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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since February 2013

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Behind the Kitchen Door: A Must-Read for Anyone Who Eats at Restaurants

February 27, 2013 ·

Cross-posted from the Yes! Magazine blog.

You are celebrating your birthday at your favorite restaurant and you’ve just ordered a tasty, locally grown organic meal. You savor the food, while feeling good that you are contributing to a better world.  What could be better?

Well, for starters: the conditions of the people serving and busing your table.

Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru JayaramanMost don’t make a living wage.  Indeed, most of your servers work for the same minimum wage they’ve gotten for 22 years: $2.13 an hour. That’s right: no increase for a generation. Therefore, most workers have no choice but to work if they’re sick because nine out of ten don’t receive paid sick leave. Yes, if you are reading this now because you’re sick at home, you may well have caught your disease from a sick restaurant employee who had no choice but to work.

There is a new chilling-yet-ultimately-hopeful book that tells the story of the millions who toil to serve us in restaurants: Behind the Kitchen Door. It is hopeful because its dynamo author, Saru Jayaraman, and dozens of courageous restaurant workers created a group that is fighting for their rights: the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

Read the rest of this book review on Yes! Magazine's website.

This Week in OtherWords: February 27, 2013

February 27, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Jo Comerford likens the imminent across-the-board budget cuts to a truck careening toward a brick wall and Jill Richardson explains what’s wrong with an ingredient found in most liquid soaps that Americans use.

Below you’ll find links to our latest work. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. A Global Spotlight on Voter Suppression / Ron Carver
    Heinous schemes to limit the right to vote keep appearing in state legislatures.
  2. We’ve Got to Get Out of That Place / Usha Sahay and John Isaacs
    Rather than prolonging the quagmire in Afghanistan, Obama should take this opportunity to finally to honor his commitment to bring our troops home.
  3. Why Use a Bludgeon When a Calculator Will Do? / Jo Comerford
    Some lawmakers have an almost-mythical resistance to raising revenue at a moment when affluent individuals and big corporations have the lowest tax burden in more than half a century.
  4. Give the Post Office a Break / Donald Kaul
    If the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.
  5. A Triumph of Sewage and Stench / Sam Pizzigati
    It takes more than a nice cruise ship buffet to make a billionaire.
  6. We’re All Guinea Pigs / Jill Richardson
    I don’t want to expose the most precious people in my life to an endocrine disruptor.
  7. The Organized Sports Racket / Jim Hightower
    Big sports teams toss unwise investments to taxpayers and let them fumble.
  8. What Post-Racial America? / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    It will take more than President Barack Obama’s tenure to vanquish American prejudice and racial injustice.
  9. Declaring Victory in Afghanistan / Khalil Bendib cartoon

Declaring Victory in Afghanistan, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Happy Birthday, Dear Income Tax

February 25, 2013 ·

flickr/jpconstantineau

Cross-posted from The American Prospect's website.

In February 1913, exactly a century ago, the Sixteenth Amendment gave Congress a constitutional green light to levy a federal tax on income. Later that same year, lawmakers made good on that opportunity. An income tax has been part of the federal tax code ever since.

So what can we learn, as progressives, from this first century of income taxation?

Lesson One

Steeply graduated income tax rates can help societies do big things.

A half-century ago, America’s federal income tax rates rose steadily—and quite steeply—by income level, with 24 tax brackets in all. On income roughly between $32,000 and $64,000, in today’s dollars, couples in the 1950s faced a 22 percent tax rate. On income that today would equal between $500,000 and $600,000, affluent Americans faced a tax rate of 65 percent. The highest 1950s tax rate, 91 percent, fell on annual income that would today exceed $3.2 million.

Today, our federal tax rates rise much less steeply. The current top rate? The “fiscal-cliff battle” earlier this winter raised the top federal rate on individual income over $400,000 from 35 to 39.6 percent, less than half the 91 percent top rate in effect through the Eisenhower years.

