Chicago Tribune Interview

(a revised and unabridged version of the responses also archived at the Chicago Tribune election center)

Recently the Chicago Tribune asked me a series of questions about my candidacy. Though the Chicago Tribune allowed insufficient space to adequately answer many of the questions I am including my full answers here.

1) The U.S. is running a $1.4 trillion deficit this year and has a national debt of nearly $12 trillion. What is your prescription to return to a balanced budget? Do you support or oppose extending federal tax cuts that are due to expire in 2010? What priorities would you set for spending cuts? Please be specific.

The problem of debt – Federal, small business, and personal debt – is a problem of a wildly perverse distribution of income within the United States. On an aggregate level, one class receives income so great that they cannot possibly spend their income, while another class receives incomes inadequate to purchase all that they produce. The super-rich must therefore lend a greater and greater amount of funds to the rest of us. The US Federal deficit, and the resulting US National debt is merely one symptom of this serious problem of our current public policies: policies of income redistribution from the poor and middle class to the super rich.

Therefore establishing a balanced budget at the Federal level merely shifts the debt burden from the public treasury onto the backs of individuals, who now must borrow more and spend more. Granted those individuals get to spend more as they go deeper and deeper into debt, but the US citizenry is already shouldering enormous soul-crushing debt. This enormous debt creates a financial fragility of great proportions and places all of us in precarious economic straits.

I would not support extending the current federal tax cuts. However, I would support greater personal exemptions and deductions and much lower marginal tax rates for the lowest three tax brackets and much higher marginal tax rates for the higher tax brackets. Such a tax rate restructuring could ensure that those who earn incomes less than the average taxpayer (around $85,000 for an individual and $170,000 for married filers) would pay lower taxes while those receiving income above that level would pay more of their fair share of the tax burden. Those making significantly greater than the average taxpayer income would pay a significantly greater effective (average) tax rate. For Example, billionaire Warren Buffet claims to pay a tax rate of about 15% of his income, which is much lower than most Americans earning significantly less than Warren Buffet.

Our military budget has ballooned out of control. In terms of spending cut priorities, the military budget has to be our first target for deep cuts. By some estimates we are now spending nearly $1 trillion on our military each year. The US and its NATO allies outspend the rest of the entire World by nearly nearly three times. The US alone spends around 50% of all of the World’s military expenditure. And to what end? The entire purpose of the US military is to defend the US against attack. Yet on September 11, 2001 we learned that $1 trillion in annual expenditure gets us nothing. The US military completely failed us in its mission on September 11th. The one time when it was tested in many of our lifetimes, and it failed miserably. Yet our US military industrial complex was able to avoid any scrutiny for this failure. Not only has our military failed in its mission, but it also is actively fomenting discontent against the US around the globe. The US military has allowed thousands of our troops to die without any clear mission, without even pausing for a moment of introspection to wonder what the goals of the mission might be. They have gotten caught up in their own lies and propaganda so much that they do not know why they fight.

2) Congress is debating reform of the U.S. health care system. What specific steps should the U.S. take to improve health care access and delivery? Do you support a government-sponsored health insurance plan? How can the U.S. curb the growth in health care spending?

Healthcare is a very unique service. First, health insurance – like all insurance – is an inherent natural monopoly industry. The statistical concept of the “law of large numbers” implies that the larger an insurance fund, the greater its ability to predict risk outcomes. Though two people can form a health insurance fund, they both may become chronically ill draining the insurance fund very quickly. However when 300 million participate in a health insurance fund the fund managers and actuarials can easily predict when obligations will come due. This is true of all insurance funds whether for health insurance or any other type: all insurance funds simply allow the participants to pool their risk, by collecting premiums and paying out benefits. The law of large numbers always applies and therefore the tendency toward monopoly is strong.

