The Green New Deal, its critics and its promise.
Is the answer blowing in the wind?
Bob Sheak, March 16, 2019
The green new deal resolution put forward in in the U.S. Congress on December 2018 by representative Alexandria Ocasio and senator Edward Markey represents a first step in not only acknowledging that an existentially-threatening climate crisis exists but also in proposing a legislative process the goal of which is to institute comprehensive government action to reduce carbon emissions, especially from fossil fuels. Additionally, and in the spirit of – though going beyond – the original New Deal of the 1930s, the green new deal resolution includes objectives for full employment, living-wage guarantees, strengthened collective bargaining and workers’ rights, universal health care, transitional support for workers displaced from fossil-fuel-related jobs, protection and enforcement of the rights of tribal nations, and a basic income.
How much will it cost? The green new deal will be paid for by increasing taxes on the rich, through additional government spending as well as tax incentives to encourage private-sector investment in renewable energy, electric cars, and other climate-stabilizing projects. And the price of solar and wind energy is expected to continue to fall as technological progress increases the generating power of the renewables and the storage capacity of batteries. John Cassidy quotes four experts in an article for The New Yorker, all of whom think that zero emissions from fossil fuels can be reached by 2035 to 2050, if the relevant provisions of the green new deal are implemented (https://www.thenewyorker.com/news/our-columnist/the-good-news-about-a-green-new-deal). One of the experts, Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, told Cassidy, “Right now, we have about ninety percent or ninety-five percent of the technology we need.” Jacobson also refers to a study by the conservative American Action Forum that contains figures that are comparable to his own estimates of the costs. According to this study, it would take $10.3 trillion “to create a low-carbon electricity grid, a net-zero emissions transportation system, and to ‘upgrade all existing buildings to higher-efficiency standards. Jacobson continues: “Spread over 30 years, those would be about three hundred and forty billion a year, or 1.7 percent of current GDP.”
The goal of the green new deal resolution is to have specific legislative bills on some or many of these matters ready for congressional action before the 2020 elections. If in the 2020 elections Democrats – progressive Democrats – win the presidency and both houses of the U.S. Congress, there will be opportunities to pass legislation to implement some or many parts of the green new deal. This will depend on the size of the Democratic majorities and how unified the party is. Ideally, there would be action on bills to stem greenhouse gas emissions, such as, taking away subsidies that now go to fossil-fuel companies, introducing much harsher regulations on emissions and a significant carbon tax focused on the emitters, and keeping all oil and gas drilling off public lands and coastlines. Additional steps would be to significantly increase government support for solar and wind and, when feasible, putting solar panels on all government and military buildings, retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, along with supporting high-speed rail and other types of low-carbon or zero-emission public transportation, encouraging earth-friendly forms of agriculture that enrich the soil, and undertaking major reforestation projects.
From where I stand, nothing is more important that in having the federal government support and advance the proposals embedded in the green new deal aimed at reducing greatly greenhouse gas emissions. It has promise. Ryan Gunderson and Diana Stuart think that “…the Green New Deal elevates the seriousness of climate change proposals and includes bringing the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions in 10 years, increasing resiliency to climate impacts, investments in public transportation and “smart” energy infrastructure, overhauling transportation systems with high-speed rail and zero-emission vehicles, supporting sustainable agricultural practices, and using reforestation to absorb carbon.” , (Ryan Gunderson & Diana Stuart take this position in an article published online on Truthout, March 8, 2019 – https://truthout.org/articles/the-green-new-deal-must-transform-the-economy).
The political challenges
Despite this enormous scope and harmful effects of this crisis, there are presently huge obstacles to advancing the green new deal agenda. The obstacles, and they are formidable, include President Trump who denies the existence of a climate crisis or seeks ways to avoid dealing with it. So far, he can count on his stalwart allies in the Republican Party, the bulk of the corporate community, a compliant “core” voting constituency (e.g., evangelicals of a fundamentalist bent, gun right advocates, those opposed to reproductive rights, white supremacists, those who favor tough anti-immigrant policies), a right-wing media, and an increasingly right-wing judiciary. At the same time, there are moderate Democrats who are fearful that the green new deal is too radical. They are concerned it will cause the Party to lose votes in 2020, and that consequently Trump will be re-elected for a second term, putting him in a position to further advance a neoliberal agenda of lowering taxes on the rich and powerful, deregulation, and privatization, while reducing government spending on programs that benefit the majority of people, raising the military budget, and, most alarmingly, not only ignoring the growing climate crisis but exacerbating through his promotion of the maximum extraction, production, use, and export of fossil fuels.
