Will We Vote Our Values or Fears? TreeHugger Interviews Green Party Presidential Hopeful Jill Stein

jill stein green party photo© Green Party

You won't know it from watching mainstream media coverage of the race for the presidency, or by watching the presidential debates over the next couple of weeks (except if you watch Democracy Now!'s expanded debate this coming Wednesday...), but there are indeed third-party candidates running in 2012. Yet, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala will be, as of today, on 85% of all ballots in the nation.

Last week TreeHugger had a chance to talk with Stein, to get more details about her Green New Deal policy platform, her energy and climate policy, her health and agriculture proposals, and more.

The Green New Deal, Green Economy, Green Jobs

stimulus green jobs photo

TreeHugger: In the Green New Deal you talk about the creation of public utilities and a green jobs program. There are some big hurdles, for example, the US utility market is such that it would require a fundamental overhaul of how things are currently structured. How would you actually bring that into effect?

Jill Stein: The Green New Deal will prioritize jobs in the green economy, as well as jobs that meet our social needs. In other words, the program is intended to help communities become sustainable, ecologically, socially, and economically. The money would be distributed proportional to unemployment rates. It would be provided to those communities who have need, in proportion to that need.

Essentially it would create funding for the establishment of jobs at the community level. Those national funds will be provided to communities, who would then have the power to decide for themselves, though a participatory process, what their priorities are for using that money.

It would create public works and public services. So it would jump-start public sector jobs, where they are needed, and it would jump-start private sector jobs. In that way it differs a little bit from the New Deal that got us out of the Great Depression.

That's the inspiration for this program, but we go beyond it, a little bit, in also jump-starting the private sector, and by providing loans, grants, credit to small businesses and worker cooperatives that are community-based, instead of multinational corporate enterprises that take the money, the profits, and send them overseas.

The advantage of community-based businesses is that they spend their money locally, so every dollar counts for much more. So, that's why, with the same price tag as the stimulus package of 2009, we expect to create 25 million jobs, not the 2-3 million that were created in 2009.

Creating public utilities will require Congressional approval. It would have to be the legislature that would change the utilities. Likewise, with green job creation, that portion will also require legislation and the appropriation of funding, which we think will be about the cost of the first stimulus package, to get this program jump-started.

Rebuilding Public Infrastructure, Public Transportation, Active Transportation

TH: You mentioned creation of public works: Half a century ago the federal government created the interstate highway system, which has been fantastic for moving cars and trucks around, but in the meantime we've let our rail system stagnate. Now Europe, China, Japan are all well ahead of the US in high-speed rail development and public transportation. What do you think the role of the federal government should be now in revitalizing public transportation, jump-starting high speed rail?

JS: We see this as a critical piece of the Green New Deal. The green economy would be boosted in several areas: Jobs in renewable energy and conservation, local and regional sustainable agriculture (particularly organic agriculture), as well as public transportation. There would need be regional projects that jump start a modernized transportation system, which needs to provide public transit that is also energy efficient. We see public transportation dovetailing with active transportation so that people can bike and walk to transit hubs, to work and school, in a way that doesn't take their life in their hands.

This provides multiple benefits, because as we move to public and active transportation we not only reduce and eliminate carbon emissions, solving the climate problem, we provide jobs (as a right and essentially creating a full employment economy, eliminating the employment crisis), but in addition we truly create an infrastructure for health—because it provides for healthy organic food, plant-based diets particularly, and at the same time it provides for an active transportation system, so you can get your exercise on the way to school or work, and not have to buy an expensive health club membership and then spend an hour driving there to get your exercise—and it provides for pollution prevention.

You add that together and it basically provides the structure for a health care system. What we have right now is a sick-care system that's costing us $2 trillion a year and we know that 75% of those costs are spent treating chronic diseases that are preventable at a tiny fraction of that cost. This is part of how we pay for the Green New Deal, or, I should say, how it actually pays for itself.

Healthy Diets, Food Policy, Labeling GMOs

TH: You've mentioned healthy diet a number of times: What sort of role do you see the federal government having in rectifying food deserts and encouraging healthy diets?

JS: The Green New Deal deals with this as a national priority, by prioritizing local, sustainable food systems—which means small farms, family farms, community farms, CSAs, farmers markets. It provides the funding to jump start and help expand those critical services for truly a healthy food system.

