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The Hard Left and Operation Iceberg

By Carter Clews

We're told that in days of yore, when the Eskimo elderly got too old and infirm to be “productive,” their kith and kin propped them up on icebergs and floated them out to sea, there to meet their fate and leave everyone else alone.

Enter today's Hard Left and “Operation Iceberg.”

Word from the liberal side of the political ledger is that a miscreant cabal of union bosses, environmental extremists (henceforth known as “hot earthers”) and their political handmaidens in more than a dozen different states have banded together to raid worker pension funds and leave the elderly to their chilling fate. The cabal's stated intent: to save mankind – no matter how many people perish in the process.

From a moral perspective, this cynical scheme is nothing short of reprehensible. Simply put, it is robbing those who can afford it least in order to benefit those who can profit most. After all, who more than union bosses, politicians, and hot earthers has demonstrated a profounder propensity for padding their pockets by filling the environs with heated talk about hot air?

Lest you have any doubt, here's my favorite quote on the issue – this from cabal leader and AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney: “Global warming means global Depression, food and water shortages and drowned cities. I have stood in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and seen that future.” Puh-leese, John! Curb your enthusiasm.

From a legal standpoint, the scheme is … well, illegal. Raiding pension funds and robbing the elderly for political purposes is a clear violation of labor law. It has been so for more than three decades. And no one knows that better than top union officials who have been warned time and again not to even think of trying such a high-risk rip-off. Let me explain.

Ever aware of the propensity of union bosses and their political cronies to consider employee pension funds their private reserves, Congress in 1974 enacted a stringent law called ERISA (Employment Retirement Income Security Act). Simply put, ERISA strictly prohibits pension fund administrators from investing worker benefits in any but the most financially sound and traditionally safe investment portfolios.

No ponzi schemes (sorry, Mr. Madoff). No pyramid scams. And no political power plays designed to game the system and gut pensions.

Here's how the act, itself, defines – and delimits – the standards of conduct for pension plan fiduciaries in Section 404 (a) (1): “[T]he assets of a plan shall never inure to the benefit of any employer and shall be held for the exclusive purposes of providing benefits to participants in the plan and their beneficiaries and defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan.”

Lest the union bosses and their creative cronies try to somehow find a way to misconstrue such unmistakably clear original intent, the Department of Labor has repeated warned them not to go there, under any circumstances.

In May of 2005, the DOL issued a letter to AFL-CIO general counsel Jonathan Hiatt warning against “a construction of ERISA which would render the Act's tight limits on the use of plan assets illusory, and which would permit plan fiduciaries to tap into ERISA trust to promote myriad public policy preferences, rather than to pay benefits and engage in plan administration with undivided loyalty.”

Lest Mr. Hiatt, et. al., somehow managed to miss the message, the letter explained rather explicitly: “The Department disagrees with any suggestion that plan fiduciaries may expend plan assets on efforts to promote a particular point of view ….”

Now, for most of us, that message would be abundantly clear: don't raid the pension funds – no matter how committed you may be to your own political agenda. And one would have thought that Mr. Hiatt, ever at the beck and call of his union paymasters, would have shared that message far and wide.

But, alas and alack, that apparently is simply not the case. For now, the union-led cabal loftily calling itself the “Investor Network on Climate Risk” (INCR) has announced its intention to break into the pension funds and rob them blind – oops, I mean redirect their assets from turning a solid buck into the dubious goal of making the world safe from the sun. Now, what was it DOL said about not “promot[ing] a particular point of view.”

The fact is, outgoing Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and her likely successor, Hilda Solis, should come down on the INCR grifters like a ton of bricks. The union bosses, the hot earthers and the political hacks who have put together this blatant rip-off make Bernard Madoff look like a piker. He ripped off a few billion. They're lustily eyeing up eventual trillions.

And to make matters worst, they're targeting the elderly with their two-step shell game. First, they intend to raid the pension funds for money to invest solely in “green-only” corporate schemes -- no matter how contrived, irrelevant, or fiscally unsound these “public policy preferences” may be. Then, they intend to blackmail those corporations who don't comply by withholding legitimate investments that would actually produce a solid return.

So, the elderly lose all the way around. Their good money goes after bad. And their proven investments are taken from the table. All of this, of course, is occurring at a time when their 401k's are already in jeopardy – and on the heels of a recent Ernst & Young study revealing that if all goes well for today's retirees (which, of course, it isn't), nearly 60% of them will not have enough retirement income to live above the poverty level.

The INCR pension raid, it should be added, also comes just as the University of Illinois Climate Research Center informs us that global sea ice levels are now at their highest in nearly 30 years. In fact, the new ice levels reflect the fastest rate of freezing of Arctic waters ever on record. And they fly in the face of environmentalist predictions that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008.

That, of course, is bad news for the unseemly cabal of union bosses, political hacks, and hot earthers. But, they need to look at the bright side: Even if the Department of Labor utilizes ERISA to rescue aged and infirm pensioners from the INCR raid, at least now there will be plenty of icebergs on which to float the old fogies out to sea.

Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News Bureau.

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