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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 2013

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Fibs and Falsehoods: Darden Corporation Claims 'No One Makes $2.13 An Hour'

September 26, 2013 ·

An op-ed I published on September 12 has provoked an unfounded attack by the world’s largest full service restaurant chain.

The op-ed calls attention to the struggles of restaurant workers who are paid a subminimum “tipped worker wage” by their employers. Starting in 1966, when the tipped minimum wage was first established, it was pegged to 50 percent of the prevailing minimum wage. In 1996 the linkage was undone, and the tipped minimum wage has remained $2.13 an hour in, except in the 32 states that have adopted higher wage standards.

Red Lobster, owned by Darden Corporation. (Calgary Reviews/Flickr)Darden Corporation, which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and several other chains, has been a leader in the National Restaurant Association’s efforts to defeat national legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and require that tipped workers be paid at least 70 percent of this amount.

The op-ed, which was distributed through the McClatchy-Tribune syndicated service and appeared in a dozen major newspapers, has drawn considerable attention from those who are tirelessly working to see that the amount they pay their tipped workers does not rise.

Samir Gupte, the Senior Vice President for Culture at Darden, responded with an open letter that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, saying the op-ed was full of errors and denying that any workers at Darden make $2.13 an hour.

This letter was pure obfuscation. Gupte focused on restaurant servers’ total earnings, including tips. The op-ed focused on what Darden actually pays these servers directly. In a September 25 article in Nation’s Restaurant News, Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers contradicts Gupte’s claim that “No one makes $2.13 an hour,” when he admits that 20 percent of Darden’s hourly workers receive $2.13 an hour from Darden, before tips, affirming the claim which we made in our op-ed.

More than 40 percent of Darden’s restaurants are located in states where the tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour.

In another rebuttal, Melissa Autilio Fleischut, CEO and President of the New York State Restaurant Association, called our op-ed a “disservice” to hard-working restaurant workers, noting that New York recently adopted an increase to the state’s minimum wage. Ms. Fleischut failed to point out that her organization led the fight to oppose New York’s minimum wage increase.

In a recent editorial “Tips and PovertyThe New York Times concluded: “In effect, a tip for a waitress is a wage subsidy for her employer.” Most restaurant patrons assume their tip augments the wages paid by the restaurant owners, not that they replace the basic wages that restaurant owners can legally avoid paying in many states.

Having a tipped minimum wage is not only unfair to workers, it creates an unlevel playing field within the restaurant industry. The law requires McDonald’s and other fast food chains to pay all their workers at least $7.25 an hour, while allowing full service restaurants to pay large segments of their staff two-thirds less, just $2.13 an hour.

Controversies concerning Darden’s policies toward tipped workers are not new. In 2011, the company announced that it would force servers to share their tips more broadly with other restaurant employees. Now considered tipped employees, Darden cut hourly pay for bartenders and busboys by several dollars an hour in some cases. Some employees have complained that tips have not made up for their cut in basic wages provided by Darden.

Darden’s disinformation campaign will likely backfire, leading more consumers to seek the facts about the tipped minimum wage. Once more people know more about how our nation’s most profitable restaurants are working to keep workers living near the poverty line, it will leave a very bad taste in their mouths. 

This Week in OtherWords: September 25, 2013

September 25, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Marge Baker sizes up the next big campaign-finance case before the Supreme Court, Chuck Collins explains why you should see Inequality for All, and Jason Salzman predicts that Colorado isn't going to be split into two states. On our blog, Jim Hightower surprises himself by saluting Nixon and Kathryn Cassibry laments the collective shoulder shrugs that followed last week's mass shootings at Washington's Navy Yard and a Chicago park.

Do you want to make sure you don't miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can't do it without your support.