Right now we have a food system where the subsidies from the federal government, through the food bill, are handed over to the industrialized food system, that provides this processed, commodity-intensive food (essentially soy, corn and wheat)—that makes those goods cheap. These goods then provide processed, nutrient-poor, calorie-rich foods that are a big driver of our public health epidemic. By changing those priorities to encourage small farming, to encourage diversified farms, fresh vegetables and fruits, rather than massive subsidies for the ginormous agribusiness industry, we provide the kind of healthy food system we need.

There's a very important role here for education as well, because the food system relies on misinformation in advertising, in targeting kids. That's how we've seen the food system slip, and how we've seen food preferences slip.

We've seen this in developing countries, for example. When the food industry comes in and starts advertising, it's kids whose diets are changed, and it's the kids who first become sick with chronic Western diseases: Obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes and all that. It's really important that we provide a counterweight to the intensive advertising, and perhaps even restrict advertising that targets kids.

TH: Regarding information and food, in Vermont and Connecticut there were bills introduced to label genetically modified ingredients, both of which were, essentially, abandoned after threats of legal action from Monsanto or out of fear such action might be brought about. How do we break free from this corporate influence? What would your administration's policy be on labeling genetically modified ingredients; is this something that should be federally mandated or left to the states?

JS: It is the elephant in the room: The public wants to know what's in their food. They deserve to know what's in their food, in the same way that they want a healthcare system as a human right, Medicare for all, that they want to downsize the military, to bring the troops home, to tax the rich.

The public, in poll after poll, generally wants to do the right thing. When there's information available that supports reasonable debate and discourse, the public generally comes to the right side. In the current economic environment, when the public is massively beat up, there's enormous public will to do the right thing on many fronts, including on GMOs.

The question about how do we break out of the stranglehold of lobbyists on GMOs is essentially one and the same as breaking out of the stranglehold of the fossil fuel companies over our energy policy and our job creation.

There are many ways to fight this, including in getting Monsanto and agribusiness out of the White House, out of the FDA, out of the business of writing our regulations and our policies. This is very linked to getting big money out of politics. All these fights for health, for justice, for decent food supply, they really converge into the fight for democracy. That's what our campaign is about, standing up and bringing that fight into the voting booth.

Our campaign is not only for labeling but also a moratorium on GMOs until such a time as they are established as safe, for the environment, for our health—and there are many red flags out their now in the health literature that there may be substantial risks to GMOs. The public deserves to have these risks studied and understood, before we are all subjected like guinea pigs to the potential risks here. If a president wanted, she could instruct the EPA to actually take this into their purview, as part of protecting the health of the environment and public health.

Energy Policy & Climate Policy

TH: In an email I received from your campaign, I was told you favor a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050? Is that correct, and if so, how do we actually get there, from a policy perspective? How do we get around the interests of the fossil fuel industry?

JS: What we say is we need to be at 100% renewables as fast as humanly possible, at least by 2050, and potentially sooner than that.

There are many examples and successes around the world that we can capitalize on, to emulate. Germany, for example, prioritized the development of solar power, put incentives into it, ensured markets for it, and they did it. They did it much more quickly than expected. They had to actually start withdrawing their subsidies and incentives much faster than anticipated, because the price came down so quickly and the jobs expanded so fast. It's glowing success story that we can emulate.

That's, effectively, what the Green New Deal intends to do, by subsidizing and incentivizing the creation of green renewable energy—as well as conservation and efficiency, which are the cheapest per-kilowatt-hour savings of anything in the energy sector. We could ensure that this gets up and running very quickly.

In addition, we're probably going to need some kind of a carbon tax. We support a carbon tax rather than a cap-and-trade system because there are so many holes in the cap-and-trade system, so many liabilities that it basically doesn't work. It creates another market for gambling, and speculation. It's not what we need. That hasn't worked in the rest of the economy. That speculative market won't work for reigning in polluting energy.

There is also a debate that needs to be had as well about nationalizing our oil companies, potentially as public utilities—as part of how we can move more quickly.

All of these are going to be battles to actually accomplish. The advantage here is that the public is extremely up in arms about climate, very worried about climate. Polls show something like 75% of voters, in spite of the misinformation campaign, see this as a critical problem. They want to see real progress made.

There will be resistance here, but this resistance is so manipulated by the propaganda campaign, by the money that pours into the misinformation campaign. By having a full and fair debate, by having officeholders who have actually have a side, who aren't owned by the fossil fuel industry, we can actually move policy in the direction that it needs to go.

