NO to the Koch brothers, NO to oligarchy
By Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders on the Koch Brothers, oligarchy vs. democracy, detailing what’s at stake.
Editor’s Note – Though this came as a fund-raising plea from Senator Bernie Sanders, it also serves as an editorial on the state of our economy and culture. I have removed direct links to fund-raising pages because that is not Opednews’ role. If, in the future, the Koch Brothers get the changes Sanders’ talks about below, regarding the media, “they will move to influence public opinion through direct media ownership” and the thin line between unbiased media and political ads will disappear, and progressive media will have to respond in kind, I believe.
Reprinted from click here
Thank you so much for the support that, over the years, you have given me. As Vermont’s senator and the longest serving Independent in American congressional history I am helping to lead the fight in Congress to protect the middle class and working families of our country against the greed and recklessness of Big Money interests. In that struggle you have been with me step by step, battle after battle – and I appreciate all that you have done.
In the midst of the most severe economic and political crisis in the modern history of our country, I am once again writing to ask for your political and financial support.
The unprecedented struggle that we’re engaged in now against the Billionaire Class is not just about preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or whether we create the millions of jobs our economy desperately needs. It’s not merely about whether we raise the minimum wage, make college affordable, protect women’s rights or take the bold initiatives we need to reverse climate change and save our planet. It’s not just about creating a health care system which guarantees health care to all as a right, or addressing the abysmally high rate of childhood poverty.
THE STRUGGLE THAT WE’RE ENGAGED IN RIGHT NOW IS MUCH MORE THAN ALL THAT. IT IS WHETHER WE CAN PREVENT THIS COUNTRY FROM MOVING TO AN OLIGARCHIC FORM OF SOCIETY IN WHICH VIRTUALLY ALL ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL POWER RESTS WITH A HANDFUL OF BILLIONAIRES.
I know that some of you think I am exaggerating when I say that. I’m not.
In my view, there are now three major political forces in this country. The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Koch brothers led Billionaire Party. As a result of the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which regards corporations as people and allows the super-rich to spend as much as they want on elections, the Billionaire Party (aligned with the Republicans) is now the major political force in the country.
Please support our efforts today to counter the unlimited resources of the Koch brothers and their right-wing allies.
The Koch brothers, worth $80 billion dollars, are the second wealthiest family in America. Working with other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, the Kochs are prepared to spend an UNLIMITED sum of money to create an America shaped by their right-wing views. And I mean UNLIMITED. Last year, according to Forbes Magazine, the Koch brothers’ fortune INCREASED by $12 billion dollars, while the fortune of Sheldon Adelson INCREASED by $11 billion. In one year! In other words, a handful of self-serving right-wing multi-billionaires have the capability of spending more money on the political process than everyone else combined (the Obama campaign spent one billion in 2012) and they will still be far better off financially than the preceding year.
It is also important to understand the nature of their spending. While they are obviously putting huge sums of money into elections (much of it hidden from public scrutiny), political consultants and lobbyists, their influence goes far beyond political campaigns or congressional policy. Incredibly, and not widely known, is the reality that they have created or supported organizations active in almost every area of public life — the law, education, health care, economics, academia, the environment and climate change, state legislative initiatives, media and veterans’ needs. In other words, they are spending billions not only to win elections and legislative victories today, but to aggressively shape public consciousness to bring about the extreme right-wing society they wish to see. It is also likely that, in years to come, they will move to influence public opinion through direct media ownership. Last year, for example, the Koch brothers gave serious thought to buying the Chicago Tribune Media Company.
What is it that the Koch Brothers and these other billionaires want? What are their goals?
Short term, they want to repeal or eviscerate every major piece of legislation passed in the last 80 years which protects the interests of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. This means, among other programs, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, the right of workers to organize, worker safety, unemployment benefits, nutrition programs and the United States Postal Service. Incredibly, they not only oppose raising the minimum wage, they want to abolish the CONCEPT of the minimum wage so that employers can hire workers for $3 an hour. They also want to dismantle virtually all agencies of government which work to protect the environment and clean air, clean water and safe food. Needless to say, they also believe in a regressive tax system in which the wealthy and large corporations pay even less than they pay today.
Long term, their economic goal is to create a right-wing extremist “free” economy in which working people have virtually no rights or protections. It is not only ideology that motivates them. They want to make sure that more and more of our nation’s wealth will come to rest in the hands of the richest 1/10th of 1% of Americans. They want to make certain that they keep their billions and increase those billions, so that the rich not only stay rich but become even richer. They want a radical redistribution of wealth away from the middle class, the elderly, children and working families — and into the financial holdings of the Billionaire Class.
