Campus News

Candidate profile: Bernie Sanders

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BDM Election Photo             The Democratic presidential race has seemed rather one sided, but that seems to be changing. According to The Huffington Post, as of Feb. 21, 2016, poll results between the two front runners, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, were closer than they ever have been: Clinton at 49 percent and Sanders at 42.1 percent. Yes, it appears that more and more people are “feeling the Bern.” Sanders began his political career in 1981 as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, where he still resides with his wife Jane. Then, in 1991, Sanders began his Washington career as Vermont’s sole representative. He moved to the Senate on Jan. 4, 2007. Sanders identified as an independent while in Congress, but is currently running under the Democratic banner for the presidency. However, he is still technically an independent, according to a post on politico.com called “Can Bernie Sanders Win the Love of a Party He Scorns?” “He has never before chosen to run in a Democratic primary, but here he is, challenging Hillary Clinton—and doing it as an independent, technically permissible but highly unusual,” wrote Michael Kruse and Manu Raju. “How he’s trying to do this is how he always has—a calculated alchemy of outsider edge and insider smarts, provocation plus pragmatism, all learned and honed over what’s become a unique career in modern American politics.” Sanders is a self-described “democratic socialist.” He goes into exactly what this entails on his website, www.berniesanders.com. “So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; ‘This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.’ It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. “Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy. “Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.” Sanders believes that health care should be a right for all people, rather than a paid privilege. “Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy. “People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.” Sanders has also pushed for tuition-free college, higher minimum wage (15 dollars an hour over the next few years,) and stopping major corporations from evading taxes with overseas profit havens. Other major issues included on his website are fighting for women’s rights and LGBT equality, expanding Social Security and moving away from “policies that favor unilateral military action and preemptive war, and that make the United States the de facto policeman of the world.” Following are brief overviews of each of these major planks of Sanders’ platform:

Tuition-Free College

Sanders has been very outspoken about making public universities and colleges tuition-free, similar to policies instituted in European nations like Germany, Finland, Norway and Sweden. To do this, he plans to reduce interest rates on any student loans, requiring public colleges to meet 100 percent of financial needs for the lowest-income students and eliminating any profit the government makes on student loans. To finance this effort, Sanders plans to impose a tax on Wall Street speculators: “The cost of this $75 billion a year plan is fully paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and today some 40 countries throughout the world have imposed a similar tax including Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and China. If the taxpayers of this country could bailout Wall Street in 2008, we can make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free throughout the country.” This issue, however, is not quite one-sided. Kevin James wrote an opinion piece for usnews.com entitled “Bernie’s Bad College Idea.” “Unfortunately, there are good reasons to be skeptical,” wrote James. “Right now we have a decentralized system where students can take much of their student aid with them to the institution of their choosing. This enables a wide variety of organizations – public and private – to offer a range of different educational programs. “In contrast, free public college would limit choice as many private institutions, now trying to compete with a highly-subsidized, free public option, would likely struggle to survive. In addition to reducing options, this would significantly reduce pressure on public institutions to serve students effectively. “Many free college proponents would likely point out that by providing aid directly to institutions, the government can actually exert more direct control over how they operate. For example, Sanders' bill would require institutions to reduce their reliance on adjunct professors. But are such top-down controls really likely to create the dynamic and innovative system that we need? By trying to dictate innovation from Washington, such a proposal is more likely to create a system that is rigid, bureaucratic and unresponsive to the changing needs of students and the economy over time.”

Increasing the Minimum Wage

Sanders has pushed for what he calls a “living wage.” He intends to raise the national minimum raise to 15 dollars an hour over the next several years. “Millions of American employees have been working 50 or 60 hours a week while receiving no overtime pay,” Sanders’ website states. “That is why Bernie has been encouraging the Obama Administration to ensure that more workers receive overtime pay protection. The Administration’s new rule extending that protection to everyone making less than $947 a week is a step in the right direction. It is a win for our economy and for our workers.” But, as with all issues, there’s a flip side. Sean Williams covers a few in his article on businessinsider.com: “Bernie Sanders’ plan to raise the minimum wage has plenty of flaws.” “One of the problems of boosting the minimum wage that typically flies under the radar is that wages need to go up for more than just minimum-wage workers for the skill-pay balance to remain intact. “What this means is that a manager making $12 an hour now can't simply make $15 an hour if the newly introduced legislation passes. It doesn't make sense to have new hires making as much as long-tenured and/or executive position employees. These are costs that minimum wage proponents and businesses forget about. “Another big dilemma is that wage inflation will probably be dealt with in one of two possible ways: through cuts in jobs or hours, or by countering inflation with inflation. “In some instances, employers could simply choose to let workers go to keep their costs under control, or they may wind up cutting back their hours. In a 2013 interview with CNBC, Jamie Richardson, vice president of fast-food establishment White Castle, suggested that a $15 federal minimum wage would force his company to close nearly half its locations and lay off thousands of workers.”

Fair Share Taxes

“Today, we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because large corporations stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world,” says Sanders’ website. ”That is unacceptable. “If we are serious about reforming the tax code and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to demand that the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations pay their fair share in taxes. “Sen. Sanders’ tax reform plan accomplishes that goal by closing loopholes that benefit the wealthy and well connected, making the tax code more progressive, and establishing a tax on Wall Street speculators whose greed, recklessness and illegal behavior nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago.” But not everyone agrees that the rich don’t pay their fair share. One of these is Audrey Gail of byzvest.com. Gail wrote an article criticizing Sanders’ claims entitled “Bernie Sanders Says the Rich Don’t Pay Their Fair Share – Here’s Why He’s Wrong.” “Fairness is ‘treating people in a way that does not favor some over others,’” wrote Gail. “Some people are treated unfairly when it comes to taxes, but they’re not the people Sanders specifies. “An analysis from the Tax Foundation found that taxpayers who bring in over $100,000 per year earn 60% of the nation’s income and pay about 95% of income taxes. Those who earn over $200,000 a year (the top five percent) earn 32% of all income; they pay nearly half of all federal taxes and almost three-fourths of federal income taxes. A study from 2011 said that the top 1 percent paid 35% of all federal income taxes.”

