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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Letters Home From the Garden of Stone

Sometime back last year, OPRI and the PERS Coalition began to consider whether to push for an ad hoc increase in retiree benefits to make up for the effects of inflation. In January 2008, the OPRI Board heard a report from the Coalition that it intended to make ad hoc benefit increases an issue in the 2009 legislature. The crucial factor in ad hoc benefit increases is whether purchasing power of retirees has fallen significantly (to, say, less than 90%) from its current value. Apparently, the PERS Board also was concerned about this and so they requested that their actuarial firm, Mercer, study purchasing power of retirees for the entire retiree cohort. On Friday (last week) PERS posted the results of that study, which you can read here. The upshot is that the retiree cohorts going back into the early 1990's are still within the acceptable window for purchasing power and would not be candidates for any ad hoc benefit increases. Mercer considered the original benefits as well as all applicable COLA increases to figure where retirees are with respect to purchasing power. While this does not bode well for recent retirees, it is possible that when the figures for 2008 are totted up, the situation might change. It is unlikely that retirees within the current decade would benefit, but earlier retirees might qualify. The problem is that unless there is a heavier weighting for transportation costs, food costs, and insurance costs (especially medical), the actual CPI will not go up anywhere near the rates of inflation most of us are experiencing.

It would be nice to get something more than we're getting right now, but consider this just another letter home from those folks who run the garden of stone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Man With A Gun

Marion County's big man, Paul Lipscomb, is retiring at the end of this month. I told you that yesterday. But here's the irony. Lipscomb is retiring so that he can maximize his PERS benefit. While I can't begrudge Lipscomb his opportunity to game PERS to the max, I can't resist observing that for those of us who did the same thing, we've earned the public's undying enmity and wrath. But when the big man does it, he's a great public servant who deserves the benefit he's getting. So, Judge Lipscomb. Enjoy your "maxed out" PERS benefit. Laugh all the way to the bank. In the meantime, try not to think about all of those who who have used your ruling in the City of Eugene case to excoriate us "window retirees" for being "losers", "pigs at the trough", "lazy, undeserving public employees", and other such unpleasant epithets. We hope you enjoy your new life as a private mediator helping out august bodies who will pay you the big bucks to go along with your PERS monthly check. Like Greg Macpherson, we won't miss you either.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Giggling Again For No Reason

It might be the great weather. It might be enjoying my Mini's gas mileage. Or it just might be the news that Judge Paul Lipscomb, Marion County Circuit Court Judge, has decided to retire at the end of this month. Judge Lipscomb is the originator of most recent retirees' angst. It was his ruling in the City of Eugene v PERS case that set the stage for the ream job done on PERS retirees and actives over the 1999 earnings crediting decision. We owe Judge Lipscomb credit for the 11.33% refiguring of 1999 (instead of 20%); we can thank Judge Lipscomb for forcing on us his own unique way of calculating the variable match so that most retirees lose a significant amount from the employers at retirement. We can thank him for looking out for retirees in his feeble caution to the Legislature and to the Supreme Court to not do anything that would harm retirees. I'm sure Judge Lipscomb deserves thanks for many other elements of our current state of despair.

The good news is that he is off the court in about one week. He will become a PERS retiree and then will go out and draw a private sector salary and will do a variety of other things to enrich his retirement life. I recently returned from a week in Sunriver. While there, I read about a complex lawsuit involving the Sunriver Home Owners Association (SROA) and a developer who wants to redo the Sunriver Mall provided the SROA gives him permission to build about 400 condominiums above all the retail stores in the Mall. This has reached a critical stage and Judge Lipscomb has come to the rescue as a mediator. I don't think the SROA has a chance in this. With friends like Judge Lipscomb, neither SROA nor PERS members/retirees need any enemies.

