What Bernie Said, Part II

Thursday, 16 December 2010 13:09 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed | name.

What Bernie Said, Part II
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). (Photo: Wikimedia)

As Congressional Republicans and the White House wrangle over the relative merits of exploding the deficit by giving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don't need the money, the real world they appear to know nothing about plods drearily on. A USA Today story from Wednesday reported:

U.S. Postal Service workers who handle letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole say more letters ask for basics - coats, socks and shoes - rather than Barbie dolls, video games and computers. At New York City's main post office, Head Elf Pete Fontana and 22 staff elves will sort 2 million letters in Operation Santa, which connects needy children with "Secret Santas" who answer their wishes.

Fontana, a customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service, has been head elf for 15 years. "The need is greater this year than I've ever seen it," he says. "One little girl didn't want anything for herself. She wanted a winter coat for her mother."

Cesar, 7, wrote for himself and his baby sister. "This year my mom don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts so I'm writing to you," Cesar told Santa. "It would make us very happy if you and your elves would bring us toys and clothes." One mom sent a turn-off notice from the electric company, Fontana says.

Melanney, 9, asked Santa for a coat and boots. "I have been a very good girl this year," she wrote.

Puts things in perspective, don't you think?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) certainly does. Last Friday, Mr. Sanders spent more than eight hours laying out a number of hard truths that needed to be heard - about Mr. Obama's seemingly unstoppable tax deal with the Republicans, about what it means for the future of Social Security, about the budget-busting wars we are fighting, about the nature of greed in America, and how the very many are being robbed and deprived by the well-off few.

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The full transcript of his remarks runs 124 pages long, so I took some time earlier this week and prepared a collection of his most pertinent statements. There was more, however; much more. Below is a collection of his statements from the second half of his speech. The emphasis added is mine.

Also See: What Bernie Said, Part I

Here, Mr. Sanders explores the grim realities of our fossil fuel addiction, our lack of focus on alternative energies, and who holds real power in this country and the world because of it:

Let me be very clear. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, which is our major source of oil, is doing just fine. Don't worry about the royal family of Saudi Arabia. They have zillions and zillions of dollars. Maybe it is a good idea that we seek energy independence, that we break our dependence on fossil fuel, and become more energy efficient, which, by the way, investing in public transportation certainly will do, and we move to sustainable energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Guess what. China is doing that. Many of the solar panels coming into this country are not made in the United States but are made in China. They are big into wind turbines.

When we talk about our good friends in the oil industry - and I am not here to make a long speech about BP and what they have done in Louisiana, et cetera. I want everybody to know this. I will get into this at greater length later. Last year, our friends at ExxonMobil - and ExxonMobil has historically been the most profitable corporation in the history of the world. Last year, ExxonMobil had, for them, a very bad year. They only made $19 billion in profit. Based on $19 billion, you might be surprised to know ExxonMobil not only paid nothing in taxes, they got a $156 million return from the IRS. How is that? For those of you who are working in an office, working in a factory, earning your $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 a year, you pay taxes.

But if you are ExxonMobil, and you made $19 billion in profits last year, not only did you not pay any taxes this year, you got $156 million in return.

In Part I of this series, I noted that a majority of Americans now approve of the tax deal struck between the White House and the GOP. As far as current polls go, that may be true. But when the issue of extending George W. Bush's tax cuts for rich people is separated from the entire tax package, the poll results change dramatically, as Mr. Sanders found out first-hand:

I am an independent progressive. I can tell my colleagues in the last 3 days my office has received probably close to 3,000 phone calls, 98 percent of them against this agreement, probably higher than 98 percent, and a huge number of e-mails also overwhelmingly against this agreement. I suspect - I don't know it for a fact - that this is the kind of message the American people are sending us all over America. But they have to continue to do so. They have to make it clear so we can win over at least a handful of Republicans and some wavering Democrats and say: Wait a second. We are not going to hold hostage extending middle-class tax breaks in order to give tax breaks to billionaires. We will not hold hostage extending unemployment for workers who have lost their jobs by giving tax breaks to people who don't need it.

