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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 September 2010

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What We Didn't Hear from Obama on Iraq

September 2, 2010 ·

Above: Contrary to appearances, this really is Phyllis on Fox News, 8/31/10.

President Obama’s speech on the partial draw-down of U.S. troops in Iraq had one surprising moment. He admitted that the Iraq War as a “trillion dollar” war. That’s huge. I’m pretty sure he’s the first U.S. official to acknowledge that horrifying reality.

But what he left out was more significant. Just on the cost of war, while acknowledging the overall cost, and speaking separately about job loss and the economic crisis in the U.S., he didn’t make the crucial link between the two. He didn’t say, for instance, that the cost of keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq another year and a half, more than $12 billion, could instead pay for 240,000 new green union jobs back home – and still have funds left over to begin paying for real reconstruction and reparations in Iraq.

What else didn’t we hear? We didn’t hear that the 50,000 troops in Iraq now ARE still combat troops — even if the Pentagon has “re-missioned” them for training and assistance.  We heard about the 4th Stryker Brigade leaving Iraq, but not about the 3,000 new combat troops from Fort Hood in Texas, from the Third Armored Cavalry — combat troops — who just deployed TO Iraq 10 days ago.

Above: Same thing on Real News Network. Obama only seems ubiquitous. 9/1/2010.

We didn’t hear about the 4,500 Special Forces among them. That group has two jobs: continuing their “counter-terrorism” operations, which means running around the country with a “capture or kill” list, authorizing those U.S. soldiers to do just that to anyone named on the list. Who knows what corruption, settling of old scores, or other factors led to some of those names? Their second job is to train their Iraqi counterparts, the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which seems to be becoming an El Salvador-style death squad. It’s accountable only to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, not to the Iraqi government as a whole. The U.S. officer who set it up, Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, laughed while telling the Nation’s Shane Bauer that “all these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day.”  The U.S. head of the training unit, Brig. General Simeon Trombitas, who said he was “very proud of what was done in El Salvador,” also announced that the U.S. training in places like El Salvador and Colombia (he served in both) was “extremely transferable” to Iraq.

We didn’t hear much about that.

And, at the end of the day, we didn’t hear much about the 50,000 troops remaining. We didn’t hear about how the State Department is bringing in 7,000 armed security contractors, planes, surveillance drones, armored vehicles, and a “ready reaction” force of its own, to protect the 5,000 diplomats anticipated in the giant (Vatican City-sized) new embassy after the December 31, 2011 deadline for all U.S. troops and all of the Pentagon’s military contractors to leave Iraq. Thus instead of replacing U.S. power with independent and sovereign Iraqi power, the real transition underway is from the Pentagon to the State Department. Instead of replacing military force with diplomacy, the U.S. is just militarizing U.S. diplomacy.

And one more thing we didn’t hear. We didn’t hear Obama remind us of what he once understood so clearly: that Iraq is a “stupid war.” Instead, we heard a near-reiteration of George Bush. The war never was about “Iraqi Freedom.” But it sure doesn’t sound like a “New Dawn” either.

You can also listen to me debate the subject with Ret. General James Dubik and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran on The Diane Rehm Show. And before the speech I was on Al-Jazeera English.

CEO Pay and the Great Recession

September 1, 2010 ·

Baron with checkOver 15 million workers were fired from their jobs from January 2007 through December 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keep that in mind while looking at these numbers from IPS’s just-released 17th annual Executive Excess Report, CEO Pay and the Great Recession:

  • Fred Hassan, the ex-CEO of Schering-Plough, received a $33 million golden parachute when his firm merged with Merck in late 2009. The merger led to 16,000 workers being fired.
  • William Weldon of Johnson & Johnson took home $25.6 million, more than three times as much as the S&P 500 CEO average, at a time when his firm slashed 9,000 jobs and while the company was facing a massive drug recall scandal.
  • Mark Hurd of Hewlett-Packard, currently famous for failing to cover up a relationship with a contractor/erotic film star, has been awarded $24.2 million for laying off 6,400 workers. On top of that, he received an additional $28 million in severance.

These two sets of data illustrate a pretty dire picture, especially at a time when we are experiencing record unemployment. Both the government and the private sector are unwilling to take sufficient measures to put Americans back to work. The federal government is moving away from job-creating stimulus to supposedly austere measures, like cutting much needed social safety net programs (see here for an obvious example). The private sector, on the other hand, is making record short-term profits by eliminating jobs—furthering the income gap between the rich and the poor, while also significantly decreasing the consumption and taxpaying power of regular workers.

CEO Pay and the Great Recession is a report we released today that illustrates this irresponsible behavior in the corporate sector. According to the report, the 50 top CEOs that have laid off the most workers in 2009 received $12 million on average, while the S&P 500 companies have earned around $8.5 million on average.

Some additional key findings:

  • Five of the 50 top layoff leaders were recipients of major financial bailouts. Of these, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault took home the highest 2009 pay, $16.8 million, including a $5 million cash bonus. American Express has laid off 4,000 employees since receiving $3.4 billion in taxpayer bailout funds.
  • The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEO layoff leaders could provide average unemployment benefits to 37,759 workers for an entire year — or nearly a month of benefits for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off.

At a time when we're experiencing the worst economic crisis in the past 80 years, CEOs who slash jobs should have to tighten their own belts, not just so they’re in line with today’s S&P norm, but moving towards CEO pay levels in previous decades when the U.S. economy was more stable. This is a move that is necessary to establish robust sustainable economic growth. It would also help prevent future economic crises like the one we are experiencing today.

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