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Sanders writes: "The democratic foundations of our country and this movement toward a more inclusive democracy are now facing the most severe attacks, both economically and politically..."

Senator Bernie Sanders is interviewed by a Reuters reporter, 11/28/06. (photo: Reuters)
Senator Bernie Sanders is interviewed by a Reuters reporter, 11/28/06. (photo: Reuters)



The Road to Oligarchy

By Bernie Sanders, Reader Supported News

26 July 12

 

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing Tuesday on “Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs” Here is Sen. Bernie Sanders’ testimony:

r. Chairman, thank you for convening a hearing on the monumentally important issue of “Taking Back Our Democracy.” Unfortunately, that title exactly describes the challenge facing us today.

The history of this country has been the drive toward a more and more inclusive democracy—a democracy which would fulfill Abraham Lincoln’s beautiful phraseology at Gettysburg in which he described America as a nation “of the people by the people for the people.”

We all know American democracy has not always lived up to this ideal. When this country was founded, only white male property owners over age 21 could vote. But people fought to change that and we became a more inclusive democracy.  After the Civil War, we amended the Constitution to allow non-white men to vote. We became a more inclusive democracy.  In 1920, after years of struggle and against enormous opposition, we finally ratified the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. We became a more inclusive democracy.

In 1965, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, the great civil rights movement finally succeeded in outlawing racism at the ballot box and LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. We became a more inclusive democracy.

One year after that, the Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax was unconstitutional, that people could not be denied the right to vote because they were low-income. We became a more inclusive democracy. In 1971, young people throughout the country said; “we are being drafted to go to Vietnam and get killed, but we don’t even have the right to vote.”  The voting age was lowered to 18.  We became a more inclusive democracy.

The democratic foundations of our country and this movement toward a more inclusive democracy are now facing the most severe attacks, both economically and politically, that we have seen in the modern history of our country.  Tragically, as I say this advisedly, we are well on our way to seeing our great country  move toward an oligarchic form of government – where virtually all economic and political power rest with a handful of very wealthy families. This is a trend we must reverse.

Economically, the United States today has, by far, the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth and that inequality is worse today in America than at any time since the late 1920s.

Today, the wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom half of America - 150 million people.

Today, one family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, with  $89 billion, own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.  One family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent.

Today, the top one percent own 40 percent of all wealth, while the bottom sixty percent owns less than 2 percent.  Incredibly, the bottom 40 percent of all Americans own just 3/10 of one percent of the wealth of the country.

That is what is going on economically in this country. A handful of billionaires own a significant part of the wealth of America and have enormous control over our economy. What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires: “You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.” That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about – and that’s why it must be overturned.

Let’s be clear. Why should we be surprised that one family, worth $50 billion, is prepared to spend $400 million in this election to protect their interests? That’s a small investment for them and a good investment. But it is not only the Koch brothers.

There are at least 23 billionaire families who have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each into the political process up to now during this campaign; my guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret.  In other words, not content to own our economy, the one percent want to own our government as well.

The constitutional amendment that Congressman Ted Deutch and I have introduced states the following:

·       For-profit corporations are not people, and are not entitled to any rights under the Constitution.

·       For-profit corporations are entities of the states, and are subject to regulation by the legislatures of the states, so long as the regulations do not limit the freedom of the press.

·       For-profit corporations are prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in political campaigns.

·       Congress and the states have the right to regulate and limit all political expenditures and contributions, including those made by a candidate.

I’m proud to say the American people are making their voices heard on this issue—they are telling us loud and clear it is time to reverse the trend. Six states, including my home state of Vermont, have passed resolutions asking us to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. More than 200 local governments have done the same, including many in Vermont. I’m proud to sponsor one such amendment.  My colleagues here, Mr. Baucus, Mr. Udall, and Ms. Edwards, all have good amendments, and I thank them for their hard work on this issue.

To read the list of billionaire families donating at least $250,000 to campaigns, click here.

To read more about Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment, click here.

 

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+110 # Klanders 2012-07-26 09:00
Profound THANKS, again to the Senator from Vermont, Mr. Sanders, for your clarity and succinct analysis of the threat(s) to the goal of a government "of the People, By the People, and for the People."

Now is the time for all Americans to come to the aide of our country lest we letharg-ize ourselves into believing that all is well.
 
 
+3 # maddave 2012-07-29 21:33
I'm sure that we all see Bernie Sanders as our political---if not spiritual---lea der; however, in this instance, I see his basic premise as being flaty-out WRONG! We are not heading for an oligarchy, because we are already IN a burgeoning fascist plutocracy . . . The plutocrats and their lackeys in Congress are certainly NOT going to allow this country to backslide into something as liberal as an oligarchy.
 
