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Green Jobs for Black America

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Marc H. Morial, NNPA ColumnistLast week, representatives from some 192 countries convened in Copenhagen to try to reach an agreement on worldwide reductions in greenhouse gases to mitigate the devastating effects of global climate change.

At the same time President Obama, prodded by the National Urban League and others, announced new measures to tackle record unemployment that has reached epidemic proportions across America, especially in urban communities of color. What do these two issues have in common? It is becoming increasingly clear that the “green movement” is not only critical to the health of our planet and its people; it can be an engine of economic recovery and growth that brings desperately needed jobs and development to our cities.

That was the message of the National Urban League’s Green Jobs Summit held in Washington, DC on December 3rd. Under the auspices of our new Council of Green Advisors, headed by Walter A. Bell, chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corporation, we brought together top corporate executives as well as experts in the green and renewable industry movements and other advocacy leaders to begin formulating specific recommendations to ensure that urban America has a central role in the Green Jobs/Clean Energy revolution.

Many in our communities have not yet made the connection between the greening of America and jobs. That is why our initial focus will be on educating and training communities for job opportunities designed to foster a cleaner environment and reduce energy costs.

This includes the construction and installation of wind turbines and solar panels, as well as the retrofitting and weatherizing of homes and businesses. “Green jobs” is also a major component of the National Urban League’s sixpoint plan for Putting Americans Back to Work, as outlined in a letter I recently sent to National Economic Council director Larry Summers and Congressional leaders. We are calling for the creation of Green Empowerment Zones in areas where at least 50 percent of the population has an unemployment rate that is higher than the state average.

Manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines that open plants in high unemployment areas will, for a period of three years, be eligible for a zero federal income tax and a zero capital gains tax under the condition that they hire and retain, for a minimum of three years, at least half of their workforce from the local area.

The National Urban League’s more than 100 affiliates are on the frontlines of the job crisis every day and we see the devastating effect the 15.6 percent Black unemployment rate is having on the families and communities we serve. That’s why in addition to a focus on green jobs we are calling on the federal government to make targeted, temporary and timely investments to create 3 million new jobs now.

We are also seeking an increase in job training for the chronically unemployed, greater access to credit for small businesses and additional counseling relief for those caught in the backlog of the foreclosure process. We bailed out Wall Street. Now it’s time to bring relief to Main Street and urban America. Green Jobs must be a part of the solution.

Mark Morial is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

 

Where Do We Go From Here? An Active and Vocal Movement

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Rev. Jesse JacksonEditor’s Note: Upon the 25th year of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s first run for president of the United States, we asked him to write his thoughts on the state of Black America at this point in history, focusing on the question, Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s been big month. A jobs summit, the beginning of another escalation in Afghanistan a Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, a climate change conference in Copenhagen, a possible end game for the Senate on health care, and a jobs summit and what I hope will be the start of an effective national jobs program that puts America back to work.

December 10th also marked Human Rights Day, the 61st anniversary of the day the post-WWII world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is an appropriate day to consider “where we go from here.”

I’m always reminded that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. authored the essay, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

An ascendant civil rights movement organized the1963 March on Washington, the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery – a movement that led to passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. But by January 1967 when he wrote the “Where do we go from here” essay, the civil rights struggle was on its heels, searching for direction and strategy.

His query is especially appropriate right now. It is even more auspicious, as President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize this December 10th, 45 years to the day that the 35 year-old Dr. King was so honored. In a way, we’ve reached another apex in our movement, the culmination of a 54 year civil rights journey from the 1954 Brown decision ending legal segregation, winning civil and voting rights in the 60’s, organizing our Rainbow campaigns of the 1980s through to the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Eight years of failed Bush Administrations left the economy on the brink of disastrous depression. One year ago, people in the U.S. voted for change and a new direction. In so doing, they inspired and unleashed the power of hope around the world to break down old barriers of cynicism, doubt and disbelief. But just one year after President Obama’s election, stiff winds of resistance are blowing from all directions. It’s been some time since we’ve witnessed such a sustained, ideologically inspired campaign to smear and vilify a President, to drown out rationale public debate and discourse, and circumvent the people’s desire for progressive change. Wall Street has rebounded from the brink of collapse. But the sub-prime mortgage crisis ballooned into a full-scale foreclosure crisis. Student debt is soaring and jeopardizing the education of our youth. Unemployment is up, and so is global warming. Hope is up, too, but unfortunately so is poverty. Yes, it’s mid-day in our politics, but midnight in our economy. We must have the clear vision and strong will to ride out the storms of the long night until the sun rises and we reach the dawn of a new day.

