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Interview: Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate

Jill Stein, a physician and environmental health advocate from Massachusetts, is running for president on the Green Party ticket.

Jill Stein, a physician and environmental health advocate from Massachusetts, is running for president on the Green Party ticket.

One of several third-party contenders, Stein, 62, is on the ballot in 34 states and is seeking ballot status in 15 others (she's a write-in in Georgia). Cheri Honkala, the Philadelphia advocate for the homeless and an antipoverty crusader, is Stein's vice-presidential running mate.

Neither Stein, nor Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson have been invited to participate during this season's debates.

We spoke with Dr. Stein as she was campaigning in New England.

Why are you running for president?

I'm running because we're in a crisis. Because I'm a mother and mothers don't give up.

When the president put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block last year, I suddenly got religion about national politics. I've always been active on the state and local level, but suddenly I understood and felt like so many others that it was unthinkable that these threats would go unchallenged in the national debate. So I became involved with the Greens.

The nation is in crisis. People are losing jobs, losing their homes, the climate is in meltdown, the rich are getting richer and the political establishment is making things worse by imposing austerity on the American people while they squander trillions on wars, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy.

In short, Americans are at a breaking point. Our role is to turn the breaking point into a tipping point.

My job is to give people a voice in this election, everyday people, and a choice at the polls that isn't already bought and paid for by Wall Street. My job is to put real solutions on the table that the American people are clamoring for.

Who are your supporters?

Our supporters include a good number of the 36 million students and recent graduates who are essentially indentured servants after being saddled with massive debt; working people; the one out of three people living in poverty who see things getting worse and no solutions offered from any major party candidate; people who are concerned with the erosion of our civil liberties and health care advocates in favor of Medicare for all.

We have environmental advocates who are angered to see that Obama has embraced "drill-baby-drill" and opened up offshore drilling. We have opponents of the thrashing of water supplies through fracking and the go-ahead to nuclear power plants. Others who are angry at Obama because he undermined the basic climate change accords, putting off compliance until 2020, where the science has said that will be too late.

In other words, it's an enormous broad cross section of the American people.

There's little chance a third party will ever win the presidency. So what role do you believe third parties serve in American politics?

Any time that a big national party has moved forward, it's been a third party that drove it there.

The abolition of slavery initially had the Liberty Party as the counterpart of the abolitionists' social movement. The Liberty Party drove the agenda into another small party which called itself the Republican Party.

It was an independent party called the Women's Party that drove the issue of women's right to vote into the mainstream.

If you like child labor laws, Social Security and collective bargaining, they were all pushed by small independent parties, including the socialists, the communists and others.

They were a real force. Historically, there is a lot of evidence that you can win the day even if you don't win the office.

As Frederick Douglass said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

Let's talk about your party platform. What is the "Green New Deal" and why do you call it that?

The Green New Deal is an emergency plan that follows two crises, the jobs crisis and the climate crisis.

It's called the Green New Deal because it's based on the New Deal that brought us out of the Great Depression. It's a similar concept of directly creating jobs, unlike the stimulus package that was in majority tax breaks for large corporations.

The Green New Deal not only jump starts the economy, but creates a different economy. Rather than propping up a fake economy of high finance, it creates a localized green economy, with jobs that can be filled by people in community who most need them - low income people with low education rates.

We talk about making communities sustainable and putting the community in charge of creating sustainable jobs but not only in clean energy and transportation. We need to hire back the 300,000 teachers, after school teachers, drug abuse counselors and home rehabilitation people all who were laid off or have had their jobs eliminated.

The Green New Deal not only solves the employment emergency and the climate emergency by transitioning to the green economy, it also creates a new infrastructure for health. We don't have a health care system, we have a sick-care system. We spend $2.2 trillion a year that includes the cost of private insurance, premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket and other expenses. When you add that up it's over twice that of our military expenditures.

It's common wisdom that 75 percent of that money is spent treating chronic diseases. How do we change that? Like mom always said: Eat healthy, exercise, and I would add avoid pollution.