  1. Citizens United, the Sequel / Marge Baker
    With its ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court could deepen the damage it has already done to our campaign finance laws.
  2. Faster Chicken Processing, More Injured Workers / Tom Fritzsche
    The USDA proposal for poultry plants would make a bad situation worse.
  3. Our Road to Elysium / Chuck Collins
    Robert Reich's new film Inequality for All exposes America's growing wealth disparities.
  4. No North Colorado on the Horizon / Jason Salzman
    The state's alleged secession movement is a right-wing media stunt.
  5. Taking Stock of Factory Farm Pollution / Wenonah Hauter
    The EPA has to stop standing by while factory farming pollutes our airways and watersheds and poisons our communities.
  6. Bursts of Light and Fresh Air / Donald Kaul
    Peace and tolerance are starting to break out.
  7. A Golden Rule that Might Chip Away at Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    By making it mandatory for corporations to disclose the gap between what they pay their chief executives and most typical workers, the government will empower investors and consumers to compare individual corporations by their level of CEO greed.
  8. Junking Food Is Bad for Everyone / Jill Richardson
    The food Americans waste could help end hunger in this nation.
  9. Colorado’s Fracking Disaster / Jim Hightower
    In Colorado's flood-struck areas, a tsunami of floodwater and destructive debris swamped fracking infrastructure.
  10. The Latest Trend in Trade Secrets / William A. Collins
    The Obama administration is quietly forging two deals that are being written by and for the benefit of corporations, to the detriment of workers and consumers.
  11. USS Inequality / Khalil Bendib cartoon

    Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

     USS Inequality, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib
This Week in OtherWords: September 18, 2013

September 18, 2013 ·

This week in OtherWords, Saru Jayaraman calls on Congress to raise the "sub-minimum" wage paid to servers and other tipped workers after a 22-year freeze and Donald Kaul illustrates the irresponsibility of GOP lawmakers who would have our government stop paying its bills. Farrah Hassen shares her colorful memories of Saul Landau, an OtherWords contributor who died September 9.

Do you want to make sure you don't miss the latest from OtherWords? Then subscribe to our free weekly newsletter. Do you value our sharp analysis and bold ideas? Please make a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running. We can't do it without your support.

  1. Remembering Saul Landau, 1936-2013 / Farrah Hassen
    All roads lead to Damascus and my mentor.
  2. Operation Secret Loopholes / Jo Comerford
    Senate efforts to revamp the tax code are off to a rocky start, including a plan to keep taxpayers in the dark about their lawmakers' actions until 2063.
  3. Reasons to Steer Clear from a Syrian Attack / Jim Abourezk
    The American people don't want another Middle East war.
  4. Raise the Sub-Minimum Wage / Saru Jayaraman
    The rock-bottom pay mandated for tipped workers like servers in restaurants needs to rise from $2.13 an hour.
  5. A Higher Minimum Down Under / Salvatore Babones
    Australian fast-food workers make at least twice the U.S. minimum wage and get many more benefits.
  6. The Stiffing State / Donald Kaul
    You can be for a smaller government or a bigger one but you have to pay your bills.
  7. Going Full Circle Back to the Heyday of Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    America has returned to the same kind of deep economic divide that ushered in the 1930s Great Depression.
  8. Bossing the Poor Around / Jill Richardson
    How about a bill banning soda sales at the House of Representatives' cafeterias?
  9. Abusing Animals to Defend Tar Sands Oil / Jim Hightower
    Loveable bears, deer, and such would "like to snuggle under the [Keystone XL] pipeline [for] warmth," conservative pundit Larry Kudlow fantasized on TV.
  10. Higher Education Takes the Low Road / William A. Collins
    Millions of smart young people are stuck in an impossible bind.
  11. Tax Houdini / Khalil Bendib Cartoon

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

Tax Houdini, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib 

Electrifying Africa - But at What Cost to Africans?

September 16, 2013 ·

This originally appeared in IPS' Foreign Policy in Focus project.

A liquefied natural gas carrier near Sea Point, South Africa. (Derek Keats/ Flickr)As children throughout the United States head back to school, it’s a good time to remember that schoolchildren throughout Africa often attend schools with no electricity. In areas that do have the utility, frequent power outages are a constant reminder of the need for dependable access to electricity.

In June, U.S. policymakers announced two initiatives aimed at increasing electricity production in Africa. President Obama launched Power Africa, an initiative that makes a $7-billion U.S. commitment to the energy sector in six African countries. And Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Electrify Africa Act in the House, which sets a goal of providing access to electricity for at least 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. Both initiatives place increasing investment by U.S. companies in Africa at their center.

Africa is home to almost 600 million people without electricity, all of whom struggle to meet their basic needs as a result. Access to power translates into refrigerating vaccines, keeping food from spoiling, studying after dark—the kinds of activities that can dramatically improve basic health, education, and economic opportunity.

