop by here every month to check out what alfalfa sprouts from my keyboard - today it may be more like hops, as in "hopping mad". Once the City of Eugene decision is finally announced and the outcome of the current PERS litigation is resolved, one way or another, I plan to turn my attention to harnessing this energy to eliminate all those folks down in Salem who are hostile to PERS and its members/retirees. Even if "we" win on the City of Eugene case, memories shouldn't be short. No one should relax. A "win" in the City of Eugene case will only delay further retribution until the next Legislature in 2007. We will need to be vigilant regardless of the outcome. I won't regard my own PERS benefit as fully safe until my wife and I are both deceased and we've both lived out our actuarial lifetimes plus an extra 10 years just to be ornery. Lest anyone have a morsel of doubt that we're going to continue to play this perverse game of jeopardy no matter how the courts rule, just get hold of this month's (May 2005) "Brainstorm NW" magazine. Read Ron Saxton's latest screed against PERS, written AFTER the Supreme Court ruled in Strunk. Remember Ron Saxton. He's going to try to oust Kevin Mannix as the Republican gubernatorial candidate, leaving voters with the choice of Two-Faced Ted ("I'm sorry I had to do this to all my loyal supporters - about 60% of whom are PERS members - but the devil made me do it"), or Ron whose opinions on PERS are about as subtle as a Glock-9. Then we have Kevin ("I used to be a Democrat") Mannix. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? And I haven't even begun to describe my animus towards the Legislature.

So consider this a warning. Just because I don't live in your legislative district doesn't mean I won't try to use these various bully pulpits to defeat you in 2006. Just because I might have voted for you in 2002 or 2004 doesn't mean I'd lift a finger or blacken a box on a voting form for you again. I might just as easily use energy, words, and money to help defeat you. You may view me as an arrogant and conceited SOB who has delusions of power and grandeur. Not true. It is you who have the delusions of grandeur and power. What you need is to be taken down a peg or two or plain knocked out of the game. Game over, out of time. Just be careful that you don't take me or any of the other 300,000 or so PERS-connected Oregon voters for granted. If you do, you'll be making a huge mistake. You might think of yourself as the lesser of two evils, but many of us have long ago given up on that calculus in election choices. We KNOW how bad you are; it hardly matters to us that your opponent might be worse. Worse than what? You may think that by straddling the fence you can sucker us into voting for you again because you'll try to "kiss and make up." Again, bad assumption. I'd sooner vote for someone who's got one hand on my wallet and the other hand squeezing my ...., than someone with one hand around my shoulder and the other hand patting my back patronizingly while cooing in my ear that "it will only hurt for a moment." Horse hockey. I'm done with that game and I think quite a few others are too. Hubris doesn't play well in our sandbox anymore. Just watch out for that wave breaking just west of Salem. It isn't "surf's up, dude". It's "time's up, dude".

I like to think of participants in and readers of all the different venues mentioned above as "brothers in arms" all marching to that great rap song - "California Love" by a group known only by its initials - NWA (do a Google search on that group if you don't know what the initials stand for). Just think of us as PMWA. Payback time is coming soon, starting as soon as the "silly season" of 2006 begins in earnest. Tomorrow we'll continue with "Disco Inferno" - a great song title even if I can't think of how to hook it into what I might say. Perhaps I'll start with Howard Beale's perfect rant in Paddy Chayevsky's "Network".

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Waiting in Vain

No decisions from the Supreme Court this week. Nothing else new to report. For those looking to occupy time in the interstices between now and forever (or whenever the Court decides, whichever comes first), go over to OPDG (see link left) to get your mead of WWWF. Lots of cranky people there right now, all waiting for the Court to put us out of or into our misery. It'll keep you entertained for hours on end. I haven't had this much fun since I last visited a ........... Linux users group meeting, a Macintosh evangelical presentation, or the usenet group alt.fan.jimmy-buffett.

