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The Green Party’s Jill Stein is running for president. What does she believe in? (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A conversation with Jill Stein: what the Green Party candidate believes

We asked Stein about her positions on NATO, gun control, and "QE for student debt.”

Why does Jill Stein want to be president?

Usually, when reporters interview the long-shot Green Party presidential candidate, they ask about her low poll numbers, or about whether she’ll spoil the election for Hillary Clinton, and about how she plans to attract Bernie Sanders’s voters.

I wanted to ask a different set of questions: Exactly what would Stein want to do if elected president? How does she think about America’s public policy problems? Does she have a detailed understanding of the trade-offs involved in governance — or does she rely on hand-waving and oversimplified panaceas?

Stein and I sat down in Vox’s offices in New York City this summer to talk about these issues. She went over her proposal to instantly cancel $1.3 trillion in student debt and outlined her argument that the EPA should stop all new fossil-fuel infrastructure right now (even without congressional approval). These proposals tend to be way outside the mainstream policy conversation, so I asked her to talk through her reasoning.

Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited only for length and clarity and broken up into different policy categories.

Immigration

Stein sat for a policy-heavy interview with Vox this summer. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Jeff Stein

In 2012, the Green Party called for border passes that would essentially allow all Mexican citizens to come to the United States and work here legally.

However, during the primary, Bernie Sanders called this kind of proposal a "Koch Brothers" initiative, arguing it would depress wages. Do you worry that increasing immigration from Mexico will drive wages down for American workers?

Jill Stein

No. I think there are many factors that have been driving wages down — largely, the deportation of our jobs; the corporate rigged trade agreements; the Wall Street deregulation, which divested from our communities and our jobs and 9 million jobs went up in smoke, you know? That’s what’s really threatening jobs and wages in this country.

Jeff Stein

Under this immigration plan, would the recipients of these short-term work visas get to stay here permanently? What happens once they actually come to the United States?

Jill Stein

So I’m not actually privy to that plan. And that may have been issued by our party, but not by our campaign. That wasn’t a part of our platform, to tell you the truth.

We call for two major things regarding the immigration crisis — legalizing and creating a welcome path to citizenship for the immigrants who have always been at the core of our economies, our communities, and our culture. We call for celebrating the immigrants — we’re all immigrants on this bus in this country.

The second thing we call for is actually fixing this immigration crisis. The most important thing we can do is to stop causing the immigration crisis in the first place, through policies like NAFTA, which not only sent our jobs overseas but which destroyed millions of jobs for farmers and factory workers south of the border.

We also drive this immigration crisis through the war on drugs, which has killed 100,000 people in Mexico alone over the last six years — that is driving a wave of refugees. And by overturning democracies in other countries — in particular, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — by supporting corporate coups as Hillary Clinton did in Honduras, giving them the thumbs up. Death squads — which we have been a party to training — and invasions of other countries. We are creating this wave of refugees, and then shamefully we are then criminalizing these refugees once they come here by detaining, deporting, and night raiding them.

We say: "Let’s fix this immigration crisis at its root, by stopping the predatory policies that are dislocating tens of thousands and, in fact, world over it’s tens of millions of millions of people who are refugees from what is predominantly a very predatory US foreign policy."

Jeff Stein

So, I understand now that your proposal is different than the Green Party’s was in 2012 [when Stein was the party’s presidential nominee]?

Jill Stein

That’s right.

Jeff Stein

So you don’t believe in giving temporary work visas to Mexican citizens?

Jill Stein

You know, it hasn’t been a part of our agenda, so I haven’t actually looked into that to decide yes or no.

There are problems with temporary visas for immigrants — there’s a real downside to that, in that they become second class citizens and they become subject to a whole other tier of low wages. This is partly why we call for full citizenship for immigrants who have been here. That’s the bulk of the issue.

Student debt

Jill Stein at the DNC in July. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

Let’s talk about your student debt proposal. You have called for the elimination of $1.3 trillion in student debt. But economists say this would provide relief for a whole class of lawyers and doctors — since up to 40 percent of that debt is for graduate students.

So how do you think about the trade-offs involved in subsidizing a program that might also help a lot of upper-middle-class and rich people?

Jill Stein

It’s hard to provide secure programs that don’t work for everyone. When you have a so-called "poverty program," it tends to go into poverty very quickly and to lose its funding.

This is how we’ve been able to maintain Social Security and Medicare — by making them broad and comprehensive programs. Also, once you begin doing means-testing — the expense and the administrative burden of the program goes through the roof. And this is part of the problem right now in privatized health care, with solutions like Obamacare that are spending an enormous amount of money trying to sort people out — even trying to get a website up that could enable the system to sort through who is eligible and who’s not. And keeping track of their income and so on.

