Dennis Kucinich, Democratic presidential contender.
Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich was missing from the stage at last night’s Democratic debate hosted by MSNBC in Las Vegas after he lost a last-minute legal fight with the network over his participation. Last week, NBC told Kucinich that he had met the criteria for the debate. Then, less than two days later, the network changed the criteria and declared that Kucinich was no longer qualified. On Monday, a Nevada judge ordered NBC to include Kucinich, but then NBC appealed the ruling and actively fought to keep him off the stage. On Tuesday night, less than an hour before the debate, the Nevada Supreme Court sided with NBC. Democracy Now! decided to break the sound barrier and give Kucinich a chance to take part. In an exclusive broadcast, we re-broadcast excerpts of the debate and give the Ohio Congressman a chance to answer the questions he might have faced if he hadn’t been silenced. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Democratic debate held last night in Nevada, where Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards sparred for two hours on MSNBC. Missing from the stage was Ohio Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, who lost a last-minute legal fight with NBC over his inclusion in the debate.
Kucinich had sued the network after it disinvited him from participating. On January 9th, NBC told Kucinich he had met the criteria for the debate. Then, less than two days later, NBC changed the criteria and declared Kucinich no longer qualified. On Monday, a Nevada judge ordered NBC to include Kucinich, but then NBC appealed the ruling and actively fought to keep him off the stage. On Tuesday night, less than an hour before the debate, the Nevada Supreme Court sided with NBC.
In court filings, NBC painted itself as the victim. Attorneys for the network wrote, "Mr. Kucinich’s claim is nothing more than an illegitimate private cause of action designed to impose an equal access requirement that entirely undermines the wide journalistic freedoms enjoyed by news organizations under the First Amendment." Attorneys for General Electric’s NBC also argued, "A television station does not have to grant unlimited access to a candidate debate. If anyone’s First Amendment rights are being infringed, they are MSNBC’s."
In his lawsuit, Kucinich argued NBC — yes, owned by General Electric — illegally shut him out of the debate because of his views. The lawsuit states, "The exclusion of Kucinich undermines the purposes of the Federal Communications Act and is a blatant violation of the Act because of the media’s obligation to operate in the public interest... NBC revised its criteria to specifically exclude the diverse and anti-war voice of Kucinich and his grass-roots supporters.” The lawsuit went on to say, "The debate is not a true presidential primary debate without including all credible candidates, but instead is effectively an endorsement of the candidates selected by NBC."
Well, today, Congressmember Dennis Kucinich will join us. He’ll join us from Washington. We decided to give him a chance to take part in last night’s debate, in our own way. We’ll play excerpts of that debate and give the Ohio congressman and presidential candidate a chance to answer the questions he would have faced last night had he not been barred. This is the debate NBC and General Electric didn’t want you to hear.
Before we go to that debate, though, Dennis Kucinich is pulling up to the studio in Washington. We had planned to have him in studio in Las Vegas, where he was going to be campaigning over the next few days. But instead, last night, at the last minute, he took a redeye back to Washington, D.C., because he had just been alerted — well, Congressman Kucinich, welcome to Democracy Now! Alerted of what? Alerted to what?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: There will be a defense authorization bill on the floor today under a suspension of the rules, which means that it’s considered to be noncontroversial. And my feeling is that it’s probably a confirmation of President Bush’s concerns and ameliorated by a Democratic congress. So I’m going to be there to challenge the bill, to speak on it, and to call for a vote and hopefully keep alive the issue of a contest over our defense spending policies.
AMY GOODMAN: Just to understand what you’re saying, you’re saying that last night, what, around midnight, you got a message that — this is the Democrats, not the Republicans, who are in charge of Congress —-
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —- were going to be taking on the defense authorization bill, voting for it, but not putting it on the record — it wasn’t a vote count, you don’t think?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it would — you know, when something is put on a suspension calendar, it’s essentially something that’s considered to be noncontroversial. The Democratic leadership has been trying to work out some of the differences that they had with President Bush over the last — since Congress had adjourned for the holidays. And so, this bill, I was told, is the product of the negotiations between the Democrats and the White House. What I hope to do, assuming that it’s what was described to me, is to challenge the bill and some of the issues in defense authorization that were not brought up in the previous debate.
