Learning From Franklin Roosevelt: Trickle-Up Economics

The Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

Once upon a time there was a U.S. president who took office during a period of great economic distress, and whose efforts to relieve that distress kicked up fierce opposition. “The president’s recent statements,” one U.S. senator said, “remove any doubt of his policy of state socialism, which necessitates increased activities of the government in either ownership or operation of industry, or both.”

No, I’m not referring to Barack Obama. Senator Simeon D. Fess of Ohio made that statement in 1934, denouncing the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Our current political leaders could learn a few things from Roosevelt, who died 70 years ago, on April 12, 1945. As controversial as he was at times, he is now almost universally regarded as a hero who saved America from disaster. A recent poll of experts on the presidency ranked Roosevelt as our third-greatest president, after Washington and Lincoln.

His words from three quarters of a century ago seem almost eerily relevant in our present era of rising economic inequality. “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much,” Roosevelt said. “It is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

The New Deal’s opponents, just like some political voices we hear today, howled a lot about freedom, to which Roosevelt replied, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

This seems like such a common-sense sentiment that it shouldn’t even be controversial. But many in our current political culture seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past.

Indeed, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted recently, conservatives’ stock refrain is that policies to help those in danger of being left behind are “job killers,” even though time and again such claims have been shown to be wrong. They said that — and indeed keep saying it — about the Affordable Care Act, even though the U.S. economy added 3.3 million jobs during the first year of the law’s implementation.

Roosevelt understood that giving those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder some security and stability doesn’t just help them but strengthens the whole economy. People who feel they have an economic future and a sense of stability are more able to spend money and participate in our consumer-driven economy. That means more business and more profits for companies selling all sorts of goods and services. Sooner or later, even the CEOs benefit. Call it “trickle-up” economics.

We need more trickle-up economics.

In 1968 the federal minimum wage was $1.60 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that’s equal to nearly $11 today, yet the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25, meaning it’s lost about a third of its purchasing power. But amazingly, it’s been impossible to get a minimum wage increase through Congress, where opponents reflexively cry, “Job killer!”

Nonsense. Having a minimum wage close to what someone might actually be able to live on wasn’t a job killer in 1968, when the unemployment rate was 3.6 percent , and it’s not now. Neither are things like paid leave and affordable health coverage for all. Such government actions make prosperity possible.

This shouldn’t be partisan. Indeed, Republicans, who talk so much about the value of work and personal responsibility, ought to be the ones complaining most loudly that the phrase “working poor” should not exist in this country.

Roosevelt wasn’t perfect by any means. His failure to take strong action against lynching, for example, will always be a stain on his record. But on the broad issue of the relationship between the American people and their government, he got it right: “The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”

We could use more of that attitude today — not to mention some more trickle-up economics.

La Política Climática de CA Mejora la Vida de los Latinos

La Opinion
by Orson Aguilar

Un cambio sorprendente en California está mejorando las vidas de los latinos a lo largo y ancho de nuestro estado.

Jesús Magallanes, que usa el nombre Jesse, es uno de los beneficiados. Nacido en Los Ángeles, Jesse ha vivido en Visalia desde los 17 años, casi siempre trabajando en construcción.

Pero la industria de la construcción “se derrumbó con la recesión económica”, explica Jesse, y él tuvo que hacer trabajos ocasionales para salir adelante, yendo a empacadoras, manejando montacargas, hacia lo que había disponible. En muchas ocasiones tenía cuatro o cinco trabajos de medio tiempo, todos ellos de salario mínimo, y apenas subsistía.

Era una batalla constante. “Estaba ganando 300 dólares por semana y tuve que regresar a vivir a la casa de mis padres en Visalia”, él recuerda. Jesse vivió con ellos por tres años, ayudándoles a pagar la renta, mientras tenía múltiples trabajos y buscaba mejores oportunidades.

Fue entonces que se enteró que había muchos puestos nuevos trabajando con compañías de energía solar. Jesse recibió capacitación de instalador solar por medio de Proteus Inc., una escuela técnica local. Mientras recibía capacitación en Proteus, Jesse trabajó de voluntario por más de 100 horas en “GRID Alternatives”. GRID Alternatives es una organización nacional sin fines de lucro que provee capacitación laboral para instaladores solares y también sistemas solares gratis o de bajo costo para familias de bajos recursos. Con su esfuerzo constante Jesse pronto llegó a ser líder de un equipo de GRID.

