in Urban Politics

Short List the GND

The big problem is a nonrenewable energy system. It has a lot of little problems inside, such as GHGs or wait-time for a technological fix. The nastiest of these is the “catastrophic resolution” problem that takes the “whereas” logic of a “resolution” full circle bizarrely. One strategy that doesn’t wait for the sky to fall or homes to flood and burn is mobilization.  It is represented in the energy within the Sunrise Movement and a range of other mass-membership organizations. That is one side of the coin.  Here is the other.

The political influence of the fossil fuel industry remains strong thanks to Citizens United v. FEC. The prevention of outright bribery is the only crack in the armor of this ruling.  Quid pro quo political corruption is not free speech. Turning this connection into fact leads to possible remedies; however, the money is already talking from a well-organized lobby with a century of experience. You have already heard the line.  The GND is attacking the only major job-creating, growth industry – energy. It’s called wagging the dog.

The Shortlist

The Green New Deal should be welcomed like chlorophyll receives the sun, where the pigment arranged in pools of all things green, where the sun’s energy bounces from one molecule to the next to reach a delicate three-billion-year-old trap that makes the materials of life on earth from light. The trap snaps closed as electrons from water molecules break into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is in a stream of electrons that flow up through the trap to turn carbon dioxide into organic matter. The oxygen is discarded.

The GND Resolution is a “big tent/long list” thing. It sets the benchmarks for everything people want or need. A small tent, the shortlist is, therefore, essential to mark accomplishments. The twenty-year-old voter in 2020 will be a mere eighty years old in 2080, and they don’t like what climate politics is doing to them each day. Don’t worry about your grandchildren. The priority of a voter in 2020 should be about the lives of their children in 2020. The shortlist is as follows:

  1. Irreversible Climate Change Demands Environmental Protections
    • Strategic Resilience  
  2. Implementation of a Violence Reduction Plan
    • Guns, Sexual Harassment, Assault & Terror
  3. Social Justice and Enforcement of Fairness  
    • Immigration, Civil and Criminal Justice Reform
  4. Health Care Services and Reform
    • Comprehensive Provision and Prevention

Getting number one well started is the best way to assure the continued success of the remaining three and practical advancement of H.R. 1 


Step back a minute for some reflection on the political environment set by H.R. 1. It establishes the climate for change leading up to the 2020 election and implementation in 2121. It is rightly called a “power grab,” so we know how it will go. But one perusal of HR 1 proves we go high, but a left hook is there too.

Congress has established two top priorities:

  1. H.R. 1 is bold and comprehensive. It supports voter rights and access reforms, campaign finance reforms, and corruption fixes. It sums up ten years of “good government” efforts to correct serious problems.
  2. A Select Committee to support the Green New Deal Resolution is not much to ask.

Step back a minute for some reflection on the political environment for change leading to the 2020 election.

The leadership of independent agencies such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has the responsibility to regulate political representatives’ campaign financing. They have two interesting unsolved problems.

First, there are no laws prohibiting candidates from funding their office campaigns entirely from the fossil fuel industry, big pharma, private health companies, and the purveyors of huge arsenals for weapons or bytes.

Second, having won a Congressional seat, there are no ethical standards or procedural rules that prevent a member of Congress from owning stock in any of these global companies or writing legislation and setting standards that would increase their holdings’ value. These facts are well known.

If the youthful fingers of college undergrads can dig into the fissures of corruption in the modern landscape of democracy, the McCain-Feingold prescription for decreasing donor influence may have a future.  Yes, it is admittedly weak, although the effort to put some sunshine on a few obvious gaps in legislators’ financial practices is where it can get interesting. The investigative task is to examine the votes that were not for the GND resolution in as much detail as possible. These representatives will provide the first “tell” in this poker game for the planet.   

Way Way Outside

One other way anti-corruption policy could work would only cost the American people about $5.35 billion per year or less than one percent of annual military spending and not counting the off-budget stuff. In other words, a drop in the $4 trillion annual budget of the United States. What if you would pay every member of Congress $10 million a year for their services. Now that is paying attention.

