Rob: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Shaw WMJC 1360AM, out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey. My guest tonight is a presidential candidate, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. Rocky is former two-term Mayor of Salt Lake City. He is the only Mayor of a major city who supported the impeachment of Bush, which for my regular listeners and readers of Opednews.com will be a very welcome piece of information. Welcome to the show Rocky.
Rocky: Rob, thanks very much, great to be with you.
Rob: So, this is a new development, your becoming a candidate. Is that official yet?
Rocky: Well I am a candidate to the nomination of the Justice Party. The Justice Party was formed a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. I announced that I was seeking its nomination. They are developing processes for what it takes to get the party's nomination. We're looking at ballot access issues. The Justice Party just got on the ballot in Mississippi, and there are efforts going on around the country. We have a great group of volunteers in Texas and Colorado, a lot of folks working in California. This has really taken off. One thing that's clear from all the polls, and feedback we're getting, is that the American people have had it with Republicans and Democrats. These two parties have engaged in such a culture of corruption, where monied interests have had their way with both the White House and Congress for so long. It has become so blatant that the public interest is being ignored, while those who have been financing campaigns and who pay all these lobbyists in Washington are controlling our government, completely at odds with the interest of the American people.
So, the idea of a new alternative party that is not just seeking to get new people in positions of power, but instead seeking to change the system, to get the corrupting influence of money out of the system, and bring back a strong middle class and a stable sustainable economy, has garnered much attention. Presently we have economic disparity greater than at any time since the 1920's. We are living in another guilded age and that has to be turned around. But it's only going to happen if we see a systemic change in America. So that's what The Justice Party is all about and it's what my candidacy is all about.
Rob: How do you see this happening, given the two big parties in control now?
Rocky: We've seen so many amazing examples around the world in the last years, with the Arab uprising, with people who have been able to organize at the grassroots level, using social media and democratized means of communicating and organizing. This can happen here. People elsewhere have put their lives on the line and overthrown long term dictatorships. They've created amazing systemic changes, even with rifles being pointed at them. City squares have people protesting and forcing changes that many thought were impossible. We can overthrow the dictatorship of corrupting money in this country, if we recognize the possibility, envision that, and come together. This can absolutely happen if we bring the American spirit to bear, if people realize that all of us together have far more power than the corporate money that's been buying Congress and The White House for many years.
Rob: You have a history that's pretty liberal, yet you were the mayor of the biggest city in a very red state. Does that give an indication that you know how to work with conservatives?
Rocky: I think it indicates that people look for strong leadership, they look for people who are going to tell them the truth, who aren't going to go back and forth on issues just depending on where the political winds are blowing that day. I love Jim Wallace and his book, God's Politics. He talks about "wet fingered politicians," those who wet their finger in their mouth, then put it up in the air to see where the political winds are blowing. He makes the point that our job is not just to keep re-electing wet-fingered politicians, but that our job, each and every one of us, is to change the wind, to let these people know that we won't put up with it anymore. That's what the Justice Party is about. It's not just my campaign, this is a people's campaign across the board. It's not liberal or conservative, it's just correct. We all know that we're in this together. Our country's interest and our nation's future hinge on setting things straight, getting rid of outrageous corruption and such things as obscene tax cuts for the wealthy, which have left our nation in such a vulnerable position. We need to do what's right, not just expedient.
People who complain about the deficit, accumulated debt, and the interest burden on future generations, only need to look at two things that have happened in the last ten years: the tax cuts, because you need the revenues or you're going to have even more debt build up, and secondly, these incredibly expensive, wasteful wars, which are making us enemies in much of the world. The war of aggression in Iraq has been the epitome of fiscal irresponsibility, as well as moral irresponsibility. By the time we pay off all the interest, since we borrowed rather than paid our way through, for the first time in U.S. history, we are leaving an astronomical bag of debt to future generations. In effect, creating grand larceny against our children and grandchildren.
The Justice Party is about serving the interest of all the American people. It's not a so-called liberal agenda, which I'm not sure anyone knows the meaning of anymore anyway. You look around the world, the rest of the industrialized world for instance, and you'll find that every single nation provides at least minimum essential healthcare for absolutely every citizen. We could have that and we'd have a less expensive system, one with better medical outcomes and universal coverage, were it not for the influence of money coming, mainly, from the medical insurance industry. We see this theme repeated over and over. Corruption of our military industrial complex, tax money that goes to military contractors, who are often little more than bloated pork barrels. They set up agendas contracting outmoded, with useless programs such as the F22. They have contractors or subcontractors in forty-four states, because they know how it works in Congress. All these folks want to send back the pork to their states or their district, so they vote for these multi-billion dollar weapon systems that do nothing to defend us against real dangers. All because they have people in their districts or states bringing money in from those programs.
