Saturday, May 30, 2020

As We Near the End of Fiscal Year 2020 for the Teachers’ Retirement System of Illinois by Bob Lyons

“Our pension system received a total state pension contribution of $4.81 billion for this current fiscal year, which is certainly a lot of money. Even more significant is that it is not a number that was arrived at by using what is called standard actuarial accounting.

“The contribution that we receive is based on state law, Illinois state law. Illinois state law dictates that pension contributions are to be calculated on a fifty-year timetable that began in 1995, not the thirty-year time table that almost every other pension system uses.

“State law also established a 90 percent funding target instead of the standard 100 percent goal that practically all other pension systems dictate. And lastly, Illinois requires the debt payments on state pension bonds to be deducted from future state contributions. That means, the billions borrowed by Governors Blagojevich and Quinn are repaid by money that should have been received by the TRS pension fund.

“As a result, the contribution of $5.14 billion which is what the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System will receive for FY 2021 is not the amount that an actuarial standard study would call for, nor does it equal what the pension system is expected to spend in the year ahead. It does not in any way reduce the existing unfunded pension liability that is currently $78.2 billion. It will of course add to it.

“An actuary using standard accounting practice would call for a contribution $3.2 billion higher than $5.14 billion, a required contribution of $8.34 billion. And if the State of Illinois took ‘the long view’ and wanted to save money in the long run, that is what they would pay.

“But they certainly could not pay that amount because they do not have the $8.34 billion. If truth be told, they do not have the $5.14 billion. The only way they will come up with the ‘by-law contribution’ will be by borrowing a goodly portion of it.

“A loan that will be paid for from future contributions. There is an old adage that goes, ‘If you find yourself in hole, the very first thing you should do is stop digging.’ Sadly, when you have been digging the hole for 81 years that is all that you know.

“The Illinois Senate Bill 264 FY 21 appropriations budget passed both houses of the General Assembly this past weekend. Every Democrat attending the session voted yes and every Republican voted no. 

“The general revenue spending called for in the FY 2021 is a record $42.9 billion and has $8.6 billion in pension contributions to the three pension boards and the five separate pension funds with an additional $1.3 billion for retiree health costs and a $800 million payment for past pension bonds. As has been reported, the full state payment for TRIP/TRAIL is in the new budget” -Bob Lyons, former TRS Trustee and retired teacher

Friday, May 29, 2020

Police arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and crew on live television early this morning... Later released

When protesting the murder of a defenseless black man becomes a disgrace

“…In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force…” -from the address to civil rights marchers by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.

               CNN Reporter, Omar Jimenez, Arrested Then Later Released

                         Protesters attacking the CNN Building in Atlanta

"Please! I Can't Breathe...Mama!" -George Floyd

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

We Are Living in a Failed State (The Atlantic)

“When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

“The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.

“The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.

“Every morning in the endless month of March, Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan—no coherent instructions at all—families, schools, and offices were left to decide on their own whether to shut down and take shelter. When test kits, masks, gowns, and ventilators were found to be in desperately short supply, governors pleaded for them from the White House, which stalled, then called on private enterprise, which couldn’t deliver.

“States and cities were forced into bidding wars that left them prey to price gouging and corporate profiteering. Civilians took out their sewing machines to try to keep ill-equipped hospital workers healthy and their patients alive. Russia, Taiwan, and the United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power—a beggar nation in utter chaos.

“Donald Trump saw the crisis almost entirely in personal and political terms. Fearing for his reelection, he declared the coronavirus pandemic a war, and himself a wartime president. But the leader he brings to mind is Marshal Philippe Pétain, the French general who, in 1940, signed an armistice with Germany after its rout of French defenses, then formed the pro-Nazi Vichy regime.

“Like Pétain, Trump collaborated with the invader and abandoned his country to a prolonged disaster. And, like France in 1940, America in 2020 has stunned itself with a collapse that’s larger and deeper than one miserable leader. Some future autopsy of the pandemic might be called Strange Defeat, after the historian and Resistance fighter Marc Bloch’s contemporaneous study of the fall of France.

“Despite countless examples around the U.S. of individual courage and sacrifice, the failure is national. And it should force a question that most Americans have never had to ask: Do we trust our leaders and one another enough to summon a collective response to a mortal threat? Are we still capable of self-government? [...]” (We Are Living in a Failed State, The Atlantic).

