The following remarks were made by Jill Stein on February 12, 2013, before a national video audience in response to the official State of the Union address.
It’s an honor to be here to talk about the real state of our nation. President Obama just finished his speech before Congress. As usual, it was full of inspired, high flying rhetoric, and rosy promises for the future. But it’s important to separate the reality from the stage show. We need a real discussion of where we are, so we can set our priorities right and secure the future for our imperiled families, communities, country and planet.
So I will say what you likely already know – that the state of the union is troubled and in critical ways getting worse. But it is eminently fixable.
We are facing unprecedented crisis - an economy in relentless decline for the vast majority and a climate accelerating towards catastrophe. In addition we face expanding endless wars, and an assault on our civil liberties.
But solutions are ready at hand that can bring a just and sustainable prosperity, rescue the climate and make wars for oil obsolete. And these solutions already enjoy majority public support. A movement for democracy and justice is rising up across the country and world that’s moving these solutions forward – for people, peace and the planet. And the Green Party is here to give that movement the political voice it deserves, and must have in order to be effective.
OUR ECONOMIC CRISIS
Before talking about those solutions, I want to first acknowledge that the vast majority of Americans are struggling. Nearly one in two is now living below or near the poverty level – with children, students, elders and people of color hardest hit. Nearly 49 million Americans have no health insurance. Over 6 million had their homes taken through foreclosure. Average households lost an astounding 40% of their wealth in the recent downturn, and in low income communities this loss amounted to a staggering 90% of household wealth. Thanks in large measure to this poverty and hopelessness – and the failed war on drugs – over seven million people, largely poor African American and Latino men, are under “correctional supervision”, 10 times greater than in 1965.
37 million college students and recent graduates are trapped in student loan debt, facing double-digit unemployment and the new low wage economy, with half of graduates in jobs that do not require a college education. Roughly 25 million Americans are unemployed or unable to find full time work. Household income has fallen faster since the official end of the recession than during the recession itself, because the so-called “recovery” – as well as the vast majority of predicted future employment growth – is low paying jobs.
While record numbers of people are in poverty, the 1% – large corporations and the wealthy – have never been richer. The big corporations enjoy historic profits –as they contribute less than anytime since before the second World War to the tax base that keeps the infrastructure going that their profits rely on. And the big banks – who crashed the economy to start with – are bigger than ever, thanks to the continuing bipartisan failure to rein them in.
Clearly, most Americans are struggling to stay afloat in the current economy.
A second point I’d like to make is that the political establishment - Democrats and Republicans – is largely making the crisis worse – imposing austerity on everyday people while they continue squandering trillions on endless wars, Wall Street bailouts, and tax breaks for the wealthy. The President is very much part of that establishment. Having campaigned on a populist platform of taxing the rich, saving Social Security, and making the economy fair, the President has once again morphed into an invaluable ally of the economic elite, willing to throw you under the bus.
In his recent fiscal cliff deal, he did not tax the rich. He largely gave them the store. And he’s now once again looking to cut Social Security – and Medicare and Medicaid.
The policies of the first Obama administration clearly did not make the economy fairer. And these policies are still driving the crisis: trillions in Wall Street bailouts, corporate trade agreements that continue to send jobs overseas and depress wages at home, health care reform that locked single payer and the public option out of the debate, drill-baby-drill energy policies, the sabotage of international climate accords, millions of avoidable home foreclosures, the dramatic escalation of immigrant deportations, expanding wars for oil and drone wars, assaults on basic civil liberties and more. (All of these policies were substantially promoted or controlled by the White House and can not be blamed on Republicans.)
And now, the political establishment – including the Obama White House – is making the crisis worse with its continuing obsession over the concocted budget deficit crisis. This is, in fact, a thinly veiled excuse for austerity – that is, cutting social programs – and for ignoring unemployment, the real source of the deficit.
Let’s be clear that this deficit resulted largely from the economic downturn, brought on by Wall Street waste, fraud and abuse.
That downturn not only destroyed jobs, it also depressed tax revenues – causing the federal deficit to skyrocket. This was worsened, of course, by the endless immoral wars, giveaways to the rich, and private health insurance waste.)
