Transcript: Bernie Sanders rant (middle class screwed), Aug 25 2006

"Labor Day is coming up and, you know, Labor Day is the day of the year when were supposed to be reflecting on what's happening to working people: their aspirations, where they are, where we want to go. And I think it's good to spend a minute just analyzing what is happening."

Thom Hartmann "Brunch" with Bernie Sanders 25 August 2006

Congressman Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is on Thom's show for the first hour nearly every Friday, went on a rant about what's happening to the middle class in Bush's America.

[Thom Hartmann] Yes, Labor Day is coming up.

[Bernie Sanders] Labor Day is coming up and, you know, Labor Day is the day of the year when were supposed to be reflecting on what's happening to working people: their aspirations, where they are, where we want to go. And I think it's good to spend a minute just analyzing what is happening.

And Thom, I want to congratulate you. I know that you have just come out with a new book which deals precisely with what is happening to the middle class and working families.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, the title is "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do about It".

Screwed - the book

[Bernie Sanders] Well, I think that one-word title probably summarizes it all.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah.

[Bernie Sanders] Because that is exactly what's going on. Senator Byron Dorgan, I know, has come out with another very good book on trade and I think what we need to do right now, not just on Labor day but every day of this week, is deal with this enormous issue which, by the way, when we talk about corporate media, when we talk about media focusing on every ? scandal or every act of sensationalism, or every day in the life of Britney Spears, somehow corporate media has forgotten to discuss the collapse of the middle class in America, the increase in poverty, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the fact that if we do not change Bush's trickle down economic theories, for the first time in the modern history of America, our kids are going to have a lower standard of living than their parents.

Now, I know, not quite as important as Britney Spears and her child, I know that. Hey, I don't want to pre-judge this thing. But it might be something that the media might want to take a look at, because this is something that is impacting the life of tens and tens of millions of Americans. You know, and when you look at the collapse of the middle class, this is not like some kind of, you know, tsunami, or some kind of storm or hurricane, that is causing devastation. This is as a result of policies developed by the United States Congress, various presidents, and mostly corporate America who have in fact gone to war against the middle class of this country. And we need to analyze it, we need to discuss it.

And the irony of all of this, is that while the average American today has seen a decline in his or her standard of living, working longer hours for lower wages, there was just a piece in the paper, you may have seen this Thom, where the idea of the two week vacation, you see that piece?

[Thom Hartmann] No, I didn't.

[Bernie Sanders] Two week vacation, is now something of the past.

[Thom Hartmann] Oh, really?

[Bernie Sanders] Oh yeah, now we can't, we don't have the time any more to take 2 week vacations, let alone a month vacation. Our people probably work longer hours than any other people in the industrialized world.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah, we surpassed Japan, I think a year or two ago.

[Bernie Sanders] Yeah, our people are stressed out, they are just, you know, very few middle class families that I know where you don't have husband and wife both working. And the question that we have got to ask ourselves is, 'why is this happening? People are now, working people are now, far more productive than used to be the case as a result of exploding technology. So why is it that 30 years ago the expectation of being in the middle class was one person working forty hours a week, today you have 2 people working incredible hours and you know what? A study from Harvard indicates that there's less disposable income now from a 2 income family than there was 30 years ago from a one income family. Why? What's going on?

[Thom Hartmann] Wow.

[Bernie Sanders] And the answer, obviously, the raw facts that are going out there. But certainly one of them is that in the last nine years, our good friends in Washington - the President, the Republican leadership - have just not gotten around to raising a national $5.15 minimum wage. They do have plenty of time to devote to hundreds of billions of tax breaks for the richest 1%. They have a lot of time devoted to trying to destroy Social Security, to cut back on Medicare, to cut back on Medicaid. But raise the national minimum wage over $5.15 an hour? My goodness, we just can't quite do that.

And the second issue, I know, you and I have talked about this a whole lot, Byron Dorgan has written a book on this, the Senator from North Dakota, and that is our disastrous trade policies and the fact that this so-called "free trade" is nothing more than an opportunity for large multinational corporations to say to American workers, "Guess what, your competition is in China, those people are making 50 cents an hour, they're going to go to jail if they stand up for their political rights, when we go to China we can destroy the environment there with impunity, and what are you going to do about it? Are you prepared to compete with China and work for 50 cents an hour? Well, maybe we'll stay here." And this is a huge issue that we as Americans have got to deal with.

We need fundamental changes in our trade policies. We've got to tell the General Electrics, the IBMs, all of these big corporations, and it's just virtually every single one of them. The guy who was the, is the head of General Electric a few years ago gave a speech to some investors there and he said, "You know, when I look at the future of General Electric I see China, China, China, China and China.".

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah.

[Bernie Sanders] And then, by the way, the only time they do see the United States - they do pay attention to us now and then - you know what it is? They come to Washington and say, 'Hey, we need some corporate welfare!'

[Thom Hartmann] Right.

[Bernie Sanders] "Hey taxpayers, by the way, we're really busy right now with throwing American workers out on the street and moving to China but we have a few minutes to ask for billions of dollars from taxpayers to help us do whatever it is we want to do". I mean, and that is the outrage that is going on in Washington. It's been going on for years. It has certainly intensified under this Bush administration which works night and day for the wealthiest people in this country.

But if we do not change these policies, and that is not just the loss of blue collar jobs, and as you know, we've lost almost 3 million good paying manufacturing jobs in the last 5 years. In my small state of Vermont which has never been a, you know, great manufacturing leader in America, we've lost 20% of our manufacturing jobs in 5 years. We're on the cusp now, all over this country, of losing millions and millions.

This economist Alan Blinder wrote a study* where it said tens of millions of jobs are now at risk, because if you are doing your job right now, fellow American, working on a computer, the likelihood is that job can be done in India, it can be done in China, it can be done in Russia, for people who are very smart, very hard working, and are prepared to work for a fraction of the wages that we make. And if we just sit back and say, 'Oh, this is ? this is free trade, this is just terrific and government shouldn't play a role here - you know, we don't want to get in the way of corporate America'. You're going to end up in a nation that looks like some, you know, Latin American, third world existence where a handful of people have virtually all of the wealth, all of the income, and everybody else is just scrambling to keep their heads above water.

And we've got to turn that around. And that's the great challenge, I think, facing working families in America, is to stand up and say to Washington, 'Sorry, our government is supposed to represent all of the people and not just large multinational corporations, and not just the very, very wealthy.

You know, very few people, in addition to all of that, John Edwards being one, are talking about what is just almost invisible in America, that in the last 5 years under Bush, 5 million more Americans have slipped into poverty. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. We have, you know, people sleeping out on the streets. This is not what America is supposed to be about. So those are some of the issues that we have really got to be working on.

[Thom Hartmann] Yeah. Paul Krugman** recently pointed out that this is all about politics, too. He said, from 1929 to 1947 the real wages of production workers and manufacturing in the United States rose 67% while the richest 1% went up, actually fell 17%. Post war boom, real wages - this is '47 to '73 - real wages went up 81% for every production worker. The top 1% only went up 38%. And, but now, after Reagan -the new gilded age - the real wages of manufacturers, manufacturing workers, fell 1% while the richest 1%, their wages went up 135%.

[Bernie Sanders] That is the America of 2006 and that is what we have got to change if the middle class of America is to survive.

[Thom Hartmann] Amen.

* "WEALTH OF NATIONS: A Third Industrial Revolution", Alan Blinder, 10 March 2006, National Journal - subscription only.

** "Wages, Wealth and Politics", Paul Krugman, 18 August 2006, New York Times - subscription only.

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