My view regarding all inherent natural monopolies is that they only way to run them in a manner serving the needs of the people is to run them as a transparent public bureaucracy answerable to democratic legislative bodies and adhering to principles laid out through democratic means. In a sense this describes the ideal operation of the inherent monopolies in all functions of government we already have whether criminal justice, civil courts, national defense, economic stabilization, economic regulation and so forth. To allow any of these inherent natural monopolies to be run by private monopoly or oligopoly cartels sets up an oligarchy against the people in these services and throughout government. The insurance industry has a term for this: adverse incentive. By handing over our inherent natural monopolies to private for-profit cartels we encourage those oligarchs to pursue their own incentives which are adverse to the people. For example, the health insurance industry is now pursuing overhead payouts such as executive bonuses, dividends and other lucrative payouts that increase overhead to over 25% of the insurance fund. This is clearly unethical and should be made criminal. Moreover the insurance companies have an incentive to increase this overhead still further against the people’s interest which is to reduce overhead to the minimum level necessary.

Secondly, healthcare is not even like other insurance. Other insurance rightly includes deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket expenses to try to align the incentives of each policyholder with the interests of the collective fund. For most insurance (auto insurance, for example) this is a very necessary feature. However for health insurance the policy holder already has ample incentive to avoid injury, disease, chronic illness and so on without adding any monetary penalties. Moreover, deductibles and co-payments can actually cause health costs to rise as the policy holders avoid early detection and early medical treatment that can help save lives, reduce pain, and minimize costs.

• Accordingly, I would support HR676 to bring a single-payer healthcare system, like medicare for all

3) What changes in revenue and benefits do you support to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent?

Social Security is largely solvent. We have been repeatedly sold a lie about the insolvency of Social Security. Social Security has savings of over $4 trillion dollars. It will remain in the black until 2027 by even the most conservative estimates. It will draw down its savings after 2027 well into the 2030s. The youngest of the baby boomers will turn 80 in 2040 (reaching beyond their life-expectancy); many will already have lived well-beyond their life-expectancy. If Social Security needs to borrow a little to get past the baby boomers, that will not be a problem. Our economy continues to grow and productivity increases amply. That means the obligation on future generations to produce for those reaching retirement will be smaller than it is today. If there is anything unwise in the management of funds in Social Security it is its requirement to lend those funds to the US Federal general fund which has unwisely spent so many trillions of dollars on military adventurism and subsidies to monopoly corporations. The attempts to paint Social Security as insolvent represent the very same corporate oligarch’s attempts to prepare to renege on those loans which, though ostensibly between different funds of the same government – have vastly different revenue formulas. In other words a failure to maintain our Social Security system would constitute yet another welfare for the rich program redistributing massive amounts of income from the vast majority of Americans to the super-rich oligarchs who control our military-financial-industrial complex.

Medicare, on the other hand, is a serious concern. However, the concern for Medicare is the same concern for all healthcare. The projected insolvency of Medicare is due entirely to the rapidly increasing costs of healthcare in the US. Moreover, Medicare costs are actually increasing slower than other healthcare costs, so the insolvency of Medicare will occur sometime after everyone else – everyone outside of Medicare and also outside the Medical Industrial Complex – faces their own insolvency and bankruptcy.

The way to address the unsupportable obligations of Medicare in the future is to get a handle on the uncontrollably increasing medical costs throughout every sector of the economy today. And the way to do that is to implement a single-payer healthcare system as quickly as possible by passing HR676 and moving that bill through the Senate and on to Presidential signing as quickly as possible.

4) What are your views on the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq? Should the U.S. change the focus of its antiterrorism campaign?

The US should begin to immediately plan a controlled and systematic, though unconditional, withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq. The US should attempt to involve the UN and UN Peacekeeping missions within these regions to minimize any additional trauma upon the civilian populations. The US should also be prepared to pay some reparations to Afghanistan and Iraq in the process of withdrawal. However, even massive reparations would involve much fewer funds than the budgets currently funding these aggressive military operations.

The US antiterrorism campaign should be treated instead as a response to a criminal act warranting an international criminal investigation. The perpetrators should be investigaged as criminals, they should be identified, they should be extradited (if necessary), and they should be brought to the United States for trial. No other civilian communities around the World should be bombed into oblivion in a misguided attempt to avoid genuine counter-terrorism efforts.

