Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Solution to Underfunded Public Pensions by Barnet Sherman




“…A Fresh Approach: …The state [of Connecticut] inventory of real assets on its books, such as office buildings, parking lots, raw land or highway right-of-ways, identifies nearly 7,000 properties. An initial estimate is that these assets could have an overall value in the billions. If the state were to include certain state enterprises, such as toll-roads, that number could reach even higher.

“A question arose: In lieu of cash, can the state donate any of these real assets as an in-kind contribution to its pension funds?

“At first blush, the potential positive outcomes seem to make this very compelling. Obviously some of these assets don’t qualify—the state isn’t transferring any of its public parks any time soon! However, many of those assets that might qualify have been on the state’s balance sheet for years. Correspondingly, book values are far below current market values. Transferring those assets from the state’s balance sheet to the pension funds investment portfolio re-categorizes their value from book to current market. That’s an immediate mutual gain to the pensions and the state: the pensions get a boost in asset values and the state gets a lower pension liability with no cash outlay.

“Theory to Reality: Transferring billions in state assets isn’t something one does in haste. It is a complex venture with a host of political, financial and operational considerations. To analyze all aspects of the policy and make recommendations as to how to proceed, the Connecticut General Assembly created the Connecticut Pension Sustainability Commission. 

“The Chair of the 13-member Committee is State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport, 136th District-CT). He is clear-eyed and unflinching about the serious problem the state faces with the growing pension underfunding. As a four-term legislator, he is keenly aware that reducing the liability is a top priority if the state is to extricate itself from its persistent budget problems. The pension underfunding burdens the state with underlying, long-term structural financial issues that need to be addressed in a systemic way. He is direct: short-term fixes or deferrals don’t provide true solutions—and that includes further spending cuts and tax increases.

“With options limited, the asset contribution proposal has his full attention. Acknowledging there are a myriad of factors that have to be balanced, Representative Steinberg put three at the top of the list: identify the highest opportunity assets, determine the value of those assets, and establish what organizational structure might be best for the pensions to hold those assets. 
  
“Identifying Assets: To appropriately identify the highest opportunity assets, the optimal framework focuses on assets that maximize value for the pension as well as lower costs for the state. Key targets are property or land that is currently underutilized but, if transitioned to its highest and best use, could increase in value considerably.

“Equally interesting are state enterprises. Often affiliated with infrastructure projects, such as toll roads or parking garages, these offer generally stable, long-term cash flows and potential asset appreciation consistent with the long-term liabilities of the pensions. This has considerable precedent. In Europe, it is common for public pensions to own interests in as well as fund improvements or expansions to state infrastructure enterprises.

“Valuation: This is not the first time public assets have needed objective valuations for transfer or sale; there are numerous experts, best practices, market standard methodologies, and metrics to guide in that process. Wisely recognizing that valuation is critical to accurate accounting as well as maintaining the legislature’s role in due diligence and oversight for the public, the Chair is holding hearings and inviting experts to offer their views. Michael Bennon of the Global Project Center at Stanford University is one such expert, with successful experience internationally in public asset valuation and transfer. Models exist based on completed transactions that maximized values for all stakeholders. Even so, it’s always challenging, he noted in his testimony to the Committee. ‘There will always be ‘ex-post’ reports,’ says Bennon, which only ‘adds to the difficulty of valuing these assets.’ Apparently, even in pension asset valuations, there are armchair quarter backs.

“Organizational Structure: Since the pensions can’t hold physical assets directly, determining the pensions’ ownership in any separate entity holding transferred assets has to be vetted. One structure being actively considered is putting assets in a separate trust. The trust would be a private entity, hiring private managers to run the business or develop the property. While Representative Steinberg noted that a trust structure where there would be shared risk was appealing, ‘the criteria we might use to determine what to donate to an independent trust is still very much open for conversation.’

“A High Impact Ancillary Benefit: Given the pressures on the state budget and the pensions, nearly everyone is focused on the immediate impact the transfer would have there. Overlooked is the enormous economic stimulus this transfer policy could have around the state.

“Conversion to highest and best use of property or raw land opens up opportunity for renovation, refurbishment, retrofitting, and expanded development. For example, an office building can be re-purposed to address needs in high impact sectors such as affordable housing, business incubators, senior care, or satellite medical centers. Clean energy and LEED certification are a component of retrofits, which could include matching Federal or foundation grant dollars for solar panels and micro-grids. Not only does this create construction jobs immediately, but also permanent jobs working in the completed re-purposed buildings.

“A National Following: Other states and cities facing pension shortfalls are quickly picking up on the implications of this. Calls have come in from numerous state officials making inquiries about the process Connecticut is considering. Since every state and city has some assets on the balance sheet that are either underutilized, can be combined, or simply cost more to own than an alternative, having a mechanism to transfer those to the pension is potentially truly a win-win.

“Time Line: While the committee’s report is due January 1, 2019, it might take as long as two years to put everything in place before the state can even begin to create a schedule of asset transfers and start to execute on the plan. For those impatient for a solution, that may sound like a long time given liabilities are accruing at millions of dollars a day. But considering it took nearly 100 years to get to where things are now, two more years isn’t unreasonable considering the solution could have a dramatic corrective impact.

“What legislators and public administrators understand is that, with skeptical capital markets and an equally skeptical public, a careful, prudent approach rebuilds confidence and demonstrates that policymakers are serious in their intent to fix the problem.

“Moreover, because this is as much a political process as a financial one, there will always be disagreements as to whether the actions are sufficient or right. However, tangible actions towards a solution—albeit initially modest—is a far better alternative than stagnation. It is a sign that the state of Connecticut is transitioning towards stabilization.”

-----

Heartfelt thanks to Les Richmond, ASA, EA, MAAA, FCA, Vice President and Actuary at Build America Mutual Assurance Company for his invaluable guidance and endless patience in walking me through the intricacies of the pension section of Connecticut’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to solicit an investment, nor constitute investment advice.  The information being presented has been compiled from both internal and external sources.  From time to time, Neighborly Investments’ clients may hold security positions or other interests in companies, issuers or borrowers mentioned herein.

Barnet Sherman has over 30 years of investment experience in the fixed income markets in credit analysis and portfolio management. Barnet Sherman. Director of Municipal Impact Credit Research, Neighborly Investments. Mr. Sherman's perspective comes from his over 30 years of municipal bond market experience.

Has Connecticut Found a Solution to Underfunded Public Pensions? by Barnet Sherman



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"So I shot a whole family of baboons..."-Blake Fischer



BOISE, Idaho — “An Idaho Fish and Game Commission member is being criticized by some after he shared photos of himself posing with a family of baboons, including young baboons, he killed while hunting in Africa.

“Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter spokesman Jon Hanian told The Idaho Statesman in a story on Friday [Oct. 12] that the governor’s office is looking into the matter involving Commissioner Blake Fischer.
“Fischer and his wife shot at least 14 animals in Namibia, according to the photos and descriptions included in an email he sent to more than 100 recipients. That included a giraffe, leopard, impala, sable antelope, waterbuck, kudu, warthog, gemsbok (oryx) and eland.
“‘I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral,’ Fischer said.
“Most of the photos with the African animals are posed as standard big game hunting photos of the kind often seen in Idaho with deer, elk and mountain lions.
“The photo causing some to question Fischer’s judgment and ability to remain a commission member is one of him smiling broadly with four dead baboons propped in front of him, blood visible on the abdomen of the smallest baboon. Fischer killed them using a bow and arrows.
“‘So I shot a whole family of baboons,’ Fischer wrote below the photo in the emails he sent.
“Keith Stonebraker, a former commission member, told the newspaper an apology by Fischer would satisfy him. ‘They killed a whole family, including small baboons, and I think that’s revolting,’ Stonebraker said. ‘It just puts a bad light on us.’
“The commission Fischer serves on makes policy decisions concerning Idaho’s wildlife, and it often manages game populations through hunting and fishing regulations. Those regulations are intended to require ethical behavior in the pursuit of wildlife. Some of Idaho’s policies, such as on wolf and grizzly bear hunting, have been challenged in federal courts.
“The commission has seven members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Fischer was re-appointed this year, but he needs Senate confirmation. Former commission member Fred Trevey called on Fischer to resign. ‘Sportsmanlike behavior is the center pin to maintaining hunting as a socially acceptable activity,’ he wrote in an email obtained by the newspaper through a public records request” (New York Post).