Cuando conocí a Jesse, él y su equipo estaban instalando paneles solares en la vivienda de Gerardo y Leticia Ramírez, una familia latina de bajos recursos que vive en la ciudad de Madera en el Valle Central.

Para ellos, las políticas de California para combatir el calentamiento global fueron fundamentales. GRID Alternatives está a cargo del Programa de Hogares Unifamiliares Asequibles con Sistemas Solares de California, o SASH, por sus siglas en inglés, instalando sistemas solares subsidiados para familias de bajos recursos. SASH es una de las iniciativas de California para promover energía limpia y combatir el cambio climático.

SASH y otros programas similares están recibiendo un estímulo de $75 millones este año, y aún más en años venideros, gracias a dos leyes, la AB 32 y la SB 535.

Dichas leyes autorizan a California a cobrarle a los grandes contaminadores industriales por las porquerías que ponen en nuestro aire. El dinero recaudado va a un fondo que financia proyectos para seguir limpiando nuestro aire, ahorrar energía y promover fuentes limpias de energía como la solar y la eólica. Además, la ley impone que por lo menos una cuarta parte de los recursos se deberán emplear para ayudar a comunidades necesitadas y altamente contaminadas.

Tristemente, la lista de comunidades contaminadas y necesitadas incluye muchas comunidades altamente latinas y otras comunidades de color en el estado — Madera y Fresno en el Valle Central, el Este de Los Ángeles, el Inland Empire, parte de San Diego y otros.

Los contaminadores industriales detestan estas buenas leyes y han estado tratando de presionar a la legislatura estatal para que las ablanden o eliminen.

No podemos dejarlos que ganar. Hemos creado sitios web en español e inglés para dar a conocer las historias de Jesse y otras personas semejantes. Esperamos así lograr que se corra la voz acerca de los beneficios brindados por las leyes de energía y clima de California. Le invitamos a visitar es.UpLiftCA.org (en español) o UpliftCA.org (en ingles) para aprender más acerca de este importante tema.

California Climate Policy Changing Latino Lives for the Better

Eastern Group Publications
by Orson Aguilar

Something amazing is starting in California, and it’s changing Latino lives for the better all over our state.

Jesus Magallanes, who usually calls himself Jesse, is one of them. Born in Los Angeles, Jesse has lived in Visalia since age 17, working in construction most of that time.

But the construction industry “took a big old hit with the economic downturn,” he explains. So he did odd jobs to get by – at packinghouses, driving a forklift, whatever he could get. The jobs were always part-time, at or near minimum wage, and he often had to juggle four or five small jobs at a time to barely make ends meet.

It was a struggle. “I was making $300 a week and I had to move back into my parents’ house in Visalia,” he recalls. He helped his parents out with rent, living with them for three years while working multiple jobs and looking for better opportunities.

Then, he heard that jobs in the solar energy industry were starting to open up in his area. Jesse went through solar installation training at Proteus Inc., a local technical school. While training with Proteus, he did over 100 hours of volunteer work with GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit that provides job training in solar installation and no- to very low cost solar power systems for low income families. He did well enough that he became a GRID team leader.

When we met Jesse, he was leading a crew putting solar panels on the home of a low-income Latino family in the Central Valley town of Madera, Gerardo and Leticia Ramirez.

That’s where California’s policies to fight global warming come into the picture. GRID Alternatives manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing solar for low-income families who otherwise couldn’t afford it. SASH is part of California’s effort to promote clean energy and combat climate change.

Thanks to two smart laws, AB 32 and SB 535, SASH and similar programs are now getting a $75 million boost in the current fiscal year, and will continue to grow over time.

Under these laws, California charges big, industrial polluters for the filth they put into our air. That money then goes into a fund that finances projects to further clean our air, save energy and promote clean power sources like solar and wind. And by law at least one quarter of those funds must go to projects that help economically disadvantaged, highly polluted communities.

Sadly, that list of polluted and economically struggling neighborhoods includes plenty of heavily Latino communities and other communities of color around the state, from Madera and Fresno in the Central Valley to East Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, parts of San Diego and more.