 
+80 # Robert Cohen 2012-07-26 09:24
The nation is going down the tubes too fast for the slow-boat Constitutional Amendment approach. In any case, I am personally pessimistic that that approach has much likelihood of ever succeeding.

In contrast, a more rapid and more likely way to achieve that objective is to file multiple class-action lawsuits seeking to reverse two absurd Supreme Court decisions: Santa Clara ("corporations are persons") and Buckley ("money is speech"). All that is needed for success is to sway at least one or the five conservative Justices, as recently happened when Chief Justice Roberts patriotically wrote his heroic decision defending Obamneycare.

As the case advances toward the Supreme Court, increasing public awareness of it will propel a tsunami of public pressure and outcry from the vast, nonpartisan, 80%-or-more majority of our citizenry who are disgusted with the legalized corruption of our politicians by the obscene amounts of money-in-politi cs. And past Supreme Courts have been responsive to public opinion.

Once those decisions are reversed, the liberated Congress would be enabled to enact legislation in the public interest, such as to provide for public financing of elections, free airtime for candidates, universal health care, raising needed revenue from those who can best afford to provide it, and exerting world leadership in preventing and mitigating global warming.


Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
 
 
+30 # indian weaver 2012-07-26 09:45
Congress is not any help in this or any other matter, and is useless, a horrible fascist organization that has given the administration its work, and now does nothing. Millions of us know what has to be done, and it ain't pretty. To have any faith in our government is more self deception, if now downright cowardice.
 
 
+10 # brux 2012-07-26 10:23
Yeah, the mistake of the 60's was after so many assassinations to assume that change within the system was the only way. All that did was create a pathetic media monopoly empire by the same forces that overthrew the Shah in Iran or other democratically elected leaders - which is not being used on us. When we cannot get a critical mass of people who know and see the truth, then the people cannot act, and our whole society militates against that possibility.

I think local government can be used, but even then, local governments are small and weak, and big money can still come in behind the scenes and get what they want without anyone really knowing how or why.
 
 
+2 # Cassandra2012 2012-07-31 12:27
Quoting brux:
...
I think local government can be used, but even then, local governments are small and weak, and big money can still come in behind the scenes and get what they want without anyone really knowing how or why.

No, all you need do is look at Chicago (under the Daleys, or Rahm Emmanuel) or look at local Wisconsin rural govts, to see how much corruption is evident in local governments.
When Grover Norquist can decide who and how a president will vote --by 'handing him a pen,' we are doomed. Something must be done to expose and prosecute the slimy anti-democracy Norquists, Roves and Kochs slithering in the background.
 
 
+17 # brux 2012-07-26 10:20
I'm not so sure that just futzing with laws is going to make any practical difference in our country, the basis of those laws being promulgated has been the build up of a weathly cheating anti-nationalis t class of people who it is clear far from wanting to turn around the country want to drive it into a new global feudalism.

I'm not defending those laws, but the laws reflect the people, the people do not decide to follow the laws just because they are there, or even just because a majority of us at some time voted for them, or our representatives did.

There very well could be now a national outcry and our media is simply hiding it from us. The greatest weapon ever to be developed has been the "false" pen that is mightier than the sword, and mightier than the real pen when it is backed up by limitless supplies of stolen money.

We are in a war and we do not know it, and we are prevented by our own decency from talking violence because no one wants that, but when those at the top are unresponsive our own founders told us what to do by any means.
 
 
+24 # Majikman 2012-07-26 15:54
Brux, the laws have been futzed with....by the 1% to disenfranchise the 99% Democracy is on life support and the prognosis is terminal. We do have options beside storming the barricades.
We have to hit 'em where it hurts...the pocketbook...as it's the only language they understand. We need to boycott Wal-mart, McDonalds, BofA, frankenfoods etal and shift our paradigm from capitalism to local businesses and cooperatives. http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/ENG.aspx For starters it would empower people. Can you imagine what it would be like living off the grid, eating locally grown produce, reading books instead of mind numbing TV, having community centers with all kinds of activities for adults & kids, active arts centers. I can go on. I live in a community where a lot of these things are already happening, growing and it's wonderful.
 
 
+7 # SOF 2012-07-27 23:29
In the 60s I thought there'd be millions of communes by now -too bad, we'd be ahead on alternatives and the current need to cooperate. Lots of us boycott already and I've never shopped at Walmart or eaten a McDonalds burger -and didn't eat grapes for so many years. There is a boycott of Monsanto companies, starting with Kellog's now. We have Sen. Saunders and a few great Progressives to speak true and courageously. We need to Move to Amend. We do not want armed revolution or civil war. We do need to guarantee the (hackable) vote. I suspect Rebugs and 1% allowed Obama to win, so he'd take the blame for the mess they made.
 
