Wednesday, February 13

Green New Deal Dreamin'

Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has garnered quite a bit of attention with her willingness to take on the establishment. She's also getting some attention because she's basically told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "bring it." Um. I keep thinking about that proverb "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18, NIV). I'm going to get all preachy. If you're not crazy about biblical references, think about Icarus.

The Fall of Icarus, 17th century, Musée Antoine Vivenel
Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman who created the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned by the king to keep secret the Labyrinth. "Daedalus managed to create two sets of wings for himself and his son, that were made of feathers glued together with wax. He taught Icarus how to fly and warned him not to fly too high, which would cause the wax to melt, nor too low, which would cause the feathers to get wet with sea water. Together, they flew out of the tower towards freedom." But Icarus forgot or ignored his father's warning, flew too close to the sun, then plummeted to the sea and drowned.  All of that to suggest that it might be a good idea to measure some responses. I think McConnell is being strategic and wily by bringing to the Green New Deal to floor to force Democrats to take a position on it. Of course, most Americans won't actually read the text of H. Res. 109.

So let me offer my own summary. The beginning is a series of "Whereas" statements to provide context and begins with uncited statistics about climate change and the assertion that United States has substantive responsibility for the amount of greenhouse gas in the world. Apparently no in-text citations of any source are necessary in resolutions.

The next "Whereas" seems to take a left turn (see what I did there?).

Whereas the United States is currently experiencing several related crises, with--
  1. life expectancy declining while basic needs, such as clean air, clean water, healthy food, and adequate health care, housing, transportation, and education, are inaccessible to a significant portion of the United States population;
  2. a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies that has led to--
    1. hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity;
    2. the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession;
    3. the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States; and
    4. inadequate resources for public sector workers to confront the challenges of climate change at local, State, and Federal levels; and
  3. the greatest income inequality since the 1920s, with—
    1. the top 1 percent of earners accruing 91 percent of gains in the first few years of economic recovery after the Great Recession;
    2. a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average white family and the average black family; and
    3. a gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median;
Then back to climate change, then some points about the New Deal and the middle class. I got confused there about some of these points and why they were included, but this is the introduction, if you will, designed to offer some sort of context. And now we get to the actual resolution, which is LONG! Let me see if I can do this justice.

The first part of the resolution is the "why" and "wherefore" of the Green New Deal. It is, in my opinion, filled with ambiguities and lacks clarity. If I were grading this, I'd send it back for more details. The first statement begins with this phrase "it is the duty of the Federal Government," which immediately makes me itchy because I'm a proponent of a smaller government footprint, but let me continue to share the duty of the Federal Government which is, by the way, you and me. 

We need to "achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers." How? Yea, nothing on that. "Y'all figure it out" seems to be the strategy and I have to wonder what they mean by "fair and just."

Then we need to "create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States." Well, yea, that would be awesome. . .if we can agree on what we mean by "good," "high-wage," "prosperity," "economic security," and "all people of the United States."

We're only on the second point and I'm exhausted with questions and wonderings, so just a few more. We'll skip the instructure "to sustainably meet," and not just because of the annoying and complicating split infinitive to go to "to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come--(i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and (v) a sustainable environment;. . .". Um. Well. Um. Okay, let's go to the next big item which reads:
(E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);
I just. . . I mean, I think. . .

This is sooooo overwhelmingly all-encompassing. The idealism is beautiful and wonderful. Yes, reach for the stars, but if you're going to write a resolution, write something that people have a snowball's chance in Florida of accomplishing.

Then there's the 10-year mobilization of stuff that constitutes some specifics (and I use that word advisedly) for the Green New Deal mobilization. I'll share just one:
upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.
Is that "all" as in every single building that currently exists in the United States? every single building that is inhabited for one reason or another? Because, well, that's a lot of buildings. In fact, according to some work done by Microsoft, there are 125,192,184 "building footprint polygon geometries" in the United States. Let's pretend that means there are at least 125 million buildings.

And what do you mean, exactly, by words like "affordability"? or "comfort" because my minimalist tiny house may be comfortable to me but not to you. (I don't have a minimalist tiny house, by the way; it was just an example.) And what if I don't want electricity? It's possible. And how much would this cost and who would pay for it? The federal government? Because that's me and that means you're going to need more tax money from me. Um, no.

Well, I'll be honest, it just goes on and on and on. I don't mind the Democrats striving to try to make our world a better one. I understand reaching for the stars and dreaming big, then settling for what can be done. I understand that lobbyists and special interest groups will have a field day with this. I understand activists getting excited about what the federal government ought to be doing for "all people of the United States," but I worry that they haven't thought this through. I worry they haven't done any or enough "What if?" analysis. I worry they haven't thought about the mirror side of any or even some of these resolutions. I worry they haven't thought that there might be some of "all people" who doesn't want the federal government telling them what's good for them.

Now I'm an educator and I believe in the power of education, but this one made me sit back and think even more:
providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so that all people of the United States may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization
My first unkind thought about this particular item: are there uniforms we have to wear to be participants of the mobilization? Is there a special salute or handshake or passwords? I'm sure they don't intend this to sound ominous, but it sounds ominous to me.

So if I were in a position to have to vote on this, I'd vote "no." I'd have to explain to my constituents who may be all lathered up because AOC is so popular right now that I can't vote "yes" on something with so few specifics. If I were able to vote on the idea of the Green New Deal and whether we should pursue the concept and figure out what makes sense for where we are and where we need to go, then perhaps I'd vote "yes." And I'd sure want to have some town hall meetings with groups of people to look at the wording of the entire resolution to figure out what really interests my constituents, and what they're willing to give up or strive for to accomplish some elements of the resolution.

Words matter.

Details matter.

Let's be clear on that, and let's be clear on what we mean when we submit a resolution that impacts "all the people of the United States."