The polluters don’t like it one bit, and they’ve been pressing the state legislature to weaken and kill these good laws.

We can’t let them succeed. To help get the word out to our communities about the benefits of California’s climate and clean energy laws, we’ve assembled the stories of people like Jesse, along with practical information for families and business owners, and put it all onto a special website, in both Spanish and English. We invite you to visit es.UpLiftCA.org (Spanish) or UpliftCA.org (English) to learn more.

Orson Aguilar is executive director of The Greenlining Institute, greenlining.org, which recently launched es.UpLiftCA.org.

Guest Blogger: Alvaro Sanchez “California’s Smart Climate Policies Help Latinos”

Latinovations
by Alvaro Sanchez

Something amazing is starting in California. It’s changing Latino lives for the better all over our state, and could set a precedent for the rest of the nation.

Leticia and Gerardo Ramirez live in Madera, a small town in California’s Central Valley – a corner of the state where the economy still struggles, untouched by the Bay Area’s tech boom. They have a home they literally helped build themselves under the auspices of Self-Help Enterprises, but with four kids and not much money for extras, the Ramirezes – like many working families – never imagined they could have solar power for their home.

But they have it now, thanks to a state program that helps low-income families afford clean, efficient rooftop solar systems. That program is about to grow, thanks to California’s climate change law, AB 32, and follow-up legislation called SB 535.

Under AB 32, polluters have to pay for the filth they put into our air – carbon that damages our climate and the soot and toxic chemicals that come with it. That money then goes to fund projects that further cut pollution – for example, by promoting energy efficiency and clean power – and SB 535 mandates that one quarter of those funds must go to projects in highly polluted, economically struggling communities. Sadly, many Latino communities – in the Central Valley, parts of Los Angeles and elsewhere around the state – fit that definition.

These policies don’t just help consumers, they’re providing real jobs – not minimum-wage service jobs, but actual careers – to real people like Jesus (Jesse) Magallanes.

Born in Los Angeles, Jesse has lived in Visalia, another Central Valley town, since age 17, working in construction most of that time. But the construction industry “took a big old hit with the economic downturn,” he explains. So he did odd jobs to get by – at packinghouses, driving a forklift, whatever he could get. The jobs were always part-time, at or near minimum wage, and he often had to juggle four or five small jobs at a time to barely make ends meet.

It was a struggle. “I was making $300 a week and I had to move back into my parents’ house in Visalia,” he recalls. He helped his parents out with rent, living with them for three years while working multiple jobs and looking for better opportunities.

Then, he heard that jobs in the solar energy industry were starting to open up in his area, so Jesse went through solar installation training at a local technical school. While training, he did over 100 hours of volunteer work with GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit that provides job training in solar installation and no- to very-low-cost solar power systems for low income families. He did well enough that he became a GRID team leader.

When we met Jesse, he was leading the crew putting solar panels on the Ramirez family’s home, part of a day of solar installations done by GRID Alternatives.

That’s where California’s policies to fight global warming come into the picture. GRID Alternatives manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing solar for low-income families like the Ramirezes who otherwise couldn’t afford it. SASH is part of California’s effort to promote clean energy and combat climate change.

Thanks to AB 32 and SB 535, SASH and similar programs are getting a $75 million boost in the current fiscal year, and will continue to grow over time. And that’s just the start: Over a quarter of a billion dollars is ready to flow into a variety of projects in low-income, highly polluted communities, funding clean energy, home retrofits, urban forestry, affordable housing near transit and much more.

The polluters, led by Big Oil, don’t like it one bit, and they’ve been pressing the state legislature to weaken and kill these good laws.

We can’t let them succeed. To help get the word out to our communities about the benefits of California’s climate and clean energy laws, we’ve assembled the stories of people like Jesse and the Ramirezes, along with practical information for families and business owners, and put it all onto a special website, in both Spanish and English. We invite you to visit UpliftCA.org(English) or es.UpLiftCA.org (Spanish) or to learn more.

And please help spread the word – our air, our health and our communities depend on it!

Alvaro Sanchez is Environmental Equity Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute, which created UpliftCA.org. He leads the organization’s work on SB 535, which directs at least one quarter of California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to disadvantaged communities.