As a BTW, I've had a few entries to my contest (see May 11th entry). So far, the closest anyone has gotten is 13/16 and I've had two people so far do that well (each missing a different 3). There are tons of hints out there if you combine your Google searches with some other more obvious investigations - like possibly my own website, my profile here, and the previous selection of song-titles. I don't go for obscure artists (usually), but I do have extremely eclectic tastes (and 3 daughters aged 37, 28, 13 and who requently supply sources for my musical interests). Today's title might give you a clue to my eclecticism. Also, the fact that I've told you these songs are on my iPod is a hint in and of itself. None of the songs there are illegal; that means they've been ripped directly from CD or purchased from iTunes. Perhaps that will narrow your hunt down a bit.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Seems to be in greater abundance this legislative session. My former PSU colleague and fellow Department Chair Tom Potiowsky has released the May budget forecast today. It is $215 million higher than the March forecast and should give the legislature enough breathing room to fund K-12 at a reasonable level, while preserving a few rainy day reserves. Since the PERS Board has squirrelled away pretty much all it needs to cover the worst case court rulings (employees win on major pieces of City of Eugene, coupled with Strunk), most of the political and economic pressure now seems to be off the Supreme Court's decision. The Legislature can finalize the 2005 - 07 budget without the specter of an additional PERS financial hit coming from a late and adverse (to employers) decision. I'm still holding to my prediction that next week we could see the City of Eugene decision released. Again, don't anyone think I *know* this to be true because the idea has no support from anyone I know. It just seems that the confluence of events is now right -- the stars are aligned correctly and nothing will drop from the heavens -- if the Court rules next week, regardless of how they rule.

Enjoy the (hopefully) sunny weekend.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Call it that, but I can't help note the significance of this coming Friday - the day the final May revenue forecast is publicized. The May forecast is the one the Legislature uses to do final budgeting for the coming biennium. I just wonder -- maybe it's intuition and nothing else -- whether next week won't be the week for the Supreme Court to release its City of Eugene decision. So far, every significant decision (the Strunk decision and the Li decision) have been released right after some major legislative milestone or event. The budget numbers represent the last hurdle for the Legislature before setting final agency budgets and coming to a budget compromise. The last piece of the equation is the City of Eugene case, which will determine how much additional money will need to be carved out the budget, or how much extra revenue agencies can expect. While I'm not confident enough to bet on this happening, I can't help but notice the event and the length of time it has taken since Strunk. The original prediction after Strunk was 6 - 8 weeks for City of Eugene. Next week would be about 9 weeks after Strunk, close enough that even a horsehoe player would be excited. We'll see. Don't complain if I'm wrong.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cold Day in July

Could be when the Supreme Court gets around to issuing its decision in the City of Eugene case. One thing is certain - it won't be tomorrow. For those of you bored and looking for something to occupy yourself while waiting and waiting and waiting, entertain yourself by reading the entire text of ORS 238.715 -- the "recovery" statute in Chapter 238 (The PERS System). You can find it online easily. It makes interesting reading and, for the most part, you don't have to be a lawyer to understand it - well, there are the fabulously interesting sections 2(a) and 2(c) to read. Enjoy the light readings.

Still bored and still reading. Have I got a deal for you. Relieve your boredom by matching the song name in the post titles with the artists singing them. It won't be quite as easy this time as last. Start with the post entitled "Candy Everybody Wants" (late April) and go forward to today's (this) post "Cold Day in July". I *think* there are 15 entries, but who's counting. Email me with the song title and the artist you *think* I'm referencing. Some of these songs have multiple covers; I'm interested in the specific one I used (i.e. the one on MY iPod). A couple of these should be low-hanging fruit because I've either identified the artist in the post, or given you hints directly in the post. Others are, frankly, more obscure than others. Google *may* be your friend here, but Google may give you more answers than you want. You may find it helpful to scavenge around in other fairly obvious places to see what artist I'm likely to have used. Deadline is next Wednesday (May 18 - in tribute to ole Harry Truman and David Johnson who went down in smoke on Mt. St Helens 25 years ago). Email your answers to me -- only one entry per person. Winning entry gets a $20 gift card from Borders or Barnes & Noble (depending on which I'm nearer to on the closing day). Internet scavenger hunts are delightful time-wasters and will keep you from dwelling on and perseverating about what the Supreme Court is up to.

Monday, May 09, 2005


"Cause you can't jump the track,we're like cars on a cable
and life's like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button girl,
So cradle your head in your hands
And breathe, just breathe,
Woah breathe, just breathe.

This pretty well sums up the way I feel right now after weeks of "deconstructing" the Strunk decision as it pertains to retirees. I have a pretty good feel for what "might" happen, but two very knowledgeable sources have offered diametrically opposed opinions of what happens next, especially if the Supreme Court upholds the majority of the City of Eugene case. Because I'm not a fortune teller, not a lawyer, and have no way to unravel the conflicting interpretations offered by others, I've decided to discontinue any further speculation -- informed or otherwise -- on what happens next or how this will play out for any group caught in the snare of the fowler. I'm taking Anna's advice and "just breathe".

