For week nine of "Fringe Friday," we feature independent candidate for U.S. Senate Stephen Cain, whose solution to Middle East conflict is to move Israel to the Nevada desert.
We mean no offense by "fringe." Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third-party candidates — and their radical ideas — on the ballot. The reality is, these candidates seldom win more than 4 to 5 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
For more Seven Days fringe profiles, click here.
Candidate: Stephen Cain
Office Sought: U.S. Senator
Education: University of Vermont (BS in political science, 1974)
Occupation: Prep cook at The Vermont Pub & Brewery. (Fun fact: After college, from 1975-77, Cain worked as a U.S. Senate elevator operator at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.)
Family: Cain comes from a family of prominent Burlington Democrats. His uncle, Francis Cain, was mayor of Burlington from 1967 to 1971. His father, John Cain, served as probate judge, state representative and state senator. Cain himself ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 1992 and 1994, as a Democrat.
Platform: Create "green" jobs by putting 300 Vermonters to work manufacturing "compact bathrooms," using "NASA technology" to get a "zero-effluent" bathroom. The bathrooms would cost $5000, offset by an undetermined federal rebate, according to Cain.
We caught up with Cain last week for an interview at Muddy Waters coffee shop in Burlington.
Seven Days: Let's talk about your zero-effluent toilet idea. Can you describe what "NASA technology" it relies on?
Stephen Cain: I can't right now. I think it comes out as a solvent, which can be carted away and placed to do some other job. It wouldn't be toxic. I haven't fully flushed it out.
SD: That's kind of a niche idea. How did you think of that?
SC: Just thinking about what I feel and how to get green jobs here in Vermont. You'd have a lot of people making them — you could have two or three different locations where people make them. You'd have people moving them. They'd be like on a flatbed, three or four on a flatbed.
SD: You're from a big Democratic family. Why are you running as an independent?
SC: I had a big falling out with the Democrats. It goes pretty deep. I got into a tiff with [U.S. Senator Patrick] Leahy. In 1995, I heard about 9/11 from two different sources. I heard about the plan to attack the Twin Towers. My sources were an Afghani cab driver in the Washington, D.C. area. The second source was actually a construction worker here in Vermont. I know it's hard to explain because people think that it's silly and crazy. This construction worker knew one of the terrorists. So I went to Leahy and explained what I had heard and asked him to warn the administration. And if he wouldn't do it, would he give me [James] Carville's cell phone number so I could warn the administration. And he kicked me out of his office in D.C. It happened just like I said it would.
SD: Do you have proof of this?
SC: I want you to call [former Vermont Gov.] Madeleine Kunin and ask her. She had heard about the attack through me. She also urged Leahy to give the cell phone number to warn the administration. Ask her: Did Steve Cain hear about 9/11 before it happened?
SD: Why didn't you call the FBI?
SC: I did and they were having a turf battle. Back in 1999, I was working for the Library of Congress. One of the FBI agents was working there in the building. I told him about it. He went to check it out. And he was the one that was written up who was having turf battles in the FBI. If you call Madeleine Kunin, it's a lot more believable when you talk to her.
[NOTE: Reached by phone, Kunin told Seven Days that she knows of Cain and knew his uncle, the former mayor, but hasn't had any contact with the candidate. She says she was never approached by Cain about 9/11.]
SD: You know a lot of people are not going to believe you on this.
SC: I know. I've been living with it for 10 years. It's really tough.
SD: Let's switch gears. What's your view on abortion?
SC: I am pro-life. The reason I'm pro-life is I think we need a little morality in government. I don't want to put my hands on anybody's body, or take over anybody's body and call it an incubator or whatever it is. All I know is that women bring babies into the world and when the Supreme Court decided that a three-month fetus is okay to abort but a four-month fetus is not okay to abort, I think [that] is a joke. That decision is just as bad as no-prayer-in-public-schools. One thing you should know is I am a psychiatric survivor. I have spent time getting a diagnosis and some therapy and some hospitalization.
SD: For what?
SC: Paranoid schizophrenic. Just to let you know. It was a long time ago. Like any experience, you learn quite a bit from it. I've improved. I exercise. I read the paper.
SD: Some folks might be uneasy voting for a candidate with that diagnosis, so what would you...
SC: I know, I know. Newsflash: I might not win.
SD: Okay. Tell me why Patrick Leahy should be sent packing?
SC: I don't think he's shown much leadership. I don't see him out front for health care. I don't see him out front for increasing the minimum wage. I see him out front for issues that he gets pushed around on.
SD: What's your position on the war in Afghanistan?
SC: I'm against it. And the thing is, Leahy votes not to go into these places, and then turns around and supplies all the money for it. So I blame him. These people come back dead and that's why I want to talk about the Middle East. The lynch-pin issue with every single person in the Middle East is Israel. Israel's presence. Israel's treatment of Gaza. Israel's treatment of Palestinians. They're using our guns, our tanks, our bombs to kill Palestinians. Israel, I think, is about the size of Connecticut. It has 8 million people. Those people can be moved.
SD: Where do you propose moving them to?
SC: If I had lots of money, lots of power, I would make room in the Nevada desert. Sand is sand. Give them twice as much territory, tell them to double their population and live without fear of repercussions of their lifestyle, that they don't have to kill any more Palestinians, that they won't have to be bombed by Palestinians. Move them to a state in Nevada where they can live and practice their religion. Move them out of the Middle East.
SD: I'm not sure that the Nevada desert is a very desirable place for Israelis to live.
SC: Sand is sand. They have a real tough time in the desert they're in now.
[More on Cain's plans for Israel below]
SD: Let's move on the economy. If you were elected Senator, what would you do to help fix the economy?
SC: I'd push hard for tax cuts for the low income people — low and middle income. I think you'd want to tax the rich. I would define that as [income of] $1 million a year. The tax cuts for the rich should end and they should get taxed even more.
SD: Some people think the stimulus was a waste of money and others say it didn't go far enough — that we actually need a second stimulus. Where do you come down?
SC: I think we need a stimulus but I think we need an economic engine. At one point in this country, it was cattle. At one point in this country, it was oil. And then technology was the big economic engine that took everybody's economy and everybody's wallet and made it fat. What I think we need is a new city, to build a new city, go and stake it out, drill for water in Nevada, and make the Jews a city to be lived in, say, in 10 years. Let that take the place of Tel Aviv. Let that be their capital. It could be built with people who don't have jobs now. We could build a city. I think Atlanta, Ga., was the last city we built like that.
SD: Let's talk about energy.
SC: I think our energy should be much cleaner. I think it should be green. We should use vegetable oil for diesel trucks on the farm.
SD: Do you support nuclear power?
SC: I think we need nuclear research for space and beyond. But as far as the volatile nature and the accidents that have happened, I'm more in favor of green energy because there is a CO2 factor with uranium. Where it's milled and mined, there's a lot of CO2. I'm in favor of decentralizing energy from the big oil companies and some of these uranium places, and putting it on the farms.
SD: I see this hemp brochure you have. What's the point you're trying to make about hemp?
SC: The farms can be saved, thousands of dollars can be made, from hemp — with food, fiber, forage and fuel. If you wanted to make ethanol — you know what makes ethanol? It's the pith in the branch. That cellulose. Hemp cellulose is six times more prolific than corn for producing ethanol. Hemp seeds can be eaten. They can be fed to cattle. They can be eaten by people. Farmers' feed bills would be less.
SD: Let's come back to Afghanistan. Why don't you back the war?
SC: Al-Qaeda has left there. I think the beef that we have with the Taliban is pretty much racist and anti-their religion. Now don't get me wrong. They're cruel. They're cruel as far as, you know, getting people to believe in their way and cutting off noses and stoning people. I mean, they're a little bit behind us.
SD: This is a regime who have brutalized the Afghan people. How can you say that going after [the Taliban] is a racist act?
SC: Because I think their religion is what people are mad at. Why are we fighting the Taliban? I mean, other people are just as evil across the globe.
SD: You don't think we're fighting the Taliban because they gave safe harbor to Al-Qaeda, which attacked us on 9/11?
SC: They give safe harbor to their buddies. They're all buddies. It would be Valley Forge in our way of thinking — in that we gave harbor to the soldiers that were fighting England. They would give harbor to the soldiers that are fighting America because America supports Israel. Stop supporting Israel, write them out of the picture, or get them to settle in Nevada, and you wouldn't have the ethical question of whether they're evil or we're evil.
SD: What are two qualities that would make you a good U.S. Senator?
SC: I'm thorough. I learn slow, but I'm thorough. Once I learn, I don't forget. My father says I'm a classic overachiever. I would start from scratch. First of all, my staff would not be all out-of-staters. My money sources would not be all from out-of-state, with corporate interests. I'm running this campaign with hardly any money at all.
SD: Do you have a favorite TV show?
SC: There's two things I do at night. I turn the Red Sox on [channel] 39, and I listen to the Yankees on WVMT. I'm actually a Yankees fan, but the Red Sox are so enticing because of [Kevin] Youkilis and [Dustin] Pedroia. I mean, their attitudes are so good it astounds me. I like their announcer too, Joe Castiglione.
SD: Who's your favorite Yankee now?
SC: Well, [Derek] Jeter's my favorite Yankee but my favorite Yankee I like to have up to the plate is A-Rod. He's turned into being a clutch hitter from being a klutz.
[A note about the video: We asked Cain to make a video introducing himself and the office he's seeking and to tell voters why they should vote for him. The result sets a new record for brevity — 8 seconds!]