Public CRA Benchmarks Would Boost Transparency in Bank Mergers

American Banker
by Roberto Barragan and Earl “Skip” Cooper II

Earlier this week, the authors of an American Banker blog post suggested that the Greenlining Institute and the California Reinvestment Coalition should not have asked the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to investigate the timing of grants, lending, and investments made to nonprofits in relation to the proposed merger of CIT Group and OneWest Bank.

As members of these state-wide coalitions, we’ve been involved in opposing this proposed merger. We stand by the position that regulators should investigate the timing of OneWest’s grants, lending, and investments. If in fact these banks are attempting to influence support with the promise of payoffs, regulators should not allow it.

Despite disagreeing with the overall tone of the post, we did find some common ground with the authors’ suggestions. We had earlier called on OneWest and CIT to commit at least .03% of deposits to charitable purposes. We now join in their suggestion that the two banks strengthen their commitment by dedicating .05% of their deposits to charitable purposes, which would more than double what the bank has proposed under its current CRA plan.
However, philanthropy is only one aspect of the activities that banks engage in under the CRA, which is why our coalition members advocate for public benchmarks on all CRA activities.

In working with banks, our coalitions advocate for the banks to develop clear CRA plans that include benchmarks on activities like community development investments, small business lending, home loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers and branch presence. In our experience, clearly defined goals are the foundation of a strong CRA plan and commitment. They allow for objective analysis of a bank’s CRA record, comparison to peer banks, and a better way to measure the public benefit (or lack thereof) from a proposed merger.

While our coalitions already use these benchmarks in our work with banks, we believe that broader adoption by all of the banks and their regulators would enable everyone to see which banks are performing well and which ones are not.

This change would make it less convenient for banks to make vague promises to do better in the future-if their merger is approved now.

Public CRA benchmarks also create an increased level of transparency that puts to rest any questions about whether banks might improperly use grants to secure support for proposed mergers (or even if those grants might give the appearance of impropriety).

With 96% of banks receiving a “satisfactory” rating or better since the inception of the CRA, using transparent benchmarks would also address both advocate concerns about CRA grade inflation and banks’ concerns about CRA exams being too subjective.

For these reasons, we call on OneWest and CIT Group to commit to a strong and transparent CRA plan for reinvesting in California communities.

Unfortunately, OneWest and CIT Group’s proposed plan currently falls short on all of our benchmarks. Based on the CRC’s analysis of the limited data provided by the banks, their proposed plan calls for a level of activities that are a fraction of what their peer banks and even smaller banks are already doing.

Moreover, the proposed CRA plan also contradicts stronger goals established in OneWest’s strategic plan for the years 2012-2015. For example, OneWest’s CRA strategic plan calls for annual lending and investment goals, as well as multifamily lending goals. But in the latest version of the proposed CRA plan, there are no actual goals set for multifamily lending or community development loans.

The banks’ current CRA plan is especially disappointing given that both CIT Group and OneWest Bank received subsidies provided by taxpayers and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., to say nothing of the harm caused by tens of thousands of OneWest foreclosures across the country. Based on our analysis, we believe the merger should not move forward until the banks create a more robust CRA plan.

Until there is agreement among banks, regulators, and advocacy coalitions about adopting clear CRA benchmarks, advocacy coalitions like CRC and Greenlining will continue to call for public hearings on troubled bank mergers, to remind people about earlier public subsidies to banks, and to ask difficult questions. Our clients, communities—and our fellow taxpayers, in the case of this merger—depend on this vigilance.

Roberto Barragan is president and chief executive of VEDC and a board member of the
California Reinvestment Coalition. Earl ‘Skip’ Cooper II is president and CEO of the
Black Business Association and a coalition member of the Greenlining Institute.

At Five Years Old, Obamacare Is Uneven and Incomplete—But It’s Working

The Progressive
by Orson Aguilar

On its fifth anniversary, the secret of Obamacare is that it’s working.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, is doing precisely what it was supposed to do: provide health coverage to millions of Americans who didn’t have it and couldn’t afford it.

The numbers are stark. At the end of the third quarter of 2013, just before enrollment started under the act, 18 percent of Americans lacked health insurance, according to Gallup. This translated into more than 46 million people with scant access to health care. By the end of 2014, the uninsured portion of the U.S. population dropped to just 12.9 percent. That’s still too high, but it’s the best in years.