We need leadership that's going to say no more to this, we're all being impacted by these irresponsible, reckless budget decisions and commitments. We're not prioritizing where we need to to serve the future of our nation, we're not investing in research and development we need to be competitive with the rest of the world. We're not educating our kids to be competitive with the rest of the world. It used to be we mostly competed with one another in this country, now we're competing with students from all over, employees with people in research and development and inventors. There is so much being done by these other nations to bolster their capacity to compete, yet here we have blown these opportunities away.
Rob: I think the way we're going has to do with lobbyists running things, basically telling the politicians they pretty much own them because they've given them the money to run the ads.
Rocky: You're absolutely right.
Rob: This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM. I'm talking with Rocky Anderson, candidate for nomination of the Justice Party, a newly formed party that aims to take care of, is it accurate to say that 99% of Americans?
Rocky: No, it's about 100%. I'm not about demonizing anybody.
Rob: Wait Rocky, I just want to do one thing; let's get your website out there, okay?
Rocky: Thank you, it's http://www.voterocky.org
and there's also http://www.thejusticepartyusa.org
website, but I especially urge people to look at http://www.voterocky.org.
This is a people's movement, a people's campaign. If we want to overcome the influence of big corrupt money in government and our electoral system, everybody needs to step forward and please, please support this campaign with everything you've got, particularly your time and spreading the word in any way you can. Yes, we are looking for contributions, but we've limited those in my campaign to no more than $100 per person per election cycle.
Rob: That would mean $100 for the primary, $100 for the main election, right?
Rocky: That's right. I think this is vital in order to show that we can overcome the influence of corrupt money with a grassroots organization. All major social progress in this country started at the grassroots level and carried forward from there. There has always been a lot of money in opposition, yet real people were able to overcome it. We can still do that in America. I there a lot of folks who are so disgusted with the corruption that they have become cynical and checked out of the system. Unfortunately they as big a part of the problem as anybody, if they're not going to stand up and say we will join together, this really can be done if each and everyone doesn't sit back and wait for someone else to do it, which is to say give the game away. We each must take the responsibility to do our share, not asking whether it can be done, but just doing it.
Rob: What are ways people can help? What are you seeing so far, and what are you looking for from people now? You're talking to people on AM 1360 in South Jersey and the Philadelphia Metro area and to people on our podcast who may be anywhere in the US or the world. For the people in South Jersey and Philadelphia, let's say, what can they do?
Rocky: First of all, go to our website and make a contribution. We want to see hundreds of thousands, eventually millions of people behind this campaign, become part of this. Go to our website, make a contribution, let us know that you're available to help out in your state to organize. My campaign will be looking for people in each state to work with the campaign. The Justice Party is looking for people to help get on the ballot in every state. As I said, we've got some great volunteers in several states lined up, now we need to build this into a massive movement.
The Republicans and Democrats, this duopoly on political power around the country in so many states has made it almost impossible for alternative parties to get on the ballot. They have made it impossible through the Presidential Debate Commission, an arm of the Democratic and Republican parties, for alternative candidates to be involved in debates. The American people, meaning you and me, can change that. We just need to rise together and say no more; this duopoly is not going to do what it wants with the American people any longer. It is going to take every one of us doing our share, we all have a role to play.
So, contributing to the campaign through our website, http://www.voterocky.org
, letting us know that you're available to help out to volunteer with our organizing efforts, we've got a button that you can click to either start or find a team in your area if there's not already a team; start a team, pass along your information, let the whole country know that you're behind this campaign and that you're available to work with others in your area to spread the word. Once people hear our message, it doesn't matter if previously they were Republican, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, or Greens. They understand and support a candidate that is saying we can change all of this, that the system needs to be changed. I am not out to just be a player in this corrupt system, I don't want to go back and worry the first day after my election about having to raise money for re-election, which is what these people do. You hear this from members of Congress. The first thing they do out of the shoot is start making those money calls.
Rob: You mentioned how the big changes have happened throughout the world, but they didn't work within the system; yet running for President is working within the system. If you don't want to be a player in this corrupt system after you're elected, I don't know how that's going to happen. I'm not trying to give you a hard time. Your vision is something very attractive, but how do you make that quantum leap?
