Recent Writings

Fair is fair

I had a delightful experience at a deli counter recently. I had just pulled a number from the dispenser to get my place in line, when a gentleman nudged me and offered me his. He was already being assisted, so taking his ticket would have allowed me to jump ahead. I smiled and said, “Thank you, no. It wouldn’t be right.”

He smiled and said, “You’re a good guy.”

“No,” I laughed, “I’m really a butt-hole, but fair is fair.”

“Butt-hole,” he laughed. “That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever been called.”

We both laughed, and as he walked away with his items, we wished each other a pleasant day.

Fair is fair.

In my novel Sisyphus Wins, I write about how my mother modeled fairness for me. On the rare occasion she had 39 cents to buy a half-gallon of ice cream, she would slice the ice cream, which came in a box form, so each eager mouth would get the same share.

During my teacher training at the University of Colorado, Professor John Haas reminded me of that when he lectured about fairness with students. He used the cafeteria line as the example. Cutting it was among the greatest school taboos.

I think about fairness often in life, especially when someone expounds about life not being fair. True, if seen in context of nature. But behaviorally, unfairness is a choice. It results from greed, power, and, at times, an unwillingness to make the truly tough call.

A person’s word should be his/her bond, but when in doubt, a legal contract works wonders. Or should. Violation of a contract—agreement—is one of the most egregious acts one could perform. Donald Trump is exhibit number one. While his racial supremacy, self-preening, and sexual preying go beyond the pale, stiffing his contractors over the years ranks among the most egregious.

A contract codifies the rules of the game, agreed upon prior to commencement. Violation of those rules—cheating—is widely considered more than despicable. It’s the reason the New England Patriots are football’s most reviled team and Tom Brady will go to the NFL Hall of Fame with a deflated football hung like an albatross around his neck.

The most recent PERA—Public Employees Retirement Association—fix enacted by the governor and legislature is a mid-game rule change. It deprives teacher and other public employee retirees of their already-agreed-upon, rightly-owed income by imposing a two-year moratorium on cost-of-living increases followed by less-than-inflation increases thereafter. It demonstrates the lie about seniors living on fixed incomes. Incomes cannot be fixed if they lose buying-power vis-à-vis inflation.

When the Luftwaffe bombed Buckingham Palace in World War II, the queen commented afterwards, “I’m glad it happened because now I can look Eastenders in the eye.” The queen’s toughness of character is most laudable, but then she really needn’t worry about paying bills due to British working stiffs’ generosity.

With the PERA confiscatory disbursement scale reconfigured at great loss for retirees, including many who already live marginally, teacher and other public employee retirees can look at their peers from the private sector, who never could earn enough take-home pay to invest in a lucrative gold-star retirement plan as their well-heeled white-collar neighbors could, in the eye and say, ala Bill Clinton, “I feel your pain.”

We often read about professional athletes having their contracts rewritten. That’s all well and good given they are mutually agreed-upon contracts between private parties. But how do teachers, other public employees, and retirees respond when their contract is unilaterally rewritten a second time? What’s to guarantee there won’t be a third time?

This latest PERA fix has far greater implications than PERA’s stability. Unilaterally written, the law rewrites the rules of the game to alter what happened earlier to guarantee an alternative outcome. It breaks the trust relationship between teachers, public employees, and retirees with the state government.

The fix might not have been an easy task to pull off legislatively, but politically it produced the most expedient outcome, stiffing seniors rather than addressing the root of the problem: The failure of the state of Colorado to fulfill its legal fiduciary obligation.

Lesson learned: Trust neither Governor Hickenlooper nor the legislature.

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