Where do we go from here?

Perhaps we should go to our Biblical mission statement: bring good news to the needy, to feed the poor, heal the brokenhearted, care for the sick, and set the oppressed free. Bring good news to the needy by creating a Stimulus II that targets the zones of pain. Stimulus I focused on the zones of gain. They’ve watered the leaves of speculation while the roots of investment have withered. Wall Street now is paying bonuses, but the big banks still aren’t lending to the real economy. We need direct, targeted jobs programs, and the expansion of lending to spur small business development. It is time to focus on helping those who are the victims of, not the cause of, the crisis.

Care for the sick by enacting comprehensive, accessible and affordable health care for all Americans. Republicans have taken a stand to crush the health care bill. Blue Dog conservatives have taken a stand to circumvent and undermine it. So must progressive stand up and fight for inclusion of the public option and create public support the President and Congress need to pass a comprehensive health care bill before year’s end. In our Rainbow campaigns of 1984 and 1988, I campaigned from coast to coast for comprehensive health care for all at a time when “only” 37 million Americans were without health insurance. Twenty years later, that number has risen to a totally unacceptable 45 million. We must do better, and now is the time.

House the homeless by confronting the home foreclosure crisis threatening to tear the heart and soul of America’s communities. A record high four million families will face foreclosure this year alone, but another 13 million homeowners will face foreclosure in the next five years. To date just 4 percent, or 10,000 of the 728,000 homeowners seeking assistance, have received permanent loan modifications under the administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program. That’s like dipping a spoon in the ocean, as foreclosures continue to outstrip modifications. We need a comprehensive, effective foreclosure prevention/save our homes program to “save homes for the holidays” - to protect not just the most distressed families in their time of need, but also to protect their neighborhoods, the community tax base, the public services which depend on having a healthy housing infrastructure.

Where do we go from here?

Heal the broken hearted by addressing the employment demands of the 8 million workers who have lost their jobs in the last 18 months. Decades of misguided urban policies undermined our nation’s manufacturing base - we export capital and jobs, and import drugs and guns. We’ve decimated whole cities. The hope of the recent jobs summit is that it will invest immediately and directly in job preservation and creation.

None of this can happen unless we strengthen and enforce civil rights and fair lending laws. This crisis took place in large part because predatory lending and reckless gambling were celebrated, not policed. Laws against discriminatory lending were ignored. Consumer protection laws were diluted, as subprime lenders, payday operators and credit card loan sharks had their way. The administration has sensibly called for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, but while the banking lobby descends on Congress, the administration should be using the powers it has to enforce the law. Furthermore, as world leaders gather in Copenhagen to grapple with the real dangers of global warming, we need to get serious about a new alternative energy economy, about green jobs and weatherization, about replacing coal and oil with wind and solar. Free the oppressed with a Stimulus II, a new war on poverty to set the oppressed free. Eight million families and 40 million Americans, or 13%, live in poverty; fourteen million children under 18 were in poverty. In 2008, 49 million people lived didn’t have enough to eat, including 17 million children. In 2002, 35 million went hungry, a number that has increased by 50% since then. In the end, this administration and our nation will be judged by how we treat the least of these. The “other America” which shocked President Kennedy still exists, hemmed in by stunted hopes, circumscribed lives, broken dreams.

Where do we go from here?

