Dennis Kucinich: "Our Economy is Out of Breath"


Original source: l'Humanite

Translated Thursday 4 November 2010, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Derek Hanson. Dennis Kucinich, ending his term in the House of Representatives, is one of the leaders of the progressive Democrats. He met with l’Humanité just days before the vote on Tuesday, while he was engaged in his campaign in his district in the outskirts of Cleveland.

Huma: In what sort of mood will the inhabitants of Cleveland vote this week in the mid-term elections? What is the impact of the crisis on your city?

Dennis Kucinich: Cleveland is the epicenter for home seizures [1]. In certain neighborhoods, one out of every three or four houses has been seized. These lodgings are then left abandoned, and it’s simple, the neighborhood around them dies.

At the origin of this, there was the possibility for the banks to market mortgage loans without any regulation by the federal reserve. And the process of repackaging these debts permitted a phenomenal extension of the Wall Street casino.

There was no protection worthy of the name for those subscribing to these loans. Frequently it was families of modest income, or from the middle class, who believed they could come into possession of financial resources permitting them to improve their standard of living. This is something they could never have done with their salaries, which had been stagnating for years.

This worked, for whatever that’s worth, throughout the period in which housing prices continued to climb. Up until the day when the market value of the real estate on which the mortgages were based collapsed, with the explosion of the real estate bubble. Many thousands of persons found themselves without the possibility of repaying these loans, and were quite literally thrown into the street, their houses being confiscated by the banks, often houses in which they had lived for many years. Imagine the suffering that this involves.

Huma: For some weeks now "ForeclosureGate", the scandal of household seizures, has shaken the daily news, with revelations of monstrous errors committed by the banks with a view to accelerating the seizure procedures. And now a debate has broken out as to whether it is wise to freeze these seizures. What is your position?

Dennis Kucinich: It is clear that we must control these seizures. To begin with, we must keep people from being thrown into the streets. That’s the first point.

Then there is also the sense of economic interest, because when you precipitate thousands and thousands of people into difficult straits, you eliminate opportunities, possible exits from the crisis.

Huma: But the secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, is heavily committed to oppose any moratorium on seizures, all the while explaining that it would risk retarding the reestablishment of the real estate market, itself a crucial element in any recovery from the crisis?

Dennis Kucinich: I think that we should not have second thoughts. If the banks cooperate and accept to shed some light on the methods they have used, all is well. But if they refuse, we have no choice: we must freeze all these procedures. Tim Geithner should be able to listen to this. Particularly in so much as he was able to react positively when he decided to furnish several millions of dollars to a special fund set up for those affected by the seizures, providing those people with the means to know all their recourses, or providing them with counseling for the renegotiation of their loans.

These efforts were useful, but what we need is an intervention of quite another order. The work of the administration is also to assume responsibility and to put in place the rules that will protect the people.

In this country there are 15 million people unemployed. 12 million more are underemployed. We have an economy that is out of breath because of gigantic commercial deficits. We can’t continue to measure the success of recovery by the financial performance of Wall Street alone.

Paper transactions are not productive. They create values, but they are only paper values. They are not values that generate employment, that permit access to housing, that increase well-being or facilitate the lives of citizens.

Huma: Another scandal, which affects the Pentagon, and which also makes the news, is the affair of Wikileaks. Do you think that these revelations can advance the truth concerning the true face of the war on Iraq?

Dennis Kucinich: I was very much involved in the debate against this war started by the Bush administration. And I initiated several parliamentary inquiries on the subject. My estimate is that there have been about a million civilian victims as a result of the invasion of Iraq. We have put billions of dollars into this war — and this, in turn, weighs heavily on the economic situation today. And the whole operation was put in motion on a lie concerning inexistent arms of mass destruction.

The WikiLeaks affair confirms terrible things about the nature of this war. Why have we sent our soldiers there? The American people have the right to know the truth about what has happened. Otherwise, this is something that will haunt the nation for a long time.

Huma: Is the other war, that pursued today against Afghanistan, more useful and more just?

Dennis Kucinich: No, absolutely not. The United States had the right to respond to 11 September. Three thousand persons were victims of those attacks. We should have been able to show the world that we would not leave these crimes unpunished. We could have attacked the terrorists’ training camps; this would have been entirely possible. But an invasion of the nation is not a proper response. And an occupation, even less.