While rhetoric around the two U.S. initiatives is about reducing poverty and improving Africans’ quality of life, the approaches being outlined seem likely to lead to large, climate-polluting, centralized power projects—not the decentralized, renewable energy systems that are the most efficient and cleanest means of reaching Africa’s poorest families.

Decentralized, renewable energy sources are best for the rural poor.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that universal energy access can be achieved by 2030 with significantly stepped-up investment. In sub-Saharan Africa, it would require an extra $19 billion a year, and money pledged by the U.S. government could be a strong down payment.

The IEA also notes that the majority of the additional investment needs to go to small-scale mini-grid and off-grid solutions—which are more efficient at delivering electricity to people in rural areas, where 84 percent of the energy-poor live—not to centralized power plants. Small-scale systems produce energy at the household and community level from renewable sources, including micro-hydro, solar, wind, and biogas.

So an energy access win for the poor is also a win for the environment. By developing clean energy instead of burning fossil fuels, decentralized renewable systems help curb greenhouse gas emissions and curtail climate change. That’s important because if left unfettered, climate change is predicted to wreak havoc across Africa.

Africa will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

According to the World Bank, climate change is likely to undermine the development gains made in recent decades, pushing millions of people back into poverty. And as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the leading global scientific body on climate change—notes, warming on the African continent could be some of the developing world’s most severe, reaching one-and-a-half times the global average.

Droughts and heat waves brought on by climate change are expected to significantly compromise agricultural production and access to food in Africa. Yields from rain-fed agriculture could drop by 50 percent in some countries by 2020, and crop revenues could fall by as much as 90 percent by 2100. Food insecurity and exacerbated malnutrition in turn will compromise human health.

Sea level rise is anticipated to threaten the 320 coastal cities and 56 million people living in low-lying coastal zones around the continent. And the cost to African nations of adapting to a warmer world could amount to between 5 and 10 percent of their gross domestic product.

“All of the above” means dirty and clean power.

While Power Africa and the Electrify Africa Act do include language about developing “an appropriate mix of power solutions, including renewable energy,” proponents of these policies have been most publicly enthusiastic about new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas on the continent.

In fact, with only $20 million allocated toward project preparation, feasibility, and technical assistance for renewables, clean energy makes up less than 0.3 percent of the White House initiative’s budget.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is front and center. While gas is sometimes talked about as a “cleaner” fossil fuel, it can be even more polluting than dirty coal when methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide) is released during its production.

In other words, gas is no “bridge fuel” between energy poverty and the clean power that every person deserves. Once Africans are locked into natural gas infrastructure, they’re locked into 40 years of increasing emissions—and four more decades of global warming’s impacts.

Continued fossil fuel expansion threatens U.S. climate policy.

The push for natural gas is so forceful that one of the U.S. government’s strongest climate policies to date—the cap on greenhouse gas emissions at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC)—has come under fire.

OPIC’s cap—an outcome of a 2009 legal settlement with environmental groups over the agency’s practice of lending to large, destructive oil and gas projects—forces a 30-percent greenhouse gas reduction across its portfolio over 10 years and a 50-percent reduction over 15 years.

The results have been notable. By 2011, the agency’s renewable energy finance had risen to nearly $1 billion—about a third of its total commitments that year. By contrast, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im)—OPIC’s sister organization—steadily increased investment in dirty energy, with fossil fuel funding doubling between 2011 and 2012.

Unfortunately, some development groups say that to achieve energy access for Africa, OPIC’s hard-won greenhouse gas cap has to be weakened. For instance, a lobbying document from the ONE campaign highlights how the Electrify Africa Act “unlocks OPIC’s investment potential by requiring OPIC to revise its existing policy on the carbon emissions of its investments to permit significant investment in the electricity sector of the poorest and lowest pollution-emitting countries.”

Ironically, the impacts of doing away with this policy—more greenhouse gas emissions and fewer renewable projects focused on access—would only come back to hit communities in Africa even harder as climate change intensifies.

While this provision is not yet part of the bill introduced in Congress, there are concerns that it will appear as an amendment now that Congress has reconvened. And that’s particularly worrying. Of the $1.5 billion that the Power Africa initiative promises from OPIC for energy, less than 2 percent has been earmarked for renewables.

Who stands to gain by busting the cap?

If large, centralized fossil fuel production won’t particularly help poor Africans access energy—and would exacerbate climate change, which in turn threatens development on the continent—why would anyone want to bust the greenhouse gas cap at OPIC?

