PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

Apparently this question is a no-brainer for the current EPA administrator. If you also don’t support gun reform, you should be prudent. Perhaps, being paranoid is actually wise just in case time travel becomes possible for a really, really Green California Governor from the future to return to the present to avenge the destruction of Earth by terminating (and I don’t mean firing) Scott Pruitt.

This past week, NPR asked an environmental analyst what is Pruitt’s most egregious action. He didn’t know which to pick first. On the policy front, I can’t decide between the recent proposed rollback of regulations to cut planet-threatening vehicle emissions or on-going efforts to overturn the Clean Power Plan. Among his security obsessions, I put the bulletproof vehicle second to the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Pruitt’s office. Makes you wonder who he is talking to.

This past week, PBS’ Nova series premiered “Decoding the Weather Machine.” One segment focused on evangelical meteorologist Paul Douglas on how Faith and climate science are not at odds. Of course, he’s from Minnesota not Oklahoma so what does he know about the weather. The show did reflect on Hope as well and that’s what I offer this Earth Day.

UEC Book CoverEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet Ken Leinbach who has grown Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center into a national demonstration of using environmental education as a tool for inspiring urban revitalization. Ken’s new book, Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities and the World, shares the stories and the impact of its model. If EPA continues to exist, may be a future EPA Administrator is learning to love nature today at one of the Center’s three community-based sites. Makes you wonder about Scott’s childhood.

Among all of President Trump’s court proceedings, he may want to mark in his calendar October 29, 2018 as the first day of trial in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. government. Juliana v. U.S. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. Their case is simple:

“Our government has known about the dangers of climate change for more than fifty years. Despite that knowledge, the United States has continued to pursue reckless and dangerous fossil fuel development, harming the health of our communities and threatening our futures.”  

They’re talking to you, Scott Pruitt. Can’t wait to hear your testimony.

Trial of the CenturyLed by Our Children’s Trust, this youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign is striving to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere. A fitting complement to youth-driven, gun reform campaigns that Congress continues to ignore, suing the government for malpractice and malfeasance certainly is overdue.

Their demand is an appropriate Earth Day wish: “We want a federal Climate Recovery Plan that is in line with both the best available science and climate justice.” Shouldn’t we all? Before Pruitt repeals Earth Day 2019.

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MIXING OIL & WATER NOT GREAT FOR LOUISIANA NOR THE GREAT LAKES

MIXING OIL & WATER NOT GREAT FOR LOUISIANA NOR THE GREAT LAKES

Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.” – Al Gore, Founder & Chairman,The Climate Reality Project, 09/09/2016

Six months after Al Gore’s comments on the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, I had the chance to see An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power. A clear case for why we must all “Still be In!”

I saw the film at the closing of the 7th annual One Earth Film Festival, which is the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival, creating opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement. OEFF LogoAfter more than 30 award-winning films at over 50 screenings, facilitators trained in the Technology of Participation [ToP]® methods developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA-USA] engaged attendees with expert panelists in conversations not only about the films but also on how to connect with meaningful local action.

After the SpillICA’s GreenRise in Chicago’s Uptown community hosted the film “After the Spill.” When the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded in 2010, it spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst ecological disaster in North American history. Louisiana’s coast continues to suffer the consequences today.

As if the film wasn’t scary enough, the post-film panel, facilitated by ICA’s Program Coordinator Samantha Sainsbury included: Bill Latka, founder of Oil and Water Don’t Mix; Nathaniel Miller, Director of Conservation at Audubon Great Lakes; and Matt Edgington, Manager of Mag Mile Patagonia. From them I learned that some of my favorite vacation spots along the west coast of Michigan have been under an OIL THREAT and the State of Michigan is faced with an imminent decision to protect the Great Lakes from the Oil Industry’s “Inconvenient Greed.”

Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids flow through Enbridge’s “Line 5,” a pair of aging pipelines just west of the Mackinac Bridge. line-5-mapLine 5, which starts in Superior, Wisconsin and splits into two pipes as it cuts through the Mackinac Straits on its way to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge has been using publicly-owned lakebed at the Straits as a conduit for its shipments of oil and gas underneath the Straits under a 65-year-old easement granted by the state on the condition that the company operates prudently.

What Worry? Line 5 has failed 29 times since 1968, spilling at least 1.13 million gallons of oil. Repeated disclosures of shoddy maintenance, structural flaws in the pipelines and concealment of critical information from state officials demonstrate Enbridge is not acting prudently. There are at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near the 128 total anchor locations on Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

These decaying pipes threaten the drinking water supply for 5 million Michigan residents and the “Pure Michigan” economy. FYI, the Great Lakes contain 20% of the world’s fresh surface water and are the drinking water source for over 40 million people.

Advocates such as FLOW [For Love of Water] insist “This is the Moment” for the State of Michigan to evict Enbridge from the Mackinac Straits and shut down Line 5 because of the danger its oil pipelines pose to the Great Lakes. The State of Michigan must make a final decision to replace the pipelines or to shut it down by August 15, 2018.

University of Michigan studies call the Mackinac Straits the “worst possible place” for a Great Lakes oil spill, which could pollute up to 720 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Under the best conditions, only 30% of an oil spill would be recovered.

This March, we lost another Champion for Justice: Bob Rafos.

Rafos

Bob Rafos presenting a $25,000 check to CEO of Save the Children Canada

Completing three years this month as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) & the Ecumenical Institute, I recall the pleasure of Bob’s guidance as a board director. I was already booked on a flight to visit him in Toronto when we learned he had completed his life at the age of 82. I missed the opportunity for another partaking of his wisdom.

 

At his last face-to-face ICA-USA board meeting on September 18, 2016, Bob offered this closing reflection that continues to ring true and merits our embrace:

“We are facing the greatest threat of our time: Climate Change. Our role now is as it was before:
• Be a source of awakenment.
• Sound the call to commitment; and
• Demonstrate what is possible.”

Awaken, Sound the Call, Demonstrate… those are all germane verbs for moving people whether its Marching for Our Lives for real change in gun laws or speaking truth to power to assure that we stop Mixing Oil & Water. Thanks for the call Bob.

WAIT, WAIT… DON’T TELL ME… REDLINING LIVES?

One of my two favorite NPR shows is “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” Two special weekly segments are “Bluff the Listener” and “Not My Job”— pertinent portrayals of the Trump Presidency.

The other is Marketplace. My work schedule often has me driving home when it airs at 6:30 pm CT. Those who know my community development origin story can imagine my surprise when on February 15th, the first words I heard on my car radio were:

“this law — the Community Reinvestment Act — did not foresee a lot of the urban dynamics that we have today.”

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal was interviewing Aaron Glantz, a reporter at Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, who was sharing his new article, “Kept Out,” which explores how redlining lives on in today’s economy.

April 11th this year will be the 50th Anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act that banned racial discrimination in lending. Yet, as this article reveals, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

I started my community development career in 1974 researching lending discrimination and sharing stories of communities throughout the US who were organizing against redlining. On May 5, 1975, Chicago’s Gale Cincotta joined community leaders from Milwaukee, Oakland, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Boston and Providence who testified before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee in support of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act [HMDA], passed by Congress later that year.

Philly redlining_1937

A 1937 map of Philadelphia shows redlining of neighborhoods.

Reveal’s yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, found modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of HMDA records analyzed. It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

In addition, Glantz told Marketplace that there are a “lot of neighborhoods where banks are making a ton of loans to white newcomers at the same time that they’re denying a large proportion of people of color who want to buy or refinance or get a home improvement loan to stay in that same neighborhood.” Nothing like financing gentrification and reverse block busting to make housing even less affordable.

Given how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is already being dismantled, we can anticipate that all Trump financial regulators will be “bluffing” when it comes to enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act [CRA] while encouraging a Republican Congress to repeal it and not even bother replacing it. We can also be certain that building local economies and encouraging racial and economic diversity will be regarded by Trump as “Not My Job!”