Monday, October 15, 2018

"It is likely that Kavanaugh will be the cruelest and most insensitive justice on the high Court" by Ralph Nader




"Brett Kavanaugh, the new Injustice of the Supreme Court of the United States, must be pleased by the leading news stories on... his swift swearing-in on [October 8]. The multiple perjurer, corporate supremacist, presidential power-monger, and a past fugitive from justice (regarding credible claims of sexual assault), Kavanaugh saw critical media coverage become yesterday’s story. The mass media ha[d] moved on to other calamities, tragedies, super storms, and celebrity outrages. Opponents of his nomination must persevere anew.
"The future of the Supreme Court looks grim considering Kavanaugh’s judicial decisions and involvement in war crimes and torture as Staff Secretary to President George W. Bush. It is likely that Kavanaugh will be the cruelest and most insensitive justice on the high Court. His support of corporate power will have few limits.  That’s saying something, given the rulings of Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
"Kavanaugh’s decisions and political statements are so off the wall, I’ve called him a corporation masquerading as a human being. Corporations’ uber alles is his pre-eminent core philosophy. Public Citizen’s analysis of his judicial record (apart from his extremist political ideology) showed that in split-decision cases (which are the most ideologically revealing cases), Kavanaugh ruled 15 times against worker rights and 2 times for worker rights. On environmental protection, he ruled 11 times for business interests and 2 times for the public’s interest. On consumer protection, he ruled 18 times for businesses and only 4 times for consumers. As for monopoly cases, he ruled 2 times for the corporation and zero times for market competition.
"Kavanaugh also likes to rule for government power when it is arrayed against the people – ruling 7 times for police or human rights abuses and zero rulings for victims. On the other hand, governmental decisions that are protective of people interests will find Kavanaugh blocking the court room door more often than not. (See Public Citizen’s report).
"The Alliance for Justice report on nominee Kavanaugh summed up their research with these words: 'He has repeatedly sided with the wealthy and the powerful over all Americans. He has fought consumer protections in the areas of automobile safety, financial services and a free and open Internet. 

"Kavanaugh has also repeatedly ruled against workers, workplace protections and safety regulations… Kavanaugh has repeatedly ruled against efforts to combat climate change and the regulation of greenhouse gases. He also repeatedly ruled against protections for clean air...'
"Locking in the 5 to 4 dominant corporate muscle of the Supreme Court will endanger you as a consumer and will jeopardize your health and economic well-being. Unless you become a corporation, your freedoms will be jeopardized. (See the Citizens United Decision in 2010 that allowed our elections to be overwhelmed with unlimited commercial campaign money and propaganda).
"The cold-blooded, most corporate-indentured Republicans dominate our political process today. Mitch McConnell (see Kentucky Values), led by the election-buying Koch brothers, drove Kavanaugh’s nomination through the Senate, excluding important witnesses who wished to testify. To shore up claims of legitimacy, McConnell allowed the FBI to conduct a sham investigation that was shaped by Trump’s White House lawyer Don McGahn and the FBI head, Christopher Wray. Wray had previously worked with his friend Kavanaugh on the Starr investigation of Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct.
"Resilience and action are required. The Supreme Court is deeply political – forget about the claims of judicial independence by the five Justices in the majority. Their votes on issues of class, race, presidential and corporate power, peoples’ rights, and remedies and access to justice (day in court with trial by jury) against corporations are quite predictable.
"A new Kavanaugh Watch group – lean and sharp – needs to be created to publicize the Five Corporatist Judges. Their unjust decisions, hiding behind stylized plausibility and casuistry, need to be unmasked and regularly relayed to the American people. Their speeches to the Federalist Society (that shoehorned them onto the Court) and other plutocratic audiences need to be publicized and critiqued. 

