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At the conclusion of the Sanders Institute Gathering, RoseAnn De Moro, John Cusack and Bob Pollin discuss the key policy ideas coming out of the sessions, with host Paul Jay

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re in Burlington, Vermont, at the Sanders Institute Gathering. The Gathering takes place as we begin the run up to the 2020 elections; perhaps the most important elections, well, maybe anywhere ever, given what’s at stake with the climate crisis, with the threat of global war, another potential financial meltdown. Humans themselves are at stake here, and what happens in 2020 will go a long way to deciding what kind of future us humans have.

This Gathering was meant, I believe, to create a policy framework for the Sanders and progressive candidates for the movement heading into 2020. The guideline here was don’t trash Trump. Talk about positive policy initiatives and a vision people can fight for. Now we’re going to talk to some of the people who were involved on panels and making this gathering possible, and what was accomplished, and what they think is going to happen next, what needs to be done.

First of all, joining us on my right is John Cusack. He’s a writer, filmmaker, producer, and founding member of the Freedom of Press foundation. John is also co-author of Things That Can and Cannot Be Said.

RoseAnn DeMoro is the former executive director of National Nurses United. She also serves on the board of Consumer Watchdog.

And Robert Pollin is a distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Thank you all for joining us.

JOHN CUSACK: Thanks for having us.

PAUL JAY: RoseAnn, so the gathering was meant to create a policy framework, a vision of going forward. How well did it accomplish these ends?

ROSEANN DEMORO: I think it was phenomenal on just about every level. I regret, actually, that this is the first time I’ve ever actually wanted to stay at a conference longer than it was going, because the people … First of all, the quality of the people, the quality of the ideas. And also people who are engaged in social movements. It’s not just talking about issues, it’s people who propel the social movements, who help the social movements.

JOHN CUSACK: Well, Cornell said justice is what love looks like in public, right? So these policies are what justice looks like in public, I guess. Mother Earth is really pissed off and she doesn’t want any more talk. She wants action, because we’re running out of time. These are people who are into actions, solutions, and are on the ground. It gives you spirit, gives you hope.

PAUL JAY: There’s a very unifying factor for everyone who’s been involved, or will be involved, in the run up to 2020, in terms of the Democratic Party and progressives and such, and that’s, they want to see the end of the Trump presidency. But there were some issues coming out of this Gathering which are not so unified. For example, Medicare for All. Within the Democratic Party itself there’s people quite on other sides of that. A lot of people in the Democratic Party leadership don’t think it’s a doable thing. When they tried to pass it in California, when the nurses were so active, it was sections of the Democratic Party of California that actually stopped it from happening.

ROBERT POLLIN: Well, RoseAnn can speak more to the details of that, but all I can say is when I did the study, commissioned by RoseAnn and the Nurse’s Union for California, I flew out to Sacramento, met with the State Senate one day, I think it was May 30 of 2017. The next day, it passed. So it did pass the State Senate and it, the thing that blocked it was unfortunately my old friend, Jerry Brown, governor, who absolutely was adamant was not going to go for this. Now there’s a new Governor, Newsom. He ran on Medicare for All, so we have to hold him accountable, and it could pass. It would actually be massively transformational for California, where the population is roughly equal to Canada, to have this pass. Which—you know, it wasn’t too far off. Thanks to the Nurse’s Union, it wasn’t too far off, just one year ago. Now we actually have a governor who supports it.

JOHN CUSACK: The state of play is always in change, but if you talk about living wage, Medicare for All, all these issues that Bernie ran on, these were thought totally impossible, radical four years ago, and now they’re completely mainstream, because they’re all interconnected. If the housing crisis doesn’t get worked out, affordable housing, even if you get a living wage of $15 an hour, if people can’t afford to live, right? And that’s connected to gentrification and the idea that we’re not doing anything about jobs and economy. We can’t even talk, in the Obama Administration, we couldn’t even talk about poor people, we could only talk about the middle class.

PAUL JAY: In the Hollywood circles you travel.

JOHN CUSACK: I don’t travel in Hollywood circles.

PAUL JAY: Well, you know Hollywood circles. You may not travel in them. There was a real division during the primary in 2016. And after the defeat of Hillary Clinton, I talked to a lot of people in LA, because I go out there fundraising, and they’re blaming Bernie for Hillary losing. Are you feeling a shift in that at all?

JOHN CUSACK: I hope to God that the Democratic Party will get over itself and just understand that Bernie has brought the party, the left, primaries for people on the left are good for the candidates. Cynthia Nixon made Andrew Cuomo a better candidate, right? So the idea is not that personalities are what matters. That’s what this place is about; the policies, the ideas that should outlast any individual. So that’s what I think. I hope to God people aren’t going to still do that petty infighting within the Democratic Party, but the donor class … right?

ROSEANN DEMORO: But we’ve shifted the debate. I was thinking, when Bob and I started working together, a long time ago now, and started working on ideas like single-payer, and you did the first study and … This is what’s interesting to me about this conference too. It’s ideas into action, right? And so he did the study on single-payer at that point in time, seeing that the favorability of single-payer was probably 30-40% or something, it was very …

ROBERT POLLIN: You would know better than me.

ROSEANN DEMORO: So that’s what it was. And then so he did this study, he also worked with the Sanders office for us, with us, and even breaking through on Capitol Hill in terms of what conventional wisdom is, the things we can’t say and do, things that shouldn’t be said at Capitol Hill because they’re always looking for allies, well, there are no allies. That’s finally what we said to Bernie. There are no allies. You’ve stood alone for basically all your history. We firmly believe this is the will of the people. Bob Pollin’s work buttressed that. We took it in motion. Bernie took it in motion. And we … we’ve propelled the favorability of single-payer on steroids; it’s 70% favorability at this point in time. That’s social change. If you have people fighting for fundamental rights and have–that’s where you start breaking down hegemony. Really. It’s why in the hell wouldn’t people want healthcare? Just a guarantee of healthcare? But it’s strong, hegemony’s strong.

PAUL JAY: This fight over Medicare for All means closing down private health insurance. It’s a very powerful sector of the economy. It’s totally entwined with Wall Street. There’s no separation between private insurance and the big finance, it’s the same thing. The tentacles of that Wall Street is in the Democratic Party, of course in the Republican Party, very powerful. This is not just a war of ideas, it’s a real war of interest here.

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah, the free market solutions are, like, great. That’d be a great thing if there are no human beings. But there are human beings, it doesn’t work. It’s like a—they’re rigged markets.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, the thing about Bob’s study is he’s addressed all of their objections, which is what I love about your new study.

JOHN CUSACK: As well as the transition which you were like, you stopped and said, “Let me repeat this.”

ROBERT POLLIN: Yeah. The point is … Well, first I want to address the donor class, that this is, real, real, real, real, real money. We run our healthcare system at 18% of GDP, other countries, 10, 9, 11%. That differential for our … If we went from 18% to 11%, that’s like $1.2 trillion. And that $1.2 trillion is what is landing in the pockets of the health insurance industries, the pharmaceutical industries. That’s what they’re fighting about. And they will fight to the bitter end. So yes, it’s a struggle, but as RoseAnn said–this is a true pioneer here, she mobilized this idea. I had nothing to do with the idea myself, frankly, until a couple of years ago when she asked me to get involved. People see that this is a real simple thing and you can deliver the healthcare, the assuredness that you can live your life without going bankrupt. You can live at a higher level, a higher standard of living with better healthcare, and spend less money. That’s it.

You can call it socialized medicine, you can call it single-payer, you can call it Medicare for All, that’s what it is. But, what John mentioned, a lot of the way we get savings is we are going to see layoffs, by definition. The private health insurance industry is going to be extinct, and that means all the workers are going to be laid off, all of them. That’s 800,000 people.

So one of the things we do in our study, to my knowledge the first time anyone has bothered, is to say, “Well, what do we do about those 800,000 people?” And we do have, we put a lot of time into working through what we call a just transition to get these people support when they lose their jobs, to get them into new opportunities. That’s the solution.

JOHN CUSACK: Then you also said that the amount of jobs within the Green New Deal and that sector will make up for some of the losses.


JOHN CUSACK: But it’s important to put that–it’s not the healthcare industry isolated from the rest of the economy it’ll take to make …

ROBERT POLLIN: But I don’t want to say that the Green New Deal can deliver everything for all problems. It’ll get you some of the way. Basically, we have to pay money so people have their wages guaranteed until they get their next job. They need to have retraining, support, and, critically, their pensions have to be guaranteed.

JOHN CUSACK: So that Wall Street doesn’t steal them.

ROBERT POLLIN: Yeah. We look at this study, we have page after page on this very issue of how you make sure the pensions don’t get stolen, which—whoever heard of a study about healthcare talking about people’s pensions in detail? And we had to do that.

ROSEANN DEMORO: It’s really an amazing study. It’s on the website by the way, it’s on the PERI website. PERI.[edu].


PAUL JAY: I’m concerned about something.


PAUL JAY: There’s a balance somewhere here about keeping people engaged, optimistic, fighting. But somewhere in here we also have to tell people the whole truth of how dangerous this moment is.


JOHN CUSACK: They told it here.