If you wish to leave Judge Lipscomb your best wishes in his retirement, please feel free to leave your comments here. I'll make sure they are forwarded his way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Citizen of the Planet

It is always fascinating to determine the readership of this blog. Now that I have tools installed, I can see where every visitor comes from. Below I hope you can see where the visitors to this blog come from. The flags do not represent (necessarily) a single viewer, but simply details where each IP address comes from entering the blog. One flag might represent 500 different visitors (if you have Comcast, for example), or it might represent a single visitor, if you're the only person checking in from Mexico, for example. Our readers cover the US, although there is a notorious absence of visitors from the plains states, and the deep south. On the other hand, we have Canadian visitors, Mexican visitors, UK visitors and at least one from the Scandinavian countries. Here is a map to show the story.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mr Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

He's on vacation as of today. He will respond to comments but will probably not generate any new posts unless something truly offensive happens in the next week. Please feel free to leave your comments and I will comment on your comments unless you simply speak truth to power. I expect that many will start getting the PERS letter about attorney fees. If they don't understand it, send them here. They may not understand it any better after coming here, but I'm sure they'll be madder than hell after reading my doublespeak (or is that PERS' doublespeak). Think of it this way. PERS will not give you the benefit of any doubt anywhere, anytime. They compute amounts owed to them based on your highest (and least likely) benefit, and compute what they owe you on the lowest benefit to which you are entitled. I like to think of this as being screwed at both ends simultaneously. Those folks at PERS have truly gone to the dark side. They reply ONLY to employers and to the Governor, both of whom have already told the retirees and members to "kiss off." Be grateful for what you have. It ain't gonna get any better.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boogie Oogie Oogie

My 15 seconds of fame appeared in yesterday's USA Today. There is even a picture, although it probably wouldn't have been my first choice of all the one's taken. But, as I've said elsewhere, I don't look like I'm insane, which is quite a relief to my family. I was busy having dental surgery yesterday, which probably accounts for how I missed the article in the first place.

If you are even slightly interested, you can find the article here.

March Of The Pigs

Actually it's June, but no matter. Those sleazers over at PERS just keep getting bolder and bolder with their collection efforts. In yesterday's post, I described the attorney fee reduction charged to window retirees for their "victory" on the COLA freeze in the Strunk (Sartain) case. I mentioned that PERS was charging me about 90% of my 7/1/04 COLA. What I didn't mention, probably because I was distracted by the more obvious aspects of this, is the base benefit PERS chose to use for computing my share of the attorney fees.

Remember that PERS has claimed all along that I (you too) was never entitled to the benefit paid me when I retired. This is because, as they claim, the 1999 earnings were not final when I retired. Thus, I was (and have been) recalculated to a new base benefit on the effective date of my retirement and all COLA adjustments applied to the revised base benefit. So, let me pose a rhetorical question. If PERS believed that my base benefit was calculated wrongly and that I was not entitled to that base benefit, and that PERS was entitled to recompute my base benefit to reflect an 11.33% credit for 1999 instead of 20%, just why do they have the right to use the WRONG (in their opinion), illegal, incorrect benefit as the base for computing (a) my July 1, 2004 COLA and (b) my share of attorney fees. PERS claims "In accordance with the Court's decision [in Strunk], PERS calculated the COLA amounts each recipient would have received July 1, 2004." Wait, wait, wait, wait. How can PERS do this? How can PERS speak out of both sides of its mouth at the same time. How can PERS claim it is following the Strunk court's order, when they spent the whole of the Arken case INTERPRETING the Strunk Court's order in a completely different way? Maybe I'm stupid, or maybe a little naive, but I'm not dumb. PERS cannot have it both ways. It cannot claim my COLA amount is one thing based on a benefit they claim I'm not entitled to, and then turn around and claim the benefit I'm not entitled to is the basis of their computing an amount I owe them to pay for their f**kup. I don't get it. Perhaps someone smarter than I am can explain this to me. Perhaps Greg Hartman, or Judge DeMuniz, or Judge Kantor, or Paul Cleary. How is it legally possible to remain on both sides of the street at the same time?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It Ain't Right

It is always nice to get those June communiques from PERS. Today's mail brought me the news that my July 1 benefit would be reduced by a significant amount - once only of course - to pay for my victory (?#!!!!) in the Strunk case. My share of attorney's fees in the Strunk case reduced my July 1, 2004 COLA by about 98%. I'm always thrilled to pay my fair share of a victory that could be best described as pryrrhic. Let's see. PERS loses in court and the court tells PERS "you can't withhold COLA from retirees. It is part of their contract." So PERS, in compliance, figures out a dodgy way to "give me" my COLA on some bogus benefit and then turn around and charge ME for the victory that retirees won in Strunk. Retirees got their revenge on Greg Macpherson. Now, if we can only figure out a way to exact similar revenge on Bill Gary, Paul Cleary, Mike Pittman, Eva Kripilani, Brenda Rocklin, Jim Dalton, and Tom Grimsley. May their souls rot in hell.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Both Sides Now