The issue of funding is not an issue the minute we have a military budget that is actually a defense budget, rather than an offense budget. By correcting the dangers in our military budget, we actually make it possible to pay for higher education — and there’s one other very important issue.

And that is that for every dollar we invest in higher education, we get back $7 in return. This is what we learned through the GI Bill following the Second World War. That for every dollar that went into it we got $7 in return in public benefits and increased revenues. It’s just a question of jump-starting the system, and then it pays for itself.

Jeff Stein

So your student debt proposal calls for using quantitative easing to eliminate $1.3 trillion, right?

Jill Stein

Yes, that’s right.

Jeff Stein

Let’s set aside how this would actually work. Why not use quantitative easing to also start a UBI [Universal Basic Income]? Or a Medicare for all package?

Jill Stein

Very important points, and that should be looked into as well. Definitely.

Jeff Stein

Are there no limits to the degree to which you think that the federal reserve should use quantitative easing, as you understand it, to accomplish domestic policy goals?

Jill Stein

There are limits, which is why you have to be sure that it’s justified in each instance that you’re using it.

Jeff Stein

Would you not seek congressional approval before asking a Federal Reserve chair to start a program for a UBI or Medicare for all?

Jill Stein

So by a UBI, you mean?

Jeff Stein

Universal Basic Income.

Jill Stein

I see, okay. Well, each of those programs needs to be validated that they are the best route forward in and of themselves.

You need to ensure that the program is the right solution we need, and then you need to decide what is the most appropriate form of funding. And, in general, a quantitative easing is appropriate if you’re going to expand the productivity of the economy. So using quantitative easing to bail out the bankers was not a good use of $4.5 trillion. It was not good. It did not make the economy more productive. But for something like student debt, yes, absolutely.

On the other issues, I wouldn’t decide it on the fly. I’d have to sit down and think about it. But certainly it’s a tool that could be used if there weren’t other means of supplying it.

I think student debt is different, though. It’s in a category of its own for a number of reasons, including that student debt is a gateway issue because once you have taken the chains off an entire generation, then we’re sort of made whole again as a society. Right now, a younger generation is missing in action because people are very busy working two and three part-time jobs just to keep a roof over their head.

Jeff Stein

Let’s imagine that your student debt proposal gets passed —

Jill Stein

— It’s a whole different ball game.

Jeff Stein

A Jill Stein administration takes over, passes the student debt proposal — what’s the incentive for colleges to try to rein in their costs?

They no longer have students worrying about debt. Do you worry at all your proposal would prevent colleges from trying to tighten their belts?

Jill Stein

Not at all. Because belt-tightening can be integrated into the funding, so that doesn’t have to be the case whatsoever.

And back in the day, when we did provide public higher education for free, we had extremely affordable colleges because they were being run responsibly — they were not being run with a privatization agenda to sort of repay their corporate sponsors; to develop patents, which is a lot of the drivers behind medical schools right now.

So we would have actually a public interest educational institution, so that raking in the dough and getting in the students who could pay the bucks — all of that goes away. So the driver for accelerating costs is massively reduced in a public system.

Jeff Stein

Would you want a system that really didn’t have much or any private education?

Jill Stein

That’s right.

Jeff Stein

So, Harvard, Yale? How do you define private in that context?

Jill Stein

Oh, no. What I mean is that the public institutions now, where the costs are skyrocketing, they used to be very affordable when they were free back in the day.

In my home state, it was practically free. In California and states all over the nation had free public higher education as my generation was coming up, and their costs were very low because they were being run as public institutions in the public interest. They did not have a profiteering motive.

Gun control

gun owner Shutterstock

Jeff Stein

Let’s move to gun control. … In 2012, the Green Party stood for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.

Jill Stein

That’s right.

Jeff Stein

Some gun control experts have said something much more dramatic would be needed to get at the root of the gun violence problem, a gun confiscation program or something like that. Would you take such drastic measures or do you think that goes too far?

Jill Stein

It’d be hard to do that at this point. So, we establish background checks and assault weapons ban as a floor. And we add to that stripping the gun manufacturers of their immunity — so currently they have immunity right now from lawsuits holding them accountable for dangerous weapons, and for putting those weapons in the hands of dangerous people.

That’s another tool that should be brought to bear that does not have issues with the Second Amendment.

Jeff Stein

How do you reach that conclusion about a gun confiscation bill? I think a lot of people would also say forgiving $1.3 trillion in student debt is also not within the realm of the possible. Why is that not off the table but more dramatic guns bills are off the table?

