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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September 13, 2013 · By Scott Klinger
Note: McClatchy-Tribune News Service distributed this op-ed.
Most people assume restaurant tips are a reward for good service that helps servers get ahead. In reality, your tip fills a gap created by a loophole. Federal minimum wage law allows restaurant owners to pay their tipped employees just $2.13 an hour.
This sub-minimum wage hasn’t increased for 22 years and amounts to less than a third of the federal minimum wage. It helps large restaurant corporations and their CEOs pad their bottom lines while trapping millions of American workers in economic insecurity.
The average server earned $20,710 last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because these workers start in such a hole, they are three times more likely to live in poverty and twice as likely to be eligible for food stamps as employees in other industries. A quarter of all servers are over 40, and many of them have families to support.
From 1966, when the tipped minimum wage was first introduced, until 1996, it was pegged at 50 percent of the prevailing minimum wage. But aggressive lobbying by the National Restaurant Association, which is dominated by large restaurant chains, removed the linkage and froze the minimum wage for tipped workers at its 1991 level of $2.13 an hour. Since then, about half the states have either raised the tipped minimum wage or have no minimum wage at all for tipped workers. For the rest, $2.13 an hour remains the standard.
Scott Klinger is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
September 12, 2013 · By Daphne Wysham
In June 2013, President Barack Obama announced that he was “calling for an end to public financing for new coal plants overseas.” Within weeks of this announcement, World Bank President Jim Kim announced the Bank would phase out its support for most forms of coal. However, what World Bank President Kim and President Obama left unsaid was how both presidents would treat current public financing of coal-fired power plants, particularly plants that are violating the policies set by the World Bank.
President Kim may soon have to tackle just this issue. A case in point is the Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant in India. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, in 2008 provided $500 million in financing to back this massive coal-fired power plant in Tunda-Vandh village near Mundra, a town in the Indian state of Gujarat. The complex of five 800-megawatt supercritical boiler plants was supposed to cost $4.14 billion to build and be owned and operated by Coastal Gujarat Power Limited, a special purpose vehicle owned by India’s largest private multinational corporation, the Tata Group.
The IFC isn’t the only powerful public international financial agency backing the Mundra power project: The Asian Development Bank, The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Korea Export Insurance Corporation are also involved.
The project now faces a whopping 270% in annual debt, and its CEO has stated the project is financially unviable unless electricity tariffs are drastically raised, effectively passing on the costs of Tata’s poor planning and misleading calculations to the Indian people. This negates one of the primary justifications the IFC presented in financing this project: that it would bring cheap electricity for the energy-deprived and energize the local economy.
Furthermore, the project also faces mounting debt which must be paid back in dollars, not rupees, at a time when the Indian rupee is dropping in value.
This power plant is burning about 13 million tons of coal a year, emitting nearly 40 million tons of CO2. It also generates tons of toxic fly ash and other toxic byproducts and radioactive elements due to coal combustion. This Tata Mundra plant, plus two others nearby, burn a total of 30 million tons of coal per year and emit about 88 million tons of CO2 annually—more than the combined total annual emissions of Bangladesh (a nation of 150 million people), Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.
The Mundra plant is situated on the Gulf of Kutch, with ready access to ports and coal that is being imported from Indonesia and Australia. What once was a region with abundant fish, farms, and pastoralists is now a region contaminated by pollution, with tens of thousands of fisher-folk and pastoralists losing their livelihoods.
In June 2011, community groups asked the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) to investigate environmental and social violations of the contract Tata signed with the IFC. The CAO full audit report and the IFC management’s response are expected this week. A report produced by an independent fact-finding team found numerous violations of IFC policies.
So now the question becomes: Does the IFC remedy the Tata Mundra violations, or simply cancel its support for the project, given President Kim’s and President Obama’s stated opposition to public financing of coal-fired power overseas? To do otherwise is to allow Tata to not only violate IFC policies, but to mislead its investors and then pass on the costs of its boondoggle to the very people whose poverty the company is theoretically alleviating.
What the Tata Mundra case should make clear to President Kim and others around the world is: Coal is a bad investment—for the poorest, for those consuming the power, for the Bank, and more broadly, for all of us. As a recent study of a dozen of 2012's wildest weather events found, man-made greenhouse gas emissions from coal burners like Tata’s are increasing the likelihood of about half of the wild weather events we lived through in 2012, including Superstorm Sandy; estimates suggest Sandy alone cost $68 billion.
We can’t afford to keep subsidizing these boondoggles. We can and must use public funds to invest in clean, renewable energy alternatives, with a primary focus on energy for the poorest.
