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Senator Bernie Sanders sits down with Salon to talk inequality, the GOP, and whether or not he'll run for president.


by Thomas Frank
SALON Magazine
SUNDAY, SEP 28, 2014 07:00 AM EDT


Bernie Sanders is a legendary political independent from Vermont. Over the years, he has served as mayor of Burlington, the largest city in that state; as a member of the House of Representatives; and (currently) as a United States Senator. We met last week in his office in one of the Senate office buildings in Washington, D.C., and discussed the Clinton years, the way to beat the Right, and whether or not he should run for president in 2016. Needless to say, his take on the current political situation is not exactly the kind of thing you usually hear when you walk the marble halls of the nation’s capital.

This conversation has been lightly edited.

I’ve followed what you have been saying for a long time. You and I are both concerned about the big change of our time, which is the concentration of wealth in this country, deindustrialization, the slow decline of the middle class. 

The not-so-slow decline of the middle class.

Why is it so hard for Americans to talk about this? When the president talks about this, he uses this term “inequality,” and it sounds scientific, but it doesn’t speak to people. For many years, you were the only person on Capitol Hill talking about this at all. Why aren’t people furious about it?

People are furious about it.

We have a very conservative Senate and House. Congress is dominated by large campaign contributors who exercise enormous influence. I think, the people here [in Washington] have almost developed an instinct not to attack the people who put money into their coffers. Obviously the Republicans are beholden to these guys. But too many Democrats are nervous about talking about issues including income and wealth inequality.

But in fact, the American people absolutely want to hear about it. I talk about it all the time. I give a lot of speeches and large crowds come out. People are very, very concerned about the overall impact of income and wealth inequality in terms of morality, in terms of economics, in terms of—with Citizens United—what it means to our political system.

The Koch brothers are not tucking their money under the mattress. They’re spending it very significantly trying to buy elections so that candidates representing the wealthy are going to get elected. So it is a huge issue, which people are keenly concerned about. But you have a Congress significantly dependent on the one percent for their campaign contributions and you have the media that is owned by multinational corporations who are not excited about dealing with this issue.

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For Salon, I’ve been doing a series of articles about the history of inequality – where it comes from, when it got worse. You said the middle class is declining precipitously now…

What can I tell you? You know all the facts.

Come on, now. You know this better than me.

Well, I don’t know that I do. But you’re looking at, today, an American male worker, the average guy in the middle, the median guy, is making $280 less than he did 44 years ago. Given inflation—

Per week?

Per year. So 44 years have come and gone. There’s a huge amount of increase in productivity. And that guy is making less in inflation-counted dollars than he did 44 years ago. That’s extraordinary. Women are making less than they did — I don’t have the numbers here — a number of years ago. Median family income has gone down by $5,000 since 1999.

So what you’re seeing is a middle class which in fact is disappearing. You’re seeing, up until very recently, more people living in poverty than any time in American history, because most of the new jobs that are being created are low-wage or part-time jobs. And people, believe me, they know it. They understand it. They are worried not only for themselves but for their kids. And meanwhile, while that’s going on, they see another reality which is — the people on top are doing phenomenally well. Corporate profits are at an all-time high and people do not believe that that is what America is supposed to be about.

And yet at the same time we just came through this financial crisis. I mean, there is no better expression of what’s wrong with us. And what’s the reaction? The Tea Party movement, another wave of conservatives sweeping over Capitol Hill.

The reaction is that you have some very smart people, like the Koch brothers, who do a very effective job of taking the discontent — that’s what your book was about — and channeling it in exactly the wrong direction. So you have the rather remarkable reality that the people who founded the Tea Party are the Koch brothers. And if the people, the working class members of the Tea Party, knew what their founders believed in, they would be in for a very big shock. And it’s one of our jobs to get the word out.

Getting back to the history of it. Everybody knows about the ’80s, the Reagan tax cuts. Everybody talks about deregulation. But we often have trouble talking about the ’90s. I was reading your book, “Outsider in the House,” about when you first came to Congress back in the ’90s. And you had NAFTA, welfare reform, bank deregulation — what’s the significance of these in the long term?

You had, in terms of NAFTA, the beginning of a disastrous set of trade policies absolutely pushed by corporate America with the goal of making it easier for plants to shut down in this country and move to Mexico.

That was the goal?

Of course it was the goal. And to cultivate a race to the bottom.

So what NAFTA, which primarily dealt with Mexico, does — as well as CAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations to China — is it says to the average American worker… First of all it says, “We can make 5 cents more by moving to China, so we’re going, have a nice day.” Second of all, what it says is, “We’re thinking about going to China. If you as a worker don’t want us to go to China, if you as a union don’t want us to go to China, you’re going to have to take a cut in your salary. You’re going to have to take a reduction in healthcare benefits we provide you. Or else, by the way, we’re going.” So what was engaged in was a race to the bottom.

A year or two years ago, there was a piece in the paper that pointed out that GE was expanding a manufacturing plant in Louisville. I asked the guy, I said, “This is good. You’re creating hundreds of new jobs. That’s very nice. Why are you doing that?” The guy said, “Well, the truth is that when you look at transportation costs, the wage costs, and everything else, the United States is now becoming competitive with the international community.” In other words, as wages go down, and you factor in quality of work, and infrastructure, lack of bribery and transportation costs, America is an increasingly better place [for employers] to work, which has always been the goal. So we are moving down — we’re not at a Chinese level — but the goal is a race to the bottom, where workers earn less, have fewer benefits, and that was the goal and we’ve succeeded in doing it.

Welfare reform did a similar kind of thing, I think.

You know, there are a lot of angry people out there and for a whole bunch of reasons — political consciousness in this country is very, very low. And people think that huge amounts of their money are going to foreign policy, going to foreign aid, and huge amounts of money are going to welfare. That’s not true, but that’s what people think. So that became an issue where Democrats would say, we’re going to cut. The Republican thesis is that the real cause of the economic decline is that you’re paying too much in taxes and all of that money is going to unwed mothers and that really what the problem is. And it became quote-unquote “good politics” for some Democrats to pick up on. And it caused a lot of pain.

These things, along with bank deregulation—one of the sticking points for people like me is that these were all accomplished by a Democratic president.

Yes. Why should that be a sticking point? Why are you shocked?

That’s supposedly the party of working people.

No. I don’t think anyone thinks that. There’s no question that the Republican Party has become a far-right party, significantly controlled by the Koch brothers and a few others. But the Democratic party has moved, you know. It used to be a center-left party — Truman, Roosevelt — it was the party of the American working class. I don’t think there are many people who think that is the case now. It is far better [than the Republican Party], and there are some great people in the Democratic Party who spend an enormous amount of time and energy fighting for working people, and I work with those guys. But I don’t think anybody would say, as a whole, that the Democratic Party is the party of the American working class.

Now, in terms of this deregulation, I mean, one of the great magazine covers in history is the picture — who was it?

Is it the three musketeers: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers?

Saving the world.

Yes! Classic!

Right. That was one of the great covers of all time, because it tells you pretty much all you need to know about politics. You had Alan Greenspan, who to his credit is an Ayn Rand acolyte. On YouTube someplace there is some dialogue I had with Greenspan which has gotten a zillion viewers, about deregulation. I took him on and questioned him about the impact of deregulation. And he said “No, it’s not gonna. . . ” You know, all these things he was wrong about. I asked him, I said, “I listened to what you say and it sounds to me like you might not even believe in the concept of the minimum wage.” And he said, “Yeah.”

Really.

I got one article about it in the L.A. Times. So you had, then, the head of the Federal Reserve basically acknowledging what today is— By the way, he was ahead of his time. Today, many Republicans acknowledge that they don’t believe in the concept of the minimum wage. So you can work for three bucks. Salon can hire you for three bucks an hour.

It gets worse and worse, and more and more of our leaders think that’s okay.

Well, you have a situation where, for much of the media, the differentiation between the Democrats and the Republicans are: One party strongly supports gay marriage and gay rights, one party strongly supports the need to address climate change, one party strongly supports immigrant rights, one party has concerns about guns — and the other party is different. In fact, some things, like economics, is for some people not even relevant. The issue is abortion rights. You’re a liberal? You’re for abortion rights. He’s not. You’re a liberal. He’s a conservative. The fact that you voted, as a liberal, to deregulate Wall Street or to give tax breaks for billionaires, we don’t even consider that part of the political discussion.

So I think, and where I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of this country, I never believed in red states and blue states. I don’t believe that. Recently I was in North Carolina, South Carolina, and in Mississippi, and had nice turnouts. And if you talk about economic issues you find that in this country there is a lot more commonality than the inside-the-Beltway pundits understand.

For example, a couple of years ago I helped lead the effort to prevent cuts in Social Security. I worked very, very hard for that. You go out to conservative states, you go out to the Tea Party guys, and you say, “Do you think we should cut Social Security and Medicare?” And they’ll say, “Are you crazy?” And yet here, you have not only a Republican Party moving very aggressively [in that direction]. You have some Democrats.

You ask people about Citizens United: “Do you think billionaires should be able to buy elections?” Across the political spectrum, people say no.

“Do you think we should give more tax breaks to billionaires?” Across the political spectrum, “No.”

I’ve noticed the same thing. I’m an author, I’m not a politician, but I lecture around the country and these issues make people really mad. People from all walks of life. Here in Washington, D.C., you’ve got all of these political scientists and all these consultants whose job it is to win elections, and if what you’re saying is true, why aren’t they out there hitting this with everything they’ve got?

Because they’re caught in a bind. The bind is… Look, if you spend four hours a day — which is certainly not uncommon around here, Democrat [or] Republican — being on the phone dialing for dollars, the people you’re going to dial for have a lot of money. And you know what? Some of them do not mind paying more taxes. They understand that that’s the right thing to do. But if you’re hustling up to corporate leaders, if you’re hustling up to wealthy people, they do not want to pay more in taxes. They do not necessarily want to see the minimum wage raised. They certainly do not want to see changes in trade policy.

So all of this speaks to the extraordinary influence of money in Congress. You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think that there is anything that Wall Street does not want that will get passed here. It’s just not going to happen. Or corporate America, anything it doesn’t want, it’s not going to happen. In other words, there is not the political strength to take on corporate America or Wall Street. That’s just the simple fact.

I’ve heard you, in other conversations with reporters, use the term “oligarchy” to describe what’s—

Yeah. And I believe that. I remember, distinctly — I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I sometimes can remember what happened 50 years ago — and I remember during elementary school, the teachers, looking at these textbooks, and they said, “Look, there are countries in Latin America who have a few very wealthy families who control the whole country. And sometimes they fund both political parties.”

