Recently Dr. Margaret Flowers was asked to complete a questionnaire by The Baltimore Sun. Here are her responses.
Q: Why are you running for office?
A: I am running for the U.S. Senate to bring my expertise, honesty and integrity to that office. I see through my work how the concerns of Marylanders are ignored by our two senators even when serious issues of public health and safety are raised. I do not accept any corporate donations and I will only accept the average Maryland income. My office will be open to constituents so that we can work together to rein in corruption, reduce the wealth divide, solve the health care crisis, move to clean and sustainable energy and end systemic racism.
Q: What is your view of the international agreement intended to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons?
A: I support the international agreement with Iran as a first step towards normalizing relations and I support increasing the use of diplomacy in our foreign policy in general. I also support prohibiting and eliminating all nuclear weapons throughout the world, including in the United States. The U. S. should not spend $1 trillion over the next ten years on upgrading nuclear weapons. Instead, we should use that money for pressing domestic needs and engage in multilateral negotiations with all nuclear weapon states to reach an agreement to ban nuclear weapons. I agree with my physician colleagues who understand the devastation that nuclear weapons can produce and the imperative that we end their threat everywhere.
Q: What strategy should the United States pursue to protect itself and its allies from ISIS?
A: ISIS is a symptom of the destruction of nations in the Middle East through the United States' failed "War on Terror". This has led to chaos in countries like Iraq and Libya that creates an opening for extremists and foments anti-American sentiment. Our first priority should be to cut off ISIS' access to money and to weapons, which are coming from U. S. allies. And our second priority should be to provide basic support to stabilize countries in the Middle East. There is much that needs to be done to restore basic infrastructure and access to energy, food, clean water, education and more. As these states re-stabilize, they will regain the trust of their people and reduce extremism. United States' militarism and intervention is the cause of this problem, not the solution.
Q: Do you support the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Have free trade deals generally been good for the U.S.?
A: I have been actively working for the past five years to stop international agreements like the TransPacific Partnership. Experience with similar treaties over the past twenty years shows that they drive a global race to the bottom in worker rights and wages and protection of the environment. They give greater rights to transnational corporations to sue our government if our new laws interfere with their ability to make profits in a trade tribunal that supersedes even our Supreme Court. Veolia, a French corporation that operates in Maryland, sued Egypt over a new law to raise its minimum wage. We cannot allow transnational corporations to exploit workers. Baltimore has been hurt enough by agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement that cost us our steel industry. We cannot trade away our rights. All of our trade agreements have worsened the trade deficit, rather than helping. They enrich those at the top and hurt smaller businesses and farms. Studies of the TPP show that it will have a negligible positive effect on our Gross Domestic Product over the next ten years and may actually reduce GDP. The TPP will worsen wealth inequality. It is time to end this failed model of trade and create a new model that lifts up workers and protects the health and safety of our communities and the planet.
Q: Name one thing you would do to improve the functioning of the Affordable Care Act.
A: The reality is that the Affordable Care Act continues to leave tens of millions of people without insurance and tens of millions more who have insurance but still can't afford health care because of the out-of-pocket costs. I support improving and expanding traditional Medicare to cover everyone, eliminating out-of-pocket costs and broadening coverage to include mental health, dental, vision and long term care without requiring a spend down that drives seniors into poverty. An improved Medicare for all will reduce our health spending while covering everyone with comprehensive benefits. It will end bankruptcies due to medical costs. As a nation, we are already spending enough on health care to accomplish this. It's time that we join the rest of the industrialized nations who treat health care as a public good, not as a commodity for profits.
Q: Are the steps Congress and the Obama administration took to increase regulation of Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis appropriate? Does more need to be done?
A: As anyone who watched "The Big Short" knows, the fraudulent behavior that was responsible for the 2008 financial crisis continues unabated. Unlike the Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980's in which there were 30,000 investigations and 1,000 felony convictions, no top level executive responsible for the last crash has been held accountable. I have already pledged to support the 19-step plan created by financial crime experts and whistleblowers that would mostly use existing laws to rein in corruption. It would also reduce the size of the too-big-to-fail banks. I would go further to promote financial institutions that serve the public good rather than Wall Street. Like the state of North Dakota, Maryland and other states could create public banks that would serve local needs for infrastructure and investment in businesses. And we can add banking services to the United States Postal Service to meet the needs of those without access to bank accounts. We are fortunate in Maryland to have The Democracy Collaborative which is providing concrete information about how to build and keep wealth in our communities and reduce the wealth divide. I will do what I can to raise awareness of these positive solutions and assist their implementation.