The reluctance of “moderate” Democrats
Not clear where the voters stand
Polls that survey voters on whether they support the green new deal are encouraging, the public still has little understanding of what it entails or who exactly is advancing it in the U.S. Congress (https://www.ecowatch.com/green-new-deal-voter-support-2623737355.html). Other polls ask respondents whether they believe the climate change is an urgent problem find that a large majority agree it is. But this leaves the question of how much they are willing to give up for programs aimed at mitigating the problem unanswered (https://vox.com/2019/1/28/18197262/climate-change-poll-public-opinion-carbon-tax). The inconclusiveness and ambiguity of the polls is related to why some or many Democrats in the U.S. Congress may not be ready to support the kind of action called for by the green new deal. There is no doubt that candidates and others who espouse the green new deal, even if only those parts of it dealing directly with the climate crisis, have a huge challenge before the 2020 elections to educate and mobilize voters to understand the immediacy, scope and acceleration of this crisis, and how little time there is to take the level of action that is necessary.
The moderate Democrats in the U.S. Congress
Ryan Cooper reports in The Week that political moderates are disinclined to go along with the green new deal (https://theweek.com/articles/826608/big-problem-climate-realism). He writes that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s initial response to the green new deal was dismissive. He quotes it: “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?” And, he writes, “Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) scolded a bunch of children who came to her office begging her to support the Green New Deal, saying ‘I know what I’m doing … it’s not a good resolution.’”
Pelosi subsequently softened her initial response, according to David Remnick who reports that Speaker Pelosi “has found a modus operandi with Ocasio-Cortez, and posed with her (along with Representives Jahana Hayes and Ilhan Omar) for the cover of Rolling Stone” (https://www.thenewyorker.com/daily-comment/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-is-coming-for-your-hamburgers).
Remnick contiunes: “The idea of a Green New Deal has won endorsement from Democratic Presidential candidates (Harris, Warren, Sanders, Booker, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, Inslee) and a growing number of senators and congressmen.” But the devil is in the details. Here’s what Remnick writes: “Of course, it is not entirely clear in detailed legislative terms, what exactly they are endorsing. In general, the idea is to pour government money into transforming the economy in ways that might head off the worst of climate change. At this point, the most salient feature of the proposal is a sense of urgency, its conversation-changing radicalism” (https://www.thenewyorker.com/daily-comment/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-is-coming-for-your-hamburgers).
Remnick is sympathetic toward the green new deal and dubious about the stance of moderates.
“There is enormous value in that [the green new deal]. So far, moderation has done nothing to override denialism. In an interview after her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez told me that one of the books she read in college that influenced her most was Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s ‘Why We Can’t Wait,’ which includes his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ There King wrote, ‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and, one might add to winning elections by avoiding the issues.
“I think King had a point,” she told Remnick.
“Moderation, to say nothing of science denial on the right, has certainly done far too little to head off the catastrophic effects promised by climate change in our time. Just before Ocasio-Cortez won her seat, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that, if carbon emissions continue to rise as they are, the world will soon experience immense destabilization, with cities and regions with intolerable temperatures creating tens of millions of ‘climate refugees’ forced to escape spreading deserts. Unique ecosystems and entire species will vanish. The Great Barrier Reef, already in dire condition, will die. Whole industries, like fishing, will diminish enormously. We have already seen the rise of extreme storms, floods, heat waves, wildfires. The window for meaningful change is closing. ‘The next few years are probably the most important in our history,’ Debra Roberts, the co-chair of one of the I.P.C.C.’s three working groups, has said.
“There is no question that the Green New Deal is more substantial in its sense of urgency and ambition than it is in its fine-grained detail. But what has the Republican Party offered, other than a phony restitution of a coal economy and a withdrawal from the Paris climate accord? The recent spectacle of a powerful Democrat like Dianne Feinstein dismissing a group of earnest schoolchildren and students imploring her to support a Green New Deal was maddening to watch. ‘I know what I’m doing!’ she told the kids.
“Agree with Ocasio-Cortez’s solutions or not, it’s to her credit that, in such a short time, she has helped change the terms of the debate. ‘Radicalism pushes the bonds of what liberals will jump on board with,’ Saikat Chakrabarti, the representative’s chief of staff, said. ‘Every major social movement has worked that way.’”
