David Swanson conducted this exclusive interview with Jill Stein for American Herald Tribune.
I asked Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein about her platform this week and came away believing it had a better chance of winning than Bernie Sanders'. I know that platforms don't run, people do, and they do so within a two-party dominated system. But this already crazy presidential election could turn into a crazier five-way race. And, even if it doesn't, or if it does but still nobody ever learns that Jill Stein exists, there is nonetheless much for us and for the other candidates to learn from her platform.
If you think free college is popular, you should see what young people think of free college and erasing all existing student debt.
If single-payer healthcare with raised taxes (but net savings, if you make it to that fine print) excites voters, how do you think they'd respond to single-payer healthcare with no raised taxes?
If fewer wars and asking Saudi Arabia to do more of the funding and fighting sounds promising, what would you say to no more wars, a 50 percent cut in the $1 trillion/year military spending, no more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia which is doing more than enough killing, thank you, no more free weapons for Israel either, and investment of some of the savings in a massive green energy jobs campaign producing a sustainable energy policy and a full-employment economy?
Senator Bernie Sanders' domestic proposals have got millions excited, but the (unfair and misleading) criticism that he'll raise taxes may be a tragic flaw, and it's one he opens himself up to by refusing to say that he'll cut the military. Stein would cut at least half of the single biggest item in the discretionary budget, an item that takes up at least half of that budget: military spending. She'd cut fossil fuel subsidies, as well, and expect savings to come from healthcare, including as a result of cutting pollution and improving food quality. But the big immediate item is the military. Cutting it is popular with voters, but not with Democratic or Republican presidential candidates. Sanders will be labeled the Tax Man by the corporate media, while Jill Stein will have to be attacked in a different way if she gets mentioned.
"Cutting the military budget is something that we can do right now," Stein told me, "but we want to be clear that we are putting an end to wars for oil – period. And that is part of our core policy of a Green New Deal which creates an emergency program, establishing twenty million living wage jobs, full-time jobs, to green the economy, our energy, food, and transportation systems, building critical infrastructure, restoring ecosystems, etc. This is an emergency program that will get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. So this is a war-time-level mobilization in order to completely detoxify our energy system, and that means both nuclear and fossil fuel. In doing that, we deprive the empire of this major justification for wars and bases all around the world. So we want to be clear that that emphasis is gone, and goading the American public into war so as to feed our fossil fuel energy system – that ends and makes all the more essential and possible the major cutting of the military budget."
Which 50 percent of the military would Stein cut? Two places she named that she would start with (there would have to be much more) are foreign bases (she'd close them) and the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Would she unilaterally scrap U.S. nukes? I asked.
"We don’t even need to do it unilaterally," Stein said, "because the Russians have been begging to revive the process of nuclear disarmament, which the U.S., in its wisdom, undercut. ... The Russians have been persistently trying to restore those nuclear talks for the purpose of disarmament. And that would be step one – is to make major reductions between the U.S. and Russia and then to convene a world forum to put an end to nuclear weapons altogether."
The "war on terror," Stein pointed out, has only created more terror, while costing each U.S. household $75,000. "That’s not going to make people terribly enthusiastic for it, particularly when you point out that all this has done is create failed states, worse terrorist threat, whether you look at the Taliban, the globalization of al-Qaeda, the creation of ISIS. This has been an utter, unmitigated disaster, and the massive refugee crisis which is threatening to tear apart the European Union. This is absolutely unsustainable by any count."
To change U.S. foreign policy, Stein proposed financial reforms unheard of in any presidential debate thus far. She suggested that military and other government contractors should face "pay to play protections" preventing them from "buying their way into policy." Stein explained: "If you establish that anyone who contributes, who provides campaign contributions, or who lobbies is not eligible for contracting with the government, the minute you break that umbilical cord, then the industry loses its power to corral Congress and dictate foreign policy." Stein said such protections could also block U.S. government facilitation of weapons sales to foreign buyers.
"War profiteering should not be allowed," Stein explained, "in the same way that energy profiteering is not compatible with our survival." Ultimately, the big profits, Stein said, are in healthcare: "We spend a trillion dollars plus on the military industrial complex every year, but we spend three trillion and counting every year on the sick care system, which doesn't make us well. It just enables us to tread water while we cope with these disastrous health impacts of the war economy and the fossil fuel economy."
Stein did not hesitate to highlight differences when I asked her about Bernie Sanders. She cited his "support, for example, for the F-35 weapons system which has been an incredible boondoggle."
