Theft of Detroit retirees’ pensions gets one step closer
By David Sole on July 28, 2014The results of retiree voting on pension cuts in the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings were announced on July 21. It was reported that 73 percent of the voters approved the cuts while 27 percent voted “no.”
The fix was in from the start.
Only about half of tens of thousands of retirees voted. This is not surprising since the ballot package included a disk with more than 400 pages of documents and several booklets of summaries and instructions. Each retiree got two ballots — one for pension cuts and the other for medical care cuts. Confusion was widespread.
The pressure for retirees to vote “yes” was huge from the day they received the ballots in mid-May. Included in the ballot packages were two pieces of literature urging them to approve the “plan of adjustment.” No literature opposed to the plan was allowed to be included.
The politicians and their faithful corporate media hammered that voting “yes” was the only option. The ballots and the propaganda threatened that if retirees rejected the plan, then cuts to their pensions would be two or three times worse.
Unions caved yet retirees resisted
Those in official positions who could have rallied retirees and supporters to a massive “no” vote and a mass struggle in the courts and in the streets immediately caved in to the pressure. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25 is the largest union representing city of Detroit workers and retirees. It ignored the national threat to pensions that the Detroit case represents and urged a “yes” vote as the lesser evil. AFSCME had not sponsored any protests outside the court since a demonstration last year on Oct. 23.
The Detroit Retired City Employees Association leadership made no attempt to rally retirees, thousands of whom belong to this voluntary organization. DRCEA President Shirley Lightsey pressed hard for retirees to agree to the cuts. Both general and uniformed pension boards pushed for a “yes” vote. The nine-member “official retiree committee” appointed by the bankruptcy court also held mass meetings pushing the “yes” vote. When retirees spoke out toward the end of these sessions, the microphone was sometimes cut off to silence opposition.
The threat of even deeper cuts frightened many retirees. In one case, approval of the cuts would result in about $300 less per month with a $1,700 pension. This retiree was told that failure to approve would result in up to $700 in cuts. In the face of this, it is remarkable that 27 percent of voting retirees rejected the plan. They did so hoping that appeals to higher courts would reverse the bankruptcy judge’s ruling that public pensions could be slashed, even though protected by strong language in Michigan’s state constitution. Those campaigning for a “no” vote also pressed for mass demonstrations and protests by retirees. They often pointed out that the Civil Rights struggle was won in the streets.
Irregularities abounded throughout the entire voting period. Thousands of retirees received incorrect calculations of their projected cuts and had to be sent new ballots. When Detroit’s emergency manager feared that voting might be going against his plan, it was announced that retirees could get a new ballot and reverse their vote. Early returns were leaked to the emergency manager and the press, reporting that “yes” votes were predominating. That only stopped on orders of the federal bankruptcy judge.
The cost of pension cuts
For those city workers who retired prior to 2003 or did not contribute weekly to an annuity savings fund run by the general pension board, cuts to pensions amounted to 4.5 percent. In addition, all general fund retirees and survivors lost their annual 2.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment. This will reduce pensions 18 percent over their lifetimes.
Those who retired later, however, will have to pay back what the emergency manager deems “excess interest” paid to them between 2003 and 2013. This amounts to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much an individual paid into the savings plan. This can amount up to an additional 15.5 percent cut to pensions.
What was not mentioned in the ballots, however, is that the annuity “clawback” amount is subject to 6.75 percent interest. Many retirees were unaware of this proviso, which will cost them tens of thousands of dollars more. Many retirees will never live long enough to pay all this back. If they opted to leave their surviving spouse all or part of their pension, then the spouse will have to continue paying back.
Pensioners have filed objections with the bankruptcy court.
The final trial on Detroit’s bankruptcy is set to start Aug. 14.
David Sole is a retired Detroit Water and Sewerage Department worker.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Counting is apparently hard for journalism majors. Kristina Wong (The Hill) reported Sunday:
The Obama administration has quietly moved an additional 62 advisers to Iraq over the past three weeks, according to defense officials.
The additions bring the total number of advisers in the country to 242, still short of the 300 advisers that President Obama authorized for Iraq last month.
The Pentagon said 20 additional military advisers recently arrived in Iraq, bringing total U.S. military personnel there to 825. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said there are now 90 advisers working with Iraqi military forces, assessing their capabilities, and 160 Americans are assigned to joint operation centers in Baghdad and Erbil.
So who's right? Wong or Schwartz?
Better question, when US officials testify before Congress and give a concrete number, why doesn't the press use that number -- if only to question it. Last Wednesday morning, the State Dept's Brett McGurk and the Defense Dept's Elissa Slotkin appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to talk about Iraq. Let's note this exchange.
Elissa Slotkin: First, I just want to clarify that we have sent in an additional -- I think it's up to 775 troops.
US House Rep Tom Marino: Right.
Elissa Slotkin: 475 of that total are for the security of our people --
US House Rep Tom Marino: The Embassy, the airport, etc.
Elissa Slotkin: Exactly. The other 300 are there to assess and answer those very questions.
Does Elissa Slotkin not know her numbers? Does the press think she doesn't?
Wong insist that there are 242 advisors there but days before Wong insisted that, Slotkin testified to Congress that there were 300 advisors (with 475 there providing security).
This isn't a minor issue and vague generalities really don't cover it.
