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Why the Spending Bill Will Hurt Immigrant Detainees

Co-published by the American Prospect
Angry immigrant rights activists say the generous ICE funding flies in the face of many Democrats’ stated desire to put the brakes on the Trump administration’s deportation surge.

Robin Urevich




Co-published by the American Prospect

Both houses of Congress approved a $333 billion spending bill Thursday, granting President Trump $1.375 billion for border fencing—far less than the $5.7 billion he’d requested for a border wall. The bill also includes a record $4.2 billion allocation to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for its detention and deportation activities.

Before the vote, four freshman Congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — issued a statement announcing they would oppose the bill because of the ICE funding increase.

“By any reasonable measure,” they wrote, “Donald Trump’s weaponization of ICE and CBP has been a failure. The Department of Homeland Security does not deserve an increase in funding.”

Immigrant rights activists were equally angry, saying the generous ICE funding flies in the face of many Democrats’ stated desire to put the brakes on the Trump administration’s deportation surge.

A statement from Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, lambasted the new budget deal, arguing that it would allow ICE to “lock up and deport as many immigrants as possible, including established members of our communities and refugees who arrived at our borders seeking safety.”

“I can’t tell you anything about this deal that is better than the status quo other than it removes the looming threat of a shutdown,” said Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network.

The Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee bill summary claimed the bill’s increase of the ICE detention bed limit from 40,500 to 45,000 “preserves ICE’s flexibility to enforce the law and places no arbitrary cap on ICE detention.”

Some Democrats reasoned that the 45,000 detention bed limit will actually decrease the current detention population, a contention that immigrant rights activists dispute.

That’s because 49,000 men and women currently languish in detention, 8,500 more than Congress authorized in its 2018 spending measure. To comply with the new 45,000 annual limit, ICE would have to empty those 8,500 beds by year’s end.

“The amount provided in the agreement is intended to bring the current detention bed level of over 49,000 down to 40,520 by the end of the year,” an appropriations committee summary of the bill noted. Appropriators figured that if ICE achieved that reduction, its average daily bed occupancy would be at or under the 45,000 limit on average for the year.

But Small predicted the effort would fail. She argued that Congress has caved to ICE’s strategy of overspending, thus expanding its detention capacity. “ICE tried to change facts on the ground so Congress would bail them out and now Congress is bailing them out,” Small said.

Immigrant detainees are held in prison-like conditions in some 200 detention centers and county jails across the country, although they’re held only to await deportation or to compel their appearance at immigration court hearings, not to serve criminal sentences.

The detainee population has increased sevenfold in the past 25 years, even though arrests of undocumented immigrants along the Southern border are at historic lows.

Democrats also claim that now that they control the House Appropriations Committee, they can curb ICE overspending by denying DHS permission to transfer or reprogram funds to ICE from other DHS agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Coast Guard, as the department has done in recent years. It is customary for DHS to seek Congressional approval for such transfers or reprogrammings, but it’s not legally required. DHS is allowed to transfer up to 10 percent of its budget between agencies – if it does so, it customarily asks for congressional approval, but there’s no law that says it has to. It’s just what has always been done, according to one congressional budget staffer.

The Democrats further argue the new spending plan increases ICE accountability for detention conditions that have been criticized by human rights groups and DHS’s Inspector General. Congress will now require weekly reports from ICE on the number of detainees in custody. The bill prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant women who are detained, requires monthly reports on family separations and bars the use of federal funds to detain potential sponsors of unaccompanied immigrant minors unless they pose a danger to the child.

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Culture & Media

Steven Soderbergh’s Basketball Diary Is No Slam Dunk

The iPhone-shot High Flying Bird comes across as less a feature film and more like a pilot for a TV series. (Think The West Wing meets Ballers.)




André Holland photo by Peter Andrews

Steven Soderbergh has always been a cinematic disruptor. His debut film, sex, lies, and videotape, is largely credited with revolutionizing the independent film movement of the 1990s while also signaling the emergence of a singular new talent. Instead of taking the easy way up, his prodigious career has seen him bounce between heading mass market pulp (Oceans 11 and its sequels and Magic Mike) to borderline masterpieces (Traffic and Erin Brockovich) to failed experimental fare (Full Frontal, which was the first feature with major stars shot mostly on digital camcorders.). His latest film, High Flying Bird, falls into the latter category.

The film starts with a sports agent, Ray Burke (André Holland), and his client, Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), who is the NBA’s first-round draft pick, at a moment when the two men are struggling to deal with a league lockout. Before Scott can collect his first paycheck or dish out a dime, he is caught up in the politics of the game — or as youth coach Spence (Bill Duke) says, “The game on top of the game.” As a result, Burke comes up with a scheme to upend the system, an ingenious attempt both to gain some control and swat the impasse away like an ill-advised cross-court pass.

Soderbergh is attempting to invent a game on top of the game cinematically here, as well. His film is about basketball with very little basketball in it, and was shot entirely on an iPhone.  The filmmaker supposedly finished the rough cut three hours after principal photography wrapped – after shooting for only three weeks. The results are like those of a good three-point shooter: successful about 40 percent of the time.

Tarell Alvin McCraney (a producer/story writer on Moonlight) dishes out dialogue that, for the most part, is street smart (a few lines should be whistled for pretentiousness, though.) The acting is great, with everyone managing to deliver stereotypical roles that aren’t typical. Standouts include Duke, who brings soul and depth to his gruff hardwood Yoda, and Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), who plays Sam, a young but ambitiously crafty assistant. But despite the great players, High Flying Bird fails to secure the win.

Shooting on an iPhone is an experiment that here, unlike 2015’s Tangerine, does nothing to enhance or underscore the material. In fact, there are a few glaring shots that simply come across as though they were shot on, well, a phone. Lastly, the film dishes out both backstory and future plot points that are impossible to play out in the film’s 90-minute runtime, such as a secret package and the past death of a promising star. Nothing here is ultimately powerful enough to sustain a feature (although there is a hint of profundity with an allusion to the indentured servitude of NBA players and the garbage time appearance of both Dr. Harry Edwards and his seminal 1969 book, The Revolt of the Black Athlete).

