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Disney, Stieglitz and Others Criticize Excesses of Billionaires and Uber-Wealthy

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “It is time to call out the men and women who lead us and to draw a line in the sand about how low we are prepared to let hard-working people sink while top management takes home ever-more-outrageous sums of money,” Disney Heiress Abigail Disney wrote in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. “It is unreasonable to expect corporate boards to act as a check on this trend; they are almost universally made up of CEOs, former CEOs and people who long to be CEOs.”

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By Barrington M. Salmon, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Disney Heiress Abigail Disney is the latest critic of the vast disparity between workers and business executives to level intense and passionate criticism at a system that allows CEOs to rake in unbelievable amounts of cash, stock options and benefits while ordinary workers languish in stagnation.

In tweets and a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Disney excoriated Disney CEO Bob Iger who made $65 million in 2018, which is 1,424 times greater than the median income of the average Disney worker.

“It is time to call out the men and women who lead us and to draw a line in the sand about how low we are prepared to let hard-working people sink while top management takes home ever-more-outrageous sums of money,” Disney wrote in the opinion piece. “It is unreasonable to expect corporate boards to act as a check on this trend; they are almost universally made up of CEOs, former CEOs and people who long to be CEOs.”

“To put that gap in context, in 1978, the average CEO made about 30 times a typical worker’s salary. Since 1978, CEO pay has grown by 937 percent, while the pay of an average worker grew just 11.2 percent. This growth in inequality has affected every corner of American life.”

Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney, co-founder of the legendary company with his brother Walt, is a philanthropist, activist, founder of Peace is Loud and co-founder of Level Forward, a start-up that backs media projects of women and people of color to develop films, podcasts, stage shows and related projects.

“At the pay levels we are talking about, an executive giving up half his bonus has zero effect on his quality of life,” she said. “For the people at the bottom, it could mean a ticket out of poverty or debt. It could offer access to decent health care or an education for a child.”

Disney appealed to the moral conscience of the Walt Disney Co. leadership.

“Lead. If any of this rings any moral bells for you, know that you are uniquely situated to model a different way of doing business,” she wrote. “… You do not exist merely for the benefit of shareholders and managers. Reward all the people who make you successful, help rebuild the American middle class and respect the dignity of the men and women who work just as hard as you do to make Disney the amazing company it is.”

Nobel Prize-winning Economist Joseph E. Stiglitz agreed with Disney, telling Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez in an April 24 interview that capitalism hasn’t been working for most Americans for the last 40 years.

“She’s absolutely right. You mentioned that in the late ’70s it was 30 to one, on average; today it’s over 300 to one,” said Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor, professor and chief economist at the Roosevelt Institute and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. “And it’s not as if our CEOs have gotten 10 times as productive in those intervening years. It’s not as if—you know, American CEOs get paid so much more than their workers relative to those in Europe and even more relative to those in Japan. And it’s not because our CEOs are that much more productive. It’s because we have a real problem in our corporate governance laws, in our norms, that allow them to take away that much money.”

Stiglitz, author of a new book, “People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent,” said using CEO bonus money to share the wealth among Disney employees as Disney suggests would make a significant difference to workers.

“That money could also have gone into investment,” he said. “You know, one of the striking things about the United States today is that while the rates of return are very, very high relative to what they’ve been in the past, the levels of investment have been low. So, you would have thought those two would have gone together, but with CEO pay and share buybacks being so large—trillion dollars of share buybacks last year—the money isn’t going either to workers or to investment.”

The widening wage gap and widespread disparities have been news lately with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Nick Hanaeur, activists from the Left, progressives and others leading the charge against, and warning about, the consequences of the excesses of the uber-rich. Ocasio Cortez, a freshman legislator, has proposed a 70 percent tax on incomes over $10 million, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren posited a “wealth tax” of 2 percent for those whose net worth exceeds $50 million. And Sanders has suggested increasing the estate tax for estates above $1 billion, so that children of billionaires do not unfairly reap the windfalls regular Americans don’t get, all of which has caused consternation in wealthy circles.

They have been increasing critical of a Republican tax cut in 2017 that transferred about $1.2 trillion of wealth from the middle class to the super rich and politicians and a business elite who have done little to address and alleviate the financial challenges that face their workers.