 
+19 # Skeptical1247 2012-07-26 18:30
I agree with Mr. Cohen regarding the Constitutional Amendment route. It is a "too slow if ever" proposition. I believe we are still awaiting confirmation of the ERA, with 29 state governments in the hands of reactionary and morally corrupt morons.

In addition to Robert's suggestion of lawsuits by cities/states that are not led by the aforementioned morons, a very viable option was shown to us by the Tea Party and the Koch Bros. , which completely changed the complexion of the Republican Party AND the Congress IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS.

If we can not exceed the efforts of two ultra-rich Neo-Nazis and a collection of village idiots, then we DESERVE to be a nation of renters and indentured servants. Polls taken on numerous issues during this last year indicate that half of the voting population actually sits to the LEFT of the Democratic Party and another 20% are actually moderates on these issues.

A brand new "Pragmatic Progressive Reform" party needs to be formalized with a written platform that candidates and voters can identify with. This Party's job is to replace incumbents of both existing parties, draw support from the 76 members of the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party and take over both houses of Congress in two bites... in 2014 and in 2016. This is VERY do-able, and very necessary, at which point addressing a long list of issues can be accomplished and balance restored.
 
 
+10 # Bodiotoo 2012-07-26 23:02
[quote name="Skeptical 1247"]=
Completely agree...a new People's Progressive Party and movement to take both house in two election cycles.
 
 
0 # lexy677 2012-07-29 10:50
Good idea however it would be more difficult to overturn "Buckley" than you think.
 
 
+18 # tedrey 2012-07-26 10:11
If you click on the list of 25 billionaires who have contributed at least $250,000 to campaigns, you may note that every one of them is a male. This raises more than one question, which I will leave you to consider.
 
 
-4 # Rick Levy 2012-07-26 21:18
Yeah ,that's why all the males in America rich and powerful, right?
 
 
+1 # Bodiotoo 2012-07-26 23:03
Quoting tedrey:
If you click on the list of 25 billionaires who have contributed at least $250,000 to campaigns, you may note that every one of them is a male. This raises more than one question, which I will leave you to consider.

and are they WASP?
 
 
+4 # tedrey 2012-07-27 07:04
Quoting Bodiotoo:
Quoting tedrey:
If you click on the list of 25 billionaires who have contributed at least $250,000 to campaigns, you may note that every one of them is a male. This raises more than one question, which I will leave you to consider.

and are they WASP?

Good question. For what it's worth, I note that not one of the last names is latino, and not one is oriental, (but a lot of them are originally German, which may mean nothing, of course.)
 
 
+54 # brux 2012-07-26 10:15
Absolutely respect and admire Bernie Sanders. Sometimes he seems like the only one in our government with both a heart and a brain.

Why are we so stupid that this guy is not our President?
 
 
-18 # indian weaver 2012-07-26 10:54
We are not stupid. We aren't rich enough to get what we want, period. A vote is simply a silly waste of time at this point. Weapons and money matter, not votes.
 
 
+26 # pernsey 2012-07-26 11:38
Quoting brux:
Absolutely respect and admire Bernie Sanders. Sometimes he seems like the only one in our government with both a heart and a brain.

Why are we so stupid that this guy is not our President?


Bernie is awesome!

But he would end up like Jimmy Carter stonewalled at every turn, thats why hes not president. He wouldnt play ball with the powers that be, and Im sure Fox news would be discrediting everything he does with their inane made up facts of stupidity. He can probably be heard and get more done in the senate then they would ever let him do as president.

Personally I think he would make be an awesome president, but unfortunately the rich corporate lobbyists are in charge not us. He would not be able to do anything.
 
 
+35 # Waltheim 2012-07-26 11:30
Bernie Sanders is one our greatest Patriots...we have so few of them in government these days. He speaks truth and is very clear minded of proper and logical approaches to get America back on track. The problem is that there simply are NOT ENOUGH people to stand up and support his progreessive views and take back the power of the people that is our founding constitutional purpose. This can be accomplished by massive peaceful demonstrations like the 99% Movement has started, however on a much larger scale. The difficulty in accomplishing this is currently twofold as I see it. #1. It is mainly Progressives who can see that our government has been highjacked by big business and big money. ...and by nature, most Progressives are not "pack animals"...we are too independent to make a stand. There needs to be a strong motivating force to empower us. #2. The economy, being what it is, prevents most of us from having any "free time" to get involved. We can learn alot by what happened in Madison...there was GREAT solidarity and I am very proud of what they were able to accomplish there...however , disgustingly, the final outcome was hijacked by DIRTY POLITICS.
 
