Sunday, March 13, 2016

Berning For You: Why I'm Supporting and Endorsing Bernie Sanders For President

On December 10, 2010, Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who caucused with the Democrats, disagreed with a bill President Obama had brokered with Republicans that would cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

This was, in part, a Democratic concession so that the GOP would allow for the extension of  unemployment benefits during the recession. Sanders greatly favored the UI extension, but in noting that such provisions had routinely been adopted during periods of high unemployment, he felt that the deal on the table was unjustly weighted to benefit the wealthy. 

So, at the age of 69, Bernie stood and spoke.

For 8-1/2 hours.

Essentially, if not officially, a filibuster.

The next time insomnia strikes, you can read the entirety of his speech here, or watch it in full here, but despite knowing he did not have the political capital for his one-man protest to effect any actual impact, Bernie Sanders stood in place for nearly 9 hours and said things like:
"I have four kids and I have six grandchildren. None of them has a whole lot of money. I think it is grossly unfair to ask my kids and grandchildren and the children all over this country to be paying higher taxes in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires because we have driven up the national debt. That is plain wrong."

"It is important to point out that extending income tax breaks to the top 2 percent is not the only unfair tax proposal in this agreement. This agreement between the President and the Republican leadership also calls for a continuation of the Bush era 15-percent tax rate on capital gains and dividends, meaning that those people who make their living off their investments will continue to pay a substantially lower tax rate than firemen, teachers, nurses, carpenters, and virtually all the other working people of this country. I do not think that is fair." 
As you might imagine, during his lengthy oration, Sen. Sanders railed against many of the economic inequities he is assailing in his presidential campaign, including decrying that the proposed bill to extend the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years--which did subsequently pass--would provide JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon an additional $1.1 million in tax breaks on his $89 million yearly earnings, yet not one Senate Republican supported Sanders' bill to provide a $250 one-time check to seniors and disabled veterans who had gone over two years without a cost-of-living-adjustment on their annual social security income of approx. $15,000-$16,000.

I can't recall if some progressive friends had mentioned Bernie Sanders to me before the "filibuster" speech, but that is when I first came to hold him in high regard.

Regardless of how closely my, or anyone's, beliefs were aligned, there was something refreshing about seeing a U.S. Senator, especially an older and rather disheveled-looking one, standing up--literally, and quite lengthily--for his principles, and those of ordinary, oft-disenfranchised Americans, in the face of Republicans, Democrats and even a President I wound up voting for twice.

Given the huge corporate money and proliferation of lobbyists that greatly influence American politics, and my perception that despite all the polarization between the parties in Congress, Republicans and Democrats essentially drink from the same trough, it was gratifying to see a senator--already iconoclastic and independent--go to bat for, essentially, us.

If nothing else, Bernie has balls few others in our electorate have ever so resolutely and autonomously demonstrated on C-SPAN.

And more than any other presidential candidate I've ever supported, including Presidents Clinton and Obama, I believe what I believe Bernie Sanders believes.

Partial list of issues addressed on
I really do not like labels. I think they oversimplify our multifaceted individuality and can serve to curb discussion, contemplation and compromise beyond our polarized classifications.

But based on my voting record, in every election and primary since I turned 18 in 1986, I would be described as a staunch Democrat.

And while I think each of these terms is loaded with unnecessary, imprecise and even inaccurate connotations, my beliefs would definitely get me called a lefty, liberal and progressive, and even a radical with traces of revolutionary.

Think derisively of any or all of these terms, or Democratic Socialist as Bernie Sanders labels himself, and feel free to imagine that we hate the rich, want you to downsize your home, deprive you of your luxury SUV, take away your guns, fire every police officer and kill babies.

But I don't want, or believe, any of these things.

However it gets me labeled, I simply believe we are all equally entitled to a good, comfortable, safe and productive life.

I am no better, more important or more entitled than anyone else, anywhere, but particularly--for purposes here--among those currently residing in the United States of America.

I don't care where you were born, what you look like, how or when you came to the U.S., who you sleep with, what gender you are or identify with, who you pray to (or don't), how much money you have or make, how much education you received, where you work (or don't) or what you believe. In no way are you less worthy of all the opportunities--and basic rights and respect--afforded anyone else, or deserving of denigration.