Democratic Attorney General Candidate and nominee John Kroger appears to have won the Republican primary for Attorney General as well. The republicans had no nominee and primary voters had the choice of not voting or writing in a candidate. The major worry was that Ron Saxton would end up being the Republican nominee by virtue of an effort to get citizens to write his name in. Apparently, this was bogus as no credible effort was made to get Saxton's name on the ballot. In the end, there were something like 13,000 write-in votes in the Republican primary. When all votes were sorted and counted, Kroger had the highest write-in total of any candidate on the Republican side. So, by June 19th, when the votes are certified, Kroger should have the nominations of both parties and will be the undisputed winner of the Attorney General's mantle. Those of her at PERS Info headquarters give John our best wishes for a successful occupancy of the Oregon Attorney General's Office.

Waking Up

Every morning exploring USA Today for the big story I was interviewed for (yeah, I know about that dangling preposition). Still can't find it. Some editor must be sitting on it, waiting for a large enough space in which to fit it and all the great pictures. I'll keep looking and when (if?) I find it, I'll be happy to post a link.

In the meantime, another PERS-related case is scheduled for its first hearing in the Marion County Circuit Court. This is the case captioned "Kay Bell" in the Hartman archives. This lawsuit tests the proposition that PERS should be held accountable for its information as employees relied on PERS' representations to make retirement decisions. The case is scheduled for July 15th. While it would be nice to get a definitive ruling on this, it seems to me that both the Strunk hearings and the Arken hearings touched on this issue. Each time it gets brought up, some judge or Justices swat it down. I'd like to think that Kay Bell will get a fairer view, but I'm not encouraged by the previous rulings. What those rulings say to me is that if you depend on PERS, you do so at your own peril. PERS can lie to you either explicitly (Notice of Entitlement) or implicitly (by failing to tell you some crucial piece of information, such as that the earnings for one critical year in your retirement account may not be the same as what you've been led to believe). This has always seemed to me to be the Achilles heel of the PERS system, and the courts haven't been very sympathetic to retirees on this one. We exchange our jobs for a promised retirement benefit. Our jobs are filled and no longer available even if we wanted them back. Then PERS gets to turn around and say, "whoopsie. We boo booed and you get to suffer the consequences." This has never struck me as fair. The analogy is always drawn to a bank error, but the difference to me is that banks don't wait four or five years or more to tell you and then go to great lengths to recover the money. There, at least, ought to be some statute of limitations at play here. Six years is way too long in a retirement setting. The banks usually find the error in a matter of days, if not weeks. I know of no example where a bank has come back on an error years after it occurs.

What do you think about this? Fair or unfair?

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Story

Is not in today's USA Today. The website is a fairly accurate reflection of what is in the dead tree version. Checked both and the PERS article is definitely not in either of today's editions. Will, no doubt, be in one of next week's papers. I'll keep my eyes and ears open and let people know.

Nothing else new to report. The week's still been weird and it is probably time for it to end. Maybe with some sunshine and not rain. As an Oregonian for 38 years now, I have to confess to being really, really, really tired of the rain this year. My backyard is a giant mud pit, which the Lab loves, but our yardcare person is growing to loathe. Big, deep footprints and lawnmower treads dig in everywhere in the back. I can see the repaired drainage plan coming soon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Waiting On The World To Change