For one possible explanation, look no further than the oil and gas fields recently found off the coast of Africa. Big reserves mean big money, and the business of extracting and processing new oil and gas from sub-Saharan Africa will be lucrative.

It’s OPIC’s job to help U.S. companies gain a foothold in emerging markets like these by providing finance. And by doing away with lending restrictions on climate polluting projects, OPIC is free to grease the wheels for mega-deals between U.S. fossil fuel companies and African interests.

One of those companies appears to be General Electric, which recently signed a tentative deal with Ghana to build a power plant likely to be fueled with natural gas from the Jubilee offshore field. (Perhaps not uncoincidentally, G.E.’s CEO traveled with Obama on his Africa trade mission.) According to Forbes, G.E. has recently pivoted its attention to Africa and is marketing power generation products like natural gas engines to African companies. Not surprising, then, that Ex-Im chairman Fred Hochberg called Power Africa a “$7B plan to power up General Electric” on Twitter.

Helping to bring electricity into the homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces of tens of millions of people living on the African continent is the right thing to do. The United States can support energy access through public finance—raised from innovative sources like afinancial transaction tax and by ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies—and by directing the $7 billion Obama promised to decentralized, renewable energy systems. That would ensure that we’re spending our money to benefit African families, not U.S. energy companies.

Africans deserve to live full, dignified, productive lives free from dirty energy and safe from the climate disaster it promises. African schoolchildren demand no less. U.S. policymakers and taxpayers can power Africa best by protecting the planet and securing future generations.

Saul Landau, Presente!

September 13, 2013 ·

Saul Landau, who died September 9, 2013 at age 77, toiled for years to change the national conversation on everything from the Cuban embargo to climate change. Saul also had a knack for turning newfound acquaintances into soulmates that shines through the many tributes and obituaries pooled here to share with people who either had the good fortune to know him and those who are just now discovering his legacy and want to learn more. These essays and articles serve as a testament to his brilliance, perseverance, and boundless generosity.

Saul Landau In addition to his achievements as a writer of prose and poetry, filmmaker, radio show host, connoisseur of odd food, professor, tireless traveler, devoted family man, and a master of off-color jokes, Saul was a longtime Institute for Policy Studies fellow and trustee. IPS will commemorate his life in Washington, DC, on October 12 as part of our 50th anniversary celebrationIf you can join us, please RSVP

IPS Tributes

The Institute for Policy Studies Mourns the Loss of Filmmaker and Author Saul Landau, tribute by the IPS staff. We encourage Saul's many friends and admirers to make their comments on our website.
Excerpt:
"Saul's commitments were forged of steel," said Isabel Letelier, the widow of Orlando Letelier and a former IPS staff member. "He was an impeccable and exemplary revolutionary."

More Than a Sonnet for Saul Landau, poem posted on the IPS website by IPS Board Chair Ethelbert Miller
Excerpt:
…So tell me
another joke. I want to laugh long into the night. I want our
friendship to wait for the stars to come down and kiss California

Mainstream Media

Saul Landau, Maker of Films with Leftist Edge, Dies at 77New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin
Excerpt:
"You want to do what you can while you're on this earth," Mr. Landau said in 2006. "Otherwise the alternative is to go shopping."

Activist and filmmaker Saul Landau dies at 77Washington Post obituary by Matt Schudel
Excerpt:
"Since the late 1960s, Mr. Landau's family said, his provocative films and political statements led to frequent death threats, particularly while he was investigating the murders of (Orlando) Letelier and (Ronni Karpen) Moffitt. "I'm sure he must have been terrified at times," Cavanagh said, "but he never showed it."

'Fidel' filmmaker Saul Landau dies at 77Los Angeles Times obituary by Daniel Miller
Excerpt:
"I came out of Madison with a passion for social justice and the idea that you only get one shot at participating in the history of the world and that you have to make the most of it," Landau told Madison's Capital Times in 2006, the year he donated his papers to his alma mater.

Saul Landau - documentary filmmaker – diesSan Francisco Chronicle obituary by Sam Whiting
Excerpt:
"He would not suffer pompous statements by politicians from either the right or the left," Rep. George Miller said. "He was a constant battler for human rights, whether they were being crushed by American involvement in Latin America or by dictators. To him that was the battle."