Rocky: You make the quantum leap by getting people in power who are saying I'm not going to be part of that system, I'm not going to take corporate money, I'm not going to bow down and veto the EPA like President Obama did when the EPA was going to further restrict ozone emissions. You think he woke up one day and said, "This would be great public policy, this is in the public interest, I ought to encourage the EPA in trying to make the air healthier and cleaner for American citizens." We know why he went against our interests and those of the planet. He did it because of the impact of polluting industry's money. We need people who are going to point this out, who are gong to provide the leadership, because we can change the Constitution. If we're going to have the Supreme Court with the majority of one justice, as in the United Citizens' Case, say that corporations are people, which is the most absurd proposition in the world, if that's how it's going to be. Then we need to change the Constitution. That's how you get around those kinds of decisions.
American people would support an amendment of the Constitution saying that there can be limits imposed or total bans imposed on corporate money in our political system.
Rob: What about corporations, what do you have to say about them?
Rocky: Corporations are not people. There's this sign, I loved it, that said, "I'll believe corporations are people as soon as they execute one in Texas." The purpose of corporations is to make as much money as possible for shareholders. That's what the directors and officers have a fiduciary duty to do. They don't have a fiduciary duty to clean up the water, to provide better quality of life for people in American communities. They can be sued by shareholders if they spend their money doing those kinds of things, rather than maximizing the financial return for the shareholders. Henry Ford tried to do that, he tried to keep the price down on cars so that the people could benefit from this new method of manufacturing automobiles, and he was sued over it. The court said, "No, you're responsibility isn't to the American people and keeping the prices down for them and letting them enjoy the benefits of this new manufacturing. Your job is maximize profits." So the heart and soul of what people are has nothing to do with what corporations are. Corporations bear no resemblance to people. The idea that they're persons under the Constitution and that they should enjoy the same rights to guide our political system in their direction, is no more than a call for a plutocracy, which is what we've got in this country now--rule by the wealthy, rather than a democracy and government in the public interest.
Rob: Mitt Romney says corporations are people.
Rocky: I've heard him. He's been in that corporate mentality for some time. I'm sure all of us like Mitt Romney, a real nice guy face to face, but I think it's utterly immoral to say that corporations are people, that they bear any resemble to people. Corporations are a way of making money for a privileged few, then shielding those people from personal liability for whatever they do in business. It's a way to get people to invest and maximize a return on their investments, nothing more.
When I talk about investments I'm talking solely about money, not the investment of their heart, their soul, their commitment to the community, their commitment to the health, peace and the public welfare. If we want to truly promote the public welfare, if we want to promote the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it isn't about handing things off to corporations and letting them do as they will with our government. It's about our government doing what's in the public interest. Every public policy disaster that we have in this country, whether it's a failure to deal with what will be catastrophic consequences, climate change, failure to provide international leadership to prevent conflict, failure to clean up the air in our communities, failure to reduce our deficits and accumulated debt, it all comes down to leadership.
But now, it's as if we've taken out credit cards in our children's names, then gone out and recklessly run them through the ceiling, to carry on or create needless wars and a massive military budget. Then we're handing this off to our kids and grandkids and saying, "Oh, by the way, not only do you have this debt and the interest to pay off, but we're going to be doubling the number of people on social security and we're going to be looking to you to put into the social security system enough to take care of those obligations to all of us."
Rob: If you're going to make any progress and get any traction, you're going to have to pull from the dependents and Democrats and maybe even some Republicans. What elements of your campaign will attract people who are independents or conservatives?
Rocky: Again, I don't put much into those labels because we all have an enormous interest in doing what we can to build upon the American dream, which has been diminished traumatically. So, those who consider themselves conservatives are going to very much like what I have to say on fiscal matters. I've been saying it for years. I ran for Congress in 1996 and was talking about the importance of either balancing the budget or getting to the point where we have budget surpluses except in times of recession or national emergencies. We should certainly never commit to fight a war and not pay for it as we go along to the extent that we can. To lay the cost of these wars on later generations is outrageous and it directly diminishes our capacity to do the things that need to be done if we're going to maintain a competitive edge with the rest of the world. That means a greater investment in education, in innovation, in research and development, in making this a country that is welcoming to talented immigrants. The anti-immigrant sentiment in this country among certain people has had a detrimental impact, a brain drain on America. We educate people from other countries who then go home to other places, which are far more welcoming and where it's not as difficult to get your citizenship and work through the immigration issues.