If we won this election, and we turn the White House into a Green House, on day one we would instruct the FCC to open up the airwaves to the public interest, to allow the public their just returns on the public airwaves. We'd begin to have a much fuller and fairer debate, on a more level playing field about the issues of the day. Instead of the fossil fuel and nuclear companies having a lock on public discourse—which they have now—they'd no longer have this, when the public has access to our airwaves, as a means of educating the public.

In the last year we've seen the record heat waves, record warming, record temperatures, record fires, drought involving 60% of the continental US. All of this is happening with only than 1°C of warming, and we're in for 6°C warming. It's predicted that climate change is going to be devastating for the economy over the next decade. There's a wake up call, which the public is hearing.

TH: What about international climate policy? How in the US do we get a legally-binding international climate treaty approved by Congress, when the US has had such a history of opposing international law when such law is perceived as constraining its actions?

JS: It's not so much that such a treaty would be used against the United States itself, but the inevitability is that it could harm the financial interests of the economic elite which is extremely invested in fossil fuels. That's where the resistance comes from. It's not truly from concern about US national interest, because US national interest here is very much at stake.

As the road to social chaos, resulting from climate chaos, and political chaos, grows—there was a report that came out today about how 100 million people in 20 developing countries could die by 2030—this is not what a secure future looks like for any country, including the US. This will be very destabilizing to the world economy and the world's political stability. It's very much in our interest to address and preempt this kind of devastation.

When we ask the question about how do we pass a good public-interest climate policy, it's one and the same with how do we pass a good economic policy that doesn't just give away everything to Wall Street, how do stop free trade agreements that just continue to offshore our jobs and undermine wages here at home? How do we stand up for the 99% in the face of a political system that's owned by the 1%?

The advantage here is that these are the things that the public supports. This is why we are standing up in this election. This is the time to vote our values and vote our solutions. If we actually had a president who supported these policies, the president can not only be the commander-in-chief but the organizer-in-chief.

Consider what happened with the SOPA bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act. It was considered a slam dunk. Ordinary mortals were not going to be able to stop the censorship of the internet, until they heard about it. When people heard about it they got on the phone, they got on email to the offices of their elected representatives and said "Heck no! No way, no how. If you are going to represent me and my interests, keep the internet open and democratic." That bill was stopped in two weeks.

This should be the model, the rule and not the exception, for how the Congressional agenda is set and bills are passed. The President is perfectly positioned to be that organizer-in-chief to let people know, to go on public interest radio, prime time TV, and get out the support for a bill to create an international climate accord—to say call your representatives now, to let them know here are the three reasons why it's critical, to set the public loose and empower them, to be the driver of our democracy, as our government was intended to be driven.

The Role of the Occupy Movement

TH: Two weeks ago, on the anniversary of the first Occupy Wall Street protests, you were down in Lower Manhattan showing your support for the movement. For a group that has largely avoided concrete party political moves and endorsements, for all the genuine political issues being addressed and discussed, what role do you think Occupy has in all this?

JS: It was so uplifting that my campaign and my vice-presidential running mate Cheri Honkala were invited to come and speak, as candidates, to share our vision, to be there to support Occupy, and to be a reminder that Occupy also has enormous power to impact the outcome of this election.

Occupy is an expression of the economic dead end that we are facing. These obscene disparities, the lack of opportunity, the control of the big banks, the lack of social mobility in this country. We are no longer the land of opportunity. You are sort of born into the class that you are going to be in. There is far less mobility here than in the European countries now.

Occupy is an expression of refusal to just go down with the ship. Occupy is an expression of courage and a healing process whereby the public, particularly young people are standing up and saying no to this exploitive and predatory economic system.

Young people especially are saying no to debt—this outrageous debt that's been inflicted on an entire generation, making them essentially indentured servants while the economic and political elite continue to bail themselves out. We're now looking at the third quantitative easing for the mortgage lenders and big banks, who got themselves into this mess. Instead of bailing out the big banks we should be bailing out students and homeowners who were victims of that waste, fraud and abuse committed by the bankers and mortgage lenders on Wall Street.

Occupy has been a miraculous development. They are a miraculous engine, the real engine, of social, political and economic transformation. They have energized the social movement that's out there.