AMY GOODMAN: What would it mean if you call for a vote count?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it means that people have to, you know, take a stand. And I missed the last vote, because my brother passed away and I had rushed home, but this is a continuation of that debate. There was a small number of Democrats who voted against the bill to begin with. And now we’re looking to — what I’m looking to do is to pick up the debate and to look at some of the areas of the defense authorization bill that perhaps had not been explored through this debate over — or through opening up a debate on what is really something that was — I think people are planning just to move it through without much comment.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re just about to come to the studio, and so we’ll be having you join in the debate you were excluded from last night. But before you do, as you pull up right near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., explain your lawsuit and what happened at the last minute last night as the case made its way through the courts of Las Vegas.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: NBC, GE, maintained — well, they — you know, we were invited and as a result of meeting criteria of being in the top four in a national poll. This was before Bill Richardson dropped out. And when I met the criteria, NBC then announced they had changed the criteria so it would only be the top three that would be invited.
We challenged that as a contract, and attorneys in Nevada won a case before a superior court judge, who said that NBC had an obligation to provide me with a place in the debate, and if they did not, he would stop the debate from happening.
NBC — and when that account was journalized, NBC then immediately contacted the Supreme Court, and a hearing was held. I was told it was an extraordinary hearing of all seven members of the Supreme Court, who — three of whom were in Carson City, Nevada and were teleconferenced in, and they heard a presentation by NBC’s attorneys, who maintained that the debate was essentially a private matter and that no — you know, really little discussion on their part of any public interest came up. They alluded that, alternatively, this was a matter that should have been brought before the FCC, not a contract matter, and then, in the same breath, said that cable networks aren’t [inaudible] to the FCC.
So we’ve — you know, we’re in a conundrum here about what the public’s rights are, because this goes far beyond my humble candidacy. It goes right to the question of democratic governance, whether a broadcast network can choose who the candidates will be based on their narrow concerns, because they’ve contributed —- GE, NBC and Raytheon, another one of GE’s property, have all contributed substantially to Democratic candidates who were in the debate. And the fact of the matter is, with GE building nuclear power plants, they have a vested interest in Yucca Mountain in Nevada being kept open; with GE being involved with Raytheon, another defense contractor, they have an interest in war continuing. So NBC ends up being their propaganda arm to be able to advance their economic interests.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, in the court filings, NBC painted itself as the victim. It said, “Mr. Kucinich’s claim is nothing more than an illegitimate private cause of action designed to impose an equal access requirement that entirely undermines the wide journalistic freedoms enjoyed by news organizations under the First Amendment.”
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, the double [inaudible] here is apparent. First of all, they’re, you know, broadcast licensees. NBC operates its network under the FCC Act of 1934, supposedly to function in the public interest, convenience and necessity. They do not do that. And some of the law they were citing related more to newspapers, which have a broad First Amendment protection, and newspapers, of course, are not licensed. You know, broadcast licensees have an altogether different responsibility. But they were claiming that they were shielded from that by a congressional action which exempts cable companies from FCC purview. So, you know, this is one of those things that my attorneys are going to take up with the FCC, certainly, but you haven’t heard the last of legal action on our behalf here with respect to NBC.
I think that what they’re trying to do is stack a presidential election using their broadcast media power, and they’re doing it to further the interests of their own parent corporation, General Electric. And this is something that I am not going to stop challenging, because this is really important to issues of democratic governance, what kind of country we’re going to have, because the corporations are really in a position where they’re using the broadcast media to rig presidential elections by determining who’s viable based on who gets coverage; in the advent of an election, who goes on the news shows and who is getting their contributions from their executives. This is a real serious matter. So I’m -—
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, had you understood you would be included in this debate? What was promised last week?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I was. You know, of course it was my understanding I was going to be included in the debate. And here’s —- but, you know, Amy -—
AMY GOODMAN: They said the top four candidates? Is that what they said last week? And then Richardson pulled out?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Yeah, that’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you then became number four?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I imagine if Richardson hadn’t pulled out and had been in fourth place, this wouldn’t have been an issue. You know, there’s an underlying question here, as well, and that is that: What right does the media have to establish the criteria as to who should be able to be in a debate in the first place, especially when they have corporate interests that could be affected by various candidates or appreciated by various candidates? So, you know, this is a profound issue of democratic governance, of our presidential — the integrity of our presidential selection process, and goes to the heart of the need for real reforms in the media.
