Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Firefighter, a Light Pole, and an Automobile.

This is a story. It is a story about a firefighter, a firefighter who has been both a follower and a leader.  It is a story about a man, a man who has both excelled and stumbled.  It is not a life story, but a story of a brief moment in time. 

   All good stories have characters, or players if you will, because not all elements are represented as people.  Sometimes in stories inanimate objects can play a large role.  As I am no screenwriter, bare with me while I just simply describe the players. 

   The first player, is an automobile, yes a car.  Don’t think of CARS the Disney movie, but just simply your run of the mill motor vehicle.  It’s a four door, just an average car with a firefighter sticker in the window.  The next player is a light pole. Now this is not just any light pole, but a light pole located in the exclusive enclave of Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada.  There were others players in and around this story, but for now these three, the firefighter, the automobile and the light pole are all that are really relevant.

   One spring evening or night to be more exact these three players were brought together in what could have been one catastrophic evening, if it were not for the actions of the firefighter that cool pre-summer night in glittering Las Vegas.  It could have been catastrophic not just for the obvious reasons that emerge when objects like automobiles and light poles collide in the dark of night.  It could have been catastrophic for the career of this firefighter.  I am getting a little ahead of myself, so lets back track a little. 

    This firefighter had worked long and hard to become who he was now.  He had overcome many obstacles throughout his life and career to stand there that night, as a firefighter. He had been taught and full well knew that by accepting the job that he was now in, he would never be just himself. That all actions he took would reflect not just upon him, but upon the fire service as well. The headlines would not read “ Joe Smith” hits light pole, they would read “Firefighter Hits Light Pole”.   Whether or not this is fair, has no bearing on this story, it is something firefighters just have to accept.  Unlike the multi-million dollar athlete that extols how he is not a role model, firefighters must just accept it, because we are in fact, role models.  

   Life has all kinds of lessons for us to learn. The difference in life being how we as individuals handle these lessons, how we learn from them and how we move forward in life from each “lesson” that is handed down to us. 

   Again, a little ahead of myself, so lets go back to that evening in the west side of town, and that slightly breezy and quite evening in Las Vegas, where the firefighter, the automobile and the light poles history intersected. 

  The firefighter was feeling pretty good, and had reason to. He had been successful, he had friends, a good life, and even at this stage, a good future.  His hands were on the wheel, he was in control, and the music was on and was playing a good tune for life’s background music.  In the blink of an eye, or even less,  things drastically changed.  He was no longer in control, and he new it was his fault; he had been doing something he should not have been doing.  He was doing something that he had flirted with several times, and was driving with a level of confidence he really had never earned. In times past he had just been lucky, as he was about learn that hard lesson.  Like most type A personalities he had determined that his past avoidance of the consequences for his actions had more to do with skill than luck.  Next,  what seemed like hours but in all reality was merely seconds, that false world would come crashing down around him.  In the end he would be standing there, seemingly alone, staring reality in the face, his next actions crucial, what to do next? 
  The squeal of the tires was loud and was accompanied by the immediate smell of melting rubber. The sound of the tires reverberated off the inside of the car, and what seemed like the inside of his head, it all became just another background noise like the music pumping from the stereo, as he gained the first glimpse of the light pole. The front end of car no longer leading the way, he struggled to regain control, steering hard against the skid, as he had been taught.  To no avail, he had really done it this time. It was obvious there was no escaping the inevitable.  For the first time in his life he felt completely helpless.  Nothing he could do was going to change what was about to happen.  As the car rapidly approached the solid and immoveable light pole, the sounds of screaming, squealing tires, and the smell of burning rubber, gave way instantly to the sound of crunching metal, breaking plastic and glass, and the smell gave way to that of dust, and the iron or metallic smell of blood.  In a strange twist, as the sounds and smells seemed to keep pace with reality, the visual aspects seemed to slow to such a speed that one could account for the tiniest of details.  As he watched the car cave in around him, as the windshield shattered and cracked, the dashboard crumpled up, and the passenger seat tilted up and towards him, the visual and the audio came crashing together in one loud and ear piercing collision of metal and earth. As the vehicle first tilted as to roll on its passenger side, the light pole itself, unmoved, settled the car back down on its four wheels, as he felt his seatbelt pull against his collarbones and hold him in his seat.  Then, silence, as the dust settled and reality sunk in.  His passenger turning to look silently at him, as if to say “really?” as blood began to roll down her face.