The President’s new policy of escalating and expanding the war in Afghanistan is risky and expensive, and, despite a projected date to begin troop withdrawal, there is no end in sight. The war on terror a real one, but it’s a 21st century problem that cannot be “won” by using 20th century strategies of military conquest. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King made these time-tested remarks, ”...Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time—the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.” We hope the President’s plan is successful, and pray for the earliest return home of the 100,000 troops who will be sent to war in Afghanistan… but doubts abound.

Where do we go from here?

We stay true to the principles that Dr. King lived and died for, and we rebuild our grassroots movement to press for serious change, structural reforms, peace and justice. Progressives have been far too silent, too passive in face in face of winds of resistance and vitriolic reaction. It’s time to stand up and be counted, to assert our progressive principles, and put a focus on policies and direction, not personality.

We celebrate last year’s election, which ended the years of regression, repression and recession brought on during the Republican-dominated Bush years. But we can’t stop there.

I’m reminded of the apocryphal stories of FDR and the labor movement in the 1930s, and LBJ and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As the stories go, the movement leaders met with these presidents and presented their demands, to which these FDR or LBJ, in effect, replied: “I support you—now go out and make me do it. I agree with you, but I don’t have the votes in Congress, so go get them!” We need to build a movement on President Obama’s progressive flank that is impossible to ignore.

We need to give political voice to our better ideals.

Isaiah speaks of beauty from the ashes, where ashes abound beauty must abound even more. Where hatred abounds, love must abound even more. Where fear abounds, love and hope must abound even more. Fear limits us – hope unleashes creative genius. Those hit the hardest by this crisis – those in the zones of pain - must organize. Often, the malnourished children, the homeless, the jobless, those families forced from homes to shelters are largely hidden from sight. It’s time to rise up and be seen. By acting collectively, the poor express their humanity. They create a forum to tell their stories. It is time to act, to come together and march together. Human lives are being crushed by this crisis. We need bold action now. We must act together to make our voices heard, in the streets and in the suites.

Absent an active and vocal movement, we cannot make our hopes for change a lasting and concrete reality.

It’s where we must go from here. Keep Hope Alive.

So This Is The 'Race To The Top'? The View From Here is Scary

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David B. DeLuz, President and CEO Greater Sacramento Urban LeagueCalifornia’s traditional public schools are failing our kids, and every day the Urban League in California deal head-on with the aftermath of that failure. We serve hundreds of thousands of adults and youth who are either in – or have passed through – the crumbling public education system. We cannot tinker at the margins with changes to a broken system. We need change, we need reform, and we need accountability in our public school system – NOW.

A case in point: According to a disturbing October 2009 Northeastern University study on the dire economic and social consequences of high school dropouts, on any given day nearly 23 percent of all young Black men ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile justice institution in America – with dire economic consequences for these young men. In California, 1 in 4 black students fail to graduate from high school. Without a high school diploma, one cannot earn enough money to make ends meet and certainly not enough to reach the American dream of raising a family and buying a home. The mean annual earnings of the nation’s young people with a bachelor’s or advanced degree were $24,797 in 2007, three times higher than the mean earnings for dropouts of $8,358. And this does not even begin to address the hard costs of dealing with incarceration (black males being 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their counterparts who graduate), drug dependency, and social safety net payments, costing California nearly $1.1 billion annually (UCSB, September 2009) . This is a crisis of epic proportions. Lacking real access to a quality education, an entire generation of young people – black, brown, Asian and white – are marginalized at the edges of the economic and social mainstream and are left without a true opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

In spite of all the evidence pushing for swift and decisive action, recent actions by the California Legislature have cast doubt about the willingness of those in power to place the needs of students and the future of this State above immediate, short-term political interests. The gamesmanship around SBX5 1 and ABX5 8 has brought this state to the brink of failure to qualify for federal Race to the Top (RT3) funding. While the funding is important, what is more vital is the opportunity to provide real change and reform to a public education system that has long been broken and has failed miserably to adequately serve those most in need of its services – poor and ethnic students who lack real educational options.

