US political system designed to weed out truly progressive people - US Pres. Candidate.
The US presidential elections are just around the corner, the great fight for the seat of power. However, while Democrats and Republicans are all over the mainstream media, there are still those candidates who are forced out of the debate. The so-called "third parties" - what do they have to propose for the American people? Why is their agenda so scary for the Dems and GOPs that they try hard not to let their voice be heard? Today, we ask the US presidential candidate from the Green Party. Jill Stein is on Sophie&Co.
Sophie Shevardnadze: U.S. presidential candidate from the Green Party, Jill Stein, welcome to the show, it's really great to have you with us.
Jill Stein: Great to be with you Sophie.
SS: So, let's start with you: you have said that you would shut down the U.S. military bases around the world, you said you would pursue nuclear disarmament and end American involvement everywhere abroad. President Obama made similar pledges about Iraq, about Afghanistan, about Guantanamo. Why wasn't he able to fulfill his promises?
JS: Well, he had said many things in many areas. He has promised he would be a friend to working people, that he would be a friend of climate and environment, and, in fact, the first thing he did when he got the office was he bailed out Wall St. when everyday people badly needed his help. He's been a very compromised person from the beginning, he had come up through the system that selects people who are willing, basically, to sell their soul, he works for a party that is funded by predatory banks and fossil fuel companies and war profiteers - so his hands were tied from the get-go.
SS: Why do you think you'll be able to make a difference?
JS: Put it this way: if I can get elected, I have a mandate and I have a lot of people to work with; Barack Obama mobilized ground troops in order to get elected, but the moment he got elected he put them on a shelf, because they were entirely contrary to what his true agenda was. If I'm able to get elected, I will continue to work that base and that base would be mobilized for every agenda item that we have from the get-go.
SS: But, U.S. involvement - you really think that U.S. can just pull out its forces from everywhere it's stationed right now? I mean, what would happen if U.S. left Afghanistan altogether - it would allow Taliban to come back; What would happen to Iraq if U.S. left right - I mean, it would turn into just one, big ISIS territory, right? So, you can't just turn around and leave.
JS: Of course; bases are a different story from the active engagements. So, it's the bases where we could quickly pick up and leave. I think, for our active engagements we need to basically transition - very quickly - to a foreign policy based on international law, human rights and diplomacy. In diplomacy, whether it's Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan, or Yemen - all the places where we are actively involved - we need to be a part of a coalition, which is working, first, towards a ceasefire, and then towards active engagement that supports the forces of democracy on the ground. So, it's not simply a matter of major foreign powers fighting proxy wars on behalf of their power.
SS:I'm also thinking about America's moral obligations to actually help all these countries that it has created the mess in - like Iraq and Afghanistan, probably Syria as well, Libya...
JS: Let's take Syria, for example. The U.S. should use its power to help convene, as president Putin was trying to do as far back as in 2012, to convene all the groups that are involved, including president Assad, including the forces of democracy that have been so brutally repressed, to bring them all together and work out a process for democratic determination of Syria's future. It should not be decided by the foreign powers, and, this is all, really, predicated, I think, on foreign powers...you know, this is to me why you can't separate these into separate boxes: we need to move towards clean, renewable energy, so that we are self-sufficient and not fighting proxy wars over fossil fuel resources and their modes of transport.
SS: That's still a long-term strategy, but right now, the way things are looking in Syria, what we have is the U.S. sending SpecOps forces to fight ISIS. Obama's opponents, actually, are saying that he's moving too slow - do you think there should be more involvement, do you think he change his strategy?
JS: They would love for him to have an explicit strategy of regime change, which has basically been the U.S.' strategy, not only in Syria, but in Afghanistan, in Iraq, aiming for Iran - and look at the consequences of that policy. The people who are encouraging him to strike harder and to do more are exactly the people who've brought us catastrophic regime change, failed states, who have created this massive crisis of refugees: 60 million are basically fleeing the consequences of economic and military policy, largely, driven by the U.S. They have only made the forces of terrorism far stronger. The U.S. has been doing this for 14 years, since we entered in the Iraq and Afghanistan, and look at the consequences. We have made terrorism far stronger: there are effective things that we can do, we're calling for a peace-offensive instead.
SS: Usually this whole American involvement in other countries is a foreign policy thing to get votes at home, because American's don't really care about foreign policy, right? But then, lately, right before the Syrian war, there was this war fatigue amongst the general public - but now, we are seeing, in polls, that majority of Americans do want to go in a full-fledged war in Syria. Why this sudden change of mind, is this fear after what has happened in California?
