Two reasons why the new CREDO Action petition to limit CEO salaries wouldn’t work

There’s a new petition going around – maybe you’ve seen it on Facebook. It points up our growing rich-poor gap and asks Congress to cap CEO pay, which is obscene in many cases.

The ratio of CEO pay in the United States has ballooned to 380 times that of the average worker. Pass legislation to limit the salary of CEOs to 50 times as much as the average employee at their company.

The petition notes the recent viral video highlighting wealth inequality in the US, and argues that “a major driver of this inequality is pay disparity, with CEOs in Fortune 500 companies now making 380 times as much money as the average worker. This is a massive increase from 1980, when CEOs were making 42 times as much as the average worker.”

The proposed solution?

To help rectify this problem, Congress needs to pass legislation that caps the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay at 50 times. CEOs can still be very well compensated, but this will help to drive down the massive disparity we’re facing right now.

I don’t disagree with either the statement of the problem (although there’s more at work than CEO pay), nor do I have any moral or ethical problems with the solution, in concept. At some point the accumulation of material wealth becomes a pathology, and no society that hopes to thrive can allow itself to be held captive to the sickness of its elite minority.

But this petition is a waste of time. Two reasons.

The first is obvious. You can call on Congress all you like, but you won’t find ten votes for this bill in Washington. A good many of our Representatives and Senators are rich themselves and are unlikely to be interested in limiting their own future earning potential. As of two years ago 47% of Congresspeople were millionaires, and those who aren’t hyperwealthy themselves are in the pocket of the 1%. If you’re a fair-minded Rep and you vote for this bill, you may as well announce that you won’t be running for reelection while you’re at it. Dr. Denny has written about this dynamic a number of times, most recently here.

Of course, I suspect this petition is less about expecting actual reform and more about driving public awareness.

The second reason is important in understanding how corporations actually work. Even if this law were passed – even if you let CREDO, the petition’s sponsor, word the bill themselves – it wouldn’t make a scrap of difference. Faced with such measures, corporate boards would simply respond by boosting their outsourcing programs. They’d decide how much to pay the CEO and then they’d draw a red line just above the employees making 1/50th of his/her salary. They would hire a contract management firm and terminate all the employees below that line, who would then be hired by the contracting firm to keep doing the same jobs in the same ways they were before.

Given my experience a few years back as an employee of such a firm, my guess is the end result would actually be worse for the affected workers, as contracting firms lack the market heft when it comes to negotiating benefits with health care providers. So if you’re one of those outsourced employees, even if you make the same salary you probably lose ground on benefits.

This is just the start, of course. There are all kinds of accounting gymnastics that a corporation could engage in when building compensation packages, and the way Congress works these you start with loopholes and then weave the illusion of reform around them.

I appreciate what CREDO is trying to accomplish here, but I can’t imagine meaningful reform issuing from our congenitally corrupt system.

Redistricting: by deceitfully moving a line, I can rule forever

In America, most — but probably not all — citizens who seek public office do so with initial good intent. They wish to perform a public service.

That quaint, altruistic notion lasts, on the national level, perhaps 10 minutes after the swearing-in ceremony.

Lobbyists descend. Party leaders demand fund-raising success now. The novice lawmaker is partnered with veteran D.C. good ol’ boys (and girls). And before casting a single vote, the political novitiate begins the daily grind of hours spent dialing for dollars.

And the new titles — Congressman, Senator — and their apparent conferred respect edge into the psyche. I like this, think the freshmen. People stand up when I enter a room. People with money — lots of money – offer me not-so-subtle favors. I like this.

The discovery of power breeds the lust to retain it. An individual politician may be a decent human being. He (or she) may not end up in sexual disarray or keep $90,000 in his freezer. But as a species, politicians place preservation of power at the center of their communal altar.

National politicians cheat, steal, connive, and kiss babies to stay in office. That we can live with. But we should no longer stomach the mind-numbingly boring — so mind-numbing far too many journalists ignore it — and tainted process of redistricting. We must demand its reform.