"Importantly their refusal to recuse themselves, due to conflicts of interest or prior expressions of bias (as in Kavanaugh’s eruption on his last day of the Senate Judiciary hearings), need to be denounced. (See Laurence Tribe’s op-ed in the New York Times). Also, their light workload, as in the low numbers of cases they take, in contrast to the many cases they decline to hear, both requires more public attention.
"The life-time ensconced enforcers of corporate state control over the lives of the American people and often innocent people abroad (permitting undeclared bloody wars of choice) must be confronted by 'We the People.' 

"We need to remember that the words 'corporation' or 'company' are not mentioned in the Constitution that starts with the phrase, 'We the People.'
"Finally, are there a few billionaires in the country, concerned enough about what their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren are going to inherit from our generation, to make a significant founding grant to launch the Kavanaugh and company watch dog project?" (Ralph Nader).

Saturday, October 13, 2018

“It is impossible to see how Judge Kavanaugh [can] discharge his responsibilities as an associate justice of the Supreme Court” by Laurence H. Tribe


“Given his blatant partisanship and personal animosity toward liberals, how could he be an effective member of the Supreme Court?

“Much might be said about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court: in terms of his still only partly disclosed professional record, the allegations of sexual assault and his candor, or lack of it, in testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee.





“But apart from all that — and apart from the [recent] F.B.I. investigation — the judge himself [had] unwittingly provided the most compelling argument against his elevation to that court.

“His intemperate personal attacks on members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and his partisan tirades against what he derided as a conspiracy of liberal political enemies guilty of a ‘calculated and orchestrated political hit’ did more than simply display a strikingly injudicious temperament. They [disqualified] him from participating in a wide range of the cases that may come before the Supreme Court: cases involving individuals or groups that Judge Kavanaugh has now singled out, under oath and in front of the entire nation, as implacable adversaries.

“Well before [the] hearing, public officials and scholars of legal ethics were already debating whether a Justice Kavanaugh, with his unusually expansive views of presidential power, would be required to recuse himself from cases involving the legal fate of the president who nominated him.

“This is not an abstract concern: I was a co-author of a Brookings Institution report concluding that conflicts of interest, and the appearance of such conflicts, would be pervasive in cases arising from the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

“The Supreme Court may have to consider questions about whether a sitting president can be indicted or subpoenaed, and what effect pardoning a federal offense would have on state charges for the same conduct — an issue bound up in Gamble v. United States, a double jeopardy case already on the court’s calendar…

“The accusations made by Christine Blasey Ford raise another order of concern. Some might argue that the unresolved cloud over his past would require a Justice Kavanaugh to recuse himself from any case involving sexual assault or harassment. That might well be, but I have in mind something more sweeping and fundamental.

“To be sure, the rules of recusal that bind lower federal court judges do not technically apply to Supreme Court justices — at least according to the self-interested interpretation of the justices themselves. But those rules are not the only source of legal principles requiring all judges, of whatever court, to step aside when the institutional integrity of the judicial process is incompatible with their participation.

“Apart from formally promulgated codes of judicial conduct, the Supreme Court has recognized that those whom our legal system entrusts to resolve controversies among litigants have a constitutional duty to step aside whenever a conflict of interest — or the public appearance of such a conflict — is so powerful as to erode public trust in the fair and impartial administration of justice.

“In Caperton v. Massey Coal, the court held that a judge politically beholden to one of the litigants must recuse himself, and in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, it held that the need to preserve judicial impartiality trumps the rights of judicial candidates to solicit campaign contributions.

“Judge Kavanaugh’s attacks on identifiable groups — Democrats, liberals, ‘outside left-wing opposition groups’ and those angry ‘about President Trump and the 2016 election’ or seeking ‘revenge on behalf of the Clintons’ — render it inconceivable that he could ‘administer justice without respect to persons,’ as a Supreme Court justice must swear to do, when groups like Planned Parenthood, the NRDC Action Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Naral Pro-Choice America or the American Civil Liberties Union appear as parties or file briefs on behalf of plaintiffs and defendants.

“For a Justice Kavanaugh to participate in internal court discussion or oral argument of such cases, much less vote on their resolution, would involve not just an undeniable appearance of conflict but an actual conflict, given his stated animosities and observation that ‘what goes around comes around.’