The Urban Leagues in California, with three affiliates in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego and who serve thousands of families daily, are calling for the Governor and legislature to take action on RT3 that provides all students with choice, an ‘exit option’ from poor performing traditional schools, and accountability at all levels of the public education system. Choice is a bedrock principle that will create a drive for innovation and improvement as parents and students ‘vote with their feet’ and find educational options that work for their students; an ‘exit option’ is important because in America, the ability for the people to have a choice and a voice, and to move freely and choose a school that works is simply the right thing to do. Trapping parents and students in a monopoly of ill-performing, inferior educational institutions is simply un-American – isn’t it? The parent trigger is key to empowering parents to participate as a full partner with the schools in the education of their child. And finally, accountability is critical so that we can hold accountable those elements of the system that are underperforming and we can fix the problems that have squandered our most precious resource. In the December 9 hearing, Asemblymember Joan Buchanon made reference to “not wanting to play the ‘blame game’”. I agree, however the game is able to be played because of a lack of accountability – for the teachers, the principals, the educational bureaucracy and the parents. The range of reforms available under RT3 give everyone the opportunity to become empowered and identify their critical role in the education of children, and allow them to live up to it.

For too long, and in too many ways, young people across this state and country have been let down by the education system and by the adults responsible for their care and development. Now is the time to increase the investments we make in young people, enhance the content, opportunities and supports we provide, and empower them to make better choices about both their individual future and the future of our nation.

There is not time to waste. The gamesmanship must end – now. We strongly urge the legislature and the Governor to come together and meet this challenge with the urgency it deserves. Our community cannot afford to delay reform one day longer. The California Urban League’s fully support school choice, the parent trigger and providing accountability in our byzantine educational system. We do not care how or by what bill number it’s called. What we want is an educational system that works for all students.

 

 

Congressional Black Caucus Stands Up for Voiceless and Vulnerable – and Wins

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NNPA Special CommentaryU. S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)

The ten members of the Congressional Black Caucus who serve on the House Financial Services Committee – Reps. Mel Watt, Gregory Meeks (D-NY), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), David Scott (D-GA), Al Green (D-TX), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Andre Carson (D-IN) and I – took a stand to make sure the African-American community receives the attention, assistance and resources needed for our economic recovery. We delivered a loud and clear message to Congressional leaders and White House officials that they cannot take us, or the people we represent, for granted. We made our point and have achieved a significant victory, which we will build upon with continued efforts to put more people back to work and stimulate economic growth in our neighborhoods.

As Congress was working on legislation to reform how big banks operate to make them more accountable and prevent failures that could cause another financial crisis, the CBC Financial Services Committee members united to hold up this legislation.

We did so not because we oppose the legislation; in fact, many of us helped write the bill and were able to put in important provisions to protect American consumers from being ripped off by banks, credit card companies and payday lenders. However, we used our power strategically to say that we cannot focus on fixing the problems on Wall Street while ignoring the hardship endured by families and businesses on Main Street.

This is not to suggest that nothing has been done to help: President Obama and Congress acted quickly to lessen the impact of this recession on the most vulnerable Americans. In February, the Congress passed a stimulus bill that cut taxes for middle class families, extended and increased unemployment insurance, and created and saved more than a million jobs. Although the economy is showing some encouraging signs, high unemployment and foreclosures threaten to slow down the recovery. African Americans have been disproportionately affected by predatory lending (55 percent of loans made to African Americans in 2005 were subprime, compared to 17 percent for Whites), and the unemployment rate of African Americans is currently 15.6 percent, 56 percent higher than the overall national rate. As a result, African-American neighborhoods have experienced higher levels of foreclosures, which cause families to lose their homes and the home values of the entire area to drop. The CBC members who serve on the Financial Services Committee acknowledge that we have not been forceful enough in protecting the most vulnerable of our population. Since last September, we have continuously voted for bailouts and reform for the very institutions that created the financial crisis, without properly protecting the African American community, or small business. At a widely covered press conference we declared, “That stops today.”

