Friday, August 30, 2019

Butchered Elephants: The Horror of Ivory Trade

“A distressing photograph of a butchered elephant has been released, showing the true horror of ivory hunting in northern Botswana.

“The drone-shot image, titled 'Disconnection', shows the bloody corpse of a mutilated African elephant with its severed trunk dumped next to it and its tusks ripped out.

“According to reports, poachers use chainsaws to cut off the trunk and tusks of the powerful animals, leaving the rest of the body behind. The shocking pictures were captured by photographer Justin Sullivan, from Cape Town, South Africa.

“He said he was filming for a private company in Botswana and overheard rangers talking about the poached elephant. ‘They said an elephant had just been poached and I asked to be taken to the site. On arrival, I used a drone to capture the image,’ said the 28-year-old.

“‘The image is called 'Disconnection' - the perspective of the image gives context to the situation which you would never be able to see from the ground. The high angle looking top down shows isolation and highlights not only the physical disconnection of the animal, but our disconnection from the situation.

“‘The image has drawn a lot of attention. People have obviously reacted with mixed feelings of anger and sadness, especially with the recent lift on the hunting ban in Botswana, but this photo has driven some constructive dialogue around how we can promote more sustainable elephant conversation and solve our current ecological crisis.’

“…According to a report published on Thursday, between 2017 and 2018, around 400 were killed across the country. The research, carried out by Elephants Without Borders, was published in the scientific journal Current Biology alongside claims that pressure will be increased on Botswana, which last month caused international controversy when it announced that it was lifting the ban on hunting.

“The report said: ‘This evidence suggests that ivory poaching on the scale of hundreds of elephants per year has been occurring in northern Botswana since 2017 or possibly earlier.’

“Reports also state that the number of bodies in the northern part of the country rose by 593 percent between 2014 and 2018. Botswana, which boasts the highest number of elephants in Africa, had previously been a haven for the animals, with 'little poaching reported' in a 2014 survey.”

Featured Image Credit: Magnus

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Palm oil plantations, deforestation, logging, mining, animal trade... are killing them.

“Orangutans will be extinct from the planet within 10 years unless action is taken to preserve forests in Indonesia and Malaysia where they live, a conservation charity has warned.
“The Bornean orangutan was officially listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last month, joining the only other kind, the Sumatran orangutan, in that classification.
“In just 25 years, more than a quarter of Indonesia's forests – 76 million acres, an area almost the size of Germany – have disappeared.
“One of the main reasons is to clear land to make way for palm oil plantations. The oil is used to make a vast array of different consumer products from crisps, pizza, noodles and donuts to toothpaste, shampoo and biodiesel.
“Earlier this year Greenpeace accused major brands such as Pepsico, Johnson & Johnson and Colgate-Palmolive of failing to make sure their products did not contain palm oil grown on deforested land…”

For the complete article, click here.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Donald J. Trump Is a Threat to Our Democracy and Unfit to be President of the United States of America by Glen Brown

JANUARY 25, 2021


The Constitution provides that the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and that the President “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment, for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Further, section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from “hold[ing] an office ... under the United States.’ In his conduct while President of the United States — and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, provide, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed — Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States, in that:

On January 6, 2021, pursuant to the 12th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the House of Representatives, and the Senate met at the United States Capitol for a Joint Session of Congress to count the votes of the Electoral College. In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump, addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C. There, he reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.” He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged — and foreseeably resulted in — lawless action at the Capitol, such as: “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts.

President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021, followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.

In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.  

-from the Impeachment of Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump thus warrants "disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States," especially since the corrupt and cowardly Republican Senate did not impeach him twice. Most importantly, Trump must be indicted, along with his Republican henchmen, tried in a court of law and imprisoned for both treason and sedition. 

-Glen Brown

My original post from August 24, 2019:

To the reader: I have chosen an interrogative method to stress the seriousness of this situation, and so that you can draw your own conclusions. This article also has two addendums since August 24th.

