Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Good afternoon and welcome to another program in Commonwealth Clubs 2008 Presidential Candidates Conversation Series. Today's program is brought to you by the Commonwealth Club of California and San Jose State University Institute for Social Responsibility, Ethics, and Education. This program is also being held in association with ABC 7 Television, KGL News Talk Radio AMA10 and the Bay Area News Group. My name is Dan Ashley, anchor of ABC 7 News and your chair for today's programming. It's a pleasure to be with you today. Today's program features, Mike Gravel, former US Senator from Alaska and 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidate. As with all presidential candidates appearing before the Commonwealth Club, we have asked Senator Ravel to engage in a wide ranging conversation that will allow us to cover a number of areas of interest to the American voting public. Let me give you some quick brief background on Senator Gravel so you'll know a little bit more about him as we begin today. Senator Gravel was born in Springfield Massachusetts. After spending a year in college, he enlisted in the US Army where he served in West Germany as a special adjutant in the communication intelligence services and as a special agent in the counter intelligence core. He returned back to the states to learn his Bachelor's Degree in Economics from Columbia University. After graduating, Senator Gravel moved to Alaska where he worked in real estate and on the Alaska Railroad. His career in public office started at the state level in the Alaska House of Representative and later two terms in the United States Senate. While in office, Senator Gravel launched the nuclear critique and fiercely opposed legislation that would renew the military draft during the Vietnam War. He also played the key role in the release of the Pentagon papers insisting that his constituents had the right to know the truth. After his term ended in 1980 Senator Gravel became the last democrat to represent his state in congress. He has continued to write and work for organizations that promote the ideals of direct democracy. Senator Gravel will be in conversation today with Joe Epstein, President of Sierra Steel Trading and a member of the Board of Governors of the Commonwealth Club of California. Mr. Epstein is also a past president of the Commonwealth Club Board. Mr. Epstein is a graduate of the University of California at Berkley and serves on the Board of Advisors of the Golden School of Public Policy accurately. So ladies and gentleman without further ___ please join me in welcoming Senator Mike Gravel and Joe Epstein. Thank you very much Dan Ashley, news anchor of ABC 7 Television and thank you for being with us today Senator Gravel. As your moderator today, I'm gonna cover a set of topics that the Commonwealth Club will discuss with all the candidates who do come before us and to allow for a coherent conversation, I'm gonna try to cluster my questions into three broad groups, though I am sure there will quite a bit of overlap as we proceed which gonna try to be forward looking in this discussion exploring who Senator Mike Gravel would be if he were in the White House as well as talking about many hot button issues in today's campaign. First, who is Mike Gravel as a person? What is the stuff of which he is made? What is the strength of his character? Secondly, as President, how would Mike Ravel contend with the vast array of domestic challenges that we face? And thirdly, how would he lead America in a troubled world? Why don't we start with the conversation between us and I'll then follow Commonwealth Club tradition and we'll ask some questions which I will intersperse into the program that are being gathered from our audience. So first Senator Gravel, let's talk about the men. Tell us a little bit about your youth. What were the forces that shaped you, say prior to 1969 which is the first year you served in the US Senate if I'm correct and before many of us knew about you on the national public state. What makes you get up everyday? What inspires you? When I was 16 years old, I read a book by Emery Reeve called the Anatomy of Peace and that book really was my foundation in becoming what I call a globalist. I consider myself a citizen of the human race first and foremost, only secondly do I consider myself an American and where I to become president of the United States, my priorities would be in exactly that order, what is best for the human race and secondly, what is good for the United States of America. I take very great exception to this whole foreign policy attitude that we have that that is our vital interest. What are our vital interests? It's selfishness, that's it. What's good for us means that we treat other people like beggars and so a foreign policy based upon nation states power that deals with vital interest first makes the world a world of beggary and if that's not a definition of the world we have today, a world of beggary where all nation placed their selfish interest first, I don't know what is and so it's very simple. We can't do that in our personal life. I can't treat you selfishly on everything in out personal life, how do you think we can do that when we come together and call ourselves a nation and think that we can have a moral world. We can't and we don't. Two major accomplishments that you are very well-known for as Dan Ashley indicated earlier in the introduction, they were your efforts to in the draft after the Vietnam war and getting the 