We need to build up our economy, make it strong and sustainable over time. What has happened in the last ten years has been disastrous. It has cut off a lot of opportunities, when we could be doing so many great things as a nation. When the interest that you're paying on the national debt is more than what it costs to run twelve departments of our federal government, you can see the tremendous waste. Imagine in your household if the interest that you ran up on your American Express card was more than what you were paying for your mortgage, your car payment, your kids' education. You'd know that something was wrong, you'd look back and say all that wild reckless spending was a huge mistake and it's time to change our ways.
So I'm as fiscally conservative a person as anybody will ever meet. It astounds me that people who have called themselves fiscal conservatives in the past, the Ronald Reagans and the George W. Bushes, have actually driven up our nation's accumulated debt to record levels. They've been utterly irresponsible with our government. It's been a bipartisan deal: Democrats and Republicans alike who brought us to this point. It took Democratic support for the Bush tax cuts to be put in place initially and then President Obama folded on that issue. I would not have folded on the Bush tax cuts, I would have made my case to the American people, I would have made it impossible for the Republicans ever to say that they're not going to raise taxes, because you simply can't do it, you're lying to the American people to say that we can have a sustainable economy and that we can get out of our fiscal difficulties without bringing in the necessary revenues, which includes tax increases, but at the same time we're doing that and cutting spending, we must keep up our investments in those other areas, our nation's infrastructure, education, research and development.
Rob: You brought up Obama, let's talk about him. As a candidate, how will you deal with him? Like for example, Newt Gingrich has been attacking Romney. How will you approach Obama and his policies and actions?
Rocky: President Obama I think has been the greatest disappointment in terms of leadership, following probably the greatest and most successful campaign ever run. He had so much promise coming into office and then what does he do, he disparages the rule of law, completely undermines it, saying we're just going to work forward and not backwards. When people violated the War Crimes Act of 1996, when they violated the Federal Anti-torture Statute passed by Congress, he says we're not going to do anything about it. Or about those who committed felonies and engaged in wiretapping of American citizens. Now, he signs a bill that gives him the authority to point to anybody, including people in this country, and have them basically kidnapped, put away indefinitely, no legal representation, no charges and no trial; it is absolutely un-American.
Obama is ramping up the war in Afghanistan. He first increases our number of number of troops by 30,000 and then come election, campaign time he decides ok, we're going to scale that down, now even with the scale down, a lot of people misunderstand this, he's only aiming at getting to the same number of troops that we had there before the surge. He hasn't done anything to accomplish a net reduction of troops in Afghanistan.
On healthcare, his plan is a disaster, even if it is fully implemented, and there are serious questions about that. There will be 23 million people in this country without essential healthcare services, that means a lot of people are going to die, they're not getting the early diagnoses, they're not getting the preventative treatment. We have become the only country in the entire industrialized world that has failed so miserably, yet we're paying almost double per capita for healthcare what the average person in the rest of the industrialized world pays. Our medical outcomes are mediocre. If this were a corporation and you got results like that from your board of directors and your officers, you'd fire them in a heartbeat.
Rob: What is your take on Medicare?
Rocky: Improved Medicare for everybody, everybody in, nobody out, that ought to be the system. There are some countries in the industrialized world that have multiple payers, but none of them rely for essential healthcare services on for-profit insurance companies. That's the big difference, that's why it's so incredibly expensive, one of the reasons. When you include in what we call your healthcare dollars, insurance premiums, the profits for shareholders, the big bonuses for the executives, salespeople and all the rest, all the marketing that goes into it, if you took that money out of the for-profit insurance system and put it into healthcare, everybody in this country would be covered.
Rob: Let's talk about student loans. We have a writer on our site who suggested that we could do with students what we've done with banks. The Federal Reserve issued money, trillions of dollars to help banks out, to take care of their bad debts. It's being suggested that the same thing could be done, without raising the national debt, that the Federal Reserve could issue money to pay off all student loans.
Rocky: I'd love to read that because there needs to be a solution. There are so many students who don't have the job opportunities that they expected. This is classic in terms of the corrupting influence of money and the way the lobbyists work their magic, to the detriment of the rest of the country. A lot of federal money goes into these loan programs and you have all these private universities, private colleges; the Art Institute for instance is owned I understand by Goldman Sachs, so they get all these students, some of them may not have the talent, may not have the capacity to make it on the outside, there may not be the jobs on the outside at the end of the day. So Congress had a fairly modest proposal that there be no more federal money going to these loan programs where these schools weren't equipping students to get jobs at the end of the road.