If the American people give voice to what they are feeling, that this is not a good agreement, that we can do a lot better, I think we can defeat this proposal, and we can come back with a much better proposal which protects the unemployed, extends unemployment benefits, protects the middle class, extends the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of the population, and protects a lot of important programs, making college more affordable, making childcare more affordable, and helping us transform our energy system.

There is a lot we can do if we defeat this proposal. We are not going to do it inside the beltway. Republicans are very united. But what we have to do is win at least a handful of them and some wavering Democrats to say: Mr. President, Republican leadership, you guys have to involve Congress in this discussion.

As his remarks wended their way towards a conclusion, Mr. Sanders went deep into the larger matters concerning this nation - greed, deceit, and the hypocrisy of the powerful:

Greed, in my view, is like a sickness. It is like an addiction. We know people who are on heroin. They can't stop. They destroy their lives. They need more and more heroin. There are people who can't stop smoking. They have problems with nicotine. They get addicted to cigarettes. It costs them their health. People have problems with food. We all have our share of addictions. But I would hope that these people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars will look around them and say: There is something more important in life than the richest people becoming richer when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Maybe they will understand that they are Americans, part of a great nation which is in trouble today. Maybe they have to go back to the Bible, whatever they believe in, and understand there is virtue in sharing, in reaching out; that you can't get it all.

And again:

What we saw is people on Wall Street operating from a business model based on fraud, based on dishonesty, understanding that the likelihood of them ever getting caught was small, that if things got very bad, they would be bailed out by the taxpayers, understanding that they are too powerful to ever be put in jail, to be indicted, understanding that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street, you have so much wealth and so much power and so many lawyers and so many friends in Congress, you could do pretty much anything you want and not much is going to happen to you--and they did it. Their greed and recklessness and their illegal behavior destroyed this economy.

What they did to the American people is so horrible. Here we had a middle class which was already being battered as a result of trade agreements, loss of manufacturing jobs, health care costs going up, couldn't afford to send their children to college - that had gone on for years - and then these guys started pushing worthless and complicated financial instruments and the whole thing explodes.

And they come crying to the taxpayers of America to bail them out.

Until at last, Mr. Sanders came to a core truth that threatens us all: the existence of financial and corporate entities that are "too big to fail" is the equivalent of a gun to our heads. If that gun goes off, as it has already once before, the bodies will drop all around us. Mr. Sanders summoned the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt in offering his solution:

In my view, if we are serious about understanding why the middle class is collapsing, if we are serious about getting this economy moving again long term, we have to have the courage to do exactly what Teddy Roosevelt did back in the trust-busting days and break up these banks. The point Roosevelt was making was, it is bad for the economy when a handful of entities control industry after industry. They have a stranglehold on the economy. You have to break them up. Yet I have heard very little discussion - I know there was an amendment from Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman, and I introduced legislation on this issue to start breaking them up. But, frankly, their lobbyists and their money are such that it becomes very difficult to do that. But that is exactly what we should be doing.

I can think of no better way to conclude this exploration of Mr. Sanders and his well-spoken beliefs than with his own words:

Let me conclude. It has been a long day. Let me simply say I believe the proposal that was developed by the President and the Republicans is nowhere near as good as we can achieve. I don't know that we are able ourselves to get the handful of Republicans we need to say no to this agreement. I do believe that if the American people stand - by the way, it may not just be Republicans. There may be some Democrats as well. If the American people stand and say: We can do better than this; we don't need to drive up the national debt by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, that if the American people are prepared to stand and we are prepared to follow them, I think we can defeat this proposal and come up with a better proposal which reflects the needs of working-class and middle-class families of our country and, to me, most importantly, the children of our country.

With that, I yield the floor.

We owe Mr. Sanders a tremendous debt of gratitude for taking this stand. Win, lose or draw, his words penetrate to the heart of what ails us as a nation. The best way to repay his efforts is to spread these words far and wide. Do not let them fade. Do not let them be forgotten.

Thank you, Senator. Thank you so very much. This is the speech Mr. Obama should have been giving, day after day, week after week, until the final point was made.  This is the speech your Democratic colleagues in Congress should have been giving.  They failed to do so, so it fell to you, and you rose to the occasion.  You did not let us down.  We will not let you down.

Spread the word.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 December 2010 13:54