Donald Trump "Poses a Clear Danger of Grave Harm to the Constitutional Order [and Our Democratic System and Values]" (High Crimes: Obstruction of Justice, Abuse of Power, and Obstruction of Congress Prior to January 6, 2021):

When are we going to rebel against a bully who constantly attempted to obstruct the Justice Department's criminal investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election; a bully who, according to the Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice Robert Mueller, made "public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation"; a bully who, while referring to the FBI's investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, said to FBI Director James Comey: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go"; a bully who tried to have his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions remove Mueller from investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election and cover up his own obstruction of justice; a bully who "dictated a message for [former campaign manager] Corey Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions... that should publicly announce [Sessions'] recusal from the Russia investigation, that the investigation was 'very unfair' to the president, and that the president had done nothing wrong"; a bully who expressed anger at Jeff Sessions' recusal and told advisers that "he should have an Attorney General who would protect him"; a bully who "reacted to news that a Special Counsel [Mueller] had been appointed by telling advisers that it was 'the end of his presidency' and demanded that Sessions resign"; a bully who "reached out to the Director of National Intelligence and the leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) to ask them what they could do to publicly dispel the suggestion that [he] had any connection to the Russian election-interference effort"; a bully who "insisted that Comey's termination letter, which was written for public release, state that Comey had informed him that he was not under investigation"; a bully who "the day after firing Comey told Russian officials that he had 'faced great pressure because of Russia'"; a bully who "edited a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that his meeting [with a Russian lawyer] was with 'an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign and instead said only that the meeting was about adoptions of Russian children"; a bully who "directed White House officials to tell [former White House Counsel] Don McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed"; a bully who "praised [former campaign chairman and convicted felon] Paul Manafort in public and said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon. After Manafort was convicted, he called Manafort 'a brave man' for refusing to 'break' and said that 'flipping almost ought to be outlawed'"; a bully who "publicly asserted that [his former personal counsel and vice-president of the Trump organization (and convicted felon)] Michael Cohen would not 'flip'; a bully who contacted his [co-conspirator] directly to tell him to 'stay strong' and privately passed messages of support to stay on message, and he would be taken care of"; a bully who wants us to believe the Russian investigation was an attack on the legitimacy of his election and just "a witch hunt," despite 34 indictments, seven guilty pleas, and five imprisonments as a result of Mueller's investigation; a bully who pressured Australia to help his current Attorney General William Barr investigate the origins of the Mueller probe; a bully who would have been indicted if he weren't a sitting president?  

When are we going to rebel against a bully who called on Russia's interference with his election: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press"; a bully who believes Vladimir Putin instead of the 17 U.S. Intelligence Agencies; a bully who, on the world stage in Helsinki, stated fawningly: "I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today"; a bully who confiscated the interpreter's notes at his private meeting with Putin at the Group 20 Summit in Hamburg and would not share them with his senior administration officials; a bully who has met privately with Putin five times and has had 11 private telephone conversations, all of which were never made available for his senior administration officials to review; a bully who shortly after firing James Comey told two Russian officials visiting the White House that he wasn't concerned about election interference because "America does the same thing"; an ignorant bully who also disclosed highly-classified information to these Russian officials, thus, "creating political and security concerns in the U.S., its allies and especially in Israel"? 