Well, these private university owners were putting millions of dollars into their lobbyists, there was a huge push, especially on the Democratic side, you had people like former speaker Gephart as a lobbyist, all these folks lined up, people who worked on Obama's staff, who end up having their way with the United States Congress because the White House backed off. They weren't out there pushing for this anymore and so all of that reform legislation was significantly watered down because of what these lobbyists were able to accomplish. You or I couldn't do that. President Obama, when he was in the Senate, said that select telecom companies were going to be held liable. It looked like there were going to be prosecutions for their felonies of turning over private information, not all of them since some didn't participate; but many did participate with the Bush Administration, handing over private information about customers and an illegal surveillance program.
They were about to be prosecuted for felonies under federal law, so they spent $12 million in three months on lobbyists and they got their way, once again, with Congress and President Obama, who before he got the Democratic nomination said that he would join a filibuster and block this legislation. After he got the nomination he turned 180%, betrayed his promises and voted for immunity for the felonies.
Rob: $12 million? That sounds like a bargain.
Rocky: These folks got a good return on their investments. President Obama received more from Wall Street during his last campaign than any other person in the history of this country. It's paid off well, since there hasn't been one person held criminally responsible for the massive financial fraud that created the economic disaster that the American people, and a lot of people around the world, are still suffering from.
Rob: What's your take on the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and will it play any role in your campaign?
Rocky: I am thrilled to see what's happening with the Occupy Movement around the country. When I was mayor and speaking out against what was happening in Iraq and against the human rights' violations and numerous other outrageous shenanigans under the Bush Administration, I was saying similar and identical things. Basically undercutting the core of our Constitution, having a President claiming to be above the law because he was head of the unitary executive branch, then we have what is otherwise known as tyranny.
During my time as mayor, I kept asking where are the people in this country who are opposed to this, why aren't we all out in the streets, why are we shutting cities down, why aren't we letting our leaders know this is not the United States of America we believe in, you can't do this to our country anymore. Well, that's now what the Occupy Movement is doing, they are saying we've had enough, we need to stand up against this, we have got to provide the kind of grassroot leadership that over time has brought so much social progress in this country. We started with the Anti-slavery Movement, the Woman's Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement, and much of that time the people were up against big money, yet they prevailed.
So there is a huge convergence between what the Occupy Movement is standing for, the changes they want to see, and what we're doing in this campaign. I'm thrilled about it, it has been absolutely fantastic. There are so many people in this country who are supportive because they understand the huge economic disparity, the kind of problems that we have in this plutocracy, not only lack of jobs but the damage being done to the future by not providing the educational opportunities and investing our infrastructure and our research and development.
There is as Tom Friedman talks about with Michael Mandelbaum, a formula for great American success. Our leaders and corporations are only looking at short term economic benefits for the very wealthy, while either completely forgetting or else betraying that simple formula. They don't seem to have any concern about the sustainable values that the American people have adhered to in the past and that we need to get back to. We have got to recognize that we are all in this together. There ought to be as many Republicans as Libertarians who agree on this. By the way, Utah Libertarians agree; even the head of the party indicated he is supporting my race and the Justice Party in this election. We're going to see more of that, we're seeing people from Progressive Democrats of America, who are saying we've had it, we're coming over to the Justice Party, because this is what we believed in all along.
Rob: What would you say to Ron Paul supporters, largely Libertarians. How would you address them in terms of getting them on board with The Justice Party?
Rocky: I think Ron Paul supporters like him because he has provided what they see as the only real alternative voice. He has been against our various wars, but he's also against any U.S. intervention, meaning he would have opposed us stopping the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Eight hundred thousand people were killed while the United States turned a blind eye, because of what I think were very cynical political calculations by the Clinton Administration.
Rob: Instead of criticizing him, what similar interests can you attract Libertarians with?
Rocky: I like to think that his supporters understand that we provide a strong voice on the things that matter most to them. Like our opposition to wars of aggression, or like a privileged few dictating important policies that affect everyone. I hope that reading this interview and checking http://www.voterocky.org
will help. I'd approach some things differently than Ron Paul, but I don't think he'd turn the show over to the politicians, and certainly not allow political decisions to have so much impact on the American people, without oversight and a Democratic response.
But I think a huge difference, and I think this would be attractive to most Ron Paul's supporters in terms of what we stand for, is that we believe government can be a real force for good. For instance, I think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an important step forward and it's made a huge substantial difference in our government and in race relations. Ron Paul opposes that kind of thing as racial discrimination, banning that by government as an imposition on personal liberty. I disagree with him there. I also think that we need reasonable government regulation when it comes to corporate environmental practices. We need to clean up our air, our water; we need leadership on climate change. It seems like any person wanting to stay alive on the planet should want that, for themselves and for their children.