     Recent events in the firefighters life had made this evening more than just a collision between a car and light pole, but more of a collision with destiny.  He had been warned both professionally and personally that his behavior behind the wheel would eventually have an affect on his career. In his arrogance he ignored these warnings. He came from a lifestyle of fast cars, and grease under the fingernails. A life where his ability to control the horsepower under his foot was not just a sign of manhood, but determined his position in the “pecking order” of his peers. Although he had already distanced himself from his previous life, the behavior itself was another matter.   The life style of street racing and that of a professional firefighter were colliding and only one was to be the victor.  Already having been called on the carpet for behavior behind the wheel the firefighter could not only loose his recently earned money, but all future earnings, as now his career was on the line.  

   What is one expected to do at this point, everything is on the line.  Well in this story, the firefighter chooses to do the right thing.  He stood in the furnace of truth and accepted the consequences of his actions.  He paid the damages to those he owed, accepted his fault, and changed his life. 

    He used his recently acquired skills to help save the life of his passengers.  All of who still play a major role in his life. The most grievously injured, is now his wife of almost 14 years and mother of his two children.  One of the others, the best man at his wedding and still close personal friend. 

   He stood on that night and was transformed from one life to the next, and almost 17 years later is still standing, proud of whom he became, the lessons he learned, and the path he has traveled. 

   Is this story real? Does it matter?  Does it change the story line or the lessons learned?  Does this story extol a virtuous perspective?  No, I don’t think so. Is it so virtuous to have to be beat over the head to get the point?  If you walk away with this then you have missed the point.  We all have our shortcomings, our moments of success and our moments of failure; we are not the judges of each other. 
    When I am taught in John 8 not throw stones, why should I then throw stones?  The point is we are the same; we are all flawed in one-way or another. When I am attacked because of my personally flawed past, I guess that’s okay. I would prefer that we get past that and have discussions on the facts and the problems facing us.  As this story from my personal past, I hope demonstrates, we are the same. If you choose to attack me instead of what I am saying, it can go both ways. It achieves nothing, hurts feelings, and tries to force us to live to unachievable standards, so we can tear down each other, instead of working together for the common good. 

  I disagree with what my union is doing to “look out for my interest” at the national level. I believe they are being intellectually dishonest. I believe at the local level we have all been duped.  If speaking my mind to this and having a discussion about it, means I have to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune, then so be it.   Whether we are to survive or not survive is the question, and how we go about surviving is an even larger question. Forgive me please, for wanting to talk about it. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Can We Get Answers Instead of Propaganda?

   While my dollar buys less and less and the future prospects of actually being able to draw a pension become slimmer and slimmer, I appreciate it when my union leadership, both national and local, take the time to address the issues that face us today.  Oh wait a minute that has not happened yet.

    It must take a lot of time for our General President to make the rounds on the media circuit.  He does have to take the time to memorize his talking points, and to go on to a news channel that does nothing but reach the smallest audience possible.  I mean sure he could go on other channels that provide a larger audience to address our needs, but then again he may actually be asked questions.  Questions like, okay Mr. Schaitberger , how will the US Government loosing its AAA bond rating effect your membership?  You know little questions like that. How about explaining the difference between a “riskless” rate of return, and a “historical return on investments” and how that applies to your membership.  Maybe take the time to inform your members on what their “Beck” rights are.

   For months now we have been told about how we are under attack, how the greedy rich people want to destroy the middle class so they do not have to pay taxes. Okay, thanks for the heads up, but is that it, are you not going to go any further. How about some details?  How about presenting both sides so we can make an informed decision about what is best for our future, both in our professional and personal lives.

   I can understand why my local leadership can’t get around to answering any of these questions. They are real busy you know having special meetings to spend more of our money on a building we so desperately needed.  I guess the plan is, if the Stock Market collapses again and we all loose our retirement, we will always have this fantastic real estate investment we can sell and divide up the proceeds of to live off of.  Given the current state of affairs I can see why they have devoted so much attention this project. Without this new building we might have had to go on having meetings in the same old strip mall we have always used, oh the humanity!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Honor, Duty, Trust, Integrity, Is it real?

    Occasionally we must elevate our conversation.  Sometimes we have to lift our heads from our day-to-day lives and think about who we are and what we stand for.
Now I am not anyone’s judge, nor do I intend to be. I am a flawed man with my own shortcomings that I struggle with.  Nonetheless we must occasionally discuss the values and principals we profess to live by, or else we risk loosing them.