A “hero” of the Democratic moderates
Right now, Joe Biden is leading in the early polls concerned with potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020. Given his political record in the Congress, however,there is every indication that he would oppose most or all parts of the green new deal, especially the sections dealing with accelerating a transition to renewable energy. For evidence of Biden’s corporate-friendly record, see Norman Solomon’s article, “Here Comes Joe Biden and It’s Worse Than you Thought” (https://www.commondreams.org/2019/03/11/here-comes-joe-biden-and-its-worse-you-thought) and Andrew Cockburn’s “No Joe! (https://harpers.org/archive/2019/03/joe-biden-record
The case for the green new deal
#1 – The Climate Crisis – scientifically validated
In an article published in Truthout, Ryan Gunderson and Diana Stuart remind us of “two recent projections of catastrophic climate change, namely of scientists’ warning of a runaway “hothouse Earth” scenario and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special reportdetailing the impacts of a 1.5 degree Celsius (1.5°C) rise in global temperatures,” as well as “an increasing number of scientists and activists are calling for a dramatic policy response to tackle climate change. The IPCC specifically calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to prevent the 1.5-degree scenario” and the worse effects of reaching 2.0-degrees (https://truthout.org/articles/the-green-new-deal-must-transform-the-economy).
Joseph Romm adds the following background information (https://thinkprogress.org/green-ned-deal-ocasio-cortez-7c9ac944b37d). “Scientists have been clear about the scale of effort needed for some time,” Romm writes. “In 2013, the world’s leading nations set up a ‘structured expert dialogue’ to review the adequacy of the 2°C (3.6°F) target to avoid catastrophic climate change. In 2015, 70 leading climate experts reported that every bit of warming above current levels ‘will only increase the risk of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts.’ The scientists also made clear that large-scale changes are necessary: “Limiting global warming to below 2°C necessitates a radical transition (deep decarbonization now and going forward), not merely a fine tuning of current trends.”
Then, in October of last year (2018), “the world’s nations unanimously approved a landmark report from scientists making the same exact point. The scientists warned that world leaders must make sharp reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 — and then take total emissions down to zero by 2050 to 2070 to have any plausible chance of averting catastrophe.” They offered details on their dire assessment, explaining that “energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems” would require “system changes” that “are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed, and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.” Romm notes: “If that sounds like the Green New Deal, that’s because the resolution is rooted in science.” At the end of his article, Romm cites a leading climatologist, Michael Mann, who in an email to Think Progress wrote: “Climate change is a threat that is both global and existential” and he “applauded Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘bold leadership’ and reiterated that ‘averting disaster will require a degree of mobilization of effort and resources unlike anything we’ve witnessed since World War II.’”
In the meantime, contrary to what climate scientists call for in drastically cutting our use of fossil fuels, a study just released by the International Energy Agency, as reported by Andrea Germanos, finds that U.S. domestic fossil fuel use is way up due to fracking and the export of fracked gas and oil is also rising. (https://commondreams.org/news/2019/03/11/climate-crisis-be-damned-shale-revolution-poised-make-us-net-exporter-oil-three).
#2 – It will require a government effort akin to WWII
Joe Romm agrees with Ocasio-Cortez and Bill McKibben that we need World War II scale action on climate (https://thinkprogress.org/green-ned-deal-ocasio-cortez-7c9ac944b37d). He writes that “fighting climate change requires “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II.” This is not a call for “socialism,” but for a massive transformation of the American economy. Here’s how Romm puts it:
“Yes, the WWII effort was massive and sustained and impacted every facet of American life — from energy, transportation, and manufacturing to infrastructure and agriculture. But that did not require ‘socialism.’ In fact, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ‘labor, business, government, education, and the military’ all worked together ‘by democratic collaboration” to mobilize America for the war effort, as Lt. Col. Thomas Morgan explained in a 1994 article in the journal Army History.’”
“‘In nine months, the entire capacity of the prolific automobile industry had been converted to the production of tanks, guns, planes, and bombs,’ historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explained in her 1994 book on the World War II homefront, No Ordinary Time. ‘The industry that once built four million cars a year was now building three fourths of the nation’s aircraft engines, one half of all tanks, and one third of all machine guns.’
“At the center of the mobilization, Goodwin explains, was the War Production Board, which FDR created in 1942 to literally oversee the conversion of our civilian economy to the war effort. As Wikipedia notes, the War Production Board ‘allocated scarce materials, established priorities in the distribution of materials and services, and prohibited nonessential production. It rationed such commodities as gasoline, heating oil, metals, rubber, paper and plastics.’
