Bernie Sanders Speaks

In his most revealing interview, the socialist presidential candidate sets out his vision for America.

 (Photography by Marius Bugge)
(Photography by Marius Bugge)

By John Nichols in The Nation

 When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation last year that he was “prepared to run for president,” he said he would do so only if it was clear that progressives were enthusiastic about a movement campaign seeking nothing less than “a political revolution.” It was an audacious proposal—but after traveling the country for a year, Sanders decided that the enthusiasm was there and announced in late April as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of doubters then. Two months into the campaign, however, everything about this candidacy—the crowds, the poll numbers, the buzz—is bigger than expected. That says something about Sanders. But it also says something about the prospects for progressive politics. In late June, The Nation sat down with Sanders for several conversations that asked the longtime Nation reader (“started when I was a University of Chicago student in the early 1960s”) to put not just his campaign but the moment in historical perspective for our 150th-anniversary issue:


The Nation: Your campaign for the presidency has surprised people. The crowds are big; the poll numbers are stronger than the pundits predicted. You’re a student of political history. Put what’s happening now in perspective. Are we at one of those pivot points—as we saw in the 1930s—where our politics could open up and take the country in a much more progressive direction?


Sanders: Obviously, we’re not in the midst of a massive depression, as we were in the 1930s. But I think the discontent of the American people is far, far greater than the pundits understand. Do you know what real African-American youth unemployment is? It’s over 50 percent. Families with a member 55 or older have literally nothing saved for retirement. Workers are worried about their jobs ending up in China. They’re worried about being fired when they’re age 50 and being replaced at half-wages by somebody who is 25. They’re disgusted with the degree that billionaires are able to buy elections. They are frightened by the fact that we have a Republican Party that refuses to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone address this huge issue.

In 1936, when Roosevelt ran for reelection, he welcomed the hatred of what he called “the economic royalists”—today, they’re the billionaire class—and I’m prepared to do that as well. That’s the kind of language the American people are ready to hear.

The Nation: As long as we’re talking about the evolution of public policy, let’s talk about the evolution of a word: socialism. You appeared on ABC’s This Week and, when you were asked whether a socialist can be elected president, you did not blink; you talked about socialism in positive, detailed terms. I don’t believe a presidential candidate has ever done that on a Sunday-morning show.

Sanders: Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, often criticizes President Obama, incorrectly, for trying to push “European-style socialism,” and McConnell says the American people don’t want it. First of all, of course, Obama is not trying to push European-style socialism. Second of all, I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments. One of the goals of this campaign is to advance that understanding…. How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do the American people know that? I doubt it. Do the American people even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Most people don’t know that. Do the American people know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?

I have always believed that the countries in Scandinavia have not gotten the kind of honest recognition they deserve for the extraordinary achievements they have made…. The Danish ambassador, whom I talked to a couple of years ago, said to me that in Denmark it is very, very hard to be poor; you really have to literally want to be outside of the system. Well, that’s pretty good. In Denmark, all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends. Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people. They have a very strong childcare system, which to me is very important. Their retirement system is very strong. They are very active in trying to protect their environment…. And, by the way, the voter turnout in those countries is much higher; in Denmark, in the last election, it was over 80 percent. Political consciousness is much higher than it is in the United States. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that? Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word.

Read more at The Nation

How the Statue of Liberty Almost Ended Up in Egypt

By Dora Hasan Mekouar in Voice of America

The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)
The Statue of Liberty looks out on the lower Manhattan skyline, January 2014. (AP)

Instead of imploring the world to “give me your tired, your poor”, the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message might well have been “as-salamu alaykum”, the Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.

That’s right, the world’s most recognized symbol of freedom and the American dream, was originally intended for Egypt, which ultimately rejected it for being too old fashioned.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.

The decision came as a disappointment to Lady Liberty’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who’d envisioned the Suez Canal as the ideal venue for his mammoth harbor structure.
Statue of Liberty creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s original design for the mouth of the Suez Canal in Egypt.

“He was inspired by the Sphinx and the pyramids and the idea you could create something massive that could almost be eternal,” said Elizabeth Mitchell, who brings Bartholdi’s quest to life in her book Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

Mitchell was motivated to write the book after coming across Bartholdi’s diaries at the New York City Public Library. That’s when she first realized the iconic symbol wasn’t a gift from France as many Americans believe.

“In fact, the true story is more moving because what you have is this individual artist who had a vision and he really wanted to make this happen,” Mitchell said, “and he really had to go through every machination to get this thing built.”

After his failure in Egypt, the artist shifted his attention to America, which was prospering after the end of the Civil War.

“Maybe no other country at the time would understand the excitement and importance of having this bigger-than-life, colossal symbol,” Mitchell said.

Read more at Voice of America

Shooting Accounts Differ as Holder Schedules Visit to Ferguson

Protesters marched Tuesday in Ferguson, Mo., where the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer has spurred 10 days of unrest. Credit Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

By FRANCES ROBLES and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDTAUG in The New York Times

FERGUSON, Mo. — As a county grand jury prepared to hear evidence on Wednesday in the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer that touched off 10 days of unrest here, witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.

Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Officer Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Mr. Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.

Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Officer Wilson’s firearm went off inside the car, Mr. Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Mr. Brown, and then Mr. Brown stopped, turned around and faced the officer.

But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say. Some witnesses say that Mr. Brown, 18, moved toward Officer Wilson, possibly in a threatening manner, when the officer shot him dead. But others say that Mr. Brown was not moving and may even have had his hands up when he was killed.

Read more at The New York Times

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas Is Indicted on Charge of Abuse of Power

By MANNY FERNANDEZ in The New York Times

Gov. Rick Perry during a speech on Aug. 8 in Fort Worth. Credit Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

AUSTIN, Tex. — A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts on Friday, charging that he abused his power last year when he tried to pressure the district attorney here, a Democrat, to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to her office.

The indictment left Mr. Perry, a Republican, the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges and presented a major roadblock to his presidential ambitions at the very time that he had been showing signs of making a comeback.

Grand jurors in Travis County charged Mr. Perry with abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant, according to Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor assigned to the case.

The long-simmering case has centered on Mr. Perry’s veto power as governor. His critics asserted that he used that power as leverage to try to get an elected official — Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney in Travis County — to step down after her arrest on a drunken-driving charge last year. Ms. Lehmberg is Austin’s top prosecutor and oversees a powerful public corruption unit that investigates state, local and federal officials; its work led to the 2005 indictment of a former Republican congressman, Tom DeLay, on charges of violating campaign finance laws.

Read more at The New York Times

Oklahoma coming to terms with unprecedented surge in earthquakes

By Hailey Branson-Potts in the Los Angeles Times

Crescent, Okla., like much of the state, has been hit by numerous earthquakes in recent weeks. Many scientists blame drilling operations. (Mark Potts / LA Times)

When Austin Holland was being considered for his job as the sole seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey in 2009, his interviewer posed a wry question: “Are you going to be able to entertain yourself as a seismologist in Oklahoma?”

Back then, the state had a 30-year average of only two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. As it turns out, though, boredom has been the least of Holland’s concerns. Over the last five years, the state has had thousands of earthquakes — an unprecedented increase that has made it the second-most seismically active state in the continental United States, behind California.

The state had 109 temblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013 — more than 5,000% above normal. There have already been more than 200 earthquakes this year, Holland said.

Scientists have never observed such a dramatic swarm of earthquakes “in what’s considered a stable continental interior,” Holland said. “Whatever we’re looking at, it’s completely unprecedented.”

Oklahoma has always had the potential for earthquakes; it has a complex underlying fault system. But until recently, the most powerful quake of the modern era was a 5.5-magnitude temblor in 1952 that left a 15-meter crack in the state Capitol.