That’s why it’s still our job. It’s why you should attend the Just Economy conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition [NCRC] on April 9 – 11 in DC.

NCRC & Key Bank 3.18.2016

NCRC Conference March 2016

Our communities can’t afford to be “kept out” any longer. It’s time for a #JustEconomy

Oh by the way, Happy President’s Day?

GOVERNING PAST MIDNIGHT?

GOVERNING PAST MIDNIGHT?

I don’t remember the last time I stayed up past midnight. But on Friday January 19th I did until 12:30 am Eastern. Don’t know why but I thought maybe Mitch McConnell would have something constructive to say about reaching a compromise on immigration. But no it was just the same old blame game. disclosure-oct-1976

Rather than do their job by passing a bi-partisan bill, Congress chose to let our government shut down. They could reach agreement in the coming few days or this drama and sham can play out for weeks.

When I studied political science [BA & MA], I learned that the core of our democracy is embedded in our three branches. Congress can reach consensus to pass legislation and send it to the Sh__ House. The President can then decide what to do with his fancy pen.

More midnights at the impasse are not viable options for the American people. Compassionate immigration is a core American value. It is only fitting for Women’s March Rallies to assemble across the US on the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration and day one of this Trump Sh_tdown.

Women's March B Jan 2018

This coming November we can only hope that thousands of women candidates for local, state and national office will be elected so conversations can flourish and consensus for action can be reached.

However, earlier this week, I heard one woman candidate who does not merit votes. I attended the MLK Day Faith in Action Assembly. I have attended previous ones also organized by the Community Renewal Society. This year our church, Old St. Patrick’s, MLK Assembly Jan 2018hosted the forum. Besides a panel of local aldermen asked to support changes to police union contracts to assure effective reforms, the Action Assembly focused on candidates for the Illinois Governor race.

All five of the Democratic candidates were impressive. The Republican candidate, IL State Rep. Jeanne Ives, not so much and then she really blew it. After a few “No” answers to supporting a few issues, she addressed the final issue of gun violence by replying that the solution is “Fathers in the home.” Sitting next to her was Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy, son of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy.

Chris responded, “I didn’t have a father in my life. Somebody shot him.” He then departed to a standing ovation. The Chicago Tribune headline to its story the next morning was “Kennedy criticizes Ives for ‘stupidity’.” That appears to be a prevalent Republican trait these days.

A year ago, I quoted Bobby Kennedy’s April 5, 1968 speech after Dr. King’s assassination as the appropriate counterpoint to Trump’s inauguration speech. The U.S. Senate would have benefited last night from remembering it.

“Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy

JOINING IN A GREAT EXPERIENCE

JOINING IN A GREAT EXPERIENCE

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience.” – Herman Hesse, The Journey to the East

When a director of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA-USA] shared this mantra at a November 2017 board meeting, I remembered Hesse’s famous book from college days, but was uncertain I had read it. Picking up a copy in ICA’s Archives, I discovered I hadn’t. Now that I have, this opening line serves as an appropriate opening refrain for 2018.

My first 2017 blog offered reflections on the relevancy of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” My March 2017 blog, “MAKING PEACE…RESPECTING DIVERSITY,” was inspired by Senator George Mitchell’s role as narrator for Old St. Patrick’s annual Siamsa na nGael concert. No doubt, my most formidable experience in 2017 was the tour of Auschwitz.

Pope at Auschwitz

Pope Francis enters the Auschwitz gate.

One personal revelation is that I do check my daily horoscopes [in both the Chicago Tribune & Sun-Times] and save my annual birthday ones. One from last week’s birthday prediction claims 2018 will be a “year full of excitement and change!” The other noted: “Family, friends and community groups can accomplish more together.” This is not fake news; these are real horoscopes.