7000 page, you may have a different view on the Pentagon Papers but the 7000-page Department of Defense study which known as the Pentagon Papers and getting those into the public records, I think that was 1971, is that correct? Correct. So the question is where these some of the toughest challenges that you ever faced? And if not, what was you're toughest challenge and what got you through it? Well, let's day it was the most frightening challenge, not the toughest challenge. You know, life is tough so pick anything you want in life, sickness, illness. The most frightening, I was afraid of going to jail and so and I almost did go to jail. It's a there's a mark of justice [inaudible] [07:34] and Nixon tried to put Dan Elsberg and I in jail and Nixon should have gone to jail but his attorney general went to jail and so the assistant attorney general go to jail. You've got to understand with the I think I can best describe how ridiculous the situation was the day before I released the Pentagon Papers which was the day also of the Supreme Court decision. Nixon sent to the senate and the house a copy of the Pentagon Papers. Now this is nothing but a study of three presidential administration as to how we get into the mess of Vietnam. And so, they're sent to the senate, they're place in the room under guard with a pistol and a senator, no staff. A senator should go in and sit there like a school kid and read the Pentagon Papers but couldn't take any notes. Does it get anymore ridiculous than that? These are senators as suppose members of congress. They're suppose to be leading your government and the next day I take those papers and disburse them into the entire world. Now, that is irresponsibility with a capital I as viewed by the mainstream media at that time. And yet, how can we think we're gonna sustain a democracy when we tolerate a level of security when 90% of what the government does you know nothing about you know nothing about and you go to an airport and you'll line up like 1984 for fear that something will happen to you. We've been drugged with fear for the last 50 years and that sustains the wealth and the false priorities we have, we spent more on defense than all the rest of world put together. We're cowards. What the heck are we afraid of? Well, in just a moment were gonna move on to domestic issues but I do have one last question about you, the person. And that is, do you have a hero? Someone that you really admire, living or dead, could that hero be Ralph Nader? No. The hero is George Washington because George was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. And my second hero was Solon, in 595 B.C. who took law and brought it about so people can understand and respect it as what we needed for human governance and after that, I will tail of into Abraham Lincoln and FDR. But to followup, I would say that the relationship that you have with Ralph Nader is a good one. Is that correct? Oh very good. In fact, I'm flattered. He thinks I'm Cicero. He has written about it. In fact, I'm coming out with a book called Citizen Power and he has done the foreword of it and that's where he is calling me Cicero. But he has great phrase that he quotes from Cicero and that is what is freedom, freedom is participation in power. Freedom is participation in power. And America don't participation don't participate in power so you don't have much freedom not what you think you have. Well, we're definitely gonna get to participation of American for power in just a few moments. Let's move to domestic issues and let's talk about the big picture first. What would you want to make the highlights, the priorities of your first term when it comes to domestic policy? You've been outspoken on global warming, women's reproductive rights, and many other issues. You have a very large agenda, so Senator Gravel where would you begin? The first day in office in fact while I'm actually giving my inaugural speech in front of the while I'm doing that I would have arrange that they would be blowing up the prison at Guantanamo, the prison at Abu Ghraib and the prison at the airport in Baghdad. They'd be just blowing them up, turning in the cabbage factors. And that would be to get the image across to the people of the world that we are going to change, we're no longer going to be tolerating immorality of torturing people. I will take American troops out in a 120 days and I mean all the troops in the Middle East. Not only from Iraq, from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain. I'll take them out of Europe, I'll take them out of Japan. We have American troops in 130 countries. They're all coming home. They're all coming home under my administration. We don't need to be the policemen of the world and I will turn to Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, China, European nations, Russia and I would tell them we screwed up in the Middle East. We destabilized this area. Please help us correct our mistakes and I think they will join with us because they have a stake in having stability in that area. That's what I would do right at get go of my administration. Now, the second thing that I would do is I have pledge and I repeat this over and over again. I will bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. I will bring it about. I have the force of character. I'm a tough enough guy to make it happen and they'll be no pussy footing around in making happen. There will be peace and we will raised the economic level of the Palestinian people equal to Israel. And the we'll hold King Abdullah