5) Should the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed? If so, where should the detainees be transferred? Should the inmates be tried by military commissions or civilian courts?

The US should immediately vacate the entire Guantánamo Bay naval base. The US has never had a problem detaining prisoners and the invention of this problem to create a false controversy is unconscionable. Moreover, Cuba has indicated the United States is no longer welcome to use Guantánamo Bay for its naval operations and we should honor their national sovereignty. The detention center is no different than any other detention center and the detainees are no more dangerous than other detainees currently held all around the US.

First and foremost, we need to understand how the United States was dragged into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when neither of these countries attacked the United States so that this never happens again. In any event, the detainees in Guantánamo Bay that are prisoners of war should be returned to their homes as we quickly cease aggressions against their homelands. For those detainees held for criminal actions – like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – they should be immediately moved to a civilian Federal detention facility within the US, immediately restored all the rights due them by the United States Constitution, and tried for their alleged crimes. The continued Executive branch delays and equivocation in these criminal investigations is reprehensible and shows a weakness toward these crucial criminal prosecutions.

6) Some provisions of the Patriot Act will expire at the end of this year, including ones allowing roving wiretaps and subpoenas of medical, business and library records without informing the person being investigated. Should these provisions be renewed, and if so, should Congress put tighter restrictions on their use?

The USAPATRIOT Act should be repealed immediately. This unconstitutional act was pushed through Congress by an administration unwilling to adhere to their Constitutional oath of office and by a Congress blind-sided by that administration’s imperial aspirations. The USAPATRIOT Act constitutes an expansion of government beyond those powers granted to it by the US Constitution.

7) What specific changes would you make to financial oversight of banks and financial institutions in the U.S. so that no single large entity could pose a systemic risk to the economy? Would you like to see more or less power given to the Federal Reserve Board? Would you favor a new federal regulator to oversee financial products sold to consumers?

There are two major problems with our banking sector. First, we have allowed the banks to surreptitiously usurp control of our monetary system. Our monetary system should be clearly separated from our financial system. The best way to accomplish this separation is to require 100% reserves on all checkable demand deposits. Checking accounts are a specialized form of electronic money alongside paper currency and coins that have been muddled up by the banks with savings accounts and other financial instruments. Banks currently have free reign to use savings deposits at their whim (i.e., a very low reserve requirement), however we must impose a 100% reserve requirement on checking deposits. The economist Irving Fisher offered a plan to accomplish this reform during the Great Depression but his pleas were ignored. Today a plan such as Irving Fisher’s could potentially reduce our national debt by as much as $2 trillion all by itself.

The best way to achieve this today is to break the Federal Reserve apart and distribute its powers to democratic controlled and transparent institutions. The powers to be broken apart are: 1) Banking regulation which should not be handled by a banking cartel, but instead handled by a separate financial regulator; 2) The Automated Clearing House, a monopoly electronic money system, should be moved to a transparently operated department within the Executive Branch; 3) The power to originate money and set its value should be restored to the US Congress as the US Constitution requires; 4) the income from new money origination – what economists call seignorage – should accrue to the public treasury as expenditure rather than to the Federal Reserve colluders as permanent debt, which is a major program of corporatist welfare; 5) statistical gathering to determine the proper rate to increase the stock of money should be vested in a new Congressional Monetary Office; 6) the lender of last resort power of the Federal Reserve should be eliminated since it will no longer be needed for monetary stability.

The above steps will go a long way to restore monetary stability to our economy as well as disperse the many powers that have been unconstitutionally vested in an undemocratic and opaque institution like the Federal Reserve banking cartel. It will also go a tremendous way toward decentralizing monetary operations. Computer technology has largely eliminated the need for banks to involve themselves in monetary operations however the Federal Reserve banking cartel uses their monopoly powers to insinuate themselves into the monetary affairs of the American people and to charge immense fees (over $15 billion per year by some estimates). Today most consumer banking operations can be handled by most any individual in the privacy of their own home. For those needing technical and budgetary assistance, family, community groups, and even retailers can provide such assistance gratis or for a modest fee. We no longer need oligopoly banks if banks at all.