In Latin America?

Yeah. This is 50 years ago. So you had this party and that party, two years these guys serve, and the next two years, doesn’t matter. It’s one ideology. So if you look at the grotesque distribution of wealth in America, in which the top 1 percent today own 37 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent own 1.7 percent of the wealth; where one family—the Walton family, of Wal-Mart—own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent; where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, that smacks to me like oligarchy.

And what it is, is the worst level of wealth inequality that exists among major countries, and worse than any time since 1929, before the Great Depression. That’s wealth. And then if you look at income since the Wall Street crash [of 2008], 95 percent of all new income generated in America goes to the top 1 percent. That smacks to me like oligarchy.

And then, equally important, because of the Supreme Court decisions of Citizens United, et cetera, you now have a situation where the billionaire class can spend as much money as they want on elections. So it’s not only economic, it is now political. These guys can buy elections.

And if the Koch brothers get their way, we will do away with all campaign finance reform. That is now the official position of the leadership of the Republican Party. Which will mean that the Koch brothers won’t have to waste their time doing independent expenditures; they can bring their team of candidates into a room and say, “Okay, you want to run for U.S. Senate in Kansas? Here’s your check for $100 million.” Here’s your check for $100 million, because it doesn’t mean anything to the Koch brothers, their wealth increased by $12 billion last year. So Kansas is a nice state. “Here’s a hundred million. And here is your platform. And here is your media consultant and there is your think tank to write your speeches. We’ll watch you closely, but here’s your check for $100 million and have a nice day.” That’s called buying elections.

So right now they can do it in a significant way through independent expenditures. But they want to go further. Clarence Thomas in the McCutcheon decision voiced his support for that. And that’s where they’re moving, that’s the leadership of the Republican Party. Add all of that together, when you have a few people owning and controlling and benefitting from the economy, and a few people controlling the political process. You tell me what the word is. I like the word “oligarchy.” Do you have a better word?

Plutocracy?

Plutocracy. There you go.

What drives me crazy is that we voted for it. This has happened gradually over years. And we’ve let it happen. That’s the puzzle that people like me are trying to figure out. How on earth did this come to pass?

But you know how this happened, because you wrote a book about it.

I have my ideas.

I think you’re pretty much on track. But “we voted for it”—let’s talk about “we voted for it.”

Because it goes deeper than that. The election coming up in two months, the pundits here tell us, and they may be right — they may well be wrong, but they may be right — they estimate that 60 percent of the American people aren’t going to vote. So those guys didn’t vote for it. So you have 40 percent whose incomes are substantially higher, by the way, and are better educated than the general population. Of the 60 percent who don’t vote, no one knows exactly, the guess is 75-to-80 percent of low-income workers don’t vote. I recently talked to a union organizer in South Carolina who’s trying to organize fast food people. And she just checked with the people — the five or six hundred people that she’s working with, with the voter registration files, and I think 15 of them are registered to vote. You have 5 percent or lower of people working at minimum wage who participate in the political process. It’s not relevant to them. And young people to very large numbers don’t vote as well. And then the Koch brothers spend $400 million.

So the election system, the electoral system, is clearly rigged. And by that I mean culturally, throw in the media and everything else, what you have is a situation where a majority of the people — I shouldn’t say majority — but many people do not understand the significance of government and politics on their lives. If you’re a minimum wage worker and you want to raise your minimum wage — you’re making $7.25 an hour and you want to raise it to $10.10—and I [hypothetically] don’t want to do it, you wouldn’t vote for me.

It’s very important to your life. But for a variety of reasons, that is not an issue that a lot of low-income workers are invested in. It has a lot to do with the media and it has to do with many, many things.

Another thing I’ve been wrestling with lately is a kind of complacency that you see among Democrats, where they say, “Eventually, Democratic domination is inevitable. The demographic changes in this country…”

Believe me, I’ve heard it 500 times.

So why do we need to worry?

Which is obscene. Forget obscene, it’s the wrong word. It’s pathetic.

I’ve been to those meetings with very high-ranking campaign leaders. And that’s exactly what they say. So what they say is, during the Obama campaign, “This is how we’ll win this election. We’re going to get a huge percentage of the African-American vote. We’re going to get 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. We’re going to get 58 percent of the women’s vote. Et cetera, et cetera. All those trends are on our side. And that’s how we win elections.”

During the course of that discussion, the issue of how the party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the senior vote—or even the issue of seniors—was not there. They have a list of the 87 different categories, and kind of toward the bottom is seniors. The white working class of America, which now votes overwhelmingly for Republicans, was not mentioned. Now, how can it be that the party that is struggling to raise the minimum wage, to fight for pay equity, do reasonable things for working-class people — not enough by any means — is losing the white working class to the other side? Very little discussion about that.

So I am not a great fan of this. I understand demographics. But it has to do with what your political values are. And if your value is to expand the middle class of this country, provide healthcare to all people, educational opportunity for all people, it’s not just winning elections. It’s not just being better than another party, which is now an extremist party with racist overtones. You can’t go through your life saying, “Hey, you think we’re bad! You should see them! Vote for me! Yeah, we’re pretty bad, but they’re worse!”

That’s always what they [Democrats] do. That’s the rationale. That’s the reason they exist.

So the answer is to say, “We are going to stand up for the working class of this country — black workers, Hispanic workers, and white workers. And we do have the guts to take on the billionaire class, and we do have the guts to take on Wall Street and we do have the guts to take on the people who finance campaigns.” Is the Democratic Party there today? No. No one thinks it is.

Let me reiterate. I’m not one who says there’s no difference between the two parties. There are significant differences. The Republican Party is right-wing extremists. The Democratic Party is centrist. That is a big difference.

Centrist… That’s what I was going to ask you about next. Do people ever say, “Senator Sanders, he’s an independent. That’s awesome: the center! He’s in between. A person in the middle who can reach across the aisle and achieve bipartisanship.” Most people in my line of work, in the media, think that’s what we need in Washington. I’ll go farther than that. They think that’s a no-brainer. That you don’t even have to turn on your mind to understand that.

That’s why they love these so-called centrists. And I certainly don’t agree with that.

I can, and I have throughout my career, worked with conservatives and Republicans. That’s part of being in politics. We just passed what some would call the major piece of legislation passed in this session of Congress, which was a veterans bill. And I’m chairman of the Veterans Committee and we passed that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that at all. It was $17.5 billion for veterans’ healthcare, and I worked with John McCain on that. And I worked with the Republicans in the House. It was maybe the most significant piece of legislation passed in this Congress. So I can and have always worked with Republicans, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, at the end of the day, when you talk about where the American people are and what they need, I think what they want and need is a progressive agenda which addresses the needs of a collapsing middle class: Many, many people living in poverty; high unemployment; 40 million people without any health insurance; a campaign finance system rigged for the rich; a climate change situation where if we don’t take aggressive action, the planet is in serious trouble.

I am comfortable in saying that, as a progressive, I think my agenda is — not in all cases, but in most cases — actually what the American people want. And, by the way, not just Democrats.

So you’re in the center.

Well, I don’t think I’m in the center. Politically, obviously I’m very far to the left here. But what I’m saying is: I helped lead the fight to stop the cuts in Social Security, along with some others. I would say, 70-to-80 percent of the American people agree with me. I believe we should raise the minimum wage. I would say 70 percent of the American people agree with that. I’ve been very active in the fight to overturn Citizens United. I would say, again, 70 percent of the people agree with that. I am active in the fight to address the crisis of climate change. I wouldn’t say 70 percent of the people agree with that, but a pretty strong majority do. Okay. So what does that make me?

Now, if you were a candidate of the Republican Party and you wanted more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, which they do, I would say you have 10-to-15 percent support. So what does this mean? There’s an agenda.

You see what takes place around here: Ee had Bowles-Simpson come here a few years ago, and the media thought this was the coming of the messiahs. Bowles is a Wall Street Democrat and Simpson is a right-wing Republican, and their agenda was consistent with that ideology. And the Democrats and the Republicans — it was like, my God! I was very strongly opposed to them. Now you have Republicans running ads attacking Democrats because they thought kindly of Bowles-Simpson. [Laughs] Because Republicans understand, people do not want cuts in Social Security.

The world is a funny place. Another question that everybody in the media, everybody in the entire country, wants to know: We look at Congress and we say, “What is wrong with these people? They can’t get along, they can’t do anything together.” You’ve been here for quite a while in both houses. What do you think can be done by either the leadership in Congress or the president to break through the incredible obstinacy of the Republicans?

Hmm… Bad question. Wrong question.

What’s the right question?

The right question is: How can the United States Congress respond to the needs of the American people? That’s the right question. Your question is asking: How does a right-wing extremist political party and a centrist party significantly controlled by corporate interests, work on an agenda together?

People ask that all the time.

They certainly do. I know, the media feeds this thing.

The point here is, you’ve got to create a United States Congress that represents the needs of the American people. The Republican party absolutely does not, and many Democrats do not. So what you really need is, a transformation of the political system by going from 40 percent turnouts to 80 percent turnouts. Getting low-income and working class people involved in the political process and start responding to their needs.

Note: We were interrupted at this point. Senator Sanders and I resumed the conversation by telephone a few days later.

What we were talking about when we left off was this problem of—what appears to be the problem of complete gridlock in Congress. And you had an interesting take on it. You said the problem is that Congress doesn’t want to do what the people of this country need to have done.

But the problem is not gridlock. The problem is that the American middle class is collapsing. The gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. We’ve got 40 million people who have no health insurance. We have kids who can’t find jobs, and can’t afford college, and Congress is doing nothing. That’s the issue. I don’t think people want us to overcome gridlock and cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to education, and give more tax breaks to billionaires.

Is that what would happen if we overcame gridlock?

I mean, if the Republicans were to prevail and push their agenda through, you could conceivably end gridlock and do devastating harm to working families.

President Obama has his drawbacks, and I’ve criticized him as much as anybody. You suggested that maybe you might run for president one of these days. What could a president whose heart was in the right place, what could he do to deal with these guys?