That’s because Machiavellian maneuvers in redistricting — manipulating lines on a map — is how these charlatans keep the power they use so ineptly and unwisely.

It’s no secret that re-election rates to Congress are astonishingly high. But too many of us in the governed class, myself included, have focused our attention on the ungodly sums of money these indeliberate deliberators raise.

It’s not, so much, the money anymore: It’s who draws the lines of congressional districts, how they are drawn, and with what motive.

Redistricting is the legally required process of equalizing the numbers of people in districts following the decennial census. This is done to ensure that House seats are fairly distributed. But gerrymandering — the redrawing of district lines with the motive of ensuring a “safe” district for an incumbent — has corrupted the process. Consider these few bizarre, convoluted examples of gerrymandered districts scattered through this post.

It’s quite simple, really. Legislatures in 34 states control redistricting. In other states, “independent” and “bipartisan” commissions draw the lines. It’s always been a partisan process, but in this era of childish political tantrums, the process serves only to maximize the power of those who rule, not distribute fairly the power of those who are ruled. Districts are packed, using unimaginable boundaries, with voters of one party to the maximum extent possible.

Now do you see why the re-election rates of incumbents in Congress are so damn high?

Despite the few successes in ’08, ’10, and ’12, voters find it difficult to “throw the bums out.”

Imagine the United States, if political wrangling over redistricting and unfettered spending on campaigns by millionaires and billionaires remains unchecked. Will the day come when members of Congress simply cannot be removed through the ballot box?

If that happens, it will make the doomsday-prepping wingnuts seem absolutely prescient.

Cast your eye over history. What has been the fate of nations when citizens could not peacefully remove their government?

As boring as it is, demand transparency in redistricting efforts. And demand media organizations cover them as ardently as they do the tragic OJ-Lite™ drama under way in South Africa.

Mitch McConnell and the GOP: Filibusted

Mitch “Sad Turtle” McConnell

Mitch McConnell is having quite a week.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority leader and sad turtle McConnell led Senate Republicans in boldly not voting for a UN treaty to protect disabled people. And then yesterday, he had to filibuster his own bill when Senate Democrats called his bluff.

The bill in question would turn the power of raising the debt ceiling over to the executive branch and leave the legislative branch out of it. The President would ask to raise the debt limit, and if Congress wanted to stop him from doing so, they would have 15 days to pass a joint resolution of disapproval. The President could veto that resolution, and then Congress could override the veto with a 60 percent majority in each the Senate and the House of Representatives.

McConnell brought the bill forward claiming that the Democrats didn’t have enough votes to pass it. And, well…this happened.

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Congress: Why throwing the bums out won't improve it

I like sausage. I don’t care what names attach to them. I like sausage, be it bratwurst, kielbasa, bauerwurst, chorizo, bangers, Italian, summer, or linguica. Different meats (beef, pork, even reindeer) and seasonings produce the vast panoply of sausage found worldwide.

But, after a while, no matter how different the ingredients, it’s still just sausage.

At the heart of sausage making is a common device: the meat grinder. Drop meat into the hopper. Add seasonings. Crank the handle. Grind chunks of meat. Slide into casing. Result: Sausage. No matter what enters, what emerges is sausage.

Congress has become little more than the meat grinder that produces sausage. Yes, there’s the old saw: Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made. That’s not the point here. Rather, it’s about the machine. It’s about why no one should foster belief in the “throw the bums out” approach to correcting continual congressional ineptitude and ethical malfeasance.

Consider: I plan to vote for a 29-year-old hospital administrator, Nate Shinagawa, to replace my current congressman, Tom Reed. Reason: I don’t like Reed’s ethically ambiguous approach to communicating with constituents. I like Shinagawa because I was young once — and believed in politics as an honorable calling. He believes; I don’t.

