Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for President of the United States in the 2012 election, was also the Green-Rainbow Party’s candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and again in 2010. A trained doctor, Jill says that she views running for office as “practicing political medicine” because “it’s the mother of all illnesses.” Columbia Political Review’s George Joseph talks with Stein what she would do about Wall Street and the economy, education policy, and WikiLeaks if she were one day elected president.
George Joseph: On the topic of Wall Street, how would your actions differ from President Obama’s in terms of dealing with the financial sector?
Jill Stein: On day one, we would fire Wall Street and get them out of the White House, which needs a house cleaning. We would fire all the Wall Street barons who are basically running the White House from Timothy Geithner to Larry Summers, who created this catastrophe – also to mention, Jeffrey Immelt [as well], the head of General Electric, who is now the chair of the president’s jobs council and has single-handedly closed more factories, offshored more jobs, and fired more workers than any single American.
GJ: Would your Justice Department initiate criminal prosecutions of Wall Street executives?
JS: Absolutely. Likewise, we need to break up the big banks. Too big to fail, too big to jail. Whether we would use existing laws or the force of democracy to galvanize legislative reforms, we need to bring up public finance institutions that actually serve the public on the model of South Dakota. And likewise, we need to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act to separate lending and commercial bank, regulate derivatives, and place taxes on Wall Street transactions.
GJ: The Democratic National Convention faced scrutiny for its attempts to add the reference to “God” and “Jerusalem, capital of Israel” to its party platform. Do you have an opinion on this controversy and how does the Green Party handle such contentious issues?
JS: I believe in separation of church and state. So if you’re going to put “God” in there, which god? And there are many people who don’t believe in any god or believe in some other spirit, force… So I support the view of our founding fathers that religion should have no place in a democracy. Its place is outside government in the private lives of those who choose to observe whatever their tradition is. And to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel is extremely inflammatory and should not be in the Democratic Party platform. It’s obviously not in the Green Party platform. It’s a very destabilizing cause for any party to be advocating right now and it’s my view that our foreign policy needs to be based on human rights and international law across the board. And that means no illegal occupations, illegal housing construction in occupied territories, the economic boycott of Gaza, and so on. And a civilian government in Israel that creates effectively an apartheid. All those things need to be fixed. Likewise we need to call for countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia across the board for the even handed application of human rights and we need to stop funding military dictatorships and military governments that violate those human rights.
GJ: Could you tell us about your plan to reform public education?
JS: What’s happening all over the country is this very tragic privatization of our public education system and its essentially being turned into a profiteering device for charter schools, for testing companies, and so on. And in the process, its especially low-income communities and communities of color that are being devastated. A false standard has been concocted that is high stakes tests, which do not measure education and learning in any relevant way. They simply measure the capacity to teach to the test. But teaching to a test has not changed the capability of our work force. We’re not producing students, who are doing better in college. There’s no reality test to this high stakes testing fantasy, which is being inflicted on the system. Who is it that’s running it? This is a business council, this is the Chamber of Commerce, and they have absolutely no business hijacking what is a critical, area of American tradition. They are trashing what education has shown us which is essentially that you need to teach to the whole student for lifetime learning, you need to engage, challenge the learners with a diverse educational system that includes the arts and music. And fundamentally, you have to address the issue of poverty. When kids are afflicted with poverty, homelessness, abysmal nutrition, toxic air pesticides in public housing, gun violence-social chaos – it doesn’t prepare children to be educated no matter what’s going on inside the classroom. It takes a village to educate a child.
GJ: A big issue college students struggle with is the student loan crisis. Do you have a specific proposal to effect change in that area?
JS: There are a variety of plans we are looking at. One of those plans, for example, is to erase that debt in exchange for say, two years of public service. Another proposal from Ellen Brown, a highly regarded economist, is basically to create a quantitative easing, but not for bank securities, but for student loans, which have also been securitized. So why not do that one? And you know, she has a good argument for why it would not cause inflation and why that is a good kind of quantitative easing that we should pursue. The bottom line is this it is not rocket science; it can be done. We forgave banks to the tune of $4.5 trillion in money dispersed, another $16 trillion in zero interest loans. $20 trillion basically – we came up with for the banks real quick. Can we come up with a trillion dollars for the students who were victims of their waste, fraud, and abuse? Public higher education should be free. The cost is estimated to be within $15 to $30 billion a year. That is a drop in the bucket compared to what a Wall Street transaction tax would generate every year or cutting the military budget, which is currently a trillion dollars for the military industrial security sector a year.
GJ: So the number one issue for voters this year is of course jobs, jobs, and jobs. Could you tell us about your jobs plan?
JS: Yes, we call it the Green New Deal. This isn’t a hypothetical, it’s based on the New Deal that got us out of the Depression in the 1930s and what it did was directly create jobs, not provide tax breaks in the hopes that they might indirectly create jobs. We would directly create jobs in local communities, who would be empowered to decide what kind of jobs they need in order to become sustainable not just environmentally, but also socially and economically. So we would help jump-start jobs across the green sector and across the social sectors, including affordable housing, childcare, home care for seniors, violence and drug abuse prevention, public transportation, local farming, and clean manufacturing in the public and private sector. We would provide grants and loans in small community based businesses, not multinational corporations. Because dollars in the local economy count for much more than those shipped off to corporate headquarters in the Cayman Islands. We would also jump-start workers cooperatives as well as public works and public services, so you can go to an employment office, not an unemployment office, and get a job right away, which strengthens your community.
GJ: Is there one issue the two [Democrats and Republican] parties have ignored that you would like to talk about?
JS: We’ve alluded to the differences in the democracy realm – getting money out of politics, making airtime free. On day one, a president could instruct the FCC to open up the airwaves to qualified candidates. That immediately deflates the big money balloon, they can still raise all the corrupt money in the world but it doesn’t do them any good if there’s equal access to the public airways. I’d also have to mention bringing the troops home and downsizing the military industrial complex is a huge difference, implementing Medicare for all, which is as simple as dropping the eligibility age, then boom, we have a healthcare system that works for everyone and will save us trillions of dollars over the coming decade because it helps eliminate the massive health insurance bureaucracy that gobbles up 30 percent of every healthcare dollar and stabilizes healthcare inflation.
GJ: Given the recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Arizona during the past year, what is your stance on gun control and your understanding of the Second Amendment?
JS: So the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment to apply not only to armed militias but rather to apply to modern armaments. I think the important thing here, though, is that the American people, including gun owners, want reasonable controls over the use of guns. They do not want guns in the hands of criminals or in the hands of people, who are dangerous and have violent records. They want background checks and to close the loopholes. They want these military style weapons off the streets. The American public supports that, gun owners actually support that, but the NRA is not largely funded by small time gun owners but by the weapons manufacturers. They do not stand for the people. So once again, you see, this is why we have to get money out of politics.
GJ: Wikileaks has been instrumental in revealing many of America’s secret wars and covert actions around the world. Given all the recent hysteria about Julian Assange taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, what would your administration’s stance be on Wikileaks?
JS: You know, Julian Assange, for starters, should be treated as a member of the press, not as a criminal. And Wikileaks should be understood to be effectively a whistleblower. So this is tragic and criminal that the administration is going after people who expose war criminals instead of the criminals themselves. The Obama administration has it backwards.