 Honor:      Good name or public esteem, a showing of usually merited respect, faithfulness to high moral standards.
Synonyms include; honesty, integrity, righteousness, and uprightness.
Antonyms include; baseness, dishonor, lowness, corruption, depravity, disgrace, sinfulness, wretchedness.

Duty:       obligatory tasks, conduct, service or functions that arise from one’s position. A moral or legal obligation. Something one must do because of prior agreement.
Synonyms include; burden, charge, commitment, incumbency.
Antonyms include; exemption, waiver and loophole.

Trust:      firm belief in the integrity, ability, effectiveness, or genuineness of someone or something. Responsibility for the safety and well-being of someone or something. The assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.  One in which confidence is placed.
Synonyms include; confidence, credence, faith.
Antonyms include; distrust, skepticism, suspicion, disenchantment.

Integrity:     firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility: an unimpaired condition. Conduct that conforms to an accepted standard of right and wrong, devotion to telling the truth,  faithfulness to high moral standards.
Synonyms include; character, decency, goodness, honesty, righteousness, uprightness, virtue, truthfulness.
Antonyms include; badness, evil, immorality, sin, wickedness, villainy, crookedness, deception, meanness, insidiousness, treacherousness, deceitfulness.

    Ask yourself, are we living to these principals that we set for ourselves, are we even trying to anymore? Do we live to these values if we manipulate a staffing system for our personal financial gain? Do we live to these standards when we are silent about the same?  Do we live to these standards when we accept manipulations and half-truths from our leaders?

    Many among us have accepted the praise and high respect we were given after September 11th that was earned from the blood and sacrifice of others.  Respect we really did nothing to earn.  Shortly after 9-11 at the dedication of Station 5, as the commander of our Honor Guard I gave a short speech acknowledging these very facts.  In that speech I thanked the public for their praise and support, and promised that from that day until my last day in the fire service I would do all that I could to earn what they had given us, because it had come at such a high price.  I guess that is part of what drives me. I promised never to forget.  When our actions no longer reflect our words we must take notice, we must look inward and reflect on what we are doing, where we are going, and how we conduct ourselves while doing it.

    We are heading into some even more trying times than the last few years have been. What kind of people will we be on the other side?  Will we be the kind of people who stand in the furnace, and account for our actions, or will we run and hide from the truth. Will we try to find loopholes and rationalize our conduct, or will we hold the line accept the consequences?

     In my life I have learned that loyalty is simply a choice, and one must not remain loyal to someone or something that has been corrupted, and refuses to accept it and work to change. I have learned that loyalty is a choice, and doing the right thing is a matter of character.

    Who will we be in two years?  The choice is ours.  Will we be the people who stood against our neighbors for our own selfish interest, or will we be the people who helped each other.  Will we choose to preserve our country for the benefit of all? Will we choose to side with those who want to destroy our economic system, so our leadership can maintain their influence and prestige, at the detriment of all.

   Honor, Duty, Trust and Integrity are not just words printed on our shirts, hats and fire trucks. They are words we are supposed to live by.  It may be difficult but I believe, no, I KNOW we are up to the challenge.  If we cannot get our leadership to understand this, then they must go. 
 The truth is we can stand up and do the right thing at the local level, we do not need the IAFF and we do not need the AFL CIO.  That is the truth they so desperately do not want you to see, WE DON’T NEED THEM, THEY NEED US.  With out us they are nothing.  With out us they have no power to accomplish anything.  If you look, you will see, they long ago stopped looking out for your interest, how much longer will you remain silent and support theirs. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Short and to the Point

  "Citizenship In A Republic"

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

I think you get my meaning!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

“One Step Closer to the Edge, and its About to Break”

   No I am not talking about the Linkin Park song.  I am talking about your pension.
Standard & Poors (S&P) moved the credit rating of the USA to a negative outlook.  
This “is one warning shot at least to investors that should be loud and clear in
Washington.”  Said Bill Gross, a founder of one of worlds largest bond funds, that
dumped government holdings back in February.  According to an article in the WSJ
a downgrade in the credit rating usually follows about six months after the outlook

   The US Government loosing its AAA rating, which 2 years ago all the experts said
could “never” happen , would have devastating effects on our pension system.  This I
have explained in my previous articles.

  This is just one more example in a long list, of our union leadership looking out for
what is best for them and not looking out for our interest , like they are PAID to do.
As our country goes so will go our pension, they inextricably linked.  Try and explain
to me how supporting the progressive agenda to preserve “collective bargaining”  is
going to help us, when supporting that agenda will destroy our future financial
stability.  The way I see it they are more worried about preserving their power and
prestige for themselves, so they can continue to feel good rubbing elbows  with all the
“powerful” people in our state and national governments.  The way it is set up our
pensions are supposed to be guaranteed, if the stock market fails, then our
neighbors have to pay our pensions in the form of higher taxes.  There in sits the
crux of the matter. They can stand there and tell you people are trying to destroy
your collective bargaining rights, and therefore your pensions. One has nothing to
do with the other. They don’t care about the stock market, because they don’t care if
they raise your and your neighbors taxes, because its want they want in the first
place. They are hoping against all hope that you do not wake up and pay attention,
and recognize that you are being used.
    The response thus far to these critiques, to run articles like the one in the
Washington Post the other day explaining how nurses and firefighters feelings are
hurt, because the tax paying public see’s what they do not. An UNSUSTAINABLE
SYSTEM.  We are rapidly running out of other peoples money, the tax payers, your
neighbors,  see it. Our Union is pitting us against them. 
    As union members we must stand up, we must take back control of our unions
and place them back on a path of freedom and prosperity.  If you can not do this
because it is the right thing to do, then do the research and recognize how it directly
effects your future financial stability.  To sit by silently as the system collapses and
then to turn to your neighbor and say sorry you got hurt so bad, but pay me, because
I got mine, is not only unethical, it is blatantly immoral.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It's a Leadership Problem!

     On March 10th at our monthly Union membership meeting a motion was made, seconded and passed, that required our union leadership to post a complete copy of the meeting rules on our Local 1285 web site.
   Our meetings are regulated by the Atwood’s Rules for Meetings. This book is not commonly available as it is out of print. 
    Contrary to what our Union president said at this meeting, the International does NOT require us to use this manual. We can choose it if we want, but the readily available Roberts Rules of Order is also acceptable.
    There was a time limit established for the completion of this motion. As the web site had crashed recently the motion was amended to give them 30 days after the website was up and running again, to complete this task.  Given that a union member volunteered to complete this task on his own, so as our membership could have access to the rules governing the meetings, I am perplexed as to why this has not happened yet.

  Our Union leadership can arrange a two-day vote and manage to spend five hundred thousand dollars of OUR money, with a small percentage of membership actually voting to do so. They can then take that money purchase a building, begin the plans to renovate it, all in under a few weeks, but somehow they can not manage to fix the website, and post the rules in, lets see what has it been now 40 days.

   That makes me wonder why our union leadership is so adverse to its rank and file members having access to the rules.  Could it be because then they could not manipulate the meetings to their benefit and silence dissent? 

   How many times will our members have to be shown, that our leadership is not looking out for what is best for us, but for them?  Do we have any takers on the over and under for how long it will actually take to get IAFF Local 1285 web site back up and running?



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Liberty or Tyranny, Where Do You Stand?

This post if from a friend of mine. Him and I disagree on a lot of things, but we do agree on liberty. You may see post on here from time to time from him.

  I am a retired Firefighter. I am writing because I believe
 that our country has taken a wrong turn, and most refuse to see the truth. Furthermore, as a union member, you may be a pawn without your knowledge. Most people in America still have the perception of America as a land of liberty, but this is rapidly becoming only an illusion.
I stand with Firefighters for Freedom, and any other individual/organization that embraces freedom. And, I oppose any individual/organization insofar as they desire for and seek power/force over others and act to thwart freedom, liberty and individual rights - the very cornerstones of the founding of America. The instant that power/force is used against one’s own convictions and/or possessions (property rights) the principle of liberty is no longer respected and all are at risk of the whims of tyrants. Good intention is no consolation, and evasion of truth is dishonest. That is, evasion of the contradiction that force against one for the sake of another is still called liberty…it is not. That brings me to the current issue, as presented on Firefighters for Freedom; the current alignment of unions with socialist organizations.
There is a new “liberty” today in America. It is the demand that entitlements be provided to individuals by society; those who demand that their existence be provided for as a free meal ticket…but by whom? Society?  But what is society but the aggregate of individuals? So let’s not talk of the meal provider as some nefarious, unidentifiable and endless money tree. Ultimately, it is the individual who has a gun pointed at his head forced to give up private possessions to the demand for “free” entitlements; social security, healthcare, minimum wage, etc. Forceful demand is the antithesis of liberty. That is self-evident.  It is a breach of the principle of liberty. Consider, is it right that property rights reside with the producer, or that personal property be forcefully transferred from the producer to the non-producer? This is the hallmark of socialism and the direction of this country – the violation of individual rights and the principle of liberty.
I am not suggesting that those who work as Firefighters are non-producers, they provide a valuable service, and sometimes at great personal risk. But the facts are that, first, your pay does come from tax money, from those who do produce with personal risk of time and capital, and so therefore there is an obligation for fire departments, with the support of the union, to be fiscally accountable. Second, today our unions stand with organizations who demand unearned entitlements. Is this what YOU are about? All I ask is that you do the research and see if this is the case with your union. Do they stand with organizations that support force for the unearned? If so, stand up for your convictions and declare yourself a socialist. If not, stand up and oppose it. There is no middle ground. You either support these associations of your union, or you don’t. You either stand for liberty, or you allow the violation of individual rights. And silence is complicit acceptance.

