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Green New Deal is More of a Signal Than a Statute

The optics were unmistakable. A 29-year-old freshman member of Congress was a leading voice at the introduction of the Green New Deal resolution, which has little chance of passage, but presages an important political moment when the fears and wishes of a younger generation push up against the pessimism and patronization of an older generation in politics.

The optics were unmistakable. A 29-year-old freshman member of Congress was a leading voice at the introduction of the Green New Deal resolution, which has little chance of passage, but presages an important political moment when the fears and wishes of a younger generation push up against the pessimism and patronization of an older generation in politics.

The Green New Deal resolution just introduced in Congress is less a plan of action and more a barometer of a new political wind.

The incoming Democratic majority in the House radiates the energy and activism of younger voters who will face the perils of climate change and are demanding bold action now. The Green New Deal is the Democratic response.

The incoming Democratic majority in the House radiates the energy and activism of younger voters who will face the perils of climate change and are demanding bold action now.

Because the Senate remains in Republican control and the White House is occupied by someone who denies the science of climate change, Democrats can only point to policies that wean America off fossil fuels and accelerate a renewable energy future. It will be up to states such as Oregon, where Democrats are in solid control, to advance specific climate change legislation, whether in the form of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade regime.

The optics of the Green New Deal nonbinding resolution’s introduction were unmistakable. Long-time environmental crusader Ed Markey, D-Mass, shared the platform with freshman phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Markey said, “Our energy future will not be found in the dark of a mine, but in the light of the sun.” Ocasio-Cortez added, “All great American programs, everything from The Great Society to the New Deal, started with a vision for our future.”

Critics called the plan unrealistic, lacking in specifics and too costly. They said advocates of the Green New Deal need to do a “whole lot more homework.” To youthful supporters, the criticism sounds a lot like patronizing parental pessimism.

Ocasio-Cortez shot back: “For 40 years we have tried to let the private sector take care of this. They said, 'We got this, we can do this, the forces of the market are going to force us to innovate.' Except for the fact that there’s a little thing in economics called externalities. And what that means is that a corporation can dump pollution in the river and they don’t have to pay, but taxpayers have to pay."

To be sure, there would be huge technical and significant economic challenges to reach a zero-carbon target in 10 years. For example, cars are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but many people hold onto their cars as long as 10 years. One of the biggest sources of methane emissions are cows.

"Even the solutions that we have considered big and bold are nowhere near the scale of the actual problem that climate change presents to us," Ocasio-Cortez told NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Youthful supporters are undaunted by those challenges. Sunrise Movement held a web meeting with supporters from all over the country and pledged to amp up lobbying for the Green New Deal during February. One of the group’s leaders said sit-ins may occur in the offices of Members of Congress who don’t endorse the Green New Deal.

But “old-timers” chimed in, too. “The Green New Deal resolution is essential in building and sustaining momentum to deal with the climate crisis,” Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer wrote his constituents. “Its message is one of ambitious, achievable and necessary hope. That’s why I’m excited to partner with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to help write this resolution and define its goals for this Congress.”

Congressional insiders recognize the Green New Deal won’t move in any significant way in this Congress. What they miss is that Ocasio-Cortez is a Member of Congress with a voting card and someone with an outsized following on Twitter who is driving the progressive political agenda. The only US political figure with more Twitter interactions if President Trump.

“When a 29-year-old former bartender of Puerto Rican descent beats a senior Democratic leader of the House, and then proceeds to set the political agenda during her first week in office, it’s more than a cute social media story," wrote Antonio Garcia Martinez in Wired. “She’s a harbinger of a new American political reality.”

This is what separates the Green New Deal from other legislative initiatives. It has become a generational anthem, not just a piece of legislation.

 

The Internet of Political Things

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

The digital world undeniably has swamped the political world, resulting in what you might call the internet of political things – email hacks, Twitter feed, Facebook fundraising and unfiltered outreach to a political base.

Private email servers. Unsecured personal smartphones. Cyber-hacking. Online campaign fundraising. Streaming townhall meetings. Fake Twitter accounts. Fake Facebook accounts. No denying the digital world has swamped the political world and we now have an internet of political things.

That fact resurfaced this week with news reports President Trump persists in using his personal smartphone, despite US intelligence warnings that Russians and Chinese are listening in on his conversations. Trump has denied the report, but also has confirmed it.