September 11, 2013 · By Jenna Schlags
Being homeless is not illegal. At least, that was before the City Council of Columbia, South Carolina voted to implement an “Emergency Homeless Response” that will give those experiencing homelessness a choice—either vacate to a designated emergency shelter, or go to prison.
The reason? According to local business owners, “the growth of economic development is being hindered, and business owners are beginning to look elsewhere to set up shop.” Rather than addressing the reasons for the increase in homelessness (48% reported this January that they were experiencing homelessness for the first time), the city will shuttle people to a building accessible only by bus, providing “immediate relief to the business community.”
The new emergency shelter can only house 240 people—barely 16 percent of Columbia’s homeless population and less than 30 percent of those both homeless and unsheltered. If anyone refuses to be bussed to the shelter, police are allowed to arrest them for any number of public nuisance laws. “No person will be subject to any law in a manner that is different from any other citizen,” the Emergency Homeless Response presentation affirms. Yet local business owners need only pick up the phone to call a dedicated number when “a person in need is identified.” Allowing the police to detain anyone believed to be homeless could serve as an entry point to racial and socio-economic profiling.
The city’s report provides no measures for people willing to go to the emergency shelter after it’s full. Police officers will likely be instructed to send individuals straight to prison. The 241st person could be anyone—an elderly person with a serious medical condition, a high school student, or a single mother with young children. Out of the nearly 1,500 people surveyed by a South Carolina Point in Time Count—a single day census of those experiencing homelessness— about 80 were mothers with children and over 50 were under five years of age.
The social cost to Columbia will likely be greater than the $1.7 million allotted to the Emergency Response. A single incarceration could cost $50 per day and would be detrimental to a person’s ability to find a job or an apartment. Removing a person’s opportunity to earn an income limits Columbia’s ability to grow as a city, even if some of its businesses expand. The emergency policy and a 240-person shelter outside the city won’t be effective in revitalizing Columbia’s economy, but merely move the issues out of sight. After March, the emergency shelter will be sold for private development, and any replacement won’t be allowed in the downtown business district.
By contrast, Connecticut passed the “Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights” this June, which protects basic rights such as safety from harassment, nondiscrimination in housing and employment, and the right to vote. If Governor Malloy signs the bill, Connecticut would be the third state to protect the homeless from discrimination, following Rhode Island and Illinois.
September 11, 2013 · By Emily Schwartz Greco
This week in OtherWords, Peter Certo likens the situation in Syria to a "landmine" and Jim Hightower celebrates a campaign that wants extreme weather events named after the politicians who refuse to recognize or do anything about man-made climate change.
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- The Off-the-Cuff Breakthrough on Syria / Peter Certo
Moscow has no more interest than Washington in escalating this war.
- A Trumped-Up War on Welfare / Bob Lord
One way the top 1 percent is trying to ease concerns about inequality is pretending that our safety net is too generous to the bottom 1 percent.
- The Russian-American Beat Must Go On / John Isaacs
Snowden's asylum and Russia's abysmal LGBT policies shouldn't get in the way of sensible bilateral nuclear disarmament efforts.
- Confessions of a Repentant War of 1812 Reenactor / Arnold Oliver
War is an ugly business, and should be remembered that way.
- The Legacy of 9/11 / Donald Kaul
Twelve years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks we're no safer but more of a police state.
- Danger Ahead: Our Disappearing Pensions / Sam Pizzigati
The vaunted 401(k) revolution has left few Americans with a nest egg.
- The USDA’s Reckless Plan / Jill Richardson
The government intends to spread a failed pilot program that decreased food safety to every hog plant in the nation.
- Naming the Names behind Extreme Weather / Jim Hightower
How about making scientifically challenged politicians accountable for their inaction on climate change?
- Haiti’s Hard Place / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
Foreign-funded mining operations may not be enough to alleviate the scourges of cholera, displaced people, and corrupt leaders.
- Weather Extremists / Khalil Bendib
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
September 10, 2013 · By E. Ethelbert Miller
Tonight I am reading Neruda's "Ode To An Aged Poet"
and thinking about where words come from and where they go.
You always enter a room with a joke and now I turn around
and see laughter sitting in the corner waiting for the punch line.
You know sickness isn't funny but then I know the next thing
you'll say is — "How are you doing Comrade Miller?"
Saul, can you tell me why everything around you plays catch
with the letter C? Cuba, Castro, Chile, Cinema and now (c)ancer.
Only you could have written something like this. 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.
Yes — another C. How are you doing Comrade Landau?
Is that a Camera in your hands? Tell me about the morning,
the light, the sweet scent of Peace. Teach me to remember
— all the days of our love.
— E. Ethelbert Miller, July 5, 2013