The rates of health coverage for Americans have improved across the board, but they’ve increased the most for the groups that have had it worst. For African-Americans, the uninsured segment dropped from 20.9 percent to 13.9 percent in just one year, while for Latinos it dropped from 38.7 percent to 32.4 percent. Looked at by income, those making less than $36,000 per year made the biggest gains, with the uninsured share for them dropping nearly 7 percentage points.

But these gains have been spread unevenly. The states that embraced the new law—setting up their own health insurance marketplaces and expanding Medicaid—have seen the biggest gains.

We’ve seen this firsthand here in California, which has led the nation in implementation, helping more than 2 million people gain health insurance in the act’s first year. But states that didn’t set up their own marketplaces and didn’t expand Medicaid deprived their citizens of many of these gains. By mid-2014, according to Gallup, the states that embraced the Affordable Care Act made nearly twice as much progress in cutting the uninsured rate as those that didn’t.

The difference was dramatic. Every single one of the ten states with the largest drops were those that expanded Medicaid and established a state-based health marketplace or joined a state-federal partnership, according to Gallup.

Ah, but isn’t the law breaking the bank? No. According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, the law’s costs are running less than expected because health insurance premiums aren’t rising as fast as they did before health care reform.

Obamacare is not perfect. It doesn’t cover everyone, and in a country as wealthy as ours, that’s a disgrace. And it depends too much on private health insurance, a system rife with waste and dysfunction.

But while not a perfect law, the Affordable Care Act is a good law. If Congress ever succeeds in repealing it or if the Supreme Court cuts the heart out of it (as could happen later this year), millions of Americans will suffer for no reason.

Obamacare is working, and families across America are better off as a result.

Ben Benavidez and Orson Aguilar: CPUC Should Reject Comcast/Time Warner Merger

The Fresno Bee
by Ben Benavidez and Orson Aguilar

The California Public Utilities Commission must act to stop the digital divide from getting worse by saying “no” to the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Any other move would only reduce competition, worsen service in the San Joaquin Valley and harm low-income consumers everywhere.

That’s unfortunate because, as Hugo Morales noted in his Bee commentary Feb. 24, conditions that the CPUC is considering attaching to any OK could do considerable good. Unfortunately, those conditions won’t solve the much larger problems the merger will cause, and Comcast’s track record makes it clear it will likely ignore most of them anyway. And neither the CPUC nor the public will be in a position to do much about it.

The commission’s proposed decision rightly notes that the merger would give the merged company unprecedented market power. As a result, it would subject customers to “poorer customer service, fewer service offerings, and fewer program choices” while causing Time Warner Cable customers to lose access to Time Warner Cable content and forcing them to live with Comcast’s famously terrible customer service.

Rather than bridging the digital divide, the merger would worsen it, creating permanent second-class service for low-income customers. Internet Essentials, Comcast’s nearly invisible program for low-income broadband customers, would be allowed to run at speeds far below the federal minimum standard for broadband service. Care for a ride on the back of the digital bus, anyone?

And while the proposed conditions seek to promote increased broadband service in underserved areas, the way they are worded provides no guarantee that any build-out of broadband infrastructure would actually reach working-class communities, farmworker communities and other low-income neighborhoods. Comcast could meet the conditions by adding broadband facilities in the Los Gatos hills or wealthy resort communities.

It gets worse. The first condition requires Comcast to offer LifeLine (discounted phone service for low-income customers) to all eligible customers in the new company’s service territory. Unfortunately, the CPUC can’t actually make Comcast offer LifeLine at all. Federal law allows companies to opt out of LifeLine in most circumstances, and consumer advocates like Consumers Union and The Greenlining Institute have pointed out that Comcast could do so immediately.

Overall, the conditions set excellent goals but give Comcast so much wiggle room that they would do very little to bridge the digital divide or otherwise to protect consumers from the power of the new communications behemoth the merger would create.

Bear in mind that Comcast has done huge mergers before, and we’ve seen how the company behaves. It simply ignores conditions it doesn’t like.

For example, when Comcast joined with NBC Universal, the Federal Communications Commission allowed the deal despite objections from consumer groups, but attached multiple conditions — that Comcast ignored.

The FCC required Comcast to “visibly offer and actively market” stand-alone broadband service (i.e. broadband not bundled with telephone or cable TV) for $50 a month for at least three years. The company largely ignored this pledge, failing to mention the service in customer mailings or offer it at retail locations.