“In 1939, war production was under 2 percent of the total GDP, but it hit a remarkable 44 percent in 1944. Over a five-year period, America produced 434,000,000 tons of steel, 310,000 airplanes, 124,000 ships, 100,000 tanks and armored vehicles, 2.4 million other vehicles, and 41 billion ammunition rounds.
“Ultimately, America ended up producing two-fifths of the world’s total munitions during the years 1942 to 1945, arming not just our military, but also helping Britain and the other allies as well.
“Was this unprecedented mobilization socialism? Hardly.
“The board included leaders from labor, business, government agencies, and the military. ‘The WPB worked by democratic collaboration, using negotiation, compromise, delegation, and individual initiative to achieve a common objective…’
“‘This meant production by all elements of the economy in industrial mobilization, while preserving individual initiative and a sense of justice within the limits imposed by the war emergency.’
“Today we have another unprecedented emergency. And we need another unprecedented mobilization.”
Romm turns to the resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey[which] outlines such an effort to combat climate change, including the goal of ‘meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources… by dramatically expanding and upgrading renewable power sources.’ It requires building energy-efficient, distributed, ‘smart’ power grids. It includes ‘upgrading all existing buildings… to achieve maximum energy efficiency’ and ‘spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing.’
“Finally, to the extent both goals are technologically feasible, the resolution calls for ‘working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers… to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector’ and ‘overhauling transportation systems… to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.’
“These may seem like lofty goals but as was the case with America’s WWII mobilization, this is not socialism. It’s survival.”
#3 – It’s organizationally doable
Historian and author Jeremy Brecher picks up on Romm’s ideas and offers some details on the institutional (organizational) requirements of a green new deal. And this requires “bold economic planning, industrial policies, and public investment to guide and facilitate the process” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/02/25/green-new-deal-can-work-heres-how). He offers 18 “concrete ways make the urgently needed climate mobilization a reality.” Here are a few examples.
He sees the need to establish government agencies to oversee the transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The agencies will have responsibility to: “raise capital; implement labor force strategies; organize funding for infrastructure such as transmission lines, railways, and pipelines; fund research and development; set and monitor energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and equipment; train and retrain workers and professionals; set industrial location policies; and coordinate the multifaceted activities of federal agencies, state and municipal governments, corporations, and civil society organizations.” This is not unprecedented. “It is similar in scope to planning the nation’s infrastructure (e.g., interstate highway system) or, as discussed earlier, mobilizing resources for WWII. Among other considerations, it “requires the technical capacity to design and engineer such complex systems” and “requires taking into account a wide range of economic, environmental, and social factors – and maximizing beneficial side effects while minimizing undesirable ones.”
Additionally, government will have the responsibility, using fiscal and monetary policies to “ensure full employment to reduce the fear that climate protection may threaten prosperity.” Furthermore, government will “empower community-led initiatives to install rooftop solar collectors, energy use reduction measures such as residential weatherization, financial mobilization through community-investment funds, and new patterns of consumption such as shared bicycles.” There must be independent oversight of the green new deal agencies, that is, an “oversight agency independent of the executive branch [to] supervise the agencies and report to Congress and the public on their progress.” Brecher says there is currently a “labor reserve of more than 20 million people [at least] who are unemployed, underemployed, or outside the labor market.” They green new deal will need to support training and, when necessary, the relocation of these workers to fill the jobs in the new economy. All workers will be given “the rights…to express action on the jobs and freely, organize, bargain collectively, and engage in concerted action the jobs.”
#4 – There is increasing political and social support and action to stem the climate crisis and related crises
Francis Moore Lappe identifies the positive developments that we may sometimes overlook (https://commondreams.org/views/2019/03/12/green-new-deal-not-choice). Depending on the polls, large majorities of Americans view “climate change” as a significant problem – which is a good start. Furthermore, already “roughly 3.2 million Americans work in the clean energy sector, outnumbering fossil fuel jobs about 3-to-1.” Lappe continues: “These jobs typically pay very well…with energy-efficiency workers earning about $5,000 more than the national medium and solar workers averaging above our $17 national hourly median.” And these jobs are being created across the country, not just in a few locations. In Illinois, citizens passed the Solar for All initiative in December 2016, with the aim “to massively expand solar installations, prioritizing low-cost energy for low-income families.” Already Illinois has “the lowest electricity bills in the Midwest.” In New York state, 150 organizations back the “Climate and Community Protection Act,” which mandates “a fossil-free New York state by 2050,” while ensuring “that resources for the state’s green transition are invested in historically disadvantaged communities.”