We’re just pulling up right now —-
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: —- to the studio.
AMY GOODMAN: Then we’re going to go to break. Congressmember Kucinich will take his seat, well, in a sense, at that debate last night in Las Vegas. When we come back from break, we’re going to play excerpts of the MSNBC debate and hear what Dennis Kucinich has to say, how he answers the questions as well. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report, as we break the sound barrier. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Las Vegas debate on MSNBC, the debate moderator, Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have both gone overseas, as some put it, hat in hand, looking for $20 billion in investment to stay afloat from, among other things, the government of Singapore, Korea, Japan, and the Saudi Prince Alwaleed, the man — Rudolph Giuliani turned his money back after 9/11. This is — strikes a lot of Americans as just plain wrong.
At the end of our report, we said this may end up in Congress. What can be done? And does it strike you as fundamentally wrong, that much foreign ownership of these American flagship brands?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Brian, I’m very concerned about this. You know, about a month and a half or so ago, I raised this concern, because these are called sovereign wealth funds. They are huge pools of money, largely because of oil and economic growth in Asia. And these funds are controlled often by governmental entities or individuals who are closely connected to the governments in these countries.
I think we’ve got to know more about them. They need to be more transparent. We need to have a lot more control over what they do and how they do it. I’d like to see the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund begin to impose these rules, and I want the United States Congress and the Federal Reserve Board to ask these tough questions.
But let’s look at how we got here. We got here because, as I said on Wall Street on December 5th, a lot of our big financial institutions, you know, made these bets on these subprime mortgages. They helped to create this meltdown that is happening, that is costing millions of people who live in homes that are being foreclosed on or could be in the very near future because the interest rates are going up. And what they did was to take all these subprime mortgages and conventional mortgages, bundle them up and sell them overseas to big investors. So, we’re getting the worst of both worlds.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, I neglected to point out that one of the companies keeping these giant American banks afloat is Kuwait, a nation, an economy arguably afloat itself today, as you know, thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of American soldiers. What would you do as a remedy?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, the things that Senator Clinton just spoke about are correct. We need more transparency. We need to know what’s actually happening. But the fundamental problem is what’s happening at the core of the American economy. What’s happening to the economy in America, if you look at it from distance, is we have economic growth in America — we still do — but almost the entirety of that economic growth is with the very wealthiest Americans and the biggest multinational corporations.
You ask any middle class family in America, and they will tell you they do not feel financially secure. They are worried about their job. They are worried paying for healthcare. They’re worried about how they’re going to send their kids to college. They’re worried about, in so many cases, here in Nevada particularly, worried about their home being foreclosed on.
I spoke a few minutes ago about thousands of people coming to Nevada every day to try to find the promise of America, to try to find a good job, a good home, to meet the great moral test that all of us have as Americans, which is to make certain that our children have a better life than we have. This is the great challenge that we’re facing in this election.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Oh, Senator Obama, a rebuttal.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, not a rebuttal. I just want to pick up on a couple things that have been said. Number one, part of the reason that Kuwait and others are able to come in and purchase, or at least bail out, some of our financial institutions is because we don’t have an energy policy. And we are sending close to a billion dollars a day. And this administration has consistently failed to put forward a realistic plan that is going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, is going to invest in solar and wind and biodiesel. You look at a state like Nevada; one thing I know is folks have got a lot of sun here. And yet, we have not seen any serious effort on the part of this administration to spur on the use of alternative fuels, raise fuel efficiency standards on cars. That would make a substantial difference in our balance of payments, and that would make a substantial difference in terms of their capacity to purchase our assets.