Places where economic suffering has occurred over years, even decades, and is now especially severe, require additional support and extra attention. In discussions with leaders of Congress and officials from the Obama Administration, we have pushed for a renewed, vigorous focus on the economic challenges many African-American families and businesses are facing.

We have already had success. As a result of our clout and willingness to block legislation if necessary, House leaders agreed to include some important proposals that we advocated in the financial regulatory reform legislation this week.

We secured $4 billion within the Wall Street reform package for homeowners and communities dealing with the foreclosure crisis, of which $3 billion will be made available so homeowners with reduced income as a result of unemployment, underemployment, or medical conditions can receive low-interest loans to help them stay in their homes. Homeowners must be at least 3 months behind on their mortgage payments, have received a foreclosure notice, and must have a reasonable prospect of being able to resume making full mortgage payments to qualify. They will be eligible to receive low-interest loans for up to 24 months, up to a total of $50,000, to make their mortgage payments.

An additional $1 billion will be directed to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to provide grants to state and local governments to purchase foreclosed properties, fix them up and make them available for rent or purchase by low- and middle-income families. Created last year through legislation supported by the CBC, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been a success. However, because the program has received more applications than could be funded, the additional funding will be helpful.

The legislation also includes a provision the CBC members of the Financial Services Committee authored to establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion in many government agencies so qualified minority- and women-owned businesses can fully participate in government contracting opportunities. Having recommitted ourselves to fighting for the voiceless and the vulnerable, we will continue to develop and advocate for solutions that serve all Americans.

The rights are sometimes in conflict with institutional practices today, but the authors believe it is essential to start from the child’s perspective to work on what is possible.

Chicken Hawks: All Talk and No Action

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By A. Peter Bailey –

The shrillest chicken hawk supporters of United States military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan repeatedly insist that the country’s national security is at stake, that anyone who opposes these military adventures is literally putting everyone in the country in danger. Which, in my opinion, raises a very obvious question.

If the desk-bound warriors sincerely believe that the nation’s national security is at stake, why aren’t they or their children or other close relatives in the military where they can directly confront the enemy who they insist threatens the system from which they have reaped huge financial benefits? It would seem that the most productive way to support the troops fighting in the two wars is to join them in the trenches instead of blissfully preparing to celebrate upcoming holidays.

If all the chest-beaters and their viewers, listeners, and readers would do that there would be no need to continue sending the children of low-income Black, Latino and White families on 3-5 tours of duty in the combat zone. Because the chicken hawks talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk, there is basically an unofficial draft in place that sends youngsters on repeated tours of combat duty, while their offspring are attending college, partying in Las Vegas or Florida or launching potentially lucrative careers.

The chicken hawks pontificate on television and radio programs and in newspapers and magazines about what “we” must do to stop the enemy. “We” must fight for total victory; “We” must be willing to fight however long to defend national security; “We” can’t talk to terrorists; “We” must show AL Qaeda who’s boss; “We” must destroy the Taliban; “We” should not set any time table about leaving Afghanistan; “We” conducted a successful surge in Iraq; “We” don’t take no stuff from nobody. Sometimes such trash-talking is accompanied by the chicken hawk slamming a fist on his desk or sternly pointing a finger at anyone who dares to challenge his flagrant hypocrisy.

Much more often than not, the most ferocious we-spouters are people who managed to avoid being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, another military adventure they insisted involved concerns about national security. General William Westmoreland, former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, has been quoted as saying that “the military don’t start wars. Politicians start wars.” I would say that politicians and trash-talking radio and television talk show chicken hawks and their counterparts on newspaper op-ed pages start wars, wars in which they have absolutely no intention to fight or send their children and grandchildren to fight in.

Personally, I will believe that the national security of the U.S. is at stake when I see the chicken hawks or their children in the trenches in Iraq and Afghanistan. Journalist/Lecturer A. Peter Bailey, a former associate editor of Ebony, is currently editor of Vital Issues: The Journal of African American Speeches. He can be reached at apeterb@verizon.net.

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