Pension Funds Recovering – It Wasn’t Unions After All!

Do you remember the big buildup of stories in the right-wing press, and all the “reports” and “studies” from right-wing and Wall Street-funded “think tanks” and “institutes,” all warning that public-employee unions and were causing pension fund costs to soar? They all claimed that all the cities and states would be bankrupt because of the outrageous pay and benefits that government workers receive?
Remember that?
And remember how it led to a campaign in several states to gut union rights, and gut public-employee pay and benefits?
And have you noticed that the whole things has sort of gone away? It isn’t in the news now? All those stories that were in the press and all the “experts” who were on the talk-radio programs have quieted down?
It was almost like it was a marketing campaign for a movie of a new Apple iPhone, wasn’t it?
That’s because it was exactly that. It’s called “Shock Doctrine” tactics.
Anyway, in the news: from July, California pension funds post big annual gains,

California’s biggest pension funds reported that a booming stock market and private-equity gains helped them post their largest returns in over a decade.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System pension fund grew 20.7% in the fiscal year ending June 30, its best return in 14 years. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System fund, known as CalSTRS, increased 23.1%, the best it has done in a quarter century.
Both pension funds, which rank as the two largest in the nation, have been in a period of recovery since massive losses during the financial crisis.
… Both pension funds benefited from the stock market’s revival since the depths of the financial crisis in March 2009, when major stock market indexes fell to 12-year lows.

20.7% gains. GOSH, maybe it was the recession and not public-employees that made pension returns look so bad! Ans when the stock market went back up, the whole “problem” turned around.
Today, Washington Post, State, local pension funds continue to recover,

State and local pension funds continued to recover this spring from the depths of the Great Recession as their gains from investments and from higher annual taxpayer contributions lifted their holdings to their highest levels in three years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
The assets for the nation’s 100-largest public-employee pensions systems rose more than 1 percent during the second quarter, to $2.8‚ÄČtrillion, the Census Bureau said. The increase contributed to a nearly 18 percent gain in holdings over the previous year.

18% returns nationally. The Post says credits reforms requiring employees to put more in, but that would have nothing to do with the returns the funds are getting today.

Wisconsin Comes To California: Republican Bill Bans Collective Bargaining

On the heels of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee, Florida and other states, California Republicans have introduced a Wisconsin-style bill to strip public employees of the right to union bargaining.
San Francisco Chronicle, yesterday, Showdown brewing over CA state employee pensions,


On Tuesday, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa (Orange County), introduced a bill that would strip public employees of their ability to collectively bargain for retirement benefits.

But what else would you expect? What is interesting is the rest of the story

The recent Speak Out California post, Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers looked into who is behind the attack on public employees, tracing back from an LA Times op-ed by Marcia Fritz of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. Fritz pops up again in the Chronicle story,

That [pension reform] “isn’t just a state problem, it’s far worse in cities,” said Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit pension reform group. … “We need the leader of California to stand up and lead on this issue,” Fritz said. “And if he doesn’t, we’ll go around him, just like people did on Proposition 13 (in 1978 during Brown’s first stint as governor). And I don’t think he wants that.”

Also popping up in the Chronicle story,

“I don’t think Brown wants to take on his union pals,” said Steven Greenhut, author of “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

From Speak Out California’s Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers,


The Pacific Research Institute has a mission to “champion freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility for all individuals by advancing free-market policy solutions.”
The Director of PRI’s Journalism Center wrote a book called, “Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

In the “Network” post I wrote about “Cookie-Cutter Think Tanks,”


These are just a few of the network of conservative “institutes,” etc. around the country. Just a very few. (Here is a list of 185 organizations purporting to be conservative state think tanks, a list of 40 conservative national organizations with state networks and a list of 306 organizations purporting to be conservative national think tanks and 65 conservative “family policy” organizations. There are other lists with other criteria.) 

As you follow these threads you discover layer upon layer of corporate/conservative front groups, masking their activities and funders with more layers of front groups. They all have similar mission statements, have similar people on their Boards with similar backgrounds, cover the same issues the same way, and even use remarkably similar language. They seem to be not just connected but interconnected. The sheer number of these similar “think tanks” make it appear that there must be a machine somewhere that stamps these things from a template. That machine is named “Scaife/Coors/Koch…” (Please read also and spend some time here.)

I haven’t written Part II of the post yet, but in the research I found a “think tank” that had no purpose except to release one “study” by Lanny Ebenstein of the California Center for Public Policy, which is not to be confused with with the California Public Policy Center, of Pension Tsunami, which is discussed in the post.
In today’s Santa Ynez Valley Journal story, END APPROACHING FOR PUBLIC UNIONS?, Ebenstein pops up, with a new organization:


… a new group called Californians for Public Union Reform has spearheaded an effort to place an initiative on next year’s state ballot that would end employee collective bargaining, the behind-closed-doors process by which unions negotiate salaries, health care and other retirement benefits on behalf of employees. 

Lanny Ebenstein, chairman of the group and a professor of economics at UCSB, said the proposal to curtail collective bargaining is a key component to fiscal reform, and one that he believes will help solve California’s budgetary woes the same way Walker thinks the decertification of all public-sector unions will balance Wisconsin’s budget. … 

 “Something is fundamentally wrong with the system, and it’s obvious what the elephant in the room is: Public sector employees are receiving too much compensation,” he said.

That’s the ticket, public employees — teachers, police, DMV workers — caused the recession. THEY are the reason states are out of money. Tax cuts for the rich had nothing to do with it.

Right. Blame the workers, who have already taken pay cuts, increased retirement age, foreclosures, etc.  Certainly not Wall Street or the wealthy who are taking an ever greater share of the country’s income and wealth

P.S. There is a Rally to Save the American Dream in Sacramento this Saturday, being organized by and others to support working people, details here.

Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers

It is difficult to read, watch or listen to the news without hearing that public employees are paid too much and get “lucrative” pensions and this is “bankrupting” your state, county or city. Public officials are “in bed” with “union bosses” and state and local government; taxpayer dollars are wasted to pay for people who don’t do much work but live the good life. “Reports” and “studies” confirm this.
People hear the same story over and over and over and over, seemingly coming from everywhere: public employees have it good, with extravagant pay and “lavish” or “plush” pensions, while taxpayers are taking it in the shorts. Public-employee pensions are “bankrupting” the state/county/city. “Unfunded liabilities” are “out of control” and it is time to do something about it before it is too late.
This is part of a broad, nationwide attack on public employees and their unions, and through them, on government and democracy itself.

Continue reading