When are we going to rebel against a bully who threatens our free press and calls the news media "the enemy of the American people"; a bully who "ignores and discounts any information from the mainstream media, thus, empowering the worst reckless voices on the right"; a bully who threatens "free and fair elections, individual rights, independent courts, and the Rule of law"; a bully who has defied and ordered his minions to ignore every subpoena issued from the House of Representatives in an effort to subvert the U.S. government investigationa bully who undermines the Separation of Powers; a bully who "threatened critics with prosecution and lawsuits, disdaining the notion of the First Amendment's speech and press protections"; a bully who "demands that federal prosecutors target his political opponents"; a bully who "denounced his own Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation as 'the deep state'"; a bully who, with the complicity and cowardice of the Republican Party, has failed to protect the U.S. Constitution and our democracy; a bully who used the office of presidency for bribing and extorting a foreign country; more specifically, a bully who called for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son and withheld $391 million of taxpayer funds for Ukraine's security and defense against Russian aggression; a bully who called for China to investigate the Bidens; a bully who believes in a discredited Russian theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and not Russia; a bully who, along with some of his Republican lackeys such as Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Mick Mulvaney, Lindsey Graham, Scott Perry, Mike Pompeo, William Barr, Kellyanne Conway, Ron Johnson, Mark Meadows, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Jim Jordan, John Neely Kennedy, Louie Gohmert, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Charles Grassley, Mo Brooks, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Rand Paul, Matt Gaetz, Doug Collins, Steve Scalise, and Madeleine Westerhout, et al., has disseminated political falsehoods and unfounded conspiracy theories; a bully who insulted, intimidated and threatened the consummate ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, while praising and endorsing the former corrupt Ukrainian General Prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, a man who had made false allegations against her; in short, a bully who has abused the formal powers of the presidency for personal advantage by soliciting foreign interference for the 2020 election through bribery ("Do us a favor though") and, thus, lost the confidence of the majority of Americans, corrupted the U.S. electoral process of a free election, threatened our national security, betrayed our national interest, perverted the powers of the presidency, obstructed justice in a cover up, obstructed the U.S. House of Representatives, and blatantly harassed a whistleblower and a witness during the impeachment hearings; a bully who, with Mitch McConnell and his admission that "there's no chance the president will be removed from office" in the Senate impeachment trial, will create a irreparable travesty of justice and defilement of the U.S. Constitution?

When are we going to rebel against the Trump administration and some members of the Republican Party for their blatant hypocrisy, corruption, anti-Rule of Law, and "spectacle and hyperbole," especially Devon Nunes, Jim Jordan, Elise Stefanik, John Ratcliffe, Mike Conaway, Chris Stewart, Michael Turner, Will Hurd, and Brad Wenstrup for their incendiary attempts to sabotage the testimonies of Bill Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; George Kent, U.S. State Department Official; Marie Yovanovitch, the fired U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council; Kurt Volker, U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine; Timothy Morrison, U.S. Adviser on the National Security Council; Jennifer Williams, U.S. Adviser for Vice-President Pence; Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; Laura Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs; David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; David Holmes, U.S. Diplomat to the Ukraine Embassy; Fiona Hill, former U.S. National Security Council Specialist?

When are we going to rebel against a bully who has not "faithfully executed the Office of President of the United States" and has not "preserved, protected, and defended the Constitution of the United States"; a bully who calls the impeachment inquiry "a hoax" and believes he is "above the law"; a bully who is contemptuous and ignorant of the Constitution of the United States of America, specifically the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments; a bully who also violates Article II, Section 1 and Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States; a bully who ignores the legislative and judicial branches of government and their Balance of Power; a bully and some members of the Republican Party who constantly attack the U.S. Intelligence Agencies and the Rule of Law by using techniques of deflection; a bully who committed criminal violations of campaign-finance laws; a bully who refuses to divest himself from his business interests; a bully who has violated the Emoluments Clause (Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution) by receiving compensation from foreign leaders and diplomats that stay at Trump hotels and Mar-a-Lago (note: he also doubled the membership fee to $200,000 after becoming president); a bully who "undermines the wall of separation between his family business and the U.S. government"; a bully who "has repeatedly visited and promoted Trump-branded restaurants, hotels, and golf clubs"; a bully who "undeservedly elevated his own children to prominent public positions" in a brazen act of nepotistic corruption; a bully who, "while dining on taxpayers' money at Mar-a-Lago with President Xi Jinping of China," was able to get Ivanka Trump "three trademarks for her jewelry, handbags, and spa brands" as a gift from the Chinese government; a bully who has "the Secret Service, cabinet members, and other federal employees pay for their rooms, meals, golf carts, and drinks"; a bully and vulgarian who uses the office of presidency for self-aggrandizing and for monetizing his family and himself? 