Ron Paul would say get government out of it and just observe people's strict property rights. I'm afraid that's not going to bring us to the point of having a cleaner, healthier, safer, more peaceful world. I think that Ron Paul supporters by and large would very much like the approach of the Justice Party, knowing that what we're standing for is a government that represents the interest of the public and not special interests.
Rob: How about marijuana laws? Where do you stand on that?
Rocky: Substance abuse should be considered a matter of public health, rather than a criminal justice matter. It's ridiculous to arrest and put them through the criminal justice system for marijuana offenses. We saw the absurdity of prohibition of alcohol in our Nation's history. Our approach to drugs is even worse in terms of how we're going into other nations and trying to control things at the source. Our drug interdiction policies are draconian.
There's a young man here in Utah who was arrested after three marijuana sales. The informant, after he reported these sales and was going to get his charges dismissed, added after his reporting was done that, "Oh yes! I remember now he had a gun with him." So now there are three gun violations under minimum mandatory federal laws. State law wouldn't have anything near this result, but the man ended up getting a 55-year sentence in the Federal Penitentiary. The judge said that he completely disagreed with it, found that it was very unjust, disproportionate to the offense; but that his hands were tied by Congress and he had to sentence this man to 55 years in the Federal Penitentiary. It has become absolutely insane in this country; this so-called war on drugs.
We lost long ago. We wouldn't have more drugs on the streets if it had been successful. We now need to put these same resources, in fact just a small fraction of these resources, into good, effective drug education and prevention programs. One of the first things I did after becoming Mayor of Salt Lake City was to kill the D.A.R.E. program here, because according to all the literature the program was absolutely ineffective in preventing long term drug abuse. There are good effective programs, but we also need to provide treatment on demand. It's almost at the point now in this country that unless you're very wealthy the only way that you can get good drug prevention or good drug treatment is to be arrested and go through a drug program, or else go to prison and get treatment while you're there. We've got approach this in a much more rational fashion.
I put in place a restorative justice program that was probably just as comprehensive as any in the country. Part of that program was to get people who are in trouble, caught with drug offenses, to be able to enter a plea of guilty that included certain conditions, including treatment. If they successfully completed the program then the charges were dismissed. They had a clean record and in most instances this really worked.
Rob: This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM sponsored by Opednews.com. I'm speaking with Rocky Anderson who is running as a candidate for the Justice Party candidacy. Rocky, you just mentioned you put together a restorative justice program. We've written lot on that at Opednews. Maybe we can get you to talk with one of our experts on it at some time.
Rocky: I would love to do that. If people in this country knew the benefits for everybody from restorative justice, they would get behind it. The cost savings are enormous. It's about problem solving rather than focusing on retribution and punishment. We set up for instance a mental health corp. If somebody was violating the law as a result of mental illness, we would divert them into this program and deal with the mental health issues. That's a good thing for everybody. Then you're really dealing with the long-term problem, so that they don't go through this revolving door on our criminal justice system. We also set up a program for people who were homeless and committing offenses related to their homelessness. We did it with drug offenders; we did it with people engaging in public sex. These are people who went to the park and had sex with strangers, a dangerous practice obviously. Most of them were married, considered themselves to be heterosexual, and yet were engaging in very dangerous sexual practices. These people, unless they face their problems, are not going to revamp their lives.
Same with prostitutes, we had programs for them, not just sending them through that revolving criminal door, but having them address why they were doing this, what brought them to this point, and how they could get to a place in life where they weren't committing these offenses anymore. When somebody offends another, oftentimes there is no empathy, the person may not know the impact that they've had on the other person. So we also established a victim offender reconciliation program.
Rob: I hadn't thought about all the experience you had running a city, but this is something Obama never had when he went into office.
Rocky: You're absolutely right.
Rob: Do you have any statistics or numbers you can tell us about in terms of how you changed things in the city where the numbers got better?
Rocky: Absolutely. For instance, I restored a justice program, though I don't have specific numbers at hand right now, but the reduction and recidivism in all of these areas plummeted. The cost to the criminal justice system plummeted. Instead of putting people in prison, we found ways to keep them out of there, with all the associated costs, and instead to get them engaged and working and paying taxes and being there for their families. This makes all the difference in the world. I am not talking about convicted violent murders or people who are holding people up with guns, I'm talking about non violent offenses where you can help people turn their lives around and make things better for everybody.
