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Sen. Bernie Sanders: America is Speeding Toward Oligarchy

PoliticKING with Larry KingJul 25 '14

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joins Larry with a warning about America's not-too-distant future. Plus, will the self-described democratic-socialist make a White House bid? And, his solution for 'corporate deserters,' who flee America to avoid taxes.

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KING: Is the United States ready––maybe––for a presidential candidate who calls himself a Democratic Socialist. Vermont’s very independent senator, Bernie Sanders, talks about a possible White House run and a whole lot more on this edition of Politicking.

KING: Welcome to Politicking. I’m Larry King and on today’s show, US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont. He calls himself a Democratic Socialist. Lately, he’s also been calling all

Americans to liberate themselves from the 1%. He’s never shy with his remarks. He joins me from Capitol Hill. He’s the longest serving independent member of congress in United States history––he used to be a frequent guest with us on radio and CNN. It’s nice to have him here with us on Politicking with Larry King as well. Good to see you, Bernie.

SANDERS: Great to be with you, Larry.

KING: Now, before we discuss inequality and what you might do in the future––two quick things––I’d like your brief comments. First, on the situation in the Middle East.

SANDERS: You know this is an ongoing tragedy of enormous consequences. It breaks my heart and every few years this stuff erupts and innocent people get killed and you know––Israel and the Palestinian authority seem to get nowhere close. I think all that I can say is that the international community––the countries in the region––have got to do everything they can to get these sides into negotiations and hopefully work out some type of two state settlement.

KING: And number two, your thoughts on the Ukraine.

SANDERS: Well, I think––you know––the president has got to be aggressive with Putin. The idea that the Ukrainian rebels they are have access to these types of weapons that can shoot down commercial airliners is not acceptable and I think this needs to be an issue that the president, Putin, have got to really thoroughly go over.

KING: All right, now lets discuss things domestic. United States income and equality, the worst since 1928, 1% owned 37% of everything in this country. Why isn’t there more outrage?

SANDERS: Well, you know, it has a lot to do with the fact that in congress you have a lot of folks, frankly, who receive their campaign contributions from the 1%. You have a media, which is owned by large corporate interests. But I tell you Larry, in Vermont and throughout this country, I think people are profoundly disgusted with the reality that ordinary Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, that parents know that their kids, for the first time, in the modern history of our country will have the lowest standard of living than they do, that America is moving in the wrong direction. So, there is a lot of outrage out there and I believe that people want fundamental change. It is absurd, in my view, that 95% of all new income goes to the top 1%. At the same time we have more people living in poverty than anytime in American history.

KING: You recently released a public statement, you declared, now is the time to stop the movement to oligarchy, the time to create a government, which represents all American. What––do you want a peaceful revolution? What do you want, senator?

SANDERS: Well, that is exactly what I said. Look––Larry, lets be clear––you know, you and I were kids a couple of years ago. They taught us about oligarchy and they said, “Look at these Latin American countries. We have a few families controlling the politics and controlling the economics of those countries.” Well, guess what’s happening in America today? You have––as you’ve just indicated—in terms of distribution of wealth; you got the top 1% owning about 3738% of the financial wealth, the bottom, 60% owns all of 2.3%. 95% of all new income goes to the top 1%. That’s oligarchy. In terms of politics, we’re looking at a situation where the Koch brothers and all the billionaire families will be able to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates to make the rich even richer. That’s called oligarchy. So, I think my fears about this country moving to an oligarchy—oligarchic society—are not unfounded and I think they are real. And unless we create a new type of politics, where ordinary people start standing up for their rights, rather than just allowing the top 1% to dominate us, I think we are going to end up in an oligarchic society.

KING: Tell me about your proposed legislation, Corporate Deserters. You would ban businesses from getting government contracts if they reincorporate overseas to avoid paying taxes. Do you expect that to get anywhere?

SANDERS: Well, in the Republican House of Representatives, do I expect that to get anywhere? No, of course I don’t. You know, many people now are—in a sense—receiving large sums of money from billionaire families and corporate interests and this is not in the best interests of corporate America. But to my mind—I mean––it is beyond belief. It is bad enough that we have trade policies, which enable corporations to shut down in America and move to China and then be able to bring their products back to this country. That has cost us millions of dollars. Now what these guys are saying—oh, we’re going to merge with an Irish company or a British company in order to simply lower our taxes. That is—you know—really traitorous. That is totally unpatriotic and unacceptable; and if those guys want to do that, they should not be allowed to bid on government contracts among many other things.

KING: Off the floor. When you talk to your fellow senators, what do they say? Because it seems sological what you’ve just said. What do they say to counter what you’ve just said?

SANDERS: Uh, the argument is—you know—depends on who you talk to. The people that I talk to most say, of course, we’ve got to take action against these people. The truth of the matter is, the percentage revenue right now, corporate taxes are significantly less than it used to be. You got 1 out of 4 corporations not paying a nickel in taxes today. What the Republicans will argue is—oh, well, the reason that these guys are going to Ireland, going elsewhere, is because corporate taxes in America are too high. And then what they do is—they throw out a nominal rate, a rate that’s on the books, rather than looking at the real effective rate—what people are really paying. If you look at what people are paying, it’s somewhere in the middle of the OECD. Bottom line is, these corporations, in many cases, could care less about America, about the people who gave them their wealth, and they’re prepared to move abroad to save a few bucks and I think that’s really wrong.