Betsy DeVos openly admits she's using the pandemic to impose her private school choice agenda

“‘Yes, absolutely,’ DeVos replied when asked if she was trying to ‘utilize’ the crisis to help ‘faith-based schools’
“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos admitted that she was trying to use the ongoing coronavirus crisis to push through her private school choice agenda during a Tuesday radio interview. DeVos made the comments during an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, on his Sirius XM show. The interview was first flagged by the nonprofit education news outlet Chalkbeat.
“Dolan asked the secretary whether she was trying to ‘utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools. Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?’ he asked.
“‘Yes, absolutely,’ DeVos replied. ‘For more than three decades, that has been something that I've been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn't be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.’
“Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said in a statement to Chalkbeat that DeVos ‘is helping Catholic schools just as she is helping all schools; this does not mean she is favoring any one type of school over another. There is no question that this crisis has impacted all students — no matter what kind of school they're enrolled in,’ she added.
“DeVos' comments came as she defended her decision to redirect coronavirus relief funds away from public schools with high numbers of impoverished students to private schools which tend to serve wealthy students. Congress allocated about $13.5 billion to help schools, most of which was intended to go to schools based on a formula that determines how many poor children they serve.
“The formula has long allocated some of the funding for poor children who attend private schools, The Washington Post reported. But DeVos said states should calculate how many total students private schools serve rather than just the number of poor students. As a result, millions in aid will be redirected away from schools with high poverty rates to private schools which may not have many poor students.
“The move drew criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. ‘My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,’ Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Education Committee who is typically a DeVos ally, told reporters Wednesday. ‘I think that's what most of Congress was expecting.’
“Democrats also decried the decision. ‘[The guidance] seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress,’ House Education Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLaura, D-Ct., and Senate Education ranking member Patty Murray, D-Washington, said in a letter to DeVos on Tuesday.
“‘Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among states and local education agencies that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the department's guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act,’ the lawmakers urged, asking her to ‘immediately revise’ the guidance.
“But DeVos defended the decision Thursday to reporters. ‘It's our interpretation that [the funding] is meant literally for all students, and that includes students no matter where they're learning,’ she said.
“The Democrats' warning has proven right, however, as states are already dealing with confusion sparked by the policy. The Education Law Center said DeVos' policy was a patent misreading of the federal law and could redirect $800,000 in aid from Newark Public Schools in New Jersey to private school students. Tennessee's education chief said she plans to follow DeVos' guidance, but other school leaders argue that it is not legally binding and should be ignored.
“Indiana's schools chief Jennifer McCormick said that  the state would ignore the guidance after consulting with the state's attorney general. ‘I will not play political agenda games with relief funds,’ she said. Scott told NPR that ‘there is rightfully pushback’ on the decision. ‘The actions of the Department of Education have left states and districts stuck between compliance with the law,’ he said, ‘and adhering to ideologically motivated guidance.’” (Salon).

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun. Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tweet, Tweet, Twit

“Donald Trump has threatened to close down social-media platforms that he argues censor conservative voices after Twitter on Tuesday tagged some of his messages with a fact-check warning. ‘Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservative’s voices,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday. ‘We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen. We saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016.’

“Twitter had long been criticized for allowing the president to spread conspiracy theories and smears against opponents despite its policies against the promotion of disinformation. It recently came under increasing calls for it to take action against Trump after he spent weeks promoting a baseless conspiracy theory alleging that the MSNBC cohost Joe Scarborough was involved in the death of a staffer, Lori Klausutis, while he was serving as a US congressman.

“Twitter has declined to take action against the president for the messages about Scarborough, but on Tuesday for the first time it put a fact-check tag on some of Trump's tweets. The president wrote two tweets claiming ‘There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.’

“Twitter tagged each of the two messages with a blue exclamation mark and warning message, linking to articles in The Washington Post, CNN, and other outlets that debunk the president's assertion. Trump doubled down on his voter-fraud claims in a follow-up tweet Wednesday.

“‘We can't let a more sophisticated version of that happen again,’ Trump wrote. ‘Just like we can't let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots. Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!’

“Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said that Trump was unlikely to be able to follow through on his threat against social media companies. ‘I think that it is mostly bluster. There are steps he might take, but they are likely to be slow, cumbersome and ineffective, although he does have the huge bullhorn of the presidency to persuade the voters that he is correct and deserves reelection,’ he explained to Business Insider by email. 

“‘He could issue executive orders or try to persuade federal agencies to regulate or take action against Twitter or convince Congress to legislate, but none will be fast or help him before November,’ he explained. ‘Reelection might help him achieve some of what he wants in the longer term as agencies and Congress are investigating big tech and may consider legislation but nothing will pass soon.’

“Trump has long accused social-media companies of bias toward conservatives. In June 2019 he invited several far-right provocateurs and conspiracy theorists, some of whom had had hate speech removed by social-media platforms, to the White House for a social-media summit. He has also credited being able to communicate on Twitter as a key factor in his election to the White House, remarking that it allows him to communicate with voters directly, unfiltered by media organizations he accuses of partisan bias” (Business Insider).  

