IPS Blog

Pope Francis and the Military Industrial Complex

The world keeps finding out what we all got when the Vatican chose its current Pope. His words today to our members of Congress took that chamber to a deeper place than it is accustomed to going — to the extent anybody was actually listening.

But he didn’t give them just philosophy. It turns out the Pope is also pretty good at bait-and-switch politics, like when he got them to applaud his charge to protect life in all stages of its development, and then gave them an example they weren’t expecting: the death penalty.

But it was when he got to the part about the causes of war that I heard words I really wasn’t expecting:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

I’m not much of a “Pope watcher”, so I didn’t know he’s been saying this for a while now. He said it in May in response to a child’s question at the Vatican:

“Why so many powerful people do not want peace? Because they live off wars!” he said, explaining to these children that some people make money by producing and selling weapons. “And this is why so many people do not want peace,” he said. “They make more money with the war!”

Today, Pope Francis boldly called out the military industrial complex to members of Congress who — according to the Center for Responsive Politics — took $25 million from those producers and sellers of weapons in the last election cycle. Amazing.

I can’t wait to hear what he says next.

Pope, Post-partisanship, and Prisons

Pope Francis in Brazil

(Image: Tânia Rêgo/ABr – Agência Brasil)


We all want a piece of the pope—or at least a piece of the Pope-a-Palooza. Here in DC, our hysteria greets the Catholic leader with bobble-headed popes, papal-themed cocktails and YOPO (“You Only Pope Once”) cologne.

With the fanfare of an international rock star, Pope Francis is being welcomed to the U.S. by adoring fans, Catholics and non-Catholics, the religious and the agnostic.  We have a collective hope that he will bestow mercy and help upon us—for the poor, for immigrants, for working families, for the incarcerated, for the climate.

We want Francis to deliver to us the promise of the prayer of his namesake, St. Francis:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

Racism, Over-criminalization and Over-incarceration in the U.S.

But, could even a pope deliver on such heavenly hopes in a place like the U.S.? With a conservative House and Senate, austerity continues to reign, keeping the poverty rate relatively high in the world’s richest nation. Hatred festers as the racial divide deepens. Black Lives Matter activists face angry masses still asserting their right to fly the Confederate Flag on public grounds. A white supremacist enters an African-American church and murders the prayerful churchgoers at point blank range.

Cell phone cameras catch police officers targeting, shooting, beating and killing unarmed black men, women and children. Presidential candidates compete over who can build the best barrier to keep immigrants and refugees from Latin America out. Poor children, black and Latino children, disabled children, and Muslim children are criminalized in our schools and end up before judges for nothing more than childish behavior; or, sometimes, as in the recent case of Ahmed Mohamed—for laudable behavior.

For even the most faithful, it’s difficult to see from where the hope, light and joy would come.

Pope and Prison Reform

But on one egregiously unjust front, there just might be enough of a post-partisan political opening that a pontifical prayer could create real progress: mass incarceration and the abuse suffered by our prisoners and incarcerated youth. On these issues, the pope has been vocal and compelling.

Just 10 days after his installation as pope, Francis stunned the world by bathing and kissing the feet of incarcerated youth, including girls and Muslims. He has gone on record saying, “States must abstain from the criminal beating of children, who have not fully developed to maturity and for this reason cannot be held responsible.” He has condemned deplorable prison conditions and railed against the death penalty and also stated that “[a] life sentence is just a death penalty in disguise.”

The pope  condemns the criminalization of poor black and brown people, saying, “there is at times a tendency to deliberately fabricate enemies: stereotyped figures who represent all the characteristics that society perceives or interprets as threatening. The mechanisms that form these images are the same that allowed the spread of racist ideas in their time.”

With his status, values, and expressed public sentiments, it seems the pope will challenge policymakers in the U.S. to confront at least some of  linked problems of poverty, racism and over-incarceration. And they just might listen.

Post-partisan Moment?

I don’t want to overstate agreement on the depth, causes, and remedies for these problems with the U.S. criminal justice system among liberal and conservative lawmakers, but there is a surprising opening of a post-partisan, if you will, impulse to change that which is causing mass incarceration, over-criminalization, and an overburdening of federal, state and local budgets.