I set up a youth program after school and summer program, it's the only one of its kind ever in Salt Lake City's history where it was a citywide program, broad in scope, an amazing program to engage these kids. A lot of great arts programs, a lot of good academic programs to keep them busy and engaged and uplifted. It was so inspiring to see these young people who would just otherwise be hanging at the malls or sitting at home watching TV to be so engaged. I made this point often when I was mayor: If you invest in the front end in productive programs like this, the payoff is so enormous. You can't always show any particular person you've kept out of jail or prison, or from being unemployed, but you know that there are enormous benefits to this sort of thing.
I was on the board of the local school here, Guadalupe Schools, there were two components of it, one was working with immigrants to teach them the English language and job skills and that sort of thing; the other component was survival skills. We started off as K-3rd grade program. I served as President on the Board for two years as a volunteer. We kept talking about the challenges of getting these kids to kindergarten level and how we were always playing catch up, trying to fill in for lost opportunities. I said let's take this back into the earlier years, starting at birth, provide good solid preschool programs and starting working with parents and with the kids at home. Then having an in-school, preschool program part time. When these kids come into kindergarten, most of them from Latino population, all of them from economically disadvantaged homes, after going through this enriched program, did much better.
This would be a model for the entire country if we were serious about breaking the cycle of poverty. These kids scored better than any other school in the Salt Lake City District on Language Skills and Development. It was amazing to see how much better they did because they had these enriched programs during the early years. Any brain physiologist would just say of course that's going to happen, since there is so much development in the brain taking place during those early years. If you don't take advantage of it, you've lost those opportunities forever. So you combine that with the social development, you walk into this class, these kids at Guadalupe Schools, they're attentive, they're polite, they'll stand in line, no pushing, shoving, you compare that with public schools in most places, it's like night and day, it is the most inspiring thing to see.
As President of the United States, I would want to see this kind of thing made available for all of our kids, because it would make the greatest difference, greater than anything else we could do in terms of keeping people in school and having them thrive through their educational careers.
I also think that we should put in place, as we had people many decades ago saying, that for our country to thrive, we need to provide free secondary schools for our kids. We need to be doing the same thing with higher education. Every child in this country that is capable ought to have the opportunity to get at least into a community college, if not a local university.
Rob: Wow. That would be along the lines of getting back all student loans, and students wouldn't have to get them in the future.
Rocky: That's right. And in terms of student loans, again, there needs to be every accommodation made. We have to come down on the predatory lenders, we've got to help schools that are not succeeding. There are ways actually to evaluate successful schools and successful teachers that have worked. But we're betraying our children and we're betraying our future, if we don't do everything we can to improve our educational system and equip our students to compete on a global basis.
Rob: You're giving me a lot more time than you originally offered and I really appreciate it. I want to ask you about two more issues. What is your take and stand on immigration and immigrants?
Rocky: Immigrants are one of the greatest assets that our country has ever had, and I'm not just talking about presently, I'm talking about throughout our nation's history. I believe firmly in the rule of law, but I also know that there has been a sort of conspiracy between the corporate sector and the government, saying we'll just turn a blind eye to those that come into our country that fill certain positions not being filled by our native population. There has been that sort of wink and a nod for people to come in as long as they're working at the right kind of jobs as determined by those who need them. So now there are some 12 to 14 million people in this country who are not properly documented. We need to provide the right kind of help, as long as these folks have lived in a productive, law abiding fashion. They're a huge asset for our country. We're going to have, as we've already seen at times, fruits and vegetables rotting in the fields without providing job opportunities for immigrants. We need a good jobs program, and a good way to permit people to come to this country, to work in many areas of our economy. We've got to provide them a means to stay here and continue with their productive lives and become citizens.
There is a reason that so many immigrants are getting certain jobs, mainly because they're willing to work them. Most of them have great family values, great work ethic, and we ought to tap into that in a way that complies with the law. So we need to make our laws and our practices jive together, so people trying to pursue the American dream do have to keep looking over their shoulder, wondering if they're going to be arrested and deported. As to those with special talents, we need to do everything we can to attract them this country, to let them avail themselves of the good educational opportunities here. And then stay here. Because when they leave our country, we're losing our competitive edge. What a shame if somebody is devising a new technique or process or product that is going to be of great economic advantage, for us to lose them to a nation more welcoming than ours. Immigration is something that we need to reform; we need to do it in a compassionate way that is to the long-term economic advantage and competitive advantage of our nation.