The accountability strings could be many. Holding that number by law without an increase for five or ten years would satisfy critics.  A clear incentive for representatives would be to hold spending influence on inflation to a minimum, and yes, that is a tax on the dollar, not the income.

The influence of money remains incontrovertible. Freeing up members’ fundraising needs is not the only thing that needs better shields from political radiation. The idea of paying each Congress member $10 million a year in trade for legislative honesty might work if it was also in trade for transparency. Could that salary set up a firewall between public agencies’ legislative mandate and the special interest lobby absorbing trillions of dollars in annual spending? Could it draw a line in the sand between mandatory and discretionary spending responsibly? One never knows unless one gives it a try. Hey, the total cost is less than three days of Pentagon spending.

Did you know Congress members’ salary is less than $200K, but the average in Congress is just over $1M? There are many wagging dog possibilities, and a couple of thousand students of economics and members of the Sunrise Movement, Ballotpedia, and others will find out why.  There are ways to repair the dysfunctions of the government by focusing on bad actors.  The bottom line, remedies to the possibility of “this for that” corruption or systems that assure 100% transparency remain very difficult to implement.

Know that the GND Resolution is not law. It is a promise. Accountability to its vision will be proof of the hard work needed to get laws passed. Win or lose in passing legislation is the measure of the problem, and it is a twelve or twenty-year game. The GND Resolution also measures the quality of pressure in the persuasiveness of science. The hypothesis is that if more legislators were scientists instead of mostly lawyers, the arguments for change might improve. Membership organizations serving scientists such as are taking direct action on this point. They are motivated well by Albert Einstein, who said science does not need to be silent on political matters.

Coalitions of Innovators and Mobilizers

Given current political conditions, the work of following the money is difficult but not impossible. Can you say Paradise Papers or Panama Papers? The coffers of lobbyists and today’s political leadership are secretly entwined. The unending campaign, the ring of phones and piles of postcards and bodies in federal offices’ hallways, can be enough in a democracy, but will it be in time?

Getting to know how well Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is working will add to your confidence. It is a remarkable public campaign financing idea. It helps residents participate in local government by 1) supporting campaigns and 2) running for office themselves. The idea is to make elections competitive and interesting to voters.  The Brennan Center for Justice paid attention to it because political campaigns represent the heart of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Center is named for Justice William J. Brennan Jr.  One of the things he is well known for saying is the First Amendment requires “a lot of breathing room.” You can trash the Enquirer for being trash, but it has the same rights as the New York Times in the light of the Constitution. An educated public can see the difference. Do we have that now?

This fear of “the mob” does not reduce the Brennan Center’s interest in reducing negative influences on political campaigns bought by forces that want to run elections with as few voters as possible and have the winning votes go according to a script or plan. As this is the behavior of the “moneyed elites,” balance becomes the issue, not new viewpoints.

Invest in Civic Life of All Kinds

The civic life of the United States has a long list of not-for-profit organizations. There are the traditions of outfits like the Masons, the emergent single-issue groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and another long view, mass-membership corporations are the American Association Retired People (AARP). All these institutions are threatened easily. Subtle examples abound. In the case of MADD, how many people do you see taking “shots” of a whiskey or in the case of the NRA shooting “guns” in the media every week?  Right, enough to notice. Public trust in civic membership in the fight against impaired driving or gun violence will succeed when conditions of excess threaten human lives.

The arc of world history predicts the demise of civic life for the loss of public interventions. It begins when the low- and moderate-income voice becomes a whisper in the ear of government officials. In that silence, every troubled neighborhood on the American diversity spectrum becomes metaphorically irrelevant. It seems that no one will talk about these problems in ways that make sense to the ordinary voter beyond the accumulation of wealth that hints at an oligarchy but isn’t, at least not one with a motive.

Then in 2016, a rude, belligerent man said, “follow me, not these assholes.” He captured the working-class voter and added the roar of the advantaged voices that policymakers could already hear clearly and would do whatever they asked. Arguments about the relevancy and merits of foreign election tampering or the electoral college in the 21st century aside, none of these factors change without attending to a set of prerequisites.

