Oct 302013
 October 30, 2013  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance

If your answer to that question is affirmative, I suggest you take a good hard look at what’s coming out of Detroit these days. Why don’t we just call it a bail-in model, not unlike Cyprus, where the waters are tested for forcing parties who historically thought they were safe from cuts, find they no longer are.

And if you think Detroit is the only American city that has these kinds of problems, think again. It’s merely the first, count on it. It’s not just an American issue either, of course, and although retirements plans are set up in myriad different ways, they have one thing in common: they are in essence pyramid schemes, eat your heart out Charles Ponzi, and it’s just a matter of time before the walls start crumbling.

But it’s not just that. The game is stacked and fixed in favor of certain parties at the cost of others. We can all grasp how, without even knowing any details, because we should know how America, and the world at large, works these days. All games are fixed.

If you still have trouble understanding what is going on here, please do read Nicole Foss’ Promises, Promises … Detroit, Pensions, Bondholders And Super-Priority Derivatives from early September. Here’s one quote from that article:


Promises that cannot be kept will not be kept. It is as simple as that. To complicate matters, however, the architecture of the financial system prioritizes promises, in a perhaps counter-intuitive, and certainly self-serving, manner. This will make the task of allocating extremely scarce resources to stakeholders lower down the financial food chain very much more difficult. It is time for a good look at the range of promises made, the competing needs of the recipients, the leverage enjoyed by powerful players in shoring up their own position, and the real world implications for municipalities far beyond Detroit.


And here’s another one:


Both pensioners and general obligation bond holders argue that they should have priority in claiming from the city’s inadequate assets in bankruptcy. However, a different class of creditor has legally senior status. Holders of financial derivatives enjoy super-priority in bankruptcy. Thanks to changes to bankruptcy law in 2005, they are not subject to the ‘automatic stay’ provision intended to prevent a disorderly grab for collateral by competing creditors. As such, they are able to press their claim immediately, prior to bankruptcy proceedings and therefore before claims by competing creditors are considered. This may potentially leave nothing for other creditors to divide during subsequent proceedings.


The piece below is from Fox of all sources, but in this case that doesn’t make much difference: it is abundantly clear what’s going on. Still, it’s curious to say the least that this comes out only now there’s a trial going on to determine whether or not Detroit is indeed bankrupt, and is eligible to file for it.


Detroit bankruptcy proposal would leave pensioners with 16 cents on the dollar


It was the politicians, and not longtime city workers like Olivia Gillon, who brought Detroit to the brink of insolvency, but now Gillon can only watch as lawyers negotiating the Motor City’s bankruptcy bid place a new value on her hard-earned pension: 16 cents on the dollar.

The beleaguered city, facing debt of as much as $20 billion and led by a state-appointed manager, tried nearly a year ago to renegotiate with creditors. When those talks broke down, the city filed for bankruptcy last July, but the filing was ruled unconstitutional by a judge. A series of state and federal rulings followed, culminating in a trial that began last week in which the city must show it is eligible to enter bankruptcy. That’s when the frightening magnitude of the “haircut” being sought for some 21,000 retirees emerged.

“It’s wrong on every possible level,” Gillon, 68, told FoxNews.com. “I earned my pension. I retired expecting it and I feel that I should have it.”

The retirees include police officers, firefighters and other municipal workers, but not teachers, who are covered by a state-administered system. The affected workers have been promised some $3.5 billion in pension payments and another $6 billion in health care benefits, money most agree the city can’t pay. But for a retiree counting on a modest annual pension of, say $30,000, the proposed cut would leave him or her with $4,800. Of all the once-proud city’s creditors, including banks, vendors and bondholders, retired workers are the least able to take the hit, said Gillon.

“Some people are going to be hit hard,” Gillon told FoxNews.com. “I’ll have to change the way I live.”

