Op-Ed: Bernie Sanders, the Real Democrat

January 18, 2016 by islandersvoice1



The following op-ed was contributed by David Turnoy, a retired school teacher and resident of Orcas Island. David is also vice-chair of the San Juan County Democrats. However, the following op-ed represents his personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the San Juan County Democrats.

As Islanders’ Voice has no explicit limit on the length of its articles, this op-ed is quite lengthy. Given the importance of the November presidential elections, readers are encouraged to hang on for the ride.

Whether you are a Clinton, O’Malley, or Sanders supporter, registered voters are invited to attend the 2016 Democratic presidential primary precinct caucuses at 10:00 am on Saturday, March 26 on San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and other islands to vote for your candidate of choice. Locations will be announced on Islanders’ Voice at a later date.

You can learn details of the 2016 Democratic nomination process at the quarterly meeting of the San Juan County Democrats at 11:45 am to 1:45 pm on Saturday, January 23 at Skagit Valley College in Friday Harbor.

Bernie Sanders: The Real Democrat
by David Turnoy

​The Democratic Party seems to have evolved to where there are two distinct wings: (1) the centrist corporate-dominated wing, and (2) the progressive wing, deriving its heritage from Franklin Roosevelt and sometimes referred to as “The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party”, as the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to say. The race for the Democratic presidential nomination this year is a perfect example of this duality, with Hillary Clinton being the centrist, Wall Street candidate while Bernie Sanders represents FDR’s legacy. Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for almost 25 years, but much less is known about Bernie Sanders. For those of you interested in finding out what the excitement related to Bernie is all about, this is your opportunity.

​Bernie Sanders was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. His father was an immigrant from Poland whose family was killed in the Holocaust, while his mother’s parents were also immigrants. Bernie grew up in a small rent-controlled apartment. While at the University of Chicago for college, he led a protest against the segregated campus housing policy in 1962 that lasted for weeks. The next year he was part of the famous civil rights demonstration in Washington, DC, at which Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech. Bernie continued to be active in the civil rights movement as well as peace and antiwar demonstrations.

After college Bernie moved to Vermont. He was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, running as an Independent in 1981, defeating a 6-term incumbent Democrat. He would be re-elected three times, defeating both Democrats and Republicans. As mayor, Bernie balanced the budget, got local cable rates reduced, established the Burlington Community Land Trust (the first municipal housing land trust in the country for affordable housing), and led extensive downtown revitalization projects. One of his signature achievements was the improvement of Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront, campaigning against the unpopular plans of a Burlington developer to convert industrial waterfront property into expensive condominiums, hotels, and offices; instead Sanders ran under the slogan “Burlington is not for sale” and successfully supported a plan that redeveloped the waterfront area into a mixed-use district featuring housing, parks, and public space. Today, the waterfront area includes many parks and miles of public beach and bike paths, a boathouse, and a science center. Burlington is now considered one of the most livable cities in the nation. Under Bernie’s administration, the city also made major strides in progressive taxation, environmental protection, child care, women’s rights, youth programs and the arts.

Bernie was elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 and would be re-elected seven times, usually with a large majority of votes. During his time in the House, Bernie helped organize the Congressional Progressive Caucus and secured support for amendments to protect pensions and expand community health centers. When one of Vermont’s senators announced his retirement, Bernie ran for that seat in 2006 and won by a two-to-one margin; he was re-elected in 2012 with 71% of the vote. In the US Senate, he eloquently opposed surveillance abuses, wars of choice, the deregulation of banks, and bailouts for billionaires, and his effective chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has earned bipartisan accolades. During all his years in office, the amazing thing about Bernie is that he has consistently stood for the same principles. He has not been one to shift his views depending on what was popular at the time; rather, he has a moral core that motivates him to work for what is right for the people. Let’s look at his positions on the issues.