It was listed on the company website, but buried in an obscure spot where customers had to hunt for it. Comcast eventually agreed to pay an $800,000 fine for these violations — pocket change for a company this large. And this isn’t an isolated incident; Comcast’s history of noncompliance is long indeed.

Even if the proposed conditions were adequate, there is no reason to believe Comcast will obey them, and little prospect that the CPUC will have the resources to investigate and punish violations. To protect consumers — and have any real chance of making broadband available and affordable to communities that need it — the CPUC should reject this merger entirely.

‘Too Big to Fail’ Banks: Glimmers of Hope

The Huffington Post
by Preeti Vissa

Last December I wrote about a bank merger deal that could create yet another “too big to fail” bank from the smoking embers of two of the very banks that helped blow up our economy in 2008: OneWest Bank (formerly IndyMac) and CIT Bank. While I’m baffled that this merger is still pending, I’m happy to report a bit of good news.

The federal officials who must approve the merger have listened to the pleas of community groups and consumer advocates that they not rush this deal through. Groups like the California Reinvestment Coalition and The Greenlining Institute (where I work) strongly urged the feds to hold a public hearing to ensure full vetting of the deal’s impact on the communities these companies serve — or fail to serve, as is more often the case. The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have agreed to hold a joint public hearing on the impact of the merger this Thursday, Feb. 26 in Los Angeles, including testimony from individuals and community organizations.

All of the reasons I laid out for being skeptical of this merger still hold. Both banks have a sketchy past: OneWest emerged from the ashes of the failed IndyMac, one of the largest bank failures in American history. CIT experienced one of the largest bankruptcies on record, and did so after taking $2.3 billion in federal bailout money and breaking its promise to help small businesses. Executives of both banks dismiss this history as if it never happened.

In addition, bank officials have failed to address the needs of the communities the new supersized bank would serve (including an initial refusal to make meaningful commitments to low-income communities under the Community Reinvestment Act), acting instead as a bank for the top 1 percent. OneWest does almost no purchasing from minority-owned businesses, and CEO Joseph Otting has responded to legitimate questions with crude attempts to strong-arm community groups into supporting the deal.

Now the people will get to speak to the regulators. Live. In person. Face to face. Because opportunities like this are rare, it’s important for people who want a fair and responsive banking system to show up in numbers.

Of course, no one can predict what the Fed and the OCC will eventually do, but even if they approve the merger, they could attach conditions that would benefit consumers, particularly those not part of the 1 percent. But whatever action officials finally take, the very fact that this hearing is happening is a small win for the people.

Why? For one thing, it will create a public record. All the comments — from the public and community advocates as well as from the banks and their supporters — will be public and available online, creating an invaluable resource for all who want to keep the new institution honest as it moves forward.

Just as importantly, it helps establish that these sorts of bank megamergers shouldn’t be easy or quick. Banks should know that they’ll have to go through a thorough examination at which the communities they serve will have a real voice, and they should be ready to address those concerns or face time-consuming, expensive delays.

Strikingly, rather than address those concerns, Otting tried to head off a hearing by generating a blitz of form-letter emails to regulators, claiming that “there is no need for a public hearing” and that the “merger will retain and create new jobs in California.” That he didn’t get away with it is a good thing all by itself. Hopefully, Otting will be able to explain what jobs will be created, other than the few multimillion-dollar-compensated executive positions CIT will move to the state.

If you will be in Los Angeles Feb. 26, I urge you to attend. The hearing will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, located at 950 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. If you can’t make it for the whole day, opponents of the merger will hold a rally outside the building starting at 12:15 p.m. And by all means join the conversation online by using the hashtag #StopOneWestCIT. My colleagues will be posting updates on Twitter @Greenlining.

California Climate Policy Improves Lives in Valley

Visalia Times-Delta
by Orson Aguilar and Tate Hill

Denny Sysaknoi had never met Leticia and Gerardo Ramirez until last November. Today, they not only know each other, they stand as real-world examples of how California’s climate change laws are changing lives for the better here in the Valley.

The Ramirez family lives in Madera, in a home they literally helped build themselves under the auspices of Self-Help Enterprises. With four kids and not much money for extras, the Ramirezes – like many working families – never imagined they could have solar power for their home.

