Yes! Weekly | Jeff Sykes | November 11, 2015
I spoke to Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein last week in advance of her four-day visit to North Carolina on Nov. 14. Stein spoke to me from her office in Boston. She will visit Greensboro on Monday, Nov. 16, with an appearance at Guilford College scheduled for 7:45 p.m.
Stein is a physician who practiced internal medicine in the private sector before becoming politically active in 2002, when the Green Party recruited her to run for governor of Massachusetts. Stein was born in Chicago and graduated from Harvard College in 1973 and later Harvard Medical School in 1979. According to her campaign biography, “Jill began to advocate for the environment as a human health issue in 1998 when she realized that politicians were simply not acting to protect children from the toxic threats emerging from current science. She offered her services to parents, teachers, community groups and a native Americans group seeking to protect their communities from toxic exposure.” Stein has published two medical reports, In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, published in 2000, and Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging, published in 2009.
YES! Weekly: How is the campaign going and what are you up to at the moment?
Jill Stein: The campaign is going awesome. I’m about to head to Baltimore where we have a new candidate who is a new entry into the party and is very much at the core of the Black Lives Matter movement in Baltimore. It’s a trend all around the country where so many of the social movements who’ve been thrown under the bus by the big parties have discovered that they have a new support system for political voice. So I’m very excited about what’s going on. Baltimore is just a case in point. I just came from Texas where there was so much engagement from Black Lives Matter, from the immigrant rights community, the communities fighting fracking, it’s just very wonderful to see these vibrant social movements that have come together, really, under the framework of the Green Party. We’re all working together for the world that we deserve.
Y!W: What is it about the Green Party, or lacking in the established parties, that’s causing these social movements to begin to gravitate toward the Green Party?
JS: I think this is a development that has been decades in the making. As the Democratic Party became sold out to the big money interests, like the Republicans, everyday people have been increasingly squeezed. I think there was a lot of hope that the Obama administration was going to represent salvation of the Democratic Party. To put it very simply, it didn’t happen. The lesser evil turned out to be just as bad by most measures, whether you look at the Wall Street bailout, the offshoring of our jobs, the neglect of labor and unions, the skyrocketing costs of health care, the continued urgent needs, the debt that our students and young people are really locked into, the growing crisis of foreign policy, the endless and expanding immoral wars, which are making us less safe, not more safe, and finally the meltdown of the climate. Under Obama there have been the equivalent of 10 Keystone Pipelines built already in terms of miles of pipeline.
'All of the above' turned out to be basically ‘drill baby drill on steroids’ and the expansion of the fossil fuel industry has been unparalleled. So whoever you are looking at, whether it’s the economic hardships suffered by the African American community or the police violence or women heads of households who are struggling for jobs and to keep their families out of poverty, it’s not going so well. Finally people are beginning to look for new solutions and are not being intimidated into hanging onto this notion of ‘the lesser evil’. The lesser evil is not lesser enough to save your life or your job or your school or the planet or international security. People are beginning to reject the lesser evil and fight for the greater good. The writing is on the wall. If we don’t stand up, no one will, because the clock is ticking.
Y!W: What sets your campaign apart from those of the two major parties?
JS: In a nutshell, we are not poisoned by corporate money. The other parties are funded by predatory banks, by fossil fuels, by war profiteers and other usual suspects. That really has defined the policies of the other two parties, which are not serving the American people. The Green Party is the one national party that does not accept and is not poisoned by corporate monies. We have the unique ability to stand up for the everyday people who are being thrown under the bus by the big corporate parties. We can stand up for the urgent needs that people are clamoring to have met.
Y!W: What is the one policy issue that you feel is most critical to the future of the US?
JS: I would have to say we need jobs that transform the economy to a just and green economy. Our solution for that is referred to as the Green New Deal. It is one sort of joint policy but it addresses simultaneously the emergency of our economy, the emergency of our climate and the emergency of our foreign policy and the dangerous, backfiring wars for oil. They’re all basically remedied through on an emergency basis.