to his word that he will not only recognized the Israel but he will used his good offices in the entire Islamic world to not only recognized Israel but to trade with Israel. And so we're talking about the central core of an Israeli-Palestinian community being the economic center of a new Islamic economic awakening. Boy isn't that make an exciting possibility. It sure does and but I'm gonna slip back to domestic issues and we're gonna get to all of those issues again later on down in the program. I apologize, I did slip into the foreign policy. That's okay. I'll come back to domestic domestic for you. Actually, I probably should have emphasize a little more the domestic aspect of this group of question but I told you and discussed with you earlier I was gonna asked you a question under the domestic category about Federal earmarks. And so since you are the senator, were the senator from Alaska, my research indicated that Alaska leads the nation in per capita pork barrel spending. Do you mind Not not when I'm there. That's I've been gone for 30 some years. This is with this is what the republicans who believe in in a very conservative government but they act like socialist when they get their hands on the money. But your view on the bridge or bridges to nowhere are very interesting and if you'll share that information what is I've made speeches in Alaska that this the embarrassment of any Alaskan. My true love is Alaska. I really I'll always be an Alaskan with regards to where I live. It was an embarrassment. This is in [inaudible] [15:10] this is where the bridge would be. My God, there is enough money in the bridge to nowhere that we could give everybody a a little cabin cruiser to get over to the airport because that's what it was use for. There was a little ferry and it could ferry over to the airport. It was just an embarrassment. And and when you talk of earmarks, when I was in office we had earmarks but they didn't come the way we do them now. It's really gotten of hand. We would do it committee and so you'd have a committee vote on it and of course the chairman has a lot of influence. But now what happen is the procedure is you go to the floor, a member sucks up to the committee chairman of the floor and say I got something, could you handle this and the guy checks and sees how this guy voted in the past on legislation from the committee and then if you need his vote right then and there, oh yeah, sure we can take care of you. Martha is great on this. Martha is the number one whore for military industrial complex in the house. Stevens from Alaska was the from in the Senate and so they take this earmarks and just pile them on 6000 earmarks on a one piece of legislation. It's an obscenity. Will the bridges ever be built? Oh no. It makes no economic sense at all. Here if the bridges worth building, there's enough money in Alaska to build them. They don't need your money. I have a group of questions on the campaign. They deal with the campaign for both parties actually. The first one, maybe a little embarrassing and the question from the audience is not a lot of people know the name Mike Gravel so what do you really believe your chances are when you are running against names like Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. Well, my chances are very good. You just got to understand how this political system works. First of, you've got to understand the maybe the American people are gonna be fed up in '08. They're gonna be fed up with the perfect storm coming at them. Now, when you look at Clinton and Obama and the others, their raising millions and millions of dollars but we all know that the corrupting influence and politics is money. But what is mainline media saying? They're saying that because this money this people raised all this money, they deserve to be president because they raises money. That's a code that they should be president because they're the most corrupt around. That's exactly what's going on. Just look at where they get their money. They're telling you they're gonna do something on healthcare, please, please, you're getting money from pharmaceuticals, you're getting money from the healthcare industry and insurance company, you're gonna do something to change. In fact, Hilary is raising more money from the defense industry than any other person, you think she's gonna change anything from what were doing right now, spending all this money on defense that we don't need to spend? Here you wanna be able to know the government you're gonna get under this people? Just follow the money. You wanna know the government you're gonna get under my administration, there's no money to follow. There's no money to follow. You know, you're gonna get good government. You heard my statements. You know my views. In fact, if you were to analyze this blind polls where they talk about issues alone, I'm far ahead of everybody else. What does that say? That means, if if I were treated half fairly by the national media, I would be number one in the polls. It's because they don't want to hear what I want to say. When you get a company like General Electric, you know, General Electric that brings good things to life, you know, General Electric that brings 1100 nuclear plants around the world. When they purposely don't want me to appear in a debate, when the head of the democratic party puts out the word that Gravel is not to appear in any debate, that's been done. That's the reason I've been cut off of debates. When APEC uses it's influence to cut me out of all the networks, when I'm not in