A windfall benefit of a green economy is that we stop making ourselves sick. One of the incredible windfalls is that green energy makes wars for oil obsolete. And that's another trillion dollars a year that could be cut. We're not more secure now after spending trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can still see the violence and the civil wars that rage. We have not received the bang for the buck.

Our campaign also advocates making education free. Education pays for itself. We know that from the GI Bill. Higher education after World War II was documented to have a 7-to-1 return - $7 for every dollar that was invested.

How do you pay for all that?

Much of it pays for itself. Health care is a human right, and Medicare-for-all is a piece of the Green New Deal. That pays for itself according to a variety of reputable economists. Some of the savings come from eliminating the massive health care bureaucracy and stabilizing medical inflation which is averages about 5.7 percent in recent years.

Other sources of revenue come from downsizing the military and bringing the troops home, ending the drone wars and stopping the expansion of new bases in Southeast Asia.

A third major source of funding to draw on is fair taxation. I'm asking the rich and superrich to start paying their fair share and would impose a Wall Street transaction tax that could generate $150 billion a year.

Taxing capital gains as income is the most critical reservoir where the big money actually resides, so much more than the millionaire tax. So I would add a truly progressive income tax. Between $400- to $500 billion could be recouped in fair taxation.

Do you consider yourself and your party to be socialists?

We consider ourselves Greens. But I have to note that the approval for socialism in this country greatly outnumbers the approval for Congress! We're Greens, and we certainly share some of the ideals of socialism as does the Occupy Movement and many, many Americans.

We believe you are your brother's keeper and we have a responsibility for others. We believe vast disparities in wealth need to be fixed. I'm certainly not an ideologue, I'm a pragmatist. It's clear that disaster capitalism has failed us. We need to break up the big banks and if that's socialism, bring it on.

What is your relationship with the Occupy movement?

We have supported Occupy across the country and when Occupy had its encampments I made a point to visit at every opportunity. Occupy is very much in step with the causes of the Green Party and the causes of (Green Party vice-presidential candidate, Cheri Honkala's) Poor People's Economic Rights Campaign. Our campaign is an opportunity to bring these movements together.

We've been very careful not to trample on Occupy's independence and when I visit I'm very clear that I'm not there to ask for their support. I'm there to support them. I think Occupy is critically important and they're not going away. They're an expression of the unraveling of our economy.

Is a vote for a leftist third party candidate a vote for Mitt Romney or a wasted vote?

I think for a person to vote for either Wall Street candidate, that is a wasted vote. And that's worse than a wasted vote because it gives them a mandate for what's destroying us. They've both been a disaster for us. It's really important that we stand up and say it's time to change course, time to change trajectory, to speak up for our own survival.

Talking to people who think it's a wasted vote is like talking to someone in an abusive relationship who keeps making excuses for the abuser. These two multinational corporation parties are taking us down. And the solution to a rapidly sinking ship is not scrambling onto another sinking ship which is also sinking at a slightly slower rate.

The next Wall Street crash is right around the corner, there's an impending crash of the climate and there's is no exit strategy.

Going into the voting booth and voting for Obama or Romney is saying 'That's OK, I'm going to trust you to fix it. '

We must do something about it, while we still have a shred of our civil liberties left, while we still have an economy before it crashes again, before the next case of Wall Street fraud and abuse. We need to do it now. The clock is ticking. We are the ones we've been waiting for. They are not.

Will you be on the ballot in November?

We're on ballot in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We're right now on the ballot in 34 states, but on track for between 40 and 45. We already have the most populous states. With those states in hand, and the others that are coming online, we'll be on the ballot for at least 90 percent of the voters.

You have previously run for governor in Massachusetts. And of the presidential candidates, that puts you in an exclusive club. You're the only one who has already debated Romney. What was that like?

Romney doesn't debate, he just says what he says. As a politician he has his talking points and he doesn't think outside of this box. So it's a piece of cake debating him. He has a very fragile world view, the view of a Wall Street tycoon who is not living in the bigger world.

His message is we need to run America like a big business. During our debate, I said no, we need to run Massachusetts like a better democracy, not a better business. We have had plenty of businessmen who've already blown it.

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