PAUL JAY: Well, I honestly didn’t—I didn’t hear it as much, not as much.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Actually that’s fair.

PAUL JAY: We’re, what, less than a couple of decades away from anywhere from 1.5 to 2.0 Celsius. This critical threshold that will change life as we know it on earth. We’re all in denial. And I have to say, I include myself until just recently when I did a 13-part series with Daniel Ellsberg, who scared the shit out of me, because we are still in a 10-second window of a hair trigger on nuclear war. And the number of near nuclear war misses has been incredible. Just a few individuals refused to follow protocol, and that’s why we’re still here. And it’s worse, they’re going to spend a trillion dollars—both Russia is going to spend a trillion and the United States, most of it in the next 10 years—upgrading the nuclear arms arsenal.

JOHN CUSACK: So, basically just a way to plunder, it’s all plunder.

PAUL JAY: It’s all about moneymaking. But the problem with this moneymaking is this is the end of life on earth.

JOHN CUSACK: That’s why you can’t separate either climate justice and militarism. You can’t do it.

PAUL JAY: Well, it all comes back to the same issue. It all comes back to same issue.

JOHN CUSACK: Because the drones are going to follow the fresh water, and the soldiers are going to protect the oil, and then if things go on as they are, game over for the planet. That’s why we need, like, a Bernie for president.

PAUL JAY: What I’m saying is we’ve got to somehow do both. There has to be a vision to fight for.


PAUL JAY: You can’t fight if you’re in despair. On the other hand, we gotta tell people the whole truth about how dangerous this moment is.

ROSEANN DEMORO: I agree with you. And you know, the other night we were having dinner with Dr. Cornel West, and just in a relaxed state over dinner I said, “So, Cornel, how bad do you think this is?” Because obviously he’s one of the great minds of our time. The way he responded, it was kind of visceral, didn’t you think so? He went back on us, like, it’s a horrifying thing for us all to talk about, and he had no reassuring news, right? I could see the horror on his face. And that wasn’t reassuring for me, either. But I completely understand. And the sense of urgency—this is why I say Bernie Sanders has to run for president, because we are at a tipping point. We’re definitely at a tipping point. And that, with the planet, just the planet alone, let alone the economy and everything else they’ve taken …

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah. And as Naomi said, according to the great Arundhati Roy, it’s like, people want to know what they can do to change without having to change. And so they’d like to change their lightbulb, but what you need is a bold leap forward in how income and capital is restricted.

PAUL JAY: I think one of the big fights, and I think this is where the progressive movement needs to really turn up the ratchet of whatever you want would turn up. Congress needs to hold hearings on these issues, not just trash Trump. Trash Trump, fine. I mean, OK. But it will completely distract away from what we need to do. If all the Democrats are going to end up doing is trashing Trump, debating impeachment, we will have wasted two years. We will not have advanced a positive agenda. We may even put a halo around Pence, imagine.

JOHN CUSACK: Yeah. But the other hand, if we get him out of office on the merits, because he’s broken the law. Like, throw a rock and hit an impeachable offense. And maybe it’s less likely that the hair trigger catastrophes you’re talking about …

PAUL JAY: Maybe. What I’m concerned about is that there is the potential here to have, I hate to use this as the analogy, but McCarthy-ite like hearings on climate, on dismantle the doomsday machine, on Medicare for All. Have these as big, public, with subpoena power- [crosstalk]



PAUL JAY: And create such a drama that the CEO of Boeing, come in and tell us how much money you made building nuclear weapons in the last 40 years.

JOHN CUSACK: Also the migrant, the refugee crisis. It’s not just climate. It’s like, we blew up the Middle East. We’ve been at permanent war since 2001.

PAUL JAY: We destroyed Central America.

JOHN CUSACK: Where are those people going to go? So what are we going to do, cage the people, free all the money?

ROSEANN DEMORO: The problem is we’ve got this team concept, this is the Republicans versus the Democrats, and it’s just a false narrative on both. Because ultimately what the Democrats are arguing is we need … Basically get rid of Trump and get back to where we were. Well, where we were is how we got here. And we can’t go back there, we cannot go back there. And this is what we’re doing, we’re re-envisioning where we’ve been, where we should be, what we need. But I mean, I could-

JOHN CUSACK: The pre-Trump landscape is the landscape that produced Trump.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Precisely. That’s precisely correct. But the problem is you’re right, how could they not be discussing? And you wonder, I always wondered, do these people not have anyone in their lives that they love? I wonder that. Do they know love? Are politicians such psychopaths that they can’t feel love and compassion?

PAUL JAY: Maybe.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Can you do a study on that?

PAUL JAY: But it’s not just the politicians, it’s the people paying the politicians.