Reed’s been a politician for a long time. He’s been in Congress just long enough for the machine — that influence-peddling, leadership PAC-manipulating, anonymous donor-condoning meat grinder — to have ground him into sausage indistinguishable from most other members.

Shinagawa’s public stances on issues paint him as youthfully idealistic. But if he beats Reed, there’s a high probability that the same machine will grind him, too, into sausage virtually indistinguishable from the other 434 representatives. Shinagawa’s campaign goal is poignantly liberal and hopeful — Working For Us — but impossible to accomplish now in a thoroughly degraded Congress.

Consider some of the political effluent surrounding Congress — how members raise money, from whom, and in what amounts; their inability to behave as adults and actually legislate; the revolving door that shuttles legislators and staff from the Hill to K Street to the Hill; Grover Norquist’s no-tax-hike pledge feared by virtually all members; and the minimal work week spent on us because the bulk of the week is devoted to fundraising from them. This is the meat grinder that young Shinagawa would enter should he defeat Reed.

This is the meat grinder that will stay firmly in place even if voters, as they did in 1994, 2006, and 2010, “throw the bums out” to change party control of Congress.

Whom we elect to Congress may no longer matter. In fact, it is hard to rid Congress of incumbents. Throwing out the bums has become particularly difficult to do, as John Avlon writes, because of gerrymandering risen to an exceedingly refined political art.

Over the past decade, has the performance of Congress in Working For Us improved by any significant measure? Has the rancor among members of Congress decreased by any significant measure?

What should be America’s best hope for the future — an intelligent, compassionate, effective Congress — has become merely a means of making sausage out of its members. And foul-tasting sausage at that.

Our hardworking folks in Congress: more interested in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs

When voters elect members of Congress, they are hiring them to do a job. Voters, through their taxes, compensate those politicians well — $174,000 a year, and more if they have committee or leadership roles.

Many, if not most, voters — unless they are among the 12.5 million without jobs — work about 35 hours a week for a median income of about $32,000. They get perhaps two weeks of paid vacation each year. But a member of the House of Representatives this year was scheduled to show up for only 89 days from January to November. He (and it’s generally “he,” not “she“) is taking off a week in February, another in April, still another in May, and — get this — the whole of August and the first week of September. “It’s too hot in the city in August,” he tells you, then takes off for week-long conventions in the hot, humid Deep South before working only eight days in September. That’s 89 days out of the 172 days voters will be at work (minus a few paid holidays) before Nov. 6. Continue reading

How my congressman, Tom Reed, lost my vote: He sent me a franked letter he shouldn't have

Imagine you are a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Unless you’re an idiot, you want to be re-elected. It’s a cushy gig — it pays $174,000 a year. It’s likely you already have a net worth in the high six figures — nine times that of the your constituents — so you’re not hurting for coin of the realm. In debates, the moderator calls you “Congressman” and your opponent “Mister” or “Ms.”

People line up to give you the $1.3 million that you, on average, need to spend to get re-elected. How cool is that?

Re-election rates to the House are high — at or above 90 percent 18 times in the last 24 election cycles. But in 2010, when you washed ashore on the congressional beachhead in that tea-party wave of slash-government insolence, the re-election rate fell from 94 percent in 2008 to 85 percent. Continue reading

Surprise! Corporations secretly investing in U.S. politics, increasing need for DISCLOSE Act

In his book “Private Empire,” author Steve Coll relates a telling remark that reflects how Lee Raymond, then ExxonMobil CEO, viewed his company’s relationship with America. He was asked whether ExxonMobil would build more refineries inside the United States to help insulate the nation against gasoline shortages.

Raymond: “Why would I do that?”

An oil industry executive: “Because the United States needs it … for security.”