“My decades of observing the court’s work and arguing cases there convince me that his required recusal would extend to a very broad slice of the Supreme Court’s docket during his lifetime tenure as a justice. That would leave the court evenly split in far too many cases, for years on end, if he were to recuse himself as required — or deeply damaged in the public’s trust if he were not… [Thus], it is impossible to see how Judge Kavanaugh [can] discharge his responsibilities as an associate justice of the Supreme Court” (All the Ways a Justice Kavanaugh Would Have to Recuse Himself by Laurence H. Tribe).


  
Laurence H. Tribe (@tribelaw) is a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and the co-author, most recently, of “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.”


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Teachers Retirement System of Illinois Rate of Investment Return for 2018 and TRS FY 2018 Cash Flow Summary




TRS EARNS AN 8.45% RATE OF INVESTMENT RETURN IN FISCAL YEAR 2018:
Published date from TRS: September 18, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Teachers’ Retirement System investments generated a positive 8.45 percent rate of return, net of fees, during fiscal year 2018 – a return that exceeded the System’s custom investment benchmark of 8.19 percent.
TRS ended FY 2018 on June 30 with $51.5 billion in assets, an increase of 4.2 percent during the year. Gross of fees, the TRS return for FY 2018 was 9.17 percent. TRS long-term investment returns continue to exceed the System’s goal of 7 percent. For FY 2018, the 30-year net of fees return was 8.4 percent; and 9.2 percent for 40 years.
“TRS continues to earn better-than-expected returns on its investments using a diversified strategy that carries less risk than most of our peer systems’ investments,” said TRS Executive Director Dick Ingram. “That’s good news for our members because the financial challenges TRS faces now and in the future require us to balance two critical mandates: Do everything we can to safeguard our members’ money while prudently maximizing investment revenue.
“Because state government has failed to adequately fund TRS for the last 80 years, the system only has 40 cents in the bank for every $1 we owe each of our members,” Ingram added. “Risk management is critical because every dime is important. We know we can’t invest our way out of our funding shortfall. Our future sustainability relies on consistent and adequate state funding to pay down this debt.”
Ingram stressed that the 30-year and 40-year rate-of-returns are the most important numbers in the FY 2018 investment data. These time frames not only reflect the long-term relationship that TRS has with its members but indicate a successful investment program that values steady growth and strong risk management over several generations.
In the last 10 years, TRS investments have recorded positive returns in nine years with one year of negative returns realized during the worldwide financial crisis of 2009. All returns in this chart are net of fees.

Fiscal Year:
2018    +8.45%
2017    +12.6%
2016    +0.01%
2015    +4.0%
2014    +17.4%
2013    +12.8%
2012    +0.76%
2011    +23.6%
2010    +12.8%
2009    -22.7%

The Teachers Retirement System of Illinois 


TRS FY 2018 Cash Flow Summary (from Bob Lyons):

TRS FY 2018 Cash Flow Summary Beginning Balance (July 1, 2017): $49.400 billion
                                                                                                
State Appropriation for FY 2018:  $4.164 billion
                                                                                                                
Teacher/Employer Contribution: $1.036 billion                                                                                                                         
Total Contributions to TRS: $5.200 billion                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Total Annuity Benefits: $6.555 billion                                                                                                                                                                                            
Cost of Running TRS: $.023 billion
                                                                                
TRS Total Outflow: $6.578 billion

The Part of TRS Profit that Makes Up the Difference: $1.378 billion

The Part of TRS Profit That Is Left To Be Invested: $1.905 billion

Ending Balance (June 30, 2018): $51.300 billion

State Appropriation for FY 2019: $4.466 billion                                                

Note: TRS needs to make almost $1.4 billion in investments just to break even for the year; though TRS is making more than 8% for the year, the TRS unfunded liability increased in FY 2018.

In 2018, the TRS fund made 8.45% net of fees, but because the cost of benefits exceeds contributions by $1.383 billion, the TRS fund only increased by $1.9 billion (or 4.2%).

For FY 2018, the 30-year net of fees return was 8.4%, and the 40-year return was 9.2%.