The second problem with our banking sector is that the insurance components of our credit markets should likewise be provided through a democratically controlled transparent public institution to avoid oligarchical influence.

8‌) During the depths of the economic crisis, the U.S. government inserted itself in the private sector to a degree not seen since the 1930s. Does the level of government involvement in the private sector concern you? If so, how would you extricate the government? Do you believe the government should regulate executive pay in the private sector?

The problem is not government involvement in the private sector. A serious problem we do face is the involvement of the private sector in the domain of government. The problem is oligarchical usurpation of powers belonging rightly to the people of the United States of America. We need to minimize oligarchical involvement in the private affairs of the people. The best way to accomplish this is to ensure all inherent natural monopolies are operated transparently through democratic institutions for the people, by the people, and of the people.

The failure to wrestle control from these oligarchs and restore control to the people did not begin in the 1930’s. However the oligarchs did powerfully resist any attempts to restore our democratic institutions throughout the First Great Depression. These oligarchs infect every part of public life. They see to it that their own profits are immense by hitting all other businesses and individuals in their pocketbook. Every successful monopoly price gouging represents a loss to all of their customers. In a competitive market, competitive forces eliminate this possibility. However for inherently natural monopoly industries there are few forces to keep the monopolists and oligopoly cartels from essentially robbing consumers: both business and individual consumers. These oligarchs also dump their costs onto the public sector and declare themselves financial geniuses for bilking the public out of their taxpayer supported funds.

We cannot allow inherent natural monopolies to be operated by private for-profit monopolists and oligopoly cartels without undermining every other US citizen in the process. By transparently operating inherent natural monopolies as democratically controlled institutions we disperse power and prevent it from concentrating into the hands of oligarchs in the first place. For example, having our monetary system operated for the benefit of the public rather than the profits of the oligarchs lifts the burden of transaction fee gouging off of the public. Doing so also allows even the poor to participate in modern electronic monetary systems without facing malicious and capricious charges that punishes the poor to a much greater degree than anyone else. The same could be said of our transportation networks, our communication networks, our energy grids, our insurance funds and even many aspects of credit intermediation. None of these inherent natural monopolies should be vested in private for-profit and oligarchical hands. The best way to end oligarchical control over our government and our markets is to end these private monopolists. Having ended the intrusion of private monopolies into the proper domain of government we will simultaneously eliminate much of the need for government regulation.

The government has no place in regulating executive pay in the private sector. However the calls for such regulation are a misplaced attempt to address a real problem. The government has been called on by oligarchs to erode labor unions and the power of all Americans for so long that now we Americans are simply trying to get back some crumbs of the feast these oligarchs have enjoyed at our expense. The average CEO now earns over 300 times that of the average worker. Control of government must be restored to the people or this rapidly increasing trend of perverse income distribution will only get worse.

The more serious concerns about government intrusion relate to a whole host of unconstitutional actions of government from the drug wars, the USA PATRIOT Act, the latest FISA bill granting telecom immunity, the War Powers Act, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against Terrorism, and so forth. These are all involved in an overarching attempt to expand government by picking away at the limits imposed on government and, in in the process, eroding the rights of the people.

9) Should a vacancy in the U.S. Senate be filled through appointment by the governor or through direct election by voters?

In general I prefer a more democratic process and so I feel that a vacancy in elected office should be filled through a public election. However, I also feel there are times when an interim appointment might be warranted to give Illinois voters representation in Washington until a proper election can be held. For example, the recent appointment of Roland Burris by the Illinois Governor was entirely appropriate as an interim measure, but a special election should have been held in 2009 to democratically elect someone to serve out the remainder of the term.