Gillon is a member of the Detroit Retired City Employees Association, which, together with the Retired Detroit Police & Fire Fighters Association, represent about 70% of the city’s approximately 21,000 retirees. Along with the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, they are fighting the bid by claiming the city of Detroit has not proven it is insolvent, has not negotiated in good faith with its creditors and the bankruptcy filing violates the state constitution protecting retirement benefits for public workers.

Bob Gordon, who represents the two pension funds, argued in court last week that the city can restructure without cutting pensions, which are protected by the state in a manner that he said is “binding” and “impermeable.” The Michigan state constitution does contain a provision that bans any action that threatens to cut the pension benefits of public employees, but several experts have said the federal bankruptcy code would trump the state statute, especially if the city can demonstrate it has no way of making an estimated 100,000 creditors whole.

The Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which sounded a warning about Detroit’s fiscal problems more than a decade ago, said the old-style defined benefits pensions that have long been a centerpiece of civil service leave pensioners at the mercy of politicians.

“It’s just another example of the flaws of a defined pension system,” said Ted O’Neil, a Mackinac analyst. “The problem with putting trust in government to invest and save your money is that they don’t always make the best choices.”People who worked hard for their pension many end up being scapegoats,” he added.

Indeed, the Mackinac 2000 study looks prophetic now: “If Detroit’s future expenditures were relatively stable, this financial snapshot still would be cause for concern. But the city is looking at two new outlays of monstrous proportions: funding the pension obligations of current and future city employees, which could cost up to $3 billion, and fulfilling requirements under several federal environmental acts, which will cost billions more,” read the report.

The 16 cents on the dollar estimate could be a message to unions, which previously refused to negotiate cuts.


Reading this reminded me of a very old song, I can’t remember the name or artist, it goes something like this:

“They’re coming to take it away, hi hi, ha ha.”



Photo top: O. Winston Link “Midnight Special” 1957

“The Birmingham Special gets the highball at Rural Retreat, Virginia.”



Home Forums Still Feel Confident About Collecting Your Pension After This?

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  • #9108

    If your answer to that question is affirmative, I suggest you take a good hard look at what’s coming out of Detroit these days. Why don’t we just call
    [See the full post at: Still Feel Confident About Collecting Your Pension After This?]


    Since many of these pensioners were exempted from social security deductions, they won’t even have SS to fall back on, or will get SS payments at greatly reduced rates. Not that social security will remain solvent for a lot longer. Insult to injury. Coming soon to a community near you.

    (see: “Why Social Security Won’t Bail Out Many Detroit Workers”, over at the Fool)

    Stick to the plan: Get out of debt and pay as many living expenses forward as possible (home, energy, local food production, hard assets, hopefully enough cash/PMs to pay property taxes. Insurance will be necessarily optional if available at all. Those of us who never expected these promises to be kept got a head start; the rest had better adopt a serious sense of urgency…. and start walking more if you haven’t already.


    BTW – the song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Hahaaa!” was by Napoleon XIV (Jerry Samuels-1966); available on youtube for your enjoyment.


    Those of us who never expected these promises to be kept got a head start; the rest had better adopt a serious sense of urgency….

    Not going to happen, mate, people will stick with what they like to believe, with what looks more promising, what makes them feel better/best, only the outcast village idiots are going to pay attention.


    Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch- Changes

    Dear all,

    We’re about to move to WordPress. Things will change, look different etc. Too much for me to oversee, so do please add your constructive criticism once we arrive in the promised land. I hope the Comments, Forum etc. will be nice and easy to use, and if they’re not, that I’ll be able to find where you’re going to tell me how and why ;_). AND of course that you will support The Automatic Earth in all possible waysm not least of all financially. Because we need that. Badly. We’ll make available Nicole’s World of Change lectures the moment we move over, and there’s more in the pipeline. We very much appreciate your presence here.