Yes, sadly, I know that some people aren't good, and a few desiring of doing evil, but nothing has shown me that this is particular to any group, nor that we should castigate anyone who isn't engaging in deplorable actions.

These feelings, of equality and not superiority, have generally seemed more in line with Democrats than Republicans, and thus I have consistently voted that way.

To be fair, though, among personal acquaintances and interactions--i.e. not politicians--I have known Republicans, conservatives, right-wingers, etc., who are wonderful people, and Democrats, liberals, leftists, etc., who are terrible people.

Nothing is cut and dried, including labels. Or political party affiliation.

But without wanting to get into specifics about Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich or any other GOP candidates for President, I hope the last few paragraphs suggest why I am odds with what they--variably, to be fair--espouse.

It's not that I cannot support a Republican, rather that I never have and don't now.

Yet part of why I support Bernie Sanders, for President, but even more so just in general, has to do with dissension derived from the Democrats, including President Obama.

I voted quite enthusiastically for Barack Obama in 2008, and was deliriously happy--in person, at Grant Park--when he became our first African-American president, with messages of "Change We Can Believe In" and "Yes We Can."

I think President Obama has achieved much, especially in the face of considerable Republican opposition, obstinance and vitriol, and I voted for him again in 2012.

But with full regard for the fact that what Obama "got done" in the White House doesn't represent everything he would have liked, let alone me, personal experiences make me perceive many of his most seemingly impressive accomplishments--Obamacare, the considerable improvement of the economy and lowering of the unemployment rate, the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act--as only somewhat effective, or inaccurately portraying the ongoing reality.

I do not blame President Obama for my being downsized out of a good job in 2009 and never since acquiring one of comparable "permanence," responsibility, duration or compensation.

If I can fairly believe that a successful career creating compelling recruitment advertising went to shit at the same time the economy and job market did, then the subprime mortgage crisis and malfeasance of Wall Street, AIG, etc. in either duplicitously hawking or stupidly betting on collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) made up of crap, certain-to-fail mortgages but which Moody's and S&P colluded to rate AAA or otherwise low-risk, the shenanigans that was allowed to go on during the George W. Bush administration--abetted by the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act under Bill Clinton's presidency which deregulated Wall Street and allowed banks to ply in securities--is far more to blame for my own economic downturn than anything President Obama did or didn't do.

Especially if you liked the movie, read the book.
You'll better understand what Bernie is decrying.
To better understand the causes of the financial crash of 2008, I read numerous books--The Big Short by Michael Lewis, Griftopia by Matt Taibbi, The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz, Predator Nation by Charles Ferguson, Stop This Depression Now by Paul Krugman and others--several articles (mostly by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone) and watched documentaries such as Inside Job, Capitalism: A Love Story and Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

All these sources and more pretty well corroborated the culprits, egregious corruption and wide-reaching consequences of the meltdown, for which--as Bernie recently noted regarding Goldman Sachs--huge, though relatively small, fines have been paid, but no criminal prosecutions of those who perpetuated the malfeasance have been undertaken.

In some ways that have yet to recover, the world economy was decimated, but when the banks got bailed out in part to re-open credit to small business entrepreneurs and stimulate the economy, they kept the money, paid themselves ostentatious bonuses and continued to trade in the type of risky derivatives that caused the bust.

Putting us at risk of an even greater financial calamity.

I don't think President Obama has done nearly enough to curb Wall Street excesses, penalize the criminal perpetrators of the crash, break up or reign in the "Too Big to Fail" banks, take steps to even out the playing field between Wall Street and Main Street, nor help average citizens recoup the jobs, income and/or savings that were lost...while the rich keep getting richer.

Chart from On Inequality and the Shift of Wealth in America
by Michael Collins,
While understanding that there were many systematic and legislative injustices beyond his control, including the Citizens United case in which the Supreme Court held that corporations could make vast, largely unrestricted campaign contributions--i.e. buy control of the political process--I took President Obama to task for not being tougher on Wall Street and income inequality in a Sept. 2012 article in which I considered abstaining from voting that November.

As noted above, I wound up voting for Mr. Obama's re-election, but have remained nearly as disillusioned by the Democrats inability to enact real change as I am by the contrarian beliefs of the Republicans.

