Van Jones talks in perfectly shaped sound bites, which is great when you're having him as a guest on your radio show.
The author of the new book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (HarperOne) alighted on my WPKN-FM show between engagements with Tavis Smiley, Fox News, CNN and the Colbert Report, and he sprayed bullet-point ideas like clips from an AK-47.
Jones, whose book made it onto the New York Times bestseller list through a well-coordinated media campaign, thinks the Obama administration should hit the ground running with Green New Deal programs that will achieve the three-in-one of combating global warming, jump-starting renewable energy and getting us out of the recession.
Jones wants to empower a Clean Energy Corps modeled on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps to "retrofit America" by weatherizing millions of leaky homes, small businesses, schools and other public buildings. Like Sarah Palin, he invokes "Joe Sixpack," but he sees him "in a green hard hat installing windows and wielding a caulk gun."
The program would include volunteers, people in job training programs and permanent employment, too, and the recruits would come from every spectrum of society, including prison. Jones' Civic Justice Corps would give ex-offenders a new career and a green job.
"The Bush administration left us with a big mess," Jones told me. "We need solutions that solve a lot of problems all at once." The process of putting people to work installing solar panels and making wind turbines, he said, will "require thousands of contracts and millions of jobs -- producing billions of dollars in economic stimulus."
Jones notes wryly that the $700 billion bailout gives bipartisan endorsement to the idea of taking government handouts. If it's good enough for Citigroup, Wells Fargo and AIG...But Jones is somewhat wary of handing a blank check to the embattled auto industry unless it gets its priorities straight.
"The big dogs barking for bailout money has drowned out common sense," he said. "We've had too narrow a view of what to do with our industrial sector. We need to think about what we want to make in America. We should be using our Boeing-level engineering talent to manufacture wind turbines, which are made with 20 tons of steel and 8,000 parts. We should be making solar panels, hybrid buses and light rail cars."
Using his authority to issue executive orders, Obama could begin greening the economy "on day one," Jones says. "Then he can go to Congress for back up." The interesting thing about all this is that, after eight years in the wilderness, people like Jones are very likely to get a respectful hearing from the incoming Democrats.
Jones is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), which also spawned one of the co-chairs of President-elect Obama's transition team, John Podesta. In September, Podesta offered a ringing endorsement of a CAP report that is very much in the spirit of what Jones proposes.
"This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create two million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors," Podesta said. "It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution."
Long-shut doors are opening. "I don't talk directly to Obama," Jones told me. "But I have some opportunities to share my ideas and thinking with the new administration." What a difference an election makes!
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