    Don Levit

    At least federal employees’ retirement is safe, secure, and snuggly.
    From a paper entitled “Fiscal Exposures Improving Cost Recognition in the Federal Budget, published by the GAO.
    Page 34 “All Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund Investments are in U.S. Treasury and Federal Financing Bank Securities. The government does not set aside assets to pay future benefits or other expenditures associated with designated funds.”
    (Apparently, even 16 cents on the dollar is not set aside for retirees – nothing is set aside).
    But not to worry…
    Page 36 “As of Sept. 30, 2012 the CSRS accrued liability is $1.2 trillion and the FERS accrued liability is $484 billion. The system has a sizeable unfunded liability. The unfunded liability is dealt with by the FERS Act, which provides for annual credits to the CSRDF out of any money in the Treasury general fund not otherwise appropriated to amortize any supplemental liability of the CSRDF for current or former federal employees.
    The term unfunded liability refers to gaps between the projected financial commitment to a program and the earmarked revenues available to fund that commitment. However, no federal obligation can be truly considered ‘unfunded’ because of the government’s sovereign power to tax to meet its obligations.”
    Don Levit


    ” … no federal obligation can be truly considered ‘unfunded’ because of the government’s sovereign power to tax to meet its obligations.”

    Give with one hand and take with the other.

    Cough! cough! For the last 30 years, the right word is “print”, not tax.


    “For the last 30 years, the right word is “print”, not tax. “

    And print it will be, though printing is just “Stealth Taxation.”

    Must have been quite the high for the bureaucrats, spending every dime of income believing the pensionless producer would be forced to pony up in the end.

    And now they have eaten the “golden egg” laying goose, and will be coming to take her furniture.

    Atlas has Shrugged.


    Cue the Fed. If it can keep the Ponzi alive with the purchase of a Trillion dollars of MBS and other like paper per year, it can certainly “afford” a Trillion dollars in Muni Bond “purchases.” (Buy it and Burn it is the reality)

    It will be most interesting when all this comes down to bailing out California, and it’s plush high five, and six digit public pensions. That’s where I figure the buck stops.

    CA is 13-14% of the nations GDP, and a whole lot of what’s for dinner across the land, and much wine with which to wash it down. Not to mention it’s massive Defense Contracting Industry. Definitely, at least in the minds of Financial Alchemists and Spendthrift Politicians, TOO big to fail?

    Maybe California is on a “High Speed Rail” directly onto the Fed’s balance sheet, with some estimates of Unfunded Liabilities of $640 Billion? Might make Detroit seem trivial when the time comes, since it’s shortfall wouldn’t make the interest payments on that.

    Meanwhile, in case I haven’t mentioned it here, a fun read from 1849, https://www.classicreader.com/book/2026/1/

    And we know how that ended… eventually.

    Golden Oxen

    The mess we find ourselves in with these pensions is beyond my comprehension to think of any solution.

    I have been trying to figure out how the municipal bond market can be so strong after this plain to see Detroit horror story, and of course the obvious forthcoming California debacle.

    It is as if the world has gone completely mad and the obvious is just ignored by everyone who is not immediately affected. How can a sane person by municipal bonds?

    Don Levit

    If we substitute the ability to print versus the ability to tax, we abandon our exclusive status of our full faith and credit.
    It is the taxes that serve as collateral for loans, for example.
    Anyone can print money. Only those worthy of full faith and credit status have a significant percentage of taxes to back their interest, and don’t forget, their loan principal.
    Don Levit


    An amazing item about the Detroit city pensions is the strange way they were managed:


    Currently about 12,000 retirees, drawing an average of $19,200. (so about 228 million) But the trustees were just giving away an additional 100 million per year to the retirees, not based on any law or mathematical reality.

    I think I know what the answer would be if I told Fidelity that I was running short and could they please give me an end of year bonus.


    Sorry I don’t have a link, but it is my understanding that the State of Michigan has one of the most public pension friendly constitutional protections in the nation.

    If we see the .16 sent solution in Detroit, we’ll see this sort of decimation every where.

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