Mike Nelson

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why You Should Care, This About Your Pension, not Politics.

   My local union leadership, instead of participating in a discussion and rebuttal of what I have said here, has instead decided to try and discredit me as “crazy”.  That’s okay I guess it shows just how weak their position is.
  To my brothers and sisters who have privately supported me, thank you for your concern. I am fine. I ask please however that you not be intimidated by this tactic, as I am not.  I am a professional and I come to work every day and do my job to the best of my ability. I simply disagree with what my union is doing, and for that they are trying to destroy my reputation. So be it, I am undeterred. 
    I am not asking you to believe me; I am not trying to convince you that I am right. I am trying to get you to pay attention to what is happening. I am trying to convince you that the your very future stability, your financial stability is at stake.  Please do not just watch the video on my website, take the time to read my post “Are Our Pensions Stable?” it explains what I m talking about, and how this directly affects you.
     They try and say I am crazy for pointing out that as union members we are standing with socialist and communist. I am not saying we support them, as some of us do. I am saying that they are supporting us. If you agree with socialist and communist principals by all means speak your mind, say it out in the open, lets have that debate. If you do not, you must speak up, not to speak is to speak, you lend not only tacit but actual support to these movements with our union dues. For those of you who do not think this happening, just last week we were asked by our union leadership nationally, locally and at the state level to attend a We Are One rally held across not only the nation but also the world.
    I do not know about you, but I am not a sheep.  Before I go and stand out with a group of people chanting with signs about this or that, I want to know whom I am standing with. I went to the We Are One web site at and what was on there was amazing.  I encourage you to check it out for yourself.
   On the right side of their home page you will find a link named “Allies Support” and this will take you to a list of organizations that are supporting this rally, and this movement.  There are 124 Organizations listed in support of you and our labor union. These are the people who, if you went to the rally you were “standing in solidarity” with.
    The list was broken into 3 categories Allies (47), Political Leaders (16), and Global Support (61).  When you take out the politicians the fact that 57% of these organizations are from foreign countries should be enough of a red flag for you to go check it out.  Maybe the fact that 100% of the political leaders are “progressives” might get you thinking this may be a little one sided. Maybe the fact that of the homegrown support roughly 40% of the organizations listed received funding directly from George Soros to the tune of 3.2 million dollars in 2009 alone, and that’s just direct funding. The fact that almost all of them are “progressive” socialist organizations might throw a red flag or two.
    Take just a little of your time and check these things out for yourself and just browse some of the other organizations that are supporting this movement. Check out the following web sites;  (this one was actually affiliated with and officially part of the We Are One rallies as the information and study material for these “teach ins” were on the We Are One web site.)
  Just take a little time out your day and check it out, see for yourself if you agree with these people.
   I can not say this enough, so its worth repeating.
 The future stability of your pension system DEPENDS ENTIRLEY on the stock market!
  These people that our unions are standing with do not even believe in the stock market, they are trying to destroy free market capitalism, they think its evil, WE ARE BEING USED!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

So Nevadans want to pay more in taxes, really?