These are two of a handful of loose ends that are never tied up.  As a result, High Flying Bird comes across as less a feature film and more like a pilot for a TV series. (Think The West Wing meets Ballers.)

Soderbergh should be commended for trying to invigorate the game because you can’t score without taking shots. Unfortunately, his latest attempt rims out instead of being a cinematic slam dunk.

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Learning Curves

Bill Aims to Fix Hollow ‘College Promise’ Aid Program

Also this week: Governor Gavin Newsom chooses a new state education board president, Oakland teachers move closer to a strike and the money continues to flow in an L.A. school board race.




East Los Angeles College, one of California's 115 community colleges.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to, @BillRaden.

Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday filled the state’s most powerful unelected education post, appointing Stanford University professor emeritus Linda Darling-Hammond as president of California’s State Board of Education. In his State of the State address, Newsom said that the nationally renowned K-12 education researcher would work alongside new schools superintendent Tony Thurmond to confront problems plaguing California’s public schools.

Darling-Hammond, who currently chairs the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and is president of the Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto education think tank, is the first African-American woman to head the 11-member board. The acclaimed expert in teacher preparation and educational equity has more recently come under fire for a report on school choice she co-authored that embraced portfolio districts but ignored the negative impact that charter schools have on the viability of neighborhood public schools.

Oakland high school students staged a one-day sickout Friday in support of Oakland Unified teachers, who have been working without a contract for two years. Four days earlier, the Oakland Education Association overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. Defying a prerecorded call and email sent on Thursday by the district that urged parents to keep their kids in class, hundreds of students from across Oakland took to the streets, marching down Broadway from Oakland Tech High School to a rally in front of Oakland Unified’s downtown headquarters.

The strike vote clears the deck for OUSD teachers to walk off the job should tomorrow’s release of fact-findings by a state-appointed mediation panel fail to broker a settlement. In addition to reduced class sizes and more school counselors and nurses, OUSD teachers are demanding an end to a district plan to shutter up to 24 neighborhood schools. On February 11, the OUSD school board delayed a vote on authorizing $20.2 million of an anticipated $30 million in spending cuts in the face of mounting opposition. A coalition of advocacy groups criticized the cuts in a letter to the board, saying the budget process had “not been transparent, inclusive or accountable to the board or community.” That vote was rescheduled for February 25.

California’s College Promise turns out to be a hollow pledge for the majority of the 2.1 million students attending California Community Colleges, charged CCC’s student government president last week. In a CalMatters interview, Iiyshaa Youngblood, a student at Moreno Valley College, described the tuition scholarship program, which currently covers a year’s worth of fees for first-time, full-time community college students, as helping “people who can already afford college.” Assembly Bill 2, which is currently sitting in the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, proposes to expand the program for the second year of community college.

The net college costs of attendance for low-income community college students end up being far more than at a California State University or University of California campus.

According to Youngblood, the students who are most in need are ineligible for College Promise — the part-timers that make up more than two-thirds of the community college enrollment but who are too burdened with jobs and family commitments to manage a full-time course load. The scholarship program further falls short, according to a January report from the Institute for College Access and Success, by not covering non-tuition expenses like food, transportation and textbooks. Instead, the net college costs of attendance (all costs minus financial aid grants) for low-income community college students end up being far more than at a California State University or University of California campus.

The latest update on the money race in Los Angeles Unified’s March 5 special election to fill out the term of disgraced Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez comes courtesy of intrepid ed blogger Sara “Redqueeninla” Roos. In a must-read, granular analysis, Roos breaks down the race’s campaign donations by profession or “affinity.” The results? “An awesome display of the power of machine politics” reflected in the number and size of donations from city contractors, developers, commissioners, public employees and appointees, political consultants and public-private partners.

Of the top four money recipients, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy executive Allison Bajracharya drew 75 percent of the charter-related donations in the race, which comprise 45 percent of her campaign’s receipts. Former Eric Garcetti aide Heather Repenning is second, with 15 percent of all charter donations (or seven percent of her campaign’s overall contributions). Though Repenning, who also leads the top four with a whopping .81 patronage rating, has pledged that she would refuse charter school money, the independent expenditure committee backing her candidacy has already banked a $5,000 check from millionaire businessman and charter super-patron Bill Bloomfield.

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California Ramps Up College Education Behind Bars

Prisons have been called universities of crime. What if they became, instead, actual universities?

Gabriel Thompson




California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi

A 2014 law is turning state lockups into de facto institutions of higher learning.

In January 2017, Peter Fulks, a former police officer, stepped inside the California Correctional Institution (CCI), a sprawling supermax prison of more than 4,000 inmates, located just west of the foothill community of Tehachapi. The previous year, Fulks had accepted a teaching job at Cerro Coso Community College, which serves the sparsely populated eastern end of Kern County. The baby-faced 32-year-old had only a semester under his belt when he had volunteered to take his course about criminal justice inside a criminal justice facility, part of a daring experiment in California to provide face-to-face college courses to people behind bars.

Fulks wasn’t sure what to expect at CCI. He admired the idea of teaching prisoners, and believed education could be transformative, but he was also prepared for resistance. “I was ready to argue for four months straight,” he said. The first day was rocky. After he announced that he would be dividing the inmates into groups, a man at the back of the classroom interjected, “Professor, I believe we have already established our groups.” Fulks looked at his new students, who had organized their seating arrangements by race, as so much else was organized inside the prison, and let it be.

Inmate: “Everywhere I turned, people were talking about what classes they have, what homework they had due, how many units they needed to complete their degree. I had to see what this was all about.”

Like Fulks, his students seemed to believe in the value of education—they had signed up for his intro course, after all—but he sensed they were skeptical that anything positive could come from their time in prison. (And for good reason, Fulks conceded.) The skepticism didn’t last. During the semester, they studied the history of prisons, analyzed the budget of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and wrote letters to elected officials regarding various public safety bills. The inmates were enthusiastic and sharp, and they were soon high-fiving and chest-bumping each other without regard to the institution’s racial order.

