By Whitney Webb Whitney Webb
Washington– (Opinion) In recent weeks, support from progressives and establishment liberals has been pouring in for the “Green New Deal,” a plan largely promoted by U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The plan claims that it seeks to “transform the U.S. economy in an effort to fight climate change” that would ostensibly push the U.S. from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy in a little over a decade.
Though Ocasio-Cortez and others have claimed that the measure is “anti-establishment” and has been mocked by the corporate media, it has recently gained the support of over 30 House Democrats and won endorsements from mainstream media pundits such as Van Jones of CNN.
Jones — who is a senior fellow at the Clinton-connected, John Podesta-led think tank the Center for American Progress, and a former Obama adviser — recently called the Ocasio-Cortez-promoted plan “the smartest, most practical idea in U.S. politics to address two urgent problems: climate change and poverty.”
For someone who has campaigned on upending the status quo and challenging the establishment, Ocasio-Cortez and the “Green New Deal” tied so closely to her name sure have won a lot of support from the establishment, and quickly too. While that phenomenon has been touted as evidence that progressive agendas are finally “winning” on Capitol Hill, one need look no further than the text of the Green New Deal on Ocasio-Cortez’s own website to realize that the real reason this plan has gained so much establishment support so quickly is that it is an oligarch-driven corporate answer to climate change and inequality and a wishlist for the neoliberals who still control the core of the Democratic Party.
A plan to propose a plan to make a plan
While most media coverage of the Ocasio-Cortez-backed Green New Deal refers to it as a “plan,” the current version of the deal is not a plan so much as a proposal that outlines how to form a committee of House members that would then create the actual specifics of the plan and draft legislation. The Washington Post was one of the few outlets to note this, when it recently wrote:
The Green New Deal deliberately omits details on how to reorient the United States toward the drastic carbon emissions reductions it calls for, instead calling for a select committee in the House to devise a plan by 2020.”
There is nothing necessarily wrong with calling for a House committee to devise the plan. However, there are problems with how Ocasio-Cortez proposes that the committee is formed and how it will operate.
The fact that this current plan has no specifics and is set to be drafted over the next two years by a soon-to-be-selected committee is notable given that the very plan being envisioned was already written years ago by the Green Party. Indeed, the original “Green New Deal” was first created in 2006 and contains many specific initiatives to wean the U.S. economy off of fossil fuels by 2030 and to create jobs in the process. It also contains a plan to secure funding, in large part through reducing the country’s excessively bloated military budget and by reining in Wall Street.
The Ocasio-Cortez plan, however, is quite different from its Green Party predecessor and the text of the plan itself makes no mention of the original plan bearing the same name and aimed at the same ultimate goal. Furthermore, it entirely avoids many of the original’s genuinely progressive initiatives and instead uses language that promotes neoliberal, business-as-usual policies that are advocated by establishment Democrats.
According to a draft of the plan that was recently on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, the proposed House committee “shall be composed of 15 members appointed by the Speaker, of whom six may be appointed on the recommendation of the Minority Leader.” By all indications, the next speaker of the House is set to be Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), meaning that every member of the committee will be appointed by her, with six of those members potentially being appointed on the “recommendation” of the House’s top Republican. Notably, Ocasio-Cortez herself has recently backed Pelosi as House speaker.
While Pelosi’s status as an establishment, corporate Democrat is enough to create concern that those she would appoint to the committee would be just as beholden to corporate interests as she is, the version of the plan currently on Ocasio-Cortez’s website offers many more reasons for concern.
Although the provision that the speaker-appointed House committee would draft its plan and draft legislation “in consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia and broadly representative civil society groups and communities” [emphasis added], sounds on the surface like a model of diversity and inclusion, past experience, such as the bending of the Paris Accords to business interests, suggests a similar imbalance and looming danger.