I start off, Thomas, from the position that we need a political revolution in this country and that’s not just rhetoric. What I mean by that is that we need—and a president certainly can play a very, very important role in this—we need a massive change in citizen participation and in political consciousness. There was a poll that just came out I think yesterday. Gallup tells us that… I believe it is 63 percent of the American people cannot name which parties control the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. So you have consciousness so low, a significant majority of the American people who are very concerned about what’s going on for themselves and their kids, they don’t know who controls the House and the Senate. They can’t name which party controls both bodies. You have what the political scientists tell us is a situation where in this coming election, 60 percent of the American people will not bother to vote. That means 70 -to-80 percent of low-income workers and young people will not vote. So before you can talk about changing America, you have to change the political consciousness and the way that people relate to the political process.

Now, there is a group that relates very strongly to the political process, [and] that is the billionaire class that is now prepared to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates to represent their interests.

So you ask me, what can a president do? The main thing, I think, that the president can do is understand that no kind of progressive agenda can take place unless the American people are involved in that struggle and are prepared to put real pressure on the establishment to make it happen. It’s not going to happen in back rooms. It’s not going to happen in White House negotiations. If students, for example, want to see the cost of college go down and want to see their very high levels of debt be significantly reduced, they’re going to have to take it up with the members of Congress. They’re not doing that now. If low-income workers want to see the minimum wage raised, it cannot be a situation where only 20 percent of low-income workers vote. They’re going to have to be actively involved. That’s what a president can do.

Wow. I mean, that’s a problem that in some ways seems even greater than the problem of dealing with the Republicans. You’re talking about building a mass movement.

What I am telling you, as somebody who likes Obama and respects Obama, is that the key mistake that I believe he made, and it’s perfectly understandable, is he got into office, and he said, two years after he was in, “I’m gonna sit down and negotiate with the Republicans. I know I can’t get everything. We’ll work on some kind of compromise.”

What he didn’t catch on to is that the Republicans had no intention of compromising with him and they have no intention of compromising at all. They have an agenda. It is an extreme right wing agenda backed by the Koch brothers and other billionaires, and the only way you defeat that right-wing agenda is when the American people rise up and demand real change. It can’t be done within the confines of Congress. It has to be part of a strong and active grassroots movement.

Do you understand what I’m saying here?

I absolutely see what you’re saying. I’m thinking of examples like the 1930s, the 1960s, and I also think of 2008 when president Obama had a very robust grassroots movement, or what looked like a grassroots movement, behind him.

And what did he do with that movement?

I’m gonna let you tell me. [laughs]

I believe that Obama’s 2008 campaign will go down in history as one of the most extraordinary campaigns ever run. But what Obama did not do is follow through with that grassroots effort. He did not. Of course, he had a majority in the Senate and in the House, but be that as it may, he lost what I think was the golden opportunity.

For example, just one example of many: Civil rights in this country. The change in attitude toward civil rights did not come about because a couple of senators and the White House negotiated it. It came about because millions of people took to the streets and it filtered on up. Women’s rights did not come about because senators have a tinge of guilt about the way women were treated as second-class citizens. It happened because women were actively involved with the women’s movement. Same for the gay movement and so forth. When people get involved and struggle and put pressure on the Congress and the President, things happen and that’s what we’ve got to do.

And that leads to Citizens United. You talk about Citizens United a lot. Is there any way that can be overturned?

Yes. I am not unconfident that it will be overturned. And I’ll tell you why, because the vast majority of the American people do not agree with the Republican leadership that buying elections constitutes free speech. Very few people agree with that. So it’s not just progressives like me, it’s not just moderates, it is conservatives as well. We just put up something on our Facebook which came from Barry Goldwater talking about the same issue.

So the bottom line is, I think the vast majority of the American people believe that we need real campaign finance reform and that billionaires should not be allowed to buy elections.

For the time being, this is the system that we’re stuck with. And you look at our politics unfolding before us, is there even a route for a progressive candidate to win the presidency, given the situation that we’re in with Citizens United?

Meaning the huge amount of money that’s going to conservative candidates.

Or even to moderate, centrist Democrats.

The answer is yes, and I’ll tell you what makes me optimistic: Neil Abercrombie is a friend of mine, [so] I’m not happy to tell you this. Neil is the governor of Hawaii. He outspent his opponent by 10 to 1, and he lost his primary bid by 2 to 1.

If you look at Eric Cantor: Eric Cantor had so much money he couldn’t even spend it, and as you know, he lost his primary bid. If you look at Andrew Cuomo, he ran against a candidate [Zephyr Teachout] who nobody knew, who had no money. She won half the counties in New York state in the recent primary. [Cuomo] had all the name recognition and all the money and she had very little.

So I think what we are seeing now is a profound anger at the corporate establishment, at the political establishment, at the media establishment. I think people want change. So to answer your question, yes, money is important, I don’t deny it for a moment. But I think people are paying less and less attention to ugly, 30-second ads and are prepared to hear from people who want real change in this country.

I wanted to talk to you about your own plans for 2016. You haven’t said all that much in public, but it would be nice to know…

What I’ll tell you is what I do say in public, which is that, at a time when the middle class is collapsing; when we have more people living in poverty than ever before and we have huge income and wealth inequality; when we are the only major nation on earth that does not have a national healthcare system; when we have millions of young people leaving college deeply in debt; when we have the planetary crisis of climate change; when we, because of Citizens United, have a billionaire class now controlling our political process, we need candidates who are prepared to stand up without apology representing the working families of America and are prepared to take on the billionaire class which controls so much of America. I think that’s absolutely imperative that that takes place.

What I have said is that I am giving thought to running for president. I haven’t made that decision. It’s a very, very difficult decision. I have gone to Iowa on a couple of vacations. I’ll be back there. I’ve gone to New Hampshire. I’ll be there this Saturday. And I’ve gone to other places in the country including the south—North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi—to get a sense of how people are feeling.

But yes, I am giving thought and I will make the decision at the appropriate time.

People always talk about how hard campaigning is. I personally really like Iowa, I think it would be fun to spend a lot of time in Iowa.

I agree with you. We were in Iowa last week and I had three town meetings and we had one a week ago Sunday night. We had 450 people coming out in Des Moines, Iowa, for what I thought was a great meeting.

Would that mean running as a Democrat, because the Iowa caucuses…

That’s a decision, also, that I have to think about.

There are advantages and disadvantages of running as an independent and as a Democrat. That’s something I have to talk to a whole lot of people about and sort out. When I was in Iowa, most people thought I should run as a Democrat. I was in New York City the other day, most people thought I should run as an independent.

The advantage is pretty obvious: Right now, there is a whole lot of anger and frustration at the two-party system, and more and more people are registering as independents. On the other hand, If you run as an independent, then you have to set up a 50-state political infrastructure which is very difficult in some states. In other words, you have to get an enormous amount of signatures just to get on the ballot, and it is quite possible that in some states the regulations are so onerous and unfair that you may not be able to do it.

Those are issues that I just have to talk to a lot of people about.

Speaking of that, one of my own personal favorite movements was a third-party movement in the 1890s called Populism. You brought up the two-party monopoly, which is something that drives me crazy, and it’s one of the many things that ensures that you don’t get a responsive system. Is there any way that the two-party monopoly will ever get challenged?

Well I should tell you that, as you may or may not know, I was mayor of the city of Burlington for 8 years. In this city, while it was not a legal political party, given Vermont state law, in our city we had three political factions: The Republicans, the Democrats, and what we then called the independent coalition. And the independent coalition, I was the mayor as an independent. We had five out of 13 seats on the city council. Not a majority, but—I think it was 6 out of 13 for a while—but enough for veto power, which I used. So we did it in Burlington.

Now, in the state of Vermont, you have the Progressive Party, which was an outgrowth of that effort, which is now the most successful progressive third party in America, which has three state senators and, I can’t remember, six, seven members of the House, and more to come in this election.

So in Vermont you are seeing a significant, progressive third party effort.

One last question: What is going to turn around the drift toward inequality in this country? What measures could actually happen?

What you can do?

What a politician can do.

I’ll tell you what you do. If you did the following things, it wouldn’t solve all the problems, but you’d have a profound impact on income and wealth inequality:

First of all, you raise the minimum wage to a living wage so that the people who are working 40 hours a week are not living in poverty.

Number two, and maybe most importantly, you put Americans back to work. Real unemployment today is not 6.1 percent, it is 12 percent. Youth unemployment is 20 percent. If we invest a trillion dollars in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, you can create 13 million decent paying jobs, and I think we need to do that.

Thirdly, you stop companies from throwing American workers out on the street and moving to China or Vietnam or Mexico by creating a trade system that works for working people and not just corporate America.

You do those things. Then you institute tax reform which asks the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. You make college affordable and deal with the issue of student debt. Those things will go a long way, and we have legislation that would make significantly more progressive the estate tax. So if you do those things, I think you’d have gone a good way, I think, to rebuilding the middle class in this country and asking the wealthy to start paying their fair share.
billmoyers.com
February 21, 2014
by Mike Lofgren

Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo.

– The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade (1871)

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power. [1]

During the last five years, the news media has been flooded with pundits decrying the broken politics of Washington. The conventional wisdom has it that partisan gridlock and dysfunction have become the new normal. That is certainly the case, and I have been among the harshest critics of this development. But it is also imperative to acknowledge the limits of this critique as it applies to the American governmental system. On one level, the critique is self-evident: In the domain that the public can see, Congress is hopelessly deadlocked in the worst manner since the 1850s, the violently rancorous decade preceding the Civil War.

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country…As I wrote in The Party is Over, the present objective of congressional Republicans is to render the executive branch powerless, at least until a Republican president is elected (a goal that voter suppression laws in GOP-controlled states are clearly intended to accomplish). President Obama cannot enact his domestic policies and budgets: Because of incessant GOP filibustering, not only could he not fill the large number of vacancies in the federal judiciary, he could not even get his most innocuous presidential appointees into office. Democrats controlling the Senate have responded by weakening the filibuster of nominations, but Republicans are sure to react with other parliamentary delaying tactics. This strategy amounts to congressional nullification of executive branch powers by a party that controls a majority in only one house of Congress.

Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented — at least since the McCarthy era — witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement. Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity whatsoever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, such as arranging the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory. Despite the habitual cant of congressional Republicans about executive overreach by Obama, the would-be dictator, we have until recently heard very little from them about these actions — with the minor exception of comments from gadfly Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Democrats, save a few mavericks such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, are not unduly troubled, either — even to the extent of permitting seemingly perjured congressional testimony under oath by executive branch officials on the subject of illegal surveillance.

These are not isolated instances of a contradiction; they have been so pervasive that they tend to be disregarded as background noise. During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there. At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 million to keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life.