“I got to see in front of my eyes a complete breakdown of the prison’s subculture,” Fulks told me. He also saw a side of the criminal justice system that hadn’t been visible from the perspective of a beat cop: the talent, drive and dreams of the people he had once put away. After that first semester, he set out with his colleagues to scale up the program and has turned Cerro Coso into what is likely the largest provider of face-to-face college education in the nation. This academic year, 10 full-time and 36 part-time Cerro Coso instructors will teach more than 1,200 inmates at CCI and another state prison located in Kern County, the California City Correctional Facility.

*   *   *

Fulks and Cerro Coso stand at the forefront of a remarkable effort to turn California’s prisons into de facto institutions of higher learning, made possible by the passage, in 2014, of state Senate Bill 1391. Inmates had previously been mostly limited to GED, career technical and correspondence programs, but the new law allowed community college professors to teach inside prisons and be compensated for instructing inmates as if they were students on the outside. Though the experiment has been operating largely below the radar, the results have been striking: In the fall of 2018, nearly 5,000 inmates from all security clearance levels took face-to-face college courses. That’s more than in any other state, and more than the total number of students enrolled in the federal Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which began under the Obama administration in 2016.

Prison Teacher: “You are entering an area
of supreme control, of which you have none.”

There is plenty of evidence to support bringing higher education classes into prisons. Nearly all inmates will eventually be released, and a comprehensive 2013 RAND Corporation study found that inmates who participated in educational programs lowered their chances of recidivating by 43 percent. The RAND study also found that each dollar invested in correctional education returns between four and five dollars. And prisoners are often hungry to learn: Thus far, incarcerated students in California who take community college courses are consistently receiving higher grades than their campus counterparts.

One inmate, a student of Fulks who didn’t want to include his name, wrote that he had been transferred to a prison for disciplinary reasons. He described himself as a “multi-striker” who had first entered prison in 1993. After his transfer, he noticed “a buzz around the facility that I have never experienced in this environment. Everywhere I turned, people were talking about what classes they have, what homework they had due, how many units they needed to complete their degree. I had to see what this was all about and signed up for whatever I could get.”

Last fall, he took five courses, including art history and psychology, and is on track to earn his associate degree later this year. “For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a ‘lost cause,’” he concluded, adding that he was “on the right path to becoming a success story [and a human being again].”

*   *   *

“People talk about reduced recidivism, safer communities, and saving money, and those things are true,” said Rebecca Silbert, a senior fellow at the Opportunity Institute in Berkeley and co-director of a statewide initiative, Renewing Communities, that supports providing higher education in prison. “But, fundamentally, this matters because we are a nation that believes in opportunity for all. What is the point of public higher education, if not to create opportunity for the public—meaning all of us, even those who made bad decisions in the past?”

Silbert has been heartened by what California has been able to achieve in a relatively short period. Still, challenges remain. Textbooks are expensive, especially for inmates who might earn only 25 cents an hour. Much of the administrative work is labor intensive and unfunded—to register students, someone has to physically travel to the prison yard with a clipboard. And professors must learn how to design lesson plans that don’t require the Internet and avoid assigning banned books, which in California include such titles as Dante’s Inferno and Freud for Beginners. There are delicate relationships, as well, to manage between CDCR and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union that represents prison guards. As a teacher in a prison, Fulks told me, “You are entering an area of supreme control, of which you have none.”

However, both Fulks and Silbert feel that California is on the right path and can provide a model for other states. Fulks told me that he had recently returned to teach a more advanced course to his initial students, a handful of whom have earned their associate degrees and want to pursue a PhD program. To meet this demand, Cerro Coso will soon be bringing in doctoral students from the University of California, Los Angeles, who will mentor inmates during their final year in prison and help place them into a bachelors-to-PhD program upon their release.

Fulks laughed, thinking about this prison-to-PhD pipeline: “That has happened zero times with my students on the outside.”

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L.A. Says No to Repowering Gas Plants

“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Monday.




Scattergood power plant. (Photo: Trekandshoot/Getty Images)

Donning the mantle of a Green New Deal warrior Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city-run Department of Water and Power would not repower a controversial trio of natural gas-fueled power plants. DWP had planned to spend $2.2 billion rebuilding the aging Scattergood, Haynes and Harbor facilities, located, respectively, in El Segundo, Long Beach and Wilmington.

Instead, the coastal plants, which supply the city with 38 percent of its electricity, will be phased out by 2029, in line with L.A.’s goal to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“This is the beginning of the end of natural gas in Los Angeles,” said Garcetti. “The climate crisis demands that we move more quickly to end dependence on fossil fuel.”

See Larry Buhl’s earlier analysis of what the repowering of the three plants would mean for Los Angeles.

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Labor & Economy

Madeline’s Amazing Cool Room: A Silver Lake Eviction Tale

Taylor Equities’ purchase of a 36-unit building was followed by renter complaints of harassment and disruptive construction. Then came the eviction notices.




All photos by Jessica Goodheart

An estimated 30,000 eviction cases are filed in court each year against Los Angeles city residents, with nearly a million cases filed nationally in 2016.

It was the last evening that 7-year-old Madeline Peffer would spend in the only home she had ever known. She indulged a reporter with a tour of her now-empty bedroom — a converted closet that had fit a canopy bed, dresser and table, and that had recently been the happy scene of fort-making with a friend.

The walls were colored with chalk, a form of art therapy that her parents had allowed in the wake of their impending eviction from this apartment in Silver Lake, the trendy Los Angeles neighborhood that has become increasingly out of reach as a home for the artists and musicians who have given the area its luster.

Exuberantly drawn hearts and stars, and the proclamation “Madeline’s Amazing Cool Room,” said as much about the wrenching nature of the proceedings as the signs that tenant activists would carry in a street protest later that evening.

White households have lower eviction rates than African-American households, regardless of education, according to a survey from Apartment List.