JS: Oh, absolutely, and then demagoguery on part of our so-call "leaders". I would call them "misleaders". They have an agenda to pay back their corporate sponsors, and, remember, the military-industrial complex, the war profiteers, are a very strong force, as is the fossil fuel industry. So, our misleadership has a very strong motive to continue a policy of war, and the American people have been goaded into fear by what happened, the terrible tragedies, that have happened in Russia, in France and in the U.S. - but, of course, they are not limited here, they are also happening in Baghdad and in Beirut. This is a global phenomena. But in the U.S., we've been whipped into a fear frenzy. Yet, this is a small threat to the average American, compared to almost 100 people who die every day from just random routine gun violence. So, this is actually, very small compared to the real threats, or the economic threats that people facing in America, in this country, all over the world. There are far better ways to deal with this that don't make the worse. That's where, I think, it's very important that we have leadership that is helping to forge a different pathway and clarify for people that war is not the solution to more failed wars. We need a different path forward. We can stop arming the Middle East: most of the weapons on all sides are actually coming from the U.S., so we have an ability to initiate an arms embargo and to encourage others to partner with us, including Russia and France and Italy and so on. We can, basically, shut down the arms that are supplying ISIS and other terrorist groups. It's the Saudis and Qatar who are financing terrorism and who have been, from the very beginning, back in Afghanistan, with the mujahedeen. The whole problem of terrorism was really intiated by the CIA and the U.S. in order to stir up trouble for Russia in Afhganistan, and look where this has gone, with each cycle it becomes more and more extreme and we're getting more blowback. We can shut down the fuding of the Saudis; if the Saudis aren't willing to clean up their act, which they've been told to do, certainly since 9/11, when most of the attackers were Saudis. We should've gone into Saudi Arabia, not into Afghanistan...
SS:Or Iraq for that matter.
JS: Yes, exactly.
SS:So this whole American foreign policy strategy of regime change that started in 2000s, like you've said, all it did is chaos. Do you think now the American establishment is ready to relinquish that regime-changing strategy?
JS: As you can see, they're going full tilt. They're trying to do the same thing in Ukraine...
SS: You’d think there will be the last drop, no? Because it's not working.
JS: Well, it didn't exactly work in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Libya. These are not people who are driven by thought or values by rather by unbridled greed and fear. These are not people who should be in positions of leadership, but because the U.S. political system has basically been hijacked by large corporations and big money, they are currently ruling the day. It's a house of cards that's ready to fall down. The American people have largely broken away, but they're not allowed to hear that there are alternatives. So, independent third parties like myself are basically silenced, they try to keep us off the ballot and out of the debate, but if you look at the numbers, there are also twice as many people who have repudiated both of the major parties as there are inside of either party. Most people have broken away, they are beginning for a new way forward with a fresh vision, which our campaign is lifting up.
SS:Last you were in for President, you were not allowed to take part in a presidential debate. You were actually arrested. What would it take this time?
JS: We have 2 court cases; we are suing the Commission on Presidential Debates, that runs the whole enterprise. That Commission has a very official and public-sounding name, but in fact that Commision is a private, non-profit corporation run by Democratic and Republican parties. So, we are suing them to open up that debate, to reflect more choices and more voices, which is what the American public is clamouring for. So, we have a legal effort going on, we have a petition at our website, and there are many people who are very invested in this now, so we may be different kinds of action and economic boycott of the sponsors of the presidential debates to try to mae the American people's deep wishes felt. I fought my way into debate, running for the governor of Massachusetts, over 10 years ago. At that debate I was debating Mitt Romney, later a Republican Presidential candidate, and others. Inside the debate hall, my ideas, we say, "went over like a lead balloon", but when I walked out of the debate, I was mobbed by the press who told me I had won the debate on the instant online viewer poll, which was my big awakening that this point of view, based on justice, democracy, human rights and peace - that point of view is very much shared by the American public and if they have a chance to hear it, they will mobilize for it.
SS:Now, you say that you do not accept any donations or corporate money. There's another man who says the same thing, that's Bernie Sanders. You guys, pretty much, have similar ideas, I would say. Do you feel like you're syphoning off each other's votes and resources?
JS: We're in two different channels, so we're not syphoning each other's votes. Many of my supporters are supporting Bernie during the fight in the Democratic party. But he will be eliminated, his days are numbered, Hillary Clinton is running the show. Her husband, Bill, has already collected a huge number of so-called "superdelegates", so - Bernie will be a victim of what we call the "kill-switch" inside the Democratic party for truly progressive candidates. This is what they always do. They rely on the face of a progressive to bring people back into the party, while the party keeps marching to the right and becomes more and more a party of Wall St., a party of war and big corporations.
SS:I still want to talk a little bit about Bernie. I know he was the longest-serving independent candidate in Congress, but he chose to actually adhere to Democratic party once he decided he'd run for President. Do you think it actually gives him more chance to win? I mean, it certainly gets him into debates...
JS: It certainly lifts him up, for a short period of time. But, we had a peace candidate in a Democratic party, in 1972. That's when the Democratic party changed its rules to be sure that would never happen again. They created a thing called "Super Tuesday", which requires a lot of corporate money to get through, and they created super-delegates which are basically insiders in the Democratic party, to make sure that they would have an edge, a very tilted playing field at the nominating convention. So, no progressive candidate has ever gotten past that. So, Bernie will not get past it. He's saying he's doing it to raise issues, but that he will support Hillary or whatever corporate candidate is finally selected. So, it's kind of a... it's an exercise in futility, and it may be raising issues but then his purpose is to direct that all back into Hillary Clinton's campaign, which doesn't serve the cause. The Green Party, on the other hand, is building a base from which we can continue to build. You can't go from zero to 60 miles an hour in one swoop. If you look at the rise of independent political party Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain - independent, truly transformational parties have to build over several election cycles. What the Democratic party does is run the face of the rebel but then shut them down and absorb their resources and volunteers back into the Democratic party, while the party becomes more corporatist and more imperialist.
