Study Finds That 100 Largest US Public Pensions Underfunded By About $1.2 TRILLION

October 15, 2012

US – The largest 100 public pension funds have around $1.2 trillion of unfunded liabilities, about $300 billion above the nearly $900 billion they reported themselves, according to a new actuarial study to be released on Monday.

The pension systems reported a median funding level of 75.1 percent. The study by the actuarial firm Milliman, which used different ways to value assets and measure liabilities, finds an aggregate level of funding of 67.8 percent.

But Milliman, one of the world largest actuarial firms took a close look at U.S. public pension funding for the first time, and said the multibillion-dollar difference was good news.

Rebecca Sielman, the report’s author, said results should reassure the public that America’s public pensions in general are accurately reporting their funding shortfalls.

The difference between what public pensions across the United States have reported and what Milliman found wasn’t significant, Sielman said. She noted that a relatively small change in the way the figures are calculated could lead to seemingly outsized results because the funds are so large.

“The numbers really didn’t change that much,” she said. “It really didn’t move the needle.”

Both the pension funds’ reported results and Milliman’s findings fell within the range of previous estimates from other studies of the total size of the public pension shortfall in the United States.

With the study, Milliman, stepped into the debate about whether public pensions are underreporting the size of their liabilities.

That hot-button issue revolves around how much money public employers – and, by extension, taxpayers – will have to contribute to cover future payouts for member benefits. It is a key issue at a time of dwindling revenues and tighter budgets for states and local governments.

Pension funds get money from the returns on their assets and from members’ contributions. States and cities also pay into the funds, but their contributions are discounted based on how much money they think their investments will make over time.

The 100 funds Milliman studied used a median rate of return for their investments of 8 percent. But the recession slashed into the market, dropping actual median returns to just 3.2 percent for the last five years, according to data from Callan Associates.

The difference has prompted critics to claim that the funds are underreporting their unfunded liabilities, or the gap between what they’ve promised to pay retirees in the future and what they’ll actually have on hand to cover the benefits.

Critics have called for public pensions to reduce their assumed rates of return to as little as 5 percent or less, which would cause unfunded liabilities to soar and likely leave taxpayers having to cover the difference.

But without the change, critics say, future generations will be left to deal with a financial bomb.

FINDINGS WITHIN RANGE OF SIMILAR STUDIES

Other studies have tried to measure the overall size of the problem. The Pew Center on the States found that the shortfall is about $766 billion. Moody’s Investors Service said in July that the collective gap would be $2.2 trillion if funds used a 5.5 percent discount rate.

Milliman has studied the health of the 100 largest private pension funds for about a decade. But this is its first study of public plans, conducted specifically to determine whether the systems were using unrealistically high return-rate assumptions as the critics claimed.

“I thought that we would find fairly pervasive use of interest rates that are high relative to current market consensus about future investment returns, and we didn’t find that,” Sielman said.

The firm, which has done actuarial work for nearly all of the U.S. states in the past, examined each individual fund in the study, using market valuations instead of smoothed valuations to measure assets and recalibrating liabilities based on Milliman’s own benchmarks of expected long-term returns.

The firm found that the median discount rate should actually be 7.65 percent, rather than the 8 percent median rate the funds used in aggregate.

A third of the plans were using lower rates than they needed to, Milliman found, according to Sielman.

A small number of plans seriously underreported their liabilities because they use rates that are too high, Milliman found.

Milliman’s study did not name the specific plans that underreported their liabilities. Sielman said the firm was not releasing its results for individual plans.

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Former TSA Agent John W. Irwin Admits Stealing Over $500 In Cash – Says Theft Was Punishment For Man’s Lack Of Obedience After He Complained About Invasive Pat-Down

October 4, 2012

A former TSA worker has pleaded guilty to stealing over $500 in cash from a man who complained about the TSA’s invasive pat down procedure, with the TSA agent admitting the theft was a punishment for the man’s lack of obedience.

60-year-old John W. Irwin pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny following an incident in November 2011, during which a man asked that he be given a pat down rather than face a body scanner due to a medical condition.

When TSA agents ordered the man undergo the pat down in a private room, he complained but agreed to do so.

The man placed $520 in cash in a gray plastic bin before accompanying the TSA agents to the private room. When he returned, the money was gone, with Irwin having hidden it in a TSA supervisor’s draw.

When the man asked Irwin where the cash had gone, Irwin claimed ignorance and the incident was subsequently reported to the police.

After first denying to police that he had stolen the money, Irwin later admitted he had put the cash in his locker as a form of punishment in retaliation for the man complaining over his treatment. Prison Planet

FACTS & FIGURES

Last month, a TSA screener admitted to a woman traveling through Houston Airport that she was prevented from boarding her flight for retaliatory reasons as punishment for a bad attitude rather than any genuine security threat, after the woman refused to allow TSA agents to test her drink for explosives. Prison Planet

The TSA, in October 2010, directed the use of the scanners, sometimes known as advanced imaging technology, which some critics fear could emit too much radiation. Reuters

In addition, the TSA authorized enhanced pat-downs, which could include the touching of genitals, buttocks and breasts, for passengers unwilling to go through the scanners. Passengers who rejected both procedures would not be allowed to fly. Reuters

Critics maintain the scanners, which use radiation to peer through clothes, are threats to Americans’ privacy and health. wired.com

The effectiveness of pat-downs does not matter very much, because the obvious goal of the TSA is to make the pat-down embarrassing enough for the average passenger that the vast majority of people will choose high-tech humiliation.

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Three Generations Ago Children Roamed Free Until Dark, But Now Are Kept With Sight, Or An Arms Reach, And Spend Only A Few Minutes A Week Outdoors

October 1, 2012

There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when kids would leave home on a summer morning and roam free. “I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning,” writes Bill Bryson of his childhood in the 1950s, “and not allowed back until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.” That’s what kids did. They went out. Parents let them, and everybody did it. “If you stood on any corner with a bike — any corner anywhere — more than a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going,” Bryson writes. That was then.

But it’s not now. Look at what’s been happening all over the developed world. The Thomas family has been living in Sheffield, a town toward the north of England, for at least four generations. When great-grandpa George Thomas turned 8 in 1919, he was allowed to walk six miles — by himself — to go fishing. But each generation after has been given less and less room to roam.

In 1950, when Jack, the grandfather, turned 8, he was allowed to go just a mile on his own to visit the woods.

In 1979, when Vicky, the mom, turned 8, she was allowed to ride her bike around the immediate neighborhood, walk by herself to school, and could visit a swimming pool on her own. Her zone of play was a half-mile wide.

And then we have the current generation, Ed.

His freedom to roam is drastically different from his great-granddad’s. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2007, Vicky said her son, then 8, was “driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.” Basically, he stays on the block.

In fact, she says, he prefers the family yard to the street outside. “He doesn’t tend to go out because the other children don’t,” she said.

The Thomases are not unusual. A 1990 study called “One False Move” tracked the unsupervised play spaces of British children across generations and found the newest 8-year-olds have 1/9th the roaming territory of their parents. That’s a one-generation change. Back in the 1970s, 80 percent of British 7- and 8-year-olds were allowed to go to school unsupervised. By 1990, the percentage was 10 percent.

These days in the United States, writes scholar Chelsea Benson, “children spend an average of 30 minutes per week engaged in free play outdoors.” Their parents won’t let them out alone. “Children do not have the time or parental permission to explore natural areas and create their own special places,” she says. “Unstructured time outdoors is becoming a thing of the past.”

What’s happened? Back in the 1950s in Des Moines, parents must have known their kids would do stupid things, like jump off trestle bridges into filthy rivers. Bill Bryson regularly leaped into the Raccoon River, which was a watery soup of “dead fish, old tires, oil drums, algal slime, heavy metal effluents and uncategorizable goo.” He describes sneaking to the top of a shopping center past “a vicious, eagle-eyed stick of a woman named Mrs. Musgrove who hated little boys,” to get to a perch eight floors directly above a lobby restaurant onto which he would drop peanut M&Ms.

“A peanut M&M that falls seventy feet into a bowl of tomato soup makes one heck of a splash, I can tell you,” he says.

Are modern parents trying to protect innocent soup eaters from their 8-year-olds?

No, say the studies. Parents today are afraid that their children will be hurt, bullied or even abducted close to home. And they worry longer. In Italy, reports Chelsea Benson, “71 percent of 7- to 12-year-olds are always accompanied by adults on journeys to and from school.” (12-year-olds? Really?)

Are These Fears Real?

Maybe parents have good reason to fear strangers, predators or heavy traffic. Maybe they think their friends will think them irresponsible to let their kids go unsupervised. Maybe media horror stories are more horrible these days. Or more accurate.

Whatever is causing this, children don’t seem to be objecting. In this, too, the Thomas family in Britain is typical. Eight-year-olds these days seem content to stay close to home, plugged in to Playstations, iPads, their phones, texting away. Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, worries that bugs and creepy crawly things may become more alien, more “other,” if kids stay out of the woods. All over the world, children may not be getting to explore plants and animals in natural settings on their own. That’s a loss, he thinks. Will they know what they’re missing? In 2005, Louv asked a fourth-grader in San Diego where he liked to play, indoors or out? The kid said, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where the electric outlets are.”

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Boy Scout Officials Hid Child Molesters For Decades, Didn’t Report Pedophiles To Parents Or Police, Frequently Urging Them To Quietly Resign, And Often Helped Them Cover Their Tracks

September 17, 2012

US – Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, “chronic brain dysfunction” and duties at a Shakespeare festival.

Documents: A paper trail of abuse

The details are contained in the organization’s confidential “perversion files,” a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts’ lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.

As The Times reported in August, the blacklist often didn’t work: Men expelled for alleged abuses slipped back into the program, only to be accused of molesting again. Now, a more extensive review has shown that Scouts sometimes abetted molesters by keeping allegations under wraps.

In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from boys, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.
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City And County Attorneys Receive Kickbacks For Teaming Up With Private Company In Debt Collection Scheme That Threatened Victims With Jail

September 17, 2012

US – The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.

The practice, which has spread to more than 300 district attorneys’ offices in recent years, shocked Angela Yartz when she was threatened with conviction over a $47.95 check to Walmart. A single mother in San Mateo, Calif., Ms. Yartz said she learned the check had bounced only when she opened a letter in February, signed by the Alameda County district attorney, informing her that unless she paid $280.05 — including $180 for a “financial accountability” class — she could be jailed for up to one year.

“I was so worried driving my kid to and from school that if I failed to signal, they would cart me off to jail,” Ms. Yartz said.

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected.
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Society Now Criminalizing Parents Who Allow Children To Play Outside In The Yard

September 17, 2012

US – A Virginia mother was recently interrogated four times by police, and visited twice by social services, after neighbors spotted the mother’s children playing in their own yard unsupervised, and decided to report the non-incident to local authorities. According to Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids, such hysteria and Stasi-style paranoia are becoming the norm in America, where children are being excessively coddled, overprotected, and treated as though they are always in grave danger of being kidnapped or harmed.

During a recent interview with Alex Jones on The Alex Jones Show, Skenazy reflects on how the days when society’s youth could simply ride their bicycles to school or into the woods, climb their neighbors’ trees, or play at the local park by themselves without adult supervision are essentially gone. Today, it is practically considered abnormal in many areas for young children to even be outside at all, let alone to be exploring on their own or with their friends.

“What’s happening … is parents who let their children play outside, walk to school, or go to the grocery (store) for them often have neighbors who turn them in, supposedly out of concern … and what happens is Child Protective Services (CPS) is obligated to come and check out whether or not these parents are being negligent, or worse abusive,” says Skenazy, who receives calls all the time from parents that are being persecuted by law enforcement for allowing their kids to play outside.

“What has happened is that the parents are found wrong by the police or CPS for leaving their children in what CPS calls ‘a dangerous situation,’ which I would call a ‘normal, nice situation.’ In fact, less dangerous than just letting your kids sit inside all day getting fat and diabetic, you let your kids run outside or have some independent adventures, that’s considered bad parenting now.”

Texas woman forced to spend night in jail for supervising kids’ outdoor playtime

Just a few days ago, for instance, Tammy Cooper of La Porte, Texas, was actually handcuffed and arrested for allowing her children to play outside on their motorized scooters in the family’s cul-de-sac. Cooper was forced to spend the night in jail for this non-crime, despite the fact that she had been outside with her two children watching them the entire time. (http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/143276/mom_arrested_sent_to_jail)

“It is so unusual for parents to let their children play outside, or climb a tree, that they are being turned in as negligent,” adds Skenazy. “The immediate assumption is that something’s wrong, they escaped, maybe they’ve been kidnapped by somebody, or could be kidnapped, that’s the big fear.”

On her blog, Skenazy documents all sorts of wild cases involving the disturbing societal trend of people calling the police and CPS on neighbors that allow their children to play outside, as if letting kids be kids was some sort of crime (http://www.freerangekids.com/).

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“Urban-Based” (Codeword For Non-White) Severe And Lethal Violence In New American “Youth Crime Wave”

September 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Over the past few months, headlines describing crimes perpetrated by children and teenagers have been splashed atop stories all over the Internet.

In mid-July, the Chicago Tribune reported about several teenagers who fatally assaulted a 62-year-old man on camera. Malik Jones, 16, Nicholas Ayala, 17, and Anthony Malcolm, 18, then posted the cell phone video of their crime to Facebook.

Earlier that month, a 12-year-old boy from Fort Washington, Md., was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a juvenile court for beating a 2-year-old foster child to death. The infant, Aniyah Batchelor, was reportedly living with the boy’s family at the time of the murder, according to The Washington Post.

In fact, accounts of child-perpetrated depravity seem to be as numerous as they are shocking – from the 10-year-old girl in Maine charged with murdering 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway, to the 12-year-old boy accused of raping a 5-year-old girl in an Ohio McDonald’s Playland.

And incidents of crimes perpetrated by children and teenagers will always garner the continued attention of news outlets the world over. Proof of that fact lies in the high-profile nature of criminal cases such as Erik and Lyle Menendez, Eric Smith, Joshua Phillips or Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
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