Los Angeles-based Taylor Equities’ purchase of the 36-unit building last March was followed by renter complaints of harassment and disruptive construction, and the departure of tenants, a dozen of whom had their leases terminated by the new owner “without cause.”

“There were so many workers onsite,” said Melinda Peffer, Madeline’s mother. “They would block you from getting out of your unit, block you from getting down your stairs, block your car from getting out. Many tenants who became tired of break-ins and of “coming to a place that was dangerous, loud and filthy” left of their own accord, she added. She estimates that fewer than 10 of the original residents are left.

In May a dozen tenants, including the Peffer family, received a 90-day “notice to vacate” their apartments. Because the Waverly apartments are not covered by the city’s rent control ordinance, the tenants can be evicted without cause in what is called a no-fault eviction.

What happened at 2965 Waverly Drive is hardly unheard of in a city known for low wages, high rents, and housing and homeless crises that have left thousands in the street. An estimated 30,000 eviction cases are filed in court each year against Los Angeles city residents, with nearly a million cases filed nationally in 2016.

Perhaps what makes the Peffer family’s story different from those of many families who face an eviction is that Madeline’s parents are professionals. They are also white and native to the U.S. (White households have lower eviction rates than African American households, regardless of education, according to a survey from Apartment List.) The Peffer family also made the choice to fight their removal from their home in court.

Activist Lawyer: “You can live somewhere for 15 years or 50 years and your old or new landlord can decide that they want to evict you and that’s it.”

Noah Grynberg is a partner at the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action in Boyle Heights, a mostly Latino, heavily immigrant neighborhood that has faced its own gentrification battles. Grynberg’s clients, some of L.A.’s poorest residents, are asked by his group to pay for their eviction defense by participating in tenant organizing, including by engaging in collective bargaining with landlords.

He believes the housing crisis will be tackled more quickly if families who have choices, like the Peffers, battle for tenants’ rights. “Unfortunately, people take notice more often.”

*   *   *

In an email to Capital & Main, Steven Taylor, 2965 Waverly’s new landlord, rejected tenant-rights activists’ charges that he harasses residents or that his business practices are contributing to the housing crisis. Taylor Equities, he wrote, has invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the Waverly Drive apartments, installing security cameras, replacing windows, adding laundry facilities and updating plumbing. “Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to do that kind of work without some disruption.” Taylor Equities owns at least a dozen apartment buildings in Los Angeles.

2965 Waverly Drive, Silver Lake

Taylor has come under fire before, from Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who alleged that Taylor intimidated Los Feliz tenants living in another of his company’s buildings. Taylor is known for acquiring properties, making upgrades and then seeking out higher-paying renters. Taylor’s “whole M.O. is to displace low-income families to try to bring in wealthier tenants to pay his higher rents,” said Coalition for Economic Survival’s Larry Gross, adding that he has organized tenants at more than five of Taylor’s buildings.

The solution to the housing crisis “is not forbidding landlords from fixing up dilapidated properties,” wrote Taylor, who said that tenants at some of his properties include “low-income families, veterans and individuals at risk for homelessness.”

The Peffers had lived for 17 years in their apartment, which is practically a stone’s throw from their daughter’s elementary school.

A fixed-up 950-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment in the Waverly Drive building — about the size of the Peffers’—advertised for $3,450 per month in early February on The Peffers had paid $1,500 per month before they left and were prepared to accommodate a modest rent increase.

Last April a group of tenants emailed Taylor, introducing themselves as the Waverly Tenants Association, and set off a flurry of internal communications at Taylor Equities. Company director Rick Shugarman assured Taylor in an email, “We have the experience to work our way through this.” Taylor wrote back, “Shit,” adding, “maybe 60 day [sic] notice to quit is better now since 2 bedroom conversion will be public knowledge soon.”

*   *   *

The Peffers had lived for 17 years in their apartment, which is practically a stone’s throw from Ivanhoe Elementary School, which Madeline attends. Melinda Peffer appreciated being close to the school because her daughter suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a congenital condition that predisposes her to breaking bones.

Madeline has watched her mother emerge as a leader in the building’s tenant union that formed last spring, as she hosted weekly meetings in the living room of their apartment. She said, “I’m glad that she’s doing it, but it’s also sad because she’s spending all her time doing it and she gets into these arguments with my Dad because she’s too stressed.”

Harassment and “cash for keys” arrangements, in which landlords buy tenants out of their leases, are a major source of displacement in the city.

She has told only one friend from school about the eviction, a friend whom she knows can keep a secret. “Everybody is going to say it’s not true because it’s never happened to them,” said Madeline, as she ate popcorn from a cup.

Grynberg describes the no-fault eviction procedure that the Peffers faced as “one of the most expedited legal processes that we have in California.” In early December, Grynberg attempted unsuccessfully to use Taylor’s email exchange with Shugarman as evidence that the company had retaliated against the Peffers for their participation in a tenants union. But their case failed to persuade a jury.

“You can live somewhere for 15 years or 50 years, which is the case for some of my clients, and your old or new landlord can decide that they want to evict you and that’s it,” said Grynberg.

The Peffers may be more privileged than some of the city’s embattled tenants, but their ordeal—and their decision to become tenant activists—has taken a toll.

Overall, Los Angeles County has a lower eviction rate than the rest of the country, according to Princeton’s Eviction Lab. But that is no reason to celebrate, said Gross, who added that harassment and “cash for keys” arrangements, in which landlords buy tenants out of their leases, are a major source of displacement in the city.

Melinda Peffer has been moved by the stories of other tenants she’s met through her participation in the Los Angeles Tenants Union, an all-volunteer organization that formed in 2015 and now has eight chapters citywide. Their members have organized rent strikes and protested noisily outside landlords’ homes — including Taylor’s last November. She spoke of families who face steep rent increases in rodent- and cockroach-infested apartments “without any options whatsoever.”

The Peffer family may be more privileged than some of the city’s embattled tenants. Melinda works as a public relations consultant. Years of paying affordable rent at the Waverly Drive apartments allowed her husband Michael, a drummer, to go back to school and receive training to be a physician’s assistant. But their ordeal—and their decision to become tenant activists—has taken a toll.

