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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 April 2011

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Talking The Talk

April 21, 2011 ·

If you listen very closely, you’ll detect the faint murmur of President Barack Obama finally “talking the talk” about cutting defense spending and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich. We welcome these sentiments. But there is a woeful disconnect between the spirit they invoke and the “facts on the ground.“

Obama proposed a $400 billion cut to the bloated military budget — but the cuts stretch across 12 years and barely graze the Pentagon, which will continue spending at Cold War levels. He waxed eloquently when he opposed renewing Bush tax cuts for the rich, even as he continued to embrace his new “job czar”: GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the poster boy of corporate tax dodging.

So, as Americans filed their taxes en masse, IPS experts continued calling attention to military spending and unfair tax policies.

IPS scholar John Feffer wrote in a recent OtherWords op-ed, that "the United States was responsible for 94 percent of the global increase in military expenditures in 2010." The Global Day of Action on Military Spending, organized by IPS and the International Peace Bureau, resulted in hundreds of actions around the world on April 12th, including an eye-catching display in Athens, a “die-in” at the steps of the Treasury building in London, and a song written by the indie pop group Peachcake in Arizona.

Tax day also brought attention to the low taxes paid by the super wealthy and the nonexistent taxes on transnational corporations including Bank of America, GE, BP, Verizon and FedEx. As IPS scholar Chuck Collins points out in his recent article, “What Would Jesus Tax?,” the US could collect over $4 trillion in new revenue by closing offshore tax havens, adding new top tax brackets for millionaires, and instituting a simple financial transaction tax over the next decade.

Additionally this week, IPS scholar Sarah Anderson outlined seven innovative mechanisms to increase public revenue streams and IPS scholar Noel Ortega blogged about the burgeoning youth movement against corporations: US Uncut.

Obama may be beginning to find his voice, IPS is hoping to help him find the way to the bully pulpit.

An Eye-Opening Window into America's Executive Suites

April 19, 2011 ·

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, for his annual efforts at the helm of America’s largest labor federation, makes four times the pay that goes to the federation’s typical employee.

Michael Jeffries, the CEO at national retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, has been making close to 1,000 times the pay that goes to his typical employee. Shareholders at Abercrombie seem to feel their CEO makes too much.

Last April, in advisory “say on pay” balloting, these shareholders voted against Abercrombie’s executive pay plan. How did Abercrombie’s corporate directors respond? They moved quickly to show how much they feel their shareholder pain. The directors announced a stiff new limit on how much free personal travel CEO Jeffries can take on the Abercrombie jet.

In 2009, the value of this free personal travel perk topped over $800,000. Jeffries must now reimburse the company for any personal travel over $200,000.

Has a new day on CEO pay finally dawned in America’s corporate boardrooms? Not exactly, notes the just-released new 2011 edition of Pay Watch, the AFL-CIO’s energetically informative executive compensation Web site. Abercrombie CEO Jeffries did lose, the new Pay Watch points out, over a half-million in corporate jet perks. But the Abercrombie board, in exchange for the perk limit, agreed to up the total Jeffries take-home by an additional $4 million!

Incredibly revealing anecdotes like this Abercrombie outrage abound in the new AFL-CIO Pay Watch, the best one yet. But Pay Watch does an equally effective job placing these anecdotes in a broader perspective — and, in the process, thoroughly debunks the rationalizations for excessive executive pay that spout regularly from the lips of CEOs and their handlers.

Does current CEO compensation truly reflect, as these handlers love to claim, “pay for performance”? Over the last decade, the new Pay Watch observes, “CEOs of the largest American companies received more in compensation than ever before in U.S. history.” Yet corporate share prices ended 2010 19 percent off their year 2000 high.

The new Pay Watch’s most vital contribution to the ongoing debate over executive pay? That may well be the site’s sublime interactivity.

You can compare, on Pay Watch, how many years you would have to work to match what the CEO at your workplace makes in just one. And you can contrast the pay of superstar CEOs with an assortment of take-homes elsewhere in the American economy — and share the results, for the first time ever, through an innovative Pay Watch Facebook app.

And the pages of Pay Watch don’t just inform us. They couple information with a variety of action steps we can take to advance a meaningful CEO pay reform agenda.

High on that agenda: the campaign to protect the Dodd-Frank financial reform law provision enacted last summer that requires all major companies to disclose the pay gap between their CEOs and their workers. Corporate America is currently trying to gut this new disclosure mandate, by sabotaging the regulations supposed to enforce it.

Disclosure remains the first step to meaningful CEO pay reform. This week’s edition of Too Much, our IPS weekly email newsletter on excess and inequality, spotlights a brand-new reform proposal — from Harvard economist Richard Freeman — that builds on this disclosure. Not on the mailing list for Too Much? You can sign up here to subscribe.