Many of my readers are early baby boomers and "window retirees." It was sobering today to realize that 40 years ago today, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated following a victory party celebrating his win in the California Primary, held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. I was attending UCLA and had just finished my junior year. A bunch of us had been in Santa Monica (not too far away from the Ambassador Hotel) hanging out with McCarthy (Eugene) supporters. We had decided to cruise over to the Ambassador and see how the Kennedy celebration was going. We never made it. By the time we had cruised down Wilshire Blvd in the awful LA traffic and navigating through all the various roadblocks that were set up, we had heard that Kennedy had been assassinated. We somberly went home, not knowing what else to do. We weren't going to get to the Ambassador to share our grief with that of all the others who were there stunned by yet another senseless political assassination. I was in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated. I hadn't yet come around to RFK's camp, but would have supported him for President had he lived and been nominated. Instead, we got Hubert Humphrey, the Chicago 7, Mayor Daley and ultimately Richard Nixon. We'd gotten Ronald Reagan as California Governor in 1966, and I still refuse to show my undergraduate diploma because it has that scoundrel, Reagan's signature on it. (You had to be in California to understand why the UC students hated him so much. He was a much better President than he was California governor). In the meantime, here we are 40 years later and we are still waiting on the world to change. Those of us around during both Kennedy assassinations, not to mention the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X, have been disillusioned for a long time. I'm still waiting for all this to change. I'm beginning to feel that the old axiom - the more things change, the more they stay the same - holds true for many of us. I'm not especially disillusioned right now, but I was hoping for two more elevating candidates for the US Presidency. I can't say I'm terribly pleased with either of the choices. We have one who is young and inexperienced, and another who is old and isn't enough different from the current President to make him a viable choice for me. My choice is clear, although I'm not excited about it.

So, where were you on June 5, 1968? What do you remember about that time? I remember plenty, and there are many times I'd rather forget.

I Got the News

Dennis Cauchon, the USA Today reporter who interviewed me, tells me that the PERS article will probably appear in tomorrow's (Friday June 6, 2008) edition. It will probably appear as a "news" item - front section - rather than in the Money section. I'll confirm tomorrow by checking the USA Today web site. If it is there, I'll probably go out and buy a few copies to share with friends and family who don't follow this issue in other states.

In other news, the PERS Oregon Discussion group now has crested the 200 member number. Remember, we're trying for 250 members by June 13th (Friday the 13th). If you haven't joined, and are interested in following more real-time discussion of PERS news, you can click the Yahoo! button on the left side of this blog. Joining is easy and free.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Just My Imagination

This has been a bizarre week. Today is the 1800th day that, in my opinion, PERS has been breaking the law towards "Window retirees." I'm still waiting for them to implement the Strunk opinion literally, not in their own interesting and twisted interpretation. July 1, 2003 was exactly 1800 days ago today. FYI.

The USA Today photographer stopped to shoot off 40 or 50 shots of yours truly. God knows which of the pictures and which of the quotes will show up in the article. The photographer was a very amiable young man whose day job is with the Salem Statesman Journal, but who does contract work with other papers. We talked cameras and lenses; he and I share the same passion for Canon products. I don't know when this PERS article and photographs will appear, but I promise to let you know when I do. I suspect this will be a more focused article about Oregon PERS than I originally thought. The reporter told me that he had talked to Paul Cleary and to Randall Edwards, State Treasurer, earlier. Today I found out that he also interviewed Randall Pozdena, former head of the Oregon Investment Council, who was concerned about the PERS funding situation back in 1999. This suggests an article that is more focused on PERS, or that covers the various "success" stories in public employee pensions than I originally suspected. Of course, one man's success usually means another's failure or loss. Voila, our loss! Liars all of them.

The dog got her stitches out yesterday and can run free again. That was a two-week ordeal that left us about $1000 poorer. Yellow labs are high maintenance. At least she's loveable and fun. All her injuries are self-inflicted and result from an unquenchable curiosity and uncontained enthusiasm. Not to mention, her ability to reduce anything breakable into microscopic particles in mere seconds.

I took a nasty spill on Sunday and have hematomas (doctor-speak for nasty bruises) on my arm and elbow, coupled with the most incredibly nasty and triangular bruise on my tailbone. It is practically the shape of my tailbone, which shockingly enough, is more-or-less triangular in shape. I'm OK, but my dignity is diminished, my personal trainer laughed at me, and I discovered that the pain medication I take for my hip and knee won't touch the pain from this kind of trauma. I think the pharmacy and I have finally reached some truce about refills about the pain medication. I was having to call them in 4 weeks in advance just to insure that I got them on time. I got pissed and started on a rampage through pharmacy supervisors, membership services, and anyone else in a position of power. What rattled me was that I could see electronically that my doctor had approved the refills weeks before the pharmacy filled them and none of us could figure out why it was taking so long. We still don't know, but the chief cook and bottle washer of pharmacy services assures me that things are now straightened out. I'll believe it when I see it, but for now, it provided a way to relieve some of the anger built up over Judge Kantor's decision late last week (or was it the week before?).