On a recent cold and rainy Thursday, Melinda Peffer wore a long coat, a plaid scarf, and low-heeled boots and looked polished enough to dash off to a meeting with a client. Instead, she lit one last fire in the hearth at her empty apartment and played host to half-dozen tenant activists as they waited for sheriff’s deputies to arrive.

She spoke of some of last year’s challenges: the anxiety about whether Madeline would be able to remain in her school, her husband’s worry that publicity about their activism might impede his ability to find a job and their concern that a lost eviction case will make it more difficult to rent an apartment in the future. “I’ve lost business this past year, with the stress,” she said.

For now, the family is “a little bit on top of each other” in temporary digs in Los Feliz that previously served as a short-term rental, said Peffer, reached by phone a few days later. But Madeline loves their new landlady, who learned about their plight after they lost their eviction case in early December. “That’s helped her the most with transition,” she said.

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Green New Deal Targets Link Between Trade Policy and Climate Change

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution spotlights stealth connections between free trade deals, offshoring and carbon emissions.

David Sirota




Congressional Democrats on Thursday unveiled landmark Green New Deal legislation outlining proposals to combat climate change — and the measure does not stop at the American border. The resolution calls for new trade laws to halt America’s continued export of carbon pollution to countries across the globe.

The link between trade policy and climate change may seem far-fetched, but it is illustrated by the relationship between emissions in different countries. For example: In recent years the United States and Europe had been reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. That seeming progress has been offset in developing countries such as China, which has seen a significant spike in emissions to the point where it now produces more greenhouse gases than the United States and the European Union combined.

On the surface, these trends might appear to show wealthy nations’ proactively decarbonizing their economies, and developing nations failing to do the same. However, China’s emissions are not happening in a vacuum: Research suggests they are being fueled by the United States through the trade policies that the Green New Deal resolution targets.

Over the last few decades, under major free trade agreements, corporations have been shifting manufacturing facilities from the United States to developing-world nations like China, where labor and environmental laws are weaker. That shift has not only eliminated millions of American manufacturing jobs, it has also moved carbon emissions to those countries.

The result: The United States and EU had been domestically producing less greenhouse gas emissions, but the picture looks much more grim when considering “consumption-based” emissions — that is, emissions associated with the production of imported goods purchased by a nation’s consumers.

“What appears [at first sight] to be the result of structural change in the economy is in reality just a relocation of carbon-intensive production to other regions—or carbon leakage,” wrote Dutch researchers in a 2016 report for the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET).

* * *

Data compiled by researchers at Oxford and the University of Edinburgh show that when consumption-based emissions are considered, the United States and the EU have been fueling carbon emissions through their import-dependent economies.

“If we switched to a consumption-based reporting system,” wrote these researchers, “the annual CO2 emissions of many European economies would increase by more than 30 percent and the USA’s emissions would increase by seven percent.”

While not fully fleshed out, the Green New Deal resolution appears to recognize the link between trade and climate change. The measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (MA), calls for “enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas; and to grow domestic manufacturing in the United States.”

That demand challenges the existing template of American trade pacts: Up until now, those deals have not included provisions designed to reduce carbon emissions.  Indeed, watchdog groups have noted that the term “climate change” was not mentioned in the draft of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership — a deal that environmentalists said would accelerate greenhouse gas emissions.

The Green New Deal — which is only a non-binding resolution and would not create new programs — asks for a change in that trade model. The idea is to include environmental provisions in trade pacts and to use trade policies to encourage manufacturing facilities to return to the United States, where they would be subjected to more stringent emissions rules as they produce goods for Americans.

That demand is supported by the findings of the INET report, which noted that because of the globalized economy, domestic emissions reductions alone will not be enough to ward off catastrophic climate change.

“It is no great achievement to reduce domestic per capita carbon emissions by outsourcing carbon-intensive activities to other countries and by being a net importer of [greenhouse gases],” they wrote.

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Learning Curves

State to Study Charter Schools’ Impact as Money Flows Into L.A. School Board Election

LAUSD marks the passing of Michelle King. The strange case of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. Will Oakland teachers strike?

Bill Raden




The late Michelle King. (Photo: LAUSD)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to, @BillRaden.


California’s charter school sector moved one step closer to accountability on Tuesday when Governor Gavin Newsom officially asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to assemble an expert panel to assess the effect on public school district finances by unregulated charter school expansion. Thurmond’s panel represents the first time California will have conducted any kind of in-depth analysis of charter impacts on public education since the state passed its original charter legislation in 1992. It has until July 1 to deliver its findings.

Meanwhile, the race for L.A Unified’s March 5 school board special election entered its final stretch this week as candidates vied to fill out the term of pro-charter Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez, who resigned in July following a felony conviction for campaign money laundering. At stake is the political balance of a split board as L.A. schools superintendent Austin Beutner prepares to roll out a controversial portfolio district reorganization plan.

Beutner’s biggest fear has to be an outright March 5 win by former two-time BD 5 representative Jackie Goldberg, a progressive L.A. icon who is fourth in campaign contributions but is expected to benefit from her broad name recognition and the pivotal endorsement (and financial might) of United Teachers Los Angeles. Nipping at her heels as far as labor support goes is money leader Heather Repenning, a former aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti. Repenning comes to the race with the backing of Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents school cafeteria workers, janitors and teachers’ aides, and has already chipped in over $400K in independent expenditure money. The contest for the charter vote — and the endorsement of California Charter School Association Advocates, which announced it is waiting to see who makes it to a runoff — is between former charter school executive Allison Bajracharya and Huntington Park City Councilmember Graciela Ortiz, who are respectively number two and three in total campaign contributions.

Flags flew at half-staff this week at Los Angeles Unified in honor of Dr. Michelle King, the much-admired former LAUSD superintendent whose death from cancer at the age of 57 was announced by the district Feb. 2. King, who was hired in January 2016 to replace retiring L.A. schools supe Ramon C. Cortines, had risen through the district’s ranks in a 33-year-career that was cut short by a September 2017 medical leave that became permanent the following January.

