IPS Blog

Homeless Need Not Enter Columbia, S.C.

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.”

AR McLin/Flickr

AR McLin/Flickr

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.

This Week in OtherWords: September 11, 2013

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.

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.

  1. The Off-the-Cuff Breakthrough on Syria / Peter Certo
    Moscow has no more interest than Washington in escalating this war.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Confessions of a Repentant War of 1812 Reenactor / Arnold Oliver
    War is an ugly business, and should be remembered that way.
  5. 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.
  6. Danger Ahead: Our Disappearing Pensions / Sam Pizzigati
    The vaunted 401(k) revolution has left few Americans with a nest egg.
  7. 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.
  8. Naming the Names behind Extreme Weather / Jim Hightower
    How about making scientifically challenged politicians accountable for their inaction on climate change?
  9. 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.
  10. Weather Extremists / Khalil Bendib

    Weather Extremists, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Weather Extremists, an OtherWords cartoon by 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

More Than a Sonnet for Saul Landau

Saul Landau

Saul Landau

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

This Week in OtherWords: September 4, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Donald Kaul and Mitchell Zimmerman weigh in on the specter of U.S. military action against Syria and Sanho Tree unpacks the political ramifications of the Justice Department’s new approach to states that legalize pot for recreational use.

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.

  1. The Political Side Effects of Tolerating Legal Pot / Sanho Tree
    Attorney General Eric Holder has placed a ticking time bomb on the GOP’s doorstep that could detonate during the 2016 presidential elections.
  2. Good Governance Must Start With the Courts / Marge Baker
    What we need from Congress is meaningful governance, not mindless and partisan gridlock.
  3. Deadly Double Standards / Mitchell Zimmerman
    The American people, like the Brits, can stop a Western war with Syria before it starts.
  4. Another View of the Capitol / Isaiah J. Poole
    Now isn’t the time to cut the supports the economy needs to grow again.
  5. Exporting Unrest to Colombia / Jeanine Legato
    The South American country’s recently enacted free-trade deal with the United States is devastating for its farmers.
  6. There We Go Again / Donald Kaul
    Any U.S. war with Syria will turn out badly.
  7. The Political Calculations behind Growing Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    A gusher of campaign cash is driving our politicians to comfort the already comfortable.
  8. California’s Smarter Stewards / Jill Richardson
    Native Americans mastered caring for this land long before the first European even knew it existed.
  9. Our Bullish Sock Market / Jim Hightower
    The drive to pay workers less and less is leaving Americans unable to buy much besides essentials.
  10. The Nuclear Industry’s Meltdown / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    The former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says every single reactor in the nation should be shut down, starting with the riskiest.
  11. Obama’s Bloody Red Line / Khalil BendibEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

    Obama's Bloody Red Line, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Obama’s Bloody Red Line, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Why Supersized CEO Pay Is the Worst – in Three Charts

This originally appeared in The American Prospect.

seadigs/Flickr

seadigs/Flickr

At the Institute for Policy Studies, we’ve tallied the top 25 highest-paid CEOs for each of the past 20 years.

That’s a total of 500 richly rewarded executives—each one of whom made more in a week than average workers could make in a year. We’re told CEOs deserve these massive rewards because they add exceptional “value” to their businesses. They’re getting “paid for performance.”

Really? Hmm. Let’s consult the numbers.

Let’s start with the firms that led our nation into financial crisis. Of the 500 places on our annual top-paid lists, 112 are filled by Wall Street CEOs who drove their companies to bankruptcy or bailout in 2008. Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers made the top 25 highest-paid list for eight consecutive years until his firm’s bankruptcy precipitated the financial crisis.

And how about CEOs who end up getting fired? No one could possibly consider them “high performers.” Yet fired CEOs make up another 39 names on the highest-paid CEO lists of the past 20 years. Compaq Computer CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, named one of Business Insider’s “15 Worst CEOs in History,” got the boot in 1999, but made off with a golden parachute valued at $410 million.

And how about CEOs who cook the books? Another 38 of our pay leaders have led companies that have had to pay massive fines or settlements for serious fraud. Two served prison time for their crimes (Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco and Joseph Nacchio of Qwest), a third died before sentencing (Kenneth Lay of Enron), and a fourth (Bruce Karatz of KB Home) is on probation.

Altogether, the bailed-out, the booted, and the busted made up nearly 40 percent of the companies shelling out top dollar for their CEOs on our list.

These numbers don’t tell the full story. Left out, for example, are all the CEOs who’ve boosted their compensation by manipulating marketplace monopolies, freezing their workers’ paychecks, or cutting corners on environmental protections.

Even by the narrowest of definitions, the percentage of highly paid CEOs who performed poorly is shockingly high.

The Taxpayer Trough Club

Financial bailouts are just one example of how a significant number of CEO pay leaders owe much of their good fortune to taxpayers. Government contracts are another. CEOs of firms on the federal government’s top 100 contractors list occupied 62 of the 500 slots on the annual highest-paid CEO lists of the last 20 years. In the same years that their CEOs pocketed some of corporate America’s fattest paychecks, these firms received $255 billion in taxpayer-funded federal contracts.