And the second thing I just want to point out is that the subprime lending mess, part of the reason it happened was because we had an administration that does not believe in any kind of oversight. And we had the mortgage industry spending $185 million on lobbying to prevent provisions such as the ones that I’ve proposed over a year ago that would say, you know, you’ve got to disclose properly what kinds of loans you’re giving to people on mortgages. You’ve got to disclose if you’ve got a teaser rate and suddenly their mortgage payments are going to jack up and they can’t pay for them. And one of the things that I intend to do as president of the United States is restore a sense of accountability and regulatory oversight over the financial markets. We have the best financial markets in the world, but only if they are transparent and accountable and people trust them. And, increasingly, we have not had those structures in place.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Senators Obama, Clinton and Edwards, as I join Brian Williams — I’m Amy Goodman — to include the excluded Congressmember Kucinich in this debate. Congressmember Kucinich, you have ninety seconds to answer this question.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, the issue of whether or not we have foreign investment has been a longstanding issue, and so it’s nothing new. But the question is, what’s happening with Wall Street, where they have a lack of liquidity, because, you know, they’ve made some bad investments, and beyond that, the subprime lending scandal has really been something that was pyramided out of the Fed’s lack of oversight of banks and of the SEC’s lack of oversight on hedge funds.
Now, hedge funds have invested mightily in presidential candidates. Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards raised substantial amounts of money from those hedge funds that they now claim they’re going to have a means of oversight. We have to look at Senator Edwards’s record itself. He worked for a year for the Fortress hedge fund, earned a half-a-million dollars, did not explain exactly what kind of work he did. He apparently went to about a half-a-dozen meetings, and he said that he did this in order to learn about poverty. Meanwhile, Fortress held in its portfolio subprime loans, as well as Medicare privatization, Humana, which more or less have policies that would seem to be antithetical to Senator Edwards’s publicly stated positions on policy.
I think that it’s going to be very important to have a president who is able to challenge frontally the very interests that have been able to escape regulation through these hedge funds, who will be able to protect private investors who may have been brought into the initial public offering of hedge funds, where the transparency is still quite limited, and who will be able to help rebuild the American economy to the point of where we can have a true housing program, where people can have housing and gain access to credit. This really goes to the heart of the role of the Federal Reserve, and —
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, your time is up on this question. In this part of the debate, the candidates ask each other questions. This is former Senator John Edwards.
JOHN EDWARDS: This is about campaign finances. And let me start it by saying the obvious, which is, all three of us have raised a great deal of money in this campaign. And so, this is not preachy or holier than thou in any possible way.
What we know is that all three of us want to do something about healthcare in this country. And we also know that, until recently, Senator Clinton had raised more money from drug companies and insurance companies than any candidate, Democrat or Republican, until you passed her, Senator Obama, recently to go to number one. My question is, do you think these people expect something for this money? Why do they give it? Do they think that it’s for good government? Why do they do it?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, let’s be clear, John. I just want to make sure that we understand: I don’t take money from federal lobbyists. I don’t take money from PACs.
JOHN EDWARDS: As I don’t, either.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: As you don’t, either.
What happens is, is that you’ve got — if you’ve got a mid-level executive at a drug company or an insurance company who is inspired by my message of change, and they send me money, then that’s recorded as money from the drug or the insurance industry, even though it’s not organized, coordinated or in any way subject to the problems that you see when lobbyists are giving money.
But — and I’m proud of the fact that I’ve raised more money from small donors than anybody else and that we’re getting $25, $50, $100 donations, and we’ve done very well doing it that way.
Now, what I’m also proud of is the fact that in reducing special interest lobbying, I, alone, of the candidates here, have actually taken away the power of lobbyists. Part of the reason that you know who’s bundling money for various candidates is because of a law I passed this year, which says: Lobbyists, if you are taking money from anybody and putting it together and then giving it to a member of Congress, that has to be disclosed.