These are jobs, which like the New Deal, they would revive the economy. In this case, it is a Green New Deal so these jobs would focus on creating 100-percent clean renewable energy by 2030, creating healthy local, sustainable food systems and creating public transportation at the same time that we meet human needs. It’s a massive jobs creation program, but it’s far more efficient than the jobs program that Obama created in 2009, which was extremely expensive because it wasn’t direct job creation. It had a lot of tax incentives built in and those can get used in a whole variety of ways. Maybe it created 1 or 2 million jobs and cost $800 billion dollars. A Green New Deal would cost less than that and create far more jobs because it creates jobs directly, provides direct incentives for those jobs that are created.
It can revive the economy. It can turn the tide on climate change and it makes wars for oil obsolete by ensuring that we are meeting our energy needs here at home through renewable energy. The additional payoff there is that the health benefits are so profound that it actually pays for the energy transition simply in health savings.
Y!W: What challenges are there to the Green Party growing its political footprint with American voters? Is that beginning to pick up more steam?
JS: It is as word gets out. The biggest challenge to the party is getting heard and overcoming the corporate media effort to suppress competition. They know that we are a competitor that spells the end of their domination. Typically, when we get into debates, we win them.
[Editor’s Note: Stein told the story of being recruited to run for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. Supporters helped force her onto a debate stage after being excluded by the local press. When she left the debate hall, she was mobbed by the press who said she won the viewer online reaction poll.]
That turned the light on, in my eyes, in that the political system is a complete scam and we are basically intimidated into think gin that we need to be quiet, whereas the reality is that we in the Green Party, the voice of the social movements for justice, we really represent the core of American values. Essentially, we’ve already won in the court of public opinion. Our job is to simply get the word out that we are here, to give people a reason to come out and vote. It’s an organizing challenge. It’s not a challenge of changing people’s minds, which is a far more difficult proposition. Fortunately, history has changed people’s minds. The economy and the climate have changed people’s minds. International chaos has changed people’s minds. People are ready to stand up and come out and our job is to get the word out.
[Editor’s Note: Stein said that the Green Party is fighting to get in to the national debates now, having two pending court cases and a petition online at jill2016.com.] Stay tuned because there will be actions that lie ahead.
We have fought our way in to debates before and we are determined to do that now. We’re going to go to the mat to begin reclaiming the promise of democracy that survival now really depends on in this country and around the world.
Y!W: Let’s turn to two economic questions, which you may have touched on in the Green New Deal, if we could drill down to some specifics. Your economic plan is a multifaceted drive to create a more just economy. Which step would you pursue first? Minimum wage increase? Tax reform?
JS: All of these are critical. I think our first step would actually be to push through the job creation program. It contains living wage jobs so it contains the work that has to be done to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. That would happen with 20 million jobs. When that happens, it would pose so much pressure to jobs that aren’t paying these wages, that it would really force them to do the same. To some extent the Green New Deal pays for itself because it enables massive reductions in military spending, both military spending and in health that is sick-care spending, because the benefits are so profound and immediate. It pays for itself as well.
I think that would be the first step because it is such a comprehensive great leap forward that it begins a whole set of downstream improvements that flow when incomes start being generated. When people have jobs, then you suddenly have a tax base. It just enables so many improvements to take place when you have a vibrant and thriving economy. One of the biggest hits that created the current deficit was the downturn in revenues with the downturn of the economy. In part, this would massively improve tax income to our government, even prior to any specific tax increase.
Y!W: Turning to North Carolina, what are your goals for coming to North Carolina this weekend and what plans do you have while visiting the state?
JS: The biggest goal is to jump start the ballot drive because North Carolina has been denied its fair share of voices and choices. North Carolina deserves to have a choice that is not controlled by the corporate political parties. We’ll be working with people to basically get people involved in signature collection so that we can get the signatures that we need. I don’t have the number offhand, but it’s huge.
Y!W: In North Carolina, it was recently announced that insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act could rise up to 23 percent this year. How would you judge the state’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion? Does it make economic sense for a state to reject available federal monies?
JS: You’re absolutely right in that Medicaid expansion was one of the most valuable things, many say it was the most valuable thing, about the Affordable Care Act. The rest of the Affordable Care Act is sort of, what shall we say, it’s not doing so well by any means. The premiums are skyrocketing, the coverage is shrinking, major holes have been knocked in to it in this recent debt ceiling deal that Congress reached and the president has already signed. It exempts large businesses from having to provide insurance. So one of the major pillars of the Affordable Care Act has now crumbled. It was Medicaid expansion that really created one of the most important expansions of coverage. For states to refuse it is just incredible.