The crack in confidential, sensitive information by Trump is ironic in light of his continuing attacks on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and the chants of crowds at his political rallies of “Lock her up!”

For Trump, the digital world is his oyster. His Twitter account, he says, is his “megaphone” to speak, unfiltered, to his political base. Trump has more than 100 million Twitter followers. Newsweek points out as many as 15 million of his followers may be fake. Trump complained Twitter is trying to suppress the number of people following him. His complaint came in a tweet.

Barack Obama perfected the art of social media engagement and fundraising in his presidential campaigns. Now social media is a standard, integral part of campaigns for the presidency all the way down to local school board races. One of the top positions in big-time campaigns is digital director. Social media is a perfect vehicle to mobilize supporters, recruit new followers and disseminate a campaign’s key talking points. Social media also is a platform that can be used to test messages to see how they play with the political base.

Campaign budgets tell the story. Prior to the 2016 presidential election, major campaigns spent between 10 and 20 percent of the budget on digital. The Trump campaign spent 50 percent of its budget on digital. Big data, which can pinpoint people’s behavioral tendencies, has largely replaced paper voter registration lists that connect a Democrat or a Republican to a house address.

Based on US intelligence accounts, hacking into emails, setting up fake social media accounts, spinning conspiracy theories and conducting cyber dirty tricks are now common campaign practices. We have been led to believe Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have launched digital attacks aimed at US political figures, political parties and news media. There is less revealed knowledge about whether the United States engages in similar digital disruption in foreign countries.

Members of Congress who are stuck in Washington, DC – or want to avoid live appearances – have taken to virtual townhalls, often using live streaming as the medium.

Political polarization has lapped over to “news,” resulting in clusters of online outlets that cater to the views of people on the far opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some pose as news media even though they are principally political provocateurs. They would stick out on a TV channel guide, but they blend in as part of the vaster, unregulated cybersphere. 

Whereas people in the past conversed about political events of the day over coffee, they now engage in more highly caffeinated social media exchanges, sharing articles and trading insults in real time. You don’t have to wait for a daily newspaper to read your favorite (or most hated) commentator and offer your own follow-up comments. You can troll friends and foes alike online. You can associate with your political tribe and saber-rattle at your opposing political tribe. You can get – and give – political feedback on your smartphone virtually anywhere, anytime.

Like the internet of things, the internet of political things has created greater connectivity. In your home, you can remotely control your temperature and monitor your doorstep. In your political home, you can dial up whatever temperature you want and kick anyone to the gutter.

The internet of things can do a lot of good. You can monitor elderly parents living at home, reduce your energy bill and work without commuting. The internet of political things does good, too. You have more direct access to what political figures say and think. You have a wider range of political commentary at your fingertips. You can engage in political movements without leaving your own house.

For better or worse, the internet of political things is a reality. It is likely to become even more prevalent, though probably not to the point where you engage your refrigerator in a political debate. In Italy and other places, the internet of political things has evolved to electing representatives and giving them legislative direction via online direct democracy. That’s like inviting the legislative process for a sleepover on your computer. 

The good news is digital change occurs fast. You won’t have to wait long for the next big internet of political things.

The Changing Face of Industry and Policy Concerns

Not long ago, when the President of the United States sat down with industry leaders, he met with steel magnates, carmakers and machine tool manufacturers. Today, President Obama huddled with the heads of Yahoo, Google and Twitter. 

That says volumes about the changing face of "industry" in America, not to mention the profile of the nation's most pressing issues.

Steel, car and machine tool tycoons rode into Washington, DC to talk about foreign competition, excessive regulation and the minimum wage. The 15 high tech CEOs who met with Obama came to discuss the bungled HealthCare.gov website and their concerns about excessive government data-mining, sometimes through unsuspected backdoors into their data warehouses. 

Many captains of industry have identified with the Republican Party. This new breed of corporate leader tends to side with the Democrats and have especially close ties to Obama. The Sunlight Foundation says employees at the 15 companies represented at today's meeting contributed an average of $356,000 per company to Obama's campaign.

Despite the political comity between Internet giants and the President, they find themselves in a strained position over the government's performance in the digital world. They see the HealthCare.gov website fiasco as a major stumbling block to Obama's leadership on other major policy aspirations they share. And they find government spies in their data closets disconcerting.