Ultimately, what I’d like to see is a system of public financing of campaigns, and I’m a co-sponsor of the proposal that’s in the Senate right now. That’s what we have to fight for. In the meantime, what I’m very proud of is to make sure that we continue to make progress at the federal level to push back the influence that lobbyists have right now, and that’s something that I’m going to continue to work on.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I’ve introduced legislation that clearly requires President Bush to come to the United States Congress — it is not enough, as he claims, to go to the Iraqi parliament — but to come to the United States Congress to get anything that he’s trying to do, including permanent bases, numbers of troops, all the other commitments he’s talking about as he’s traveling in that region. And I want to ask Senator Obama if you will co-sponsor my legislation to try to rein in President Bush so that he doesn’t commit this country to his policy in Iraq, which both of us are committed to end.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think we can work on this, Hillary, because I don’t think — you know, we’ve got unity in the
Democratic Party, I hope, on this.
The notion that President Bush could somehow tie the hands of the next president, I think, is contrary to how our democracy is supposed to work and the voices of the American people who spoke out in 2006 and I expect will speak out again in 2008.
I have opposed this war consistently. I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009. And we already saw today reports that the Iraqi minister suggests that we’re going to be in there at least until 2018 — 2018, ten years, a decade-long commitment.
Currently, we are spending $9 billion to $10 billion a month. And the notion is that we’re going to sustain that at the same time as we’re neglecting what we see happening in Afghanistan right now, where you have a luxury hotel in Kabul that was blown up by militants, and the situation continues to worsen.
My first job as president of the United States is going to be to call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, "You’ve got a new mission, and that is to responsibly, carefully, but deliberately start to phase out our involvement there and to make sure that we are putting the onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to do to arrive at peace.”
BRIAN WILLIAMS: If I could just interrupt here, before I give you your question — would the other two of you join in the 2009 pledge that Senator Obama has made concerning the withdrawal of American troops?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, yes. I’m on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within sixty days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards?
JOHN EDWARDS: I think I’ve actually, among the three of us, been the most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president of the United States. I will end combat missions. And while I’m president, there will be no permanent military bases in Iraq.
TIM RUSSERT: In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of your first term. All three of you said, you will not take that pledge. I’m hearing something much different tonight.
JOHN EDWARDS: There’s nothing different. This is nothing different.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: No, no, no, no. There’s nothing different, Tim. I want to make sure — no, no. I think this is important, because it was reported as if we were suggesting that we would continue a war until 2013. Your question was, could I guarantee all troops would be out of Iraq? I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there. I will end the war, as we understand it, in combat missions, but that we are going to have to protect our embassy. We’re going to have to protect our civilians. We’re engaged in humanitarian activity there. We are going to have to have some presence that allows us to strike if al-Qaeda is creating bases inside of Iraq.
And so, I cannot guarantee that we’re not going to have a strategic interest that I have to carry out as commander-in-chief to maintain some troop presence there, but it is not going to be engaged in war, and it will not be the sort of permanent bases and permanent military occupation that George Bush seems to be intent on.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: You know, Tim, it’s not only George Bush. I just want to add here —
TIM RUSSERT: But you both will have a presence?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think that what Barack said is what John and I also meant at that same time, because, obviously, we have to be responsible, we have to protect our embassy, we do need to make sure that, you know, our strategic interests are taken care of.
But it’s not only George Bush. The Republican candidates running for the presidency are saying things that are very much in line with President Bush. You know, Senator McCain said the other day that we might have troops there for a hundred years, Barack. I mean, they have an entirely different view than we do about what we need to have happening as soon as we get a Democrat elected president.
JOHN EDWARDS: Can I —
TIM RUSSERT: Thirty seconds for Senator Edwards.
JOHN EDWARDS: I just want to say, it is dishonest to suggest that you’re not going to have troops there to protect the embassy. That’s just not the truth. It may be great political theater and political rhetoric, but it’s not the truth.
There is, however, a difference between us on this issue, and I don’t think it’s subtle. The difference is, I will have all combat troops out in the first year that I’m president, and there will be no further combat missions, and there will be no permanent military bases.
AMY GOODMAN: And now the voice excluded from this debate on this key issue around war, we put that question that Tim Russert put to you, Congressmember Kucinich, as well as the other candidates in New Hampshire, around the withdrawal of troops.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I’m the only person running for president who not only voted against the war, but voted 100% of the time against funding the war. What you’ve heard here is a bunch of nuancing. They’re all saying the same thing, that they will keep troops in Iraq. The troops will be kept there to protect an embassy. The troops will be kept there for counterinsurgency and for training the Iraqi military.
