Calling this America's "most severe economic and political crisis" in modern history, Sanders sees the "unprecedented" struggle for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, jobs, a higher minimum wage, affordable college tuition, abortion access, climate reality, adequate nutrition and accessible health care being overshadowed by the fight for our very democracy.
The Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Koch brothers -- the mega-billionaires unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United "corporations are people" decision -- are now the three main forces in American politics, Sanders said. With their $80 billion fortune making them America's second wealthiest family, the Kochs, teamed with other billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, are spending literally unlimited amounts of money to remake America in their own image, said Sanders.
The Koch's influence goes well beyond injecting millions in (often secret) campaign cash, political consultants and lobbyists into the electoral process, he said. The Kochs are also pumping millions into organizations that affect nearly every sector of American public life: law, education, health care, economics, academia, the environment, state legislative initiatives, media, and veterans' issues. The Kochs, he said, don't just buy votes, they sell ideas, reshaping American public discourse and remaking American consciousness to reflect their capitalist worldview. Their next step, he said, may well be direct media ownership.
What, exactly, do the Kochs want? Short term, Sanders said, they want to get rid of all major legislation enacted over the last 80 years to protect working families, the elderly, children, the sick, and the poor. This means cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, collective bargaining rights, worker safety, unemployment benefits, nutrition programs, and the unionized U.S.Postal Service.
The Kochs don't just oppose raising the minimum wage, said Sanders, they oppose the very concept of a minimum wage, believing that employers should be allowed to pay workers as little as they can get away with. The Kochs want to dismantle the government agencies monitoring the quality of our air, our water and our food. And they want a regressive system of taxation insuring that rich people and big corporations get even bigger tax breaks than they now have.
Long term, Sanders said, the Kochs envision a right-wing "free" market economy in which working people have been stripped of all rights and protections in order to maximize the profits of the wealthy. The billionaires are now coming for what the middle class, the elderly, children, and working families have managed to gain through generations of political struggle, he said. Since the billionaires own most of the American economy, he said, they believe they're entitled to own the government as well.
And so far, Sanders said, they're winning. Extreme right-wing ideas that Americans once found laughable have now become mainstream. Tens of millions of Americans have given up on the political process. The corporate media presents politics as a kind of reality show. And while it's hard to stand and fight back, said Sanders, the economic, political and environmental threats we now face are too big to ignore. This isn't just about us, he said, it's about whether our families and our planet have a future.
It's time to stop listening to the billionaires' think tanks and the corporate media and chart our own course, Sanders said -- organizing, educating and mobilizing working families to stand up for themselves.
Here's Sanders "To-Do" list:
- Income inequality. Only a progressive system of taxation would require the wealthy to pay their fair share and close the tax loopholes that now let one in every four corporations pay zero taxes.
- Unemployment. We need to invest in our crumbling infrastructure; in energy efficiency retrofits and sustainable energy development; in early childhood education and affordable housing -- not just to improve our quality of life, but to create millions of new living-wage jobs.
- Living Wage. We need to keep raising the minimum wage, and we need to expand worker ownership in order to keep American jobs in America.
- Education. Every American is entitled to a quality education. We have to stop throwing away the intellectual potential of millions of Americans.
- Climate Change. The U.S. must take the lead in moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. That's how we begin reversing climate change, while creating millions of new jobs.
- Income Security for the Elderly. We need to protect and expand Social Security so that every American can retire with dignity. Step One: lifting the $117,000 cap on taxable income that goes into the Social Security Trust Fund. Taking this one step would fund Social Security for decades to come while increasing the benefits paid by the most successful social program in American history.
- Putting Wall Street Back on the Leash. It's time to break up the financial behemoths. The industry can no longer be an island, generating huge profits through speculation and fraud. It must serve and invest in our economy. And our judicial system must start prosecuting Wall Street criminals.
- Campaign Finance Reform. We need a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United. And we need publicly-funded elections. Candidates should be elected based on their fitness for office, not on their friends' deep pockets.
- Civil Liberties. While we need to protect our nation from terrorism, we must do it in a way that preserves our own constitutional rights.
- Defense. The U.S. must lead the world in peace and disarmament instead of being a global munitions supplier.
- Social Justice. If we want a fair and open society, we have to protect the rights of all Americans by passing balanced immigration legislation and insuring that the rights of minorities, women and gays are protected.