Here is how Bernie would reduce wealth and income inequality:

  • Demand that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes, stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes, create a progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million, enact a tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings.
  • Increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020. In the year 2015, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty.
  • Put at least 13 million Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years towards rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and other infrastructure needs.
  • Reverse trade policies like NAFTA, CAFTA, and PNTR with China that have driven down wages and caused the loss of millions of jobs. If corporate America wants us to buy their products they need to manufacture those products in this country, not in China or other low-wage countries.
  • Create 1 million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans by investing $5.5 billion in a youth jobs program. Today, the youth unemployment rate is off the charts. This will be paid for by ending the carried interest loophole that allows billionaire hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate than nurses and truck drivers.
  • Fight for pay equity by signing the Paycheck Fairness Act into law. It is an outrage that women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns.
  • Make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout America. Everyone in this country who studies hard should be able to go to college regardless of income.
  • Expand Social Security by lifting the cap on taxable income above $250,000 so every American can retire with dignity and respect.
  • Guarantee healthcare as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer healthcare system.
  • Require employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days. This would be paid for by a payroll tax that would total $1.61 a week for the typical American worker. According to Sen. Gillibrand’s office, this would be “a self-sufficient program that would not add to the federal budget.”
  • Enact a universal childcare and prekindergarten program.
  • Make it easier for workers to join unions by fighting for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Break up huge financial institutions so that they are no longer too big to fail, for which he has introduced legislation as a senator.


Here are the 6 steps Bernie would take to make college debt free:

  • Make tuition free at public colleges and universities.
  • Stop the federal government from making a profit on student loans.
  • Substantially cut student loan interest rates.
  • Allow Americans to refinance student loans at today’s low interest rates.
  • Use need-based financial aid and work study programs to make college debt free.
  • Pay for this by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculators that would generate about $300 billion in revenue.


To get big money out of politics and restore democracy, Bernie would:

  • Only appoint Supreme Court justices who will make it a priority to overturn Citizens United and who understand that corruption in politics means more than just quid pro quo.
  • Fight to pass a constitutional amendment making it clear that Congress and the states have the power to regulate money in elections, which he has worked for in the Senate.
  • Fight for a publicly financed, transparent system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations, along the lines of the Fair Elections Now Act that he has co-sponsored, and an effective public financing system for president.
  • Insist on complete transparency regarding the funding of campaigns, including through disclosure of contributions to outside spending groups, via legislation, action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Election Commission, and Federal Communication Commission, and an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.
  • Fight to eliminate super PACs and other outside spending abuses.
  • Work to aggressively enforce campaign finance rules.


Bernie will create jobs rebuilding America through the Rebuild America Act (RAA), which will support more than 13 million good-paying jobs – jobs that our economy desperately needs:

  • RAA would more than double the current level of funding for the highway and transit accounts of the Highway Trust Fund, and would create a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage private capital to finance more than $125 billion in new projects.
  • ​RAA will invest $75 billion to upgrade our passenger and freight rail lines, to move people and goods more quickly and efficiently to catch up with the rest of the world.
  • RAA will invest $12.5 billion to improve airports across the country, and $17.5 billion to bring our air traffic control system into the 21st century by accelerating deployment of NextGen technology to make our skies safer and our airports more efficient.
  • RAA will invest an additional $15 billion over five years to clear the backlog of projects to improve inland waterways, coastal harbors and shipping channels so our businesses can compete in the global economy to move their goods and supplies to, from and within our country more efficiently.
  • RAA will invest $12 billion a year to repair and improve the high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across the country, and to repair and improve the flood levees that protect our cities and our farms.
  • RAA will invest $6 billion a year so states can improve the drinking water systems that provide Americans with clean, safe water; and $6 billion a year to improve the wastewater plants and stormwater infrastructure that protect water quality in our nation’s rivers and lakes.
  • RAA will invest $10 billion a year for power transmission and distribution modernization projects to improve the reliability and resiliency of our ever more complex electric power grid. This investment will also position our grid to accept new sources of locally generated renewable energy, and it will address critical vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.
  • RAA will invest $5 billion a year to expand high-speed broadband networks in under-served and unserved areas, and to boost speeds and capacity all across the country.
  • This plan will cost $1 trillion over 5 years, but to put this in perspective the American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 just to get our nation’s infrastructure to a state of good repair. If no action is taken, several studies have concluded that our deteriorating infrastructure already costs our economy close to $200 billion per year. RAA will be paid for by making corporations pay taxes on all of the “profits” they have shifted to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens, which the Congressional Research Services estimates may currently create losses that approach $100 billion annually, and other loopholes.


Bernie Sanders will fight for a living wage:

  • He has proposed an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
  • He has introduced the “Workplace Democracy Act” to strengthen the role of unions and the voices of working people on the job.
  • He will work for equal pay for women and overtime pay.


