Archive for September 2008

Yesterday I followed a link to a new article by Matthew Vadum which named The Greenlining Institute (among similar nonprofits) as the actual cause of the current financial crisis threatening the US economy. I did a double-take: The Greenlining Institute? You mean the one in Berkeley? Answer: Yes. The very same.

I (and countless other people) often zip past the nondescript office on Berkeley’s University Avenue containing the Greenlining Institute — one passes it on the way in and out of the city, as University leads from the freeway to downtown and the U.C. campus.

Unlike most people, though, several months ago I took note of the office as I passed it one day, and asked myself, “The Greenlining Institute” — what the hell is that? When I got home, out of curiosity I googled it and spent a couple minutes trying to decipher their Web site, to little avail. A very few other scattered articles seemed to indicate that the Greenlining Institute existed solely to bully banks and financial institutions into giving loans to otherwise unqualified minority borrowers.

The Greenlining Institute’s own mission statement says,

The Greenlining Institute’s mission is to empower communities of color and other disadvantaged groups through multi-ethnic economic and leadership development, civil rights and anti-redlining activities.

…but Matthew Vadum puts it much more bluntly:

Financial Affirmative Action

When the history of the Great Economic Meltdown of 2008 is written, in-your-face shakedown groups like the Greenlining Institute will be held to account.

Greenlining, headquartered in Berkeley, California (where else?), is a left-wing pressure group that threatens nasty public relations campaigns against lenders that refuse to kneel before its radical economic agenda. Its principal goal is to push politicians and the business community to facilitate “community reinvestment” in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

The Greenlining name is a play on the unlawful practice of “redlining.” That’s when financial institutions designate areas, typically those with a high concentration of racial minorities, as bad risks for home and commercial loans. The Institute wants banks to give a green light to loans in these areas instead.

Recently profiled by John Gizzi, Greenlining uses carrot-and-stick tactics to blackmail public agencies, banks, and philanthropists to achieve its objectives. The Institute brags it has threatened banks into making more than $2.4 trillion in loans in low-income communities.

On a trip through Berkeley today I once again noticed the office, and this time stopped to take these pictures. But there was no news to be found there: just a building, with no one around. And I’m not the kind of person to just walk right in and ask to interview someone. Not that it would have done me much good: undoubtedly I would have been given the usual rigamarole about unfair housing and the need to redistribute wealth to help minorities.

There’s been a lot of finger-pointing on all sides about this financial crisis, but much of it misses the point. The off-topic details about CEO salaries and bond markets and mergers and bailouts and who voted for what all chase the horse after it’s already left the barn. The key question is this:

Once upon a time, banks only loaned money to individuals who could qualify for a home mortgage; and then sometime recently, they changed their practices and started loaning money to a lot of people who didn’t qualify and could not afford to pay back the loans. And when they started defaulting, and when real estate values starting dropping, the entire industry collapsed, because there was no equity to pay back the loans. The banks lost money, the customers lost money, and it all went down the toilet. Which, of course, many people had predicted. So the question is: Why? Why did banks start making countless risky untenable loans to unqualified customers?

And the answer is: Because they were afraid of being called racists by the legal bullies at the Greenlining Institute and other similar “community organizers.”

It all started with The Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law originally passed during the Carter administration and then ramped up during the Clinton years, that was originally designed to prevent racist lending practices by banks who wouldn’t loan money to minorities, even if they were qualified. Which was a fine idea. But over time the law was twisted to force banks to make loans to minorities even if they weren’t qualified — which all may sound very peachy keen in Fantasy Utopia Land but which inevitably spells long-term financial suicide for a bank.

The Greenlining Institute’s self-appointed role is to identify those banks which by Greenlining’s reckoning haven’t doled out enough money to underqualified minority borrowers, and then threaten them with lawsuits, protests, and accusations of institutional racism if the banks don’t start opening their wallets ASAP. And the banks caved. Greenlining brags that they have unparalleled access to banking boardrooms, and they successfully squeezed $2.4 trillion (yes, trillion) in “CRA commitments” (i.e. loans to unqualified borrowers) out of terrified banks. Nearly every bank and financial institution you’ve ever heard of seems to kowtow to Greenlining.

According to this 2005 article in The Berkeley Daily Planet:

With a $4 million annual endowment, Greenlining’s interests are larger than Berkeley, stretching from Sacramento to Washington, DC. Started in 1994 by John Gamboa, a co-founder of the consumer interest law firm Public Advocates, and backed by minority business associations, the institute has fought to extend the benefits of capitalism to inner-city neighborhoods that had been traditionally cut off from access to business and home loans.

