If Your Two Senators And Congressmember Aren't Focused On The Issues Bernie Sanders Is Focused On, Trade Them In For Better Models
I wish I could say that of course Bernie is focused on the real issues of economic equality that plague most working families. After all, he went to James Madison High School in Brooklyn, just like Ken and I did. But that "of course" would be less than accurate. Norm Coleman was also a student there-- and so was Wall Street shill Chuck Schumer. At Madison the only kind of elitism that was encouraged was intellectual elitism-- not the kind of economic and social elitism that has since we all graduated pushed the U.S. back towards the Roaring Twenties or even the Gilded Age. Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Mark Twain called the late 19th century the "Gilded Age." By this, he meant that the period was glittering on the surface but corrupt underneath. In the popular view, the late 19th century was a period of greed and guile: of rapacious Robber Barons, unscrupulous speculators, and corporate buccaneers, of shady business practices, scandal-plagued politics, and vulgar display.Before we get into how Bernie sees today's problems and what to do about them, it's worth taking a look David Lauter's piece from Friday for the L.A. Times on the battle between conservatives and progressives over the expiration of unemployment benefits. The battle lines are the battle lines that working families face across almost all issues. The day after his piece, 1.3 working people who lost their jobs because of a wrong-headed conservative economic agenda, were kicked off unemployment insurance.
It is easy to caricature the Gilded Age as an era of corruption, conspicuous consumption, and unfettered capitalism. But it is more useful to think of this as modern America's formative period, when an agrarian society of small producers were transformed into an urban society dominated by industrial corporations.
Democrats have pushed for another extension but most Republicans have opposed the idea, and so far, the two have stalemated. The Senate’s Democratic leadership has promised to try to push legislation in January that would extend unemployment benefits, but the prospects for passage appear very dim.Bernie is looking at the problem through a wider lens-- and it's why, in the title, I urged every voter to replace their congresscritters who aren't focusing in the way he is. He points out that people are hurting and they're looking to Washington for help. Conservatives are making sure there is no respite for them. Here's how he sees the specifics of the problem beyond "just" the 1.3 million people who got dumped off unemployment insurance over the weekend:
Republicans have advanced three arguments. First, they say that the extension was always supposed to be temporary and now that unemployment has dropped to 7% nationwide, it’s time to go back to the basic 26 weeks of coverage.
Extending benefits for another year would cost roughly $25 billion, they note, which would add to the federal deficit.
Some Republicans also argue that extended unemployment benefits provide a crutch that discourages people from looking for work.
Democrats and a few Republicans who support extending the program note that even though the overall unemployment rate has dropped, the problems faced by the long-term unemployed remain grim. The share of the nation’s workforce that has been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer has dropped, but at 2.6%, it remains as bad as the peak of long-term unemployment in any recession since the end of World War II.
Backers of extended unemployment insurance scoff at the idea that the benefits deter people from looking for work. The problem, they say, is jobs remain hard to find. Some evidence suggests that companies discriminate against people who have been out of work for a long time.
As for the cost of benefits, supporters argue that by injecting money into the economy, unemployment benefits spur growth as recipients buy goods and services. The economy remains weak, they argue, and if anything, the federal deficit for the next couple of years should be larger, not smaller. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke made that point in a recent news conference, saying that fiscal policy was too tight and that the economy would produce more jobs if Congress eased up in the short term.
• The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.So why don't voters ever get a choice between someone like Bernie and one of the Establishment conservatives who run for president under the banners of the two corrupt DC political parties? I made my decision last year-- and stuck to it-- to never pick the lesser of two evils in a presidential race. I voted for Obama in 2008 but not in 2012. I can't imagine voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The only worthwhile candidates for president are on the Blue America Why Settle? page. If any other good candidates on a level with the three already there, I'll add him or her.
• More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation's history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
• Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent-- and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
• Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
• Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
• Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
• The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don't significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.
Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.
When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.
WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.
JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.
WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.
RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.
WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were "too big to fail." Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.
SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a "free country" when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.
WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.
This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.