As LAUSD’s first African-American woman superintendent, King’s appointment also helped crack a longstanding glass ceiling in education where women account for less than a quarter of all superintendents, according to a 2015 survey by the School Superintendents Association. Her selection had capped weeks of intensive community input that turned out to match King to a tee — a lifelong educator and innovator with deep classroom roots and hands-on experience with LAUSD’s 88 percent diverse enrollment and the challenges facing a massive school district whose student body is wracked by an 80 percent poverty rate.

One wrinkle to hiring career non-educators from Wall Street as your school superintendent turns out to be their unconventional ideas about ethical hiring practices for a public education leader. A week after Learning Curves called out Austin Beutner as one of the first to ink a lobbying deal with scandal-spattered and #MeToo-accused former State Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, a report by the L.A. TimesMelody Gutierrez fills in details on the LAUSD contract and Sacramento’s insider politics-as-usual enabling. And investigative ed blogger Carl Petersen connects more of the curious dots between Beutner, Sebastian and the bad seed lobbyist’s political potentate dad, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Oakland teachers are now set to turn the East Bay red for ed in the wake of Monday’s announcement by the Oakland Education Association that the OEA rank and file voted 2,206 to 105 to authorize a strike. The soonest that teachers could legally occupy picket lines is after Feb. 15, when a neutral, three-member fact-finding panel is expected to release its report on the teachers’ stalemated contract talks with their district. Teacher demands closely echo those that resulted in last month’s six-day walkout by L.A. teachers. They include a 12 percent raise over three years, smaller classes, additional counselors and school nurses, and scrapping a district plan to close up to 24 neighborhood public schools.

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Labor & Economy

Business Leader: Trump’s “Economic Miracle” Is a Mirage

Co-published by Fast Company
“If the press doesn’t step up and more consistently identify the realities of the economy,” says Leo Hindery, “then President Trump could be reelected.”

Danny Feingold




Photo: Shealah Craighead
Co-published by Fast Company

If there is an “economic miracle” of the kind Donald Trump touted in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, business leader Leo Hindery has yet to see it. Hindery’s “U.S. Real Unemployment” report paints a very different portrait than the federal government’s statistics. It’s a far more troubling picture, because it takes into account the millions of Americans who either did not look for work or cannot find full-time work.

By this measure, the Trump economy’s unemployment rate is twice as high as the official rate. At the same time, 40 percent of Americans cannot afford an unexpected expense of $400, according to the Federal Reserve, while roughly half of the nation’s income goes to approximately three percent of salary earners.

Hindery, managing partner of InterMedia Partners and a longtime private equity investor, spoke to Capital & Main about Trump’s economic policies, the real state of the union and the 2020 election. The interview excerpt has been edited for concision and clarity.

Capital & Main: President Trump said Tuesday night that “an economic miracle is taking place in the United States.” Do you agree?

Leo Hindery: I think it’s one of the great obfuscations. Look at the January jobs report to contrast the difference between real unemployment and Bureau of Labor Statistics employment. The real unemployment in this country is still on the order of 8.1 percent, which contrasts with the much lower Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment rate of four percent. There’s about 13.3 million women and men who are in every sense of the phrase real unemployed workers.

“The sobering statistic that we have to never forget is that about half of this nation’s income is earned by about three percent of our wage earners. And the other half is earned by 97 percent of our wage earners”

Clearly, President Trump has benefited from the foundation that President Obama laid for him. And there has been improvement in jobs. But it’s nothing as dramatic as the president suggests, and it really does hide and obfuscate the realities of the massive number of uncounted, unemployed women and men.

Have Trump’s policies by and large helped or hurt the unemployed population that you’re referring to?

If you look at the numbers, they’ve indisputably hurt. Corporations and wealthy individuals were the beneficiaries of the Trump tax plan. What weren’t the beneficiary were the manufacturing and job-oriented companies.

“One of the great disgraces are the CEOs who don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to speak out.”

So we’ve actually seen an increase in the number of uncounted, real unemployed workers. And I just was so dismayed [Tuesday] evening when numbers that are available to refute the president’s contentions were seemingly ignored by his speechwriters, and he took credit for outcomes and activities that just aren’t real and haven’t yet materialized to the extent that he suggests.

Are we the hottest economy in the world, as he claimed that night?

Well, we’re certainly hotter than Europe. [But] we’re certainly not as hot as China — that’s foolishness to suggest we are. Their growth in GDP, even being less than expected, is roughly twice ours. The economy in the United States is strong, certainly stronger than anything we find in Africa, large parts of Asia – excluding China – and Latin America, and only rivaled by the Scandinavian countries. It’s good. It’s not great. But what needs to be focused on are the millions of women and men who are being uncounted and are chronically underemployed or unemployed.

What do we know about the quality of the jobs that have been produced under Trump?

We know that the average American worker hasn’t had a real wage increase since 1968. We had hoped that the [Republican] tax plan that was foisted upon us would have addressed that issue.

The Federal Reserve found that 40 percent of Americans cannot afford an unexpected expense of $400. How do we reconcile that with the traditional markers that show a healthy economy and healthy job market?

It’s indisputable that real wages are much lower than they should be. Women’s and men’s ability to save for the catastrophic event that might confront their families is less than marginal, it’s dangerously low. And the wrong people have been the beneficiary of the Trump tax and economic plan. What is so concerning to me is that we saw nothing [Tuesday] evening that was verifiable. It ranged from the absurd to the outright lie. And you pick up a newspaper today and you don’t get the sense of criticism for that lying that I hoped we would see.

Have America’s media been giving President Trump a pass on the economy as it relates to the basic well-being of the American middle class and working class?

The president’s behavior, and that of certain of his cabinet officials and of the women and men who helped him become president, is so outrageous that the press understandably focuses on it. It’s the bright light shining in your eyes and you can’t ignore it. In doing so, however, he has been given a relief on criticism and truth-telling around the economy. The economy discussions are complex. They’re not easy. They take study. Whereas his behavior takes no study at all.