Our campaign has supported Occupy from the start as a really critical development, as that social engine that is the driver of political change, of the transformation we need.

It's about having a social movement on the street, which Occupy represents, as well as a political voice for that movement, in the form of an independent political party. That means that Occupy remains independent, remains apolitical, but in our view, it's a really important tool to occupy not only our streets and our communities but also to occupy the political process.

That's not to tell Occupy how they should vote or what party to support. That's should be the decision of individuals. This is not to tell Occupy not to do what they have to do. It's critical that they continue their work. But we really encourage Occupy to not only vote with your feet but to vote with your vote. Because the political predators need to be fought on every front, and that includes inside the voting booth. To raise the white flag of surrender over the voting booth is exactly what the political predators want Occupy to do.

We agree that elections are rigged. Occupy has learned, unfortunately, that everything else is rigged too. Our civil liberties are rigged now. To go out and demonstrate is increasingly facing a rigged process, with police in riot gear and helicopters overhead, with new laws enacted by Obama that criminalize our right to protest—that can throw us in jail as felons simply for standing on ground declared to be zones of special national security even without our knowing it. We can suddenly become felons in the eyes of President Obama and the political establishment. We can be thrown in jail for ten years.

It really is about our standing up. Occupy really gets that. I couldn't walk down the street without being really besieged by people telling me that they were registering to vote for the first time because they felt finally they had a campaign and a party that was really of, by and for the people, that is not bought and paid for by Wall Street, that can really help advance our work together as a team, as a social movement on the ground and a political voice to drive that movement into the broader political dialogue, where we cannot be stopped.

The Importance of Third Parties, Voting Your Values

JS: Let me add one thing: That is rejecting the propaganda that we do not dare to stand up and vote for ourselves.

The politics of fear has told us to be quiet, especially since Nader-Bush-Gore. A lot of people have been scared out of supporting third parties, out of standing up for an agenda that they agree with. They've been told they have to go to the polls and vote for the lesser evil, that that's the best possible outcome. But let's look at what that's gotten us.

Over the past ten years, the politics of fear has delivered everything we've been afraid of. All those reasons we've been told to go to the polls and vote our fears, we've actually gotten all those things, by the droves.

We were told you have to vote your fears, not your values, because you didn't want a president who would expand the war, you know like terrible George Bush. But look at what Obama did: On day three he began to bomb the heck out of Pakistan. Where were the Republicans to blame that on? Nowhere to be found.

Before he was inaugurated he appointed Larry Summers to come in and fix the problem, which Larry Summers had caused as the architect of waste, fraud and abuse on Wall Street, under Bill Clinton.

And then Obama went on to bring in Wall Street on just about every other facet of the White House, to where potentially Wall Street calls the shots. Whether its Michael Taylor in the FDA, or Timothy Geithner as head of the Treasury Department—Timothy Geithner who oversaw waste, fraud and abuse as head of the Fed in New York. Or Jeffrey Immelt, who was head of GE, and is the head of the President's jobs council. The guy who has personally, singlehandedly offshored more jobs, closed more factories, and put more people out of work in this country than anyone else. It speaks volumes about this president's actual priorities.

In fact Obama embraced most of the key policies of George Bush, and even went beyond in expanding the war, the surge into Afghanistan, the drone wars in Pakistan, in Somalia and Yemen—which has been absolutely devastating to civilians, to people on the ground, and also to public opinion towards the US. Dropping bombs on weddings and funerals is not a good way to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East. We see that so clearly now in all the blowback, including the fact that Afghani soldiers are shooting US soldiers, supposedly their trainers, to the degree that we've had to drastically cut back on training programs.

Same thing on our civil liberties, which have been absolutely savaged by this President. He's gone far beyond George Bush. He's basically codified the violations of George Bush, and gone much further in criminalizing the right to protest, in giving the President the right, the dictatorial right, of indefinite detention without trial, without accusation of a crime. Likewise the assassination list that the President personally oversees once a week—the assassination list which has included American citizens, as well. Our civil liberties have been really devastated under this president, far worse than under George Bush.

On the war front, I must add, this president and his White House sabotaged the international accord on weapons. The weapons industry has skyrocketed. We are war profiteers in this country, largely responsible for the bulk of international weapons sales. We're arming both sides. Creating these devastating conflicts and then used as a basis for intervention, dearly costing taxpayers a trillion dollars a year now, in this bloated military-industrial-security complex to help solve these problems that we are creating by throwing gasoline on the fires of virtually every ethnic, religious and national conflict around the world.