KING: In your long and successful career, do you ever feel at times Don Quixoteish? That you have been fighting windmills all these years.

SANDERS: Well, the answer is, I have been talking about issues for many, many years that many people have not been talking about, Larry. What I am proud of now is that more people are talking about these very same issues. I’ve been talking about income and wealth inequality for 30 years. Today, we’ve got a whole lot of Americans, including the president of the United States, who are talking about those issues. The question now is, do we go beyond talk? Do we do something? Do we have the courage to take on these people who are worth unbelievable sums of money who are prepared to punish anybody who stands up against them? Do we have the courage to do that? That’s the issue, Larry.

KING: You call yourself a Democratic Socialist.Why aren’t you a Democrat

SANDERS: Well, I am not a Republican, to be sure, because they have become a very rightwing party. I’m not a Democrat because in my view, the Democratic Party today is not anywhere near as strong as it should be in standing up for the vast majority of the people who happen to be workingclass people, middle class people. Now, I think the Democrats do a far, far, far better job than the Republicans. Democrats and I are trying to raise the minimum wage. We’re trying to make sure that longterm unemployed people can continue to get the benefits, the unemployment benefits, that they. Trying to work for pay equity and so forth. But bottom line, do the Democrats, do most Democrats—are they willing to really stand up to the billionaire class that has so much economic and political power? And the answer is no. And I think that’s one of the reasons why so many people now are disenchanted with both parties.

KING: Your recent FEC filing—you raised nearly $716,000 in the last three months—nine times as much as you raised the preceding quarter. It’s reported that you have $4.4 million in a campaign account. Where’s the money coming from and what are you going to do with it, Bernie? Are you seriously considering running for president?

SANDERS: In the presidential world—where it costs a billion dollars to run—$4.4 million is kind of breakfast money. But I will tell you, Larry—and what I’m very proud of—if you dig down into those figures that you cited, we raised money from mostly—not all, but mostly—individual contributors who contribute, on average, somewhere around $40, $45. So when I run, we get tens and tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of contributors contributing 40, 50 bucks, sometimes 20 bucks, sometimes 10 bucks. We do not get out money, as many other senators do, from bigmoney interests. Getting back to your question, Larry, about Democratic socialism. I think it’s important that we look to places like Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway—countries which have developed policies which protect the middle class in a way that many Americans would find hard to believe. I mean, you go to those countries—health care is a right of all people, not a privilege. And yet, with good quality, universal health care, they spend significantly less per capita than we do. You know what higher education in those countries costs? You want to send your kid to college? To graduate school? The answer is: zero. It is funded out of the overall tax base. In this country, kids are leaving school deeply in debt. That is not the case in those countries. They have strong trial care programs. When you have a baby, you get six months off with pay, or with half pay, whatever it may be in each country. But they treat their middle class and working people with a lot more respect than we do.

KING: But they’re much smaller and their children don’t die in war, right? They’ve got an easier road to hoe than a country of 350 million.

SANDERS: Well, the answer is yes and no. Obviously, they are smaller. There are more homogeneous. That’s true. And they probably spend a smaller percentage of their GDP on the military and maybe there’s a lesson that we can learn from that. I find it a little bit incongruous that we have people saying, “We have to spend more and more on the military,” and yet you’ve got 40 million people in this country who have no health insurance, and we have a trial care system which is in terrible, terrible.

KING: Will you run for president? Are you thinking about it?

SANDERS: I am giving some thought to it. I haven’t made a decision. If I do it—the reason I’m hesitating and going around the country is I want to see what people really think. For me to do well, to win a presidential election, would mean that we would have to put together an unprecedented grassroots movement. I mean, you would need many, many hundreds of thousands of people knocking on doors, educating, organizing. That is not an easy thing to do. So I don’t want to just give—

KING: Ross Perot almost did it.

SANDERS: Well, the difference between Ross and me—and I like Ross—Ross has a few billion dollars in his bank account. I don’t, and that is a significant difference.

KING: But he put together lots of people across the country.

SANDERS: He did, he did. And so did Barack Obama, for that matter. But I think that the anger and the frustration is out there, that people very much want to change, in a fundamental way, the direction of our country, and that’s what I’m trying to ascertain.

KING: Has this president disappointed you? How do you assess Obama?

SANDERS: On a couple of levels. Number one, he is an extraordinarily intelligent man. He is very, very smart. Two, I like him very much personally. I would say my main criticism of Barack Obama is that he seemed to think when he came in, and in the ensuing years, that he could negotiate with rightwing extremists who really had no intention of ever negotiating. When you’re in politics, Larry—and I’ve been in politics a while—negotiation is part of what politics is about. But you cannot negotiate with people who refuse to negotiate, who really want to politically destroy. And I think it took him a number of years to learn that lesson. I think what he should have done is gone out to the people and made the Republican Party an offer they couldn’t refuse. And that is, if they did not support legislation like raising the minimum wage, like a massive jobs program to put our people back to work, rebuild our infrastructure—they would pay a political price for that because you had an educated and organized population ready to get involved politically. That would be my major criticism.

KING: Bernie, it’s always great talking with you. Thanks for joining us.

SANDERS: Thank you very much for having me, Larry.

KING: Thank you, senator Bernie Sanders. A great American. Whether you agree with him or not, a great American. I hope he’ll join us again soon. Up next, our political panel joins us to talk about president Obama’s handling of the crisis in the Ukraine, about the Gaza Strip, and about the problems along the U.S. border. That’s all next.