The emphasis on including experts and insiders from “business” and “industry” appears several times in the plan, such as in the following excerpts:
The select committee shall have the authority to investigate, study, make findings, convene experts and leaders from industry, academia, local communities, labor, finance, technology and any other industry or group that the select committee deems to be a relevant resource.” [emphasis added]
“The plan shall […] be driven by the federal government, in collaboration, co-creation and partnership with business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, research institutions [corporate-funded?] and civil society groups and communities.” [emphasis added]
Such language makes it sound as though industry insiders and business executives will be just a few of the many voices at the table. However, in addition to the fact that the committee will be stocked with House Democrats hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi — who has been accused of planning to “handcuff” progressive policies from Democratic representatives in the upcoming Congress — there is the fact that the Democratic Party itself remains just as beholden to corporate money as ever, aside from the small handful of soon-to-be members of Congress who rejected corporate money during the primaries. Are representatives hand-picked by the speaker of such a corporate-aligned party more likely to listen to business leaders or tribal nation representatives?
This concern is further magnified by the recent revelation that Big Oil was intimately involved in drafting the Paris Climate Accords. In that case, Big Oil executives were included in the process as “consultants” and “observers” but saw “many” of the elements their companies had written subsequently appear in the Paris Agreement.
Another indication that there is nothing “progressive” about the Ocasio-Cortez-backed plan is the fact that it is stocked with neoliberal buzzwords that are catnip to modern-day American robber-barons. For instance, the plan states that it must “include additional measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurism …” [emphasis added]
The term “labor market flexibility” is a neoliberal buzzword that disguises a corporation’s ability to hire and fire at will as an exercise in “flexibility” as opposed to an exercise of corporate power. As Investopedia notes, “A flexible labor market is one where firms are under fewer regulations regarding the labor force and can, therefore, set wages, fire employees at will and change their work hours.” Giving a group of corporate Democrats and business insiders free rein to promote “labor market flexibility” undermines the plan’s goal of including basic income programs and universal health care programs.
Similarly, the term “economic security” is likely to be interpreted by corporate Democrats and “business leaders” as the status quo of corporate’ bottom-lines, not the economic security of the average American. Indeed the term is most often defined as “having a stable source of financial income that allows for the ongoing maintenance of one’s standard of living currently and in the near future.” For a corporation, “standard of living” is its bottom-line and profit margin. So, the signal here seems to be that the Green New Deal will pass over the kinds of changes that would in any way threaten corporate profits and thus their “economic security.”
The emphasis on ‘entrepreneurism’ in this excerpt and throughout the document is also notable given that noted academic and anti-capitalist David Harvey has defined neoliberalism as:
[A] theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free market, and free trade.” [emphasis added]
The emphasis on ‘entrepreneurism’ in the excerpts presented above and throughout the Green New Deal document fits perfectly into its neoliberal genesis and explains its appeal to its newly acquired flock of neoliberal backers.
A timeline tied to the 2020 election
Another hallmark of neoliberalism found in this “progressive” plan allegedly aimed at addressing climate change and poverty is how it will be funded. As the plan states:
The majority of financing of the Plan shall be accomplished by the federal government, using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds and such other vehicles or structures that the select committee deems appropriate.”
As Will Morrow notes at the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS), this proposal for fundings “means nothing more than new avenues for providing cheap credit to private corporations.” Not helping things is the fact that the Federal Reserve is controlled by private banks and beholden to Wall Street.
Also notable is the fact that the document calls for the committee’s plan to be submitted by January 2020 and for it to publish draft legislation by March of that same year, when the next presidential election campaigns will be in full-swing. As Morrow further noted at WSWS, “Any such documents [produced by the committee in early 2020] would be wholly aimed at providing some popular appeal to the Democrats’ election campaign.”
Morrow also asserts that the timing of and spin surrounding the Green New Deal is meant to “promote illusions that the Democratic Party, a party of the corporate and financial elite no less than the Republicans, can be transformed into an agency of social progress,” despite the fact that the plan itself “excludes any encroachment on the fortunes of the ruling class” and is “entirely directed to and dependent upon the Democratic Party.”
