Obama Powered Up And Ready To Work On Job Creation… But Will He Use A 'Green Ladder'?

Article by Edgard Laborde

The forceful language and strong tone in President Obama’s speech is always a wonderful sign. That fighting spirit is what so many want to see from him. To witness this elegant president jump in the fray, or appear to jump in the fray, while standing his ground seems to give many people the “warm and fuzzies” because the candidate they hoped for, the president they voted for, the Leader they sent to Pennsylvania Avenue is the public official they hired to fight for them and in this instances he’s fighting for job creation and oh what a sight. As time continues to pass more and more Americans have observed the disappearance of job opportunities and the lack of creation. When you add the lack of opportunities and the rising cost of living for the working class people you get a growing population of working class people who are, mad, fed up, and unsure about what they can do to better their situation.

The President made sure to throw all the “goodies” into the American Jobs Act. He made sure to highlight the importance of small businesses because they are the engines that create jobs and foster innovation. Obama’s focus on re-building the nation’s infrastructure, building and fixing schools, getting teachers back to work all sound great and incentives to hire both recent and extended laid off workers are sorely needed. These were all great platitudes that set the tone for more discussion on jobs but there were no specifics, no examples.

It is hoped that his promises to close the many loopholes that benefit the few and hamstring the rest is realized. What is worrisome is government’s continued reliance of leaning on tax breaks as a method of job creation instead of focusing and adopting innovative ways to create the atmosphere for good jobs growth…let me be clear, not any job is a “good job.” Every employee should have the opportunity to grow and expand his skill set through training. Employees should have the opportunity to earn a fair wage with fair health benefits for them and their family. Tax breaks do not foster careers where an employee is afforded constant training so that America’s workforce is the most skilled in the world. The American People are ready to hear exactly how good jobs will be created now.

I hoped to hear more innovative and perhaps more detailed examples of what kind of good jobs can be created immediately during this job crisis. Let’s hear about a job sector that is changing, filled with potential innovation, that can last into the future, and cannot be outsourced. That sector is the Home Energy Efficiency Sector.

Here on Long Island, New York business owners, government municipalities, community not-
for-profits, state agencies, and Unions have come together to start-up a new and unique program that will create more “Green Collar” jobs while saving residents money on their energy bill. One such program that is a project of The Long Island Progressive Coalition’s is the Power Up Communities Campaign. Power Up encourages homeowners to make energy-efficient retrofits and improvements on their homes that will ensure cost savings. As more homeowners become involved with Power Up Communities, participating contractors will more employ union trained workers from the community to perform the retrofits and improvements and meet the demand.

People don’t just need any type of job creation; they need career ladders that develop skill sets so that long time employment and growth is assured. The Power Up Communities program provides training with the United Way of Long Island and the Laborers International Union Local 10. For many in historically Black and Brown neighborhoods on Long Island like The Village of Hempstead and Brentwood and Wyandanch where too many are unemployed and under-employed this opportunity will provide an energized hope that they still can provide for their family now and grow as skilled worker in the future.

We also need policies that give people the tools to finance energy efficiency. An example of an actual policy that encourages the increase of demand and in turn job growth in this sector New York State’s Power NY Act, and more specifically On-Bill Recovery. Homeowners in good standing with their utility company can use On-Bill so that the state will pay upfront for retrofit costs. The homeowner can then repay the state over time through their utility using the savings resulting from the improvements.

Such an act allows for moderate income, working class families to do something they never thought of doing, weatherizing their home through retrofits making it more energy-efficient, increasing comfort, while saving several thousand dollars a year while acting as a job engine in their own community. Power Up understands that we are linked which is why community development is a major factor in its business model. Through every referral the contractor pays a $100 fee to the person that makes the referral and another $100 to that individual’s favorite charity, church, synagogue, community organization of their choice in their community, this micro financing truly powers up the community.

Creating jobs now doesn’t just happen in the halls of congress. Especially with this bunch — many of whom would rather sit on their hands than work on their feet on behalf of the many who are under and unemployed fighting to survive. Job creation doesn’t come from tax breaks it comes from understanding what the community needs, what are the demands and then finding a way to provide that service to them. The Home Energy Efficiency Sector is new and needs existing institutions to provide the forum to introduce and explain the benefits for all involved. Without community engagement and grassroots organizing, energy policy would continue to reinforce existing economic inequalities, leaving large numbers of moderate-income households under served. We wish such examples were discussed so that more could replicate New York’s program and Power Up their Communities to create more of these types of good jobs, right away.

