Book Review Steven Greenhut’s PLUNDER!


Last night a group of concerned taxpayers attended former OC Register Senior Editorial Writer and Columnist Steven Greenhut’s C-SPAN Book Notes taping and book signing event held at Barnes & Noble in the city of Orange.

Orange Juice founder and editor Art Pedroza covered this event with photos while assigning me the task of providing a book review of “PLUNDER” which follows.

The cover of PLUNDER captures our state and national financial dilemma where he writes “How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries Controlling Our Lives And Bankrupting the Nation.”

In praising the book Jon Coupal, presidentHoward Jarvis Taxpayers Association, points out that “Greenhut gives valuable advise at the end of the book on what we can do to turn the tide on this seemingly unstoppable socialistic encroachment. Frederick Douglas, when asked how to affect change, famously responded “agitate, agitate, agitate.” With PLUNDER, Greenhut does more than his share of agitating.”

In his forward U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock tells the readers that “California has now reached the paradox of the bureaucratic state. Despite record levels of expenditures it can no longer afford to build a decent road system, educate its children or protect its citizens from criminals.” Congressman McClintock goes on to write that “Greenhut spent years at one of California’s flagship newspapers, the OC Register, warning about the policies and laws that have laid the state low, and now catalogs them into a single morality play for the rest of the nation. It’s the tale of how the rise of a pampered mandarin class of government officials, aided by powerful public employee unions, could systematically and methodically gain political power and use it to destroy the quality of life in what was once a legendary land of opportunity. It’s a tragedy the nation can’t afford to ignore.”

Mark Bucher, co-author of Prop 226, the California Paycheck Protection Initiative, also provides his commentary and assessment calling PLUNDER, a field manual of information and examples for the millions of Americans who are wondering what has gone wrong in America, and what can be done to fix it.” He adds that “Steven Greenhut lays the truth out for everyone to see–public employees are raiding our treasuries, controlling our lives and destroying our country.”

One recent example that was provided to me by Jack Dean of Pension Tsunami was the $100,000 pension club for retirees that I covered previously. In PLUNDER Steve refers to a Sacramento Bee comment “which explains why the pillaging of the public treasury goes on to this day: “Managers also dominate the $100,000 club list. These are the people who are supposed to represent the public when employee benefits are negotiated. But when government managers sit down with union leaders to dicker over compensation, they are negotiating for themselves as well. If rank-and-file workers get a wage or benefit boost, non-union managers get a commensurate hike and matching pension benefit.”

One area that always involves our emotions is compensating those who protect and serve. Quoting from his favorite political theory, labeled “Public Choice Theory,” the author adds the standard catch phrase that “We put our lives on the line to protect you.”

Steve mentions one alternative suggesting privatization and volunteers for some of these public safety providers. Steve points out that “Government work should not be honored above other forms of work. That’s not to say that government workers are not necessarily honorable or don’t often provide valuable and necessary services, but many of us are tired of the constant union drumbeat seeking to elevate public-sector workers above the rest of society.”

Steve says “we have far too much government and those who work for it have manipulated the system to enrich themselves far beyond what most of us would have imagined. It’s coming at a big cost to the rest of us.”

To support his point Steve refers to one illustration in which, “thanks to the overtime system, rigged to boost employee pay rather than protect the public till, many California firefighters earn more than $200,000 a year in pay alone. One firefighter amassed so much overtime his annual pay was nearly $300,000 a year.”

According to his research the OC Fire Authority budget lists firefighter compensation at $175,000 a year including overtime and benefits.

Steve also covers the current “defined benefit” retirement benefit set at 3 percent at age 50 for public safety employees that we simply cannot sustain. In PLUNDER he also covers the non-safety government employees benefit of 2.7 at 55.

PLUNDER is chock full of illustrations of abuses some of which Steve labels as scams.

Case in point Steve mentions “The percentage of CHP officers taking disability retirements (which have) increased from 47 percent in 1996 to a high of 82 percent in 2002.” These are not due to injuries. Steve tells us that “more than eight in 10 CHP officers discovered a work-related disability–not just an injury, but a disabling injury or disability! Just in time to take early retirement and to shield half of the already generous retirement income from taxes.”

Steve addresses the recent staff reductions by our Orange County sheriff due to budget cuts, but he adds that this is due in part to a 2001 “retroactive pension increase for sheriff’s deputies” which represent double the cuts she was compelled to make in providing for our police protection.

Let me quote from Jon Coupal’s opening commentary. “Be forewarned: If you take high blood pressure medicine, better take a double dose before reading this book.”

As Steve points out in his conclusion, “The problems in this book are deep ones. There’s no quick fix to deal with multi-trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, or to control the burgeoning national debt, or to rein in the growth of government.”

He goes on to say that “not until Americans rein in the level of government growth, debt spending and interest group domination that’s at the heart of the problem” will we be able to get out of this dilemna.

Steve’s suggestions for solving this apocalypse include pension and pay reform, school reform, privatization, union and law enforcement reform and tax and budget reforms wherein Americans need to get behind serious budgetary reforms that force the government to live within its means.”

PLUNDER is a 300 page book published by The Forum Press. The cost of this paperback (at Barnes & Noble) was $18.95. The clerk refused to take my Zimbabwe currency when I purchased the book last night.  Let me also point out that Steve did not encourage us to provide coverage of the event or a book review of PLUNDER!

After his presentation Steve did take questions from several of us in the audience. Listening to his comments about back dating benefits and reading of managers who also benefit for benefits they approve, I did ask Steve for his opinion as to whether he felt part-time (Mission Viejo) city council members are entitled to lifetime health care after 12 years of service. My second point related to back dating credit and doubling of city council member compensation for years prior to their election.

I would encourage every reader to get your hands on a copy of this book. This recap barely peels the onion as I skip over pension benefits to individuals such as those from Vallejo in the $100,000 annual retirement club while their city is bankrupt.

“The public’s servants have truly become the public’s masters.”

Note: The publisher has authorized my quoting segments from the book.

About Larry Gilbert