“Making the unbanked bankable has always been a top objective,” Turner said.

To persuade banks to serve inner-city clients, the institute has opposed high-profile bank mergers, threatening to demand hearings before the Federal Reserve Board if the bank didn’t agree to invest more in inner cities.

Under pressure from Greenlining, Wells Fargo committed $45 billion to community lending and $300 million to philanthropic causes as part of its 1996 acquisition of Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bank. Washington Mutual, also hounded by Greenlining, agreed to provide $120 million in community lending as part of its 2001 merger with Bank United. Similar concessions have been squeezed out of insurance and utility companies. Greenlining issues annual report cards tracking the institutions’ progress in hiring minorities and serving minority communities.

The organization also retains two attorneys to initiate public interest lawsuits against organizations they feel discriminate against minorities.

Although it fights in the name of the poor and disenfranchised, Greenlining’s close relations with corporate donors and its commitment to economic expansion have also drawn enemies on the left.

Our experience with Greenlining is that they often don’t tell the truth and they’re quick to hurl allegations rather than dealing with the facts,” said Bill Magavern, legislative analyst for the Sierra Club. …
Magavern thinks Greenlining’s environmental policies are rooted in the interests of key donors. “Look at who they take money from,” he said. “Part of their modus operandi is to threaten people until they get paid. We’ve never given them money so that is one of the problems they have with us.”

Tracking down Greenlining’s major contributors isn’t simple. The names of major donors are whited-out on the organization’s federal tax forms. The omission was news to Turner, he said.

He said that corporations accounted for about one-third of the institute’s revenues. The rest, he said, comes from foundation grants and fees from intervening on behalf of the public before the state Public Utilities Commission.

Greenlining faxed the Daily Planet its 2002 tax returns, which listed four contributions, including $250,000 from Washington Mutual, $300,000 from Wells Fargo…[etc.]

Who are these people? And how did they gain so much power, while flying so far under the radar? Their latest push is to force the banks to convert the adjustable rate mortgage loans given to dodgy borrowers into fixed-rate loans, which would further punish the banks financially.

The American Anachronism blog lists some of the other pressure groups who bully banks — including the now notorious ACORN.

How does this connect to the presidential election? According to this 2007 article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Barack Obama’s mysterious years as a “community organizer” were spent doing this exact thing: Accusing banks of racism for not giving loans to underqualified minority borrowers:

Obama represented Calvin Roberson in a 1994 lawsuit against Citibank, charging the bank systematically denied mortgages to African-American applicants and others from minority neighborhoods.

(A case which, by the way, Obama won. Add another risky loan to the pile.)

I don’t have any answers. Just a lot of questions. And a queasy feeling that there may be a lot more to the financial crisis than we’ve been told.

Further reading:
The Greenlining Institute: Shakedown Artists, also by Matthew Vadum

(Thanks to “Honorary Yooper” for the Berkeley Daily Planet link.)

Last year (July of 2007, to be exact), I was walking through the Tenderloin District of San Francisco and noticed this huge banner on the side of a building at the intersection of Turk and Hyde, sporting the phrase,
Carole Migden: LEADING California’s Campaign Against The War.

Say what? The State of California has a “campaign” against “The War”?

What campaign? First I’ve heard of it. And which “war”? The war in Afghanistan? The “war on terror”? The war in Iraq? And in what way is Carole Midgen the uncommander-in-chief?

Carole Midgen, for those who don’t know, is a California State Senator, representing Marin County and this part of San Francisco.

Most importantly, Midgen is only a state politician, and as such has absolutely no role or decision-making power when it comes to national foreign policy. It’s not like she’s a congressperson or some other federal official.

I realize that this is a moot point by now, over a year after the fact (especially since Migden will be replaced in November by a new State Senator), but: Who paid for this banner? And why?

…and I won’t take “No” for an answer.

“be peace now” commands this stereotypical Berkeley street denizen.

In a strange way, it’s reassuring that some places actually live up to their reputations.

Obama and the National Waffle Association

Spotted on a car in San Francisco:

Fast-a-thon — the new Ramadan

The Berkeley chapter of the Muslim Students Association seems to have hit upon a fresh idea for luring in naive new students: They’ve re-branded Ramadan as an apparently secular event called “Fast-a-thon.” Here’s their flyer advertising Fast-a-thon, which was posted in various locations on the U.C. Berkeley campus where students from the general population could see it:

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and entails fasting from sunrise to sundown. The dates for Ramadan vary from year to year, but in 2008 Ramadan lasts from September 2 to October 1, putting Fast-a-thon right in the middle of the Islamic fasting period.