Even in areas where I applauded newfound progress--such as marriage equality--it felt like matters of basic human decency were too latently adopted into law, and to whatever extent "the state" can be conjunctively condemned, too little has been done to address the racial divide, discrimination, vitriol and epidemic of murder of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers.

More than any presidential candidate I've come across before, I believe Bernie Sanders wants to correct all of the above, without the obstacle of being beholden to corporate donors or moneyed interests.

Some, including those whose opinions I greatly respect, may believe Hillary Clinton has similar aims, and as she's still the Democratic frontrunner as of this writing, I sure hope so.

One of those--admittedly dubious--online tests that assess who you support based on your beliefs on various issues and topics showed that I was 99% aligned with Bernie, but also 94% aligned with Hillary.

I believe Hillary Clinton is a incredibly smart, accomplished and driven woman who has served this country well. I don't hate her.

And I cringe when thinking about all the vitriol she has faced from the right, as First Lady, U.S Senator from New York, Secretary of State and Presidential candidate.

All the years she supported her husband while patiently waiting in his shadow, her crushing defeat to Obama in seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination and the excessive hatred that has always been thrown her way make it hard not to admire her steadfast ambition to become President of the United States of America.

Whatever one thinks of her, and I don't particularly like her simply as a matter of perception--arbitrary and perhaps immaterial, but maybe not--she is definitely not choosing the easiest, nor most prosperous route, for the next 5-9 years of her life.

Her resumé, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs, is impressive, more so than Bernie's. I accept as valid the argument that she may be better prepared to assume the presidency, and I can more readily see her standing up to Putin, Kim Jong-il and others on the world stage.

That she seems more realistic about what can actually get done in the highest office of the land, with a still highly split, contested, contemptuous, likely GOP-controlled and wealth influenced Congress, is also a sound opinion.

And I think it would be wonderful for the United States to finally elect a woman president, though Elizabeth Warren is politically more to my liking. (I also like Condoleeza Rice more than any of the crop of GOP candidates in this election cycle.)

But even in her borrowing parts of her platform from Bernie, and airing some more progressive stances, I don't trust Hillary Clinton to even try to do what I believe needs to be done.

Negative connotations of the term "establishment candidate" perhaps too brazenly dismiss the popularity, persistence and temerity necessary to win elections and facilitate legislation within the existing parameters of the American political arena, but with a good bit of Howard Beale in me, I don't want the same old song and dance.

And, meaning this more in a philosophical sense than specifically about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and most of the preceding presidents, I don't want "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

I, and seemingly large portions the the U.S. populace, particularly among younger demographics, want to believe that we can return a truer sense of fairness, decency and dignity to America, in terms of jobs, wages, taxes, racial & religious tolerance and who & what controls Congressional decisions.

Roll your eyes at terms progressives throw around such as "corporatocracy," "oligarchy" or simply "income inequality," but they represent realities that have--directly or indirectly--had crippling effects, not only in terms of the ridiculousness of people forced to sleep on streets while others have multiple mansions, but from the poisoning of water to the price of groceries to the erosion of arts education in schools.

So when Bernie speaks of his campaign representing a "political revolution," damn right that's what I want.

This doesn't mean that I hate anyone who has a good job, or even owns a sports franchise.

If you make under $250,000, nothing that Bernie is proposing should negatively affect you, and if you earn a little bit to bazillions more--especially as it means you're likelier to derive substantive income from investment gains, which are taxed much lower than employment income--I think you should pay more in taxes.

Not to the point of having to sacrifice your Lear Jet, but simply so that 1 in 6 Americans no longer have to go hungry. 

Same goes for corporations who use all sorts of loopholes, overseas headquarters, third world factories and other devices to make people at the top wealthier at the expense of the working class.

I'm not going to run through Bernie Sanders' entire platform; he does a good job of it himself and, unlike Hillary, he seems to be incredibly consistent in what he believes and supports, even going back decades.

Many of the things Hillary now says with which I'm in concert seem to have initially and more emphatically--and yes, believably--been espoused by Bernie, who's been steadfast in raising concerns about climate change, supporting gay rights, decrying racial injustice and opposing the influx of money into politics.

Hillary has, in fact, taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, and campaign contributions, from Wall Street and other moneyed interests, including notably Goldman Sachs, a.k.a. the Vampire Squid. Perhaps this wouldn't taint her policy making, but it does give me pause. I genuine doubt she would advocate overhauling a corrupt system the way Bernie wants to.