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude. [2]

How did I come to write an analysis of the Deep State, and why am I equipped to write it? As a congressional staff member for 28 years specializing in national security and possessing a top secret security clearance, I was at least on the fringes of the world I am describing, if neither totally in it by virtue of full membership nor of it by psychological disposition. But, like virtually every employed person, I became, to some extent, assimilated into the culture of the institution I worked for, and only by slow degrees, starting before the invasion of Iraq, did I begin fundamentally to question the reasons of state that motivate the people who are, to quote George W. Bush, “the deciders.”

Cultural assimilation is partly a matter of what psychologist Irving L. Janis called “groupthink,” the chameleon-like ability of people to adopt the views of their superiors and peers. This syndrome is endemic to Washington: The town is characterized by sudden fads, be it negotiating biennial budgeting, making grand bargains or invading countries. Then, after a while, all the town’s cool kids drop those ideas as if they were radioactive. As in the military, everybody has to get on board with the mission, and questioning it is not a career-enhancing move. The universe of people who will critically examine the goings-on at the institutions they work for is always going to be a small one. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

A more elusive aspect of cultural assimilation is the sheer dead weight of the ordinariness of it all once you have planted yourself in your office chair for the 10,000th time. Government life is typically not some vignette from an Allen Drury novel about intrigue under the Capitol dome. Sitting and staring at the clock on the off-white office wall when it’s 11:00 in the evening and you are vowing never, ever to eat another piece of takeout pizza in your life is not an experience that summons the higher literary instincts of a would-be memoirist. After a while, a functionary of the state begins to hear things that, in another context, would be quite remarkable, or at least noteworthy, and yet that simply bounce off one’s consciousness like pebbles off steel plate: “You mean the number of terrorist groups we are fighting is classified?” No wonder so few people are whistle-blowers, quite apart from the vicious retaliation whistle-blowing often provokes: Unless one is blessed with imagination and a fine sense of irony, growing immune to the curiousness of one’s surroundings is easy. To paraphrase the inimitable Donald Rumsfeld, I didn’t know all that I knew, at least until I had had a couple of years away from the government to reflect upon it.

The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

I saw this submissiveness on many occasions. One memorable incident was passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008. This legislation retroactively legalized the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional surveillance first revealed by The New York Times in 2005 and indemnified the telecommunications companies for their cooperation in these acts. The bill passed easily: All that was required was the invocation of the word “terrorism” and most members of Congress responded like iron filings obeying a magnet. One who responded in that fashion was Senator Barack Obama, soon to be coronated as the presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He had already won the most delegates by campaigning to the left of his main opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the excesses of the global war on terror and the erosion of constitutional liberties.

As the indemnification vote showed, the Deep State does not consist only of government agencies. What is euphemistically called “private enterprise” is an integral part of its operations. In a special series in The Washington Post called “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William K. Arkin described the scope of the privatized Deep State and the degree to which it has metastasized after the September 11 attacks. There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government. While they work throughout the country and the world, their heavy concentration in and around the Washington suburbs is unmistakable: Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet. Seventy percent of the intelligence community’s budget goes to paying contracts. And the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable: The Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, is a former executive of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the government’s largest intelligence contractors. His predecessor as director, Admiral Mike McConnell, is the current vice chairman of the same company; Booz Allen is 99 percent dependent on government business. These contractors now set the political and social tone of Washington, just as they are increasingly setting the direction of the country, but they are doing it quietly, their doings unrecorded in the Congressional Record or the Federal Register, and are rarely subject to congressional hearings.

Washington is the most important node of the Deep State that has taken over America, but it is not the only one. Invisible threads of money and ambition connect the town to other nodes. One is Wall Street, which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater. Should the politicians forget their lines and threaten the status quo, Wall Street floods the town with cash and lawyers to help the hired hands remember their own best interests. The executives of the financial giants even have de facto criminal immunity. On March 6, 2013, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” This, from the chief law enforcement officer of a justice system that has practically abolished the constitutional right to trial for poorer defendants charged with certain crimes. It is not too much to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice — certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee. [3]

The corridor between Manhattan and Washington is a well trodden highway for the personalities we have all gotten to know in the period since the massive deregulation of Wall Street: Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and many others. Not all the traffic involves persons connected with the purely financial operations of the government: In 2013, General David Petraeus joined KKR (formerly Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) of 9 West 57th Street, New York, a private equity firm with $62.3 billion in assets. KKR specializes in management buyouts and leveraged finance. General Petraeus’ expertise in these areas is unclear. His ability to peddle influence, however, is a known and valued commodity. Unlike Cincinnatus, the military commanders of the Deep State do not take up the plow once they lay down the sword. Petraeus also obtained a sinecure as a non-resident senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. The Ivy League is, of course, the preferred bleaching tub and charm school of the American oligarchy. [4]

Petraeus and most of the avatars of the Deep State — the White House advisers who urged Obama not to impose compensation limits on Wall Street CEOs, the contractor-connected think tank experts who besought us to “stay the course” in Iraq, the economic gurus who perpetually demonstrate that globalization and deregulation are a blessing that makes us all better off in the long run — are careful to pretend that they have no ideology. Their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise. That is nonsense. They are deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican. Domestically, whatever they might privately believe about essentially diversionary social issues such as abortion or gay marriage, they almost invariably believe in the “Washington Consensus”: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor. Internationally, they espouse 21st-century “American Exceptionalism”: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior. To paraphrase what Sir John Harrington said more than 400 years ago about treason, now that the ideology of the Deep State has prospered, none dare call it ideology. [5] That is why describing torture with the word “torture” on broadcast television is treated less as political heresy than as an inexcusable lapse of Washington etiquette: Like smoking a cigarette on camera, these days it is simply “not done.”

After Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent and depth of surveillance by the National Security Agency, it has become publicly evident that Silicon Valley is a vital node of the Deep State as well. Unlike military and intelligence contractors, Silicon Valley overwhelmingly sells to the private market, but its business is so important to the government that a strange relationship has emerged. While the government could simply dragoon the high technology companies to do the NSA’s bidding, it would prefer cooperation with so important an engine of the nation’s economy, perhaps with an implied quid pro quo. Perhaps this explains the extraordinary indulgence the government shows the Valley in intellectual property matters. If an American “jailbreaks” his smartphone (i.e., modifies it so that it can use a service provider other than the one dictated by the manufacturer), he could receive a fine of up to $500,000 and several years in prison; so much for a citizen’s vaunted property rights to what he purchases. The libertarian pose of the Silicon Valley moguls, so carefully cultivated in their public relations, has always been a sham. Silicon Valley has long been tracking for commercial purposes the activities of every person who uses an electronic device, so it is hardly surprising that the Deep State should emulate the Valley and do the same for its own purposes. Nor is it surprising that it should conscript the Valley’s assistance.

Still, despite the essential roles of lower Manhattan and Silicon Valley, the center of gravity of the Deep State is firmly situated in and around the Beltway. The Deep State’s physical expansion and consolidation around the Beltway would seem to make a mockery of the frequent pronouncement that governance in Washington is dysfunctional and broken. That the secret and unaccountable Deep State floats freely above the gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is the paradox of American government in the 21st century: drone strikes, data mining, secret prisons and Panopticon-like control on the one hand; and on the other, the ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government declining to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure.

The results of this contradiction are not abstract, as a tour of the rotting, decaying, bankrupt cities of the American Midwest will attest. It is not even confined to those parts of the country left behind by a Washington Consensus that decreed the financialization and deindustrialization of the economy in the interests of efficiency and shareholder value. This paradox is evident even within the Beltway itself, the richest metropolitan area in the nation. Although demographers and urban researchers invariably count Washington as a “world city,” that is not always evident to those who live there. Virtually every time there is a severe summer thunderstorm, tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of residents lose power, often for many days. There are occasional water restrictions over wide areas because water mains, poorly constructed and inadequately maintained, have burst. [6] The Washington metropolitan area considers it a Herculean task just to build a rail link to its international airport — with luck it may be completed by 2018.

It is as if Hadrian’s Wall was still fully manned and the fortifications along the border with Germania were never stronger, even as the city of Rome disintegrates from within and the life-sustaining aqueducts leading down from the hills begin to crumble. The governing classes of the Deep State may continue to deceive themselves with their dreams of Zeus-like omnipotence, but others do not. A 2013 Pew Poll that interviewed 38,000 people around the world found that in 23 of 39 countries surveyed, a plurality of respondents said they believed China already had or would in the future replace the United States as the world’s top economic power.

The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction. Washington is the headquarters of the Deep State, and its time in the sun as a rival to Rome, Constantinople or London may be term-limited by its overweening sense of self-importance and its habit, as Winwood Reade said of Rome, to “live upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face.” “Living upon its principal,” in this case, means that the Deep State has been extracting value from the American people in vampire-like fashion.

We are faced with two disagreeable implications. First, that the Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change. Second, that just as in so many previous empires, the Deep State is populated with those whose instinctive reaction to the failure of their policies is to double down on those very policies in the future. Iraq was a failure briefly camouflaged by the wholly propagandistic success of the so-called surge; this legerdemain allowed for the surge in Afghanistan, which equally came to naught. Undeterred by that failure, the functionaries of the Deep State plunged into Libya; the smoking rubble of the Benghazi consulate, rather than discouraging further misadventure, seemed merely to incite the itch to bomb Syria. Will the Deep State ride on the back of the American people from failure to failure until the country itself, despite its huge reserves of human and material capital, is slowly exhausted? The dusty road of empire is strewn with the bones of former great powers that exhausted themselves in like manner.

But, there are signs of resistance to the Deep State and its demands. In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations, the House narrowly failed to pass an amendment that would have defunded the NSA’s warrantless collection of data from US persons. Shortly thereafter, the president, advocating yet another military intervention in the Middle East, this time in Syria, met with such overwhelming congressional skepticism that he changed the subject by grasping at a diplomatic lifeline thrown to him by Vladimir Putin. [7]

Has the visible, constitutional state, the one envisaged by Madison and the other Founders, finally begun to reassert itself against the claims and usurpations of the Deep State? To some extent, perhaps. The unfolding revelations of the scope of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance have become so egregious that even institutional apologists such as Senator Dianne Feinstein have begun to backpedal — if only rhetorically — from their knee-jerk defense of the agency. As more people begin to waken from the fearful and suggestible state that 9/11 created in their minds, it is possible that the Deep State’s decade-old tactic of crying “terrorism!” every time it faces resistance is no longer eliciting the same Pavlovian response of meek obedience. And the American people, possibly even their legislators, are growing tired of endless quagmires in the Middle East.