Documentary Filmmaker Saul Landau Dies, AP obituary by John Rogers, which appeared in the Charlotte ObserverUSA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, and dozens of other newspapers.
Excerpt
"He knew he'd made a contribution and he was happy about that, he was happy, but he wanted to talk about how to make the world a better place," (IPS Director John) Cavanagh said Tuesday, recalling an hours-long discussion the two had earlier this year. "When we got into that is when he really got animated and full of life, it was fascinating to see."

American documentary filmmaker Saul Landau dead at age 77, Reuters obituary by Eric Kelsey.
Excerpt:
Novelist Gore Vidal once quipped that the prolific Landau "is a man I love to steal ideas from."

Progressive Media

This Week in 'Nation' History: Saul Landau's Investigations of US Ties to the Pinochet Regime, The Nation essay by Katrina vanden Heuvel
Excerpt:
"It was The Nation's honor to publish (Saul Landau's) work at such an early and definitive moment in his career, when he sought to uncover who was responsible for the brutal and untimely death of his dear and principled friend" (Orlando Letelier).

Remembering Saul Landau, a tribute by Nation intern Andrés S. Pertierra
Excerpt:
Saul awakened my political consciousness. He called us all to thought, gave an example to emulate in his fights for justice and left his mark forever. He survives through us in the decisions we make. We'll try and not let him down.

My Socrates Wore a Guayabera, in CounterPunch, essay by Farrah Hassen
Excerpt:
Regardless of the time of day, or time zone, he delivered his pearls of wisdom in pairs: "Don't be a victim," followed by, "Unless you believe in reincarnation, you only have one shot at life." Unrelenting wit, even at bleak moments, encapsulated his pearls: "If you ask the Rabbi, nothing's kosher." And sadly, in more recent months, "Cancer schmancer, as long as you have your health!"
Also read this shorter version, at OtherWords.org 

The Authentic Landau, in CounterPunch, by Jeffrey St. Clair
Excerpt:
Last year, our daughter was diagnosed with a rare lymphoma. Saul, who lived across the San Francisco Bay in Alameda, said, "Tell Zen to call me. I know what it's like. I can talk her through it." And so he did. Saul helped take much of the fear out of facing the disease. He searched for doctors, advised us on how to handle the insurance companies, talked about diet after treatments and recommended an excellent acupuncturist. He called every week to ask how Zen was doing. He never forgot, even as his own health began to deteriorate. That's the kind of friendship that you can't fake…or replace.

Travels With Saul Landau, in CounterPunch, by former Senator James Abourezk 
Excerpt:
"We traveled together to Cuba where Saul introduced me to Fidel Castro; we went to Wounded Knee together after the militant Indian takeover and where Saul made a film centered on the Indian Committee hearings I held to document the AIM takeover of Wounded Knee. In 2003, he went to Syria without me, but my Syrian wife, Sanaa, was there visiting her family at the time, so he drafted her as his guide and narrator as he filmed around Syria"

Documentary Filmmaker and Activist Saul Landau Dead at 77, Common Dreams obituary by Jon Queally
Excerpt
"He stood up to dictators, right-wing Cuban assassins, pompous politicians, and critics from both the left and the right," said IPS Director John Cavanagh. "When he believed in something, nobody could make him back down. Those who tried would typically find themselves on the receiving end of a withering but humorous insult."

Saul Landau, American leftist, 1936 - 2013, OpenDemocracy, tribute by Anthony Barnett
Excerpt:
"His smile was unforgettable. It could be mistaken as cynical. It was the opposite: part skeptical, part an impish demand to make trouble if you can: an encouragement laced with practical intelligence. Many of us have been helped and supported by him often in ways we did not fully realize until later. 'Make it happen and stay cool' was his adage and he did both."

Journalist & Filmmaker Saul Landau, 77, Dies; Chronicled Cuban Revolution for Decades, Democracy Now! Obituary
Excerpt:
"What did Cuba do to us?," Landau asks. "Well, the answer, I think, is that they were disobedient, in our hemisphere. And they did not ask permission to take away property. They took it away. They nationalized property. And the United States…has never forgiven them."

Additional reports and essays on Saul's life and death appeared around the world in the UK, Canadian, Indian, Pakistani Argentine, Costa Rican, Japanese, Cuban media.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Read Saul Landau's wide-ranging OtherWords op-eds.

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