Well, the fact of the matter is, we must get out of Iraq. We must end the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home. We don’t have a right to have an embassy there, as we are an occupying army. And any way that the United States government would keep its foot in the door of Iraq is a way that the war will continue, because the occupation is fueling the insurgency.
I’m the only one running who had a plan that was introduced immediately after the invasion that called for not only an end to the occupation, closing of the bases, bringing the troops home, but also a parallel process of an international security and peacekeeping force that would move in as our troops leave. We cannot get such a force until the United States determines it will end the occupation. Once we determine we will do that, we can move and to have a rapprochement with Syria, as well as opening diplomatic relations with Iran for the first time in twenty-nine years.
It’s vitally important that we work to effect a program of reconciliation between the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds; an honest reconstruction program, where we get rid of the crooked contractors and the mercenaries who have compounded the American occupation. In addition to that, we need to have a program of reparations to the Iraqi people. Over a million innocent Iraqis have been killed. We must repair the breach. That breach was a monetary one. It is a moral and social one. We have a lot of work to do there, and we’re going to have to do it not by occupying, but by showing that we can have a leader who’s compassionate enough to recognize a moral and financial responsibility to the Iraqi people.
We also have to make sure that the Iraqi people have full control of their oil. I’m the only one who’s running who understood immediately that the Bush program for reconciliation was in fact a plan to privatize Iraq’s oil in order to gain control over a $30 billion oil wealth.
I think that it is manifestly clear that the only person running for president who will bring our troops home, who will get out of there within three months from taking office, is myself. And all the others have tried to game this issue. They either voted for the war, in the case of Senator Edwards and Senator Clinton, or they voted to fund the war, in the case of Senator Edwards, Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, who, by the way, campaigned in saying, well, he opposed the war from the start, but then when he was elected to the Senate, his voting record is indistinguishable from Senator Clinton’s with respect to funding the war. So you can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth on this thing. You’re either for getting out of Iraq, or you’re not. If you’re for getting out of Iraq, you don’t keep troops there for any purpose whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, Senator Edwards put his question to both people at the table, to Senator Clinton, as well as Senator Obama, saying, “Senator Clinton had raised more money from drug companies and insurance companies than any candidate, Democrat or Republican, until you passed her, Senator Obama, recently [to go] to number one.” And he said, “My question is, do you think these people expect something for this money? Why do they give it? Do they think that it’s for good government? Why do they do it?” Can you answer that question and say what you would have asked these candidates, had you been sitting at the table, as well?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I would have asked to John Edwards, you point a finger at somebody else, you’re pointing — are you not pointing three back at yourself? The fact in the matter is, Senator Edwards, who has made a — you know, quite a gambit of being able to accuse the others of taking special interest money, his campaign was financed and given a big boost by members of the Fortress hedge fund in Washington — in New York. He would attack Senator Clinton for having money from Washington lobbyists, and he would be taking money from New York hedge fund operators.
In addition to that, his holdings in Fortress, his personal holdings — he put a huge amount of his personal investment into the Fortress hedge fund. And in one of their portfolios is Humana, which is leading the way to privatizing of Medicare. Now, since, Senator Edwards, you are advocating private accounts, that people essentially be forced to buy mandated private insurance, it seems to me that would benefit Humana and increase the value of their position in Fortress.