The Lineup: Week of April 18-24, 2011

April 18, 2011 ·

OtherWords is celebrating Earth Day this week by offering three environmental commentaries and a cartoon that somehow finds the humor in the Obama administration's nuclear power fixation.

Daphne Wysham parses Obama's "dirty energy" policy, Antonia Juhasz reflects on the BP oil disaster a year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and columnist William A. Collins highlights the dangers of nuclear reactors and weapons.

Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Obama's Dirty Energy Fixation / Daphne Wysham
  2. Learning from the BP Oil Disaster / Antonia Juhasz
  3. Volunteer Writers May Be Part of Journalism's Future / Jason Salzman
  4. A Year after Arizona's Debacle, Congress Considers a Better Immigration Law / Rep. Mike Honda
  5. Finally, Obama Leads on the Deficit / Donald Kaul
  6. Gubernatorial Goofiness in Maine / Jim Hightower
  7. Nukes: You Can Never Turn Your Back / William A. Collins
  8. Obama's Nuclear GPS / Khalil Bendib

Obama's Nuclear GPS

We Can Live Without Gold

April 14, 2011 ·

Last night I attended a moving ceremony at the Smithsonian museum where the Goldman Environmental Awards were presented to six brave activists for a better world. 

One of the recipients was farmer-turned-activist Francisco Pineda, who is a leader of a coalition of Salvadoran groups fighting gold mining, which was poisoning their fresh water sources. IPS gave its prestigious Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to this group in 2009, and we have worked with them in an international coalition to halt the destructive gold mining.  As Francisco put it in his acceptance speech: “We can live without gold, but we cannot live without water.”

Francisco Pineda at the 2011 Goldman Prizes
Francisco Pineda accepts his award at the 2011 Goldman Prizes. Photo via Goldman Prizes FB page.

Francisco and his colleagues have managed to convince their government to stop new mining permits, but two of the big the mining companies have been suing the Salvadoran government under the Central American Free Trade Agreement. As Francisco says of the CAFTA law suit: “It is like saying to a friend: ‘I'm going to steal everything from you. But if you don't let me steal everything, I'm going to sue you.’”

I am traveling to El Salvador next week with my wife, Robin Broad, to write a piece for The Nation on this struggle, from the communities on the front lines to the global legal battles. And IPS is continuing to work with Francisco and his colleagues in a campaign to convince the mining firm, Pacific Rim, to drop its case against El Salvador as part of a larger IPS effort to end corporate protections in trade and investment agreements.

As we left the Smithsonian, Francisco still wore the huge smile he’d had all evening. “I got to meet your president today.  He told me he understood Spanish, but couldn’t speak it. I thanked him for coming to our country and for giving us assistance but I told him we needed him to come out against mining, to come out against the CAFTA lawsuit.”         

We must constantly remind ourselves and our president that global rules are made by people, and we can change them to reflect the interests of people and the environment. Today, an ally from El Salvador made that case.

Finally, Obama's Talking about Taxing the Wealthy

April 14, 2011 ·

President Obama has broken through the silence about revenue in Washington's dominant budget and deficit debate.

 "At a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more," Obama said in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday. "I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut."

He lambasted the GOP budget proposal put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," he said.

In addition to reversing tax hikes on the wealthy, Obama made vague recommendations about closing loopholes, especially for high-income households. Unfortunately, he avoided the important issue of corporate tax dodging through off shore tax havens.

"Unnecessary Austerity," the IPS report I recently co-authored , questions the assumption that budget cuts are the only path to fiscal health. Instead, we argue, Congress should focus on reversing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires — and closing tax loopholes and overseas tax havens that enable corporations to shrink their tax bills.

The United States is far from broke. The problem is that wealth and income have become concentrated in the hands of the richest 1 percent of Americans and our largest multinational corporations. Yet over the last generation, we've greatly reduced taxes on the wealthy and global corporations.

For example, if the federal government taxed households with incomes over $1 million and big corporations at 1961 levels, the Treasury would collect an additional $716 billion a year, or $7 trillion over a decade. We've reduced the actual tax levy on millionaires by almost half during the past 50 years. In 1961, families with more than a million dollars of annual income paid 43 percent of their income in federal income taxes. This year, they will pay just 23 percent.

"I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me," Obama said. "They want to give back to their country, a country that's done so much for them. It's just Washington hasn't asked them to." His argument in favor of increasing tax rates for the wealthy is reinforced by a new call to action by Wealth for the Common Good and Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. Those groups encompass more than 100 millionaires calling on Congress to raise their taxes.

Obama has public opinion on his side. Polls show that the majority of voters would rather hike taxes on millionaires than slash spending. But some of his proposals — like reducing charitable and home mortgage interest deductions for millionaires — may encounter tough sledding. Those proposals will mobilize opposition from not only corporate lobbyist and a segment of the wealthy. They'll face the wrath of the second-home real estate lobby and charity advocates.

But one way or another, taxes on the top are going to rise in the coming two years.

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