When are we going to rebel against a bully who poisons the English language, hides or ignores the facts, withholds incriminating evidence, destroys government records, and promulgates contradictory stories in an Orwellian nightmare; a bully who "creates and capitalizes on chaos"; a bully who "has ostentatiously refused to fulfill one of his most important duties as president: protecting the nation and its political system from damaging cyber attacks by a hostile foreign power"; a bully who has heightened polarization and partisanship; a bully who makes his underlings lie for him; a bully who "has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing" they commit for him; a bully who pardoned the former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, a man who "had perpetrated a campaign of terror and atrocities against vulnerable Hispanics within his jurisdiction": an undermining of the rule of law and "a gross abuse of presidential authority"; a bully who pardoned a U.S. military service member of committing war crimes, thus, abusing his pardoning power and undermining military justice; a bully who has no integrity and perpetuates lies through "distraction, threat conflation, normalization and repetition... to confuse and mislead the public"; a bully who "lies constantly, surrounds himself with liars. and exults in bullshit"; a bully who has blocked administrative officials from testifying under the guise of presidential immunity, thus, thwarting the House of Representatives' impeachment investigations in a blatant subversion of constitutional government; a bully who does not believe in morality and justice and will do everything in his power to remain in office; a bully who is, and who will continue to be, "a serial abuser of discretionary powers"; a bully who, like Richard Nixon, "prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice [by engaging] personally and through his subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation"; a bully who said, "I have the right to do whatever I want"? Most recently: we have a bully who had Soleimani murdered in violation of the U.N. Charter and in violation of the War Powers Resolution: a bully who did not consider the consequences of his rash decision. 

Donald Trump Is Unfit to be President of the United States of America (Misdemeanors):

When are we going to rebel against a bully who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white extremists and populists; a bully who has empowered fascists and white nationalists; a bully who quotes from the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer and Breitbart; a bully who believes he is “the chosen one”; a bully who believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize; a bully who appointed Wall Street bankers, industry insiders and special-interest lobbyists to plunder this country’s resources and money while many members of the Republican Party are complicit and his supporters are oblivious; a bully who expected and received obsequious praise from each sycophantic member of his newly-appointed cabinet at their first meeting; a bully who wondered why the U.S. can't use nuclear weapons; a bully who pushed aside the prime minister of Montenegro and then puffed out his chest at the first NATO summit; a bully who succumbs to flattery from foreign governments such as North Korea and Russia; a bully who refuses to release his income taxes and would be protected by the U.S. Supreme Court as a result of the machinations of Mitch McConnell and himself? 

When are we going to rebel against a bully who falsely accused Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower; a bully who perpetuated the birther movement; a bully who withdrew the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council; a bully who has enriched the super-rich at the expense of the working people; a bully who has rolled back protections for workers and consumers to benefit corporate interests and donors; a bully who defrauded people who worked for him; a bully whose so-called Trump University resulted in a $25 million fraudulent settlement; a bully who used the assets of his own charitable foundation for himself; a bully who was fined $2 million for defrauding eight charities; a bully who has "faked accounting records, filed at least two fraudulent income tax returns, and made false claims to escape property tax bills"; a bully who wants to take healthcare away from millions of people; a bully who appointed two of the worst unethical healthcare officials in Tom Price and Alex Azar; a bully who chose Betsy Devos, an heiress with no education theory or administration, to head the Department of Education; a bully who raised the Affordable Care Act premiums for millions of people and allowed employers to deny contraception coverage for their employees; a bully who stopped funding teen pregnancy prevention programs; a bully who cut enrollments to Medicaid; a bully who boasted that his 40 Wall Street tower was the tallest building in New York shortly after the Twin Towers collapsed; a bully who appointed a supreme court justice who was accused of sexual assault; a bully who mocked the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and later said in an interview that "It doesn't matter [because] we won"?