Austerity cuts now being advocated by the President and Congress are virtually guaranteed to make the deficit worse. Because when you cut programs you cut jobs – and the tax revenues created by those jobs. The more austerity, the more unemployment you create, and the worse the deficit gets. That’s why austerity has been proven over and over to worsen unemployment. In the 1930s, austerity turned a great recession into a great depression, and it’s worsening the economic crisis in Europe right now.
This is why the President’s proposals – and the Republican proposals - to lower the deficit by cutting social programs – especially Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid - are dangerous and misguided.
Social Security is not in crisis and does not need to be cut to be saved. The best thing for the long term stability of Social Security is to simply lift the payroll tax cap – and include capital gains and dividend income in the Social Security payroll tax pool.
We can lower the deficit in the long run by creating jobs that generate revenue, and in the short run, by taxing the rich, cutting the bloated military, and ending private health insurance waste through Medicare for All insurance system.
OUR CLIMATE CRISIS
As you know, we’re facing not only an economic crisis, but a climate crisis as well. In the past year we’ve seen record heat, fires, storms, floods, sea level rise, drought and rising food prices. Antarctica and Greenland are melting five times faster than just 20 years ago, leading to an estimated six feet of sea level rise – and possibly much more - by the end of the Century. Already 400,000 lives per year– including 1000 children per day – are being lost due to climate change. The global economic cost is well over a trillion dollars a year, the equivalent of 1.6% of global GDP. Superstorm Sandy illustrates the devastating costs here in the United States as well.
All this has happened with a temperature rise of less than 1 degree Celsius so far. Yet we’re already on track for six times as much temperature rise by 2100, that is a rise of 6 degrees Celsius. As an example of what that means, consider this. When we have a heat wave in Boston or New York, we’re now seeing 95 to 100 degree weather for days at a time. With the warming that’s now in the pipeline, a heat wave won’t bring 100 degree temperatures, it will bring 125 degree temperatures. People will go down like flies. Livestock will also be wiped out, causing additional stress to U.S. and world food supplies which would be drastically reduced (40%) to start with in markedly warmed climate.
Our planet is rapidly approaching a geophysical tipping point at which the certain key consequences of climate change trigger an unstoppable acceleration of warming. Once that happens, it will render our climate incompatible with civilization as we know it, and potentially incompatible with human life as well. The worrisome thing is that some of these tipping points - such as the disappearance of polar ice caps and the melting of frozen methane deposits – are already happening.
That’s why we simply cannot allow the climate to continue warming. To allow climate change to proceed is to engineer the demise of not just our distant descendants, but quite possibly our grandchildren and children and perhaps ourselves as well.
This is why we must solve both the climate and economic crises at the same time, and we must start now. They are ultimately one and the same. We can’t solve one without also solving the other.
Now for the good news. We can fix both of these crises through a Green New Deal, an emergency program to create 25 million jobs to jump start the green economy, put a halt to climate change, and make wars for oil obsolete. It empowers communities to decide what jobs they need to become sustainable. It prioritizes jobs in clean renewable energy and conservation, sustainable agriculture, public transportation, and infrastructure improvements, as well as jobs that meet social needs – teachers, nurses, child care, after school, home care, drug abuse and violence prevention and rehabilitation.
It would create public sector jobs, and establish a modern Conservation Corp and Public Works Administration. It would also jump start community-based small businesses as well as worker owned-cooperatives.
With cost estimates running under $500 billion, the Green New Deal would cost far less than the 2009 stimulus package, but would create far more jobs – enough to jump start a real, sustainable recovery – because it would directly create jobs, rather than provide tax breaks – an expensive and ineffective tool for job creation.
The Green New Deal would be funded by cutting the bloated military to year 2000 levels, saving hundreds of billions of dollars per year, and by taxing the rich. This includes a 0.5% sales tax on Wall Street transactions. By comparison, you and I pay on average a 10% sales tax, so this is a very small thing to ask the world’s richest people. It would generate $350 billion annually while reigning in speculation. Capital gains would be taxed as income, and income would be taxed more progressively, with multi-millionaires and billionaires paying in the 50-80 percent range, just as they did before the tax giveaways of recent decades.
The Green New Deal would also be funded through savings we get by eliminating health insurance waste through Medicare for All. This would provide healthcare to everyone, while ending the massive, wasteful, private health insurance bureaucracy and reducing the medical inflation that's overwhelming federal, state, and household budgets alike. Medicare for All would save trillions of dollars over the next decade.