Women’s Rights and LGBT Equality

“Senator Sanders has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights. In 1983, during his first term as Mayor of Burlington, Sen. Sanders supported the city’s first ever Pride Parade. He later signed a city ordinance banning housing discrimination. “When he served in the House of Representatives, then-Congressman Sanders voted against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 1993 and the so-called ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ in 1996. Sen. Sanders hailed the landmark Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2015 which struck down DOMA and recognized same-sex marriage is a right in all 50 states, calling the decisions a ‘victory for same-sex couples across our country as well as all those seeking to live in a nation where every citizen is afforded equal rights.’” Sanders’ position agrees with his opponent Hillary Clinton as well as current U.S. president Barack Obama. If elected, Sanders plans to sign into law bills that prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals, and work to keep an eye on interactions between LGBT individuals and police, as well as other various policies protecting the LGBT community. Many people, have, of course, expressed their disagreement with Sanders’ policies. Evangelical Christians have been outspoken about this, citing Scripture verses such as Romans 1:26 as proof that homosexuality is a sin. “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” –Romans 1:26-27 (NIV) Sanders is also a major proponent for women’s rights. His website mentions specifically his support of a pro-choice approach to abortion. “We are not going back to the days when women had to risk their lives to end an unwanted pregnancy,” says Sanders’ website. “The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman and her doctor to make, not the government. “We are not going to allow the extreme right-wing to defund Planned Parenthood, we are going to expand it. Planned Parenthood provides vital healthcare services for millions of women, who rely on its clinics every year for affordable, quality health care services including cancer prevention, STI and HIV testing and general primary health care services. The current attempt to malign Planned Parenthood is part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies.” This is another front where Sanders has many proponents and opponents. NARAL Pro-Choice America gave Sanders a 100 percent rating for his position on abortion, while the National Right to Life Committee gave him a 0 percent rating. Along with his pro-choice position, Sanders also plans to push for absolute pay equality for women in the workplace.

Expanding Social Security

“Today, Social Security is more important than ever. Over half of workers between the ages of 55-64 have no retirement savings. More than a third of senior citizens depend on Social Security for virtually all of their income. One out of every five senior citizens is trying to scrape by on an average income of just $8,300 a year. “Given these facts, our job cannot be to cut Social Security. Our job must be to expand it so that every American can retire with dignity and respect. “Virtually every Republican candidate for president disagrees. Many of them claim Social Security is ‘going broke,’ that it’s causing the deficit to explode, and its trust fund is full of IOUs. “They want the American people to believe Social Security is in crisis and must be cut. “They are dead wrong.” Sanders wishes to lift the cap on taxable income that goes into the Social Security system, so that all people pay the same percentage of their income to Social Security, rather than a flat rate. According to Sanders’ website, this position is fairly popular. “Not only is this the right thing to do from a moral perspective, it is also what the vast majority of the American people want us to do. 61 percent of the American people support expanding Social Security benefits by lifting the cap on taxable income, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll earlier this year.” Brenton Smith, on thehill.com, wrote about how he feels that this plan will not work. “The Sanders’ campaign overstates the revenue his plan will generate. The evaluation provided by the SSA, assumes that taxes are collected in 2016, and 2017 for that matter. The fact is that revenue from Sanders’ proposal will not start flowing until he can convince House and Senate Republicans that his proposal is good policy. That process will drag well into 2017 at best. “Sanders promises voters that his proposal will “extend the solvency of Social Security for the next 50 years.” The wording of the commitment conceals the fact that the promise is based on the most optimistic forecast of a fairly optimistic economic outlook. There is no guarantee. “Even so, what does 50 years of solvency mean to America? Solvent for 50 years means that a typical 35 year-old will enter retirement in the exact same position as the new retiree does today. At full retirement, today’s younger worker will expect to outlive scheduled benefits, unless politicians can sell the greatest accomplishment of government to a new set of younger workers who expect to lose money on the system.”

Foreign Policy

“While we must be relentless in combating terrorists who would do us harm, we cannot and should not be policeman of the world, nor bear the burden of fighting terrorism alone,” wrote Sanders himself in an open letter on his website. “The United States should be part of an international coalition, led and sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves. That is the only way to defeat ISIS and to begin the process of creating the conditions for a lasting peace in the region.” Sanders plans to move away from unilateral military action and wishes to emphasize diplomacy. Going to war will be a last resort. He wants to make sure that any and all military action has clear goals and is limited in scope. Other plans include closing Guantanamo Bay, “reining in” the National Security Agency. Aside from the points on his website, however, Sanders hasn’t really put out a formal foreign policy as of yet, and he’s gotten some criticism on that point, namely from Clinton herself, who has received foreign policy advice from Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Clinton retaliated with, “Journalists have asked who you do listen to on foreign policy, and we have yet to know who that is.” An article on news.vice.com went into more detail: “Many have also taken issue with the fact Sanders has yet to exclusively address foreign policy without reverting back to the marrow of his campaign: the economy.” Sanders’ campaign covers a lot of ground, and these are just a few of the many issues he addresses on his website. But, like all candidates, he has his opponents and proponents. For now, all voters can do is do their research, think critically, and when the time comes, vote knowingly. But, as the polls continue to show, there are many who are certainly “feeling the Bern.”
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