I would support changes in Illinois to make the process more democratic such as allowing the party to temporarily fill the vacancy or requiring legislative confirmation of gubernatorial appointments. However this is largely a state issue and not one relating to Congress.

10) The Obama administration has committed $4.35 billion for education reform through its Race to the Top program. It’s not clear yet if Illinois will qualify for this money. Please give us your views on how to improve public education in the U.S. and in this state. Do you support performance pay for teachers? Charter schools?

In my view, education is best handled at the local level through egalitarian, transparent, and democratic oversight. At the level of Federal government, we should limit the role merely to providing aid to disadvantaged communities and ensuring human rights of students are not abridged by local communities exercising any unseemly tyranny of the majority. Such Federal intervention should include minimum standards for plurality at the local level to accommodate the disabled and special educational needs, as well as provide a healthy education environment for everyone regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity, race, income, wealth, disability, or sexual-orientation.

The Federal government can also play an important role in developing shared educational materials and teaching aids for optional use by community-oriented curricula. Such Federal involvement lifts enormous burdens off of local communities by leveraging the tremendous efficiencies afforded by the economies of scale at the Federal level. Such materials should be driven by the shared needs of local communities and made optionally available to communities for the low average cost of production. Such a Federal role provides communities an option for education materials – communities which today must turn to private corporations to provide branded materials meant foremost to bond students to these corporate brands and only secondarily intended to assist with their education.

Aside from this limited Federal role, the remainder of educational policy should be on the state and local level. States too should play a similar role as the Federal government but more tailored to the needs of their specific locale. Curricula and governance decisions should be made at the most local level possible such as local school councils comprised of parents teachers, and community activists.

At this local level I would encourage local school councils to include in their curricula many things: 1) a healthy component of civics that teaches students how to engage in political activities, conflict resolution, cooperation, deliberation and debate; 2) the inclusion of practical hands-on learning that makes use of craft production and practical problem solving to motivate more abstract topics such as arithmetic, geometry, reading, writing, logic. Such tangible craft production should involve greater integration of computers, including visualization software, to help motivate students and to help stimulate students in better understanding the abstract concepts behind their tangible work; 3) a deemphasis on test-taking and reductionist methods of evaluation of students, teachers and schools.

Regarding this last point, it is far more important to create schools where education is the very air students, parents and teachers breathe rather than to try to match teacher compensation and raises to some reductionist measure of their work. Such reductionist evaluations end up leading those involved to “teach to the test”: in other words, to only focus on the limited and necessarily short-sighted proxies for education, rather than on education itself.

Obama”s Race to the Top program is clearly a program that overreaches in terms of the proper role for Federal government. In the process it serves as another redistributive program getting more money to the wealthier school systems.

11) In an essay of no more than 500 words, please explain your qualifications and goals for this office.

My education, particularly my graduate studies in economics, has provided me with a unique grasp of the problems facing our Federal government today. My civic participation has likewise provided me with concrete, hands-on experience in addressing the real problems of America’s citizens.

Economics is a valuable scholarly pursuit. The term “economics” was introduced into our contemporary canon by Aristotle and comes from the Greek, oikonomika (οἰκονομία), meaning to manage the household. However, far too often economics is used as a tool for oligarchs to undermine government and to swindle the people out of their hard-fought and hard-won government: a government established and instituted to secure the rights of the people. Economics at its best, helps us better manage our households: our own families and communities. Both private enterprise and government should be measured by how well they serve the needs of our families and communities. However in recent years we have allowed the purpose of these institutions to be turned against us. Instead of asking private enterprise and government to serve the genuine human needs of families and communities, we instead have let private enterprise take control of and regulate our government to turn families and communities into just so many disposable “inputs” into the insatiable production process of private enterprise.