Scientists say the more likely cause of the recent increase is underground injection wells drilled by the oil and gas industry. About 80% of the state is within nine miles of an injection well, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oklahoma has seen a boom in oil and gas production, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of shooting water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth at high pressure to extract oil and natural gas. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and several universities suggest there is a link between the quakes and disposal wells, where wastewater from fracking is forced into deep geological formations for storage.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Marissa Alexander Now Faces 60 Years in Prison for Firing a Warning Shot in Self Defense

Marissa Alexander walks out of the Duval County Courthouse with her lawyers (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack)

Florida State Attorney Angela Corey will seek to triple Marissa Alexander’s original prison sentence from twenty to sixty years, effectively a life sentence for the 33-year-old woman, when her case is retried this July, The Florida Times-Union reports.

Alexander was convicted on three charges of aggravated assault in 2012 for firing warning shots in the direction of Rico Gray, her estranged husband, and his two children. No one was hurt. Alexander’s attorneys argued that she had the right to self-defense after Gray physically assaulted and threatend to kill her the day of the shooting. In a deposition, Gray confessed to a history of abusing women, including Alexander.

In September of 2013 a District Appeals court threw out the conviction on grounds that Circuit Judge James Daniel erroneously placed the burden on Alexander to prove she acted in self-defense, when she only had to meet a “reasonable doubt concerning self-defense.”

Read more at The Nation

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The Magical World Where McDonald’s Pays $15 an Hour? It’s Australia

Even in countries with a high minimum wage, the golden arches manage to turn a profit. Here’s how.

Last week, fast-food workers around the United States yet again walked off the job to protest their low pay and demand a wage hike to $15 an hour, about double what many of them earn today. In doing so, they added another symbolic chapter to an eight-month-old campaign of one-day strikes that, so far, has yielded lots of news coverage, but not much in terms of tangible results.

So there’s a certain irony that in Australia, where the minimum wage for full-time adult workers already comes out to about $14.50 an hour, McDonald’s staffers were busy scoring an actual raise. On July 24, the country’s Fair Work Commission approved a new labor agreement between the company and its employees guaranteeing them up to a 15 percent pay increase by 2017.

And here’s the kicker: Many Australian McDonald’s workers were already making more than the minimum to begin with.

The land down under is, of course, not the only high-wage country in the world where McDonald’s does lucrative business. The company actually earns more revenue out of Europe than than it does from the United States. France, with its roughly $12.00 hourly minimum, has more than 1,200 locations. (Australia has about 900).

So how exactly do McDonald’s and other chains manage to turn a profit abroad while paying an hourly wage their American workers can only fantasize about while picketing? Part of the answer, as you might expect, boils down to higher prices. Academic estimates have suggested that, worldwide, worker pay accounts for at least 45 percent of a Big Mac’s cost. In the United States, industry analysts tend to peg the figure a bit lower—labor might make up anywhere from about a quarter of all expenses at your average franchise to about a third.* But generally speaking, in countries where pay is higher, so is the cost of two all-beef patties, as shown in the chart below by Princeton economist Orley Ashenfelter. Note Western Europe way out in the upper-right hand corner, with its high McWages and high Big Mac prices.

Read more at The Atlantic

Too many of America’s working poor have become victims of a bizarre kind of socioeconomic Stockholm Syndrome. I’m talking about poor people who vote the interests of rich people. They’re like dogs begging for scraps from the table of a master who has no intention of sharing anything. But I’m being unfair to dog owners. Most dog owners treat their pets better than some of America’s wealthiest treat their fellow citizens.

New Study Reveals Background Checks Really DO Prevent Gun Deaths

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins finds that the gun homicide rate in Missouri increased after the state repealed its background check law. Gun-O-Rama cartoon by Steve Benson via the Cagle Post.

In the ongoing dialog about guns and gun violence in America, one thing consistently comes out: Americans favor background checks for gun purchases. A 2013 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 91 percent of all Americans, and 71 percent of NRA members support expanded background checks. Yet, congress has done nothing. A likely reason is that the NRA, which used to support background checks, now opposes them. They offer reasons ranging from “they’re an invasion of privacy,” to “they don’t work because criminals don’t submit to background checks.” However, a new study suggests that background checks are a reasonable, effective method of keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University’s Center For Gun Policy and Research did a study of Missouri, where a background check law was repealed in 2007. They found that since the repeal, there was an increase of between 55 to 63 murders by gun per year from 2008 to 2012. Daniel Webster, lead author of the study, says:

This study provides compelling confirmation that weaknesses in firearm laws lead to deaths from gun violence.There is strong evidence to support the idea that the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law contributed to dozens of additional murders in Missouri each year since the law was changed.