When are we going to rebel against a bully who helped the Saudis cover-up a murder of an American journalist; a bully who disparaged Gold-Star parents; a bully who attacked John McCain for being captured and stated: "I like people who weren't captured"; a bully who attacked the deceased Representative John Dingell by implying he's "looking up" from hell; a bully who fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe one day before retirement so he would not be eligible for the pension he had earned; a bully who uses the office of the president to attack and insult people: "You can see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever," or "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?"; a bully who attacked and didn't trust a judge because of his Mexican descent; a bully who called immigrant Mexicans "rapists" that "bring drugs and crimes"; a bully who encouraged his supporters to assault protesters at his rallies; a bully who proposed banning Muslims from entering this country and killing the families of terrorists or suspected terrorists; a bully who said there were "very nice people on both sides" in the fascist march at Charlottesville; a bully who endorsed an alleged pedophile in an Alabama senate race; a bully who makes sexist remarks about women, mocks people's appearance, their ethnic background or physical handicap; a bully who bragged about his genitalia and grabbing women's genitals: "You can grab 'em by the pussy"; a bully who said in an interview: "I moved on her actually. She was down in Palm Beach, and I failed. I'll admit it. I did try to fuck her
She was married... and I moved on her very heavily"; a bully who bragged about seeing beauty pageant contestants half-naked; a bully who paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about their affair?

When are we going to rebel against a bully who ended funding for NASA's Carbon Monitoring System; a bully who denies the reality of climate change, lifts restrictions on fossil fuel production, and dismantles environmental regulations; a bully who appointed Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist, to head the EPA and disband a group of 20 scientists charged with reviewing the nation's air quality standards; a bully who is responsible for the largest reduction of protected lands in the U.S.; a bully who cut off funding for the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee; a bully who eliminated the Human Service Department's Presidential Advisory Council on combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria; a bully who made it easier for the mentally-ill to obtain weapons; a bully who claimed credit for the lack of commercial airplane crashes in 2017; a bully who creates aliases to perpetrate false stories about his net worth, his self-proclaimed brilliance, and his sexual exploitation; a bully who attacked four congresswomen of color with volatile racist tweets: "Go back to the countries you came from"; a bully who enviously attacked 16 year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg after she became Time Magazine's Person of the Year; a bully who wants to "imprison political opponents and critics"; a bully who "supports armed extremists and private militias"; 
a bully who extols Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-Un, Rodrigo Duterte, Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and other despots but attacks American allies and their leaders? 

When are we going to rebel against a bully who exacerbates and promotes hatred and violence toward Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Muslim Americans and degrades veterans, women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and the disabled via his executive orders, ill-conceived twitter policy making, and nomination of supreme court justices who are extremists; a bully who shows an obsessive focus on himself instead of showing empathy in times of crisis; a bully who ignored the deaths of thousands of people in Puerto Rico; a bully who gleefully tossed paper towels into a crowd of victims after Hurricane Maria; a bully who said he wanted "to shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down" and to fortify barriers along the Mexican border by building a reptile-filled moat; a bully and gaslighter who manufactures crises, such as tariffs on Mexico, and then proclaims he alone has solved the calamity; a bully whose policy has taken children from their parents and placed them in metal cages; a bumbling idiot whose dangerous ignorance and prevarication will endanger all Americans during the COVID-19 Pandemic

When are we going to rebel against his autocratic abuse of presidential power, his constitutional ignorance, his obstruction of justice and concealment, his lawless demagoguery, his pathological narcissism, his grandiose delusions, his anti-social personality disorder, his malignant arrogance, his moral relativism, his white nationalism, his perfidious nationalism, his hateful racism, his infectious nihilism, his outrageous iconoclasm, his ruthless competition, his puerile dereliction, his embarrassing idiocy, his provocative transgressions, his mocking disrespect, his impetuous vulgarity, his sexual predation; his belligerent intimidation, his incessant lying, his conspiratorial gaslighting, his obsessive vindictiveness, his hypocritical cowardice, his compulsive xenophobia, his callous misogyny, his insufferable bigotry, his disgusting buffoonery, his histrionic rallying, his dangerous idiocy, his sociopathic bullying and seditious behavior…?   

