It’s funny how sometimes your attention is focused on something or other and suddenly that object or thought keeps popping up repeatedly.

Since May, I have been fixated on pensions, and for a very good reason. Many of us former Chamberlain office and technical people received a letter early in May advising us the company no longer would manage our pension fund and we’d be getting news later that month. Some of us already had noticed the fund was underfunded and it had dropped a few million dollars available for payment to the grantees. I don’t need to tell you a lot of us were alarmed. The letter never stated who would be handling the fund because they were larded down in heavy legalese and accounting opacity. Eventually it came out OK. So far, our pension checks have come from the same Chicago bank, but for how long? Our fund handler is in Minnesota.

I bored you with this vignette because suddenly I’m seeing that dropping pensions has become a goal for many companies countrywide. The recent AARP newspaper published an article stating thousands of workers and retirees have suffered benefit reductions and a million more are at risk. Hard facts: 90,000 pensions have been cut or approved for cuts; 130 plans will run out of money within the next 20 years; 1.3 million workers and retirees plans are expected to run out of money; thousands of retirees plans have been halved over the last two years because, over the objections of AARP, Congress passed a law allowing plans to be cut in the hopes of saving them. The current situation is grim in a time when companies are registering record-setting incomes and CEO salaries are astronomical.

A personage no less than Steve Forbes gave us this description of our economy. “Inequality, climate change, obscene levels of corporate benefits, stagnant wages, soaring welfare costs, crushing levels of student debt, rampant Wall Street greed, high tech monsters, and much, much more are laid at the feet of an allegedly heartless, unresponsive, capitalistic system.” Remember, Forbes said that. My version may have included a blasphemous perjorative in that outburst. The recent Kiplinger’s ran an article on how six states like Oregon are working to bolster state-sponsored pension plans. On top of that, Harper’s put in a little blip that 63 percent of our people are dissatisfied with federal performance.

What we have is a direct result of the Supreme Court’s abominable decision in the case of Citizens United that allows corporations to make cash donations to political campaign funds, and that decision is well on its way to destroying our democracy. That decision has been followed by multiple congressional actions freeing up corporations to wage economic warfare on their employees. All the laws and regulations installed previously to make businesses toe the line on practices akin to slavery have been pushed aside. By the by, the Republican Party is overjoyed at this turn of events, since it is the main beneficiary of cash infusions into election campaigns. But beware, Democrats will catch up soon.

All of this has made me wonder what kind of people would yank a pension out from loyal beneficiaries? Corporate hierarchies are making so much money the little pensioner shouldn’t even get their attention. But they do. The hierarchy people are so fixated on corporate profit that any expenditure not rendering profit, which pensions certainly don’t, is a candidate for elimination. Accordingly, they work Congress for legal ways to eliminate pensions via complex accounting legerdemain.

What can prospective pensioners do? Realize that most pensions mainly buff off the sharp edges of poverty. A pension can help keep reserves intact for emergency use. If you are still working, increase investments in bonds or funds that have future cash benefit. Learn to live a step poorer than you do now. Ask for the annual report on your pension fund. The law authorizing that still hasn’t been eviscerated and still is on the books. It looks like for the rank and file working people it could get rough if employees become even more penurious. We must get back control of the government. Illegitmi non carborundum!

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Stanley Smith is a former Cedar Falls City Council member.


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