Those high tax rates in the middle of the 20th century made a huge difference. The revenue these tax rates generated funded new government programs like the justly celebrated G.I. Bill. Within a single generation, the United States went from a nation two-thirds poor to a nation two-thirds middle class. Americans saw the difference that government can make—and felt that difference personally.

Most Americans today, by contrast, don’t expect much from their government. And for good reason. Most of us around today haven’t seen our government undertake any major new initiative improving the quality of the lives we lead. In this low-expectations political environment, conservative lawmakers demand endlessly lower income taxes for everybody, at every opportunity, and mainstream liberals dare not even hint at raising taxes on “middle class” incomes under $250,000.

But back in our steeply graduated tax-rate past, politicians did dare talk about higher taxes, and middle class Americans didn’t much mind paying those taxes—for two reasons. They saw big results from the tax dollars they paid. They also knew that America’s wealthiest were sacrificing at tax time, too. 

We don’t do big things in America anymore. But we could, if we made paying taxes politically palatable again. Steeply graduated income tax rates helped work that magic a half-century ago. They could work that magic again.

Read the rest of this article on The American Prospect's website.
 

Sequestration: Our Military is Due for Downsizing

February 22, 2013 ·

Sequestration wouldn't gut military

This strange animal called sequestration is certainly wreaking havoc with our customary ideological boundaries. 

If you’re an advocate, Iike I am, for revamped federal priorities that shift resources from a bloated Pentagon budget toward neglected domestic priorities, your take on this animal can’t be simple. You say cutting everything indiscriminately is a bad way to run a government (this view is nearly universal). You oppose the cuts in the domestic budget that will leave us with fewer food safety inspectors, medical researchers, Head Start teachers, and airport baggage screeners on the job. But you can reel off long lists of ways to cut waste in the Pentagon budget to the levels prescribed by sequestration, and show that these cuts will leave us completely safe.

But you also know that the whole conversation is focused on the wrong topic. It’s past time to shift this conversation away from austerity and toward investment to create jobs, as clear majorities of voters said in November was what they wanted.

Now let’s look at the Washington Post’s blogger who says he writes “from a liberal perspective,” Greg Sargent. On Wednesday he went at the Republican position on sequestration, wielding a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The report found that the single most important cause of increased income inequality in recent years is the favored tax treatment given to capital gains and stock dividends — i.e. what the rich have used to get richer.

The Democrats, as Sargent points out, want to change this, taxing the rich and using the proceeds to replace the sequester cuts. The Republicans want to stick with sequestration and keep this favored treatment for the rich.

But all of this puts the Republicans, says Sargent, in the position of “openly conceding that the sequester will gut the military.” It’s a concession that Sargent appears to be taking at face value. Or at least not calling into question.

Gut the military? That’s what the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been saying any chance they get. Sequestration would “invite aggression,” says lingering Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It will “put the nation at greater risk of coercion,” says the Joint Chiefs Chair, Martin Dempsey. When asked at a recent congressional hearing which nation might coerce us, though, he couldn’t say.

In fact, sequestration will not “gut” our military. Our military budget has nearly doubled since 2001. Sequestration would take it back to the level it was in 2007 — when we were still fighting two wars. Adjusted for inflation, it would leave that budget higher than its Cold War average — when we had an adversary that was spending roughly what we were on its military. Now, as Michael Cohen notes in The Guardian, the closest thing to a peer adversary we have is China, and we are spending more on research and development of new weapons than the Chinese are spending on their entire military. We spend more on our military, in fact, than the next 14 countries put together.

After the longest period of war in our history, we are due for a defense downsizing. Sequestration would create a shallower downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods since World War II. We can do this, and we should. We need the money for other things.

As sequestration threatens to confuse us all, let’s be sure to stay clear on that, at least.

A Day to Remember A Martyr

February 21, 2013 ·

photo of MLK and MalcolmThe militancy and radicalism of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (a.k.a. Malcolm X) has made his legacy harder to hijack by those of the status quo than that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but that hijack is being attempted nonetheless. It has to be. Learning about the life and legacy of Malcolm X may be the most widely cited starting point of left politicization of youth worldwide, particularly for urban youth of color and more particularly for those of African descent. The life of Malcolm was a lesson for all, a lesson rich and nothing short of admirable. His exceptional life made him an inspiration to so many — and a threat to others.