But they have it now, thanks to a state program that helps low-income families afford clean, efficient rooftop solar systems. That program is about to grow, thanks to California’s global warming law, AB 32, and follow-up legislation called SB 535.

Under AB 32, polluters have to pay for the filth they put into our air – carbon that damages our climate and the soot and toxic chemicals that come with it. That money then goes to fund projects that further cut pollution – for example, by promoting energy efficiency and clean power – and SB 535 mandates that one quarter of those funds must go to projects in highly polluted, economically struggling communities. Sadly, parts of Visalia, Fresno, Madera and many other Valley communities meet that definition.

That’s where 21-year-old Denny Sysaknoi comes in. He helped lead the crew that installed the Ramirez family’s solar system, but his life nearly took a very different turn.

Denny “grew up with no parents,” he says, in a corner of Fresno “that was violent, and there were always shootings around.” His brother, a gang member, has been in prison in Oklahoma since age 15. Denny had his own brush with the law at 16, when he was arrested for possessing an unregistered gun. He got kicked out of school. He knows that his life could have gone downhill from there.

But it didn’t. He enrolled in a vocational training program through Fresno’s Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC). EOC sent him to nonprofit GRID Alternatives, where he did a six-month internship that eventually led him to a position as a crew leader with Lifestyle Solar, a Central Valley solar installer.

GRID Alternatives manages California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Homes program (SASH), installing solar for low-income families who would not otherwise have access. At the same time, the organization provides hands-on solar training for people like Denny, giving them the experience they need to land jobs in the growing clean energy economy.

Our pioneering climate change and clean energy law will pump $75 million into programs like SASH this coming year, making solar affordable for working families and creating jobs for people like Denny.

Thanks to California’s smart, sensible laws, the Ramirez family will save as much as $25,000 on power over their lifetimes. And Denny Sysaknoi, who could easily have slipped into a life of gangs and prison cells, now has a job, a family and a future.

We’re hearing a lot from the oil industry and its front groups that are fighting California’s clean energy laws tooth and nail. They want to frighten you, and they don’t want you to think about the real families and real neighborhoods these laws are already helping.

But Denny and the Ramirezes know better. To learn more about them and about California’s clean energy laws, visit www.UpLiftCA.org (English) or es.UpLiftCA.org (Spanish)

America Would Like to Forget Malcolm X

Miami Herald
by Orson Aguilar

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were the two defining civil rights leaders of the 1960s, but only one of them got a holiday. The other has been largely ignored by white America because 50 years after his assassination on Feb. 21, 1965, he still makes whites uncomfortable.

Rather than ignore that discomfort, Americans should learn from it.

Malcolm’s father, a civil rights activist himself, was likely murdered by white supremacists when Malcolm was a child. When as a young man, Malcolm expressed interest in becoming a lawyer, his teacher told him to “be realistic” and suggested he pursue carpentry. That he emerged with a great distrust of white people is hardly surprising.

Malcolm X refused to renounce violence, famously saying that African-Americans must win their freedom “by any means necessary.” While making it clear that he would prefer to reach equality by peaceful means, he also said, “I am not against using violence in self-defense,” adding pointedly, “The only people in this country who are asked to be nonviolent are black people.”

It’s hard to imagine the families of victims Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner or Tamir Rice disagreeing with that statement.

Malcolm’s rhetoric about white people was sometimes harsh, but he grew more expansive in his last months, saying, “I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race.” But he never backed down from the idea that African-Americans couldn’t depend on the generosity of whites but instead needed to control their own destiny.

“We don’t believe that we can win a battle where the ground rules are laid down by those who exploit us,” Malcolm X said in one of his later speeches. “We don’t believe that we can carry on a struggle trying to win the affection of those who for so long have oppressed and exploited us.”

It’s tricky to speculate on what someone who’s been dead for 50 years would say about present-day society, but if Malcolm X were suddenly dropped into 2015 America, he probably wouldn’t be shocked to learn that for every dollar of wealth a U.S. white family has, the median black family has a little more than a nickel. He most likely wouldn’t be surprised to see white politicians working to suppress the voting rights of blacks, with a wink and a nod from the U.S. Supreme Court.

He might even say, “I told you so.”