IPS Blog

The Real Meaning of ‘Collateral Damage’

Child in Afghanistan hospital

(Image: Flickr / ResoluteSupportMedia)

The destruction of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, with 22 dead so far, including doctors, other staff and patients, capped a week that also saw the bombing of​ another hospital in Afghanistan, plus the U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian bombing of a wedding party in Yemen set up in tents far out in the desert, away from anything remotely military. (What IS it about wedding parties that U.S. and allied bombers keep hitting them?).

The Pentagon relied on its language of “collateral damage,” trying once again to distance itself from any responsibility for this most recent atrocity in Afghanistan.  But there is no distance.  This is the direct and inevitable result of an air war waged by U.S. pilots flying U.S. planes dropping U.S. bombs on an impoverished and war-devastated country still immersed in the war that began 14 years ago this week. Since that time the U.S. has spent $65 billion to train and equip a military and police force accountable to U.S. goals and the U.S.-installed government.  But it hasn’t worked.

Kunduz is a large city in northern Afghanistan, and while residents and others had noted moves by the Taliban to surround the city in recent months, it wasn’t until last week’s seizure of the town by Taliban forces that US-backed officials in Kabul took any notice. The corruption-rife and widely discredited Afghan government then sent troops from its US-trained army to try to retake the city, even announcing two days later that the Taliban had been routed. But residents and other observers reported the Taliban remained largely in control, and the U.S. sent warplanes on bombing raids, ostensibly to bolster its junior partners.

Eye (and ear) witnesses from the international humanitarian organization reported that despite having provided precise GPS coordinates to U.S. and Afghan military authorities to prevent exactly this kind of attack, the hospital was “repeatedly hit very precisely during each aerial raid, while surrounding buildings were left mostly untouched.” The Pentagon refused to take responsibility, saying only that its airstrikes “may have resulted in collateral damage.” President Obama expressed condolences to the victims but refused to apologize for the strike.

According to Heman Nagarathnam, MSF Head of Programs in northern Afghanistan, “the bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round. There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. When I made it out from the office, the main hospital building was engulfed in flames. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building’s two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds.” Those who burned to death included three children and the patients in the hospital’s intensive care ward.

The attack on the hospital, with its horrific civilian casualties, is the inevitable result of an air war against heavily populated cities.  But more broadly, it is one more example of the consequences of a strategy of trying to defeat terrorism by war. In Afghanistan, as in the escalating wars in Syria and Iraq, the claim we so often hear from U.S. officials is true: “there is no military solution.”  But the actions of the U.S. government – military action being almost all we see – belie that claim.

In Syria, there may be a small bit of hope for negotiations – despite the harsh rhetoric, both Obama and Putin made subtle but significant concessions in their UN speeches, and it may be that the current escalations on both sides are prelude to some kind of negotiations.  (President Obama reiterated what Kerry outlined more specifically, that Assad’s ouster is not a precondition or something that has to happen immediately.  President Putin, even while stating support for Assad, stated clearly that he believes what stands against terrorism in Syria and so what must be protected is the Syrian government and “its” army – not “his” army, thus leaving open a shift in Russian support away from Assad alone to support for the Syrian state and military, assuming Moscow can count on continuing protection of its various interests in and around Syria.)

But the fighting continues. In Syria, the U.S. and Russia are both conducting airstrikes ostensibly against ISIS, but the civilian suffering significant casualties. Despite its claims of backing only “moderate” opposition forces, the Pentagon just admitted that one of the ephemeral U.S.-armed coalitions of just such “moderate” rebel fighters is actually working to arm the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pickup trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al-Nusra Front (group),” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

It remains a very grim time – the situation in Kunduz remains highly unstable, and with the destruction of the MSF hospital, continued fighting now means injured civilians have lost the most important provider of emergency medical care available.  More Afghan civilians will die.  In Syria, if the possibilities of negotiations are rising, there’s likely to be a greater military escalation before and even during such talks….meaning more Syrian civilians will almost certainly be killed.

The wars are far from over.

A Significant Step Forward on the Road to Reform

Utah Senator Mike Lee  joins bipartisan group on criminal justice reform (Image: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) joins bipartisan effort on criminal justice reform (Image: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

Weldon Angelos is a young father who wouldn’t have been able to be in his two children’s lives until he was 80 and his children were old and grey themselves. Angelos made mistakes and sold  some marijuana.  Because he also happened to have a gun in his possession, he got a 55 year mandatory minimum sentence. At a Senate press conference today, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah stood alongside six of his Senate colleagues to roll out a monumental criminal justice reform bill. Senator Lee, who worked on this 2004 case, reported that the judge knew it was an unjust sentence, but lamented that he couldn’t do anything about it…only Congress could.

And  today, Congress is.  The Senate Judiciary Committee started rolling that ball toward a fairer criminal justice system.

“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.” Democratic  Senator Patrick Leahy cited the recent call from the Pope to Congress to heed the Golden rule as he and his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee unveiled “The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

As New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, a co-author of this bill, pointed out, “More African-Americans today are incarcerated than all those enslaved in 1850.” Booker was instrumental in many of the provisions of the bill that ameliorate some of the worst aspects of our criminal justice system—those affecting our nation’s children in federal custody.