There was no strategic reason that should have led us to have made that choice. We ignored the lessons of history. We ignored the lessons of the Russian experience. We should leave Afghanistan. We have no right to be a nation standing above other nations. We should be a nation among nations.

Of course we should work with the community of nations to reinforce the security of humanity. Why not imagine a global military air force charged with surveillance, with warning and even combatting terrorism in a fine-tuned fashion? War is not a response to this challenge. On the contrary, it nourishes the terrorism that it pretends to combat.

Huma: Is there a danger of the return of the neo-conservatives? And if yes, for what reason, when the Bush administration has earned such a bad reputation?

Dennis Kucinich: Yes indeed there is a danger of this. The neo-conservatives have great influence on American politics. And what’s more, George Bush and Dick Cheney have never been forced to answer for the war they launched on a lie — this already furnishes an example.

A small group formulated a project for a "new American century", and that led to the invasion of Iraq and a program for world hegemony. This is passé [2]. This corresponds to the strategic visions of the 18th and 19th centuries, when nations relied on force, and not to the challenges of the 21st century.

But this exists and persists. We have to confront it, we have to show that we must go in quite another direction, the only direction possible, that of respect for the world’s people. Humanity is a fact. Wars deny the more and more evident reality that on this planet we are all One.

Huma: Isn’t the principal risk for the Democrats in these mid-term elections the disillusionment of those who helped to bring Obama to power?

Dennis Kucinich: I understand the frustration, but people should also measure how it could be worse. (Laughter) And in an election like this one, if their abstention permits the opposition to win, we will pass from a moment in which we could have some hope to another in which we have less.

Huma: Are you confident of your reelection?

Dennis Kucinich: Here, perhaps more so than elsewhere, people are fighting to survive, to find a job, to feed their family. But in the context of these difficulties, I have an even stronger relationship with them. They know they can count on me. And in particular on this question of the seizing of real estate.

What we are living through today is doubtless not reflected in the image that in Europe one has always had of life in the United States. This is an America with enormous suffering, an America in which millions of people who used to belong to the middle class now find themselves poor, even ruined.

Huma: The American Dream has flown the coop?

Dennis Kucinich: I don’t know if it has flown off. But, for many, life has become very tough. There is not enough democracy in the economic sphere. And an economic democracy is the precondition for a true political democracy. The fewer there are of people who have work, and the more there is of a concentration of wealth in the hands of a minority, the harder it is to preserve the functioning of a democratic system. This opens the doors to fear, to the restriction of civil rights, and reinforces the role of the organs of maintenance of order, of the police ...

Huma: Is this also a reason for the success of the Tea Party?

Dennis Kucinich: Yes, the neo-conservatives and the people of the Tea Party demagogically exploit fears, suffering, and distress, while they themselves carry the biggest part of the responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves.

The people have every reason to be angry. But they deceive themselves when they think they can change things simply by penalizing the outgoing government, thinking that all they have to do is to change the government in Washington. It is the system itself that is at fault. The challenge of the present moment is far greater.

This said, the government should have created more jobs, should have done what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did to restart the economy, granting new social rights to the population, investing massively in infrastructure and public services — all of which are much needed in the present circumstances.

Huma: What is your view of what is presently happening in France, the defense of retirement at 60?

Dennis Kucinich: People are right to fight cut-backs in their social gains. You know, there exists a parallel debate in the United States. After this conversation I must go to an interview for a national television network, the subject being the reform envisaged for the Social Security program [3]. A debate is launched, in the name of budgetary rigor, to raise the retirement age to 70, and to make cuts in the pensions. This makes no economic sense. On the contrary, we should lower the retirement age. To create jobs for the young, and to have young retired people available for training programs, and for other useful parallel social activities.

Some demand, with loud cries, together with Wall Street, that social security be privatized. Some years ago Bush tried to do this. Most fortunately, he was put in the position of failing. But just imagine what would have happened if he had succeeded. After the disaster of the wars and the financial crash, the peoples’ pensions would have evaporated completely. Today they will often have lost a portion of their savings because the stock market bets made with the money placed in their complementary retirement policies have turned rotten. But if social security had been privatized they would have lost everything.


[1] for mortgage foreclosures

[2] out-dated

[3] Interviewers note in the French version: "The term used for the basic retirement plan in the United States, its costs shared by workers and employers."

Photo: Dennis Kucinich speaking in Detroit, 2007 (Photo by Political Affairs)

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