A  national initiative called #cut50, endorsed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and activists, has the goal of reducing our incarcerated population—over 2.3 million people—by half in ten years. President Obama is focusing on several programs for assisting citizens returning from prison. Movements for sentencing reform, ending mass incarceration, eliminating juvenile justice detention facilities and providing assistance for re-entry after incarceration are taking hold all over the country. Because our system has become so financially burdensome, a cost of over $80 billion per year, conservatives and conservative lawmakers also see the problem and are willing to work across party lines to look for solutions.

With criminal justice reform serving as a key piece of the pope’s message—and one that goes far beyond that of the cost of incarceration—he may be able to take advantage of this post-partisan moment and move some hearts and minds—and ideologies—toward real reform.

Bring on the Pope-a-Palooza, but bring with it a serious effort to end the over-criminalization and mass incarceration of our nation’s poor, African-American and immigrant populations.

The Pope’s Central Message

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Photo Credit: Giulio Napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis’s visit to Washington has created an interesting discussion about transportation. The media focus seems to be more on how the holy visit will create problems for residents. Maybe we should all stay home and keep out of the way.

The message of Pope Francis is first reported like a labor strike. We learn first about how the strike might simply disrupt things. The focus is never on why the workers are striking in the first place. We have to reach for the high shelf to discover what the pope is selling us.

At times Americans tend to go with the buffet instead of what’s on the menu. In other words, we select the words of the pope we like and try to fit it into our political diet. Climate change, poverty, abortion, and countless other issues can be hidden under the pope’s robe. After every speech we try to disrobe him. What did he say? Did he reveal the naked truth?

At the end of the day, the pope’s visit will have no immediate impact on our lives unless we embrace what is his central message. One can find it near the end of his new Encyclical on ”Care for our Common Home.” The pope is calling for a change in one’s lifestyle. He wants us to overcome our individualism and consumerism. He wants us to become good ecological citizens. None of this can be achieved without a change inside our hearts. How do we begin to practice civic and political love?

The pope’s message underscores how we are all connected — the poor, the migrant, the rich, the mountains, trees, and birds. There are no borders or boundaries surrounding the heart when we remove the fences and bars of racism and hatred, when we push back the darkness of fear.

Pope Francis is a messenger of light, revealing the tenderness of beauty. He is a man who has not abandoned his faith in humankind. His trip to America is a blessing and a reminder that we have difficult work to do. We must never give up on love or on this earth we find each day beneath our feet. God’s gift is discovered with each breath we take — let us not waste it — or else suffocate the rest of our days.

Pope Francis vs. Fossil Fuel Execs

pope francis

Photo: Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock

For most of us in the cities on Pope Francis’ upcoming U.S. tour, the major concern is traffic congestion. For fossil fuel executives, look out.

The pope closed out his blockbuster, 180-page encyclical on climate change in May by appealing to God to “Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live.”

Sound like anybody you know, Rex Tillerson? The ExxonMobil CEO is notoriously obstinate in his opposition to Pope Francis’ call for a shift from intensive fossil fuel use to alternatives like solar and wind. In fact, when a Catholic priest and shareholder activist urged investment in renewables at the company’s annual meeting this year, Tillerson openly mocked him.

Enlightening Tillerson and all the other wealthy and powerful U.S. fossil fuel executives who are just as dismissive of climate change will be a challenge of biblical proportions. A new report I’ve just co-authored for the Institute for Policy Studies sheds light on just one of the major obstacles: our CEO pay system. In 2015, corporate boards are still designing compensation packages that give oil, gas and coal executives zero personal incentive to diversify their companies’ portfolios to include renewable energy sources.

It’s pretty much a “pay more to drill more” system, and it’s been enormously lucrative. While shoving the costs of their climate-damaging activities on the rest of us, the 30 top fossil fuel CEOs made $14.7 million last year on average. Tillerson, with $33 million, made well more than double the S&P 500 average of $13.5 million.