And as exacerbated in the past few days between her initial--and subsequently withdrawn in the name of truth--praise of the Reagans for their fictitious advocacy during the AIDS crisis, to her saying "I don't know where he was when I was trying to get health care in '93 and '94" only to have photos and video released showing Bernie Sanders standing literally right behind her as she gave a speech on health care reform, Hillary has repeatedly shown herself to be a misinformed at best, dishonest at worse, candidate.

To which many might say, "sure Hillary has her flaws, but she's well-intentioned and practical, while Bernie--though wonderfully idealistic--is floating completely unrealistic ideas."

My rebuttal is to suggest that we--even those living pretty decent and contented lives--consider the inequities apparent in the current reality...and start believing a demonstrably better one is possible.

For everyone.

Sure, the likelihood of tuition-free college, a single-payer healthcare system, expanded social security, raising of the minimum wage to $15, the creation of myriad new jobs via massive infrastructure investment, significantly combating climate change and immediate implementation of other Sanders desires seems far-fetched.

But why? Because they're bad ideas or because they would cost a ton of money and don't seem pragmatic in the current system?

Public high schools are tuition-free, why not college? Several other countries offer free healthcare to their citizens, why can't we? And as for the seeming preposterousness of funding all these "freebies," consider that:
Add caption
- The Wall Street bailout cost $29 trillion (source:
- A single model of fighter jet as shown above has been in development since 2001 and still hasn't been deemed operational for battle, yet has cost over $1 trillion
- The annual U.S. Military budget of approx. $600 billion is more than the next 7 highest spending countries, combined, and by almost double
- As of 2013, the cost of wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan stood at nearly $4 trillion and rising 
- The fortunate individuals on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans are worth an aggregate $2.34 trillion and average $3.86 billion. Think they could get by on just a bit less?
- Even Warren Buffett believes the super wealthy are woefully undertaxed
- Fortune 500 companies combine for $12.5 trillion in revenues and over $1 trillion in profits, yet many pay a relative pittance in U.S. taxes. (From 2008 to 2012, 26 profitable Fortune 500 companies paid $0 in federal income taxes)
- The financial transaction tax of 50 cents per $100 in securities trades--as advocated by National Nurses United--could raise over $350 billion annually with almost no impingement on anyone's way of life.
- Tuition-free public colleges might seem like an outrageous concept, but there are approximately 50 million U.S. children receiving tuition-free public K-12 education. There are currently about 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities, both public and private. I don't have children, yet gladly pay taxes that support public education.
So sure, some of Bernie's ideas sound radical, but if you ask me, that the Walton family--owners of Walmart but simply the inheritors of what their dad accomplished--has more wealth than 42% of American families combined is what's truly crazy. And there is a plethora of similarly incomprehensible factoids.

I could go on and on, about military spending and foreign trade agreements and injustices of the legal system and the proliferation of guns--yes, I know Hillary has advocated stauncher gun control measures, but Bernie is just as obsessed with public safety, and his representing the views of his Vermont constituency is what a senator is supposed to do--but I think you get the point.

We certainly can't have Trump, or even Cruz or Rubio, who would have angry white people believe--even more so--that their problems are caused by immigrants, refugees, Muslims and people of color.

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Illinois Democratic Primary
through Early Voting on 3/12/16, and have contribute more to
his campaign--in dollars and frequency--than any candidate ever.

And while I would completely concur that simply in terms of tolerance and other key principles, Hillary Clinton is inordinately favorable to the leading Republican candidates, I think we need to aim higher.

Even if it's impossible for Bernie Sanders to radically change things overnight, his surging popularity--especially among the young--suggests that anything is possible if enough people join together to make it happen.

It's easy to be skeptical given the current political realities, especially when there will be far from universal public buy-in at the outset, but look at how far Bernie has come in less than a year; imagine if the groundswell effect--and insistence on true change--continues to grow exponentially, with his presidency as the catalyst.

As my hero Bruce Springsteen--who, even as an exorbitantly rich man, has openly condemned the "banksters" and campaigned for Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 & 2012, though has yet to declare his preference this time around--has often exhorted from the stage:

"The country we carry in our hearts is waiting."

I firmly believe voting for Bernie Sanders is the first step.

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