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Curmudgeon's Corner: Fifteen pens later, pension reform battle finally over (OPINION)

December 7, 2011

In a subdued ceremony at the State House, Governor Chafee used 15 pens to sign reform of the state pension system into law. As predicted several times in this column, the unions representing state and municipal employees and teachers said they would challenge the law in court. According to union poobahs, the only decision is whether to add their complaint to the case already being litigated in Superior Court or to enter a new, separate lawsuit.
Although there was no fist bumping or high fives all around, there did seem to be elation that the pension system was “fixed” because the unfunded liability was reduced by $3 billion or about one-third of the total amount of past service costs unfunded by both the state and municipally-run pension plans.
This reform, according to General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, means the state pension system would be funded at about the 67% level which is still far short of the 80% benchmark regarded as a fiscally strong plan.
The General Assembly will, in an election year session, have to grapple with the unfunded liability of locally-managed pension plans, the abuses of long-term disability pensions and retirement benefits other than pension (mostly health insurance) that are completely unfunded. At the same time the legislators will have to ward off union attempts at watering down or repealing the reform just passed.
To their credit, the entire North Kingstown-Exeter legislative delegation, including Warwick teacher, Senator John Sheehan, voted in favor of the pension reform bill.

n President Obama announced on October 18th that all military personnel would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. All except four or five thousand “contractors” (read mercenaries) who will remain to protect our State Department and other US civilians attached to our embassy in Baghdad.
Army First Lieutenant Dustin D. Vincent, 25, of Mesquite, Texas, member of the 1st Battalion,. 5th Field Artillery Regiment died by small arms fire in Kirkuk, Iraq on November 3rd. He will probably be the last soldier to die in “Operations Iraqi Freedom/ New Dawn” as the war in Iraq is known in the Pentagon.
From March 19, 2003 until November 10th of this year, 4,473 American servicemen and women (including my son, Matt) have died in Iraq and 32,225 were wounded in action or injured. This is the price of putting the majority Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki in power in Baghdad.
Obama didn’t “declare victory”. He merely declared the war over –a war he was against from the beginning- and that American troops could “come home with their heads held high” to spend Christmas with their families.
According to the November 14th edition of The Army Times, “what remains to be determined is whether some units will be ‘recommissioned’ for duty elsewhere.” The article goes on to say that units deployed to Iraq for less than a full year “may get pushed to an area where they’re needed.” “No decisions have been made about whether units will stay in Kuwait” but Army brass promised that all troops would be out of Iraq by the holidays but not necessarily home.
Chalk it up to another Obama half-truth.
As Ralph Peters, in his 2005 book “New Glory”, brilliantly observed, “Had the [Bush43] administration stressed Baathist atrocities, the genocide against the Kurds, and the killing fields dispersed throughout Iraq it would have been much harder for France, Germany and anti-American critics everywhere to oppose out efforts.”
“We also should have been forthright about oil. We didn’t go to war to steal it (it would have been far cheaper to buy it), but oil security was unquestionably an issue. By insisting that oil wasn’t a factor, we played into the hands of cynics everywhere.”, Peters wrote.
Incidentally, I support Obama’s decision to withdraw because the Iraqi government, while claiming to want the continued presence of US troops, insisted that our military personnel be subject to Sharia law in Iraqi courts for any perceived transgressions.
The president, however, didn’t go far enough. He should have frozen Iraqi assets and laid claim to future oil revenues to repay us for the cost of the war which was the plan from the git-go.
As for the “Arab spring” movement that the Obama administration supported, Tunisia, where it all started, followed Morocco’s lead and voted last week for an Islamic Party government. Egypt has descended into chaos with the military dictatorship hanging on to power and the Muslim Brotherhood movement gaining strength. In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad continues to kill his people while Washington sits on its hands and watches.
Supposed ally Pakistan has ordered our immediate withdrawal from a forward airbase in a godforsaken border area of that country with Afghanistan. It was from this base that we launched the successful overthrow of the Taliban ten years ago. The base is now our gateway for supplying our troops in western Afghanistan and it is from there that many of our “drone” aircraft surveillance and attack missions (which Pakistanis abhor) are launched.
Iran continues its quest for a nuclear weapon despite the economic boycott imposed by the Obama administration. How long Israel, which the ayatollahs have promised to wipe off the face of the earth, will hold off a pre-emptive strike remains to be seen.
Obamanistas point to the assassination in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden as a foreign policy “win”. Meanwhile the rest of the Middle East unravels.

n At this time of year, we are all inundated with appeals for donations from charitable organizations and religious groups. TV stations, local churches, fraternal and military organizations all vie for our money, toys and clothing donations.
Allow me to call your attention to North Kingstown-based Operation Support Our Troops which has been sending packages of food, blankets, games and other needed items at Christmas and other times of the year to soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors.
To date, OSOT (of which I am a director), has shipped over 2 million pounds of goodies to Iraq, Afghanistan and other hotspots since hostilities began.
OSOT has enjoyed the sponsorship of corporations and charitable foundations to cover the cost of non-donated items and postage. (Note: packages addressed to “any soldier” will not be delivered. OSOT enjoys recognized status with DoD and other military support groups and can direct packages to personnel in areas where they are most needed.)
This year corporate funding is down due to the economy. OSOT is $3,000 short of covering its Christmas mailing costs. Would you consider sponsoring a package by a $20 donation? Send your check to Operation Support Our Troops, Inc., P.O. Box 404, North Kingstown, RI 02852.
Contributions are tax-deductible and I can assure you that every penny raised is used for supporting our men and women in harm’s way.

Richard August is a North Kingstown resident and a regular contributor to the Standard Times. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at

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