JOHN CUSACK: That’s why the fastest thing you can do is, one of the questions answered, is campaign finance. What’s great about this institute is what other progressive institutes that aren’t funded by the same people who fund Congress? And they want to keep the system right as it is.

PAUL JAY: I interviewed Rana Foroohar, who writes for the Financial Times, did a multipart series on financialization. And I asked her, these guys on Wall Street, they have kids, they have grandkids, what …

JOHN CUSACK: They get to go to Mars and they have their own disaster strategy.

PAUL JAY: That was the answer. It wasn’t Mars, but everyone has their escape plan, was they’re … In a real way, that you can’t—New Zealand had to pass a law against foreign ownership of land, because so many American billionaires are buying up New Zealand land. But people aren’t hearing this.

There was a petition that came out just before this gathering, about 25 or 30 various antiwar people and academics, asking Bernie to spend more effort, more time, on cutting the Pentagon budget. That is, there’s not enough conversation about a significant cut as a way to fund free college education, other things. Do you think that’s a fair critique?

ROSEANN DEMORO: I think it’s, I mean, it’s one of those areas. Do I think it’s a fair critique? Of course, I do, but I’m not a senator, and I’m not running for president. I think it’s a very tough terrain, I do. I think it’s very different for people like us than it is for people who actually have to take on the issues. It just depends on where he sees his list of priorities. But certainly Bernie sits there, he knows where the budget is misappropriated.

ROBERT POLLIN: He said it several times at the conference. We have a $700 billion dollar war budget. Bernie kept saying it’s more than the top 10 other countries combined, which it is, but that also means it’s more than all countries combined, so that’s how much we’re spending. Of course, we could massively cut it.

JOHN CUSACK: And still be the most powerful [military] on earth.

ROBERT POLLIN: And still be able to blow up the world many times over.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Sounds horrifying, but, yes.

JOHN CUSACK: Raytheon would still be rich, let’s be honest.

ROBERT POLLIN: But it’s also true that people in Vermont have jobs in the military.

PAUL JAY: But Daniel Ellsberg, who I said just interviewed, he ends his book by saying the thing of our time to be fighting for is, he calls, conversion. You have to convert military production to green production, and it ties the two together. Maybe we should be talking more about this idea of conversion.

ROBERT POLLIN: Absolutely. I started doing those studies. The first study I did on the green transition was, yes, exactly, military spending out, green spending in.

PAUL JAY: Literally turning those plants that are producing arms into, whether it’s high speed buses, trains, windmills … Because it partly deals with the issue of labor transition. Senators or others are afraid of raising the issues because the arms industry is, as everyone knows, makes sure every single state has a nice piece of the pie.

ROBERT POLLIN: And they do.

ROSEANN DEMORO: I’ll just say Bernie Sanders knows.

JOHN CUSACK: I heard that this conference a lot.

ROSEANN DEMORO: If I were running a campaign for president, if I were advising Bernie Sanders, I would run on basically enfranchising the working people of this country. And if I were Bernie Sanders, I would focus there, because he knows right from wrong. He has got a moral center like no one that sits in that Congress. I mean, obviously. He does, he knows, he has not changed in all of these years. Workers are hurting, families are hurting. And that’s not, like, rhetoric. That’s real. And people are falling away, they’re falling away, they don’t trust. There’s—the democracy is even up for grabs at this stage of the game. They don’t trust anyone, they don’t know who to trust. This man they can trust, and he speaks the truth.

JOHN CUSACK: Clear, concise.

ROSEANN DEMORO: They were so rotten to him. I was at those places when we ran that campaign, and they just stole that election from him, the primary. I was there, I saw the dirty tricks, I saw the ugliness.

PAUL JAY: They meaning corporate Democrats.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, yeah, corporate Democrats, the DNC.

JOHN CUSACK: Owner donor?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Yes, owner donor. That was so rigged. It was so rigged. Now we’re in a massively different place. Everybody in this country—he’s the most respected politician in this country.

JOHN CUSACK: He’s trusted internationally, too.

ROSEANN DEMORO: He is. And he’s authentic, and he’s real, and he can do this. I’m not looking for demagogues, I’m looking for him to basically jump start a movement that changes this country fundamentally and systemically.

JOHN CUSACK: Well, as Howard Zinn said, “It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House if we don’t have the people on the street.”

PAUL JAY: Well, this is the beginning of a whole other conversation. Thanks for joining us.

ROBERT POLLIN: Okay. Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is the founding co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US. His latest book is Back to Full Employment. Other books include: A Measure of Fairness: the Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States, and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity.

RoseAnn DeMoro is executive director of National Nurses United.