I think it’s a real statement, it’s a testimony to how much these governments that are refusing health care for their citizens, it’s a real reflection of who they are serving. They are basically saying, go ahead and die, because not having health insurance greatly increases your risk of dying. They are turning a blind eye to death and pain and suffering on behalf of their people so that they could essentially serve health insurance and pharmaceutical companies that were resisting the Affordable Care Act.
Y!W: How would the Green Party healthcare plan help North Carolina residents who are locked out, either because they can’t afford it or because they didn’t get the Medicaid expansion? What does the Green Party plan look like?
JS: The Green Party plan is pretty simple. It takes Medicare and it patches up the holes that have been knocked in to Medicare for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies that are sort of free to charge exorbitant prices in Medicare, and other privatization holes that have been knocked in to it. So we would patch up Medicare to its beloved state. Even with its holes, people love their Medicare.
We would patch it up and drop the age of eligibility to essentially prenatal care. It would provide lifetime coverage, but beyond the current limits. Medicare would also cover your eyes and your ears and your mental health and chronic disability and chronic illness, all these gigantic holes in our current insurance system would be patched up and you would be completely covered as a human right. All other developed countries do this. It’s an incredible outrage that the wealthiest nation in the world has not seen fit to actually preserve the health of its residents.
You would be covered far more efficiently than you are right now where the US spends more than any other country around the world but we have far worse health outcomes, far more sickness, far greater infant mortality, far shorter life span, all this would improve and we would basically cut the cost of the middle man, which is about $400 million a year. Instead, the cost of the bureaucracy shrinks from being a major portion of health care to being 2 or 3 percent, which is what Medicare spends on administration. That $400 million gets put in to actual health, which is how we can afford to cover everyone and improve everybody’s health care. This is a win-win situation and is another reason for people to stand up now and come together and assert the power that we already have when we are a unified movement that is fighting for the green politics that we deserve.
Y!W: Greensboro is a major university center in our state. What would your college financing plan look like? How would it make a difference for current and future college students?
JS: There are two pieces to our college-financing plan.
One is to cancel student debt. We did this for the bankers who caused the economic crisis; we should do it for the students who are the victims of that economic crisis. The bankers costs us $17 trillion. For students it’s more like $1.3 trillion, so it’s far less and these are the people who deserve to be bailed out. We can do that bail out. We can do it by instructing the Federal Reserve to use its emergency authority and it can create a so-called quantitative easing, which it created for the bankers. We can do that now for the deserving students.
It’s not only that students deserve it but that our economy needs it. Having this much debt that’s been bundled into investment instruments in the same way that mortgages were, massive numbers of young people are unable to pay this debt because the economy is in gridlock. It’s very important for the sake of the economy that we not have another economic crisis based on massive default of loans. This is something that we need to do for young people and we need to do for all of us.
Furthermore, liberating young people from the chains of debt is critical for reviving our economy. Every generation needs to reinvent and reimagine our economy and our society. When students are trapped in to low wage jobs just to pay their rent, let alone try to pay back their loans, you don’t have this wealth of creativity and risk taking and the imaginative things that young people do to discover the next phase of our economy. It’s really important for all of us to do this.
In terms of the cost of college, we would make public college, community college, technical schools and universities, all public education would be free. We know from the GI Bill that this pays for itself. For every dollar that we invest we get $7 back in return. It’s an investment that pays for itself so much that it’s nuts, it’s crazy not to do this simply from a financial standpoint.
From an ethical standpoint, this is what an older generation owes to its younger generation. Up until now, say throughout the 20th century, we provided free high school education because that’s what was necessary to have a secure start in the economic future of young people. Now a high school education won’t do it. You need a college degree. By analogy, it’s necessary that we give our students that jump start for them to have economic security. Right now they are being treated like a cash cow, exploited by predatory loans in these skyrocketing costs of education, which is an outrage in and of itself, that costs have been allowed to skyrocket so that states and the national government could give massive tax breaks to the wealthy.