One of the most perverse aspects of the fossil fuel executive pay system is that it rewards CEOs at bonus time for expanding their carbon reserves. Never mind that if the world’s largest fossil fuel companies were to burn all the oil, coal and gas they already own, it would cause irreversible climate disaster, everything from extreme flooding and drought to a significant rise in sea level.

And it doesn’t matter what’s in those reserves. At Marathon Oil, CEO Lee Tillman won an “above-target” bonus of $1.2 million in 2014, in part for expanding reserves of U.S. oil shale, the fracking of which poses well-documented environmental risks, including water contamination and even earthquakes.

CEOs are also rewarded for project execution, regardless of the environmental impacts. At ExxonMobil, the board justified high payouts to Tillerson and other execs in 2014 in part because they’d “successfully drilled” their first well in the Russian Arctic, even though their Russian joint venture partner has a dismal environmental record and the project was eventuallyscrapped.

Pope Francis has a growing number of allies in the investment community who fear climate change-dismissive CEOs are taking their firms down a risky financial path. If these firms don’t diversify, they could wind up stuck with massive quantities of devalued “stranded assets.” The coal industry is already imploding as a result of climate regulations and other factors that have reduced demand.

The pope will need all the help he can get to turn this bunch around. A just-released investigation by Inside Climate News reveals that ExxonMobil executives were warned of fossil fuels’ role in creating devastating climate change in the late 1970s, long before most of the rest of the world. How did they respond? By devising strategies to block climate solutions.

Changing Rex Tillerson’s personal reward system won’t be enough to prevent climate catastrophe. But as long as fossil fuel executives are insulated from the crisis they’ve helped create, we’ll all remain at risk.

Five Biggest Losers of the GOP Debate

None of the eleven candidates on stage came out the clear winner or loser after the second GOP debate last night. While differing slightly in style and delivery, the candidates tended to agree on their vision for the future of the country. That vision is frightening.

Here are the five biggest losers in a future Republican administration:

The GOP debate had to be particularly cringe worthy for women watching. First came Donald Trump’s backpedaling of his absurd comments about Carly Fiorina’s face. Then the entire field voiced support over defunding Planned Parenthood, their only point of contention being whether the issue was worth shutting down the government over. Not a single candidate stood up for women’s right to reproductive healthcare. And finally, when asked about a woman on American currency, Mike Huckabee picked his wife, Ben Carson picked his mother, and Donald Trump picked his daughter. Carly Fiorina, the only female candidate, said she was opposed to putting a woman on American currency.

With the noted exception of Rand Paul, the candidates each expressed their interest for a more militaristic approach to foreign policy. Ignoring the fact that the U.S. has the most expensive military in the world, so large the Department of Defense can’t even account for all its many resources, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson each called for expanded military spending with other candidates echoing support. Other candidates chimed in favor of war over diplomacy in regions ranging from Iran to Russia to Syria.

The Climate
CNN Host Jake Tapper asked the candidates if they support addressing climate change in the same way that President Reagan supported addressing ozone depletion. Marco Rubio responded saying he’s opposed to any policies that make America a harder place to do business with Scott Walker and Chris Christie echoing their support on that point. Not a single candidate stood up for addressing climate change in a serious way.

Each candidate expressed their support for securing the border with ideas ranging from building an enormous wall (Trump) to using drones (Christie) to tripling the size of Border Patrol (Cruz). Not a single candidate defended the dignity of undocumented families living in this country. Instead, candidates sparred over whether to deport the entire undocumented population of the country en masse or over time and whether the constitution should be re-written to end birthright citizenship.

The Poor
Over 47 million Americans live in poverty in the United States including 20 percent of this nation’s children, the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world. Not a single question was asked or answer given as to how candidates would alleviate poverty. The closest they came was a short dialogue about the federal minimum wage: Scott Walker opposed any increase, while Ben Carson said it “probably or possibly” should be raised, while other candidates remained hushed.

While each candidate tried to distinguish themselves from the fray, it became increasingly clear that their vision for the country does not vary widely. Even when the GOP’s crowded field focused on policy over personal attacks, candidates described a future United States that devalues its citizens, degrades our climate, and glorifies war. In that scenario, everyone loses.