Even if a corporation is not receiving government funds directly, taxpayers are subsidizing all highly paid CEOs through a giant loophole in the federal tax code. Under current rules corporations can deduct unlimited amounts off their income taxes for the expense of executive stock options and other so-called “performance-based” pay. The more corporations pay their CEOs, the less they pay in taxes.

The Boy’s Club

It will come as no surprise that most of the CEOs in this uppermost echelon of Corporate America are men. Of the 500 places on the top 25 highest-paid CEO lists over the past 20 years, only five (1 percent) are held by women. One—Andrea Jung of Avon—made the list twice. The others who made it into America’s loftiest CEO circles: Carol Bartz of Yahoo, Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelez International (formerly part of Kraft), and Marion Sandler of Golden West Financial.

This doesn’t mean we can solve the CEO pay problem by simply getting more women into corner offices. American corporate culture offers incentives for CEOs—whether male or female—to behave in ways that undermine workers, taxpayers, and shareholders. Our tax and government contracting policies reinforce this perverse reward system.

Until all this changes, the gender of our top corporate leaders won’t make much of a difference.

This Week in OtherWords: August 28, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Sam Pizzigati and Emily Swift unpack the shocking findings from the 20th yearly edition of the Executive Excess report on runaway CEO pay from the Institute for Policy Studies. I also encourage you to read the full report, which my IPS colleagues are releasing today.

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 to keep this valuable service running.

  1. The Men’s Club / Emily Swift
    Just 1 percent of America’s top-paid CEOs are women.
  2. Where Are the Women? / Amy Kroin
    Even with Jill Abramson at the editorial helm, men still dominate The New York Times.
  3. America the Wild and Beautiful / Dan Ritzman
    We must protect our wilderness areas for future generations.
  4. Mexican Food for Thought / Chris Schillig
    Our nation has a long way to fall before we reach Mexico’s level of impoverishment, but some of our lawmakers appear willing to get there faster.
  5. Nelson Mandela’s Distinction / Donald Kaul
    In forgiving his enemies, he achieved true greatness.
  6. Paying for Poor Performance / Sam Pizzigati
    Over the past two decades, the myth of CEOs earning their runaway pay packages has grown into the ultimate scam.
  7. Back to School Lunch / Jill Richardson
    Hungry and poorly nourished kids don’t learn very well.
  8. Razing the Garden of Eden / Jim Hightower
    A Texas police operation resorted to paramilitary force in its fruitless search for pot plants.
  9. Don’t Embarrass Authority / William A. Collins
    Revealing the wrongdoing of the powerful is a core task in sustaining a functioning democracy.
  10. Heads They Win, Tails We Lose / Khalil Bendib cartoonEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org

    Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Moral Obscenities in Syria

This blog was cross-posted from The Nation.

Reuters/Nour Fourat

Reuters/Nour Fourat

The threat of a reckless, dangerous, and illegal US or US-led assault on Syria is looking closer than ever.

The US government has been divided over the Syria crisis since it began. Some, especially in the Pentagon and some of the intelligence agencies, said direct military intervention would be dangerous and would accomplish nothing. Others, especially in Congress and some in the State Department, have demanded military attacks, even regime change, against the Syrian leadership, even before anyone made allegations of chemical weapons. The Obama administration has been divided too, with President Obama seemingly opposed to any US escalation. The American people are not divided—60 percent are against intervening in Syria’s civil war even if chemical weapons were involved.

But the situation is changing rapidly, and the Obama administration appears to be moving closer to direct military intervention. That would make the dire situation in Syria inestimably worse.

The attack that killed so many civilians, including many children, last Wednesday may well have been from a chemical weapon. Doctors Without Borders, in touch with local hospitals they support, said that while the symptoms “strongly indicate” that thousands of patients were exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they “can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack.” The United Nations chemical weapons inspection team already in Syria to investigate earlier claims was granted permission by the government to visit the new site today; they have not yet reported any findings.

No one knows yet what actually happened, other than a horrific attack on civilians, many of whom died. No one has yet made public any evidence of what killed them, or who may be responsible.

Read more at The Nation.

Stop the CEO March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

In these closing days of summer, a growing number of news stories have interrupted our final days at the beach and asked us to pause and remember the 50th Anniversary of the historic March on Washington that occurred on August 28, 1963.

Dr. Martin Luther King and the quarter of a million others who marched with him to our nation’s capital turned the tide toward greater equality through persistent organizing and tireless action.

In the decades that have followed, those struggling for justice are not the only ones who have rallied in Washington. CEOs from Wall Street and large corporations have of course been a powerful presence. They don’t march to Washington but instead fly in corporate jets. They don’t come with millions by their side, but rather with millions in their pockets. And they don’t come to demand greater inclusion and opportunity for all, but for more tax breaks for their businesses, to be paid for by cuts to services provided to ordinary families.