polls you wonder why you don't my name, and yet when you take a blind poll, I come out ahead? Is this the democracy that you really want? Maybe, just maybe, the people in this election are really gonna revolt against the corruption, the abject corruption of the political process and vote for somebody that they think and this is what I hear as I travel around the country. I'm beginning to get recognized and I hear it over and over again, you're a breathe of fresh air. Why? Because they're so terribly polluted breathing polluted political air. Well, I certainly know what you're commitment is and what kind of stuff Mike Gravel is made of but that answer Senator Gravel, let's go back to a few more questions on the campaign. During the last 8 years or so, much attention has been drawn to the issue of religion and politics and last week republican candidate Mitch Romney accused democrats of trying to preach the religion of secularism, so please give us your views on religion and government and how important is this issue for you in your campaign. Let me give you my secular speech if you got two hours. I believe that we should have secularism in government. I don't believe we should melt together religion and politics and [inaudible] [21:10] is dead wrong when he says to have freedom you have to have religion, boy I don't know what kind of religion he is talking about because I've seen a lot of religions eclipse freedom eclipse freedom and so I want secularism. What's the difference between a religious fanatic who runs a country abroad and religious fanatic who is the President of the United Stated and feels it's okay to go to war. What about I was watching on television the other night some preacher was talking about God and don't vote for anybody who's not holding up the Bible. My God, read the Bible, do you see how much blood and violence there is in the Bible. If we don't want kids to watch television and the violence on television, maybe we should limit the amount of reading of the Bible to this children. I want a secular society and if you want religion then go do your religious views but separate the two and don't turn around and feel that because you ran for office that you had the right to force your religion on me. I won't buy it and I'll fight every step of the way the Mitch Romneys and the other fanatics on the republican side agenda in that regard. Did I make my position clear? Yes. Very clear sir. Thank you. Very clear. So I'll finish the religious question with the following: Wouldn't Romey's views be creating an underclass of atheist and agnostics if you were elected. What did you say? Would Romney's views be creating an of course Romney's creating an underclass. All these religious nuts create an underclass of people who don't necessary believe the way they believe. And we need and got to go away with these nuts. Well, before we move on to healthcare, would you or could you endorse any of the other candidates if you didn't win the election. No. Well, that takes care of that one. They're all politics as usual and you're gonna come to a question where you see well I'm not politics as usual and I'll give you the differences why. Let's talk about healthcare. Very, very important. There's forty seven million Americans who are uninsured in the United States. I've heard numbers from 46, 47, all the way up to 50, not sure what it is. Healthcare reform is obviously one of the biggest challenges that we face as a nation. How many Americans would be covered by a Mike Gravel administration and how would you do it and what do you recommend for the 12 15 million illegal immigrants in this country. That's lumping them all together. First of, they didn't have healthcare while they're illegal under my program. Secondly, I can't do any better than anybody else can and nobody can deliver on healthcare. Having said that will come back to why they cant deliver, they're just lying when they tell you they can't. We have a 50 trillion dollar tax gap. We're broke and without the money to deliver healthcare sadly enough but the healthcare program you have to understand it's a troika crisis. The first one is coverage and they all talk about coverage. But there's another problem, and that is that Medicare and Medicaid are exploding in cost, we're going bankrupt just on those two alone and so when when politicians are saying, Oh we're gonna have Medicare for everybody. We're going broke on what we have right now. I mean is this irresponsible or is irresponsible. Then the other is, Oh we're gonna have business pay for it. Isn't it great, we're gonna have business go pay for healthcare. That's what all the plans are doing except Dennis's. Dennis wants the government with Medicare so that's exploding and all the others want to have the business pay for it. Why should business pay for healthcare. They got some particular magic that they can do it better than anybody else? I pay for it through a retail sales tax. Why should we make American enterprise uncompetitive in the world by insisting that American enterprise pay for health care. It makes us uncompetitive and so our healthcare program is partially responsible for rust belt that we've done right across this nation. And so the plan that I would have would be to pay for by a retail sales tax and it would be a certificate that every citizen every year they would entitle that person to select one of five only five insurance plans and a government played if they want and the plans would all be equal. The services would be define by a regional system of what I call