Consider the aggregate of aforementioned facts and their significant implications that I have presented here. Though these facts reveal Trump's obstruction of justice, bribery, abuse of power, betrayal of public trust, moral turpitude, ignorance, incompetence and corruption of the office of presidency and our electoral system, these facts also make us think about our moral values, principles and fundamental truths: for they are the foundation of our moral sentiments which prescribe, persuade, and command us to do what we believe, and feel, is right. What is right is what complies with our moral duty. Because most of us live as social, rational human beings, we have implicitly consented to moral and social contracts that have been devised. It is because we have a shared set of moral and legal expectations for our conduct that it is imperative to appeal to a public sense of justice (regardless of political party affiliation). Furthermore, it is because we understand why moral precepts are beneficial for all of us that we have the Rule of Law, established in the U.S. Constitution; whereby, the virtue of our moral and constitutional obligations, "and not upon the niceties of a narrow [criminal] jurisprudence but upon the enlarged and solid principles of morality," that Donald Trump must be indicted so he (and others like him) can never covet the highest and most respected office in America again. 

-Glen Brown


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Addendum 1:

"When our democracy is threatened from within, we must save it ourselves... Transcending forces of decay, disinformation, and disunion will not be easy. This is the great national calling of our time: the North Star that must guide decisions about ending or enduring disastrous presidencies. There is no quick fix for the challenges we face. They are surmountable only if each of us resolves anew that America and democracy are well worth fighting for" -Laurence Tribe.

"It doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If truth doesn't matter, we're lost" -Adam Schiff.

What I believe about the Republican Senate in 2019: they will continue the efforts of the Republican House by sabotaging the impeachment process, by not allowing or discrediting witnesses and internal investigations, by employing hyperbolic histrionics, and by confusing the facts and the American people; they will continue to polarize politics through hyper-partisanship, unprincipled partiality, and political stagnation; they will refuse to legitimize the preponderance of evidence before them because of their confirmation bias and their fear of losing Trump's supporters; they will continue their unwavering allegiance to their extensive tribalism, their powerful interests, their dark money, their party caucus, and Trump's base so they are guaranteed campaign funds, committee assignments, and reelection; they will continue their irreparable damage to the constitutional system, democratic institutions, and separation of powers. They will fail to impeach Trump, thus, "leaving the country with a corrupt tyrant and his angry, vengeful supporters." It will be up to the rest of us to preserve our slowly-dying democracy. 

Indeed, Trump's dangerous ignorance, intentional despotism and malignant narcissism will most certainly be ignored by Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican senators and their defense team of Jay Sekulow, Ken Starr, Robert Ray, Pam Bondi, Patrick Philbin, Mike Purpura, Jane Raskin, Alan Dershowitz and Rudy Giuliani. To repeat, "they are surmountable only if each of us resolves anew that America and democracy are well worth fighting for." 

-Glen Brown

Addendum 2:

When people ask, what crime did Trump commit, they are ignorant of these facts about impeachment: “The very essence of impeachment is political rather than criminal… Politicians rather than judges hold the impeachment power… Instead, it serves only to remove political authority from ‘him who would make a bad use of it’” (Tribe, 13). “Impeachment doesn’t require proof of a crime… Impeachment and criminal punishment are distinct… (44) The argument that only criminal offenses are impeachable is deeply and profoundly wrong. It misunderstands the Constitution, U.S. history, and the nature of criminal law in important ways… The wrongness of this claim offends us as scholars and troubles us as citizens. A relentless focus on criminality distorts public dialogue about impeachment. It also sabotages productive discussion about improper (though noncriminal) uses of presidential power…” (45).