The Prerequisites

Organized and mobilized groups tied to one clearly defined issue can re-acquire government responsiveness. There are several examples. If you are over 50 years of age, you could be one of 38 million other people who send in a modest membership fee to the AARP. The belief is they will represent you in your aging years and give you helpful information and planning advice. Evidence of this mass-membership power was clear during the American Health Care debate. The attack on AARP cost them hundreds of thousands of members. That is proof of super-relevance. The route to reasonable health care remains viable, and “repair” instead of “repeal” is on elected officials’ lips.

The arc of history in re-claiming government attentiveness has better examples. One does not have to convince American’s that reversing a record of oppression is possible. Women have the vote. The civil rights and social justice movement remains a strong pulse in the arteries of the American future. The GND is similarly put out as a long haul. It is not.

The Wonderful World of Votes and Ducks

Empowerment is a wonderful word if it describes a community-generated emotion. If you need convincing, think of the Marines or Navy Seals, where mission success training is at its height. Obstruction, on the other hand, is a lesser emotion, often considered the only tool of the powerless, but in 2014 the authoritative leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R KY), used obstruction to prevent a hearing for the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice Judge Merrick Garland.

Another mass-membership group Common Cause (30 States, over a million members), will argue against gerrymandering in the Supreme Court in 2019.  They also hope to succeed with other national partners in altering the Electoral College for its failure to recognize the popular vote.  In recognition of “the vote” is to remain an important conflict reducer, fairness in majority rule voting is paramount and requires a fair hearing, if not a fix. Another group, Fair Vote, aims its resources to emphasize public education on vote power and reform the system.

We know civic organizations struggle for resources to accomplish basic reform tasks. All seek a revival in voting enthusiasm and an energized coalition of civic associations on specific issues that help build informed participation. Membership in local organizations has declined less in participant numbers than in the growing number of groups, desperately attempting to get the public’s attention.

Top on the list, we find threatened groups such as Planned Parenthood’s women’s health service.  There are “straphanger” groups fighting for fair transportation systems, housing groups protecting against displacement, and fighting for affordable rents.  Across the political action spectrum, organizations have become aggressive yet sophisticated in demanding the protection of legislators. All you need for proof is the “they will take your guns away” strategy of the NRA.

The lesson to learn is how a national to local network system is most effective. It is fixed to a specific interest and where there are a lot of community-based organizations.  Urban centers are particularly effective for identifying common interests in coalition building that break down old barriers such as race and find ways to develop a common agenda on a broad range of problems.  Much of this activity is not well supported by national foundations, which remain far too shy of activity related to political change when their real power as adjudicators of fact is distinguished. 

Robert Sampson’s 2012 book, “Great American City,” detailed the enduring effects of civic organizations in Chicago. It digs into the extraordinary potential of cities once the equality of neighborhoods can be accepted with policies that eliminate poverty concentration by neighborhood. While not an issue now, the social organizing and community building skills on this question will be greatly needed for one reason. It is fully possible that hundreds of thousands of displaced people could occur in the United States as a global warming/climate change possibility.

Define the Problem

The problem is defined in one word – energy. Why? The world is still being built using a nonrenewable energy system. Therefore, despite all the other problems this presents, the goal is to develop renewable energy systems. To achieve this goal, objectives are defined by demonstrations of the scale embedded in the wind, geothermal, and solar alternatives. The strategic and tactical approaches to achieve this goal and its objectives will combine public and private investment through local trials in all residential and business settings defined by two forces, movement and heat. Priorities will be set based on thousands of initial projects with a promise that serves local environmental conditions. Each solution is thereby linked to a new American energy paradigm. Routine examination of the resource implications of each will occur through the pragmatic rule of law and evaluations.

Building a new energy future is first on the shortlist because it is the core problem. Working to solve this problem first will aid in organizing and mobilizing the next three on the list. The following is an example of not paying attention. Of the thousand examples, this one by the Guardian is the most accurate expression of our enormous power to destroy in our own image. (Guardian Explains) Google’s earth engine video illustrates here.

The bet that the failure to reduce GHGs in a decade “won’t be that bad” is a gamble of the addict. It pushes aside all other opportunities to reduce violence in all of its forms, kills the idea of sustaining a healthy social justice movement, and weakens our ability to keep people healthy from birth to death.

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