 
+14 # Bodiotoo 2012-07-26 23:06
the "RED" states, I drive through do not get the liberal/left message....it is all Hannity, Limbaugh and the far right that control the air waves.
 
 
+12 # Joe Bob 2012-07-26 11:39
Waiting for Congress to act is a joke.
Bernie is an Outstanding person and Senator, but the odds are stacked against him by all the knuckleheads in congress.
Reagan the great actor pushed the agenda and was followed by the Bush (Weapons Dealer) Family, and here we are... stuck in the morass of money run politics.
I have to agree with what Brux said "We are in a war and we do not know it, and we are prevented by our own decency from talking violence because no one wants that, but when those at the top are unresponsive our own founders told us what to do by any means." Bottom Line.
 
 
+8 # Bodiotoo 2012-07-26 23:07
Quoting Joe Bob:
Waiting for Congress to act is a joke.
Bernie is an Outstanding person and Senator, but the odds are stacked against him by all the knuckleheads in congress.
Reagan the great actor pushed the agenda and was followed by the Bush (Weapons Dealer) Family, and here we are... stuck in the morass of money run politics.
I have to agree with what Brux said "We are in a war and we do not know it, and we are prevented by our own decency from talking violence because no one wants that, but when those at the top are unresponsive our own founders told us what to do by any means." Bottom Line.

This is why a movement is needed to get progressives elected in congressional districts
 
 
+25 # vt143 2012-07-26 11:39
I am proud to call Bernie my Senator. Now, if we only had 99 more like him (OK, I'd settle for 50 more...) and many like him in the house we might save this country from the rich boys...
 
 
+7 # cordleycoit 2012-07-26 12:04
As long as there has been a Congress there has been corruption. How to counter the Congress man from Monsanto, not with the Congress person from Aero-Space. Another question how long before we have to fight Congress for our rights. They appear to be drafting laws to oppress us and make communication of grievances illegal.The President is looking for ways to disarm his subjects. Sanders has good ideas but can they work in an already fascist state?
 
 
+19 # Regina 2012-07-26 21:51
cordleycoit: It's not only Congress -- far too much of the fascist slant is coming from Republican governors, banded together in the RGA. Look at the similarity among all those "red" states in (1) vote suppression tactics, (2) the War Against Women, and (3) the defiance against the health care legislation through rejection of Medicaid supplements. That shows the concerted campaign against the true national interest. Bernie Sanders is certainly calling those conspirators on their grand conspiracy, but we have to pry Republicans out of statehouses and state legislatures as well as Congress. November will be about much more than the presidential election.
 
 
+15 # spiritcallsus 2012-07-26 12:28
Yeah for Bernie ... one of the very few yet to sell out !!!
 
 
+21 # Abigail 2012-07-26 12:44
We need to attack the problem of the NEED for money. Years ago we didn't have expensive campaigns, but this was before the advent of Television. I believe that most of the money is needed for television ads. But WE, THE PEOPLE, own the TV frequencies, and specific channels are merely licensed to use them. We need a law that requires any TV station which wants to have political advertising to Give a specific amount of time to all the candidates FREE. If any candidate BUYS more time, then the selling TV station MUST GIVE and equal amount of time to all the other candidates for that office. Only by equalizing the time on TV for all the candidates for a specific office can we regain our democracy.
 
 
+19 # Dale 2012-07-26 13:39
We are not on the road to oligarcy, we are already there. Plutocracy of the Wall Street financiers at the top surrounded by oil ment and defense contractors. The Repulicans are striving to legitimize their rule with a more fasictic ideology, while Obama and the Democrats do their bidding in a more concealed and less crazy way. Either way we are in deep shit.
 
 
+7 # Sea Star RN 2012-07-26 14:31
Sen. Sanders,

Previous to the vote on the Affordable Care Act, I thought we had some Progressive members of the House and Senate, but when I saw ALL of them cave and vote for what they knew was not good health care reform, I knew we were in trouble.

We have no democracy if our civil servants vote in a manner contrary to what is good for the people.

Citizens United enhances the control of the Corporate State for which our government serves and for which we lost the chance at good health care reform.

Today Health on the Market has a Market cap value of $40 Trillion dollars.
I have seen it as high as $70+ trillion.
Your vote allowed this profit-based structure to remain and thwarted real reform

http://biz.yahoo.com/p/5conameu.html
 
 
+15 # angelfish 2012-07-26 17:06
I nominate Bernie Sanders for the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his tireless fight for Truth, Justice and the American way of Life! God Bless you Bernie! Thank you for all you do!
 