Due to state under funding last year, the TRS unfunded liability grew by 2.8% from $71.4 billion to $73.4 billion. The TRS funded status by Bob Lyons’ calculation is 41.14%. It was 40.2% in FT 2017. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Illinois Senator Michael Connelly




It is true many politicians do not concern themselves with the examination of evidence, the real causes of a state’s financial problems, and the best solutions for crucial issues. They are concerned about their party’s agenda, their reputation and re-election, and maintaining their power and influence in their communities. To accomplish this ruse, they like to use simplistic power-point slides at their town meetings that deliberately omit significant causal explanations for the state’s lack of revenue and pension debt that were the result of incompetent, irresponsible and corrupt politicians.

They like to cast the issue of teacher pensions, for instance, as an object of their bias to elicit mindless, hair-trigger responses from their supporters. They do not talk about how politicians have stolen public employees’ pension money over the decades to pay for the state’s needed services. They do not talk about the faulty back-loaded pension ramp that has increased the service debt to approximately twenty-five percent of the state’s budget.

Many politicians do not provide relevant and accurate scrutiny of the issues at town meetings because they prefer to use fallacious reasoning when alluding to their favorite scapegoat. They prefer to denigrate teachers’ pensions and cost-of living-adjustments instead through use of biased selected instances that falsely extrapolate a particular pension amount of one member to all group members. 

Indeed, many politicians have no qualms about hurting the lives of people who are not responsible for the state’s lack of revenue and pension debt because most politicians do not view their own conduct from a standpoint of values and interests of those they hurt. They do not want to talk about legal and moral ways to increase the state’s revenue. “We must have pension reform first before we restructure revenue,” they tell us.

Undoubtedly, as we have witnessed, they prefer to isolate and offer up the middle-class for hardship and create a dispossession by way of intentionally-diminishing laws when they tell us they support Governor Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda: a plan that advocates violating the Illinois Constitution once again through pension reform, a plan that creates so-called “empowerment zones” to diminish collective bargaining rights under the guise of “giving local communities a voice,” a plan that will allow municipalities to file for bankruptcy, a plan that will prohibit only labor organizations from making contributions to campaigns of office holders and ban union agency and fair share fees, a plan that will cut unemployment compensation and benefits for injured workers, a plan that will take six and one-half years to reach a $10 minimum wage for millions of workers while perpetuating special exceptions and windfalls for wealthy benefactors.

Many politicians do not care about what is legally and morally right. They do not care about obligations to others – about the fair distribution of the tax burden, about constitutional guarantees, about demanding more for public employees, retirees, and union workers than they are willing to demand for themselves and their wealthy accomplices. 

Unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of Michael Connelly and for many other politicians in Illinois. 

-Glen Brown



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

“Abraham Lincoln foresaw the coming of Donald Trump” by John C. Waugh




“In 1838, when he was a twenty-nine-year-old Illinois state legislator, Abraham Lincoln foresaw the coming of Donald Trump. Lincoln warned of him, or someone like him, in a speech championing the rule of law over racist-driven mob rule. He was addressing the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, on the evening of January 27, 1838. He spoke on ‘The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.’
“The original Lyceum was a gymnasium near Athens in ancient Greece where Aristotle thought and taught. In Lincoln’s time the Springfield Lyceum was organized as a speaking venue for prominent young, up-climbing men. For several years in the mid-1830s it was a leading player in the cultural life of Springfield.
“In Lincoln’s Lyceum speech he spoke of the hills and valleys of ‘this goodly land,’ on which the Founding Fathers up-reared ‘a political edifice of liberty and equal rights’—and transmitted it to us. Lincoln spoke of our duty to the Fathers to in turn transmit this edifice ‘unprofaned by the foot of an invader… un-decayed by the lapse of time, and untorn by usurpation—to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know.’ He spoke of this as a ‘task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general’ that ‘imperatively requires us faithfully to perform.’
“And he spoke of the danger to this edifice. ‘At what point,’ he asked, ‘shall we expect the approach of danger?’ He predicted, ‘If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us.’ He did not believe it could come from abroad. He believed that ‘If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.’
“Is it unreasonable, Lincoln asked in that speech 180 years ago, ‘to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up amongst us?’
“And when such a one does rise up amongst us, Lincoln warned, ‘it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.’
“Lincoln predicted if such a figure should arise among us, ‘Distinction will be his paramount object’ and, ‘nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.’
“‘There is, even now,’ Lincoln said of his time, in which white supremacy mobs were torturing and hanging blacks, ‘something of ill-omen amongst us.’ He spoke of ‘the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of the Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.’
“Lincoln believed that ‘Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense. Let those [materials] be molded into general intelligence, [sound] morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws….’ Upon these, Lincoln said, ‘let the proud fabric of freedom rest as the rock of its basis; and as truly has been said of the only greater institution, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ 