The “Cap and Trade” protection game: Paying the corps to not ruin the Earth
While the language and some of the content of the plan is cause for concern, the most problematic part of the plan is the fact that it is all but guaranteed to propose a “cap and trade” system to address the issue of climate change. Notably, the plan itself does not explicitly call for “cap and trade” but does use so-called buzzwords — such as its call to “decarbonize” industry — that signal such a system will be put in place, as these terms have been used to describe past cap and trade systems.
Another hint that “cap and trade” is on the table is how the FAQ section of the text states that past cap and trade bills were fine in the sense that they promoted cap and trade but not problematic only in the sense that the system proposed was not large enough to encompass the scale of the problem. As the FAQ states:
The shortest and most accurate response [to why past “cap and trade” legislation was insufficient] is that (1) none of them recognize the extent to which climate and other social and economic issues are deeply interrelated and (2) even if looking at climate as a stand-alone issue, none of them are scaled to the magnitude of the problem.”
The FAQ also states that the most well-known past climate-change bill — the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) — “was a cap-and-trade bill that was wholly insufficient for the scale of the problem.”
However, the most convincing evidence that cap and trade will form an integral part of the coming “Green New Deal” of the Democratic Party is the fact that the committee that will be drafting the details of the plan will be appointed by Nancy Pelosi. For over a decade, Pelosi has heavily promoted cap and trade as the answer to climate change and it is likely that she will choose representatives likely to place her climate change solution of choice into the plan.
When she served as speaker after the 2008 election, Pelosi had created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming that stood from 2007 to 2011, when it was disbanded after Republicans took control of the House. That committee was chaired by then-Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who went on to author the cap and trade ACES bill that was so “market friendly” it was condemned by environmental groups like GreenPeace. The bill passed the House but failed to gain enough support in the Senate.
This past October, Pelosi told the New York Times that she would “revive” the now defunct cap and trade committee as speaker in the next Congress and she may choose to do so within the context of the Ocasio-Cortez “Green New Deal” in an effort to appease progressive voters prior to 2020.
Cap and trade is controversial because it essentially enables industries to buy and trade permits that allow them to emit certain levels of carbon. This system allows big oil companies and other fossil fuel extractors and refiners to purchase credits for emissions reductions elsewhere instead of just reducing them directly. As a result, the system has been widely criticized by environmental groups as well as in the Green Party’s original Green New Deal because it both “create[s] complex and easily-gamed ‘carbon markets’ with allowances, trading and offsets” and does little or nothing to reduce emissions, but often increases emissions instead.
Thus cap and trade is a system that would do next to nothing to address the two issues at the heart of the Ocasio-Cortez-promoted Green New Deal. It would not address climate change, as such systems have been shown to not reduce emissions and instead increase them. It would also not address the issue of wealth inequality, as the system would instead create a cadre of so-called “carbon billionaires.” Furthermore, already-implemented cap and trade systems have been fraught with fraud and have even been used for profiteering by organized crime in Europe.
Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that cap and trade has been promoted most heavily by large oil companies. Indeed, it was recently revealed by none other than Shell Oil executive David Hone — Shell being the ninth largest producer of carbon emissions globally — that his company’s lobbying efforts were largely responsible for the inclusion of a cap and trade system in Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement.
During a side event at the just concluded, UN-sponsored climate change conference, Conference of the Parties (COP) 24, Hone publicly stated the following:
We [Shell Oil] have had a process running for four years for the need of carbon unit trading to be part of the Paris agreement. We can take some credit for the fact that Article 6 [of the Paris agreement] is even there at all. We put together a straw proposal. Many of the elements of that straw proposal appear in the Paris agreement. We put together another straw proposal for the rulebook, and we saw some of that appear in the text.”
As the Intercept noted in a report on Hone’s comments, many big oil companies see “cap and trade [systems] as a vehicle for ditching other constraints (i.e., regulations) on their operations.”