But there is another more structural reason the Deep State may have peaked in the extent of its dominance. While it seems to float above the constitutional state, its essentially parasitic, extractive nature means that it is still tethered to the formal proceedings of governance. The Deep State thrives when there is tolerable functionality in the day-to-day operations of the federal government. As long as appropriations bills get passed on time, promotion lists get confirmed, black (i.e., secret) budgets get rubber-stamped, special tax subsidies for certain corporations are approved without controversy, as long as too many awkward questions are not asked, the gears of the hybrid state will mesh noiselessly. But when one house of Congress is taken over by tea party Wahhabites, life for the ruling class becomes more trying.

If there is anything the Deep State requires it is silent, uninterrupted cash flow and the confidence that things will go on as they have in the past. It is even willing to tolerate a degree of gridlock: Partisan mud wrestling over cultural issues may be a useful distraction from its agenda. But recent congressional antics involving sequestration, the government shutdown and the threat of default over the debt ceiling extension have been disrupting that equilibrium. And an extreme gridlock dynamic has developed between the two parties such that continuing some level of sequestration is politically the least bad option for both parties, albeit for different reasons. As much as many Republicans might want to give budget relief to the organs of national security, they cannot fully reverse sequestration without the Democrats demanding revenue increases. And Democrats wanting to spend more on domestic discretionary programs cannot void sequestration on either domestic or defense programs without Republicans insisting on entitlement cuts.

So, for the foreseeable future, the Deep State must restrain its appetite for taxpayer dollars. Limited deals may soften sequestration, but agency requests will not likely be fully funded anytime soon. Even Wall Street’s rentier operations have been affected: After helping finance the tea party to advance its own plutocratic ambitions, America’s Big Money is now regretting the Frankenstein’s monster it has created. Like children playing with dynamite, the tea party and its compulsion to drive the nation into credit default has alarmed the grown-ups commanding the heights of capital; the latter are now telling the politicians they thought they had hired to knock it off.

The House vote to defund the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs was equally illustrative of the disruptive nature of the tea party insurgency. Civil liberties Democrats alone would never have come so close to victory; tea party stalwart Justin Amash (R-MI), who has also upset the business community for his debt-limit fundamentalism, was the lead Republican sponsor of the NSA amendment, and most of the Republicans who voted with him were aligned with the tea party.

The final factor is Silicon Valley. Owing to secrecy and obfuscation, it is hard to know how much of the NSA’s relationship with the Valley is based on voluntary cooperation, how much is legal compulsion through FISA warrants and how much is a matter of the NSA surreptitiously breaking into technology companies’ systems. Given the Valley’s public relations requirement to mollify its customers who have privacy concerns, it is difficult to take the tech firms’ libertarian protestations about government compromise of their systems at face value, especially since they engage in similar activity against their own customers for commercial purposes. That said, evidence is accumulating that Silicon Valley is losing billions in overseas business from companies, individuals and governments that want to maintain privacy. For high tech entrepreneurs, the cash nexus is ultimately more compelling than the Deep State’s demand for patriotic cooperation. Even legal compulsion can be combatted: Unlike the individual citizen, tech firms have deep pockets and batteries of lawyers with which to fight government diktat.

This pushback has gone so far that on January 17, President Obama announced revisions to the NSA’s data collection programs, including withdrawing the agency’s custody of a domestic telephone record database, expanding requirements for judicial warrants and ceasing to spy on (undefined) “friendly foreign leaders.” Critics have denounced the changes as a cosmetic public relations move, but they are still significant in that the clamor has gotten so loud that the president feels the political need to address it.

When the contradictions within a ruling ideology are pushed too far, factionalism appears and that ideology begins slowly to crumble. Corporate oligarchs such as the Koch brothers are no longer entirely happy with the faux-populist political front group they helped fund and groom. Silicon Valley, for all the Ayn Rand-like tendencies of its major players, its offshoring strategies and its further exacerbation of income inequality, is now lobbying Congress to restrain the NSA, a core component of the Deep State. Some tech firms are moving to encrypt their data. High tech corporations and governments alike seek dominance over people though collection of personal data, but the corporations are jumping ship now that adverse public reaction to the NSA scandals threatens their profits.

The outcome of all these developments is uncertain. The Deep State, based on the twin pillars of national security imperative and corporate hegemony, has until recently seemed unshakable and the latest events may only be a temporary perturbation in its trajectory. But history has a way of toppling the altars of the mighty. While the two great materialist and determinist ideologies of the twentieth century, Marxism and the Washington Consensus, successively decreed that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the dictatorship of the market were inevitable, the future is actually indeterminate. It may be that deep economic and social currents create the framework of history, but those currents can be channeled, eddied, or even reversed by circumstance, chance and human agency. We have only to reflect upon defunct glacial despotisms such as the USSR or East Germany to realize that nothing is forever.

Throughout history, state systems with outsized pretensions to power have reacted to their environments in two ways. The first strategy, reflecting the ossification of its ruling elites, consists of repeating that nothing is wrong, that the status quo reflects the nation’s unique good fortune in being favored by God and that those calling for change are merely subversive troublemakers. As the French ancien régime, the Romanov dynasty and the Habsburg emperors discovered, the strategy works splendidly for a while, particularly if one has a talent for dismissing unpleasant facts. The final results, however, are likely to be thoroughly disappointing.

The second strategy is one embraced to varying degrees and with differing goals, by figures of such contrasting personalities as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle and Deng Xiaoping. They were certainly not revolutionaries by temperament; if anything, their natures were conservative. But they understood that the political cultures in which they lived were fossilized and incapable of adapting to the times. In their drive to reform and modernize the political systems they inherited, their first obstacles to overcome were the outworn myths that encrusted the thinking of the elites of their time.

As the United States confronts its future after experiencing two failed wars, a precarious economy and $17 trillion in accumulated debt, the national punditry has split into two camps. The first, the declinists, sees a broken, dysfunctional political system incapable of reform and an economy soon to be overtaken by China. The second, the reformers, offers a profusion of nostrums to turn the nation around: public financing of elections to sever the artery of money between the corporate components of the Deep State and financially dependent elected officials, government “insourcing” to reverse the tide of outsourcing of government functions and the conflicts of interest that it creates, a tax policy that values human labor over financial manipulation and a trade policy that favors exporting manufactured goods over exporting investment capital.

All of that is necessary, but not sufficient. The Snowden revelations (the impact of which have been surprisingly strong), the derailed drive for military intervention in Syria and a fractious Congress, whose dysfunction has begun to be a serious inconvenience to the Deep State, show that there is now a deep but as yet inchoate hunger for change. What America lacks is a figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us. Thus disenthralled, the people themselves will unravel the Deep State with surprising speed.

[1] The term “Deep State” was coined in Turkey and is said to be a system composed of high-level elements within the intelligence services, military, security, judiciary and organized crime. In British author John le Carré’s latest novel, A Delicate Truth, a character describes the Deep State as “… the ever-expanding circle of non-governmental insiders from banking, industry and commerce who were cleared for highly classified information denied to large swathes of Whitehall and Westminster.”  I use the term to mean a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed as expressed through the formal political process.

[2] Twenty-five years ago, the sociologist Robert Nisbet described this phenomenon as “the attribute of No Fault…. Presidents, secretaries and generals and admirals in America seemingly subscribe to the doctrine that no fault ever attaches to policy and operations. This No Fault conviction prevents them from taking too seriously such notorious foul-ups as Desert One, Grenada, Lebanon and now the Persian Gulf.” To his list we might add 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

[3] The attitude of many members of Congress towards Wall Street was memorably expressed by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, in 2010: “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

[4] Beginning in 1988, every US president has been a graduate of Harvard or Yale. Beginning in 2000, every losing presidential candidate has been a Harvard or Yale graduate, with the exception of John McCain in 2008.

[5] In recent months, the American public has seen a vivid example of a Deep State operative marketing his ideology under the banner of pragmatism. Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates — a one-time career CIA officer and deeply political Bush family retainer — has camouflaged his retrospective defense of military escalations that have brought us nothing but casualties and fiscal grief as the straight-from-the-shoulder memoir from a plain-spoken son of Kansas who disdains Washington and its politicians.

[6] Meanwhile, the US government took the lead in restoring Baghdad’s sewer system at a cost of $7 billion.

[7] Obama’s abrupt about-face suggests he may have been skeptical of military intervention in Syria all along, but only dropped that policy once Congress and Putin gave him the running room to do so. In 2009, he went ahead with the Afghanistan “surge” partly because General Petraeus’ public relations campaign and back-channel lobbying on the Hill for implementation of his pet military strategy pre-empted other options. These incidents raise the disturbing question of how much the democratically elected president — or any president — sets the policy of the national security state and how much the policy is set for him by the professional operatives of that state who engineer faits accomplis that force his hand.

It Ain't  Gonna Happen by poasterchild
It Ain't Gonna Happen
Please disseminate widely, thank you! This does not give permission to alter or claim credit for this re-mixed work, for which I retain all copyrights. The original illustration is in the public domain. 

If you disagree with the views expressed here, please be sure to read my Policy Statement BEFORE you post: fav.me/d4tf3xs

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Redskins by poasterchild
Redskins
Please disseminate widely, thank you! This does not give permission to alter or claim credit for this re-mixed work, for which I retain all copyrights. The original illustration is in the public domain. 

If you disagree with the views expressed here, please be sure to read my Policy Statement BEFORE you post: fav.me/d4tf3xs

Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, happens to be Jewish.  So am I (well, half, anyway).  As a Jewish person, I have a very difficult time comprehending why another Jewish person seemingly finds it impossible to understand why some of us (I'm also half Lakhota) take great offense at the use of the word "redskin" which had its origin as a short-hand term for the scalps of my relatives when they were turned in to the U.S. Army for a cash bounty.  Much easier than dragging in a whole corpse, don'tcha know. . .Given the history of the Jewish people, in my view, and consistent with Biblical teaching for that matter, Jews, especially American Jews, have a special responsibility to speak out against racial and religious discrimination, and to speak up for the oppressed.  Dan Snyder has missed a teachable moment and has forever labeled himself as a man who cares more about the ka-ching than he does about the right thing.
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Argonath National Park, by Timothy Anderson by poasterchild
Argonath National Park, by Timothy Anderson
In searching for authentic 1930s-1940s US National Park Service posters for use in my latest series (Who Says You Can't Walk Into Mordor?, Multiple Orgasms Are Sexy, The American Left, and Immigration Issues), I came across this work of genius by Timothy Anderson.  Y'all should check his other work at www.timothyandersonart.com.
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Senator Bernie Sanders sits down with Salon to talk inequality, the GOP, and whether or not he'll run for president.


by Thomas Frank
SALON Magazine
SUNDAY, SEP 28, 2014 07:00 AM EDT


Bernie Sanders is a legendary political independent from Vermont. Over the years, he has served as mayor of Burlington, the largest city in that state; as a member of the House of Representatives; and (currently) as a United States Senator. We met last week in his office in one of the Senate office buildings in Washington, D.C., and discussed the Clinton years, the way to beat the Right, and whether or not he should run for president in 2016. Needless to say, his take on the current political situation is not exactly the kind of thing you usually hear when you walk the marble halls of the nation’s capital.