We often see in the press that if President Trump were to get out of his own way and simply talk about the economic progress that has been made during in his time in office, he would have a lot to run on for a second term. Do you agree with that?

The president has been the beneficiary of the fixes that President Obama put in. And we know that, back to the Clinton era, that “it is the economy, stupid.” And these numbers can be portrayed more positively than they really are. And if the press doesn’t step up and more consistently, more outspokenly, identify the realities of the economy, then President Trump could be reelected. He certainly could find a lot of support in the states that he was successful in against Secretary Clinton, particularly in the Middle West. So I think it’s incumbent not only on the press, but it’s incumbent on the women and men who suggested they would like to be president, or on the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, for them to stay focused on the entirety of the Trump administration — its economic policies, its foreign affairs and its behavior patterns that we saw again Tuesday night as he waved his arm and took credit for things for which he deserves no credit.

In relation to the 2020 race, what big policy ideas would you like to see Democratic candidates embrace that would address the real unemployment rate? And more generally, the pervasive economic inequality that is still affecting very large swathes of the American population?

Roughly two years ago, we saw the Trump tax plan. I hope our candidates in 2020 will throw it out the window, it should have been thrown out a long time ago. And I hope there will be another tax plan, this one that focuses on the middle class of this country rather than the wealthiest. We still have large pockets of underserved health-care recipients [for whom], as good as the Obamacare program is, as grateful as we are that it has survived the Republican onslaught, there are still holes, and there’s still millions of women, men and children who deserve better health care than they’re receiving today.

Do you think the Democrats can win on a platform that calls for major increases in taxes on the wealthy, as we’re starting to see from some of the candidates?

Sure they can. They should. We’ve abandoned the progressive taxation structures of this country that we built our tax code on. Too many of the wealthy of this country have a lesser tax rate than the hard-working middle-class women and men who serve this nation so ably. The sobering statistic that we have to never forget is that about half of this nation’s income is earned by about three percent of our wage earners. And the other half is earned by 97 percent of our wage earners. The disparity in income, the abuse of income, is indisputable and needs to be a major part of the 2020 campaign for whoever becomes our candidate.

What would you like to see from business leaders in the lead up to the 2020 election when it comes to economic fairness?

All I ask is that we get back to what stood us in such good stead for fully a century, which is concurrent responsibility on the part of business — not just to shareholders but to employees, to their communities, to our customers, and if you’re large enough, to the country itself. We have to get rational again in executive compensation, which now is measured in the hundreds of times what the average employee makes.

We have exalted CEOs. We overpay CEOs. And we do that to the detriment of our employees and the communities in which they reside, and to the country itself.

Do you believe that business leaders and CEOs have a responsibility at this moment to be more outspoken about the political, constitutional and economic challenges that we face under President Trump?

One of the great disgraces are the CEOs who don’t feel that it’s their responsibility to speak out. I’m so proud of some of the CEOs that have stood up in this era. But they’re few and far between. And the responsibility is acute. The performance is a little bit lacking, right now.

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Can Jay Inslee Make Climate Change a Top Issue in the Presidential Race?

“Those who would shackle us to the pessimistic view of inaction doom us to sacrifice,” says Washington’s governor. “They doom us to sacrificing our clean air and to sacrificing the ability to walk in a forest that’s not charred down.”

David Sirota




Jay Inslee photo by David Ryder/Getty Images.

How important will climate change be in the 2020 presidential campaign? If Jay Inslee has any say over the matter, it will be front and center — he’s the Democratic Governor of Washington State who is running for president on a promise to make climate change his number one priority.

Capital & Main reporter David Sirota recently talked to Inslee, who as governor has championed legislation to force utilities to use renewable energy. Inslee most recently backed a carbon tax ballot initiative in 2018 — but it lost at the polls.

During the conversation Inslee discussed the ins and outs of his plans to confront climate change, and talked about whether tackling the problem will require major societal sacrifices. What follows is an edited excerpt of the conversation.

David Sirota: Climate change has been emerging as a global emergency for years, but it hasn’t been a central focus of presidential campaigns in the past. Why do you think that is — and why do you think that will likely change in 2020?

Jay Inslee: The problem has become more urgent. It was obvious to me a decade ago when I co-authored a book about it, but it has become more urgent. Therefore, the public is more willing and able and I think ready to take action against climate change.

For the public, what used to be just a chart on a graph is now a personal experience in their lives. It’s smoke in Seattle that made Seattle’s air quality the worst in the world last summer. We had to shut down swimming pools in parts of our state because the air quality was so bad. Kids couldn’t go outside and play. It’s the hurricanes, it’s the precipitation events in Houston, it’s the sea-level rise in Miami, it’s extreme weather precipitation events where Iowa farmers can’t get out and harvest. I was in Iowa a few weeks ago, and they literally couldn’t get out to harvest their crops because it was so muddy. It’s Paradise, California, where I was to see a town of 25,000 people burned out. Looking like Dresden in World War II.

It’s all of those things I think have changed the public’s eagerness for action on this.

I believe what people have missed is the power behind this, because this is consistent with the character of the American people, which is we are optimists. We are can-do people. We’re innovators. We see ourselves as world leaders. And that this scientific issue, if properly positioned, just supports the identity we have as our national character and people have failed to see that.

They have failed to realize that in talking about this, it is as important or more important to identify who we are and who the opposition is. We are the optimists who believe we can defeat climate change. Donald Trump is a pessimist who doesn’t believe we’re smart enough. We are the can-do advocates for a high-tech, clean energy economy and Donald Trump wants us to be stuck in something that was discovered in the 1700s or before that. Those are character issues that are winning issues and I think people have missed that fundamentally.

What is more important — demand-side climate policies that support solar panels and electric cars, or supply-side climate policies that seek to limit fossil fuel extraction?