Though the actual “Green New Deal” of the Democratic Party has yet to be written, with Pelosi at the helm and the current language used in its current form, the Ocasio-Cortez-promoted plan is all but certain to include cap and trade as a major component of its plan to tackle climate change. Yet, as has been recently pointed out, the inclusion of such a system will do little to solve the issues the plan ostensibly seeks to address and will instead empower America’s oligarchy as well as big oil companies without making a dent in the country’s annual carbon emissions.
Stolen from the Green Party
Something particularly notable about Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” which has been repeatedly overlooked by mainstream outlets in covering the initiative, is that it is not the first such plan to be promoted in U.S. politics in recent years that aims to transform the U.S. economy to using 100 percent renewable energy in a relatively short time frame. In fact, the Green Party first created that deal, with the very same name as the Ocasio-Cortez proposal, in 2006 and an updated version was a major component of the Green Party’s presidential campaign in 2016.
However, the original “Green New Deal” of the Green Party and the Ocasio-Cortez-promoted version exhibit key differences despite the fact that they share the same catchy name.
For instance, Ocasio-Cortez’s version states that her plan will be funded:
…in the same ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit, and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.”
In other words, Ocasio-Cortez suggests funding the plan with credit from the private bank – and Wall Street controlled – Federal Reserve Bank, taxpayer funds, and the aforementioned cap-and-trade scheme that would enrich the country’s ruling class even more.
In contrast, the Green New Deal of the Green Party proposes funding its plan to take the U.S. economy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 by cutting U.S. military spending in half and closing all foreign U.S. military bases, which would free up at least $500 billion a year and still leave the U.S. with a defense budget three times larger than the next largest defense spender, China.
The difference here is notable because the Ocasio-Cortez plan calls for funding her Green New Deal “the same ways we paid for World War II and many others wars” but does not call to redirect funds paying for the U.S.’ many wars abroad to fund her plan — instead calling for the U.S. government to further indebt itself through the Wall Street-controlled Federal Reserve, which her plan refers to as “traditional debt tools.” Notably, the Green Party’s Green New Deal called for nationalizing the Federal Reserve, ending taxpayer-funded banker bailouts, and breaking up the “too big to fail” banks — progressive proposals unmentioned in the Ocasio-Cortez plan of the same name.
Furthermore, the Green Party version emphasizes public programs while also transforming domestic energy production and the structure of the U.S. economy, in part through meaningful financial reform. Its newest iteration calls for:
[Building] an economy based on large-scale green public works, municipalization, and workplace and community democracy … [that] rejects both the capitalist system that maintains private ownership over almost all production as well as the state-socialist system that assumes control over industries without democratic, local decision making.”
It also has specific proposals for meeting its stated goal, in great contrast to the Ocasio-Cortez version, which omits such specifics and delegates them to a committee of Pelosi-selected career Democrats that will develop its plan in consultation with “business” leaders and industry “experts.” Needless to say, the Ocasio-Cortez-backed “Green New Deal” committee is not likely to propose anything that will “transform” the economy in such a way that it challenges the country’s ruling class or its bottom line.
As journalist Kate Aronoff of the Intercept determined after speaking to Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff and other representatives who have backed the deal, “the ‘Green New Deal’ isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative.” Technocratic is defined as “relating to or characterized by the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts” [emphasis added]. It is interesting that a journalist writing in support of the plan uses this term to describe a plan for “progressive” reform. Yet more importantly, what type of “technocratic” and “transformative” reforms does history show that establishment Democrats and industry insiders are likely to propose and support?
Another clear difference in the plans is how they have been treated by the U.S. media establishment. For instance, when the Green Party’s version was promoted by 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, the Washington Post derided her proposal to “end all use of coal, oil, gasoline and nuclear power by 2030, guaranteeing a federal job to anyone who wants one along the way” — core points also promoted by the Ocasio-Cortez plan of the same name — as a “fairy tale” as well as “poorly formed and wildly impractical.”