I think we need to have an understanding here, that the larger issue is public financing. All these people who are running for president are good people, but we have a system that — it’s a bad system. It requires people to do the kinds of pirouettes and gymnastics to make it appear that they’re pure and chaste while their opponents are not. The truth is that the whole system is rotten and that only public financing, a constitutional amendment which would overturn Buckley v. Valeo, will rescue our politics from private control. Until then, we’re going to continue to see our politics in America be as an auction, where policy is sold to the highest bidder.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, we have to break. When we come back, the question is on military recruiting. Today, our listeners and viewers are hearing and watching what the debate would have looked and sounded like if Congressmember Kucinich was a part of this debate with the Democratic candidates Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we break the sound barrier, including Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in the presidential — Democratic presidential debate that took place last night in Las Vegas, we now turn to a question asked by Tim Russert, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
TIM RUSSERT: The volunteer army, many believe, disproportionate in terms of poor and minority who participate in our armed forces. There’s a federal statute on the books, which says that if a college or university does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal funding. Will you vigorously enforce that statute?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, I will. You know, I think that the young men and women who voluntarily join our all-volunteer military are among the best of our country. I want to do everything I can as president to make sure that they get the resources and the help that they deserve. I want a new twenty-first century GI Bill of Rights, so that our young veterans can get the money to go to college and to buy a home and start a business.
And I’ve worked very hard on the Senate Armed Services Committee to, you know, try to make up for some of the negligence that we’ve seen from the Bush administration. You know, Tim, the Bush administration sends mixed messages. They want to recruit and retain these young people to serve our country, and then they have the Pentagon trying to take away the signing bonuses when a soldier gets wounded and ends up in the hospital, something that, you know, I’m working with a Republican senator to try to make sure never can happen again.
So I think we should recognize that national service of all kinds is honorable, and it’s essential to the future of our country. I want to expand civilian national service. But I think that everyone should make available an opportunity for a young man or woman to be in ROTC, to be able to join the military, and I’m going to do everything I can to support the men and women in the military and their families.
TIM RUSSERT: Of the top ten rated schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, they do not have ROTC programs on campus. Should they?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, there are ways they can work out fulfilling that obligation. But they should certainly not do anything that either undermines or disrespects the young men and women who wish to pursue a military career.
TIM RUSSERT: Senator Obama, same question. Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Yes. One of the striking things, as you travel around the country, you go into rural communities and you see how disproportionately they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. And it is not fair.
Now, the volunteer army, I think, is a way for us to maintain excellence. And if we [are deploying our military wisely, then a voluntary army is sufficient, although I would call for an increase in our force structure, particularly around the Army and the Marines, because I think that we’ve got to put an end to people going on three, four, five tours of duty, and the strain on families is enormous. I meet them every day.
But I think that the obligation to serve exists for everybody, and
that’s why I’ve put forward a] national service program that is tied to my tuition credit for students who want to go to college. You get $4,000 every year to help you go to college. In return, you have to engage in some form of national service. Military service has to be an option. We have to have civilian options, as well, not just the Peace Corps, but one of the things that we need desperately are people who are in our foreign service who are speaking foreign languages, can be more effective in a lot of the work that’s going to be required that may not be hand-to-hand combat but is going to be just as critical in ensuring our long-term safety and security.
TIM RUSSERT: This statute’s been on the book for some time, Senator. Will you vigorously enforce the statute to cut off federal funding to a school that does not provide military recruiters and a ROTC program?
JOHN EDWARDS: Yes, I will.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, would you?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Absolutely not. Our society is being militarized. And part of the problem is NBC, which is a partner defense contractor through the ownership of General Electric of both NBC and Raytheon. So NBC is really promoting war here.
The truth of the matter is that we need to make it possible for our young people, if they desire to go in the military, they can go to a recruiter’s office, instead of telling campuses that if you don’t let recruiters on campus, you’re going to lose your money. That, to me, is antithetical to a democratic society.
We should be finding ways for young people to be able to go to college tuition-free, and I have such a proposal that would enable every person, every young person who wants to go to a two- or four-year public college or university go tuition-free, by the government spending money into circulation.
We need to reorient our society. These kind of questions really are intent on continuing the militarization of our society and of telling young people in a very covert — well, actually in a very overt way, “Well, here are your options for a career in the military,” which is an honorable career, of course, but at the same time, in our society, young people are finding not only are they having trouble being able to afford a college education, but once they get that degree, what are their options after that? I mean, our economy has been a mess.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn now to my colleague, NBC’s Brian Williams.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Let’s talk for a moment about Yucca Mountain. As sure as there’s somebody at a roulette table not far from here convinced that they’re one bet away from winning it all back, every person who comes here running for president promises to end the notion of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. And the people of Nevada have found it’s easier to promise to end it than it is to end it. Anyone willing to pledge here tonight, beginning with you Senator Obama, to kill the notion of Yucca Mountain?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I will end the notion of Yucca Mountain, because it has not been based on the sort of sound science that can assure the people of Nevada that they’re going to be safe. And that, I think, was a mistake.