Same thing for climate: This president has embraced the policies of Bush, embraced drill baby drill, and gone much further, even in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, for which there is no fix. There are no technology improvements that have made this a safer thing to do. Obama has given the thumbs up to fracking, to shale oil, to oil exploration in our national parks, and devastatingly into the Arctic. He personally undermined the international climate accord in Durban. He presented that from going forward.

This is what the politics of fear has brought us.

Anyone who is not asleep at the wheel needs to look at the facts on the ground, not just listen to lovely fairytales that are being told by both political parties, to see if the politics of fear have been a good thing. It's been an unmitigated disaster. It has delivered all those things we've been afraid of.

The reality on the ground in Nader-Bush-Gore, studies have shown, done by CNN and others, that Nader drew equally from Democrats and Republicans, but the vast majority of his vote came from independent voters who had previously voted for Ross Perot. They did not belong to either party; their votes do not belong to either Romney or Obama. It's preposterous to think that the diversity of America should be scrunched into these two pigeon holes that are both owned by Wall Street.

It's absolutely wrongheaded to buy this propaganda, which is basically a public relations campaign intended to silence opposition. It's been very effective at doing that and we are paying the price. If our voices aren't in this race, you have an unmitigated public relations competition. What are they competing for? Corporate campaign sponsorship dollars, which is what they are getting. Which is why both parties continue to surge to the right.

Neither the Democrats or the Republicans have a single exit strategy from these devastating problems that are raining down on us right now: Outrageous student debt, that's made a generation into indentured servants. We're calling for bailing out the students, not bailing out the banks for the gazillionth time, making public higher education free, as it should be. It more than pays for itself: Seven dollars returned on every dollar taxpayers invested in the GI Bill, where we made public higher education free for returning soldiers. We should do that now.

All these solutions that we have now: Healthcare as a human right under Medicare for all would actually save us trillions of dollars over the coming decade, as it eliminates the massive health insurance bureaucracy, and stabilizes medical inflation. It actually saves us money.

All these great solutions that the American public supports by a substantial majority in poll after poll, these are denied to us; and we not just staying in place and failing to move forward, we are actually accelerating backwards. We are accelerating dangerously in the wrong direction, heading towards the cliff.

People know, when the President said the climate agreement could wait to 2020, that's suicidal. We cannot wait to 2020. We cannot wait to 2016. We need to stand up now. It's the politics of courage that actually drives us forward.

Why did FDR adopt the New Deal? Why did he adopt labor rights? All those wins of the labor movements in the 1930s came because independent political parties brought that agenda into public discourse, it created the threat that if the other big parties didn't move forward, that they were going to be challenged.

Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." That demand needs to happen in the realm of political discourse. If it doesn't we have basically given up the ghost. Whatever marginal differences there are between Democrats and Republicans, those differences fade to nothing compared to having a democracy, having a real voice of public interest in the mix, or having a corporate sponsored spin campaign, which is what this is if we're not in the mix and fighting for the future and the solutions that we deserve.

No one in their right mind expected that Tahrir Square or Tunisia were going to boot out of government these entrenched military dictatorships that had been there for decades. No one in their right minds thought so. It took them only a couple of weeks to do it. Imagine if word got out among the 36 million students who are indentured students that there actually is a fix, that's right here available that benefits us all. What if they actually came to the polls and voted for it?

There are 90 million people who studies say are going to stay home. That's potentially one out of two eligible voters who are going to stay home because they know that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney do not represent them and will not help them. If even half of those voters came out and heard about our campaign, which would give them something to come out for, these one out of two Americans who are in poverty or low income right now, these 25 million who don't have a job or don't have a decent job that can pay a living wage, if people actually heard about our campaign and reason to come to the polls we could see politics turned on its head.

Whether we win this office or if we simply win the day by recovering our political voice and our political courage it is a win either way for simply standing up and beginning to take back our democracy, turning the breaking point we face into the tipping point we need to take back the peaceful, just, green future, that really is within our reach.

Will We Vote Our Values or Fears? TreeHugger Interviews Green Party Presidential Hopeful Jill Stein
TreeHugger talks with the Green Party candidate for president, Dr Jill Stein about her Green New Deal, energy, climate, agriculture, and health policy, and more.

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