Stop persecution of PERS retirees

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By GENE H. McINTYRE

Anyone aware of what’s going on in the world knows that there are a number of nations that persecute their citizens.  Their reasons for doing so usually have to do with class, race, gender, culture and religion.

Certain Oregonians have also become practitioners of persecution but for a different reason.  Here, the persecution is mainly focused on retirees in the Public Employees Retirement System or PERS.

Looking at examples, there’s almost never an issue of Portland’s largest-circulation newspaper without a column or an editorial hammering away again on how much better things in the state would be if only PERS retiree payroll benefits could be reigned-in and, oh, yes, significantly reduced.  The same mindset also appears as a nearly daily pre-occupation with Salem’s largest-circulation paper.

Those two newspapers quite transparently enjoyed what they viewed as a great victory by revealing personal financial information on every PERS’ retiree, providing it to one and all on the Internet.  The disclosures served as consternation by security risk to all PERS retirees to which the Portland and Salem folks behind this compassionless work evidenced considerable pride in their revelations.

In Salem, Oregon’s governor is leading the charge although he’s got a lot of friends among state legislators and the rubber stamps he appoints to boards and commissions.  He says he wants to bring progressive reforms to education and health care in Oregon.  So, to him, it seems, the appropriate course of action is to fund what he wants to accomplish by taking retirement money from PERS retirees while providing tax relief to those who probably need it the least, like the state’s independently wealthy  individuals as well as corporations and their corporate heads.

Then there are the professional sports teams that play ball or strike a puck in Oregon.  They make out as modern day bandits through direct taxpayer handouts, the rigged-in-their-favor tax code that forces honest taxpayers to bankroll professional teams, the embedded sports tax in cable TV bills, which forces cable users to pay those sports’ folks whether they watch games or not, and the amount extra the parents of college kids pay for those multi-million dollar coaches and their benefit packages.

Of course, all players in the beat-up-a-PERS-retiree-today game are closet politicians who recognize that many Oregonians these days not only have a pronounced distrust and dislike of government but have a near fanatical hatred of any citizen who’s retired through PERS.  Certain big daily papers appear to lavishly feed on these feelings of contempt for PERS retirees.

Meanwhile, when private sector workers agree with the way some among Oregon’s elite, and those who aspire to join the circle of elites, want them to see PERS and its retirees, they should be reminded of what Martin Niemoller, a German Protestant pastor and social activist, wrote after the twelve years of Der Fuhrer-rule ended.  He spoke this message in the German language at his church on January 6, 1946.  The translation follows:

“When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.  When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.  When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.  When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I was not a Jew.  When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”

Sure, what’s written in this guest opinion could be the mutterings of a deranged PERS’ retiree. I believe I’ve been persecuted enough to arrive there.  But what if these same folks come after your paycheck next?  Will your reaction be similar to the pastor in post-war Germany or will you just roll over good-naturedly and laugh it all off?

Should the reforms be approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, the prediction is that the matter will go to a court of law for a final decision.  It is doubtful it will be determined lawful, not at least if the court has enough savvy to recognize contractual obligations and recognizes fair from foul play.  In the meantime, it’s surmised, the persecution as practiced by certain journalists in this state will continue: They come across as never fulfilled in what just may be a primal need to endlessly bash PERS and its retirees.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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