Missouri’s background check law was effective.

Until 2007, Missouri had a “permit to purchase” background check law. Under the law, someone who wanted to purchase a firearm would visit a local sheriff for a background check. The sheriff would do the check, then issue a “permit to purchase,” which the person could take to the gun dealer of his or her choice to purchase a weapon. This law had been in place since the 1920′s. After the law was repealed, unlicensed sellers no longer needed proof of a background check before a sale.

Read more at Addicting Info

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Alberta Government Quietly Funded Researchers Behind ‘Independent’ Report Boosting Keystone XL

An aerial view of crude oil production in Alberta, Canada. (Flickr, Howl Arts Collective)

Before the State Department released its controversial Environmental Impact Study last week, a consulting firm called IHS CERA primed the news media by releasing its own study last year claiming that the Keystone XL wouldn’t make a substantial difference in emissions. The report was released as an “independent” study. TheNation.com filed a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request to the Alberta government, and found that taxpayers in Canada paid IHS CERA hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The heavily redacted contract, a version of which can be found here, provides $325,000 from the government of Alberta to IHS CERA. In addition, public budget documents from Alberta reveal that taxpayers in Canada have provided IHS with more than $545,426 in payments over the last year for energy-related work.

The Alberta government has been one of the most aggressive proponents of the pipeline. Last year, Alberta retained two DC lobbying firms with strong ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, to push for speedy approval of the Keystone XL.

Echoing the State Department EIS released last week, the IHS CERA claimed that even without the Keystone XL, Canadian oil sands would be developed by other means. “Even if the Keystone XL pipeline does not move forward, we do not expect a material change to oil sands production growth,” claims the authors.

However, assessments of the market by Toronto-Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and other leading financial analysts have found that the Keystone XL is critical for the development of the high-carbon oil sands market.

Read more at The Nation

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Democracy needs dogged local journalism

By Rachel Maddow, Wednesday, January 15, 7:55 PM

If you type “Shawn Boburg” into your Web browser address bar, a strange thing happens. Boburg is a reporter for The Record newspaper, in Bergen County, N.J. But ShawnBoburg.com sends visitors to The Record’s rival, Newark’s Star-Ledger.

The man who bought the rights to Boburg’s online name — and who presumably engineered the nasty little redirect — is David Wildstein, who last week became the country’s most high-profile political appointee. After his high school classmate Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, Wildstein was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a highly paid position that, conveniently, had no job description.

Wildstein, who has since resigned, was held in contempt last week by a state legislature committee for refusing to answer questions about his role in the four-day traffic disaster that gridlocked the town of Fort Lee, N.J., last September.

According to reporting in The Record, Wildstein has made a habit of buying the Web addresses of people who cross his path in New Jersey politics — including the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2012 and a mid-level official at the Federal Aviation Administration who helped forge a firefighting agreement with the Port Authority that Wildstein disliked. While he was at the Port Authority, Wildstein bought the online names of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top appointees to the agency, including Executive Director Pat Foye, who sounded the alarm about the Fort Lee scheme. Wildstein’s redirect on PatFoye.com sends visitors to the Web site of the New York Yankees.

It’s one thing for public officials to subject one another to that kind of low-level, neener-neener harassment, but in New Jersey, reporters have been targeted too. Wildstein snatched up and redirected ShawnBoburg.com after Boburg wrote a (not terribly unflattering) profile of the intensely private Wildstein last year and an article on Christie’s patronage hiring.

The long knives that New Jersey politicians have out for each other was the stuff of legend (and excellent TV drama) well before the bridge scandal. But the documents released thus far show how much the governor’s staff and appointees hated not only rival public officials but also the press.

Read more at The Washington Post

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