Bernie will combat climate change to save the planet:

  • Reclaim our democracy from the billionaire fossil fuel lobby.
  • Accelerate a just transition away from fossil fuels.
  • ​Invest in clean, sustainable energy.
  • Revolutionize our electric and transportation infrastructure.
  • ​Lead the international community to solve climate change and prevent international conflict.
  • Go to berniesanders.com for pages and pages of specifics, including a tax on carbon and 10 million new good-paying jobs in clean energy, which will be paid for by stopping taxpayer-funded giveaways to oil, gas and coal companies.


Bernie would work for a fair and humane immigration policy:

  • Instead of deporting immigrants fleeing violence in their home countries, Bernie would seek to provide them protection and employment within the United States.
  • See the website for many more details.


Bernie would work for racial justice by pursuing policies to transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color. Specific measures are detailed to address violence perpetrated on these groups in five different areas:

  • Physical violence perpetrated by the state (police) and by extremists.
  • Political violence of disenfranchisement.
  • Legal violence through the “War on Drugs” and through unjust imprisonment and seizure of property.
  • Economic violence due to deprivation.
  • Environmental violence due to more pollution in the living areas and jobs of people of color.


Bernie will fight for women’s rights:

  • ​Fight for pay equity for women.
  • Expand and protect the reproductive rights of women.​
  • Only nominate Supreme Court justices who support Roe v. Wade and the reproductive rights of women.
  • Make quality childcare and pre-K available to all Americans.
  • ​Increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.
  • Raise the tipped minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2023.
  • ​Provide at least 12 weeks of paid family leave, 2 weeks of paid vacation, and one week of paid sick days to American workers. This promotes family values as well as women’s rights.
  • Expand the WIC program for pregnant mothers and infants.
  • Make healthcare a right.
  • Expand Social Security.


Bernie would continue to fight for LGBT equality:​

  • Sign into law the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and any other bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people.
  • Work with HHS to ensure LGBT Americans have access to comprehensive health insurance which provides appropriate coverage and do not have to fear discrimination or mistreatment from providers.
  • Continue the great work of the State Department’s Special Envoy for LGBT Rights and ensure the United States helps protect the rights of LGBT people around the world.
  • Advance policies to ensure students can attend school without fear of bullying, and work to reduce suicides.
  • Require police departments to adopt policies to ensure fairer interactions with transgender people, especially transgender women of color who are often targeted by police unfairly, and institute training programs to promote compliance with fair policies.
  • Bar discrimination against LGBT people by creditors and banks so that people will not be unfairly denied mortgages, credit cards, or student loans.
  • Veto any legislation that purports to “protect” religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights.


Bernie will continue his record of caring for our veterans:

  • Fully fund and expand the VA so that every veteran gets the care that he or she has earned and deserves.
  • Substantially improve the processing of Veterans’ claims for compensation.
  • Expand the VA’s Caregivers Program.
  • Expand mental health service for Veterans.
  • Make comprehensive dental care available to all veterans at the VA.


Bernie will fight for disability rights:

  • Protect and expand the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), which currently averages just $1,200 per month for 11 million Americans.​
  • Increase employment and educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, over 80% of whom are now unemployed.
  • Fight for US ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Bernie will strengthen and expand Social Security:
​Social Security has a $2.8 trillion surplus right now and can pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 19 years (and more than three-quarters after that). To further strengthen it, Bernie will end the absurdity of those earning over $118,500 owing no Social Security tax on these higher earnings, instead requiring everyone who makes more than $250,000 per year to pay the same percentage of their income as middle and working class families. This would not only extend the solvency of Social Security for the next 50 years, but also bring in enough revenue to expand benefits by an average of $65 a month; increase cost-of-living-adjustments; and lift more seniors out of poverty by increasing the minimum benefits paid to low-income seniors.


Bernie will lower prescription drug prices:

  • Negotiate a better deal, allowing Medicare to use its bargaining power (currently prohibited), which could save Medicare $23-54 billion per year.
  • Allow imported prescription drugs from Canada, and prohibit the US from agreeing to raising drug prices or extending monopoly protection in trade deals.
  • Restore discounts for low-income seniors, end the donut hole. Require drug companies to pay a rebate if their drug prices rise faster than inflation.
  • Prohibit deals that keep generic drugs off the market.
  • Enact stronger penalties for fraud.
  • Require pricing and cost transparency.