On February 21, 1965, just when Malcolm was about to open his speech in the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, he was assassinated. That makes today the 48th anniversary of his murder. Although there is still controversy about who was behind his assassination, many things are clear.

The facts of the murder will be shared and discussed this evening from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM in Howard University’s Blackburn Center, Room 155, at the forum, The “Black Messiah” The Life And Assassination Of Malcolm X Who Killed Him And Why? The event, spearheaded by Coalition on Political Assassinations in co-sponsorship with a host of other organization, will feature an array of extremely fitting speakers.

A fact more generally known is that President Lyndon B. Johnson and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover deemed Malcolm’s revolutionary internationalism and domestic radicalism subversive and threatening to the U.S. government. Malcolm brought the plight of African people in the United States to the world stage, and clarified that our problems were not merely about civil rights but human rights. He wanted to take our issues to the world court, something that would have embarrassed the U.S. government as it was positing itself as the lecturer and enforcer of freedom and democracy around the world.

After returning from Africa and further solidifying his Pan-African perspective and concrete connections with leaders there, Malcolm started the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), modeled after the Organization of African Unity (OAU). This organization was meant to create a practical bridge between those on the African continent and people of African descent in the United States. As African people had been forcibly disconnected physically and mentally, this bridge reflected a profound political evolution that continued the ideals of the Garvey movement.

If in greater unity there is greater strength, Malcolm’s moves indeed represented a threat to those who preferred the continued oppression and disempowerment of African people worldwide. This made him a target of both the FBI and CIA.

Public documents now show that the FBI and its program COINTELPRO wanted to “…prevent the rise of a Black ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant Black nationalists movement. Malcolm X might have been such a messiah; he is the martyr of the movement today” (FBI Memorandum, March 4, 1968).

Exposing a hypocritical and immoral indiscretion of his former leader in the Nation of Islam (NOI), Elijah Muhammad incurred Malcolm X the dissatisfaction (to put it mildly) of Elijah Muhammad and the wrath of many of the leader’s loyal followers. This included the well known Malcolm X protégé, Louis Farrakhan, who publicly made inflammatory statements implying Malcolm should be killed for “betraying” Elijah Muhammad.

Even before Malcolm was officially out of the NOI, internal resentment against him was deliberately and calculatedly exacerbated by the FBI through fake letters sent and made to seem as though they were internally written. This was a common practice against organizations targeted by COINTELPRO. After Malcolm left the NOI the FBI, in coordination with the NYPD, was able to assign undercover agent Gene Roberts to infiltrate the new organization formed by Malcolm and work his way up to becoming Malcolm’s body guard. Roberts was to later do the same thing to the Black Panther Party in New York, which revealed his true identity 6 years after Malcolm’s assassination in a trial to railroad the Panther 21 into prison for allegations of plots to commit terrorist attacks.

Initially very critical of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm eventually gained respect and admiration for Dr. King and began a dialogue about how they could begin combining forces. They had even gone as far as to agree that Dr. King would work on galvanizing his strength and influence in the South, while Malcolm would work on the North, to in time bring both forces together. While the FBI maintains that there was no direct order given by it to assassinate these two great leaders, it is folly not to contextualize their culpability. The FBI's surveillance, meddling, and instigation of lethal tensions around the lives of the most respected and high profile leaders of the time is undisputed. These were leaders they considered a threat to national security and wanted “neutralized.”

But while murdering Malcolm deprived us of anything more he could give in life to the struggle, it also resulted in either unintended or unavoidable consequences for his adversaries. Malcolm's life and legacy continue to be an inspiration for so many young people the world over and seems to grow with each passing generation.

As Marcus Garvey said, “You can kill the lion, but what will you do about the cubs?”

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