Mark Mauer of the Sentencing Project says this is the is “the most substantial criminal justice reform legislation introduced since the inception of the ‘tough on crime’ movement, and is the best indication we have that those days are over.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Reducing and retroactively reducing unfairly long sentences for non-violent for drug offenses
  • Increasing anti-recidivism programs
  • Reducing sentences for incarcerated people who participate in rehabilitation programs
  • Limiting the use of solitary confinement for young people incarcerated in federal facilities
  • Expanding sealing and expungement criteria for some juvenile offenses
  • Providing the possibility of parole for some offenses committed while a juvenile
  • Providing for the compassionate release of elderly prisoners

This legislation could have been stronger, it could have eliminated unfair mandatory minimums altogether. It could have done more to reduce “collateral consequences” that present almost insurmountable barriers to citizens returning to their communities after incarceration; it could have provided for expungement of records of formerly incarcerated adults after three years of successful reentry. It could have done much more. And so there is much more work to be done.

But for a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators to come together and do what they were elected to do is a big deal. And this legislation is a big deal, too.  The prospects in the Senate are uncharacteristically bright for passage given that the House is hardly prone to bipartisanship or compromise.  In the words of Senator Dick Durbin, “What’s going to happen in the House? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

But for the sake of Weldon Angelos’ children and thousands of others, still young enough to need their father present in their lives, GOP-controlled House of Representatives should do its job and allow their dads and moms to come home.

The Five Worst Ideas Contained in Donald Trump’s Tax Plan

(Image: Greg Skidmore / Flickr)

(Image: Greg Skidmore / Flickr)

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has just released his much-talked-about plan for restructuring the federal tax code. If you listened to his speeches, you might think it was full of benefits for working families and progressive ideas about asking the wealthy to pay their fair share.  However, if you drill down into the details, you’ll see the same tired ideas hidden behind a populist tone and false rhetoric.

Here are the top falsehoods peddled by Trump’s much-touted tax plan:

Trump’s First Untruth: The tax plan does not add to our deficit or national debt.


This tax plan would put a gargantuan hole in federal revenues that would send the deficit and debt through the roof. The number crunchers at Citizens for Tax Justice calculated that Trump’s tax plan would cost more than $10 trillion over the next ten years. As CTJ President Robert McIntyre put it, “there is no possibility that this plan would not be a gigantic tax cut for the rich and a gigantic revenue loser for the government.”

Trump’s Second Untruth: This tax plan will provide “major tax relief to middle income and most other Americans.”


While it’s true that nominal tax rates would be reduced under Trump’s plan, the impact skews heavily towards the wealthy.  The benefit for the bottom 20% is just $250 per year while the benefit for the top 1% is a whopping $184,000! So yes, technically everyone benefits, but saying this is a greater help to working families over the wealthy is patently false.  The plan would shift even more money towards the very top, which is particularly startling when you consider that the top 1% have captured nearly all new income since 2009.

Trump’s Third Untruth:  This plan will end the preferential tax treatment of hedge fund managers.


Trump often talks about closing the carried interest loophole, a particularly insidious loophole that allows hedge fund managers who often make tens of millions of dollars annually to treat their income as capital gains rather than as ordinary income. This means they pay just 23.8% rather than 39.6%, the top regular income tax bracket.  Here again, the devil is in the details and the rhetoric does not match the reality.  While the tax plan does eliminate this egregious loophole, it also reduces the top income tax rate to 25%, meaning the tax hike on hedge fund managers is just 1.2% instead of the 15.8% hike that Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton endorse.

Trump’s Fourth Untruth: The estate tax is “double taxation” and “a lot of families go through hell” to pay it.


The estate tax is the most progressive revenue raiser in the tax code, putting a small levy on the intergenerational transfer of immense wealth. Most of the assets impacted by the estate tax have never been taxed as a result of the Trust Fund Loophole that President Obama has proposed closing. The ultimate impact of the estate tax is on the heirs and heiresses to the largest fortunes in the country, not middle class families. In fact, the threshold for paying the tax is $11 million for married couples, more money than anyone in the bottom 99% can expect to accumulate. Just two in every thousand households are impacted by the estate tax. So on the estate tax, Mr. Trump is wrong on both accounts. Further, eliminating the estate tax would cost $246 billion over the next ten years.

Trump’s Fifth Untruth:  The plan will lead to significant economic growth and job creation.


Trump is relying on the same debunked supply-side ideas that George H.W. Bush referred to as “voodoo economics” many moons ago —cutting taxes for the wealthy and hoping it benefits everyone.  As Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback learned the hard way, cutting taxes does not spur economic growth; it simply creates an enormous deficit.  Brownback cut taxes dramatically in an effort to spur growth and instead created major public debt and provoke Moody’s to downgrade its debt rating.  Setting aside the ecological implications of endless economic growth, the idea that tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, will pay for themselves in increased growth is an idea as old as it is wrong.

More details are continuing to come out about this tax plan and these five hardly scrape the surface of the implications of Trump’s tax overhaul.  As new details leak out, remember its not the fancy packaging, or rhetoric, that matters but the impact these reforms will make. And so far, the impact is bad for ordinary Americans and quite good for the millionaires and billionaires of the 1%.

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.

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