I think both have their place, and the demand side has many, many tools [and] we’re proposing to use many of them in the state of Washington…We intend to do quite a number of them here in the state of Washington this year. On the supply side, I believe they are necessary as well, but the question is what they are and how they are and how fast that spigot is turned down. That’s an issue.

Clearly, the most obvious one is to not allow the misuse of public resources on our public lands where the Trump administration has attempted to turn our public lands into subsidiaries for the fossil fuel industry, and that’s perhaps the first place where supply side message or supply side policy is necessary for climate purposes.

What do you see are the big sacrifices that society will have to make in order to halt climate change?

I think there’s change, but there’s not sacrifice. That is different. Somehow, people can’t envision that. We changed a lot of things in our lives. We use cellphones instead of bulky landlines. We’re driving electric cars instead of internal combustion engines. We are using ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems. And those have been changes, but none of them have been sacrifices…

Look, this is fundamentally between the pessimists who want inaction and the optimists who want action. That’s the fundamental choice that our nation faces.

Those who would shackle us to the pessimistic, fearful view of inaction doom us to sacrifice. They doom us to sacrificing our clean air, and they doom us to sacrificing the ability to go for a walk in a forest that’s not charred down, and they doom us to have our subdivisions and our homes torched in fires like Paradise. They doom us to precipitation that’s actually drowned people. That’s sacrifice. Those who (are) pessimists who can’t see a vision of changing how we use energy are the ones who are asking us to sacrifice through the inertia and deadly fatalism of inaction. It’s like a guy standing underneath an avalanche that’s coming down and saying, “Hey, don’t ask me to sacrifice to move out of the way.” No, the sacrifice is when you get buried.

And that’s what the inaction crowd and the Donald Trump climate hoax and climate denier crowd ask us to do. This is actually in our self-interest, both short and long-term. And so, no, I think we’re making something that’s clearly in our economic benefit, clearly in our benefit and health, in national security, and certainly the things we love, and in creating jobs. So, no, I don’t look at this as a sacrifice issue.

Yes, there are some investments that we need to make just like we make investments in other things we care about. When we buy a house, people don’t usually think of it as a sacrifice. But yes, you need to have some capital to make the investment. When you buy an electric car, yeah, it takes some capital, but you save on energy because instead of being a slave to the oil and gas industry, you get fuel that’s 80-85 percent less expensive. When you put up a solar panel, you do have an investment, but you save making a monthly payment for 30 years…Investment doesn’t mean sacrifice.

Where do the resources for those investments come from?

There’s a whole host of places where equity comes. Both private and public. One is that when we create the demand for these products, private equity flows into the economy. When we have a 100 percent requirement, which I hope to have of clean electricity in the state of Washington, private equity will come in and help finance some of these investments. That will give us, over the longer term, more reasonably priced electricity because we can use renewable sources rather than non-renewable sources. We can deal with free sunshine instead of monopolistic coal and oil.

Private equity is the largest source of capital that’s involved in this transition. To the extent that the public resources are used…that can come from a variety of sources starting with the Trump tax cut of the giveaway to the wealthiest folks that can help finance some of these measures, and there may be some others.

Now, you can have some carbon-pricing systems to also finance that. I don’t think that should be necessarily taken off the table. It’s not something I’m committed to proposing right now. We’ve decided to move forward on things we get done right now because urgency is important. Time is of the essence. This is the 11th hour. We don’t have time, so we’re moving on things right now that don’t have a direct carbon price in the state of Washington.

There’s a variety of ways of financing these things, but again, the more expensive route is to not finance them and let the economy be ravaged. Let us have to face again a $650 million hit on our agricultural economy in the state of Washington because of a drought. And our insurance rates going through the roof because of massive extreme weather events. And healthcare costs going up because their kids are getting asthma…No, these are wise investments.

What are the big lessons that you’ve taken away from Washington voters defeating the carbon tax ballot measure in 2018?

The number one lesson is you’ve gotta be undaunted and creative and flexible and if one route doesn’t work, you need to take another route.

Suffragettes worked on (voting rights) for decades. The gay marriage proponents worked for decades. The number one lesson is you don’t give up. Climate change isn’t going anywhere, so neither are we. We’re just back at it with a new tool.

The other thing I would say is you gotta realize whatever struggle you’re in with the fossil fuel industry, they are the most powerful special interest in human history. They spent $32 million against that initiative, and sometimes that can’t be overcome. There’s a couple lessons. The other is that any direct pricing system may be a little more difficult than a regulatory system. It’s easier to pass a clean fuel standard and 100 percent electrical grid standard and a net-zero building standard than it is perhaps in a direct pricing system. But all these things in my view need to be under consideration.

How can Democrats avoid having climate policies be portrayed and perceived as unfairly hurtful to people at the lower end of the income scale?

By telling the truth — and the truth is that marginalized communities, people who live in poverty, are the first victims of climate change, and they will be the first beneficiaries of these policies.

I was telling a story of a 14-year-old girl I met who lived next to a freeway and next to an industrial area near the Duwamish River in South Seattle. She told me that she was 11 years old before she found out some kids didn’t have asthma. Everybody else had asthma. She did some research on her own and found how asthma rates went up dramatically the closer you lived to pollution and diesel fuels. These are the people who are most benefited by anti-pollution policies, number one.

Number two, you can build into your policies all kinds of measures to help alleviate those concerns, including direct subsidies to people based on their economic status. You can build those into any carbon pricing system, and you can build them into non-pricing systems. You can build them into regulatory systems as well.

Number three, the thing that really is important…you need to realize that you can have massive carbon pollution reduction without a direct price. It is the investment side that gives you actually the biggest bang for your buck. In the carbon initiative here in the state of Washington, 90 percent plus of the carbon pollution reduction was achieved by the spending, by the subsidies, by the incentive, by the investments, not just by the price signal.

That’s really an important point. But you have many, many ways to move the ball on this to get carbon pollution reduction even without a direct price signal. And we’ve discovered that and that’s why I’m very excited about what we’re doing here this year. My sweep of proposals will get roughly the same carbon pollution as the carbon pricing system would have achieved in the initiative.

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