The Conversation: President Obama and the Left

Last week angry House Democrats, meeting to discuss the tax deal President Barack Obama negotiated behind their backs with Senate Republicans, chanted, “Just Say No!” at a meeting in the basement of the Capitol. In exchange for extending unemployment benefits the president agreed to keep the lower tax rates on America’s richest 2 percent that President George W. Bush had helped enact a decade ago—tax rates candidate Obama had promised to let expire. Those on the Left felt betrayed. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent/socialist Senator from Vermont, filibustered the bill for 8½ hours on the Senate floor, saying that Obama’s “credibility has been severely damaged.” The president did not appreciate opposition to the compromise from within his own party, calling them “sanctimonious” and unrealistic “purists.” Now there’s talk of someone from the left-wing of the party actually running in a primary against the incumbent, shades of Eugene McCarthy jousting with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968! Has the Left been so dissed it’s time for a third-party challenge? Here to discuss are Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition; Janine Melillo, regional coordinator for MoveOn.org; and Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead).

Lisa: The idea that we’re purists is just wrong. This is a bad bill, and it’s basically giving everything away to the wealthy. The estate-tax component of it is a bitter pill that we are being forced to swallow. But does that mean we’re going to run a third-party candidate against him? No. What it does mean is that the grassroots need to build our own power, and we need to be more vocal and more organized just like the Tea Party is right now. Look at the health care bill. The president definitely took the Left Wing for granted on that one. We didn’t get the public option. He could’ve pushed harder to make sure that it was a requirement. He has never been a progressive. When he was coming into office, we always knew that. The question is how much to the right or how much in the middle is he. This latest bill really is scary for us because what’s going to happen in the next two years? How much to the right will he move?

Kevan: Well, during the campaign I will say that Barack Obama probably came across more as a progressive guy than I thought. I don’t know if I would technically agree with Lisa because he’s gone to the center on this one issue. He’s been more than progressive, I think, on health care reform. Again, he had to structure a deal with moderate and progressive Democrats. At the end of the day it’s something that other presidents hadn’t been able to do. I think he’ll have an opportunity to prove to progressive Democrats that he is definitely in line with their policies and what they’d like to see from their president.

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Janine: Progressives need to keep reminding Obama that he was elected quite convincingly by a majority of the voters because he talked explicitly and confidently about moving this country forward in a progressive direction.  This is what people wanted; this is what people expect. And so there is a lot of disappointment around his preemptive capitulation on the fight over the Bush tax breaks for the rich. MoveOn members have been extensively surveyed since the tax deal was announced, and most members oppose it. For starters, the lion’s share of the benefit will go to the very rich, and this is not an effective way to create jobs, according to most economists. What’s more, the deal would cut payroll taxes, endangering the long-term funding of Social Security−giving Republicans just the opening they want to gut or even nix the program.

Kevan: My response to progressive Democrats is: What would you have done on January 1 if there’s no deal in place? What do you say to those millions of Americans who are no longer going to be receiving job benefits? I don’t think that now is the time that we should be challenging within our own party. The president’s only been there for two years. From my standpoint he should be judged on his full term. America spoke on Nov. 2nd. Republicans took back the House. And it’s important that progressive Democrats, independents, everybody listen.

Janine: The most frightening thing is that we know this isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the Republican tactic of holding the middle class hostage to demand huge and unnecessary bailouts for the rich. Rewarding this tactic now will only encourage them to do it again. As for the president, we will keep urging him to articulate and fight for the progressive agenda he ran on in 2008. And whether he does or not, we will keep doing that ourselves.

Lisa: Right now he has basically put his name on a redistribution of wealth. But a third- party challenge won’t help. We need the left to be stand up and be organized in every district across the country. Having a third-party candidate could give the Republicans the win in the next presidential election. We saw the Ralph Nader effect in 2000, and that’s the last thing we need.