How our screwed-up CEO pay system makes climate change worse

(Image: World Economic Forum)

(Image: World Economic Forum)

Runaway CEO pay at the 30 largest U.S. public fossil fuel corporations rewards short-term actions, with disastrous results for the world’s climate, a new report finds.

CEOs at big oil, gas, and coal corporations are rewarded for a short-term fixation on pumping up quarterly share prices. They receive pay perks for expanding carbon reserves and building unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure. Share prices can get a temporary boost from corporate lobbying to maintain government subsidies and block renewable energy initiatives, and from campaign donations that help elect climate deniers to Congress.

In 2014, the average CEO pay package at the 30 biggest oil, gas, and coal companies was $14.7 million, 9 percent higher than average CEO pay on the S&P 500. These pay trends are documented in “Money to Burn: How CEO Pay Is Accelerating Climate Change,” a report I coauthored for the Institute for Policy Studies.

The highest-paid fossil fuel CEO is ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson, who hauled in $33 million in 2014, boosting his total compensation over the last five years to $165 million. ConocoPhillips, the largest holder of land and resource positions in the Alberta tar sands, paid CEO Ryan Lance more than $27 million in 2014, an 18 percent pay increase over 2013. Chevron CEO John Watson is the third-highest paid with a $26 million paycheck in 2014.

The full brunt of the climate catastrophe will happen after these CEOs have cashed in their stock dividends and deferred compensation.

Over the last five years, the 30 largest U.S. publicly held fossil fuel companies doled out compensation worth nearly $6 billion to 163 CEOs and top managers. This payout is comparable to the $6.6 billion that private corporations spent globally on renewable energy R&D in 2014. Such resources, directed to green energy infrastructure, could generate almost 100,000 new jobs, according to the IPS report.

The CEO pay system at major U.S. corporations has been under fire for decades. Research has documented how excessive CEO pay encourages short-term actions to boost immediate share prices, including cooking the books, slashing workers, and failing to make investments to position a company for economic health over the long term. In the case of big fossil fuel companies, this has horrific results for the climate.

These 30 fossil fuel corporations are leaders in an industry that is spending more than $600 billion per year to locate additional fossil fuel reserves. Climate scientists argue that burning more than 20 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves will elevate the earth’s temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius, leading to catastrophic climate change. So deploying resources to identify new carbon reserves is reckless and irrational — except in the perverse reward system at work at most energy giants. The 13 biggest oil companies tie executive bonuses to achieving positive “reserves replacement,” ensuring that new carbon reserves replace those already extracted and burned.

Perverse pay incentives encourage big oil, gas, and coal companies to build billions of dollars of unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure in order to boost short-term profit horizons. These CEOs are rewarded for new pipelines and drilling platforms that lock us into fossil fuels at a time when our nation should be shifting investment into conservation and renewable energy.

Gregory Ebel, CEO of the Texas-based Spectra Energy Corporation, was paid $10.3 million in 2014. Spectra is constructing hundreds of gas pipeline projects around the U.S. that, if we take climate change seriously, will be obsolete within a decade. The primary purpose of these projects is not to meet local gas needs, but to goose short-term profits by moving fracked gas to coastal terminals and global export markets as soon as possible. As a result, hundreds of communities are having unnecessary gas pipeline projects rammed through them, increasing energy costs and exposing neighborhoods to unnecessary health and safety risks.

Big Fossil Fuel also uses its considerable lobbying clout and campaign cash to advance a short-term political agenda. This includes lobbying Congress to protect an estimated $37.5 billion in annual subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel sector. In 2014, the top 30 fossil fuel corporations contributed $4.4 million to congressional candidates who had either denied climate change science or expressed skepticism about it.

Corporate boards and shareholders could shift the incentives to reward long-term viability. CEOs could be rewarded not for finding new reserves, but for reducing carbon emissions. They could be encouraged to diversify energy sources and move toward renewables. Their deferred compensation could be tied to business health over a longer time horizon than two or three years. This would require challenging imperial corporate management. Over the last 25 years, ExxonMobil shareholders have introduced 62 shareholder resolutions about climate change to shift company practices. Management has opposed every one.