MI Sunset Nov 2017

Lake Michigan 11/25/2017

ICA-USA’s thank you note to 2017 donors quotes Margaret Mead on its cover:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As the sun has set on 2017, best wishes for a Just 2018.

ENDANGERING COMMUNITY INVESTMENT WITH TAX “REFORM”

ENDANGERING COMMUNITY INVESTMENT WITH TAX “REFORM”

There is a significant divergence in meaning between “endanger” and “glimmer.” This may even be the first time that these two words have been used in the same sentence. They also capture differing perspectives on the economic outcome likely to result from tax “reform.”

“GOP’s tax measures endanger a preservation success story” was the original and more appropriate Chicago Tribune headline in my home delivery edition on November 24. Don’t know who at the Trib read the column by Blair Kamin, the Trib’s Architecture Critic, and thought the headline should be rewritten for the on-line version as a “glimmer of hope.” I’m only seeing a little glimmer, while feeling that the Institute of Cultural Affairs’ GreenRise Historic Restoration may be endangered.

We are layering multiple sources of capital for a $15.29 million dollar restoration of the Chicago landmarked building that ICA has owned since 1971 in Uptown.

1927 building pic

Uptown’s Lawrence & Sheridan 1927

One key piece is the Historic Tax Credit (HTC). This financing tool encourages private investment in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Since its inception [initially enacted in 1978 and made permanent in the tax code in 1986], the credit has attracted $131 billion in private capital to revitalize often abandoned and underperforming properties that have a financing gap between what banks will lend and the total development cost of the transaction.

 

Uptown has been and hopefully will remain Chicago’s most economically and racially diverse community. The tenants in our 166,000 square foot building serve 1,000 disadvantaged individuals per week. It is a community anchor for those in need. Restoring our facility for its diverse users is an appropriate use of HTCs. Urban and rural communities throughout the US have historic buildings that can be preserved and repurposed for multiple community needs.

In addition to revitalizing communities such as Uptown and spurring local economic growth, the HTC returns more to the US Treasury than it costs. According to a study commissioned by the National Park Service, since inception, $25.2 billion in federal tax credits have generated more than $29.8 billion in federal tax revenue from historic rehabilitation projects. The credit generates new economic activity by leveraging private dollars that not only preserve historic buildings but also create jobs; through 2016, the rehabilitation of 42,293 historic buildings has created more than 2.4 million jobs, according to the Historic Tax Credit Coalition.

While HTCs were preserved in the tax bill passed by Congress, their value was diminished. Instead of allowing investors to take the full value of the credit when a building opens, as they can now, it parcels out the credit over five years. Historic preservationists fear this change will decrease the attractiveness of the credit and consequently negatively impact its pricing. A project seeking $2 million of Historic Tax Credit investments could lose as much as $400,000 in valuable capital. Historic rehabilitation projects frequently have higher costs, greater design challenges, and weaker market locations—all of which can already cause lender and investor bias against such investments.

Another casualty of Tax “Reform” is the demise of tax credit bonds. While Private Activity Bonds survived the final assault, key new tools such as Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds [QECB] did not. The ICA GreenRise had approval by the Illinois Finance Authority for a QECB of $755,000; but now the clock to issue the bond has been stopped by an act of Congress.

ICA Green Rise Solar Roof

Chicago’s 2nd largest solar array on ICA’s GreenRise generates 25% of building’s power.

An additional stopwatch has been started on New Market Tax Credits [NMTCs], which thanks to Tax “Reform” are now set to expire in 2019. Perhaps, there will be two more rounds of NMTC allocations with a 2018 announcement expected soon and also anticipated for the ICA GreenRise Capital Stack. In Chicago, 123 NMTC projects have been financed since 2001 for a combined cost of $1.6 billion.

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial on December 18th starts:

“If we’re going to give a tax break to billionaires so they can buy more private jets, we should also give a tax break to businesses in cities trying to breathe new life into hard-up neighborhoods. Is that too much to ask?”

Guess, there wasn’t one Republican Senator who was willing to answer that. Tax reform aimed at growing our economy should augment, not diminish community investment.