This conversation has been lightly edited.

I’ve followed what you have been saying for a long time. You and I are both concerned about the big change of our time, which is the concentration of wealth in this country, deindustrialization, the slow decline of the middle class. 

The not-so-slow decline of the middle class.

Why is it so hard for Americans to talk about this? When the president talks about this, he uses this term “inequality,” and it sounds scientific, but it doesn’t speak to people. For many years, you were the only person on Capitol Hill talking about this at all. Why aren’t people furious about it?

People are furious about it.

We have a very conservative Senate and House. Congress is dominated by large campaign contributors who exercise enormous influence. I think, the people here [in Washington] have almost developed an instinct not to attack the people who put money into their coffers. Obviously the Republicans are beholden to these guys. But too many Democrats are nervous about talking about issues including income and wealth inequality.

But in fact, the American people absolutely want to hear about it. I talk about it all the time. I give a lot of speeches and large crowds come out. People are very, very concerned about the overall impact of income and wealth inequality in terms of morality, in terms of economics, in terms of—with Citizens United—what it means to our political system.

The Koch brothers are not tucking their money under the mattress. They’re spending it very significantly trying to buy elections so that candidates representing the wealthy are going to get elected. So it is a huge issue, which people are keenly concerned about. But you have a Congress significantly dependent on the one percent for their campaign contributions and you have the media that is owned by multinational corporations who are not excited about dealing with this issue.

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For Salon, I’ve been doing a series of articles about the history of inequality – where it comes from, when it got worse. You said the middle class is declining precipitously now…

What can I tell you? You know all the facts.

Come on, now. You know this better than me.

Well, I don’t know that I do. But you’re looking at, today, an American male worker, the average guy in the middle, the median guy, is making $280 less than he did 44 years ago. Given inflation—

Per week?

Per year. So 44 years have come and gone. There’s a huge amount of increase in productivity. And that guy is making less in inflation-counted dollars than he did 44 years ago. That’s extraordinary. Women are making less than they did — I don’t have the numbers here — a number of years ago. Median family income has gone down by $5,000 since 1999.

So what you’re seeing is a middle class which in fact is disappearing. You’re seeing, up until very recently, more people living in poverty than any time in American history, because most of the new jobs that are being created are low-wage or part-time jobs. And people, believe me, they know it. They understand it. They are worried not only for themselves but for their kids. And meanwhile, while that’s going on, they see another reality which is — the people on top are doing phenomenally well. Corporate profits are at an all-time high and people do not believe that that is what America is supposed to be about.

And yet at the same time we just came through this financial crisis. I mean, there is no better expression of what’s wrong with us. And what’s the reaction? The Tea Party movement, another wave of conservatives sweeping over Capitol Hill.

The reaction is that you have some very smart people, like the Koch brothers, who do a very effective job of taking the discontent — that’s what your book was about — and channeling it in exactly the wrong direction. So you have the rather remarkable reality that the people who founded the Tea Party are the Koch brothers. And if the people, the working class members of the Tea Party, knew what their founders believed in, they would be in for a very big shock. And it’s one of our jobs to get the word out.

Getting back to the history of it. Everybody knows about the ’80s, the Reagan tax cuts. Everybody talks about deregulation. But we often have trouble talking about the ’90s. I was reading your book, “Outsider in the House,” about when you first came to Congress back in the ’90s. And you had NAFTA, welfare reform, bank deregulation — what’s the significance of these in the long term?

You had, in terms of NAFTA, the beginning of a disastrous set of trade policies absolutely pushed by corporate America with the goal of making it easier for plants to shut down in this country and move to Mexico.

That was the goal?

Of course it was the goal. And to cultivate a race to the bottom.

So what NAFTA, which primarily dealt with Mexico, does — as well as CAFTA and Permanent Normal Trade Relations to China — is it says to the average American worker… First of all it says, “We can make 5 cents more by moving to China, so we’re going, have a nice day.” Second of all, what it says is, “We’re thinking about going to China. If you as a worker don’t want us to go to China, if you as a union don’t want us to go to China, you’re going to have to take a cut in your salary. You’re going to have to take a reduction in healthcare benefits we provide you. Or else, by the way, we’re going.” So what was engaged in was a race to the bottom.

A year or two years ago, there was a piece in the paper that pointed out that GE was expanding a manufacturing plant in Louisville. I asked the guy, I said, “This is good. You’re creating hundreds of new jobs. That’s very nice. Why are you doing that?” The guy said, “Well, the truth is that when you look at transportation costs, the wage costs, and everything else, the United States is now becoming competitive with the international community.” In other words, as wages go down, and you factor in quality of work, and infrastructure, lack of bribery and transportation costs, America is an increasingly better place [for employers] to work, which has always been the goal. So we are moving down — we’re not at a Chinese level — but the goal is a race to the bottom, where workers earn less, have fewer benefits, and that was the goal and we’ve succeeded in doing it.

Welfare reform did a similar kind of thing, I think.

You know, there are a lot of angry people out there and for a whole bunch of reasons — political consciousness in this country is very, very low. And people think that huge amounts of their money are going to foreign policy, going to foreign aid, and huge amounts of money are going to welfare. That’s not true, but that’s what people think. So that became an issue where Democrats would say, we’re going to cut. The Republican thesis is that the real cause of the economic decline is that you’re paying too much in taxes and all of that money is going to unwed mothers and that really what the problem is. And it became quote-unquote “good politics” for some Democrats to pick up on. And it caused a lot of pain.

These things, along with bank deregulation—one of the sticking points for people like me is that these were all accomplished by a Democratic president.

Yes. Why should that be a sticking point? Why are you shocked?

That’s supposedly the party of working people.

No. I don’t think anyone thinks that. There’s no question that the Republican Party has become a far-right party, significantly controlled by the Koch brothers and a few others. But the Democratic party has moved, you know. It used to be a center-left party — Truman, Roosevelt — it was the party of the American working class. I don’t think there are many people who think that is the case now. It is far better [than the Republican Party], and there are some great people in the Democratic Party who spend an enormous amount of time and energy fighting for working people, and I work with those guys. But I don’t think anybody would say, as a whole, that the Democratic Party is the party of the American working class.

Now, in terms of this deregulation, I mean, one of the great magazine covers in history is the picture — who was it?

Is it the three musketeers: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers?

Saving the world.

Yes! Classic!

Right. That was one of the great covers of all time, because it tells you pretty much all you need to know about politics. You had Alan Greenspan, who to his credit is an Ayn Rand acolyte. On YouTube someplace there is some dialogue I had with Greenspan which has gotten a zillion viewers, about deregulation. I took him on and questioned him about the impact of deregulation. And he said “No, it’s not gonna. . . ” You know, all these things he was wrong about. I asked him, I said, “I listened to what you say and it sounds to me like you might not even believe in the concept of the minimum wage.” And he said, “Yeah.”

Really.

I got one article about it in the L.A. Times. So you had, then, the head of the Federal Reserve basically acknowledging what today is— By the way, he was ahead of his time. Today, many Republicans acknowledge that they don’t believe in the concept of the minimum wage. So you can work for three bucks. Salon can hire you for three bucks an hour.

It gets worse and worse, and more and more of our leaders think that’s okay.

Well, you have a situation where, for much of the media, the differentiation between the Democrats and the Republicans are: One party strongly supports gay marriage and gay rights, one party strongly supports the need to address climate change, one party strongly supports immigrant rights, one party has concerns about guns — and the other party is different. In fact, some things, like economics, is for some people not even relevant. The issue is abortion rights. You’re a liberal? You’re for abortion rights. He’s not. You’re a liberal. He’s a conservative. The fact that you voted, as a liberal, to deregulate Wall Street or to give tax breaks for billionaires, we don’t even consider that part of the political discussion.

So I think, and where I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of this country, I never believed in red states and blue states. I don’t believe that. Recently I was in North Carolina, South Carolina, and in Mississippi, and had nice turnouts. And if you talk about economic issues you find that in this country there is a lot more commonality than the inside-the-Beltway pundits understand.

For example, a couple of years ago I helped lead the effort to prevent cuts in Social Security. I worked very, very hard for that. You go out to conservative states, you go out to the Tea Party guys, and you say, “Do you think we should cut Social Security and Medicare?” And they’ll say, “Are you crazy?” And yet here, you have not only a Republican Party moving very aggressively [in that direction]. You have some Democrats.

You ask people about Citizens United: “Do you think billionaires should be able to buy elections?” Across the political spectrum, people say no.

“Do you think we should give more tax breaks to billionaires?” Across the political spectrum, “No.”

I’ve noticed the same thing. I’m an author, I’m not a politician, but I lecture around the country and these issues make people really mad. People from all walks of life. Here in Washington, D.C., you’ve got all of these political scientists and all these consultants whose job it is to win elections, and if what you’re saying is true, why aren’t they out there hitting this with everything they’ve got?

Because they’re caught in a bind. The bind is… Look, if you spend four hours a day — which is certainly not uncommon around here, Democrat [or] Republican — being on the phone dialing for dollars, the people you’re going to dial for have a lot of money. And you know what? Some of them do not mind paying more taxes. They understand that that’s the right thing to do. But if you’re hustling up to corporate leaders, if you’re hustling up to wealthy people, they do not want to pay more in taxes. They do not necessarily want to see the minimum wage raised. They certainly do not want to see changes in trade policy.

So all of this speaks to the extraordinary influence of money in Congress. You know, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think that there is anything that Wall Street does not want that will get passed here. It’s just not going to happen. Or corporate America, anything it doesn’t want, it’s not going to happen. In other words, there is not the political strength to take on corporate America or Wall Street. That’s just the simple fact.