In the end, big fossil fuel will only respond to external incentives to shift their investment, such as carbon taxation and emissions regulation. But in the meantime, the campaign to divest from oil, coal, and gas (and invest in wind and solar energy) can weaken the political clout and legitimacy of the fossil fuel sector.

Homecare Ruling a Historic Victory

AijenACTION_cropOn Friday, a federal appeals court upheld a Department of Labor rule requiring homecare agencies to pay the federal minimum wage and overtime.

Two million homecare workers—90 percent of them women and 53 percent women of color—will be affected by the new rule.

Homecare workers—home health aides that care for the elderly and disabled—were among the last domestic workers not to have basic labor protections in the U.S. Along with agricultural workers, all domestic workers (those who worked in private homes) were excluded from the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938.

Anyone want to guess why?

Back in 1938 FDR needed the support of Southern legislators to get his New Deal passed. And the only way they’d support Roosevelt’s legislation was if certain exceptions were made to preserve the Southern way of life.

That, of course, meant preserving cheap African-American labor both in the fields and the homes of white families where black women toiled.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was a devil’s deal. It was historic on many levels and remains the foundation of basic labor protections in the U.S. But it was built on exclusions. The legacy of those exclusions is, sadly, still with us and continues to drive economic inequality today.

Last week’s court ruling marks the end of a long struggle to extend FLSA protections. In 1974, the FLSA was amended to include domestic workers (nannies, housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, and others) but a loophole was created for those who provide “companionship” for the disabled or elderly.

Since then, the “companionship exemption” has meant that employers of homecare workers who care for the elderly or disabled could claim the exemption to avoid paying overtime and minimum wage. And in recent years, large corporate employers have been profiting handsomely from this exemption.

At stake in last week’s decision was whether the DOL had the authority to narrow the definition of “companionship” to make it more in line with actual companionship—such as engaging in conversation, going on walks, or running errands.

But home health care services that require training—which covers practically all homecare workers—can no longer be claimed under the exemption.

Domestic workers and their allies organized for years to see this day, and they have won. It’s a victory for women and racial minorities, the elderly and disabled who need quality care, and everyone fighting to end extreme inequality.

Gender and race-based exemptions were baked into the legal regime that ended America’s first Gilded Age. As we confront rising inequality in our own second Gilded Age, we must focus on correcting the racial and gender inequities left in the wake of the first.

In this fight, domestic workers are leading the way.

Seven Fantasies of the GOP Presidential Debate

Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

Andrew Cline / Shutterstock.com

The Fox News debate between ten of the top presidential contenders in the Republican primary largely ignored the issues most pressing to ordinary people and to the environment.  Here are the seven worst moments from the debate in which the candidates and moderators ignored or actively opposed pressing issues of inequality.


1. Inequality is not a real problem

Not once did a candidate or moderator mention the fact that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of the country has risen to its highest point since the 1920s, or that one in five children in the U.S. live in poverty.  They didn’t offer solutions to address this absurd situation, but instead acted like it just wasn’t happening.  Should the minimum wage be increased? Is there a problem with Wall Street CEOs making 300 times more than their lowest paid employee? If the candidates had answers for addressing inequality, they certainly weren’t sharing them.


2. More tax breaks for the wealthy are needed

When candidates talked about the “flat tax” it’s important to remember that what they really mean is cutting taxes for the wealthy and raising taxes on the poor. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center calculated that shifting to a flat tax would constitute a $250 tax increase for those making between $40,000 to $50,000 and a $495,000 tax cut for millionaires.  The tax code is certainly in need of reform, but a flat tax moves far in the wrong direction. Recent polling from Pew Research shows people are more concerned about the wealthy not paying enough in taxes than even their own tax rate. Why take from the poor to give to the rich?