Now, you hate to see billions of dollars having already been spent on a mistake, but what I don’t want to do is spend additional billions of dollars and potentially create a situation that is not safe for the people of Nevada. So I’ve already — I’ve been clear from the start that Yucca, I think, was a misconceived project. We are going to have to figure out how are we storing nuclear waste. And what I want to do is to get the best experts around the table and make a determination. What are our options based on the best science available? And I think there’s a solution that can be had that’s good for the country, but also good for the people of Nevada.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Thirty seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, I’ll give you the thirty seconds.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I mean, think about this. None of these candidates are talking about phasing out the nuclear industry, which is the underlying issue. Senator Edwards voted for Yucca Mountain, and now he’s opposed to it. We have a condition here where we have to have a carbon-free and nuclear-free energy policy. And until that happens, we’re going to keep seeing the nuclear industry trying to find place to put their waste, and Yucca Mountain is something that they’re working on.
Furthermore, here we are again. NBC, owned by General Electric. General Electric, the largest manufacturer — one of the largest manufacturers of nuclear power plants in the world, has a vested interest in seeing places around the country where nuclear waste can be deposited. They are not in any position to accept a policy that would call for a nuclear-free energy policy that phases out nuclear plants. We have dozens of nuclear plants that operating long past the time of licensure, places like Vermont Yankee, where there are serious issues relating to the integrity of the plant itself.
It’s time that America recognizes we have to move towards wind and solar and sustainable source of energy. Certainly, we have to move away from oil, coal and nuclear. And nuclear energy is the one that presents the greatest challenge, because there are hidden costs with storage. Taxpayers will get stuck with the long-term costs. Ratepayers are being stuck with immediately increased electric rates. It’s not cheap. It doesn’t help our industries. And, you know, NBC and General Electric ought to have a conversation with itself about the best approach for energy for our nation.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, I want to thank you very much for, well, letting us hear and watch what it would be like to have you included in this debate. I’m only sorry it didn’t happen last night on MSNBC. But I’m glad that we could make it possible today.
As we wrap up, though, I wanted to ask you two quick questions. One is, while we know the role MSNBC and General Electric’s NBC played in preventing you from being a part of the debate — the last minute, filed an appeal and was able to exclude you, despite a lower court’s injunction that the debate could not go on without you — what role did these candidates who were at the table — Edwards, Clinton and Obama — play in excluding you?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, you know, I think there’s a real question about why Senators Clinton and Edwards didn’t say anything about the exclusion. Senator Obama did make a statement.
And furthermore, if, as MSNBC maintained in court, this is a private matter, here you have Democratic presidential candidates participating in a, quote, "private debate" where the public interest could be ransacked, because General Electric is involved in all kinds of interests that are quite diverse from the public interest.
So this then becomes a much larger question — much larger than, you know, my candidacy — about who’s structuring these debates? In whose interests are they being conducted? What about the questions, the way they’re framed? Why are they continuing to promote war? Why are these defense contractors involved, as in General Electric’s case? And GE owns Raytheon, GE owns NBC. Defense contracting goes up as war continues.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to interrupt you for one last question. Why are you calling for a recount in New Hampshire?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, because of the disparities in the reports on the day of the election that Obama was going to win by thirteen points, Senator Clinton wins by three. I want to see if there’s —- if the count there was legitimate. Either the polls were horribly off, or the election machinery is flawed. And we’ll find out.
AMY GOODMAN: Will the recount happen?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Oh, yeah. It’s underway right now. You know, our campaign put up $25,000 yesterday to get started, and it is in process right now. We’ll be glad to report back to you. This is, again, a matter of whether the American people can have confidence in the results of an election. This isn’t about me, because -—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, thank you for joining us. I know you’re racing off to the Hill to challenge the Defense Authorization Act.
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