I’ve heard you, in other conversations with reporters, use the term “oligarchy” to describe what’s—

Yeah. And I believe that. I remember, distinctly — I can’t remember what happened yesterday, but I sometimes can remember what happened 50 years ago — and I remember during elementary school, the teachers, looking at these textbooks, and they said, “Look, there are countries in Latin America who have a few very wealthy families who control the whole country. And sometimes they fund both political parties.”

In Latin America?

Yeah. This is 50 years ago. So you had this party and that party, two years these guys serve, and the next two years, doesn’t matter. It’s one ideology. So if you look at the grotesque distribution of wealth in America, in which the top 1 percent today own 37 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent own 1.7 percent of the wealth; where one family—the Walton family, of Wal-Mart—own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent; where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, that smacks to me like oligarchy.

And what it is, is the worst level of wealth inequality that exists among major countries, and worse than any time since 1929, before the Great Depression. That’s wealth. And then if you look at income since the Wall Street crash [of 2008], 95 percent of all new income generated in America goes to the top 1 percent. That smacks to me like oligarchy.

And then, equally important, because of the Supreme Court decisions of Citizens United, et cetera, you now have a situation where the billionaire class can spend as much money as they want on elections. So it’s not only economic, it is now political. These guys can buy elections.

And if the Koch brothers get their way, we will do away with all campaign finance reform. That is now the official position of the leadership of the Republican Party. Which will mean that the Koch brothers won’t have to waste their time doing independent expenditures; they can bring their team of candidates into a room and say, “Okay, you want to run for U.S. Senate in Kansas? Here’s your check for $100 million.” Here’s your check for $100 million, because it doesn’t mean anything to the Koch brothers, their wealth increased by $12 billion last year. So Kansas is a nice state. “Here’s a hundred million. And here is your platform. And here is your media consultant and there is your think tank to write your speeches. We’ll watch you closely, but here’s your check for $100 million and have a nice day.” That’s called buying elections.

So right now they can do it in a significant way through independent expenditures. But they want to go further. Clarence Thomas in the McCutcheon decision voiced his support for that. And that’s where they’re moving, that’s the leadership of the Republican Party. Add all of that together, when you have a few people owning and controlling and benefitting from the economy, and a few people controlling the political process. You tell me what the word is. I like the word “oligarchy.” Do you have a better word?

Plutocracy?

Plutocracy. There you go.

What drives me crazy is that we voted for it. This has happened gradually over years. And we’ve let it happen. That’s the puzzle that people like me are trying to figure out. How on earth did this come to pass?

But you know how this happened, because you wrote a book about it.

I have my ideas.

I think you’re pretty much on track. But “we voted for it”—let’s talk about “we voted for it.”

Because it goes deeper than that. The election coming up in two months, the pundits here tell us, and they may be right — they may well be wrong, but they may be right — they estimate that 60 percent of the American people aren’t going to vote. So those guys didn’t vote for it. So you have 40 percent whose incomes are substantially higher, by the way, and are better educated than the general population. Of the 60 percent who don’t vote, no one knows exactly, the guess is 75-to-80 percent of low-income workers don’t vote. I recently talked to a union organizer in South Carolina who’s trying to organize fast food people. And she just checked with the people — the five or six hundred people that she’s working with, with the voter registration files, and I think 15 of them are registered to vote. You have 5 percent or lower of people working at minimum wage who participate in the political process. It’s not relevant to them. And young people to very large numbers don’t vote as well. And then the Koch brothers spend $400 million.

So the election system, the electoral system, is clearly rigged. And by that I mean culturally, throw in the media and everything else, what you have is a situation where a majority of the people — I shouldn’t say majority — but many people do not understand the significance of government and politics on their lives. If you’re a minimum wage worker and you want to raise your minimum wage — you’re making $7.25 an hour and you want to raise it to $10.10—and I [hypothetically] don’t want to do it, you wouldn’t vote for me.

It’s very important to your life. But for a variety of reasons, that is not an issue that a lot of low-income workers are invested in. It has a lot to do with the media and it has to do with many, many things.

Another thing I’ve been wrestling with lately is a kind of complacency that you see among Democrats, where they say, “Eventually, Democratic domination is inevitable. The demographic changes in this country…”

Believe me, I’ve heard it 500 times.

So why do we need to worry?

Which is obscene. Forget obscene, it’s the wrong word. It’s pathetic.

I’ve been to those meetings with very high-ranking campaign leaders. And that’s exactly what they say. So what they say is, during the Obama campaign, “This is how we’ll win this election. We’re going to get a huge percentage of the African-American vote. We’re going to get 67 percent of the Hispanic vote. We’re going to get 58 percent of the women’s vote. Et cetera, et cetera. All those trends are on our side. And that’s how we win elections.”

During the course of that discussion, the issue of how the party that created Social Security and Medicare is losing the senior vote—or even the issue of seniors—was not there. They have a list of the 87 different categories, and kind of toward the bottom is seniors. The white working class of America, which now votes overwhelmingly for Republicans, was not mentioned. Now, how can it be that the party that is struggling to raise the minimum wage, to fight for pay equity, do reasonable things for working-class people — not enough by any means — is losing the white working class to the other side? Very little discussion about that.

So I am not a great fan of this. I understand demographics. But it has to do with what your political values are. And if your value is to expand the middle class of this country, provide healthcare to all people, educational opportunity for all people, it’s not just winning elections. It’s not just being better than another party, which is now an extremist party with racist overtones. You can’t go through your life saying, “Hey, you think we’re bad! You should see them! Vote for me! Yeah, we’re pretty bad, but they’re worse!”

That’s always what they [Democrats] do. That’s the rationale. That’s the reason they exist.

So the answer is to say, “We are going to stand up for the working class of this country — black workers, Hispanic workers, and white workers. And we do have the guts to take on the billionaire class, and we do have the guts to take on Wall Street and we do have the guts to take on the people who finance campaigns.” Is the Democratic Party there today? No. No one thinks it is.

Let me reiterate. I’m not one who says there’s no difference between the two parties. There are significant differences. The Republican Party is right-wing extremists. The Democratic Party is centrist. That is a big difference.

Centrist… That’s what I was going to ask you about next. Do people ever say, “Senator Sanders, he’s an independent. That’s awesome: the center! He’s in between. A person in the middle who can reach across the aisle and achieve bipartisanship.” Most people in my line of work, in the media, think that’s what we need in Washington. I’ll go farther than that. They think that’s a no-brainer. That you don’t even have to turn on your mind to understand that.

That’s why they love these so-called centrists. And I certainly don’t agree with that.

I can, and I have throughout my career, worked with conservatives and Republicans. That’s part of being in politics. We just passed what some would call the major piece of legislation passed in this session of Congress, which was a veterans bill. And I’m chairman of the Veterans Committee and we passed that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that at all. It was $17.5 billion for veterans’ healthcare, and I worked with John McCain on that. And I worked with the Republicans in the House. It was maybe the most significant piece of legislation passed in this Congress. So I can and have always worked with Republicans, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, at the end of the day, when you talk about where the American people are and what they need, I think what they want and need is a progressive agenda which addresses the needs of a collapsing middle class: Many, many people living in poverty; high unemployment; 40 million people without any health insurance; a campaign finance system rigged for the rich; a climate change situation where if we don’t take aggressive action, the planet is in serious trouble.

I am comfortable in saying that, as a progressive, I think my agenda is — not in all cases, but in most cases — actually what the American people want. And, by the way, not just Democrats.

So you’re in the center.

Well, I don’t think I’m in the center. Politically, obviously I’m very far to the left here. But what I’m saying is: I helped lead the fight to stop the cuts in Social Security, along with some others. I would say, 70-to-80 percent of the American people agree with me. I believe we should raise the minimum wage. I would say 70 percent of the American people agree with that. I’ve been very active in the fight to overturn Citizens United. I would say, again, 70 percent of the people agree with that. I am active in the fight to address the crisis of climate change. I wouldn’t say 70 percent of the people agree with that, but a pretty strong majority do. Okay. So what does that make me?

Now, if you were a candidate of the Republican Party and you wanted more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, which they do, I would say you have 10-to-15 percent support. So what does this mean? There’s an agenda.

You see what takes place around here: Ee had Bowles-Simpson come here a few years ago, and the media thought this was the coming of the messiahs. Bowles is a Wall Street Democrat and Simpson is a right-wing Republican, and their agenda was consistent with that ideology. And the Democrats and the Republicans — it was like, my God! I was very strongly opposed to them. Now you have Republicans running ads attacking Democrats because they thought kindly of Bowles-Simpson. [Laughs] Because Republicans understand, people do not want cuts in Social Security.

The world is a funny place. Another question that everybody in the media, everybody in the entire country, wants to know: We look at Congress and we say, “What is wrong with these people? They can’t get along, they can’t do anything together.” You’ve been here for quite a while in both houses. What do you think can be done by either the leadership in Congress or the president to break through the incredible obstinacy of the Republicans?

Hmm… Bad question. Wrong question.

What’s the right question?

The right question is: How can the United States Congress respond to the needs of the American people? That’s the right question. Your question is asking: How does a right-wing extremist political party and a centrist party significantly controlled by corporate interests, work on an agenda together?

People ask that all the time.

They certainly do. I know, the media feeds this thing.

The point here is, you’ve got to create a United States Congress that represents the needs of the American people. The Republican party absolutely does not, and many Democrats do not. So what you really need is, a transformation of the political system by going from 40 percent turnouts to 80 percent turnouts. Getting low-income and working class people involved in the political process and start responding to their needs.

Note: We were interrupted at this point. Senator Sanders and I resumed the conversation by telephone a few days later.

What we were talking about when we left off was this problem of—what appears to be the problem of complete gridlock in Congress. And you had an interesting take on it. You said the problem is that Congress doesn’t want to do what the people of this country need to have done.

But the problem is not gridlock. The problem is that the American middle class is collapsing. The gap between the very, very rich and everybody else is growing wider. We’ve got 40 million people who have no health insurance. We have kids who can’t find jobs, and can’t afford college, and Congress is doing nothing. That’s the issue. I don’t think people want us to overcome gridlock and cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to education, and give more tax breaks to billionaires.

Is that what would happen if we overcame gridlock?

I mean, if the Republicans were to prevail and push their agenda through, you could conceivably end gridlock and do devastating harm to working families.