Arguably, the topics at today's presidential parlay affect more Americans than those of yesteryear involving tariffs and government rule-making. The implementation of Obamacare, including introduction of health care exchanges, will have a broad impact across the nation's economy. And the thought of government snoops sifting through emails, phone records and people's digital footprints has a large segment of the American public on edge.

Hashtag Warfare

If politics is war, then Twitter is the neutron bomb. Politicians are engaging in hashtag warfare to stake out positions and target opponents without ever talking to a reporter or entering a TV studio.

You know you have a powerful weapon, says The Washington Post, when the President of the United States incorporates hashtags into his speeches, as he did last week — #dontdoublemyrate — in pressuring the GOP-led House to block an increase in student loan interest rates. After whipping up a student crowd in Chapel Hill that chanted the hashtag, there were almost instantaneously 20,000 tweets with the hashtag. 

Within 45 minutes, House Speaker John Boehner responded, using the hashtag, blaming Democrats for the student loan rate increase. Conservative groups seized on the hashtag to rip Obama over gas prices and lingering high unemployment rates, a risk you run in hashtag warfare.

Ann Romney chose Twitter to respond to criticism about her being a stay-at-home mom. Her tweet — "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work." — reframed the conversation in thousands of retweets. Critics changed the subject.

Twitter-bombing isn't just an American political phenomenon. It played a huge role in the Arab Spring upheavals. Reportedly the new president of Chile instructed his cabinet ministers to tweet to build grassroots support for his new policies.

Facebook has tons more users, but Twitter has become the go-to place to find out the latest news. That is just the kind of battlefront that attracts political operatives. Shots fired on Twitter wind up ricocheting on Facebook and, ultimately, populate searches on Google.

Half-time with Chrysler

A 120-second ad aired at half-time of Sunday's Super Bowl featuring Clint Eastwood talking about Detroit's comeback sparked a sharp debate among political partisans. Was it a covert pro-Obama re-election ad? Was it part of the payback for massive bailouts that kept Chrysler afloat? It depends on who you talk to, and plenty of people were talking.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said the ad had zero political content.

Eastwood, who described himself as leaning more toward libertarian fiscal views and has been quoted by the Los Angeles Times as opposed to the auto bailout, said the ad was about job creation. 

GOP high priest Karl Rove told Fox News the ad offended him and smacked of Chicago-style politics. 

Obama campaign staffers in Michigan called it "another great Chrysler ad," while the President's political advisor David Axelrod extolled it as a "powerful spot."

And then there are all the tweets and Facebook mentions arguing one side or the other. Thousands of them, which continued on into this week.

Most of the commentary seemed to bypass the policy choice behind all the brouhaha. Commentators and tweeters apparently left that for actual politicians to duke out. Obama touts the bailouts, which actually started under President George W. Bush, as the savior of the U.S. auto industry. Or as one wag summed up Obama's re-election pitch, "Osama bin laden is dead, but GM is alive." Republican presidential hopefuls pan the bailout, calling it an unfortunate intrusion by government into the free market.

Congressional Republicans Out-tweet Democrats

More Congressional Republicans are on Facebook than Democrats and GOP lawmakers tweet more often than their counterparts across the political aisle.

According to a survey conducted by the Associated Press, 86 percent of House Republicans tweet compared to just 75 percent of Democrats. Forty-one of the 47 Senate Republicans and 41 of the 51 Senate Democrats tweet. Eight of 10 members in both the House and Senate use Facebook and Twitter.

Not surprisingly, congressional tweeting has its skeptics. Some social media experts say lawmakers miss the point of this interactive space by trying to push messages instead of engaging with people, especially millennials — young adults between 18 and 29 whom AP says "practically live online."The Pew Internet and American Life Project says one third of Americans in the millennial age group seek to connect with their governmental officials online.

"I want it to be something that's going to be valid to me as an 18-year-old, as a new voter," says Emily Bartone, a student at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. "They can talk and talk and talk about whatever their agenda is, but if they don't personalize it to their views and their audience, then they're not going to get anywhere with it."

Heather Smith of Rock the Vote tells AP, "Have a real conversation. Talk about the issues and engage them in authentic ways. Be yourself, use the technology and people will write back."

The shadow of former Congressman Andrew Wiener getting way too personal in his tweets still looms over the Capitol, but federal lawmakers seem to be opening up to the possibilities afforded online. Some are holding online townhall meetings. The House Republican caucus held an online group townhall called "America Speaking Out."