Jill Stein

Let me say there’s a 42 million member constituency pushing for it, which is a plurality of the three-way race in the presidential race. There’s a very large constituency that is pushing for the abolition of student debt, and I was able to convince Fox News the other day that this was a really good idea. And that it made a lot of sense.

Jeff Stein

Do you think the existing constituency on behalf of that justifies — ?

Jill Stein

Well, it says that it’s not off the table. Which were the words you used, that it’s off the table politically. I wouldn’t say it’s off the table politically whatsoever.

On the other hand, I think the gun control issue is a very difficult one. In Norway, Norway really moved forward with gun control by persuading people to give up their guns, and in order to do that you need to have the proper things in place. So in Norway, among other countries, police have also demilitarized and go without guns. Not in all areas of Norway, but in many. And, interestingly, in those districts where police are not armed, they are actually safer. It’s not only the public that is safer but the police are safer because they cease to become targets.

I think we need to begin to move in that direction, and I do believe as a society that we need to disarm because we are now an armed garrison state, and everyone is in the crossfire right now — black lives are in the target hairs, and police are also in the target hairs. We’ve become a culture of open carry — not just guns but assault weapons and sniper rifles.

It’s really dangerous to be out there in the world. This is not a world we can safely live in, that our children can safely live in — we need to change. But in order to do that we need to come together. We need to take steps toward this that are confidence building measures, so we don’t become a state in an all-out shoot-out, which we could become readily if government authorities were flying in and taking weapons away. That’s going to be very problematic; that’s not going to happen, because people are armed.

I think we need to start with first measures first, and we need to demonstrate that we have a government we can trust — because, right now, we have a government people feel like that they cannot trust. Not on guns, not on medications, not on health care, not the Supreme Court. A recent study showed 90 percent of people do not have good confidence in governmental institutions. The rate of trust in Congress is approximately 4 percent. So we have damage control to do here before we can move forward.

Jeff Stein

Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly — you think part of the reason a gun confiscation program is too far is because there’s so little faith in American government.

Jill Stein

Right, and I think it would be explosive and it wouldn’t work, at least without a lot of guns being shot, and I don’t think we want to plunge headlong into a gun fight.

America is very armed, and you don’t want to trigger an all-out gun fight right now. Like in Norway, people were persuaded this was time for them to disarm. I know as a medical doctor you often need to persuade people to do things they don’t want to do, and to do that you have to establish trust. And you have to establish a common vision and a dialogue and a sense of community — then you can move forward.

Foreign policy

Vladimir Putin

Jeff Stein

We have 15 minutes left, so I want to move to foreign policy. Donald Trump, obviously, caused quite an uproar when he suggested that America would not enforce its treaty obligations with NATO if Russia did something in Eastern Europe.

Do you think Trump has a point that we need to rethink our commitments to intervene under NATO?

Jill Stein

In terms of NATO, I think NATO has become an end-run around a democratic process for deciding when we engage in foreign wars and when we don’t. We’re using NATO as an excuse — not only to duck congressional responsibility for approving a war budget, but also NATO is used to duck the UN process and international law that says we cannot go to war unless a nation is specifically threatened and directly threatened.

So for the United States to jump into other people’s wars, which are highly questionable — and where we are not at risk ourselves — I don’t think Americans want to be doing that. I think we need to be clear about NATO’s role, especially in creating a more dangerous world right now. Where NATO has been surrounding Russia with missiles, nuclear weapons, and troops.

How would we feel if Russia had its troops on our borders? And its missiles and its nuclear weapons? This is not the kind of world we need. It was actually the United States under Bill Clinton that withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty — that is the major framework for nuclear weapons disarmament. And Barack Obama created a whole new nuclear weapons arms race by investing a trillion dollars over the next couple of decades in a whole new generation of nuclear weapons and their modes of delivery.

Jeff Stein

So, if you were president, would you try protecting Eastern Europe from Russian aggression?

Jill Stein

We would ensure that Russian aggression doesn’t occur, because we would be engaged in a peace process and in a process that puts dialogue and diplomacy ahead of war.

Jeff Stein

How much do you think America is currently to blame for Russian aggression?

Jill Stein

Well, Russian aggression meaning what, exactly? (References Crimea and Ukraine.) These are highly questionable situations. Why are we — Russia used to own Ukraine. Ukraine was historically a part of Russia for quite some period of time, and we all know there was this conversation with Victoria Nuland about planning the coup and who was going to take over.

Not that the other guy was some model of democracy. But the one they put in — with the support of the US and the CIA in this coup in Ukraine — that has not been a solution. Regime change is something we need to be very careful about. And this is a highly inflammatory regime change with a nuclear armed power next door.