We need to provide that education for free. To prime the pump, we can ask and require the wealthiest members of society to start contributing their fair share. A Wall Street sales tax is one way to being funding this, which would be more than sufficient. It’s about time that Wall Street began paying a sales tax. They are one of a very few number of industries that are exempt from paying a sales tax.
The most profitable economic sector should certainly pay its fair share. They are more able than anyone else. They need to be contributing to this economy that they, more than anyone, have benefited from.
Y!W: Greensboro has significant areas of food deserts in high minority and impoverished areas that are primarily in the eastern half of the city. What policies does the Green Party offer that could make significant difference in the historically economically disadvantaged communities in the south and beyond?
JS: The Green New Deal contains many programs that would enormously benefit economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color. For example, the Green New Deal prioritizes healthy local food economies and food independence. It puts real money into creating a viable local food industry. Because we are not servants of agribusiness and Monsanto and so on, we would stop the subsidies of the industrial food system, which makes unhealthy industrial food very cheap and makes healthy local food very expensive. It should be reversed, so that we are providing support to healthy local food production and community gardens where we can be producing these fresh fruits and vegetables that we really need in order to be a healthy food economy. There are many ways that we can put our dollars into local communities.
The Green New Deal also provides funding to local communities, prioritizing those in greatest need so that local communities can decide how to use these dollars in a way that makes local communities sustainable. We’ve defined sustainable as not just ecologically sustainable but also economically and socially sustainable. So if a community decides it needs affordable housing, it can create jobs by building the affordable housing using the funding from the GND grant. If it decides it needs community gardens and to create a local food economy and give people lots of jobs doing farming, we can do that and support living wages in these jobs through the Green New Deal.
This is indeed a real target of the Green New Deal, to benefit exactly these kinds of communities and make them our priority, not a last recipient of national support, but the first, so they can have the sustainable, just livable local communities that they deserve.
Y!W: What motivates you to take on these seemingly insurmountable challenges and the dominance of the two-party system at the national level? What would you say to interested progressives who feel the Green Party isn’t yet relevant to challenge the Democratic establishment’s hold on left of center politics in the United States?
JS: The reality is that, according to the Wall Street Journal poll that came out at the end of the summer, 29 percent of Americans consider themselves Democrats, 21 percent consider themselves Republicans, 50 percent do not identify with either party. They have rejected and left behind those parties because those parties have left us behind.
I would caution people who defend the lesser evil for whatever reasons, I would caution them that that attitude basically tells you to be quiet, don’t advocate for what it is that you need, what it is that your life depends on. That amounts to a politics of fear, that you have to vote for the lesser evil because it is the best you are going to get, it’s the best you deserve. In fact, that strategy of silencing ourselves, of trusting the lesser evil to do it for us, that politics of fear has actually delivered everything that we were afraid of. Look at the track record under that strategy. You were told to vote for the lesser evil because you didn’t want a president who would massively expand fossil fuels, who would massively deport immigrants, who would support the drug war and the imprisonment, lock, stock and barrel of the African American community and Latinos. You didn’t want a president who would ship our jobs overseas and depress wages at home. All the reasons we were given to vote for the lesser evil, we’ve gotten those things. By the droves.
How much more of a failure of do you need in foreign policy to convince responsible public representatives that this is a catastrophic foreign policy, yet they just keep doing it more because they are the designated hitters for the war profiteers and the fossil fuel companies and the big banks. That’s who they are serving.
What I would ask people who want to stay the course is ‘Is this course serving you?’ It probably serves the 1 percent or maybe the 5 percent but we’ve got the numbers here. We’ve got the numbers, we’ve got the solutions, all we need now is to throw off this politics of fear that silences us. It’s time to forget the lesser evil, to stand up and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it, because they do. The clock is ticking. We don’t have forever to wait around on this. The Democrats want you to think that they are in control, but they are not. They have 29 percent. We have 50 percent that’s in revolt. In the words of Alice Walker, the biggest way that people give up power is by not knowing we have it to start with.
We have the power. We have the numbers. We have the solutions. All we need now is the courage of our convictions. The minute we stand up, we are an unstoppable force and we can together put people, planet and peace over profit. We can build the future we deserve. It’s not in our hopes. It’s not in dreams. This is here and now. The power to do this is in our hands.