3. Corruption is no big deal

Donald Trump wanted to make clear that when he was a mere donor and not a major candidate, he could get elected officials to do his bidding using campaign contributions. This form of legalized bribery was made infamous by the 2010 Citizens United ruling credited with opening the floodgates of campaign contributions. Rather than address what this means, the candidates tiptoed around the issue, while Trump boasted about buying Hillary Clinton’s presence at his wedding. Serious campaign finance reform is needed and necessary, but you didn’t hear that from this debate.


4. Climate change doesn’t exist

If you were holding your breath waiting for the candidates or moderators to mention climate change, you’d have ran out of oxygen long ago.  To Fox News, climate change appears simply not to exist and thus it was not mentioned a single time. Instead, Jeb Bush reiterated his call for aggressive participation in the “energy revolution”, which could more accurately be called the “climate change accelerator”.


5. What student debt?

Student debt made an appearance during Marco Rubio’s remarks on having recently held $100,000 in loans. With 40 million student debtors across the country and each graduating class leaving school with more debt than the one previous, it’s clear this issue is critically important to the millions of voters, but apparently not the moderators.


6. Growth will solve all problems

John Kasich and Jeb Bush each made aspirational statements that unrestricted economic growth could serve as the panacea to the nation’s woes. Ignored was the fact that such growth would cause undue harm to the ecological systems on which we depend.


7. Black Lives (don’t) Matter

Of the entire two plus hour debate, less than 60 seconds was given to what the Fox anchors referred to as “the civil rights issue of our time”. The one candidate asked directly about Black Lives Matter, Scott Walker, refused to acknowledge the movement or the systemic racism that BLM seeks to change and instead offered a curt reply on increased police training.


Of course there were many other absurdities and omissions from the debate, but these are the top. What are your favorite doozies from the debate?

Three Necessary Reforms to Reduce Gun Violence in America

Bullet hole

(Image: Shutterstock)

Every day, 31 Americans are murdered with guns. In our society, we’re inundated with statistics — but these 31 Americans aren’t just an abstract number. They are our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. They are men, women, and children — people with dreams for the future.

After a gunman opened fire inside a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Amy Schumer’s film “Trainwreck,” killing two people and himself, the film’s writer and star described the personal connection she felt to the shooter’s victims. In remarks made Monday, she described Jillian Johnson as “a mother, daughter, sister, and a wonderful wife,” adding, “She was an artist. I think we would have been friends.” Schumer conveyed the heartache experienced by those left in the wake of gun violence, but also emphasized the resolve to transform our country’s lax policies. “Unless something is done and done soon, dangerous people will continue to get their hands on guns,” Schumer said.

Weak gun laws are strongly correlated with a higher prevalence of gun violence. As a prime example, Louisiana’s firearm laws are practically non-existent. As the state’s governor, Bobby Jindal, famously proclaimed, “We love us some guns.” This love for firearms directly translates into some of the highest levels of gun violence in the country.

As evidenced by the press conference held Monday featuring Schumer and her cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, taking action to promote stricter gun laws is no longer taboo. However, these actions must be bold. There are three clear steps that Congress and state legislators can and should take if they truly intend on preventing future tragedies.

  1. Close the private gun sales background check loophole.

Background checks have been proven to be extremely effective. The Brady Act, authored by Senator Chuck Schumer and passed in 1993, has stopped over 2.1 million gun sales from taking place, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

But we must finish the job that the Brady Act began. The law does not extend to private transfers of firearms. 40 percent of gun sales are considered private sales, which means the buyer isn’t required to undergo a background check. Allowing private gun sales to take place without any type of restrictions only makes our cities more dangerous.

Some cities and states have taken matters into their own hands through the use of ballot initiatives. For example, Seattle’s voters approved expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers in 2014.

  1. Ensure that domestic abusers and stalkers don’t have access to guns.

Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from gaining access to a gun — unless of course it’s through a private sale. Although closing the loophole for private gun transfers is key, it is also necessary to mandate a more comprehensive definition of “domestic abusers” under the current law.

For example, the law excludes domestic abusers who are in dating relationships. This is commonly referred to as the “Boyfriend Loophole.” Thankfully, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress to strengthen existing domestic violence prevention laws. This bill would prevent convicted stalkers from owning a gun, as well.