By jumpstarting the green economy, the Green New Deal can begin to rein in climate change. But we need to take several additional steps:
1. We must enact a carbon fee, to make fossil fuel companies pay for the costs of their carbon emissions and speed the transition to clean, renewable energy, efficiency and conservation;
2. We must rapidly shut down dirty energy by phasing out coal, nuclear, oil, and natural gas.
3. We must say no to new sources of dirty, climate-changing energy: No to the Keystone XL Pipeline, Tar Sands oil, fracked oil and gas, mountaintop removal, coal, deep water drilling and Arctic drilling; and
4. We need democratic control over our energy to ensure we will leave the lethal fossil fuels in the ground, and achieve a zero carbon economy that is essential to save the planet and our children.
In addition we call for ending student debt. Instead of bailing out yet again the banksters who caused this crisis - to the tune of $85 billion dollars a month - let’s redirect that money to the students who are victims of that waste, fraud and abuse. At the rate of $85 billion a month, we can retire student debt in a little over a year.
And we must make public higher education free. In the 21st century, higher education is essential for economic security, so we owe it to our younger generation. Plus it would pay for itself. We know that from the GI bill, which returned $7 dollars in economic benefits for every $1 dollar we invested in higher education for returning soldiers following World War II.
We call for respecting immigrant rights as human rights. This means providing a humane and welcoming path to citizenship now – not 15 years from now, as in the Obama plan. And that citizenship should not depend on border control. We also call for an immediate halt to the cruel, massive deportations that have skyrocketed under the Obama administration and which continue to this day. So called “free trade” agreements should be renegotiated in order to create fair trade agreements. This would end the flow of economic refugees into this country to start with.
Creating fair trade agreements, and ending the war on drugs – an urgently needed policy in its own right - provide the real means to border control that no fence or wall can ever provide.
We need to end the wars for oil and other resources that have created a state of permanent, immoral and unaffordable war. That means not only withdrawing troops. We must also put an end to the draconian drone wars which create a threat to civil liberties and human rights everywhere. Their terrible toll in civilian casualties – including large numbers of women and children – has made them a powerful recruiting tool for the very organizations they are intended to destroy. Instead of leading the world in the proliferation of this dangerous, inhumane technology, we should be leading an international treaty to put an end to the use of drones as an instrument of war.
We must restore our civil liberties by repealing the NDAA and the Patriot Act. We must challenge the President’s claim to tyrannical powers of assassination and indefinite detention without due process. We decry the Obama administration’s cruel and unusual pursuit and punishment of whistleblowers, whose only crime is to reveal government wrongdoing that citizens deserve to know about. And we call for end to the growing surveillance state, including the use of domestic drones to spy on citizens. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin’s wise admonition, if we sacrifice liberty for the sake of security, we will wind up losing them both.
And finally, we call for real progress towards eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons. Reducing the number of weapons deployed, as the president announced tonight, is a good start. But the President, at the same time, is actually escalating the nuclear arms race. He has committed $600 billion dollars to creating an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons with renovated production and delivery – including new nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and nuclear bombers. This does not represent progress towards ending the danger of nuclear weapons.
The United States should be leading a renewed effort to engage all nations in a commitment to nuclear disarmament. This must include the countries recognized as nuclear powers under the Non Proliferation Treaty, as well as the nations possessing nuclear weapons in defiance of that Treaty – including India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea. Disarmament is the only way to achieve true nuclear security.
WE MUST RECLAIM OUR FUTURE
These are solutions we need and that the American people are clamoring for – for jobs, healthcare and education as a human right, a livable climate, and an end to immoral and endless wars. In addition, we call for education as a human right, bailing students in debt, restoring our civil liberties, ending immigrant deportations and providing a welcoming path to citizenship. The public supports these solutions by substantial majorities. The missing link is for us to stand up and use that support to reclaim the promise of democracy, and implement the life-saving, job-saving, planet-saving solutions we urgently need. The political establishment that got us into this crisis, and keeps pushing us in deeper, will not get us out of it. We the people must reclaim our future.
We the people are doing that through the vibrant social movements rising up around us, and through the growing momentum of the Green Party to give those movements the political voice they deserve. Together, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for to take our future back, and make it healthy, just, peaceful and green.