So I’m saying: Let’s just stop pretending there are good guys here and bad guys here. These are complicated situations. Yeah, Russia is doing lots of human rights abuse, but you know what? So are we.

We need to enter into this like human beings and have a conversation about a situation that’s very threatening to us all and sit down and find principled ways to move forward with dialogue and diplomacy that makes us all more stable, more secure, and creates a world for the future that’s not going to go up in flames.

Minimum wage

Technocrats couldn't contain this one
A rally for a $15 minimum wage in Los Angeles on December 4, 2014. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

You’ve called for a $15 minimum wage nationally. What’s the highest you would take it if you could?

Jill Stein

So, I am quite confident a $15 minimum wage is going to be extraordinarily helpful to our economy. There are some stresses that will take place in small businesses; those stresses should be compensated for by the improvement in their income, in their business. So we know that there is a balance that works at $15 an hour and there have been a lot of studies to that effect.

However, if you were truly adjusting wages, according to the growth in productivity in the economy, it would be more like $20 an hour or $22 an hour — that is actually what working people deserve. But I wouldn’t jump there at this moment. I would start at $15 and with the benefits of that to our economy as we recover, I would proceed to move forward from there.

Jeff Stein

But you do recognize the effects on employment from a higher minimum wage?

Jill Stein

That’s right. Which is why we should not stop with simply raising the minimum wage. This is why we need to take health care off the backs of small businesses in particular; this is why we need a Medicare-for-all system. To truly use our health care dollars for health care and not be wasting 20 to 30 percent on paper-pushing and bureaucracy. In doing so, we relieve our burden from small businesses. We need public banks, which provide funding and provide loans — almost interest free loans — as the public bank in North Dakota, I think it is, does. There are many problems here that are all crunching down on small businesses.

Small businesses are in a state of crisis, and we have to bring them back. They are part of our backbone, and our Green New Deal is our major economic plan as well.

Global warming

green power (Shutterstock)

Jeff Stein

So your "Green New Deal" [to deal with global warming] — I’m particularly interested in the "emergency measures" you’ve said we need to take.

People who work for Hillary Clinton say that basically every unilateral executive action that they could take to curb climate change, legally, is provided for in their platform. Where, specifically, does she not go far enough?

Jill Stein

What she doesn’t do is actually meet the crisis head-on. We need a solution that is as big as the crisis barreling down on us. And that crisis is civilization-ending, and recent studies say that day of reckoning is coming closer all the time. Most recent studies say 2050.

Jeff Stein

Is there a carbon tax you’d unilaterally implement without Congressional approval? What is it that you’d do differently from what (Clinton’s) promised to do?

Jill Stein

Number one, I intend to be elected with an incredible groundswell that will also bring greens and progressive Democrats into Congress so that it will be a whole different ballgame.

I don’t think Hillary Clinton is going to mobilize that progressive groundswell — she’s not, and it’s by actually doing what we need to do that we can mobilize 42 million students in debt, for example, to come out and win this vote and drive into Congress the progressive change that we need in the form of our representation.

What we will do is, basically, we have an emergency situation. How did we come to terms with the bombing of Pearl Harbor? We transformed our economy — in six months, we went from zero to 25 percent into the war economy — 25 percent of GDP. Which is a massive transformation of the economy in six months. We need to regard the crisis we’re facing right now as every bit as much of a state of emergency as the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In fact, it makes Pearl Harbor look like small potatoes because what we’re looking at is the loss of all harbors, the loss of all population centers around the globe. So this is not something we’re going to survive, ever.

So we call for 20 million new jobs in a Green New Deal, like the New Deal that got us out of the Great Depression. These jobs are focused on 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030.

So that means we stop all new fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure, right now, on day one. How do we do that? We have an agency called the Environmental Protection Agency, which is not only supposed to be protecting the environment, but our health as well.

And if you actually look at the data, our health is more threatened by climate change than any other possible threat to our health. This isn’t just our health; this is our survival that essentially unravels a couple of decades from now. So you could use the authority of the EPA if needed to ensure that existing permitting depends on being compatible with our lives, and our survival, thereby limiting our new energy only to clean renewables, and decommissioning the forms of energy that are a threat to our lives and to our health.

But my hope is that once we have the bully pulpit of the presidency — we need not just a commander in chief, we need an organizer in chief. And when "we the people" really understand we need something — we stopped the Keystone pipeline; we have managed to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership so far, and have delayed it for many years; we stopped the privatization of the internet, twice — when we mobilize, and we really understand the terms of the crisis, the American people are unstoppable.


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