When I was on Glenn Beck's Fox show a few months ago, I was apprehensive that he was going to malign me and the publisher of my columns. After a fairly mundane, fairly apolitical chat about the sorry state of the US home market, though, we both went our separate ways.
I'm not sure what motivates Beck, although if he's paranoid about reds under his bed, he could find much better targets than Van Jones and the Apollo Alliance.
As I discovered researching my book The Audacity of Help: Obama's Economic Plan and the Remaking of America (www.audacityofhelp.net), Beck is right about one thing. The Apollo Alliance is part of a conspiracy. They want to create jobs, rebuild the inner city, pry kids away from gangs and make the US economy more energy efficient.
The Alliance's stated goal (www.apolloalliance.org) is to invest "$500 billion over ten years to create 5 million green-collar jobs in a range of industries including renewable energy, energy efficiency, transit and transportation and research, development and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies."
There are some pretty suspect groups involved in the Alliance's mission. Among them are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club (I'm a member), United Steelworkers and the Center for American Progress. Guess what the agenda of these groups consist of: environmental protection, clean energy technology and job creation. How un-American is that?
Jobs and raising living standards and family income could be the theme of Beck's shows, but he insists on creating phantom menaces where none exist. He could be railing against the soaring unemployment rate or the fact that the poverty rate rose last year to 13.2 percent from 12.5 percent in 2007.
Median household incomes fell the most in the first year of a recession since World War II. Chances are his viewers are falling back, not moving forward economically, but he chooses to blame the wrong people for their misfortune.
If Beck wants some worthy targets of his venom, he should start examining what a raw deal American taxpayers got for bailing out big banks and insurers. To date, financial institutions have received $239 billion out of the $700 billion TARP bailout fund. American International Group, Inc., which the government effectively took over, was given a $182 billion lifeline by the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. That was after their portfolios of unregulated complex derivatives and debt threatened to take down the global financial system.
Have bank fees come down, mortgage rates dropped to the banks' cost of funds or insurance premiums declined for all of the government assistance we've given them?
The opposite has happened. The biggest banks got bigger, their toxic securities were snapped up by the government and bankers have tightened credit and raised fees on nearly every service. Derivatives are still unregulated and investment banks are printing money again, taking advantage of a system that could still collapse in a heap of computer-driven trades.
Private mortgage lending has gotten so abysmally stingy that the largest mortgage lenders are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- who account for some 80 percent of new loans -- also seized by the government last year, which didn't have much of a choice if it wanted to protect private investors.
If anything, the bailouts largely transacted by the GOP-dominated, free-market-loving Bush Administration have largely nationalized the largest insurer, mortgage insurance corporations, GM, Chrysler and most of the toxic debt that triggered last year's financial pandemic. The most expensive financial debacle in history was seeded by libertarian "maestro" Alan Greenspan and his Wall Street honchos. Not a communist in sight there.
So why is a relatively small non-profit group like Apollo so threatening? What are they really up to?
To understand what Apollo stands for, Beck would be well served to interview people like Angela Hurlock, who is building green homes in South Chicago. She is not only running the Catholic non-profit Claretian Associates (www.claretianassociates.org) on a shoestring, she has built energy-producing homes and apartments and put people to work in a neighborhood ravaged by gangs and unemployment.
Beck also would've benefited from talking with David Irish Sullivan, who worked with Angela to create a park in a vacant lot and start a program to create work doing green housing. Originally a steelworker, Sullivan started to build eco-friendly homes when the domestic industry imploded in the early 1980s. He recently passed away, though.
I knew devastated mill neighborhoods all too well since I was a reporter in South Chicago at the time. Shortly after I had moved on, a young activist named Barack Obama also became intimately familiar with the economic violence that still batters places like South Chicago.
The work of the Apollo Alliance, Hurlock and Sullivan -- and thousands of other unsung heroes -- is the work of saints. Sadly, poverty and violence are growing in tandem in the world's largest economy.
Just yesterday, an assistant principal at my daughter's middle school told me that when the economy sags, gangs gain more members. Under the seduction of their evil enterprise, they offer children a way to make money in communities where youth unemployment is the norm. And this was at a middle-class school far from the city.
At the very least, Beck should take an honest look at what President Obama is proposing to do to remake the US economy as a global power in clean technology. His Green Deal is a great deal for our struggling economy.
We already have the social and intellectual infrastructure. Originally created to build bombs and promote nuclear energy, the US Department of Energy's chain of national laboratories is producing breakthroughs in alternative energy, materials science and green building.
There are millions of people willing to learn new "green-collar" trades to upgrade buildings and create affordable housing. The real scandal is that we're not using these invaluable resources to their fullest advantage.
What would happen if the US did a matching grant program for private enterprise to come up with clean-energy, low-cost transportation, long-term batteries, affordable green houses and exportable technology? A good number to start with would be the $700 billion earmarked for the TARP bailout.
But Beck and his tea-bagging minions apparently don't want anything to do with creating jobs for those who need them. Meanwhile, the Chinese and Europeans are racing ahead to dominate the clean energy industry. They will succeed while we devote endless hours to bloviating on death panels, socialism, Sarah Palin and character assassination.
Here's one last item to hasten Beck's conversion: The People's Republic of China is backing a massive, global effort to "own" green technology. Need I remind anyone that China is a communist country, Mr. Beck? Have you no decency, sir?
Follow John F. Wasik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnwasik