Noam Chomsky recently made my day by endorsing Jill Stein, in a sense reversing his previous position that, at least in swing states, “one has to pick the lesser of two evils”. I say “in a sense”, because what’s changed for Chomsky isn’t the assumption that the “left vote” in a liberal democracy entails picking the most benevolent option, but rather that there are only two choices if you want your vote to “matter”. In other words, Chomsky got to know Dr. Stein. It would be hypocrisy to tell anyone to vote against the corporate parties without mentioning what it is they’d be voting for, so the least I can do is help you get to know her, too.
Since Chomsky made the “two evils” comment this past spring, the campaign of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala began in earnest. They raised their profile thanks not only to their arrests protesting home foreclosures and picketing in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers’ Union, but also to a precious few media appearances in defiance of a virtual blackout on the part of the corporate media, including such alleged progressives as Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. So far, their public appearances have focused mostly on their “Green New Deal”, which you can hear about from the good doctor herself. I’d like to focus more generally on the Green Party platform, from which the “Issues” section of the Stein campaign website seems to derive all its key points. I’ve spent the last few days combing through it, looking for the sort of policy details voters should know about what a Stein Administration and Green politics might look like.
Contrary to silly things you might have heard, the centerpiece of Green politics and the Stein campaign is economic and social justice. As the “Green New Deal” suggests, Green economics takes as its point of departure the “Third Way” model of FDR’s New Deal in the US and 20th century European social democracy. Greens reject the notion that continuous growth is desirable or possible, proposing alternatively a “steady-state economy” (“steady” in terms of production and consumption), characterized by, among other things, a “stable or mildly fluctuating GDP”. This model doesn’t preclude continuous “development”, which at any rate isn’t adequately measured by GDP growth and other measures that don’t take social welfare and ecology into account. More appropriate measures might look at life expectancy, educational opportunities, or the gap between upper and lower extremes in terms of “human benefit” (i.e. education, health care etc.).
Besides ending corporate personhood, beginning with federal and state constitutional amendments, Greens support “chartering of corporations that includes comprehensive, strict and enforceable social responsibility requirements.” A strengthened civil justice system would hold corporations “strictly liable” for fraud, violence, malfeasance etc., including revoking these charters. They propose to “end corporate welfare”, i.e. end bailouts for Wall Street/big banks/the auto industry and subsidies for agribusiness and the oil, gas, coal, nuclear, timer and mining industries. On the tax front, Greens are all about progressive taxation: taxing financial transactions; subjecting investment income and all levels of income (not just the first $106,800) to Social Security and Medicare taxes; reinstating the estate tax; blocking financial transactions with tax havens; and instating a .5% wealth tax on individual assets over $5 million.
A Stein Administration would reinstate Glass-Steagall and break up the big banks and other financial institutions, along with banning the “gambling” use of derivatives and prosecuting criminal speculation. Instead of pouring trillions into the banking system, Greens think the federal government and/or central bank should’ve provided relief during the financial crisis via direct mortgage relief to homeowners and negotiating “partial loan forgiveness” with lenders. Far from socialist—back when the Soviet Union was around, this was considered capitalism-saving stuff.
But contrary to the bipartisan neoliberal consensus, Dr. Stein and the Green Party demand the repeal of NAFTA, CAFTA, and all other free trade agreements as they currently stand, including the even more radically anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership currently being negotiated in secret by the Obama Administration. A Stein Administration would “re-formulate all international trade relations and commerce…to protect the labor, human rights, economy, environment and domestic industry of partner and recipient nations” and call for “replacing the WTO, IMF and World Bank with new institutions that are democratic, transparent, and accountable to the citizens of all nations.”
While those entities still exist, Greens would restructure the rules of the IMF and World Bank to “end all the debts of recipient nations” and prohibit the use of loans to “impose structural adjustment programs that emphasize debt service and export-led development at the expense of social needs.” In projects involving investment of corporate capital, the IMF and World Bank must mandate labor’s right to organize, unionize and negotiate as well as corporations’ adherence to the International Labor Organization Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and “guarantee the rights of citizens of the nations receiving the investment and their right ot public ownership and control of their own resources.”
On the other end of the economic power relationship, the Green Party supports exempting people earning less than $25k a year (for families $50k) from federal and state income taxes. Additionally, sales tax wouldn’t apply to food, clothing, prescription medications or other necessities. But what’s really progressive about Green economics isn’t “tax-and-spend” (I wouldn’t rule out Obama proposing to tax capital gains as income, for example). It’s not the Green New Deal’s proposal to make higher education free and forgive existing student loan debt. It’s not even their support for a universal basic income sufficient for anyone who’s unemployed to afford “basic food and shelter”. It’s solidarity with working people and the poor, like supporting the right of workers to unionization and collective bargaining (a contrast with neoliberals like Rahm Emanuel and Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
It’s supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, recognizing that the right to organize has been violated over and over again, particularly by the 1947 Taft-Harley Act. It’s supporting the right of all workers to “workplace democracy”: that means a living wage, minimum pensions and health care (“fully vested and portable”), “no permanent replacement of striking workers”, labor’s first right to buy out a company that’s for sale/bankrupt/being outsourced, and laws restricting employers’ ability to relocate to “a lower pay locale” as well as requiring employers purchasing other companies to honor existing agreements.
As a committed progressive, Jill Stein’s support for single-payer universal health care trivializes the debate between the Republican opposition to the ACA’s individual mandate and the previously Republican individual mandate. As a physician, Dr. Stein stands with many in her field, including the group Physicians for a National Health Program, in proposing single-payer as not only the only way to ensure that wealth does not determine quality of care, but also by far the most cost-effective system of health care.
The savings in administrative cost alone would be enough to offset the cost of additional care, not only due to reductions in expenses for businesses as well as state/local governments (who would receive reimbursement for services to the currently uninsured), but also because public programs would no longer be the “dumping ground” for high-risk patients or the disabled/unemployed who are rejected by Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). Green single-payer means comprehensive benefits for life, prioritization of primary and preventive care, the participation of (and patient choice between) all licensed/certified health care providers, and policy boards of consumers and providers at national/state/local to evaluate performance and plan for future research.
Then, of course, there’s ecology, from which the Greens derive more than their name, and which perhaps more than any other issue sets them apart from all other US parties, past or present. The Obama Administration’s offer in Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4% below 1990 levels is, to say the least, insufficient to deal with the gravity of the impending climate disaster. Green ecology demands reductions of “at least 40% by 2020 and 95% by 2050” over 1990 levels. To this end, they support ending subsidies for “fossil fuels, nuclear power, biomass and waste incineration and biofuels”, as well as a “clean fuels” mandate and a “Fee & Dividend” system starting with $.10 per kg of carbon. The fee increases by 10% every year that global atmospheric carbon dioxide content is greater than 350 ppm, and is “repealed entirely when it falls below 250 ppm”. If this seems radical or anti-capitalist, well, that just goes to show how embedded in ideology we really are. With 5% of the world’s population, the US consumes 26% of the world’s energy. That’s not ideology.
Dr. Stein proposes to ban nuclear and coal power plants, including mountaintop removal coal mining, as well as all further oil and gas drilling or exploration (including offshore drilling and the notorious “fracking”). Contrary to what Obama and Romney say, coal will never be “clean”, and “energy independence” can’t reasonably depend on nuclear energy when all six of the US’s nuclear waste dumps have leaked. For better or for worse, Stein’s and the Green Party’s environmental policy is anthropocentric, meaning that it is primarily concerned with the safety and welfare of human beings above all else, recognizing that the biggest burden of environmental degradation is borne by the most shit-upon of US and global communities. Greens propose to “[e]nd the use of incineration as a cleanup technology, and ensure that ‘cleanups’ don’t simply relocate toxins to chemical waste dumps in poor communities of color.” They support environmental justice policies that give communities a voice in planning future development with the goal of preventing concentration of polluting industries and practices in poor and/or minority communities. Greens acknowledge that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will have scarce access to water, and oppose the water privatization by multinationals stipulated by treaties like NAFTA and trade institutions like the WTO. An example is the World Bank’s policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing.
Supporters of local and organic food will be pleased to hear that Dr. Stein supports regionalization and decentralization of the food system as well as shifting government subsidies to organic food. In terms of animal rights, Greens want to mandate clear labeling of products to denote whether or not it has been tested on animals, with the intent to “phase out the use of animals” for all consumer product and medical/psychological research, classroom use, weapons development, violent entertainment, etc.
Where Dr. Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson agree, and in doing so oppose the “bipartisan” consensus, is foreign policy and the sacrifice of universal human rights, international law, and domestic civil liberties to the growing national security state and, ultimately, military/economic empire. I don’t need to go over the myriad ethical and legal red lines that the Bush and Obama Administrations have crossed in the never-ending, ever-escalating global War on Terror: I’ve covered them extensively already. Greens maintain the UN’s right to “intervene in a nation-state engaged in genocidal acts” or “persistent violation and denial of the human rights of an ethnic or religious group”. I’ve also explored the dangers of this policy on this blog.
Unlike the Bush and Obama Administrations, however, Greens mandate signing the International Criminal Court Agreement and respecting its authority. Unlike those administrations, Greens recognize that the US government must “take disputes with other nations or foreign bodies to the UN Security Council and General Assembly forum for negotiation and resolution” and “does not have the right to justify pre-emptive invasion of another country on the grounds that the other country harbors, trains, equips and funds a terrorist cell.” A Stein Administration would “phase out” all of our 700 foreign military bases, prohibit all US arms sales to foreign nations and “all covert actions used to influence, destabilize or usurp governments of other nations”. Greens would “[s]uspend all military and foreign aid” to Israel until Israel ceases its occupation of the West Bank, its siege of Gaza, and becomes “one secular, democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis…between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan as the national home of both peoples, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Full disclosure: I think it’s a fantasy that progressive politics alone can resolve, once and for all, the basic contradictions of global capitalism (including ecology and new forms of apartheid) by “declawing” it and rendering it more palatable from a human rights perspective. The fate of labor rights and the “safety net” in the post-FDR US, along with the neoliberal turn in countries like Sweden and Germany and signs of a similar trend in the “21st century socialist” ALBA countries, provide more than enough evidence of this. Nonetheless, politics remains the realm of the possible and as long as a new communism is but a twinkle in Slavoj Žižek’s eye, we must demand the most just and ethical system we can get. It’s here that Jill Stein and the Greens can help.
And your vote will help the Greens and the cause of progressive politics. About two weeks ago a CNN/ORC poll showed Dr. Stein at 2% nationally. If she gets 5% this November, for the next election Greens will qualify for automatic ballot access in every state, inclusion in the debates, and $20 million in federal campaign funds (In the meantime, join cool people like Tom Morello and me in signing this petition to get Dr. Stein and Gov. Johnson on the debate stage with two candidates clearly afraid to face them). So not only does a Green vote “count”, it’ll chip away at the one-and-a-half-party duopoly we lament so much when we resign ourselves to voting for the “lesser evil”.
The left succumbing to the politics of fear has moved this country to the right. Wilco said it best: “You have to learn how to die/If you wanna wanna be alive.” It’s time we show the courage of our convictions by being brave enough to lose.