In 2018, The United Way released data collected over 10 years that offers a disturbing snapshot of where the United States stands since the 2008 recession ended. The ALICE (Asset Limit, Income Constrained, Employed) Project, shows that almost 51 million Americans make less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. Stephanie Hoopes, the project’s senior researcher, said that number includes 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that fall under the ALICE classification.

That translates to what she said is a staggering 43 percent of American households that can’t afford basics such as food, child care, health care, transportation, and a cell phone.

“There are many different ALICE stories. Some people are in different situations because of health problems, natural disasters and a number of other issues,” Hoopes said. “Usually people who are in this field totally understand the magnitude of this problem. The cause is a mismatch between basic elements of the average household budget and what people are making. Housing, childcare, food, transportation and healthcare are increasing faster than inflation overall and faster than wages. Increasing wages would help offset fluctuating wages, unpredictable hours and workhours incompatible with childcare.

America’s working class is caught in an economic vice fueled by decades of stagnant wages; the weakening of organized labor by Republican lawmakers; gaming of the system by politicians and corporations; minimum wages for fast food and service jobs employees; unemployment; the spiraling cost of food, medicine, and rent; gentrification, foreclosures, and the severe shortage of affordable housing.

Dr. Elise Gould, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said research conducted by EPI experts, scholars and researchers corroborates the United Way findings.

“There are a lot of people working who are still in poverty,” said Dr. Gould, whose areas of expertise include wages, poverty, jobs, healthcare and economic mobility. “We put data out, titled “50 Years after the Poor People’s Campaign, Poverty Persists Because of a Stingy Safety Net and a Dysfunctional Labor Market,” which shows that a number of Americans living in poverty who may be in school or retired, but two-thirds are otherwise employable. Of those, 63 percent are working and 45.5 percent of them work fulltime.”

“People need more jobs, jobs that have more hours and the pay needs to be higher. What people are earning is simply insufficient. We also need a better safety net for caregivers and students. It seems like people are working really hard and low-income workers are more educated than ever before but the data make it clear that millions of people who are active participants in the labor market are unable to make ends meet, either due to insufficient hours or low wages.”

Stiglitz said the promise of decent, well-paying jobs, a sturdy social safety net and retirement security has faded and the social contract between politicians, corporations and the public is increasingly being ignored.

“People need more jobs, jobs that have more hours and the pay needs to be higher. What people are earning is simply insufficient. We also need a better safety net for caregivers and students,” Stiglitz said in an article titled, ‘The American Economy is Rigged. And What We Can Do About It.’ “It seems like people are working really hard and low-income workers are more educated than ever before but the data make it clear that millions of people who are active participants in the labor market are unable to make ends meet, either due to insufficient hours or low wages.”

“The basic perquisites of a middle-class life, including a secure old age, are no longer attainable for most Americans,” Stiglitz continued. “We need to guarantee access to health care. We need to strengthen and reform retirement programs, which have put an increasing burden of risk management on workers (who are expected to manage their portfolios to guard simultaneously against the risks of inflation and market collapse) and (which) opened them up to exploitation by our financial sector (which sells them products designed to maximize bank fees rather than retirement security).”

Beverly Hunt knows what it’s like to live in such uncertain circumstances. Hunt, a Washington, D.C.-area resident for more than 20 years, said significant health care challenges have jeopardized her wellbeing.

The communications and public relations veteran said she has been living an increasingly precarious existence since discovering that she has breast cancer four years ago.

“I was very blessed when I was diagnosed with cancer because I had a good job and good insurance with an 80-20 split, meaning 20 percent of the costs are borne by me,” said Hunt, a Howard University graduate who has been in her career field for 30 years. “I was paying $200 a month for four whole years to one doctor. This has affected everything with me … it’s scary. Even though I have a great insurance, I still had to pay cash. Acupuncture is no longer covered and I haven’t even begun to figure how to pay for radiation. I’m thinking I may wait for the full seven years when my credit is clear and start from there.”

“It’s certainly taken a toll on my standard of living. I know so many friends with no insurance and the consequences for them have been so much worse. What they’re dealing with has knocked people out of the middle class. One serious illness, being unemployed for several months a year, or us Baby Boomers not being hired—all this affects one’s ability to stay in the middle class. What I see among my peers is that they are jammed up, deciding whether they are going to eat or pay bills.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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