While Sanders would keep killing with drones and "fighting terrorism," Stein calls "fighting terrorism" an oxymoron and points to counterproductive results: "Terrorism is a response to drones that sneak up on you in the night and to night raids and this is where we recruit and we enable ISIS and al-Qaeda to continue expanding ... something Bernie hasn't quite gotten straight by saying the solution here is to turn the Saudis loose; the Saudi's need to 'get their hands dirty'."
"We can actually begin to rein in the Saudis with a weapons embargo and by impounding their bank accounts," Stein said. The same goes for Israel, she added, stressing the need to respect the law. Should the United States join the International Criminal Court, I asked. "Oh, my god, of course!" was Stein's reply. "And the treaty on land mines?" "Of course! My god. Yes. ... There are all sorts of treaties that are ready to move forward. In fact the Soviets and the Chinese have been prime movers in expansion of treaties to prohibit weapons in space and to establish the rule of law in cyberspace."
So, what would President Jill Stein do about ISIS? She answered that question with no hesitation: "Number 1: we don't stop ISIS by doing more of what created ISIS. This is like the elephant in the room that none of the other presidential candidates are willing to acknowledge, even Rand Paul, I might say, surprisingly. So we don't bomb ISIS and try to shoot ISIS out. We've got to stop ISIS in its tracks by ending the funding of ISIS and by ending the arming of ISIS. How do we do that? We do that with a weapons embargo. And so the U.S. can unilaterally move forward on that, but we need to sit down and talk with the Russians as well, and Putin tried to do this.
"You know, Putin, our arch enemy Putin, was actually trying to create a peace process in Syria. ... We need to begin talking with Russia and with other countries. We need to build on our relative détente with Iran to engage them, and we need to bring our allies into the process. Right now, the peace process, as I understand it, is held up by, guess who -- Saudi Arabia, who wants to bring in known terrorist groups as the representatives of the opposition. The Saudis should not be defining the way forward here ... Our ally Turkey needs to understand that their membership in NATO or their position with the U.S. and other allies around the world should not be taken for granted, and that they cannot be in the business either of funding ISIS and related groups through the purchase of their oil [or of] shipping weapons. They also need to close down their border to the movement of the militias."
Stein was sounding an awful lot like the leader of the Labour Party in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, and I asked her about him. "I have already met with Jeremy Corbyn," she said, "when I was in Paris for the climate talks, ... and we had a surprising amount of time to talk and we agreed completely on collaborating on this 'peace offensive,' which is the name we have given to our solution to the problem of ISIS. Peace is not passive. We need an active, interventionist program based on peace which means to stop the flow or arms and money, etc. So, we've already agreed that we see eye-to-eye on foreign policy."
"First of all," she says, "there are 43 million young people and not-so-young people who are trapped in debt, in student debt. My campaign is the only campaign that will be on the ballot that will abolish student debt. We did it for the bankers who plunged us into this economic crisis that persists in spite of what they say. And they did that by way of their waste, fraud, and abuse. Yet we bailed them out to the tune of $16 trillion and counting.
"So, isn't it about time we bail out the victims of that waste, fraud, and abuse -- the young people of this country whose leadership and whose civic engagement is essential for blazing the trail to our future? It has always required a fresh generation to re-envision, you know, what our future looks like. So, we need to bail out the young people, for their benefit and for ours. That can be done through another quantitative easing which is relatively simple, does not cost us, essentially expands the money supply in a way that works as a stimulus to the economy, unlike the bailout that they provided to Wall Street which has only created a stimulus for more reckless gambling – waste, fraud, and abuse. ... I have yet to find a young person in debt who doesn't become a missionary for our campaign the minute they learn that we will cancel their debt. ... The 43 million young people – that is a plurality of the vote. In a three-way race, that's enough to win the vote."
Stein also pointed to 25 million Latinos who, she said, "have learned that the Democrats are the party of deportation, of night raids, and of detention, of refugees who are fleeing a crisis in their home countries that we created. How? Through NAFTA, though illegal coups and CIA-sponsored regime changes, and through the drug wars. ... If people want to fix the immigration problem, the answer is, 'Stop causing it.'"
But will Stein be in the debates for the general election? "In my experience," she told me, "all you have to do is have a real conversation, have an open mic, a true presidential debate that actually allows presidential candidates to debate who have broad enough support that they are on the ballot for a majority of Americans and could numerically win the election. We are challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates in court and we will be challenging them soon with a direct action campaign, so stay tuned, because the American public deserves to know about the issues. The American public deserves the right to vote. And they have a right to know who they can vote for and what they are voting about."
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie.