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Coffee talk? Sheen should meet with retirees

Morning, UP

February 26, 2011

Before Sunday morning, Prichard, Ala., was unknown to me.

Now the town is on my mind a lot. CBS "Sunday Morning" did a story reporting the awful truth: That municipality no longer pays the pensions of its 150 retirees. Not a dime.

The city is broke and has declared bankruptcy. Although it was warned for years that this very thing would happen, the city took no action to preempt its pension fund running out of money.

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So these retirees who, acccording to the New York Times, paid 5.5 percent of their salaries into a pension fund have received nothing from the city for going on two years. This is a violation of Alabama state law, but nothing has been done to force the city into paying these folks.

And some say nothing can be done, because Prichard needs to pay for streetlights and garbage collection and its police department.

The Sunday morning news show profiled a couple from Prichard. The woman had served as a police officer for 40 years and the husband a firefighter for 35 when they retired. Now they are receiving nothing from the pensions they counted on. He has taken a job as a mall security officer to help put food on the table.

The city of Prichard would need $150,000 a month to pay its 150 retirees the pensions they paid into all these years. But the city cannot pay so the retirees go enmasse to each city council meeting to express their displeasure.

No solution has been found. At least not yet.

Which got me to thinking about the dichotomy of American society as I considered the $150,000 per month for these retirees vs. the reported $1.25 million PER EPISODE paid to Charlie Sheen, the star of the sitcom "Two and a Half Men."

Of course, Charlie has been in trouble of late and has made headlines for troubling escapades involving porn stars and partying. Those difficulties sent Sheen to some sort of rehab which shut down the set of his sitcom which in turn meant the crew wasn't being paid while they sat idle, waiting for the star to be ready to go back to work.

CBS executives publicly have expressed worry about their star but haven't done much to help the situation. The approach they are taking is Sheen acts professionally when he is on set so what he does off set, well, that's the star's business.

Which certainly is true. CBS executives cannot control Charlie Sheen's choices and certainly will care even less when America stops tuning in to the show and the ratings drop.

And apparently, through the years of stardom which started with some blockbuster movies in the 1980s, Mr. Sheen has accrued such a nest egg that a measly $1.25 million weekly paycheck is neither here nor there.

While this may seem like an attack on Charlie Sheen, it's not. It's more a lamentation about the state of affairs in our country of which Chuckie is so very emblematic.

That is: Bring in the Nielsens or the box office or the paying spectator and all's well. Your annual paycheck earned will be more than the gross national product of some nations.

But work hard all your life, pay into a pension fund and maybe you'll be able to eat more than Ramen noodles when you retire. If not, well, too bad for you. Not anyone else's problem.

Maybe it would be good to introduce Charlie Sheen to some of Prichard's retirees. Maybe he could sit down for cup of coffee and hear what's going on with them.

Then again, what's happening in that small city in Alabama isn't Charlie Sheen's fault. Still, it's a crying shame the money he's not collecting couldn't be used for those people or some of the other millions of American families struggling to survive nowadays.

That's just not the way of a world that comes without a laugh track.

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is



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