Everything Bernie Sanders doesn’t know about his own policies

During an interview, the Democratic presidential candidate struggled to explain how he’d implement his policies.

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The limits of Bernie Sanders’ understanding of his own policies have been revealed in an interview with the New York Daily News. The transcript of the interview, conducted by the paper’s editorial board, has been published.

Here are the policies Sanders failed to explain:

Breaking up the banks

On one of his key ideas, the need to break up banks that are “too big to fail”, Sanders admitted that this is “something I have not studied”. First, he seemed unsure whose authority it would be to implement such an intervention:

Daily News: And then, you further said that you expect to break them up within the first year of your administration. What authority do you have to do that? And how would that work? How would you break up JPMorgan Chase?

Sanders: Well, by the way, the idea of breaking up these banks is not an original idea. It's an idea that some conservatives have also agreed to.

You've got head of, I think it's, the Kansas City Fed, some pretty conservative guys, who understands. Let's talk about the merit of the issue, and then talk about how we get there…

Daily News: Okay. Well, let's assume that you're correct on that point. How do you go about doing it?

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don't know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, "Now you must do X, Y and Z?"

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.

Pushed for more details, Sanders eventually had to admit he didn’t know:

Daily News: . . . what I'm asking is, how can we understand? If you look at JPMorgan just as an example, or you can do Citibank, or Bank of America. What would it be? What would that institution be? Would there be a consumer bank? Where would the investing go?

Sanders: I'm not running JPMorgan Chase or Citibank.

Daily News: No. But you'd be breaking it up.

Sanders: That's right. And that is their decision as to what they want to do and how they want to reconfigure themselves. That's not my decision. All I am saying is that I do not want to see this country be in a position where it was in 2008, where we have to bail them out. And, in addition, I oppose that kind of concentration of ownership entirely.

You're asking a question, which is a fair question. But let me just take your question and take it to another issue. Alright? . . .

Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I'm a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order...

Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.

Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I'm not quite...

Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.

Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?

Sanders: It's something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.

This is a little embarrassing, considering a promise to “break up the banks” has been a regular mantra in Sanders’ stump speeches.

Punishing Wall Street executives

Sanders claims that his administration would punish those he blames for the 2008 financial crisis, but he is very hazy on how he would actually be any different from Barack Obama on this.

Daily News: Okay. But do you have a sense that there is a particular statute or statutes that a prosecutor could have or should have invoked to bring indictments?

Sanders: I suspect that there are. Yes.

Daily News: You believe that? But do you know?

Sanders: I believe that that is the case. Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don't. But if I would...yeah, that's what I believe, yes. When a company pays a $5 billion fine for doing something that's illegal, yeah, I think we can bring charges against the executives.

As the Daily News points out during the interview, Sanders has made this a central part of his campaign. An odd thing to do if he’s unable to flesh out the idea.

A stop to losing jobs overseas

Sanders has pledged to rejig US trade agreements to protect jobs for US workers and stop businesses moving work overseas. But again, he doesn’t seem too sure about how this could be done.

While insisting in the interview that he is not “anti-trade”, that “we need trade” and that he backs “fair trade policies”, he ties himself in knots about which countries the US should be trading with.

Sanders: . . . I don't think it is appropriate for trade policies to say that you can move to a country where wages are abysmal, where there are no environmental regulations, where workers can't form unions. That's not the kind of trade agreement that I will support.

Daily News: So how would you stop that?

Sanders: I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have. And by establishing principles that says that what fair trade is about is you are going to take into consideration the wages being paid to workers in other countries. And the environmental standards that exist.

But later in this section of the interview, Sanders seems to say that “fair trade” is only to trade countries with the same standards as the US:

Sanders: Well, if he [Donald Trump] thinks they're bad trade deals, I agree with him. They are bad trade deals. But we have some specificity and it isn’t just us going around denouncing bad trade. In other words, I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you're in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I'm not going to have American workers "competing" against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.

Using drones

Sanders, who draws a big dividing line between himself and Hillary Clinton – who supported the Iraq invasion whereas he opposed it – on foreign policy, appears confused about his own view on using drones.

Daily News: Okay, while we were sitting here, I double-checked the facts. It's the miracle of the iPhone. My recollection was correct. It was about 2,300, I believe, killed, and 10,000 wounded. President Obama has taken the authority for drone attacks away from the CIA and given it to the U.S. military. Some say that that has caused difficulties in zeroing in on terrorists, their ISIS leaders. Do you believe that he's got the right policy there?

Sanders: I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that drones are a modern weapon. When used effectively, when taking out ISIS or terrorist leaders, that's pretty impressive. When bombing wedding parties of innocent people and killing dozens of them, that is, needless to say, not effective and enormously counterproductive. So whatever the mechanism, whoever is in control of that policy, it has to be refined so that we are killing the people we want to kill and not innocent collateral damage.

He seems to be in favour, but only if they don’t kill civilians by accident. Not exactly a wildly different take from pretty much any political leader involved in modern warfare.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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