Q: How would you characterize President Barack Obama’s legacy? What are his greatest accomplishments and failures?
A: The Obama campaigns and presidency have demonstrated that there is a widespread desire in the United States for real change. During his presidency, significant movements to end the corruption of government by money, to raise the minimum wage, to end the fossil fuel and nuclear era and move to clean and sustainable energy sources, to end systemic racism and more have grown. Unfortunately, many of the problems driving these movements have not yet been solved. We need leadership in the White House and Congress that are willing to take on the wealthy interests and promote policies that meet the needs of the people and protect the planet. There is already super majority support for many of these policies, but the dysfunction in our political system has made it impossible to move forward on these solutions.
Q: Do you support an increase in the federal minimum wage, and to what level? Should the federal government require paid sick time or family leave?
A: Families and individuals in the United States should have enough income to be able to meet their basic necessities. There are a number of steps that can be taken to accomplish this. A first step would be to look at the reality of the cost of living and raise the federal poverty level to reflect this. There should be a federal minimum wage that is tied to the cost of living in each area and that rises with inflation. Workers should be able to earn a living wage and have paid sick and family leave as well as vacation time. Families have emergencies and workers should not have to fear losing their job when they need time to deal with those emergencies. When workers are sick, they should be able to stay home and recover, especially when they have contagious illnesses. Families need time for recreation in order to be healthy. I would go even farther than a minimum wage to work towards a guaranteed basic income for all people. Instead of public dollars being used to subsidize the profits of big industries, those dollars should be viewed as a public investment with a public return similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund. A universal basic income would eliminate poverty and the need for many poverty programs. This would begin to correct the inequality between workers and capital that has driven the growing wealth divide over the past 50 years.
Q: What steps should Congress take to reduce the toll of gun violence?
A: The high rate of gun deaths is an urgent public health problem that has been a long time in the making and will take some time to resolve. Changes will need to be made to reduce access to guns by people who would use them to kill others or themselves, either intentionally or by accident, and to reduce the socio-economic factors that lead to violent crimes. Congress should regulate the sales of all guns and require universal background checks. Assault weapons and magazines that can carry a large number of rounds should be banned in the US, and this should be combined with a program to buy these back. All gun owners should be licensed and required to take basic gun safety courses or to otherwise demonstrate competence. This should include how to store guns so that children do not have easy access to them. And there should be mandatory reporting of gun thefts to law enforcement. Additionally, Congress should promote policies that curtail the socio-economic factors such as poverty, the failed drug war and lack of access to mental health treatment that drive gun violence towards others and oneself.
Q: Does the process by which congressional district lines are drawn need to be reformed? Should the issue be handled on the federal or state level?
A: There are many reforms that are needed to create a functioning democracy in the United States. How districts are drawn is one of them, but we need to go beyond that to remove barriers to voting, remove barriers to third parties so they have equal access to ballots, primaries and the media and remove the influence of money over who gets elected. We need to hold elections in an open and transparent way so that results are reliable and can be verified. As far as determining districts, I support the drawing of districts by an impartial commission at the state level. There are steps that need to be taken at the federal level such as universal voter registration for everyone 18 and older and Constitutional changes such as ending the Electoral College.
Q: What role should Congress have in helping cities like Baltimore?
A: Members of Congress representing Maryland have a responsibility to constituents throughout the state, including Baltimore. Constituents and local and state government officials should partner with federal legislators to create policies to support necessary solutions that can be implemented at the national, state and local levels. This could include national policies that would benefit people in the city such as putting in place an improved Medicare for all health system, supporting worker rights such as the right to organize unions, creating a basic guaranteed income and protecting our US Postal Service and other public entities that provide high quality jobs and services. For support at the state level, policies can be put in place to promote the transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy including clean transportation, to use a public health approach to drug use, to end mass incarceration and to support a high quality public education system, to create affordable housing and more. The federal government is already investigating the Baltimore police. It should compel police retraining and practices that end police violence, especially those that are done in a racially-prejudiced way. And the federal government can partner to develop policies that promote community-wealth building institutions at the local level such as public banks, support for worker-owned cooperatives, community-owned renewable energy, local food production and community land trusts for permanently-affordable housing.