HSS, Healthcare Security Systems and they would be made a public state holders with the majority being citizens and they would define the services. Eyeglasses, hearing aids, catastrophic care, long term care. You name it, everybody would have the same care. Basic. You want more than that, you go buy another insurance plan. But everybody is gonna be treated equally. And a person whose 90 years old wants a heart transplant, there's not gonna be enough money for that. There will be a degree triage and if you want more done at the basic plan and the quality plan, you then can raise the retail sales tax and I'll be talking about a way that you can do it, not the congress doing it. That's the healthcare plan that I would provide. It's plan that was developed by Victor Fuchs, (Professor) Emeritus from Standford University, an economist at that regard with Dr. Ezekiel, Emmanuel from NIH and professor Colclough at BU. These are people that I've met with. They've instructed me on the plan. I bought into it. I have now made it my own because I have taken features that I think are important. That's the plane that I would have and it addresses all three areas: total coverage, total quality universality and it is not carried by the American Business Enterprise. Well, Senator Gravel, how about mental health? That will be included, that's included. Would you be in favor of Wholistic health? Wholistic health, acupuncture, the whole thing. And then plus incentives for people to go out and live a healthy life. Even if we here even if we're talking about getting memberships to health clubs. So mental health would receive parody? Yes. Yes. We're gonna move now to immigration, another favorite topic of yours. No. It's not a favorite topic of mine but it is a topic. Well, it's a good topic. It's the one that on everyone's mind I'm sure. If you were president what would you do with the 12-15 million people who are here illegally in the United States. Should they have a path to citizenship or should they be send home for breaking the law. First of, if you wanna start sending people home for breaking the law, you can empty out half the country. Never mind just the Latinos and you can start in Washington and and that would be a 100%. So let's let's not start parsing what the law is. These are people that have come to this country and their motivation was to work and support their families and feed their children. When you look at the unemployment rate right now, it's 4.7% and you know that 4.5% is it, that's it you're fully employed so that means now this is the average across the country. It doesn't operate in every different state, it's different in each community. But what this tells us or informed that they're not taking any jobs, they're filling jobs. And so if they weren't here to fill those jobs who would fill those jobs? And if we chase them out, we have a depression the next day and to think that we would turn around and chase out that many people, man you thought Andrew Jackson had a problem in this trailer peers, you know, taking Indians to Oklahoma, I mean we'll be discouraged of the world with our trails of tears chasing this people out in addition to causing a depression in this country. It's ludicrous to think we would do this. There's another way to approach this and how I would approach it is very simple. I put them all on a tract to becoming citizens if they wanna become citizens. A lot of them may not want too. They may wanna go home, because they could make wages here and I make it easy so they can go back and forth. If they come here because they're jobs available, if they're no jobs available, they're not gonna come here and be unemployed. It's a lot easier for them to be unemployed in their own country. It's cheaper for them to live unemployed in their own country rather than - I just come back from Dearborn. I gotta tell you, I don't see any Mexicans on the street unemployed in Dearborn. You know it's too cold. They could be down in Mexico, that's where Americans go, in the winter time is go down to Mexico where it's warmer. I mean, let's stop and begin to reason this out. What is happening? Two things. I maintain that when when we fail as a group, what do we do? We don't look internally and say, I'm a failure. Oh no but we do is we know were failing in education, we know we're failing in healthcare, we know were failing in our crumbling infrastructure. We know we're failing in out foreign policy, what do we do? We look for a escape goat. Oh it must be those Latinos. You know, they're all members of Al Qaeda coming in from Mexico. You know, have they found any Al Qaeda people in Mexico? I don't know. But you escape goat. That's a great way to not face up to your own shortcomings. And then there's another thing I'm informed by and that is the simple fact that look at what happened historically, when I was young immigration was not a problem. When I was in the Senate, immigration was not a top issue. How did it is become a top issues. We had some red necks who just got off the boat and said "I'm against anybody coming here ever since I got here. That's the red necks okay. Now they rag around and create an issue and then all of a sudden some media people give a little reporting on it. And then somebody gives a little more attention to it, a little more legislation. Twenty years, we've been ragging it around. We'll you know something, if something is rag around in the legislature, that long and there's no solution maybe there's no problem. Other than what is fabricated in the minds of mischievous people.