We must not let that happen!
Politically, they want an electoral system in which the super-rich buy elections while, at the same time, fewer low-income and working people are able to vote. For the Billionaire Class, “democracy” is simply an extension of their economic power. Today, they own much of the economy. Now, they want to own the government. Clearly, part of their insidious agenda is to make it harder for low-income and working families to vote and participate in the political process through the establishment of restrictive voting regulations.
That is their agenda and, if the truth be told, they are making huge gains. Ideas that used to be thought “crazy” are now echoed daily by senators, members of Congress and governors all across the country.
Given the current reality, how do we fight back effectively? How do we create the kind of politics that we need so that government is responsive to all the people, and not just the top 1%?
How do we combat the enormous level of political discouragement and alienation that tens of millions of Americans now feel? How do we get the millions of low-income and working people who no longer vote to stand up for their interests?
How do we disseminate information and ideas which deal with the real issues facing the collapsing middle class, rather than depend upon the insipid corporate media which looks at politics as another version of a reality game show like American Idol?
Fighting back effectively — educating and organizing — is not easy, but the economic, political and environmental crises we face are so huge that, from a moral perspective, we cannot turn our backs on them. This struggle is not just for us. It is for our kids and grandchildren. It is for the survival of the planet.
Clearly, if we are going to be successful, we need a vision that speaks to the needs and the hopes of the vast majority of the American people. We need to change the political dynamics of the nation and develop mechanisms for grass-roots citizen involvement. 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. Here are some of the issues that have to be discussed:
WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much, while so many have so little. As millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, and more people living in poverty than ever before.
Today, the United States has more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on earth. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1% owns 38% of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60% owns all of 2.3%. It is not acceptable that one family, the Waltons, own more wealth than the bottom 40% of all Americans. Economic growth means little when, in recent years, 95% of all new income goes to the top 1%. 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: Real unemployment today (counting those who are under-employed or who have given up looking for work) is not 6.8%, it is almost 13%. Youth unemployment is 20%, and most of the new jobs being created are part-time and low-wage. 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, we also create millions of decent-paying new jobs. We also need a trade policy which creates jobs in this country, not China.
WAGES: Median family income has fallen by $5,000 since 1999. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass legislation, which will soon be voted on in Congress, to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but that is not enough: 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.
EDUCATION: From child care and pre-school education, to elementary school, high school and college, we need major reform. There was a time, not so many years ago, when the United States was the best educated nation on earth. Not today. Now, we lag far behind many other countries in areas ranging from quality child care to the percentage of our people graduating college. Every person in this country is entitled to high quality education, regardless of income. In a highly competitive global economy, it is insane that we are wasting the intellectual capabilities of millions of our people.
CLIMATE CHANGE: The debate is over. The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is caused by human activity, 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. The United States must lead the world in undertaking a massive effort to transform our energy system by moving away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. When we do that, we not only begin the process of reversing climate change, but we create millions of new jobs.
RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector have 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 protect and expand Social Security so that every American can retire with dignity. An immediate first step is lifting the cap on taxable income, now at $117,000 that goes into the Social Security Trust Fund. If we take that modest step, we can assure the viability of Social Security for many decades to come — and increase the benefits paid by the most successful social program in American history.
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. The top six banks today have over $9 trillion in assets, equivalent to 58% of the GDP of the United States. Further, they write half of the mortgages and two-thirds of the credit cards. From both a “too big to fail perspective” as well as the problems associated with Wall Street’s dangerous economic power, it’s time to break up these behemoths. The financial industry must serve and invest in our economy. It cannot simply be an island unto itself, generating huge profits through speculation and fraudulent financial transactions.
And it’s imperative that our judicial system vigorously pursue the crooks on Wall Street who have engaged in illegal activity.
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 pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Further, we must move this country to public funding of elections. Candidates should be elected based on their ideas, not their personal wealth or their ability to raise huge sums of money.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and 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 it is intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this nation 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 enormous 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.
SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in combatting discrimination and 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. We must also pass strong and fair immigration legislation.
Brothers and sisters: We are at a pivotal moment in American history and success is by no means guaranteed. The challenge is simple. Can we rally the American people around a progressive agenda which represents the needs of the vast majority of our people? Or, will the Billionaire Class, with their unlimited resources, succeed in imposing their extreme right-wing ideology on the nation?
Please work with me so that, together, we can build a strong grass-roots movement.
Please help me elect progressive candidates at the local, state and national level.
Senator Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committees.