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Progressives Need Their Own “Powell Memo”

Public Power Is Not A Pipe Dream

Maine Ballot Question Echoes Forgotten Core Element Of The Green New Deal

Cornel West and Kennedy campaigns as vehicles to attack corporate power, cut through identity politics, and tame the culture wars

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[Update – I edited this down to 700 words in a failed attempt to get it published as an Op-Ed in the Star Ledger. Of course, no way with that.

But it was published over at CounterPunch, one of my favorites sites with superb writing and perspectives, with a photo of a dour Lewis Powell in robes.

I guess it’s just my luck to blast identity politics on the day the US Supreme Court struck down affirmative action. Reminds me that I got a great story about the flaws in Gov. Whitman’s “Open Market Emissions Trading” (OMET) air pollution emissions trading program published on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal – but on 9/11/01!!! ~~~ end update]

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Let me first set the context.

Left and progressive politics and policy have been destroyed by identity politics and the culture wars.

There is almost a total vacuum of ideas and bold policy proposals, and little effort to promote public education, organizing, and dialogue, even in so called alternative and progressive media circles.

The Democratic Party is hopelessly corrupted, beholden to, and captured by corporate money. Democrats abandoned the New Deal coalition back in the Bill Clinton years (and arguably well before that under Jimmy Carter).

The Republicans have embraced full on fascist politics, from denying women the right to choose, to banning books, demonizing “the other”, and openly advocating a straight up White Christian Nationalist program that rejects liberal democratic institutions and values.

Republicans have linked this culture war fascist politics to a corporate agenda that not only seeks to dismantle the New Deal “administrative state” and restore laissez-faire deregulated crony capitalism, but to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy, slash the social safety net even further, and take us back to the 19th century practices of child labor, private charity, and the poor house.

Trump has even called for concentration camps for the homeless, involuntary institutionalization of the mentally ill, and execution of drug dealers.

But recently, there have been glimmers of light in this darkness.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced his campaign for President with a refreshingly radical pledge that unsurprisingly has been ignored by US media:

to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism in our country.

Kennedy pledged to establish “honest government”:

A democratic government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. But government institutions have betrayed our trust. The intelligence agencies spy on our own people. Government and tech platforms conspire to surveil and censor the public. Regulatory agencies have been captured by those they are supposed to regulate: Wall Street controls the SEC. Polluters and extractive industries dominate the EPA and BLM. Pharma controls the CDC, NIH, and FDA. Big Ag controls the USDA. Big Tech has captured the FTC. No wonder trust in government is at all-time lows. It’s time to earn it back.

More recently, longtime public intellectual Dr. Cornel West declared his candidacy for President. West spoke with Chris Hedges:

Cornel said he seeks “a paradigm shift,” a realignment of “the ideological landscape.” He calls on us to redirect the focus of governing institutions from the demands of markets and corporations, the military machine, empire and the ruling oligarchs, to poor and working people.

“What we need is a recognition that the corporate duopoly, both parties, constitute major obstacles and impediments for the kind of spiritual awakening and moral reckoning that focuses on poor and working people,” Cornel said.

He is calling, in short, for a political revolution and the overthrow of the ruling corporate class.


Now with that context in mind, consider that Thom Hartman has a superb piece on the abuse of corporate power, read the whole thing:

Hartmann’s highlighted two particularly important issues: 1) the Maine Ballot initiative to establish public power in The Pine Tree State; and 2) the Powell Memo.

It is impossible to over-state the significance and impact of the Powell Memo. It was a reaction to the “excess of democracy” , the various Movements (civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental) and the cultural counter-revolution of the 1960’s (rejection of materialism, acquisitiveness, competition, violence, aggression, patriarchy, sexual repression, et al).

The Powell Memo served as the strategic plan, intellectual framework, and institution building for the corporate long game that has gotten us to where we are. The Neoliberal corporatists did this largely by blaming government and progressives – instead of corporations and capitalism – for people’s problems. That has legitimized a massive shift in power to corporations and away from democratic institutions, as well as expansion of the huge gap in income and wealth inequality, destruction of the middle class, increase in poverty, destruction of the public sphere, the evaporation of social mobility and the onset of cultural wars to mask and displace the substance of public policy.

Moreover, Hartmann’s mention of the Maine public power question reminded me that public power was a key feature and structural element of Bernie Sanders’ original version of the Green New Deal.

Sanders sought to implement public power via repurposing the existing Federal Power Marketing Administrations.

That critically important proposal has been ignored by media, abandoned by climate activists, and virtually forgotten, so here it is again in it’s policy and political outline: (GND)

  • Generating revenue from the wholesale of energy produced by the regional Power Marketing Authorities. Revenues will be collected from 2023-2035, and after 2035 electricity will be virtually free, aside from operations and maintenance costs.
  • Reaching 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation by no later than 2030 and complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 at latest – consistent with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change goals – by expanding the existing federal Power Marketing Administrations to build new solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources.
  • Transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to 100 percent energy efficiency and sustainable energy by 2030 at the latest. The New Deal provided inexpensive electricity to America through efforts like the Rural Electrification Administration and the Federal Power Marketing Administrations. If the federal government was able to electrify America under FDR without computers or any of the modern technologies we have available to us today, think of what we can do today. Municipal and cooperative electric utilities still provide some of the least expensive electricity in the country today. As part of the Green New Deal, we will expand on that success.
  • Build enough renewable energy generation capacity for the nation’s growing needs. Currently, four federal Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) and the Tennessee Valley Authority generate and transmit power to distribution utilities in 33 states.We will create one more PMA to cover the remaining states and territories and expand the existing PMAs to build more than enough wind, solar, energy storage and geothermal power plants. We will spend $1.52 trillion on renewable energy and $852 billion to build energy storage capacity. Together, with an EPA federal renewable energy standard, this will fully drive out non-sustainable generation sources.
  • We will end greed in our energy system. The renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned, managed by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority and sold to distribution utilities with a preference for public power districts, municipally- and cooperatively-owned utilities with democratic, public ownership, and other existing utilities that demonstrate a commitment to the public interest. The Department of Energy will provide technical assistance to states and municipalities that would like to establish publicly owned distribution utilities or community choice aggregation programs in their communities. Electricity will be sold at current rates to keep the cost of electricity stable during this transition.

The Green New Deal is politically dead, but the policy ideas, technical merit, and political strategy are more relevant now than ever. And public power – politically and energy – could be a pillar of a new framework.

So, what I suggest, is that a superb writer and intellectual like Chris Hedges be the man to craft a progressive “Powell Memo”.

We could call it the “New Deal Restoration” memo.

It could provide a narrative and talking points that could be used to focus, message, and organize the kind of coalition that was able to make the New Deal a reality.

It could be used as a legitimate “bridge” to approach and dialogue with those sometimes described as “right wing populists”, those who have been abandoned by and feel betrayed by Democrats and resentful of the arrogance and condescension of progressives and liberals. Cornel West recently stated that 1 in 9 Trump voters previously supported Bernie Sanders.

It could cut though the identity politics and dampen the culture wars.

So, the challenge is out there – will Hedges, West and Kennedy campaigns craft, in West’s words, a real “paradigm shift,” that leads to a realignment of “the ideological landscape.”?

The whole world is watching!

[End Note: 

Cornel West and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. are not Bernie Sanders and AOC. They will not sheepdog, gaslight, and sell out.

Just thought it important to make that distinction.

And once upon a time, when there was a very unpopular murderous US imperial war that prompted a huge anti-war movement and an insurgency candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary, a sitting US President was forced to step down and not seek reelection. For real.

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