When a president abuses “the formal powers” of the office of the presidency to secure an election, it is our constitutional system that will not allow him to corrupt our democracy. In the case of Trump, who is a “serial abuser of power,” allowing him to “remain in office poses a clear danger of grave harm to the constitutional order” (23) and to our national security. “The corrupt exercise of power in exchange for a personal benefit defines impeachable bribery” (33); moreover, Trump’s myriad attempts to impede justice proves impeachable obstruction. “If Congress errs here, the American people must live forever with the consequences” (28).

Tribe, Laurence H. and Joshua Matz. To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. New York: Basic Books, 2018.

Addendum 3:

When are we going to rebel against the oligarchy? We already have witnessed a takeover of the radical Republican Party; the undermining of democracy; the evisceration of campaign finance law; the weakening of U.S. labor unions; right-to-work laws to keep workers powerless; the shutting down of the federal government; the denial of climate change from the executive and legislative branches of government; ALEC-backed legislators who created bills to restrict minority voting and to manipulate the boundaries of their electoral constituency; the closing of nearly 1700 voting precincts, of which many of them are in Black and Latino communities; the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act; the scapegoating of teachers and the attacks on retirees’ and public employees’ pensions; the deprivation of university and college adjunct faculty; the systematic dismantling of public ownership and services; the privatized exorbitantly-priced healthcare system; the rewriting of the tax code to benefit the wealthiest Americans; the victimization of immigrant children and their parents and other forms of oligarchic oppression. Are we going to allow the continuing deregulation of our environmental protections; the continuing privatization of our public schools; the eradication of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the transformation of the U.S. courts and the privatization of the justice system; the manufacturing of paranoia about migrant caravans of Mexican and South American immigrants seeking asylum; the current GOP's obstructionism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, unaccountable dark money, voter suppression, and their reinterpretation of the U.S. Constitution to successfully oppress the majority of Americans?  

-Glen Brown

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Trump Claims "I am the Chosen One"

The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Just hours after accusing Jewish people who vote for Democrats of “disloyalty” (which drew widespread condemnation), President Trump quoted a controversial radio host who called him the “King of Israel” and “the second coming of God,” in the latest of a series of inflammatory comments about Jews.

  • In his tweet, Trump thanked Wayne Allyn Root, considered a “conspiracy theorist” by the Washington Post and others, for the tweets, calling them “very nice words.”
  • Trump followed his tweets by saying “I am the chosen one” during an interview with White House reporters. He was referring to his role in managing the trade war with China...

Monday, August 19, 2019

Hey, Illinois Tier 2 Teachers! Don’t Forget You Are Subsidizing Everyone Else

“…The Tier 2 system… covers all employees hired after 2010.  The precise details of the Tier 2 benefit program differ for each of the 5 state retirement systems (for teachers, state employees, university employees, judges, and legislators), and variations exist for the retirement programs for City of Chicago employees, and other public employees in Illinois, but there were three key changes in the Tier 2 benefits:

·       Retirement age and minimum vesting service were increased;
·       The Cost-of-Living adjustment was reduced from a fixed 3% per year to half the rate of inflation, and is additive rather than compounded (that is, if CPI is 3% for four years, your original benefit is increased by 4 times 1.5% rather than 1.03 x 1.03 x 1.03 x 1.03); and
·       Pensionable pay is capped at a level that sits at $113,645 in 2018, but increase at a rate of half the rate of inflation.  (The legislators, not surprisingly, chose to apply neither this provision nor the COLA reduction to themselves or the judges.)
“For the teachers, the impact of these provisions is harshest, especially bearing in mind that Illinois teachers (unlike those of 35 other states) do not participate in Social Security.  Illinois teachers do not vest in their benefits until reaching 10 years of service.  Their normal retirement benefit is not available until age 67; while they are eligible to retire at age 62, their benefit is reduced by 6% per year prior to age 67.  They contribute 9% of pay towards their benefits (though, roughly half the time, their local school district pays the cost as part of their contract), but (unlike the statutory requirements for private-sector plans which require employee contributions) they do not earn interest on their contributions, which comes into play for teachers who leave the state or leave teaching without a full career, and do not vest or have only a small vested benefit.