In contrast, the Post recently called Ocasio-Cortez’s version “an inspiring solution to our broken world that actually is about fixing the things that most need fixing” and “a dedicated effort to preserve the ecological health of planet Earth.”
The Post’s take on the Stein-promoted plan was not unique, as many establishment outlets in 2016 slammed it as “deeply unrealistic” and “technically impossible,” among other derisions. Ocasio-Cortez’s version, however, has been praised by many of those same outlets as “the smartest, most practical idea in U.S. politics,” “political genius,” and “one of the most interesting — and strategic — left-wing policy interventions … in years.” Is it overly cynical to wonder what factors might account for the establishment media’s seeming about-face?
Greenwashing another neoliberal takeover and Ocasio-Cortez’s rightward surge
Given the extent to which she has promoted herself as a “working class socialist from the Bronx” who went from bartender to representative-elect in a matter of months, the neoliberalism within Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for the Green New Deal committee may be confusing to those who became convinced that the 29-year-old New Yorker represented a new “progressive” uprising within the Democratic Party.
However, since her primary win, Ocasio-Cortez has steadily moved to the right on a variety of issues that she had made the core of her primary campaign, suggesting that her role as de facto leader of a “progressive” uprising in the Democratic Party was little more than wishful thinking.
Indeed, in the last few months, she has distanced herself from Palestinian solidarity movements, accused Republicans of being “weak on crime,” and dropped her call to abolish ICE, among others. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, she has backed establishment Democrat par excellence Nancy Pelosi to serve as the speaker of the House.
Also notable was Ocasio-Cortez’s praise for war criminal John McCain, whose legacy – she claimed on Twitter in August – “represents an unparalleled example of human decency and American service,” despite his promotion of terrorism in Syria, the invasion of Iraq, and violent regime change in Libya among other grotesque examples of American military aggression abroad.
Despite the clear evolution of Ocasio-Cortez from a “democratic socialist” and “progressive” to just another corporate Democrat in a matter of months, her tireless promotion of the “Green New Deal” has given the representative-elect the opportunity to gain some much-needed positive publicity that she can use to bolster her rapidly-faltering progressive credentials. Indeed, the “Green New Deal” does not just greenwash the neoliberal response to climate change, poverty and inequality, it also greenwashes the rightward lurch of Ocasio-Cortez herself and her own transformation from a progressive “radical” to an establishment “centrist.”
Beyond the clear benefit the promotion and potential success of the measure present to Ocasio-Cortez personally, her advocacy also stands to give a much-needed facelift to the Democratic Party without forcing it to make any meaningful changes.
Indeed, recent efforts have been launched – Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and Bernie Sander’s Yemen War Bill among them – to promote the Democrats as the anti-war, pro-environment answer to Trump, despite the fact that these very efforts, behind the spin, do little if anything to address these problems at all.
Both initiatives are safely inside in the realm of the “Washington consensus” and would strengthen – not lessen – the grip of the oligarchy and powerful monied interests on the American political system. However, they would certainly give the Democratic Party talking points in the lead-up to 2020 with the case for Russian collusion yet to materialize.
Given Ocasio-Cortez’s rapid rightward shift and the actual text of the plan she is promoting, it is essential to call out the “Green New Deal” for what it is: a neoliberal agenda that will keep the U.S. shackled to the oligarchy sucking it dry and that will only worsen the systemic inequality it claims to want to eradicate.
Despite its pretty, progressive-sounding banner, Ocasio-Cortez’ Green New Deal — in its current form — will continue to perpetuate gross distributive injustice by ensuring that the side with the most “green” keeps winning as the world continues to seek solutions to climate change.
Editor’s Note | A day after this story was published, Ocasio-Cortez’s official website changed the format of the Green New Deal from a webpage to a Google Document. The version of the text that was available on her website at the time of publication has been added to this story and the text of this article referencing the Green New Deal website has been amended to reflect that.
Top Photo | Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participates in a town hall held in support of Kerri Evelyn Harris, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware, Aug. 31, 2018, at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del. Patrick Semansky | AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.