SS: Yeah, but still, I feel like the fact that people like Bernie and Trump are running, and Trump's pretty popular - it really shows the demand in non-traditional candidates that wasn't there before. I think this is as acute as it gets if you compare it to times before - so why aren't people turning to third parties?
JS:That's exactly the strategy, it's to absorb that breakaway momentum now, they're trying to bring it back into the party, into the Democratic party while they suppress any knowledge and information about independent third parties. So, our purpose is to break through, like Woody Allen says: "half of life is just showing up”. You don’t know when the breakthrough is going to happen, but you'd want to be there and you'd want to lay out the agenda for how we can achieve peace, how we can create an economy that works for everyone, how we can green our energy system to turn the tide on climate change. We could do all of that. We want to be on a record before the system implodes. It is in the process of doing that right now. It's a house of cards waiting to fall down, and we will be there to lead the way forward when it does.
SS:You said there's a firewall between and lobbies or corporate money. What if it is, like, "good money", I don't know, a clean energy money, or anti-GMO group - would you accept that?
JS: Here's our rule: our rule is that we do not take money from the surrogates of corporations, that is their CEOs or their lobbyists, or their economic officers. We don't take their money if they have a lobbyist. If they have a lobbyist, that's a good sign that they have an ax to grind and their money comes with an implicit agenda. So that is our safe card: we don't try to decide who's good or bad, we just try to avoid entanglements that create the obligation to repay some debt.
SS:I want to talk a little bit about the Black Lives Matter movement and it erupted in protest against police brutality, pointing out that Ferguson was not an isolated incident. Okay, so why have the U.S. police, in a culture that venerates individual rights and independence, been allowed to behave like that?
JS: Well. The news is that this is not new. What's new is the video cameras and the Iphones that can document it, that's what's new. But police brutality and racist brutality as a whole is part of a long tradition that went from slavery to lynchings, after slavery, to Jim Crow which was violent economic discrimination, to school segregation, so-called "redlining" of communities, and then the War on Drugs, which was essentially a war against black people. So, this has been sort of a legacy of racism in the U.S. as a result of being a slave society. So, this is deep. We call for a national action plan for racial justice now, that includes community police review boards, so that communities are controlling police instead of the other way around.
SS:So you feel like african-americans are still very unfairly targeted - because I have some numbers. African-Americans make up 13% of the whole U.S. population but then they make up 40% of all prisoners.
JS: Exactly. This is exactly the problem. Just for you to know, it did not get better under Barack Obama. That problem continued to expand. So, in that sense too, Obama have not been a man of his word or supposed values. This is a very difficult problem in the U.S., yes, and we're calling for changing of our drug laws, we need to stop incarcerating people if they have a drug problem. It should be treated as a public health problem. We have, basically, similar rates of usage between the Caucasian, white population and a black and a latino population. Similar rates of drug usage and abuse, but it's the people of color who are going to prison for it. So, we're calling for actually releasing them from jail; changing these laws, releasing them from jail, providing them treatment, not incarceration which only increases the cycle of violence and poverty.
SS:But U.S. in general also has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
SS:The biggest inmate population in the world. Is that justifiable? Why spend so much money on prisons? I mean, I don't know, is the nation in crisis, why are there so many people in your prisons?
JS: Well, the nation is in crisis, it's a moral crisis. You know, it's a crisis in our economy and it's a crisis of racism. It's a crisis which needs to be fixed. This is entirely unjustified and outrageous, and it's only in the last several decades. This is new. The U.S. had a very small prison population going back 60 years or so. It was with the war on drugs that we have an explosion in the prison population, largely among african americans and latinos. It is a new...that's why it's called "the new form of Jim Crow". That's why it requires not only changing our drug laws, changing how we police, so that is not racist policing that are looking to make arrests. We need to change our economy as well - there's another form of racist violence, and its economic. Unemployment rates are twice as high. We're calling for a green new deal that provides 20 million jobs, basically, a good, living-waged job for everyone who needs it. That's why we need to cut the military which mostly gets us into trouble all around the world and bankrupts us as a society. Instead, we can put that money into creating jobs, providing education as a human right, getting young people out of debt, getting people of color out of jail, giving people jobs instead of using that money to create terror and poverty around the world. We can use it to create true security and economic justice, starting at home, but we have an obligation, as the richest country in the world, to ensure that we help lift up everyone around the world.
SS: Jill, it's been so wonderful talking to you. Good luck with everything. We really hope to see you in the debate. We were talking to Jill Stein, American presidential candidate from the Green party, discussing the race for White House and some of the most important issues left out of the bipartisan debate. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.