My daughter's belated birthday present was a set of concert tickets to a concert held last night at the Rose Garden. As promised, I escorted my daughter and her friend to the concert, dropped them off, and then went off to my PSU office to hang out until the concert was over. Around 11 pm, I booked over to the Rose Garden, parked the car illegally and waited, and waited, and waited. While waiting, I listened to the BBC news. Interesting to hear about US politics from a British perspective. In any case, about 11:45 I spot my daughter and her friend coming towards me and I go to start the car. Uh oh. No start. I just then discovered the peril of parking a car for a week at a time before getting it out to drive. Dead battery. Not enough driving time to charge the OEM battery on a 4 year old car. So, I called AAA. At midnight. The battery guy showed up at 1:15 a.m. He jump started my car, tested the battery, assured me the battery itself was OK, and so I drove it home to Lake Oswego. I finally got to sleep about 2:30 this morning. Fortunately, the car started fine this morning. I think it is getting time to think about replacing that battery. Don't think I can be inconvenienced at that time of night again in someplace like the Rose Quarter.

So you tell me. Is it just my imagination, or has my week been more bizarre than normal?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Semi-Interesting Week

Not long after I wrote yesterday's post, the phone rang. The caller ID said "USA Today". I figured they weren't trying to sell me a subscription; it must be the reporter I'd exchanged emails with earlier in the day. Indeed, it was. I'm not sure what he was looking for when he found me, but it was clear that he had been looking for someone who didn't believe that the rosy outlook for Oregon PERS was the result of the 2003 reforms. The interview started out with Tier 3 (the OPSRP) and I had to redirect the interview to make certain he understood that Tier 3 was about the least controversial element of the 2003 reforms. There were no lawsuits involving the OPSRP, there had been no howls from the unions about it and that had nothing else happened, there probably would have been no litigation. Then I tried to explain to him what happened in 2003, raising along the way some of the disparities between what PERS has said, and what the PEW report claims. We spent some time trying to dissect the 2002 numbers, which suggested that PERS was either in poor shape or in better than average shape, depending on the source. He had a copy of the PEW report and could tell me a bit about their sources, and it began to occur to me that there might be a story there as well. But, I recounted the story of all the little twists and turns of the knife that occurred to shaft "window retirees", active employees, post-"window" retirees. I'm sure lots of that will be left out of the story. The interview lasted about an hour. I was pleased with the quality of the questions and the semi-free ranging attitude of the interviewer. I gave him my take on just how much I think the reform legislation contributed to PERS' current success, and much more I thought the stock market and the Oregon Investment Council contributed to the rest. In short, I told him that I didn't think that more than about 20% of the improvement in PERS' financial condition could be attributed to reform legislation, and that of that, about 75% is currently in dispute under litigation.

He's interviewing State Treasurer Randal Edwards today. Tomorrow, one of his Portland-based photographers will come by at 9:30 a.m. to take a picture of me. How so very exciting. I get 15 minutes more of fame, and a picture to boot. I have no idea when the story will come out. I'm sure that Google News will carry it when it does. All-in-all, not a bad start to a semi-interesting week.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Second Hand News

Andy Warhol once said that every person is entitled to 15 minutes of fame. I've probably had at least 45, so I'm not due any more famousness yet. But, every once in awhile, an opportunity comes along that I might not be able to refuse. I got an email today from a reporter for USA Today, that bastion of national reporting run by Al Neuharth. The article he is writing is about, among other things, the 2003 Oregon PERS reforms. Apparently, he's been talking to those behind the changes and possibly the PERS senior leadership (I don't actually know, really), but he's discovered that they're pretty happy with all the changes (as the French would say, quel surprise!). He wanted to know whether he could interview me to get another take on the reforms, or suggest someone else he could talk to. Lawyers are never good people to include in your story, because, frankly, no one trusts anything a lawyer says. So, like the dutiful soldier I am, I volunteered to be interviewed. I even gave the fellow my phone number so he could call me and, if this follows all my other interview experiences, misquote me directly.

I will report back here if the phone call comes in. I'm not holding my breath, but I was pleasantly surprised that someone gave him my name. Or maybe he just knows how to use Google effectively and found my name showing up with frequent criticisms of Oregon PERS. We'll see.