   Recently I was lead by my union leadership to an interesting local news report.  This report stated “Poll finds support for public workers, taxes”
  Most of this did not sound new.  I have recently read other polls conducted by USA Today/ Gallup that reported similar findings. That yes in general people do not support stripping away collective bargaining laws for public employees. The poll and report released by Gallup on February 21, 2011 titled “Scaling Back State Programs Is least of Three Fiscal Evils” reported that reducing pay or benefits for public employees is opposed by a margin of 53% to 44% in favor.  Additionally that people opposed reducing or eliminating state programs by a much closer margin of 48% opposed to 47% in favor.  The last finding though is what made me think twice about the news report I was being directed to. This same Gallup Poll also found that when it came to increasing taxes, whether sales, income or other taxes, the clear majority of people by a margin of 71% opposed raising taxes.
  I found it odd that Gallup found that 71% of people opposed raising taxes, but here in Nevada for some odd reason people seem to be all for it.  That of course made me want to research then who commissioned the poll, and who conducted the poll and what was their methodology. The article itself did a good job about saying who commissioned the poll, a group of public employee unions under the organizational name of “Nevadans for Nevada”.  What they failed to do is any research or report on the firm that conducted the poll, Grove Insight, Ltd.
  You can find their web site at  the following are just a few quotes taken directly from their web site;

-       “ Lisa Grove created Grove Insight because she was tired of seeing progressive candidates and causes stuck with outdated research methods, unintelligible reports and a one-size-fits-all approach to polling. In her view, there was simply too much at stake.”

-       We see our job as so much more than reporting on the status quo – it is finding a path that achieves your desired outcome. (emphasis added)

-       from designing questionnaires to moderating focus groups, from analyzing survey data to reporting on results in a way that is most useful to our clients. (emphasis added)

-       Using the right language to talk to your audience is critical, and reliable, creative public opinion research (emphasis added) is the first step.

-       Ever committed to putting her progressive values into action,(emphasis added) in 2007, Lisa added a division to Grove Insight devoted to environmental/green market research

 An organization that represents public employee unions hired a polling firm that is committed to its progressive values. A firm that was created because she was tired of watching progressive candidates and ideals loose.  A firm committed to creative public opinion research that will give you a pre determined desired out come.  A firm committed to designing a questionnaire to develop desired pre determined out comes, and to reporting on those findings in a way that is most useful to their clients.  A firm that with polling 500 registered voters concluded that Nevadans don’t mind higher taxes.
  Pardon me, if I question the validity of this poll.
I have an ideal, why don’t we hire a firm that I don’t know is committed to reporting oh I don’t know, THE TRUTH, how about we do something like that.  
  You see no matter what a manipulated poll tells you, the truth is based in reality and its still there, no matter what you believe or design a question to show, and it is that truth we need to find real solutions and real answers.
  Contrary to what Jack Nicholson said, We CAN handle the truth. 

Is Our Pension System Stable?

     I know that as firefighters and paramedics we do not think of ourselves before we think of the citizens we serve.   We do work hard for the salary and benefits we have earned.   We must bring that same attitude that we respond to emergency calls with to the question of our pensions.  In the end, if our pension system fails, it is those very same citizens, and our children and grand children that will be stuck with the oppressive taxes needed to pay our pensions.  The cutting of services so severe it would effectively eliminate almost all other state services is also another option.  The third option is to increase our contribution rate and future firefighters contribution rates to such excessive amounts, as to be unrealistic.   We owe it to our citizens and we owe it to ourselves to look at the facts, and make-needed changes.    
    We are supposed to be able to work hard in our life and achieve a level of success suitable to each of us as individuals. To achieve contentment in life where ever or what ever that is for each of us.  We are supposed to be able to do that without interference from the government. The most effectively run government is the one you almost never have to think about or be involved with except to elect your leaders at certain intervals.  At those times we are expected to make informed decisions on who we want to lead us and then go back to living our lives, chasing our pursuit of happiness.  There are times in history though that requires us to pay closer attention, to be more involved.   There are times when we must look above our daily lives and look at the bigger picture because it has been twisted and screwed up so bad that it is going to have a direct effect on our lives. We must make informed decisions.  
    Most of us have been a sleep at the wheel, because our lives have been good. This is okay, this how our system is supposed to work. However,  a lot of us are just now being awoken to the calamity that is our current state of affairs.  We are just now awakening because it has just now started to effect us individually in our daily lives. 
    It is more important now to become informed, because there are powerful forces in our society, and globally that are trying to change the very core principals that have made our country what it is. As a member of a labor union you are involved in this battle for the future of America whether you realize it or not.  If you do not believe this is true, if you do not believe there might be an ounce of truth to this, then change the page; go back to what you were doing because we don’t really have the time to convince you.  If you are one of the many who do understand this read on, because our National Labor Leaders have put us on the wrong side of this battle. I don’t know about your local leaders, but mine have swallowed what the national and international organizations are putting out, hook line and sinker. We tried to address these issues through our locals, and with our local leaders only to be silenced with parliamentary maneuvers and out and out manipulations. There will be no dissenting from the party line! So we are forced to go about it in a public way, so be it. 
    We are told to stand up, take this sign, protest against these people because they want to take your pension.  I hear one side saying we need to reform these pensions systems (reform not take) because they are unsustainable. Then I hear the other side, the side I pay my money to, saying your pensions are stable they are funded, its just an excuse to come after the middle class, and take your pensions to enrich themselves.  Since I cant get anything but hyperbole from either side I must do the research myself and come to an informed decision. The following is what I found.
      This information is based on a brief compiled by NASRA (National Association of State Retirement Administrators) titled “Public Pension Plan Investment Return Assumptions”.  This information comes from an organization of people who most definitely have a vested interest in the pension systems being “stable”.
  There is a debate in our country right now on how to measure the future returns on our pension systems investments.   I do not know about you, but when it comes to something this important, I would like to have the facts, so I can make a judgment on who to believe. 
 This is an extremely important debate to us, because the end result will reveal just how stable or unstable our pension system is.   This measurement is vitally important because, of the monies needed to make the pensions current liabilities 60% come from the money the pension system makes on its investment.  To put it another way, right now our pension system could only make 40% of its obligated payments this year if it only used the money contributed by us, and our employer combined.      

