Colin Kaeper­nick and the Marl­boro Man

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - DAVID COOK

State Sen. Bo Wat­son, R-Hix­son, re­cently asked the Ten­nessee Gen­eral Assem­bly’s bud­get anal­y­sis of­fice for a report de­tail­ing the ex­tent of con­tracts be­tween Nike and Univer­sity of Ten­nessee schools.

Wat­son’s re­quest came just days af­ter Nike re­leased its new ad cam­paign about sac­ri­fice and con­science, fea­tur­ing Colin Kaeper­nick, the ex-NFL star who knelt dur­ing the na­tional anthem to protest po­lice vi­o­lence against African-Amer­i­cans.

Pre­sum­ably, this is Wat­son’s at­tempt at align­ing morals and ethics with state con­tracts, as if to say that Ten­nessee won’t sup­port a cor­po­ra­tion that sup­ports Kaeper­nick’s protest. (Why does white Amer­ica con­tinue to be­lieve it can dic­tate black protest?)

It also seems a tad like op­por­tune po­lit­i­cal the­ater, sort of low-hang­ing fruit for the Wat­son cam­paign to grab dur­ing elec­tion sea­son.

Yes, it’s good to align our money with our values.

But if Wat­son is truly con­cerned about that, per­haps he should look closer to home.

The Ten­nessee Con­sol­i­dated Re­tire­ment Sys­tem (TCRS) is our state’s pen­sion plan. Man­aged by big-name in­vestors and con­sul­tants near and far, the port­fo­lio — over­seen by TCRS and, by ex­ten­sion, the Gen­eral Assem­bly — con­tains the funds that pay pen­sions and re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, as well as dis­abil­ity pay­ments, for state em­ploy­ees. In­clud­ing state politi­cians. Like Wat­son. Es­tab­lished in 1972, the TCRS makes its money in many of the nor­mal Wall Street ways: funds, bonds, stocks and so on.

Ac­cord­ing to its most re­cent 2017 report, the TCRS port­fo­lio saw a nearly 9 per­cent gain over the last five years. Viewed as one of the best-funded pub­lic pen­sions in the U.S., it’s worth about $47 bil­lion.

In its 2017 report, the TCRS listed its top stock hold­ings. One of the big­gest? Philip Mor­ris In­ter­na­tional. The largest tobacco com­pany in the U.S. and the sec­ond largest on Earth.

“World­wide, tobacco use causes nearly 6 mil­lion deaths per year, and cur­rent trends show that tobacco use will cause more than

8 mil­lion deaths an­nu­ally by 2030,” re­ports the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

The TCRS port­fo­lio owns roughly 1.4 mil­lion shares in Philip Mor­ris worth nearly $168 mil­lion.

Ten­nessee is mak­ing money by in­vest­ing in the global sale of tobacco and the spread of can­cer.

Ten­nessee is mak­ing money off the Marl­boro Man.

And Wat­son is con­cerned about a Nike ad?

TCRS’s port­fo­lio also in­cludes Exxon Mo­bil Corp., one of the world’s largest fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, that has been ac­cused of be­ing de­ceit­fully hos­tile to cli­mate change sci­ence and so­lu­tions.

“A new in­ves­ti­ga­tion shows the oil com­pany un­der­stood the sci­ence be­fore it be­came a pub­lic is­sue and spent mil­lions to pro­mote mis­in­for­ma­tion,” re­ported a Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can head­line.

“ExxonMo­bil takes the gold in de­ceit­ful ad­ver­tis­ing,” Huf­fPost claimed.

The TCRS port­fo­lio owns 2 mil­lion shares in Exxon Mo­bil worth nearly $166 mil­lion.

Ten­nessee is mak­ing money by in­vest­ing in the global sale of fos­sil fu­els that are dam­ag­ing our planet.

And Wat­son is up­set over a Nike ad?

TCRS also owns some 1.8 mil­lion shares worth $275 mil­lion in Face­book Inc., the so­cial me­dia be­he­moth that’s vi­o­lated pri­vacy and data ethics.

In June, one Euro­pean bank di­vested Face­book from its $370 bil­lion as­set man­age­ment fund. Bloomberg News re­ported that Sasja Bes­lik, the in­vestor who over­sees the fund, said that not “a sin­gle se­ri­ous sus­tain­able fund in the world” should have Face­book as part of its port­fo­lio.

Here are the rest of TCRS’s top stock hold­ings:

› Ap­ple Inc. — 3.8 mil­lion shares worth $553 mil­lion.

› Al­pha­bet Inc. — 424,000 shares worth $390 mil­lion.

› Mi­crosoft Corp. —

4.3 mil­lion shares worth $297 mil­lion.

› Ama­zon Inc. — 270,000 shares worth $261 mil­lion.

› JP Mor­gan Chase — 2.7 mil­lion shares worth $251 mil­lion.

› John­son + John­son — 1.6 mil­lion shares worth $218 mil­lion.

› Bank of Amer­ica Corp. — 7.2 mil­lion shares worth $175 mil­lion.

Of course, stocks come and go; per­haps when the 2018 TCRS report is re­leased, the top stock hold­ings won’t be so … can­cer­ous.

And Wat­son, co-chair­man of a leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee with TCRS over­sight, could thank­fully play a large role in such an align­ing of state ethics with state money.

Clearly, he’s in­ter­ested in that.

“Be­lieve in some­thing,” Kaeper­nick says in the Nike ad.

He’s not talk­ing about the Marl­boro Man.

David Cook writes a Sun­day col­umn and can be reached at dcook@ times­freep­ or 423-7576329. Fol­low him on Face­book at DavidCookTFP.

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