Raymond: “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

Yet ExxonMobil invests heavily in American politics. U.S. tax law, however, prevents the electorate from knowing the exact nature of that investment — how much money, given to whom or what, and with what intent. That should change, but Congress adamantly stands in the way of such disclosure. Continue reading

July 5, 2012: Nothing's changed. The American dream continues to erode

Hope you enjoyed your hot dogs, Mom, apple pie, fireworks, and the inevitable flourishes of patriotism, both faux and real, on the Fourth of July. But nothing has changed in America from the July 3 that kissed you good night to the July 5 that nudged you awake you this morning.

Political warfare by any name is still war. Call it what you will: The haves vs. the have-nots, class warfare, or ideological conflict — it’s still a cruel war, and it inflicts wounds on far too many of us. Some are deep: The bank took the house. Some are possibly fatal: The insurance company wouldn’t pay for the surgery. Or the drugs for that cancer. Some will fester for a lifetime: College students face a one-trillion-dollar student loan debt. Some are a perpetual itch that scratching does not relieve: There will be no pay raise next year, and your contribution to the company’s health plan will double. Continue reading

Lindsay Lohan to run for Congress? Why we should vote for her

The strikingly beautiful young woman — she will turn 26 years old on July 2 — approaches the podium with its waiting forest of microphones. Her hair, reddish blonde and flowing well below her shoulders, is caught briefly in a gust of wind as she walks to the front of the press corps on the granite steps of the state capitol. Eight fluted Corinthian columns line the portico behind her. She is, surprisingly, modestly and professionally dressed in a tasteful navy pants suit. For a moment, as she stands at the lectern, only the clicking of cameras is heard.

Good morning, everyone. My name is Lindsay Lohan, and today I am announcing my candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from my district.

Brief silence, followed by peals of laughter. Whispers of “Is this a movie promo?” drift through the throng. Lohan waits patiently, quietly, proudly for the laughter to subside. Continue reading

Congress attempts to legislate away containment of Iran and replace it with war

At Foreign Policy in Focus Stephen Zunes reports on a resolution (HR 568) that the House passed in a show of bipartisanship (401-11) that couldn’t have come at a worse possible time (as is usually the case with bipartisanship these days). He explains that HR 568 calls for “the president to oppose any policy toward Iran ‘that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.'”

… Congress has essentially told the president that nothing short of war or the threat of war is an acceptable policy. Indeed, the rush to pass this bill appears to have been designed to undermine the ongoing international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program.

Even Colin Powell, as quoted by Dennis Kucinich, “has stated that this resolution ‘reads like the same sheet of music that got us into the Iraq war.'” Continue reading

A Senate re-election announcement you'll never hear

A make-up woman brushes a small lock of my hair so it drapes slightly over my forehead. That errant wisp tested well with focus groups of women. I glance at the TelePrompter, reciting silently the first few lines. My administrative aide, a former K Street lobbyist doing a two-year turn of “public service” before returning to her high six-figure income, reminds me to at least act humble. The director raises his hand: “five, four, three, two …” and points to me. I begin to speak to the many millions of registered voters in my state whom I have deluded and misled for three terms.

Good evening, my fellow Americans. I’m here tonight to announce that I will seek re-election to another term as your United States senator. I’d like to tell you why it’s important that you return me to a fourth term in office.

I have accumulated power on the Hill. Continue reading

Filibuster reform and the zombie apocalypse

Once I was a believer in the time-honored Senate filibuster tradition, although by “believer” I don’t necessarily mean that I loved it or revered it, exactly. I was more like a guy worried about a zombie apocalypse stocking up on 12-gauge shells. In case things go to hell, at least the good guys have the filibuster to slow the lumbering herd of dead meat down a little, right? So, I believed in the filibuster the way a B-grade horror flick protagonist might believe in ammunition.

The main difference between the Senate and a zombie apocalypse, of course, is that zombies aren’t real but the Senate is very much upon us. Also, in neither case does it look like we have enough ammo.