 
+17 # MindDoc 2012-07-26 19:05
Wow! I'm stunned (but not surprised) by the eloquence and passion of this man. What a rarity to see a member of Congress as of late actually *representing* We the People and sharing the *real* history of America . The emphasis on how we became an ever-better democracy, by ever greater inclusion of *human beings* regardless of gender, race, origins, belief, etc...
Priceless!

Bernie Sanders clearly describes the power of *actual* 'Citizens United', in the sense of government (quoting Lincoln) "of the people by the people for the people - before the phrase was turned into doublespeak and corporations were turned into people. . (No, ditto-hands, including corporate dollars as people with free speech and votes doesn't count!)

This was a wonderfully concise and passionate plea for colleagues in Congress to snap out of whatever fog they're in, and remember the people. The 98% or so, who used to elect representatives to represent us in the quaint old days of proud democracy.

One of the best statements to a committee I've ever heard, even if it's a wake-up call too, about a disastrous trend. Will his own colleagues listen, do you think? Will his statement resonate?
Again, we can pray and hope - and vote for people representing the human variety of We the People.
 
 
+5 # bandtail1 2012-07-26 19:44
We all know that the congress is just about wall to wall lawyers and that the concept of precedents is very significant in their training. For those who think we need a constitutional amendment to undo the Citizens United ruling, I wish to point out here a precedent as a suggested study subject.
Article 3 of the constitution clearly gives the congress some degree of restraint in appellate jurisdiction of the supreme court.
The precedent when this was exercised is “Ex Parte McCardle (1868)”. The use of ex parte is puzzling, but the document is an acknowledgement that the court yielded to the congress denial of jurisdiction on a rather insignificant case.
The third document for suggested reading is the treasury department first draft of TARP several years ago where the proposed legislation could not be reviewed by the court. Be advised that there are two versions of this on the internet and one of them implied that it could not be reviewed by subsequent administrations as well as the court.
My opinions:
Congress can undo this highly unpopular court ruling with fairly simple legislation, but the probability of them doing it is remote, despite the fact that it would probably improve their ratings with the public.
Why is it that Treasury can apparently use this precedent and the congress seems ignorant.
The “Talking Heads” will howl about a constitutional crisis.
Just how would one describe the huge mess we’re in now?
 
 
+3 # Wolfchen 2012-07-27 11:00
There would be great danger in removing all paths to the Supreme Court as relates to challenging the legality of legislative and administrative enactments. To allow such preclusions of any and all judicial reviews could result in great mischief and a cure worst than the disease. Imagine such preclusions as relates to any corrupted Congress reversing all civil rights laws, as just one example.

A constitutional amendment to undue adverse decisions by a corrupted Supreme Court is a more effective and less dangerous route to go, even though it's more difficult to achieve this end.

We should also revise our methods of appointing and confirming nominees to the Supreme Court. We should make it more difficult for nominees to commit perjury during their testimony. For example, any and all statements they make during the nomination process during private meeting with members of Congress and the Executive branch should be made public. This would reduce the corrupting ability of the nominees to reveal their intentions to those who support their nominations while keeping secret those intentions during the confirmation hearings. If they give false testimony, they should be charged with perjury. Under the current system, the nominees are able to lie with impunity.
 
 
+2 # John Steinsvold 2012-07-26 20:47
An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

John Steinsvold

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."~ Albert Einstein
 
 
+3 # ericsongs 2012-07-27 08:56
Outlaw ALL corporations!
Return the monetary system to the "people" of the united states!
Deny "Wrongway Romney" even one minute at the helm of our ship of state!
 
 
+5 # JSC1227 2012-07-27 13:20
dennis kucinich was another great politician patriot with rock-steady morals, that couldn't be bought by big money. They found a way to reditrict him so that he lost his seat in ohio. The money brokers will try to kill or discredit anyone in their way
 
 
+2 # rhgreen 2012-07-27 21:04
Thanks Bernie. God bless you. But how is a constitutional amendment like that going to get through this Congress, or any Congress likely to be elected until such a constitutional amendment is in place? A catch-22, is it not?
 
 
+1 # fhunter 2012-07-28 08:51
Democracy versus Plutocracy! {who understands "oligarchy"?]
OBAMA DID NOT UNDERSTOOD THAT PLUTOCRACY what he has to fight against. He had the chance to do it too, starting the day after inauguration. He missed his chance. Because of this, Plutocracy is here and is here to stay. Too late Bernie FOR YOU AND FOR US.
 

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