At one time government only issued corporate charters on a temporary basis and only for those corporations that demonstrated how they would serve the needs of the public. Today corporate charters are issued without question as if a corporate charter constitutes some divine entitlement of every corporatist to limited liability and all the other benefits of corporate personhood. We now no longer ask how and whether private enterprise will serve the needs of our families and communities. Instead our public policy debates are wholly immersed in how much money is being made by private enterprise? How much more did we produce this year over last year? How many jobs can we create (meaning how much more burden on workers can we create)? Our entire public debate has been debased into constantly clamoring for protection of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations on the planet, as if they are somehow feeble and poor and worthy of our sympathies and protection from government. Meanwhile those actually feeble and poor are attacked and vilified as a burden on taxpayers and on government.

Any burden that does exist for taxpayers is because we taxpayers – we citizens – have given away the store. Or more precisely our leaders in the legislative, executive, judicial, and the forth estate, the press, have given away the public treasures to the corporatist oligarchs running the largest corporations on the planet in a perverse system of welfare for the rich. These reverse Robin Hoods have taken from US citizens to fund their own lavish lifestyles, but have also taken from US citizens to fund a whole new sector of the economy devoted only to cheating one another out of what others have produced: what economists call “rent-seeking”. While we need finance and financial institutions to serve our families and communities, we have nurtured and fostered financial institutions that spend most of their time trying to figure out how to capture the hard work of others for their own benefit. They pay themselves wild bonuses to reward themselves for successful scams.

While we need transportation networks, communication networks, energy grids, insurance funds and a monetary system we have turned over these institutions to oligarchs who figure out what the maximum amount of the public’s funds that can abscond with before anyone resists.

We support foreign invasions that obliterate entire communities in search of a ragtag band of criminals – many of whom died in suicidal missions against the United States. We support these wars for a feeling of vengeance, but we exact a vengeance against men, women and children who had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks against the US. Meanwhile those who did commit these viscous acts live in a comfort, freed from pursuit, since the US has found a scapegoat in the aggression against innocent Muslims in the Mideast rather than those actually culpable.

My goals for this office are to drastically shift our public debate from the narrow confines of the corporatist oligarchs, who currently dominate that debate, to a discussion of the genuine human needs of all other Americans: what the framers of our Constitution called “promoting the General Welfare”. Government has grown immense, not in promoting the General Welfare, but because it has been seized by corporate oligarchs who now direct government solely for their own narrow parochial interests. And their own interests – by their own reckoning – is merely the constant voracious appetite for more and more money. Much of government has been perverted into serving their never ending pursuit of more and more money – in a word: greed. The current United States government has therefore pursued the goal of the specific well-being of these oligarchs against the General Welfare of the rest of America.

If government can be made to instead serve the genuine human needs of the vast majority of families and communities, then that lifts our burdens greatly. Such a government will necessarily make bureaucracy smaller. With such a government we can end deficit spending and pay down the national debt. However, such a government will not only lift our burden in terms of taxes. All of the exorbitant user fees we currently pay to natural monopolists (such as energy distributors, cell phone companies, cable providers) can also be reduced. For example, when our railways are run as public commons in the interests of the people the usual profits enjoyed by the private monopoly enterprise operating such a railway can either be directed toward the public treasury, lowering taxes, or directed through fee reductions to the users of the system. Either way the burden on US citizens is reduced. Which way we go is necessarily a public policy issue best addressed through democratic deliberation. If we want to encourage railway use over private vehicles, we distribute the profits to the users of the railway system in the form of lower user fees. If instead we want to avoid subsidies in railway use, we distribute the profits to the public treasury and lift the burden off of the public treasury and therefore off of taxpayers. Governance is properly just such deliberating over just these sorts of issues.

The lingua franca of the rhetoric used to scam the american people is the language of economics. As a trained economist, I have just the peculiar set of skills necessary to engage the oligopolists who, intentionally or unintentionally, misunderstand all of economics in justifying their greedy pursuit of their own interest. Without the power of the veil of psuedo-scientific economics jargon continuously unleashed by these corporatists, their entire endeavor to swindle the American people falls completely flat. I will not be taken in by their two-step, and my presence in Congress will hopefully help lift this veil which has mesmerized even our most progressive Congressional members.