    One side of the debate says that what we currently use, the “historical returns on assets” is the correct method. When this method is used the pensions system appears to be in pretty good shape, and the unfunded portion of the liabilities are in the 700 billion dollar range. This is bleak, but not catastrophic.  The other side says we should use what is called a “riskless” rate of return based on more secure assets like bonds, and treasuries. When this method is used the unfunded liabilities sky rocket to the 3 trillion dollar area. This is catastrophic. 
    Let’s look at the “historical returns on assets” side of it.  Currently a large majority of pensions systems use an expected 8% return on investment to predict their future stability.

   According to NASRA  this gives the pensions system a 50/50 shot of making its obligations or coming up short.  Since this predictor is based on historical trends, then we should then look at what the historical trends are.

  As you can see, over the last 25 years there has been a better than 8% return. This is what the people on this side of the debate point out to justify their position.  Keep in mind that this still represents an estimated shortfall of $700 Billion. 

   The other side says, we shouldn’t use the historical returns on assets because our pensions are guaranteed, and must be paid with either tax increases or spending cuts or a combination of both. This side says that using the historical returns data is covering up a huge unfunded liability that runs in the 3 trillion dollar range. They want to tie it to more stable return assets like bonds and treasuries that would give a return of 4%. 
  The following are all quotes taken directly from the NASRA brief. 
Because no one knows what the future holds with respect to economic and other contingencies, the best an actuary can do is to use professional judgment to estimate possible future economic outcomes based on past experience and future expectations, and to select assumptions based upon that application of professional judgment. rather than one specific assumption. The actuary should determine the bestestimate range for each economic assumption, and select a specific point from within that range. In some instances, the actuary may present alternative results by selecting different points within the bestestimate range.
Although investment return assumptions used by public pensions are
intended to reflect long‐term considerations, they are not static, and
they do change. Until the 1980s, a majority of public pension assets were
invested in bonds and other asset classes that yielded a lower projected
return than a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.
Investment return assumptions were commensurately lower. First in
response to high interest rates during the late 1970s and early 1980s,(emphasis added)

(*authors note* what do you think will happen to the interest rates when the FED and the Treasury Dept. begin to try and suck back out all the extra money it has printed in the last 2 years?) 

As the standard disclaimer says, past performance is not an
indicator of future results.