#5 – Can’t be intimidated by the taunts of Trump and his right-wing allies
The green new deal is controversial, partly due to the understandable fact that in its first iteration the resolution lacks all the necessary details. But forget about the facts, Trump and the Republicans are opposed to it for ideological reasons and portray it as a “socialist” perpetrated by “crazy” leftists in the Democratic Party. If a green new deal is ever implemented, they say, it will lead to an authoritarian government undermining American “freedoms,” shattering the economy, and taking away consumer access to a host of products and services – like the Soviet Union under Stalin. They reject or disregard the reality of the climate crisis. In the meantime, they support policies facilitating the increased extraction, production, and use of fossil fuels, the primary sources of the unfolding climate crisis and perpetuate the impractical status quo that says unending economic growth based on maximizing profits and hyper-consumption are what will make American Great Again.
Jim Hightower writes the green new deal embodies programs that the people want (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/03/13/its-not-socialism-its-what-the-people-want). Ronald A. Klain, a Washington Post contributing columnist, served as a senior White House aide to Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and was a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, posits that it is “time for Democrats to stand up and stare down the great ‘red scare’ of 2019: President Trump’s desperate effort to label Democrats “socialists” and the intraparty hand-wringing over whether Trump’s attacks are working (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-will-call-anything-socialism-democrats-might-as-well-go-big/2019/02/22/a78fca9a-354d-11e9-854a-7a14d7fec96a_story.html). Klain argues, “The biggest mistake Democrats could make would be to back away from bold ideas on health care, income inequality and climate change — believing that less compelling ideas can still rally voters while avoiding the ‘socialism’ charge from the GOP. The party’s ‘realists’ are unrealistic in thinking that any progressive policies will be spared the ‘socialism’ label from the GOP, and wrong to worry that this label will do any more damage now than it has in the countless earlier failed efforts by Republicans to campaign on such fearmongering.”
Ed Kilgore points out that the derogatory use of the term socialism is not new in American history (http://nymagazine.com/intelligence/2019/03/will-gops-red-scare-anti-socialism-message-work-in-2020.html). Here’ some of what Kilgore writes.
“Republicans, their conservative media allies, and more than a few Donkey Party apostates, have been calling Democrats ‘socialists’ for a long, long time. The habit really began with FDR, who was generally thought to have introduced a social-democratic strain to American liberalism. His predecessor as Democratic presidential nominee and as governor of New York, Al Smith, said this to a room full of anti-Roosevelt conservatives in 1936:
“Just get the platform of the Democratic Party and get the platform of the Socialist Party and lay them down on your dining-room table, side by side … After you have done that, make your mind up to pick up the platform that more nearly squares with the record, and you will have your hand on the Socialist platform.”
“At least FDR was indeed advocating significant new public policy restraints on private enterprise, if not anything you could really characterize as ‘socialist’ by historic standards. But the same label was applied to virtually every post–World War II Democratic president other than perhaps Jimmy Carter.
“In 1945 the American Medical Association attacked Harry Truman for advocating “socialized medicine” (the same label they would attach to the original Medicare and Medicaid programs as advocated by LBJ). Shortly into the presidency of the resolutely centrist Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee very nearly adopted a resolution calling on all their partisans to begin referring to the opposition as the ‘Democrat Socialist Party.’ And soon after another centrist Democrat, Hillary Clinton, beat back a challenge from that rarest of beasts, a self-identified socialist running a viable presidential nomination campaign, she encountered widespread conservative claims that Donald Trump was the only thing standing between a virtuous America and a ‘tsunami of leftism,’ or perhaps socialist totalitarianism.
“So today, when 2016’s self-identified socialist is the consensus front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination, and when another self-identified socialist, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has become the darling of party activists and a huge national celebrity, there’s no question the GOP’s ‘The Socialists Are Coming!’ rallying cry will become even louder. That’s particularly true because Republicans desperately need to do to Democrats in 2020 what they did in 2016: Make doubts about Trump’s opponent the center of attention, rather than Trump’s own character. No wonder Trump himself is leading the chorus of warnings about “socialism.”