And no, this doesn't mean I'm discontinuing anything. I'm just not going to be drawn into any speculation about what "might" happen next, because, frankly, neither I nor anyone else really knows - except the Supreme Court and they're more secretive (at least now) than the College of Cardinals. Moreover, they continue to blow black smoke from the chimneys.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

All The King's Horses

May not be able to put old Humpty Dumpty back together again. I've been doing some serious thinking, prodded on by discussions with various other PERS "experts" over at the OPDG "bar" and helped along by some correspondence with some better-informed sources about how the City of Eugene settlement would be implemented if the Supreme Court upholds virtually all of the City of Eugene case, and under the known circumstances of the Strunk decision announced in March. The answer for actives and inactives has been clear for some time, but for retirees there are no definitive answers. In searching for an answer to this vexing question, I've been forced to read through a fair amount of documents that were relevant at the time HB 2003 was being discussed, at the time the "settlement" was circulating, and the various legal briefs filed in the Strunk case, the White case, and at least two other cases. I've reviewed PERS Board meeting minutes, reviewed various pieces of correspondence with informed sources and have reached a point where I *think* I have a sense of where this might be going. All of this work is guided by one overriding goal - to put together a calculator that will help retirees gauge the impact of a negative ruling in the City of Eugene appeal. A fair number of people entrusted me with their PERS annual statements for the period starting in 1999 so that I could have some test examples to work with.

In this post I'd like to explain what MY understanding of what MAY happen if City of Eugene is upheld by the Supreme Court. In a later post, I'll provide a more elaborate example of how I *think* it will work.

Bear with me. For this to make sense, we have to suspend all expectations of a miracle. Let's face potential reality for the next few minutes. If the topic is relevant to you, you'll undoubtedly find the news mixed at best. I can generalize slightly and say that the severest impact will be on "window" retirees who had *all* of their account balance in the Tier 1 regular, regardless of when you retired. Similarly, anyone who retired before the market began its rebound in 2003 and early 2004 *and* who had money in variable until the date of retirement will be losers. However, the combination of the later retirements (late 2003 - early 2004) may be the best off, unless you retired under the "lookback", in which case the news is quite mixed. As with everything PERS-related, there is NO simple, single answer for anyone. This doesn't mean I can't write a calculator; it just means that it will require an incredible amount of user-input directly from member statements spanning 1999 - 2003/4, and some solid grasp of the PERS earnings postings on their web site. The program can do all the hard calculations, but they are complicated. I now have a far better grasp of why it will take so long for programmers at PERS to unwind the 0% crediting, unwind the COLA freeze and recalculate benefits under the scenario envisioned by Lipscomb. It is an incredibly complicated set of calculations that involves the "lookback" for post-June 2003 retirees, old and new actuarial tables. In short, the entire process will involve essentially starting over with the 1999 earnings crediting and recalculate EVERYTHING that has happened since earnings were credited in 1999. Add to that the Lipscomb variable adjustment and the whole process is one giant programming mess.

Today I'm going to talk only about the simplest case - a July 1, 2003 retirement. This eliminates the "lookback" problem and requires me to explain this only in terms of the "old" mortality tables. It also eliminates the problem of unrolling the 2003 earnings crediting because July 1, 2003 retirees got 4% (approximately) for 6 months of 2003. They weren't subject to the 0% crediting. The Strunk ruling *only* applies in this case to the COLA freeze, while Lipscomb *only* applies to the 1999 earnings crediting decision. The Supreme Count only said that the COLA freeze was a breach of contract and couldn't be used as a means of "recovery". The court went out of its way to point out (see yesterday's post) that this did NOT prevent PERS from "recovery" using other statutory methods (i.e. ORS 238.715, although they did not mention that statute specifically).

With this in mind, imagine our hypothetical 7/1/03 retiree receiving a Notice of Entitlement that indicates a Money Match "winning" method and a monthly Option 1 benefit of $2500 per month, which has remained "fixed" due to the COLA freeze since then. Now further suppose that by refiguring the 1999 earnings credit at 11.33% (Lipscomb and settlement) the member's "true" retirement benefit after correcting for the "error" (assume Lipscomb upheld) should have been $2350 per month. That becomes the "fixed benefit" to which the COLA should be added. That member WOULD HAVE received 0.77% effective 7/1/03, another 1.17% effective 7/1/04, and 2% (expected) effective 7/1/05. By 7/1/05, the member's benefit should be $2443.71 ($6.29 LESS THAN the current benefit). So, in this very simple case PERS would adjust the current $2500 monthly benefit DOWN to $2443.71, and then seek recovery of $6.71 x 24 months = $161.04**, for the amount the member had been overpaid because of the "erroneous" crediting of 1999 regular earnings.