     Lets analyze this data.  In the last 25 years we have had a return on investments at about 9.3%, but this average includes an extremely good time that is about to drop off the 25-year mark. When this happens, when you look at the next “last 25 years rate on returns” it will be catastrophically worse.   We have only been in this more risky area for the last 25 years, prior to that we were in the safer bond market, so we really only have one point of data to measure how stable it really is.  The 8% estimate gives us a 50/50 shot of making it or not.  Since NOBODY can predict the future let’s just try to give it a good guess.
    If you look back at the return on investment graph you will see that although over the last 25 years there has been 9.3% return, over the last 10 years there has only been 3.9% return. So what it comes down to is what you think the next 10 to 15 years is going to do. Are we going to continue with the less than 4% (which remember is catastrophic) returns, or will it get better.  
    The following quotes were taken from various research papers from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, or CRR.  In the interest of brevity the authors of these papers can be found by looking up these articles with the date and title on the CRR website. 
 The Impact of Public Pensions on State and Local Budgets,  #13 October 2010.
    -  “Pension contributions are likely to account for a larger share of state and local budgets in the future than in the past for a number of reasons. First, states and localities have relied on a rising stock market to increase funding, and a repeat of the 1982-2000 stock market boom is unlikely.” (Emphasis added).
Valuing Liabilities in State and Local Plans, #11 June 2010.
  • - “Most economist contend that the discount rate should reflect the risk associated with the liabilities, and given that benefits are guaranteed under most state laws, the appropriate discount factor is a riskless rate, roughly 5 percent.”
  • - “given their guaranteed status, state and local pension liabilities should be discounted at a riskless rate and shows how much measured liabilities would increase by applying such a rate.”
  • - the argument is compelling (emphasis added) that the liabilities of public pension plans, which are guaranteed under state law, should be discounted by a rate that reflects their riskless nature”.
The Funding of State and local Pensions: 2009-2013, #10 April 2010.
  • - “after 2009, the funding picture will continue to deteriorate to the extent that years of low equity values replace years of higher values”
  • - “2010 actuarial reports will show assets equal to about 77 percent of promised benefits What happens thereafter depends increasingly on the future performance of the stock market. Under the most likely scenario, the funding ratio will continue to decline as the strong stock market of 2005-2008 is slowly phased out of the calculation. By 2013, the ratio of assets to liabilities is projected to equal 72 percent”  This paper also gives a optimistic out look that says by 2013 they will be funded at 76%, and a pessimistic out look that says they will be funded at 66%. 
  • - “The ultimate outcome will depend on the performance of the stock market, but under our most likely scenario, funding ratios will decline to 72 percent by 2013”
 This information comes from a source that does not have a vested interest in whether or not a pension system is considered stable. 
    On a much more interesting note, for comparisons here is some information on my retirement system. According to the 2010 Popular Annual Financial Report has a ranking in the top 28% for return and bottom 28% for risk.  This meaning it is one of the better off systems.
   According to NVPERS Popular Annual Financial Report Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2010 as of June 30, 2009 it had a funding level of 72.5%, and as of June 20, 2010 70.5%.  Keep in mind that these numbers are based on a “rosy picture” estimate of 8% on return. (If you didn’t catch it, that means we are ALREADY below what we are projected to be at by 2013)
   This report also shows that there is a continuing trend of having less and less employees to support even more and more retirees with even larger and larger pensions. Given the fact that I see with my own eyes brothers and sisters in my own union working the computerized staffing system to “spike” their compensable retirement wage, and I only see one of my local union leaders speaking out about it, and given the fact that when rank and file members try to speak out about it, they are silenced by department administration and the rest of the locals leadership, taken all of this into account, I personally do not see a “stable” future for our pension system. 
    This is why politics are so important, they affect everything.  What is it you believe? I posed this question to a colleague the other day, and he acted like it was an absurd question. It really is this simple, and it comes down to the very question that is being proposed to the nation in the next election cycle.  Do you believe that we will be better off, and the economy will restore itself under big government, tax the rich, wealth redistribution policies.  If you believe this then go pick up your sign and “protect” your pension. 
    However if you believe as I do, that smaller government, tax cuts, and more freedom with less government intrusion is what will stimulate the economy then you must speak out about it.  Our union leadership has made it clear where they stand.  What I hope this article does is make you painfully aware that even if you’re uninterested in the political discussion, your future depends on it.  

    When I take these following things into account;
  • - that Richard Trumpka the President of the AFL CIO recently said that he did not get into the labor movement to negotiate wages and benefits but that he got into the labor movement as a vehicle to advance a progressive agenda
  • - The progressive agenda is to expand government, destroy free enterprise, and redistribute wealth.
  • - People with vested interest are telling me my pension is ok.
  • - People with out vested interest are showing me that my pension system is not looking so good.
  • - Self identified “progressives” continually trumpet “never let a good crisis go to waste”
 When I evaluate all those things it makes me question the following?
  • - Are my national labor organizations looking out for my interest or are they trying to “protect” the next looming “crisis” they can use to further the progressive agenda.
  • - Has my local union leadership and I been duped?  Are we being used?
It looks to me that we have and we are.