E.J. Dionne, Jr, argues that “Trump’s war on Socialism will Fail” because the label “socialism” has lost its anti-democratic overtones for a growing number of Americans (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-war-on-socialism-will-fail/2019/02/10/b6fe3a6a-2be4-11e9-b2fc-721718903bfc_story.html). He makes the following points. One, “Open advocacy of socialism is now a normal part of our political discourse. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won more than 12 million votes in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries running explicitly as a democratic socialist. Some recent polls even have Sanders running ahead of Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups.” Two, “Young Americans especially are far more likely to associate ‘socialism’ with generous social insurance states than with jackboots and gulags. Sweden, Norway and Denmark are anything but frightening places.” Three, “The 2018 PRRI American Values Survey offered respondents two definitions of socialism. One described it as ‘a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support and access to free higher education,’ essentially a description of social democracy. The other was the full Soviet dose: ‘a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation and communications industries.’
He continues: “You might say that socialism is winning the branding war: Fifty-four percent said socialism was about those public benefits, while just 43 percent picked the version that stressed government domination. Americans ages 18 to 29, for whom Cold War memories are dim to nonexistent, were even more inclined to define socialism as social democracy: Fifty-eight percent of them picked the soft option, 38 percent the hard one.” Four, “Oh, yes, and on those tax increases that conservatives love to hate — and associate with socialism of the creeping kind — a Fox News poll last week found that 70 percent of Americans favored raising taxes on families with incomes of over $10 million. Five, “Trump will still probably get some traction with his attacks on socialism. And progressives should remember that social democratic ideas associated with fairness and expanding individual freedoms — to get health care or go to college, for example — are more popular than those restricting choice.”
The Great hypocrisy: Socialism for the rich
Robert Reich argues that “America is a Socialist Country for the Rich” (https://truthdig.com/articles/robert-reich-america-is-a-socialist-country-for-the-rich). He offers the following evidence. One, in 2018, “the nation’s largest banks saved $21 billion thanks to Trump’s tax cuts, with massive bonuses to bank executives and 4,000 jobs lost to lower-level bank employees.” Two, “banks were bailed out in 2008 because they were deemed too big to fail and have enjoyed an $83 billion a year subsidy since then.” Three, “tax breaks to big corporations like GM got more than $500 million in tax breaks, while it is planning to lay off 14,000 workers and close three assembly plants and tow component factories in North America by 2017.” Four, “corporate executives who run their companies into the ground ‘are getting gold-plated exit while their workers get pink slips.” Reich refers to the example of Sears, which “is doling out $25 million to the executives who stripped its remaining assets and drove it into bankruptcy, but it has no money for the thousands of workers it laid off.” And then there is Pacific Gas and Electric [which] “hurtles toward bankruptcy,” while “the person who was in charge when the deadly infernos roared through Northern California last year (caused in party by PG&E’s faulty equipment) has departed with a cash severance package of $2.5 million. The P&GE’s executive in charge of gas operations when records were allegedly falsified left in 2018 with $6.9 million.” Five, “screw ups don’t lead to punishments, but rewards.” Reich’s gives two examples: “Equifax’s Richard Smith retired in 2017 with an $18 million pension in the wake of a security breach that exposed the personal information of 145 million consumers to hackers.” And “Wells Fargo’s Carrie Tolstedt departed with a $125million exit package after being in charge of the unit that opened more than 2 million unauthorized customer accounts.” Six, the idea that hard work and entrepreneurial talent are the roads to wealth is belied by this fact: “Around 60 percent of America’s wealth is now inherited.” Seven, “Trump has cut the estate tax to apply to only estates valued at over $22 million per couple.” Eight, “As rich boomers expire they will leave an estimated $30 trillion to their children – and many will live off the income of these assets.”
Some concluding thoughts
The advocates and supporters of the green new deal have offered a bold and timely first step to address the climate crisis; indeed, the most comprehensively meaningful response on the subject to receive widespread coverage and discussion. But the green new deal advocates are faced with significant challenges. I’ve discussed some of them already. But the 2020 elections stand out in their importance. The question: Will progressive Democratic candidates for the presidency and congress win enough votes to given them strong enough power to advance the green new deal?
The climate crisis remains for many Americans an abstraction and, even when acknowledged, is often not viewed as a top priority. And if in 2019 and 2020 the economy continues growing, many Americans may be reluctant to support candidates who endorse the “radical” changes required by the green new deal, especially when they have a job and an adequate or better income and are benefitting from “business as usual.” So, as recognized in progressive circles, the challenge is to educate as many citizens as they can about the unfolding climate crisis and the threats it poses to their lives, if not now then soon. Whatever citizens decide, we can be assured that the movements for transformative political action will grow, the issues will become ever more pressing, and, without sufficient action in Washington, the climate crisis will steadily worsen. The big question, then, is not what will make “America great again,” as Trump blusters, but will America survive?