President Obama has his drawbacks, and I’ve criticized him as much as anybody. You suggested that maybe you might run for president one of these days. What could a president whose heart was in the right place, what could he do to deal with these guys?

I start off, Thomas, from the position that we need a political revolution in this country and that’s not just rhetoric. What I mean by that is that we need—and a president certainly can play a very, very important role in this—we need a massive change in citizen participation and in political consciousness. There was a poll that just came out I think yesterday. Gallup tells us that… I believe it is 63 percent of the American people cannot name which parties control the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate. So you have consciousness so low, a significant majority of the American people who are very concerned about what’s going on for themselves and their kids, they don’t know who controls the House and the Senate. They can’t name which party controls both bodies. You have what the political scientists tell us is a situation where in this coming election, 60 percent of the American people will not bother to vote. That means 70 -to-80 percent of low-income workers and young people will not vote. So before you can talk about changing America, you have to change the political consciousness and the way that people relate to the political process.

Now, there is a group that relates very strongly to the political process, [and] that is the billionaire class that is now prepared to spend many hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates to represent their interests.

So you ask me, what can a president do? The main thing, I think, that the president can do is understand that no kind of progressive agenda can take place unless the American people are involved in that struggle and are prepared to put real pressure on the establishment to make it happen. It’s not going to happen in back rooms. It’s not going to happen in White House negotiations. If students, for example, want to see the cost of college go down and want to see their very high levels of debt be significantly reduced, they’re going to have to take it up with the members of Congress. They’re not doing that now. If low-income workers want to see the minimum wage raised, it cannot be a situation where only 20 percent of low-income workers vote. They’re going to have to be actively involved. That’s what a president can do.

Wow. I mean, that’s a problem that in some ways seems even greater than the problem of dealing with the Republicans. You’re talking about building a mass movement.

What I am telling you, as somebody who likes Obama and respects Obama, is that the key mistake that I believe he made, and it’s perfectly understandable, is he got into office, and he said, two years after he was in, “I’m gonna sit down and negotiate with the Republicans. I know I can’t get everything. We’ll work on some kind of compromise.”

What he didn’t catch on to is that the Republicans had no intention of compromising with him and they have no intention of compromising at all. They have an agenda. It is an extreme right wing agenda backed by the Koch brothers and other billionaires, and the only way you defeat that right-wing agenda is when the American people rise up and demand real change. It can’t be done within the confines of Congress. It has to be part of a strong and active grassroots movement.

Do you understand what I’m saying here?

I absolutely see what you’re saying. I’m thinking of examples like the 1930s, the 1960s, and I also think of 2008 when president Obama had a very robust grassroots movement, or what looked like a grassroots movement, behind him.

And what did he do with that movement?

I’m gonna let you tell me. [laughs]

I believe that Obama’s 2008 campaign will go down in history as one of the most extraordinary campaigns ever run. But what Obama did not do is follow through with that grassroots effort. He did not. Of course, he had a majority in the Senate and in the House, but be that as it may, he lost what I think was the golden opportunity.

For example, just one example of many: Civil rights in this country. The change in attitude toward civil rights did not come about because a couple of senators and the White House negotiated it. It came about because millions of people took to the streets and it filtered on up. Women’s rights did not come about because senators have a tinge of guilt about the way women were treated as second-class citizens. It happened because women were actively involved with the women’s movement. Same for the gay movement and so forth. When people get involved and struggle and put pressure on the Congress and the President, things happen and that’s what we’ve got to do.

And that leads to Citizens United. You talk about Citizens United a lot. Is there any way that can be overturned?

Yes. I am not unconfident that it will be overturned. And I’ll tell you why, because the vast majority of the American people do not agree with the Republican leadership that buying elections constitutes free speech. Very few people agree with that. So it’s not just progressives like me, it’s not just moderates, it is conservatives as well. We just put up something on our Facebook which came from Barry Goldwater talking about the same issue.

So the bottom line is, I think the vast majority of the American people believe that we need real campaign finance reform and that billionaires should not be allowed to buy elections.

For the time being, this is the system that we’re stuck with. And you look at our politics unfolding before us, is there even a route for a progressive candidate to win the presidency, given the situation that we’re in with Citizens United?

Meaning the huge amount of money that’s going to conservative candidates.

Or even to moderate, centrist Democrats.

The answer is yes, and I’ll tell you what makes me optimistic: Neil Abercrombie is a friend of mine, [so] I’m not happy to tell you this. Neil is the governor of Hawaii. He outspent his opponent by 10 to 1, and he lost his primary bid by 2 to 1.

If you look at Eric Cantor: Eric Cantor had so much money he couldn’t even spend it, and as you know, he lost his primary bid. If you look at Andrew Cuomo, he ran against a candidate [Zephyr Teachout] who nobody knew, who had no money. She won half the counties in New York state in the recent primary. [Cuomo] had all the name recognition and all the money and she had very little.

So I think what we are seeing now is a profound anger at the corporate establishment, at the political establishment, at the media establishment. I think people want change. So to answer your question, yes, money is important, I don’t deny it for a moment. But I think people are paying less and less attention to ugly, 30-second ads and are prepared to hear from people who want real change in this country.

I wanted to talk to you about your own plans for 2016. You haven’t said all that much in public, but it would be nice to know…

What I’ll tell you is what I do say in public, which is that, at a time when the middle class is collapsing; when we have more people living in poverty than ever before and we have huge income and wealth inequality; when we are the only major nation on earth that does not have a national healthcare system; when we have millions of young people leaving college deeply in debt; when we have the planetary crisis of climate change; when we, because of Citizens United, have a billionaire class now controlling our political process, we need candidates who are prepared to stand up without apology representing the working families of America and are prepared to take on the billionaire class which controls so much of America. I think that’s absolutely imperative that that takes place.

What I have said is that I am giving thought to running for president. I haven’t made that decision. It’s a very, very difficult decision. I have gone to Iowa on a couple of vacations. I’ll be back there. I’ve gone to New Hampshire. I’ll be there this Saturday. And I’ve gone to other places in the country including the south—North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi—to get a sense of how people are feeling.

But yes, I am giving thought and I will make the decision at the appropriate time.

People always talk about how hard campaigning is. I personally really like Iowa, I think it would be fun to spend a lot of time in Iowa.

I agree with you. We were in Iowa last week and I had three town meetings and we had one a week ago Sunday night. We had 450 people coming out in Des Moines, Iowa, for what I thought was a great meeting.

Would that mean running as a Democrat, because the Iowa caucuses…

That’s a decision, also, that I have to think about.

There are advantages and disadvantages of running as an independent and as a Democrat. That’s something I have to talk to a whole lot of people about and sort out. When I was in Iowa, most people thought I should run as a Democrat. I was in New York City the other day, most people thought I should run as an independent.

The advantage is pretty obvious: Right now, there is a whole lot of anger and frustration at the two-party system, and more and more people are registering as independents. On the other hand, If you run as an independent, then you have to set up a 50-state political infrastructure which is very difficult in some states. In other words, you have to get an enormous amount of signatures just to get on the ballot, and it is quite possible that in some states the regulations are so onerous and unfair that you may not be able to do it.

Those are issues that I just have to talk to a lot of people about.

Speaking of that, one of my own personal favorite movements was a third-party movement in the 1890s called Populism. You brought up the two-party monopoly, which is something that drives me crazy, and it’s one of the many things that ensures that you don’t get a responsive system. Is there any way that the two-party monopoly will ever get challenged?

Well I should tell you that, as you may or may not know, I was mayor of the city of Burlington for 8 years. In this city, while it was not a legal political party, given Vermont state law, in our city we had three political factions: The Republicans, the Democrats, and what we then called the independent coalition. And the independent coalition, I was the mayor as an independent. We had five out of 13 seats on the city council. Not a majority, but—I think it was 6 out of 13 for a while—but enough for veto power, which I used. So we did it in Burlington.

Now, in the state of Vermont, you have the Progressive Party, which was an outgrowth of that effort, which is now the most successful progressive third party in America, which has three state senators and, I can’t remember, six, seven members of the House, and more to come in this election.

So in Vermont you are seeing a significant, progressive third party effort.

One last question: What is going to turn around the drift toward inequality in this country? What measures could actually happen?

What you can do?

What a politician can do.

I’ll tell you what you do. If you did the following things, it wouldn’t solve all the problems, but you’d have a profound impact on income and wealth inequality:

First of all, you raise the minimum wage to a living wage so that the people who are working 40 hours a week are not living in poverty.

Number two, and maybe most importantly, you put Americans back to work. Real unemployment today is not 6.1 percent, it is 12 percent. Youth unemployment is 20 percent. If we invest a trillion dollars in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, you can create 13 million decent paying jobs, and I think we need to do that.

Thirdly, you stop companies from throwing American workers out on the street and moving to China or Vietnam or Mexico by creating a trade system that works for working people and not just corporate America.

You do those things. Then you institute tax reform which asks the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. You make college affordable and deal with the issue of student debt. Those things will go a long way, and we have legislation that would make significantly more progressive the estate tax. So if you do those things, I think you’d have gone a good way, I think, to rebuilding the middle class in this country and asking the wealthy to start paying their fair share.

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:iconebolabearvomit:
EbolaBearVomit Featured By Owner 3 days ago
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:iconmylittletripod:
MyLittleTripod Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
generalhelghast.deviantart.com…

What are your thoughts on this? Because I really hate this.
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:iconpoasterchild:
poasterchild Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
I generally ignore stuff like this.
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:iconmypeanutgallery:
MYPeanutGallery Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2014
Summer Love Dance by KmyGraphic
Thanks for the Fave!
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:iconladyantinomy:
ladyantinomy Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014
Nice gallery! Even though I don't agree with some of your beliefs, it's a neat idea to revamp these old propaganda posters. 
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:iconpoasterchild:
poasterchild Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Thanks for your appreciation.  It's really amazing to me how well these old propaganda posters serve as the vehicle for commentary on contemporary political and social issues.   Sadly, after two years of doing these re-mixes, I feel that I've pretty much exhausted the good material.
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:iconladyantinomy:
ladyantinomy Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014
This is bound to get me banned, but have you ever tried playing with nazi propaganda posters? Regardless of what you think about the movement, Joseph Goebbels was very good at his job. 
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:iconpoasterchild:
poasterchild Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
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:iconcomradesch:
ComradeSch Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Hey, Poaster, Delta wants Dudek back- deltahd.deviantart.com/art/Bri…

What's your stance on this?
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:iconpoasterchild:
poasterchild Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
I don't have one.
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