Notice how nowhere on the calendar are the words “Ramadan,” “Islam,” or “Muslim” mentioned, nor anything indicating this event is connected to a religious holiday. The only clues are the stylized crescent-and-star symbol and the word “Iftar” — neither of which are necessarily giveaways to someone unfamiliar with Islamic terminology. It seems the purpose of Fast-a-thon is to strip away any obvious religious aspect of the event, to make it seem like nothing more than a fundraiser for the nonprofit group Doctors Without Borders.

I suppose their one explanation might be that the event is intended only for Muslim students, but the fact that the flyer was posted in public hallways and outdoor kiosks where the entire student body could see it, and that all mention of religion has been removed, suggests that the goal of Fast-a-thon is to introduce non-Muslim students to Islamic customs — without their knowing it.

(And this is indeed an MSA-sponsored event. Immediately afterward, there will be an MSA prayer session, which I imagine the new Fast-a-thoners can attend if they’re interested.)

There is an Islamic concept called dawah, which means prosletyzing Islam to non-Muslims — similar to “evangelism” and “fellowship” in Christianity. From all appearances, it seems that Fast-a-thon is an attempt at crypto-dawah — getting people involved in Islamic practices unwittingly, and perhaps only after the fact letting them know that they have participated in a Muslim religious ritual.

Every year, newly arriving U.C. Berkeley students must run a gauntlet of attempted indoctrination from all sorts of religious, spiritual and cult-like groups — ranging from the Hare Krishnas, to the “Moonies” (Unification Church), to the Scientologists, to the Benjamin Creme New-Age-y sect, and many more, as well as various mainstream Christian groups. The “normal” religious groups prosletyze openly; but one of the hallmarks of the cultish campus groups is that they try to lure people in through deception — they invite new prospects (generally freshmen, at the beginning of the school year in September) to events without telling the students their true intended purpose. At least not until they’re already somewhat involved. The Moonies and the Scientologists are particularly notorious for this technique.

One wonders: Has the MSA resorted to the same trick, in order to get potential new converts in the door?


According to this 2006 article in the Daily Cal and Wikipedia, Fast-a-thon happens at many other campuses as well, and has been around since September, 2001. What’s not clear is whether or not the cloaking of the religious underpinnings of Fast-a-thon is unique to the Berkeley campus; from the descriptions online, other Fast-a-thons seem openly characterized as being for the purpose of “getting students of all faiths to sign up to fast for a day according to Islamic traditions” to introduce them to “the Islamic way of life.” Are non-Muslim Fast-a-thon participants nationwide aware of this before they sign up, or do they only learn of it at the iftar ceremony when the fast is broken?

Berkeley Tree-Sit Finally Ends

Newly posted at zombietime:

Berkeley Tree-Sit Finally Ends

The ongoing “tree-sit” protest to stop construction of an athletic training center on the U.C. Berkeley campus finally came to a conclusion on September 9, 2008, when the last tree-sitters came down from the one remaining tree. The scene attracted a huge crowd of sympathizers, detractors, onlookers and media.

A recent legal ruling had cleared the way for the university to begin construction after a seemingly interminable series of delays which lasted over a year and a half. Within hours of the ruling, campus work crews felled all but two of the disputed trees which had occupied the work site — one that was to be transplanted elsewhere, and the other (a redwood) which housed the last four tree-sitters. A few days later, on September 9, after negotiations failed to convince them to come down of their own accord, the police had no choice but to bring them down whether they liked it or not. The stage was set for the final act.

Click on the picture to see the rest! :

Clown is sad! Sad about trees!

Wish-fact faux pas at U.C. Berkeley

The University of California has placed a series of banners all over the Berkeley campus, each depicting a different student above a purported quote. Included among them was this peculiar one, with a quote that could be considered somewhat insulting. I’m working on the assumption that the quote is either made up by the ad campaign designer, or at best the result of coaching. But why would this particular student be identified as someone who needs to learn how to “become an open-minded thinker”? Is the implication that she wasn’t open-minded to begin with? Judging from the other banners, it seems the quotes are “wish-facts” that the U.C. administration wants to be true. In this case I feel that U.C. may have committed an unintentional faux pas.