Rob: Last question is a really hard one, I consider it just about the hardest problem in the world and that's Israel Palestine. What is your take on that and how the US should be handling itself?
Rocky: Instability and the Middle East is putting every nation at risk. It is intolerable, and it's a reflection of failure in leadership. The United States of course plays a special role, since we seem to finance much of Israel and its military, regardless of what that country does. The influence of AIPAC has been destructive for our government and the peace process on the whole. Again, that's the corrupting influence of money. When I was running for Congress in 1996 I went to a breakfast sponsored by AIPAC. They basically asked people to stand up and commit to what AIPAC wants. It was disgraceful, I didn't do it, but other people did, and they know where their bread is buttered when they go to Congress or when they're in the White House. I think there needs to be a much more balanced approach. We have to recognize the interest that everybody has in a Palestinian state, with secure borders. It seems that, as usual, our nation continues to exacerbate the problem and drive up hostilities, rather than get everybody to back up and let them see that their own interests are promoted by reaching a long-term peaceful, sustainable solution.
Rob: There is power in this lobby. I am Jewish and I imagine they're going to get all over you for saying this, which puts you at risk at losing a chunk of the Jewish population of what you have just said. What is your response to that?
Rocky: I don't think most of the Jewish population believes that the AIPAC Lobby and the influence it bears in this country is in the long term a good thing for either our country or for peace in the Middle East. I think that Jewish population in this country would get behind someone who wants a peaceful resolution and who is committed to that, one who is also realistic about it. The Iranian government continues to do its saber rattling. Yet there is so much we can do to bring the people of the country of Iran and United States together. There were hundreds of thousands of people in Tehran who came out right after the attacks on our country on 9/11 and held a candlelight vigil, showing massive sympathy and support for the American people, following that attack. Unfortunately, a lot of that goodwill was undermined by President Bush and his administration, even after Iran actually helped us out in Afghanistan. Then all of a sudden Bush surprised them by including them amongst nations that he considered to be "the axis of evil." What destructive diplomacy that was. With an administration that's committed to peace, there is no weakness, peace is in fact strength. We are a much stronger and secure country if we promote good will with other nations, than if we're always promoting hostility, if we're always arming people to the teeth. The way that we've allowed these nations to become armed and have the ability to attack each other is deplorable. Our government promotes this largely because military contractors make huge profits from our taxes in all of this. This needs to be brought under control and is something I would focus on.
I have spoken out about this for many many years and I know that this is possible. Just imagine if the Iranian people heard the President of The United States talk about how the people of both of our nations have been disserved by our governments, how we are all at risk by our governments' reckless policies. Imagine how the Palestinian people would respond if we had a president who said not only that there needs to be a two state solution, but that it's going to happen sooner than later; that justice requires it and we're not going to let up. People are not going to get out of the room when they're negotiating until we reach a deal, and a deal is reachable. I think the Jewish population in this country, as much as anybody wants to see a final resolution and that is going to require a Palestinian state with secure borders on each side.
Rob: Okay. Last question, any ideas about a Vice President?
Rocky: I have some ideas but I think it's premature to talk about that. It's a ways down the road.
Rob: Well, not in terms so much of the name of the person, but maybe what that person would bring to the ticket?
Rocky: Any vice presidential candidate would have to be presidential timber, that person would have to be one of accomplishment. I was going to point out earlier when you talked about my experience, that I've actually been working in these areas with great successes. I urge anybody to take a look at the Wikipedia description of my career, both as a lawyer in the nonprofit community, as mayor, and then as Executive Director of High Road for Human Rights, which I founded. So for a vice president, I would be looking for somebody who not only says the right things during a campaign, like most people do, or try to, but someone who has actually done what they say they plan to do. That's the only way that you know where a person's commitments are, what they're going to do in the future, the past really is an indicator of future behavior. I want to find a person of great accomplishments, somebody that has shown their commitment on the issues that are the most important to our nation.
Fortunately there a lot of people in this country that have done some fantastic things and made a tremendous difference in their lifetimes. This is an opportunity for service, and I don't think there has ever been a more important time of need for leadership, and for turning things around before we truly become second or third rate power, or a country with far less influence than if we were committed to what Friedman calls the formula for American greatness.
Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect,
connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. He's given talks and workshops to Fortune
500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered
first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and
Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful
people on his Bottom Up Radio Show,
and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and
opinion sites, OpEdNews.com
To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click here. Watch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.