“What's more, the $113,645 pensionable pay cap may seem generous, but the effect of the below-inflation growth over time are damaging; the 2018 actuarial report uses a CPI assumption of 2.5% and an assumed wage growth of 4% (that is, with seniority- based and other increases stacked on top of this baseline).   What does this mean?

·       In 2018, the cap stood at $113,645, the average teacher's wage was $71,845 and the average wage for teachers at retirement age (65 and up) was $89, 994.
·       In 2027, the cap is projected to grow to $127,088, reaching a level below the average wage for teachers at retirement, which is projected to grow to $128,090.
·       In 2035, the cap is projected to grow to $140,367, reaching a level essentially equal to the average wage for all teachers, at $139,946.
·       And by 2050, the cap will have grown so slowly relative to teachers' pay that it will only cover 67% of the average teacher's salary, and 53% of the average for near-retirees.
“All of these items, taken together, mean that the Tier 2 teachers, with their 9% contributions, and using the plan's valuation assumptions, are actually subsidizing everyone else.  The actuaries calculate what's called an ‘employer normal cost’ -- the present value of the coming year's benefit accruals as a percent of pay, after subtracting out the employee contribution.  (You can find this on page 83 of the report.)  If you participate in a 401(k) plan with an employer contribution, you can compare these values.

“In 2020, the employer normal cost for Tier 2 teachers was -1.75%.  Yes, that's a negative sign.

“Now, that number is a bit unfair, because Tier 2 teachers are younger, on average, than the group as a whole, and as they get older, due to the magic of Time-Value of Money, the value of their annual benefit accruals will increase.  In 2046, the final year of the actuary's projection, this value improves to -1.04%. 

“What's more, this calculation is based on a valuation interest rate of 7%.  If a more conservative bond rate were used (for example, 4%), the total normal cost, and the employer's share, would both increase -- a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the total normal cost would increase by 50%, from 8% to 12%; subtract out the 9% employee contribution and you've got an employer normal cost of 3%.  Yes, this is better than nothing.  But, for a plan that's supposed to be replacing Social Security and providing additional benefits besides, this is not sustainable.

“So what does this mean? One the one hand, it's a win for the state's coffers.  The contribution schedule that is targeted at reaching a 90% funding level in the year 2045 relies in part on the plans' liabilities growing more slowly than they otherwise would, due to the coming retirements of Tier I participants and the increasing growth in the Tier 2 workforce.  This leads to a bizarre situation in which the state of Illinois contributions, in the short term, do not even exceed the amount needed to hold the plans' unfunded liabilities steady, yet the funded ratio increases steadily. 

“Taking all five plans together (page 111 of the consolidated report issued in April), unfunded liabilities that are forecast to reach $136,842 at the end of 2019, continue to climb to a peak of $145,860 in 2026 before finally beginning to decline year by year.  (Other factors are also at play, such as a contribution schedule that's still phasing in to 50% of payroll, on average across plans.)

“But here's why this situation is called a ‘time bomb’:  in order for a public pension plan to opt out of Social Security, minimum benefit requirements must be met.  Here's a News-Gazette report from this past March:

“The concern, however, is that Illinois teachers do not participate in Social Security. Federal law allows state and municipal governments to do that, as long as the benefits they pay out are at least equal to what Social Security pays, a law known as the ‘safe harbor’ provision.

“But Andrew Bodewes, TRS' legislative director, told the panel that because of the small cost-of-living increases built into Tier 2, those pensions soon are likely to fail to meet the federal adequacy test. ‘So that means once the Tier 2 teachers are retiring, each and every school district will have to perform a test on that member to see if they get a benefit at least as good as Social Security,’ he said. ‘And if they don't, they (the school districts) will have to enroll in Social Security. They'll have to enroll going backwards.’

“That means school districts would have to make as much as 10 years’ worth of back payments into Social Security…” (Elizabeth Bauer, Forbes, June 7, 2019).