11 January 2011

Passing on Bernie Sanders's "News Update"

I received this thoughtful "News Update" from my favorite U.S. Senator, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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Dear David,

Given the recent tragedy in Arizona, as well as the start of the new Congress, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few words with political friends in Vermont and throughout the country.  I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign at www.bernie.orgThere is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me.  Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated.  Also, please do not hesitate to convey to me any ideas that you may have with regard to how we can best go forward in terms of public policy, as well as politically.  While I cannot respond personally to every comment, I will read them all.

ARIZONA: What occurred this weekend in Tucson was tragic, and I join my congressional colleagues and the entire nation in sending my condolences to the victims of this horrible attack.

In terms of this savage shooting rampage, several points need to be made.  First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate.  Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred.  After all, last year, after her vote in support of health care reform, Rep. Giffords' district office was attacked and her front window was shot out.  In 2009, at an open constituent town meeting in a shopping center similar to the one in which she was gunned down, a pistol fell to the ground from the pocket of a protester attending the event.  During her last campaign her opponent, Tea Party favorite Jesse Kelly, invited his supporters to an event at which they could fire live ammunition from an M-16 rifle as a fundraising device in his effort to help remove Rep. Giffords from office.  Congresswoman Giffords publicly expressed concerns when Sarah Palin, on her website, placed her district in the cross-hairs of a rifle – and identified her by name below the image – as an encouragement to Palin supporters to eliminate her from Congress.  Interviewed on MSNBC at the time when the cross-hairs were posted on the web, Giffords said; “When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

What should be understood is that the violence, and threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona, was not limited to Gabrielle Giffords.  Raul Grijalva, an old friend of mine and one of the most progressive members in the House, was forced to close his district office this summer when someone shot a bullet through his office window.  Another Democratic elected official in Arizona, recently defeated Congressman Harry Mitchell, suspended town meetings in his district because of the threatening phone calls that he received (Mitchell was also in the cross-hairs on the Palin map).  And Judge John Roll, who was shot to death at the Giffords event, had received numerous threatening calls and death threats in 2009.

In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process?  Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?

My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack.  I commend him for that.  But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more.  As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.
Senator Bernie Sanders
THE NEW CONGRESS: The 112th Congress convened last week.  Republicans now control the House of Representatives and have increased their membership in the Senate to 47.  The media and pundits will talk about a million things with regard to this new Congress, but let me stress to you what I consider to be the most important.

The right-wing Republicans now leading their party are extremely confident that the political momentum is with them.  They not only won decisive victories in the last election but, as a result of the disastrous Citizens United  Supreme Court decision, they correctly believe that they will have a huge financial advantage in future elections because billionaires and corporate interests can now contribute as much as they like into the political process without disclosure.  At this moment, Karl Rove and other Republican operatives are organizing big money interests to become financially involved in the next election in a way that will completely revolutionize campaign financing.  Republicans now believe that no matter what they do or say, they will be able to buy many seats in Congress because of their financial advantage.

Further, and equally important, the right-wing media echo chamber of Fox TV and talk radio (Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, etc.) are becoming increasingly effective in transmitting a reactionary world view to the tens of millions of Americans who watch or listen to them every day.  For many of these Americans, the only news that they receive comes from these extreme right-wing commentators.  While the progressive community has made some significant media gains with excellent websites and informative blogs, compelling television news and commentary on MSNBC and some fine and engaging radio talk shows, we would be very naïve not to understand that our progressive analysis of contemporary political issues is being overwhelmed by the right wing.  We have some good shows on MSNBC; they have a network.  We have over a million radio listeners to Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz; Rush Limbaugh has 14 to 25 million, and Sean Hannity has 13 million.

All of which brings me to what the Republican agenda, pushed by an extreme right-wing, will likely be in the coming Congress. And here it is.  The Republicans in this Congress, in a way unprecedented in modern American history, will begin a political assault on the very foundations of modern American society.  Yes, of course they will continue their usual day-to-day efforts to give tax breaks to billionaires and cut back on programs desperately needed by the middle-class, but now they are prepared to go much further.  Now, in a very well-orchestrated effort, they are determined to undo virtually all of the major pieces of social legislation passed since the 1930s, and move this country back to a time when workers, the elderly and the poor had virtually no protections against the vicissitudes of life.  They want to return this country to a time when large corporations and the rich had all the power – economic and political.

They do not simply want to repeal the Health Care Reform bill passed last year.  There are many Republicans in Congress who believe that any federal efforts in health care are unconstitutional.  This means, over a period of time, completely eliminating Medicare, Medicaid and other public health programs.  In other words, if you’re sick and you don’t have a lot of money, you’re on your own.  Good luck.

They do not want to simply cut back on Social Security.  They want to privatize it.  With the backing of Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson and others, the Republicans are not just pushing to raise the retirement age for Social Security and cut benefits in the short- term.  Their long-term goal is to create a situation in which the retirement accounts for workers will be administered by Wall Street – at great profit for financial investment firms.  And when the stock market crashes and you lose your retirement savings, you’re on your own.  Good luck.

They do not want to simply deny the extension of unemployment benefits to workers who lost their jobs in this recession – the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression seven decades ago.  Some of them want to eliminate the concept of unemployment compensation.  Their position is: Lose your job?  You’re on your own.  Good luck.

And on and on it goes.  Whether it is Social Security, health care, environmental protection, education or workers’ rights, the Republican Party is now prepared to dismantle virtually all of the protections that workers and the middle class have successfully fought for over the last 75 years.

Today, in the United States, while the middle class collapses and poverty increases, the richest people in our country have never had it so good.  In 2007, the top one percent earned 23 percent of all income in our country – more than the bottom 50 percent.  The top one percent also owns more wealth than the bottom ninety percent.  While in recent years we have seen a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires in this country we continue to have, by far, the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world.

But, for my Republican colleagues, all of this is not enough.  They need to help the rich get more, more and more.  That is what their agenda is all about.

Needless to say, as Vermont’s senator, I will do all that I can to defeat this disastrous set of policies.  And I will be joined in this effort by other members of the Senate, and by many members of the House.  But we can’t do it alone.  We’re all in this together.

I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you for your support.


Senator Bernie Sanders
PS: If you know friends or family who would like to receive an occasional news update from me, please forward them my message and ask them to sign up on my website, www.bernie.org. Thanks.


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