Bernie will improve the rural economy:

  • Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive.
  • Expand support for young and beginning farmers.
  • Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply.
  • Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils.
  • Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.
  • Restore the amount that farmers earn ($.40 per hour in 1966, now only $.16).
  • Fight for America’s small and mid-sized farms by having the Department of Agriculture expand its services for new and underserved farmers.
  • Encourage the growth of regional food systems by helping Americans support
    local farms.
  • Reverse trade policies like NAFTA that have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations.
  • Enforce our country’s antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations.
  • Invest in renewable energy for a cleaner environment plus new income for farmers.
  • Improve the electric grid, invest in high-speed internet and broadband, and improve dams and levees.


Reform Wall Street: If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. Break up the big banks. Also, Bernie has done the following:

  • Introduced the “Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act,” which would break up the big banks and prohibit any too-big-to-fail institutions from accessing the Federal Reserve’s discount facilities or using insured deposits for risky activities.
  • Led the fight in 1999 defending Glass-Steagall provisions which prevented banks (especially “too big to fail” ones) from gambling with customers’ money, and currently is a co-sponsor of the Elizabeth Warren/John McCain bill to reinstate those provisions.
  • Has proposed a financial transaction tax which will reduce risky and unproductive high-speed trading and other forms of Wall Street speculation; proceeds would be used to provide debt-free public college education.
  • Is co-sponsoring Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s bill to end Wall Street’s practice of paying big bonuses to bank executives who take senior-level government jobs.
    Introduced a tax on Wall Street speculation to make public colleges and universities tuition-free.
  • Supports capping credit card interest rates at 15%.
  • Sponsored an amendment calling for an audit the Federal Reserve. The audit found that far more had been spent in the Wall Street bailout than previously disclosed, and that considerable funds had been spent to bail out foreign corporations.
  • Warned about the risks of deregulation eight years before the fiscal crisis of 2008.
  • Has proposed limiting the ability of bankers to get rich from taxpayer bailouts of their institutions.


In matters of war and peace, Bernie will:

  • ​Move away from a policy of unilateral military action, and toward a policy of emphasizing diplomacy, and ensuring the decision to go to war is a last resort.
  • Ensure that any military action we do engage in has clear goals, is limited in scope, and whenever possible provides support to our allies in the region.
  • Close Guantanamo Bay, rein in the National Security Agency, abolish the use of torture, and remember what truly makes America exceptional: our values.
  • Expand our global influence by promoting fair trade, addressing global climate change, providing humanitarian relief and economic assistance, defending the rule of law, and promoting human rights.
  • Details on specific foreign policy issues are on his website, including his support for the treaty with Iran.


Bernie will fight for real tax reform:

Crack down on corporate tax avoiders:

  • End the rule allowing American corporations to defer paying federal income taxes on profits of offshore subsidiaries.​
  • Prevent corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes by claiming to be a foreign company through the establishment of a post office box in a tax haven country.
  • Eliminate tax breaks for big oil, gas, and coal companies.
  • Prevent American companies from avoiding U.S. taxes by corporate inversions.
  • Close loopholes that allow U.S. corporations to artificially inflate or accelerate foreign tax credits.

Reform the estate tax to make it more progressive:

  • Make sure that the super-wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Include a billionaire’s surtax of 10 percent.
  • Close estate tax loopholes that have allowed the wealthy to avoid billions in estate taxes.
  • Exempt the first $3.5 million of an estate from federal taxation ($7 million for couples), the same exemption that existed in 2009. Under this plan, 99.75 percent of Americans would not pay a penny in estate taxes.

Tax Wall Street speculators.

Lift the cap on taxable income that goes in the Social Security Trust Fund.

If these proposals seem radical, it is only because the Republican Party has shifted the conversation so far to the right. In reality, these proposals simply carry on in the tradition of FDR’s New Deal from 80 years ago, which has been so eroded over the past 35 years. And unlike any president in recent memory, because Bernie is not relying on the monied elite to run for president, he will not be beholden to them in office. Instead, his campaign has excited the masses and brought in small contributions from millions of Americans, so that as president Bernie can work to enact these policies that benefit the vast majority of Americans.

This is a chance to start the long process of taking back our democracy. For more information on anything you read on issues above, go to berniesanders.com.

Go Bernie!

This op-ed represents the views of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of Islanders’ Voice or of the San Juan County Democrats.


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