“Something of ill omen is among us today as it was in Lincoln’s time. It would be a stretch to call Trump a ‘loftiest genius.’ But he clearly appears an agent for ‘pulling down,’ both in his relationship with the majority of Americans and his relationship with other nations that have been our traditional friends and allies. He has called the European Union ‘enemies of America,’ and instead of befriending them he has spurned them and has cozied up to dictators. He seems more comfortable with the Putins and Kim Jong-Uns of this troubled world rather than our proven friends.
“He has spurned other nations in the worldwide war against climate change. He has disregarded laws and traditional practices and lied to us at a Gatling gun clip. He has honed his knife to cut back key domestic programs vital to many Americans, particularly the old, the poor, and the minorities. He has plundered the environment for the sake of commercial development. He has not hesitated in his early morning tweets to pull down with damning words anybody who opposes or criticizes him. He has called the media, which has long been a bulwark of our freedoms, ‘an enemy of people.’
“This all looks nothing like ‘Make America Great Again.’ It looks disturbingly more like the Pulling Down of America by one who has sprung up among us—something that Lincoln warned of nearly two centuries ago” (Abraham Lincoln Warned Us about the Dangers of Donald Trump by John C. Waugh).


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

“This man should not serve another day as any kind of judge” by Nathan J. Robinson


This is an exceptional analysis about Kavanaugh’s prevarications. Here are a few of the basic premises. Click on the complete article at the bottom.
“…[W]hen we examine the testimony of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford honestly, impartially, and carefully, it is impossible to escape the following conclusions:
  1. Brett Kavanaugh is lying.
  2. There is no good reason to believe that Christine Blasey Ford is lying. This does not mean that she is definitely telling the truth, but that there is nothing      in what Kavanaugh said that in any way discredits her account.
“I want to show you, clearly and definitively, how Brett Kavanaugh has lied to you and lied to the Senate. I cannot prove that he committed sexual assault when he was 17, and I hesitate to draw conclusions about what happened for a few minutes in a house in Maryland in the summer of 1982. But I can prove quite easily that Kavanaugh’s teary-eyed “good, innocent man indignant at being wrongfully accused” schtick was a facade. What may have looked like a strong defense was in fact a very, very weak and implausible one.  
“…What does it say about this country that this is the state of our discourse? That Kavanaugh even stands any chance of being made one of the most powerful figures in the American government, with control over life and liberty? That a man like this is even a judge? He went before the United States Senate and showed total contempt for his vow to tell the truth. He attempted to portray a highly esteemed doctor as a crazy person, by consistently misrepresenting the evidence. He treated the public like we were idiots, like we wouldn’t notice as he pretended he was ralphing during Beach Week from too many jalapeños, as he feigned ignorance about sex slang, as he misread his own meticulously-kept 1982 summer calendar, as he replied to questions about his drinking habits by talking about church, as he suggested there are no alcoholics at Yale, as he denied knowing who ‘Bart O’Kavanaugh’ could possibly be based on, as he declared things refuted that weren’t actually refuted, as he claimed witnesses said things they didn’t say, as he failed to explain why nearly a dozen Yale classmates said he drank heavily, as he invented an imaginary drinking game to avoid admitting he had the mind of a sports jock in high school, as he said Ford had only accused him last week, as he responded to his roommate’s eyewitness statement with an incoherent story about furniture, as he pretended Bethesda wasn’t five miles wide, as he insisted Renate should be flattered by the ditty about how easy she was, as he declared that distinguished federal judges don’t commit sexual misconduct even though he had clerked for exactly such a judge. And what does it say about us, and our political system, that he might well get away with it?” (For the complete analysis of “How We Know Kavanaugh Is Lying” by Nathan J. Robinson, Click Here.