Despite 82 percent of Americans voicing support for the measure, the gun lobby managed to successfully stop a similar bill in Louisiana this year by misrepresenting the effects of the law.

In addition to adding new regulations, we must enforce our current laws. The federal government has failed to take away guns that individuals had in their possession prior to their domestic abuse conviction. This is especially dangerous — as one study found, “perpetrators who continued to possess firearms after they were prohibited from doing so by federal law were more likely to attempt homicide or threaten their partners with guns than domestic violence perpetrators who had relinquished their firearms.”

  1. Stop open carry laws in every state.

Open carry laws are a direct threat to public safety. As research shows, more guns do not equal a safer society. The idea that we need more “good guys” with guns has proven to be a myth.

Thirty-one states currently allow citizens to open carry without any type of license or permit. Guns in the public space both normalize weapons and violence that can occur with their use. As one Slate author wrote, “If it communicates anything, carrying a gun in public tells bystanders that the carrier is prepared to kill someone.”

From popular chains like Whataburger, to college officials and schoolteachers, people are taking a stand against laws enabling guns to remain a ubiquitous staple in our country. Hopefully, this opposition will reach the halls of Congress as well.

These policy changes won’t stop gun violence completely. But they will provide meaningful first steps in fighting our national gun epidemic, in addition to proving that elected officials are committed to protecting the public safety — as they’ve sworn to do.

Red Herring in the Inequality Debate

It sounds crazy, but a major distraction in our debate about inequality in America today is inequality itself.

I’m referring here to the concept of inequality in the abstract. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe inequality is necessary to a well-functioning society. Without inequality, the logic goes, there would be insufficient incentives for hard work, innovation, and education.

Once this frame of logic enters the debate, it’s hard to move beyond it. Current levels of inequality do get aired, but the discussion often gets mired in questions of relative morality. Yes, $100 billion is a ton of wealth for one family, the Waltons, to control, but what about all those savings their business model brought to tens of millions of Americans? From that perspective, is it unfair?

On top of that, there’s an emotional distraction. Many Americans who are not super-rich themselves nonetheless dream of being super-rich one day. To them, inequality is not only necessary; it’s beneficial.

Want to remove these distractions from the debate?

Then approach our current level of inequality or, to use a less distracting term, our current level of wealth and income concentration, from the other direction.

Under this approach, the starting point in the discussion would be: Is there any level of wealth and income concentration that would be destructive to our society?

And the answer? Yes, of course there is. If one family held all the country’s wealth, our nation as a whole would be worse off. Note how this question overcomes the emotional pull in the inequality debate. While it is common for people to see themselves as future one percenters, no family with a last name other than Koch would delude themselves into believing they could one day control all the country’s wealth.

Next question: At some point, does increasing concentration of wealth and income become destructive to our society?

The answer again must be yes, based only on the answer to the first question. For example, if America were at the point where two families held all of our wealth, further wealth concentration would be undesirable, since we’ve already established that one family controlling all the country’s wealth is undesirable.

Next question: Once we reach the point at which further concentration of wealth and income become destructive, should we implement measures to ensure that further concentration does not occur

Again, the answer must be yes, with no explanation needed.

And, finally, has America already reached the point at which measures should be implemented to prevent further concentration of wealth and income?

Essentially, we’ve now arrived back at the question whether one family should control $100 billion of wealth, but it’s no longer about the Waltons. And the data is overwhelming.

Citizens for Tax Justice reported that in 2012, twelve percent of all capital gains income reported by American taxpayers went to just 400 taxpayers.

On April 24, 2015, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimated that the ten wealthiest Americans now are worth, collectively, half a trillion dollars. The actual number is around $499 billion, but to these folks a billion dollars is no more than a rounding error.

Based on research by leading economist Emmanuel Saez, it was widely reported that between 2009 and 2012, 95% of the income gains in America went to the top one percent.

And there you have it. In order to understand inequality in America, don’t think about inequality.

Page 2 of 24012345...102030...Last »