Blair Kamin concluded his column asking: “Why break what doesn’t need fixing?” I’ll go further: “Why not enhance investors’ tools that can preserve buildings, promote energy efficiency and rebuild communities?”

In their holiday rush for a present to themselves, Republican Senators and Representatives have endangered community investment in their own states and districts as well as our country’s economic future. The divergence between the needs of the many and the wants of the few is only growing for the New Year and the next decade. Any glimmer of hope for community development is itself endangered.

EMPOWERING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT LOCALLY ACROSS THE GLOBE 40 YEARS AGO

EMPOWERING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT LOCALLY ACROSS THE GLOBE 40 YEARS AGO

Two and a half years and 40 blogs ago, I noted that one blessing of my job as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs is the wealth of human spirit and wisdom of our Living Archives. “Their aim is to share the experiences and tools from an energetic 20th century peoples’ movement for social justice and human development with today’s citizen activists, civic leaders, thinkers, and students.”

Band of 24 LogoEarlier this month, 50 former ICA colleagues and current volunteers reunited for the 2017 Fall Archives Sojourn to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of their “Band of 24”. Launched in the early 70s, Human Development Projects [HDPs] were participatory community-building initiatives and coordinated regional development, which by 1977 were in locations across every one of the world’s 24 time zones.

I categorize the Band of 24 as a non-governmental Peace Corps with the aim to empower through measures such as motivating residents, releasing their creativity, and building leadership skills to enable comprehensive change. Each project began with a week-long consultation during which residents and volunteer consultants from around the world shared their expertise in building a plan to meet the community’s needs.

First, the consultation elicited from the community a picture of its hopes and dreams for the future. Then the major factors blocking this vision were identified so that practical proposals and specific tactics, unique to each community, could be created by residents to ensure the implementation of their plan for comprehensive socio- economic development.

Band of 24 10-12-17This month’s Sojourners shared stories, reflected on lessons learned and challenges addressed, stopping to remember those no longer present to share. Video interviews now swell the treasures of ICA’s Global Archives. The origins of ICA’s Technology of Participation [ToP] structured facilitation methods can be discovered in these stories from:

Majuro (The Marshall Islands) / Oyubari (Japan) / Oombulgurri (Australia)

Kwangyung Il/ JeJu-do Korea) / Sudtonggan (Philippines) / Hai Ou (Taiwan)

Nam Wai (Hong Kong) / Kelapa Dua (Indonesia) / Sungai Lui (Malaysia)

Maliwada (India) / Kawangware (Kenya) / El Bayad (Egypt)

Shantumbu (Zambia) / Termine (Italy) / Kreuzburg Ost (Berlin)

Ijede (Nigeria) / Isle of Dogs (London) / Caño Negro (Venezuela)

Ivy City (Washington DC) / Lorne de l’Acadie (Canada) / Fifth City (Chicago)

Delta Pace (Mississippi) / Inyan Wakagapi (North Dakota) / Vogar (Canada)

Band of 24 group photo

ICA Human Development Training Institute for local leadership in Maliwada India (late 1970s)

I am thankful for their past service and their persistent commitment to social justice. Their work forty years ago remains relevant for today’s challenging times. We must re-embrace the value of community-led development if we are ever to attain a just and equitable society.

Singing is a core of ICA’s organizational culture so there were copies of the ICA Songbook in each Sojourner’s packet and numerous songs sung during the course of the week. I offered the following lyrics in my welcoming remarks that I thought were appropriate for the journeys they shared and for my on-going search:

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
From the mountains of faith
To a river so deep
I must be looking for something
Something sacred I lost
But the river is wide
And it’s too hard to cross

And even though I know the river is wide
I walk down every evening and I stand on the shore
And try to cross to the opposite side
So I can finally find out what I’ve been looking for…

In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep
We all end in the ocean
We all start in the streams
We’re all carried along
By the river of dreams
In the middle of the night

The River of Dreams
by Billy Joel