Maybe US House Rep Tom Marino grasps it better than many in the press do? He noted, "I'm ambivalent on this as well because I don't want to see another American come home in a bodybag. I've been on the ramp and saw the ceremonies where two people were sent back to my state and it's something I do not want to experience again."
Also, when possible, we do try to note it if an article, essay or book is noted in a hearing. Marino noted Dexter Filkens' New Yorker article on Iraq from last April -- noted it positively.
The attacks on Iraqi Christians continue. This month, Christians in Mosul were given the option of staying in Mosul and being killed, paying a tax for being Christian or converting to Islam. Most fled -- most, not all. Some could not afford to leave and remain in Mosul, keeping a very low profile. Suleiman Gouda (Asharq Al-Awsat) declares:
It is hard to find the words to describe the recent events in Mosul, in northern Iraq, and I can only turn to the words of Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, who said that what happened was a disgrace that must never be tolerated and a crime against Iraq and its history, against Arab and Islamic countries, and against all Muslims.
The statement of the Arab League chief came in response to reports last week that Mosul had been totally emptied of Christians for the first time in its entire history after they were expelled at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The attacks appear to be an attempt not just to wipe Christians out of Iraq but to also erase any evidence that they ever were a presence. Dropping back to Friday's snapshot (really early Saturday morning):
Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports on the apparent bombing of a Sunni mosque which apparently destroyed Jonah's tomb:
The holy site is thought to be the burial place of the prophet Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale or fish in both the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Militants belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, planted explosives around the tomb and detonated the explosion remotely Thursday, civil defense officials there told CNN.
In a statement issued today Mottahidoon said : " With hearts rupturing of pain, and eyes full of blood of the terrible scene of blowing up the shrine and mosque of the Prophet Yunus peace be upon him, the Mosalion the whole world with them farewell a memorial combining history, civilization and sacred values, that is what it means the sublime edifice of Prophet Yunus peace be upon him which is located on Talit-Tawbah / hill of repentance/ in the left side of the city of Mosul.
Mottahidoon is the political party of Osama al-Nujaifi who was the Speaker of Parliament from 2010 until this month.
Joel S. Baden and Candida Moss (CNN) explain:
In Christian tradition, the story of Jonah is an important one. Jonah’s descent into the depths in the belly of the great fish and subsequent triumphant prophetic mission to Nineveh is seen as a reference to and prototype of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The destruction of his tomb in Mosul is therefore a direct assault on Christian faith, and on one of the few physical traces of that faith remaining in Iraq.
The destruction is getting wide attention because the shrine was a go-to spot for several religions -- not just Christianity. Fox News offers:
The Wall Street Journal reported that the group had destroyed a mosque in the northern Iraq city of Mosul that contained a shrine believed to be the tomb of Jonah -- who is revered as a prophet by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The paper reported that the militants had wired the periphery of the mosque with explosives and then detonated them.
"They turned it to sand, along with all other tombs and shrines," Omar Ibrahim, a Mosul dentist, told The Journal. "But Prophet Younes [the Muslim name for Jonah] is something different. It was a symbol of Mosul ... We cried for it with our blood."
This is becoming an issue around the world. The Pope has spoken out against the violence repeatedly. Oscar Lopez (Latin Times) quotes Pope Francis stating, "No more wars. It's time to stop. Stop, please, I beg you with all my heart, stop." France's Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:
Middle East Christians - Joint communiqué issued by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, and M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister of the Interior (Paris, 28/07/2014)
The situation of the Middle East Christians is unfortunately dramatic. The ultimatum issued to these communities in Mosul by ISIS is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat facing these people - who have historically been an integral part of the region - by jihadist groups in Iraq as well as Syria and elsewhere.
France is outraged by these brutalities, which it condemns in the strongest possible terms. We have succeeded in getting the UN Security Council to condemn the Islamic State's persecution of minorities in Iraq. We are assisting displaced persons who are fleeing the Islamic State's threats and seeking refuge in Kurdistan. Should they so wish, we are prepared to offer them asylum on our soil. We have released exceptional humanitarian assistance to help them. France will continue to mobilize the international community in the coming days to ensure that these populations are protected - a prerequisite for stability in the region. We are in constant touch with local and national authorities to make sure that everything is done to guarantee their protection.
Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve will soon be welcoming representatives of Iraq's Christian communities to France./.
And the issue is getting some attention in the US. Cheryl K. Chumley (Washington Times) reports that a protest took place outside the White House over the week, "Demonstrators in general vented frustration at the Obama administration’s seeming lackadaisical response to the assaults on Christianity and on Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East and, more specifically, on the White House failure to respond to ISIL’s crackdown on Christians." Barack hasn't really addressed the issue so it is natural that he would be the target of protests.
Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Dan Murtaugh (Bloomberg News) report, "The Iraqi Oil Ministry is seeking a court order to seize more than $100 million of oil waiting to offload in Galveston, Texas, that it claims was illegally pumped from wells in Kurdistan." Jonathan Stempel, David Ingram, Rebecca Elliott, Terry Wade, Anna Driver, Erwin Seba and Lisa Shumaker (Reuters) add, "The United Kalavrvta tanker, carrying some 1 million barrels of crude worth about $100 million, arrived off the coast of Texas on Saturday but has yet to unload its disputed cargo."
national iraqi news agency
the wall st. journal