So, for members in the "window" period, the crucial detail will be the amount by which the current benefit would have been reduced had the 1999 credit been 11.33% instead of 20%. The larger the difference, the bigger the potential reduction in current benefit and the higher the amount of the payback. Just keep in mind that this approach is distinctly different than the interpretation typically offered for the Strunk decision vis-a-vis the COLA freeze. The methodology described above accomplishes TWO things, not just one. It collects for the present value of the "overcredit" as well as for the future value of the "overcredit". The standard (?mis)interpretation would have only recovered the present value of the overcredit, while continuing to leave the future value untouched. Unlikely that it would happen that way.

**If PERS really did this properly, the "payback" would be more than what is illustrated here. A correct calculation would adjust the first 12 months by more (because the differential is greater); the second 12 months by slightly less (because the differential is getting smaller). The 12 month period that would include the latest (not yet given) COLA would finally get the member down to the $6.71 differential, but that would be moot because the adjustment would have already taken place. In the end, the new benefit as of 7/1/05 would be only $6.71 less than the benefit determined at the actual time of retirement. And here you thought this would be a simple explanation.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Everybody's Talkin'

About what the Supreme Court said or didn't say, meant or didn't mean in its Strunk decision concerning retiree COLAs, and PERS' ability to enforce the City of Eugene "settlement" with regard to alleged 1999 "overcredits" to Tier 1 regular accounts. To repeat something said before: the Supreme Court said nothing (nada, zilch, zero) about the 1999 crediting decision and whether it was or wasn't an abuse of discretion or was or wasn't illegal. There is an extended discussion of this matter on the PERS newsgroup on Yahoo (see link at left). Until the Supreme Court issues a definitive opinion on the City of Eugene case, retirees should *not* assume that they are "insulated" from recovery of 1999 overcredits. The court may rule that they are, but nothing in Strunk says they are. For those of you who doubt this, I report (thanks to a fellow Yahoo'er) the precise language of Footnote 58 of the Strunk ruling:

"58. Put another way, the legislature took what it deemed to be restorative action, but used as the mechanism for doing so an adjustment that implicated the COLA provision of the PERS contract. Our conclusion that that particular legislative action amounted to a breach of the PERS contract, however, implies nothing about PERB's -- or, for that matter, the legislature's -- authority to recover amounts determined to have been paid from the fund in error."

To put that footnote in context, read the ORS 238.715 sections to grasp what the court explicitly went out of its way not to say.

P.S. (note added about 11:50 a.m.) Earlier this week I sent PERS a lengthy hypothetical question concerning how exactly it would implement the settlement terms for retirees IF Lipscomb were upheld. My sources wouldn't speculate on whether Lipscomb would or wouldn't be upheld, and did not want to be quoted because there is NO OFFICIAL PERS policy on this topic yet. Nevertheless, I got a window into the limits of implementating the settlement for retirees, and I was surprised by what I learned -- until I starting thinking about it more deeply. I'll post more this weekend to explain how I think the City of Eugene settlement could be implemented for retirees in the "window" period (4/1/00 to 3/1/04). Please understand that the motivation for all my questions was to try to gain purchase on the mechanisms that would be put in place to effect the settlement. As a part-time programmer and author of an earlier PERS retirement calculator, I have been urged and have been planning to implement my own version that can be used by affected retirees to determine the impact of a negative ruling in the City of Eugene case. There is so much information, speculation, and just plain mis-information floating around that until I can "know" what PERS is planning to do, I can't even begin to formulate an algorithm and program design. Once I'm certain about how they *would* implement the settlement, I can probably put something together fairly quickly. (That's one of the truly great things about object-oriented and modular programming. I can gut irrelevant pieces from the old PERS calculator I wrote, and plug in new modules to handle the specifics of the situation for retirees. I'll try to explain what I think *has* to be the method in a post over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Touch of Grey

My beard is getting longer and my hair greyer as we wait for the Supreme Court to decide the City of Eugene case. They don't seem to be rushing for anyone; no decision will be released tomorrow. Another week of waiting; more touches of grey.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


"I was dreamin' when I wrote this.
Forgive me if it goes astray.
But when I woke up this mornin'
Coulda sworn it was judgment day.
The sky was all purple
There were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' 2 run from the destruction
U know I didn't even care
'Cuz they say two thousand zero zero party over
Oops out of time
So tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999."

This brief interlude brought to you by the artist formerly known as Prince, then known as something weird, and who is currently known as Prince. I was ruminating on these lyrics when I realized they were written in 1984 - an amazing piece of prescience on Prince's part. I wish I had something to say about the Lipscomb decision. Methinks these lyrics will be appropriate regardless of what the court decides.