"The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been greater in the US than on any other country in lives and jobs lost" (The Guardian)

As the US approaches the grim milestone of 100,000 fatalities from the virus, we have gathered some of the most shocking data.
These statistics tell a tragic story of how the virus has disproportionately hit older people, people of color and those with lower incomes. They also capture some of the shortcomings in the official responses to its spread.
The victims

The US leads the world in both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.


·       Almost three times as many black people are dying of the virus compared to white people and at least 20,000 African Americans have died, according to Amp Research Lab. The virus is twice as deadly for black and Latinos than white people in New York City, preliminary data suggests.
·       African Americans are 70% of all coronavirus cases in Chicago, which is 30% black, and more than half of the state’s deaths, by early April.

State-reported racial data shows that the pandemic is hitting African-American communities the hardest.

Location and occupations

·       Up to half of the deaths in some US states have been nursing home residents or workers, studies have indicated. There have been 55 deaths at one Brooklyn nursing home, the Cobble Hill health center, according to reports.
·       Dozens of medical workers have died; the CDC says at least 27 are confirmed to have died, but this is likely to be a significant undercount. As many as 20% of cases of Covid-19 are medical staff in some states.
·       Scores of grocery workers have died across the country. Fifty-nine members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have died, Axios reports. There have been 81 employees testing positive at one Walmart in Massachusetts, according to reports.
·       At least 20 meatpacking workers have died from the virus nationwide and 5,000 have become infected, according to union officials.
·       80% of inmates tested positive for Covid-19 at one Ohio prison and across the US, prisons and jails have reported large outbreaks, which could spread out to the community.

Testing and the response

·       5m Covid-19 tests a day would be carried out “very soon” in the US, Donald Trump promised on 28 April. This many tests would be needed by early June to begin reopening the economy, according to a report by Harvard University’s Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics
·       900,000 tests a day by mid-May should be the target, according to the research group Harvard’s Global Health Institute.
·       Only just over 300,000 tests a day were being carried out by mid-May, according to the daily tracking by the Covid Tracking Project.
·       1,000 contact tracers – New York is trying to recruit this many tracers by 1 June as part of efforts to advance reopening.
·       About $400m per year is contributed to the World Health Organization by the US but President Trump has frozen this, during the height of the global pandemic, and criticized its links with China.

A slow start in testing led to a largely undetected spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Controversial treatments and anti-vaxxers

·       A more than 1,000% surge in online demand for hydroxychloroquine came after Donald Trump backed the anti-malaria drug as a potential treatment for Covid-19, a study found, despite evidence it doesn’t work.
·       Almost 23% of adults in one poll said they would not be willing to take a vaccine against Covid-19 if it became available, amid concern from experts at the impact of the anti-vaxxer movement.

Economic fallout

·       Almost 39 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last few weeks – more than 10% of the entire US population, and more than 20% of the working population.
·       14.7% was the official unemployment rate in May, up from 4.4%, a figure that probably significantly underestimates the true scale of job losses, which are at a rate unseen since the 1930s Great Depression.
·       40% of households earning less than $40,000 have experienced job losses, according to the Federal Reserve.
·       Only 20% of black workers reported being eligible to work from home, compared with about 30% of their white counterparts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global economy, and unemployment in the US is reaching record highs.


·       More than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed since March, an academic study says.
·       3% of restaurants have permanently closed, 44% have temporarily closed and 11% say they expect to close permanently in the next month, according to research from the National Restaurant Association.
·       2,800 flights were in US airspace on 29 March, compared with 6,800 on 1 March, according to Flightradar24.
·       $4bn could be lost by baseball team owners if there is not a season in 2020, according to Rob Manfred, commissioner of the MLB.

Health insurance

·       Up to 43 million people face losing their job-based health coverage since the coronavirus, according to the Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That is nearly one-quarter of all Americans who rely on job-based insurance.
·       As many as 7 million people will be unable to find new health insurance coverage, according to the same report, joining 28 million who already lacked insurance.

Food supply

·       An average of 63% more food was being sought by food banks and pantries around the US in the wake of widespread job losses, according to Feeding America.
·       2.6% was the rise last month in grocery prices, the largest such jump since the 1970s, the Washington Post reported, citing the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meats, poultry, fish and eggs were among the goods going up in price. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

"With the death toll from Covid-19 about to top 100,000..."

"Trump has offered almost nothing in the way of tributes to the dead, sympathy for their families, or acknowledgement of our national mourning. By all accounts he is barely bothering to manage his administration’s response to the pandemic, preferring to focus on cheer leading for an economic recovery he says is on its way, even as he feeds conspiracy theories about the death toll being inflated. This [past] weekend, he went golfing..." (Washington Post).

U.S.A. Cases: 1,711,000+
U.S.A. Deaths: 99,950