One such group is Fix the Debt, a group of powerful CEOs lobbying for permanent tax cuts for the trillions of dollars they’ve stashed offshore, and for cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security.

Thankfully, these CEOs are not the only ones on the move this August. National People’s Action (NPA), a powerful grassroots action group, has been calling attention to four powerful corporations in their Summer of the CEO Campaign. NPA has targeted the leaders of Bank of America, General Electric, Macy’s and Verizon – all of whom are members of the Fix the Debt campaign.

These CEOs have nothing to lose by calling for a roll-back of Social Security benefits. They all have multi-million dollar corporate pensions to rely on when they retire. Take General Electric’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt, whose $59.3 million GE retirement account could be converted into an annuity that would deliver him a $346,964 monthly retirement check starting at age 65.

Immelt is not alone in putting the gold in the golden years. With nearly $20 million in his corporate retirement plan, Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren will not need to rely on Social Security (or those Macy’s discount coupons) when he retires.

Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam won’t care about the price increases in his cell phone plan. He’s got $9.8 million in his Verizon retirement account. And Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has no worries about his mortgage payment, with $8.4 million in his retirement stash.

Washington policymakers have become too focused on the millions of dollars brought by CEOs. They should pay more attention to groups like National People’s Action. This year, as the Institute for Policy Studies celebrates our own 50th anniversary, we have named them as one of our “Top 50 Allies.” We are proud to work with NPA and other social justice groups who remind us of this nation’s proud history of people power overcoming the power of money.

Millions of people acting together can still beat millions of dollars.

This Week in OtherWords: August 21, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Fredric Rolando describes how letter carriers often serve their customers across the country in unexpected ways and Sam Pizzigati discusses how Utah’s distinction as one of the most economically equal states is fading.

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 consider making a tax-deductible donation today to keep this valuable service running.

  1. The False Choice between Security and Liberty / Aimee Thomson
    How much of our privacy and how many of our constitutional rights are we willing to give up to protect this country from violent attack?
  2. When Postal Workers Double as First Responders / Fredric Rolando
    They’re often the only watchful eyes in a neighborhood when most residents are at work or school.
  3. The Un-American Way / Wenonah Hauter
    The Trans-Pacific Partnership deal threatens food safety and public health.
  4. Et Tu, Buddhist? / Donald Kaul
    In every war, both sides claim that God’s on their side.
  5. In America’s West, Equality Takes a Hit / Sam Pizzigati
    Utah may be losing its egalitarian advantage.
  6. The Fake Thing / Jill Richardson
    With a newfound exercise obsession, Coca-Cola and other companies are trying to shift the blame for what they’re doing to our health.
  7. Wall Street’s Fix for Homelessness / Jim Hightower
    A former hedge fund manager believes that charity causes poverty.
  8. The Medical-Industrial Complex / William A. Collins
    Our health industry’s big players focus on making as much money as possible.
  9. Patients vs Profits / Khalil BendibEmily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org
Patients vs Profits, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Patients vs Profits, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Talking Outside the Bounds: “Strumpets,” History, and White Privilege

Tess Taylor Split This RockThe email called me “whorish” and the “strumpet of a carpetbagger.” It called my recent editorial about my grandfather “revolting.”

Hot damn. Really? I had just published a New York Times editorial about a painful incident during the Civil Rights movement in Danville, Virginia. My grandfather wrote a letter of protest to a judge who had doled out stiff sentences to Civil Rights protestors. Arrested for writing the letter, my grandfather served a bench warrant and was ridiculed and publicly humiliated in his small mill town.

In my article, I retraced the events. I meditated on some of what had been at stake for my grandfather, a white man, to speak out against the brutal violence and stark injustices faced by black protesters (and black people). I meditated about how my grandfather’s action both was and was not adequate protest to the era’s injustice. And I’d interviewed the minister who organized the protests, Lawrence Campbell, to see how he looked back on that time now.

My piece mostly got a warm reception. What surprised me was that this virulently sour note, in my inbox, had the power to make me feel—at least briefly— ill, angry, defensive, hurt, small. I felt singled out, threatened. Eventually I called some friends and laughed off the hurt. After all: The man was accusing me of tying Danville to this violent and unsavory history—yet he was the one calling me a carpbetbagger. Oh please. Dear sir, I regret to inform: It’s hard to escape history if you go around calling people strumpets.

As I thought about it more, however, it seemed to me that this reprimand – its unpleasantness, its rotten smell – was one of the mechanisms by which racism is maintained and one of the reasons white people stay quiet about racism. If we talk outside the bounds, we might get dinged.

Read the full post on Split This Rock’s blog.

 

Tess Taylor currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her first book of poems, The Forage House, was released this month by Red Hen Press. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Tess will be reading from The Forage House at Sunday Kind of Love, Split This Rock‘s series in collaboration with Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC, January 19, 2014.

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