The last few years have changed the equation significantly. Continue reading

How to get ahead on Capitol Hill: Use a leadership PAC to buy power

I’m in my second term in the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m a Republocrat. I like the job. It pays $174,000, has great medical benefits, provides a really nice private gym to use, and lots of people have to be nice to me. And there are those $110,000 in taxpayer-funded fringe benefits I get (including plush retirement plans, paid time off, and contributions to Social Security and Medicare taxes). I’ve got a staff to answer the phone and email, run my Twitter and Facebook stuff, and deal with those damned constituents. And I’m in a relatively safe district, thanks to that Republocrat-friendly redistricting bill passed in my state last year. Hey, sometimes people let me use their corporate jets! (Well, as long as I keep quiet about those trips and pay commercial airfare for it.)

Yeah. This is a sweet gig. I want to stay here. In fact, I want to … move up. Be in the leadership. Be a mover and shaker. Now how am I gonna do that beyond kissing the speaker’s ass (and those of his damn deputies, too) and voting however he (or she) tells me to?

It will take money for that Republocrat to ascend higher in the House’s toadying ladder of leadership. Lots of money. And as we know, House members (and senators) have a vehicle to collect and dispense money to other House members — the leadership political action committee. A principal reason for the existence of leadership PACs to is buy friends and influence on Capitol Hill. Apparently, hard work and intelligence are insufficient.
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The 2011 Climate B.S.* of the Year Awards (corrected)

[*B.S. means “Bad Science.” What did you think it meant?]

by Peter H. Gleick
Crossposted at Forbes and Huffington Post. To see S&R’s climate-related posts, click here

[Correction: Katharine Hayhoe was misidentified as a Republican in the original post at Forbes and HuffPo. This has been corrected below.

Peter Gleick updated the original posts at HuffPo and Forbes and removed Ben Webster from the Second Place text. S&R has updated this post to bring it in line with Gleick’s update.]

The Earth’s climate continued to change during 2011 – a year in which unprecedented combinations of extreme weather events killed people and damaged property around the world. The scientific evidence for the accelerating human influence on climate further strengthened, as it has for decades now. Yet on the policy front, once again, national leaders did little to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe consequences of climate changes, including rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea-levels, loss of snowpack and glaciers, disappearance of Arctic sea ice, and much more.

Why the failure to act? In part because climate change is a truly difficult challenge. But in part because of a concerted, well-funded, and aggressive anti-science campaign by climate change deniers and contrarians. Continue reading

End poverty. Attack it. Now.

You know someone who lives in poverty. You may not realize it, but you do. Given that one of every six Americans lives in poverty, someone you know suffers from one of the most punishing and oppressing of all human conditions.

Too many of us blithely consider poverty to be limited to certain geographical locations such as the “inner city.” Too many of us believe poverty is limited to, perhaps, mostly a certain skin color. Too many of us attribute poverty to the lack of an “appropriate” work ethic, a lack of ambition, or a desire to “cheat the system.” The poor live in cities, they’re not white, they’re lazy, and they’re sucking up my tax dollars unfairly.

Discard that attitude. It’s disgusting. Poverty privileges no race, no gender, no occupation, no geography.
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The tax break that didn't create jobs, and now corporations want another one

Imagine corporations telling you they want to create American jobs in exchange for a tax break. Thanks to a compliant Congress, they get a cheap rate on billions of dollars of profits — and cut thousands of American jobs instead. (Pfizer and Hewlett-Packard come to mind.)

After the turn of the century, hundreds of multinationals, such as Pfizer and H-P, nominally headquartered in the United States had a problem. They had about $300 billion in profits parked overseas. They wanted to bring that money home — a process artfully called repatriation of funds.

Their opponent was the U.S. tax code: To repatriate profits, the code said they’d have to pay 35 cents on every dollar brought home. So they sweet-talked (that’s called lobbying) their friends in Congress (their hired elected minions) to fix the problem. Their congressional chums were glad to help out by lowering the tax bite to 5 cents for every dollar brought home. The lobbying effort was a good investment: For every buck the corporations spent, they got $220 back.

Continue reading